Friday, March 17, 2017

And Then There Were "Nones"

If I were to ask you to guess the percentage of people in the GR area that claim to have “no religious affiliation,” what would your guess be? Surely in a place like GR with so many churches the number must be low. 20%? 30%? 40%? Actually overall numbers are closer to 60% of respondents who claim no religious affiliation, a category demographers are calling “nones”.

Perhaps this number is surprising to you, perhaps not. In either case it is a call to prayer, a call to action. Your community is not as churched as you believe. Think about it. Roughly every other person you meet today claims to be a “none”. They do not belong to a worshiping community. They do not hear the Gospel regularly. Most importantly, there is good reason to believe that they do not have a relationship with the Savior.

How are we going to serve them with the love of Christ? Certainly our individual lives offer ample opportunity for hospitality and involvement in the lives of these “nones.” What about our church life? Consider these words from Tim Keller on why we plant churches. “Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60–80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshiping body, while churches over ten to fifteen years of age gain 80–90 percent of new members by transfer from other congregations. This means the average new congregation (i.e. church plant) will bring six to eight times more new people into the life of the body of Christ than an older congregation of the same size.” There is much to dissect her to be sure. But we can say at the very least this is a major reason for pursuing church planting.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Gladdest Thing

“Turn around and believe that the good news that we are loved is gooder than we ever dared hope, and that to believe in that good news, to live out of it and toward it, to be in love with that good news, is of all glad things in this world the gladdest thing of all.” 
Frederick Buechner,  The Clown in the Belfry: Writings on Faith and Fiction.

Joy. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5). It is our constant call (Philippians 4:4)​.​ The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Joy. It is just a small three letter word, but it truly has the power to turn around your life and the lives of those around you. Why? Because true joy is rooted in our deliverance from sin, death, and the devil and anchored to our adoption as daughters and sons of the living God. This “gladdest truth” is so overwhelmingly bright that nothing can diminish its luster when properly contemplated. There is no trial or hardship (Romans 5, James 1​) -- no principality or power​. Nothing can separate us from the joy of being known and loved by God (Romans 8). Can you pause for a minute right now and bask in this gladdest thing?

Joy this good cannot be contained. Or maybe a better way to say it is that joy this good is meant to be shared. It is OK. Let it out. The joy is the Lord’s and his supply is infinite. I love the line in the Christmas carol “why should we on earth be sad, when our Redeemer has made us glad?” Why, indeed!?

Friday, March 3, 2017

When Life and Preaching Collide!

I know some of you remember the book by Carolyn Custis James, When Life and Beliefs Collide. This week life collided with the text for Sunday in big way. As we continue through Luke we will be looking at Luke 8:22-25, the story of Jesus calming the storm after the disciples were descended on by a sudden squall on the Sea of Galilee.

Tuesday such a squall hit the VanderMaases. It started with pain in the abdomen. Was it flu? By midnight poor Lisa was doubled over in pain and we headed to the hospital. There they discovered a bowel obstruction due to scar tissue from a decades old appendectomy. This led to surgery late Wednesday afternoon which was successful in freeing the obstruction. As I write this Friday morning, she is still in the hospital, hoping to be released. Like the disciples we have questions, (Do you not care that we are perishing? - cf Mk 4:38). While not life threatening this event was very unexpected, inconvenient and quite painful. But we are very grateful to be in the boat with Jesus who has the power to calm the storm. We are also grateful to be in the boat with his disciples (you, our CC family) who have been the hands and feet of Christ to us during this time of vulnerability.

We all can relate on some level to these sudden squalls. Over the centuries Christians have dealt with the various storms of life through the eyes of this text recognizing that our Master can calm the seas. For Lisa and me, as for all of us, our Savior’s last question is always the pertinent one, “Where is your faith?”.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Repentance Reprised

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand;
  repent and believe in the gospel” Mark 1:14,15
The faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance … saving faith is permeated with repentance and repentance is permeated with saving faith. John Murray, Redemption—Accomplished and Applied
The two great graces essential to a saint in this life, are faith and repentance. These are the two wings by which he flies to heaven. Faith and repentance preserve the spiritual life—as heat and water preserve the physical life. Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance
Whether one is talking about beginning the Christian life or continuing in the Christian life, repentance and faith must be the constant companions of the Christian. Over the years some have debated which precedes the other. These are honest questions seeking to understand more clearly the nature of our relationship to the creator. My own belief is that while they are virtually Siamese Twins for the truly born again, it seems to me that the seed of faith must be present for one to truly repent. In the end however, searching out the order is not all that profitable practically. Practically, what we must recognize in our lives is a real experience of both faith and repentance, both at the outset of our Christian life and every day throughout. Or in Luther’s words, "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, 'Repent' " (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

What is sometimes difficult to get our minds around is that the continual practice of repentance is among the most freeing and life giving things that we do on a daily basis. Far from being a dour and morose recapitulation of sins, true repentance is so tied up with faith, so focused on the finished work of Christ and so infused with hope, that overwhelming joy is the result. It is repentant faith that overflows with the kind of love we meet in Luke 7.

Friday, February 17, 2017

White Castle and the Church

During our St. Louis church plant days we inhabited some office space two doors down from White Castle. Often, when I needed a change of scenery, I would head down to the ‘Castle, book in hand, to do some reading. Honestly my motives were mixed. At the time, I was probably hankering for a Diet Coke and I do enjoy the $.39 Slider. But the other thing that I love about White Castle is the people it draws.

Our community was an eclectic mix of people. Traditionally, it was a more of a blue collar neighborhood, that took a downward turn about 30 years ago and became known as a place where others wouldn’t let their children go. There are still remnants of that community evident, particularly in the government housing areas and the abnormally high percentage of people struggling with mental illness. However, in the last 15 years there has been significant change. Houses have been rehabbed, businesses developed, and the school district turned around. Now the renters are just as likely to be white collar, Ph.D types, as out of work, government subsidized types.

Here is the beautiful thing, they all come to White Castle. At any given time you could be sharing the overpowering smell of grilled onions in the confines of the tiny restaurant with a lawyer who pulled up in her BMW or with a homeless person who hasn’t bathed in a noticeable amount of time. These, along with guys like me, are drawn together by the combination of the beauty of the Slider, value and satisfaction into a community where we knowingly share in the delights of the ‘Castle. How much more so the Church? In the church people are drawn from the various circumstances of life, offered the beauty of a Savior who gave his life to save his people, who offers a life that is truly satisfying (cf. Jn. 10:10), for free! These words from Isaiah are among my favorites:
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live..." (Isaiah 55:1-3 ESV)

Friday, February 10, 2017

Those darn parasites!

When you have a child who is almost two years old, your life is very much their life. What do I mean by that? Well essentially what Theo does, we do. We are into the things he is into (currently that’s trains), we speak a language that sounds different than our normal “adult” talk, we even cater our diet to things that he may eat. Our lives are very much intertwined. So what happens when your almost two year old gets sick? Inevitably, we get sick. Parasites have this way about them. They are like water, they find cracks and enter in, forever changing the landscape they enter into.

Idols are parasites. They find their way into our lives through cracks large and small. And they are distortions of what is good. Idols take something good, let's say belonging, and distort how we see and experience that. Instead of fulfilling that longing with a deep relationship with God, we look to niche groups. These groups like everything we like, they talk the ways we talk, they experience the world the exact same way we do. Or we go destructive routes. Get involved in gangs or groupthink, enter into emotional or physical relationships that are unhealthy. Idols are parasites. Those parasites change the landscape of our lives.

In our Wednesday night class, Christianity Explored, we are looking at the world through the lens of Mark. Rico Tice, the host and narrator of the program, at one point says something pretty incredible, and pretty challenging. He states that “after hearing the Good News, if you don’t think it’s the best news you’ve ever heard, you can be absolutely certain, you’ve not understood it.” Understood what? Well, understood that the Gospel plugs the crack the water is trying to get through. It stops and kills the parasites in our lives. The idols we’ve constructed around us can’t stand up against the Gospel. The best news we’ve ever heard is the Gospel, and it fundamentally, and radically changes the way we engage with one another and the world.

We can take heart in the words of John the Baptist in Mark 1:7,8;
“After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

What John is saying is remarkable. Not only will Jesus come to forgive sins (remarkable in itself) but that for those of us who know that we aren’t the people we ought to be, Jesus will fill us with God’s Holy Spirit to bring about radical change. This is the best news in the world. It’s not up to us. God, the great initiator and great fulfiller brings this about.

When those parasites find their way into your life, may the Gospel be at the center of our lives, sucking the air right out from underneath them.

Addison Hawkins
Pastoral Resident for Outreach & Engagement

Friday, January 27, 2017

No Plea Bargain

Yesterday I fulfilled my civic responsibility by answering the bell for jury duty in the 16th district court. After gathering with perhaps 60 other potential jurors and waiting around for a couple of hours my name was called to ascend to the courtroom for questioning and potential selection to a jury. As the group of 25 or so potential jurors walked into the courtroom, we could see the defendant talking with his attorneys. Eventually we could hear him say “I’ll take it” and I had a sense we might be going home early. What had happened is that as the possibility of a trial got to be real. He decided he wasn’t going to take his chances and opted for the plea bargain. Sure enough a couple minutes later the judge came out, thanked us for coming and being part of the judicial process, then dismissed us.

My experience in the courtroom made me reflective of the heavenly courtroom and our worship service this past Sunday. When it comes to the great heavenly tribunal there is no option of a plea bargain. We cannot agree to a lesser charge, for a lesser sentence. In the words of Habakkuk, the eyes of the Lord are too pure to look upon evil (1:13). Our only hope of surviving the Lord’s judgment is to be declared righteous. And our only hope of that is through the work of Jesus Christ our mediator/substitute. Which brings us full circle to last Sunday’s declaration of forgiveness from 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” In Christ no plea bargain is needed. We are declared righteous!