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.

Why You Should Stop Trying to Numb Your Pain

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Today, across our nation and world, people are hurting. Maybe you are hurting over the tragedy in Las Vegas, or maybe it's from the pressures of life. Instead of masking and numbing your pain, there is a better way.


by Adriel Sanchez

As a pastor, part of what I do is deal with wounds. I’m not talking about scraped knees, or broken bones (although I do deal with those as a father of three kids!), but the deep spiritual wounds we all have. It doesn’t matter who you are, you have pain. I do, too. Right now, you might not be aware of your pain, but that’s not because it isn’t there. It’s because you’ve been numbing yourself.

Numbing yourself is a way of dealing with pain. The hurt is still there, the wound may even be infected, you just don’t feel it. Israel’s false prophets helped the Hebrews numb themselves, and God rebuked them for it. God told the prophet, Jeremiah, that those prophets had “healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jer. 6:14) Instead of exposing the wound, and making it felt, they put a band-aid on what was broken.

You see, it’s much easier to put band-aids on ourselves (and it’s easier for pastors to do this for their parishioners) than it is for us to deal with our pain. You might not be feeling your wound because you’ve stacked so many band-aids on it.

We all have different ways of masking our pain. It could be excessive alcohol consumption, binging every night on Netflix, pornography, shopping, or eating. The list goes on and on, but quite simply, band-aids are those things which we use to escape our painful reality. They’re the stuff that helps us not to feel. They’re the things that say to us, “Peace, peace!” when deep down we’re a mess.

Stop and think for a second about what that might be in your life. What do you use to escape reality? How have you been medicating yourself to avoid having to feel your wounds?

We’re all guilty of this, but Jesus offers us a better way. You see, there’s something about his wounds that should bring us healing. The prophet Isaiah wrote of Jesus, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isa 53:5) This is not peace like the false prophets promised, artificial and temporary, but true healing.

Here again, we’re not talking about physical ailments per se, but the deep spiritual injuries caused by sin; the pain from broken homes and relationships, insecurities, anxieties, betrayal, hatred, and sexual failure. This list also goes on and on, and it’s difficult to talk about, which is why we try to avoid it at all costs.

But Jesus says we don’t have to avoid it. We don’t have to numb ourselves until we die after years of self-made-morphine. Instead of numbing our pain, we can be open and honest about our wounds so that the true healer can operate. We can see the wound for what it is, and not be terrified of feeling it. In fact, God would have us be aware of those wounds, and the pain can be a means of bringing us into his presence daily (yes, sometimes the hurt doesn’t go away).

Instead of trying to mask your pain, let it make you desperate for the one who knows what it feels like to be pierced, crushed, chastised, and abandoned. Find solidarity with his suffering, and healing in his stripes. Christianity doesn’t offer us an escape from pain, but the ability to truly feel it, because we don’t have to fear it. Our God, Jesus, is intimately aware of pain, having experienced it in his body, and he can deal with our wounds in a way that Netflix and six beers can’t.

Next time you’re tempted to numb out, turn to the One who felt pain for you. Allow yourself to feel your brokenness instead of pretending like it isn’t there. There may be tears, and that’s okay, God keeps track of them (Ps. 56:8). Ask God to do what only he can do, and grant you peace.

You may find yourself praying that prayer on a continual basis, but perhaps that’s one of God’s points in allowing suffering in the first place. It’s in our weakness that God’s grace often shines the brightest (2 Cor. 12:8-10), and should God be pleased to shine in your sorrow, let him. When he does, you’ll find the experience to be infinitely better than the band-aids you’ve been stacking.

 

Grace and Holiness: on Justification and Sanctification

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We talk a lot about the good news of the gospel at New City Church. Our weekly gatherings are ordered, and words and songs are carefully chosen to proclaim that good news. During the week we gather in homes all across Middle Georgia to talk about what it means to live in light of that same good news.

Jesus came to save sinners. He did that because we can't save ourselves. No matter how hard we try, we cannot overcome the sin and the guilt of sin that are ours. The good news is that Jesus lived the life that we could not. He died the death that we deserve. And in His resurrection, Jesus defeated death and sin and Satan. When we come to Him by faith, trusting in His work (his life, death, and resurrection) and not our own, then through faith we are forgiven of our sins and made forevermore to be children of God.  It is by His grace that we are saved through faith - it is His work and not our own (Ephesians 2:1-10). This good news we proclaim every week at New City. 

Most weeks at New City I urge those gathered on a Sunday to trust in Jesus and believe this good news. I plead with our congregation to stop trying to be righteous and earn good standing with God, Jesus offers it freely. I remind them and myself that even if I have failed this week or this morning, by faith I am a forgiven child of the King's, loved dearly. I say to all of us, "in Christ you have nothing to prove and no one to impress. You are a beloved son or daughter of the King and your Father is already impressed with you." It is true and it is indeed good news! You don't have to be perfect, holy and righteous in order to be loved - in fact you can't - that's why Jesus came... to save sinners.

This sometimes leads to the question, "Does this mean we can live any way want to?" Some say that this sort of salvation is a cheapening of grace.
Is it? What does this mean then about how we live as Christ followers?

To rightly answer, we need to understand two words, justification and sanctification.  

Justification is a legal term meaning the act of declaring someone just or righteous in God's eyes, fully meeting the divine requirements (Millard Erickson p918). The problem with bringing about our own justification is that we have all messed up and failed somewhere along the way - we aren't righteous and just. And an unrighteous and unjust person can't simply declare themselves righteous and just. No amount of good deeds takes away whatever bad deed(s) there may be. This is why Christ came - to take away our sins, to grant us His righteousness. The only way we are justified is through His life, death, and resurrection. This is freely offered to us and all that is required is faith.  We are justified by His work, not our own, through faith. 

Sanctification is a biblical term that refers to the setting aside of something or someone as holy. For those who trust in Christ and follow Him (Christians), this is progressive, meaning that while in Christ, God accepts us as righteous and just, we do not immediately become perfect in our thoughts, actions, and behaviors. We still mess up. We still sin. It is progressive because we spend our life growing in Christ and more and more being shaped into His image (Romans 8:28-30). We grow in holiness. While justification simply requires faith, sanctification is a process that requires our effort and discipline. We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) and to be holy as He is holy (I Peter 1:15). The beauty of this work is that it too is truly an act of grace!  Though we work and participate in our sanctification we do so because our hearts desire now to please Him. We work, not to earn His love or good standing with him, but because we are loved and now we love Him. It is also a work of grace because it is His Spirit that convicts us, empowers us and enables us toward sanctification.  

We do not work for our justification, but we work with the help of the Holy Spirit in our growing sanctification. We are saved from sin and its consequences wholly by grace. And we are saved TO a life of growing holiness, also by His grace.  James said that faith that is not accompanied with the fruit of works is not saving faith. So, while our works never justify us, those who are justified in Christ do have lives of growing holiness.  Tim Keller said it this way, "You are saved (from sin and the consequences of sin) by faith alone, but not by faith which remains alone... you're really saved by faith, not by how sanctified you are. But if you're not getting sanctified, then you don't have saving faith... Sanctification is the sign of salvation but not the cause"  (Tim Keller & John Piper). 

At New City, we proclaim both - Grace and Holiness. They are not mutually exclusive. Our justification is a free gift of grace AND a call to holiness. A call that we strive for and will one day reach because of His grace.

Welcomed In

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What comes to mind when you hear "hospitality?" Is it Martha Stewart or Joanna Gaines? A beautifully decorated home or a well-crafted meal?

Many people feel fear or guilt at the mention of hospitality, believing that it requires us to present beautiful and impressive homes that smell like Yankee Candle and are devoid of unfolded laundry. We desire to impress and delight, and our pride holds us back from inviting others in for fear of what they might think. While we can certainly show hospitality by inviting others into our homes and giving them a good meal, the heart of hospitality is so much more than that. Hospitality is not rooted in a 21st century concept of perfect homemaking but in the good news of the gospel.

On our own, our sin separates us from God. Making us not only strangers, but enemies to God. We have no seat at the table. But in Jesus, God has welcomed us in, treating strangers - and even enemies - as honored guests. Making us family. So how do we respond? We turn to the strangers and guests in our lives and invite them in as well.

In Matthew 25, Jesus is talking to his disciples about what a faithful follower looks like at the end of his life:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

This is the kind of welcome that Jesus extended to the people he met during his ministry on earth, but it is also what he does for us right now. 

At Home

Our homes are a great place for this - making space for strangers in our most intimate and comfortable place. However, in a world that longs to impress and delight, we often let pride be the enemy of hospitality by focusing on the presentation rather than the people. I often feel fear when I think of inviting people over, worried that it's not enough. Not well-decorated enough, not large enough, not impressive enough (not to mention that I'm fighting a losing battle with my dog's hair). But all of the anxieties I feel around inviting people into my home only betray my fear of man and what they will think of me. The good news of the gospel tells me that I am loved and accepted by God, so I don't have to worry about what people think of me. The gospel enables us to invite people into our messy and broken lives, without fear of approval or disdain.

At Work

Home is often the first place we think of when it comes to hospitality, but there are so many opportunities to make space in our lives for the stranger or the guest. Bethany Jenkins wrote an article about hospitality in the workplace:

[H]ospitality is not just for the private sphere of our lives. It’s for our work, too. God called Israel to leave the edges of the harvest for the sojourner and the poor (Lev. 23:22). The harvest was their work and livelihood. Leaving some harvest for the poor cut into their proceeds. Their hospitality was costly.

Jenkins includes many helpful, practical suggestions in her article about the ways we can use the 40+ hours per week we spend at work to turn strangers into friends. When we separate our lives into distinct and unrelated bubbles, we miss important opportunities to influence our communities with the gospel. 

At New City

Hospitality is also an important part of our mindset and preparation for gathered worship on Sundays. Without practice in this, it may seem counter-intuitive. So many of us are used to walking into church on Sunday morning ready to receive - to be welcomed, to be fed, to be encouraged, to be loved. These are beautiful and good things, things that I desire for everyone who walks through our doors. But that only happens when the community of believers is also prepared to offer those things to one another and to the strangers we meet. We build this into our processes each week by organizing volunteers because it is important to us, but it goes so much further than the people who are wearing name tags. Hospitality is a natural response to the gospel, a desire to make others feel welcomed and loved as we have been. If we prepare for Sunday morning by praying for and seeking out those who are new to us, we are much more likely to meet a stranger and welcome them in.

Hospitality is For You

If you've made it this far, it is probably because you have a tendency toward or gift for hospitality and this subject interests you. If that is not the case, I want to encourage you. While there are some who are more readily inclined toward turning strangers into friends, hospitality doesn't require any special skills or abilities. All that it takes for us to show hospitality is a willingness to sacrifice our own comfort to make someone else comfortable. Sometimes that's physical comfort (offering a place in your home), financial comfort (buying a meal), or social comfort (striking up a conversation when you feel awkward). Jenkins writes:

Whatever our particular situations, though, the heart behind hospitality seeks to turn strangers into friends. And it’s amazing how many colleagues are strangers—needy, unseen, relationally disconnected people. Seeking them out for a relationship might be a rare kindness to them.

People are almost always loved, not argued, toward faith. We sometimes think the life of a Christian starts with conversion, then community, then discipleship. In reality, though, it usually starts with community. We first get to know some Christians. Then coming to faith seems plausible—in spite of our initial objections. Sometimes conversion takes years. When we build authentic, hospitable relationships with our colleagues, we begin to embody the truth of the gospel with our lives—even if we don’t immediately share it with our words. In our relationally broken culture, being a true friend is a rare thing.

How can you welcome someone in today? How will you prepare for Sunday?

Guarding Our Children

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Since stepping into the role of Student Director at New City, I have had a number of conversations and overheard many parents talking about keeping their students safe and well guarded when it comes to the internet. Becoming a father recently has caused me to think even more about guarding young eyes. Here is an article by Tim Challies with helpful tips, resources, and thoughts about how to protect your family. 


"I am a father of three children who are fully part of the digital generation. They are as comfortable with iPods as I am with a paperback and have only ever known a world where almost all of us have cell phones with us at all times, where Facebook is a teenager’s rite-of-passage, where every home has five or ten or twenty devices that can access the rest of the world through the Internet. Yet I know of the dangers that are lurking out there, waiting to draw them in.

I want to protect my children in a world like this, but I want to do more than that. I want to disciple my children to live virtuously, to use these new technologies for good purposes instead of bad ones. I believe this is a crucial part of my calling as a parent. To address this great need, I have put together what I call The Porn-Free Family Plan. It is a plan designed to protect my children from online dangers so that I can train them to use their devices and technologies well.

The Porn-Free Family Plan

A thorough plan needs to account for three types of device:

  • Fixed devices. These are the devices will only ever be used in the home. Here we have desktop computers in the home office or Internet-enabled televisions and gaming consoles. Parents can have a significant level of control over these devices.
  • Mobile devices. These are the laptops, tablets, smart phones and other devices that can be used in the home but also carried out of the home and used elsewhere. Parents can have as lesser degree of control over these devices.
  • Other people’s devices. These are the computers children may use at another person’s home or the tablets other children may show to their friends. Parents can have no control over these devices.

In all of this there are two broad goals: To prevent those who want to find pornography and to protect those who do not want to find it but who may otherwise find themselves exposed to it, to confound those who want to see porn and to shield those who don’t. And while the plan is geared specifically to combat pornography, it will also help battle other online dangers.

The Porn Free Family Plan has four steps: Plan, Prepare, Meet and Monitor.

Plan

You’ve heard the old maxim: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The maxim applies well to what we are attempting to accomplish here. A successful plan will need to account for every device in your home that combines an Internet connection with a screen. So let’s get to work.

Step 1: Inventory
You need to know exactly how many Internet-enabled devices you have in your home. To do this, you will need to take an inventory. Make a list of all your Internet-enabled devices: desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones. Don’t forget the Playstation 3, Xbox, smart televisions, Apple TVs, iPods, and e-reader tablets. Even a Kindle reading device has basic web-browsing capabilities. A family recently reported that after doing this they were shocked to learn they had 22 devices to account for!

Step 2: Budget
Decide whether you are able to make Internet security a regular and recurring monthly expense. Where it used to cost money to access pornography, today it often costs money to avoid it. While there are free options available, the best services have a cost associated with them. A budget of $20-$25 per month will allow a family to take advantage of the premier options.

Step 3: Learn
Now that you have taken your inventory and have a better grasp of the devices your plan needs to account for, it is time to learn about the options available to protect those who use them. There are four broad categories of protection we have available:

  • Filtering. Filtering proactively detects and blocks objectionable content. (Examples: If your child does an Internet search for “naked girls,” it will block the search; If your child mistakenly clicks a link to a pornographic web site, it will block access to the site.)
  • Accountability. Accountability software tracks web sites visited from different devices and then prepares and delivers regular reports. (Example: If your child visits a pornographic web site or performs a search for “naked girls,” the accountability software will note it and include it in a report emailed to you.)
  • Parental controls. Parental controls block certain functions of modern devices (Examples: Preventing the use of the Internet browser on an iPod Touch; preventing the use of the Facebook app on a tablet).
  • Communication. We cannot rely on technology to solve all of our problems, so the plan must also involve regular, deliberate and open communication.

Because none of these offers complete protection, the wise plan must use some combination of all four. The Porn-Free Family plan uses the following tools:

  • OpenDNS. OpenDNS uses filtering to automatically block objectionable web sites for every device connected to your home network. It is activated by making a small change to the settings on your existing router. 
  • Covenant Eyes. Covenant Eyes tracks the web sites visited by your computers and mobile devices and sends regular email reports; it also offers optional filtering that can be configured specifically for each member of your family.
  • Parental Controls. Parental controls allow parents to disable certain functions on devices.
  • Meetings. The most indispensable tool is regular, open, deliberate communication between parents and their children.

Step 4: Discuss
Before you begin to implement the plan, it may be a good idea to meet with your family to explain what you are about to do and what you hope to accomplish by it. You will be inconveniencing your family and putting rules in place that will impact them, so it may be wise to discuss these things with them.

 

Prepare

Let’s get started in putting that plan in place. This will take a couple of hours, so set aside the time, brew yourself a coffee, and get to it!

Step 1: Create Passwords
Master password. At the very top of the list is creating your master password. Your whole plan may fail if you choose a bad password or fail to protect it. Make it good (something that is difficult to guess and combines letters with numbers) and make sure you store it somewhere safe if you are not certain you will remember it. You may also need to create a 4-digit master password for mobile devices.

Family passwords. You also need to create a password for every other person in your home. Create passwords that will be easy for them to remember, but hard for others to guess. Every child needs to know his own password and only his own password. Make sure you record these passwords somewhere safe. If your children use mobile devices, you may also need to create mobile passwords for your children—usually 4-digit codes. Once again, make sure you know these codes and make sure you store them somewhere safe.

Step 2: Sign Up & Create Accounts
With your passwords in place, it is time to sign up for the services you will be using.

OpenDNS. We will begin by signing up for OpenDNS.

  • Visit OpenDNS (www.opendns.com) and look for their Parental Control Solution. OpenDNS Family Shield is a great place to begin (Alternatively, OpenDNS Home VIP is the optional, premier solution and costs $19.95 per year). 
  • Create a user account for yourself using your master password.
  • Take a look at the different filtering options and set the ones appropriate for your family. Whatever you set here will apply to every device that accesses the Internet through your home network.
  • Note: It would be best to set the filter to block more rather than less, and to loosen it if and when you find that it is blocking too many sites.

Covenant Eyes. You have signed up for your filtering; now it’s time to sign up for the accountability software.

  • Visit Covenant Eyes (www.covenanteyes.com) and create an account using your master password.
  • Add each member of your family as a user and assign the password you created for each of them.
  • Sign up each user for accountability monitoring and have the reports sent to your email address every 3 to 7 days. Choose an accountability level appropriate to their age and maturity.
  • If you would like to have user-specific filtering in addition to the general filtering with OpenDNS, configure that as well. Choose a filtering level appropriate to each person’s age and maturity. It may also be wise to disable Internet access during certain times (Example: Disable all Internet access for your children after 9 PM and before 7 AM).
  • Note: It is best to set the filter and accountability to block and report more and to relax the filtering levels only if and when it is proving cumbersome.

Computers. Now you need to create user accounts on each of your computers and laptops (and tablets if they allow multiple users).

  • For every computer in your home you will need to create an account for each person who uses it. This means that if there are five people in your family and they each use the family computer, you will need to create five accounts—one for each of them.
  • Create an account for yourself using your master password and ensure that you have administrator privileges.
  • Then create a user account for each family member using the password you created for them; make sure that they do not have administrator privileges.

Let me offer a warning: This step can be laborious, especially if you have multiple computers. Persevere!

Step 3: Install Software
Now that we have created our accounts, we can install and activate OpenDNS and Covenant Eyes.

Install OpenDNS on your router. OpenDNS is activated with a simple change on your home router and managed through an online interface at www.opendns.com. You will need to refer to OpenDNS to learn how to change the appropriate settings. As soon as you do this, your filtering will be activated. Just like that, you are already beginning to protect your family.

Install Covenant Eyes on every laptop and desktop computer in your home. Visit www.covenanteyes.com, log in to your account, download the appropriate software, and install it. Log in to each account on each computer and ensure that the Covenant Eyes software is running properly (look for the “open eye” icon).

Mobile Devices. If you have decided to allow browser access on your mobile devices, install the Covenant Eyes browser on those devices (typically by visiting an app store and downloading the app). Note: If you wish to have Covenant Eyes on your mobile devices, you will also need to use parental controls (see below) to block access to any other browser on those devices.

Gaming Consoles. Remove Internet browser access on all gaming consoles. Also consider removing access to YouTube, Netflix and other video sites.

Other Devices. Return to your inventory list and see what other devices you need to account for. Your plan will only be as strong its weakest point.

Step 4: Apply Parental Controls
Set parental controls on all mobile devices. To make this effective on devices owned by your children, you will need to set a parental control password and use this password to ensure only you have access to the parental controls. Here are the settings I recommend for devices used by children:

  • Ensure devices lock as soon as they are no longer in use.
  • Turn off web browsing. If your children need web browsing, install the Covenant Eyes browser and use parental controls to block access to all other browsers.
  • Turn off the ability to install new apps without inputting your password.
  • Turn off the ability to change their own password or account information.
  • Consider turning off Facebook, Twitter and other social media apps (since these apps often have a built-in browser that will allow them to visit web sites while bypassing all accountability software).
  • Consider turning off the camera access if you are concerned that your child may misuse. Be especially cautious with applications that combine social media with a camera (Snapchat, Instagram, etc).

Congratulations! You made it through. You know what devices are in the home, and you have accounted for each one by installing filtering and accountability software. There is just one problem: Everyone in your family is upset with you! So now it is time for that family meeting.

Meet

We tend to believe that problems caused by technology can be solved by more technology. However, what is stronger, better, and longer-lasting than even the best technology, is character. The family meeting is where you discuss and emphasize the importance and the growth of character.

I suggest having an occasional family-wide meeting to discuss the system, and regular one-on-one meetings with your children to ask them specific questions and ask for specific feedback.

Step 1: The Family Meeting
The actual content of the family meeting will depend to some degree on the age of your children. Here are some ideas for talking points:

  • Concern. Because of your concern for their well-being, you have taken actions to protect them as they use the Internet. Explain that you do not view your children as criminals or porn addicts, but that you do wish to protect them from online dangers. Depending on the age of your children, this may be a good time to explain that there are so many people who struggle with pornography that they may need to expect that some day they will face the temptation as well.
  • Privacy. Your children—and especially young children—should have no expectation of privacy when they use their devices. They should know that you will have liberty to check their devices without their permission and that their online actions will generate reports that you intend to monitor. You are doing this in order to love and protect them.
  • Passwords. Everyone needs to know the importance of passwords and that you expect them to protect theirs. They may not share their passwords with their siblings or their friends.
  • Readiness. You need to speak to your children about Internet safety outside the home. Talk to them about what to do if they are accessing devices in other people’s homes. Explain to them what they should do if someone shows them pornographic or otherwise inappropriate material.
  • Mom and Dad. If you have decided to hold yourself to the same standards—to use filtering and accountability software (something I recommend!)—this is a good time to explain that to the children.

Step 2: One-on-One Meetings
Parents and their children will benefit tremendously from having regular discussions about online dangers and concerns. The conversations will vary a great deal depending on the age and maturity level of the child. Here are some questions you may consider asking:

  • Are you able to access everything you need to access online?
  • Are you feeling tempted to look for things online that you know you shouldn’t look for?
  • Do you know if your friends are looking at pornography and talking about it?
  • Have you looked at pornography since the last time we met?

I trust you have prepared yourself for some push-back and some frustration, especially at the beginning. Your children will probably find that they cannot access certain sites or that they need to input passwords where before they did not. Your spouse may find that she cannot access certain sites she wants to. Persevere, and address each issue as it arises.

Monitor

The plan is in place, and your family is now benefiting from some level of protection. But this not a plan you can set in place and simply leave to run its course. It requires monitoring and maintenance.

  • Covenant Eyes Reports. Covenant Eyes will send you regular reports. Do not expect these reports to be as helpful as you want them to be. You will need to take some time—two or three minutes—to look carefully over the report looking for anything that seems amiss. Follow-up with any of your children whose report shows a red flag.
  • OpenDNS Reports. OpenDNS also collects reports, including pages and searches it has blocked. While you will not know who is responsible for these blocks, you would do well to keep an eye on them, to look for patterns, and so on.
  • Adjust. As your children grow older you may find that you need to adjust their privileges. You may also find that as they grow older they face greater temptations which will require fewer privileges. Be willing to adjust accordingly.
  • Maintain. Covenant Eyes updates their software on a regular basis. As they do this, you will want to install the new updates.

Conclusion

And that’s the Porn-Free Family Plan. It takes a couple of hours of hard work to set up, but it is time well-invested. Even then, this plan is not fool-proof—no plan is completely fool-proof. There will be ways around it for those committed to finding those ways. Covenant Eyes will occasionally block something harmless; OpenDNS will sometimes fail to filter something that obviously ought to be filtered. Yet the plan will suffice for most families in most circumstances. You are well on your way to training and protecting your children."

Racism: How Do We Change Things?

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I see a lot on social media, blogs and in the news describing the depth of racism's roots in our country. I read and see a lot of anger and hostility over racism. Statues are being torn down, removed, or moved. There are protests and counter-protests. Much of what I see and read is ugly and quite discouraging. Worse, there is little offered as a solution to the problem of racism.

At New City, we have begun a series of discussions on race. DISCUSSIONS. We have set up a time that we can talk and listen - learn from one another - share experiences. The reality is, that these discussions won't change our nation. Our hope is that they begin a process of change in the hearts and minds of some... a few... maybe a church and a larger community.

I am thankful for the willingness of our New City people to be a part of these discussions and their willingness to invite our city to be a part as well. I am thankful to those brave enough to share their stories last month.

We aren't completely sure HOW to bring about change, but we know we can't take steps forward without trying, without talking, without listening. And we also know this, the Gospel of Jesus Christ not only reconciles us to our Father, it reconciles us with one another. Jesus lived and died and was raised to bring about our racial reconciliation.

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.   Ephesians 2:13-15

Here is a link for some of the discussion.  We'll have another open discussion soon.  Pray with me that the body of Christ would live in light of the good news of Jesus, and in us the world would see a people reconciled.
Pastor Keith

Dear Church: Be a Foster Parent or Be the Village

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Many times we struggle with living out what we know. As a church, we tend to gravitate to 'knowing' more but flounder when it comes to transferring our knowledge to action. I mentioned adoption and fostering in last week's sermon in connection to living as a community, a family. As a foster/adoption parent, I can tell you from experience that the following post is a simple, but powerful way to reflect that you not only understand the gospel, but you are choosing to live it out.

- Patrick

 

(The following post by Katie from Loving Well Living Well is a practical, tangible way to live out the gospel in the specific area of fostering/adoption.)

Two years ago I ran into a friend who I hadn’t seen in weeks. “How are you?” I asked.  She had just started fostering a sibling group of three kids about two months earlier. Tears formed in her eyes and she began to weep. “You are the first person in weeks to ask how I have been,” she said.  I was stunned; partially because this woman was clearly struggling and isolated, but even more so because this woman was an active member of her church and lead bible studies. She was plugged into her church community and it was no secret to anyone she was fostering.

“Has anyone brought you a meal or asked to watch the kids to give you a break?”  “No”, she said. “But plenty of people tell me they are praying for me. “

Where was the church body in this? The body of Christ?  The Village?  Why was it in a church full of young families, constant play dates, and VBS, this family was receiving no support from the church body?

Unfortunately, this family is no longer fostering and joined the staggering statistic of 50% of foster families who stop fostering after their first year.

Two months later I attended a national adoption/foster care conference. Clones of my friend’s story were told over and over by various women from across the country.  While they are actively living out James 1:27 in every moment of their life, their church family was playing a meager role in supporting them outside of a flippant “I’ll pray for ya.”

Fast forward two years and my husband and I began fostering.  It wasn’t long before we took in 10 different placements at various times, over a 2 month period.  Our first placement was a little boy, and the second another sweet boy, and the third placement was a sibling set of two boys and a girl.  The flood gates opened and we were on the front line living life with these kids; all precious and all traumatized.  With each placement, we found a member of our church at our door, bringing meals, boy clothes, pull ups, and formula.  A friend brought over her therapy dog and bubbles to keep the kids occupied one afternoon, and another friend showed up with a crate of fresh eggs from her coop.  Teenagers from the youth group came over and handed my husband Josh and me iced coffee (my personal love language) then stayed for hours playing with the kids to give us a breather.  Josh and I were running a marathon and this love and support gave us the continuous cup of cold water needed to keep running the race.  Our experience is rare; embarrassingly rare, especially when other foster families catch wind of our support that they have been so desperate for.

Is the church filled with terrible and apathetic people? No. But perhaps the church has blinders on and doesn’t realize their role in foster care.  Not everyone is supposed to be a foster parent, but every Christian is supposed to play an active role in orphan care.

What actions can the church body do to live out James 1:27?  First, recognition must take place that taking care of orphans is a commandment, not a calling.  James 1:27 uses the word   “visiting” when describing orphans.  The word visiting is an ongoing word of action, not simply a one-time event.  Within this commandment of “visiting orphans” are individual callings.  Some people are called to be foster parents and others have a place to support those families.

Here are some specific yet simple ways to be the village and the body of Christ, to foster families in your church.

Create a Meal Calendar- A one-time meal is nice, but this foster family is running a continual race.  If you have more than 10 families in your church, each family can sign up to bring a meal once a month.

Free Babysitting- In most states, there is a “normalcy” clause when it comes to foster children. That means, if you would allow a babysitter to come over to watch your kids for a couple hours, then that is also appropriate for foster kids.  Offer free babysitting to the foster family.

Clean the foster family’s home for an hour– Tell the family you are coming over for an hour to clean/organize, or do their laundry.

Give Care packages– Diapers, food, formula, kids clothes, car seats.  These kids are dropped off at this family’s house at a moment’s notice with typically nothing besides the clothes on their back.

Send members of the Youth Group over to play with the kids on Saturdays- These foster children will be blessed by the love and the fun with the teens, and this is also a great experience for teenagers to see their important impact.

This is not an exhaustive list but is a good start.  These meals, these acts of love are the game changer which keeps foster parents in the game verses throwing in the towel. My hope is that this list is shared and then implemented in churches around the country.  It will change and refresh foster families and will also change churches.  It’s time for the Church to play their part, to be the village and the body of Christ which is so clearly articulated in the Word.

Should Parents Lay Down The Law Or Give Grace?

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Register today to learn more about gospel-centered parenting from Paul Tripp through his live stream event! Space will fill up quickly at New City Milledgeville, so register today!

Parenting Conference Sept. 29-30

I have parents who talk to me all the time about their struggle with the question, "When should I enforce law and when should I give grace?" The problem with the question is that it treats God’s law and God’s grace as two opposing forces. 

Think of biblical history, when the law was given: God had redeemed his children out of captivity, but they didn’t know how to be the children of God. They didn’t know how to walk with God and they didn’t know how to live this new life of freedom that they were given, so God gave them his law. 

Think about this: his law was grace. It was an act of beautiful, gorgeous, loving grace that God would give his law to his children. So grace is a way of bringing the guidance and regulating authority of God’s wisdom to my children. Grace is not suspending the law. Grace is not rejecting authority. Grace is not walking away from the need of my children to have boundaries in their life—grace is about the way that I do that. 

So, as I know my children need the awareness of God’s law, they also need the self-awareness that law gives them. They need the guidance of God’s law. I also know that I need to bring that in a spirit of tender, patient, kind, loving, and forgiving grace. 

Parenting needs to include a law/grace balance because they are not opposing forces.

The Gospel is for Kids

The Gospel is for Kids

At New City, we desire to see the gospel change everything within our reach - ourselves, our families, our communities, and the world. We believe that the good news of Jesus changes us, and that it is the answer to all of our questions, hurts, joys, and longings. Because we are committed to the gospel, we teach it to our children every week.

Singing Truth

I absolutely LOVE the songs we sing at New City Church. Here are just two of the songs we will be singing this Sunday. Listen, learn, and be encouraged by these gospel truths set to song. To listen to and learn the rest of the songs we we will sing this Sunday, check out our Spotify playlist entitled, "New City Sunday Morning." Join us this Sunday!

Death Has Lost Its Sting

Words by Isaac Watts, Adapted by Rebecca Dennison, Arranged by Mike Cosper
CCLI Song# 5939116
© 2011 Sojourn Community Church

Amanda Christopher - Vocals
Adam Crosby - Vocals
Arthur Lin - Guitar
newcitychurches.org/

Video by Andy Carter Photography
andycarterphoto.com/

My God, how many are my fears
How fast my foes increase
Conspiring my eternal death
They break my fleeting peace

The lying tempter would persuade
My heart to doubt your aid
And all my swelling sins appear
Much greater than your grace

Arise, Oh Lord, fulfill your grace
While I your glory sing;
My God has broke the serpent’s teeth
And death has lost his sting

But you my glory and my strength
Will on my tempter tread
Will silence all my threatening guilt
And raise my drooping head.

Arise, Oh Lord, fulfill your grace
While I your glory sing;
My God has broke the serpent’s teeth
And death has lost his sting

And though the hosts of death and hell
All armed against me stand
No more will terrors shake my soul;
Secure within your hand.

Arise, Oh Lord, fulfill your grace
While I your glory sing;
My God has broke the serpent’s teeth
And death has lost his sting

 

Christ is Mine Forevermore

Mine are days that God has numbered
I was made to walk with Him
Yet I look for worldly treasure
And forsake the King of kings
But mine is hope in my Redeemer
Though I fall, His love is sure
For Christ has paid for every failing
I am His forevermore

Mine are tears in times of sorrow
Darkness not yet understood
Through the valley I must travel
Where I see no earthly good
But mine is peace that flows from heaven
And the strength in times of need
I know my pain will not be wasted
Christ completes His work in me

Mine are days here as a stranger
Pilgrim on a narrow way
One with Christ I will encounter
Harm and hatred for His name
But mine is armour for this battle
Strong enough to last the war
And He has said He will deliver
Safely to the golden shore

And mine are keys to Zion city
Where beside the King I walk
For there my heart has found its treasure
Christ is mine forevermore

Come rejoice now, O my soul
For his love is my reward
Fear is gone and hope is sure
Christ is mine forevermore!

CCLI Song # 7036096
Jonny Robinson  |  Rich Thompson
© 2016 CityAlight Music
For use solely with the SongSelect® Terms of Use.
All rights reserved. www.ccli.com
CCLI License # 3181384

 

The Gospel & Social Media

In a 20-mile radius of Milledgeville, Facebook has the potential of connecting with 45,000 people and the same distance in Macon has the potential to reach 190,000 people. A recent study showed that the average time spent per day on social media is 116 minutes, that’s a day. This is a powerful tool that businesses, non-profits, and affinity groups use to reach our cities with their messages. Think of the reach that a simple click of a button has in our cities!

I was thinking about the power of social media and the gospel this morning and just wanted to encourage you. As God’s people, we can accept, reject, or redeem our culture. Facebook has become one of the most important ways for people to find information about others and organizations. As much as we may not like it, it’s the reality in our day and age. It is worth redeeming.

Let’s be a church that is known for our deep love of Jesus and the community He has called us to reach.

As a church, this is actually a huge advantage for us because people who are moving into the area or checking out churches, inevitably turn to social media to research churches. A simple way to promote the church is to like and share whenever something is made public on the New City Milledgeville or New City Macon Facebook pages. As an example, when Chris or Arthur shares a Spotify playlist for us to prepare for Sunday morning, like it and share it. Maybe even place a comment if there is a specific song that you like in the list.

By liking, sharing, and commenting, this does two things. First, it helps with curb appeal. When someone visits our page, it shows activity. It’s like driving by a house that you are interested in buying. If the grass is cut, the bushes are trimmed, the paint is fresh, you are more likely to stop by and take a look.

Second, it directly affects the Facebook algorithm. This is the formula that Facebook uses to automatically have the post pop up in others Facebook feed. We aren’t trying to become the church with the most ‘likes’, but we are trying to be a church that is known in Milledgeville and Macon. This is a quick and simple way to help support the mission.

So, keep an eye on the Facebook pages (and Instagram if you use that app), and like, comment, and share! Let’s be a people who are so passionate about the Gospel that we choose to take every advantage to make Jesus known in our cities.