Skip to main content

Anthems of Identity

There are two songs circling the church a the moment that I think are some of the most important anthems we have sung in years. They speak to issues of identity that the church has long neglected, that as Christians we haven’t quite come to grips with. They are such simple truth but have such a profound impact on how we live our lives. The first comes from, until this song came out, a relatively unknown worship team based out of Atlanta, Georgia. The second comes from the team at Bethel, who have already had a profound impact on the wider church through their music and teaching.

Listen to the songs first, then read and understand what they mean to you before listening to it again.

Good Good Father – Housefires

How we view God, or who we view as has a massive impact on our relationship with him. Jesus came to reveal the father to us. So many view God through the lens of the Old Testament, in isolation of what we know in the New Testament. This causes people to have a view of God, in line with what Dawkins says, in his book, The God Delusion.

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” – Richard Dawkins

But Jesus came on the scene and said that the Father could only be known by his Son. As Christians, we need to view God through the lens of his Son, and this song, as the name implies, speaks to two areas of God’s true identity.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. – Matthew 11:27 (ESV)

He is Good

Fundamental to our belief in God has to be that he is God. If you don’t believe God is good, then how can you listen to what he says? Follow his voice? Believe his promises? When bad things happen (and they will) you have no security, no confidence, no hope, that things will get better. If God isn’t good, what is he?

“[Speaking to God] You are good and do only good; teach me your decrees.” – Psalm 119:68 (NLT)

He is our Father

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. We are to relate to God as a father. The greek word used here (165+ times in the Gospels, 15 times in the Old Testament) is [Abba] refers to intimacy, a close relationship, better translated in the less formal word of ‘Daddy‘ or ‘Papa‘.  The difference might seem negligible until you hear the voice of a young child screaming “You’ll Always be My Father but You’ll Never be My Dad”.

5 Abbá – “Father,” also used as the term of tender endearment by a beloved child – i.e. in an affectionate, dependent relationship with their father; “daddy,” “papa.” – Helps Ministries, Inc.

This will be difficult for some. Our understanding of true fatherhood has become murkier and murkier so much so that the current generation has become known as the “fatherless generation”.

God will always be everything your earthly father was not, on top of everything he was.

No Longer a Slave – Bethel Music

We transition from a song that talks about who God is, to a song that talks directly to who we are. We started with God’s identity because our identity is rooted in who he is. Only when we know who He is, can we really understand who we are. Under the law, we are slaves, separated from God by our sin, as Paul articulates so well in the book of Romans. But under grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, we become sons of God, co-heirs with Christ, part of the royal priesthood. Slaves in Jesus’ time were entitled to nothing if their masters died with no heirs. But sons, sons received everything. Under the law we had nothing, through Jesus, we now have everything – we can call God father, daddy, pappa, and know that he looks on us as sons and daughters. Such a simple, but profound statement, “I am a child a God”.

Under the law, we are slaves, separated from God by our sin, as Paul articulates so well in the book of Romans. But under grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, we become sons of God, co-heirs with Christ, part of the royal priesthood. Slaves in Jesus’ time were entitled to nothing if their masters died with no heirs. But sons, sons received everything. Under the law we had nothing, through Jesus, we now have everything – we can call God father, daddy, pappa, and know that he looks on us as sons and daughters.

It amazes me every time I hear it how such a simple, obvious statement, can have such a profound impact on me, for “I am a child a God”.

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. – Romans 8:2 (ESV)

Check out both songs on iTunes or Amazon Music:

Housefires II – Housefires, iTunes, Amazon.

We Will Not Be Shaken – Bethel Music, iTunes, Amazon.

New York City Church Tour

New York City Church Tour

The final stop was my New York City Church Tour. It’s been such a privilege to visit the extended family and learn from what the wider church is doing, just across the pond. In this post, I cover Redeemer and The Journey. Two very different churches but both having a great impact in the city, and wider afield. You can also check out the churches I visited in Atlanta in my previous blog post.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church

redeemer-new-york-city-church-tour

Top of my list to visit while in New York was Redeemer, Tim Kellers church. Not Time Square Church (as I keep hearing in reference to Tim Keller), it does exist, I just can’t see any link with Tim Keller. Redeemer isn’t even in Time Square.

I attended a Faith & Work event during the week at Redeemer’s main offices (see my post on the Extended Family for more details). On Sunday I went along to the 10:30 am service at Hunter College auditorium. The morning services are traditional, which isn’t my preferred service type, but we can always learn from styles we don’t prefer.

On arrival I was handed a service sheet with the bars of music included (in case I brought my recorder from primary school and felt led to join the worship team) and the various responses (liturgy) that were part of the service. Redeemer do have a contemporary service later in the day, but my flight didn’t allow for that. Tim Keller gave a heartfelt exposition on Justice (Startling importance of Justice, Justice as a Force of Nature, Our Ability to do Justice) based on Isaiah 58:1-14.

“[On the cross] God didn’t just suffer for us he suffered with us.”

“God deserved vindication and justice. On the cross he received condemnation, so in return, we could received vindication and justice.”

– Tim Keller

The Journey NYC

I first connected with The Journey at their Easter Outreach event in Union Square (you can read more about that in my post of here). When I went along on Sunday morning I attended The Village Campus, hosted in a local school. Everyone gave me a very warm welcome and it was great to see a familiar face from the outreach event when I arrived.

Journey Church - New York City Church Tour

I spent some time chatting with Mark Edington, Journey’s Growth Groups Pastor hear his story a snippet of what God was doing in his life and through Journey Church. The Journey was smaller than other churches I had visited, their 1pm was also one of their smaller services (I can only assume due to the fact everyone is having Sunday lunch, but that might just be in Britain) so there was plenty of space.

Kerrick Thomas - Journey Church - New York City Church TourThe message was very simple, and what I loved about The Journey was it always led to an action, and it was an action you could take. Before we went in we were all given a message outline, and a giving envelope. Kerrick Thomas referred to both throughout his message giving each person an easy way to connect into what the church was doing and become part of it.

Passion-building-atlanta-church-tour

Atlanta Church Tour

Here is my roundup from my Atlanta Church Tour. I’ve visited many churches during my short time in the states (technically I am on 5 in just over a week, but one was for a wedding, so I am not going to count it). It’s also not often I get the opportunity to be a first time visitor in church, hence, I wanted to distill some of my experiences in some of the largest churches in Atlanta, below. Hopefully, the ideas distilled below will help spark your creativity as you think about the experience of first-time visitors to your church, business, or even home. You can check out the churches I visited in New York in my next blog post.

New York Church Tour – Coming Soon!

fc logo atlanta church tour

free-chapel-atlanta-church-tourI visited Free Chapel in Gainesville, Georgia on a Wednesday evening (7pm service). Parking attendant directed me to a car park not too far from the main building (Wednesday isn’t as busy as their Sunday services). What stood out with me in Free Chapel was the entrance for first-time guests. This is brilliant (and I didn’t find it elsewhere). The first door I reached had a large sign directing the first-time guest in through the door. Right in front of the Door was the connections team who gave me a goody bag (everyone likes a freebie) and invited me to fill in a connection card. One of the women explained the different ways of connecting in with the church, using one of their leaflets, and then handed me a voucher for a free coffee after the service.

She then walked me to the auditorium, and showed me to some seats near the front, just to the left of the stage. They had designated areas for new people, so they would always have a seat. The Mark Rutland, the main speaker for the evening, saw us on our way in and introduced himself to me, and welcomed me to the church.

passion-logo-atlanta-church-tour

I believe it is equally important to experience how a church manages its guest that are late, not just on time (or early). Hence, I decided to arrive 15 minutes late, for this exact purpose (completely unrelated to me being at another church beforehand, and getting lost on the way there). The car park was full, so I was helpfully redirected to the overflow (excellent signs directing me there) in the nearby multi-storey. After finding the right side of the building to exit on, I clambered onto the shuttle bus to take us the two-minute trip down the road back to the main venue.

Passion-For-God-Atlanta-Church-TourPassion-for-the-city-Atlanta-Church-Tour
I was welcomed as a first time guest on the bus and then directed to the auditorium where Matt Redman was already leading worship.

NPCC-Logo-Atlanta-church-tour

North Point wins the prize for the most friendly and engaging parking attendant! I was quickly welcomed and directed to a parking space, then he waved hello and welcomed me when I passed him on my way in, and finally said goodbye when he saw me coming out – very impressive! North Point was certainly the biggest campus I visited. They have two auditoriums facing each other in the single building. On a Sunday morning both sides have their own band and then the speaker is in person on one side and live streamed to the screen in the opposite auditorium.

IMG_20160313_174154

I attended the 4pm service which, on reflection, I believe was aimed at regular members of the congregation that had missed the morning service, rather than first-time guests. We only used one of the two auditoriums and I would say we were under half full. The service opened in style with a full-on showpiece from the band on stage (including guitar solo).

IMG_20160313_163238IMG_20160313_165708
North Point prides itself in creating an environment where non-church people would feel comfortable and they certainly delivered on that front (rock concert style!) For the main talk we had a recording played back from the morning service. I did struggle with this. From the perspective of someone new, there is a certain amount of value you feel when someone is there in person talking to you. It’s the kind of value that you only notice when it’s missing, rather than appreciate it when it is there. It isn’t about having Andy Stanley there, it’s simply about having someone there who values your time enough that they came along in person to talk to you.