Friday, September 22, 2017

Consecrated

To consecrate something is to formally designate something or someone to a religious or divine purpose. We see in the following verses that Saul and Barnabas were formally designated for their work of missionary church planting by the church at Antioch.
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:1-3)
So why are we talking about consecration? As most of you are aware Christ Church has been laying plans with respect to church planting for some time now. Recently we have made some progress in identifying the location and the nature of the work that we are targeting. Christ Church members have started to raise their hands and say count me in. And over the summer we have constructed a staff team to serve these efforts. In the spirit of the church in Antioch we would like to commission these folks to this work this Sunday.

Addison Hawkins, Ruthy Rodriguez, and Daniel Eguiluz all are playing key roles in providing servant leadership to our fledgling efforts. They, along with others at CC, have sorted through demographics, talked to community leaders, visited restaurants, businesses and homes; all of which served to lead us to pursue a church plant in the Belknap community of GR. This is a rapidly changing community that is relatively under-churched in GR. It is a strategic location from which to reach current residents and extend existing ministry efforts to college students and the medical community. More information will continue to emerge as we follow the Lord’s leading forward.

But back to consecration. As a church we would like to set apart these three staff servants to this work. Sunday we will have a time of prayer in the service which we will invite all who want to come forward to do so, lay hands on these dear ones, and together as Christ Church, commit ourselves to this work. Sometimes I wonder what it was like to be in Antioch as Paul and Barnabas were sent out. This won’t be exactly the same, but God is still at work and the Gospel is still going forward unhindered! (cf. Acts 28:31).

Friday, September 15, 2017

How does your Garden Grow?

I realize that fall is not the time to be talking about planting gardens. Fall is the time for harvest​ -- harvesting what was planted, nourished and cared for during the course of the year in the ecosystem that is our gardens.

Paul uses a similar imagery for the people of God in I Corinthians:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)

The overarching emphasis of these verses is that of God’s work to bring to about the harvest. But it is also important to note that God utilizes servants like Paul, Apollos and others like Priscilla, Aquila, Luke, etc… to plant and nurture the field at Corinth..

What about the field at Christ Church? Or even more broadly in Grand Rapids? I believe God is at work planting and nourishing. I see this work in your lives. I hear it in our conversations. I meet people, new people finding the rich soil of the Word in our midst. All praise to Him!

And God is faithful to bring workers. I am humbled by the hours of service ​that ​faithful Sunday School teachers dedicate at all levels. Bible studies have qualified and faithful leaders. C-Groups are poised to flourish. Ministry teams pray and plan. Elders and deacons serve in so many ways. Our finances are watched over and stewarded with care. And there is staff. Faithful servants in the office and in the halls. Ministry staff that has served through the decades (Steve, Susan, Scott) alongside new workers for new fields (Addison, Daniel, Ruthy). Even now God has given us the opportunity to nourish a sapling in our field for probable transplant into another field (intern Simon Boenaidi). It is quite an ecosystem, humming with life and balance, each part critical to its sustainability regardless of its visibility.

But in all things let’s give praise to the Lord of the Harvest for the work he is doing in and through our field!

Friday, September 8, 2017

I have been thinking about you ...

Have you ever had someone tell you they were thinking of you? It is a relatively easy thing to say to someone, but it is so encouraging, so empowering to be on the receiving end. In Christian parlance we often “upgrade” our thoughts to prayers. Paul recognizing the power of being thought of in this way says, “Brothers, pray for us (1 Thess. 5:25).” What an encouragement it must have been to him to hear that he was indeed thought of and prayed for!

But note that the converse is also true. Precisely because we love to be thought of, we also hold keys to one of the more powerful opportunities that we have to engage those around us. When we think of/pray for those around us, and let them know we are doing so, we draw close to folks and are often invited into deeper levels of relationship. This, of course, is true for those who are part of the family of God, but is equally true for those who are outside of the family of God, perhaps even more so. Just this morning, conversation with a waitress concluded with “say a prayer for me.” I happen to know she is not attending church right now, but is craving the type of remembrance that we in the family of God can often take for granted. God has given me an opportunity to pray for her and follow up by letting her know. While I can often be overwhelmed by the thought of being active in outreach and all that it might entail, perhaps this is as good as place as any to start, “Hey, I have been thinking about you.”

Friday, August 18, 2017

Our Life Together

“History repeats itself. Has to. No one listens.” Steve Turner, poet.

During the 1940’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned the classic Life Together. His reflections were largely based on his experiences in the secret seminaries hiding from the Nazi’s in Germany. Bonhoeffer was later executed by the Nazi’s for his role in resisting the “supremacy” they purported. Perhaps this can serve as a jumping off point for a few observations.
  1. Any claim or action that claims supremacy of one person over another is fundamentally against our nature (Gen. 1:26) and the redeeming work of the Gospel (Eph. 2:14). This supremency absolutely needs to be denounced and we must not even have the appearance of toleration for those who promote it. I am grateful that we belong to a denomination that has already publicly decried such belief and behavior. 
  2. We must tell … Again, we must be clear that this so called supremacy is not part of the gracious story of the Word. To quote words attributed to Bonhoeffer, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil … Not to speak is to speak.” What does this mean? Our speech should be that of prayer, both public and private. We need to be speaking to our family and neighbors, encouraging when we can, denouncing when we must. Finally, we must exhort each other in following the right path. 
  3. But, we must also … show: Telling is action. PRAYER is action. But it is not the last action to be taken. All Christians should do all that they can in their various spheres of influence and as neighbors to bring healing and reconciliation. We must weep with those who weep. Listen to the hurting, and through practical and courageous love, prove false the claims of white supremacy, even to the point of openly standing with those being attacked by white supremacists. The cost of discipleship for Bonhoeffer was his life– a cost he was willing to pay in looking at his Savior. Again Bonhoeffer, “not to act is to act.” (There are many opportunities for these practical acts of love right here in our midst. Please talk to me if you are willing but don’t know where to start.) 
  4. Finally, we must abide in our Gospel core. It is only as we draw deeply from the basic Gospel truth, we are a lot worse off in ourselves than we think, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever could imagine, that we will have the right mix of humility and boldness to engage this present moment with the grace of Christ.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Looking and Seeing


Artist David Arms recently reflected on looking and seeing:

To “look”, I engage my eyes.
To “see”, I ask my eyes to join hands with my heart, mind and soul.
I have the gift of vision which gives me the ability to “look”.
But, unfortunately, I don’t always “see”.
Certainly pleasure can be obtained from looking.
But seeing turns that pleasure into an experience, often making clear the presence of the Divine.
“Looking” sees a rock as grey.
“Seeing” observes in that rock the unexpected painter’s palette of lavenders, blues, golds and greens.
“Looking” sees a bare tree on a winter’s day, standing lonely. Quietly
waiting for its beauty to return with the first sign of spring.
“Seeing” realizes that beauty remains in each tree’s unique, intricately designed architecture,
silhouetted starkly against a mottled grey sky.
Seeing might take a moment. To be present. To be aware.
And that’s where the problem often lies for me.
Life is busy. In that busyness I forget. So I look. But do not see.
When I “see”, I’m more likely to live in a state of awe and gratitude.
I’m aware of the magnificent world just outside my door.
Full of wonder. A miracle at every turn.
I recall the many reasons I married my wife.
I see a human, a being, inside the ragged clothes, at the corner, holding a cardboard sign.
I am less likely to focus so greatly on myself.
Which opens my eyes. Makes me aware.
Then I can turn my eyes to a whole new world that awaits me in this very spot I have been for many years.
If I just breathe.
Then look.
Then see.

While we often struggle to see, God never fails to see. We encounter this God again Sunday in Genesis 16 as we come to patriarchs who struggle to see and a woman on the run who has a remarkable encounter with her “seeing” God. As we learn to rest more and more in this God we find that being seen helps us see. Or as the psalmist put it, in your light do we see light. (Psalm 36:9)

Friday, August 4, 2017

Grace from beginning to end

There is a much-loved hymn that communicates some of the themes we’ve been exploring the last couple of Sundays in our series on Genesis:
The God of Abraham praise, whose all sufficient grace
shall guide me all my given days, in all my ways…
He by himself hath sworn, I on his oath depend.
One of the main lessons we’ve been learning from Abraham’s journeys is that the life of faith is not a straight line. It would be great if we only experienced steady progress in holiness after answering the Lord’s call to follow him. However, as we all know full well, following Jesus has its ups and downs, and sometimes we take a couple of steps back. The beautiful thing is that God uses these setbacks to remind us that our salvation is by grace from beginning to end. That is why we don’t sing, "Abraham praise," but "The God of Abraham praise." None of us can boast in our moral accomplishments. We can only praise God for remaining faithful to his promises despite our shortcomings.

God is so gracious that he doesn’t just give us wonderful promises: he also confirms and seals these promises unto our hearts through his sacraments. On Sunday Pastor Steve will be opening the word for us as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Just as the Lord confirmed his promises to Abraham, He will confirm his promises to us through bread and wine. In fact, the Lord will confirm to us the very promises he made to Abraham, because in Jesus, all of God’s promises are "yes and amen" (2 Cor 1:20).

Daniel Eguiluz
Church Plant Coordinator for Discipleship and Admininstration

Friday, July 28, 2017

Split Personality People

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)

We refer to the above story as the account of the rich young ruler, or the rich young man. While this is not intended to be a complete exposition of this passage, we can at least observe the split in this man’s heart between his desire for eternal life and the grip this current life had on him. As we noted last week, it is the difference between living by the eye (the stuff in front of us) and living by the ear (the promises God gives us). It is a split I relate to, and surely a split that many in America relate to.

I recently read a reflection on ministry in the suburbs in which the pastor said this:
Behind the barriers of immaculate lawns and white picket fences ... ​hide real people. People full of fear, full of anxiety, full of stress, full of idolatry, full of sin and full of almost endless potential for gospel advance if we would engage them well. My mind and my heart reflected on Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler. I know that not everyone in the suburbs is rich, but I think most people in the suburbs wrestle like that young man with having a split priority heart. Mark’s gospel tells us that as the young ruler is spitting out self-justification, and just before Jesus is going to pull the rug out from under him, that Jesus looks at him and loves him. We are called to do the same. To love and serve split-priority people.
Two things by way of reflection. First, I am so grateful that the Scriptures record the love that Jesus has for this man. Jesus truly is the great high priest, who knows our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15) ... and still loves us. ​He loves us enough to die to heal us of our split personalities, our rebellious, self serving, self aggrandizing hearts. It is this love, as the Spirit helps me see it, that will move my split personality toward wholeness. Secondly, my great desire is to get caught up in that love and have it propel me to share it with others. Surely the author above is right on in pointing out that we are surrounded by split personality people who need to be reminded that they were created for eternal life. They, like us, need these reminders in order that we might live by the ear, by the promises, and not merely by the eye.