Sunday, July 31, 2011

Two Weeks Away

We are just two weeks away from the first Ember service! I can't even begin to describe how excited I am for this church to launch. I came into my office this morning and found our 8' sign rolled up on my chair, and underneath it were our two overflow parking signs...because we're hoping to fill up the parking lot, and then some, on August 14!

If you're planning on coming to worship with us that first weekend, we've got a special gift for you. No, it's not a pen. Or a coffee mug. It's dinner! After the service we're going to hang out and celebrate what Jesus has done and what we hope he will do in and through our community. I don't know what's on the menu, but I do know it's free! So come out and nourish your soul and your belly with us. (These are the sort of things I have to say now that I'm pastoring a church. It's in the handbook.)

August 14 | 5pm
401 E. Schrock Rd., Westerville

You can always check out our website or browse through the various Ember posts on this blog for more information on the church. (Some of those Ember posts are from a previous church plant that is not directly related to this one.) Or you can send me an email. I'd love to talk with you about the church.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

That Which Defiles

This morning I read Mark 7 as part of my devotional reading. (I do the M'Cheyne reading program on youversion, and yes, I'm a couple days behind.) The first half of the chapter is a conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees about ceremonial cleanliness.

Apparently, Jesus' disciples didn't wash their hands before they ate, which broke the tradition of the Jewish elders. (The washing of hands had more to do with ceremonial or ritualistic cleanliness than personal hygiene.) When the Pharisees called Jesus out on this, he laid into them pretty good, calling them "hypocrites" and dropping some Scripture on them. (We would call this a Jesus Juke today, but what did Jesus call it? A "me juke"? "Typical conversation"?) Then he called out the Pharisees for having traditions that contradict the commands of Scripture. There's a golden preaching moment here about our own traditions and beliefs that we value so highly but which, ultimately, contradict Scripture. But I'll let that one pass...

As if that wasn't enough, Jesus goes on to essentially rewrite all of the Old Testament food laws! Speaking about food, he says, "Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them." This is a bold statement in that culture, and it certainly wasn't lost on Mark, who commented on it, "In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean." This is such a loaded statement that I don't even know where to begin, so I'll just have to let that one pass, too...

But Jesus isn't done yet! He calls the Pharisees (and the rest of humanity, for that matter) on the carpet for the sin that resides in their hearts. That, he says, is what really defiles someone.
What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, our of a person's heart, that evil thoughts come--sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.
The Pharisees made sure to obey all the food laws because they thought that, by obeying Torah and Tradition, they would be clean, undefiled. But Jesus told them they were already defiled because of the sin that lives in their hearts. Our fundamental problem is not that we become defiled by the things we do, but that we are already defiled by the sinful desires that reside in our hearts, and those sinful desires inevitably lead to sinful actions.

The Pharisees' attempts at ritualistic cleanliness were futile. In the same way, your attempts to be good enough for God are pointless. Because of indwelling sin, you simply cannot be good enough for God. None of us can. Our only hope is if someone who does not have sin can provide a way for us to identify with himself so that, when we stand before God at the final judgment, he will vouch for us.

Wouldn't you know it? This is exactly what Jesus has done for us, and the way he has provided for us to identify with himself is through faith. No cleanliness commands. No tradition of the elders. No impossible moral code. Simply faith. How beautiful is that?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

First Worship Music Team Practice

Tonight I had the pleasure of sitting in on the first rehearsal of Ember's music team. (I have bloodsworn to Garth Heasley that I will never call them the "worship team"; always the "music team".) We have so many talented musicians and singers on our team it's ridiculous, and the best part of all is that they truly want to worship Jesus with their gifts and talents. No egos. No divas. Just talented and humble worshippers. I am honored to be serving Jesus with these people.

It was fun for me to sit in on the rehearsal. Although not everyone who will be on the team was there tonight--this was just a practice for the first service--it was cool to get a sense of how Garth and his wife Kelly will lead this ministry. They're really approaching it as servant leaders, and it's clear that their primary aim is to draw the congregation into worship. Everything else, from sound quality to musical style to personal involvement, serves that end. That's the way it should be!

Despite the fact that this was the first time these great folks had ever played together, there were moments of genuine worship. The first song they practiced, Jesus Is the Lord, gave me a strong sense that this team has got it. It wasn't practice; it was worship. And that sense was confirmed for me again and again. I have to say, I'm neither a musician nor a singer, but I want to go to all their meetings!

Our first worship service is three weeks from today. My hope is that you'll be able to join us and, even more so, that you'll encounter our risen Savior in a powerful way.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ember Church: Statement of Faith

What is right belief? Some say it is subjective, entirely up to the conscience and experience of the individual. Others say it is revealed by God in Scripture. Still others say there is no way to know for certain.

This is not our official logo, but uses the elements of it.
Maybe someday we'll put this on a t-shirt. Or maybe not.
Right beliefs have taken a front seat in Evangelical circles this year. Rob Bell's book, Love Wins, lit a firestorm in the neoReformed community for it's questions about universalism. More recently, Campus Crusade for Christ has come under fire for changing it's name to Cru, an unofficial title that has been used on campuses for years but that, as many are pointing out, no longer contains the world "Christ". (For the record, I didn't love Love Wins and I think Cru's name change is appropriate.)

As we sat down to formulate a statement of faith for Ember Church, we had to sort through what was essential belief, what was nonessential, and what was inconsequential. This is not an easy discussion, as many people hold certain beliefs as essential that others deem inconsequential. We surveyed the statements of faith from many churches so that we could see what others have deemed essential. In the end, we settled on a statement of faith that, in our estimation, accurately reflected historic, orthodox, Protestant, evangelical doctrine.

Statement of Faith

We believe in one holy and humble Creator God who eternally exists in three fully divine and good persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We believe God created human beings, both male and female, in his image, and therefore every human being has infinite intrinsic value.

We believe that humans rebelled against God in a vain and arrogant attempt to supplant him. This rebellion brought sin, evil and death into what had been a perfect world; all human beings are now born into sin, separated from God, with no hope of atoning for their sin or healing their broken relationship with God on their own.

We believe that, in order to once and for all deal with sin, evil and death, God sent his son Jesus Christ to us. He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, performed many signs and miracles, suffered death on a Roman cross, and rose again from the dead three days later. Jesus’ death made atonement for the sins of all humanity, and in his resurrection he defeated death and the powers of evil. He has ascended to the right hand of God the Father.

We believe that all who put their faith in Jesus Christ, humbling themselves in repentance of sin and forsaking all other means of salvation, will be saved.

We believe that God sovereignly provided human beings with the sixty-six books of the Protestant Canon as his written revelation, and that these books are authoritative for all Christians, infallible in all matters of faith and practice.

We believe that the Church is comprised of all who put their faith in Jesus Christ, and that God is active in the world through the Church, empowering individual believers and local communities of believers to fulfill his mission of making disciples through the transformative presence of the Holy Spirit.

We believe that Jesus Christ is coming again as King and Judge; all who cry out to him by faith will live with him forever, and all who reject him will experience eternal separation from God.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ember Church Core Values: The Rest

Ember Church has seven core values: Gospel, Humility, Authenticity, Creativity, Community, Agape, and Truth. I've already blogged about Gospel and Humility. Rather than give each core value a separate entry, I thought I would just post the rest here with the comments that we had written up about them. Our first service is August 14 @ 5pm, and we meet at 401 E. Schrock Road in Westerville. We'd love to have you come worship with us!

Authenticity

There is a tremendous temptation for people, especially Christians, to maintain a fa├žade of self-sufficiency—to put forth the appearance that everything is fine and that we’ve got it all together. This is deception, and is incongruent with the way of Jesus. We strive to be authentic people, developing open, honest, and intimate relationships with God and others.

Creativity

God created a world of exhilarating beauty and awe-inspiring magnificence, and then he created human beings in his image. We are designed to be creative beings, and our creativity is meant to be used in acts of worship. We strive to be a community that fosters our various creative gifts for the purpose of worshipping God.

Community

The way of Jesus is not something that can be walked alone. It is God’s intention that we live out our faith in local communities of fellow believers; we need each other in order to follow Jesus well. We strive to be a gospel community, committed to reconciling broken relationships, living as new creations in the resurrection of Jesus, and pursuing healing and wholeness through the forgiveness offered at the cross.

Agape

Agape is a Greek word used throughout the New Testament that we translate ‘love’. This is the love that we see on display at the cross of Christ; it is a love that lays down its life. Jesus said that agape love would be the defining characteristic of his disciples, and so we strive to be people who are defined by agape love—people who set aside their rights, who lay down their lives, and who forgive offenses, even at great cost to themselves.

Truth

Of all the statements of Jesus, his claim to be “the truth” is perhaps the boldest. Because we believe Jesus when he makes this claim, we are confident that a relentless pursuit of the truth will bring us back to Christ. We strive to know and understand the deep truths of God and the Scriptures, and we will not allow fear to stand in our way of knowing God deeply.
And here are the first two, just so that we can have all of them in the same place.

Gospel

The Gospel is the definitive message of Christian faith. We define it according to 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” The Gospel is the story of what God has done in history to redeem humans from their sin; it is a world re-creating event that continues to live on in the community of Jesus' friends. We strive to center ourselves around the Gospel, letting it define and drive all that we do as a church.

Humility

At the root of everything God is and does, and all that he calls us to do and be, is humility. Pride is the fundamental betrayal of the way of life Jesus gave us. We strive to maintain an attitude of humility toward God, one another, other churches, and the unbelieving world.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ember Church Core Values: Humility

The second of our seven core values is humility. In the early stages of our launch meetings, I wrote up a document called Foundational Theology: The Humility of God. You can view this document here. Basically, I tried to assert that all of God's attributes--everything he is and all that he does--flows out of his humility; beneath all else, God is humble.

Humility

At the root of everything God is and does, and all that he calls us to do and be, is humility. Pride is the fundamental betrayal of the way of life Jesus gave us. We strive to maintain an attitude of humility toward God, one another, other churches, and the unbelieving world.
You cannot maintain an arrogant attitude toward God and expect him to a) bless you, or b) put up with it. The Scriptures say, again and again, that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Proud and arrogant people simply do not receive the grace of God, not so much because God withholds it from them, but because they refuse to accept it.

The new way of being human into which God has called us through faith in Jesus demands that we have humble hearts toward one another. Pride is the disease that kills the body of Christ on earth. Pride makes the bride of Christ ugly and unpresentable. Humility, however, is like medicine, instantly attacking the disease of pride and destroying it. Humility is essential if the church is to work the way God has designed it to work.

Ember is just one of many churches in our area, and we want to work with the churches around us to advance the rule and reign of Jesus the King. That means that we will honor what God has done and is doing elsewhere. We aren't the best church around. We haven't got it all figured out. We've written about this in our Philosophy of Ministry:
We are not the only people doing this. God is working through many local churches in our community to spread the gospel and advance his kingdom. Many of these churches do everything we do and more, and they do it much better than we can. We will work to partner with these other churches with the sense that we all make up a singular, universal body of Christ on earth.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, we want to have humble hearts and attitudes toward those that do not believe in Jesus. In a world overflowing with blustering arrogance blowing from every corner--religious, secular, political, entertainment--maybe humility will be the most convincing apologetic that Jesus the King really did lay down his life on the cross for the sins of us all.

Humility is hard. Pride comes naturally to just about everyone of us. But by the grace of God, we will fight off the creeping pride of our hearts and look to model the deep humility we find in the heart of God.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ember Church Core Values: Gospel

One of the things we did, as a launch team, was sit down and discuss what we value as a community. We came up with a list of seven, and at the very top of the list we wrote "Gospel". The Gospel of Jesus Christ is our definitive core value. This is what we wrote:

Gospel

The Gospel is the definitive message of Christian faith. We define it according to 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” The Gospel is the story of what God has done in history to redeem humans from their sin; it is a world re-creating event that continues to live on in the community of Jesus' friends. We strive to center ourselves around the Gospel, letting it define and drive all that we do as a church.
We are Gospel-people, and we are driven to see the Gospel happen in our church. This is a great idea, but really hard to do in practice. The evil, unredeemed desires of our hearts so often compel us to choose selfishness over self-giving love, self-worship over the worship of Christ, and self-exaltation over the divine humility and power so clearly on display in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. But the Gospel teaches us to set aside our own self-interest, as Jesus did when he became one of us, and then died for all of us.

The Gospel is the force by which God's kingdom is breaking into this world, and it happens internally, interpersonally, and communally. The Gospel happens in our hearts when our wicked and selfish desires are transformed and we begin to truly, deeply want the same things God wants. The Gospel happens interpersonally when we choose, often against our natural wills, to show grace to one another. The Gospel happens communally when a church determines that it will, as one person, walk in the light of a love that lays down its life and, through that, spreads the rule and reign of Jesus the King to hearts and homes where it has not been before.

We believe that the Gospel is the most powerful message of hope in the world. There is nothing quite like it:
that the Son of God became a man,
that he died for the sins of every person on earth,
that he rose again from the dead,
that he is currently putting all of his enemies under his feet,
and that he is coming back one day to judge the world and reign forever.
Christians are, by definition, crucifixion-and-resurrection people. We are gathered together, from all nations and tribes, by the crucified Christ who is the risen Lord. We eagerly await his triumphant return. And we live, today, in the strength of the only force on earth that has the power to turn our evil hearts good, to make our broken relationships whole, and to change our dark world into light.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ember Church: The Mission

Ember Church exists to see the gospel happen in our hearts, in our relationships, and in our community. That's our mission statement, our focus. It's our way of framing the overarching mission of the Church: To make disciples. Let me write it really big, in case you're just glancing at this page without really reading it.

Ember Church exists to see the gospel happen in our hearts, in our relationships, and in our community.

There, that's better. Now let me dissect the statement a little bit.

Ember Church exists to see...


It's not our task to make the gospel happen. That's what God does through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit as he works out the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the world. Our job, rather, is to see that it happens--to create environments where the gospel is possible.

...the gospel happen...


This is an odd way of framing it, but I don't think of the gospel as a passive object so much as an active agent. As I've said elsewhere, the gospel is a world re-creating event that lives on in the community of Jesus's friends. It's more than a message. It's the force by which God's kingdom is breaking into our world, and it happens when we preach faithfully, when we worship passionately, and when we love selflessly.

...in our hearts...


The gospel begins its work in our hearts by faith in Jesus Christ through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit residing within us. The grace of God, which we know only through the gospel, transforms us at the deepest level of our hearts--the level of desire. This is a long, slow, often painful process, but the end result is that we are transformed into the image of Jesus. The gospel must happen here before it can happen anywhere else.

...in our relationships...


This is really where the rubber meets the road. Can we work out our differences and learn to lay down our lives for one another, even when we don't like each other? Can we confront people who have offended or hurt us with open hearts and minds? Can we think the best of one another, even though we give each other every reason not to? Can we worship Jesus together, even though we disagree on just about everything? In an individualistic society that tends to bail on relationships when they get difficult, this is where the gospel will make a difference so big that the world will have to stand up and take notice.

...and in our community.


A huge part of our task is to see those who are far from God brought close to him through faith in Jesus Christ. We are going to engage our community with the good news that Jesus Christ has died for the sins of humanity, risen from the dead, and that he is now the rightful King over all creation. And, most of all, Jesus loves each of us with the sort of love defined by the cross: He laid down his divine life and suffered human death in order to pay the penalty for the sins of all humanity.

This is the mission of Ember Church. If something I've written here has resonated with you, or you'd like to know more about Ember, please feel free to send me an email. I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ember Church: The Vision

One of the first things that church planters get asked is, "What is your vision for this church? What is your vision for the future?" This is a tough one for me, because sometimes the only vision I have is of eating Chipotle for dinner.

But the vision drives the church; and the vision I have in my own head is what drives me to plant this church. We actually have a vision statement (which we may or may not have stolen from Scum of the Earth Church) that we settled on recently.
We strive to be a church who:
actively pursues intimacy with God and honest relationships with others;
cultivates creativity and uses everyone’s gifts;
humbly seeks to know God, his Word, and his ways well;
recognizes our need for Jesus, our Savior
;
respectfully shares the saving love of Christ;
demonstrates God’s self-sacrificing love in our community;
worships God passionately and proclaims his Word prophetically.
This is who we want to be, but that works itself out in a thousand ways. So let me tell you about the future I see, the future that drives me to plant Ember Church.

I see a future where you're not giving into the sins that plague you now. I see a future where God has transformed you at the deepest levels of your heart. I see a future where you have been so completely changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ that you now actually desire the things of God. I see a future where your relationship with your parents (or your kids) has been restored. I see a future where you have the courage to follow God, faithfully, wherever he leads you. I see a future where the godliness of your character allows your children to grow up with an intimate knowledge and experience of the grace and love of God. I see a future where you are primarily motivated by agape love, not fear or guilt. I see a future where the image of God is restored in you by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

I see this future for you because I believe that this is what God wants for you and, therefore, it is a real possibility for you. This is not a pipe dream. This is not false hope. This is not preacher talk. This is a reality personally pursued by God with all the power of the Holy Spirit at work within you.

I'm planting Ember Church because I believe that God has more for you. Not more stuff, but more character. Not more pleasures, but more Christlikeness. Not more self-indulgence, but more discipline and self-control. God wants the rule and reign of Jesus the King to become a deeper, ever present reality within your heart and throughout your life. That's the "more" I'm thinking of.

And so when I dream about what Ember can be, I see a church where liberals and conservatives can enjoy a stimulating conversation and a delicious meal together, all in the name of Jesus. I see a church where God is worshipped with thoughtful passion. I see a church where the word of God is proclaimed prophetically and faithfully. I see a church where mistakes are acknowledged publicly and humbly. I see a church where those who are far from God are brought near to him through respectful, empathetic gospel-proclamation. I see a church full of people who know their Bibles well because they have learned to read the Scriptures with insight and clarity. I see a church that is known for walking the walk of Jesus--of laying down their lives for each other and for the world. I see a church full of people who know that the only difference between themselves and those without Christ is Christ. I see a church where surrender to Jesus is normal. I see a church where Jesus rules and reigns, and from which his rule and reign is extended to hearts and homes all across central Ohio. I see a church that walks in the light of a love that lays down its life; that loves and is not afraid.

This is the vision. If this strikes a chord with you, or if this is what you want to see the church be, too, please feel free to send me an email. I'd love to talk with you.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ember Church

I've had this dream for more than eight years now. There were times I thought God had taken it completely off the table; that it would never happen. But, today, I'm very excited to announce that Ember Church will be holding its first service on August 14!
We've been in the planning stages for about 8 months, and it's been killing me not to talk about it on my blog. So much has happened in that time, and we've already seen God's faithfulness and favor. I'll be posting some of those stories here in the coming weeks. We'll be meeting at the American Baptist Church in Westerville on Sunday nights, with services starting at 5pm.

August 14 | 5pm
401 E. Schrock Rd., Westerville, OH

People have asked me, "Why does Westerville need another church?" This is my answer: Because the rule and reign of Jesus the King has not yet been extended to every heart and home in central Ohio. We want to partner with other churches in our area to see the gospel happen in our community. We want to see the reign of Jesus become a new reality and a deeper reality to people all over Columbus.

Ember is not the last church that Westerville (and Columbus) will ever need. We're not here to set the world on fire. We're not here to save Christianity in central Ohio. We're not here to do something nobody else is doing; we're here to continue the work that God has been up to in this community for decades. Maybe, in our church, it will take new shapes and find new expressions, but it will be the same Jesus. We are here to point to Jesus, because only he can save you, only he can transform your heart, and only he can be your true King.

I'll be posting a lot more information about Ember Church here at the blog over the next few weeks. I've got 8 months of silence to make up for! If you want to know more about the church, or think that God might be leading you to get involved, please send me an email. I'd love to talk with you. Please also feel free to pray for us. Regularly. And then come join us for worship on August 14 at 5pm, 401 E. Schrock Road. (Did I get that in there enough?)