Léonce Crump, lead pastor of Renovation Church in the urban core of Atlanta, invites you to do what God did when He wanted to make a difference in this world – move in.
Whether you’re a pastor looking to plant a church, a missionary preparing to serve in a far-off land, a family preparing to move into a new community, or a follower of Jesus simply looking to engage more deeply in your current neighborhood, Léonce reveals how our agendas can often sabotage achieving real change in our world.
Léonce takes you on a journey to understand what he calls “the ministry of presence” which he himself learned the hard way after planting a church in one of the most violent areas of Atlanta. Léonce and his family found that, before we can preach or reach others, we must first know the story of a place and its people – especially since skin color, cultural norms, and economic status often isolate us more than bringing us together.
|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Why Are We Here?
Directions are instructions given to explain how. Direction is a vision offered to explain why.
his book is essentially a renovation project, and as with any such project, it is essential to start with the foundation. Is it sound? Does it need repair in any way? Bypassing the founda tion only leads to headache later, so that's where we're going to begin-the foundation. Answering the question "Why are we here?" is our foundation. Discovering God's true purposes for the world He created and our role in it is our foundation. Upon this foundation we will build every other idea presented and hopefully build a holy confidence in you that empowers you to believe that what you are doing, right where you are, right now, matters. There will be some lofty proposals that may disturb what you've always felt to be true, and I certainly won't be able to cover every potential objection exhaustively. My hope, though, is that as you grapple with the possibility that our most com- mon understanding of the phrase “Jesus came to save the world” may be truncated or misguided is that you would do so by first running to the Scriptures and nowhere else to determine whether what is being written here is true or whether I’ve sim- ply lost my mind. So are you ready? Really ready? Okay then, here we go.
Heaven is not our ultimate hope. Yes, you read that correctly. To take heaven as our ultimate hope, believing that in the end God will simply wipe away the world and start over, has far-reaching effects. Our belief may subconsciously stunt the way we live life and do ministry. Even the difficulty many have with investing long-term in a place, to see a ministry effort through to its end, is connected to our view of what God will do with this world. If you believe our ultimate hope is in heaven, I must ask, what if you’re wrong?
For God So loved This World
Jesus came to save the world—what an incredibly pregnant phrase, a phrase familiar to most every follower of Jesus. Jesus came not to condemn the world, nor judge the world, but to save the world. He says as much throughout the Gospels. He says it with force in His emotion-filled soliloquy at the end of John’s narrative, in chapter 12.
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. (verses 46–47)
This phrase captures the thrust of His intentions. It is re- flective of God’s desires described amid many illustrative state- ments at the close of His public ministry, and we must consider it with new eyes if we are ever to understand what it means to be fully present in a place, as opposed to transient, and what it means to do ministry in this world, the only world we have.
So I ask a simple but complex question:
how is it that you view this world?
I ask this first because it is fundamental to our discussion. How we view God’s world matters with respect to how we treat God’s world and how we see ourselves in it. I ask, second, be- cause for centuries we’ve been taught there is a dichotomy be- tween the sacred and the secular, between that which is of the world and that which is not. This is a sort of Christianized Gnosticism that treats this material world as inherently bad and our being in Christ as purely spiritual, which in turn leaves us completely detached from this world. The unfortunate conse- quence of this perspective is that many of us have been taught, and therefore believe, that we are pitted against the world as enemies—and if not enemies, then neutral participants—rather than postured toward this world as what I call “redemptive agents.” On a more serious front, this has led to an escapism mentality when it comes to the world; namely, we are separate from it and therefore must survive it until we are relieved.
a Silly GoSPel
In sillier forms this mentality has led to Christianized interpre- tations of otherwise normal activities. What, for instance, is Christian aerobics or, more controversially, Christian hip-hop? The church has created an entire subculture rooted in this sacred/secular divide, which has more to do with separating us from the world than it does with God’s intentions for the world. I realize there is nuance here, but in our fear of being too of this world, we are all too often not really in it either, but merely on it, taking up space. Songs and sermons have been written to remand us to the idea that this world is not our home. In one sense, this is true. This world, as it is, is not our home. But have we, in much of our understanding, taken this and created a false dichotomy? According to Scripture it certainly seems we have, and knowing this should make us ask some penetrating questions, such as “Why would we live detached from what Jesus came to save?” and “Why would we believe to be inher- ently evil (the world) what God once called very good?” In good conscience and right submission to God’s Word, we can’t. The world is not inherently evil; it wasn’t created that way. It has been infected with a disease called sin. This infection was initiated by satanic lies and ratified by the covenant-breaking actions of the first family. The world was made good, and God so loves His world, why would He abandon it?
Here’s one way to conceptualize this idea, particularly if you are married or desire to be. Imagine your spouse is sud- denly infected with a disease, though it is their own fault that they are infected. They wandered into a quarantined area for no good reason other than they wanted to, and they have now contracted a life-threatening illness. Would you revile them or seek to redeem them? Would you desire to heal them or have them die? Would you desire to save them or see them destroyed? Unless you lack an ounce of humanity, we both know the an- swer to those questions. How much more, then, would God, in His infinite and unalterable perfection and love, long to keep His covenant with creation, eradicate the disease of sin, and restore His creative work? God wants to win the world, not destroy it! God’s ultimate desire is to restore the world, not wipe it away. This world is not an evil place needing to be escaped from, but an infected place needing to be renewed, to be re- stored, to be renovated. Make no mistake, these are competing worldviews. The escapist route is best captured by that word I’ve mentioned a few times already—transience—which may be the ministry problem, if not life problem, of our time. The renovating route evokes words like perseverance, faithfulness, long-suffering, staying put.
This is the narrative of the Scriptures—God’s continued revelation of His covenant relationship with humanity and creation. What we have, then, in Jesus repeatedly declaring that He came to save the world rather than rid God of it is so rich with meaning that we must embrace it, not only for how it af- fects our view of our future, but for how it impacts the way we live now, where we live now, and what we do day-to-day in our present reality.
You’ve probably heard some variation of the quote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” The source is the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, and his point was that clarity for our lives forward lies in looking to the past. That’s how it works here, as we look back to the very beginning. The Scriptures open with a dramatic tone. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1–2). If you are a Christian, then you have likely read these words, perhaps many times. You have more than likely taken them as a simple account of what took place when the world was made. But what if I told you that these few words, and what follows for the next two chapters, are revealing for us far more than just a simple narrative of God’s creating everything from nothing? What if I told you that what is being revealed to us in actuality is God covenantally binding Himself not only to humanity but to the full breadth of His creation? But what does that mean, exactly?
A covenant, in brief, was a typical way of describing a rela- tionship bound by promises and obligations. The word cove- nant can be found 286 times in the Old Testament and is a common feature of the ancient world, particularly in Middle Eastern cultures. When Moses writes that God created the heavens and the earth, what he is shaping immediately for the reader is that God was establishing a covenantal relationship with His world. What comes next is familiar to most. After these substantial opening words, God begins to create, and with nearly everything He creates, He immediately calls it good. The Scriptures record an almost rhythmic continuation of just that—He creates, He calls it good. In this we see the declaration of God’s unchanging covenant with the totality of His creation. Everything He made, He sustains. And every- thing He made is meant to obey Him. Everything is bound covenantally to God (see Psalm 145).
All things, plants, animals, and persons are appointed to be covenant servants, to obey God’s law, and be instru- ments . . . of His gracious purpose.
—John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God
While that quote is true, there is a nuance when it comes to “persons.” Among all the things God created, humanity is different. Human beings are the one creature created, called, and empowered to bear God’s image within the rest of His creation.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26–28)
Human beings were created to mediate the rule of God to His world. We were given stewardship over everything, trusted with everything. A failure to be faithful to God on our part af- fects all of creation. We were made accountable to our Creator for His cosmos, His world.
To miss humanity’s unique calling in this world would
be to miss the very purpose of our being made in god’s image.
You see, this understanding only comes by looking back. But this has to leave us wondering, where is the disconnect be- tween what God intended and the world in which we presently exist? In other words, what happened?
So WhaT haPPened?
God created all things, and after each successive creative erup- tion, He deemed it good. After He made humanity, He looked over everything with the admiration of an overjoyed father and deemed it all “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Then a shift occurs. What Moses records following this series of creative events is tragic. Even those unfamiliar with the Bible know the unfortu- nate end of the first family, and with it the decline of “very good” into disorder and decay.
The Fall. This phrase has come to be the common nomen- clature used to describe the events of Genesis 3, a familiar but often diminished incident in history. Though the phrasing grabs our attention, it is far from adequate in describing the utter violation of God’s goodness that subsequently brought fracture and discord into God’s creation. It is inadequate in describing the devastating infection unleashed on creation that followed Adam and Eve’s terrible decision.
The full account of humanity’s creation is unpacked in Genesis 2. After God created the man, He gave him a job, to work and keep his new, perfect home. This was a beautiful be- ginning. We don’t have a time line of this period. We don’t know how long it lasted or how often God engaged with Adam, but what we read in Genesis 3:8 smacks of familiarity. God is described there as “walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” This is written as though it were a common occurrence. God is personal. There is clearly a rich relationship present between the Father and Adam. Within the bounds of this relationship—the relational dynamic of covenant is vitally important—the Father says to Adam, and Adam alone, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (2:16–17). This was the com- mand. It was clear. Periodically I’ve wondered to myself, why? Why create a tree that could cause such havoc? But I know I am asking the wrong question. It is not about the tree, but what the tree represented.
It was not the nature of the tree that made it dangerous . . . but what it stood for: obedience to the word of God.
—Michael D. Williams, Far as the Curse Is Found
The tree itself is inconsequential. What’s in view is whether this man, created in God’s image, endued with God’s love, and granted stewardship of God’s rule, would trust God’s word. It’s the exact same struggle all human beings have today. Will we trust God and take Him at His word, or will we trust ourselves and elevate our word over His? Adam’s, and subsequently Eve’s, answer to that question is all too clear. The ramifications were far-reaching, affecting every aspect of creation and spreading through every generation since them.
Lucifer. The Evil One. Satan. Historically feared, maligned, or made into a playful character, he enters the narrative of Gen- esis 3 in the form of a serpent, as the voice of reasonable decep- tion. Yes, reasonable deception. He approaches Eve subtly and seemingly without ill intent. Adam is not engaged. The serpent begins his innocent inquiry by simply asking, “Did God actu- ally say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (verse 1). This is not threatening at first, but is presented as confusion on his part. Perhaps one unfamiliar with the narrative may think he simply misunderstood the command of God. But this was no misunderstanding. This was a coy attempt at dishonoring their Father and inciting rebellion. Eve, having been instructed at some point by Adam as to what God said, responded as if correcting Lucifer’s confusion, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die’ ” (verses 2–3).
There is clarity in her response, though minor variations exist in what she says compared to what God commanded Adam. Though it could be perceived that she sees God’s in- structions as open to human interpretation, at the very least she understands the consequences of rebellion. She knows the ultimate end of choosing wrongly. But the serpent’s insistent persuasion doesn’t relent at her gentle rebuke. His motives are immediately made clear: “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (verses 4–5). The trap was set, the seed sown, rebellion imminent, as the woman suddenly believed a lie. Actually she believed the lie, the same one we believe every time we rebel against God’s goodness. God must be hiding something from me. God must not have my best interest in mind. God. Is. Not. Good.
The almoST undoinG oF everyThinG
It happens so swiftly that one must read and reread to try to grasp the moment that the woman forsook her relational cove- nant with God, her calling to steward His rule, her imaging Him in perfection, for some false notion that she could be a better god than God. All the while you must wonder, “What is Adam doing right now?” The original command came to him, did it not? He was made first, was he not? Why would he not, in this moment, step between the serpent and his wife and me- diate the mistake that was about to unravel their covenant rela- tionship with God? Perhaps this question is unanswerable, but what we do know is he not only allowed her to be deceived, but he took the deception from her hands, following instead of leading, partaking in death right along with her. “She took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6).
In a single moment, everything God intended is seemingly undone. God’s relational covenant with humanity is violated. Humanity’s stewardship over the whole of creation is distorted. Humanity’s capacity to adequately image God is marred. Ev- erything God previously marveled over and called very good immediately began to experience the consequences of Adam and Eve’s decision to willfully violate the Word of God and believe the lie of the Evil One.
Our first parents being left to the freedom of their own will, through the temptation of Satan, transgressed the commandment of God in eating the forbidden fruit; and thereby fell from the estate of innocence wherein they were created.
—Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 21
This was a complete flight from God. Their rebellion in- vited discord, alienation, and the covenant curse of guilt and death. The narrative then shifts from the conception of rebel- lion to God’s response. God, walking in the garden as He seem- ingly did with regularity, calls out to Adam, “Where are you?” (verse 9). They were hiding. God is God. His question is not one of location but an almost rhetorical question of spiritual and relational state. He knew what they’d done. They’d never hidden before. Their relationship just experienced a decisive shift. Notice he calls for the man. Why? Because it was to the man that the covenant command was handed down. It was with the man that the covenant relationship was initiated. And ultimately it is the man, God’s first son, who is responsible for what has taken place.
Upon God’s call, the man responds. He is naked and afraid, he tells God. God inquires, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11). Again God inquires, not because He lacks the knowledge, but because He is engaging the fracture of their spiritual and emotional state, of their relationship with Him, and of His creation. In response to God’s question, they begin blame shifting. It’s a common trait that has been handed down to us from the first couple. Adam blames his wife. Eve blames the serpent. God looks on with heartbreak and disgust.
I’ve often imagined this moment. Painful? Filled with re- gret? A mix of varying emotions? We often characterize God as distant, as though He doesn’t feel. Yet the Scriptures are replete with moments where God expresses deep emotions. We are made in His image after all, however marred it might now be. Where do you think our emotions come from?
Anger | Psalm 7:11
Compassion | Lamentations 3:22
Grief | Genesis 6:6
Love | 1 John 4:8
Hate | Proverbs 6:16
Jealousy | Nahum 1:2
Joy | Zephaniah 3:17
Pleasure | Psalm 149:4
Pity | Judges 2:18
I only share this so that you understand that what took place was not some impersonal breaking of God’s law but a very personal violation of God’s love. We need to have that as the context to understand what happens next.
God, in response to their rebellion, imposes several curses on all involved in this covenant-breaking revolt. His righteous anger was turned on the Evil One first, no doubt leaving the two made in His image to wonder what exactly would be their fate. He curses the serpent to spend forever writhing along the ground, lower than any other created thing. God turns to the woman, promising pain in childbirth and a constant sense of inadequacy that would cause her to long after her husband’s role. She would not, unless something dramatically altered the course of human history, ever experience the co-equal but role- designated dominion over the earth that God granted them in Genesis 1:26–28.
God then finally turns to the man, His first made. He re- bukes him for submitting to the voice of his wife rather than the command of God. He reminds Adam of His covenant, not only with humanity, but all of creation. God reminds Adam of his role to steward God’s rule in the world and the subsequent effects of His rebellion: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17–19).
You must ask yourself why. Why is the ground itself cursed because of Adam’s revolt? When Adam violated his covenant with the Father, everything under his stewardship violated it as well. The consequences, then, extended to every aspect of God’s creation. The world would now be experienced as an inhospi- table place, human dominion challenged at every turn. Work becomes toilsome instead of joyous. Adam’s rebellion shattered the harmony in which God’s creation, His entire creation, previ- ously existed. The apostle Paul tells us that the world groans under the weight of sin, though the material universe did not bring that groaning upon itself (Romans 8:20–22). Even the Old Testament prophet Hosea sees the connection between hu- manity’s response to God and the health of the rest of creation.
There is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Therefore the land mourns,
and all who dwell in it languish,
and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens,
and even the fish of the sea are taken away. (4:2–3)
The scope of Adam’s revolt undeniably includes the entire planet.
God didn’T run
God could have washed His hands, started over, pulled the transient card, walked away, and left things as they were: a sin- sick people inhabiting a sin-sickened world. But God is too good for that. He is too kind. Through one man came death (Romans 5:12), but through another man would come the renovation of all that was broken. Through the second Adam would come life (verse 17).
Found within the words of the curse that God imposed on the serpent is a sliver of hope. You could miss it easily if you’re not attentive to the character of God or the words being spo- ken. After God curses the serpent to its lowly existence, He speaks to that which inhabits the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). God’s hostility is directed to the serpent, not the man, not the woman, and not His creation. His war is not against the world He made but against the serpent, against sin and death, against disobedience and rebellion, against anything that would try to threaten His rule. There are essen- tially two antithetical kingdoms set against each other because of the infection called sin that entered God’s world. And God would not lose what is His.
But what, you may wonder, is hopeful in these words? Martin Luther called Genesis 3:15 the proto-euangelion—the first gospel. In these words of war, God also declares hope and good news that can only point to the One to come. God announces to the serpent that the woman will be his enemy. She will not follow after him. God will have her as His own, and God will have a people through her as His own. Though they revolted, God will redeem them. This is the extent of the jealously renovating love of God.
In this first gospel, God doesn’t stop at announcing this enmity between the woman and the serpent. God is making promises, the greatest of which is that One is coming who will right this grave injustice and alter the course of human history. The He spoken of here is the coming Messiah, Jesus. He will be the One to secure the promises God made. He will be the One who will ultimately crush the head of the serpent and reclaim for the Father all that belongs to Him.
a GraCe-Full TranSiTion
This moment of transition from curse to grace is paramount. In opposition to a spirit of transience, God is committing to permanence, ensuring the future of humanity and, with it, all
of creation. The narrative ends with two beautiful reflections of God’s covenant promise being kept. First, understanding, it seems, what has just taken place in God’s war/hope declara- tion, Adam names his wife. Until this moment she had simply been referred to as “the woman.” Now that God has secured for her and her offspring a future free from becoming like the serpent, and promised to form a people for Himself from all people, Adam gives her a name meaning “life” and “mother of all” (verse 20). Second, we see God in a glorious act of grace make the first atoning sacrifice in Scripture, and with the skins of that sacrifice, He covered the nakedness of His two chil- dren. He covered their sin in the sense that their knowing their nakedness was a direct result of their rebellion. This is grace. This is hope. This is God’s securing what is His and making plain that nothing would stop His intentions. This is the be- ginning of His great redemption. God did not give up on His world, nor did He give up on His stewards, namely, humanity. God desired a renovation of what once was, and so throughout Genesis we see God seek a renewal of His original covenant: first with Noah, then with Abraham, and then with Israel, and this extends down the generational lines through Jesus to you and me. We are now called, through God’s renewed cov- enant in Christ, to be mediators of His renovation of the entire world. Where Adam and Eve failed, in Christ, we have hope to succeed.
That is why we are here.
What did you find in this chapter to be thought provoking? How would you describe your emotional reaction to the chapter—angered? reassured? challenged? Take a moment and write your responses in the space provided below so you can track your thoughts over the course of this book.
Table of Contents
Foreword Matt Chandler xiii
1 Why Are We Here? 11
2 The Way Home 33
3 The Grand Tour 61
Intermission: A Round-Table Discussion 77
4 A Theology of Place 101
5 The Sanity of Sentness 135
6 The New Reality 175