Exiles: Life on the Margins

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Scholars agree that we live in a Post-Christian cultural moment. Christianity is no longer at the center of society, but is pushed to the margins. Christians are no longer a majority, but a minority. This means that Christians no longer feel at home in this cultural moment, but instead feel like aliens, exiles, and sojourners. People once came to pastors for advice, looking to them as spiritual authorities. Today, people look to bloggers, life coaches, and therapists.

All this cultural change creates a collective angst among Christians. Some feel like if they speak louder, then they’ll be listened too. Others say we need to simply withdraw from cultural engagement and focus on our interior life.

So what are we to do?

That’s why Peter wrote his first letter to the Christians in Turkey. “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). Their physical situation was a little different from ours.

Karen Jobes, a brilliant biblical scholar, points out their physical situation in her commentary. Rome typically colonized areas of their empire, sometimes forcibly resettling people groups on the basis of religion or some other reason. The one rule is that the dispersed people could not be Roman citizens. Peter is writing to a people who feel like strangers and exiles because they are physically living in a strange land. These Christians are being marginalized (not necessarily persecuted) by their society, alienated in their relationships, and threatened with losing honor, power, and prestige — all for their faith in Jesus.

Yet Peter uses their situation to drive home a point about the Christian faith. He subtly sends greetings from Babylon (1 Peter 5:13), evoking the Old Testament memory of exile. Peter sees himself as an exile, perhaps living in Rome, writing to exiles. His whole point is that we are following Jesus Christ into exile.

This is why Peter is so relevant to our lives today. We know and feel that our cultural moment is rapidly changing, impacting the church and other things we can no longer assume. But if Jesus is the one who is leading us into exile, that means there are awesome and incredible opportunities before us. Not only can we survive on the margins, we can thrive there.

“He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.”
W.H. Auden,For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio

In the coming weeks we are looking to 1 Peter to both follow Jesus into exile, where we will see rare beasts and have unique adventures, and discover a great city that has expected our return for years.


A Meal with Jesus: Eating, Reading, and Learning together

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Guest post by RuthAnn Deveney

I read A Meal with Jesus, by Tim Chester, for the first time about 5 years ago, and it made an impact on me. I was struck by the author’s straight-forward approach toward hospitality, and you know, I had never realized how much eating there is in the book of Luke! As author Tim Chester writes in the introduction, “The meals of Jesus represent something bigger. They represent a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook. But they give that new reality substance, Jesus’s meals are not just symbols; they’re also application. They’re not just pictures; they’re the real thing in miniature. Food is stuff. It’s not ideas. It’s not theories. It’s, well, it’s food, and you put it in your mouth, taste it, and eat it. And meals are more than food. They’re social occasions. They represent friendship, community, and welcome.” 

This summer, it’s been great to revisit the book and discuss it with Iron Works folks! Every other week, we come together for dinner and conversation. You never know what everyone will bring, and I love the unplanned abundance that comes with a pot luck meal. We say grace, help ourselves to food, and chat. Simply eating together gives everyone a chance to catch up and ask about that thing we mentioned the last time. I think the meal acts a sort of prelude to the discussion we’re about to have. The act of sharing a meal prepares my heart and mind. 

After dinner, we talk about the chapter for the week. The book is short - just an introduction and 6 chapters - so we’ve been reading it at a leisurely pace throughout the summer. I’m on my third time through this book, but there’s always something thought-provoking in the discussion. The stories in Luke that involve food show us Jesus’s character, and I always reflect on what it was like to really be there. What would I have said if Jesus told me to find something to eat for the crowd of five thousand people? How would I have reacted if I were in the room when the woman broke her alabaster jar of perfume and washed Jesus’s feet right in front of me? Each time, I’m confronted by Jesus’s grace and clarity of mission. I find myself daunted by the expectation; can I ever live up to it? 

This summer, I’m learning (again!) that hospitality is about giving but also receiving. Being willing to be the guest and to be served by others is part of being part of a community. It’s a challenge for me to let go of performative aspects of hospitality, because I want to look good to others! The discipline of discussing this book regularly has helped remind me of what Jesus embodied when he ate with others. When we gather together over food, care for each other in contributing to the meal and listening to each other’s stories, and pray for people’s needs, we come closer to providing grace-filled hospitality and receiving it in turn.



Introducing The Cross & The Crown: Getting to know the Real Jesus

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John Mark was a missionary traveling companion with the Apostle Paul, and later functioned as the Apostle Peter’s secretary, so he had a front row seat to learn about the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and went on to write ‘the gospel according to Mark.’

Mark’s biography of Jesus is action packed. When you read this particular gospel account, you quickly lose track how many times the word immediately pops up. “Immediately the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness” (1:12). “Immediately they left their nets” (1:18). “Immediately he called them” (1:20). “Immediately the leprosy left him” (1:42). Immediately appears 36x in the whole gospel. When we look at Jesus’ life through this lens, there is a distinct movement. Jesus arrives on the scene, proclaiming “the kingdom of God is at hand.” We see the Crown, but Jesus’ life goes to the Cross. The movement in Jesus’ life, which ultimately ends with his exaltation, goes to the cross.

So what does this mean for us, as his followers?

As we see Jesus go from place to place, we are confronted with not-so-subtle demands on our life.

  • “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (1:17, CSB).

  • “They were astonished at his teaching” (1:22, CSB).

  • Immediately he got up, took the mat, and went out from everyone. As a result, they were all astounded, and gave glory to God, saying, ‘we have never seen anything like this!’” (2:12, CSB)

You can easily keep going. But the picture Mark gives us is clear: Jesus is our King. He calls us to follow him, to count the cost, to pick up the cross. We must surrender and let his rule govern and shape our lives. The whole gospel account goes on to clearly describe, in getting to know the real Jesus, what it means for us to be his disciples.

This coming summer we are going to look at the gospel of Mark, focusing on 16 very specific moments to show us both who Jesus is and what that means for our life.

The Significance of Good Friday

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It is Holy Week according to the church calendar. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and includes Jesus’ last supper, his death, and his resurrection. Christians believe that Jesus’ life and teaching are meant to be formative. So Holy Week traditionally includes a series of special worship gatherings, including Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. For 2,000 years, Jesus’ passion has sparked the imaginations of artists, song writers, writers, and preachers alike. The sheer volume of songs almost necessitate special gatherings.

We gather on Good Friday to specifically have Jesus’ last 24 hours shape our minds and our hearts. Christianity is ironic. Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is here. But the irony, which Paul calls foolish and a stumbling block, is that the kingdom comes in and through Jesus’ death. Jesus’ death on the cross is at the very center of the Christian faith. One Puritan writer beautifully captured this reality in a book title, ‘the death of death in the death of Christ.’ 

The reality is that Jesus’ death on the cross did something. He accomplished incredibly great things: 

  • Sin is punished; sinners forgiven (Lk. 23:34). 

  • Evil defeated; slaves liberated (Rom. 6:5). 

  • Death destroyed; Life regained (1 Cor. 15:54-57).

  • Enemies reconciled and made into a new family (Rom. 5:9; Eph. 2:2-3). 

  • Creation reconciled to God (Col. 1:20).  

If you read these verses, you’d notice it is impossible to separate Jesus’ death from his resurrection. The two are inseparably linked. So while we gather on Good Friday, we must never just stay there. We are an Easter people, full of song and wonder, who are witnesses to the resurrection. For these reasons, and more, we gather to have Jesus’ passion shape our hearts and minds. 

“Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive glory and honor and praise.”

New Sermon Series: Following a (Sometimes) Hidden God

Esther takes place during the time of Exile.

If you follow Israel’s story throughout the Old Testament, you know there are high’s and low’s. You see the small beginnings of Israel when God called Abraham to follow him. You see how Jacob and his sons escape famine and starving by going to Egypt, where years later they are enslaved. Then you see how they are rescued, in a very dramatic way, and go to their promised home. During their journey, they meet with God at Mt. Sinai and receive his law that will govern their life. If you walk with me, keeping these commandments, I will watch over you and protect you. If you don’t walk with me, don’t keep these commandments, you will lose this promised land and wind up in exile. 

Fast forward 500 years, Israel has not walked with God. So they are in exile. Exile is the existential crisis for Israel. They wonder, “are we still God’s people?” We learn through Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, and other prophets that the answer is yes. God’s are rescued from Babylonian rule by the Persians, who allow them to return to their homes. Some do and begin rebuilding the temple and the city of Jerusalem (hence the books Ezra and Nehemiah). The majority of Israelites do not. The stay in Babylon. They stay in Persia. Are they God’s people? Does God reveal himself to them? Does God save them too? 

The answer of Esther is yes. 

Esther shows us that we have a (sometimes) hidden God. 

The story of Esther takes occurs during the (early) reign of Xerxes, who reigned from 486 BC until his assassination in 465 BC. His bodyguard was the one who assassinated him. Xerxes is his Greek name, but his Persian name was Ahasuerus. He was only 32 when he came became the most powerful man in the world. 

Esther is a challenging book to read and understand, even the reformational leader Martin Luther questioned if it should even be in the bible. But “the absence of God is the genius of Esther” wrote biblical scholar Karen Jobe.

There are a lot of challenges to interpreting Esther, as we do not know who the author is, when it was written, nor is God’s name ever mentioned. Jobe put it this way, “God is telling the story.” And the original audience knew who Ahasuerus was. We do too, just by his Greek name. We know that he is the man responsible for the collapse of the Persian empire. The predominant theme of Esther is seeing a hidden God rescue his people. The author deliberately highlights this for us by starting the story off with a party of epic proportions. He has all this wealth, food, drink, and more. Esther is very much like Game of Thrones, were people jockey for more power, more position, more prestige. Being an Israelite in Persia is better than being such under Babylonian rule, but there is still immense pressure to compromise, give in, and even hide. 

When we think God is absent, then we hide as well. 

What does God do then? 

The story of Esther gives us the answer. He rescues us. He shows up in marvelous, surprising ways. He shows us that he is never absent. The story of Esther means that we can never say that God is absent. We can never say that God is working in our life or in the world. He is.

That’s the story of Esther. 

Ash Wednesday: It's okay to not be okay.

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Lent begins this week, with Ash Wednesday. Lent is a season highlighting Jesus’ wilderness journey, where he was tempted and triumphed over the Devil. Unlike Jesus, we don’t triumph over sin. We give into temptation and go on to pretend we have our acts together. We literally put on masks, trying to persuade others and ourselves that everything is quite aright. Perhaps the most well known example of someone literally doing just this is Queen Elizabeth of England. Elizabeth contracted pox, which left her face scarred. So she created a white lead-based makeup to hide her flaws and disfigurement. We know the shame of our scars and can see ourselves in Queen Elizabeth.

Ash Wednesday is both an invitation and declaration to admit that we are not okay. To admit that we are not okay is truly our greatest fear. But the reality is that God loves and knows us. Jesus died for us. And the Spirit indwells within us, enabling us to live differently. Secure in God’s love because of Jesus it is okay for us to admit we are not okay.  We’re are able to say that, without shame, because of Jesus.

God calls his people to “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:12-13). 

There’s nothing special about having ashes put on our foreheads. It’s ash from palm leaves. It’s part of the ordinary stuff of life. Christians throughout history have gathered together on Ash Wednesday to declare that apart from Christ we are spiritually empty and mere mortals. These ashes remind us that we will die. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:10). Our life, this side of heaven, is cursed by sin. We’re responsible for that. Hence the reason why Abraham said “I am but dust and ashes” (Gn. 18:27). We’re responsible for sin; we’re complicit in vandalizing God’s beautiful world. Ashes symbolize this. 

Instead of putting makeup or skin cleanser, we are intentionally getting our faces dirty. It is a honest picture of life, albeit incomplete due to Jesus’ resurrection.

The Apostle Peter tells us that we are united to God, ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pe 1:4). The reality is that Jesus died so that we would never die. “Death, where is your sting?” asked the Apostle Paul. John Donne put it this way, ‘Death be not proud.’ Death is our greatest enemy, beaten for us by Christ. While we all die, we will also be resurrected and partaking of true life with God. That’s the glorious reality of Jesus’ resurrection. 

So we will be celebrating Ash Wednesday differently. All these threads will be present. Our liturgy will highlight temptations and trials, but we’ll always remember Jesus’ ultimate triumph over our greatest enemy. When you enter the sanctuary, ashes will be imposed on your forehead in the sign of the cross, and they’ll remain throughout the service until the Lord’s Supper. After you partake of the Supper, the ashes will be wiped off your forehead with a damp wash cloth to remind you that you are a new creation in Christ.  

Living Liturgy: A New People

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One of the things that visitors quickly notice about Iron Works, before anything else, is that our worship is liturgical. Our worship is participatory, where there is a back-and-forth conversation between the liturgist and the people of God. So if you look at our worship guide, you’ll quickly see that the majority of our worship service is scripted out. This is surprising to people, but for different reasons. 

  • On one hand many think that a scripted liturgy, while engaging the mind, never engages the heart. In other words, some presume that liturgical worship encourages hypocrisy because one’s heart is never engaged. One of our people, voiced this suspicion by saying ‘is this church going to allow me to be complacent in my faith?’ One of our members, who once wondered this, now says that our liturgy is one of her favorite things about Iron Works as there is a rich reverence of God. 

  • Another reason, which is related, is that for an entire generation of literature pertaining to church ministry has encouraged churches to leave tradition in exchange for newer, fresher aspects in worship. One woman shared that she was surprised to see so many young people worshiping but using scripted prayers that you’d find from a prayer book.

I suspect that you’ve wondered or felt this at one point or another. 

Central to the historic Christian faith and practice is the belief that the act of worshipping together nourishes our faith and changes us. In other words, worship is formative. In individual terms, worship makes you into a new person. But one biblical truth is that worship is never truly an individual experience. So God uses worship to make us into a new people. Renowned theologian and biblical scholar NT Wright put it this way: 

“You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.”

― N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

We become like the One whom we worship. Another way to say this is, you are what you love. As we worship God, we take on his character. This is highly relevant to you, whether you are a doubter, seeker, or religious person. Over the course of the next two months we are going to consider how we’re being made into a new people who truly follow the way of Jesus for the good of West Chester. As we consider this living liturgy, we will also learn what the way of Jesus actually looks like. As we consider the grace of God, we’ll see what it looks like to embody such grace. So in the next few weeks, we will worship the God of grace, wonder, holiness, generosity, peace, hospitality and more. 

Here’s the full schedule to Living Liturgy, a new people 

  • A Graced People, January 6 

  • A People of Wonder, January 13 

  • An Authentic People, January 20 

  • A Generous People, January 27 

  • A Praying People, February 3  (guest preacher: Darin Pesnell)

  • People of Peace, February 10 

  • A Storied People, February 17 

  • People of Hospitality,  February 24 

  • People on Mission, March 3


Announcing our 2018 Christmas Offering

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A COMPELLING MISSION

Everything we do at Iron Works Church is driven by our mission: to follow the way of Jesus for the Good of West Chester. Every single thing we do - from our worship gatherings to community groups - is all about extending the freedom of the Gospel to this place that God loves so much. And we want to invite you to join us in that vital mission this year.

It is amazing to see what God has done in our midst this past year, here’s a quick list:

  • We’ve doubled our community groups, multiplying from 2 to 4 this past September,

  • We’ve started a second Kids Church Class,

  • We’ve seen our ministry teams grow, doubling this year, as we now have 36 volunteers serving on one of our teams,

  • We’ve developed a partnership with the Peacemakers Counseling Center, as they’ve opened a Borough office that is hosted at the 3rd Place,

  • We recently concluded our second Intro to Iron Works class, with 17 individuals discerning church membership.

We want to end 2018 as strongly as possible, so that in 2019 we are able to fund our Community Outreach by hiring a Community Outreach Director and seed our Basement Renovation Fund. Our 2018 Christmas Offering Goal is $10,000.

A STRATEGIC OPPORTUNITY

This coming Advent season, some generous partners at Iron Works Church are making your investment in our mission even more strategic: all new or increased giving commitments to Iron Works Church for this ministry year will be matched up to $7,000!

Simply, this means that if you make the commitment to begin giving to Iron Works Church, or increase your giving to Iron Works, your investment will go twice as far!

So if you’ve never given to Iron Works, we ask and invite you to give for the very first time and prayerfully consider giving regularly.

Perhaps you do give regularly, so to you we invite you to give beyond your regular giving. Perhaps this is from a bonus you’re getting, from savings, or from something you’ve realized you don’t need.

You can give online, or you can write a check and write ‘Christmas Offering’ in the memo line. The offering will be taken up every Sunday in Advent; you could also give online, via our giving portal, but be sure to designate “Christmas Offering” from the ‘give to’ dropdown menu.

Please utilize this link to communicate your commitment to increase your giving for 2019 over your giving in 2018. Again, both increased giving commitments and new giving will be matched up to $7,000.

TO TANGIBLY DEMONSTRATE THE LOVE OF JESUS

We hope you’re excited about this opportunity, finishing 2018 strong means we can grow and expand our ministry in very encouraging ways. The next chapter in the life of Iron Works in following the way of Jesus for the good of West Chester will require us to tangibly demonstrate Christ’s loving care for our neighbors. By hiring a Community Outreach Director, we will be able to help the church fulfill her mission. By seeding our Basement Renovation Fund, we will be saving up to create a hospitable space for kids church, church-family meals, and other neighboring needs.

Jesus is more than your Savior

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What is the gospel? 

That was the question I posed to a room of two dozen Christians. Each person answered the question in a different way, agreeing that it was incomplete. “God loves you.” “Jesus died for your sins, in order to be forgiven.” There’s one gospel, but it comes in many forms.

Consider John 3:16, “for God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever would believe in him would not perish but have eternal life.” With this in mind, then the gospel is about having everlasting life with God through Jesus. 

Consider another passage, Mark 1:14-15, where Jesus said, ’the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel.’” If so, then the gospel is the good news that God’s reign has finally begun in and through Jesus. 

Consider a different passage, Rev 21:5, when Jesus said: “behold I am making all things new.” This is when Jesus is renewing people and places and things to himself. God is working in the world to that end. 

The gospel is rich with multiple diverse perspectives, like a diamond or a prism. Christians often abbreviate the gospel. Something to be easily remembered when the opportunity to share the gospel and evangelize presents itself — Jesus died for you so that y This abbreviated version is not wrong, its just incomplete. The abbreviated version says that we are sinners, and Jesus rescues us. This abbreviated gospel gives the impression that following Jesus is a private, individual enterprise. This abbreviated gospel “reduces salvation to personal escape from the evil physical world to a blissful spiritual heaven.” It says that the physical world is evil, and the spiritual world is good. 

The gospel, to the contrary, is rooted in creation. It is the story of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. The Apostle Paul eloquently captures this in Colossians 1:15-23, where he simultaneously captures how Jesus saves individuals (v 21) and the entirety of his creation (v 20), making peace by the blood of the cross. 

Jesus died to bring you peace and life with God. This includes the forgiveness of our sins (Col. 1:14), but also the full restoration of Jesus’ reign over all things. 

This is how British writer Christopher Wright put it,

“Paul comprehensively and repeatedly includes ‘all things’ not only in what God created through Christ, but what he plans to redeem through Christ. It is clear that ‘all things’ means the whole created order… because of that plan of cosmic redemption, the whole of creation can look forward to the future as a time of liberation and freedom from frustration.” 

This profoundly shapes our lives. As followers of Jesus, we’ve experienced forgiveness. Our lives are transformed by God’s love and grace. His Spirit slowly reorders our lives, making us into reflections of his Son. He makes us into a new family, called the church. But the church is not a container for souls until they get to heaven, nor is the church a place to go for an hour on Sunday mornings. The church is much more than that. The church is the living demonstration of God’s intentions for the whole creation

If you experience God’s love, then your life must be marked by his love for all things. Our imaginations need to be caught up in God’s intentions for this world. We need to be able to imagine ways to use our power for love. We need to use our privilege to demonstrate God’s kindness to others. We need to give our entire lives to Jesus, that his invisible reign would be made visible.

New Song: We Labor Unto Glory

taken from the Porters Gate Facebook page 

taken from the Porters Gate Facebook page 

For about a year now, I've enjoyed "Work Songs" - an album by the Porters Gate Worship Project.  The project's coordinator, Isaac Wardell, saw a lack of songs or hymns that helped Christians understand their work within God's larger work in the world. The reality is that each theological tradition emphasizes one aspect of the Christian life. For example, evangelicals classically emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. So All Sons and Daughters, another amazing band, will sing "Oh, Lord I need you." These evangelical songs are full of worship: Oh, Great is our God... Rejoice... What a beautiful name... 

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has an established collection of work songs, but its within the Catholic understanding of work. As the church historian/theologian H Richard Niebuhr termed it, it's Christ above Culture. So the church is above the culture. This reinforces a sacred v secular understanding of the world. Yet the garbageman glorifies God, mothers changing diapers bring pleasure to God, as does the preacher. So the Work Songs seek to help us understand that. 

This past Sunday we sang, 'We Labor Unto Glory.' I share the lyrics as they remind us that we work for the name and fame of God -- a particular theme of Colossians 3:15-4:1. 

My God, my God, where e’er I go — glory. 
Where I reap and where I sow — glory. 
When my hand it grips the thorn — glory
In the still and in the storm — glory. 

Oh, we labor unto glory
When heaven and earth are one, 
Oh, we labor unto glory
Until God’s kingdom comes. 

The sun it shines and then goes down — glory. 
Rain, it pours and beats the ground — glory. 
Dust, it blows and ends my days — glory. 
Hearts they burn beneath Your gaze — glory. 

My heart, my hands, they’re kingdom bound — glory. 
Where thorns no longer curse the ground — glory. 
Trim the wick and light the flame — glory. 
My work, it will not be in vain — glory.

The Porters Gate Worship Project enlisted the help of various worship leaders serving their churches throughout the country, then Isaac rewrote songs for the whose-who of the independent songwriting scene: Liz Vice, Josh Garrels, Audrey Assad, Urban Doxology, Latifah Phillips, and more. Check them out

New Sermon Series: Colossians, Life Reimagined thru Jesus

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John Lennon sung,

imagine there’s no heaven
it’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
imagine all the people living for today.

Lennon’s song ‘imagine’ offers a particular vision for life today. A vision of a life without God because he believes that the world would finally be at peace. The question we need to ask ourselves is if this is the story that will bring peace? Lennon’s song is just one of many stories offering such promises. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, is appealing to them to listen that there is one, true story that delivers on such great promises. That story is about the King of the Universe, who is none other than Jesus. This Jesus story reimagines the entirety of our everyday lives. Writer Ivan Illich put it this way:

Neither revolution nor reformation can ultimately change a society, rather you must tell a new powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story, one so inclusive that it gathers all the bits of our past and our present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into our future so that we can take the next step… If you want to change a society, then you have to tell an alternative story. 

That’s what Paul is doing. 

Our fall sermon series, “Life Reimagined through Jesus,” is a series on the letter to the Colossians. Paul is after our imaginations, so he is telling the story of Jesus' kingdom.... where we find that our everyday lives are significant and valuable. So join us this fall as we explore what it looks like to live within this alternative story as our lives are reimagined by the King of the Universe. 

Recommended Resource: the Daily Prayer Project

Praying is quite a challenge. As Christians, we know we are called to pray, yet we don't. So we feel guilty about our lack of praying. We've grown cynical as we've lost our childlike faith. We've developed spiritual ADD, as we're constantly distracted by buzzing smartphones, demands at work and home, and much more. So when it comes to praying, it's tempting and easy to just give up and say a short prayer before dinner.... that is even if we know what prayer is. 

The gospel has a grand promise: that Jesus is making all things new, including us! The spiritual practice of praying has a big role. Praying is restorative. It is meant to be embodied, and we need to immerse ourselves in prayer. The Apostle Paul put it this way: pray unceasingly. 

The Daily Prayer Project, created by my friend Joel Littlepage, is meant to help us grow in a praying life. (We've used one or two in our worship liturgies as well.)

 He writes

It is important to tell the truth about the state of things because God meets us in our confession and repentance. Indeed, a life struggling with prayerlessness is not a "Christless soul," but a heart that, under the influence of God's Spirit, is yearning for a deeper communion with the Father and the Son. That same Spirit "helps us in our weakness," says the scriptures. "For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God," (Romans 8:25–27 ESV). Thanks be to God!
The Daily Prayer Project begins with the recognition of the difficulty of living a life of prayer today and seeks a better model of prayer together as the Body of Christ."

You can sign up to participate in the Daily Prayer Project here. You'll receive two emails every day, a morning prayer and an evening prayer respectively. So whenever you open your email in the morning, you have a written prayer to guide you. What you'll discover is this: as you pray through these prayers, your life will push you further into this task. 

We're starting a new summer sermon series this Sunday.

The biblical story is full of bizarre moments where God meets his people. There's this one story, in Genesis 15, when God speaks to Abraham. Abraham has this existential dilemma where he doubts God's goodness and ability to deliver on the promise made to him earlier. "How will I know?" he asks. Then God speaks to him while "a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed through the pieces [of dead animals]."

Wait, what? 

Like I said it's bizarre. 

There's another moment where God appears to Moses while there's an unburnt, burning bush nearby. He's curious, but who wouldn't be. As he gets closer, God says: "Take off your sandals for where you stand is holy ground." 

Again, this is odd. 

These examples are theophanies, which are incredibly unique expressions of God's presence. In fact, they are visible expressions of his presence. Scripture is full of them. Recently, renowned biblical scholar Vern Poythress wrote 400+ pages on this subject. There's a lot to digest and reflect upon in these encounters. 

This coming summer we'll be looking at these God-encounters, that will eventually culminate in Jesus. As a church, we're a space where people can come to meet God, know oneself, and love others. But none of that is possible without knowing and meeting God. These bizarre encounters that Abraham and Moses had are then incredibly significant for us. 

How to read the bible?

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This post is a follow-up and companion to this past Sunday's sermon, Take and Eat.

Recently I was at the American Bible Society, located in Philadelphia. They presented some fascinating research, looking at "the state of the Bible" in America. It's no secret that America is a post-Christian nation, which provides ample opportunities to speak about Jesus and scripture to others. But one sad statistic is 50% of church-goers do not read the bible on their own initiative more than once a month. Christians, followers of Jesus, don't find Scripture relevant, or they find it boring or have a hard time creating a habit of engaging Scripture. Yet the more we center our lives on Scripture and engage God's word, the deeper our life with God will be.

The One Story of Scripture

The Bible, while a collection of 66 ancient books, is actually one story. It is the true story of the world. God created the world good, perfect, beautiful, and true. He made this world out of love and delight. The first time we see and read about humanity in Scripture, Adam sings and delights in Eve (Gn. 2:23). Every aspect of life was good and beautiful. Yet we vandalized this perfection... the consequences of that act are devastating (Gn 3:1-7; Rm. 1:18-22). Humanity, now, is a deeply flawed creation, where we have a propensity to mess things up. Thankfully God, who is rich in mercy and full of love, could not tolerate his creation remaining broken, corrupted, and vandalized (Eph. 2:4). So he promised redemption and launched a rescue mission (Gn. 3:15). That mission includes his people, who are meant to be a blessing to the world (Gn. 12:1-3). God worked in his people's lives, speaking with them so that they could have a life with him for the life of the world. As God continued to work in their lives, he promised that a great rescuer would come; this rescuer would be the king whom we need, a king that could deliver us from the penalty, power, and presence of sin. God spoke about this rescuer to prophets; he sporadically appeared to his people, and poets wrote about him. Every story whispers his name; Moses spoke about him, the psalms are about him, as are the prophets. His name is Jesus (Luke 24:27). 

The Bible, in other words, is one story about redemption in and through Jesus.... and it includes us! It is a story about what God is doing in this world through Jesus Christ. Everything in Scripture hinges on him. The Old Testament promises redemption. As you read the prophets you can feel this emotional tension. God's people long for redemption and wait for him to provide it. Jesus accomplishes just that. So the New Testament, specifically in the books of Luke and Acts, show what Jesus is up to through his people.  

We need to remember the alien world in which Moses, David, Isaiah, and Paul lived. It is very different from today. Yet despite our changing world, God's word is eternal. It's true for all time, regardless of our cultural moment. So we cannot forget the context, whether literary or historical, that it is written in. All of this needs to bear on our scripture reading.

So what's the way forward? 

Questioning Scripture

So as we take and eat God's word, there are three questions we need to ask of Scripture. When we ask these questions, we are simultaneously asking God them and we're checking our own beliefs. When we have questions, it reveals our relationship with God and cultivates a deeper one. Consider Genesis 1, where the one, true and good God creates the world and everything in it to be good and true. How does Scripture present God? Do I believe that? 

So here are the three questions to ask:

  • Eternal -- On the basis of this text, who is God? If every story speaks about God, then Scripture reveals his character and personality to us. We learn who it is that reigns over us; we learn who it is who we worship; we learn more about the God who loves us. 

  • Personal -- On the basis of this text, who am I? This is a question that we long to answer, and almost every problem in this world exists because we've forgotten who we are. We aren't gods. We cannot be everywhere, we cannot do everything, we cannot know everything. We're creatures who live in a specific time and place, meant to live and enjoy God and be loved by him as his children.  

  • Mission -- On the basis of this text, what's my role in this world? God made humanity to do something. We are made, and we image the maker by making. We're meant to fill the earth and subdue it. So we have a cultural mission, and we also have an evangelistic mission. "You are his witnesses in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Jesus sends us into the world to love people, places, and things.... just like he did (Jn. 3:16; 17:18). 

These questions invite us to dwell with God, to inhabit his story, because God is up to something in this world. He is making all things new, and he includes us in that endeavor. As you engage God's story, you'll find that your story is included in it. 

 

Introducing our Summer Reading Series

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Summer is around the corner. After a long, cold winter, we are really looking forward to it. We'll be able to enjoy the beach, have getaways to the mountains, go on family vacations, perhaps have some work trips, enjoy our children, and celebrate our community. 

West Chester, if you haven't noticed, comes alive when the sun is out and the temperature is above 50. Restaurants put out their heaters and set up their outdoor seating. Our borough's park and recreation department have an impressive summer schedule, starting on Sunday, May 6th with "May Day: A Celebration of the Arts" over at Everhart Park. 

So this summer we want to seek the good of our community by being good neighbors and celebrating our communities. This is part of following Jesus. Consider Jeremiah 29:7, "Seek the peace and prosperity of the city that I have carried you to." Later Jesus summed up the law by saying, "the greatest commandment is to love your God with your entire being, and the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:37-40; Gal. 5:14).

Neighboring is essential to following Jesus for the good of West Chester. 

How we want to neighbor well this summer is by:  

The Art of Neighboring takes a great idea, loving your neighbor, which has often been reduced to a slogan, and personalizes it. People are real. We want to love our neighbors in reality and not just have it be a cliche for us. 

So here's how the reading series will work: 

  1. Get your copy. You can purchase one from our book table beginning this Sunday. (It is also available on Kindle.) 
  2. Participants need to get a reading partner, and together you'll go through a reading guide that will be emailed to you. (If you would like a hard copy, just let us know and we will print one off for you.) 

Each week Pastor Robbie will interview various participants, digging into key ideas, and exploring what the Art of Neighboring looks like in various life stages and circumstances. These interviews will be included in our sermon podcast, so if you are traveling this summer you won't miss a beat. 

Thinking about goals, resolutions, habits for 2018

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With every New Year it seems most everybody is talking about resolutions and goals for the upcoming new year. To one degree or another, there's this hope that 2018 will just be better than 2017. Perhaps it is to feel better, to lose weight, to travel more, to keep a job, to move past tragedy, to find healing. Every year I've had my own list of goals: be a better neighbor, read the bible in a year, to use my vacation days, and so on.

It's noble to say, "I want to take better care of myself this year." And it is good to long for a better year than before. No wonder, then, when we fail at keeping our resolutions or goals we feel shame. 

Nonetheless, if you are like me, you persist. But we need to remember a few things.  

All that is different between 2018 and 2017 is the hours you were asleep. January 1st is just another day. Life has the ups and downs or the joys and trials. Life goes on, and we cannot escape reality... we cannot escape the habits we've formed over the years. Those habits partially make up the realities we live in. 

We need to have new habits if we want to grow and change. 

The Christian faith, centered and motivated by Jesus Christ, is a practice shaped faith. God saves us to seek the good of our neighbors and participate in his work in this world (Phil. 4:9;Titus 3;Micah 6:8).  

My goal for this year is to grow and become more like Jesus Christ. There are established practices like reading Scripture, prayer, living in community with other Christians, worshiping together and more than forms us into the image of Jesus. The lesson of every resolution-keeping failure is that if you want to form new habits, then you also need to make goals, commit to them, and open yourself up to accountability. 

A friend reached out to me asking if I wanted to join them in doing Whole30, which we've done in the past. She sends out regular encouragements and invites you into a support group -- cause you need it. 

As my goal is to grow and become more like Jesus, then I need to take his life seriously. When I read the gospels, I see Jesus being very present and undistracted. So what are the new habits I'm seeing to create, which also means what habits am I striving to stop? (The Apostle Paul's language in Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians is 'put off/put on.')

A few months ago I was reading Andy Crouch's book the Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in its Proper Place, and I was struck at how I used technology. So I'm rereading it this month and seeking to make some technology changes... including deleting the facebook app from my phone. 

I want to start off my day with Scripture and prayer, undistracted by the notifications on my phone. It'd be better to read Scripture and pray, while being distracted by my son running around at 6am. This is what Jesus did throughout his earthly ministry. "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he got up, went out, and made his way to a deserted place; and there he prayed' (Mark 1:35). While Jesus even did this at night (Luke 22:39), I'm embracing my fatherhood realities by waking up early to read and pray. 

I offer the above as just an example. If you're thinking about goals or resolutions for the new year, spend some time identifying the habits you have to put off in order to put new ones on.

 

Advent and waiting this Christmas season

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What does it mean to have a church calendar? 

Our lives are ordered by calendars and seasons. It could be the tax year or school year or autumnal year or the civil year. Some framework guides our lives. Every year we have a cycle that affects our lives, our decisions, our travels, our shopping, our eating. This is true even for our giving, ever since  #givingTuesday was created in 2012. This calendar is meant to shape us into good Americans citizens.

The church calendar celebrates the entirety of Jesus' life. Lent remembers how he battled temptation. Easter celebrates his triumph over death. Pentecost notes how the Holy Spirit descends upon and empowers his people. Ordinary time, well, is the ordinary moments of Jesus life. Christmas is the joyful celebration of God's generosity to us, embodied in the birth of his son. But it all kicks off with Advent. Advent, which starts on December 1st, is New Years Day for the Christian Calendar. 

The Christian Calendar shapes our hearts and minds, forming us to be "little Christs" (i.e. Christians). 

So what is Advent, and what does it mean for me this Holiday season?

Advent means a “coming” or “visitation.” Advent remembers the coming of Jesus. So it is of vital important to consider the purpose and mission in Jesus' coming. Jesus came to rescue his people from sin. This specific Advent season we're looking at how Jesus came to rescue his family from the scandals that they caused, by making their scandals his own. (You can listen to our sermon series here.) He comes to us, yes as a rescuer, but also as a king. So we wait for Jesus to come again where we can both be fully rescued from our sins and fully realize his kingdom reign. 

Waiting is hard. Culturally we don't wait. My family has a rule that we are not allowed to buy anything for ourselves after Thanksgiving. But when you see all the Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals, it's a hard rule to follow. In that moment it is not just waiting, you're potentially denying yourself from getting something you want. 

The Advent waiting is similar. You have longings for hope, joy, rescue, and more. In Advent you're waiting to fully realize how Jesus rescues you and fulfills all your true, good longings. An Advent waiting is a waiting and working for the things that really matter. 

My friend Joel put it this way: 

"This waiting frames our experience as Christians in this holy season. We learn how to groan with creation, to lament, and to long for the restoration of all things. This practice of waiting for things of ultimate concern helps us prioritize life in an age obsessed with the temporality of the now and the new. This is truer in the month of December than in any other month, for our culture’s conception of these Holidays (Holy-days) is largely focused around what one will buy or be given. The Christian conception of this season begins with the realization that what, or who, we really want and need cannot be bought and is not “just a click away,” but must be waited for with patience, submitting to God’s timing, embracing our limits and finitude."

So what do we do in our waiting?

The Christian Calendar's emphasis is on prayer and worship so that our hearts align with Jesus' life and work. There are two NEW resources that I'm using this Advent season, and I encourage you to join me in using them. 

The first is music. One of the best gifts the church has given the world is songs for the Advent and Christmas seasons. My friend Melanie Penn released her third album, and it is a collection of 11 songs. She looks at the Christmas story and seeks to tell it afresh by considering the unique perspectives of witnesses. She's coming to Iron Works on Friday, December 8th for our first annual Christmas Party. You're invited to come and celebrate with us. (See our facebook event for more details.

The second is a devotional resource. My friend Joel Littlepage has produced some amazing prayer books for the past few years. Each year they continue to get better and better. But what excites me about this Advent prayerbook is that you can receive the readings and prayers via email, text, or you could just download the e-book to read. 

 

Sermon | Saved to Serve

Jesus saves us so that we would thrive and flourish through our worship. Eugene Peterson put Romans 12:1 this way: "So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him." How we live our ordinary, everyday life is how we worship God. 

But what does that look like? Check out Pastor Robbie's most recent sermon and find out. 

Our apologies for the audio quality. This will be rectified by our next worship gathering. 

BIG NEWS!

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A year ago I was talking with my fellow Iron Works Network pastors, Darin Pesnell and Stan Gale, sharing with them my strategy for launching public worship services. There are really two schools of thought. One is setting a date and doing your best to ensure you’re ready. The other is setting tangible milestones (i.e. launch indicators) that you check off as you reach them. When they are all checked off, then you’re ready to launch. The second option is more organic and natural. Each church plant also has a unique story, so you want to be careful to not do anything just because another church or pastor did. So we’ve set those milestones before God and prayed for a music leader, a committed launch team, an administrator, new home for us, a kid’s church director, visitors, community groups, and more. 

God has answered each one.  

Stop for a moment and reread that. God has answered each one. That’s awesome; so we need to praise and thank God for that! 

We are launching our weekly worship gatherings on Sunday, November 26th. 

It's the Sunday before Advent, the season in the church calendar that anticipates the coming of Jesus. God sent his son Jesus to love this world to life, and Jesus sends his church to love this world to life (Jn. 3:16; 17:18, 21). Advent shapes us to that task.  We stand in awe of God. We've heard of what he has done. "Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known" (Hab. 3:2). We anticipate and look forward to seeing what God is going to do in and through us.  

But we need your help.

There are a number of ways you can help us start out on our best foot. 

Come and worship.

It may be obvious, but we exist to delight in God and to share that delight with others. Years ago Jennifer traveled to the Grand Canyon, and her first thought was 'Oh, Robbie needs to be here and see this.' That's awe combined with love. If we are in awe of God and if we love our neighbor, then we will invite others to share in our delight.

Serve on a ministry team.

There are a lot of things that happen behind the scenes to make a worship gathering happen, and there is a place for everyone's gifts and talents. 

  • Hospitality (led by Christin Hensley) 
  • Music (led by Josh Hensley) 
  • Kids (led by Kelli Stewart) 
  • Liturgy (led by Robbie Schmidtberger) 

Give. 

This point is not so obvious as every church is structured in different ways. We depend on the generosity of God through his people. Each of us are stewards of our time, treasure, and talent; God calls us to use each of those to expand his kingdom and care for his church. You can give online or get something from our wishlist to help us start off on our best foot. If you get something off our wishlist, please email us for directions.