6 Reasons I am a minister in the 4C’s

I recently came back from a long week away from my family to meet with the board of the 4C’s (Conservative Congregationalist Christian Conference) and to participate in our annual church planting conference. I came away more encouraged than ever, and wanted to write why I personally am thankful for the 4C’s and why I am honored to sit on the board, and excited to play a hand in raising up leaders in our Church to be credentialed through the 4C’s and Lord willing help Pastors, Church planters and Churches looking for a covering consider the 4C’s as an ecclesiological home.

Let me start by saying what it isn’t. It’s not the name. It’s just a mouthful, the name is way to long. Imagine trying to print that on a mug. The other issue is with the word ‘conservative’ in what today is perhaps the most polarized time in our nation. The question is ‘conservative’ in what way and to whom? 75 years ago, when the denomination was formed, it meant theologically conservative, in that we accept the truth of the bible, the miracles it records, the virgin birth, the death and resurrection of Jesus and just the overall authority of scripture in our lives and faith. For me I say absolutely to all of this, sign me up! Having been a part of the 4C’s for the past 5 years, I can tell you that men and women are all over the map politically, yet there is an absolutely refreshing spiritual center where we all meet at the foot of the cross as sinners receiving His mercy together.

Sadly, there are increasingly fewer and fewer places you can meet with believers who don’t beat their political drum louder than their love for Jesus left!  It’s also not the size or the money. We are a small humble denomination of about 300 churches and if you’re looking for that big corporate sponsor to put the wrap around sticker around your Nascar car to fund your ministry, this ain’t it.

So then why am I?

Autonomy with support, as we are currently preaching through the 7 letters to the 7 churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 and one of the things that stands out to me is the reality that each Church is a lamp, shining it’s light into the place God has place it. Jesus stands before the church, He is the one that gives her promises and warnings, He is the one they are both ultimately and immediately accountable to. The congregationalist way places a high value on the individual conscience of each Christian and a high responsibility on each Church to be faithful to their mission, where God has placed them. Each church is a complete Church ruled by Christ, and in a tangible and real way, exercising that authority through the priesthood of every believer as they are led by His Spirit.

But just because each church is autonomous and responsible to God, in the way that each person must live their own life before God, it doesn’t mean we aren’t here to help each other. We have one Lord, one faith and one baptism (Ephesians 4), and we co-labor together on the same mission (Matthew 28). We are here to support each other and so I love the way Churches can reach out for help, and there are ministries to come alongside them that can create a covenant with those Churches to help them, with mutually agreed upon and clear boundaries for that relationship.

A focus on Health.  In the extremely helpful paper on ‘The Nature of our Fellowship’ which is found on the 4C’s website, it states “We recognize that as Congregational Christians we do not have to agree on everything to achieve Biblical respect and spiritual health. In the spirit of Acts 15, we seek to promote maximum freedom for the rule of God in our churches.” The seven values of the 4C’s are “A Culture of Believing Prayer and Intercession, Healthy Pastors, Healthy Disciple-making Churches, Healthy Church Multiplication, A Community that Lives Out Shared Life & Shared Mission, A Culture of Peacemaking and Reconciliation, and a Membership Reflective of the Harvest Field’s Diversity.”  All of these could be summed up into a focus on the comprehensive health of our conference and every gathering, every business meeting, and every relationship I have encountered there has been this genuine and intentional Godly focus. In a time when we can be seduced by a priority of power, influence, growth, or money, which all come by some ‘proven and branded method’ to ensure the desired results, I find the 4C’s to be an Oasis in the desert with its focus on health and mutual respect while promoting as much freedom and diversity as possible.

A broad yet deep fellowship. Within this communion are women pastors, and those who do not have women pastors, those who baptize babies and those who only baptize adults by full immersion, Calvinists and Arminians, charismatics meeting in house churches and traditionally liturgical high church congregations that meet in buildings older than America. I spent about five years as a missionary with African Inland Mission, and a friend a Calvinist missionary who served on a reformed mission board once asked me, “How can you work together and pray with Christians who don’t believe in the sovereignty of God?”  I didn’t know how to respond or relate to the question. Genuine health and genuine respect doesn’t have their source solely in us having all the same books on our shelves and exactly the same theological language. Broadness doesn’t have to cancel out depth! Godliness isn’t owned by one tiny corner of Christianity. While there is a broadness in the 4C’s the essential commitment to the Word of God, and the Mission of God is clear enough to give us an awesome platform to serve together. Our irreducible core is to love God and love our neighbor, making disciples as we go.

One of the differences in the 4C’s and other more broad missions and denominations is that there isn’t a push for all Christians to just adopt a shallow ‘reader’s digest’ version of the faith so they can get along with others.  No, each church, each pastor has the freedom to hold deep convictions. We have deeply held differences, and love and work with each other, imagine that! Some other denominations will have hundreds of positions on every area of life you could imagine, I appreciate that the conference has come together to speak on issues rarely and cautiously, and while it is time to update some of the language, I am glad to be in communion with brothers and sisters that stand together on those positions so that we can move on to fellowship, mutual support and laboring together for the gospel.

A respected platform for credentialing ministers. Having our ministers go through the difficult process of being examined and endorsed by the 4C’s credentialing committee is deeply important.  What if God calls one of our Pastors to serve at another Church? What if it’s another 4C Church or Christian & Missionary Alliance Church, or an Evangelical Free Church, or a Baptist Church?  The list goes on and on, but because of the relationships and reputation of the 4C’s, being a part of global congregationalist fellowships and a member of the National Association of Evangelicals, those we ordain in our Church and are credentialed with the 4C’s have doors open to them they would not if we just went it alone!

Experienced Missional Pastors in secular and under resourced areas. I have had the opportunity to swim in various ecclesiological waters, connecting with different networks and denominations. One of the greatest values to me in the 4C’s is her ministers, many of whom serve in incredibly secular and under resourced areas. While some denominations are solidly based in the American South, and in a solidly Christian subculture, certainly not all but many 4C’s pastors have been serving in places where they are in an extreme minority. The region we have the most Churches is up in New England which is the most secular part of the country with the lowest rates of Church attendance.  I love breaking bread with Pastors who are evangelist among people with crowded hearts and real shepherds to truly hurting people. I find deep commonality and gain a ton of wisdom being with those who have lots of experience serving in contexts similar to my own. For Church planters who are breaking difficult new ground the value of this resource is beyond measure!

I just see Great potential in the future of the 4C’s. There is a genuine desire to help Churches revitalize, replant, and to use the assets from legacy churches for the Glory of God and the good of under evangelized communities. Every year the Church planting efforts of the 4C’s has taken huge steps forward, with some 40 church plants in the past couple decades, there are now 9 new works in the pipeline this year alone. I also see a massive opportunity to increase generational and ethnic diversity in the conference in the years to come, and it’s something that I am personally committed to helping our conference grow in. With fewer and fewer spaces that value both genuine Christian freedom, yet a commitment to great commission I believe the 4C’s can be a home to many who don’t just don’t fit in the traditions they come from that have become increasingly polarized and divisive. They find they are too liberal, or too conservative for their tribe, or Pastors and Church planters find that they are called to reach a community that isn’t on the already set agenda of the network or denomination, yet in the 4C’s they will find a home that would be grateful for them that would support them in finding their fit, and the place they would flourish. For those looking for a solidly biblical and evangelical denomination that is centered around Jesus and not just one political, cultural or theological camp, a denomination that will care deeply about them, and their comprehensive health yet respect their freedom and will truly pray to the living God to see them be effective in the gospel where God has called them, the 4C’s is a great home.

I’d love to continue the conversation that has any more questions about the 4C’s, do not hesitate to reach out! Just fill out the form below and I’ll get your email.

6 ways we get Sanctification wrong.

For our midweek services we have been studying Wayne Grudem’s book “Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know.” Last night we studied chapter 15 on sanctification and perseverance. I really believe confusion about sanctification is the source of a huge amount of discouragement in the lives of Christians today. So here are 5 ways ways we go off the rails.

#1 Confusing sanctification with justification

This is absolutely is a massive problem for us. Justification is that empowering, liberating, joy-bringing gospel truth that God is not mad at us anymore. Romans 8:1 reminds us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus. Over and over again the bible teaches us that the just will live by faith. (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38, Habakkuk 2:4) This faith, πίστη , pronounced “písti” in the greek, is a lot more then just agreeing in your mind to a statement, but it is truly placing your trust in God. The moment we do that, we are declared not guilty in the eyes of God. In fact when God the Father looks upon us from heaven, all He see’s is the son whom he loves. He sees the perfect life and death of Jesus. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Sanctification on the other hand, is a big word that just means we still have a lot of growth to experience in our lived experience. Before God we may be legally blameless, and He may love us as His children, yet we still have many sins in our lives to overcome. Justification is complete, already done, and instantaneous the moment we place our faith in Jesus. Sanctification is incomplete, it’s a journey, and it is also accomplished as we continue to trust more and more in the Lord.

#2 We are looking for growth to be instantaneous!

You know how some folks need to be delivered from “get rich quick schemes”? Well a lot of christians also need to be delivered from “get holy quick” and “get healed quick” schemes.

Sometimes these schemes have names like baptism of the holy spirit, or just learning the secret of surrendering to God. It can be described as, trying to row your boat with a tooth pick, you just won’t get anywhere, but if you just knew how to grab those oars that God has made, now you move without effort! We must understand and experience the filling of the Spirit, God want’s you to surrender to Him deeply! But there is absolutely no promise that if we just do XYZ we will now be “smooth sailing” without any effort of our own.

We are confusing glorification and sanctification! Glorification is when ‘we see him, and become. just as He is.’ (1 John 3:2, Romans 8:30) after we die. We have to admit that while we still live in these old bodies, we have not yet arrived! We are all works in progress, till the day we die. One of the first fruits of the spirit God needs to work in us is patience, because we are often way too hard on ourselves. God’s word couldn’t be anymore clear we will not reach perfection in this life! Here are a few so you don’t even have to look them up and there is no doubt in your heart.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23.
“There is certainly no one righteous on the earth who does good and never sins.” Ecclesiastes 7:20.
“If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” 1st John 1:10.

#3 We are naive about how far we will reach in this life.

This is really similar to #2 but worth stating. Not only do we think we are going to grow instantly be healed, we also imagine that we are going to conqueror every issue we have, once we enter into that next stage of life. You know all your issues of loneliness, we tell ourselves that will be solved by marriage, but it wont. We tell ourselves we won’t repeat the mistakes of our parents when we have children, and maybe we don’t but it definitely isn’t as easy as we imagine. We deeply underestimate what the bible means when it teaches us “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?” in Jeremiah 17:9.

#4 We don’t understand what is lost if we ignore our spiritual growth.

On the other hand, maybe we are the type that is a bit more realistic about how deep our brokeness is. We might be tempted to ignore our spiritual growth. We might even tell ourselves “God will forgive me.” God forbid this guys!

When we don’t pursue God we experience deep losses.

  • Loss of our connection with God. We no longer hear his voice guiding us, the Spirit’s work of bringing sorrow over our sin becomes weaker and weaker and we wander from His way comforting us in our pain and stress.. (1 John 1:6)
  • Loss of usefulness for God. When we forget we have been forgiven, we become spiritual amnesiacs, and we become ‘unproductive’ in our faith, which is a great loss! (2 Peter 1:8)
  • Loss of power in God. Sometimes we don’t even realize the power God wants us to enjoy! (Psalm 32)
  • Loss of joy from God. A joyless Christian should be a contradiction, yet how many of us walk around in this state. Without His joy we won’t have strength to face this life. (Psalm 51)

#5 We don’t believe in deep victory in this life.

While perfection will have to wait till heaven, faithfulness and victory over sin is absolutely the expectation God has for every single one of us. Ephesians 6:13 tell’s us “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” We are told again and again, that God wants us to live a life of joy, productivity, and deep fellowship with him. We don’t allow the remaining indwelling sin in our lives, cause us to walk around with our head down in condemnation.

Some believer’s seem to emphasize this victory so much, that it can lead to spirit of religiosity, hypocrisy and pride if you feel like you are doing it, and if you don’t feel absolutely crushed, and wonder if you are a real christian at all. Other’s talk about the gospel as mainly a set of doctrinal statements they accept as true and expect very little change in their hearts and behaviors right now. May our Church be a hospital for the spiritually sick, where they actually get well! May we never settle for Church to simply be a hospice, where folks just go to get the morphine drip of teachings on God’s grace to ease our soul, but never strive after scantificaltion in this life!

#6 We don’t understand our role in sanctification.

So a lot could be said on this issue but I want to leave you with something practical and helpful. Do you know what the fruit of the spirit is? We learn about them in Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” How do you measure your sanctification? Well the simple answer is LOVE… Paul write’s to the Galatians and speaks of the singular ‘fruit’ not the ‘fruits’. However he continues on to describe what this love working itself out in our soul is going to look like.

Here is the thing though, you can’t produce, love, joy, peace and etc.. in your heart! It is the fruit of the Spirit! So your entire goal in life is to get the Spirit. Do you want to grow? You want the Spirit. You want to change? You want the Spirit. You want joy and power? You need the Spirit. Far too often we have judged spiritual growth based on ‘discipline’ and ‘knowledge.’ But I tell you what there are plenty of folks with military style lives without that fruit of love in their lives. You can find plenty of people who are homeless and riddled with mental health and addiction issues who are out quote you with bible verses. So STOP ACTING LIKE this is the path to Spiritual growth!

I remember hearing someone say “being born again makes it a lot easier to be a Pastor.” It’s a funny ironic statement, but I want to be be bold and brave here and tell you, that one of the reasons we don’t experience the Holy Spirit in our lives is that we have yet to be born again! You have yet to personally encounter Jesus, and truly look to Him to be your Lord and Savior. This is both the beginning of Spiritual Life but also the fountain, that will continue to water the rest of your spiritual life. Don’t be like the Galatians that start off in the Spirit then try to complete their walk in the flesh! (Galatians 3)

So how do you grow in the Spirit? You got to start with the cross. You have to actually start with God’s forgiveness. The same faith that justifies you, that allows God to place the perfect record of His Son on you, is exactly the same faith that will transform your life day to day. You have to seek every opportunity to be humbled. Let’s end with the words of James chapter 4:6-10.

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

I will write a follow up blog on what that actually looks like in our lives. But for now I want you to get this in your heart. Punching your ‘time card’ of church attendance, bible memorization, and all the conferences in the world with all the Spirit filled men and women in the world will not ever be enough to sanctify you if you do not humble yourself. If you do not come to the realization you can not muster up ‘love’ in your own soul. Humble yourself and ask Him for His Spirit to dwell in you. Pray that God would comfort you, convict you of sin, produce in you the virtues of Jesus. As you trust Him for heaven alone, TRUST HIM alone for Godliness in this life!

Urban Apologetics Review

“But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” 1 Peter 3:15

Apologetics is the name we give to this reasoned ‘defense of the faith.” I know that for many people their faith is an entirely relational, and emotional matter. The older I get the more sympathetic I get with this, it’s a big part of who we are, it’s where Peter starts, with our hearts, however, when I was 16 asking a lot of deep intellectual and identity oriented questions, I praise God I had a place to address those issues. I was drawn in several directions, that didn’t even necessarily fit each other logically. Druidism (neopaganism), atheism, and nihilism. I am so grateful for the second half of Peter’s sentence… “give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” God placed me in a Church that carefully addressed the issues I had, and didn’t dismiss them.

When I had hard questions to ask, like could the stories of the Old Testament be real, or even they are true, are they even good (We are going to preach through Genesis next and will be addressing those issues), who put the bible together, how could I trust it, how can we know there is a God, I had access to endless resources to examine each on of these things, thoughtfully. I am so glad I didn’t get a response of “you just gotta believe, or when you know you know…”

“Urban Apologetics” makes a huge step forward providing that gentle, careful, thoughtful response for the hope we have in Christ, where it has been needed in urban and black communities. I think of kids like me, but growing up in those communities, with honest questions, doubts and struggles, and the need for worth but having society acting like maybe they don’t have much worth, this book is so important!

This book is divided into three parts with contributions from many authors who have had a huge influence on my life and ministry. Part Three: Tools for Urban Apologist, will challenge, inspire and equip you to be faithful in sharing your life and faith, being deeply grounded in the truth yet informed of your culture, no matter what context you serve in. This section will help you in the burbs, out in the country, on the mission field overseas, wherever. Part One: The Context for Urban Apologist, ought to be required reading for every pastor in America because we live in a racially divided nation, and the Church has played a huge role in stoking the fires of that division. Now is best the time to take time to understand a context that may be different than yours. As I read this I could think of many conversations I have had, many uninformed and stupid things I said and processed with black Pastors and black brothers and sisters, and many lessons I have learned and continue to learn over the years. The biggest takeaway I can share in this review is just that we got to get over this idea that the way of viewing things with white eyes is the best way to view them. We easily identify there is a black perspective and then get all in our feelings when someone points out that there is a white perspective. Part 2: Religious and Ethnic Identity Groups, get’s us into the weeds of the various communities and belief structures that primarily spread in black communities (from Nation of Islam to Hebrew Israelites and more). If God has given you the privilege of pastoring and discipling black families this section is going to help you have the tools you need to walk alongside a family who sees an uncle, or a son, or a daughter wander, it will help you have answers and also empathy for what they might be seeking in these identity movements.

The final thing I want to note is that this book is simultaneously making a huge step forward in an area of apologetics that has been neglected as it addresses issues from a context that has often been ignored in seminary and even in grassroots church discipleship, it is also ahead of the curve in many ways for apologetics in general. We need more apologetic resources that honestly address the issues of ‘identity’ and ‘dignity’. I have seen a huge movement of people chase after various forms of neo-paganism from blue-collar and struggling white communities for many of the reasons found in this book. There is a need to almost give the finger to the establishment that has failed them, and find purpose, dignity and power somewhere. That establishment is so often seen in the form of the Christian Church. The way white identity groups, and neo-paganism spreads in prison and our community needs to get on the radar of pastors, and evangelists. We need to recognize where we have failed our communities, turn to the Lord, and give our people a true foundation of dignity not in racial supremacy, nor in just embracing shame, but in the cross of Christ which breaks down every wall of hostility.

Apologetics can’t be left to be a relevant tool only to campus ministry, and a certain ‘type’ examining their faith philosophically. We need on that ground, in the neighborhood, persuasive, grounded, reasoned ‘answer for the hope that is within us, in all our communities.

A Statement on January 6th’s Troubles in DC

January 7th, 2021
Pastor Joe Marlin

A brother of mine recently shared that, “The gatherings under steeples this Sunday will be infinitely more powerful than the gatherings of politicians and protestors this week.” I believe this deeply. As an American, and a Christian, I respect the constitution, but believe God’s word will outlast the constitution, and that the Kingdom of God existed before America, and will exist after. Epiphany Church is not here to bind your conscience. Epiphany Church leaders will never stoop down from the pulpit to dictate to you all of our political opinions. I am so grateful for our church, how it reflects the community and isn’t just a cliche of one kind of people who think, look, and vote exactly the same. I think this diversity makes our Church better, and I believe it makes our nation better. Even as a leadership team we do not think the same about politics. However, we are not here to ignore obvious injustice.

The attempt to intimidate, desecrate and take over the Capitol building yesterday was wicked, and is the culmination of years of evil. Last night I recalled on a FB live prayer back how back in 2016 many were screaming #NotMyPresident. The political back and forth has been growing for years. Not long ago my father in the ministry, that is someone who mentored and raised me up to be ordained, had the privilege to testify before the senate judiciary committee on police reform. It was a joke, it was a circus, there was nothing but hatred on display in his experience. The entire hearing was for nothing because there was another police bill being announced exactly at the same time as the hearing. This was just another day of political chess in Washington DC. The party in power was and is fractured, as our nation is. For a long time, we’ve been hearing that Trump’s words mattered less than his actions. That his character was disconnected from his leadership. I recall when I was a new Christian and President Clinton was impeached. I heard again and again in Church that absolute truth itself was on the line. I believe it was then, and I believe it is now. We DON’T get to choose when truth matter’s depending on our politics. Truth matters, no matter what your party, no matter what your politics. Our president was wrong to encourage this rally, to encourage them to show strength, and continue to repeat unfounded claims that he won the election by a landslide, and yet not increase security on the capital. To gain everything politically and lose your soul, is to lose everything.

I call on our Church to pray for healing, for forgiveness, and for clarity in the days and months to come. I also call on you to not set aside your anger as you look at the many things that are broken in our country, but to head the word of God which says “Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” Ephesians 4:26. Let’s pray for healing in our land, let’s pray that our disagreements can once again be sorted out in lively and civil debate, through voting, and through peaceful means. Let’s pray that our nation can heal from the things we all witnessed yesterday, and that as a Church we can love each other, even when we sharply disagree.

Four Ways Church Planting has changed me.

  1. I’ve become less possessive of God’s church, and His people, yet more confident in His power.

This is might be the strangest. Shouldn’t the pastor be super fired up about his church, love the people, and own the vision? Of course, I am! But through many difficult experiences I’ve come to appreciate in a new way that I am not the shepherded of the flock, but an under-shepherd. I am responsible for the pasture God placed me in. When the sheep end up on the other side of the mountain where I can’t see them or moves onto another pasture it doesn’t mean I’ve failed. 

The best ministry that happens is done by the Holy Spirit, and I didn’t always believe this really but now I believe God doesn’t stop talking to every single person, we just choose and learn to ignore Him. He is doing so much more than what we see when we pray. I think we’ve made a huge mistake turning the organized church we serve, into the fence around the sheep. I think we sometimes go too far in defending the need for Church (maybe from an over-reaction from other generations that focused so heavily on your own personal relationship with Jesus), especially when it’s just is our understanding of what Church is, or worse our Church in particular ‘which does it best’. It is really freeing to just love God’s people as just that, as God’s not mine. 

I am called to speak with spiritual authority, and point people to the Lord and away from all kind of sin out of love, but I don’t need to carry the pressure of thinking that I got to at all times try to pull in, or pull back in every single person I meet or love into this organization I happen to serve. The hope of every soul alive is Jesus alone, not me, or my particular Church. The sower is responsible to sow the good word faithfully, not for the harvest of every single seedling. I’ve learned that I can neglect to pastor the flock that is among me when I have an unhealthy sense of ownership of those who left. Some sheep do need a search and rescue mission… Others just need the gate left open for when they are ready to return, and still, others might find another flock that fits them, where they will grow. I’m learning to trust the leading of the Holy Spirit in these areas

When we seek increasingly demanding contracts for membership, and preach the Church more than Jesus, we really need to be on the lookout for the ugly head of spiritual abuse to pop up.. For those Church planting Pastors who may be skeptical about this, maybe over time you’ll learn too that regular people out there don’t “need” your vision, or your Church or you to save them. But you need to love them with open hands because God has loved us and calls us to be His witness!

  • I’ve become hungrier for a ministry of healing

It seems to me that, at least in the church circles I’m familiar with there is an overemphasis on equipping the saints, more than, and sometimes at the expense of healing them and even just loving them. When you plant a Church in a community in need, that draws people from the neighborhood in, you can’t just jump into giving them a simple, reproducible method, that they take on and just goes viral. We don’t want to just spray on a new thin layer of paint, teaching people a few habits, a new way to talk, a new social media hashtag and profile filter, leaving the old bones of racism, abuse, addiction, pride, or deep depression untouched in the tomb. Before we can be on mission with Jesus, we need to be saved by Jesus, before we can be equipped and trained for ministry, we need to be deeply ministered to and set free. The Gospel isn’t just the good news of forgiveness for those who violated His laws, it’s also good news of healing for those who have suffered deeply and its good news of freedom for those who are in bondage and trapped by demonic power.

When those with relative emotional, familial, and spiritual health are searching for usefulness, maturity, and a sense of community, a ministry of focusing on equipping (modeling, training, empowering people to go out there and do ministry) might be helpful. But how can you prepare saints for the ministry when they need to be repaired first? Serving the Lord is exciting but pushing a guy who needs a hip replacement to push through the pain and train for a marathon isn’t wise or loving.

  • I’ve seen new heights and depths of what it means to be a Christian community

I love my Church; err the Church God has given us to serve (see I’m still a work in progress for lesson #1). One of the things that have blown me away is the deep loyalty and love they have for one another. I’ll be on my way to meet with a mother whose child is going into crisis, and one or two others from the Church will already be there loving, supporting, and praying for them.  By the time I find out someone in the Church had a dire need, that need often has already been met by someone in the Church community. Through the loyalty and generosity of Epiphany Gloucester City, I’ve seen a picture of who God is.  When one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers, and when one part of the body rejoices the whole body rejoices. I’ve learned that Church isn’t just learning doctrine, living in the presence of God, and being transformed out of destructive habits.  It’s also throwing a bunch of “you no longer have cancer parties, your kid that was in crisis is getting B’s and C’s now, you’ve been sober for six months parties, you no longer rent and own house parties..”  Just as it is being there for each other when everything falls apart.

  • I’ve dived deeper into receiving and extending God’s grace`

From the day I became a Christian, I have had the privilege of being around Christians who taught and lived by God’s radical grace. But this is a well that doesn’t end, there is life-giving water 10 feet down and a thousand. I’ve heard confessions of every kind of illegal, and unethical act you can possibly imagine. Most people carry around with them that backpack full of boulders, of all the sins they have done in the past. At the same time, we are constantly comparing ourselves with others, ‘at least I still got my kids’, ‘I would never do xyz to someone.’ Carrying around with us so much pain, pride, hatred, which is all a poison in our souls.

Sometimes we paint on a religious happy face to cover over the terror that the bad decisions we made are going to wreck our lives and possibly a bunch of others. I have experienced again and again, no matter how deep we go down in the well, no matter how dark it is, God’s grace will meet us. I’ve needed this grace again and again for myself, and nothing is more freeing than to know that I am not the total of my failures, bad decisions, bad habits, or shortcomings. God poured out his blood for me, and I belong to him now.  He poured out his blood knowing exactly how slow I would be to learn and grow.  He does the same thing for every single person who puts their trust in Him. What I am sure of is that NOBODY is going to be transformed by your ministry of annoyance, disappointment, or frustration, they might change their behavior outwardly or around you, but their hearts will not change. But when we love and challenge big those who have really messed up, God does some amazing things in our lives.

Staying sane in these insane times.

This blog is a part of a series on what we are calling the three ‘anti-virtues.’ In other words the photo negative of faith, hope and love, the three chief Christian virtues and turns them into a dark trinity of fear, hate, and lust. (1st Corinthians 13:13). The last post spoke on fear, recounting the crazy time our family was in the center of the Ebola crisis, and today’s post focuses on hate.

Have you ever thought about the relationship between Fear and Hate?

One of my favorite movies is The Shining. It deliberately blurs the lines between the psychotic breakdown from their isolation and previous baggage and the spiritual darkness that lives in that abandoned resort. The family is already haunted before they even got in the car to make their way for the winter to this place, which itself is haunted. Just like we are.

In the season leading up to Halloween, a lot of people go to Eastern State Penitentiary to scare themselves out of their minds when they have a ‘haunted prison’ set up. The truth is that the history of that prison is truly dark. When the prison was built it was the most compassionate, state of the art prison to date. It was run by a religious group known as the Quakers. One of their foundational beliefs is that people are good at heart.

So they put prisoners with exceptionally heinous crimes for the first time in solitary confinement for weeks. What they believed was that, without the bad distractions from the outside world, with time alone to think about what they did, soon the dysfunctional and dark ways of thinking would flee their minds and bodies. They would be filled with love, and return to the state that God made them for. There ‘inner light would shine,” they would be reformed and rehabilitated.

But as you’ve heard, the road to hell has been paved with good intentions. Instead what they found is that these prisoners descended into madness the longer they were in isolation. Instead of an inner light, the darkness consumed them.

In the way that faith is the flower, and love is the fruit. Fear is like a hideous alien that is freakishly born pregnant with hate the moment it comes into your world. How can you love your family when you are isolated from them in these weeks to come? If you don’t fix where you are placing your faith, you won’t be able to bear the fruit of love.

This is an opportunity to place your faith, not in your ‘tank’ of generosity and goodness. Some of us already know our upbringing didn’t prepare us well for this, while others are hanging on to the fairy tale that we are basically good, as long as everything goes relatively good for us.

Well, it’s not going good for us nowbut can we still be good in our souls? Place your faith in Jesus, and you will bear the fruits of hope and love. When you place your faith in Jesus, the first thing you do is admit your sin. You no longer can hold anything over anyone else’s head. You are deeply convicted of being impatient with your kids, with your spouse, with whoever you are living with because you know that God has been endlessly patient with you.

Even when you know who you are in Jesus, which is both loved and forgiven you will still struggle to love your family. This is because like the prison, and like the isolated resort portrayed in the story of The Shining, your battle is not just a mental one, but a spiritual one. Hate comes from hell, and your only hope in the battle against, not only yourself but unseen forces around you is to stand on God’s promises and fight back with faith in prayer.

To sum this all up, if you want to keep your sanity in these insane times, don’t put your faith yourself, don’t put it in the governments’ response or anything other than the one who holds the future in His hands. It will not be enough to simply have faith that you are not good enough and to admit that you need the forgiveness and love of Jesus. Your mind may become clear but you still live in that haunted house, along with others with all their baggage, getting on your nerves as well. If you want to replace hate with love, it is time to get on your knees, and stay on them in prayer for help and power, because you are fighting an unseen battle.

The insane week we had Ebola

On the anti-virtue of fear.

We came home from Rwanda for a few months in 2014 as missionaries for a time to reconnect with family and be ‘invisible’ in our home country, but that was not in the cards for us!

If you google ‘Maple Shade Ebola’ you will find 128,000 results. You will also see articles about it from local news stations like Actions News all the way to international news agencies like the BBC, CNN, and France 24. Yes, in the middle of that “ebola mania’ it was our family that came under the international spotlight, though our identities were never revealed. Not only did our family anonymously become the “Ebola scare of the week” on the news, our case affected international politics as an ebola free Rwanda, decided to impose a visa fee on American visitors for the first time and to check American’s temperature three times a day for 21 days, since ‘technically’ America had cases of Ebola. That was an interesting year. In America and then back in Africa, there wasn’t a day we did not hear about it, even deep in the village where there was no TV people knew about the Rwandans whose kids were not allowed to go to school in New Jersey.

The interviews shown on TV were not flattering of South Jersey, but it was the comment sections, and the overheard conversations at the WAWA and other local spots that was straight up as racist, and ignorant as you can imagine, even getting to the point where people threaten this “Rwandan family” with violence if they tried coming into the school.

We could have tapped out in a bunch of ways, but we didn’t. There were generous offers for our kids to go to a private school. There was also the idea that it could be leaked that this ‘Rwandan family’ are actually missionaries, and that my wife and I where married right in that town. Should our race and the reason we were in Rwanda matter? You know the answer.  Invisibliity isn’t even an option for many minorities in majority spaces.

FEAR is a terrible thing, and we are seeing it raise it’s ugly head now with this coronavirus. I was reminded of this when my friend posted the experience of his parents. When it comes to our family and especially our kids, fear go into hyperdrive. But we must resist.

This was a post recently by a friend and fellow pastor. 30 years in America, what is the excuse for this?

At Epiphany, we like to talk about the three chief virtues of a Christian, which are Faith, Hope, and Love. Sadly in the culture and in the Church, we have distorted these virtues into ‘anti-virtues.’ Instead of the three virtues, we find from the Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians 13, we feed on fear, hate, and lust like a starving chained up pitbull in a junkyard .

I am going to write about these anti-virtues in the weeks to come but today I just want to encourage to ask yourself what good comes out of stoking fear? Yes, that is what sells, that is what gets attention, that is what seems to motivate so many religious and so many irreligious people. True Faith is not your grandma smacking you with a Bible till you ‘fall in line’, True Faith is full of curiosity and courage. The soil where real genuine faith grows that isn’t fake is a soil where you can ask questions, where you are allowed to have doubts, and where those doubts are addressed thoughtfully and lovingly. Authentic faith also blossoms into courage, it isn’t cursing at the darkness, at the big horrible word. True faith doesn’t care about, need or even want whatever ‘cultural power’ the Church had in the past because it’s not about comfort or power. True faith is at peace because it’s hope is not in being in the majority, but being in the truth.

So I encourage you to consider what news you listen to, consider how much you listen to your friends, and ask yourself, do they stoke the fires of fear, hate, and lust or do they stoke the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love.. If we are honest with ourselves, especially as we look at the Church, so much of what we see doesn’t make us more like Christ, but less.

Let’s wash our hands, get our facts right, and love our neighbor, wherever they are from, and whatever they look like.


Written by Pastor Joe Marlin

Resolutions for the Epiphany Church Family

This is my prayer for 2020 and beyond.

  • That you learn to be filled with the Spirit, and not drugs and alcohol. (Eph. 5:18)
  • That you process less of your drama and pain on Facebook and more in real relationships with brothers and sisters. (Prov. 10:14, 28:26)
  • That you really get that the only people you should take 100% responsibility for is you, and your young kids. That helping another grown person and doing everything for them isn’t love … it’s codependency. It hurts you and them. (Gal. 1:10, 6:1-5)
  • That you’d really learn how to pray and understand what it means to seek God’s will in your everyday life. This means opening up God’s word daily! (Prov. 3:5, Psalm 119:105)
  • That Sunday services would become an anchor to your week and reset your week; something you rearrange life to make happen and only miss when you’re sick. That you’d attend to seek strength, to seek health, to seek faith, and not go only when you feel like you got some strength, health, and faith. (Hebrews 10:25)
  • That you would educate yourself financially and make better moves with money that will bless your family. That you’d have more to save and more to generously give to Church and those around you in need. (Prov. 15:22, Eccl. 7:12, Matt. 6:19-24)
  • That monthly Shepherding group dinners would become a highlight of the month, and that through the whole month you’d love, pray, text, call, visit, and just do all that you can to point each other to Jesus. (Acts 2:45-47, Hebrews 10:24)

And my Prayer for not just 2020, but for the whole decade.

That your goals for your kids would be so much more than just that they don’t get pregnant too early, finish high school, not die of drugs, etc… But that you would pray for, instill in your kids no matter what your life has been, and share your hope, for them to know and love Jesus, make waves for God’s kingdom, and make an impact for justice for the forgotten and those taken advantage of. That they would find and marry a Godly person, who they can be a blessing to other people with. That whatever they do (school, work, family) that they would do it all in, 100% and that they would be blessed!

I want you to write down on a piece of paper the names of your whole family and what ages they will all be in 2030. What do you hope for them, for yourself?

“Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” Proverbs 29:18

That in a decade lots of folks in our church would take steps, and pray into reality these moves:

  • People who rent now would own homes.
  • Those who are learning about Jesus now but aren’t really sure, would follow Jesus and become our future shepherd group leaders, elders, deacons and just solid pillars in the Church and wider community.
  • That those who have no idea if their marriage is gonna make it, find themselves in the strongest place they’ve ever been.
  • That those who are in the middle of their worst struggles with anxiety and depression would find freedom, and become guides and lights to others.
  • That those who are up to their eyeballs in debt would live completely debt free.
  • That we would have raised up leaders and planted several new churches in towns like Camden, Little Egg Harbor, Millville, and Woodbury.

Finally, we are so glad people are becoming Christians and giving up things to follow him. But we also want education and opportunities, we want to see the spiritual moves of the past few years turn into whole life and community change in the next decade.

So, my prayer and vision is that we would become a people notorious for tutoring kids everyone else is “done” with. That we would have a powerful ministry that saves people from addiction. That we would have the clout with the city and county we are in, to pull down new branches of education, development, jobs and more.

What are you working towards and praying for in this next year and decade? Let Christ and your community be apart of those dreams.

Pastor Joe Marlin

Epiphany Church of Gloucester City
December 31st 2019

A call to Fast and Pray.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (MSG) So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

Sunday night I called our church to a FAST AND PRAY today (Wednesday, September 18th) and I’m asking you to join me.

Could you skip one meal and pray? One of the things I mentioned is that the harder we work in this recent season the more it seems our unseen enemy pushes back. Even while we were praying mid breath in Church about our kids being safe on the streets, some of us had to rush out of the Church because one of our kids was in a fight down the block. In this past season have seen many brothers and sisters in a fight for their lives against addiction, anxiety, depression, and heavy burdens in their families.

While we have reached out like crazy, and seen many new folks interested in the Church community and reached out to through a very fruitful summer, which included watching some folks come to faith in Jesus and get baptized. We have also seen people take steps back away from the community and their faith.

I believe sometimes we just have to push back against the grain of the world, our flesh (our selfish desires… what we think we want to do) and the Devil. So please consider skipping lunch or dinner today, and pray this prayer along with us, in addition to however else the Holy Spirit moves you to lift us up. We need you. We need your presence, we need your prayers, and your service, every single one of us becomes an essential brick in the household of faith, hope, and love that is the Church. God has planted a beautiful thing in Gloucester City, but every one of you is so important for helping it to grow up into what it has the potential to be.

“Lord we come to you hungry not because we got it all figured out, not to show anything of our selves, but exactly because as a Church family and as individuals, we need your healing, we need your restoration, we need you to feed our souls. Help us to slow down enough, help us to quiet our souls enough, help us to be honest enough with ourselves to see that things are not right, to see that we are more messed up than we can admit.

But you are also at work in the darkness in more ways than we could ever imagine. We ask that you would pour out your Holy Spirit on us! Let us be a Church of deep commitment, where we live out the vows we made to share each other’s burdens and joys, to show up in each other lives, to renounce the evil in our lives and to continue to grow in our faith.

Holy Spirit! Break the heavy chains of addiction, break the bondage of depression, break the back of debt, and set us free!

Lord Jesus, Lord forgive us for our willfulness.. Forgive us for our trying to just muscle our way through life without You or anybody else. Forgive us for loving things that bring us cheap counterfeit happiness and rob from us lasting joy and power to be the kind of people you are calling us to be.

Father make our Sunday services refreshing, fill your Church with love and peace, and then fill it with our friends and family who need you. May we not only be known for service, known for acceptance, but also be a community known for deep life transformation, may we be known as the place where all can come, and feel at home, and at peace no matter what we’ve been through, because you are working that deep on our hearts.

Work in us we pray, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.”

Epiphany G City’s Summer Reading 2019

This summer as we slow down our bible studies, women’s brunches, our monthly dinners and other activities meant to encourage fellowship between Christians, and focus on block parties, our 7 week, 5 day a week summer camp, backpack give away and more to reach out I want to encourage everyone in the Church to do some personal reading.

Community is important but learning to encourage yourself, feed on the truth, is absolutely essential for you to grow up in your faith. God wants you to stand resilent and tall, without putting the responsiblity for your growth on anybody else. I also can’t recommend enough the option of audio books as well, not only for those who may struggle to read but for those who get easiliy distracted reading. Make an investement in yourself, and also borrow books from each other and from the Church, just make it happen!

#1 The Bible

NOTHING can replace God’s word, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reminds us that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. “ But you don’t have to read it alone without help, journey with us in the scriptures, Read the short & incredible story of Jonah again. Read a chapter of Proverbs every day, as we will teach through proverbs all summer in a series called “Making Life Work”. I would also encourage you to slowly read and pray through read 1st John as we finish up a study on that book in September.

If you haven’t been in the practice of reading the bible, forget any of these other books and start there. Start with at least 10 minutes a day. If you get distracted reading, I highly recommend listening to the scripture read. Click here to listen to 1st John. (You can also listen to any portion of scripture there.)

#2 On the Block, Doug Logan (AMAZON, AUDIBLE)

This is part a big picture teaching on what the Bible has to say about the assignment that God has placed on each one of us to reach out in love, as God uses us to be a light in the world, and part biography. Pastor Doug’s (the Pastor who sent me out to plant in Gloucester City!) book will give you both a beasty philosophy of why you should engage your friends, coworkers, family and nieghbors but also the inspiriation to go out and do it.

#3 Spiritual Discipleship, Oswald Sanders (AMAZON)

I’ve walked with a bunch of folks through this classic by Oswald Sanders. What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to follow Jesus? How does His Spirit empower us live a new life? This book with a powerful discussion guide at the end is absolutely perfect for someone who is a new believer or someone who has had plenty of ‘church’ but maybe not been exposed to discipleship after the model of the Lord himself. He demands everything from us, but He also supplies more than we could ever give back.

#4 Even in our Darkness, Jack Deere (AMAZON, AUDIBLE)

This crazy honest biopgrahy rocked me, and a handful of guys who read it with me late last year. I don’t really know what else to say but that this book is so real, and it will help you. If you’ve got trauma in your life, the stories Jack tells of suicide, sexual brokeness, abuse, addiction and more may trigger something in you, but it is a journey worth taking with him, as this spiritual leader own’s all of his Story, yet also experiences and practices God’s healing.

#5 He-Motions, TD Jakes (AMAZON, AUDIBLE)

Men in our culture are a mess. To me this is TD Jakes at his best, I may not agree with everything he preaches but here he is so helpful. This is a great book is for men and for women to help understand the men in their lives. This will be a journey for some of you, and I can’t say it won’t bring some pain, but it will help you have a more honest, and healthy relationship to your emotions.

#6 Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know, Elliot Grudem (AMAZON, AUDIBLE)

This is a GREAT, CLEAR book on the Christian faith that I highly recommend. Whereas “Spiritual Discipleship” focuses on the how and what of LIVING as a Christian, this book well help you with understanding the basics of what we believe. From Angels to Heaven to Free Will. Every chapter is short, but clear and easy to understand without being dumbed down. This would be a really good book to read if you are a new christian or to read with somebody who didn’t grow up in this church stuff and is trying to get a sense of the ground beneath them.

Other books we’ve read together..

These books are in addition to the books we’ve done book studies on, we believe that ‘readers make leaders’ and want to see a great library being built up in the homes of a bunch of people in our community. We have copies of these books at Church if you want to borrow them, we have done book discussions in the past on all of these.

  • The Church of Irresistible Influence – Robert Lewis (A great book to understand our desire and our appraoch to making an impact in the culture.)
  • Knowledge of the Holy – AW Tozer (A classic on Spirituality, knowing and loving the Holy One.)
  • Living Worry Free – Tim Lane (A solid book from a Christian counselor on an issue we all struggle with.)
  • Come Back Barbara – Barbara Julliani (The powerful homecomming story of a family dealing with a daughter who left the faith and dove deep into a self-destructive life.)