2 Pillars Church

A Story of Redemption

For the Christian Church, the Easter season evokes symbols of death, rebirth, and the promise of salvation. Every year, Christians celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection and what it stands for with the understanding that the death and resurrection of Christ mirrors their own “rebirth.” While the means and duration of spiritual rebirth can and do vary tremendously from person to person, the eventual result, a life evidencing the changes that come with knowing Christ, is the same. As the oft-quoted passage from the Gospel of John tells us, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” While some throughout history have heatedly debated what constitutes “belief” - and Christ did make clear not all who profess belief actually believe - most would agree that the end result is a changed life that bears the “fruit” of the gospel as it compels Believers to live out its mission and tenets.

The Before

For me, my rebirth elicits a series of contrasts between my life before Christ and my life after Christ. Before knowing Christ, I earnestly believed that my righteousness was of my own doing. I believed in living “uprightly” because of how I thought I would appear to others and because of what I thought I could gain from it. My upright lifestyle, I believed at the time, would help me be esteemed by others and would make me a better candidate for “making it” in school, in jobs, and in my social circles.

Before knowing Christ, my self-made righteousness allowed me to willfully cover up and ignore my sinfulness. Since my righteousness was of my own doing, I frequently bent my self-made rules to suit me in the event I fell short of certain standards. In my own eyes, I was righteous - or better yet, more righteous - because I didn’t swear as much as others, because I studied more diligently than others, because I didn’t go out and drink like others, because I didn’t get angry about the same things as others, because I didn’t lust as openly or in the same ways as others, and so on and so on.

Before knowing Christ I invested myself into my work and image with reckless abandon. For example, I had a love for sports that far surpassed a love of just the game itself, the friendships it fostered, the lessons it taught, or the enjoying the opportunity to witness feats of athleticism. I poured an immense amount of my self-worth into athletics. I embodied the coaching cliche that “you’re only as good as your last performance,” riding the volatility of every good and bad performance as either a validation or indictment of my personal being. In many ways, my deep identification with athletics was a perfect representation of how I approached living – each performance measured how “good” or “bad” I was.

The After

This is just a snapshot of how I used to live and what used to drive me. In the years that have passed since committing my life to Christ, I have seen Him already work changes in my life.

First, my relationship with my sinful fallenness has changed. While almost two decades of self-made righteousness can’t be reversed quickly or easily, I have found great comfort in knowing that my salvation does not rest on “my last performance.” I am still sinful and broken. Very much so. I still wrestle with sins that have followed me from the time before I knew Christ. In fact, knowing Christ has greatly amplified my awareness of my sin now that I realize how short of God’s standards I fall and how shallow and feeble my own self-manufactured standards really were.

However, my fallenness is no longer what defines me. Because of my understanding of the sacrifice that God made for me and all others, I am free to pursue good and resist sin, not as a means for appearing better to others or to appease God via some giant, cosmic scoreboard, but rather as a way to gratefully, diligently, and contentedly serve a loving, merciful God.

A second major change is that knowing Christ has revolutionized my understanding of the Church. Previously, “church” had been a stale service that I attend for about 90 minutes every Sunday (or every other) because my parents went or because I wanted to look good and upright in front of others. “Church,” to me, was just another extra-curricular to join solely for the purpose of enhancing my appearance. Now, however, I understand that the Church is not a building that sits mostly empty six days out of the week but rather it’s a vibrant body of Believers that I am excited to be a part of and share in their experiences as followers of Christ. I am energized by their community and sense of mission, and I look to contribute to its mission of proclaiming the Gospel and living it out. This hasn’t meant that I’ve somehow become more eloquent in talking to others or less awkward in having serious spiritual conversations with others. I’m still the same bumbling conversationalist that I was before knowing Christ. However, when I have (or make) opportunities, I make efforts to make my identity known and speak Christ’s truth into others lives, either through actions, deeds, or both.

A third major change brought by knowing Christ is that God no longer appears as a “celestial killjoy” to me. God was and remains a God of holiness and justice who abhors sin, but I now understand that it is through that holiness and justice that He offers hope to a broken, hurting world, promising us that one day all things will be made right and new through Him. This is possible because God is also a forgiving, loving God. He willingly paid the horrible penalty necessary for humanity to be redeemed and reunited with Him in eternity, and in paying that price and rising again, He defeated the hold that sin and death had had over us. Despite my horrible brokenness (and my tendency to revert to seeing Him as a scowling, disappointed patrol cop), I know that He loves me perfectly and fully. It paints a sharp contrast for a journey I know I’ve only just begun.

Photo by Robert Jinks

From Ephesus to Us

"The letter to the Ephesians is a marvelously concise, yet comprehensive, summary of the Christian good news and its implications.  Nobody can read it without being moved to wonder and worship, and challenged to consistency of life," so claims theologian John Stott.

But can a nearly 2000 year-old letter, written to people you've never met, in a completely different culture, context, and time really achieve that?  How does it achieve that?  What's so amazing about this letter that nobody can read it without being moved and challenged?

Cultural Parallels

To begin to answer that question, we should first realize that the first-century city of Ephesus was not all that unlike our own city of Lincoln in the present.  At about 300,000 people in size, Ephesus was one of the largest and most important cities in it's respective area.  It was a center for trade, commerce, politics, as well as recreation and worship.

To begin to answer that question, we should first realize that the first-century city of Ephesus was not all that unlike our own city of Lincoln in the present.

The Temple of Artemis (or "Diana") was there.  Within reason, the Temple or Artemis was approximately the size of Memorial Stadium, made entirely out of marble, and regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.  As the goddess most worshiped in private devotions in the Mediterranean world, thousands upon thousands of people flocked to the city of Ephesus to pay tribute to Artemis.  While there, they spent lots of money and kept the local economy alive and thriving.

Gospel Parallels

Sometime early in the 1st century (likely A.D. 52), the people of Ephesus began to encounter the gospel of Jesus in a significant way when a missionary named Paul visited the city (Acts 18:19-20).  Upon arriving, he preached the good news about Jesus to the Jews in the synagogue but did not stay long, leaving to move on but later returning to stay for two and a half years there (see Acts 19).

When Paul did return, he found a city full of pagans as well as religious people (both Jews and non-Jewish God-fearers).  Additionally; however, as we read in Acts 19, there were also some people who had heard about Jesus, believed themselves to be disciples of Jesus, but truly were not saved.

Paul labored through tears and trials (Acts 20:19) for two and a half years in this city.  During that time, the church was established in Ephesus.


The Letter

Some years laters (between A.D. 60-62) Paul wrote at letter from prison in Rome intended for the fledgling Christians in Ephesus.  Some of the recipients (not unlike the makeup of a typical modern-day church) had been "religious" all their life but had only recently encountered the good news of the gospel of Jesus.  Others were pagans who became believers and found themselves growing into leadership in the local church.  Still others were those who believed they were Christ followers, only later to realize they weren't, who had since now become true Christ followers.

And it’s for this reason that none of us should be able to read the letter to the Ephesians without “being moved to wonder and worship, and challenged to consistency of life.

These fledgling Christians now found themselves "marginalized in a pluralistic culture tolerant of many things but not of the Christian gospel or the church which proclaimed it." (Ferguson, Let's Study Ephesians).

The letter to the Ephesians was thus written to encourage and instruct these believers.  

The Message: Encourage and Instruct

Perhaps the best summary of Ephesians is found in Ephesians 5:8: "For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light."

The order of that summary is important:  Who we now are (in Christ) proceeds, undergirds, and drives how we are to live.

This is the message of Ephesians.  Ephesians is a letter that is all about who we are "in Christ" (the first half of the letter) and how we are to live "in Christ" (the second half of the letter).  

The divine structuring of the letter reminds us that everything we're to do is founded on all that Christ has done—in other words, our gospel identity forms our gospel life.  

This is a message that transcends centuries, cultures and contexts.  It is the very heart of Christianity itself.  And it's for this reason that none of us should be able to read the letter to the Ephesians without "being moved to wonder and worship, and challenged to consistency of life."

Read.  Wonder.  Be moved.  Be challenged.


Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

It’s the second week of Advent and there is a definite building crescendo of anticipation for Christmas day.  It seems as though the seasonal music tends to fuel the anticipation. It is hard to escape because anticipation is part of the human experience. Everyone is looking forward to something.

Last week we focused on the familiar Christmas song, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” This week, let’s look at “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” This hymn was written by Charles Wesley, and first published in 1744. Charles Wesley was an English leader in the Methodist movement, and the younger brother of Methodist founder John Wesley. Charles lived from 1707 to 1788.

In the hymn, Wesley wrote phrases such as “dear desire of every nation” and “joy of every longing heart.” Wesley understood that within every person, there is a deep longing to cherish something highly. At Christmas time, I think this feeling becomes recognizably stronger and it brings us to a place where we begin to think about these longings meaningfully.

The world is full of different messages. Some will tell you to indulge these longings until you are the fulfillment of the higher meaning. Some will tell you that there is no higher meaning, that the longing is absurd. Some will tell you that your search is in vain and nothing more than an illusion will be achieved. How can this be? ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ promised that God will be with us. Emmanuel would bring Hope and satisfy our longings to be ransomed from all the “bad” in our lives, in the world. If there is no higher meaning in life, then everything that is in us saying there most certainly is...is a lie, an illusion. Who we are at the core is nothing more than an illusion.

But what if there is a higher meaning?

We long to know that our labors, toil, and suffering are not in vain. This is the call of Wesley’s hymn.

The longings are not only to know that life is not an aimless accident, but that on a practical and experiential level, there are daily anxieties that from which we wish to be free. Jesus came to give rest to the anxious, fortify the fearful, and set the captives free from bondage to sin.

In Jesus, we find rest from trying to validate ourselves. Wesley wrote: “Hope of all the earth thou art.” There is hope for all of the world because of who Jesus is. As we look to the God who is with us, we find God stepping into history as a man to make reconciliation between humanity and Himself, and we find hope for all people.

Advent is the season where we celebrate “God with us.” This is why we can all join together in singing “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” For a more in-depth study on “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” check out the second week in our Advent sermons series here.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

The holidays are here which means you're going to hear Christmas music everywhere you go. Some of the songs are catchy, and others...well... I'll just say they aren't as catchy.  Christmas music is something that is easily recognizable; yet much of it is undefined or taken for granted. These songs have memorable melodies, but have you ever thought about where they came from? Or what the lyrics mean? There are messages untouched by time i some of these songs that still speaks to people.

Perhaps one of the oldest songs that remains popular to this day is 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.' This hymn dates all the way back to the 8th century A.D. where it was chanted as a prayer in monasteries by monks as Christmas approached. It was not actually sung as a hymn until 12th century A.D. when it was rearranged by an unknown Latin poet. Finally, in 1851, it was translated from Latin to English by Dr. J.M. Neale, which is how many of us would recognize it today.

But what does this hymn actually mean? Why has it prevailed so strongly throughout time? The word “Emmanuel" provides great substance as to what this hymn is about. “Emmanuel” simply means “God with us.” The meaning of Emmanuel is important to know to better understand the meaning behind the lyrics:

O, come, O, come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear.

The Jewish people of Israel were anticipating the long­awaited promise made by God. The name “Israel” in its original language is a combination of “wrestle or struggle" and “God”, thus the name of Israel can mean “To struggle with God.” Perhaps to struggle in believing the promises of God, or to struggle in submitting to God, or struggling to entrust one’s fidelity to God. Everyone struggles. Whether the struggle is in marriage, in the workplace, with family, with fighting addictions, battling depression, or just making it through the day. The cry of this song is that God would come and be with His people in the midst of the struggle and that He would ransom them, set them free from sin and its consequences.

This is why Jesus is so central to all the promises of God. Jesus is "God with us." Jesus is God stepping into the mess that we have made of the world and, rather than being distant and careless, He is a God who is willing to stoop down to our level and have compassion on us. Instead of a God who is an obscure and abstract concept, Jesus comes to us as a God who is earthy, not ignorant of suffering and the pain of loss.

This hymn was originally written with the longing that God would be with us, and that we would know what God is like. In Christ, Emmanuel, both of those longings are met. 

For a more in-depth study of the meaning behind O Come, O Come Emmanuel, check out the first week of our Advent sermon series here.

A People That Listens

The church is not a building, it's a people.  As a people, the church must be a people who listen.

First and foremost, the church is a people who listen to God through His Word and His Spirit.  Additionally, however, the church must be a people who listen to the culture around them.

Why Listening to the Culture is Important

We must listen to the culture (i.e. our city, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, media, and so on) in order that we can be good missionaries to our culture.  This will consist of listening to the culture to...

  • …Identify idols in the culture
  • …Understand who the culture consists of
  • …Ascertain what those of the culture are interested in
  • …Find points of connection to share the gospel
  • …Know parts of the local culture well enough to integrate them into our presentation of the gospel.

We cannot be afraid of the culture, we've got to listen to the culture and engage the culture if we want to see the gospel of Jesus change and transform the culture.

The Example of Paul

We cannot be afraid of the culture, we’ve got to listen to the culture and engage the culture if we want to see the gospel of Jesus change and transform the culture.

Biblically, we see this exemplified by the Apostle Paul in Acts 17 when he enters into Athens.  When Paul got to Athens, he engaged the Athenian culture.  He doesn't hide himself from the culture or flat out reject the culture he runs headlong into it.  He does so as one with the gospel of Jesus Christ in a closed fist—never to be shaken, altered, changed, or watered-down.  But he also takes that gospel into the culture, getting to know the culture so that he can bring the unchangeable gospel to bear on that culture.

Do Not Be Afraid

As Christians—as the church—we cannot be afraid of the culture.  We are not to run from the culture to try and protect the gospel, we're to run to the culture with the gospel.  And as we do that, we are to listen to the culture so that we know the culture well enough to integrate what we know of the culture into our presentation of the gospel.

Recap: Peach Park Carnival

In case you were not able to join us last Sunday, here's a quick recap of the fun that was missed. The Near South Neighborhood all joined up together in Peach Park for some family-friendly afternoon entertainment. It came complete with a bounce house, face painting, and not one, but two dunk tanks! Check out the photos and be sure to join us next year!

Also, be sure to be looking for some flyers about more neighborhood events for the first part of August. I hear there will be a splattering of block parties rippling through the Near South.

Photo Credit: Valerie Jensen

The Beauty Behind Lincoln’s Body Art

A dear friend and wonderful tattoo artist from Boston, Massachusetts described the people of Lincoln to me in a beautiful, but very strange way. Dave described us as “attractive people,” not just by our looks but, our energy and our passion for the things we love. So he decided to move to Lincoln to share in our passion for what we love…and to share his passion of tattooing with us.

Tattoos have become so popular in today’s society and that includes Lincoln. I want to show the beauty in not only the tattoos, but the beauty in their stories from the people of Lincoln. Who does them? Who gets them? And what do they mean? My blog posts will vary from artists, to people, to tattoo shops of Lincoln.

Dave described us [Lincoln] as “attractive people,” not just by our looks but, our energy and our passion for the things we love.

I decided to start with myself to share a little bit about me and show you my passion for tattoos. I have such a love for art and my tattoos are a way to share my love for art and for Christ. Yes, I get the question if it hurts, and yes they do, but there is something about being so connected with what you love, when you are getting tattooed and after. 

Shop talk: For me I have been to many different shops in Lincoln, I have only been to one other and that was in Beatrice. But for the most part I stay with my Lincoln artists! I didn’t quite find “my place” until about last year. Just like a doctors office you want to find a place you feel comfortable and feel at home. Iron Brush is that place for me. I do have an artist I go to regularly, Joel Andersen, but really I feel comfortable with all of the artists there and would recommend any of them! Its just a lovely place and is very clean (big priority for a place with needles).

Lincoln has so many places to learn about but I can’t wait to learn about the art and the people behind it!

A People That Celebrates


Who, of the people you know, throws the best parties? Are those people Christians?  They should be.

The Most to Celebrate

Christians, out of all the people in the world, have the absolute most to celebrate. We have been redeemed by God, reconciled to the Father, made new, our sins have been forgiven, and we've been put in right standing with God.  We've been adopted by the heavenly Father who has promised to never leave or forsake us, the power of God lives in us, we've been promised eternal life, and we're heirs of the King!

What could possibly be more worthy of celebration than all of that?!

The Least Celebrative

And yet often times when I hear Chrisitians interact (and I'm guilty of this myself too), it seems as if none of the above is true.  We're so prone to focus on our struggles over and above our blessings - over and above all that Christ has done for us.

Who, of the people you know, throws the best parties? Are those people Christians? They should be.

It's not that discussing our sin struggles and experiencing suffering should be hidden away (they most certainly should not be); however, celebrating who God is and what He's done and who He's made us to be should have at least equal (I'd argue for more) airtime than our struggles.

When we get this flipped, we inherently communicate false truths about our God to the world around us as we slip into a quasi-redeemed fatalism that says: life is hard, I suck, sin is strong, things probably won't change, it is what it is but "thanks be to Jesus."

That doesn't sounds like "good news"... because it's not.

What Are We Celebrating?

When I first was planting 2 Pillars Church, I had a church planting coach who would call me once a month to equip, encourage, and help me in the planting process.  His name was Bob.  Each month as I prepared for that call, I had a list of struggles, questions, junk I needed to vent, lists of things that weren't going well, not to mention my own sins that I needed to confess and repent from.

Christians, out of all the people in the world, have the absolute most to celebrate.

Bob, knowing this was the case, would always start every single one of those coaching calls with the question: "What are we celebrating?"  

That sounds simple, I know.  It sounds cheesy, I know.  But, it was one of the most powerful things that God used to continue to point me back to His goodness, His blessings, and what He was doing, despite all the junk that I saw down in the muck and mire.

What Are You Celebrating?

You might not feel super celebratory today, but if you believe and belong to Jesus you have so much to celebrate.  What are you celebrating today?

How often do you focus on the things worth celebrating in your life?  

Photo Credit: Jessica Brinkmeyer

The Aim of the Church

aim of the church.jpg

Understanding that the church is not a building, but a people is essential to understanding the aim (or goal) of the church.

If we think the church is a building that we go to rather than a people who we are, it is very easy to begin to see the aim of the church as simply to get more people to go to church.  The problem is that if that works, all we've done is get a bunch of people into a building.  While that is not bad, it's certainly not complete.

On the other hand, when we begin to see that the church is a people who we are rather than a building that we go to, then we can begin to see that the aim of the church is to get the church to be the church so that those who are not the church can become the church and then go and do likewise.

The Church is the redeemed people of God.  The aim of the Church (in dependance and reliance upon the Holy Spirit) is to see more people become the redeemed people of God so that God receives more and more glory, honor, and worship.

For more on this idea, check out this resource.

Photo Credit: United Nations Photos

The Church Isn't a Building

"Do you go to church?"  "Where do you go to church?"  "Where is your church?"  

These questions are as common as college football in our city and culture and yet they portray a fundamentally flawed understanding of what exactly the church is.

Not a Building

Biblically, the church isn't a building it's a people.

As you read the Bible, you find several metaphors that are used for the church: 

  • A body (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27)
  • The "bride" of Christ (Ephesians 5; Revelation 19:6-8) 
  • A flock of sheep (to be shepherded - c.f. Acts 20:28-29; 1 Peter 5:2-3)
  • A family (into which we have been adopted (Galatians 4:5) and now are to relate to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ (Matthew 12:48-50; 1 John 4:20; 1 Timothy 5:1-2)

What all of the biblical metaphors have in common is that they are not a place you go to, but rather a people whom we are.  You do not go to the body.  You either are a part of the body or you are not.  Likewise, family is not something you go to, it's something who you are.

In the Bible there are no pleas for people to "go to church."  The plea is for non-believers to become the church.  In the first century, if you were a believer you were, inherently, a part of the church.  If you weren't a part of the church, no one called you a believer.  Additionally, being a part of the church meant you were deeply involved in and committed to the life and well-being of the church (i.e. other believers).

In the first century, if you were a believer you were, inherently, a part of the church. If you weren’t a part of the church, no one called you a believer.

Why It Matters

When Christians substitute seeing themselves as the church and instead see the church as a building we go to, we lose a fundamental piece of what it means to actually be Christian.  

When I separate "church" out to something that I go to, I no longer see myself as a part of the church, but rather the church is peripheral to me.  There is me... and then there is the church... but the two are not one-in-the same.  

This is not biblical and it leads down a path to Christian consumerism where the church (which exists apart from me) is supposed to serve me and meet my needs and preferences.  Viewing the church in this way converts it from a people (which I am a part of) to a vending machine of religious goods and services for my personal benefit.

Recommitting to Being the Church

The church isn't a building, it's a people.  It's a people that love God and love others.  It's a people that celebrate.  It's a people that bless and serve those around them.  It's a people that listen well to those around them that do not yet know Jesus as Lord.  It's also a people who know how to rest and work to the glory of God.

It's a people that are much more than this, but certainly not a people that are less than this.

In the coming weeks we will be exploring more of this theme here on the blog. 

As a church, we will also be working through this idea during our Sunday gatherings over the next six weeks.  To hammer this idea home that the church isn't a building but a people, we will be gathering as the church not at our building, but in local parks several Sundays this summer.  For more information, visit 2PillarsChurch.com/inthepark