In my second year of bible college I started listening to a Pastor from Seattle by the name of Mark Driscoll. He was intellectually stimulating, funny and uncompromising in his teaching. I really enjoyed following along with the progress of the church he is a pastor at and often daydreamed of moving to Seattle just to be a part of it. I’m sure I over-romanticized the idea in my head but I believe there really was a reason I was drawn to it - God was doing something in the PNW that made me get excited about the local church like I had never been before.
Fast forward to the end of the school-year, about one year ago this last week (the 5th of May), I decided to move with my family to Florida. I was offered a job with the ministry of the school I went to, would have been able to stay where I was living and continued having awesome friendships with people I dearly love. However I began to feel anxious and uncomfortable about staying in the Springs. The “peace” that I had felt was gone overnight. I talked with my parents and decided to move to Jacksonville with them.
Two days after deciding to move and having no clue why I was doing such a thing, I was browsing Facebook when I came across a photo (above) that Pastor Mark from Seattle posted. The caption read, “Got to pray for Pastor Matt Jensen of MH U-District Sun. He’s feeling called to plant in his home state of Florida. We are happy to support him in every way, but sad to see him go.”
My first thought was, “I want to be a part of that church-plant.”
My second thought was, “No way will it be a plant in Jacksonville.”
I added Pastor Matt on Facebook and periodically checked in on what was going on with the Jensens via Social Media. I found out they were staying in Jacksonville until they decided where to plant the church.
I started attending the Crossing Church near my house and met Pastor Matt there one Sunday. Matt invited me to coffee where he told me that he and his wife were heading down to Miami for the weekend to check things out and see if that was the spot to plant. I liked Matt and from what I could tell he sounded like he knew his stuff. A few weeks later Matt invited me to meet again.
“We’re starting a church in Jacksonville - you in?”
Since September, The Image Church has grown from a dozen people eating dinner in the Jensen living room to dozens of people gathering on Sunday morning to open the Bible and talk about the Gospel of Jesus. We don’t have music, the lighting is dim, sometimes the powerpoint doesn’t work and there’s this disco ball that hangs in the middle of the room where we meet - hear me when I say that on Sunday mornings there is no place on earth I would rather be than with my friends at The Image Church. There is something happening in Jacksonville and the North Florida area.
You know that line in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe? It’s the one that every time I read it, it makes my heart jump just a little bit and a smile starts to spread across my face.
“Aslan is on the move.”
It’s the same feeling I have about JAX. The city has had a long winter.. but I’m beginning to see hints of Spring. Beneath blankets of white snow, the grass begins to thaw. The cold air is beginning to fill with birds that are singing new songs. Flowers long thought dead are waking from their sleep. It’s not very pretty at this point but if you squint at it you might just see what it could be.
The Image Church is not the answer to Jacksonville’s problems, but it’s one of many messengers to the good news of the Gospel - that God’s own Son has come as One of us to live perfectly, though tempted and to die the death we deserve for our rebellion against a loving Father.
How sweet the news it is we share - a better answer to our problems than I could ever think possible!
I’m really glad someone took that picture and shared it on Instagram. Because of it I have met a whole bunch of people I call family and people I count as friends. Who knows the implications of that picture?
Whatever they are - God certainly has a sense of humor.
We have drums.
We have art.
We have pews.
We have dinner.
We’re planting churches.
We’re making disciples.
We believe in love.
We want justice.
We meet in a basement.
We meet in a cathedral.
This is a list of things I’ve heard that Christians have used to describe themselves and their churches. When you look at this list you may identify with a few of these. I know I do. In fact, some of these should be how every church describes themselves. However it’s in this list that you can see certain “party lines” drawn. It’s there that things become a little sticky. It’s in the midst of lists like this that you begin using “they” and “them” and not “us” and “we”.
I’ve honestly thought about this quite a bit and there has always been tension on my part about using such distinctive words to describe myself or beliefs. Should I be “drawing lines in the sand”, so to speak? Should I even bother affiliating myself with some of these “distinctions”? Some of these party lines close doors immediately for opportunities I might have. People associate you with the wrong word and next thing you know you aren’t welcome in certain circles. Why even bother?
Yesterday I listened to a talk given by Tim Keller at a conference in London last year. He spoke on what it means to be Evangelical. I’m a total nerd so of course this topic sounded like a “fun” listen.
As Pastor Keller began unpacking the distinctive of the Evangelical movement, Keller noted that despite his Calvinistic understanding of Salvation, he could sit next to a Wesleyan brother who also identified as evangelical and feel a stronger kinship than those in his own Presbyterian denomination. Keller went on to say something along the lines of, “We might both believe in infant baptism but I’m much more likely to feel at home with someone whom embraces the fullness and inerrancy of the Scripture.”
Keller broke down Evangelicalism as 3 major points:
1. Belief in the final, inerrant, full and clarifying Word of God.
2. Belief in the Gospel. That Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone and by the substitutionary work of Christ alone.
3. Belief that all of life is repentance. That as we become more fully aware of God’s goodness, love and holiness in contrast to our rebellion, sin and self-sufficiency and in doing so we live lives of repentance - turning from self-worship and creation-worship to God-worship.
His breakdown, in my opinion, covers all the bases that must be covered and opens the door to further discussion of those foundational and common beliefs among the Evangelical community.
But it was after this that he said something so profound I have been thinking about it all day. Keller says that no matter what, we are going to draw lines in the sand. Even if you say, “I don’t draw lines in the sand” you are in fact.. drawing a line in the sand - it’s unavoidable. Keller goes on to say that it’s not the unavoidable lines we should be worrying about but how we treat those on the other side of the lines. How do we treat those in opposition to our nice and neat little worldviews?
Too often I make a devil of those that don’t agree with me theologically or even philosophically. It’s rather easy to simply crawl back to my cherished little books that I read and blogs that I peruse and sooth myself with thinking that I’m right and they’re wrong and that’s that. But is that really the Christianity I’ve come to love?
It’s much easier to simply wave away those that oppose you with a clenched fist. It’s the humble outstretched hand of friendship that I have a hard time extending. Thankfully Jesus is changing that in me.
I hope you join me in praying that we all become a little bit more humble in how we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ and especially those outside of the Church when the time comes for discussing hard topics and Biblical theology. That we seek to know God’s truth’s and show His love rather than seeking our own glory and rightness in these encounters - that we speak truth in love.
I’ll end with quote from a friend:
There’s something terribly wrong with the world - and I’m starting to think it’s me.
Update May 4th, 2013 2:39 PM:
To clarify - I believe that doctrine and distinctions are important. I think that what Pastor Keller laid out here is a great foundational starting point for conversations that discuss differences in our doctrines and traditions. I am in no way saying that what you believe about baptism, predestination, ecclesiology etc. is of no importance but that how you treat those that disagree with you is an incredibly important factor at the beginning of any sort of civil discourse amongst brothers and sisters in Christ.
My sweet new #snapback from @strghtandnrrw clothing. Death has been defeated. #JesusWins #thedeathofdeath #thetombisempty
THE IMAGE CHURCH: Great News and an Awesome Story -
- We think God is provding us a crazy awesome opportunity!
- A friend surrenders to Jesus and dismisses demons in his life.
- We need your help!
I hesitate to tell you all this news, because finding a space for Sunday services has been filled with ups and…
So good! I haven’t been eating out lately so now I am rewarding myself with some dynamite sushi over in Riverside. #raw (at Sushi Cafe)
Welcome to the family, Troy. Aidan (9 yrs old) named him after his favorite Community character, obviously. Cc: @childishness
“What if I like him?”
This was the “frightening” thought that came to my mind as I walked out of the parking lot towards the Veteran’s Arena in Jacksonville last Friday night. The reason for my being there was to attend a meeting which Joel Osteen would be speaking at. Osteen’s Ministry has held over one-hundred of the “Night of Hope” events in the past five years. Fortunately enough a friend of a friend of ours was able to get us VIP tickets for the second row of the event as well as getting to meet Joel and the crew afterwards. As I walked through the doors I could smell the distinct scent of a fog machine.
I groaned, inwardly.
Let me pause a moment here and explain the first line of this post. Joel Osteen and I have sort of a history. We didn’t meet each other before Friday but I knew Joel’s teachings. I’ve heard him speak before and I’ve seen the infamous Larry King interview where he sort of messed up the whole, “Jesus is the only way to God/Heaven” thing. This, as I’m sure you’re aware, is sort of a big thing for (orthodox) Evangelicals. So I’m fairly well-versed with what Joel’s message has been in the past. Being more along the lines of health/wealth/prosperity type teachers and more seeker in his approach to ecclesiology (theology in application to the structure and understanding of church); I part ways with Joel on some pretty big issues. I may even on occasion do impressions of him and his wife, Victoria. Now I mostly poke at him all in good fun but I’ve thrown out a few scathing remarks on him via Twitter, Facebook and the like. Joel is big on the whole, “positive thinking” thing; call me a cynic but I’ve never been one for the positive self-statements and “declaring” over myself certain phrases and affirmations. I’m too over-confident as it is that I think if I started giving myself pep talks my head would enlarge to elephant-man proportions and no one wants to see that. So that’s one of the areas I’m not too keen on in Joel’s message but… let’s get to the good stuff.
At about 7:45 the music began to play. The worship team opened with Gungor Band’s, Beautiful Things. I was immediately impressed. However, the impressiveness immediately sunk when the next song that they played was the National Anthem (not the Radiohead song). I groaned inwardly. I don’t like when worship music mixes with nationalism, call me old fashioned.
Though I do have to admit, the three part harmony was pretty sweet.
After a few songs Joel and Victoria got up and greeted everyone. Joel shared a few thoughts, mostly fluffy bits that I expected him to say, lots of smiling and general niceness.
“45 minutes in and he hasn’t said anything heretical yet… impressive.” I thought to myself, very humbly.
After that Joel invited some local pastors to the stage to pray over the city, state and nation. This was the first time during the night that I stopped with my critiquing and was genuinely surprised. This was really awesome. He wasn’t making the show all about him, he was actually engaging with the community of Jacksonville and allowing some leaders to share. It appeared as if he actually cared.
“Huh.” I thought.
And this was the beginning of the end.
After a few more songs and some words from his mother and wife, Joel took the stage.
“Here comes the heresy.” I told myself (again, may I point out my humbleness).
Joel began his talk. The more he talked the more my jaw began to drop. Joel spoke on (of all things) the sovereignty of God. He didn’t use the word sovereignty or those big theological words you have to look up in the dictionary. He spoke plainly because Joel is a pretty plain, smiley guy.
He grinned as he recounted the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
“Sometimes God does a miracle and it’s amazing and painless and sometimes it’s the fire that burns off your cords.” Joel appealed to the crowd of over 10,000
“Amen.” I whispered, in disbelief.
Now of course Joel didn’t go full J. Pipes or R.C. Sproul on the sovereignty issue but he sure didn’t sound like Greg Boyd or Clark Pinnock, either. Heck, he even quoted five scriptures.
Now, of those five verses, Isaiah 45:7 was (unfortunately) not one of them.
But I digress.
By the end of the message and after the alter call I was actually smiling. He didn’t say everything I would have said and he didn’t go as deep as I would have gone (because I have it all figured out) but I certainly was glad that I heard what he had to say. It seems as if the Joel Osteen of years past has changed. It may not be as substantial a change as I would have liked but call me an optimist, it gave me a little hope.
After he was finished we were shuffled off to the meet and greet area. In walked Joel and he immediately shook my hand and asked my name and what I was doing here in JAX. We spoke for a minute and I thanked him for coming to the city of Jacksonville and taking the time to get to know some of the pastors here, he thanked me, gave me a hug and grinned one last time before chatting with the other people in the room.
I know this is the part where my fellow reformed friends want to heart that I “dropped some Bible on him” and gave him a Gospel-centered kick to the chest but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Proverbs it’s this: tact.
As he walked away I went back to the question I asked myself at the beginning of the night.
“What if I like him?”
I probably won’t ever be his biggest fan and I’m not saying there aren’t areas to critique his ministry or that I’m trying to make excuses for some of the untrue things he has said. I do pray that he would be more explicit and talk more about Jesus and the beauty of the Cross and the magnitude of penal substitutionary atonement and know the benefit of preaching exegetically and all the other things the Bible instructs us to do but here’s my big idea: We all miss it on some really big stuff and we will ultimately answer for those sins, no excuses. But the prayer I find myself praying after all this is not that Joel Osteen (or anyone) should become more like me or any other person you may think of but more like the person that is Jesus Christ, which should have been my prayer all along… but here I am again humbled by God’s mercy despite my pride.
Sometime you go looking for someone else’s flaws and you end up finding all your own and you realize yet again how much you need Jesus and how little you have it all figured out. Thankfully God gives me plenty of opportunity to find out how much I need Him.
Tomorrow I will be 19 years old. This is it. This is the last year. I’ll be done.
That is to say, it is my last year of being a teenager. I’m not going to lie to you, I’m incredibly excited to wave farewell to this portion of my life. It’s not that it’s been bad but only because I look to the future with my heart full of hope as to what God will do with my life. As I think back on these years, I have a few things to share.
I realize it has been quite some time since I last posted so I thought I’d give you a quick update on my life and then a short post on some things you should check out.
So I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what are some of my influences in the way I think and understand God, the scriptures, theology and life in general. These six sermons are some that I think about often because of the impact they’ve had on me in my thinking. Not just what to think, but how to think. I commend these to you with this in mind: there are some hard truths in these. Be quiet and listen and think and spit out the bones, according to the Scriptures.
These two verses just blow my mind. #scripturegram (Taken with Instagram)
This is Miss Hays. She works at a Boys and Girls Club in Jacksonville. She loves her kids at the BGC and works hard to make sure they’re well looked after. I’m so thankful for people like her thy love the community well! Keep Miss Hays in your prayers, please. #JesusLovesJacksonville #community #jax #volunteer (Taken with Instagram)
Repentance is not an emotion. It is not feeling sorry for your sins. It is a decision. It is deciding that you have been wrong in supposing that you can manage your own life and be your own God; it is deciding that you were wrong in thinking that you had, or could get, the strength, education and training to make it on your own; it is deciding that you have been told a pack of lies about yourself and your neighbors and your world. And it is deciding that God in Jesus Christ is telling you the truth. Repentance is a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts. Repentance is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and become his Pilgrim in the path of peace — Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (via jensenmatt)
God is good beyond imagination. #timkeller (Taken with Instagram)