Plant Team

Phoebe, Prisca and Aquila, Epaenetus, Mary, Andronicus and Junia, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, Aristobulus, Herodion, Narcissus, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus and his mother, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas.

These are the people Paul greets as he wraps up his letter to the church in Rome. Honestly, I usually skim through these names, but not any more. And I actually love that Paul spreads so much ink to declare his gratitude for these partners in the gospel (technically, Tertius spread the ink). As a church planter, I am growing to understand the incredible value of men and women who will share the burden of establishing a mission church. I hope that one day soon, I will be able to send you a list of names.

We are actively recruiting people to join the New City Plant Team. Please continue to ask the Lord to “send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2).

Here’s what we are asking our Plant Team members to do:

  • Pray regularly and persistently for the people of Orangeburg and for the launch and establishment of New City Fellowship.
  • Be involved in the lives of unbelievers, praying for them and building bridges with them, so that God may draw them to faith.
  • Seek to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God by His grace.
  • Be open and available to the Lord as to what ministry role He might have for you.
  • Give faithfully to the ministry as you are able.

Cultural Hostility

When God calls us into cross-cultural relationships for the sake of advancing his kingdom, there are times when our well-intentioned words and actions will be taken offensively. It feels like bumping into an invisible electric fence.

This happened early on in our ministry here in Orangeburg.

I was developing a relationship with a black businessman by frequenting his store and talking with him about the needs in the community. He was very positive about my desire to do ministry and even posted a flyer for our mens’ Bible study. But that same day, he overheard one of my white friends say something about “taking back the streets from the enemy.” The comment was about the spiritual battle a Bible study would wage against Satan. But my new friend did not take it that way. From his cultural perspective, these were code words for white colonialism and belied a hidden agenda to regain white position and power in the city. I tried to explain what was intended by the comment, but my relationship with this man was wounded.

The early church was rife with such cultural hostility. Jewish Christians did not accept Gentile Christians into their fellowship unless they promised to assimilate to Jewish cultural practices and beliefs (i.e. circumcision). The Holy Spirit through the Apostles had declared cultural dominance to be out of step with the truth of the Gospel (Acts 15), but the church continued to struggle. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul explained how the gospel should bring peace between Jewish and Gentile believers.

For [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Eph 2:14–16).

The cultural hostility we have erected and nurtured over 400 years in North America is not easily done away with. And we should be honest about the church’s role in aiding and abetting the enemy (Satan!). But even as we blunder our way through life and ministry, we should rest in the free grace of Jesus Christ for sinners. In doing so, we will see the walls of division broken down and our local churches begin to reflect the multicultural kingdom that God has redeemed.

Leh Um Be So

Laurie and I were able to get away to Charleston for a few days last week. We are both a bit nerdy so we planned multiple outings to learn and experience the rich history of the Lowcountry. The highlight for me was the stage presentation about Gullah culture at Boone Hall Plantation.

The actress began by singing a Spiritual and then reading the Lord’s Prayer out of the Gullah Bible translation.

Pray like dis yah, say,
‘We Fada wa dey een heaben,
leh ebrybody hona ya name.
We pray dat soon ya gwine rule oba de wol.
Wasoneba ting ya wahn, leh um be so een dis wol
same like dey een heaben.
Gii we de food wa we need
dis day yah an ebry day.
Fagib we fa we sin,
same like we da fagib dem people wa do bad ta we.
Leh we dohn hab haad test
wen Satan try we.
Keep we fom ebil.’

Through word and song, we heard the story of American slavery, and the presenter didn’t dodge or sugarcoat the harsh and bitter realities of it. The crowd was stirred by her poetry in motion.

When the presentation ended, Ms. Jackie looked into the eyes of each person in the audience and repeated, “My story. Your story.” “My story. Your story.” “My story. Your story.” And then with eyes and hands lifted to heaven, she concluded with these words, “His story.”

It was one of the most beautiful testimonies of God’s redeeming grace I have ever seen.

Wasoneba ting ya wahn, leh um be so een dis wol same like dey een heaben.

Amen and Amen!

 

Join us this Sunday night for the New City Fellowship Vision Night at our home (835 Stanley Street, Orangeburg, SC 29115). We will have dinner together and you will hear more about a new church that God is building here in our city.

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What You Are Doing

In the evangelical culture I grew up in, overseas missions held an enviable mystique. Serious and devoted Christians were almost *expected* to become missionaries to some unknown, unreached land. Today, this pressure has shifted to church planting. Perhaps this is because of the technological shrinking of the world or the late realization that the United States has quietly become a mission field itself.

Sometimes people tell me, “I really admire and respect what you are doing.” Or “I couldn’t do what you are doing.” It always feels like a slightly odd thing to say. What are they talking about? I suppose it’s the fact that I’m a white church planter in a majority black community trying to intentionally reach blacks and whites with the gospel. And I’m a middle class church planter attempting to include both rich and poor in our fledgling church community.

I really hate pointing this out, but there’s a bit of unintended arrogance in those statements. The idea of “what you are doing” betrays the belief that white middle class suburban communities are not as needy, broken, or sinful. Full disclosure: I have the same deep-seated way of thinking. Let’s repent of such attitudes. God’s grace covers even our unintentional sins.

Consider this, my friends. God the Father has placed you in your household, your neighborhood, your school, your soccer league, your workplace, and your city to speak and live out the Gospel. God the Son has called you to join Him in his mission to “make disciples of all nations.” God the Spirit will empower you to boldly love your neighbor as yourself with the truth of God’s Word and heartfelt deeds of mercy.

There’s nothing special about “what we are doing” in Orangeburg. You are doing the same things.

I Must Decrease

Laurie walked by my desk and I said, “It would be a lot easier to plant a church if I could just do it on my own strength and didn’t have to lean on Jesus constantly.” She looked confused. “Um… Ok.”

Establishing a new congregation of believers has been totally beyond me to accomplish. From the beginning of fundraising and vision-casting to the team-building and gathering phase we are currently entering––church planting has been “above my pay-grade,” so to speak. The things you think should work, don’t. The people you think will come, won’t. And the “ministry happens in the interruptions,” as my friend Grant Beachy once said. Church planting is a set of circumstances that still feels out of my control. I’ve never prayed so much in my life.

That’s what I was lamenting in that exasperated moment––the illusion of control.

John the Baptist was tempted to do God’s work in his own strength when his disciples became frustrated by the overshadowing ministry of Jesus. But he said, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:28–30).

Does our joy in ministry spring from our increase or our decrease? As a church planter seeking to build a new congregation it is counter-intuitive to pray for decrease. Yet, this is what Jesus has called every believer to do. May the Lord give us decrease!

Being Christian

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Do you ever stop and wonder, “Why am I so busy?” Our jobs and hobbies and schools demand so much time from us. We hardly have a chance to breathe, much less enjoy life or friendships. Our culture teaches us: “You are what you do. You are what you produce. You are what you have to show for yourself.” This “doing” mindset goes way back. The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” The pressure to succeed, to be somebody important, to contribute something meaningful to the world is an ever-present burden. And many of us crack under the weight.

Sadly, this “doing” culture has hijacked much of what we know as Christianity. Many people would summarize Christianity as learning how to “do” life or “doing the right thing.” It is defined by rules and regulations, practices and precepts, in a word; religion. Religion is doing for God what he requires so that he will accept us. This. is. not. Christianity. The passage above is taken from a letter written by Peter, a guy who knew Jesus and spent three or four years of his life with him walking the dusty roads of the Middle East.

At one point in their journey, Peter looked at Jesus and said, “I’ll do anything for you. I’ll even die for you.” Jesus didn’t respond because he knew that later that night, when Peter would have his opportunity to die with Jesus, he would deny that he even knew him. Three times. Peter had to learn the hard way that “doing the right thing” is not in our ability. He learned later on that Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth to “do” for us what we can’t do ourselves. Jesus did it right. And he offered his perfect record as payment for all our failure. Jesus’ perfect life made a way for Peter and anyone else who trusts in him to be forgiven and accepted by God. And God gave mercy to people who had not received mercy.

It took him a while, but Peter finally got it. Christianity is primarily about “being.” He wrote these words to a group of churches in Asia Minor: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” This is who we are in Christ. Our identity is fixed by God’s gracious choice. He makes us who we are. Our works do not define us, and therefore, they do not enslave us. Aristotle was wrong. We are not what we do. Rather, we do what we are.

Racebookism

The following two posts were back-to-back in my Facebook feed today. I couldn’t help but see the irony of their juxtaposition. In the first post, white cops beat a black woman. In the second post, black children beat a white child.

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Posting about racism on social media is completely understandable. I’ve done it. Racism is something we all deal with and all struggle to understand and deal with. These posts today reminded me that more must be done if we hope to increase understanding and empathy in our community.

Our well-intentioned actions may be counterproductive. Especially online.

The biggest barrier to addressing racism is segregation. It is fifty years after the Civil Rights Movement and we still have a largely segregated society. In some ways, we are even more segregated today than we were in 1965. Even in my small town, you can go your entire life without having a meaningful relationship or interaction with someone of a different ethnicity. I’ll be frank. The schools are segregated. Many restaurants are segregated. The athletic clubs are segregated. And of course… churches.

God, help us.

The first step is to build friendships across cultural lines. Yes, that means getting out of our comfort zones and opening ourselves up to being offended. Heaven forbid. Actually, heaven calls us to do just that.

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

Through the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross, the dividing wall of hostility has been broken down. He was beaten and bruised so that we can believe in him, no matter what our ethnicity, and be reconciled both to God and to others.

You’re invited to the next Reconciliation Roundtable discussion on March 22nd. This will be a time to speak face-to-face with our neighbors about this important and divisive topic.

Reconciliation Roundtable
Tuesday, March 22nd, 7-9pm
Parzell’s Cafe on Russell Street**

**Location subject to change.

A New City

Last night, during our family bedtime routine, I asked the kids to practice saying the Lord’s Prayer. Robbie rattled it off. Isaiah, trying to beat his brother, stumbled over a few words. And Brynn just gave up and said, “I can’t do it.” So, I walked her through it phrase by phrase.

“…Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

With all the problems that continue to plague our city, that’s the phrase I’ve been praying the most over the last year. I long to see God’s kingdom come––where shame and guilt are replaced with dignity and grace, where broken families are healed and growing, where people are not judged by the color of their skin or the size of their bank account, where everyone is treated fairly, where there is no more sickness or death, and where God is glorified in all things great and small.

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 21:2–5).

This kingdom prayer and this heavenly vision are central to the work God has called us to do here in Orangeburg. So I’m excited to tell you that we have named the mission church New City Fellowship!

May God’s church be a foretaste of the New City that he will establish in heaven.

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Joy to the World

“The store will be closing in 18 minutes. Please make your final selections and make your way to the check-out area.” I really had no business being at Walmart on Christmas Eve. But let me be honest. I love going to the store at the last minute to pick out stocking stuffers. I love being part of the masses who busily dart down aisles, avoiding eye contact with Walmart employees. I love getting a good deal. “The store will be closing in 17 minutes.”

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It’s crazy how the actual experience of Christmas attempts to give us the things that only Christ can give. Isaac Watts wrote this Christmas prayer back in 1719: “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.”

We often use gift-giving as a way to buy favor from our friends and family, but Christ atoned for our sins apart from our good deeds. We try to cope with our sorrows by going shopping, but Christ takes away our sorrows through his resurrection. When we unwrap new things, we can temporarily forget how everything is broken. But Jesus helps us deal with living in a thorn-infested world by willingly wearing a crown of thorns.

“God with us” has entered into our suffering. As you gather up the crumpled wrapping paper and return the “wrong” gifts to the store, let it remind you that “surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is 53:4).

Colorblind Dream

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“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
––Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Whenever people get into a heated discussion about race, you will inevitably hear someone attempt to shut down the conversation by saying, “Skin color does not matter to me. I am colorblind.”

Colorblind.

As Inigo Montoya once said to bumbling Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Like Dr. King, we want to live in a peaceful society where people are judged by their character and not by the color of their skin. So, on the surface (no pun intended), it seems logical to aspire for colorblindness.

But allow me to offer a slightly different perspective. I am actually colorblind. My eyes can’t distinguish certain shades of red and green. It’s usually not that big of a deal, but make no mistake, colorblindness is a disability. It limits my career options. I can’t be a pilot or a graphic designer. And worst of all, I have to check with Laurie to make sure I match before going out in public. Colorblindness is not a good thing, so we should stop claiming to be colorblind in terms of how we view other human beings. We may have the best of motives, but in thinking and speaking this way, we unintentionally communicate a lack of appreciation for the inherent beauty of “people of color.”

As Christians, we believe that colored skin of all shades was created by the Master Artist. Variations of color make even a fallen and broken world beautiful. Yet, it is still only a glimmer of what it will be. God is redeeming a multi-hued humanity to populate the future new earth! C.S. Lewis captures this post-resurrection reality in his chapter titled, “What Happened about the Statues” in his book, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Aslan the Lion carried the children, Susan and Lucy, on his back across the Narnian countryside and into the Witch’s home. He leaped over the castle wall and landed in a courtyard full of stone animals and creatures that had been cursed by the evil Witch. Immediately, Aslan began to breathe on the statues, and slowly, the gray stone began to streak away “like a flame creeping along the edge of a newspaper” into living color. “The children’s eyes turned to follow the lion [as he went from animal to animal]; but the sight they saw was so wonderful that they soon forgot about him. Everywhere the statues were coming to life. The courtyard looked no longer like a museum; it looked like a zoo. Creatures were running after Aslan and dancing round him till he was almost hidden in the crowd. Instead of all that deadly white the courtyard was now a blaze of colors; glossy chestnut sides of centaurs, indigo horns of unicorns, dazzling plumage of birds, reddy-brown of foxes, dogs, and satyrs, yellow stockings and crimson hoods of dwarfs; and the birch-girls in silver, and the beech-girls in fresh, transparent green, and the larch-girls in green so bright that it was almost yellow. And instead of deadly silence the whole place rang with the sound of happy roarings, brayings, yelpings, barkings, squealings, cooings, neighings, stampings, shouts, hurrahs, songs, and laughter.”

What a beautiful picture of God’s multi-ethnic church! “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph 2:10).” Let us therefore repent of our colorblind ambitions and prayerfully grow to appreciate the beauty of all colors and types of people. To God be the Glory!

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