BIG Announcement!

We have a BIG announcement to share!

On October 8th we are starting a new worship service on Sunday evenings in Spanish! Pastor Guillermo will be coming on board as a pastor on our ministry team. Along with his family and friends, Guillermo will work with us to further expand our ministry among Spanish-speakers in our community.

This is wonderful opportunity for Embrace to go deeper into ministry and loving our neighbors. Our diverse family is growing! Know that this will not be a separate church – we will be one church on the same mission to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our community. We can't wait to see what God does through Iglesia Abrazo de Dios (Embrace of God Church)!

Stay tuned for more details over the upcoming weeks!

IMG_2691.JPG

Declining Church Membership in America

As I walked through Spain on the Camino de Santiago last year I saw many beautiful churches. In every city, town, and village we found a church right in the center. I got the sense that these churches were more like museums showing off artifacts from the past rather than Spirit-filled communities seeking to follow Jesus. The overwhelming majority of Spaniards claim to be "Christian," yet from the outside it appears that following Jesus isn't top priority.

In America, our churches may be a bit more crowded with people, but we are on a similar path. Church membership is declining in America, churches are closing, and people are searching for answers. Many people may be in church on Sundays, but following Jesus doesn't seem to be a top-priority.

Tomorrow I'm preaching on the Parable of the Sower found in Matthew 13:1-23. There may be some answers in this challenging story told by Jesus.

 

Stanley Hauweras writes:

"Why we are dying seems very simple. It is hard to be a disciple and be rich...The lure of wealth and the cares of this world produced by wealth quite simply darken and choke our imaginations."

"Too often those who propose strategies to recover the lost status and/or membership of the church do so hoping that people can be attracted to become members of the church without facing the demands of being a disciple of Jesus."

"The church in America simply is not a soil capable of growing deep roots."

"A church that is shrinking in membership may actually be a church in which the soil of the gospel is being prepared in which deeper roots are possible."

 

The church gained power, status, and wealth in this nation, but I'm not convinced it did us much good.Perhaps these things produced some bad soil incapable of growing deep roots?

AD0F2FE9-D5A0-443D-81F2-2CCB55B63CC3.JPG

Love over Judgment

Three years ago when I started at Embrace I made a decision: I'm going to love people more than I judge them. I can't imagine standing before Jesus in the last days and hearing him say to me: "John, I wish you had judged people more." If I'm wrong, I rather be wrong on loving people too much than judging people too harshly. 

 

FullSizeRender.jpg

Baptisms! 🎶The old me is dead and gone🎶

In T.I.'s song, "Dead and Gone," Justin Timberlake sings:

Ohh, I've been travelin' on this road too long

Just tryin' to find my way back home

The old me is dead and gone, dead and gone

And ohh, I've been travelin' on this road too long

Just tryin' to find my way back home

The old me is dead and gone, dead and gone.

This is what practicing resurrection is all about.  Sounds awfully similar to Paul in the New Testament, "I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race."  Paul makes two things clear Philippians 3:10-14:

  1. In order to experience resurrection we must die with Christ.
  2. Living the resurrection life is a journey; it's not going to happen overnight.

Baptism is the beginning of this journey.  It marks a shift in a person's life.  This shift is a radical conversion, meaning "to the root."  Giving our lives to Christ means that we are changed to the root of our existence; new roots mean new fruit.

This past Sunday Estella, Angel, and Brisa were baptized at Embrace.  Their mom, Olga, joined the church alongside them.  The three girls are sisters, yet they all decided separately they wanted to be baptized.  They've learned about following Jesus at Common Good, Embrace, Aldersgate Camp, and Asbury.

Sunday was full of resurrection joy. The three girls went under the water, signifying that the "old me is dead and gone." Then they rose up from the water as if they were rising from their graves to a new resurrected life with Jesus. Praise God for new beginnings and fresh starts!

 

IMG_2770.JPG
IMG_2783.JPG
IMG_2792.JPG
IMG_2805.JPG
IMG_2808.JPG

My Neighborhood is My Parish - Bringing Soccer to Castlewood Park

John Wesley famously declared, "I look upon the world as my parish."  Christians today have taken his words as a missional charge to evangelize the world.  While I support world evangelism, I'm not sure this interpretation of Wesley's statement is very helpful for the local church.  We may declare, "The world is my parish!," along with Wesley, while turning a blind eye to our neighbors right outside our church doors.

At Embrace we care about our world.  We’ve sent missionaries to far-away places.  But we recognize that the best ministry happens person to person in real friendships between diverse neighbors.  This type of community happens best in neighborhoods.  Perhaps before we declare, "The world is my parish!," we should embrace the smaller vision: "My neighborhood is my parish."

I like the word “parish,” though I think it's lost its meaning.  In our denomination we refer to our churches as “parishes.”  The word “parish” finds its origins in a Greek word meaning, “to dwell alongside a sojourner.” The idea is that a group of Christians, the church, moves in and lives in a community alongside other people. The “parish” doesn’t just refer to the church, but has historically referred to the entire community surrounding the church. A pastor was assigned to a parish, which meant she or he was responsible for the entire community, not just the people within the church walls.

In their book, Making Neighborhoods Whole, John Perkins and Wayne Gordon argue that we need more “parish-minded” churches. To be a “parish-minded” church means that the church sees its ministry setting as the entire community, not just within the the four walls of the church building. This means that the church is present in the community, involved in the community, living life among the people in the community.

What if people in our neighborhoods knew us? 

Because we volunteered at the school.

Because we held community events at our church.

Because we helped maintain the park.

Because we visited with the sick and shut-ins.

Because we marched with people fighting for equality and justice.

Because we showed up at neighborhood association meetings.

Because we got involved in other ministries in our neighborhood.

Because we fought for equal access to food and services.

Because we showed at the basketball court or the community center and played with the teenagers.

Because we played Frisbee at the park and invited others to join us.

What if we get outside of our church walls, and truly claim this community as our parish, our place of ministry, where we are called to live out our faith?

REAL LIFE EXAMPLE:

This past Saturday our church celebrated with our neighbors the dedication of our neighborhood futsal court at Castlewood Park.  For those who don't know, futsal is a modified form of soccer played on a hard surface; a type of street soccer that doesn't require a large field.  Some students at Common Good, our local ministry partner in our basement, had a dream to build a futsal court at Castlewood Park.  They applied for a local grant through the NOLI CDC and received $2,500 award to make this project a reality.  With the help of mentors from Common Good and Embrace they worked hard for over a year meeting with our city council-member, Parks and Recreation, and other community stakeholders.  They even put in hard work on the weekends to build the court.

On Saturday we celebrated their accomplishment alongside hundreds of neighbors.  This wasn't an Embrace event or an official Embrace initiative.  Though our church sees our community as our place of ministry.  Dozens of people from Embrace were there because they see the North Limestone and Castlewood neighborhoods as their parish.

I believe our church is called to have a faithful presence in our neighborhood.  Our website URL is embraceyourcity.com.  We certainly want to embrace our city.  However, I don’t believe we can actually reach our entire city because we can’t be present in every part of our city.  I believe God has us on North Limestone for a reason: to work with our neighbors to see our community live into its God-given potential.

 

IMG_2515.JPG
IMG_2539.JPG

Jacques, one of the student founders. 

IMG_2470.JPG

Council-member James Brown receives his signed soccer ball from the student founders.

IMG_2462.JPG

PKs! 

IMG_2461.JPG