Lenten Song Meditation: Week 1

Throughout the season of Lent, we’ll be posting various songs that will help us engage in this season. Music is a helpful way of engaging both our minds and our affections as we meditate on truths of Scripture. For week 1 of Lent, we’ll be looking at “Out Of The Depths” by City Hymns, which we played on the first Sunday of Lent in our time of confession. It’s based on Psalm 130. If you want to buy this song or album on iTunes, click here.

(Verse 1)
Out of the depths I cry to Thee, oh Lord please hear my call
O Lord be merciful to me, at Thy throne of grace I fall
At Thy throne of grace I fall

(Verse 2)
Out of the woeful depths I cry, from the depths of sin
Of evil done in days gone by, of evil now within
Of evil now within

If Thou, oh Lord, should mark iniquities
Lord, who could then draw near?
But here I find forgiveness with Thee
That Thou may be feared, that Thou may be feared

(Verse 3)
Lord from the depths I wait for Thee, my hope is in Thy Word
All through the night ’till day is nigh, my soul waits upon the Lord
My soul waits upon the Lord

(Verse 4)
Lord here I find Thy mercy now, as ever was with Thee
Before Thy throne of grace I bow, Lord be merciful to me
Lord be merciful to me

(Chorus 2)
O Israel cast your hope upon the Lord
And in His Word do trust
He will redeem you from your sin
And raise you from the dust, and raise you from the dust

A few questions/observations as you engage with this song:

1) Note in verse 1 the basis on which mercy is requested: the throne of grace. We do not request mercy blindly hoping God may hear, but rather because God has called us to approach His throne of grace with confidence because of what Christ has done! Come with a humble boldness.

2) Verse 2 describes crying out from the depths of sin. Are you aware of sin in your life? Either in the past (“as in days gone by”) or currently (“evil now within”)? If you’re not aware of sin, ask God to graciously open your eyes to see it and in turn confess it.

3) Part of confession is in turn trusting God to forgive us and cleanse us through Christ’s work (1 John 1). As you confess, on what basis do you hope for forgiveness? Do you move into gratitude for God’s forgiveness in Christ (Romans 8:1) or do you get stuck in the confession, never moving on?

Bread & Wine 2013—Recap & Photos

On November 15th, 2013, we gathered at Park Church for our very first Bread & Wine event (as part of ParkRenew, see below for more info). Bread & Wine was an evening celebrating Christ’s incarnation through bread, wine, art, & song. A month before the event, we invited artists to create artwork in response to the first few chapters of John and its implications (particularly the incarnation of Christ). We asked one of our photographers to capture images of 7 different people from Park Church in their workplaces who do very different jobs: a financial adviser, a barista, a hair stylist, a stay-at-home mom, a barista, a carpenter, and a nurse.

We hung the artwork created and photos taken, and then invited the church to join us for a meal and art show of the pieces created during that month. We provided freshly baked baguettes hand-crafted by a baker from our church and asked everyone to bring their favorite bottle of wine to share. We sang songs of praise and thanks to our generous and lavish God “from whom all blessings flow”. Our goal for the evening was to eat good bread, drink good wine, have good conversation, and ultimately to enjoy these to the praise of our God! We wanted to remind our people that because God is Lord, how we eat and drink and open our homes and work are affected. All things are to be done to the glory of God!

About ParkRenew: ParkRenew exists to advance the work of cultural transformation and renewal under the Lordship of Jesus, through the Gospel of Jesus. Our hopes are to see the confessional work of the church pushed into the corners of our world and to see it renew all parts of our city. The Gospel changes the way we think about everything, including business & economics, the arts, missions, sexuality, friendship, the realities of marriage, and living in a complex culture like the modern city.

Below are some photos of the event taken by Caitlin Fairly (http://caitlinfairlyphoto.com/).

Why Do We Follow the Christian Calendar?

There’s no clear command in Scripture to observe the Christian Calendar rhythm. So why do we do this at Park? Here are just a few reasons:

1) To Remember Jesus’ Story 
It’s a way to year after year remember and order our calendars & days around the Good News of Jesus and His Story. We are quick to forget Him, so observing the Christian Calendar is one of the things we can do to call our forgetful hearts back to its roots in Christ!

2) To Link Arms with our Forefathers
It’s a way to link arms with our forefathers from centuries before us who celebrated the Christian Calendar. The church was not born a couple years ago, but rather comes with a great heritage we join in.

3) To Prepare Our Hearts
It helps prepare our hearts for Christmas and Easter. Too often we hit Christmas & Easter completely distracted by everything else except Jesus’ birth or His resurrection. Not only does it help prepare us for Christmas (through Advent) and Easter (through Lent), but both Christmas and Easter are not simply days but also seasons. We’re allowed a bit more time to sit in them, worshiping our Savior, and thinking on these amazing truths!

4) To Humble Us
Lastly, it reminds us we’re a part of a much bigger Story. Eugene Peterson said, “When we submit our lives to what we read in Scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.”

If you’re looking for a couple books to read on the Christian Calendar, check out a couple below:

“Living The Christian Year” Bobby Gross
“Ancient Future Time” Robert Webber

Here are a couple Advent devotionals (one of which is free!):

“Good News of Great Joy” John Piper Free! If you want an actual copy, click here. We also carry them in our bookstore.
“Counting The Days, Lighting the Candles” Elyse Fitzpatrick. Includes activities for kids.

Fear & Desire in Psalm 27

There are few moments that provide as much joy to me as those spent in the cool of the evening in Denver, sitting on our back patio watching our children run around the backyard. Carson’s laughter mixed with Hays’ ever-evolving instructions and Molly’s whimsical dismissal of those instructions all mix together into a sort of casserole of joy. Jen sitting beside me, usually reading and wearing her over-sized sunglasses. Our dog Stout running circles around the kids, jumping straight into the air and barking in an attempt to turn their attention away from whatever game they happen to be playing. I love the way that the twins have concocted the go to game (called: Carson’s It) so that they, by definition are never ‘it’.) I love the way Carson loves being ‘it’. Inevitably in the middle of these moments a melancholy thought enters my mind fleetingly: What if this is all taken from me in an instant? What if tragedy struck and it was all gone? Now these thoughts are generally chased away with the next outburst of laughter or by simply turning my attention to the greenness of the grass or the whispiness of the clouds- but the subconscious fear slips to the surface in those moments and strikes a disparate chord into the midst of an otherwise beautiful scene. Every so often I will awaken in the morning kind of sulky. Jen will poke fun at my moping. The sulkiness generally follows a dream about some sort of tragedy in our family. Jen will poke me, laugh at me. But even the thought of losing this family is devastating.

I fear most the loss of what I most love. The gift of my family is a thing I love almost as much as any other gift God has given me. The fear of losing it, could be crippling. The fear’s power to cripple lay precisely in how much I love, how much delight my family brings me. This remarkable connection between fear and delight is what the meaning of Psalm 27 hinges upon.

David describes absolutely devastating circumstances throughout the Psalm. He is surrounded by enemies, by evil men who are seeking to devour him. They do not simply want to kill him, they want his very life to be unraveled and destroyed. His parents (and with them, everyone else) have abandoned and rejected him. What is David’s response to such devastating threats and circumstances?

“My heart will not fear.”

Where does such confidence come from? It comes from a reordered set of desires. In verse 4 David says: “One thing have I asked from the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” He goes on to describe a kind of assuring nearness of God in the midst of these harrowing circumstances- but one of the key things to notice is that they are in the midst of (rather than out of) these circumstances. David has bent his life on seeking 1 thing:

To see God.

Now it isn’t as though the things being threatened are bad things. Living is a good thing. Family is a good thing. Not having an unraveled life is a good thing. These are good gifts. Certainly they are gifts that speak greatly of God’s goodness and beauty. But David sees all of life (including family and life and his crown) as having one great & good end: His greatest good is to see the beauty of God. A beautiful moment happens in the Psalm when David, after describing the one thing he desires in the midst of his circumstances, says that he will lift his head in the midst of his enemies. In other words, his particular circumstances have not necessarily changed- but he is confident that he will live with God forever. While everything else might be taken from him, this, he is sure, will not be taken from him. He will see God. Even if everyone else forsakes him, God will not. This assurance of the covenant faithfulness of God, combined with David’s desire to see the covenant faithfulness of God destroys fear. These armies may destroy nearly everything David loves, but they cannot take this deepest longing away from him. Fear is disarmed.

This way of ordering our fears and our desires raises a very important question with regards to how we relate to God. If our deepest desires are something that sickness or armies or abandonment by mother or father can take from us rather than God’s covenant presence and beauty, then God exists to serve those ends. If our greatest delight is God himself, then we can enjoy those good things as gifts from Him. If family or crown or wealth or health is our greatest good, then we will inevitably view God as merely useful. If they are taken from us, then what good is God to us? In this ordering of things, His worth lay in his willingness to give us what we truly want. But if his covenant presence and his beauty are our greatest good, then those gifts will be gifts. If they are taken from us, we still have our greatest desire- namely the beauty of God.

Jonathan Edwards, in discerning what was occurring during the first Great Awakening, said that the great division between those who simply professed to be Christians and those who were actually Christians lay in how they answered this question: Do you love God because you find Him useful or because you desire Him as beautiful?

Psalm 23—Smash Those Coffee Mugs

Green Pastures and quiet waters and Irish hills all come to mind when I think of Psalm 23. But the reality of this little, oft-quoted gem is far from peaceful, European pastoral scenes. The text juxtaposes images that seem dissonant but have to be held together if we’re going to rightfully understand this text. The first is a shepherd leading a flock of sheep somewhere- somewhere that will be like green pastures and quiet waters, somewhere in which my soul will be restored. The second is the valley of death and surrounded by my enemies (who presumably want me dead). In the world of this Psalmist, these aren’t two different worlds. They are one and the same. Our Shepherd leads us into the most difficult and painful of circumstances AND our Shepherd has promised to bring life to our souls.My mother’s bible has the difficult observation written in its margins: “He often leads us where we do not wish to go.” My mother understood this juxtaposition better than most. She endured a great deal of pain as she watched my Father slowly die. He died well, loving his God, loving his family. But he died young and painfully. My mom leaned heavily into this Shepherd God. She found comfort in the promise that this Shepherd God who led her and her sick husband precisely into this valley surrounded by these devastating enemies, was with her, her son, and her dying husband. And while there were tears, there was also incredible joy. Profound joy. I remember the laughter far more than I remember the tears.

Psalm 23 isn’t about Ireland and Coffeemugs and really kitschy art. It is about the profound promise of God. He is our Shepherd. He leads us. He often will lead us where we do not want to go. But it is a journey leading to one glorious destination: the restoration of our souls and the joy of His presence forever.

Jesus was led by this shepherd into a dark valley- the valley of death. He suffered there. He died there. He died there, in our place, and one glorious result of that death is that we can suffer with hope. We will not die here. Our God has become our Shepherd. He leads us to green pastures. He leads us along quiet waters. He will restore our soul.

Do You Celebrate A King? (Psalm 21)

In Psalm 21, the psalmist begins by extolling the great blessings of God that have been bestowed on His King. To this King has been given all authority, all glory and all power. To this King has been given “length of days, forever.” To this King, every desire of his heart has been granted. The first seven verses announce in sweeping and grand terms the glory and absolute authority that has been bestowed upon this particular King. All of His desires are fulfilled. All of His plans are accomplished. Now this King is Jesus. He is the only one whom adequately fulfills this text. But here lies the rub in this text: The language is so sweeping that it not only challenges our claims to any sort of autonomy, it crushes them. Herein lay the claims of Jesus and how they subvert and challenge the most foundational understandings of freedom and happiness in our society. Most of us don’t want a King to begin with, particularly one as supremely authoritative and powerful as Jesus. We like the pomp, the circumstance and the parades, but we don’t want anyone whose will is always accomplished whose purposes are never thwarted and whose glory is incomparable and will never end. We want a Jesus who advises us, who exists to help us attain to the desires of our hearts. We want honor. We want glory. We want authority. We want our plans to succeed. And far too often the aims and agenda of a totally free, totally glorious King conflict with our aims and our agendas. In verse 8, the Psalmist uses a surprising phrase in beginning to describe those who face the wrath and judgment of God: “… Those who hate you…” Hate. I’m struck by that word. The conflict described in Psalm 21 is not an exclusively moral one. It is a personal one. We see the strength of God bent wholly in the work of exalting Jesus, honoring Jesus, serving the purposes of Jesus and the problem is not that we do wrong things- no the problem is that we see this strength and we hate it. What is ascribed to Jesus the Great King we long to have for ourselves. The rule of Jesus will either be for you something to joyously marvel at or it will be a despotic terror. But if it is a despotic terror it will not be because there is something wrong with King Jesus, its simply that rightful authority and power always feels despotic when placed on the shoulders of those who hate all authority. How much of our public life is marked by this singular divide: Do we love the authority of Jesus or do we hate it? How many of our personal struggles are defined by this simple question: Is the authority given to Jesus good news to you or is it utter folly and something to be despised? In Psalm 21 this is the most important question dividing the Psalm. The only power sufficient to diffuse this conflict is that which comes to us in the Gospel. In the gospel we see both the way Jesus wields his authority and the kind of King that he is. His authority is wielded to suffer in our place. He bears the penalty for our incipient treason. And we see vividly the goodness of a King who wields such authority to rescue His people. He is the only ruler who both can claim the kind of throne the Father gives & he is the only ruler who can be trusted with the kind of throne the Father gives.

What Happens When We Run Out Of Things To Say?

I’m a young pastor. Our church started 5 years ago and prior to the weekly work of preparing sermons here, the most I preached was once every five or six weeks at other churches we were a part of in other cities. I estimate that in the last 5 years I’ve preached somewhere around 240 sermons at Park Church. This is nowhere near the sermons that pastors whose ministries have spanned 20 or 30 years have had to prepare and deliver week in and week out to their congregations. And yet, I can hardly imagine what these past five years would’ve been like if it weren’t for 3 years spent in graduate school specifically learning how to query and mine the text of the bible.

My first semester of Greek (which I had to retake), our professor introduced us to the concept of being “first-handers.” This meant becoming readers of the bible who did not ultimately rely on commentaries, scholars and other preachers to interpret a text but who had the tools to wrestle with the meaning of a text on its own terms. I know of few things more pertinent to the vitality of a pastor’s ministry than this skill.

Over the past couple of years I’ve worked with numerous church planters who have solid theology. They’ve read the “right” books. They’ve been influenced by the “right” teachers. They have great plans for planting their church. They have a good team around them. They are even gifted communicators. But I’ve struggled with a growing concern. Few of them are “first-handers.” They can deliver a decent, theologically accurate, and emotionally engaging sermon. They can apply insights from reading other writers or listening to other preachers. But the hard, often laborious work of mining the text of Scripture, wrestling with an argument or the turn of a phrase is foreign to them-and even worse is often seen as an unnecessary and academic distraction from the real work of pastoring. For far too many of us expository preaching has come to mean using the text as a diving board-failing to help our people to trace and see the force of an argument largely because we don’t have the ability to do it ourselves. I fear that we are growing an army of preachers who are going to run out of things to say.

In such a pastor’s preaching there will come, eventually, a shallowness and a simple inability to explore with and for their people the depths of beauty and reality that saturates the text and fills out the doctrine they may be able to articulate accurately. Preaching is reduced to proof-texting the doctrine or application we want to teach. We attach a handful of stories and then leap from the text into our message. I don’t know how long such a ministry can survive and I’m not sure what sort of depth and holiness and passion for mission can be sustained by such preaching and I’m afraid that we’re going to find out in a few years.

Pastors, give yourself to learning and growing in this skill: We must query the text. We must wrestle with the text. It is not so simple a matter as articulating a predetermined theological agenda using texts to buttress what you want to say. It is wrestling along a text to learn the layers and nuance and depths of what the Author is saying. It is learning to not simply teach what the text is teaching, but how the text is teaching it. We are doing more than simply establishing propositions from the text, we are trying to see not simply what but how-and to help our people do the same. There is no short cuts to this work. Church planting is hard. Pastoring is hard. There are endless demands on your time, and a thousand projects and meetings to have. Establish this discipline. Learn it and spend the rest of your life developing this skill. Explore the heights and depths of the text for yourself. Doing this will demand that everything else (including the actual work of sermon prep) be put on hold. It will require you to stare at a text for hours, asking questions, making observations, and praying (always praying) and refusing to move on to work on your actual sermon. Learn to breathe the text, feel the text and be crushed by the text. Then you can think about how to preach it, but until then any work on a sermon will lack the experience of meeting God in His word and hearing Him speak there. Unless that kind of life becomes a rhythm for you, you’ll eventually run out of things to say.

Tonight and This Weekend

We were made for God. We were made with desires that simply cannot find satisfaction outside of Him and the Life He gives. One of the most wonderful discoveries I’ve found is that this Life literally spills over into everything. It isn’t limited to strictly “religious” activities. It isn’t restricted to particularly spiritual moments. This Life, this Joy-in-and-through-Him pours out through the Cross and by the Spirit to fill up and transform all of life. It has to do with food and family and friends and a well poured glass of wine. God intends to be trusted and loved and obeyed but there is literally no sphere of life where that is not immediately and directly relevant.

This week we will finish 1 Corinthians 12 and find Paul making the case that this Life in the Spirit comes to the whole of the church. No one is exempt. No one can opt out. If you are a part of the local church you were made to be wielded by the Spirit for the good and life of all.

Tonight we’ll look at what this sort of life looks like with our children. I encourage you to sign up on the city and join us as we examine the kind of Life God calls us to in our homes, with our children, pursuing Joy.

Joel Limpic will be leading our music on Sunday. Please take the opportunity to meet him this weekend if you haven’t yet. He and his family will be moving to Denver in the next few weeks. Also take a look at a side project he has been working on here. It is called The Verses Project and is a collaboration of a number of artists to help the church memorize scripture.

Life in the Church and in the Spirit

Hello Park Church,

I hope you all had a good Memorial Day Weekend. Our family spent a few days in the mountains with some friends and got to hike, relax a bit, and get used to school being out for summer. Nick did a great job wrapping up our study of the first 2 chapters of Acts and has left us in a good place in getting ready for 1 Corinthians 12-13.

Our Gospel Community hosted a BBQ last night at Cesar Chavez park off Tennyson Street. I sat down and looked around at what was happening at the park and was overwhelmed with gratitude to God for what I saw. I watched a group of dads playing basketball with their sons. I saw a group of women- some married, some mothers, some single- sitting in a circle talking about their various lives. I watched a couple of guys from our group talking to a few couples across the park who don’t know our church. There was good food (particularly the corn casserole and brats), good drinks, and a lot of people talking about life, the Gospel, and otherwise simply enjoying the gifts of God in a beautiful sunset, good food, and new-found friends. 5 years ago we didn’t have any of this. We had the hope that God would begin to build a community of worshippers and disciples who would love one another and love their city. We talked a lot about eating and praying together, hoping that a consistent celebration of the gospel, from the Scriptures, would begin to shape a certain kind of community life. This is why we are here. If anything stands out to me from the first 2 chapters of Acts, it is this: the preaching of the gospel led to the mass conversion and baptism of a ton of people- and then it led those same people to take on a whole new way of life- together. We’ve banked everything on that simple idea- preach the gospel, sing the gospel, celebrate the gospel and then do life together-counseling, encouraging, calling out one another in love. We think the Bible teaches that this will change everything.

I would encourage all of us to reinvest in the relationships God has surrounded us with here at Park. If you haven’t yet found a Gospel Community, find one, start showing up, start contributing, and start eating. If you lead a Gospel Community, keep this big idea ever in front: We believe the crazy idea that the Gospel really does change everything. It creates real friendships, real hope, real transformation. It convicts us of Sin, and declares to us a love and a mercy that is astounding. We also believe the crazy idea that an evening spent in a living room talking about God and His work in our work, our families, our relationships is the place where the very real presence of God’s Spirit is at work, through His word. We want to see Jesus change everything and it is here, as the Spirit works in the various gatherings of the church, that we are made new.

I look forward to starting 1 Corinthians with you this weekend. We’ll look more specifically at what the Spirit does in giving life, power and a mission to the church.

Pray for this Weekend

Happy Tuesday. I’ve spent the day working on my sermons for Good Friday and Easter. I’ve been overwhelmed with hope and longing this afternoon and so I started praying and wanted to invite you to pray with me over the next few days. This weekend we are expecting to see potentially hundreds of people come to our worship services who do not know God. Friends and neighbors who will come to church on Good Friday or Easter but won’t come any other time of the year. People who you’ve been praying for and sharing your life with could be there this weekend. I long to see God move to save the lost and awaken us to His kindness and mercy and gracious power.

My prayer this afternoon has been to plead with God that we would see a flood of people who will receive the Gospel and believe in Jesus. My hope is that God would, in his kindness, move in power to save our friends and neighbors and even strangers. Please spend some time praying this week that God might cause salvation flood our times together this weekend. Pray that the gospel will be preached with clarity. Pray that God’s people would celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. Pray that those who do not believe would come by the hundreds to hear and believe and be born again.

Pray with us. We’ll gather tomorrow morning for prayer at the church building at 6:30am. We’ll sing, confess our sins, be reminded of the gospel and pray for this coming weekend.