There are several entries that have been sitting in my drafts for a while that I’ve trying to get posted, and this happens to be one of them. M25 Mission Camp is a youth missional organization in Atlanta that works with the homeless in a way I’ve rarely seen over the years. It wasn’t the first youth trip for me, but it was the first one in a while, and I was amazed with every aspect of the experience, mainly because it changed perceptions and perspectives on life and serving others well. This video we produced can explain it better than I can here. For now, there are some images that shows a little of the week we spent trying to love others well.
We had our second large outdoor baptism celebration last Sunday, and it was an amazing time to see new life rise up. Scripture has a lot to say about believers baptism, the most common probably being Matthew 28:29-30, but this isn’t our only call to baptism, and it isn’t our only example of people stepping out in faith to be baptized. One of my favorite baptism stories in Scripture comes from Acts 8:26-40 when Phillip is explaining a passage from Isaiah 53:7-8 to the eunuch. Phillip “told him the good news about Jesus” and the eunuch’s response was an exclamation point, one where you can almost see him jumping up and down with joy saying:
See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized? (Acts 8.26)
This shows the joy of following the commands of Jesus in baptism, not as a salvation sacrament, but as a step of public faith in the death and resurrection of Christ that we now share (Romans 6:3-6). That is the joy to participate in the baptism of Christ, and it shows when you look at these faces from our celebration below. I love the expressions on their faces, the joy of Christ radiates through their experience. Each time I watch people raised up into a new life in Christ I recall my own baptism with Deborah in Birmingham, it was one of those events in my life I will not forget, and I’m guessing these folks won’t either.
The full set of images from the day will be posted on our Flickr page soon and I am going to upload several more to my Facebook gallery soon.
Anyone who has confessed to following the teachings of the Christ knows Sunday is just the day we come together to meet with other believers. Sunday isn’t the day the work of the church body takes place, that’s what happens when we engage people in our daily routine of life. Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget the work of the church body takes place during the rest of the week, especially when we have been so conditioned to the importance of Sunday being there for that one hour Sunday morning.
I am so privileged to get to work with staff and volunteers (group shot) that make their faith the work of everyday life. This photo above was just one of the countless meetings and conversations that takes place for the purpose of reaching others in our community and beyond. As I look at this photo from today, and recall the conversations that took place today to encourage and uplift each other, Hebrews 10:22-25 sort of jumps out at me.
let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
These verses, which is normally used by the church to remind us we should be IN “church” on Sunday morning. This section of Hebrews is actually three exhortations in the “full assurance of faith,” or a call to believers to (1) come together, (2) be strong, and (3) to challenge each other, considering how to challenge each other to love and good works (v.24-35). The purpose of this is to strengthen each other’s faith in preparation for Christ’s return.
I’m a visual kind of guy and in my mind, this photo is just one small modern day example of Hebrews 10:22-25, and it didn’t even take place on Sunday morning, but instead on a Monday afternoon.
Last Sunday we (Cornerstone Church) had our first large Baptism Celebration event where about 35 people were baptized, including a whole group of young confirmands. To me at least, this was an incredible event in the life of this little church in Auburn. Baptism should be a celebration, a time of renewing and commitment to the Lord, but sometimes the Christian Church body makes this such a solemn, if not somber event in a believers life when it should be one of excitement and joy.
For some reason, that afternoon in my mind, the story of Phillip and the Eunuch kept coming to my mind. This story told in the book of Acts (Acts 8:26-40) has a tone of excitement and joy. The Eunuch was so excited to be baptized that he made Phillip baptize him in the first bit of water he saw. I can just see this Eunuch, reading the book of Isaiah one minute, and the next just jumping up and down pointing at the water pleading with Phillip to be baptized.
And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.
So, last Sunday, we as a church, baptized a group of people with two horse troughs side by side. Before they went under we all worshiped with the band leading, and afterwards we all ate hotdogs and hamburgers and had some time to just fellowship with one another. The photos below are a small representative of the evening. I will have some posted to the Flickr photo stream shortly, and will upload a set to the Church’s Facebook page or go to straight to the Baptism Celebration Album on Facebook. I love the expressions on their faces when they come up out of the water, proclaiming a new life in Christ.
Can we really know the true meaning of Christianity today? The answer of course, is an emphatic yes, of course we can, but the answer always seems to change depending on who you ask. Our culture is filled with blogs and news articles like the CNN “Belief Blog” and the Washington Post “On Faith” section, which constantly adjust the meaning of Christianity to suit their own needs, mostly to be politically correct. Make no mistake, these are secular institutions, writing for a single collective purpose and goal in mind, to make a monetary profit. These are businesses, and in business to make money (nothing wrong with that).
These news blogs ask good theological questions like Are Mormons Christians?, because they are hot-button topics, but they often give politically correct answers, ones rarely correct to true Christianity. The Mormon question is a great example, where the press wants to find some way for Christianity to accept Mormons as Christians. If they knew the differences between Christianity and what the Mormon’s say they believe, they would understand why this is just never going to happen (see a good article A Comparison Between Christian Doctrine and Mormon Doctrine). To a learned Christian, Mormons will never be considered “Christians,” even if the Mormon’s say they are, and that is just one small hot topic today of thousands.
I love the Discovery Channel series “Who is Jesus,” and the History Channel’s The Shroud of Turin, but taking serious Christian spiritual or doctrinal advise from these places would be like determining the true meaning of Christianity via the Discovery Channel and History Channel. Sadly, I’m guessing this is where many people in our culture today decide what true Christianity is and isn’t.
The truth of Christianity of course is only found from Scripture, period. If that’s so can a true biblical view also be presented to our culture by means of a secular for-profit company? I think Charles Schultz was one of the first to try and answer that question in our current day when he had Linus read from the book of Luke. After reading another blog post this morning asking “Can we really know the true meaning of Christianity today?”, it made me think… how quickly could you/we/me answer the question? Would the answer come from our deep seeded bias’ we all carry, or would it be a Biblical answer?
There are almost countless ways to answer that question in truth, but here are two quick ways to explain the true and real meaning of Christianity. It’s simple… we make it complex.
- John 13:35 Jesus says :: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (something also expanded on by Paul in Romans 12:9-21)
- Romans 10:9-10 Paul says: That is the outpouring of our decision for Christ… “because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved”
Those are just two quick ways to answer that question, there are many more.
Last night was our Good Friday service, one that contained a combination of worship and examining confession at the foot of the cross. It’s hard to put into words what that means, and Brian said it best when he told everyone that the cross speaks for itself, and it does. There really aren’t words that are sufficient enough to describe the power of the cross and what Christ did on that day. So, in keeping with words aren’t needed, I’ll let the photos here speak for themselves as well, which is one of the reasons I love photography as much as I do.
Every year, on this day, Maundy Thursday, we come to the Lord in prayer, as Jesus did with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. On that night, Jesus asked his disciples to watch and pray… because our spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak (Matthew 26:36-46), and then Jesus was betrayed by one of his own inner circle friends. Every year at our church is slightly different, but each year, this evening is set aside for prayer, the Lord’s supper, and meditation on what our Lord went through on Good Friday. I love that image above from last year (see also Messages from the Heart to God in Chalk Board Prayers :: Photos) where everyone wrote their prayers in chalk as they moved through the night.
I looked back over and read some of my journal entries from that night a few years ago, and it’s amazing what that great spiritual discipline of meditation can do for the soul. In my entry from 2009 I wrote this sentence after being there for an hour or so.
It is almost impossible to wrap your mind around what everything here tonight represents in history. I understand nothing, but I love what I don’t understand.
There are only a few more days of Lent for 2012, today being Day 44 (if you count Sunday’s), and our reading today came from the Book of Common Prayer (only $2.99 on Kindle by the way). Something I don’t get a chance to read all that often, but love its wisdom.
Almighty God, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
May that be the prayer for today.
Up for a quick book review today is a book called The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, which I finished up a few weeks ago. This small book (176 pages) was published back in September of 2009 by John Piper, Sinclair Ferguson, and Mark Driscoll come together with worship pastor Bob Kauflin, counselor Paul Tripp, and literature professor Daniel Taylor to discuss the power that words have, and how our speak can both edify and vilify our brothers and sisters in Christ. This book came out of the Desiring God National Conference in 2008 with the same name (2008 National Conference Messages), and each author takes a chapter in their own specialized field to discuss the impact of words on our life, specifically that of Scripture. All in all a great, quick, read for those Christians interested in words.
I will admit that from the start I didn’t expect much from this book other than a good collection of a few sermons, but I was quite surprised by its depth of content and overall usefulness in application. The book isn’t broken up like this, but below are three sections or reasons I found quite valuable, and a book I would highly recommend reading.
- The Power of Words in History
The Power of Words takes a great look at the history of words, spoken and written, and how people like Luther and others used their power of words to change the church, even if it was crude at times. It was needed. Look at what Luther was fighting, and we can see that mocking and crude speech like this is sometimes called for.
Luther argued that his theological opponents avoided the Bible: “I cry: Gospel, Gospel, Gospel! Christ, Christ! Then they reply: The fathers! The fathers! Custom, Custom! Statutes, Statutes! But when I say: The fathers, custom, and the statutes have often been in error; matters of this kind must be settled by a stronger and more reliable authority; but Christ cannot be in error—then they are more speechless than fish. (location 1576)
- The Power of Words in Application
Along with the historical look at how we use speak The Power of Words takes a practical approach to our speech today. Scripture has so much to say about how we should speak, and when we should refrain from speaking, how devastating the tongue can be, and how we can use it to lift people up when they are down.
We foolishly assume that our real struggles with sin are in the areas where we are “weak.” We do not well understand the depth of sin until we realize that it has made its home far more subtly where we are “strong,” and in our gifts rather than in our weaknesses and inadequacies.
- The Power of Words in Music
The last section was the most unexpected section, but also contains the most valuable affirmation of music and its importance in our earthly Christian walk. I really didn’t expect a section on music that talked about words and speech, but this section took the book from being a good book to being a great book. If you are at all involved in the music life of the church (and technically we all are), this section should be a must read. Three great points (of many) that were made on the power of music today were stated by Bob Kauflin saying:
- There’s certainly a place for expressing our subjective responses to God in song, but the greater portion of our lyrical diet should be the objective truths we’re responding to: God’s Word, his character, and his works, especially his work of sending his Son to be our atoning sacrifice.
- We conclude that a certain beat, volume, chord progression, instrument, or vocal style is evil in and of itself. But unless those aspects are spelled out in Scripture we should be cautious about assigning a moral value to them.
- An increasing number of churches have adopted the practice of offering different services for different musical tastes. While that decision can be well intentioned, I believe the long-term effect is to separate families and generations and to imply that we gather together around our musical preferences, not Jesus Christ.
Overall, The Power of Words is one of those books that is such a quick and easy read that even if you have a slight interest in how words and speech affect our walk with Christ, you should pick up this book. Each author or contributor adds to the value of this book, and even though you might not agree with everything they stand for personally they have put together a great collective word on the power God placed in the written and spoken word.
My dear family, friends, and supporters: As most of you know by now, I am on a team headed for Africa this Monday, July 25th (see Google map of Bulboa, Uganda). As I have prepared for this trip, especially over the last few days I have been thinking about all the people that have actually made this trip possible and I wanted to say thanks. In many ways I feel God has been leading me to take this trip for more than 15 years, and in some form or fashion you have played a part in making it happen, and for that I thank you very much.
As we fly out of Atlanta on Monday I would specifically ask for you to pray for our team, for my strength both physically and mentally, and for Deborah at home while I’m away.
Our team follows many others as our church continues to strengthen our ongoing partnership with Buloba Community Church and African Renewal Ministries (ARM), and that’s what this trip is about. It’s not an attempt to bring a western Christianity to an African community but to partner with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as they do the work for God that only they can do. After talking with the team that just arrived back on Thursday I know a lot of our time will be spent installing rain catch systems for local residents during the day (think cisterns for rain water) and holding soccer camps for the kids in the evening, two things I know very little about. So please also pray that our words and actions towards all those we meet along the way will be filled with Christ’s love.
Our 10 days of travel takes us from Atlanta to Amsterdam to Rwanda into Uganda and back again. Travel time from the church to Uganda is almost 24 hours each way and is almost 16,000 miles round trip. For those of you who have sacrificed financially for our team I thank you from the bottom of my heart. For those who haven’t had a chance yet, there is always time (especially since I’m raising money for this trip and my October trip together). Even if you can only give $10 it’s still helps tremendously, and is greatly appreciated. You can give online here and it goes straight to the church and is tax deductible. I will attempt to post brief, precise, non-rambling updates, on my blog as I can at http://scottfillmer.com as time allows each day.
As I think about the sacrifice Jesus made for each of us I recognize that we all sacrifice anything that hinders us from attaining that which we most cherish. So to live differently, as we are called to do as Christians, Christ must be what we cherish most (see Psalm 42:1-2, Psalm 73:25). This is why we renounce the world, so that we may pursue Christ. It’s not about making lists of do’s or don’ts. It’s about finding what helps us pursue and gain Jesus, and when we do, we will look at the lesser pleasures we have forsaken and say “I have sacrificed nothing.” I have heard that put so many different ways but it doesn’t cease to be true and is just one of thousands of reasons for me personally going on this trip, to pursue and gain Jesus and to offer the same to others. I earnestly thank you for your prayers and support.
I have been trying for weeks to figure out what to take and what not to take with me to Uganda, and as a friend of mine said yesterday, less is more. It seems no matter how little I take I’m still doing what I perceive a typical American would do, take too much stuff. So books are my big question mark left. I have several (actually more than several) books that I have been trying to read over the last several years and I would love to take them all with me and finish them on the first plane flight but can’t decide if I will actually read them. Three of these books at top on my list, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards with the Complete Text of The End for Which God Created the World (yes I know, the title is very long) by John Piper and Jonathan Edwards, The Life and Diary of David Brainerd by David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards, and The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal. I have picked up and read all three, then put down, then picked up again, and so on… for years now.
I know these aren’t your traditional quick reads, and one is quite a bit beyond my comprehension. I have all of them in Kindle eBook for my iPad, paperback, and audiobook but keep going back to the paper bound books because of the depth of their words. This morning I was going through each of these three books thinking about my time in Uganda, our sponsor child, Joanita, who I hope to meet while I’m there, I came across this chapter in The Life of God in the Soul of Man, titled “Religion Better Understood by Actions than Words”. After re-reading that chapter I wanted to share Scougal’s words here today that help remind me why we go. The text is also available in Google Books here.
Religion Better Understood by Actions than by Words
When we have said all that we can, the secret mysteries of a new nature and divine life can never be sufficiently expressed; language and words cannot reach them: nor can they be truly understood but by those that are enkindled within, and awakened unto the sense and relish of spiritual things. There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding.
The power and life of religion may be better expressed in actions than in words’ because actions are more lively things, and do better represent the inward principle whence they proceed; and therefore we may take the best measure of those gracious endowments from the deportment of those in whom they reside; especially as they are perfectly exemplified in the holy life of our blessed Savior; a main part of whose business in this world, was, to teach by his practice what he did require of others, and to make his own conversation an exact resemblance of those unparalleled rules which he prescribed: so that if ever true goodness was visible to mortal eyes, it was then when his presence did beautify and illustrate this lower world.
I know that is kind of a mouth full for only two sentences, and not in the most current English, but Scougal’s words here are pretty incredible. That’s why this book has taken me so long to read. The words are incredible but I have to read each page several times. Once you do, the value is deep and lasting. Why do we go according to Scougal? Because this is what Jesus did and He is our ultimate example to follow. As Scougal says, our actions are better represented by the inward principle they represent. This is to say our actions proceed from where our heart resides, and to me, that’s very telling, and a little scary.