Our church theme this year at Amazing Grace Church is Practicing the Presence of God. The first two services of 2017 introduced this theme and set the foundation for the year. Just in case you missed these (or if you want a review), I'd like to explain them here.

This theme emerged from a couple of different concerns. As we entered the New Year, we sensed an urgency to do our part to help the Christian church, and our church in particular, get back on course, back to its central identity and mission. We sensed that millions of Christians in America, and even some in our own church, were being distracted by fear, anger, pride, hatred, suspicion, disillusionment, depression, and a host of other ailments. We were especially concerned for those whose lives and relationships were being compromised and diminished by anger and bitterness. We sensed a calling to return to the "pure and simple devotion to Christ" (I Cor. 11:3). Our prayer for our church is that we would "grow up healthy in God, robust in love" (Eph. 4:16 MSG). Our goal is that we would emphasize the main, central practices and purposes of the church - that we would keep it simple, go back to the basics, and become settled and grounded again on the ancient path, the way of Jesus (Jeremiah 6:16). The Apostle Paul summarizes this goal of ours in Eph. 4:

I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly.    (Eph. 4, MSG).

In the first service of the year, we emphasized the first part of the theme: PRACTICING.  The next week, we focused on the PRESENCE OF GOD. Here's how it all fits together:

1. We live in a World Gone Wrong. Even though God created the world "good and beautiful" - the world is now full of violence, death, disease, and sorrow - all because of sin and rebellion.

2. God has not given up on the world, however, and is committed to healing the world, righting the wrongs, rescuing the oppressed, reconciling relationships, forgiving sins, and renewing the world. In other words, God is going to change the world for the better. He is going to heal his broken good creation.

3. Ultimately, God will change the world through the faithful presence of Christ in the world: the body of Christ, THE CHURCH. 

4. It is not our job to change the world. It is God's job to change the world. It is our job to be God's FAITHFUL PRESENCE. Our calling is to be God's presence, his dwelling place, at worship and in the world (loving one another and our neighbors).

5. We will not be the presence of God automatically, however. To be formed into the presence of God we must PRACTICE THE PRACTICES of the Christian faith. We are not formed so much by what we believe or by what we think. We are formed by what we DO - and we do what we love. We love what we do and we do what we love. We ARE what we LOVE. (And we may not love what we think we do). We must not underestimate the power of habit. This year we will look again at the basic formational practices of the church, especially the Lord's Supper, the Word, prayer, acts of service, corporate worship, etc. Another way to put it: what we do (our regular habits) forms our hearts. And our hearts determine our life. That's why the Biblical wisdom says:

Above all else, guard your hearts for everything you do flows from it. (Prov. 4:23)

6. We will not THINK our way to a healthy happiness and holiness. We will not BELIEVE our way to happiness and holiness. We will not FEEL our way to happiness and holiness. We can only ACT our way. If you want your family more healthy and whole, more Christlike, twelve months from now - IT WILL BE BASED ON YOUR DAILY AND WEEKLY HABITS. You and I will either be FORMED by the WORLD or FORMED by Christ and his CHURCH. We will either make Christ and the PRACTICES of the Christian Faith central and vitally important in our daily lives, or we will be formed by the secular liturgies and practices of which we aren't even aware. The biblical command, "TRAIN YOURSELF TO BE GODLY" (I Tim. 4:7), was referring to these disciplines (habits, practices) that God uses to grow us up in Christ.

7. The local church is the body of Christ, the dwelling place of God, THE PRESENCE OF GOD, his sacred and holy temple (I Cor. 3:16). That's why God makes our loyal participation in our home church such a serious matter. If we try to harm or destroy the church - or cause division - we are in grave danger. "If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for God's temple is sacred, and you together are that temple." (I Cor. 3:17). 

Grace and Peace to all of you. Looking forward to following the Holy Spirit together in 2017. If you have any questions about this theme, please contact any pastor. Also, remember that these sermons are online on this website.  May God bless you.

Pastors Blog: Where Are We Going?


By Joseph S. Beach

 “Where is this church going?” All pastors are familiar with this question. Sometimes it comes in the form of a statement: “I don’t like the direction this church is taking.” In the case of Amazing Grace Church, the pastors heard this question in the early 60’s as the church began to experience rapid growth amidst massive cultural upheaval. The pastors heard it again (often) in the 70’s when the church was infiltrated by drums, guitars, long hair, short skirts, coffee houses, and rock music. Each decade since then, the pastors have been confronted with the same question, over and over: “Where is this church going?”

 As one of the pastors of Amazing Grace Church, here’s my best attempt at an answer. First, and most importantly, “I’m not going anywhere.”Neither I, nor anyone else, get to make up the Christian Faith. The faith is something we inherit. It’s something that was passed on to us. As Jude urges us, we are to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s Holy People” (Jude 3). So, in that sense, the “faith” doesn’t change. The Gospel doesn’t change. The basic story of Scripture doesn’t change. The story of Christ doesn’t change. It’s fixed in stone. It’s been entrusted to us “once and for all.” Our message, our story, and our announcement of good news does not, and can not, ever change. Amazing Grace Church and its pastors have always been (and remain) 100% committed to the historical, orthodox, apostolic, traditional Christian faith as it has been passed down to us. This faith is specifically articulated in the great ancient creeds of the faith. I wholeheartedly, without reservation, believe and confess these creeds – as do the other pastors. To put it simply, we are not going anywhere. When it comes to our rock solid commitment to God’s inspired Scripture and the core doctrines that comprise and surround the gospel, we are not going anywhere.

 In another important sense, though, we are going somewhere – we are going forward. But we are going forward by going back. More than ever before, we are committed to the Holy Scriptures and the historical gospel. What some people may perceive as a “new thing” is actually part of a “back to the Bible” movement that is happening around the world. The Holy Spirit is calling the church back to the basics: to the actual biblical gospel, to the Word of God, to prayer, to fellowship, to witness, and to worship. This may seem “new” because it is different from what we hear within the popular culture around us (including much of the evangelical sub-culture) – but it’s actually a return to the ancient Christian faith. 

 Finally, if you’re talking about our particular style or flavor – I’m not sure. The Christian life, for an individual or for a church, is about followingour Master Jesus. It’s about a Holy Spirit “wind” that blows wherever it wants. In other words, I am not in charge of every detail of the church.

 Another thing that I want to make clear is that I have no hidden agenda to make the church into something it isn’t. We are a protestant church within the evangelical tradition. That is who we are. I have benefited from, and participated in, various denominations and movements. But I have no agenda whatsoever to make myself or the church fit into any of these systems, camps, movements, denominations, or flavors. I simply want us to be who God is creating us to be - within the boundaries laid down in Holy Scripture. 

 Having said all that, our own unique “flavor” or particular makeup will inevitably change as all of us change. What are the implications of this for Amazing Grace Church? Nobody knows, of course. As I hinted earlier, Amazing Grace has always been in a state of transition. It has been “changing” ever since Pastor Kindschy came in 1955. The 1960’s brought radical change. The Jesus Movement and the charismatic renewal of the 1970’s brought a bunch of young people into the church. They brought their music, dress, and lifestyles into the church. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, the church continued to change and adjust to new dynamics both inside and outside the church. Now, in the 21st Century, another generation is coming along and adding their flavor to the church. Our current pastors and young leaders are adding their own preferences and styles to our church. One of the best sources for optimism is this current generation’s deep respect for the older generations – and vice versa. We truly have become a multi-generational family of God – for which we can be immensely grateful. To the extent that we remain respectful of one another and patient with one another, we can face the future with confidence.

 Now days, American society is in the middle of a bitter culture war. This war is sometimes brought into the church and the pastors are often expected to choose up sides. Many people, on the left and the right, assume that if the pastor doesn’t join their “team” (and use the right catch phrases or terms) then, obviously, the pastor is on “the other team” and is, therefore, heading in the wrong direction. Often, these expectations are unfair and are based on misunderstandings. For instance, just to mention two of the current hot button issues, all of the pastors are deeply committed to the sanctity of human life and to the biblical definition of Christian marriage between one man and one woman, for life. The pastors and leaders of Amazing Grace Church stand squarely within the great Judeo-Christian tradition when it comes to basic morality and social ethics. (For specific statements on where we stand on issues - just ask us).

 Having said all that, the question remains, “where am I going?” My personal preferences and convictions are well known. I remain passionately committed to a very high “ecclesiology” of the local church. I believe that the church of Jesus Christ – which manifests itself in local churches – deserves our highest allegiance and, therefore, takes precedence over our own wants and needs and all of our secondary allegiances. I believe that the church remains the focal point of God’s mission in the world. I’m deeply committed to the regular, ordinary local church. 

Where am I going? There is a sense in which I am (hopefully) going where the Holy Spirit leads me. I’m listening to my fellow elders. I’m attempting to obey the Holy Scriptures. I’m paying attention to where God is leading this congregation. I’m paying attention to what kind of congregation God is forming us to be. I’m trying to keep in step with the Spirit. One place where I’m not going: I refuse to preach the politically correct party line of the secular pop culture (right or left wing). Neither do I feel compelled to preach the politically correct party line of the evangelical sub-culture (right or left wing). To do so would be the easiest thing in the world. It would be popular, and would take no courage at all. That kind of preaching, though, is not faithful to the gospel. I think, instead, it is the kind of preaching that any Pharisee would love. I think that the true gospel proclaims Jesus as Savior and Lord of the world – another King of another Kingdom – and focuses on our own lives, our own devotion, and our own sins. 

Where am I going? As I said, in one sense, I am not going anywhere and neither is the church. We are as grounded in the gospel as we’ve ever been. In another sense, as far as our “flavor,” time will tell where I’m going or where the church is going. Eternity will tell. I can say, though, that I have a deeper passion for Jesus Christ and his kingdom than I have ever known. I have never been more committed to God and to obeying his Holy Word. I’ve never been more excited about God’s Word and its truthfulness, beauty, and power to save. I continue to grow and heal and hear the call of God on my life as never before. I also am thrilled with what God is doing in and through the local church called Amazing Grace Church. It is a beautiful miracle of God – a multi-generational family of God on a mission. It remains Christ-centered, committed to hearing and obeying God’s word, and committed to loving God, loving each other, and loving our neighbors.   

 Where am I going? Where is the church going? Regarding the Gospel of Jesus Christ, nowhere. Regarding, our unique style or flavor, I don’t know… but I trust the Holy Spirit enough to find out.

Grace & Peace.