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.)

20 Reasons I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus..


At the very center of Christianity is the claim that it’s founder rose from the grave three days after He was crucified.  Last night, at Theology on Tap we had a discussion about the resurrection, miracles in general, and a little bit on what we can know of the past.

At Epiphany, faith is a big deal, it is part one of our three virtues..  I remember growing up and watching my Mom take those old paper egg cartons and put a little soil and some seeds in it.  She would carefully water the seeds, and keep them up on the window sill; inside the kitchen and out of the harsh winter cold.  In this way, we want to be a place where folks can ask questions and where their faith can grow; not a place that confuses fear and faith. Curiosity is  the soil in which true faith grows,whereas a ton of pressure from family and the people around you produces the counterfeit.

The Apostle Peter encourages us that we ought to share our faith, with reasons and with respect; not as a jerk.

“in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15

Unfortunately, sometimes, we are taught by family and in some Churches that questions are bad and that answers are not needed.  Faith becomes an excuse for not or having to think at all. However,when you start to study philosophy, you realize that many of the greatest minds in history from the pioneer of calculus (Isaac Newton), to the head of  the human genome project and former head of the National Health Service (Francis Collins), are people whose worldview and hearts where shaped deeply by faith in Christ.

For those who are asking questions, seeking, and for those who have faith in the gospel but want to be more prepared to understand and defend their faith, here are 20 reasons to consider believing in the Resurrection of Jesus.  This is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it might be helpful to someone.

20. Jesus said he would die and rise from the dead.

While his disciples didn’t always get it, and even when they did they didn’t want to believe it, Jesus was straight up and told them repeatedly that he would die, and he would rise from the dead. (Luke 24:7, Matthew 16:21, Luke 9:22, Mark 8:31, Mark 9:31….)

19. The Gospels were not written like mythic accounts.

Luke doesn’t write ‘in time long ago and a galaxy far, far away..” But seriously, myths & fables are indicated as such, and are meant to teach us timeless truths through their stories. Conversely, the setting of Jesus’s birth, life and death are given a specific time and location in history, naming the place, and those who ruled at the time.

18. Jesus life and crucifixion is one of the most attested accounts in antiquity.  Period.

There are 11 non-controversial early witnesses to it. These include: Josephus, Tacitus, Mara bar Serapion, Suetonius, The Talmud, Pliny II, Lucian, Thallus, Celsus, The Dead Sea Scrolls, James Ossuary, and the Pauline epistles.  Manuscript evidence of the New Testament stands out in history. In contrast, whichever person of Antiquity you pick from Alexander the Great to Caesar, to Plato, it is difficult to get more than a couple witnesses. The earliest manuscripts are a handful and centuries after the originals, but the New Testament has fragments decades after the original. The entire collection has been preserved since the 4th century.

17. His life, death and resurrection fulfilled by a thousand years of prophecy.

From where he was born, to how he would die, there are hundreds of prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament. Here is a good list of 55 to get you started.

16. No other world religious leader claimed miracles, rose from the dead, let alone claim to be God.  

Not Muhammed, not Confucius, not Buddha.  Miracles are often claimed after the fact, but Buddha said ‘I despise them’  Muhammed said ‘read the Koran.’ Many men and women have come to reveal to us something beyond ourselves, all over the world.  We can say that philosophies and world religions all contain some truth. The author of Hebrews says “In the past, God spoke through all manner of ways, through His servants, but in these last days He speaks to us through His SON.”  The death and resurrection of Jesus is unique, and unexpected. It was considered ‘foolishness to the greeks.“ Sometimes we act like people were unsophisticated, ready to believe anything just because it was written down, but we fail to appreciate the accomplishments of the great civilizations of the Romans and the Greeks.

15. The insights of the eye witnesses of the resurrection are not the insights of a bunch of fishermen turned con artists.

I have been introduced to cognitive behavior therapy  and existential philosophy. However, they don’t hold a candle to the light of insight into humanity, loyalty, love, good and evil, and so much more that the New Testament writers just poured out. The perceptive power on spirituality and human nature of first century fisherman tower above much of what we hear today. Where did that come form?

14. The glory, beauty and power of Jesus Himself, can not be “produced”.

Paul says,  “Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”” in 2nd Corinthians 4:6.  When we take the blinders off, there is a beauty, power and glory in the person of Jesus that is itself self-authenticating and can not be fabricated.

13. The early church just blew up and spread like crazy.

Without any political power, and marginalized for centuries the Church spread across the known world.  We are seeing the same thing, 2,000 years later, in the global south. The original Apostles spread the Gospel from North Africa to India, to Spain.  Christians were despised because they were oddly charitable. They took care of the weak and poor, which made no sense. They even saved children from the trash heaps and cared for the sick, at risk to themselves. They were stingy sexually in a cultural of incredible sexual freedom,  were seen as incredibly anti-social, and were willing to be persecuted when they wouldn’t bow down to Cesar as Lord. The early Church writer, Athanasius, explained that women and children face the Lions in the Stadiums because they saw death as a snake that had been de-fanged, and because of their unwavering confidence that the Lord had Risen from the dead, and that we too would have hope beyond this life.

12. Most of the Apostles died horrible deaths for their faith in the Ressurection.

Peter was crucified upside-down. Most of the others were stabbed, stoned, or crucified. Only John was left to die of old age, in exile on the Islam of Patmos. People have died for lies throughout history, but these men were the ones as John says who “proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” 1st John 1:3-4.  It is a huge stretch of the imagination to me that they would make this all up, to spread this message, which would gain followers, yet cause them all to suffer unimaginably.

11. Group hallucinations is not a thing.

1st Corinthians 15 contains a proclamation of events in the form of an oral tradition which is dated at least a decade after the Resurrection.  Included in it is revelations to Jesus’s own skeptical brother James, persecutor Paul, to other specific people and to 500 people gathered together at once.  One theory is that the followers of Jesus had ‘grief hallucinations.’ But,one of the reasons the gospel spread so fast was that the Apostles ran around telling people this man rose from the dead, and to just go ask the people still around who saw it!  While groups of people can hallucinate if they are exposed to trauma or the same psychoactive drugs, they will not have the same exact vision.

10. The swoon theory has been rightly been thrown in the dustbin of history.

One alternative theory to the resurrection is that Jesus did not really die, but swooned.  Some theories are more elaborate than that he just lost a lot of blood on the cross. Some theories suggest that Jesus went to the East to learn from the yoga masters a technique of slowing down His heart beat so much that He would appear dead.  Every single thing we know about the Romans contradicts this. They were experts in killing and crucifixion by the first century. Even if Jesus was not dead, as they did not have coroners like we do today to pronounce someone dead, a single man, let alone one beaten and hung on a cross could not roll away the sealed tomb.  

9. Most objections to the Resurrection are not based on historical evidence, but on a view of nature that is closed.

One of the most preeminent atheist minds of our time, Anthony Flew, admits as much. His objection to the resurrection is “invisible, no amount of evidence could change it, because it is not how the world works.”

If you already assume that miracles can not happen, no amount of evidence will change your mind. In fact, Jesus is said to have performed miracles, and there were people who said to themselves “He is just doing this with the power of demons.”  We have to go way back to the deep roots of how we understand and know anything as real or not. When you have a view that is prejudiced against the supernatural, you have to ask yourself why? To the one who says the only thing that matters is what they can taste, smell, touch, see or hear, the question becomes, have you ever had a thought in your brain?  Because you can’t taste, touch, see, smell or hear those either.

8. Gary Habermas’s ‘minimal facts’

Habermas has done some of the best modern research on the resurrection and has helped popularize the idea of the ‘minimal facts’ which most scholars, skeptical or not,accept.  If you want to do a deep dive into this issue get his book here.

His minimal facts are.. “1. Jesus died by crucifixion. 2. Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them. 3. The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed. 4. The skeptic James, the brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed. 5. The tomb was empty.”

From these he argues the Resurrection is the most likely conclusion based on these widely accepted facts.

7. The First eye witnesses were women.

If one were going to make up a story about the Resurrection, the Apostles would earn an F at it. Sadly,  in the first Century a woman’s testimony had no value in court. But, the first preachers and the very first, first hand experiences of Jesus were in fact all women.

6. Personal experiences of the risen Lord.

I used to carefully separate experiences, emotions and reason.  There is a huge problem with this. We are not just ‘brains on a stick’. We are limited, created, finite beings.  We are these living creatures that experience everything all together.

My own personal experiences validate the resurrection as much as any other reason I list here.  There will always be problems with verifying anything 100%. As a good friend, that comes to Theology on Tap, likes to say “you can’t prove that five minutes ago didn’t actually happen but was spontaneously generated with the appearance of happening in time.”

But, as I go around and pray for people, I See the Lord speak to others and to me, heals people, saves marriages, causes folks to repent, and  sends dreams and visions. this is incredible evidence to me of the reality of the Risen Lord seated at the right hand of God the Father continuing to work in this world.

5. Paul’s conversion.

Paul was full of zeal, believing he was serving God by persecuting the Church.  What could explain how Paul went from being a man who caused men, women and children to be locked up and even killed, to being a man who suffered incredibly for Jesus ? What could explain this transformation better than the fact that the Risen Lord actually knocked him off his horse, and called him to not only change his mind, but to become His messenger?

4. The Day of worship changed.

The day of worship moved from Saturday to Sunday to honor the new creation that Jesus started with rising from the dead.  Early Christians didn’t honor Jesus as a prophet or some political radical. That slowly evolved into worshiping him as God.  From the beginning, the disciples of Jesus preached a resurrected Christ.

3. The followers of Jesus went from whining, childish, ethnocentric, and fearful men to dripping with love and confidence after they witnessed the Resurrection.

Jesus’ followers included Thomas who wouldn’t accept the risen Lord until he put his hands through the holes in Jesus, James and John who foolishly asked Jesus to destroy His enemies, Peter who was always putting his foot in his mouth and ready to fight ( yet when the going got tough punked out when a little girl asked if he was a follower of Jesus) Yet,. after they experienced risen Jesus they became new men. Men who break cultural barriers and who have a new humility, a new love, and a new confidence that I have experienced and have seen in countless others.

2. The Tomb was guarded and had a Roman seal.

To break it was punishable by a painful death, and the Romans were experts in dragging out painful deaths.  The guards posted at the tomb would have also been sentenced to die for merely sleeping on duty.

1. The Tomb was empty.

Where is the body? There has been plenty of time to find it. In the early days, it would have benefited the many enemies of the Church to produce a body.  But, it never was. For me this empty tomb has changed the entire course of my life. I pray you would consider it too.

If you want to talk to me about any of these reasons or more, please feel free to send me an email, send a message or call us at Church at 856-432-2118.

10 Strategies for Parents

We had our first “Parents Night Out” last night where a dozen of us went to applebees and left our kids with babysitters at the church after a brief time of encouragement.  I wanted to share some of what was shared with everyone who missed.  Like all parenting books and advice, its like “I’m drowning here, and you’re asking me to do more, more more..”  The answer is YES, our kids need more.   But read to the end, we want you to be energized by God to be better parents, and heal from your past.  We want to be there for eachother, and just feed off each others energy & accountability and be energized by the Holy Spirit.  I really hope this is a timely word of challenge and encouragement for you.

Providing structure for your kids. (Especially for kids under 10)

  1. Consider towns notorious for giving tickets. If cops cried, hit the car, begged you to stop (or just laughed cause they know you’ll never change). it wouldn’t work, but when you know you get hit with a big ticket every time. It works. Consider how 30 kids walk in single line in school. BE THE MOM OR DAD WHO IS REALLY CONSISTENT.
  2. ANTICIPATE YOUR CHILDS NEEDS AS THE GROW. Don’t parent the sweet kids you loved a year ago, as they grow older they need you in new ways. It may seem they need you less, but they just need you in different ways.
  3. On the one hand there needs to be super clear boundaries your kids know they can never cross, on the other hands you need to CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES very carefully, and save your energy to fight and win those battles overwhelming. You are in charge!

Scripture to study, meditate and memorize.  (Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4, Deuteronomy 6:7)

 

Reaching your child’s heart.

  1. DEPOSIT LOVE when you hit the ATM or EBT card, you can’t take out what’s hasn’t been put in. Tell your kids you love them and show your kids you love them. You got to do a heart check at the end of the day or the end of the week sometimes, are my kids going to wonder if I loved them, or are they going to feel my disappointment and frustration more.
  2. DEPOSIT TRUST we tend to either shelter our kids, or let them loose, but we got to intentionally deposit trust in our kids. We are preparing them for life. This is best done gradually and with purpose. For example walking a kid to the corner store to get milk, getting to know the shop owner, and then sending them off on their own.
  3. DEPOSIT TRUTH what will your kids know about right and wrong? What do they know about God? What will they know about sex and drugs, about friendships and love? Nobody else has the kind of influence that you do on your kids, what are you putting in their heads and hearts?

Scripture to study, meditate and memorize. (Ephesians 6:4, Matthew 6:21, Proverbs 3:5, Romans 12:2, Exodus 20)

 

Not putting your identity & happiness on your kids success.

  1. REMEMBER YOUR KIDS CAN’T BEAR THE WEIGHT OF YOUR HAPPINESS AND IDENTITY. You’ve got to separate your identity from your children, look up what enmeshment is, it’s where you don’t really know where you begin and they end.
  2. You can not shoot your kids to the stars from the gutter. The best thing your kids can see from you is your grind, so they may miss you a couple nights so you can get that training, work that extra shift to pay off that debt, bring food, or sit with family and friends going through it (include them!). Your kids will imitate whats important to you, and how you live, they will not just follow what you say. GOOD MORALS ARE CAUGHT, MORE THAN TAUGHT.
  3. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE STRATEGIES REQUIRES A TON OF ENERGY, ENCOURAGEMENT AND A DEEP SOURCE OF LOVE. This is why you desperately need community, praying for you, keeping you accountable. If you don’t know how much GOD accepts you, even when you mess up, Parenting will be so hard. Parenting is a high, hard and holy calling. You have to find your identity outside of it, to be a good parent. Take care of your body, and your soul, just like how you’ve got to get the oxygen mask on yourself, before you can put it on your kid on a plane. It may seem utterly unnatural but if you don’t you and your kids are going to be knocked out.
  4. DEAL WITH YOUR PAST, our parenting strategies come from what we know and seen. The good news is you can confess your past failures as a parent, it is the most freeing thing in the world. You can call out to God to heal you of the wounds of your own childhood and seek Church community, your pastor and at times help from a professional counselor.

Scripture to study, meditate and memorize. (Romans, 6:6, James 1:5, Galatians 5:22-23, Romans 12:2, Philippians 3:13-14, Isaiah 43:18-19)

Listen to the sermon ‘The false God of family’

 

Break the Bondage, not the Reed.

There is a prophecy, in Isaiah 42:3 and quoted in Matthew 12:20 to describe the ministry of Jesus as the savior who would ‘Not break a bruised reed, nor snuff out the smoldering wick.’ Meditating on this has been extremely helpful to me, there is an incredible book on the whole ministry of our Lord with us, as frail, broken sinners titled A Bruised Reed by the puritan pastor Richard Sibbes. When all we can see in someone is smoke and ashes, Jesus can see the small but genuine spark of spiritual life behind it, and He will blow on it in such a way as to not put it out. While others see simply someone who is damaged goods, beyond repair, our Lord is gentle with our souls and does not break us in the process of saving us. If there is any genuine faith and repentance no matter how imperceptible it is to us or others, or how weak it may be, our Lord will honor it, and will cause it to grow, and not in frustration take what little we have away from us.

As ministers we need to follow Jesus in this.  This of course is a lifelong project!  But how easy it is for words of correction to sound like words of condemnation, when speaking with the people we’ve grown up with and get us let alone when we settle into a new context with it’s own way of saying things and thinking!  Jesus was of course the master at bringing everything about us to light, but in a way that is full of mercy.  Nobody could of said Jesus “misunderstood” his disciples or that He mad rash judgements of them. Lord have mercy on us, so that we may not break the bruised reed, nor snuff out the smoldering flax!

Yet there is another prophecy, also from Isaiah, led as he was by the Spirit to describe the ministry of God’s annotated one to come some six hundred years later. In Isaiah 61:1 he describes the future ministry of Jesus as one anointed by the Spirit to ‘bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to prisoners.’ Jesus refuses to leave us in our mess and bondage, He came to do something about it! We must also follow our Lord in this.

Let me suggest that in our attempt to correct the sins of our fathers who were controling, overbearing, and protected their special privelages rather than sacrafices themselves for the vunerable, that we have found a new way to be incomplete disciples of our Lord.  In the past we know of those who came like colonialists, setting up their own little kingdoms among a vulnerable people, we know of those who never sought to understand the people they sacrificed so much to come and preach to, and only sought conformity and blind obedience to what they thought was best for those they came to minister to.

Perhaps now in not wanting to ‘break the bruised reed’ along with that we’ve allowed a diseased status quo to remain. We’ve got not the courage, nor the authority, nor the ability to speak into rank child abuse, exploitation of women, a power-mad celebrity mentality among some clergy, a lax attitude toward infidelity, a lack of personal and family spiritual disciples and character, a rediculously low view of the need of a real education for the Church’s leaders and on and on.  Are all the troubles of the church and society to be dropped on the laps of the Church? Absolutely not! However can we just be silent?

There is this insidious mentality among us at times, that we are simply on some kind of journey of self-discovery. That since all cultures are so different, our main purpose is to sit back and collect new experiences in the world, that we have everything to learn and nothing to share. We wouldn’t want to offend, we wouldn’t want to break the bruised reed, right? We’ve come to believe that somehow our presence alone is redemptive. What if its not?

This is a such a faux brand of humility, that in reality is simply a lack of conviction, except in oneself.

I pray that we could be servants of God who know how to not break the reed, but have the courage to break the bondage and status quo all around us that we see. That we would learn how to challenge in love, with out condemning in hypocrisy.

My wife and I enjoyed watching various reality series on surviving in the wilderness. I always found the various ways to start a fire fascinating. Especially when the characters on these shows had impossible odds, like in a freezing rain forest in Alaska, everything is cold and wet. Yet the skilled knew how to do CPR on the smallest spark, and create the life saving fire they needed to survive the night.

My prayer is that we would learn how to do spiritual spiritual CPR on those who feel their strength is almost gone! I pray we would know how to walk gently with others, win their trust, love them, and truly learn from them. I pray that we would not break the bruised reed, but also not be content to leave a diseased plant in the way of destruction, because we lack the conviction and the courage to do any more than just observe. That we would take the risk to replant, restore, establish a trellis so that the bruised reed can be healed, and thrive.

Exiles, seeking a better country

I’ve been thinking about these two passages recently in light of everything that has been going on in the news, and in our communities lately.
“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  Jeremiah 29:7 
“Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”  Hebrews 11:16 

We are called to live, and love like exiles, seeking a better country. We don’t love the cities we dwell in or the nations we are apart of well when we act like this is all we have and all we are.  As if we have to defend or justify everything that it is doing.

Every generation that follows Jesus, those who identify themselves as God’s people are called to into the world they find themselves and out of it at the same time.

We are called into the worlds we find ourselves in.  We are called to pray for and respect its Leaders, we are called to know and care about our neighbors, we are called to take seriously our responsibility as citizens, and be involved in our communities, because as it prospers so do we!   You see God was reminding the exiles in captivity, brutally stolen from their homeland, that He had a plan in leading them there.  Even as they were being marginalized, used and vilified, they were called to settle in and be a blessing where they found themselves.

Yet..

We are also called out of the world.  We know the end of the world, we know the end of every earthly kingdom.  We are sojourners looking for our way out.  Sojourners don’t derive their deepest identity from a race, party politics, from certain professions or socio-economic niches.   Exiles together, pilgrims all, we walk together in this reality.  Christ must redeem the cultures we come out of, He must challenge what is wrong, He celebrates what is good.

Fellow exiles,  I beg you…

Obey the King.  (the President, your teacher, the police, etc..)

But never, never worship them.

Love your country. (your city, your neighborhood)

But never, never stop looking for a better one.

Comfort the oppressed.

But never, never stop confronting the oppressor.

Your deepest loyalty, to a country yet to come, means you lovingly, truthfully, prayerfully, and boldly engage the wrongs of your age.  Not as politicians do, ever maneuvering, ever lying, always believing the ends justifies the means.  Seeking any way possible to seize some bit of power.  As if this old world was our prize!  But as ambassadors of the most powerful countries  do,  representing the values of the heavenly kingdom, in the confidence of it’s coming and it’s power.  As pilgrims do, putting one small foot in front of another,  bearing witness in the covenant community of what that Kingdom looks like.

10 Spiritual Disciplines for the Distracted.

I have ADD, my son has been diagnosed with ADHD and Autism. So its been on my mind. I’ve spent the last 9 years of my adult life especially learning how to make the most of the way God made me. I’m also constantly hearing from other people that they struggle in some way in these areas, to focus spiritually, to being too impulsive, and so on, so here are some ways that work for me in all my scattered glory. One successful strategy is to have external controls (schedules, routines, helpful friends) in your life, because it may be harder to internalize those things than others. Perhaps these examples from my life could work for you.

10. Lay down Gospel landmines – I call them ‘landmines’ because I don’t exactly know when I’ll hit them, nor exactly when they will go off. For example I get morning and evening readings of “Daily Light” emailed to me every day (portions of scripture compiled together somewhat thematically). Which is great because like many I struggle with checking my inbox way too often throughout the day. I also leave out a soft leather bound copy of “My Utmost” which I usually get to first thing in the morning, but if I don’t I will at some point. I can read all of these in less than ten minutes, and sometimes that is all I do. But these ‘landmines’ become the themes of my life, and the background music of my soul, the words that seem to pop out when I’m encouraging someone or praying for someone. They wet my appetite for God, His word and His will through the day. When they ‘go off’ and blow up they bring me to my knees, I need to re-read them over and over again and God speaks to me in a powerful way to comfort, challenge or convict me.

9. Spiritual Sprints – I always did well on courses that lasted for the whole day rather than a few days a week. My sweet spot was one week intensives, where you are totally isolated and focused on the course. Death to me was traditional marathon 16 week courses, especially online courses! (In other words no year long bible reading plans for me!) So spiritually I will do things like live in the New Testament once a year between Christmas and New Years. Its a 3-4 hour commitment a day, and takes work to stay on task, but that way I am somehow fueled by the challenge. Not only that but every single time, I get this far more complete, stunning, mind blowing view of who Jesus is, that is always worth it. I need to often ‘get away’ for the day or go away to my closet / office, and bring my guitar, my sermon podcasts, my books and my bible and be with Jesus for hours. The best thing is He is completely fine that I might switch from things to thing before Him. I might sometimes tire out others, but He won’t get lost in my ADD.

8. Fasting – This discipline really doesn’t work for my ADD, actually it works very much against it. Eating is just another great stimulating thing that I enjoy (too much!), often while doing other things as well. But this is such a great and powerful way for me to condition myself, so I fast just about every week. It takes a supper conscientious effort for me, but that makes me depend all the more on the Lord. I replace snacking and eating with a conscience humbling of myself before my creator. I often experience incredible joy while fasting, no doubt very helpful in establishing a habit, but it does not come immediately. (No at times its more just like misery.) The more I can learn to say no to myself, the more I can see the Lord work in my heart. This is also called the mind of Christ, or walking in the Spirit. I am freed to be a better husband, pastor, neighbor, ect… who can put others first when I am used to saying no to myself, humbling myself and devoting time towards praying for others.

7. My ‘doorway’ preacher – When I was a teenager, I used my door as a personal propaganda machine for good and ill. Covering it completely like the uni-bomber, with quotes and images I wanted to internalize. It is a little more organized and tame now (I’m sure my wife is thankful) but I still have quotes all over one the doors in my house, that when I will walk by I stop and focus on one thing or another that is helpful. This is sort of another potential ‘gospel landmine’ but these are things I’m particularly need to memorize and meditate on. One of the quotes I have on my door right now is from Hudson Taylor a missionary pioneer in China. This one might help anyone with some struggle in focusing their spiritual lives “I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God, first, it is impossible, than it is difficult, then it is done.”

6. Corporate prayer – I am so incredibly grateful for starting off as a new believer in a church that met almost every morning of the week for prayer. I would often go once or twice a week. Praying with others is where you learn how to pray. Praying with others you hear the heart of God. For those who struggle with focusing on God, it is so helpful to learn the forms of other peoples prayers, as well as the randomness, nakedness and authenticity in the prayers of mature brothers and sisters as well. No doubt, the highlight of my week is praying with others every week in the sales office of Crescent Mobile Homes Thursdays at 1 pm. If you’d like to pray, just hit me up.

5. Get help – When I realized a few months ago that facebook was becoming a spiritual distraction in my life, I went for the nuclear option. After a few failed attempts to do this by myself (signing off, than getting right back on), I emailed my wife, old pastor and some co-workers here in Rwanda that I am ‘going offline’ while I was seeking to be 100% in Rwanda and doing language learning work. What do people do when they want to get serious about any life change? They get help. If you want to start running, you’ll be way more successful if you do it with a friend. You need others as well as a sounding board, to know if what you are doing is just your latest urge, or really what makes sense considering how your story with God is unfolding. Ultimately however you need to seek God’s help and guidance in your life, and go with it. I remember a great professor in seminary, she said we can’t just tell people they need self-discipline. If we came from backgrounds without discipline, we need others to help us foster discipline, we need ‘others-discipline’ more than self-discipline in the beginning. If you want to grow, get HELP. If you want to never change, just keep all your struggles your own personal secret.

4. Obsess about God – If you can’t ‘shut off’ at night. Don’t sit in misery about it. If your mind is always racing about something. Feast your thoughts on God. Turn a challenge in your life into a dividend. I remember when I was a new believer and I realized this. I began to read, and think and than applying that to teaching, and sharing with my friends. God used this in my life, He can use it the lives others too.

3. Plan for resting / distraction – Do you know how I managed to not fail seminary? I managed because I had a counselor at the time who was wise enough to lead me to the fact that if I don’t intentionally plan down time and distraction time, I will constantly be looking for it. What I was doing between work, my family and full time seminary I was starving for rest. I would be googling every possible thing under the sun rather than writing the paper I need to for school. So when I mentally knew, at around 7pm I’m going to watch an update on some MMA match or the Simpsons, and next weekend I’m going to take my wife out for a date. I suddenly became more productive. If I didn’t plan these things I’d be hungry for them all the time. I’d be stuck in a paralyzed 24/7 half working, half not stasis. It is so ironic that when I’m needing to be the most productive in a short time, I need to be the most intentional about planning time for rest.

2. Be patient, and keep your eyes on Jesus – If you read those who have something to teach us throughout history on spirituality, they will all be pretty unified on this point. Don’t get mad at God and yourself when you don’t become a saint in a day! There is a holy kind of restlessness, that we all deeply need, to drive us to surrender to Christ. And yet, however much we can empty ourselves, humble ourselves, it is only Christ who can lift us up and fill us up. It is only God himself who can work his fruit into our lives. So keep your eyes on Jesus, lay your whole life, all your habits, all your dreams, all plans down before Him. But then be patient and look to Christ alone who can give you His spirit, Ultimately, only God alone can produce the fruit of love, patience, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control into your heart, as we learn to say no to ourselves, we will become so united with Jesus that His nature increasingly becomes our. Don’t forget, like the one who idolizes anything. We are what we focus on, we become like whom or what we worship. Where will you set your eyes? Be patient, and know that God will change us, when we learn to lean on Him.

1. Take risks for Jesus – If your made to take risks, why wouldn’t you? You are going to take stupid risks that will destroy yourself, and your family if you don’t bring this aspect of yourself under the Lordship of Christ. See Jesus isn’t scared that you are impulsive, but He can use that for His glory. A huge reason that many are spiritually depressed, is because they don’t know the pure joy and thrill of laying down their lives for something greater than ourselves. If the only version of Christianity you’ve been expose to, seems to stifle your personality, and keep you in a box, where there is never any real danger of physical, or emotional loss (or possibility of significant victories in the midst of the battle), come hang out with us in Gloucester! I’ll help you with that. Seriously, email me (pastorjoe@epiphanygloucester.org) and I can give you some advice that if you listen, may not be so safe, but it light of the glory of God, will be worth it. Besides this there are people waiting for someone to take a risk for them. I remember calling friends in vain late one night to find just one guy who would come with me to help some desperate people escape the crack house they were in.

I called a lot of guys taught and discipled in churches to be sociable, but not to take risks for Jesus, risks that others desperately needed us to take.

We are eager to talk to folks who have struggled to deepen their relationships with Christ through spiritual disciplines regardless of what your struggle is. My wife and I, all we know is that Jesus is worth repenting for our lack of discipline for. We don’t claim to have ‘arrived’ we are very much in process, and yet the more consistent we are, the quicker we learn to get back up, to walk with Jesus, to be His friend, the more joy we have, and the more power we have, and we want you to know that as well. Let’s do this together, feel free to reach out.

If you are simply tired of failing, stop now, pray and consider two possibilities.

1. God is worth a lifetime of effort, a lifetime of getting back up after we fall, a lifetime of loyalty no matter how imperceptible our spiritual growth is to us. Because maybe its not ultimately about God making us ‘the best we can be’ but it is and has only ever been about serving Him, who alone is worthy.

2. Grace is for real. No matter how much you fail, there is not now, and NEVER will be any condemnation for those who are in Christ. God has adopted us, and loves us as His children, and when we seek to serve Him even in our small and imperfect ways, like a Father he rejoices with and in us at every small step we take.

*This is an update on a blog I wrote in 2014 while serving in Rwanda as a missionary.

6 Things Learned in the past 6 Months

It was a great day as Epiphany Church of Gloucester City held its first public worship service on Sunday, March 18th – really special to see so many visitors, along with friends and family. Check out the article here.

As part of the service, I was commissioned as a minister in training along with another brother, Dylan Lebakken who oversees worship and kids ministry.

I wanted to share 6 things that I have learned in the last 6 months, since joining the Epiphany family:

1. The Value of the Team – church planting is really hard but even harder when you feel like you are alone. Being part of the team at Epiphany means I have people around me that support me, not just as a minister but as a Christian, husband, father. It is the reality that God cares more about me than my ministry. God wants me to be a healthy Christian, a healthy Husband and a healthy Father.

2. Different Approach to Ministry – if I was to sum up the last 6 months in terms of my mission, it is two words: faithful witness. What do I mean by that? Simply put, God has called me to be a faithful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ where I am today. It means being a faithful witness where I live and work. And so much of what I considered ministry happened ‘somewhere else’ and so my life reflected working a lot of jobs, time with family and squeezing in ministry the best way I could. Was that healthy? Obviously not, so I am thankful for neighbors we can have over for dinner and go over their house, for co-workers I can spend time with to talk about spiritual things and also others at church that need the personal care and attention.

3. Discipleship, not just on Sundays – no doubt Sundays are a special day when people all over the worship gather to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ so it is definitely an important event but clearly, the totality of ministry can not happen over 1 or 2 hours a week. Now, how does it happen in a way that does not mean more commitments, more scheduled time, more burdens? I would answer that with the phrase “rhythms of life.” What do I mean by that? We all have them and they are simply are schedules and things that are most important to us: going to work, spending time with family, hobbies and fun activities. So rather than scheduling ministry as one more thing in your life, make it part of your life and invite people into it. This is what I have learned that ministry is about building relationships with people because you care about them and want to share your life with them. And so encouraging to be able to share the Gospel with someone who has never heard it before. What I am learning is that investing in other people is key and it’s also very rewarding and enjoyable.

4. Building Kingdom Relationships – quite obviously, God is at work right now in millions of people’s lives all over the world. As I reflect on this big reality, it means that God is at work in different churches all over the world, so it might be important to learn about what God is doing in the churches right in my community. I have met with pastors from churches of different denominations with a desire to get to know and partner together with them as we share in reaching people with the love of Jesus Christ. This does not mean that I have to compromise what I believe but it does mean that God can do bigger things if the church simply came together and worked together.

5. Emphasis on Personal Development – ministry presents many challenges, one of which is an ever growing decline in a specific resource that you never get back. That of course is time. Having 3 kids and working full time is not easy but when you are leading a ministry, it is even harder. Now, I realize that it is important to spend at least a couple hours each week reading and learning. You have heard the phrase “leaders are readers.” It is very true because I need to keep growing and learning every day, not only from life experiences but also from the experiences of others.

6. History Matters – it’s been there really helpful for me to be reminded that being “grafted into” God’s family is a very deep thing that includes people that have come way before me and will continue, Lord willing, for many years. I have the privilege of being part of God’s redemptive plan of history, even before the foundation of the world! And since Jesus walked the earth 2 thousand years ago, the church has come to know some giants of the faith like Augustine, Luther, Owen, Calvin, Spurgeon, Martin Lloyd Jones and many others. It is pretty important to study church history, not only to understand the challenges faced by the church but also to learn what shaped these men.

 

Giving Thanks for Theology on Tap.

Theology on Tap was the first public ministries we’ve done as Epiphany Church, and it is still going strong, meeting at the Riverpark Pub, in Gloucester City the 4th Tuesday of the month at 7pm.

I know the idea of discussing philosophy, ethics, and theology over some beers with a Pastor moderating the discussion may raise all kinds of questions and I don’t mean to answer them here, only that we feel like we stand in pretty good company.  You know that guy who actually turned water into wine.  (John 2:1-11, Luke 7, Mark 14:23)  Like everything else in life, we believe that alcohol and be a good gift enjoyed responsibly, but a terrible master.

One other thing we do want to make clear while not addressing all the concerns people may have about our ministry in the bar, nobody is getting drunk at Theology on Tap, and we don’t encourage anyone from the Church community to participate in this ministry if it would jeopardize their hard-fought-for sobriety.  We are actually ramping up to launch a recovery ministry for those in need, in the Church family and those out in the community on April 8th called Celebrate Recovery.  

Here are 8 reasons I’m thankful for Theology on Tap.

1. Our views are out there and clear.

There is no vagueness in our faith, those who are new to our Church can find out exactly the way we articulate our faith (1 Peter 3:15) and how we engage really difficult and sensitive subjects (1 Cor. 9:19-23) like drugs, sexuality, science, morality and God’s justice.  Some have suggested to me that allowing people to ask questions in this forum is some kind of compromise (Rom 12:2). To be honest, that could not be farther from the truth.  It’s so much easier to preach to the choir, it’s harder to stand up and explain what you believe even when you are in the minority (Jude 1:3). Nobody who has been hanging out with us for worship or at Theology on Tap can be caught off guard or shocked by our beliefs which are shaped by the Holy Scriptures (John 17:17) no matter where the culture stands.

2. We learn to see beyond points to people.

It’s a two-way street.  In our day and age of keyboard warriors, it’s so helpful to actually have to sit across a table from someone and dive into the issues of our day, and the issues that have face humanity from the beginning (Ecc 1:9).  It softens us up in a good way (Rom 14:1), to see beyond a point to the person (Jer. 17:10), with a whole set of experiences that have led them to where they are now.  Truth matters to us (Is 40:8), but there is hardly anything truer than the value of people (Mt 6:27).  Relationships matter too.

3. A real community has been formed.

A diverse community of folks, religious and skeptical, liberal and conservative, young and old has been formed over the months.  When we first gather and just catch up, we catch up as good friends (Mk 2:17), but there is always room for one more at the table (Mt 11:28).

4. Opportunities to pastor people are huge.

Having a chaplain at the bar, someone ready to listen, ready to pray, ready to remind (Mark 10:45; Gal 5:13) you of the goodness and grace of God when life seems everything but good and gracious has been like a deep need in some peoples souls they did not know they had (Titus 2:11-14) .  Often people say about others ‘nobody really cares about religion’ which is ironic because I find that one on one, while people have many legitimate beefs with religion, and struggles to overcome in their own life, most people deep down are seeking and spiritually sensitive (Ecc 3:11).   Even those who are making the loudest opposition to the faith (Rom 9:18).

5. We ask deep questions about things that really matter.

How you think matters, but we live in a day and age that no longer thinks in paragraphs, proofs and well-reasoned arguments (Prov 18:2). Many have slid into thinking in soundbite tweets.  Religious or not, the style of follow-up questions, and forcing you to explain yourself (Prov 14:15) at Theology on Tap helps people dig a little deeper than they are used to.

6. My apologetic game has gotten better.

I have always loved apologetics (2 Tim 4:2), which is the Christian defense and explanation of the faith (Philipp 1:16 ).  However, in the past year it’s been so fun to spend literally hundreds of hours preparing (2 Tim 2:15) and then discussion super difficult issues with people on all sides of all kinds of issues (Col 4:6).  This only helps your apologetics game improve (2 Peter 3:18).

7. People newer to the Church learn about the faith.

Folks who are newer to the Church (1 Peter 2:2) learn how to articulate their faith in a helpful way, in live discussions with folks coming from various points of view.  They also have a chance to hear the rationale for why God calls them to live and think differently, something that sadly is often missing in the Church.

8 People who grew up in the Church learn how to talk more gently, respectfully and wisely with those who hold diametrically opposing views.

Sometimes people who grow up in Church have no idea how to talk to anyone outside of that Church bubble.  Theology on Tap is a great place for you to learn how to break out of the bubble, and talk to people (Mark 16:15), and also how to address real doubts you have.  Starting by realizing they exist, and it’s not a sin to doubt!  (Isaiah 1:18)  But at the same time, holding those doubts as well at an arm’s length and re-evaluating them in greater light.

Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Grand Opening of Epiphany Church Gloucester City

GLOUCESTER CITY, February 20, 2018 – From what began as a small gathering in the home of Pastor Joe Marlin on Powell Street in the Spring of 2017 to regular meetings in King Street Pub and now weekly fellowship in First Baptist on Monmouth & Sussex, Epiphany Church is pleased to announce that they will be celebrating the birth of their new church!

The celebration service will be held at 5pm on March 18, 2018 in First Baptist Church located at 400 Monmouth Street, which is at the corner of Monmouth & Sussex. Seating is limited to 200 so come early to ensure you get a seat.

Epiphany Church invites you to bring the whole family. You can expect loving people, modern music, biblical teaching and reliable childcare for all ages.

The mission of Epiphany Church is to make disciples of Jesus who become a family together, for the good of Gloucester City and beyond. They seek to build bridges for the glory of God and the good of their neighbors.

Feel free to reach out to PastorJoe@EpiphanyGloucester.org or call 856-432-2118.

For more information, visit www.epiphanygcity.com.


Not afraid of Halloween

I’m glad I didn’t grow up in a fundamentalist home. I also am happy that, for the most part, I’ve been cared for and discipled as a follower of Jesus in churches that want to engage culture redemptively and not just run away from it, or constantly look for the worst in it. I have been reminded over the years of hosting Halloween parties sponsored by the church of the incredible good that comes out of being in the community on arguably one of the most community-focused holidays of the year.   Halloween is many things, but it is also this unique night of celebrating creativity, and unlike every other holiday where we gather with our family, we actually go out and connect with our entire neighborhood. 

On Halloween nights I’ve watched kids come out to participate in a fun night at Epiphany Church.  I experienced a single-mom reach out for someone to be a big brother to her son, and one of our church members instinctively and instantly step up.  I even had a couple of people ask me for counseling for themselves and family members.  I’ve had deep philosophical conversations with people that we haven’t had much time with all year.  I’ve been able to meet the spouses of some of the parents in our Christian community I haven’t yet met and have had many people ask me about our church, what we do and what we are about, and I’ve had the opportunity to invite them to worship with us at Church and / or connect with us at Theology on Tap.  Just tonight we served more than 200 folks some hot chocolate, took photos of 70 families and personally connected with dozens of people and reconnected with even more.  All we were doing was embracing and celebrating Christ and having fun on a Halloween night in our hood.

None of this would happen if our church decided to freak out and consider a party, on Halloween night, at the church building something demonic.  I am so glad we intentionally use many opportunities to engage our community, and not just hide at home. 

Look I’m not the guy that just doesn’t believe in evil on all kinds of levels.  I’ve sat as a Pastor in the front row and witnessed the fall out of murder, rape and years and years of abuse and manipulation in people lives.  I’ve also seen the effects of the occult. Overseas while serving in central Africa, I saw witching, hexing, and cursing as a common way to settle scores with enemies.  As a trainer of Pastors in the village, I was a guy who was called on regularly to visit people oppressed by unseen forces, as I led people towards renouncing that evil through repentance and faith in Christ I also saw the victory and healing of the Lord in the most amazing ways.

So I believe deeply in the truth of Colossians 2:15 (that on the cross Jesus disarmed all the dark spiritual powers), which leads to the call to not judge about matters of food, days and other external things in Colossians  2:16. Our engagement with the world, even its darkness, and brokenness, is love, truth, and God’s power, not fear, hate and trying to impose our will. 

We don’t co-sign everything that is going down on Halloween now or in the past.   It is true that the holiday was long ago an ancient druid holiday, but every holiday on the calendar has its pagan roots.  There is a reason holly makes us think of Christmas and not some ways to increase our chances of getting pregnant as the ancient Romans did.  Even the regular days of the week retain the names of old gods, (Thor’s day, Saturn’s Day…) and we use those names, every single day.  Just like Paul counseled new Christians that meat that was sacrificed to some god was okay to eat, because there really is one true God (1 Corinthians 8) and that for one person certain days are holy and for another all days are alike (Romans 14:5), we believe that in the presence Jesus, we do not have to fear.  They are like a wolf that has been defanged or a snake that has had its venom drawn out.  Our ancient foremothers and forefathers who spread the love, light, and truth of Jesus saw the victory he had over these days, they saw the biblical truth that all curses are null and void in (Galatians 3:13) Jesus and did not wonder if the light would still shine in the darkness.

Our ancient brothers and sisters did not keep a posture of fear, or ask themselves “what has come of this world?”  They did not always look for the next thing to freak out about and add to their list of reasons the world is so bad.  Instead, they asked in wonder and proclaimed with love “what has come into this world!” They already knew the world was hurting and in chaos, but they had confidence, hope, and love.

This is our context; this is our mission field, so we step into any opportunity to share the love of  Christ with our neighbors.  Therefore, we are not scared to lovingly engage our neighborhood on Halloween night.

For those who strongly feel like this is some kind of compromise, I have a word for you if you will listen.  Compromise is not just distorting the message, but it is also a compromise to not get His message out there in an effective way that people can actually hear it and respond.  I’ve actually had folks jam me up in the middle of one of these outreaches and I’ve had to tell them, ‘hey listen can we get back to this conversation?’  I’d love to talk to the twenty people over there that have no real connection with a church.  I’m not saying at all that you have to celebrate Halloween, but I am only explaining why we do.  Let’s spur each other on with creative ways to reach out and if you choose another way, I’m not mad at that, just understand why we do.

We have no reason to fear Halloween, but I think we should be a little more afraid of missing opportunities to get on the block and in our community to show off the love of Jesus.