Monday, April 23, 2012

Ember Monday

Yesterday morning I sensed that God wanted me to give a different message at church than I had prepared. I had planned on giving an old message called Agape, from 1 John 4. It's a very important message, one that I'll probably preach this coming weekend. But God had something else in mind for last night's church service.

In the hours leading up to the service, I sensed that the Spirit was going to show up. I had no idea what that would look like, of course, but I just had the feeling that God was going to move in some way. In my mind I was thinking, "I sure hope so, God, because I have only a vague idea of what I'm going to say!" So in our prayer time before the service started, I asked the team to pray over me--that's something I haven't done yet at Ember.

The service started and Emmy belted two powerful songs, You'll Come and Closer, neither of which I had ever heard before. It was a powerful way to start the service. I especially appreciated the simple words of Closer:
Beautiful are the words spoken to me
Beautiful is the one who is speaking

Come in close, come in close and speak
Come in close, come closer to me

The power of your words
Are filled with grace and mercy
Let them fall on my ears and break my stony heart
That's the whole song, but I felt the words were right on target with what my heart, at least, was yearning for.

When I got up to pray before the sermon, the tears came. It took me completely off guard. I hadn't even started preaching yet, but I was already crying. I haven't cried in a long time, and certainly not while preaching since I don't even know when. But I wasn't crying because I was sad, or downtrodden, or empty. I cried because I was full. I cried because, after running on empty for months, God had filled up my soul.

The sermon was about the second beatitude, Matthew 5:4, which reads like this: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. I basically talked about what I had learned from Dave Johnson, pastor of The Church of the Open Door, while at the ARC National Conference last week. The basic point of the sermon was that mourning means letting out what's on the inside, and that God's kingdom is where the people who have the courage to do that are comforted, not condemned.

I preached without notes for the first time at Ember. I didn't know exactly what God wanted me to say, I just knew that this is what he wants for our community: that we would be a place where those who mourn are blessed because they are comforted. After the sermon, which you can listen to in the sermon player, I invited everyone to take whatever posture they felt appropriate for our responsive worship set. As I sat in the back, running the slides, I didn't see anybody standing. I thought to myself, "The sermon fell flat, but that's okay. God wants us to be this kind of church, so I'll keep preaching this message." But when I stood up I saw something unexpected. I saw people laying across the chairs, heads buried in their hands. I saw people kneeling. I saw people weeping.

I don't know exactly what happened. I don't know what was going on in each person's heart. But I believe that the Holy Spirit showed up, and I believe that he spoke to us. Beautiful are the words spoken to me. Beautiful is the one who is speaking. Come in close.

It was a rich and tender time together in the presence of Jesus. I hope that we have more times like that. We gather together every Sunday night at 5pm at 401 E. Schrock Rd. All are welcome. Always.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Ember Monday

Last night at Ember we started a new non-series series. Since I only have four preaching weekends (and six weekends altogether) before we transition for the summer, I thought I would preach on some things that are important to what we're doing, but not necessarily tightly related to one another. This week and next I'm preaching two sermons from 1 John that I wrote while I was at Heritage. Last night was a sermon called Halakah, from the first 16 verses of 1 John.

The point of the message is that what we do with our bodies matters to God. John was dealing with an early form of the Gnostic heresy, which taught that everything spiritual is good while everything physical is evil. The implication of this heresy is that Jesus, who was good, did not have a body. If he did not have a body, then he could not have died for us. There are other, equally drastic implications of this teaching. I'll post the audio soon (hopefully today?). I found a post I wrote a couple years ago after preaching this sermon at Heritage, which you can read here.

After church a bunch of folks came over to our house. (We try to invite everyone, so if you haven't been invited, I'm sorry. We really want you to come!) Specifically because Travis and Kristy were out of town, we decided to have a campfire in the backyard. (That's what you get for going to Clevelandtown!) Here's a photo from my wife's instagram stream.

We love campfires, and these are going to be a big part of what we do as a church over the summer. But more on that later.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Stupid Arguments

Sam left a comment in the previous post about a discussion he was having with friends about 2 Timothy 2:22-24. He asked for my thoughts, particularly as they regarded our conversation a while back about David Platt, reformed theology, and whether or not God hates sinners. That conversation began with this post, in which I criticized David Platt's exegesis of the psalms. It then continued in the comments and into several other posts, including:
Biblical Hatred
How I Read the Bible
Why I Criticized David Platt on My Blog
Questions for Calvinists
A Response to a Response
That was a long and involved series of posts that had a lot of theological debate. The passage that Sam refers to from 2 Timothy says this:
Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.
So I think the first question is this: Is the discussion about Calvinism v. Arminianism, predestination v. free will, etc. a "foolish and stupid argument"? I've heard a lot of folks, exasperated from the same late-night conversation playing itself out over and over again, decry this conversation as one of those stupid arguments that Christians should avoid. I'm certainly sympathetic to that position; this conversation can be exasperating.

But I don't consider it a foolish and stupid argument because I believe that it pertains to the nature of God. Calvinists and Arminians understand God in fundamentally different ways. If you believe in, for example, double predestination, then you perceive God in a radically different way than someone who believes in free-will. Roger Olson, an Arminian biblical scholar, would even go so far as to say you believe in a different God altogether.

Where it breaks down, though, is when you are more concerned about being right than having godly character. Not only can our drive to be right, or to win an argument, obscure our perception of the truth, it can also reflect deep character flaws that need to be redeemed. When your aim is to win the argument rather than discover the truth, you have become quarrelsome. That might sound like a petty sin, but quarrels lead to broken relationships within the body of Christ. In fact, doctrinal quarrels have led to the fractured and splintered state the Church is in right now. Being quarrelsome is a serious issue that reflects deep character shortcomings.

While some conversations are important to have, and some disagreements are going to result from those conversations, it's important to not be foolish or stupid, or do anything that would turn those conversations into an argument or a quarrel. We must strive, as the Scripture says, to be kind to everyone. We must be able to teach, which is definitely not the same as shouting or arguing.

So I say, let the conversations continue, but let them continue in the spirit outlined by Paul in this passage.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Ember Monday

Christ the Lord is risen today! That was our celebration last night at Ember, even though we didn't sing that song. Garth and Kelly pulled together a great team of musicians and singers from our congregation to lead us in praising Jesus. I think it was our biggest music team yet!

I preached a message on Mark 16:1-8, which concluded our series on the Gospel of Mark. It was our longest series yet--15 weeks in all. I preached all but one of the weeks, when Cory led us through a Passover meal (which was awesome!). You can listen to the audio of that presentation here.

The part of the service that I was most excited about, of course, was the baptisms. We baptized three folks last night--Mary, Ian, and Dustin. I've already written about the holy privilege of getting to hear their stories, which made it so much more meaningful to baptize them last night.

Special thanks to Lauren Kreischer for taking photos. It was a great night and a great service. My heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who made it happen. The resurrection of Jesus is the reason that we all gather together in the first place.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Easter Baptisms

Last night I had the holy privilege of preparing three people for baptism. I heard amazing testimonies of God's power from Mary, Ian, and Dustin. I was truly overwhelmed by the goodness and power of God, and I am so excited to baptize these three this Sunday at Ember.

Baptizing is one of the greatest honors I have as a pastor. I get to be the participating witness to their public confession of faith and full identification with Jesus, his death, and resurrection.

I'll be honest. Planting this church has been hard in many ways. It has not turned out like I had hoped or expected. And yet, as I consider those who have been impacted by our church, such that they would take the step of obedient faith and be baptized here, I am on the verge of tears. These beautiful and courageous souls have given me and Ember a great honor, something I will never forget.

Easter is the celebration of new life, of the power of God to conquer death, and of our own hope of resurrection and life forever with Jesus. Baptism is a symbol of all of that. If you want to be baptized this week at Ember, let me know. I would love to make that happen.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Ember Monday

Technically, yesterday was Palm Sunday. We should have been celebrating the triumphal procession of Jesus into Jerusalem. But because we don't have the capacity to host holy week events, we covered the crucifixion. In other words, we had Good Friday on Palm Sunday.

We talked about the gruesome details of the crucifixion, and the agonizing pain that Jesus endured on our behalf. But there was more than physical pain at the cross; there was also cosmic, divine pain.

I put a rather provocative post on facebook yesterday afternoon: "Tonight at Ember Church we'll be talking about the end of God..." By "the end of God" I meant the end of the divine dance of self-giving love that had been going on from eternity past among the members of the Trinity. At the cross, the Father cried out, "Stop!", and the dance stopped. And in that stillness, he reached out his hand to you and said, "Come. Come and dance." The end of God is the new beginning of us.

The sermon ended with a cliffhanger. I wanted the congregation to feel the dissonance of the cross, to experience a bit of what the first disciples experienced that first Saturday. To wait, disturbed. As the preacher said, "It's Friday...but Sunday's coming."

The music team did a great job last night. Emmy and Kristy sang beautifully while Garth and Travis held down the instrumentation. Once again I saw that, though we are a small church, God has given us many gifts. There's a lot of talent at Ember!