Parish Values: Formation

This is a guest post by Jonathan Shelton. Jonathan and his wife, Candi, are a part of the Parish Leadership Team.

imageI’m a bit of a geek when it comes to the idea of spiritual formation. Granted, there are probably far more entertaining things to nerd out over, but I’m truly fascinated by our capacity for growth. I love watching it happen in others and I long for it to happen in me. As I’ve renewed my attempts to grow spiritually over the last decade or so, I’ve had to learn, re-learn, and unlearn many things. I’ve had to learn that the process doesn’t benefit much from exerting my self-will and a few heaping doses of brute force. It is far better accomplished by a consistent act of surrender and a permeating sense of availability to the hands of Christ as he smoothes some surfaces and sharpens others. He is every iteration of the master: the surgeon, the potter, the painter, the author; and we are the medium in which he works: the patient, the clay, the canvas, the story.

C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

 “Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work. I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.’ “

Jesus knows that we are incapable of becoming like him unless we have him. One of the things I’ve had to unlearn is my tendency to try harder; to be good enough, or smart enough, or strong enough. All my attempts to “pull myself up by my bootstraps” are simply barricades to Jesus accomplishing in me what he hopes to. As frustrating as it can be sometimes, he hasn’t designed our strength to be sufficient. It doesn’t mean that we stand aside and watch him like some out-of-body experience, but embracing our weaknesses makes way for his great strength. He tells us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt. 11:30). He makes it clear that there is work to be done, but it isn’t work we can’t bear. Sometimes it is easy. Other times it is remarkably difficult. The common denominator in all of it is this: The One who loves us more than anyone else ever has is shaping us into versions of ourselves that more clearly resemble him. He is holding the blueprint of our highest and most perfect self. Just as a painter has an idea of the finished product before the first brush stroke, Jesus sees a redeemed and restored version of us and is working in us and through us to move us closer, bit by bit, toward the masterpiece he had before we were born. Spiritual Formation is simply embracing the process instead of resisting it.

The process of becoming more like Jesus in every area of our lives seems daunting until we realize that he has given us himself to accomplish the task. And through him we can be poised to push the boundaries of the Kingdom of God a little further each day.

Parish Values: Kingdom

This is a guest post by Josh Lamm. Josh and his wife, Kristen, are part of our Leadership Team and  host a table group in South Forsyth. 

A few years back I got a call from my mom and dad asking for some help. Friends of theirs own a landscaping company – you know the type that makes your backyard look like it was imported from the French countryside. Over dinner one night they gave my parents the low down on how to make the garden in front of their house look amazing. This is where I come in – they needed me to put a shovel to good use.

I arrived at my parents’ house early one Saturday morning ready for a few hours of work. I honestly thought we were just going to add a few plants and call it a day. Man was I wrong. We started out by removing all of the existing plants and setting them to the side. While we were hard at work a huge truck backed into the driveway and dumped what to my best estimate was about a million pounds of organic soil. My dad then pulled a motorized tiller out of the garage. We spent the next couple hours tilling the dirt. Back and forth and side to side making sure we removed all rocks and debris. Then we started mixing in the organic soil. This took another couple of hours. Wheel barrel load after wheel barrel load of soil, it seemed like it would never end. As it began to get dark I noticed we hadn’t even started planting anything. It was becoming apparent that a second day was going to be needed.

Once again in the early morning of the next day I made my way over to my parents’ house. Today we would plant. Laying out all the new and old plants where we would like them. Paying attention to spacing and overall look, we took great care in choosing every spot based on the knowledge my parents friends had given us. Finally the time came to grab a shovel and start putting things in the ground. In my ignorance I just started digging holes only to find out there is a very intentional way to dig the hole so that the plant has the best chance to continue to grow. After almost two full days of work we stood back and marveled at what we had created. We were able to bring new life to a garden that had seen its better days.

That story came to mind over the past few days as I’ve been processing this idea of kingdom. I can remember a time in my life when I saw my faith as my lotto ticket to heaven. I was just waiting for my number to be called, but it’s so much more than that, isn’t it?

Could it be less about waiting for heaven and more about bringing heaven to earth?  I love the idea of joining with God in what he is doing here and now.  Just like my parents gave me an opportunity to help restore their garden, God is giving us the opportunity to join in His story of restoration.

Parish Values: Family

This is a guest post by Beth Nelson. Beth and her husband, Mike, are part of our Leadership Team and an important part of the Parish family.

“I don’t care about whose DNA has recombined with whose. When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching, they are your family.” Jim Butcher

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 I am remarkably fortunate, and perhaps a bit of a rarity, in that my husband and I come from two amazing families. Both of our sets of parents havebeen married more than 40 years. We have brothers we enjoy and get along with. Meanwhile, we have loads of friends who don’t speak to their siblings, whose divorced parents act like children, or whose marriages are fronts for the kids or the outside world. They’d almost rather forget they have a family. It’s difficult to trust when, all or most of your life, you’ve had to guard your heart against people who shared your home.

I’m also extraordinarily grateful, though that seems too weak of a word, to have friends I consider family. People who are on my kids’ emergency contact list. People I’ve been with immediately after they had a devastating doctor’s appointment or a heartbreaking phone call. Ones who know what I need even–or, especially–when I don’t. They’re the kinds of friends Solomon might have been thinking about when he said, “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24).

When we started meeting about the Parish, we talked about core values, about the blood and guts of this church–what made us run, what we believed in most deeply. Family came up a lot. We want to be a place of family, people who stand beside one another without flinching. We have Gatherings that feel like reunions. Table Group reminds me of a big Sunday lunch, kids playing while the adults enjoy one another’s company over delicious food.

This church is only a few months into existence, but “family” is what comes to my mind when we’re together. Relationships are forming and being cemented that I anticipate lasting many, many years. Forgive me for being morbid, but it’s likely that one day, everything will blow up for somebody in our midst. And on that day, this family will surround, support, pray for, cook for, and love on in tangible ways.

I know, because we already are.

And Restoration Is Your Song

This is a guest post by Candi Shelton. Candi is a member of the Parish Leadership Team and will be helping lead our Parish Formation groups. 

“And You make things new,
You will right what is wrong.
Healing flows from You,
And restoration is Your song.”

The theme of restoration has been an important one for me, even before I was old enough to know what to call it. My childhood years, although full of fond DeathtoStock_Cozy5memories and wonderful experiences, were also marked by divorce, death, church separation, and family troubles. I remember the pain of each of these experiences, but I also remember the feeling that God hadn’t had the last word; that, despite the circumstances and the finality of some of them, He could still make things better. 

Fast forward to present day, and I can’t tell you how overjoyed I am at being part of a church body that considers restoration to be one of its core values. Today we are going to look at restoration as one of the foundations of The Parish. As we begin this blog series that dives a little deeper into each of these four values, I pray that we would see these become realities in our lives, both individually and as a church family, and that we would find ourselves desiring these expressions of God’s heart to be manifested in us.

In trying to make my thoughts on restoration more cohesive, I figured the best way to start is with the definition of the word itself:

res·to·ra·tion
noun \ˌres-tə-ˈrā-shən\
: the act or process of returning something to its original condition by repairing it, cleaning it, etc.
: the act of bringing back something that existed before
: the act of returning something that was stolen or taken

Truly, there is so much goodness in those few sentences that we could spend hours and hours unpacking these and still feel like we’re just getting started. But for the sake of time and clarity, I’ll narrow it down to 2 main points.

1. Restoration gets ugly
The sometimes unpleasant truth is that, in restoration, things may get uglier before they get beautiful. If the intention is to return something to its original condition, then the repair that will be necessary will no doubt get messy. The cleaning that might be required could get really painful, scrubbing and scouring and sanding just to get to ground zero so that the rebuilding can take place. When we hear the word restoration, often we think of the beauty of the finished product. Not many people want to look behind the curtain of the process that leads to the beauty.

We want to be a people who aren’t afraid to run into the messes, in our own lives or in our friends’ and neighbors’ lives. The only way for restoration to take place, the only way for the beautiful finish, is to get our hands dirty in the process. The Parish wants to be marked by the sweat of labor, by the grit of dirt under our nails, and by the sawdust-covered floors that denote a work is being done. We aren’t afraid of the messes because that’s where we find the most fertile ground for astonishing beauty to grow.

2.  Jesus was Restoration Incarnate
Jesus’ life was marked by restoration. He ate dinner with the corrupt; he spent time with prostitutes and crooks, with women and children, with the sick and the disenfranchised. He walked toward those who had only seen the backs of others for so long. Jesus was scandalous in His love and with His tenderness, sowing seeds of hope and beauty where decay had once thrived. He wrecked preconceptions and stirred the proverbial pot. But He made things better wherever he went.  “Better” wasn’t always safe, and just like Aslan of Narnia, “of course he’s not safe. But he’s good.”

We desire to breathe life into the stagnant. We want to “do justice” in our community, and by our presence we hope that those who are in need will be refreshed and cared for. We want to be extensions for the healing that flows from Christ- healing for physical needs, for strained relationships, for broken marriages, for the spiritually dead. We want to embrace those who may squirm out of our arms and run away. We want to love scandalously and live with a graciousness that makes people uncomfortable because we believe that safety is overrated, and that His goodness is unparalleled.

Just as the song lyrics above say, we believe that restoration is the song that Jesus sings. It’s the life that he lived and spilled out wherever he went. It’s the promise of what is to come and what is happening right now. And if restoration is His song, then we believe it should be ours as well.

Guest Post: Presentation and Revelation

Ryan Stuart is a member of The Parish Launch Team and will be teaching at our gathering this Saturday, February 1st.

Almighty and everliving God, we humbly pray that, as your only begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
– The Collect Prayer for our upcoming gathering, February 1. 

Luke02bFor me, one of the most beautiful things about discovering the Christian calendar for the first time is how the story is told of the life of Jesus.  With one focused piece at a time, we are drawn into the narrative of how God became a human person, what that looked like in real life and time, and what his work means for our lives today.

Forty days after Christmas, the calendar brings to our attention an event that happened forty days after Jesus’ birth.  Luke tells the story of Jesus being presented in the Temple as a newborn child, and what a story it is.

In Luke 2:22-40, Mary and Joseph are simply following the religious custom according to the Law of Moses.  Upon bringing Jesus into the temple, they encounter Simeon, an old man who had been promised to see the Savior before he died.  When Simeon comes face to face with Jesus, he proclaims, “I can now be dismissed from this life, for my eyes have seen the salvation of the world!”  Luke records the reaction of Mary and Joseph to Simeon’s words.  Even after Mary’s miraculous conception and all the accompanying signs, they are still astonished and amazed at what Simeon has to say — “This child will turn the world upside down.” Simeon is one more confirmation that Jesus is what the world has been waiting for and almost given up on. Jesus is the One.

But there’s a new piece that this story holds for us.  For the first time, we begin to discover the role of this promised one.  This is a huge thing because, among those Jewish people still expecting the emergence of a literal Messiah, there was no shortage of theories as to how he would work and what he would do. Following the birth of Jesus, Simeon is one of the first to give us a glimpse, and what he has to say seems a bit mysterious and unexpected to his immediate audience.  “He will pierce souls and reveal thoughts of the heart,” even of his own parents, Mary and Joseph.  Simeon prophesies that Jesus’ work will be inside work, not an outside work.  He won’t be overthrowing earthly governments or establishing a new political scene.  His work is within the hearts of people.

Malachi 3:1-4 is also an accompanying reading for us this week.  Malachi’s prophecy goes further with a projected understanding of Jesus’ role.  “For He will be like a refiner’s fire, or a launderers soap.  He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.  Then the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord as in former years.”

As Christians, many of us understand that Jesus came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.  But sometimes we see that only in the context of salvation.  We know that we are forgiven because of Jesus.  Our debt of sin is paid because of Jesus.  And, while these are both true statements and great news, the greater news is — that’s just the beginning!  Jesus didn’t just come for us to be forgiven, he came for us to be changed.  He came that we might be transformed, made different than we were before. The Promised One brings the promise of real change for all who trust in him.

~Ryan

Guest Post: Why Anglicanism?

Finding in Temple

Brendan Trinkle is a member of our Launch Team and is heading up music for The Parish. 

As the first Anglican church I’ve been a member of, the Parish is breathing fresh air into my notion of community. One of the things I love about Anglicanism as a tradition is its connection to the past, present, and future church. When I read scripture selections from the Daily Office or hear a sermon from the Lectionary, there is a profound comfort in knowing that Christians around the world are drawing and have drawn from the same source, finding discipline and encouragement through calendric rhythms. My definition of community has been reshaped as I consider this relationship to the global, historical church.

The Parish values, as most Anglican churches do, a balance among the evangelical, the charismatic, and the liturgical. For most of my life I’ve understood these words as denominational classifiers, and depending on which tradition you come from a Parish service might feel more like one or the other. Nonetheless, I find it so healthy for a community to let each of these expressions of faith temper the others, learning about and experiencing God through each.

Where the world feels like it moves at breakneck speed, there is comfort and a feeling of safety for me in an emphasis on the ancient nature of our faith. It has helped me understand the timeless truths of God to read prayers and liturgies written hundreds of years ago as the church grappled with the same hardships we do today – pain, heartache, violence, and death. As the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it, “there is nothing new under the Sun,” and that includes my wrestling to understand what it means to live, to be human, and to know God. Many before me have survived the struggle, faith intact.

I know I speak for everyone at the Parish when I say we’re thrilled to be following Jesus in this way, sitting with old forms and finding new life in them. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and yet I think He knows we need to experience His “sameness” in fresh ways.