Vision Moment Blog Series: The Purpose of the Benediction

The Purpose of the Benediction

By: Andy Ew

At the conclusion of our Sunday services at Trinity Park, as well as countless churches across the world, a pastor stands before the congregation and gives a benediction. While this practice can sometimes appear to be a meaningless church tradition, the benediction actually holds great importance and purpose. The word ‘benediction’ is originally derived from the Latin words bene, which means ‘good,’ and dicere, which means ‘to speak’. A benediction, then, is the pronouncement of good words to us. It is the declaration of God’s blessing upon his people.

The practice of benediction originated in the Old Testament when the Lord commanded Aaron, the first high priest, to bless the people of Israel with these words: “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26). The high priest would lift his bare hands to the sky as a sign of peace to show that God holds no weapon against his people as he pronounces his blessing of peace upon them.

In the New Testament, we observe Christ himself blessing his disciples before his ascension into heaven (Luke 24:50). Because of Christ’s gift of redemption on the Cross for his people, those who believe in him are the recipients of grace. Therefore, the authors of the letters of the New Testament pronounce benedictions to the respective audiences in the name of Jesus (see the end of each letters from Romans through Revelation).

God continually commands his people to enter into a place of returning and rest. The Sabbath rest encourages us to remember God’s goodness and trust Him with the processes of our lives. Isaiah 30:15 records, “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’” Jesus, who invites weary and heavy-laden people to come to him and receive rest (Matthew 11:28), made a way for us to receive and rest in the goodness of blessing. Through benedictions, we receive a reminder to rest in the blessings of Jesus.

Ministers today have been given this privilege to pronounce blessings over the church. Lifting their hands over the congregation, the pastor will quote God’s word of benediction to both remind us of God’s faithfulness and point us to our hope and blessing in Jesus. We must remember that the one giving the benediction is not the source of blessing; Christ is.

As the church, then, we receive this pronouncement of blessing by faith. We trust and hope in the assurance that we no longer live in fear, guilt, or shame. Rather, because of Jesus, the source of true blessing, we are free to live and walk our daily lives in love.

Vision Moment Blog Series: What is the 'Call To Worship?'

What is the Call to Worship?

By: Richard Sugg

When Jesus spoke to the woman in Samaria, recorded in John 4, he declared that, “The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4:21). This was because “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23). In Jesus, we have access to God. And by specifying, “True worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth,” Jesus taught us that all of our life is meant to be worship.

Our weekly worship services are also intended to lead us to worship the Lord. In our services at Trinity Park, anyone attending will probably notice that week-to-week we follow a particular order of worship, or liturgy. This is intentional, as each part of our worship service has a special function in serving this purpose.

This installation highlights the first part of our service: the call to worship.

Our services begin with a call to worship. This is God calling us to corporate worship. The call to worship is intended to direct our minds and our hearts toward the true and living God. It directs us to the foundation of our hope by pointing us to Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:11). The call to worship invites us to stop what we were thinking about, stop what we are doing, and prepare to worship together. It is an invitation to meditate on our hope in Jesus and prepare to hear the word of God, which gives us grace in our lives. When we are experiencing God’s blessing in our lives, the call to worship directs our attention to the Giver of all gifts (James 1:17). When we are hurting, when we are struggling, the call to worship directs us to our great high priest, Jesus, who deeply desires comfort and sympathize with our weaknesses, and who suffered for us (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Practically speaking, if the call to worship is this important, what are some ways in which we receive these benefits? Let us suggest four:

#1: Arrive on time. We can’t hear the call to worship if we aren’t present, or are still finding a seat. Western cultures are more prone to being sharp and short on time while Eastern cultures tend to be more relaxed and social within matters of time. For both cultural backgrounds, the need to be on time as well as congregate after the service and be flexible to God’s shaping of the weekly calendar presents challenges.

#2 Personally participate in the service. Don’t gloss over the meaning of the phrase “worship service.” We follow a God who both tells us, “God is not served by human hands as though he needs anything, but he himself gives to everyone life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). Therefore, we approach God in worship services to first receive his love and then ascribing to God the praise he is worthy to receive. He is great and greatly to be praised (Psalm 145:3). Listen to the liturgy as healing to your wounds. When we sing, let it be YOUR song. As you sing the words, consider words. The songs are intentionally chosen. We don’t want to be lulled into a routine where we simply sit, stand, sing, and repeat. We want to focus both our minds and our hearts on hearing God’s gracious words to us.

#3 Ask the Lord to let you experience worship in a fresh way. We gather on Sunday mornings with a hopeful expectation that these words, songs, and time together would be life to our souls. God alone has the power to bring about renewal through the worship service and he ministers to our needs through elements of the service such as the call to worship. The renewal of God will propel us to “sing to the Lord a new song” (Psalm 96:1).

#4 Believe that all of life is worship. Our connection with God doesn’t start when we arrive, and it doesn’t end when we leave. Personal worship during the week is critical for the care of our souls. At Trinity Park, we encourage you to find some way of hearing God’s words of life during the week. Find some way to talk to your husband, wife, kids, or friends about the Lord’s grace. A key application of conversing about God’s grace is to share your struggles with each other and affirm the Lord’s goodness to each other. We need each other in our church to be the hands and feet of Jesus to each other as we point each other to him.

The Call to Worship is a reminder. In our modern world full of busyness, the Call to Worship is the invitation to slow down, to remember the goodness and healing of Christ Jesus, and to acknowledge his relentless love that binds us both with him and with the other people in our church. We hope these practical applications above will guide you to receive the gift of worshipping God more fully.

Vision Moment Blog Series: Why Do We Sing

Vision Moment:  Why Do We Sing?

By: Joe Jackson

Why do we sing? There are many ways to answer this question. Perhaps you hear that question and immediately call to mind the fact that you “have no voice.” Or perhaps you are quickly reminded that you have no musical ability and therefore don’t seem to have a song to sing. We should remember first that the question is not, “Do you have a voice?” but rather, “Do you have a song?”  This central question prompts us to contemplate our stories. For believers in Jesus Christ, we can answer the question affirmatively because we have received his grace in our lives. In a beautiful twist of our stories, Jesus has freely lavished his redemption and forgiveness upon us. And that means that you have been given a song, a redemption song. As people with the capacity to worship, our ultimate purpose is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. One of the clearest ways we enter into this purpose is to proclaim in song that we are the redeemed of the Lord. So then, we all have a song. 

But the question remains: “Why do we sing?”  While there are many reasons to sing, let us to consider at five specific reasons that we should “make a joyful noise to the Lord” with singing!

#1: We sing because God invites and calls us to sing! Consider the following biblical reminders that exhort us to sing to the Lord. Psalm 47:6 declares, “Sing praise to God, sing Praise! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!” In Psalm 98:4, the psalmist writes, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praise!” In the New Testament, Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spirituals songs, singing and making melody to the LORD with your heart” (Ephesians 5:18).

Throughout Scripture, God’s people sang. The Israelites sang outside the temple as well after crossing the Red Sea as well as after returning from exile in Babylon. These stories exemplify God’s intended purpose for us as created beings to worship him through song.

#2: We sing because it reminds us of truth.  Through song, we remind ourselves of who God is and the various attributes of his character.  When we sing we are hiding God’s word in our hearts as we remember all that he has done. As we sing we are ultimately calling to mind the glorious implications of the gospel that we have received as sinners forgiven by a holy God.  When we repeat phrases while singing, we receive many opportunities to think more deeply about the truths we proclaim, allowing the gospel to more fully saturate our thoughts and lives.

#3: We sing because it’s an expression of the Spirit’s work in our hearts.   We cannot see the Holy Spirit. However, as believers, we are indwelt with the Spirit of the living God. This Spirit is life giving and affects not only our thoughts but also our hearts and our affections. By the work of the Spirit, singing gives us a greater awareness of God’s presence with us. From the Spirit, we receive all of the motivation we need to sing out to the Lord.

#4: We sing because it’s an encouragement.  While we primarily sing praises to God, we are simultaneously singing to one another. We are teaching and reminding each other of the truths of faith.  We are counseling, admonishing, and building each other up in the Lord. As image bearers, there is a true comfort in the mutual building up of brothers and sisters in the Church singing God’s grace and truth into each other’s lives.

#5: We sing because it gives us a more complete expression of our love for God. I not only express my love for my wife in words but also in my attitude and behaviors towards her. Similarly, God is worthy to be praised and words alone are not enough to convey our gratitude and love for Him. So we add to these words our emotion and affection. God demonstrated his love for us, with all emotion and affection, in Jesus. It follows that we should sing, play instruments, raise our arms, clap our hands and bow down before the Lord as expressions of our gratitude for Christ and his finished work on the cross.

 

         In conclusion, there are many reasons why we sing; the five reasons above help to form the core of our motivation in singing together as the body of believers.  I hope and pray that God will help us live in the manner in which we were created to live – making a joyful noise to the Lord with our whole lives.  John Piper stated it well when he wrote, “The reason we sing is because there are depths and heights and intensities and kinds of emotions that will not be satisfactorily expressed by mere prose and poetry...  There are realities that demand poetry be stretched into song.  Singing is the Christian’s way of saying: God is so great that thinking and talking will not suffice... there must be singing!”  

 

Additional Reading

1. Doxology & Theology: How the gospel forms the worship leader. 2013

2. True Worshipers: Seeking What Matters to God.  Bob Kauflin. 2015

3. True Worship. Vaughan Roberts. 2006

Women's Ministry @ TPC

A note from Women's Ministry Leader Abi Spears:

As the coordinator for the Women’s Ministry Team, it’s been a joy for me to serve the church. I’m thankful to my parents for exemplifying the importance of the body of Christ in my life growing up—as far back as I can remember, my family was involved in the church almost every Sunday. My friends at church were an extension of my family, and I always got excited for more fellowship with them. As an adult, those same thoughts and feelings continue to expand as I meet new friends and as I jump in to ministry with both feet.

The Women’s Ministry Team works hard each semester to think about the needs of the ladies in the church. I am always excited for new events and opportunities that could reach each lady at Trinity Park Church. From seminars and bible study to soup socials and painting classes, I continually pray that we can grow relationships with our Lord and with each other. It is important to be in fellowship with the body of Christ, and the Women’s Ministry strives to bring together women from all walks of life.

If you’re new to Trinity Park or new to attending any of the women’s events, take some time to consider if you could join us this fall. We would love to have you!!

Romans 12:4-8
“We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.”

Location Transition Update

Trinity Park Church is moving! We are planning a location change from Morrisville Elementary to about 2 miles south on Davis Drive to Davis Drive Middle School. 

Why? 

  1. We need more space - we frequently have Sundays where we struggle to have adequate seating. DDMS has an auditorium that seats 360.
  2. We need to take the burden off our set up and tear down teams - 6 1/2 years of pulling a trailer, setting up each week, tearing down each week and driving the trailer back to the office has become burdensome. DDMS will have onsite storage which will minimize our set up.

What has been happening in the past couple of months? 

-Thorburn and Associates have gone in and given us a plan for optimizing the auditorium space from an audio visual standpoint. They’ve also estimated the cost and put together a proposed plan for installation.

-Session received this plan from Thorburn last week and passed a motion for us to spend up to $22K on auditorium upgrades. These funds will come from the 104K we raised last year for relocation.

What will be happening in the near future?

-Greg Peterson, Corey Jackson, & Laura Guthrie will meet Wednesday afternoon with Davis Drive administration to talk through our proposal to upgrade the auditorium space. They are thrilled to have us moving there and will be additionally thrilled that we’re investing 22K to upgrade their auditorium. We also need to talk through on site storage with them. As well as a probable timeline for completing this work in the auditorium.

-Next Sunday a newly formed transition team will meet to discuss how we need to make additional changes as we move-parking signage, greeting, many other things, etc. That group is: Laura Guthrie, Philip Zumbrun, David and Donna Kraay, Charlie Hawkes, Greg Peterson, Jason Walley, Haley Walley, Vince Thai, Richard Sugg, Abi Spears and Corey Jackson. Moving will change quite a lot of how we operate on Sunday mornings - not the content of the service but where we store things, where the classrooms are, nursery, etc. This group will meet to put our heads together to anticipate those changes. 

When will we move? 

We are hoping for late March/early April so we can have adequate time to prepare to be at full speed by Easter Sunday, April 16

What do we need from you?

Please be praying for the transition to our new location.

If you have questions feel free to contact Corey Jackson, Greg Peterson, or Charlie Hawkes.

30 Days With Jesus

Few things are as important to our spiritual development as developing the discipline of spending time with God daily in his word. So my encouragement to you is this: let’s have each person tween age and above take 8 minutes each day in January to read through this '30 Days With Jesus’ plan. I hope our January reading fuels conversations within families, community groups and Trinity Park as a whole.

Click here to view the 30 Day Reading Plan.

Who Is Called To Be An Elder?

Where does the Bible first mention the office of elder?

I’m sure you guessed correctly… the answer is Numbers chapter 24. Moses realizes the work to which God has called him is greater than one man can do alone. So other men are called to assist him in shepherding the people of Israel. This sets a precedent for the kind of leadership we see more completely developed in the New Testament-namely, that God rules his people not by one man but through a plurality of men, called elders.

How many kinds of elders are there?

There are two types of elders in the New Testament: Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders.

Where do we find this in the Bible? 

In I Tim 5:18 we have the most clear reference to Teaching Elders. Here Paul says “those who give themselves to the work of preaching and teaching are worthy of ‘double honor.’” ‘Worthy of double honor’ is a reference to Teaching Elders, men who make their living by teaching God’s Word in the church. At Trinity Park right now, Andy and I are your two Teaching Elders.

Ruling Elders are men who are called to shepherd God’s people in God’s Word alongside Teaching Elders. The qualifications and responsibilities of Ruling and Teaching Elders are the same. The difference is that Ruling Elders serve the church, not as paid staff but alongside other important vocational work God has called them to do.

What are the Biblical qualifications for the office of elder?

I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 list 17 qualifications. Take time to read those passages before you nominate someone for the office of elder or deacon.

Of the 17 qualities listed, 15 deal with character and 2 deal with theological understanding or teaching ability. As Timothy and Titus were planting the first churches, they were looking for men who’s character was being shaped by the Gospel. This means character is EXTREMELY important as you consider who God may be raising up to be our next elders. Before you nominate, look for men of spiritual character-character that’s obvious in their personal, home, work and public life.

Also, look for men who understand the doctrines of the Bible well and who are capable of teaching that doctrine to others. Whether you are a new believer or you’ve been a Christian for some time, we must hold fast to the teachings of Scripture if we’re going to continue to grow in grace and godliness. Anyone who’s nominated for the office of elder (or deacon) must study and be examined regarding their Christian Life, Bible and Theology so we can be sure they’ll shepherd us well in this vital area.

One VERY common error to be aware of when you’re considering who you should nominate for the office of elder: Some people think if you are a capable, successful business man, then you’re qualified to be an elder. Being successful in business doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be an elder, but at the same time it also doesn’t mean you should be an elder. Don’t look for successful businessmen, look for men who love Jesus and who love to teach others about him.

The elders of the church aren’t a board, we’re a fellowship of elected spiritual leaders. To be an elder is a spiritual office, not a social or corporate office.

So, here are three questions to ask yourself when nominating someone for the office of elder:

  1. Is this person is called to shepherd (spiritually care for) the people of Trinity Park Church?
  2. Do you believe this person is called to teach God’s Word to God’s people?
  3. Would you send this person into a difficult family or personal situation to counsel someone-to listen well to them and then speak God’s Word into their life?

Who Is Called To Be A Deacon?

Where do we find the office of deacon in Scripture?

As the elders in Acts 6:1-7 tried to meet both the word oriented and the deed oriented needs of the church they began to neglect ministries of the Word and prayer. So in Acts 6, seven men were chosen to handle matters of the church related to meeting deed-oriented needs so the elders could continue to focus on meeting word-oriented needs.

What are the qualifications for the office of deacon?

We have a more specific description of qualifications in I Tim 3:8-13.

8 Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

11 In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

Similar to the office of elder, the vast majority of these qualifications have to do with godly character, character that shows forth in practical areas.

But we also find another important qualification is in verse 9- ‘they must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.’ Like elders, the doctrine and faith deacons keep is vital.

One VERY common error to fight against when considering who to nominate for the office of deacon: Some people think if you are a responsible business man who’s able to manage the physical and financial resources of a corporation, then you’re qualified to be a deacon.’ But while being responsible with corporate resources certainly doesn’t disqualify you from being a deacon, it also doesn’t qualify you either.

The Diaconate is not a committee of men dedicated to maintaining building and budget, they are a fellowship of spiritual leaders called to care for the physical needs of God’s people.

To be a deacon is a spiritual office, not a managerial office. It’s a God-ordained leadership office of the church.

So, what three questions should you ask yourself when you’re considering who to nominate for the office of deacon?

  1. Is this person able to care for the practical needs of the church through deed-oriented service?’
  2. Can this person lead Trinity Park to make sure we are ALL serving one another well?
  3. Would you send this person to represent God’s church by helping someone in a time of physical or a financial crisis?

Syrian Refugees in a Post-Paris World: Security Crisis or Gospel Opportunity?

After putting some thoughts out there on Facebook yesterday, I decided to synthesize them into one blog post. My hope is to encourage the American church to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis in a way that Jesus would lead us.

Here’s where I start from on the question: I am as broken as any Muslim. By sheer grace, I worship a God who loved me and gave himself up for me. The difference between Christians and Muslims should be seen in terms of the graciousness of our God, not in terms of the brokenness of our humanity.

The difference between Christians and Muslims is the graciousness of our God, not the brokenness of our humanity (CLICK TO TWEET)

If you don’t agree with that basic statement-that you and I are as broken and stand in need of as much mercy as ANY Muslim, you might not agree with anything else I have to say here.

A question our leaders will have to wrestle with now is this: How many refugees from Syria will we let into the U.S.? It’s a complex question that I hope is answered with both wisdom & mercy.

Whatever decision our leaders make, I hope it is balanced by the statistic released by a conservative news magazine, The Economist, in October of this year: “750,000 refugees have been received into the U.S. since 9/11. Not a single one of these refugees has ever been arrested on domestic terrorism charges.”

This is also not a hypothetical question for the Jackson family: One of my kids recently welcomed a Syrian refugee to their elementary school class here in North Carolina.

Is there a remote threat to the citizens of the U.S. if our government decides to let in more of these 11 million Syrians who have been displaced over the past 4 years? Yes, there is a remote threat to our personal and national security if we allow more Syrians to move into our country.

But, even though that’s the case, I’m still in favor of our nation-after thorough vetting-allowing some of these Syrian people to settle here.

Why? If I were truly needy and homeless, if our government imploded, if terrorists were ruling our land, dropping bombs on my home, my church, near my children would I want to be shown mercy by others? Yes I would. These are the exact circumstances that have forced Syrian refugees to flee their homeland. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” would lose its meaning if we decide not to live by it now.

Furthermore, Is there another country on earth where Muslims have a better chance of hearing the Gospel of Jesus than the U.S.? I don’t think there is. If we’re not willing to move to the Middle East for the sake of Christ, should we not then be willing to allow Muslims to move near us? If we answer “no” to us moving there and “no” to them moving here, then what are we saying about the importance of Syrian people hearing and responding to the Gospel?

This is complicated geo-politics. But this is basic Christianity.

While our leaders answer this complex question of how many Syrians can move to the USA, here’s a much more straightforward question we as the church must answer: How many of these Syrian neighbors that our government allows to resettle here am I called to love?

How many of these Syrian neighbors that our government allows to resettle am I called to love? (CLICK TO TWEET)

That’s an easy answer regardless of your politics. As Christians, we are called to love ALL of the neighbors God places among us.

Where do I find that in the Bible? Leviticus 19:33-34: “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

What is one practical way to love your neighbor right now in America? Invite an international neighbor, or a refugee neighbor, or maybe even a Muslim neighbor into your home for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

What an incredible Gospel opportunity we Christians have in this moment of terror. Let’s not waste it away with fear.

What Is Foster Care & How Can You Get Involved?

Foster care is… a lot of things. It is a system that is confusing, bureaucratic, and broken. It also represents one of the biggest needs and opportunities for the church in our community.

On a recent Sunday I shared a bit about the experience my wife Margaret and I have had as foster parents. With this blog post I want to emphasize two points: (1) the need that exists and (2) the specific ways Trinity Park can help meet that need, particularly as my family prepares to take a new placement (“placement” is just a word used in the system to refer to the process of moving a child to a new living situation).

First, the overwhelming need: in Wake County, there are approximately 740 children in foster care as I sit and type this post. What this means is that over 740 kids were found to be abused or neglected so severely that the local authorities legally intervened by forcibly removing them from their home. That number represents some of the most needy and vulnerable people in our community. It also represents a number of children who will never live a normal, healthy adult life: 40% of former foster children will be incarcerated after they age out of the system (at 18) and try to live on their own.

This is one of those things that can seem more and more hopeless the more time you spend looking at it. Thankfully our hope does not lie in statistics or the foster care system itself, but in our great Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who himself declared that “the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” And Jesus always accomplishes what he sets out to do.

So how can the church be involved? Borrowing from the Fostering Together modelthere are three “roles” you can serve in. These roles are designed with the intent to create extended family type of support for foster kids in a church congregation and to unify the work of different church members.

Foster Family

Becoming a licensed foster parent requires 30 hours of training, a home study, and a small mountain of paperwork. It is open to singles, couples, and families with kids. Being a foster parent means taking children into your home (often with little notice and for an unspecified period of time) and nurturing them until the county allows their parent(s) to regain custody. It is challenging and taxing, but also the primary way the church can reach those 740 kids who would never otherwise step through the doors of Morrisville Elementary on a Sunday morning.

Respite Family

Respite families are licensed the same way as foster families, however they would only take children for short, defined periods of time (the two girls who lived with us stayed at a respite home for a weekend before their 6-month tenure at our apartment). Being a respite home is an important part of meeting the need in our community and would also serve foster families in the congregation by providing a place where foster kids can occasionally stay (overnights are not typically allowed in unlicensed homes). My personal prayer is that one family in the church who has a burden for this ministry would take this (admittedly large) step as Margaret and I prepare to open up our home again.

Supporting Mentor

A supporting mentor would be a special “go-to” person for foster/respite families in the church. Mentors would make a specific point to encourage foster kids in the church and would commit to occasional childcare/transportation/meals to aid foster families. This would not require becoming licensed. Though less of a commitment in a certain sense, Margaret and I have observed this kind of support to be lacking in the foster care community.

Excited? Encouraged? Concerned? Confused? That all sounds about right. Certainly there is a lot more information and details to be worked out if you want to jump into this ministry. But if you prayerfully feel the Lord calling you to be involved, even if you are not sure how, please let us know! Email me at pzumbrun@gmail.com or get in touch with one of the elders.

“May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor!”
Psalm 72:4

On Helping Our Children To Praise

“He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.”
-Psalm 78:5-7

Jason and I had the privilege of attending the Children’s Desiring God Regional Conference in Atlanta last month. It was such an encouraging weekend being surrounded by believers who are passionate about teaching and training the next generation.

The conference centered around Psalm 78 and that as Christians, we are all called to teach and proclaim who God is to the next generation.

Going into the conference, my expectation was to gain practical resources that we can use to enhance our Children’s Ministry. However, I walked away feeling more personally challenged.

We were able to choose two seminars to attend. One of the seminars I chose was Lesson Preparation and Presentation. I thought it might be helpful to gain some fresh ideas for our volunteers who teach on Sunday mornings.

This was such an awesome seminar and although I did gain some practical resources, what I took away from this training centered more around Psalm 145:4.

One generation shall praise your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.

I have heard this verse many times before, but what stood out to me this time was the word praise. Yes, we are all called to teach the next generation, but how? By praising His works and telling of His mighty acts! We are not called to merely tell our children about Jesus, we are to praise His works to them.

The speaker shared this quote by John Piper, “Dry, unemotional teaching about God–whether at home or at church–is half-truth, at best. It says one thing about God and portrays another thing. It is inconsistent. It says that God is great, but teaches as if God is not great.”

Along with praising His works, the speaker spoke about preparing our own hearts before we teach. She advised spending the entire week before studying the lesson and seeing what God has to teach us before we go and teach children. I often have the mindset that it’s okay if I prepare the lesson the night before, morning of, or even just “wing it” on Sunday morning.

God is ultimately the one at work in our children’s hearts and He uses our teaching, but how much more excited I would be if I adequately took the time to prepare the lesson and see how God used it in my own personal life. Taking time to prepare the lesson, allows ourselves time to meditate on the Biblical truths of the lesson and for God to use these truths in our own hearts. We then have so much more to impart to children and we will prayerfully be more excited about what we are teaching.

I often feel the need to be brainstorming new ideas and thinking of new creative activities to improve our Children’s Ministry. However, it was encouraging for me to be reminded of the simple things, the main thing, the Gospel. To be reminded that it is God who is at work at Trinity Park and how exciting it is to be a part of that. He is the reason we roll in carts and set up chairs.

He is the reason we meet in a school’s gymnasium every Sunday, so that we can share the good news of Jesus with our community.

As a young church, we can sometimes feel busy, over-volunteered, or exhausted on Sunday mornings, but my prayer is that we will not forget that God is great and His acts are mighty. I pray that as a church body, we are full of joy, excitement, exuberance, and exultation when talking about God and teaching His word. Our children will see this excitement and more than likely will be interested in knowing this joy for themselves.

I was challenged after the conference to spend more time with God, memorize scripture, etc, but more importantly to pray that God would be at work in my heart to be passionate about Him and that I will praise His works to the next generation.

Planting A Multicultural Church (Part 3): The Worship Service

(Editor's Note: This post is part 3 of a 3-part blog series on Planting a Multicultural Church)

At Trinity Park one of the things we say is: “Every Sunday we work hard to ensure that Jesus is exalted but we work equally hard to ensure our doors are kept wide open to the diverse community around us.”

That means the Goal of the worship service is not singular, but two-fold: 1) To Exalt Jesus Christ and 2) To encourage everyone to come in, see and worship Him.

From the beginning we used this question to help frame our thinking about crafting our worship service:

How can we lower or remove cultural barriers or anything else that is non-essential to the Gospel message?

The answer plays out in the various elements of the weekly service:

Singing

We sing many classic hymns of the faith—not because they are part of western church culture but because we believe the theology in those songs transcends culture. We also don’t sing overly wordy hymns and songs, even if those songs are crowd-favorites among our majority-culture congregants. The additional filter for song selection of “could I understand this in a second language” is helpful in creating a space that is welcoming to minority cultures among us.

We also sing some in multiple languages once or twice a month, acknowledging that though we are primarily an English speaking congregation we are not only an English speaking congregation-many of us speak other languages in our homes and in our communities.

Liturgy

You may be interested to know we follow a liturgical order of worship like you may find in many reformed, PCA churches. We frame worship this way not because we in the European-descended church traditions have done it this way for thousands of years, but because we believe it actually makes worship more faithfully Gospel-centered, transferrable and understandable, not less.

Within that liturgical context, though, we make sure the various elements of worship often contain themes like ‘the nations worshipping God’ or ‘learning to love people who are different than we are in the church and in the world’ or ‘God’s sovereignty over all things, including the neighbors he’s placed in your path.’

Vision

Learning from Randy Pope who has a ‘Pastoral Moment’ at Perimeter Church, we inserted what we call a ‘Vision Moment’ in almost every one of our services. It’s an opportunity to communicate the vision of the church every single week—to communicate other aspects of what it means to be the church the other 6 1/2 days of the week. In that slot, we talk about missions locally and globally, children’s ministry, hiring staff—anything that is a manifestation of the vision of our church.

Praying

I carefully think through my prayers. John Stott said “the Christian should live with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other” and I try to model that to our people as I pray. So I pray through the world news. Syria, Turkey, Philippines, Egypt, France, North Korea, Cuba, Iran are all nations I’ve prayed for by name in the past years. But of course I also pray for broken arms, for parents, for marriages—all the important things broken people struggle with in the church.

Preaching

I intentionally don’t use big theological words unless I feel like I really need to teach people that word in English. If I do use a big theological word, I always define what that word means. Although, we do have about 25 PhDs in our small congregation (Our community is the most educated community by percentage of population in the world), I intentionally try to convey the Gospel message in simple terms. I don’t dumb the Gospel down or lower the intellectual bar, I just always assume some people are listening to me who are either using their second language or who are not believers.

The worship service is the only time when you have everyone (or almost everyone) present together. So, make sure the worship service perpetuates the vision of your church.

Planting A Multicultural Church (Part 2): Love Your Neighbors

(Editor's Note: This post is part 2 of a 3-part blog series on Planting a Multicultural Church)

Once you plant in a diverse area, you must make the demographics of your target community an undeniable reality for your core group to consider. But even if the demographics of your area are off-the-charts diverse, those of us in the majority culture have an involuntary way of seeing what we want to see in a community. It’s your job as pastor to make sure your people know the Gospel imperative to love all of your neighbors. It’s not a Gospel suggestion.

As God calls the right people to join you—people who are aligned to the vision of the church—help your church recognize their natural tendency to not even see their foreign-born or minority culture neighbors. The cultural inertia in the majority culture of any society is to see and spend time with the many people who are like them. The same principle actually holds true for minority cultures—we all naturally want to hang around people who are like us or who share in common interests with us.

The Gospel disrupts that inertia like a speed bump, pushing against isolation and homogeneity. Jesus calls those from the majority culture to take a posture of cultural humility, and those from minority cultures to be motivated not just to find a church where people share in their language and values but where he is central, his grace reigns and where diverse people are being drawn into his Kingdom.

The Gospel calls us first to see our neighbors from the nations and then to love them.

For us, those “speed bumps” have been relatively simple things like knowing the current demographic breakdown of our community (and talking about it). We’ve also made a point to pray for those people of minority cultures in our services, in our small groups, and in our families.

What Gospel “speed bumps” can you place in the lives of your church to help them stop and see their neighbors—all of them—as people made in the image of God?

Planting A Multicultural Church (Part 1): The Gospel

(Editor's Note: This post is part 1 of a 3-part blog series on Planting a Multicultural Church)

Nineteen nations are now represented at Trinity Park Church. There are five things I’ve learned from planting and pastoring a multicultural church. Over the next few months, I’ll share them with you here on the blog. Today we’ll look at the first point: Make the Gospel your drawing card.

Paul said in Colossians 1:5 (starting at the end) & 6:

“…the gospel 6 that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”

Do you trust in the power of the Gospel to be the drawing card of your church like the Apostle Paul did?

The question you have to answer at the very beginning: Will multiculturalism be your drawing card or will your drawing card be the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It’s a subtle but fundamentally different way of approaching the subject.

Early on in the process of setting down roots in Morrisville and Cary we noted that other organizations outside the church including my kids’ basketball leagues, the Wake County Public School System, and even our neighborhood Homeowners Association also have multiculturalism as a top value. What this means is that as a church you could have multiculturalism as a value but substantively really be no different from your local school, Kiwanis club or youth sports leagues.

So you need to check yourself: Are you pursuing multiculturalism because it’s cool or Politically Correct? There are mainstream cultural reasons to reach out to a diverse people. But those reasons are not the same as the motivations we find in Scripture.

So what should be the main drawing card of any church—ESPECIALLY a church with a collective heart to see the diverse people of their community reached with the Gospel? Our drawing card is and always be the gospel. IN FACT only the Gospel of Jesus Christ revealed in the Scriptures can produce the kind of vibrant, multicultural churches we want to see. Briefly, I’ll explain 4 practical points to help you see what that means.

1—Proclaim the Gospel of grace.

Grace from God is the good news for all peoples of every culture.

Xin Xu and Zhe Li are a Chinese married couple who are now members at Trinity Park. After they had been attending TPC for about a year I finally asked Xin why they had landed at Trinity Park. In my mind, I had always thought it was because they felt loved and pursued as Chinese people. But that’s actually not why they decided to join Trinity Park at all.

One day as the children were leaving the service to go back to children’s church during the sermon I made this very short comment: “I hope you know that our biggest desire for your children is not that they would be well behaved in the service or even that they would master Bible content. Our desire is that the grace of the Gospel will hit them in the heart in a way that will transform their lives.” On that day he and Zhe looked at each other and said, “I think this is where God is calling us.” Xin told me the reason they joined had nothing to do with our desire for multiculturalism, it was because we preached and practiced grace in ways they had never encountered before.

2—Preach Jesus Christ.

Jesus is Lord of all the nations. Revelation 7:9 tells us he is drawing people from every nation to himself. So proclaim him and watch him draw his chosen people to know him from every tongue, tribe and nation.

3—Preach the Scriptures.

God’s revelation to us in the Scriptures is necessary for salvation & for Christian growth. Trust in the power of the Holy Spirit working in concert with the Word of God preached.

Additionally, when you’re preaching with an intended audience of many different nations, don’t try to be too creative. Root your sermon in a text of Scripture. It’s much easier for everyone to follow.

4—Preach a Living Gospel.

Unpack the Gospel very practically, break it down into people’s daily lives. A living Gospel is what all people, it’s what the broken from the nations, are searching for. They’re all asking ‘How can my life be restored?’ We need to show them how Jesus is the answer to that question.

The Gospel of Jesus from the Scriptures is only true catalyst for planting a diverse church.

Here we are at the end of point one in Planting a Multicultural Church and you may be thinking, “Wait, those same elements of preaching grace through Jesus from the Bible should be the elements of any healthy church or church plant. What is the difference between what you’ve done at Trinity Park and what others are doing?”

That’s what the other 4 points are for. But keep in mind that none of the remaining 4 points matter at all apart from being rooted in this first point. Making multiculturalism the goal will mean you most certainly will miss it. The nations are not the primary point of the Bible: the Glory of God revealed in the gospel of Jesus is.

But even though it’s not the main point, the nations worshipping together before the throne of God is certainly a prominent sub-point of the Scriptures. We’ve seen God bless us with a great foretaste of that at Trinity Park. I’ll explain some other keys in the remaining posts in this series.

Celebrating God's Overwhelming Provision

Last week we sent a fairly urgent message about furnishing the apartment for our refugee family.

Today I checked in with Olivia Jackson on the status of those gifts. (I’ve been stepping over bed frames to get into my office, which I took to be a good sign!) Here’s Olivia:

The Lord has been so faithful to provide all we need to furnish the apartment for the refugee family. Thank you for all of your help collecting items. I have been amazed to see our church come together to provide for the needs of this family.

The family we were assigned is a family of 5 from Afghanistan. They will be arriving at RDU this Thursday afternoon at 4:45.

If you have signed up to donate items, but have not yet brought your items to the office, please have them there by 5 on Wednesday afternoon.

Movers needed: If you are able to help our moving crew load the moving truck and deliver furniture to the refugees apartment in Durham please contact Jordi R. He will begin loading the truck at 5:30 on Wednesday at the church office. The more folks who help, the faster it’ll go! He’ll also need help unloading the truck in Durham.

Please be in prayer for our Good Neighbor Team as we meet the family on Thursday and begin to develop a relationship with them. Please be in prayer for the family as this will inevitably be a very long and possibly emotional journey.

Thanks, Olivia! What an encouragement to see God bringing together all that this family will need to get adjusted to life in the States.

We'll Know We Understand Grace By Our... Wallet?

The grace we’ve received from Jesus can’t just remain a theological idea out there somewhere—we have to connect God’s generosity with our own story.

That’s what happened in the hearts of the Macedonians and that’s why they were so generous.

Look at 2 Corinthians 8:9 (emphasis added)

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

Like the Macedonians, we must make the gospel story a first-person account:

  • I was poor, destitute, without God in the world.
  • I was cut off from God because of my sin.
  • Jesus self-sacrifice paid for my sin.
  • He bore my shame and my guilt so that I could receive honor and pardon.
  • His poverty made me rich.

This is the greatest news ever: better than people getting into a bidding war over my house when I’ve just put it on the market, better than the stock I have in Apple continuing to go up, better than winning a free all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii.

The generous God has given me new life through the death and resurrection of his Son!

Once the Macedonians internalized (and personalized) this generosity from God, look what it then produced in their hearts according to 8:1-2:

And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.

In these two verses the grace of God and the generosity of God are used almost interchangeably. What Paul is saying is this: if you want to see whether or not the grace of God has taken up full residence in your heart as a Christian, look at how generous you are with others. A person who has been saved out of total poverty by the generosity of God will then extend tangible mercy to others.

The Gospel IS the generosity of God for YOU and for me. As this generosity of God flows into our hearts, it will transform the way we extend generosity to others.

Here’s a printable list (opens a pdf) of ways God may be calling you and your family to tangible generosity as a response to this example of the Macedonians.

Resources For The Living Gospel: A Trinity Park Book List

From January to July of 2014 I went through a sermon series called The Living Gospel where we took key areas of our lives like church, marriage, parenting, work, money and mission and answered the question “What would it look like for me to live in line with the Gospel in this ‘dirt under the fingernails’ area of my life?”

Some have asked me what resources I used to pull together my thoughts on these topics. Of course, my only primary source is the Bible. Every other source is a distant second. But I have found some stellar secondary sources to help me along the way.

Here are the resources I used as I preached this series (in no particular order):

Church

Jack Miller, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church
John Stott, The Living Church
Graham Tomlin, The Provocative Church
Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity
Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in our Holiness
Michael Horton, A Better Way

Marriage

Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
John Piper, This Momentary Marriage
Dave Harvey, When Sinners Say I Do
Brian Chapell, Each for the Other
Tim Lane & Paul Tripp, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making
Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

Parenting

Paul Miller, A Praying Life
Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy
Tim Kimmel, Grace Based Parenting
Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart
David & Kelli Pritchard, Going Public (1)
Catherine Vos, The Child’s Story Bible
Sally Lloyd Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible

Work

Tim Keller, Every Good Endeavor
Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness
Gene Veith, God at Work
Sebastian Traeger & Greg Gilbert, The Gospel at Work (2)
Dalton Conley, Elsewhere U.S.A. (3)
David Brooks, Bobos in Paradise (4)

Money (5)

Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods
Paul Tripp, Sex & Money
Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle
David Platt, Radical (6)
Christian Community Development Association: Overview of Ministry Philosophy

Mission

Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts
James Davison Hunter, To Change the World
Michael Goheen, A Light to the Nations
John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad
Tim Keller, Center Church
Tim Keller, Ministries of Mercy

General

Deitrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Francis Schaffer, True Spirituality
Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling

Notes:

(1) I don’t advocate public school for everyone, only that it’s a viable option for believers

(2) Includes a great section on how to discern your calling.

(3) Has good insights on how technology is changing the we we live, but I don’t agree with all of his conclusions.

(4) This book is an excellent commentary not just on work but on money, spirituality & other aspects of our cultural moment.

(5) There is a dearth of good resources (at least that I have found) in the area of money.

(6) Platt’s clarity of vision and focus have been very encouraging but I think his applications of how to be radical are too narrow.

Parenting By Grace: How To Control What Your Kids Catch

It’s easy to think about parenting primarily in terms of what we need to do. And what we do is important—we’re called to do much as parents. We’ll get to that in my next blog.

Much of what our kids learn about God will not be taught by us, it will be caught from us. (tweet that)

Who you are with your kids is as important as what you do with your kids. If we as parents are consistently resonating with the Gospel of grace, our kids will catch the grace of God from us.

Here are three things our kids will catch from us if we’re living in grace:

1. They’ll catch us Repenting. I can’t think of a single thing that will show your kids the Gospel more than your heartfelt repentance in front of them. If you sin against your spouse in front of them and you repent in front of them, it shows them that the Gospel of grace really makes a practical difference in the way you live your life.

Or, if you sin against your kids, don’t just repent to God. Repent to them. After you run to God’s throne room to receive his grace and mercy, run to your kids and ask them to forgive you for hurting them too. Don’t do it as a teaching tool either, do it because you’re truly grieved over your sin.

2. They’ll catch us Praying. Paul Miller in his book ‘A Praying Life’ gives a simple but phenomenal way to communicate grace and faith to your child.

As our kids come to us with all kinds of concerns as parents we often feel like we need to be the ones who ‘make it all better’ for them. But what are we teaching them when we try to solve all their problems? We’re teaching them to put their hope in us, in our ability to figure this situation out.

Instead of always trying to contrive a fix for the the situation ourselves, what we need to do when our kids come to us is say ‘That’s really tough. Let’s pray about it together.’ And then lead them to trust God through prayer. By doing this we teach our kids what it means to practically trust God with their real life.

By doing this you can also reject a fear based parenting model where the world is big, God is small. You set your child up for a life where trusting God in the unknown is the normal Christian life.

3. They’ll catch us Worshipping. Worship isn’t just on Sundays, but though personal worship needs to be happening in our lives, true worship does need to be happening on Sundays as well. If your kids see you singing and listening and engaging with God regularly at gatherings, it gives them a weekly reminder that God and his Gospel are the most important realities in your life.

On the contrary if they see you bored at church checking your emails, mumbling through songs, or criticizing the sermon after the service (having ‘Roast Pastor’ for lunch) they’ll glean something else from you.

Our kids, for better or worse, will catch things from us. And, if we are living in the Gospel, they’ll catch the grace of God as we repent, pray and worship in front of them.