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.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Labor Day

What do you think of when you think of Labor Day? Just the word labor sends me off in multiple directions. For starters, in the last 120 years America has set aside the first Monday in September to recognize the contributions of the American worker. Much of this recognition has been geared toward the social and economic achievements that labor has brought to our nation. But as we saw with our Genesis series, labor has an intrinsic goodness to it; it is part of what it means to be in God’s image. So with Martin Luther, we remember that each of us was created to glorify God as we serve one another through our labor: “…A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops, and every one by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other, that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, even as all the members of the body serve one another…” 

But even as we celebrate the contributions of labor, I am also reminded of the insufficiency of labor, particularly as it pertains to our relationship with our Abba. These words of Augustus Toplady ring with Gospel truth: “Not the labors of our hands, can fulfill thy laws demands. Could our zeal no respite know, could our tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone, thou must save and thou alone.” What our labor could never do, Jesus has done in securing our way to God. In Him we now stand without condemnation, clothed in his righteousness!

But there is still a third way we might think of labor. While Christ’s labor is the good news of the Gospel, we know that he calls laborers into his Kingdom; not to earn salvation, but because we have already received it. However, precisely because of His finished work we can now labor for the kingdom with all the resources that He provides! Pastor Steve will develop this theme for us more fully as we look forward to a new church year through the lens of Matthew 14 and Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand.

There is more to Labor Day than meets the eye. May the Lord grant us the grace to reflect with Gospel vision on our work, Christ’s finished work, and our grateful service for Him.

Friday, August 5, 2016

A Day at a Time

One of my reflection partners this past week was an old friend of mine, Zach Eswine, who wrote a very honest pastoral theology entitled Sensing Jesus. In it he takes the measure of a day (among many other things). I found his Biblical construct of a day to be very helpful and thought it was worth passing on. So whether you are old or young; changing diapers, organizing meetings or plumbing a house; walking through your day thoughtfully can actually help you take things a day at a time.

Mornings (6-12) are for Praise — "in the morning songs of praise and thanksgiving can rise because God’s strength has gotten us through the night. The night didn’t win! We awake and see once again that God’s love hasn’t quit on us, and we ask that he will go with us and guide us into what awaits us." Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. (Psalm 143:8 ESV)

The Noon hours (12-6) are for Persevering in Wisdom. During these hours we are often in need of wisdom in work and with people to persevere through the “burden of the day and the noon day heat.” Often the wisdom with which we traverse the noon day will set a course for the remains of the day. By God’s grace, justice and righteousness will shine like the noonday sun. (cf. Ps. 37:6)

Evenings (6-10) are for Hospitality — "extending kindness and the protection of a peaceable presence to our neighbors … by enjoying the blessings of ordinary goodnesses.” This is done with friends or family. There is a breaking from the “work” of the day as we prepare our bodies to rest, enjoying all that God has to offer. (cf. Mark 6:35-41)

Night Watches (10-6) are for Solitude — "not simply being quiet or resting, but taking into the presence of God the very real thoughts, emotions, or questions of the day." Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. …. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:4,8 ESV)

This is obviously very abbreviated and perhaps you want to fill out your own “seasons of the day,” but there is beauty and practicality here for those who have eyes to see:

  1. There is a path through each day. We shall not be overwhelmed for we can take it one “watch” at a time.
  2. There is grace to be sought and grace to be dispensed throughout the day. As we look to God for joy, wisdom, strength, and love, we are mindful of the Holy Spirit and the power he so powerfully works in us.
  3. But there is grace too when we have “blown” one of the “seasons” of the day. A faithless morning can give way to a wise noon. A grumpy noon can be repented of as we gladly reach out to Christ again for evening hospitality. God’s grace is new, each morning, noon, evening, and night!
  4. Mark your days by pausing to pray, reflecting on the passing hours and bringing in the waiting hours, in the hope of the risen Christ.

Perhaps you have your own roadmap through the day. I am sure that I have a lot to learn from those who have been walking this road longer than I have. I would love to hear your wisdom!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Finding Life in Honesty

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1–2

I will start with the bad news first. There is no question about the presence of sin in every one of our lives. If we are honest with ourselves it is obvious. Sure, we can blame our parents or the environment around us. As we will see with Adam and Eve, we can even blame God if we want or turn a blind eye to the “bentness” of heart that produces sinful actions. But if we are honest and practice no deceit, the presence of sin is hard to miss. But here is the good news: the Gospel encourages honesty. Rightly acknowledging the presence of sin in our lives will not kill us. In fact, it is just the opposite: when we keep silent about our sin we waste away (cf. Ps. 32.) But in confession our God is “faithful and just to forgive.” “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Praise be to him.

So as you prepare for worship this Lord’s Day and our initial reckoning with Genesis 3 and the Fall, I invite you pray in all honesty with me, that we might together find the grace of repentance.

Holy Father, whose eyes are too pure to look upon evil, who am I to deny the presence of sin in my life? Surely you see it. You see the annoyance and anger that so easily flashes when things don’t go “my way.” You see my wandering eyes, my greedy heart. If I were to maintain otherwise, I may deceive myself, but I would never deceive you. So rather than go the route of deceit, I would be honest today and throw myself on the mercies of the one who is faithful and just to forgive. I would be found in Christ, where there is no condemnation. What glorious promises you have given. Holy Spirit, strengthen my faith that I may believe. In the strong, sweet name of Jesus, Amen.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Still Resting?

Sabbath is a time to stop. To refrain from being seduced by our desires, to stop working, stop making money, stop spending money. See what you have. Look around. Listen to your life. Do you really need more than this?... You cannot buy “stopped.” You simply have to stop. —Wayne Muller, Sabbath.

I hope you have had good week and had a chance to string along some thoughts from this Sunday’s meditation on Sabbath. Through a creation-ordained, weekly rhythm we are invited to stop (rest and contemplate), shout (worship and delight), and share (mercy and community). Shouting, stopping and sharing don’t come naturally for any of us, but rather are gained through reliance on the Holy Spirit, a reliance born in faith. This is why for some, the Sabbath so embodies the heart of the Gospel (a free gift, received by faith). What a gift it must have been for the Israelites to be told by God in Exodus 20 that one day in seven there was to be a comprehensive, communal ceasing of labor. This was a slave nation who for 400+ years was not allowed to stop, who had to produce more at greater speed. But that is not our God, and it is not the gospel. God said, “Stop. Delight in me. Share with one another. Right the wrongs. Enjoy forgiveness. Eat the fat. Drink the sweet wine. Take a nap.”

So are you ready for Sabbath? It is right around the corner. Be thinking of it ahead of time. Long for it. Prepare for it. And then relish when it comes. Be assured that God will meet you there and transform you, which in itself is a great motive to embrace Sabbath.

But what if your Sabbath rhythms are messed up or you are working through baggage from the past or pressures in the present? As with anything, don’t let past failures stop you from making fresh starts. Lynne Baab, in her book Sabbath Keeping reminds us that, “The goal of Sabbath keeping is not to get it right the first time or even to get it right over time.” It is a gift. Received by faith and to be enjoyed in the weekly repetition, even as we long for the Eternal Sabbath!

Almighty God who, after the creation of the world, rested from all your works 
and set apart a day of rest for all your creatures, grant that I may put away all earthly anxieties, prepare me, Lord, to worship, grant that my Sabbath on earth 
may be a preparation for the eternal rest prepared for your people in heaven. 
Adaptation from the Book of Common Prayer