Psalm 122: 6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. 7 May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” 8 For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.” 9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity.
The expression “glorious burden” describes the privilege that those in places of authority have to seek the good of those under their care.
Pastors have this as they shepherd and preach to their people.
Parents have this as they raise and teach their children.
Teachers have this. Politicians have this.
Essentially, all who have the privilege to care have this.
In reading David’s prayer in Psalm 122, you see a clear love for His people. He wanted their security. He wanted their peace. He wanted families to be safe. He wanted the prosperity of all of the people of God.
Today, each and every one of us bear this same glorious burden. It is neglected at times as we seek our good above others under our care, but we must always right ourselves to the heart of Jesus.
Hebrews 12:1b And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Our perseverance in loving and caring for others comes from Jesus’ love and care to joyfully endure the cross for our sake. So then…
Pastors, pray for the ongoing needs of your people asking God for mercy at every turn.
Parents, pray for the safety and godliness of your children in a world where both are rare.
Spouses, pray for each other as the road of lifeline companionship is fraught with obstacles.
Business Owners, pray for your employees to serve with dignity in an environment that you have created that enables it.
Teachers, pray for learning and appreciation in what you teach.
Children, pray for you parents and their perseverance in the long road of caring for you.
Pray for all who you love and even your enemies that they may be blessed.
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.
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.
While I’m likely to issue a press release every time Evident Grace twitches, and I’ve worn all of you out on Facebook every time I write a new book, I am not typically issuing updates about my health. However, since a few of you have heard about what’s going on with me, I thought I would send out a prayer update.
To begin with, I’m fine, but the doctors have diagnosed me with an epileptic condition as I am having what they call “silent seizures”. As always, things like this work best in story.
Last year, around the time my father (Sam) passed away, I began have pauses. A pause is when all of a sudden, in the middle of a conversation or even driving down the road, I just stopped talking. I couldn’t talk if I wanted to say anything. As many of you know my pace, pausing is not something I typically do. But if I was in the middle of a conversation, I would all of a sudden just stop. I felt the moments coming on, and I was aware that I was having them. 10-15 seconds later, they would go away.
In October of last year, I had a yearly checkup and told my doctor about them. After hearing that I had lost both of my parents over a five month period, that I was switching jobs, and that I was moving out of the state, he chalked them up to fatigue and stress. So, I did too.
But over the past few months, these pauses began to increase in frequency. I was having them at least twice a week. And, on an occasion or two, I spoke some pretty non-sensical things that I didn’t remember saying. I even had them in two sermons which most of the congregation chalked up to a movement of the Spirit or perhaps a frustration with the crowd.
We have a doctor at Evident Grace, and I asked him to keep an eye out in case I ever had one around him. He was at one of those sermons where I paused, and he recommended that I see a local neurologist that he respected.
So, about a month ago, I had my first appointment, and the doc suggested that I have an EEG and an MRI (one of those strange acronyms that begins with a consonant yet demands an “an” before it). The MRI came back negative, so we know that it’s not a tumor (said in my best “Kindgarten Cop” voice). However, the EEG showed some brain abnormalities on the left hand side. The doc has prescribed some anti-seizure meds, and they are working so far. They do, however, make me incredibly sleepy, and this is to be expected for the first month as my body adjusts.
So, that’s where we stand. I may have more tests to go as the types of seizures I’m having are rare in adults, but the primary plan right now is to get used to the meds and keep track of any more moments that I might have.
I appreciate your willingness to read this diatribe, but I do desire your prayers. These moments have been incredibly stressful to Amy and the girls. I’m slogging my way through my new meds, and we are praying that nothing about this worsens. Evident Grace is aware of what’s going on, and everyone has been incredibly encouraging and prayerful. I just need to be wise about my pace with them, with my family, and with my training schedule. If I need rest, I need to get it.
Thanks for your prayers, and feel free to email me back with any thoughts or questions. I do really appreciate how much Amy and I can depend on you guys for prayer.