Church Plant Memoirs – Terror and Vulnerability

As of this writing, New York City has once again become the target of a terrorist attack. By God’s great mercy, no one was hurt severely. With that thought in mind, New Yorkers, in a kind of defiance to those who would seek to strike fear into this great metropolitan city, got back to being about their business rather quickly. This attack, unlike others, will end up as nothing more than a historical footnote, but we also know this probably won’t be the last attack. Still, we move on, living our lives, going to work, shopping, etc… Continue reading “Church Plant Memoirs – Terror and Vulnerability”

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Here We Still Stand and Beyond!

Confession time.

I’m about to write something that will be probably be unpopular. Amid a great cloud of witnesses that get the grace of God that I am fortunate to count myself lucky to be a part of, I’ve decided to write a little about works. In fact, a specific work. Yes, I said it. I’m going to write about law, the “imperatives”, the “do” in light of the “done”. If I’m lucky, I’ll annoy people on both sides of the argument in regards to doing the law vs resting in grace. Take it for what it is. 

I recently risked life and limb by boarding a plane and traveling clear across the country so I could do nothing more than sit and hear good gospel proclamation. During the HERE WE STILL STAND conference, I heard teachings on the Reformation, the Five Solas, and on how this Lutheran distinction of the Scriptures came to be. I, along with others, traveled to San Diego California, by cars, planes and trains for this momentous occasion that was the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous nailing of the 95 theses. Some were so desperate for the unencumbered message of grace that was eventually freed by the Reformation, that they even came from as far as United Kingdom, Australia and other far off lands. True story! 

The people there were from all different denominations, and they came because they see conferences like this, which started a few years ago, like a kind of family reunion, but even better. We get family, and we get a message of grace. That’s something not often seen at a regular family gathering. Oh, the lengths one would go to experience this brief taste of Heaven? I overcame a paralyzing fear of flying, for example. 

Now, I have to be real here. As much as I like to say we’ve “cornered the market” this isn’t a new phenomenon. Churches of different denominations and confessions believe they have the goods for their people(and others), and will do things to light a fire or encourage them, and just like this gaggle of graced-out 1517 Christholdfastians, people will go enthusiastically, and travel over great distances to hear the truth as they believe it. I used to go on retreats with an old church, and we’d walk away from our mountain cabins, and be told that, “We are like Moses coming down from the mountain. God’s glory is on us now. Don’t waste it.” It’s not one of my proudest moments. The point is, there are plenty of organizations out there that promise something they say is good, and because they do, people follow with enthusiasm.

Some confessional Lutherans, who sometimes appear to prop themselves up as the sworn “enemies” of anything that hints at Lutheranism, without looking like an exact carbon copy, have their own conference gatherings as well. They have their steadfast converts that travel great distances in the hope they will hear and learn truth. Like any other group, they circle their own wagons theologically, even if something or someone gets trampled on in the process. I think, like our more confessional brothers and sisters, we can be guilty of this as well. We can be so gung-ho for the message of grace, we damn (with words or actions) anyone who doesn’t see it that way.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we are both adhering to truths, even if in practice it lacks compassion. I need to remind myself of that sometimes. When I don’t remind myself, and I fall into that trap of condemning, I know that grace is not at the forefront of my mind.

But despite our differences the same question remains for any group: What next? 

We traversed this past October over great distances for the glory of grace preached from a conference in San Diego, California, just as other Lutherans, Reformed, and other Christians held firm to sound doctrines in smaller gatherings in some fly over states for the same reason. The reality is that grace is an emphasis within those doctrines, even if we don’t always see it. Even when we fail to practice it, and we all, at times, fail to practice it.

So, whatever your classic historical position that falls into Christian orthodoxy is, even if we don’t agree on every theological nuance, what do we do when we get in our cars, or take our planes and trains and go home? Are we so radical in our defense of grace, or the doctrines of grace, or our Lutheranism, that we never step out of our comfort zone to share what we know? It appears Christ Hold Fast is an organization designed to do this, or at least to encourage this, and I’ve seen this played out personally. But, we must face facts. We, Christians in general, sometimes just want to stuff our faces full, and only come up for air to talk about it with others that already get it. Just as a friend said to me once about Lutherans “hiding this good news theology”, which can be a fair argument, I think we should be careful that we don’t take this message of grace and hide it away for good measure.

Whether we care to admit it, most of us desperate for good theology and good grace filled teachings, will cross hundreds, even thousands of miles to get it, and still have trouble crossing a room or even a phone line to share it personally with someone. This is an area I lack in as well. I want to be part of this great cloud of witness that spit grace every chance they get. It’s no different from our more confessional counterparts, who want to be in good community as well. For all the hemming and hawing, we are all the same in many ways. To be honest, similarities exist even across a myriad number of denominations. In the end, it’s easy to receive good things, but to give it out, that’s the hard rub there.

This is where the “do” comes in.

We do have this grace to give out to others and we should be doing it. We should be givers of grace to others, in deeds, but also in words. We all want people to know Christ, with all the mercy and grace found at the foot of the cross. We can’t just be consumers. We need to be sharing this good news. We all have something we sound the trumpet about in our lives on occasion. New jobs, raises, births, weddings, etc… We love to tell people good news. We love to have people come and share in our joy over it. We celebrate it, and have grand parties over it at times.

But, I know this is different.

I know to share this news of God’s grace is not easy. It’s one of the reasons we like pithy sayings, like “Preach the Gospel, if necessary use words”, or “you may be the only Jesus people ever see.” We love this stuff because it allows us to abdicate our responsibility to use words. Actions are necessary. They serve our neighbors and loved ones. It allows a hand of God to be active in their life by providing for them using everyday means. People still need to know Christ loves them, lived for them, died for them. They still need to hear the truth of the Gospel. The truth that Grace reigns from on high. Sometimes they even need to be reminded they need grace because of sin. They need Christ because of sin.

And that’s why it’s difficult.

It’s difficult because we know any Gospel conversation, will eventually lead to the word sin. Phrase it however you want to, at some point, you’re going to sound judgmental and “churchy.” Some may hear it and respond well. Others may not and reject you for it. Let’s face it, none of us like rejection. It’s full of icky feelings that bring you low and it usually compounds on top of a myriad number of other issues you probably have and haven’t revealed to anyone. (There’s grace for those too, by the way.) It’s hard to share the actual words of the gospel. Much easier to be a demonstration of God’s kindness. Again, I am just as guilty.

Let me close with this. Whatever Christian denomination you’re in, despite our nature to go off on tangents in our desire for scalpel-like theological precision, or some physical manifestation of God in our lives by the movement of some gift within us, at the heart of them all is the message of God’s grace poured out for the world. His rescue of people from sin and death. I’m not demanding you, “GO AND DO IT OR ELSE!” I’m asking you to look for opportunities to share this news. If I’m really being honest, ask God to open your eyes to those opportunities not just outside of church but within the walls of your congregation as well. I needed it, I know others do too.

As much as you do this or don’t do this, there is no tally, no recording to make sure you’re doing your part. God’s grace reigns over all your attempts to share the Gospel, including the failed attempts. The ones where you just couldn’t sum up the courage to do it. He doesn’t keep track that way. He sees Christ’s life covering you. He validates that truth with the words, “Well, done good and faithful servant.”

Serve your neighbor. Share the Gospel. Use words. Do it freely without obligation or the need for further validation.

Blessings.

The great messages for the HERE WE STILL STAND conference will be viewable very shortly. keep checking CHRIST HOLD FAST for that… and keep up with them for more conferences, podcasts articles and other happenings on Twitter HERE and on Facebook HERE

Also, Please check out 1517. THE LEGACY PROJECT. They are the main reason we can put out so much great content and have so many good conferences across the  country. You can also follow them on Twitter HERE and Facebook HERE

Church Plant Memoirs: In The Beginning…

Though I didn’t publish it until now, this was the first article I ever wrote about our church plant. As I reviewed it, I’m astonished at how much has changed in just a few short months. We have tweaked and re-tweaked our service during that time to what flows best, and we’ve settled on a worship leader who’s helped us put in place a solid team of musicians. Most of all, the church has been growing slowly but steadily, and we can say that as of September 2017, we have a solid stream of consistent attendees that have, either by verbal proclamation, or by their weekly appearance, made Epiphany their home church. Because of that, relationships have blossomed, and are continuing to grow. We even have more weekly community groups popping up. Finally, the Gospel continues to be poured out to all, in word, song, and sacrament. I am extremely thankful to be a part of this mission, and look forward to the future. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into our recent past, and that it encourages you to see that God still builds His church:

It was utterly glorious. Continue reading “Church Plant Memoirs: In The Beginning…”

Church Plant Memoirs: The Left-Over Gospel

Every week since our church launched, I, along with others, have been charged with various jobs in relation to the smooth running of the church service. Whether its setting up worship equipment, placing inserts in bulletins, preparing after service coffee, or making ready the elements of communion. There’s an encouraging hope in doing those things week after week. There is burgeoning anticipation of seeing our small group of regulars, and we do have regulars, praise God, that return every Sunday evening, along with a few new faces that seem to stumble upon these old church doors each week. For me, it’s never enough. We have far too much left-over Gospel at the end of our service each Sunday night.  Continue reading “Church Plant Memoirs: The Left-Over Gospel”

Church Plant Memoirs: What Was I Thinking?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Nearly 9:00 PM, and I feel like a prisoner in my car. If there is one thing I feared the most about being part of a church plant in the heart of New York City, this would be it. Continue reading “Church Plant Memoirs: What Was I Thinking?”

Words…

The internet is a “world” that we live in, though certainly different from the one whose streets we normally walk. I look out across the internet, and see so many different types of people. Some are guarded, and others are funny. some have an air of seriousness about them, and a few people let themselves be exposed right to the bone. I see lots of, “life is great”, “God has blessed me”, and “everything is awesome!” Even the ones that lay out their lives for others to see so that they may see themselves in it and be comforted and helped, seem to carry their burdens with a measure of strength that appears to say, “yes, I’m a mess, but I’m a neat mess.” It’s more likely I’m reading it through my own messier mess. Continue reading “Words…”