Friday, January 19, 2018

Worthy of Mission

One of the issues that I wrestle with, both personally and pastorally, is the idea of making progress in the Christian life. To put it in context of missions, one of the most frequent barriers that people need to overcome is their own sense of worthiness to share the good news. As we noted last week the Gospel, i.e. the good news, is precisely good news because it meets us in both our brokenness and our guilt and makes us new. The Gospel isn’t about good people becoming better, but rather it is about enslaved wretches finding freedom and life.

But why don’t we make more progress in the Christian life? What if I am still struggling with this sin or that, does that mean I am not getting closer to God? What does it mean for mission?

Recently John Newton has been my teacher in these areas. His short letter entitled The Advantages of Remaining Sin has given me fresh eyes to the work that God is doing in our lives. What Newton highlights is that the goal of God’s work in our lives is not independently moral and upright people, but rather a people that live in grateful, loving, intimate, dependence with their Father, Savior, Redeemer, Friend, and Counselor. To that point, what Newton highlights is that our need is what keeps us at the feet of Jesus, leaning on his loving breast (to quote a hymn). Here are some lines from Newton himself that capture much of this same thought. I offer them for encouragement, that in our struggles and in our need, God has us exactly where he wants us and there is no better springboard from which to tell out the Good News!
I asked the Lord that I might grow In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know, And seek, more earnestly, His face. 
I hoped that in some favoured hour, At once He’d answer my request;
and by His love’s constraining pow’r, Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell Assault my soul in every part. 
Yea more, with his His own hand He seemed intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, Blasted my gourds, and laid me low. 
‘Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried, ‘Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?’
’Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied, ‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.’ 
‘These inward trials I now employ, From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy, That thou may’st find thy all in Me.’ 
Indeed let us find our all in him, and invite others to do the same! Are we worthy of mission? Probably not. But our Savior is infinitely worthy to be lifted high!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Astonished at Grace, Expecting the Same.

It is good to be back from vacation, though I will confess that coming back there is always that moment, when facing the mound of things to do, you wonder if it was worth going away 😃! Nevertheless it could not be more exciting to come back and be into the heart of this missions emphasis month! Everywhere I look there are things to remind us of the vastness of our world, the importance of our call, and ultimately of the goodness of our Lord.

Seeing, reading and hearing all the testimonies of God’s power to change hearts and lives has made me reflect a bit on why I am often slow to believe that he will show up here, in Grand Rapids, in the lives of the weary and the wayward. I wonder if part of my problem in believing the power of God has to do with my own lack of astonishment at the grace he has shown me. When I look over my list of accomplishments for the kingdom, when I compare myself with others who are battling obvious sins and addiction, when I read the news with a judgmental spirit about “those people”; I secretly pat myself on the back for being deserving, at least a little, of being one of God’s chosen. Isn’t he lucky to have ME on his team.

The problem with this way of thinking is obvious. For starters it is incredibly shortsighted to highlight only my strengths and not focus on the MANY ugly aspects of being Andrew. I am easily irritated. I waste time. I idolize sports. I even idolize myself. I frequently avoid sacrifice, even when I know it is the right thing to do. I fight the same battle with lust that many men fight. I take advantage of my wife’s giving nature. And what’s worse, these are only the appetizer portion of the full menu of my sin! When I fail to deal honestly with this, I ultimately rob myself of the chance to be astonished by the power of his grace and short-circuit my expectation that Jesus can work in the hearts of the profoundly weary and profoundly wayward. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9,10 lays out a laundry list of sins and sinners: the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who practice homosexuality, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers; and he affirms that these labels fit the Corinthians. But then he turns the corner and says “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Being astonished at grace is the recipe for expecting change in the heart of the lost. Paul’s own mission and expectation of the power of the gospel was driven by the realization that he was “the foremost of sinners” (cf. I Tim 1:15). The equation might go something like this: little knowledge of our sin equals a need for a very little Jesus--  which leaves us with little expectation for the power of the Gospel to manifest itself. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:16). Praise be to him!

These reflections come in the flow of our missions emphasis. Throughout this month we will be encouraged by what God is doing in the world, but also invited/challenged to step into God’s call! To help us gain this broader perspective we will be hearing from different speakers, preachers, presenters over the next 3 weeks. This week we will hear from Justin Beene who is the Founding Director of the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation, in the worship service. And our own Dan Churchwell, a teacher with the Acton Institute. Their focus will be on Grand Rapids as our most immediate mission field. Next week we will hear from Dr. Stephen Um, pastor of CityLife PCA in Boston and director of Redeemer PCA’s worldwide City to City program. And we will finish with Dr. Greg Perry, who is currently serving with Third Millennium ministries.

The grace of our God is so good! I look forward to seeing you this Lord’s Day.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Declare His Glory

This Sunday is the launch for our Missions Expo month. We started brainstorming for this event about 18 months ago, and it is exciting to see it coming to fruition. We have an amazing month ahead of us. I think you will be impressed to see the new look of the sanctuary, with flags and the huge banner covering the whole front of the room. You will be struck by the international art in the halls, the trifolds of our missionaries on the windows, and much more. We have been praying, again last night as a planning team, that God will visit us in a unique way, and that we will never be the same, that our hearts would be won by Jesus call to the ends of the earth, that we will learn more what it means to love our own city.

It is fitting that this event should begin on Epiphany Sunday, when we remember the visit of the Wisemen to the Christ child, and thus the revelation of God to the gentiles, or the nations. It is an opportunity for us to reflect again on how God has revealed himself to each of us. In these last days, God has spoken so powerfully through the incarnation, the ultimate revelation of his Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3). I look back on my own life and consider the huge difference it makes that God has made himself known to me again and again. How have you seen this in your life?

Pastor Steve will lead us into Psalm 96, the theme passage for our Missions Expo—Declare his glory among the nations. It has been our tradition on this Sunday to invite one of our members to share a testimony, and Shinji Yasugi will share a very international testimony, bringing together Japanese, Korean, and Australian cultures.

It is also communion Sunday, so let’s prepare our hearts to meet Christ in a unique way through these common elements of the bread and the cup. We can come to his Table in our weakness, failures, sickness, and frailty and find healing, strength, forgiveness, and renewal.

Consider these words from Psalm 96:7-9 as we gather for worship on Sunday:
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
    tremble before him, all the earth!

~Dan Denk 

Friday, December 29, 2017

A Prayer for the New Year

It is hard to believe that this is it. As of Sunday 2017 will be finished, Monday marks the the beginning of 2018. I trust that you take some time to reflect on all that was and all that is coming. As we reflect we ask ourselves questions like, “Where do we see God at work in the world? in our lives? How is God exposing our fears? Meeting us in our fears? Where are we growing in grace? Where do we need to grow in grace?

Growing in grace is my prayer for Christ Church in 2018. Peter puts it this way, "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. ( 2 Peter 3:18).” As we have talked about before this growth has first a depth, may our roots sink deep, and then a breadth, may our branches extend wide. This growth has a focus. The focus is none other than the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the singular focus for the Christian. Saying that in no way limits us or makes us too heavenly minded to believe we are of no earthly good. To the contrary, when our lives are fixed on Jesus, only then will we truly strive against sin and evil, and embrace the world around us with manifestations of his grace. Why? Because we are consumed by his glory, now and forever, not our own. Finally, I say this is my prayer because it is only through the present work of the Holy Spirit that we will experience this growth. Please Lord, open our eyes, our hands, our hearts as we go into this new year.

The Vander Maases are heading out for a spot of vacation later this afternoon. Pastor Steve will be opening the word the next two Sundays. This week we will be returning to the book of Isaiah, chapter 40 as he takes up the theme of "How to soar through a bad year”.

Friday, December 22, 2017

You Shall Call its name ...

As we move into Christmas one begins to think about the importance of names. Take Joseph who was grappling with the reality that he would be the earthly father of the Messiah. The angel told him, you shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins. (Matt 1:21) The name Jesus, speaks of salvation and casts light on the mission of Jesus.

As our Belknap church plant comes together we have been thinking about names as well. Names that would speak to the mission of the church and the salvation of the Lord. As the launch team wrestled with this some principles became clear:

  • As a second site initially, the name “Christ Church” should be able to complement the chosen name.
  • Have a name that can stand alone once the plant is particularized and separate from CC.
  • Steer clear of a solely regional/neighborhood name if the church’s location should change in future.
  • Make it something that points to the Lord, and not to our lives. If not naming the Lord Himself, then maybe a theological/biblical concept that reflects Him.
  • Make sure it doesn’t have to be explained and isn’t too long.
  • While not adopting the seeker sensitive church “ethos,” the name should probably be somewhat sensitive to contemporary seekers or those outside the church presently.
After some prayerful consideration and discussion the launch team believes the name GRACEHILL is the direction the Lord is leading. In addition to fitting the above parameters well, it corresponds nicely with our Belknap roots. (Bel-knap translating to “Beautiful Hill”). It boasts a combination that has both a modern feel, yet grace is such a wonderfully historic and theologically rich doctrine that certainly speaks to our mission, i.e. holding forth the gracious truths of the Gospel to our city. Our prayer is that Christ Church GRACEHILL will prove to not only be a strong name, but a real extension of the ministry that Christ initiated so many years ago and has invited us to carry on!

This week is the 4th Sunday in Advent as well as Christmas Eve! In the morning we will continue looking more deeply into the person and work of the Servant through the eyes of Isaiah 52:13-53:12. This is a deep song with many truths that can only point us to the Lord himself. In the evening (6:30) we invite you to celebrate the finished work of the servant captured so beautifully in what is often called the 5th Servant Song, Isaiah 61:1-3.

PS - For those interested, you can find a recap and slightly lighthearted look at the VanderMaas year by reading Lisa’s annual Christmas Letter! We are grateful for our life together with you!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Hope, Love and Joy

This Sunday we will light our third Advent Candle, the candle of Joy. It joins Hope and Love shining in the dark places of our world and in our hearts. Recently these themes emerged in my readings in Proverbs:

The light of the righteous rejoices, but the lamp of the wicked will be put out. … Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13: 9,12

Whatever else we may identify that we long for in life, joy and hope are near the root. Here we are reminded that only through the righteousness of the Gospel will our hope be fulfilled and joy be complete. I have been reminded lately of how sick many of us are. Literally my friend Mike is quite sick. Mike is my age, his oldest daughter Zoe’s age. Mike’s cancer had been dormant for 16 years and now has returned with a vengeance. Mike is facing the prospect of more battle with this dreaded disease. Hope deferred makes the heart sick … Many of us feel the “sickness” of this world. We feel it in our bodies. We feel it in our minds and spirits. We feel the heaviness in our relationships. Where do we find hope? Do we put it in doctors? In our body’s ability to recover? If these things are our hope, then we will struggle to see it fulfilled. Two nights ago I prayed with a young man in a place and a position where hope eludes. But as we prayed, there was a firm reminder that we were not alone and that there was hope. Advent is the story that the Great Desire of Nations has come and our trees, though seemingly barren, will bear their fruit in season.

In finding hope there is joy. Not necessarily circumstantial happiness; life radiates challenge and surface level happiness often escapes us. But beyond challenge is joy stemming from a connection to Christ, mediated through his Love, that is deeper than our circumstances. Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Praise God from whom all blessings trickle.

The Lord gave me a metaphor for my advent season --
a plumber unclogging my kitchen drain.

I rented a 25-foot snake to coil down the pipeline to loosen the clog, but I couldn't reach it. The clog-expert plumber had a 40-foot snake that reached all the way into the depths of the pipeline to breakup the blockage that had slowed the flow. Clean pipes. Full flow.

"Dear Heart-expert Lord, this advent season I want to receive the full flow of your blessings through Jesus the Savior. Please reach deep down into the places that I cannot reach and unclog my distracted and unattentive heart. Help me to receive your Word and the ministry of your Spirt, so that the Glory of Christmas flows through my heart. Amen."

Pastor Steve