A Cord of Three Strands

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2:1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…

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I am so thankful that God designed us to need others.  Of course, only God can fulfill us, but He created in each of us the need to commune, relate to, and build trust with others.

Life can get very lonely when we don’t have people to truly share it with.  Growing up, I never had a shortage of friends, and into my teenage years, my friends became like my family.  They helped me get through some really tough times, celebrated important milestones, and gave me the acceptance and love we all crave during those awkward, formative years.  My husband and I met as teenagers and developed a deep friendship before we started dating, and today we still consider each other to be our best friend.  As we’ve gotten older, though, we’ve realized it’s harder to make friends.  Jobs, kids, schedules and responsibilities don’t make it easy to just “hang out” with your peers.  

What a direct and powerful instruction: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” 

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?  (Well… if you’re on the receiving end of someone else living like that!)  I don’t know about you, but. for me, there are some aspects of walking with Christ that take a lifetime to develop.  We live in a culture that celebrates the busy, the rushed, the cluttered, and individual achievements…and that leaves very little time and energy for “putting others first.” 

Have you ever noticed that we don’t have any verses in the Bible that say “what you need is to consider yourself more.”  It doesn’t take a lot to realize that selfishness and conceit come naturally.  You don’t have to teach anyone these things.  But, God’s standard is opposite of what comes naturally.

Philippians 2 goes on to describe how Jesus refused to keep a white-knuckled grip on His own comfort & glory and instead, took on the form of a servant for us.  That means God keeps His own standards; He isn’t calling us to a way of life that He isn’t willing to take on for Himself.

How can we follow His example?  Our behavior always starts in our hearts and minds.  Philippians 2:5 says that in-Christ, we’re given a new mind and I’ve always loved Proverbs 4:23 which reminds us to guard our hearts.  Christ-like behavior begins in the mind and heart.  Change comes in our minds and hearts, when we’ve entrusted them to Jesus.  Instead of selfish ambition, there’s humility (v3).  Instead of vain conceit, there’s service to others (vv3-4).  

I guess the question we all have to face is: “Am I really counting others as more significant than me and putting their interests before mine?”  If I’ve identified areas of struggle in this, I should commit them to God in prayer, asking Him to replace my selfishness with selflessness.


 

Lindsey and her husband Kevin, along with their three girls, have called Legacy home for nearly 5 years. They are thankful for the gift of friendship they have found in the people of Legacy Church. 

 

Smiling is My Favorite

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I’ll be the first to admit – I am not a film expert. In fact, throughout our entire relationship - six years of dating and marriage - my wife Jenn and I have seen less than five movies together at a theatre. At home, we’re not much better when it comes to committing to and finishing an entire film. We both appreciate great stories, but perhaps you could say we’re more of the television show couple. 

However, as I say this, there is one movie we seek out each year as cable networks air classic re-runs leading up to Christmas. And that is Elf. 

Since it hit theatres in 2003, Elf earned itself the title of an instant classic. In that time, more than a decade, I still have not met a single person who does not love this quirky fantasy. It seems everyone shares the same connection with the story. But what is it about Will Ferrell playing the character of a North Pole elf named Buddy, who takes a journey to New York City to save Christmas, that captivates and connects with so many people? 

What is it about Will Ferrell playing the character of a North Pole elf named Buddy, who takes a journey to New York City to save Christmas, that captivates and connects with so many people? 

I contend this movie shows us the redemptive power of child-like joy, wonder, and purity in a 21st-century American family. It’s a hope we need right now as a society – and certainly as Christians. Elf shows the principles of our faith still has miraculous power in a world seemingly overwhelmed by the speed and recklessness of our own human advances. Today, we live in a period of 24-hour news cycles, unprecedented reach, influence and infiltration of media of all kinds. In fact, the leaps of technology in the last generation alone have far outpaced all previous generations – and continue to accelerate at an incomprehensible pace. 

As Andy Crouch says in his bestseller The Tech-Wise Family, “I do know this: if we don’t learn to put technology, in all of its forms, in its proper place, we will miss out on many of the best parts of life in a family.” 

So insert a story about a naïve elf. See, in Buddy’s life, he knows of nothing but joy and his calling in life – which is to make toys for children each year in time for Christmas morning. Eventually, he learns he is not, in fact, an elf, and must seek out his biological father while assimilating into a culture wholly foreign to him. 

On that mission, Buddy discovers not only is the world outside of the North Pole foreign, but he finds that his father is not necessarily the person he envisioned. Walter is a cynical and jaded book publisher. He is someone who in the midst of the Christmas season, walks through life with a heart that is cold. Walter is consumed by his work, and in the process, neglects his wife and youngest son. 

The story is driven by the process of Buddy desperately trying to reconcile his new world, redeem his family and save Christmas.

Go and Do Likewise

So what do we see in Buddy that we can emulate as Christians? In addition to the child-like joy that he possesses, we see someone who imitates a posture in life to which Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, calls all Christians.

In November, we welcomed our first child into our family. Over the last four months, we have been navigating the new world of parenthood together – with a keen focus on how we want to raise and shape our family in the image of Christ. 

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul eloquently, and pointedly gives us a clear example of a life marked by Christ’s perfect love. He also provided clear instructions for confronting a world that looks dark by continually shining as lights. He charges the Philippians to imitate Christ’s humility, continually work out their salvation and “to do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” – Philippians 2:14

We all feel the pull to confront secular society with frustration or ‘grumbling.’ It’s easy to do. Yet, here, Paul makes it clear. In fact, he doesn’t say do ‘most things’ or ‘some things’ without complaining. He begs for consistency in all things. 

Today, Jenn and I have put a few practices in place that we hope point us continually in the direction of these principles. And as our daughter grows up – it’s these practices that we hope shape her foundation.

Prayer

We pray daily together as a family. Once in the morning before we confront our day and once after we return home. Not only is this an act of obedience in our faith, but we find it connects our hearts with God. It also instills a consistent sense of humility and gratitude for His work in our life. 

Community 

Perhaps one of the most impactful decisions we have made as a couple, and now as a family is to intentionally surround ourselves with a community that is rich in wisdom. Since moving to Dallas, and joining Legacy Church, we have been members of two life groups. Each has been a multi-generational group, and both times we have been the youngest couple in the group. This has made a tremendous impact and been a priceless blessing in our lives.

Serving 

We aim to serve consistently with Legacy Church. Jenn is a member of the connect team, and I serve with the communications and technology team in Worship Service. 

Together, these principles work in unison to continually work out our salvation, sanctify us as a family unit, and ultimately mold us towards more Christ-like lives.  We want to be a family marked by joy, faith, and an eternal worldview.  

Meanwhile, I can’t help but recognize these are many of the characteristics that marked Buddy the Elf. 

No, Buddy wasn’t Jesus. He didn’t save the world. But he unmistakably embodied the same principles Paul preached to Philippi to restore his own family. 

In reflection, it brings me hope that even today, a story marked by radical gentleness, joy, gratitude and pursuit of forgiveness and love continues to be something that captures the heart of our society. 

As Christians – armed with the ultimate redemptive message of the Gospel – this should be our mission. One family at a time. 


Britton Drown, along with his wife Jenn and daughter, has been a part of the Legacy family for the past 3 years. They are thankful for this group of believers and the joy they find in raising their precious family within the Legacy community. 

Limitless

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Present Day Philippians Experience

It was an ordinary Friday afternoon in May when my husband Dan arrived home earlier than usual. I thought he had arrived to begin our date night, but with a dismayed face that would linger throughout the weekend, he announced that he had been a part of a company downsize. After thoughtful conversation, hugs and tears, we asked the Lord to help us keep our eyes on Him.

Dan still wanted to go on our date night and I was so glad we did! After mini golf, we played some skeet ball and exchanged our winning tickets for a plastic compass. Knowing that I struggled with trust, the Holy Spirit whispered in my anxious heart that He was our True North and would guide and provide for us through this 11 month journey.

A practical way the Lord was our Provider, was by prompting Christian friends to send unsolicited financial contributions to us on more than one occasion. They always arrived when we most needed it. We were grateful for their generosity, but mostly overwhelmed at His goodness. Much like the apostle Paul, I believe we echoed similar gratitude to our church family and friends.

Thank You Notes

As Paul thanked his beloved church at Philippi for sustaining him with gifts and prayers in his distressing time, he penned a unique “Thank You” letter to them emphasizing three main aspects about their giving and the glory due to their gracious God.

First, he was appreciative for their financial gift, but he was more concerned about encouraging them for their generosity. He underscored that regardless if he was dining at a king’s table or was shipwrecked and famished, he had learned to be content in every circumstance because Christ’s joy was his strength.

The second idea concerned their extravagant gift to him. He compared their donation to Old Testament worshipers who offered acceptable sacrifices which were well pleasing to God. (Exodus 29:18) Paul boasted about the willing and loving attitude the Philippians displayed in their contributions. He knew they were not wealthy benefactors and that their giving was truly costly to them. He concluded with the picture of the ultimate sacrifice, Christ’s life for us; a sweet smelling aroma as described in Ephesians 5:2.

His final exhortation declared a promise to the Philippians regarding their own financial needs. He expressed his confidence to these generous givers that their God had an inexhaustible ability to supply all their need abundantly in any trial, just as they had contributed to his supply. The familiar saying that you cannot out give God is conveyed here!

He expressed his confidence to these generous givers that their God had an inexhaustible ability to supply all their need abundantly in any trial, just as they had contributed to his supply.

This same assurance of Christ’s strength, joy and provision was conveyed to us also that first weekend after Dan's job loss through a sermon on Habakkuk 3:17-18. The Master Gardner was showing us the side of joy no one readily talks about; that although the fig blossoms or fruitful vines were not producing, (unemployment) we were to rejoice in the God of our salvation, relying on His strength. During my quiet times, the Lord assured me that if we would trust and seek the Kingdom of God above all else, He would give us everything we needed. (Mathew 6:33) There would not be any not lack of “oil or flour” ( 1 Kings 17). By feeding on His WORD our famished spirits would be sustained; his was the ‘real’ nourishment we lacked and needed. (Jeremiah 15:16)

Line of Sight

Although at times we were really stretched financially and emotionally, He ALWAYS provided; oftentimes in a variety of creative ways. He was our COMPASS and SUSTAINER. The oil and flour never ran out. In fact, it seemed to multiply. Our faith and trust in God did as well. He taught us many principles and we hope we incorporated a few of them. One such prayer and promise that captivated and encouraged us is Paul’s prayer for another beloved group of believers centuries ago in Ephesus. He prayed that they would:

… Know the glorious, unlimited resources that he gives through the mighty inner strength of the Holy Spirit, so then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him.” -Ephesians 3:16-17

Our family is living proof, many times over, that He is indeed the God of unlimited resources who provides abundantly with more than we can ask or imagine, according to His riches in Christ Jesus!


Gail Harlin and her husband Dan have been a part of Legacy Church for the past 3 years. They continue to be amazed by his faithfulness through the years and joyfully give and serve for His glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I See People

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When you meet someone for the first time, it is said that you only have a moment to make a first impression.  Why is it that the first question we ask is about what kind of work they do?  There is something intriguing to me that a person's work is one of the key attributes that defines a person, and how we internally classify them.

The Rat Race

Work is a major component of our identity, informing how we see ourselves and our place in this world.  Every day, the pressure is on to perform, to deliver results, to bring value to the work we do by the effort of our own hands. 

This performance brings success in many forms:

  • acceptance
  • fame
  • money
  • power
  • recognition 

We consider this normal and what is expected of us in a fast-paced culture like the one we live in; but, with this normality comes a focus that all too often robs us of joy.  When our joy is tied to our latest sales numbers or our acceptance at the office, we live on an emotional rollercoaster that we can never quite get under control.

When our joy is tied to our latest sales numbers or our acceptance at the office, we live on an emotional rollercoaster that we can never quite get under control.

He Sees Me

When our identity is found in Christ, our work becomes another way to worship.  Our focus shifts from trying to get ahead and obtaining the next worldly achievement to serving Christ in how we work.  Paul sets this reminder for us that the prize for all of our work is the call of God to walk in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).  Our joy in work comes from shifting our focus from the daily grind to the heavenly impact we can have.  Instead of rushing through the day and just tolerating our co-workers, we slow down our response and see each person as one created in the image of God.

So Will I

There's a song we have been singing regularly in our worship services called, "So Will I'. It's a beautiful song but there is one lyric that takes my breath away every time we sing it. 

I can see Your heart eight billion different ways. Every precious one a child you died to save. If you gave your life to love them so will I

In my world of fast-paced office doing, the daily grind is so great that the default mode is to run all day long, and most days not even notice other people exist.  This reminder in Philippians calls me to challenge this status quo, to slow down my response, and really see other people as valuable.  Some days, this intentional focus prepares the way for deep conversations that lead into spiritual truths. More often, it leads into a mindset shift that has me praying for others on a routine basis.  My desire is that out of these prayers and conversations, the name of Christ is made famous.  If I can make a difference for His kingdom, then my joy can be found in Him and my work can be of eternal value.

 

Marshall Parker, along with his wife Patty and three children, has been a member of Legacy Church for the past 9 years. He works hard, plays hard and hopes that through it all that people see Jesus. 

Identity Shift

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a mom. Specifically, a stay-at-home mom. My prayers were answered on a cold November morning in 1995 with the birth of my first son, Matthew. We were blessed to have the option for me to stay at home, and I’ve enjoyed all the stages and what they have brought over the years, but especially sharing Christ with my kids; when we were sitting at home, walking along the road, going to bed and getting up (Deut. 6:7).

I used to say,  "My days are in slow motion but my years speed by". They did speed by and now my kids are 22, 20, and 17. The stay-at-home mom really isn’t a need in our house anymore. I will always be a Mom, but my identity is changing to a “Mom of grown kids”—and it’s hard. I’ve learned that I had a pretty tight grip on that “Mom” identity and I’m learning to let go, remembering that my true identity is in Christ. 

We all have an identity:

  • mom or dad
  • sister or brother
  • aunt or uncle
  • daughter or son
  • friend
  • firefighter
  • teacher
  • pastor
  • nurse 

Identity Crisis

Too often, we use identity to define our lives. In Philippians 3:3,4, Paul tells us that before he became a Christ follower, he put his confidence in the flesh; in his identity and his works. He was a Jew (circumcised on the 8th day), from one of the twelve tribes of Israel, a descendant of Abraham, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; with a zeal for persecuting the church and righteous based on the law. Paul knew that he was more qualified to be justified by the keeping of the law than any of his present legalistic opponents were. 

But then Paul found Christ. 

Those things which Paul held up in confidence, he now considered them to count for nothing (vs 7-9). The reason he considered them a loss is because of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” It wasn’t so much that those things were worthless in themselves, but compared to the greatness of the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, they really were nothing. 

Paul put a personal relationship with Jesus Christ at the very center of the Christian’s life. He joyfully accepted the loss of all other things for the greatness of this personal relationship.

Our identity helps define our lives; what we do, who we talk to, where we live. How many times have you relied on your identity when life seems unfair just to get through the day?

  • But I’m an American, I have a right to ___________. 
  • But I’m a good mom, my child shouldn’t be behaving like that!
  • But I go to church, why is life so hard?
  • But I’ve been praying, why did that not work out? 

Notice all the “I”s. It’s not about you or me—it’s all about Him. Those identities don’t get you anywhere; those works count for nothing. When I encounter the power of the resurrected Jesus Christ, have knowledge of Him, and remain in relationship with Him, none of that matters. My life suddenly changes to: 

  • As an American, how can I use that to help and love others because He first loved me?
  • My child isn’t behaving, so I pray and God reminds me that I am a good mom and gives me hope and wisdom for the future of my children.
  • Life is hard, but I find comfort, peace, and wisdom from the One that placed the stars in the sky. 
  • When things don’t work out the way I think they should, I give up control and ask Him to take over and I will follow. 
When I encounter the power of the resurrected Jesus Christ, have knowledge of Him, and remain in relationship with Him, nothing else matters.

Shift

Wouldn’t it be nice to let go of all those identities you’ve collected over years...to let them fall away and consider them a loss...to stand in the knowledge of Christ and know the power of His resurrection for the rest of your life? It’s in that knowledge that the every day stresses and troubles fade away and no longer have a hold on us. Our identity is in Christ. We are not bound by law but held by His holy righteousness. I’m leaning on my identity as a Christ-follower and asking God daily to guide my steps in this season. 


 

Cynthia DeVoll has been a member of Legacy Church for the past 18 years. She is wife to Steve and mom to Matthew, Michael and Madison, all of whom she loves dearly, but her greatest title is follower of Christ.

 

 

 

Joy No Matter What

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I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

I grew up hearing the verse Philippians 4:13 quoted at football games, chanted prior to musical auditions and mumbled under the breath of those nervously working through a difficult test. I recited it more than once when I was interviewing or auditioning for something I really wanted. It wasn't until this past year, at the ripe old age of 37, that I realized that I and, many of those with whom I grew up, were wrong. This verse didn't mean what we thought it meant. 

When I read through Philippians with fresh eyes and heart, I noticed something very interesting about the verses that sandwich this oft-mis-quoted and decoratively displayed verse. 

Verse 12 says, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."

Verse 14 says, "Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles."

Troubled Waters

In my most recent reading of Philippians I discovered that Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter. In other words, he was currently experiencing hunger, and pain and was in want. And yet he says of his present circumstances and the ones to come that he could do all things through Christ who was giving him strength.

Strength to do what?

Be content.

He could be joyful with plenty, and joyful with nothing or very little.

If I'm honest I must admit that I find that it is much easier to be joyful when everything is going my way.

When:

  • my finances are great, it's easy to give with generosity.
  • my children are behaving, you can't wipe the smile off my face.
  • I'm rocking my job, I'm feeling good about myself. 

However, there are realities that can weigh us down.

Like:

  • a child who melts down in the middle of the Target aisle.
  • bills that continue to pile up no matter how hard I try to follow the budget.
  • challenges in my marriage that I never thought would be a reality for me.

How do you find joy when your world as you know it has you held in a prison you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy?

Paul, who was in prison, says he's found the secret. He says, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength". 

Contentment happens regardless of our circumstances, and is made possible, through the power of Christ in our lives.

Life isn't easy. In fact, Christ promises us that we will have troubles in this world (John 16:33). But if we place our faith and trust in Jesus, it is possible, like Paul, to have joy no matter what. 

Are You in a Gospel-Shaped Community?

*Article written by Pastor JD Greear and originally posted at jdgreear.com

Acts 2:41–47 gives us 5 “tests” of gospel-centrality. If we are preaching the Spirit-anointed gospel, these 5 things will be the result in our churches, just as they were in the very first one:

1. Evangelistic effectiveness AND doctrinal depth (Acts 2:41-42, 47)

Acts 2:41 tells us that in one day 3,000 people were saved and baptized, and verse 47  reports that God added daily to their number those who were being saved. The first church grew in a hurry. At the same time, the people were “devoted to the teaching of the Apostles” and were possessed by a great sense of awe over God’s glory.

I often hear church depth place at odds with church width. The early church clearly did both. In reality, the one is impossible without the other. Churches that grow wide without growing deep are not creating “sustainable” width, only generating a little temporary excitement. Churches that don’t grow wide are probably not nearly as deep as they may think. Gospel depth almost always produces gospel fruitfulness (Mark 4:16-17). Understanding the gospel gives you a sense of people’s lostness. You understand the wrath of God against their sin, how imminent His judgment is, how great His grace is towards them. Understanding the gospel gives you humility, because you realize how lost you were before God saved you. Understanding the gospel gives you the faith to believe God for great things, because the gospel reveals how willing and able God is to save. You show me someone characterized by a sense of urgency, humility, love and the boldness that comes from great faith, and I’ll show you someone who will be an effective evangelist!

Healthy churches do both (Col 1:5-6). Certain churches within the gospel-centered movement are suprisingly unconcerned with, or ineffective at, evangelism.  They talk a lot about “mission” and “planting churches” but somehow that never translates into evangelism. Some wear smallness as a badge of honor. They love to critique everyone else’s evangelism, but do very little of their own. Charles Spurgeon—no theological lightweight—said, “I would sooner bring one sinner to Jesus Christ than unpack all the mysteries of the divine Word, for salvation is the thing we are to live for.”

A lot of the criticisms directed at rapidly-growing churches seem (to me) to be motivated by about 30% theological concern and 70% jealousy, fear and laziness. This is not to say that there is no validity to the theological concerns, just that those making them should pay attention to their motives. Our arrogance may keep us from receiving the grace God works even in the midst of theological shortcomings. We ought to be humbled by the zeal for souls present in movements that do not achieve, in our view, a full gospel-centrality. As D. L. Moody said to one Reformed critic of his, “It is clear you don’t like my way of doing evangelism. You raise some good points. Frankly, I sometimes do not like my way of doing evangelism. But I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”

2. Gospel-centered churches are characterized by the presence of God. (Acts 2:43)

This first church was full of the Spirit. There are a few things in that chapter that we will not likely experience in our congregations, but verse 43 gives you a classic description of the effect of the fullness of the Spirit—it says the people were “filled with awe.” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said (and I paraphrase), The presence of God is a felt-sense of the attributes of God as revealed in the gospel. Their sense of the “presence of God” was not the result of a musical crescendo or an emotive preacher. It came simply from the preaching of the gospel by ones who really believed it and felt its passions within their souls. Another of my favorite theologians, Jonathan Edwards, described his sense of the presence of God like this:

“Sometimes only mentioning the name of Christ or an attribute of God will cause my heart to burn within me. . . . Suddenly God appears glorious to me. When I enjoy this sweetness it seems to carry me outside of myself. I cannot bring myself even to take my eye from this Glorious Object.” 

Note that this sort of experience is not at odds with doctrine, or even beyond doctrine, but flows out of good doctrine. It’s not less than doctrine, it is more. God’s beauty and majesty are not just to be perceived with the mind, they are to be felt in the soul.

Where this happens, there is the joy you see in Acts 2:46-47. It is hard for me to believe that a church can really “get” the gospel when its services are not characterized by joy. Yes, there are times for somberness and mourning and repentance in worship, but the predominant motif of biblical worship is joy. Multiple places in Scripture command us to clap our hands, shout with joy, and to sing and delight in God. They tell us that in God’s presence is “fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). So how can we claim to have gospel-centered churches if our services are not characterized by exuberant joy? 

3. Gospel-centered churches are characterized by fervent, faith-filled prayer (Acts 2:42)

The gospel produces a faith in the church that  makes bold requests of Jesus. You see that referred to here in Acts 2, and fleshed out later in Acts 4:24-31. They expected great things from God, and then attempted great things for God.

The early church was born from prayer. After Jesus ascended to heaven, Acts 1:14 reports that the disciples “were devoting themselves to prayer.” This went on for ten days before the arrival of the Spirit on Pentecost. These believers prayed for 10 days, Peter preached for 10 minutes, and 3,000 people were saved. Today we’re more likely to pray for 10 minutes, preach for 10 days, and see 3 people saved.

Acts shows us a profound connection between corporate prayer and our community getting a sense of the glory of God. When we pray, our eyes are opened to the glory of God. When our eyes are opened to His glory, we preach with boldness, passion and power (Acts 4:24-31). In Acts 7:55-56, we see Stephen lift his eyes to heaven in prayer, catch a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, and in awe begin to proclaim it to those around him. When this happens on a city-wide scale, what you get is a spiritual awakening. Tim Keller gives a glimpse of what this looks like:

In New York, in 1857, a man named Jeremiah Lanphier was hired to witness to a local neighborhood. He was frustrated by utter ineffectiveness, and so in desperation he turned to prayer. One day he invited people to pray with him—six people showed up. The following week, 20 people came. The next week, 40. Two months later, hundreds were gathering to pray. Soon the entire downtown area was filled with men and women praying. Evangelistic meetings sprang up all over the city, and in 9 months, 50,000 people came to Christ at a time when the population of NYC was 800,000. This was known as the great prayer revival of Manhattan.

I really want to see that happen in Raleigh-Durham. If you scaled the proportions, that would be like 100,000 people coming to Christ in a 9-month period!

4. Gospel-centered churches are characterized by empowered members. (Acts 8:1, 28:15)

A stubborn theme throughout the book of Acts is that God’s most effective vehicles are “regular” people. Consider these facts from Acts: Thirty-nine of the 40 miracles in the book of Acts occur outside the walls of the “church,” in the workplace. The longest sermon in Acts is by Stephen, a layman. That sermon led to the most significant spiritual moment in Acts, the conversion of Saul (Paul). Acts 8:1 notes that when persecution rose up against the church, the church was scattered around the world preaching the gospel. But note that Luke tells you this worldwide fulfillment of Acts 1:8 did not include the Apostles. These anonymous Christians were so effective in ministry that when Paul showed up in Rome to preach the gospel “where Christ had never been named,” he was greeted by “the brothers” (Acts 28:15). Early church historian Stephen Neill notes that the anonymity of the major gospel movements in the ancient world is breathtaking: “But in point of fact few, if any, of the great Churches were really founded by apostles. Nothing is more notable than the anonymity of these early missionaries… Luke does not turn aside to mention the name of a single one of those pioneers who laid the foundation. Peter and Paul may have organized the Church in Rome. They certainly did not found it…” (History of Christian Missions, 22)

This flows from the very nature of the gospel. The gospel is not about recognizing the gifted, but about gifting the unrecognized. Church leaders who understand that gospel won’t try to build their church around a handful of mega-talented superstars, but rather dedicate themselves to empowering and releasing the church for ministry (Eph 4:11-13). They become committed to raising up other leaders. They judge their success not so much by seating capacity but sending capacity.

5. Gospel-centered churches are characterized by extravagant generosity. (Acts 2:45)

The gospel is that Jesus “became poor for our sake so that through his poverty we might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). When a church gets this, they become extravagantly generous toward others. The first Christians didn’t just give out of their excess. They voluntarily sold their stuff so that their were no needs among them. 

Eventually this sort of gospel generosity overflowed into the streets, but it started in the church. As the apostle Paul says in Galatians, “Let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Ultimately, the love that Christians show to one another is a profound statement to an unbelieving world. It is by our love for one another, Jesus said, that the world will know that we are His disciples (John 13:35; cf. 1 Peter 4:9). As Francis Schaeffer said, “the final apologetic that Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.”

Evangelistic effectiveness and doctrinal depth; fervent, faith-filled prayer; a sense of the presence of God; empowered members and extravagant generosity are 5 things that the gospel produced in the early church. How present are they in your church? If one of these characteristics are missing, is it possible that we don’t understand the gospel as much as we claim to? These are the indelible marks of a gospel movement.

If these are missing from your church, the answer is not to “go and try harder.” We need to ask ourselves, “Why is the gospel I [love] not producing these things?”

Prisoners Of Self: Incessant Autobiography in the Smartphone Age

  *Article written by Tony Reinke (@tonyreinke) (tonyreinke.com)

*Article written by Tony Reinke (@tonyreinke) (tonyreinke.com)

The man doting over a smartphone screen, scrolling through media with his fingertips, is like a gorilla meticulously picking out little bugs from his own hair. 

That was the subversive quip of anthropologist Thomas de Zengotita. For both the screen addict and the gorilla, neck-down focus is the attentive posture of self-image grooming.

The association here is funny (and not funny), and if C.S. Lewis were alive in the digital age, I think he’d be letting out a hearty laugh at the correlation. He would certainly offer up many warnings to us, and probably one of them would be the dangers of getting preoccupied with self-image care, or, what he called, “incessant autobiography.”

In his absence, I’ll do my best to explain his connections.

Satan as Globetrotter

Lewis’s warning against “incessant autobiography” originates from his reflections on John Milton’s Paradise Lost in a little book Lewis published as A Preface to Paradise Lost.

There Lewis is struck by Milton’s Satan, and his repressive self-focus. 

Milton’s Satan, not unlike the Satan of Scripture, is a globetrotter, traveling from the heights of heaven all the way to the depths of hell. A freewheeling presence with limitless powers of travel and presence, teleporting around the cosmos with what seems to be a freedom of range unmatched by any other creature (Isaiah 14:12–13Job 1:72:2Luke 10:181 Peter 5:8Revelation 12:9).

But by his cosmic travels, Satan is driven deeper into a corrupting narcissism. Unconcerned with any values or judgments outside of himself, he becomes his own god, or so he thinks. In reality he is a creature stuck inside the eternal prison of himself. He seems to have an unlimited supply of frequent flier miles to travel the cosmos, but in reality, he is bound inside the solitary confinement of himself, a prison he can never escape. 

Milton’s Satan is stuck. Everything he says is propaganda about himself. He has no hope of escaping the acid of his narcissism. He cannot simply be a creature in the presence of his Maker. He speaks only about himself. He loves only himself. He is focused on only himself. 

Thus, writes Lewis, “To admire Satan in Paradise Lost, is to give one’s vote not only for a world of misery, but also for a world of lies and propaganda, of wishful thinking, of incessant autobiography” (102).

Adam in Quarantine

In stark contrast we find Milton’s pre-fall Adam, who thrives in the reverse condition, observes Lewis. 

Adam talks about God, the Forbidden Tree, sleep, the difference between beast and man, his plans for the morrow, the stars and the angels. He discusses dreams and clouds, the sun, the moon, and the planets, the winds and the birds. He relates his own creation and celebrates the beauty and majesty of Eve. . . . 

Adam, though locally confined to a small park on a small planet, has interests that embrace “all the choir of heaven and all the furniture of earth.” Satan has been in the Heaven of Heavens and in the abyss of Hell, and surveyed all that lies between them, and in that whole immensity has found only one thing that interests Satan. (102)

Satan has been everywhere, and all he can think about is himself.

Adam has been just about nowhere, and all he can think about are the wonders around him.

Adam is confined, and yet his mind fixates on universal marvels. This profoundly insightful comment from Lewis opens up to us a whole world of thought in the age of smartphones and social media (not to mention global travel). 

Sin’s Boredom

We cannot miss these two contrasts. 

First, Satan is a picture of self-centered boredom; Adam is a picture of God-centered awe.

Satan has fallen in a trap Tim Keller calls “advanced sin.” Advanced sin makes you especially bored and especially boring. Why? “Because all you’re ever worried about is how you’re doing, how you look, how things are affecting you. There’s always a grievance. Incessant autobiography. You can never get out of yourself. You’re always feeling sorry for yourself.

“Sin makes you mediocre. There’s nothing more boring than somebody who’s always worried about how they look. Sin makes you these very uninteresting, unprincipled, shallow, boring people. Sleepless, unsmiling concentration on the self. That’s the essence of sin. Sin does not make you bad before it makes you boring,” warns Keller. “That’s the primary thing about sin. Incessant autobiography.”

“There is indeed something Satanic about a person who has no interests other than themselves,” says Lewis. Such self-consummation, such narcissism, reflects the truest and deepest boredom of Satan himself.

Smartphones and Travel

Second, we see a profound contrast about the ways boundaries allow the mind and heart to feast on the wonders of God and creation. 

Adam has embraced his embodied finitude, embraced his home, his local garden, and from this rootedness, his heart expands out into all the expanses of the cosmos around himself. Adam is alive to wonder and filled with heartfelt celebration as he focuses on what is outside of himself. This is because Adam is grounded.

Milton saw it. Lewis saw it in Milton. Keller sees it in Milton and Lewis. And Chesterton saw it, too.

There is a humility that allows us to be rooted people. “The moment we are rooted in a place, the place vanishes. We live like a tree with the whole strength of the universe,” G.K. Chesterton once wrote:

“The globetrotter lives in a smaller world than the peasant. He is always breathing an air of locality. . . . The man in the saloon steamer has seen all the races of men, and he is thinking of the things that divide men — diet, dress, decorum, rings in the nose as in Africa, or in the ears as in Europe, blue paint among the ancients, or red paint among the modern Britons. The man in the cabbage field has seen nothing at all; but he is thinking of the things that unite men — hunger and babies, and the beauty of women, and the promise or menace of the sky. . . . [The] globetrotter . . . has not the patience to become part of anything” (Works, 1:60).

Adam’s life is intentionally rooted in one place. He was created for one place. Called to serve one place. And once you find yourself rooted deep in such a place, then your interests naturally branch out into the cosmic and universal. 

Wonder’s Boundary Line

Living within physical boundaries and limitations — like the boundary line around orthodox theology — awakens us to new glories. Boundaries evoke a new sense of worshipful wonder, said Chesterton, as “the largest wilderness looks larger seen through a window.” 

Physically, this is what rivets us to movies like The Swiss Family Robinson(1960). “Though at first the ocean surrounding the island on which the Robinsons shipwreck seems like a limiting edge, after a while they realize the wealth and beauty of the island and create their own society, a society that we (the audience) find rich and adventurous — thus the appeal” (Harden, 17).

But the limiting edge of our mortal lives gets lifted in the digital age. Smartphones are a portal into the heights and depths of the known universe. Our addiction to smartphones is the love of freedom from boundaries, the ability to escape all the limits of space and even of time. We become globetrotters. And all our freedom merely breeds inside of us more boredoms, making it harder to wonder in the presence of universals.

Are You Stuck in the Mirror?

The sum of all this? We are quick to use technology and travel as escapes from the boundaries of place-ed-ness. We hate being confined to our physical location. We are desperate for escape. We travel so that we can validate ourselves on social media. We take trips, not so that we can enjoy other places, but so that we can showcase ourselves. 

For many, global mobility is driven by the desire to craft the next chapter in our “incessant autobiography.” And while at home, we travel the virtual world but find ourselves stuck inside of our own narcissism. What we project to the world becomes our driving motive, the aim of our travels, and the end of our digital lives. We become boring and blind to wonder. 

Whether we find ourselves addicted to global travel or addicted to scouring the worldwide web, we need Christ to sever the narcissism of our hearts, to protect us from the poison of relentless self-focus, and to free us from the awe-killing prison of our own “incessant autobiography.” We were made to be rooted, and to be rooted, to find awe and wonder outside of ourselves.