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.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sophia's London update

We wanted to share with you Sophia's latest update on her work with Serge in London. Thank you for praying for her!

To my partnering brothers and sisters,

I wanted to wait to get out my next update until after this week as my church, New City IPC, has hosted a mission conference called R7. We hosted teams from the US and led them in everything from community gardening to street corner evangelism. Personally, three experiences stood out to me. Those experiences were visiting two temples, running book tables, and prayer and praise night.
The first main experience this past week was visiting a Hindu and Sikh temple. I am glad that I had the opportunity to experience both of these temples. It was fascinating learning more about world religions firsthand and how in some places it actually has similarities to Christianity.

The second main experience for me was running a book table. How the book table works is we go to a busy area (like outside a tube station) and set up a table with Bibles, books of John, and prayer pamphlets and then we just hand out pamphlets to people. I was surprised how many people took and read the pamphlets. Muslim and Sikh men came up and asked us about Christianity, what we believe and how it differs from their religious beliefs. Even full covered Muslim and Sikh women took and read the prayer pamphlets. Keep praying for the power of the Spirit working with the word in their life!

My third main experience was Prayer and Praise night. On Saturday we had an open church prayer and praise night where we sang songs in different languages and people were open to pray in their native language. It just reminded me of Psalm 149:1-2 “Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly! Let Israel be glad in his Maker, let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.”

As I go into the next week I want to ask for strength for God to use my life for His glory. Please continue to pray for all the people affected by the Grandfield fire. It was devastating and we are praying for God to comfort the families who have lost loved ones and are in a time of confusion and sadness that God would show them His everlasting light and love.
I thank you again for all of your prayers and support.

With many blessings,
Sophia VanderMaas

Friday, July 21, 2017

For God So Loved the World

Perhaps the most recognizable verse in the Scriptures is John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” What a joy it is to be recipients of such a magnanimous grace! How awesome it is to live in a cosmos marked by the love of God. And what a privilege it is to reflect this love to others.

One of the influential figures in the history of Christ Church is Francis Schaeffer. What drew some early CC pioneers to Schaeffer was a solid Biblical teaching and apologetics that invited people to eschew irrationality and live within the contexts of human flourishing that God has laid out for humanity. But for many who would encounter the Schaeffers what stood out the most was the way they extended the love of God to others. John Frame in commenting on the ministry of L’Abri says the following:
The inquirer is to be treated neither as a statistic nor as someone to be manipulated into a verbal commitment; nor is he to be treated with contempt, though his unbelief is loathsome to God. He is a human being, made in God’s image, and is to be loved and treated with dignity. The work of the Schaeffers at L’Abri will be an enduring example to us in that regard, for they laboured to present thoughtful answers in a context of love and respect.

All unbelief is loathsome to God. But God, in Christ, has found a way to reconcile the world to himself. In Christ, we too, extend a gracious hospitality that treats others with dignity, presents thoughtful answers to hard questions, all from within a framework of love and respect.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Moon or Sun?

It has been said that Christians are more like the moon than the sun. Particularly in view is the fact that the moon has no light of its own, but it reflects the glory and beauty of the sun. So we too are called to reflect the beauty of the Gospel. This idea of reflecting the beauty of the Gospel has become a conversation cornerstone in our church planting discussions.

What might that look like? Here is an excerpt from a vision statement that Daniel has been working on:
      We dream of a renewal that touches all aspects of life and every part of society: men and women exchanging selfish and harmful patterns of thought and practice for lives that reflect God’s heart of love; longtime church attenders discovering a joy and vibrancy in the gospel they had never experienced before; struggling marriages finding strength for their restoration in Christ’s forgiveness; families opening their homes to those who look and sound different; young and old giving up comfortable lives to introduce the unreached of the world to Jesus’ name; church outsiders being surprised by a sense of belonging at church; intellectuals humbling themselves and resting in the superior wisdom of the God whose ways are past finding out ...

The Gospel is beautiful. There is nothing that we could possibly add to it and nothing can ever be taken away. May God help us, moon-like, to reflect this beauty to all!

There is a lot of stuff on the church plant located here on the website. Feel free to peruse. We welcome Ruthy officially to the team this week. She is back from New Hampshire. She jumps into the deep end Tuesday, heading to Nashville for a church planting conference.

PS — for your listening enjoyment

Friday, June 30, 2017

General Asssembly Reflections

Over the years I have joked about the process of Presbyterianism which is at times painfully slow and often at odds with with my more quick decision making style. Despite the "poke your eyes our moments" of legislative procedure, I am really glad to be a presbyterian and General Assembly (GA) is a great reminder of that. Here are some reflections from my week away.

GOSPEL CENTERED WORSHIP. Any shortcomings that we might want to highlight about the PCA are dwarfed when experiencing the preaching and worship of the sisters and brothers of the PCA. From beginning to end our communal worship is thoroughly Biblical, Gospel focused and ultimately Christ exalting. When denominational attributes are audited this shines forth like a diamond. The worship services at GA alone speak to the worthiness of our mission as sisters and brothers join together at the foot of the cross and in shadow of the empty tomb. If you're interested in seeing some of these worship services and sermons, you can view them here.

EVERY CHURCH A VOICE. The idea of having a non-delegated assembly with over 1400 eligible-to-speak voices (most of them pastors!) is a daunting and sometimes unwieldy prospect. Inevitably we do get bogged down with speeches, motions and points of order that do not represent the majority, but that is the beauty of the process. Every church has a voice, and the very process is a check and balance against the kind of wayward thinking that can sometimes take over a more streamlined delegated assembly. Sometimes slowness is a virtue. I rejoice when I see 1300+ votes cast on motions before the court. We are working together!

BIG TENT. The PCA is a confessional denomination, meaning we adhere to the Westminster Standards as a faithful exposition of Biblical doctrine and ecclesiology. This confessional approach keeps us anchored in the scriptures and provides a framework for our life together. At the same time there is a diversity of interpretation in the application of the Standards that makes for a breadth of different approaches in the PCA. True there is sometimes frustration in this, both for those with a more “narrow" interpretation of the standards and for those with a more “broad” interpretation. But it seems to me that this diversity faithfully represents a more complete picture of the body of Christ than any one church or interpretation could on their own. Some wrestle with implementing a robust complementarianism, others struggle with more expressive worship that doesn’t fit familiar cultural forms, collectively we discuss and debate approaches to theological education, missions and discipleship, but we do it together in our "big tent."

Are there challenges facing the PCA in the coming years? For sure, both within and without. Outside the denomination we are seen as repressive and backward in our positive assertions of Biblical headship, marriage that is between a man and a woman, among other things. These attitudes aren’t likely to change anytime soon. Inside, we are still sinners who struggle to listen to each other at times, convinced that we know best and are suspicious of those not like us. But thanks be to God, who honors those who walk with him, those who seek his face and listen to his word. Our hope is in him and his joy is our strength.