What value would there ever be in any book whose introduction is longer than the story itself? Well, believe it or not, this is not a marketing ploy. I pray this book is engaging and affecting to the soul. It is succinct purposefully to make a point.
And ironically, this sentence took me more time than some of my prior books (that may not be a good thing). But this all came together while thinking through several recent, revealing events (more on that in a minute).
When you read this sentence, you will discover that it is themed around a hurtful father. Thankfully, I can say that theme is not my story, but it is much of my life. As a pastor, there is almost no greater wound that I see must be addressed than the family wound. So many people spend their days with the echo of their father’s mocking words in their ears or the memory of his disapproving glance in their minds. Men and women, even children, are so often driven by a need to either disprove their father or to disdain him, and so much wreckage lies between.
These truths became heightened in the past few months, and ultimately moved me to start writing, after watching two very different cultural tent poles.
My wife loves “Gilmore Girls”, and I joined her recently on a Netflix binge. In the series, Lorelai Gilmore works to establish a life in the attempt to distance herself from her disapproving mother and father. All the while, there are hints that she would love a random, “Well done.”
In one poignant scene, she returns home with her ex-boyfriend (the father of her daughter) for dinner with her and his parents. Awkwardness and pleasantries abound until his parents accuse Lorelai of ruining their son’s life and derailing his chances of going to college. Finally, Lorelai’s father stands up to defend her. This appears to be the moment in which Lorelai has dreamed.
Afterwards, there is a powerful scene where she goes to thank him, but this moment hurts her all the more. He wasn’t defending her. He was defending the family name. She defeatedly slinks out of the room knowing that she will never win her father’s approval.
Oddly enough, the other cultural tent pole that spurred my thinking came by watching “Christmas Vacation”. In one famous scene, Clark Griswold spends the day decorating the house so that they can have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since…well, you know the line.
So, as Clark prepares to turn on the Christmas lights, he brings the entire family out to see his creation. He plugs it in, and nothing happens. There is a wonderful clanging symbol of side-effect in the background that perfectly summarizes his feelings.
Clark’s father-in-law, Art, responds by saying, “I hope you kids see what a silly waste of resources this was.” Clark is crushed. Yet, he is not going to give up.
Finally, Clark gets the house to light once his wife realizes that they needed to flip a light switch. The entire neighborhood dims as Clark’s home takes off in light.
Clark is proud.
Clark is triumphant.
However, Art comments that the lights don’t blink. Clark resigns with a, “Thanks for noticing.”
Seeing these images pushed me to attempt to articulate the pain of many.
Thankfully, this is not every person’s story, but a Father’s words are powerful. His words of affection are restorative. His words of pain are damning, and the efforts to heal the lack may take a lifetime.
That healing is my joy to proclaim as the Gospel of Jesus declares an ending from the Heavenly Father of, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Those words are desperately needed and hopefully attractive. I hope you search them out after this reading.
Ah, the stubbled father who thinly hides behind the humor of personal arrows and laughs at the wounded’s cry for dignity, delegating it to sensitivity.
A Final Word…
As I was wrapping this project up, I began the Amazon research necessary to have it published. I then discovered that there is a wonderful movement surrounding the single sentence expression. I found there brave men and women seeking to articulate what is or what has been in their hearts.
This tiny tome is not part of those works as it was created in complete ignorance of those efforts, but it is a contribution of sorts as I hope it is a collection of words with which many will resonate.
Ultimately, I pray this sentence is redemptive in that it will free up someone to understand their own heart and move towards reconciliation either earthly or heavenly.
In the book of Ezra, as God returns His people from a time of exile, we find that God sends thousands of them back home to begin rebuilding the temple. In chapter two, there are 70 verses of names. These are the people who are sent back to start that difficult work.
Why in the world would God include 70 verses of almost unpronounceable names?
Well, determining why or why not God would do something is a dangerous game. However, we can take away a couple of important principles. Including these names shows the value and dignity that God gives each individual as they make up the people of God. In the midst of those thousands, God wanted the individuals and families to be known. God was working among His people, but He was stirring individuals first. And we give those names honor and dignity in their reading.
The inverse is true as well. Yes, we are saved into a personal relationship with Jesus as we cry out in faith for the forgiveness of sin. That personal relationship is also part of the larger work that God is doing within the church.
But what application should this have for our worship? Worship removes our anonymity.
No Christian, no child of God, should ever be nameless or faceless in the church. The church should be the one place that understands that each person is valued. As any person enters our doors or enters into our communities, they should be treated with dignity, and they should be on the progression of being known and known well – not as a number, but as a person.
Does this mean that larger churches are getting it wrong as they have so many thousands to get to know? No, reading the book of Acts and seeing the thousands coming to know Christ would argue against that. However, the church (and especially our worship) should be about each person becoming known as they are known by Christ. We should reach out across socioeconomic (and pretty much any other lines) to know each other well. So, big or small, the church’s emphasis must be about bringing people to deeper intimacy with Christ first and then deeper intimacy within the church.
These things must be grounded in a worship of Jesus creating a thankfulness for His work that draws us out of the loneliness and deserts of our lives. Worship should be an eye to eye experience of the many becoming one in lifting up the name of Jesus. That should mean that the focus of our worship cannot be about us. The focus of our worship must be on the name of Jesus as He alone is what unifies us. No mission, no takeaway, no benefit will ultimately unify us and remove our facelessness. Jesus alone will give us a true name and a true face.
A lonely person among the people of God should be an oxymoron.
We are known well by Christ as we cry out to Him. Our worship should be moments where we engage each other in an act of unity, and all the other elements that go into the functions of the church should move people towards deeper relationships under the name of Jesus.
You may ask, “But aren’t there portions of the service that do create isolation and alienation like the Lord’s Supper?” In our next post in our worship series, we will wrestle with how a worship service can speak to both believers and non-believers without creating an unnecessary alienation for those who don’t believe.
This is our second post of worship observations. You can find our first here. This week, we talk about when things don’t go well – a common challenge for young churches.
At Evident Grace, we have been meeting for a year and a half. For church planters and church plants, a year and a half feels like five regular years. Each Sunday, you feel like you are taking giant leaps forward as you become more efficient in everything from setup/takedown, greeting, music, children’s ministry, etc.
And then there are the Sundays where you feel like you take giant steps back. It feels like you have never met for worship before. No one seems to get anything right.
Here is my encouragement, fellow planters and young churches: While each good Sunday feels like five years ahead, an off Sunday is not a five year setback. Let me give a painful example.
This past Sunday, we were launching a new series, “Journey to Worship – a Study of Ezra”. Excitement built fairly well, and several folks joined in to help with a decent amount of web/social media promotion. While I am given to hyperbole like many church planters, I could realistically say that folks were pretty excited.
But things didn’t go as planned.
For some reason, from the onset, I stumbled over my words. Apparently, I said that, “Christ was circumcised for our sins.” While true in one sense that was far away from my wanting to say that He was crucified for our sins.
I was leading our music as well. Leading a crowd in singing is something that I have comfortably done for over 25 years now, but apparently, comfortable was not yesterday. I couldn’t get into a groove no matter what. In fact, the team finally stopped one song and just began again.
My sermon was never was comfortable either. I felt rushed. I felt the need to over-explain everything, and I continually lost the ability to pronounce most every world.
We made plans to take the Lord’s Supper, but our elder wasn’t able to make it, so the elements remained lonely on the table – something we had to explain to our congregations and visitors.
I left assured that no one was ever going to show up ever again.
But here is the encouragement to my heart and to yours, young planter and young congregation. Our worship is not about professionalism and perfection. While starting songs together and ending them together is preferable, while a commanding sermon delivery is helpful, neither of those are necessary for worship. Worship must always be about grace. Worship must always be about the lifting up of Christ. Grace and Christ equal worship. Preciseness is a bonus.
Yes, you seek to improve in every area. You learn from things that go both well and poorly. You practice and study more. You offer areas that continue to struggle to God in prayer. And then you give thanks for what happens.
So, this week, we will work towards getting the songs right and pronouncing the words correctly knowing that Christ will once again meet us on Sunday. If we make mistakes, we haven’t stepped back five years.
Christ will be lifted up, Christ will be honored, and we will be transformed. We will wait for eternity for mistake free worship.
As of late, I have tried to expand my listening habits to take in pastors who I have typically neglected. This list includes pastors of some of the megas who don’t usually show up on my “theologically sound” list but do show up on the, “Let’s grow big list.” My motivation hasn’t been to try to jump into the megachurch arena but merely to know more about what is happening in our church cultures.
I don’t include their names here as I am not trying to take folks down but only learn. My goals have not been to throw stones or even to disparage. It appears that God is doing great things in churches that don’t run their sermons through a theological or confessional grid. There are pastors gifted with incredible speaking skills. There are pastors who have much to teach all of us.
And there are some who almost none of that matters. To my ears, their sermons scream, “Run away.”
So, please allow me to run through some personal pros and cons that I have gathered lately. I offer them as lessons that I have learned, and in the reading, you have the choice to throw out either the baby or the bath water.
Every congregation needs hope. No matter the text, no matter the passage, and no matter the church venue. Hope is significant to the scriptures and significant to the human heart. The pastors of the churches I have heard do a great job of offering hope.
Every congregation needs to be engaged. These pastors do a great job at engaging their folks. Preaching is different than teaching. Lectures are not preaching. If folks feel like they are listening to the pastoral equivalent of someone reading a dictionary (ala a list of facts to be assimilated), they will checkout mentally. Their growth may very well be limited to the Biblical equivalent of a Fantasy Football League team. You know a lot, but to what purpose?
A sermon that preaches change without addressing sin and repentance is just empty motivation speaking. If the primary point of the pastor’s message is about your missing out on God’s blessing and your living at a higher level, but all the talk skips the issue of sin, be wary. Believe me, I’ve been to the dour faced, “All we talk about is sin,” depressing churches. That is not what I’m talking about. Repentance is walking in one direction and then turning and walking in another. That is how the scriptures define change, and offering grace in the face of sin to motivate and sustain is true change. Not doing that is rah rah pep talk. It only motivates for a season.
A Christian sermon must ultimately be about and point to Christ to be Christian. Casual references to Christ are only casually Christian. If Christ is unnecessary for a sermon, then anyone from any religion could preach it.
If the music starts in the background 5-10 minutes before the sermon ends and then rises to when the pastor gets to the frenetic, high energy climax of his sermon, you should feel emotionally manipulated. That is just classic, emotional, crowd manipulation. The Stones, Zep, Kiss, etc perfected that technique years earlier. It might work in terms of crowd reaction, but be prepared for the drive home/post sermon emotional crash.
And so, I’ll listen to a few more sermons in the next few weeks. As a disclaimer, I am not saying that only the pastors of the megas are guilty of these cons. Many pastors are. For example, I know the music starts early in tons of churches. I just don’t trust why they do. This was simply an exercise and a collection of observations of my own in the past few weeks.
Sunday, August 3rd, will be the final worship service for Sovereign King Church in Garner, NC.
Much like many of you, I wept when I heard the news.
Unfortunately, ministries, churches, and pastors come and go. As one friend reminded me, “Everything in this world has a lifespan.” And though death, endings, and even graduations are something we grow comfortable with, they are never pain-free. While numbers vary, some estimate that between 3,000 and 4,000 churches close their doors each year. The question I wrestle with (and I imagine others do as well) is, “How is the death of a church redeemed?”
Towards that end, individual stories make up the end of a church. This is my portion of SK’s.
Redeemer Church and Eastern Carolina Presbytery sent me and my family to Garner in 2005 with the commission of an evangelist to do what is called scratch planting. Scratch planting, also known as parachute planting, is when you move onto the field without anyone previously committing to help start a church. You start from scratch after you parachute onto the field.
We launched quickly with coffee shop bible studies, blogging, and community service. Soon, we gathered 20 or so people together and huddled with Christ our Comfort, PCA (now Christ the King) as they replanted. The 40 to 50 of us gathered each week in the old YMCA building (also now non-existent) on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, NC. Eventually from those humble beginnings, SK grew to a consistent 70-80 in worship with vibrant chaplain ministries to the police and EMS in addition to service ministries to a local women’s shelter.
In hearing that, one might ask, “Well, what happened?”
There is no scandalous story here. There is no corrupt tale of money-laundering or sordid affairs. It appears that through God’s providence, things have just come to an end. People moved on to new jobs. Some preferred a different music style. Vibrancy of ministries became lukewarm. Things just came to an end.
I can’t speak to the philosophy of ministry presently at SK as I left to plant Evident Grace Fellowship in Spotsylvania, Va. nearly two years ago, but I know that their pastor, their elders, their families, and all the congregation have been faithful. Perhaps, and hopefully, many of them will add their voice of thanks to what has God has done in Garner through Sovereign King because there is so much to celebrate…
Relationships with Christ deepened.
The homeless found Christ, education, employment, and even marriage.
Broken marriages were restored.
A young man and his family suffered a tragic car crash and were loved and served.
Police officers came to know Christ.
Children in the church made professions of faith and took their first Lords Suppers.
And most significantly, the saving faith of Jesus Christ was raised and defended in the marketplace of ideas in that small town.
This apparent death is not a useless, hallow shoveling of dirt on the casket of yet another church. In Christ, all death is redeemed. Some of those redemptions may not be seen immediately, but in God’s grace, many of them will be apparent (even in this lifetime).
I’ve been a pastor in some sense for over 10 years now. Redeemer Church sent me out to plant Sovereign King. I left Sovereign King to plant Evident Grace. Most of our children will leave their home church to prayerfully worship and work at another when they become adults.
The death of Christ and His glorious resurrection mean that the curse of death and ending is redeemed with continuity and eternity.
While SK won’t be gathering in its present form each Sunday in Garner, the pastor, elders, and members will be sent as missionaries to points on the compass that aren’t even known at this point. And that truly is the hope of this applied resurrection. As another friend reminded me, the worship of Jesus is never restricted to a specific address. Out of the death of this church, countless others will arise, and Christ will be glorified…now in even more places each Sunday.
In death, it is right to mourn, but that mourning is not pointless, nor is it morose. It need not be comforted with platitudes and moronic, thoughtless expressions. Christ is risen, and His church and His people are risen with Him. His fame goes forward.
God did so much for His glory in His people’s heart and in the town of Garner. He still will beyond SK. His name is forever praised in the heart of many, and the legacy of Sovereign King is one drenched in the hopeful Gospel of Jesus resurrection.
I hope other people add to this story. So much needs to be shared and even learned from it because where Christ is lifted up, you will find His people. Where you find His people, you will find the hope of the resurrection. Those stories deserve to be told.
And I can’t wait to learn what happens next.
The thought is that as Evident Grace grows in communication, we will grow in loving and serving one another, and we will grow in learning how to love and serve our community.
This is what we want as we see our sermons and bible studies talked about and applied in our lives. This is what we want as we learn how to help each other serve our neighbors. This is what we want as we grow in serving our community as a church. So towards those ends, we have established a few new avenues for us to communicate with each other.
We have a created a physical church directory that you can pick up on any Sunday worship.
We have updated our website http://www.evidentgrace.com with a ton of new information.
Audio of our sermons is now available in two places: at http://evidentgrace.com/worship/sermons/ and at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/evident-grace-fellowship/id873994915?mt=2http://evidentgrace.libsyn.com/rss
Our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/evidentgracefellowship is continually updated.
You can now follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/EGFellowship
And we have launched the Table Project which is an online home to enable person to person communication. If you would like to be part of the Table project. Send a request from https://evidentgrace.tableproject.org/
Our goal is that these things will help us get to know each other and learn how to serve.
D.A. Carson lists 8 motivations of the Gospel appeal of Christ. In Tim Keller’s “Center Church”, he combines and simplifies them into 6. I felt they were incredibly helpful for us as a young church as our unified desire is and must be proclaiming the Gospel to each other while continually sharing the Gospel with those who do not yet know Christ.
In our last sermon, we also addressed a broader approach in speaking about the Gospel than just merely “turn or burn”. While this list is by no means all-encompassing, I think it hits the mark pretty well. Tell me what you think.
When sharing the Gospel…
Sometimes the appeal is to come to God out of fear of judgment and death: Hebrews 2:14-18 speaks about how Christ delivers us from the bondage of fear and death.
Sometimes the appeal is to come to God out of a desire for release from the burdens of guilt and shame: Galatians 3:10-12 speaks of our curse of the law.
Sometimes the appeal is to come to God out of appreciation for the “attractiveness of truth”: 1 Corinthians 1 speaks of the wisdom of the cross being the consummate wisdom to be known.
Sometimes the appeal is to come to God to satisfy unfulfilled existential longings: In John 4, Jesus speaks of being living water to those who are thirsty.
Sometimes the appeal is to come to God for help with a problem: Carson calls this a “despairing sense of need”. The woman with a hemorrhage (Matthew 9) and the two men with blindness (Matthew 9) approached Jesus with practical needs.
Sometimes the appeal is to come to God simply out of a desire to be loved: Throughout the Gospels, Jesus’ humility, tenderness, wisdom, His love, and grace draw people like a magnet.
I hope this is helpful and even inspiring to you to speak of Jesus to someone who doesn’t know Him yet. I also hope it is appealing to any who do not yet know Jesus who are reading this.
We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, and God went so far to insure that we become like Christ that He mapped out the whole plan for you to His glory. This is an incredible hope for us to trust in, but sometimes, it feels ephemeral and far off.
I enter in this lightly, but let me attempt an illustration.
Most everyone loves going to the beach, but going to the beach as a parent is not like what it was when I was in college. In college, all it would take was a couple of folks saying, “Hey, you want to go to the beach today?” 15 minutes later, we were on the road.
But now, with kids, it takes coordination with the NSA, FBI, and Homeland security to get out the door. You have to pack bathing suits, towels, sunscreen, flip flops, paddle balls, umbrellas, coolers, juice boxes, food, and pretty much every other device imaginable. And why do parents do all of that? Pretty much so the kids can have hours of fun and you as a parent can enjoy the beach for about 30 minutes. Maybe you are able to get a couple of cool pictures to post on Facebook and Instagram, but even that is not guaranteed.
That’s a shadow of what God has done for you. Just as God chose you before “let there was light” was even declared, God also prepared beforehand that you would grow in good works and obedience. Your obedience is just as sure as your salvation because God prepared for it.
The good news is that God never tires and He always enjoys the good works of His children. Parents often wonder, “Why are we doing this” when they apply the tenth layer of sunscreen. But your obedience is planned by a never tiring Father, your growth is secured by the work of Jesus, and your growth are essential elements of the masterpiece that God is creating in His children’s lives.
So, today, as you grow weary in wanting to mature in Christ, as you are tempted to give up, remind yourself that God has already made plans to grow you. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus provide for both a sure forgiveness and a sure maturity for you.
There will be struggles, and there will be setbacks, but the Gospel of what Jesus has done, provides hope.
Icy days move me to reflection (and apparently, random reflection).
This coming Monday, January 13th, will be one year ago that my family moved to Va. We packed up, crashed with some friends, and asked, “Hey, who wants to help plant a church?”
At that point, we had acquaintances here, but no deep friendships. Now, we have deep friendships and a growing congregation.
But even more than what is going on in the Duncan household, God is moving among us in the Spotsylvania area. Honest, gospel conversations are happening each day.
Jesus is being spoken to people who don’t know Him.
Jesus is being spoken to people who want to know Him better.
Jesus is being spoken to those who know Him well but crave for more.
And Jesus is being spoken in places in which we are unaware.
Like my buddy, Andy Stager, says, “Gardens aren’t launched; they are planted.” As it goes, Evident Grace is gradually growing and continually being planted. Right now, we are in the work of planning, pruning, seeding, and reseeding. We pray for growth and flourishment to honor Christ.
All of this makes me dizzier than the seizures I’ve worked through in the last year, but the big difference is that this dizziness is a lot more enjoyable.
I’ve been challenged a lot lately towards this end: Preach Christ and not Evident Grace. Invite people to Christ and not just to a worship service. That is a good reminder and an obvious challenge of faith. I know it is a good and right one though.
So, thanks for the icy rambling. Just like driving in this weather, I write them carefully and hope to arrive at my destination without too much damage. I hope the same for you.
At Evident Grace, we value that the best way to understand a book of the Bible is to walk line by line through it. This is called understanding a book exegetically or from my perspective, it is called exegetical preaching. Every now and then, that means we look at some pretty strange verses, but this will give you a deeper understanding of the book and that will keep me honest as I can’t just skip around to whatever verse I want.
Also, if we are going to fully grasp whatever any book of the Bible is attempting to communicate, we need to know a bit of the book’s background. So, if you don’t mind, let me tell you a bit of the history of Ephesians.
The Apostle Paul wrote this while sitting in a Roman prison somewhere between 60 and 64AD. The sole reason that Paul was in jail was that he preached salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ and that Jesus was king. The local governments didn’t care who you worshiped but that person couldn’t be the king of the entire world. That title was reserved for Caesar.
So as Paul sat in a nasty jail, he wrote this letter to the church in Ephesus. Paul had visited them earlier in his life, but since that visit, the church grew a great deal. So, some of those receiving this letter would have known Paul really well, while others would never have had the chance to hear him or interact with him.
With all of that in mind, as we read and study this book, we should notice two themes. The first theme is that Christ has repaired the broken relationship between the sinful world and God. That repair is permanent and ultimate and accomplished. The second theme is that now, Christ has created a worshiping community, the church, that is made up of all kinds of people, not just Jews, but all races.
And the wonderful thing is that this letter is written to this church out of affection and care. Paul is not writing it out of a need for rebuke against a specific sinful teaching or against some incorrect belief or doctrine. That’s rare these days but would have been even more rare in Ephesus. Ephesus was a city full of heresy and even occult practices, but this church seemed to be free of those things for the most part.
So Paul is going to get started here reminding the Ephesians of how their relationship with God began, and then he wants to build on that understanding. On that point, I think Evident Grace can relate. For the past year, we have attempted to build a foundation of the gospel at Evident Grace, and now, I hope we can build on it.
In 2014, Evident Grace is going to continue to build on the foundation of the gospel. We are going to build on the gospel in our worship services. And I hope that through our Evident Grace groups, kafasoto and Bushiban groups, we can build on the gospel there as well.
So let’s look at the foundational teaching that Paul explains and pray that God will remind us of those things as we study the book of Ephesians. And the first foundational gospel teaching that Paul gives us is the wonderful truth that God adopts us out of sin to be His child, and He does those things for His glory. So with that in mind, it is going to be no surprise that we hope to pursue this Big Idea: Our security is that God has adopted us for His glory by His will.
Having said that, please join us this Sunday. We meet at 10:30am at the comedy club above Liberty Lanes. You can find directions here. Please come as you are, and we look forward to meeting you.