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.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Power

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8 (ESV)

As many of you know Sunday is Pentecost, the day that the church remembers the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a group of, until then, timid, untrained, “little faith-ed” disciples. What emerged from Pentecost is quite simply a world changing group of people that had not been seen before. Power was manifest.

Often we wonder if that same power is at work today? Perhaps this story will encourage you.

Sarah Irving-Stonebreaker “grew up in Australia, in a loving, secular home, and arrived at Sydney University as a critic of 'religion.' ” She didn’t look for or need faith to ground her identity or her values. She knew from an early age that she wanted to study history at Cambridge and become a historian. She would find her identity in academic achievement, and secular humanism, based on self-evident truths.

But then the power and love as described in Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven tracked her down. Here is part of a tremendous testimony of what she found:
Christianity, it turned out, looked nothing like the caricature I once held. I found the story of Jacob wrestling with God especially compelling: God wants anything but the unthinking faith I had once assumed characterized Christianity. God wants us to wrestle with Him; to struggle through doubt and faith, sorrow and hope. Moreover, God wants broken people, not self-righteous ones. And salvation is not about us earning our way to some place in the clouds through good works. On the contrary; there is nothing we can do to reconcile ourselves to God.
So YES! The Power of Pentecost is still at work today. The beauties of the Gospel are still wooing the most apathetic of hearts.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a federal holiday for remembering those who have died serving in the armed forces. To mark the day flags are out, flowers are placed on graves and parades are held. For many, Memorial Day also marks the unofficial start to summer and a great time to get yard work done in preparation for the summer months.

Lamentations 5 talks about a different type of “memorial day.” Remember, O LORD, what has befallen us (Lamentations 5:1). Much of the Christian life centers around remembering. It is about us remembering God, as well as about reminding God of his people and his promises. Of course, God does not forget in the way that we do. And it is precisely because of his faithfulness that we have the confidence to “remind” him of his promises. And so we come to the end of Lamentations where the people are led to pray before their steadfast God, reminding him of their plight and pleading for him to remember. We too are invited into this remembering cycle and consequently invited deeper into a relationship with our steadfast God!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Back in the Lab

It is great to be back from vacation. We had a wonderful time. We enjoyed some nature viewing and hiking in the Smokies and then celebrated with Josiah at his graduation from Covenant College. Our travel was safe and a new batch of memories was made; very thankful.

Now we are back into the flow of the life of the church. The church, as an institution often takes a beating, sometimes rightfully so. Never the less, the church is God’s instrument for the incubation of his Kingdom here on earth. And it has, like Noah’s ark, continued to float despite the floods of the years. Mark Sayers, In a recent book entitled, Strange Days: Life in the Spirit in a Time of Upheaval, says this about the church:

“The cautionary tales of the book of Acts, the warnings against false teachers found in the pastoral epistles, the corrections and rebukes of Paul’s writings, offer a realistic view of the church. A concert of people fighting the flesh, living through the Spirit. At times, just as Paul warned, falling back into the slavery of the elemental forces, at other times losing itself in the freedom, forgetting its source. As Christ promised Peter, the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church, and in every age, the principalities and powers, humiliated and exposed could not contain its advance. And so it will continue to move forward in our age of upheaval; the gospel will continue to change hearts, the living laboratory of Spirit-filled life that is the church will grow and advance the kingdom in our time.”

I share this for your encouragement. There are times that life in the “laboratory” is difficult, but the source of our life together is none other than the living risen Christ!

Friday, April 28, 2017

How Lonely Lies the City

In the spirit of Luke 24:27, we turn our attention from the Gospels to search out Christ in all of the Scriptures. Our next stop is the Old Testament and in particular the book of Lamentations. Sunday we begin a five-week series, entitled "Peace in the Pieces." Historically, Lamentations is set around 587 B.C. and describes the fall of Jerusalem. It traditionally has been attributed to Jeremiah the prophet. Pastorally, Lamentations is a good place to look as we seek to make sense of life that seems to have moved away with increasing rapidity from God as the center. Author and scholar Christopher Wright says, "Lamentations is a book for today. In a world where the tide of human suffering threatens to overwhelm whatever dykes we put in place to contain it, is there any book of the bible more relevant than this book that gives voice to the most awful pain imaginable?" (The Message of Lamentations)

So join me in getting ready to dive in. It would be great if you could read through the Book of Lamentations prior to coming to worship. While the book is short (5 chapters), the chapters are lengthy and we probably won’t be able to read it all in our services. In the same vein, it would be great to bring a copy of the Scriptures with you as printing the entirety of the text may be difficult.