The Joy of Glory

Discovering endless joy in the boundless glory of God…

Category: Church

The Sovereign Surgeon

*Tonight, at our annual SVCC family meeting, I briefly reflected on 2016. Below are the thoughts I shared in the form of a letter.

My Dearest Shades Valley,

fullsizerender-7Our community turned twenty-five years old in 2016! The Lord has blessed me to pastor you for five of those years, and every one of them has been his grace upon my life. Last year was no exception. I’m not saying that everything has been easy. We’ve been at this thing called community far too long to naïvely believe it is pain free. But, our sovereign God of redemption uses even the deepest of cuts for our ultimate good and his glory.

fullsizerender-9That truth has expressed itself in a very physical manner in my own life. As you know, since 2011 I have lived with a herniated L5 disc. Two months ago, I finally gave in and went under the surgeon’s knife. The obvious goal of surgery is not to harm, but to heal. However, there must be a cutting in order to cure, and right now, just eight weeks post-surgery, I can tell you that is exactly what has happened. I am virtually pain free!

As I look back over 2016 at Shades, I feel like I can see this same “cutting in order to cure” at work under the Sovereign Surgeon’s hand. Tonight, we have surely seen an example of this through reflecting on last year’s budget. Just a few months ago, God invited us to trust him with our $40,000 gash in our gut… I mean talk about needing surgery! Then, somehow we finished the year with a $36,000 surplus? There is no “somehow” to that, there is a “someone” behind it… to God be the glory!

Once I started thinking about it, I quickly discovered that the examples of God “cutting in order to cure” at Shades during 2016 are countless. I only have time to point out a few, and please know this is not a “brag-on-ourselves” list! This is a “boast-in-the-Lord” list! He alone is the great physician, and his healing touch can be seen all throughout our history! These are just a few of his 2016 miracles…

fullsizerender-6Our building had a literal surgery last spring, and it wasn’t just a cosmetic facelift. No. Our dying and decaying roof was finally replaced! And by God’s grace we were able to pay cash for our new-giant-metal umbrella, and we have been leak free since!

In 2016, the Great Physician also performed many open-heart procedures through the leaders of various ministries! I wish I could go through all the details of things like new song writing projects in the worship ministry, the women’s ministry writing their own curriculum, the men’s ministry taking their first retreat, Lenten prayer meetings hosted by the prayer team, or how about the fact that there are now over one hundred and twenty volunteers working with our children’s img_4188ministry! God has cut-open and reworked so many ministries this past year, like the West Homewood Farmer’s market. Through the market’s leadership, the Lord surgically shifted their approach resulting in the most successful summer season yet. God is using the market’s positive impact to cut into the surrounding community with the Gospel!

fullsizerender-10The Lord has also performed surgical additions to our own church community through a second full-time pastor, new means of communication via The Realm, new members, new community groups (there are now 16 total), and new births (physical and spiritual). And, all this growth is not without inevitable growing-pains. As our church enlarges we must all press into community all the more, and we must press out of our own social circles, through the pain and awkwardness in order to pull others into this family we call Shades.

The Lord has given us much this past year, but, surgeon that he is, he has also taken away. We have again felt the pain and grief of loss, and as we have held each other in hospital waiting rooms and at gravesides. We’ve wept together, prayed together, and helped one another to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord who is with us through it all.” We have pointed one another toward the rock-solid hope that the day will dawn when we will experience no more harm, but only healing… no more cuts, only cure.

Until that day, we will be a people who embrace the harm for the sake of the healing! We will be a people who commission forth families like the Smiths (name changed for safety). We feel the pain of the Sovereign Surgeon cutting them out from our midst and calling them far from home. But, we send them forth to carry the cure of the Gospel to unreached peoples. This is a picture of identity that belongs to each of us at SVCC. Whether we are called across the ocean or to high there in Birmingham, we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the Gospel! We cry out for God to continue cutting into our lives and our church in whatever way is necessary for the cure of the Gospel to spread!

fullsizerender-3This is our prayer as we head into 2017. It is the prayer we speak over each other week after week. We pray that we go into the world in peace, having courage, holding on to what is good, honoring all men, strengthening the faint-hearted, supporting the weak, helping the suffering, and sharing the Gospel. We pray that we love and serve the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing that the grace of our lord Jesus Christ is with us all. And, to this prayer we, the people of God, say again and again, “Amen.”

I love you all,




The Mundane is Miraculous

*Tonight at our annual SVCC family meeting, I briefly reflected on many things that happened among our faith family during 2014. Below are the thoughts I shared in the form of a letter.

Dear Faith Family of SVCC,

This is the third time I have had the opportunity to reflect on what all has transpired among us over the course of a year. I find myself wondering if such reflection will ever feel routine, as each year is so distinct. 2014 brought it’s own host of new ways in which we experienced God’s grace. Truly his mercies are new morning by morning, month by month, and I feel like I can now say, year by year.

I do not mean to make it sound like 2014 was just a fantastical adventure of epic proportions. In many ways it was quite normal, and in others, quite exceptional. 10404118_10101746995414538_9088730644187524869_nMy family experienced some of the most difficult days we’ve ever known last spring. Then, by winter we had seen God’s faithfulness unfold more beautifully than ever before. And yet, scattered throughout these crazy highs and lows were mostly normal, mundane days filled with changing diapers, homeschooling, cooking meals, working, talking, offending, forgiving… you know… just walking through life.

Last year held both the miraculous and the mundane for my family… and I feel like it was the same for us as a faith family. Through 2014 we saw God miraculously give sight to the physically blind and the spiritually blind. We got to see some new brothers and sisters become a part of the body of Christ and we worshipped as nine went through the baptismal waters. God continued to bless us with new families, singles and just a couple of college students. We had to buy new chairs and Student Life donated some on top of that! One of our kid’s classes outgrew their room and had to move. A new community group and men’s fellowship began this year and we even survived having five interns. Truly, God has worked in miraculous ways among us.

IMG_8207Yet, it is also crucial for us to see how the Lord has worked through the “mundane.” Last January, when Snowpocalypse struck, I watched many of you open your homes to each other, even to complete strangers. You needed no recognition, but simply served those in need. This servant like heart has not just been evident during random Birmingham blizzards, but I’ve seen it week to week through your faithful service to one another. So many of you are faithful in the ministries to which the Lord has called you… women’s and men’s ministry, prayer, farmer’s market, community exchange, finance, hospitality, decorators, worship, facilities, and on and on the list goes.

And, your not just faithful within these walls, but wherever the Lord has called you. I often am asked what Shades does to minister in our city. Through these kinds of questions, I feel like people are looking for miraculous testimonies of “big things” done by an organization. I tell them that I don’t have those kinds of stories to share. What I have is much more mundane. If you want to know what Shades does, then I have to tell you stories about people… because Shades is people.

I tell stories about families going through adoption classes in hopes of bringing home children who have no home… stories of people who have designed city-wide events to connect with others in their profession who don’t know Christ. I talk about college students who have consistently, graciously shared the Gospel with their exchange-student roommates. I speak of people who share weekly meals with the Birmingham houseless community… of people fighting sex trafficking, others ministering to nomads, and some who are foster parents. I talk about how I’ve seen people pour into one another’s lives over coffee or give counsel around their kitchen counter… or how I’ve seen brothers and sisters in the faith hold each other through tears and joys…through deaths, weddings, and births.

IMG_1014This is just the tip of the iceberg of what “Shades” does, because Shades is made up of a couple hundred missionaries who come together week after week to pray, love, support, disciple one another, and then go into various sectors of our city and minister in all sorts of ways.

All this happens through the mundane. Through normal people, empowered by the Holy Spirit, daily living out their faith. It’s not flashy. It’s simple-faithfulness. And, in truth, it’s not mundane… it is actually miraculous. If I have learned anything in my time at Shades… it is that the mundane is precisely where our God loves to work his miraculous power so that it is obviously his work. He gets the glory and we get the joy!

After three years of living life as part of this community, I find myself still desiring to enter into the mundane alongside of you, equipped with the miraculous Gospel. You are my family, and week after week I’m so thankful that it is with you I get to go into the world in peace, having courage, holding on to what is good, honoring all men, strengthening the faint-hearted, supporting the weak, helping the suffering, and sharing the Gospel. I get to watch you all love and serve the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. We get to see the grace of our lord Jesus Christ make every “mundane” moment miraculous. And to that my heart says, along with all God’s people, amen and amen!

I love you all,


Lent: Repentance, Fasting, and Ashes?

Today, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of Lent…a 40 day season. If you’re thinking the math doesn’t work…don’t forget that Sundays don’t count. They’re treated like mini-Easter celebrations.

I grew up without even hearing the word “Lent.” As a matter of fact, when I first heard it I thought someone was talking about “lint.” Imagine my confusion. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with Lent and find yourself wondering what all this talk of repentance, fasting and ashes is about…what does it all mean?

lentLent is meant to be a season that prepares our hearts for the celebration of Easter, much like Advent prepares us for Christmas. Traditionally, such preparation has been sought through focusing on repentance and fasting, which often makes people think Lent is a sad or depressing season…and nothing could be further from the truth!

Repentance and fasting should lead us to JOY in Jesus! Lent should to lead us to the joy of Easter! But, how exactly does that work?

repentanceRepentance reminds us that we are sinful and in need of a Savior.  Without a Savior, we would be left under the just penalty of sin…which is death.  We need someone to defeat our sin by dying in our place…and…we need that person to defeat death by rising again. In other words, we need Jesus…we need Easter.

Focusing on repentance reminds us that we need Easter.

imagesTo many, fasting seems like and outdated ascetic practice reserved for medieval monasteries. How does fasting engage our hearts and reveal our need for Easter?

Fasting, typically, involves removing something that is normally present in your life.  Most commonly it is food, but people also fast from social media, television…nearly anything…but the point is we remove something that leaves a void. You notice that it is gone, and yet, life goes on without it. Our life didn’t depend upon that thing after all.

Fasting reminds us that we are not truly dependent on the things we think we are and helps us realize that we are dependent on Jesus! As our body hungers for food to satisfy our stomach, we are reminded that the only thing that can truly satisfy our deepest hunger, the hunger of our souls, is Christ! He is the one we need…the one who died and rose again to quench the thirst of our hearts and satisfy the hunger of our spirit with himself!

Fasting reminds us that we need Jesus…we need Easter!

And so, after focusing on repentance and fasting for 40 days, by the time Easter gets here, we erupt in celebration that Jesus has conquered our sin and become the satisfaction of our souls!

 Ash Wednesday
ash-wednesdaySo…repentance and fasting are meant to point us toward our need for Easter…but, what is up with the ashes? How does Ash Wednesday help us start this journey towards the joy of the empty tomb?

Ashes are symbol of repentance.  At SVCC, when I put ashes on people’s foreheads I speak the words, “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.”

These words and the ashes remind us that the penalty of sin is death…that we must return to dust.  We need to repent and turn from our sin to our Savior.  And, that is why I do not only speak the words, “From dust you came to dust you shall return…” but that phrase is followed by the instruction, “So repent…and believe the Gospel.”

The Ashes remind us of our sin and it’s penalty, death…but, using them to make the sign of the cross reminds us that we have a Savior to turn to who has defeated sin and death! We use dust, the sign of our deserved death, to make a cross, the sign our death is defeated. It is a beautiful picture of the Gospel. It is a beautiful reminder that repentance is meant to lead us to the cross…to Jesus…to joy in him.

Now there is nothing magical about the ashes. They are a symbol of what is actually taking place in our hearts, namely, that we are acknowledging our sinfulness, repenting, and turning to trust in Jesus.

Without a heart of repentance and faith ashes merely give you a dirty forehead. Yet, when united with a heart of repentance and faith, this external symbol is a powerful means through which God reaffirms what has happened to you… that your death and doom to dust has been conquered by Christ!

This Lent, embrace that truth by faith. Let all your repentance, fasting and ashes lead you to the same place…to the empty tomb where we embrace the resurrected Jesus by faith!

Let Lent lead you to Easter!

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