Following the Signs to a Successful Relationship

A Valentine Gift to You

A few Sundays ago I was engaged in a very delightful conversation with some of our single ladies.  One of the question I asked them was, “Are you afraid to bring someone that you like to me for my consideration?”  They answered yes!  Our dear young daughters stated that they were somewhat afraid to bring that guy around because they feared that we would run him off. 

Out of that conversation about relationships it was suggested that since Valentine's Day is approaching, it may be helpful to provide some guidance for getting into a wholesome and beautiful relationship.  Therefore, I decided to offer some insight that may help singles work through the difficulties of finding the “right intended” by moving them through the process of building good relationships. The bible teaches us that God has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness.  Christ has provided some good signs in His word to guide us in matters of the heart?  I’ve decided to use road signs to provide a more visual picture of what God’s word teaches us about relationships. So let’s look at some of those signs and see how they can guide you in the way of building good relationships..

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The First sign that Christ gives us involves Deprogramming and reprogramming ourselves about dating -   Whenever we are driving and about to turn down a road going the wrong way we see a sign like this.  This sign means that the way we’re about to go is the wrong way.  If we continue driving in that direction it can be catastrophic. Before anyone gets into dating, it is necessary to learn how to date the right way so that it does not turn out to be hurtful or heartbreaking.  It’s necessary to go through a deprogramming process and then re-program our hearts and minds so that we can be open to the signs God gives us and then follow them as God reveals them to us. Rom 12:2 states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (ESV).”  

When it comes to dating almost all of us have been fashioned or trained by the world in the manner in which we date.  Basically, we see someone to whom we are attracted. We go out on some dates and we start becoming physically and emotionally attached.  In our dating world that is basically the pattern we follow which often ends up in frustration and sometimes in catastrophe.  The reason that these things happen is because that worldly process causes us to sidestep the signs that God gives us.  Therefore, one must deprogram himself or herself from the world’s way of dating and get reprogrammed so that he or she can date successfully.

The second set of signs involves understanding the real purpose for dating which goes along with deprogramming and reprogramming. 

One major purpose for dating is forFINDING OUT THE FACTS!” – This is the main one that gets sidestepped the most.  People will say that they are spending time with each other in order to get to know one another, but usually that does not happen to the degree that is necessary to have a good, vibrant, long lasting relationship because when we date the way we’ve been fashioned we miss the signs that God gives us.  Often, couples get physically and emotionally caught up too quickly and miss out on learning the important facts that they need to know before moving deeper into the relationship. They usually do not learn the facts until a crash has occurred. 

It may take several conversations and even dates in order to obtain the facts but staying on a “fact finding tour” will do several really cool things for you.  Firstly, staying on a fact-finding tour will help control the speed of the development of the relationship and minimize the disappointments that can occur in a relationship.  Secondly, staying on the fact-finding tour helps develop the quality of the relationship should the signs allow you to continue. Thirdly, if the person doesn’t work out you find out early and your heart does not hurt nearly as bad. Both parties should be searching for the facts. What are the facts to look for?  For this blog all we will cover is fact #1.

Fact #1 - Does he or she have the basics to enter a relationship? Often, Christians want to know if the person whom they have taken a step to spend time with goes to church and have some measure of godliness.  I suggest that this shallow piece of information grossly limits one’s ability to ascertain the pertinent information to answer fact number one. There are five components to fact number one just to know whether an individual in whom you are interested has the basis for entering a relationship. The great and safe part in dating about finding out this fact is that it guides what you do on a date and it prevents you from becoming too involved with someone who will not work out.  Here are the basics that someone should have before you even consider going further.

  1. Salvation has this person placed their faith and trust in the finished work of Jesus for his or her salvation? At some point very early when getting to know one another this question has to be answered by both and the sooner the better.  I realize that some people have a little difficulty with seeming too pushy about Jesus but this has to be a matter of conversation.  Having a thorough discussion about one’s salvation will begin forming the basis for having deeper and more intimate conversations down the road. I’ll reserve communications for a later discussion.
    You may begin that conversation by simply saying, “Tell me how you came to know Jesus.”  This type of prompt gives him or her the opportunity to share his or her testimony, if he or she has one.  2 Cor 6:14-15 states, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
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Your first signs are a bold STOP SIGN and a DO NOT ENTER SIGN!! Stop here and proceed no further.   Do not enter!  You have all the information you need. You are spiritually incompatible and to continue id putting God to the test. You will be saying to Jesus, “I know that he or she is not saved but I think that I can make it work.” Don’t put God to the test.  You must be equally yoked to have God’s favor for the relationship.  However, being equally yoked is still not enough. Is he or she…

2. Growing spiritually & maturing is this person habitually living out the gospel in his or her life and growing in his or her commitment to Jesus? This is so important. When people are living out the gospel in their personal lives they ought to be able to cite evidence of their transformation and Christ’s dealings in his or her life.  The more a person becomes like Jesus the more likely he or she will follow Jesus in the relationship. Conversations along these lines gives you additional things to talk about while all the time you are gathering good facts.  How can you tell if a person is growing spiritually? The following can be a quick guide in helping you determine if this person has the basics for a good relationship.
–       There is a desire for Gods word. (Psalm 119)
–       There is a desire to fellowship w/ God and His people. (Psalm 27:4; 42:1,2; 133; Hebrews 10:24,25)
–       There is a desire to tell others about Christ. (Acts 4:18)
–       There is an increasing awareness of sin. (Ps. 139:23)
–       There is an increased exercise of faith. (Romans 1:17; Hebrews 11:6)
–       There is a greater or growing concern about pleasing God.
–       There is a greater commitment to give (finances, gifts, talents, time; 2 Samuel 24:24)
–       There is a commitment to faithful service.   1 Peter 4:10,11

3. Basic maturity is also essential in a person’s life. You want to know whether or not a person is…
–       Maturing as a person? 1 Corinthians 13:11. Immaturity can be embarrassing and disastrous.  You give birth to babies. You don’t date babies!
–       Are they growing professionally, educationally, socially? Does he or she read? Is he or she seeking to advance in his or her profession.  Does he or she have good manners?

If you have spend time talking about these things you may possibly have a candidate but if you cannot adequately see the growth you may find yourself on a slippery course. 

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4. Responsible – Does he or she reasonably handle the basic affairs of everyday living?  Is he or she responsible in that he or she has a good work ethic, holds a steady job, pays his or her bills, completes tasks, etc.  This is important because the last thing you want to do is to get tied to an irresponsible person.  I understand that these things can be personal.  However truthful conversation about them can reveal quite a bit about a person. ?  Psalms 37:21; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12; Proverbs 26:13-16; 24:30-34 

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  • Accountable – Are there people who can tell your intended what to do or when they are wrong and they will listen? Prov. 1:25,30-33; 12:15; 13:10; 19:20,21; 18:2; 24:7 Usually a person who is not accountable to someone often will not be accountable to God or His word. If you went so far as to marry this person and ran into difficulty, he or she will not seek help because he or she is their own authority.
  • Do they demonstrate a submissive spirit in relationships where there is a higher authority? Hebrews 13:17, Ephesians 5:21, 6:1-3,5; Rom. 13:1-7.  People who do not submit to human authority usually will not submit to God’s authority or God’s word in areas where he or she may disagree.  How can you tell if this person is not accountable?  They are one way. It’s their way or their opinion. 
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4. Teachable – Are they in the habit of learning from others?  Proverbs 1:5 ; 12:15; 18:2.  A person with a teachable spirit will grow. He or she will learn from others and particularly learn how to respond to God’s leading in his or her life.

As you can see already if in spending time with a person you are always looking for the facts, just simply trying to determine if a person has the basis to enter a relationship can keep the interaction safe and protect your heart from heartbreak.  It doesn’t mean that you won’t be disappointed because sometimes that person is just not the one though he or she may appear to be.  The great part about choosing to be reprogrammed in dating, the dating process becomes a vehicle of being transformed into the image of Jesus by simply walking in His wisdom by faith in the manner in which you date. Please understand that Jesus is for you. He loves you and the person that He has for you (if he has one for you) will be a lifelong blessing to you.  Just follow the signs that He gives.

I hope that you look forward to part 2.

Pastor Lawrence

What Color is Your Library?

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MACON
The Color of your library may tell something.
At New City we value diversity. We understand from Scripture that the Kingdom of God will be made up of peoples from every tongue, tribe and nation - peoples who form 1 people, 1 family. The Kingdom will be joyfully made up of peoples of all colors and backgrounds and from all socio-economic groups. It will be a beautiful people - a beautiful family. We not only value diversity but we also intentionally pursue diversity. Merging with Macon Community Baptist Church 4 years ago was an intentional effort to BE the Kingdom present in our city.  Much of our music is aimed at bridging some of the culture and color gap in worship. But...

The truth is, we have a long, long way to go. Months ago I realized that my own library was lacking color - most of my books have been penned by white, male theologians. Equally bad, our resource books at the Connect bar are all white and all male.  Theology is theology, its true. It is also true that good theology is colorless. But people are not. Experience is not. Theology applied in real life is not.  So this month I am adding a few books to my library and to the resources available at the connect bar.

It Happens After Prayer, by H.B. Charles, Jr is a very inspiring and encouraging book on prayer. It challenged me to pray more, to pray bigger and to believe that my Father hears my prayers, loves me and is always working in and through those prayers.  It was this book that has led me to pray for New City to be maxed out in space and resources as we reach more people with the Gospel!

Blood Work, How the Blood of Christ Accomplishes Our Salvation, by Anthony Carter comes for me at a perfect time - getting ready for Easter.Our preaching team had already agreed that this year we would expand our preaching during Easter to talk more about Jesus' sacrifice in the theological terms of expiation and propitiation - subjects covered by Carter. Don't let the terms scare you - Carter gives great clarity to the depth and breadth of Christ's sacrifice. This book will go great with our upcoming series!

What color is YOUR library?  White?  Well, here's a start!
Two outstanding books that should be added to your library by two strong, solid  men of God and men of color. We have limited copies at the connect bar but these books are easily available online.  Next week we'll add another!

Praying God-Sized Prayers

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I discovered an unread book at home recently - It Happens After Prayer by H.B. Charles, Jr.  I don't remember getting the book or purchasing the book. I have no idea where it came from.  God's timing is always perfect.  It was just what I needed.  So this post is both an encouragement for you to pick up the book and read it and an encouragement for you to pray... and to pray God-sized prayers.

If I am honest, I don't often pray truly God-sized prayers.  I mean, I do pray for healing, for restoration of marriages, for people to know Him and those sorts of things - and those are indeed BIG prayers.  But they are really normal, big prayers. I'm talking about the kind of prayers that can only happen if God brings it about. I mean prayers that are completely beyond me. Prayers that are completely beyond us. Prayers, again for things that could only come about if God brought it about.

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I was reminded, reading It Happens After Prayer, of Nehemiah's prayer for his home city - Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been utterly destroyed by the Babylonians. Nehemiah was serving the Babylonian ruler at the time because of Israel's defeat. Nehemiah heard, one day, how bad the city and God's people there were doing and Nehemiah was broken. So he began immediately to pray. His prayer was something only God could do. He prayed that the king would grant him, a servant of the king, great favor - favor to gather some men and go to Jerusalem (an enemy city) and rebuild its walls. He would also need all of the king's resources to accomplish that great task.

The job of rebuilding the walls was itself a God-sized task, but to do it with the blessing and resources of the enemy king was even more monumental. Nehemiah could have been killed by the king for even asking. Nehemiah was asking for something that only God could pull off.  This is the kind of prayer I don't often pray... the impossible.  But now I am.

We talked this morning in our staff meeting about Nehemiah's prayer and our prayer - to reach 625 people this year... to max out our staff, volunteers and facilities. This is beyond us. We can't do this on our own. We need to do what seems to be the impossible - reaching more people than ever, doubling and even tripling areas of the church like Missional Communities. 
So we pray. Like Nehemiah.
We pray because we believe that this is God's will - reaching people, seeing them grow in their love and walk with Jesus, that we be good stewards of the resources He has given to us. We pray, this God-sized prayer because we know that only He can make it happen - that means only He can receive the glory.

So what are you not praying for?  Have your prayers been too small? 

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Charles writes, "Well, what is it that you need to God to do in your life? Whatever it is, I have great news for you: God is able!
     God is able to put your marriage back together.
     God is able to bring your wandering child back home.
     God is able to heal your sick and hurting body.
     God is able to straighten out your finances.
     God is able to save your loved ones.
     God is able to break the sinful habit you struggle with.
     God is able to fulfill every holy desire you have and accomplish every deed prompted by your faith."

It Happens After Prayer has been right on time for me. Buy a copy. Read it.  Join me and let's pray together God-sized prayers for one another, for our church, our city and the beyond!

Gospel-Centered Music for Your Kids!

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I love to hear kids sing. I really love hearing them sing gospel truths. With children you never know what they will pick up. They may pick up your mannerisms, speaking inflections, the way you say things. They are walking sponges. With that in mind, why not let them listen to and learn songs that teach scripture? Why not learn these songs together as a family? Sovereign Grace Music puts out some great albums with the purpose of teaching kids the truths of the gospel in fun and eclectic styles. Their latest album, entitled “Listen Up!” features songs that revolve around the parables of Jesus. Take a listen! 

Their previous album is filled with theologically rich songs that teach who God is and what He has done for us in fun ways. It will definitely get everyone in the family singing. This one has become a favorite. Listen to it here!

It's Time - 625

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"True belief," Mrs. Dr. Talley said, "always changes behavior. Our actions are indicative of our true belief." I think she was right. When we truly believe something we live our life as if it is true. I was having this conversation with a friend at our gym and used the example of a burning building. If I told you the building was on fire and we needed to run but you didn't believe me, you wouldn't run. At best, you would probably look around. But if you believed the building was on fire, you would act.

I posted a blog asking you to pray for 625 people. We, elders and staff, believe that this is where God would have us for 2 reasons - 1) As good stewards of our resources, God would desire that we max out what we have for the kingdom. We believe 625 people will max out our current staff and facilities for 2 services. 2) We believe that God has called us to reach people with the gospel - this is His mission. We asked for you to join us in praying for 625 because God has chosen to work through prayer. So we are praying that through this, God's name would be hallowed, His kingdom would come and His will would be done.
We believe that this is His will.
So, we believe that He is going to send 625 people, soon.  Why wouldn't He?

This means, it's time!  It's time to get ready for 625!
Because we truly believe this is what God desires (I mean it is according to His will), we need to act now. Our actions, or lack of action will be indicative of what we truly believe - right?
So, pray with us - yes!
Believe with us - yes!
AND
Get ready with us...

How?

We need to add MCs!  For the most part our MCs are all nearly full. 
We have the staff for 625, the training for 625, the building and services for 625 and we have the volunteers for 625 on Sunday, BUT we don't have enough MCs.  We need some of you to consider leading in the next 6 months!
We'll train you.
We'll set you up with a team of co-leaders.
We'll support you and continue to walk with you as you lead.
So, let's do this!

Our next training for potential leaders and co-leaders (YES - we need co-leaders as well) will begin in March. If you are willing to explore the possibility of leading, co-leading or hosting an MC please let Caleb know!  Email him now, Caleb@newcitymacon.org!

Pray with us - “Pray that God’s name would be hallowed. Pray that God’s kingdom comes. Pray that the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven.”  H.B. Charles, Jr.
Believe with us - God is going to max out our current systems, structures and resources - 625.
Get Ready With Us.

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MACON
As 2017 edged closer to an end I began to pray about 2018, “Lord, what does this year hold? Where would you have us to head in 2018?”  2016 and into 2017 was largely about our new building, getting the work done and getting moved in. It also involved filling staff positions. After the move in, 2017 was a period to settle into all the changes and new roles. It was a really good year for us in all of those areas and by God’s grace New City Church has grown. In fact, we closed out 2017 preparing to move to two services in order to handle the growth. 

As I have been praying and as we’ve started our two services, I have been reminded of a few things about God:

1)      God calls us to be good stewards of what He has given us.
In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus tells the disciples the parable of the talents. The parable is in response to their questions about His return and the end of times. Jesus is telling them that no one knows when that time will be so everyone should continue the mission with zeal – investing in the Kingdom for the King.  Invest what God has given you for His business.

2)      God has called New City Church to join His mission of redemption and restoration through Jesus... its why we exist.
This is His business. Redeeming. Restoring. He has called us to see others live in light of the good news of Jesus.  Ultimately this is what our resources are to be spent on, invested in.  God is redeeming sinners and in Christ restoring us to Himself.

[Let me pause here…
As I have been praying it has been clear that God is calling us to maximize our “talents” for his mission… our time, our abilities and our resources… our giving, our facilities, our staff, our volunteers… all of it.]

Here’s the third thing

3)      God works through prayer.
I am reading, It Happens After Prayer by H.B. Charles. We’ll be ordering some for the coffee bar soon. I have been reminded that God wants us to pray, that he hears and answers our prayers, and that our lack of prayer and lack of BIG prayer is indicative of our faithlessness.  What happens after prayer? Forgiveness, Wisdom, Deliverance, Mercy, Salvation, Healing, Help… God has chosen prayer as a means to meet the needs of His people and accomplish His purposes and He is able to do far more than we can dream or even imagine.

“Lord,” I began praying, “how do we maximize the stewardship of what you have given us to help others live in light of the gospel?” As I did, a new question arose… maybe from the Lord!  What is our max?  What will max out our current resources – giving, facilities, staff, volunteers and systems and structures?

So I asked our staff and elders, “without adding facilities, staff or new teams and systems what is our max? How many people can we reach?” The staff began calculating, writing, talking, figuring, comparing numbers and ideas and then settled. If we max out our current systems, structures, facilities, volunteers and staff we can handle 625. (but we’ll have to add quite a few MCs).

625 – that’s people. Six hundred and twenty-five people gathered to hear the gospel through our songs, liturgy and preaching. 625 people invited to become a part of a family.  625 people redeemed, restored and sent on mission. 625 missionaries to Macon and the ends of the earth. 625 – that’s not just a number.

So we are praying - staff and elders – for 625, praying to maximize our time, talents and resources for His glory and the good of His people. Will you?
Will you pray with us? Will you join us in simply doing what we know God wants us to do – being good stewards of what He has given us, joining Him in His mission and praying for the people around us?

“Pray that God’s name would be hallowed. Pray that God’s kingdom comes. Pray that the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven.”  H.B. Charles, Jr. p31.

Resolved to Read the Bible More

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I have a confession to make.
I have always struggled with daily spending time reading the Bible.  I don’t mean as a study or as preparation for sermons or teaching. I mean as care for my soul. I mean as simply reading to know more about God and to know Him more deeply. It’s not that I don’t get that as I prepare to teach, I do. But I have always desired more time there.

I often allow busyness to steal my time.  I wake to thoughts of the things that need to get done on a day and then spend the day doing them with little thought for my lack of time in the Word. In the past I’ve made New Year’s resolutions to be more disciplined.  They have usually started well and ended poorly. 

I feel OK making this confession because I know I am in good company! The Apostle Paul wrote this in Romans 7:
19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Paul was talking about the Christian struggle with sin. We often want to do the right thing, like read the Word of God and seek more of Him, but we fail. Maybe it is the sin of busyness. Maybe it is the sin of pride – not recognizing our need for Him. Whatever it is, it is a problem common to us all.

So, how do we overcome this problem?
Should we just be OK with not spending time in God’s Word?  NO!

Paul says that it in Christ that we find delivery.  Part of that delivery is the work of His Spirit – prodding us, encouraging us, reminding us, but there is another way that Jesus helps us. Community.

Jesus gives us a family, he brings us into a new Community. In this community we receive encouragement, reminders, and even prodding… yes the Spirit works through the people of God!  Aaaaaaannnnnnnnnddddddd there is a way that this gift works with the gift of His Word!  It is called Community Bible Reading (CBR)!

CBR is like a Bible reading plan, only it is designed to be utilized in community!
Rather than me resolving, alone, to read the Bible more, I belong to a community of New City folks who are also reading the Bible with me.  Each day my CBR community reads the same 2 chapters of the Bible. Then each member of my CBR community who has read, sends a short note via text (or GroupMe) to the community, sharing something that stood out to them or something that spoke to them from their reading.

I’ve been using the CBR plan since last Spring. It has been amazing! It is always encouraging to see what my community is learning. It is also a reminder ever morning to slow down and spend a little time in the Word.  I still have my days of busyness and pride. I still miss some readings. BUT because I am not a part of a community who is in this together, I don’t stop!  I just start over.

Later this month and into February, New City will begin organizing more CBR communities through our Missional Communities! We are really excited about this. We have spent the last several months going through this with our elders, staff and many of our other leaders including MC leaders.

So what can you do to be ready?
1) Check out the Community Bible Reading website for more information. If you want to use a CBR Journal, order yours now through CBR.

2) Go to your phone app store and download the Community Bible Reading app. When you open the app you’ll notice an option for 2ch or 4ch. We’ll be using the 2ch.
It may also be helpful to download the GroupMe app as well. Group me will allow you and your community to group together rather than using standard texting.

3) We’ll talk more about this at our Partners meeting January 12th. After January 12th, ask your MC leader when they plan to start their Community Bible Reading! 

You don’t have to wait to get started! Once you download the CBR app for your phone, start reading!

The Most Important Thing About You

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Life is hard, isn't it?

We have physical sickness and death. Financial problems. Depression. Anxiety. Marital conflict. Family conflict. Stressful jobs. Abuse. Car problems. Infertility. Singleness. (Yes, married people, this can be a trial. Don't dismiss it!) Addiction. Trouble in school. Conflict with friends. Loneliness. Rejection. Miscarriages. Chronic illnesses.

That doesn't even scratch the surface of the effects sin has had on the world and in our lives. We have people at New City who have experienced all of those though. Our world is broken. I am broken. So are you.

A very dear friend who discipled me throughout college was in town a few weekends ago, and she and her husband visited New City. Over lunch after church, I was sharing some discouraging circumstances that I was struggling with. I told her about our Four Questions and how those had helped me apply the gospel to those situations. She replied that when she is feeling that way, she asks herself, “What is the most important thing about me? Jesus loves me and died for my sins.”

That stuck with me and I've said it to myself often since then. I love the Four Questions and use them often. But I'll be honest with you. Sometimes, the chaos in my house is so overwhelming, my anxiety is so crippling, the feelings of depression and hopelessness are so heavy, that by myself, I cannot do the Questions. Or I have three little kids all making different demands, and in that moment, I just need a short, quick reminder.

What is the most important thing about me?
Not that I've lost my temper half a dozen times before lunchtime.
Not that I was short with my husband over something stupid last night.
Not that my house is a mess.
Not that I sometimes get too depressed to do anything but the bare minimum.
Not my failures, weaknesses and shortcomings.

The most important thing about me is that Jesus loves me and died for my sins.

Without that truth, the best we can hope for in life is to have fun, make a lot of money and avoid pain as much as possible. Good luck.

But WITH that truth, wow, it just changes things, doesn't it? When we understand that depth of love- that our perfect, blameless Jesus took our place, bore our sins, and cast them as far as the east is from the west, and our Father remembers them no longer- such hope.

So what's the most important thing about you?
Not your debilitating illness.
Not that failed test.
Not your paycheck.
Not that missed deadline at work.
Not your struggling or failed marriage, or your marital status in general.
Not your troubled child.
Not your addiction.
Not your ability to have kids.
Not your failures, weaknesses and shortcomings.

The most important thing about you is that Jesus loves you and died for your sins.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8 ESV

Live there, in that truth. Set it in your heart and remind yourself often. That's where your value lies.

Christmas Week Reflections

T-3 days until Santa comes shimmying down the chimney with all his goodies. Until we hear reindeer hooves on rooftops and jingle bells all the way. But what are we missing in all of this Christmas cheer?

For as long as I can remember, I have dearly loved Christmas. Growing up I had the privilege of big Christmas celebrations with lots of family, a big Christmas breakfast, and a house decorated to the nines. Some of my favorite memories involve the plastic Santa we would install on the roof and the smell of homemade biscuits and gravy greeting me as I awoke on Christmas morning. It was a sweet time--full of love, joy, and family, and I loved every minute of it.

Since then, Christmas has stayed dear to me. I can't wait for Christmas music to start playing, I love decorating the tree, and I watch White Christmas over and over. It's the most wonderful time of the year. But as we all know, it can also be the busiest time of the year. With year-end projects at work, holiday parties with friends and family, and (Lord have mercy) the Christmas shopping, the days and weeks of the season fly by for most of us.

I suppose this is a painful reality of early adulthood I'm just now facing, but this year was the first time I have watched the Christmas season come and go in a flash. Since we've been so busy, I've missed a lot of my favorite Christmas traditions, and that has caused me to realize something:

I've been missing the point of Christmas.

Without my decorations and traditions (we currently have a Christmas tree with 4 ornaments and mostly burned out lights), and with the hustle and bustle of a busy December, I've been left with a pretty plain Christmas season. In that plainness, without the Christmas "magic" I'm accustomed to, I've been struck with the realization that these things I love have been distracting me from the most amazing thing that has ever happened. 

The things I love so much about the Christmas season are good things, but they all wildly miss what Christmas is about: God becoming man to save and redeem the world. I knew it in my mind, sang it in lots of Christmas plays, and had a light-up nativity scene set in my front yard, but it has never sunk so deeply as it has this year. Maybe it has something to do with being another year older, or imagining what Christmas will look like with a baby next year, but I've been overwhelmed this year by the story of Christmas. The beginning of God's incredible redemptive work on our behalf. God the Father sending his Son to be wrapped in human flesh, to live among us, teach us, and die for us--making a way for us to know him and dwell with him forever.

Last Sunday we sang "Who Would Have Dreamed" by Sovereign Grace Music, and I was nearly knocked off my feet by the third verse:

Wondrous gift of heaven: the Father sends the Son
Planned from time eternal, moved by holy love
He will carry our curse and death He’ll reverse
So we can be daughters and sons

These are things I knew! Truths I've learned since I was a child! But never before have I seen how incredible and incomparable this is. Christmas is magical. It is special. It is God's unspeakable, irreplaceable, matchless gift.

When I compare my understanding of Christmas and all the fondness I have for it to the reality of the Creator of everything coming to dwell with us, I am dumbfounded. How could I let myself worry about the ribbons on the tree and if my gifts are wrapped nicely enough? How could I spend my time thinking (and singing) about Santa and his reindeer when Christmas is the story of how everything changed? 

I don't want to stop celebrating and enjoying those traditions and festivities that I have always loved, but my eyes are a little more open to the depth of the season I've been overlooking. I will still watch White Christmas, wrap gifts, and (hopefully) do a little better with my decorating next year. But I also hope and pray that God continues to reveal the gravity of Christmas, so that I see his glory more and more.

Three Gifts to Give Your Kids This Christmas

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While Christmas may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” it’s also one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year.  Often times, we rush around to decorate our homes, attend Christmas parties, make memories with our families, make and send Christmas cards, and buy gifts – all on top of our normally packed schedules. For those of us who lead in the church, from elder to staff member to dedicated volunteer, our service to our church family crowds our schedules even more.

We are just a few days away from Christmas and many of us are probably finding ourselves short on time to finish up our Christmas to-do lists,. The hope of making this year’s celebration meaningful and memorable seems to be a fleeting thought. Whether or not your children get their “must-haves,” there are a few gifts that won’t show up on their lists that may just be the most important.

THE GIFT OF YOURSELF

For kids, there’s nothing like presents piled high beneath a tree on Christmas morning. But even if you got them everything on their list and more, it’s far more important that you remember to give them the gift of yourself. It can be tempting to think that because we sought out, paid for, wrapped, and gave a bunch of great gifts that our parenting duties for Christmas are done. That is far from the truth.

As parents, we are called to represent the heart of God the Father to our children. He doesn’t simply give us gifts that we want because we want them. What He wants most is for us to enjoy Him, not the gifts He gives us.  That’s what we really want and need, anyway – to be known and loved by our Father God.

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Our kids, too, want something more than a new toy.  They want to be known and loved by their parents, and to be secure in that love. And as you give them that gift of yourself, you are pointing them to their deeper desire to be known and loved by a heavenly Father.

So, after Christmas lunch, resist the urge to go take a nap, watch TV, or get some “me” time in. Take time to play with all the new toys that you just gave your kids. Watch your favorite Christmas movie with them, even though you've seen it ten times already. Get beaten at that new video game over and over again.  Build a tower with their new blocks, watch them knock it down, and help them build it again.

By giving the gift of yourself to your children, you’ll be blessing them and yourself as well.  And after all, the best gift that God ever gave us was the gift of Himself, as a baby boy on that first Christmas morning.

THE GIFT OF GIVING

In Acts 20:35, Paul quotes Jesus as having said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” As a new parent, this year will be the first year that I have the opportunity to stay up late on Christmas Eve and prepare the living room with Asher's presents. This is something I've waited so long to do; it will truly be much better to give than to receive this year. However, our children simply won’t believe it. Their Christmas lists are full of things that they want to receive, not things they want to give.

That means it’s up to us, their parents, to lead them to experience and understand this great truth. Find ways for your family to give to others together this Christmas. Talk to your Missional Community about any needs in the community, or simply make cookies to give out door to door to your neighbors.

I know of one family who wanted to serve children in the Dominican Republic over the summer, but they were having a tough time raising all the needed financial support. So, they decided to use most of the year’s Christmas budget toward their mission trip, and let their kids know about their decision. While it wasn’t the children’s favorite Christmas morning ever, after the trip, they expressed how thankful they were that their parents had made that decision. Their eyes had been open to the true joys of generosity.

As you lead them in generosity, you’re giving them the gift of joy. After all, Jesus Himself promised that it is more blessed to give than to receive, so it’s a promise you can count on.

THE GIFT OF KNOWING GOD

Only the Holy Spirit can draw your children to know and trust in Christ. However, there is a lot that we parents can do to point our children to the joy of knowing God and to their need for a Savior. One of the best gifts you could give your kids this Christmas is a renewed dedication to leading your children to know and follow Jesus Christ.

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Leading your kids to know Christ as Lord starts with you knowing and loving Him yourself. Your children are learning from your example each and every day, whether you think they are paying attention or not. That’s why Moses, when he is telling Israel how to lead their children to know the law, starts with this statement:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-6)

It is only after he says this that Moses talks about teaching your children diligently as we go about our lives.

For some of us, the greatest gift we can give our children this Christmas is a renewed commitment to pursue Christ. Perhaps our habits of regular Scripture reading and prayer have slipped in the holiday busyness. Pray that God would renew your passion to know Him, and then dedicate yourselves to growing in your faith. It will be good for your spirit, and good for your kids too. I pray that all of us parents would be able to say with Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Another gift you can give your children is leading them to know God themselves, not simply by your example. If every child in your home doesn’t have their own, age-appropriate Bible, then I recommend adding that to the gifts under the tree this year. The Jesus Storybook Bible is excellent at pointing our minds to Jesus throughout all of the stories of the Bible. Also, pray with your spouse about how you can help your children develop the habit of reading the Bible and praying daily, either as a family or individually.

Even though these three gifts – the gift of yourself, the gift of giving, and the gift of knowing God – won’t make any child’s Christmas list this year, I guarantee our children will be blessed on receiving them. I pray that we all will find time in this busy Christmas season to make these gifts a priority.

O Come O Come Emmanuel

O Come O Come Emmanuel

Words by John Mason Neale, Thomas Helmore, Arranged by Mike Cosper
CCLI# 31982
© Sojourn Music 2011

Vocalists: Amanda Christopher, Mariah Gandy, Arthur Lin
Guitar: Arthur Lin
Cello: Mary Grace Bender
Camera: Andy Carter of Andy Carter Photography
Mic: Taylor Adams

As soon as December rolls around, people flood the stores, the weather is cooler, lights and decorations go up and of course, Christmas songs fill the atmosphere. Great Christmas classics such as "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "Joy to the World" celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. My favorite Christmas song is "O Come O Come Emmanuel." I love the lyrics. I love the music and melody. It is a beautiful picture of longing for hope and peace in our world and the joy of the promised Savior, Emmanuel...God with us. John Piper wrote a great article about the song's meaning, and I encourage you to check it out. Hope you enjoy the video and take some time to read the article below. It's worth it!


This translation of an anonymous Latin hymn doubles as a prayer for the first and second coming of Christ. It takes us into the mind of old Israel, longing for the first coming of the Messiah. And it goes beyond that longing by voicing the yearning of the church of Christ for the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to consummate the history of redemption.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we put ourselves in the shoes of Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, and all the pre-Christian saints. We ponder the promises. We strain to see the dawn of salvation. But we know that when it comes, the waiting will not be over.

When Emmanuel arrives — when the Dayspring rises — we learn that redemption has only begun. To be sure, it is a magnificent only. The final blood is shed. The debt is paid. Forgiveness is purchased. God’s wrath is removed. Adoption is secured. The down payment is in the bank. The first fruits of harvest are in the barn. The future is sure. The joy is great. But the end is not yet.

Death still snatches away. Disease still makes us miserable. Calamity still strikes. Satan still prowls. Flesh still wars against the Spirit. Sin still indwells. And we still “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). We still “wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7). We still wait for final deliverance “from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). We still “wait for the hope of righteousness” (Galatians 5:5). The longing continues. 

Still Longing at Christmas

The common tune, linked with these lyrics in 1851 by Thomas Helmore, captures the plaintive mood of longing. It is not the same as the exuberant “Joy to the world, the Lord has come,” or the vigorous and bounding, “Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King.” It is an excellent musical match to the mood of the song. Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping.

The Christian life oscillates between these two poles: the overflowing joy of the “already” redeemed (Ephesians 1:7) and the tearful yearning of the “not-yet” redeemed (Ephesians 4:30). Not that we ever leave the one or the other in this life. We are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

It is good to have Christmas carols that capture both dimensions of life. 

My guess is that, as we move toward Christmas, most Christians experience sadness and excitement. We must never let the sadness ruin the simple joy of the children. Most of them have not lived long enough to suffer. Let them see as much brightness as they can in Jesus. But let’s not think that Advent must be all jolly and jingle bells.

The Serious Sorrow in Our Joy

About 3.7 million people will die during Advent worldwide, half a million of them children. About 105 persons every minute. Most of them without hope. A tiny fraction of these make the news — like some victims of terrorism. The vast majority groan and die unknown except to a few close at hand. Such sorrows touch every Christian. We know someone who is dying, not to mention the hundred miseries that make living hard.

It is a wonderful thing that there are Christmas carols that are written for the real world of sorrowful joy, as well as the real world of exuberant joy. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is one of them. You can hear it in the “O” that begins ever verse: “O come, Emmanuel.” “O come, Rod of Jesse.” “O come, Dayspring.” “O come, Key of David.” “O come, Desire of nations.” This is the “O” of longing. 

Emmanuel’s Names

And every name for Jesus is full of hope. 

  • As Emmanuel (Isaiah 8:8) — “God with us” — he will pay the ransom that only a God-man can pay.
  • As Rod of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1), springing from a dead stump, he will free his people, by death and resurrection, from Satan’s tyranny, and make them free forever.
  • As the Day-spring (Luke 1:78) — the dawn of God’s kingdom — he will be the light of the world, and banish the hopelessness of darkness.
  • As the Key of David (Isaiah 22:22), he rescues us from hell, locks the door behind us, unlocks the door of heaven, and brings us home.
  • And as the Desire of nations (Haggai 2:7), he will draw the ransomed from every people and make them a kingdom of peace.

This is who Jesus is. This is what he already achieved and will complete. And so with every verse, the refrain reaches down musically into our weak hearts and pulls us up, in faith, to see the certainty of the end. 

"Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee Oh, Israel"

Artistically, the rhythm of plaintive longing in the verses, punctuated with powerful bursts of joy in the refrain, are, to my mind, just about perfect. The mystery and the wonder of Christian living are captured. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Already. But not yet. Fulfillment of glorious promises — yes! But consummation in the new earth with new bodies and no sin — not yet. We are left confident, but still crying out: “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”

The Idolatry of Great Expectations

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by Morgan Coyner

The past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how much people have been letting me down lately. I like to think that I have simple expectations of people, but I feel like every time I need something from someone, they fall short. After a little (okay, a lot) of self-pity which led to some much-needed self-reflection, I realized that my disappointments stemmed not from others but from my expectations of others.

See, lately, I’ve let my focus shift. I’ve expected people to know exactly what I need at any given moment. I’ve expected that they fill the places inside of me that still sometimes feel empty. But how can they fulfill the parts of me they can’t access, that I don’t let them near? They can’t. Yet when they don’t, I end up hurt and disappointed and filled with resentment.

Yet, in these disappointments, I hear God whisper to me to pull closer.

He reminds me over and over that they are not my Christ. He is.

This isn’t new. Idolatry is one of the most common and pervasive sins in the Bible.

In Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar builds a giant golden image and commands people to worship it. Aaron made a golden calf to worship not that long after God parted the Red Sea and made a way out of Israel. The entire book of Judges chronicles Israel’s wavering between idolatry and belief in God.

I think it’s hard for us to see our own idolatry sometimes. We think that since we aren’t worshipping golden statues or acknowledging the existence of other gods that we’re fine. As a kid, I thought that “have no other gods before me” was the easiest commandment. God is God, the only God. Done.

But literally, anything can turn into an idol. Exercise. School work. Friends. Husbands. Wives. Even our expectations of others can turn into idols. Anything that we put before God and deem more important than God becomes an idol. When I run to a friend instead of bringing my hurt to Jesus, that’s an idol. When I push quiet time out of my schedule for school work and socializing, they become idols. When I focus on exercise as a way to glorify myself through my appearance instead of maintaining a healthy body, it becomes an idol.

Here’s the thing about idols: they don’t fulfill us. They cannot satisfy the longings of our hearts. No matter how much we chase them and worship them, we will never be full.

Jesus is the one who fills. He tells us in John 6:35, “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

When we draw ourselves closer to Christ, we can finally experience true, real, and everlasting satisfaction. We will neither hunger nor thirst, not physically or emotionally. Our hunger for success will fade into a hunger for Christ. Our thirst for love will be quenched by His love.

It’s hard to let go of our expectations, to consider the possibility that any work we do isn’t of us but of Christ. It’s even harder to give ourselves over on a daily, hourly, minutely basis. I challenge you today to do some reflecting of your own and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Where is my focus throughout the majority of my day?
  2. If it’s not Christ, why? What need or desire am I trying to fulfill on my own?
  3. What does the Bible say about this?
     

God gave us his Son so we could commune with Him, yet he also gave us His Word, a tool through which we can access Him. It’s only through Scripture that we can learn the unadulterated truth. So dig in, get your hands dirty, and let the Lord wash them clean.

 

 

Pastor, Your Sermon is Not THAT Important

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I remember my thoughts as a student, learning theology and preaching. “If they would only preach Jesus, people would be saved and the church would do more to fulfill her calling.” As I progressed in school, the thoughts became, “When I preach the gospel, people will be saved and the church will fulfill her calling.” Before you throw a stone at me for my arrogance, just know that this thinking is pervasive among young aspiring pastors and leaders alike.

I believed that my Sunday morning preaching would change the church and our community. So I studied a lot. I read and wrote and re-wrote my sermon. I practiced it several times before Sunday. I prayed all along that it would do all those things – change the church, bring people to faith, change our community. Sunday after Sunday I preached as hard as I could preach! 

A year into pastoring I saw some growth in our church but not nearly what I had imagined! I studied, read, wrote, practiced, worked and preached all the harder. By year three I was convinced that “they” just weren’t going to grow. I was sure that I had done all that I could. It must have been "them."

My second pastorate was a fresh opportunity, a new people. Because of the church’s circumstances, I didn’t believe that I would be their long-term pastor, but I did believe that with my preaching, I could lead them into the next steps of their future and it would be great. I studied a lot. I read and wrote and re-wrote my sermon. I practiced it several times before Sunday. I prayed all along that it would do all those things – change the church, bring people to faith, change our community. Sunday after Sunday I preached as hard as I could preach! The results were much the same as in my first church.  Don’t get me wrong, in both places the Lord was at work and did great things, but it wasn’t my preaching.

About five years into leading New City and still struggling, it dawned on me. "Keith, your sermon is really not THAT important."
I am often a slow learner.

This past Sunday I was sitting in on our Missional Community, New Leaders Training led by Caleb Bedingfield.  The group is going through the Saturate Field Guide by Jeff Vanderstelt and Ben Connelly. During the discussion they were sharing some of what really stood out to them from their week of reading. They pointed to pages and even read from the book. With excitement they shared what they were learning.
Much of it was what I have been preaching for 10 years at New City – some of it almost word for word.  One of the couples in training has been with us for 8 or 9 years. Joyfully they pointed out what they were learning. Inside I laughed! “How many times," I wondered, "have I preached on that very thing?” I really can laugh about this!

The truth is, that while my sermon matters and what I say with regards to God’s word is incredibly, incredibly important, it will never do what I dreamed that it would. God may certainly choose use great preachers to do great things… or even average preachers to do great things, but generally, preaching isn’t THAT important. I mean that your best preaching will likely not bring about great change in your church or community, or in mine.

What will?

Theologically, it must be the Holy Spirit’s work!
But it seems from my experience and from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry that life transforming change takes place in an interactive small group of people.

Think about it.
Jesus preached to thousands and thousands of people! And I would say, because He was Jesus, that His preaching and teaching ability was AMAZING. Yet in the end, there was only a very small percentage of those who heard Him preach that followed Him, that believed what He said, that were changed by His message. It was the small group who talked regularly with Jesus, who did life with Him that was changed.

As I listened last week to our training group react to what they were learning together, I was reminded, THIS matters – a small group gathered, talking, questioning, pressing, answering the hard questions of Scripture and life together. THIS is what is remembered. THIS is what changes people the most. THIS, at least in part, is what led fishermen and deniers to become martyrs for the faith.

I know, young pastor, YOU are the exception!  YOU will be the guy that breaks the mold.
You probably won’t.

But that’s OK!  You are actually in great company.

And its not you. Really.
I ran across “The Learning Pyramid,” researched and created by the National Training Laboratories in Betel, Maine. Their research shows that your Sunday morning listeners only recall about 5% of what you are teaching (in my experience, its usually your joke, story or mispronunciation).
But take a look at how recall goes up with group discussion, then with practice and teaching others! 

The Learning Pyramid puts numbers to what humbled me years ago. My preaching really doesn’t matter THAT much. Don’t misunderstand. I study. I choose my words carefully. I pray over the words that I will speak. I hope each week that something amazing will happen. I know the weight of proclaiming, “Thus says the Lord.”

I also know that we need more.

We need Missional Community life. We need a small group gathered, talking, questioning, pressing, answering the hard questions of Scripture and life together, doing life with one another and engaging together in mission. That is where the disciples of Jesus grew the most. That is where I have personally grown the most. That is where, at New City we see the most growth in our people.

Pastor, Church Leader!  Do you see those numbers?
If you want to see the lives of your people changed, there must be more than your preaching and Sunday morning gathering! Change happens as people remember and apply what is being taught and that happens best in the small group environment that is participatory. Your church needs interactive and practicing small groups. Your church needs a culture of gospel-centered community more than it needs a superstar in the pulpit.

Church Goers!  Do you see it?
If you want to grow in your faith there must be more than a Sunday morning gathering and the preacher’s message. You need to be engaged regularly with a small group of people where you participate in discussion, where you practice the Christian life and where ultimately you even help in teaching others. You need to belong to a gospel-centered community.


Want to learn more about New City Missional Communities?

Why We Serve

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I’m tired. I’ve worked hard all week. I just want a break. I have small children. I’m not a morning person. I’m introverted. I’m new here. I’m too young. I’m too old. I’m too busy. I don’t know anyone. I’m not needed. I’ve served all my life and now it’s someone else’s turn.

Have you ever said any of those things as a reason not to serve at church? If you have, you’re not alone! We can come up with all kinds of reasons why we can’t serve. Sometimes, they are good and legitimate reasons. Sometimes, though, they’re just excuses. 

New City is a growing church. We can’t explain it, but we are thankful. God just keeps sending people our way, and we absolutely love it. That growth means we will be switching to two services in January. Two services means our Sunday morning teams need to grow too. That means we need you!

We discussed a few reasons not to serve. Here are three simple reasons why you should.

1.      It builds community.
Joining one of our Sunday morning teams can be a wonderful way to get to know people you might not have ever crossed paths with otherwise. Serving alongside someone naturally builds comradery through shared experiences, and the time you spend working together gives you the chance to learn more about each other. Strangers become friends. Each Sunday morning, our teams pray for each other and for the service. That is community! And that’s one of the things we love the most at New City.

2.      It removes barriers to the gospel being heard.
We have first time visitors at New City nearly every week! By having Connect Team members directing parking and greeting inside, in addition to letting visitors know how glad we are they’re here, we help remove confusion and uncertainty about where to park and how to get around the building. By having classes for kids, parents can listen to the sermon without distraction, knowing their kids are being cared for and loved on. By having good, gospel-centered music and words on the screen, we help prepare hearts and minds to hear and receive the good news. With any of these missing, visitors may be frustrated, distracted, or just generally feel unwelcome, and they aren’t likely to come back.
One thing you can count on at New City is that the gospel will be shared in every sermon. That is why we gather! To share the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection with some who have never heard it, and to remind ourselves that the gospel is relevant to every part of our lives. When we serve, we help make a visitor’s experience as smooth as possible, so that they will hopefully keep coming back and hearing the gospel week after week.

3.      Jesus did it.
Jesus said in Mark 10, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” If there were anyone who could insist on being served instead of serving, it would be Jesus. But he made himself nothing, became a servant, and died so that we could be called children of God! Jesus did it, and we want to be more and more like Him in every way.

Do you have to serve to be loved? No way! In Christ, you are loved and accepted. You are a part of this family. You don’t have to do anything to keep your standing with him. But, you ARE invited to be a part of his work- seeing the gospel transform lives, cities, the world- and one of the ways you can do that is by showing up on Sunday mornings to serve. It is a joy and privilege. Don’t miss out.

The Work of an Evangelist (Through Story and Seed)

Here at New City, we often talk about our new identities in light of the work of Jesus. One of our identities is that of missionaries. Being a missionary is not reserved for the Christians who sell all of their possessions and move overseas; falsely perceived as “elite Christians.” If you are a child of God and a servant of Jesus, you have been sent into your world as his missionary with the same Spirit that sent and empowered Jesus.

Being a missionary in the daily rhythms of your life is extremely important, but can often be a daunting task. This is why Jesus gave you his Spirit — so you could be his witnesses through the power of his Spirit; not your own (Acts 1:8).

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His rescuing love is the trustworthy seed that our friends need. When shared sincerely, it will change them as it has changed us!

The calling to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5) has been put to each and every person who follows Jesus Christ. Like all of his commands, this one brings us to the end of ourselves.

We have no power to change someone’s mind or open someone’s heart. Each man, each woman is a silent fortress of private hopes and fears which we cannot enter on our own. We must be invited in. But only those who are trustworthy get invited in and on our own, we fall short of such a title. But this is not inescapable, God has the power to re-shape and re-make us so that we truly are worthy of our friends’ trust.

He does this by the power and the presence of his Holy Spirit. Men and women find Christ to be worthy of trust and so they welcome him into their lives. But this trustworthy Christ now lives inside us because of our faith. This is the mystery – “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). It is not we ourselves who must gain access to our neighbor’s hearts. But it is the Lord.

God Uses Us

When Paul and Barnabas spoke to Lydia on the riverbank in Philippi, “the Lord opened her heart to the message” (Acts 16:14)

After Lydia’s heart was opened she accepted what Paul was saying. First comes the opening of the heart by the Lord and then comes the acceptance of the message by the searching soul. Notice evangelism here is conversational and very personal. It happens in the context of a small group without stage lights or a professional speaker.

To do the work of an evangelist then throws us utterly onto the mercy of God. It is not a job we can do. If their heart is opened, he has done it. If they accept the message, he has done it.

This is a central truth about evangelism. We must never forget it. But let’s not stop there.  If we focus solely on God’s central role, it can eclipse our role. Thinking there is nothing for us to do, we throw up our hands and stop before we even start.

God has always used people to achieve his ends. (Moses, Jonah, Peter etc.) In the heart-opening work of evangelism, God continues this pattern. God uses people. God uses us.

In this combination of human and divine efforts, evangelism has many parallels with farming. The farmer studies the soil and the seasons. He plows the ground, he places the seed, he waters the seed. But he is unable to make it grow. The sun has to shine. Roots must sprout. The farmer is both active and passive. He works and he sweats but he does not bring the growth. New life is a partnership between the work of the farmer and the work of God. The same is true in sharing our faith.

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How Are We Active

Doing the work of an evangelist means planting and watering the seed. The seed is our personal gospel story. We labor to resist the storyline our culture imposes upon us. We labor to discern instead how Jesus Christ has uniquely rescued us. Saint Patrick said he was like a stone sunk in the mud. Tolstoy said he had come to a precipice and seen clearly that there was nothing ahead of him but destruction. What is your story? It will take work to come up with it.

Often times we don’t know our own story. We have blocked out parts we are ashamed of. But your story is the seed you must work to plant.

To water the seed comes in two forms, friendship and prayer. I water that seed with my tears in prayer calling out to God to show himself to the searching soul.  I also water that seed by becoming a real friend who can be trusted because Christ has made me trustworthy. There is no place for falsehood here.

How Are We Passive

We are passive by refusing to pressure them. We remember that God must open our friend’s heart. I cannot manipulate or coerce, but I can still ask if anything is holding them back from following Jesus.

“we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God”(2 Corinthians 4:2).

Our friendship and our prayers, as well as our refusal to pressure them, all comes from love. “We loved you so much” says that great evangelist Paul, “that we shared with you not only God’s good news but our own lives too” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

But here again we are thrust back onto a total dependence on God. We are at the end of ourselves because genuine “Love” is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). In myself, I only have a weak self-centered semblance of love for others. But when I contemplate the crucified Jesus, bleeding and pleading for my pardon, God’s love breaks into my heart afresh. A transfusion is performed on my soul. His strong untainted love flows into me in the most essential and life-altering way. And my weak self-centeredness dwindles away. Without this transfusion of love, I am content to keep the good news of God’s pardoning verdict of grace to myself. But, with this transfusion, I can share it freely.

His rescuing love is the trustworthy seed that our friends need. When shared sincerely, it will change them as it has changed us!

Let’s go plant.

Let’s go water.

Let’s watch God open hearts.

“Do the work of an evangelist!”

 

This post was originally posted by Rich McCaskill on the Saturate The World blog

Mama, the Gospel is for You

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A few weeks ago, I shared during liturgy how I often struggle with applying the gospel to motherhood. I tend to rely on my own abilities, my own strong will, my own creativity, my own intellect. If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll get this parenting thing right and my kids will grow up to be well-adjusted, productive, successful adults. Because that’s the goal.

Except it’s not. Not the primary goal anyway.

Since my third child was born, I have felt anxiety like never before. I have worried and stressed over things that should not be significant. This has made me impatient, irritable, and easily angered. I’ve had to apologize to my children many, many times, and, precious ones that they are, they just keep forgiving me and moving on. (Lord, make me more like them.)

Some time ago, I read this article by Trillia Newbell and was convicted by this: “We lack joy in motherhood — and enjoyment and peace in our Savior — the moment we step away from the gospel and try to do this “mom thing” on our own. Instead, as we mother, we need to remind ourselves daily of the truth of God’s word, specifically the gospel.”

The gospel! That is what I need! More and more, each and every day.

As mothers, we can constantly feel pressure to do better. We often base our value on how well we feel we are doing raising our kids. And I’m telling you, we are HARD on ourselves. We work and work, and at the end of the day, we can still feel like we blew it. Some days, maybe we did! I sure did a few times today.

The good news of the gospel is that our value isn’t found in anything we can do, as moms or otherwise. The work has already been done. The good and perfectly righteous work of Jesus’ life, the atoning and justifying work of his death, and the hope-giving and death-defeating work of his resurrection- that is where we turn our tired eyes and weary hearts. He has done it all. I have nothing to prove. Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” I can lay my burden down at his feet- the heavy burden of motherhood, the heavy burdens of trying to do everything right and please everyone and be good enough- and take up his.

When I as a mom rely on my own performance, not only am I missing the goodness of the gospel for my own life, but I am modeling a works-based salvation for my children. My standards for myself are impossible, so my standards for them will likely also be impossible. The primary goal isn’t to raise well-adjusted, productive, successful adults, but to raise them up to love Jesus, to believe the gospel, and to point others toward both. I can’t do that by trying harder or requiring more of them. I can only trust in the power of the gospel to transform my heart and theirs.

Does reminding myself of the gospel suddenly fix things? Does it suddenly make my anxiety a non-issue? Is it immediately easier? No. This parenting gig is still hard. But the gospel makes this hard thing worth something. It’s not just a season to push through and hope for the best. It’s an opportunity to lean hard into Jesus and taste his goodness even more deeply.

“He invites you, mom, who labors and are heavy laden. You who have been working hard to be the best, only to realize that your efforts leave you more condemned and doubting than refreshed and encouraged. He invites you who have been trying to earn favor before God based on your performance rather than resting in his finished work for you on the cross. He invites you and me to find perfect and true rest in him.” (Trillia Newbell)

I’m not writing anything new. There are hundreds of articles out there that are way more articulate than this one. (Be sure to read the one I linked above!) But I’m a woman who sits next to you at church. I’m a mom raising my kids along with you. I’m struggling through this thing just like you are. I need the reminder, and maybe you do too: the gospel is for you, mama, and it’s for your little people, too.

Believe it.


Side note: If you’ve been at New City for any length of time, you’ve heard of the Four Questions. I’ve worked through them below for my feelings of anxiety and sometimes depression.

Who is God?
What does my current feeling show that I am believing about God?
That he is not in control, his love for me is based on my performance, he doesn’t see or care about my struggles.
What do I really believe about God?
He is in control, his love for me is not based on what I do, but on the work that Christ did in my place, and he knows every detail of my life and heart and cares about them all.

Who am I?
What does my current feeling show that I am believing about myself?
I have to try harder to be good enough. I am not loved or accepted. I am a failure. I am in control of things (not God) and if things go wrong it’s my fault. I am not secure in God’s love.
What do I really believe about myself?
I am loved and accepted, regardless of my failures. I am not in control, and I can rest in God’s sovereignty and goodness. I am secure in God’s love because of what Jesus did on the cross.

What has God done for me?
He sent his Son to take my place and bear the punishment that should’ve been mine. Jesus was tempted in every way, yet lived perfectly. He has forgiven me of my sins and adopted me as his child. He loves me even when I mess up.

What should I do?
Confess my disbelief in the gospel. Believe that God’s Word is true, that the gospel is relevant to every detail of my life. Remind myself daily that I do not have to be anxious because God is good and faithful and is always with me.

It's Time to Plant Again... sort of

MACON.

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It's time.
New City is a Church Planting church. We believe strongly in planting new churches to reach new people with the good news of Jesus.
And it's time... for a 2nd service in Macon.

Yes, a second service. As we have grown, we have quickly maxed out our facilities for one service - we are down to only a few open parking spaces even after cleaning up more parking area next door, our kid's classes are often 110-120% capacity, our main floor worship area (which is packed pretty tight) consistently runs at 75%+ capacity. This is not a surprise. We hoped that this would happen and happen quickly and it has.  So we are aiming for adding a second service January 14, 2018.  Service times will be 9am and 11am - we'll post more on that as we get closer.

Why talk about church planting and scare us all, then talk about a second service...

Because starting a new service is much like planting a new church.

We plant new churches with the goal of reaching new people.
That's the goal of starting a second service - reach people who aren't in church or don't know Jesus!  Adding different service times extends the reach of the church, which opens the possibility of reaching new people.

Planting new churches requires extra work and energy.
Starting a second service will mean that we are stretched in every area for workers. It will require us to do more, or it may just require a few more of us doing.

Planting a new church means there are new people we don't know and some people we don't see as much.
Starting a second service will mean that there are people at New City that we don't see and others that we don't know. While that is a negative in some ways and maybe feels uncomfortable in other ways, it is also a great positive - it means that we are reaching more people!

Our facilities are maxed. That's a great problem!  But it is still a problem. A problem that adding a second service easily making room for us to grow by reaching more people. 
So here's what we need from you, our New City people:

* If you are already serving, THANK YOU!  Keep doing what you do so well!

* If you aren't serving or serve infrequently, we need you. We will begin ramping up our Connect Teams, our Children's Teams (teachers, helpers) and possibly our Tech and Music Teams, if you are able, serve.

* Pray. Pray that New City would continue to reach out to friends, family members, neighbors and coworkers.  Pray that as we do, God would give us opportunity to be a part of seeing those people come to love and follow Jesus AND become a part of our New City family!

* Expect. As we pray, serve and share with those around us, I expect God to do great things. This is after all, His mission. Expect people to come when you invite them, expect non-believers to believe because they hear the gospel and see its transforming power, expect our services to fill again and our MCs to grow and plant new MCs - expect great things from God because seeing those things is His desire.

PS
While we expect growth to slow some over the upcoming holidays, if it doesn't, we could be adding that second service sooner!  Stay tuned.

Singing Helps Us Feel the Gospel

God has taken the most precise way of communicating truth, which is words, and combined it with the vaguest way of communicating truth, which is music - and he’s put them together to make singing. The purpose is that what we know with our minds gets connected in our hearts.
— Bob Kauflin paraphrasing Harold Best

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One of the biggest joys for me at New City is singing gospel truths together. At our Sunday worship gatherings we walk through and sing the gospel story. We sing old hymns and new songs, all in response to who God is and what He has done for us. In an interview with Bob Kauflin, he states that not only does singing help us to know these truths intellectually, but it helps us to actually feel the gospel. As we are singing, we slow down and take time to read and repeat certain lines “and in doing so, the weight and significance has longer to ring in our souls and penetrate to our depths,” says interviewer David Mathis. Check out the rest of this interview with Bob Kauflin.


by: David Mathis

You were made to sing. God created music, and designed humans to sing along. 

Mere naturalistic theories cannot adequately account for this global phenomenon, present among every people group on the planet. The fingerprints of the creator mark the sound of music.

And what nature makes plain, God’s own word makes even clearer. The Psalms alone issue nearly thirty commands to sing. Another thirty passages include promises that we will sing praise. The Bible celebrates song from the very beginning, as Adam sings for the woman God made for him (Genesis 2:23), through to the very end, as the bride of heaven sings for the groom God gave her — with choruses old (Revelation 15:3) and new (Revelation 5:914:3).

Jesus himself — fully God in full humanity — sang on earth (Matthew 26:30Mark 14:26), and he sings even now among the happy congregation of heaven (Romans 15:9Hebrews 2:12). One day soon his Church will be fully gathered with him, and she will enjoy endless music with him.

Sing to Stir the Soul

Something mystical and seemingly supernatural works in us when we sing. Music cultivates the happiness and wholeness of the human soul. Singing stirs and engages the heart, celebrating our greatest joys and consoling us in our deepest sorrows.

Ask songwriter and beloved worship-leader Bob Kauflin about the place of song in the church’s corporate worship, and he’ll direct you to two times the apostle Paul explicitly mentions singing. Ephesians 5:19 speaks of our “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” Colossians 3:16 instructs us, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Colossians 3:16–17 comes in the context of Paul describing what it looks like to live a gospel-fueled life as a community in the midst of a pagan society,” says Kauflin. That picture is increasingly relevant in our day. 

“Right in the middle of it, he talks about singing. It’s similar to Ephesians 5where he goes right from singing to household relationships. Why does he do that? Why is singing so important?”

Connect Mind and Heart

Kauflin’s answer is penetrating, and it is instructive for why God would have music and song occupy such a prominent place not only in worship, but in all of life.

“There’s something about singing that both enables and encourages the rich indwelling of the word of Christ in our hearts. The ‘word of Christ’ is the gospel. It’s who Jesus is, what he’s done, and why it matters. That gospel is to dwell in us richly through singing. Singing is what helps us do that and express that.”

Paraphrasing musicologist Harold Best, Kauflin says, “God has taken the most precise way of communicating truth, which is words, and combined it with the vaguest way of communicating truth, which is music — and he’s put them together to make singing. The purpose is that what we know with our minds gets connected in our hearts.”

God designed singing “to help us feel the truth. More specifically, it’s meant to help us feel the gospel.”

Affect the Affections

How, then, does singing help us feel the gospel? One way, among many, is “singing helps us meditate and reflect on the words we’re singing by drawing them out. We slow it down, we repeat it” — and in doing so, the weight and significance has longer to ring in our souls and penetrate to our depths. This slowing down and repeating sets song apart as markedly different than mere speech.

“If we spoke like that, it would be odd. People would wonder what your problem is. But when we sing, it makes perfect sense. It allows time for those truths to seep down into our souls and impact us and affect us and change not only our emotional state but the choices we make, the things we do, because we do the things we love.

“God gave us singing to affect the things we love, to remind us of the things that are most important about what Jesus Christ has done to save us, to redeem us — those things are most important in life. We want to be amazed by those truths.”

God Gave You a Song

Singing serves our true happiness and wholeness as humans, but that doesn’t mean we all incline toward music with the same intensity, or have the same skill in song.

Some of us simply don’t like to sing; others, as the expression goes, couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Yet that shouldn’t keep any human — and especially any Christian — from the power and pleasure of music and song.

“The question isn’t, ‘Has God given you a voice?’ but, ‘Has God given you a song?’ I’ve worked with guys who are tone deaf, literally tone deaf . . . . I would rather have them sing and express what God has done in their lives, in their hearts, than just remain silent.

“God has given you a song. You just need to find out the ways you can sing it, and use every opportunity you can to sing it — because God means for song not only to express what’s in your heart, but to encourage what’s in your heart, or what should be in your heart.”

What should we do in corporate worship when we don’t feel like singing? Kauflin has a hopeful remedy. 

“Confess your weakness, confess your inability, ask God to reveal his glory to you in Jesus Christ, and start singing the truths of God’s word. Most likely, it won’t be too long before your perspective changes, and you’re not thinking about whether you feel like singing anymore. You’ll be thinking about how worthy Jesus is to receive the praises of his people.”


Why I Pray In Response To Tragedy

photo: Pascal Bovet

photo: Pascal Bovet

by: Morgan Coyner

I prayed that God would strengthen my own faltering beliefs, that though I know God is good and sovereign, that when lives are taken en masse, it seems like he is neither of those things.

Waking up to the news of the Las Vegas shooting, I felt broken. I thought of one of my favorite worship songs, Hosanna, and the line that says "break my heart for what breaks Yours." I felt it. In the very core of my being, I felt sorrow and pain and anger about the loss of lives I do not know, will never get to know.

The first thing I did after getting out of bed was open my bright pink, glittered prayer journal and write. That's the easiest way for me to talk to God. I write him letters, open and honest, my heart leaking onto the page through purple ink.

I prayed for peace and comfort for those who may not have physical injuries but are most certainly going to be dealing with mental and emotional trauma after what they witnessed. Peace and comfort for families who have lost their worlds, their shining stars, the dearest parts of their hearts.

I prayed for understanding, that we would somehow glean meaning from what is an otherwise senseless and meaningless act of violence.

I prayed that God would strengthen my own faltering beliefs, that though I know God is good and sovereign, that when lives are taken en masse, it seems like he is neither of those things.

I prayed for God to reveal himself through this tragedy, for it to somehow, some way, bring people to Him.

What happened in Las Vegas, in Orlando, in Blacksburg, is a constant reminder that we live in a broken world functioning within broken systems being led by broken people. It's no wonder we often feel that things are falling apart. When the shoe rack hanging on your closet door breaks (which mine just did), you don't rehang it with its only remaining hook. You take it down and create a plan to get a new one, a fully functional one that will hopefully be more effective than its predecessor.

It's clear to me that we need a plan of action. We need to act on that plan of action. But that doesn't mean we don't pray. Prayers are not platitudes. Prayers are not meaningless words whispered or shouted into the abyss. Prayer is a real connection to our living God.

When the Israelites were in slavery, they prayed constantly to God. I imagine their prayers weren’t always faithful prayers. They were probably desperate prayers of anger. “Why are you doing this to us? How could you let us be treated this way?” Don’t we pray the same way?

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.  — Exodus 2:23-25
"Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them." — Exodus 3:7-9

God knew the suffering of his people. He heard their cries. He reached out to Moses and set in motion a plan to give them victory, to deliver them from slavery in one of the most majestic and awe-inspiring stories in the Bible.

God tells Moses that he does this so that “his wonders might be multiplied” (Exodus 11:9), so that the glory is given to Him. We, as Christians, are to recognize God’s glory, proclaim God’s glory and reflect God’s glory. He gives us those opportunities.

...praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saint — Ephesians 6:18

God sent his Son to die for us, to carry our shame, to pay for our sins on the cross. When He did this, he gave us a connection to him, a way to speak to Him. The Bible tells us that we can pray all kinds of prayers and all kinds of requests. That doesn't mean every request will be granted, but we can ask for whatever we want with the confidence that, at the very least, it will be heard. This verse is written as a command. We are commanded to pray, not only for ourselves, but also for the Lord's people.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. — 1 John 5:14

I know this post has been kind of scripture-heavy, but I want to make sure you know I'm not making this up based on my own personal ideas. It is written that he hears ANYTHING that we pray. And I know that things like peace and comfort and justice are part of his will. He hears these things.

I understand the heart behind the frustration with “thoughts and prayers” being a common and empty response. The frequency of violence and subsequently, the frequency of hearing that people are praying has desensitized us to the power prayer yields. God hears us, and God acts on our prayers. We can ask him for any request; we can ask him for changed laws, for better equipped politicians. God’s people still had to work to get out of Egypt. He didn’t simply pluck them up and place them into the land of milk and honey. We have work to do. We have senators to call, rallies to plan and attend, books to write, hard conversations to have with friends and families. But that work begins in prayer.