Friday, October 21, 2016

Gospel Eyes

One of my frequent prayers is that God would give me Gospel eyes. When I have shared this prayer with others they sometimes ask what I mean by “Gospel eyes.” I never know quite how to answer them. Part of me doesn’t want to be too precise in definition. On the one hand, I want to see and understand the Gospel as it comes to me in the word, prayer and experience. But on the other hand, I also want to see the glories of Gospel “restoration” at work in the social structures of our world and in people’s personal lives. After all, God has promised us that in Christ he is redeeming all things to himself (cf. II Cor. 5). Still further I want to interact with those in my sphere of life with actions enabled by Gospel eyes. Could I be a conduit of and for the Gospel?

I share this with you because as I reflect on this last week, I realize that God has helped me see the Gospel in a variety of disparate experiences. For starters, many of us celebrated the home-going of Wes Pontier, even as we said our goodbyes to his earthly body. Through the Gospel the words of Jude sounded the clarion call that believers would be “presented blameless before the presence of His glory with great JOY!” The celestial joy was palpable. The Gospel is true! I saw the Gospel at work through the motivated hearts of the Christ Church many who went out to serve this week, picking up trash, vacuuming cars, singing in the assisted living center, preparing crafts, etc… Of course, these are simply the organized acts of service, I know many of you serve in many unseen ways. It is the Gospel at work through his people. And then more painfully, yet also more joyously, I saw the Gospel at work in my own heart and home as together we wrestled through what it means to love one another as broken people. Broken people who hurt one another; repent; give and receive forgiveness; and rejoice together that we are not our own but belong, body and soul to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ!

The Gospel is indeed always at work. Lord give me the eyes to see it, to see you!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Reflection on Adoption

“The court deems it is in the best interest for Corvat and Corvast Stroud to be placed in the care of the VanderMaas family. This is a permanent action and entitles them to all care and comfort as if they were biological children. Furthermore the court declares that their names shall be Malachi and Isaiah VanderMaas from this time forward.”

As the gavel fell it was done. Final. Irreversible. The boys were ours. They were given new birth certificates. From the perspective of the court, there is no record of their former life.
It is an amazing feeling to go through this process. It is remarkable to be given custody of two beautiful, gifted boys, made in the image of God. It is incredibly humbling. From a human perspective there is some level of weightiness as they really became our responsibility. But that day, adoption day, there was only joy.

Joy, not only because in the courtroom were these two wonderful boys made my own, but joy also because my story is played out; a story of adoption, a story of being given a new identity, a story of being made an heir. 

It is a story told in Romans 8. Here are vv 14 -17a: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. (NIV)

And the best news of all, is that just like with our boys, it is final. There is no going back. These realities have been declared, sealed by the action of the court. So too has the Heavenly Court sealed these actions on my behalf, always and forever, a child of God. Final!

Friday, October 7, 2016


For the earth will be filled 
with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD 
as the waters cover the sea. 
(Habakkuk 2:14 ESV)

Have you had your fill? It may depend on the content we are being filled with. Political banter? Yep, had our fill. Lovely fall pumpkin recipes? Could handle a few more. Baseball? Sadly for the Tigers and Cardinal fans among us we came up a bit empty.

What about the knowledge of the glory of the Lord? This glory: a wonderful experience of the special presence of the Lord in all his holy otherness existing on the mercy seat, both unapproachable yet graciously in our our midst. Here Habakkuk, by the inspiration of the Spirit, sees a day when this knowledge, this experience will FILL the earth! It is just the type of confident proclamation that beleaguered Christians need to cling to wherever they are!

From the Christian refugee displaced from their home, running for their life to the stay at home mom worried about her children growing up in a world seemingly filled with predators. Filled, God is on the move. From the Japanese Christian who feels hopeless with greater than 99% of their country alienated from God to the American retiree despairing over the decline of Christian values in their once proud “city on a hill.” Filled, as the waters cover the sea.

Did you think about that last line? As the waters cover the sea. Of course they cover the sea, that is the definition of sea, filled with water. But that is the point, so certain and so complete is our hope that the knowledge of the glory of God will cover the earth, that we do not need to fret and we can live with complete confidence.

One last application. Let’s lean into this great vision. As those with the certain confidence that our God wins, let’s spread this good news “promiscuously and without distinction.” Or in the framework of Colossians, as we have received the knowledge of the glory of God, let us walk in it, letting His glory exude from our very pores!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Walking by Standing

How much walking have you done this week? With Art Prize in town perhaps more than usual. How about standing? Soccer games. Waiting in line at the grocery store. How about walking in terms of Colossians --Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him (2:6).
Standing? That you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. (4:12).

Walking. Standing. As we have noted the last couple of weeks, the way that we walk is by standing. In other words, we make progress in our Christian life by receiving and resting on Christ as he comes to us in the Gospel. The more we stand in him (and more importantly he in us), the more that we are enabled to walk in a manner worthy of him.

Fundamentally, standing this way means believing what God says is true: true about Him, His world, our status in Christ, etc… . Jesus summed up the need for belief in John 6, identifying it as THE work that God calls us to — “this is the work, believe in the one whom God has sent.” This belief is a day-by-day, moment-by-moment activity. Francis Schaeffer captures this well in True Spirituality:

“So we must believe God’s promises at this one moment in which we are. Consequently, in believing God’s promises, we apply them- the present meaning of the work of Christ for the Christian- for and in this one moment. If you only can see that, everything changes. As we believe God for this moment, the Holy Spirit is not quenched. And through his agency, the risen and glorified Christ, as the bridegroom of the bride, the vine, brings forth his fruit through us, at this moment. This is the practice of active passivity. And it is the only way anybody can live; there is no other way to live but moment by moment.” Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality, 86.

There is part of me as a pastor that wishes that I could offer you something more readily attainable and less labor intensive. In this uber connected world we long for quick answers and simple solutions. In the end, though, this is what Jesus invites us to: moment-by-moment belief in the promises of God applied to the individual situations of our lives. Passively active. Walking by Standing.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Gospel Triumphs

Each week in worship we rehearse the wonderful story of the Gospel! A story of sin and brokenness that is ultimately redeemed in love and rescue. It is a story that is cosmic in nature; a story that catches us up and teaches us to pray, “ Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”

But sometimes it seems that God’s Kingdom will never come. We see this clearly in Acts 12. The chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison and Herod triumphing. We can certainly relate to this seemingly insurmountable set of circumstances. The headlines remind us daily that our politicians are corrupt, our ability to relate cross culturally is challenged, and morality is on the decline. Surely God’s kingdom is a long way from coming on earth, even if we do believe that it may exist somewhere off in heaven.

But read the rest of Acts 12. Did you notice the startling turn of events? Here is how John Stott describes it:

The chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison and Herod triumphing; it closes with Herod dead, Peter free and the word of God triumphing. Such is the power of God to overthrow hostile human plans and to establish his own in their place. Tyrants may be permitted for a time to boast and bluster, oppressing the church and hindering the spread of the gospel, but they will not last. In the end, their empire will be broken and their pride abased.

The overthrow of the empire is very much on Paul’s mind as he addresses the Colossians. This week Pastor Steve is going to attempt to scale the heights of the marvelous Christ hymn in Chapter 1:15-23. Here Paul says, in the face of an emperor who has splashed his image throughout society, there is only one true Emperor, namely Jesus Christ. He is THE Image. The one to be believed, obeyed and adored!

We are indeed being swept along in a wonderful story. It is not a story confined to Paul’s day, but it is the continuing outworking of the Gospel for you and me.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Serving Those Who Serve

Christ Church is hosting the Great Lakes Presbytery this weekend. Presbytery is a time when Ruling Elders and Teaching Elders come together to conduct business like approving ministerial candidates or overseeing church plants. It is also a crucial time for these men to connect in order to edify one another and to seek the Lord in prayer.

From where I sit, it is hard to overestimate the importance of the latter. This past week another prominent pastor stepped down from his ministry post. Pastor Pete Wilson, of Cross Point church in Tennessee had this to say:

“Most of you in this church only experience what I do on Sundays.... You just see me when I kind of come up here on Sundays but the reality is as leader and the pastor of a church, what happens in between those Sundays is just as important and it requires a lot of leadership and it requires a lot of leadership energy. And leaders in any realm of life, leaders who lead on empty don’t lead well and for some time now I’ve been leading on empty. And so I believe that the best thing for me to do is to step aside from Cross Point and so I am officially resigning as the pastor of Cross Point Church.”

Statistics of pastors leaving the ministry vary, but all indicators are that sustaining ministry for the long haul is an increasing challenge. Anecdotally, without pausing to think, I could list you a dozen friends or former colleagues who are out of the ministry for one reason or another. Pressure from the culture, pressure from churches, pressures at home, all play a role in the dissolution of ministries. I recently was made aware of a study that indicated as many as 80% of pastor’s wives struggle with depression. Even if that number is slightly elevated, it is illustrative of a life in which the spouse is often moving and living in an area without supports, where by default they become the nuclear dumping ground for the pastor’s frustrations, they feel the relational tensions of the church but often have no outlet for resolving them, etc...

The point? Pastors, wives and other ministry leaders need to be ministered to as well. This is our focus as we host the GLP this weekend and have invited wives to participate. Pray for us as we come together to eat, pray, worship, share, and conduct business. Like you, ministry leaders need to hear again and again the good, good story of the Gospel.

This week one of Christ Church’s faithful sent me a link to a song by Andrew Peterson that really ministered to him. He called it a “preacher’s song,” meaning that it set the path for preachers to keep reminding the congregation of “the Story” to which we belong. What he probably wasn’t thinking of is how right he is in calling it a “preacher’s song,” for chief among God’s people, we need the story. Let me close with the chorus to “I Will Survive”:

So tell me the story I still need to hear
Tell me we’re gonna make it out alive again
I need to know there’s nothing left to fear
There’s nothing left to hide
So will you look me in the eye
And say we will survive

Friday, September 9, 2016


Time in prayer makes us more dependent on God. It is one less minute that we have to do something “productive.” Paul Miller, A Praying Life

Can we talk about prayer for a minute? Prayer is thought of in different ways. Sometimes it is referred to as an intimate conversation with our Abba. Other times it is a weapon. Often practically, if we are honest, it can be difficult to see prayers being answered or effective in our everyday lives. If this is the case, perhaps prayer disappoints? But prayer is the language of Christians, right?

Absolutely! This coming Wednesday we are going to begin a period where we invite you, the people of Christ Church, to join together in prayer circles. Perhaps you noticed the quote on the top of this note? So often there is the tension in our lives between prayer, which screams dependence, and productivity, doing something, which screams independence I know I battle this in pastoring. Often I feel the tension when I slow down to pray that I should be doing more. Yet, God calls us to “cast our cares on him,” to “pray unceasingly,” and rest in his almighty power. God invites us into His mission through the language of prayer.

So, as we go into a new school year/ministry season, we are going to go to the Lord in prayer, the one in whom we live and move and have our being. We will praise, confess and petition. We will look inward, as well as outward. There will be some form, but there will also be freedom to be moved by the Holy Spirit. At times we will be composed, at other times it may get messy. (Prayer is often messy, but that is another topic for another day.) But through it all we will pray! Miller says later, “if you are not praying then you are quietly confident that time, money and talent are all that is needed in life” (Paul Miller, A Praying Life).

For those of you not familiar with Wednesday Nights, there will of course be dinner (prepared for you, no charge), nursery for kids 5 and younger, and lots of time to connect with your Christ Church family.