This is part one of a four-part blog series focusing on the season of Advent. For the next few weeks, Emmaus poets, writers and artists will share their work with us as we anticipate Christmas together.
Nobody likes to wait because nobody likes to feel powerless, and nothing washes away the sand-castle reign over our own lives quite like waiting. Look around a hospital waiting room. It’s filled with the family and friends of patients whose very lives often hang in the balance. The tension is palpable. The feeling of helplessness and anxiety is almost manifest. How long must they wait for the doctor to come – and when he comes, will he be a messenger of death or a messenger of life?
Believe it or not, many of the classic Christmas hymns we sing are meant to convey this sense of hopeless anticipation. Think of the words of “O Come O Come Emmanuel:”
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
This is not by accident. The Advent season should come with this feeling – anticipation, longing, waiting – because this was precisely the burden Israel bore throughout her history.
From the moment Adam flung creation into rebellion against God, humanity has been held under the thumb of sin and death. Israel in particular felt the breath-stopping constriction of sin’s bondage. As God’s chosen people, they were called to be faithful and obedient to God, and yet at every turn found themselves repeating Adam’s folly by choosing anything and everything above God. They proved themselves as an unfaithful bride lusting after idols and false religions. Their sin lead to their nation breaking in half, and foreign powers subjugating them, mirroring the condition of their own hearts.
But Israel was not without hope.
Before casting Adam and Eve out of the Garden, God gave them a promise. Someday, a descendant of Eve would do battle with that ancient serpent and would emerge victorious. God’s promise was the promise of a Messiah that would rescue humanity from the powers of sin and the devil. A serpent-crusher.
So Israel waited for their coming Messiah. As their land was torn into two separate nations, and as their sons were killed in war, and as they were shackled and taken to out of their promised land, their eyes were ever forward to a child who would be born of a virgin and called Immanuel and Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Helplessly, they longed for the ruler who was to come out of Bethlehem whose origin was from ancient times. They waited powerlessly for the righteous and gentle king to ride in on a donkey bringing salvation.
Though they didn’t know the words, from their helpless station of life-crushing anticipation, Israel sang the point of “O Come O Come Emmanuel:” “God, please come save us!”
So Israel waited for their salvation. Years passed to decades, decades passed to centuries. Four hundred years passed between the prophet Malachi and the next time God would speak to Israel, and all that time, in hushed, fearful tones, their hearts hummed, “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”
Until one day the joy of dawn finally broke. No longer would humanity long for salvation. God’s silence was broken by the cry of an infant king who would right all wrongs and would dive deep into creation to save his people. With hearts leaping from their chests and with eyes wet with joy, they were able to finally sing,
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come for thee, O Israel!
We begin Advent with anticipation because that is the first act of God’s redemptive story. With anticipation comes the realization that we are utterly powerless to save ourselves. We are wholly dependent on God’s promise to unshackle our chains, to lift our heads, and to bring us into fellowship with him. So with our eyes and hearts pointing ever forward to the dawning joy, let us sit feel the weight of Israel’s wait. Let us reflect on and feel the burden Israel’s anxiousness as they awaited their coming savior, because to truly appreciate the blinding glory of the incarnation, we must first sit in the hopeful bleakness of anticipation.
My immediate thought when hearing the theme of this first week of advent was “distant.” People far from God, longing to be brought near. I wanted to convey visual distance in the piece, and choose to set the piece in an old building, looking down long corridors. Typically, the artist tries to create pleasant movement within a piece. I wanted the opposite for my piece. I wanted to interrupt the audience. The image of the serpent (this one drawn from an old book of scientific illustrations) has long been used in Christian artwork to represent Satan, and is a clear reference to the proto-evangelium, that the coming savior will crush the head of the serpent. And lastly the eye at the top of the stair, representing God’s omniscience and sovereignty.
Sonnet 1 – anticipation, desperation
How long must we still shout “Savior!”
Will any come near to gather up the lost?
Who will intercede for us? Is the cost
Too high? Is man too low for kings to fore-
Go the throne? How long will you ignore
The cries of your people? Have you exhaust-
Ed all of your compassion? We wait, unwashed,
Unkempt, scattered, scathed and unsure.
Yet, woe to us if we cry out for less,
Boasting hope as just a treasure to touch.
Hope is lost when she’s a prize to posses:
So find her where she cannot be clutched.
Then, what little is wasted, waiting as clay
For the Christ that will not fade away.
Every week, so many volunteers commit their time and energy to things of Emmaus. Below are a few opportunities for new members to jump on board with the many volunteer teams at Emmaus Church.
Hospitality — This team puts full emphasis on making guests and members feel loved and welcomed. The hospitality team is responsible for the ‘guest services’ set up and tear down on Sunday mornings including Communion, Connect Table, and Coffee Bar. You can serve as a Host, an Usher or a Hospitality Coordinator. All of these roles are volunteers who love to connect newcomers to Emmaus, are comfortable talking to new people, and are able to take initiative. If you want to display the gospel through the welcoming of guests and members, then email Kyler Keith, Director of Hospitality (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Production — The production team is looking for volunteers who will commit to serve once a month. Open positions include:
Audio – work as an extension of the music ministry to setup, operate and strike audio equipment used by music ministry.
Lyrics – setup and operate the lyrics computer; working with the music ministry and elders to run the prepared presentation for the Sunday liturgy.
Video – power on and record/livestream the sermon using the church’s camera
Light – power on, operate the dimmer switches and power off the lights used during service.
No previous experience required. All positions are needed for setup at 7:30, to stay during rehearsal and service then strike and put away the equipment by noon. All of these positions are essential in creating a welcoming environment for that fosters undistracted worship with the music ministry and teaching pastor to glorify God, declaring and displaying the Gospel.
If you’re interested in joining the production team, email Shawn at email@example.com
or walk up to the stage after service.
Communications — The communications team is looking for Tweeters during the Sunday sermon, graphic designers and photographers! Our aim is to communicate the gospel that’s proclaimed at Emmaus each week on a digital scale. If you’re interested in joining the communications team, email Jamie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Serving in Emmaus Kids gives you the opportunity to share the gospel with children and families. You will get to teach children about Jesus and his deep love for his children. You can hold babies, crawl around with toddlers, teach and sing with preschoolers, or teach kindergarten-second graders. If you are not sure about teaching children or holding babies, you can also run our check-in station for all families of Emmaus Kids. Contact Tabitha at email@example.com
if you’re interested.
Music Ministry —
This team is responsible for leading the congregation in worship through song during our corporate gatherings. In this area, we hold dear the care and concern of our people through vocal and instrumental expression. This isn’t a responsibility for the music leaders and pastors alone, this is an entire ministry mindset, for our worship through song on Sunday
is a microcosm of what we should be doing day in and out as redeemed people. We labor not to bring attention to ourselves, but to be pointers, bringing attention to our Triune God and his glory, which is manifested in the gospel. The music we play is intended to be a vehicle by which the corporate body of Emmaus might express worship; through the songs we sing, the Scriptures we read, the prayers we pray, we mean to magnify God, so that in seeing him, we might have the opportunity to respond to him appropriately in worship expressed through song. Our prayer is that every Sunday
, all who gather at Emmaus would have a renewed and deepened view of the gospel.
Those who serve in this area must:
- be a covenant member or intend to become one
- have a willing heart
- be able to perform all given material at a moderate level
- participate in the set-up and tear-down of all equipment and materials
- provide their own instruments (if one isn’t provided by the church)
- agree to the terms listed in our worship covenant
We encourage those who want to be apart of the music team to inquire about auditions. We currently are in a brief season of auditions (these will end after December 1st) and will have future auditions the following weeks after each membership class. Look for more info as these events begin to arrive.
Pastor of Teaching & Liturgy
Some days I sit down and go through the list of covenant members at Emmaus and I will consider how well I know each member. Those are discouraging days. They are discouraging because despite extensive effort, I simply can’t know all of our members well. Emmaus is now running over 200 people and by the end of October, we will likely have around 140 covenant members. That is not a large church, but it is too large for me to know each and every member well. I wish that I could. I remember crying myself to sleep at night in my previous church because I knew it was impossible for me to care for all the people God was sending to our church. Just today our elders were having a text conversation about the growth Emmaus is seeing and one said in a half-joking / half-real way, “I’m having panic attacks over here.”
I can only imagine what the Apostles must have felt as the church in Jerusalem exploded after the day of Pentecost. Suddenly their church of a few hundred was running in the thousands and would be considered a mega-church even in todays culture. I wonder if they cried themselves to sleep knowing they couldn’t know all of the new members of their church.
In Acts we see that it was at this moment that division began to grow within the church. Some of the people felt that their needs were not being met by the Apostles as much as the needs of others. There were hurt feelings, disappointments, frustrations and longings to know their leaders on a more personal level.
This is where we are introduced to deacons within the church. The Apostles called for deacons to be appointed for a specific purpose: to preserve unity within the church by caring for the needs of the members.
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:1-5
Notice that deacons were part of the solution for a problem. The problem was a complaint of favoritism and neglect of some members (the beginning of disunity). The solution was that some of the members would be specifically tasked with the responsibility of seeing that the needs of all the church members were met so that unity would flourish. The deacons give their primary time and energy to this goal so that the pastors of the church can give their primary time and energy to pastoring the church through prayer and preaching of the scriptures. Obviously pastors do a lot more than this. Pastors care for needs, pastors equip the members to do the work of the ministry, etc. But the pastors primarily care for needs and primarily equip the members through “prayer and the ministry of the word.”
Deacons exist in the church as an extension of care from the pastors to the people in order to preserve a culture of unity.
In part 2 of this post, we’ll look at how deacons will serve the members of Emmaus.
We are forgetful creatures. We spend most of our time from rut to rut, apathetic toward the magic around us and in us. We exist in a universe spoken into existence out of nothing. Trinitarian beauty is woven into every part creation, and every existing fact testifies to God’s existence and his goodness. Our response?
For unbelievers, this indifference is understandable. Their default disposition, after all, is to suppress the truth about God—they cannot help it, it is in their DNA to whistle in the dark; no one needs to teach them how to resist the overwhelming revelation in which they are immersed. And of course, there, but for the grace of God, go we. Yet, we could say, there, despite the grace of God, go we still. Because, despite the fact that we have had our eyes opened by grace to recognize God’s activity in the world, we respond to his artistry with slow blinks.
But it’s not just the magic of general revelation that we ignore. As Christians we can absent-mindedly read the words of God in the special revelation of Scripture.
Words, that God has spoken and written. We can read a book authored by God absent-mindedly… (go ahead and read that out loud if the ridiculousness didn’t strike you the first time)
For Christians, these words contain promises of assurance. Promises which belong to us in Christ—they’re our (new) birthrights! Promises like:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:35-39
It’s a funny thing, that words like this can become familiar to our ears.
Maybe funny isn’t the right word. Odd, or perplexing, perhaps?
Better yet, tragic.
Yes, let’s go with tragic.
It is tragic that we can read these words, or hear them read, and remain un-phased and indifferent. When I stop to think about my own attitude towards the claims in scripture, I’m embarrassed. How jarring does God’s Word have to be to shake me out of my lethargy?
God: Hell itself cannot separate you from my love, Sam.
We need to be reminded, not just of what the gospel is, but what it means. We need to regularly be grabbed by the shoulders, shaken, and screamed at: ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION?!
A good hymn does this. When a good hymnists writes a potent line, he is casting light on the same familiar gospel from an unfamiliar direction, thereby exposing you to shades and contours you had either forgotten about, or had never noticed before. The gospel never changes, but like a diamond which refracts light in a thousand ways, we get to be freshly mesmerized by this never-changing-gospel when it’s presented to us from different angles, and when it’s exposed with light from a different direction. This is what John Kent does for us in his hymn, “‘Twixt Jesus and the Chosen Race” (which we are renaming Hail, Sacred Union).
John Kent was an English hymnist who lived at the turn of the 19th century. This fellow was actually a shipbuilder who wrote hymns as a hobby, and he was relatively unknown even in his own time (despite the fact that his hymns were among Charles Spurgeon’s favorites). As relatively obscure as Kent was during his own lifetime, his obscurity only increased over time; the last hymnal to include Kent’s hymns in them was published in 1872. This is something of a travesty, however, because John Kent is a wordsmith on all accounts, and his songs beautify the gospel better than most.
This particular song was discovered by Pastor Ronni Kurtz, who stumbled upon it while researching Charles Spurgeon for his (other) job. He approached me with the idea of resurrecting this hymn with a new, singable melody, and I was eager to do it. You can listen to it here.
Let’s break down each of these verses a bit more:
Between Jesus and the chosen race
Subsists a bond of sovereign grace
That hell, with its infernal doom
Shall never dissolve or rend in two
Right out of the gate, Kent drops this breathtaking statement: Jesus and his chosen race (his Church) are bound by grace with a bond that hell itself could never touch. Kent is referring to the doctrine that we at Emmaus are in love with: union with Christ. When are united to Christ by faith, we are united to all of Christ for all of eternity – we “hitch our cart” to a “wagon” that sits at the right hand of God the Father. This is the doctrine Kent intends to examine throughout this wonderful hymn.
This sacred bond, shall never break
Though earth should to her center shake
Rest doubting saint assured of this
For God has pledged his holiness
Now Kent applies this doctrine to the uneasy and tender conscience of the doubting Christian. “God’s very own holiness” Kent assures the doubting saint, “is pledged to this promise: your bond with Christ cannot be broken. His status as a ‘holy God’ is staked on your salvation!”
He swore but once, the deed was done;
‘Twas settled by the great Three in One
Christ was appointed to redeem
All that the Father loved in Him
In this verse, Kent points to the fact that this gospel message—this glorious, unbreakable union between Jesus and his Bride—was a plan conspired in eternity past between the three persons of the Trinity. This intra-Trinitarian agreement is what theologians refer to as the pactum salutis, and it essentially conveys the idea that the gospel is a God-wrought plan from beginning to end. That first line communicates the finality of this divine agreement; Kent is saying, “He swore it, and it was done.” Each member of the Trinity agrees to play a different role to collectively finding their terminus in the salvation of sinners to this glory. In this verse, Kent alludes to the Father’s role (in love, predestining a people in the Son and appointing the Son to redeem them) and the Son’s role (he obeys the Father and redeems those people). In the last verse, Kent will touch on the Spirit’s role.
Hail, sacred union, firm and strong
How great thy grace, how sweet the song
That rebel worms should ever be
One with incarnate Deity
This is the height of the hymn, the natural burst of doxological gratitude that comes with meditating on the doctrine of union with Christ. Kent highlights the contrast between who we are who the God is we are bound to: we are “rebel worms” who become “one with incarnate Deity.” What else could we do but exclaim, “Hail!”?
One in the tomb, one when he rose
One when he triumphed over his foes
One while in heaven he took his seat
While seraphs sung at hell’s defeat
Here is the most explicit definition of union with Christ we find in this hymn. It is in this verse that Kent explains what we have in our union: Christ’s death becomes our death, Christ’s resurrection becomes our resurrection, Christ’s triumph over his enemies, becomes our triumph over his enemies, Christ’s security in heaven becomes our security in heaven. In this single verse, we are reminded of past, present, and future salvation—we have justification, sanctification, and glorifications. All of our sins were nailed to the cross with Christ when we were united to him there, and they were all buried in the grave when he took us there, and we have all been resurrected with him to walk in newness of life by virtue of his resurrection. That’s what our union grants us at our initial conversation. But now that we have been united to Christ in his resurrection, we also get his triumphant life in order to overcome our foes (our own sin, our flesh). In other words, our continued victorious triumph over our sin is a privilege afforded to us in our union with Christ! And lastly, we see highlighted in this verse the reality that our station before the Father is secured by this union as well. In other words, if you are a Christian, your chances of spending eternity in the presence of the Father are as good as Jesus‘.
Blessed by the wisdom and the grace
The eternal love and faithfulness
That’s in the gospel scheme revealed
And is by God his Spirit sealed
In this concluding verse, Kent now explains the third Person’s role in this Triune bond—the Spirit seals and applies all of these glorious truths. Which is to simply affirm the reality that our union with Christ is a spiritual union (that is, a Spirit-ual—Holy Spirit wrought—union). It is the person of the Holy Spirit who does all the binding work we’ve been reveling in up to this point.
1. Community Groups – With nearly 30 new participants in the last three weeks, we are starting new groups, reorganizing some old ones and gearing up for gospel-community that transforms lives!
2. Men and Women’s Mentoring – Last spring we held our first semester of Women’s Mentoring with over 30 women meeting in groups of 3-4 to study scripture together. This fall we are launching into it again, but also starting men’s groups!
3. Family Equipping – This fall we will begin to expand our intentionality in equipping families to make disciples. Expanded kids ministry (including 3rd-5th grade) and intentional sermon helps and catechisms for conversation between parents and kids are going to boost our process of making disciples.
4. Hospitality – This week I have had four people tell me they visited Emmaus and where greated with such hospitality that they aren’t going anywhere else. From warm greetings in the lobby to friendly faces in worship to invitations to lunch and to community groups by members, these four (and many more) have felt the hospitable grace of Jesus.
5. Gospel conversations – I won’t share specifics for the privacy of those still in these conversations, but we’ve had more post-service gospel conversations with unbelievers over the last month than in the two years prior. God is calling the lost to come, and our members are sharing Christ!
6. Church Planting – Emmaus has officially launched 2 church planting partnerships: Genoa, Italy and Seattle, Wash. May God save people, and may healthy churches be planted!
7. Refugee Ministry – This fall, Emmaus members are setting out to love, serve and disciple refugees in our city through ESL, tutoring and soccer. Pray with us for the nations to hear the gospel here in our own city!
I often get asked the question, “What kind of church is Emmaus?”. That is a tricky question to answer. Is the person asking what denomination we are? We are Southern Baptist. Are they asking “What style is your church?”. Um, we are simple, liturgical, biblical. Are they asking what ministry philosophy we hold to? We would say that we are gospel-centered. The list seems endless.
One of the ways in which a church can identify itself is through whom the church partners with. For example, we are part of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) because we greatly value cooperation in the advancement of the gospel and no one collectively cooperates through giving for the training, sending and supporting of pastors and missionaries like the SBC. The SBC has invested money and energy and prayer in our church plant and so many others. We love our SBC tribe deeply and are thankful to be part of the SBC.
In 2016 I and Emmaus were presented with an opportunity to join a network that would help us in 3 primary areas:
- Cultural Identity
- Missional Practice
- Relational Support
Acts 29 (A29) is a diverse global family of church planting churches.
A29 is not a denomination, and joining A29 did not forfeit our cooperation and affiliation as an SBC church. Rather, A29 helps us to more intentionally clarify who we are and what we are about while also providing the opportunity to practice what we say we are about. Here are 3 ways this is true.
When I speak of cultural identity as a church, I am not referring to the culture of the community our church is in. That is a whole other type of cultural identity. I am referring to the theological, missiological and philosophical culture of our church. Allow me to share two examples of this:
- A29 churches agree to a theological statement that helps us to more clearly communicate what we believe about several theological issues.
- A29 churches are church planting churches, meaning they give themselves intentionally and strategically to see more churches planted. This is not only done through giving of money to the network, but by every A29 church actively participating in the planting of churches. By joining A29 we are making a statement that a central part of our identity is that we will actively plant churches.
When we say we are an A29 church, we are saying something about our theology, our missiology and our philosophy; we are making a statement about our cultural identity.
A29 is a network of church planting churches. As I mentioned above, part of being in this network is that we agree to actively pursue and support the planting of other churches, not only through giving of finances, but through our physical and spiritual partnership.
Emmaus is partnered with an A29 church plant in Northern Italy to help strengthen it and plant others from it. In addition to our partnership with this church, other A29 churches have financially and physically supported us as we have planted. The partnership goes both ways. Through A29 we are able to partner with other church plants around the globe for the advancement of the gospel
Emmaus has a pastoral residency that allows us to journey with men for 2.5 years as they prepare to go pastor or plant churches. Not all of these men will pastor churches that are part of A29, but many will and A29 will be a resource for helping find partners for their churches as they plant and pastor.
Lastly, A29 has the best process that I have found for assessing, strengthening and coaching pastors and planters. By partnering with A29, we have access to this assessment for our residents who are being trained to pastor and plant. This helps us be assured that our guys are called, gifted and prepared to plant churches.
While planting my first church, most of those watching from the outside were simply caught up in the quick growth of our church and assumed that everything was ok because of our quick growth. But an A29 pastor put his arm around me and asked if I was ok. He proceeded to become a mentor and a coach through many seasons and decisions as a pastor and to this day is still a mentor as well as the pastor of one of our churches supporting churches.
That is not the only story like this; whenever I have a question, a struggle, or advice I need, the men that I go to are mostly A29 pastors. They have invested in me, poured into me, prayed with me, and walked with me.
In addition to these friendships, I went through an extensive assessment process to join A29, in which a room of pastors pressed on me, asked me terribly difficult questions, dug into my personal life, and more. All of this was so that they could encourage and exhort me as a man and pastor. I’ve seldom felt as loved as I did in that “gospel interrogation”.
A29 is a family of brotherhood and pastoring is a job of isolation. As a pastor, I am surrounded by people, yet often feel all alone. The relational support of A29 has been life-giving to me, and I believe it’ll be life-giving to all of our pastors.
How did we become A29?
My wife and I went through a long process of questions, tests and assignments for several months. These questions covered a wide range of topics including; our salvation, marriage, intimacy, parenting, finances, theology, ecclesiology, pastoral care, calling, personal health (mentally, physically, and spiritually), church life and more.
After completing this phase we had a phone interview and then were invited to an assessment week in Dallas where we spent 2 days with pastors, being assessed in pretty much everything we did. We were put into social settings, I preached, we had case studies to work through while everyone watched and listened to our reasoning and decisions, and we sat in a room of assessors as I described above and were lovingly pressed on to see if we were holistically healthy.
A few weeks after the assessment week, we received a report of our assessment that had several conditions we needed to address and work through. These were things they saw at our assessment time that they thought could be hindrances to our ministry or dangers to ourselves and others. After several months of working through these conditions, we submitted a report of our progress and were granted membership in Acts 29.
Why Did I Write This?
My goal in sharing this process with you, Emmaus, is so that you would know that your pastors and their families actively submit ourselves to the oversight, rebuking, and coaching of others to ensure that we are healthy leaders of our church. In addition, we seek to join Emmaus with organizations and people that will help us to clarify our cultural identity, practice our mission, and strengthen our leaders through relational support. Acts 29 is a network that takes this process seriously and therefore it is a network that we are excited to join.
*Coming Soon: Why We are Southern Baptist and Why We Joined the SendNetwork at www.emmausblog.com