Why do Buildings Matter?

In 1748, Giambattista Nolli designed the very first city map created in aerial view, called the "Nolli map" (see section of map above). This approach to visualizing cities established a new perspective for how developers and architects design cities. As an architect and a follower of Christ, I believe that we’re called to analyze how our cities and communities function, and look for ways in which we can better glorify God through the physical environment around us.

Throughout the scriptures, God has instructed His children to lay foundations, raise his temples, construct altars, erect cities, and build spiritual houses on solid rock, all according to the patterns and design that he has established (see Exodus 25:8-9, Hebrews 8:5). His instruction is always detailed and flawless, often times including exact measurements, colors, and materials.[i] His character of perfection and beauty is displayed through both His creation and His instruction for us to create. 

What does this have to do with me?
Before you exempt yourself from reading this article, it is essential to understand that the call to design and build is not exclusively for those in the field of Architecture, engineering or construction. Far from it. For we are building the Kingdom of God, and we (as believers in Christ) are all equal participants. Paul reminds us of our identity and calling in his letter to the Ephesians;

“So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

The “built environment” refers to our man-made physical, spatial and cultural surroundings that are shaped by how we live and interact with our natural environment.

As believers, we must acknowledge that the Kingdom of God is not only an image of a heavenly home where we will one day be reconciled to God, but it is being built up around us right now. [ii]

Think about it. We were commissioned by God to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations”(Matthew 28:19). Where does that happen? Where do we worship God, love others, make disciples, and build the Kingdom of God? The answer should be, everywhere. In our homes, at our places of work, our churches, and everywhere in between. And guess what, every single one of those spaces, from the tallest skyscraper to your favorite hiking trail, is a part of the built environment. [iii]

You are an active participant in the built environment, whether you want to be or not. In fact, often times “inactivity” can be the most influential part of how effective the space is.[iv] As with any discipline or practice within our lives, we must be intentional with everything we do, always asking ourselves, “is this glorifying God or self?”

The Master Architect
Before we begin to explore our role in the built environment, it is important to acknowledge the very first (and greatest) architect. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” In Genesis, God establishes the garden of Eden as a dwelling place for mankind. Adam and Eve have everything within the garden to live and to flourish. It was perfect in every way, but as sin entered the world mankind was banished from the garden (Genesis 3). But God, despite the failures of men, remains faithful and sovereign over all creation.

Hebrews chapter 11 highlights the many great men and women of faith that have gone before us. The author emphasizes how each of these men and women lived as strangers and exiles on earth, not belonging to any country or homeland, but desiring a heavenly country; the city that God had prepared for them. Zechariah chapter 8 paints this utopian-like city as being marvelous in sight, peaceful, flourishing, with vines full of fruit and children playing in the streets. Revelation chapter 21 goes into even greater detail regarding this “new Jerusalem” as a radiant jewel, clear as crystal, with golden streets, great walls, and gates that were never shut. A city designed and built by God, prepared for his children.

So, we know God has an eternal city prepared for us, but what do we do in the meantime? In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches us how to pray. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on EARTH as it is in HEAVEN.” God is instructing us to not be content with the current state of our world, but to bring His Kingdom to Earth now!

God is the master Architect and creator of all things. He is perfectly capable of building the Kingdom of God on his own, yet he invites us to be partakers in the construction. God didn’t place Adam and Eve in the garden to idly sit by while he unfolded his plan for creation. He gave them instructions to cultivate and exercise dominion over that which he created (Genesis 2:19-20). One of the ways we cultivate His creation is through the shaping of our built environment.

The Gut Check
Every activity of our lives influences the built environment -- what houses we buy, where we shop for groceries, where we attend church, what clubs our children join, which gym we go to. Pastor and Theologian, Eric Jacobsen, notes in his book, The Space Between, that, “The living of our lives is not only shaped by but also shapes the built environment” (Jacobsen, pg. 25).

What do your patterns of life look like? Do you engage in spaces that encourage social interaction and loving your neighbor? What sort of patterns of design and planning are you encouraging? For example, one pattern that has taken hold of American city planning and development is the idea of consumer-driven suburban sprawl (if that wording seems strange or unfamiliar, just bear with me).[v] Sociologists Mark Gottdiener, Ray Hutchinson, and Michael T. Ryan note in their book, The New Urban Sociology, that in contrast to pre-industrial cities that were planned according to certain religious or symbolic meaning, most modern cities are driven by the pursuit of profit which overrides any previous social or religious order.

In other words, the most influential factors that determine development in most American cities are centered on materialism, profitability, and individualism. They may be framed within the idea of the “American dream”, but at what cost? When anything begins to replace our commission from God to make disciples of all nations and seek the welfare of our communities (Jeremiah 29:7), we need to take a step back and reassess our heart condition.

Paul instructs us in Romans 12:2, “do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” When engaging and/or designing our built environment, it is absolutely imperative that we begin by searching our hearts and the condition of our minds. Have our desires been transformed to align with the desires of God? Or have we conformed to the ideals, pursuits, and pleasures of our culture and society?

The Kingdom of God will never be fully realized on earth until Christ returns and establishes it himself (Revelation 21), but we have divine instruction from God which holds the utmost authority and precedence in every aspect of our lives. By the strength of the Holy Spirit we must never cease to pursue the excellency of design in our built environment, just as God has demonstrated before us.[vi] He wants the best for us, and so should we.

So What Next?
You may be thinking, “but where do I start?” As I have analyzed my local community, and responded to my own personal convictions regarding the built environment and how to best glorify God throughout the patterns and rhythms of my life, I have compiled a list of elements that I strive to encourage within my own community. I would encourage you to assume a similar posture of observation and engagement within your community. The built environment should be:

Human-centric. Human scale, at human speed, engaging human senses, encouraging human interaction. It can be so easy to allow other “things” to dictate the development of our cities, neighborhoods and homes such as property values, popular trends, and (worst of all) automobiles. (Full disclosure, I am particularly passionate about this topic) Cars dictate so much of our daily life that they have become less of a tool and more of a necessity. One simple question you might ask yourself is, if your car(s) broke down today, would you be able to continue making disciples and serving in your church and community?

Beautiful and complex. Our natural environment is detailed and complex beyond our own comprehension. Not only that, but it is beautiful. God loves to express his creation through aesthetic.[vii] Why do we marvel at the colors in a sunset, or the elegance of a snowflake, or the brilliance of a musical masterpiece, or the vastness of the oceans and mysteries beneath it’s surfaces? It’s because God designed it to be beautiful and to take our breath away. Why shouldn’t the order and organization of our built environment evoke the same wonder and awe?

Communal. The Kingdom of God is a community of believers, therefore our built environment should reflect the same sense of brotherly fellowship. We are designed for interaction with one another, not to be isolated.[viii] James K.A. Smith emphasizes the importance of being engaged with others when he poses the question, “could there be elements of an architecture that foster concern for the neighbour—a mode of design and planning our spaces that regularly and persistently invites us out of ourselves and our involutional worlds of self-interest, and exposes us to the needs of the Other?” (Smith, Loving Our Neighbor(hood)s: The Architecture of Altruism)

Encouraging the great commission, not hindering. Does the layout of your neighborhood, design of your office, location of your church, and proximity of your other daily activities make it easier or more difficult to make disciples? Do you have to go out of your way to have a conversation with a stranger or serve your neighbor? Our built environment should be bursting at the seams with spaces designed for the purpose of interaction and congregation.

Striving toward Shalom. The Hebrew word Shalom means peace and was often used to denote wholeness and perfection.[ix] In order to seek shalom within our world, we must design in a way that encourages equality, balance, and integration of different cultures and lifestyles. Most of our cities today can be clearly defined by different “zones” of race, income, or social status. This type of segregated development is not accidental, and it has torn apart communities and cities for as long as there have been cities on earth.[x] In the eyes of the Lord there is no distinction between us, but we are all one in Christ Jesus. Our built environment must be informed by the people living within them and should serve each individual equally. God does not show personal favoritism or partiality [xi], so neither should our built environment.

In Conclusion
Our perfect and loving God created a world to be cultivated and our participation is not optional. EVERYONE has been commissioned to build the Kingdom of God here on earth, regardless of vocation. Doctors, teachers, students, stay-at-home parents, accountants, and architects alike share in the same responsibility to actively encourage better design and functionality of our homes, neighborhoods and cities through our rhythms and patterns of life. It is my prayer that this article encourages you to have conversations about how your home, work place, means of transportation, and church plays in to how you make disciples and live in obedience to God’s Word.


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[i]         Genesis 6:14-16, Exodus 26, 1 Kings 6, 1 Chronicles 28, Ezekiel 41
[ii]        Daniel 7:14, Luke 10:1-12, Matthew 13:31-33, Luke 17:20-21, Matthew 6:9-10
[iii]       Eric Jacobsen- The Space Between: A Christian Engagement of the Built Environment, http://www.uwindsor.ca/vabe/25/what-does-term-%E2%80%9Cbuilt-environment%E2%80%9D-mean
[iv]       Eric Jacobsen- The Space Between: A Christian Engagement of the Built Environment
[v]        Mark Gottdiener, Ray Hutchinson, and Michael T. Ryan- New Urban Sociology
[vi]       Genesis 1
[vii]      Aesthetic (noun)- a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste and with the creation and appreciation of beauty.
[viii]      Genesis 2:18, 1 John 1:3
[ix]       https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/shalom/
[x]        Mark Gottdiener, Ray Hutchinson, and Michael T. Ryan- New Urban Sociologyhttp://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/08/01/the-rise-of-residential-segregation-by-income/
[xi]       2 Chronicles 19:7, Romans 2:11, Ephesians 6:9

Right View of God

At Hill City you will often hear us say, "The most important thing about you is what you believe about God." But what does this actually mean? What is a right view of God? What does this have to do with me? At Hill City we are committed to pursuing a right view of God and we believe this is comes from our theology. 

Theology? What is it? Is it just some dusty old hobby for pastors to talk about? Isn't it just something that divides people? Is it just some way to uphold an oppressive religious system?

“Theology is unavoidable for all of humanity; Christian or non-Christian.”

I’m sure you’ve heard some of these remarks when talking about religion or theology. But as it turns out, there’s a big difference between what human beings think about organized religion and what studying the true nature and character of God actually is. The former is purely natural (made by men) but the second is supernatural (given by God) and a form of worship through the scriptures.[i] To put it simply, your theology is any thought you have about God, whether true or false.

Theology is unavoidable for all of humanity; Christian or non-Christian and rightfully so: Pastor and Theologian, R.C. Sproul spent most of his life passionately teaching that “it is not a question of whether we are going to engage in theology; it is a question of whether our theology is sound or unsound. It is important to study and learn because God has taken great pains to reveal Himself to His people” (Sproul, pg. 12). A Biblical theology, then, is essential to understanding who God is, which is truly the only way we can know who we are. It is my hope and prayer that this article would encourage you to think deeply about the Living, Triune God of the Bible and trust the revelation He has given us, that we might be transformed more into His image.

Who is God?          

In our Bibles, the book of Deuteronomy records Moses’s final speeches to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land. The people stand on the threshold of a new future in the land of Canaan, and Moses exhorts them to love and obey the Lord; which is, to experience life in all its fullness. With good reason, Moses underlines the need for exclusive loyalty to God, warning of the danger imposed by the idolatrous practices of the nations already living in Canaan. Moses restates the obligations of the Sinai Covenant recorded in Exodus 19-24, reminding the people of how obedience will bring blessing and disobedience will bring disaster. Deuteronomy is important to us as Christians today for many reasons, but it holds specific significance in developing a Biblical theology through a proper perspective.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

In Jewish history, this passage has been referred to as the Shema, from the original Hebrew word meaning “hear” and is still recited morning, noon and night by Jews in their worship.[ii] Why? What’s the significance of this anyway and how can this ONE God be THREE persons? As was said earlier, the God of the Bible is triune; three in one. Triune refers to God as both three (tri) but one (une) and in the Shema, we get a peek into the heart of old testament believers and how they thought about God; they thought of God as One, not in persons but in substance[iii], One Creator of One Creation.[iv] The Shema shows God’s control of all other beings and all other created things. He alone is the God of all things in heaven, earth, and the sea[v] because He created them all.[vi] The Jews recite the Shema in worship to remind themselves where their loyalty lies and Who exactly it is that they serve.

“The being of each Person is equal to the whole being of God.”

This summer at Hill City, we took a similar adventure as the Jews in reciting the Shema when we taught through a mini-series on the attributes of God and you’ll remember we looked at His SovereigntyHolinessSelf-Sufficiency and Power. These are just a few of His attributes, but there are many others such as His Providence, His Goodness, His Righteousness, His All-Knowingness, His Self-Containing nature, and the list goes on. The Shema is not denying any of these attributes to any of the members of the trinity but rather, it affirms these attributes in all of the trinity[vii]; this is why the Shema is important to us.

We cannot divide the triune God of the Bible, or we will have no understanding of who He actually is. For example, Colossians 2:9 says of Christ, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” This passage from Colossians only affirms the deity of Christ and the importance of the one substance that Christ shares with the Father and the Spirit. Pastor and Theologian John Piper helps explain this: “we should not think of God as a pie cut into three pieces, each piece representing a Person. This would make each Person less than fully God and thus not God at all” (Piper, DG – What is the Doctrine of the Trinity). Wayne Grudem agrees in saying, “the being of each Person is equal to the whole being of God” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, pg. 255). The divine substance[viii] is not something that is divided between the three persons but is fully in all three persons without being divided into parts.

“God’s Providence is in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.”

Now I know what you’re probably thinking… all this sounds cool but it’s all just spiritual and kind of like a "pie in the sky," right? What I want to propose to you is that this is actually vital to our understanding of who God is. God is an eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-sufficient being existing as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He rules over and interacts with His creation; theologians have called this the Providence of God. Through His Providence, God works His Will even through our intentional decisions and “that is the great comfort of the doctrine of providence – that God stands over all things and works them together for the good of His people (Rom. 8:28), and he is the ultimate source of our comfort in the person of Jesus Christ and the assurance of the Holy Spirit’s ministry (Rom. 8:16)” (Sproul, pg. 83). Finally, the ultimate hope and display of God’s Providence is in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh[ix] for our justification, sanctification and assurance.[x]

To recap, we’ve talked about how God is triune and how every quality of the trinity is present within every member of it. All three members are all-knowing, all three members are all-powerful, all three members are all-sufficient. Now we may begin to look at the question of who are we?

Who are We?

After we take the time to look at Who God is, understanding that we only scratch the surface of His nature,[xi] we see that He is in control,[xii] that He cares for His creation,[xiii] that He is with us and able to fully sympathize,[xiv] that He has paid the price for our redemption in His perfect sacrifice[xv] and that He continually testifies to the Father on our behalf.[xvi]

“The beauty and perfection of the garden only lasted to page three of our Bibles.”

At the most meaningful level and something that is basic to our nature, we are made in the image of God and given dominion (rule) over His creation.[xvii] We were made to be like God, Holy and Perfect.[xviii] However, the beauty and perfection of the garden only lasted to page three of our Bibles. Genesis 3 tells us of the idolatry of the human heart in which we’ve chosen our own way instead of the way of our all-knowing, all-powerful, all-sufficient Father.[xix] In light of the fall, the Bible tells us of the inertial drift away from God in the human heart and the relentless pursuit of God toward those same people. In the most basic form, we are a people made in the image of God, pursued by God despite our choice to reject Him!

Many books have been written on the Doctrine of man[xx] and many others have been written on who we are as broken people full of sin in a broken and corrupt world yet pursued by God.[xxi] But we are to take heart; the fall and our sin are not the end of our story, this is merely the beginning of a beautiful epic narrative with one Hero made to redeem it all; JESUS CHRIST!

Benediction

In light of what we’ve learned, may the beauty of God so captivate your heart that you would “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. [That you may] not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2 parentheses mine).


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[i] Deuteronomy 11:18-23; Joshua 1:8; Psalm 119:15-16, 105; Proverbs 3:1-2; 4:6-7; Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:12-13; Hebrews 4:12

[ii] Mark 12:29-30

[iii] In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. (Westminster Confession of Faith article 2.3).

[iv] For more on the Doctrine of the Trinity; specifically explaining Three persons in One essence see Frame, Systematic Theology pg. 481-89; Grudem, Systematic Theology, pg. 255-57; Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, pg. 52-60

[v] Deuteronomy 4:39; 2 Kings 19:15

[vi] Nehemiah 9:6; Malachi 2:10

[vii] 25. SINCE THERE IS BUT ONE DIVINE BEING, [1] WHY DO YOU SPEAK OF THREE PERSONS: FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT? Because God has so revealed Himself in His Word,[2] that these three distinct persons are the one, true, eternal God.[1] Deut 6:4Isa 44:6, 45:51 Cor 8:4-6; [2] Gen 1:2-3Ps 110:1Isa 61:1, 63:8-10Mt 3:16-17, 28:18-19Lk 4:18Jn 14:26, 15:262 Cor 13:14Gal 4:6; Tit 3:5-6. (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 25).

[viii] There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 5)

[ix] John 1:1-4

[x] Hebrews 1:1-4

[xi] Romans 11:33-36

[xii] Matt. 11:26; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; Rom. 8:29; 9:11; Eph. 1:5, 9, 11; 3:11

[xiii] Matt. 5:4; Jn 14:27; 16:7; Rom. 15:13; 2 Cor. 1:3-4; Heb. 13:6

[xiv] Heb. 2:18; 4:15

[xv] 1 Pet. 1:19; Heb. 10:1-18

[xvi] Gal. 3:19-20; 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24

[xvii] Gen. 1:26-31

[xviii] Lev. 19:1; Matt. 5:48; 1 Pet. 1:15-16

[xix] Gen. 3:22-24

[xx] G.C. Berkouwer — Man: The Image of God (1962); J. Gresham Machen — The Christian View of Man (1984); John W. Cooper — Body, Soul & Life Everlasting (2000); John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds. — Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (2006); G.C. Berkouwer — Sin.

[xxi] The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context (Powlison); Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture (Powlison); Anxiety (Kellemen); Leading with a Limp (Allender); Healing the Wounded Heart (Allender); Biblical Counseling (Kellemen).

What does Inspired Mean?

(IMAGE ABOVE) "DRAWING HANDS" BY M.C. ESCHER

One hand does not exist without the other. God did not communicate to us without humans, and humans cannot communicate God's words without God's inspiration. 

So, what does Inspired mean?

At Hill City we teach from the Bible every Sunday and encourage individuals and families to open, pray through, and meditate on the scriptures. Why do we do this? We believe that all of Scripture is inspiredtrueauthoritative and sufficient[i]. (See Psalm 19:7–8; Psalm 119:89; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21)

If this is true, and God is truly the author of all of Scripture, then why did God use humans?

We believe that the Scriptures are the very Word of God, breathed out or spoken through the writings of the prophets, scribes and other authors carried along by the Holy Spirit for His Divine Will (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21).

2 Timothy 3:16 gives us the phrase breathed out, which is where the word inspired comes from. In Greek (Gk) the word translated “inspired” is theopneustos (θεόπνευστος) and it only appears once in the entire English translation of scripture. Theologians have pondered this meaning for centuries. They all agree that to breathe out words is to speak them[ii]; so, when we read 2 Timothy 3:16 we know that Inspiration means that God takes the language of human beings and makes it His own, through a beautiful mingling of a Divine and human Word, which is what we have today in our Bible.

Now I know what you’re thinking; if this is true, and God is truly the author of all of Scripture, then why did God use humans? Doesn’t this compromise the trustworthiness of the scriptures?

Many theologians and pastors throughout church history have considered this. Some (like John Calvin) have chosen to think of it like a boss giving “dictation” to his secretary. Others have given analogies such as this one from Athenagoras, a 2nd century church father: “God is like the flute player, and the prophets were like flutes.”[iii]

Whether pencils or instruments, “God appointed the biblical writers to be prophets, apostles, or associates of the apostles... In their writing, their individual human qualities appear vividly but, all of these very different writers were chosen by God to convey His personal word to the world” (Frame, pg. 595).

Pastor and theologian, Wayne Grudem, adds in his Systematic Theology that inspiration or dictation, “does not completely deny human volition or personality in the writing of Scripture, but rather to say that the ultimate source of every prophecy was never a man’s decision about what he wanted to write, but rather the Holy Spirit’s action in the prophet’s life, carried out in various ways” (Grudem, pg. 75). In other words, there is a limited human element to the Scriptures. So what does this mean?

God chose to lower Himself and communicate to us in a way that we could actually understand.

We should take great joy in the fact that God chose to lower Himself and communicate to us in a way that we could actually understand and respond by the Holy Spirit’s prompting. God chose to use (inspire) authors with all kinds of differences. Theologians of church history[v] have referred to this as organic inspiration and to them, these differences across the human writers are not walls for God to break down, but instead, different perspectives by which He brings us His Word.

“Because the writers are diverse in their language, style, culture, education, interests, and abilities, God speaks through them multiperspectivally, to give us many different aspects of the truth” (Grudem, pg. 76).  In other words, in order for us to understand the complexity of His being, God spoke through multiple people -- all with different perspectives. 

As humans, our language contributes a vital piece to our community. We convey a wide variety of content in different tones, emotions and perspectives. God’s language is infinitely more rich, and therefore He must use multiple human authors to communicate it to us. What a wonderful and amazing treasure is the written Word of God!

Understandably, the skeptic’s question always comes back to, “How much of God’s word is inspired then? How much of it is faulty translation or the mysterious political agenda of men seeking to brainwash?” Here it is helpful to understand the full scope and understanding of inspiration.

There’s no brainwashing and there’s no political agenda; no dirty secret.

Inspiration in Scripture is not the same as an artist might be inspired to create a painting today. Inspiration in Scripture means that everything in Scriptures is fully inspired and therefore is God’s Word.

In His Word, God wants to show us many things for the rest of our lives; not just propositions or ideas, but historical events, covenantal promises, feelings and tone. This is why the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity (three in one), had to “carry along” the writers of Scripture, as 2 Peter puts it. The New Testament frequently refers to the Holy Spirit as “governing” the words of prophets and apostles (see Matthew 10:20; 22:43; Acts 1:16).

There’s no brainwashing and there’s no political agenda; no dirty secret. All of this (the Scriptures) has been recorded that we might know what He wants us to know about Him -- what He has done, continues to do, and what He promises to do[vi].

Jesus Christ, our King, says in Luke 24:25-27, “And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Our Lord has fulfilled all of the Scriptures and has revealed to us the true nature of God as, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14-15)[vii]The inspiration of Scripture is to give us confidence in the Word as made perfect in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Benediction

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10:19-22


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[i] http://hillcitysgf.org/about/beliefs/
[ii] See John Frame pg. 594 of, Systematic Theology; an Introduction to the Christian Religion
[iii] Athenagoras, Plea on Behalf of Christians
[iv] Hebrews 1:1-3
[v] Most notably here, Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck
[vi] John 20:31; 1 John 5:13
[vii] See also Hebrews 1:1

Are you wrestling with God?

Is your heart in a wrestling match today?

Struggling with disbelief? You know what you want to believe, but you can’t allow yourself. Just a time of drought in your faith? Does the Lord seem silent? You may fear for the future – lacking peace with God’s plan for your life. Your hands are open to what God wants for you, but you don’t feel any direction from Him.

You are being pulled into isolation, loneliness – out into new waters on your own. You may be hurting – you’ve experienced loss, health issues, or broken relationships. You may be in a quiet battle of addiction – you can feel the Lord pulling your Band-Aid away, but you fear a life without it. You realize your core of emptiness has been caused by daily exhaustion, pain, and powerlessness.

Defeated by frustration, confusion, and pain, you cry out, “God, I need something from you. I need to know what is going on in my life. Show me what to do!”

Like Jacob, you cry out, “Lord, bless me!” (Genesis 32:26) 

Jacob is furious at God. The birthright didn’t bring him the success he wanted. Jacob deceived his own father, with the help of his mother. He ended up running away from his family to another country. Jacob was on his way home, ready to see his brother, Esau, who vowed to kill him.

In Hebrew, Jacob means “deceiver” and “heel grasper.” He lived out his name, and this left him in the middle of a deadly crisis. Jacob is feeling sorry for himself, fearful, and simmering in his anxiety over Esau and his approaching slaughter. The Bible tells us that he prayed and asked God to help him. God didn’t reiterate his promises with comforting words, a vision or dream like He had before.

God addressed Jacob’s fear by wrestling him through the night.  (Genesis 32:22-26)

Like Mayweather and McGregor, Jacob suits up for ten rounds. Jacob needed something, and he would not give up or let go this time.

In the final round, God “touched Jacob’s hip socket and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.” (Genesis 32:25) Jacob, the heel grabber, is now on his stomach desperately gripping the heel of the Lord, seemingly defeated.

God asked him, “What is your name?” And he said Jacob. (Genesis 32:27)

C’mon, He’s God…He knew his name was Jacob. In this moment, that question was about something deeper. God forced Jacob to take a hard look at his true identity.

God replied, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men, and have overcome.” (Genesis 32:28) Most importantly, after the struggle we read that God “blessed him there.” (Genesis 32:29b)

Jacob left the wrestling match with a new identity, a fresh vision of God, and a transformed heart. From then on, “limping because of his hip” (Genesis 32:31), Jacob is reminded of the wrestling match that changed his life forever. 

We must remember, God is often the initiator. God, in His love, will visit us at a crossroad.

In times of struggle, it’s easy to point the blame on circumstances, other people, or even the enemy. When tension arises in life, God isn’t the one we imagine putting up a fight. We must remember, God doesn’t desire to become an opponent or leave us helpless during battles. He wants to get His perfect hands into the mess of our lives and transform us for His glory and our good. God is far more concerned with eternal holiness than our temporary happiness.

Not once in the Holy Bible does God communicate that things are going to be easy. (Romans 8:18, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-7 and Matthew 7:24-27.) God promises that the floods will come, and the wind will beat on the house.

As Daniel explained on Sunday, “God works in ways we don’t think He should, but His hands are making all things good.”

In life, God forces us to take a hard look at our hearts and ask, “What is my name?”

He knows our name, yet He asks. When our name falls outside of a child of His – He wrestles to have us.

In this moment of one versus one, God begins to paint a picture of Himself. While struggling, we discover His persistency, gentleness, and patience. We discover God Himself, and it is the sweetest gift we could receive. We discover His love that meets us in darkness and longs to change our name.

He brings us to a point of surrender, and it’s there we gain His strength.

This is the only fight in your life when surrender isn’t counted as loss, but your greatest gain.

Like Jacob, there are times when it feels like God is hesitant to bless us. But in our darkest trials and troubles – we are never without God’s presence. God calls us to wrestle with Him because He knows the magnitude of blessing after the match. God does not delight in wrestling, but He delights in the transformation that comes from it.

As believers in Christ, we will struggle with Him through the loneliness of night, but by daybreak His blessing will come.

God is gracious to wrestle with us.

From the Fall of Man in Genesis 3, we have been eternally separated from the Creator, every interaction following that moment is a divine example of grace. He sent Christ to come and die on our behalf, so we could have the opportunity to wrestle with Him and come to know the fullness of joy in Christ – He loves us that much. 

As we continue through Genesis into Exodus, join us on Sunday for Redemption Through History! Catch up on sermons here.

What is Baptism?

What is Baptism?

At Hill City, we never want to assume anything. When discussing baptism, it is too often assumed that people understand it in its entirety. Not surprisingly, it’s often assumed that people know and understand the gospel, too. That, too, is an incorrect assumption.

So, let's knock out what baptism is NOT.

Baptism is not salvation. Baptism is not the act of imputing (ascribing) righteousness to you. Baptism does not wash away your sins. Jesus’ blood does that.

So what is baptism?

We often hear that it is “the first step of obedience in the new life of a born again believer,” and that is true, but it is much more than that.

Baptism is a public profession of faith in Jesus. It is also a picture of what happened to you when God invaded your heart and called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Baptism is a testimony of the good news of Jesus, and YES, baptism is obedience to God.

Baptism is a public profession of faith in Jesus:

When I was growing up in a few small town churches, there was a certain process involved in salvation. If someone would come to faith in Jesus on any other day than Sunday, it was asked of them to come to church on Sunday and “walk the aisle” in order to make it public. Then on a later date or even maybe on that very day they would again make it public by being baptized. The problem is that “walking the aisle” and “coming down to an altar” was an added step that wasn’t commanded in Scripture. The public profession mandated in Scripture is to be baptized. You may ask, what is it that I am professing? You are, of course, professing that you are a Christian. But more than that, you are professing that you have drawn a line in the sand and that you stand on the side with Jesus, you don’t care what it cost you, and you will follow Him. This profession would have possibly been more heavily weighted for the first and second century Christians who upon their public profession became disowned and marked for death by Nero. Many history resources will back this claim.

Baptism is a picture:

Let’s elaborate here with a definition. The word for baptize in Greek is ‘baptizó’ which literally means “to immerse.” At Hill City, we believe that baptism should be done by immersion. Examples we find in Scripture (including Jesus’ baptism) show a person going down into water and/or coming up out of water.

This creates a picture of a life that was dead to sin being buried, and a new life being raised up in Jesus Christ. The physical body going below the water is a picture of an old life being put to death. The physical body come up out of the water is a picture of a new life rising up. 

Baptism is a testimony of the good news, the Gospel:

Baptism is the ultimate celebration of God’s grace. Jesus died on a cross, was buried in a tomb, and three days later he rose from the dead. He came up out of the grave and He is alive today. Baptism is symbolic of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Many people throughout history have had blinders removed from their eyes and come to faith in Jesus when they witness a baptism. Why? Because they witness a testimony of the good news of Jesus, that He redeems and gives grace.

Baptism is also, indeed, obedience to God:

Christ followers are commanded to be baptized. Any Christ follower who refuses to be baptized reveals a heart issue. True obedience is immediately, exactly, and with a right heart attitude. We teach our kids this truth. We expect our kids to obey when we tell them to do something. God expects the same from His kids.

So, If baptism is all of those things previously described, when should it happen?

In short, NOW, if you have trusted Christ and Christ alone for your salvation. Baptism is to be done post-conversion, and very soon after.

We are not saying that people should be pulling over on Highway 65 and jumping in the James River. We are not saying that a person can’t wait a few days or weeks for a time when God’s people can gather corporately to celebrate baptism.

Remember, with God it is always about the HEART. If a person is waiting to be baptized, why is he waiting?

Our fear is that some people are being led in a direction that the Bible doesn’t call them to be led. We can’t find anywhere in the Bible where people who trusted Jesus to save them and repented from their sins were then put into a “baptism class” so they could “understand” what baptism was before they were baptized.

Here are some biblical examples of how baptism went down:

Acts 8:12 “But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

So when they believed, they were baptized.

Acts 8:36  “As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him” (Acts 8:36, 38).

So immediately, he was baptized.

Acts 9:18. This is Saul becoming Paul right here, a new man, once he encounters Christ, it says, “Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized” (Acts 9:18).

Acts 16:15. [Lydia], “When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house’” (Acts 16:15).

Acts 16:33 “At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds;” – talking about Paul and Silas – it says, “then immediately he and all his family were baptized” (Acts 16:33).

Acts 18:8 “Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).

Acts 19:5 “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus”.

The common thread was that none of the people who believed waited. Why would they? They had just heard the greatest news of their lives, they believed in Jesus, and there was no logical reason to not proclaim it to anyone and everyone who was around.

At Hill City we celebrated 11 baptisms on Easter (Click to read their stories). We will have a few more on May 7.

We invite you to come witness them. If you have never been baptized (post-conversion) and you call yourself a Christ-follower, I want to challenge you to take a long look inside and ask yourself, why?

Could it be that you don’t understand the gospel?

Could it be that you have never been told, in love, that you have been living in disobedience?

Could it be that today you are ready to shout it from the roof top that Jesus is your King and that you will follow him no matter the cost?