Friday, March 16, 2018

Comfort amid March Madness

March Madness is truly upon us. Not only are there basketball games happening all day (Go MIZZOU - sorry had to) but Gracehill is preparing for soft launch this coming Sunday. Easter is ever approaching and there is also this little little thing called life that is still happening day by day. Some of us find ourselves in the middle of lenten fasting, a task that can prove to be very difficult, dare I say, mad at times? Some of us are preparing for the madness of a church plant launching. Some of us feel like vagabonds, wondering what else 2018 is going to hurl our way. All of us are in the throws of life. Which begs the question, where does one look amidst the madness? How does one live in the madness?

Comfort. That is what we long for when we are in the throng of madness. We look for something, someone or some situation to soothe us, console us, to bring cheer in or through the madness. A national championship, a vacation, physical healing, all examples of mediums that can result in comfort.

This Sunday at Christ Church we are delving into our last installment of our intentional look at the Holy Spirit in our Upper Room series. Andrew will preach on the Holy Spirit as Comforter. Consider these words from Jesus in John 14;
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid”
What’s remarkable about this passage is what Jesus leaves with his disciples. Peace. Shalom, the Hebrew word that peace derives from had a much more rich direction than our word and translation peace. Shalom conveys the absence of conflict, but it also, at the same time, conveys the notion of positive blessing, most pointetly in terms of a right relationship with God. One might say its a “two-for”, both comfort from turbulence, AND blessing in Union with Christ.

Here we find true comfort, provided to us through The Comforter. So whether you are scrambling through your taxes, managing a household of kids, preparing details for a church plant, fumbling through a full calendar, or sitting alone - wherever you find yourself in this March madness, remember we have the peace, the comfort and the blessing of The Comforter working through us.

“And this is his work [The Holy Spirit] to the end of the world—to bring the promises of Christ to our minds and hearts, to give us the comfort of them, the joy and sweetness of them…”
(Vanhoozer, Communion with the Triune God)

~ Addison Hawkins

Friday, March 9, 2018

Foundation of Consolation

Many of you know that today and tomorrow we will be greeting the family of Mark Kolk to offer our sympathy, share in grief, remember a life well lived and ultimately reconnect to the Source of Mark’s hope and ours. We come together as a community; individuals whose lives have been woven together to love one another and bear one another’s burdens.

But we are not alone in this burden bearing. As we have been learning through this Upper Room Discourse of Jesus’, he has given us another Paraclete. That word, paraclete, is translated helper, comforter, advocate, counselor in the various translations. Literally it means a side-caller, one who comes alongside to speak for us and to us of things that are greater than ourselves.

Part of the question is why don’t we call to mind more readily the presence of the Holy Spirit? Why don’t we invite the help that is so readily offered? John Owen put it this way in his book Communion with the Triune God:
I deny that ever the Holy Spirit does absolutely and universally leave a believing soul without consolation. A man may be darkened, clouded, refuse comfort—actually find none or feel none; but radically he has a foundation of consolation, which in due time will be drawn forth. 
We have a “foundation of consolation”! We may not always experience it, but for the believer, it is there and will be drawn forth in due time. What a gift it is to lean into this foundation during our grief. Whatever your grief is, whatever questions you have, whatever pain you are in the midst of, know that the paraclete is with you.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Youth. Not Wasted on these Young.

“Remember your Creator during your youth: when all possibilities lie open before you and you can offer all your strength intact for his service. The time to remember is not after you become senile and paralyzed! Then it is not too late for your salvation, but too late for you to serve as the presence of God in the midst of the world and the creation. You must make take sides earlier—when you can actually make choices, when you have many paths opening at your feet, before the weight of necessity overwhelms you.”

Jacques Ellul, Reason for Being: A Meditation on Ecclesiastes

A couple of years ago we brought on Addison Hawkins to help us think through and provide some intentionality in welcoming college students into our community. He, along with his wife Lynnette and more recently Ruthy and Simon, have been doing just that. And not only welcoming them but discipling them as well.

To get a better sense of how things are going I thought I would share a “by the numbers” look that Addison recently gave in his session report:

I was so encouraged by that list. I think we all know how critical the college years are for faith formation. Steve Garber in his book The Fabric of Faithfulness, which seeks to explore the factors that influence the sustainability of faith through the college years and beyond, identifies three key ingredients for said sustainability: 1) Worldview formation - does the student have a view of the world that distinguishes truth from falsehood and incorporates a narrative that makes sense of good and evil, death and life, success and failure. 2) A nurturing community beyond the campus in which the student can continue to draw from and grow in once the college years are done. 3) Mentors who can give a vision for what faithfulness can look like as the years play out. What better place to gain all three of these is there than in the local church!

So praise the Lord for these young people and pray for them! Pray specifically that leadership would emerge, both from within the group as well as from these “mentors” who would walk with these college students. Specifically we have a desire to expand our hours spent on downtown campuses to even more intentionally connect with students, many of whom are unaffiliated with church. And don’t be afraid to pull some of these folks aside and introduce yourself, invite them over, take them to a movie, whatever … They need people like you in their lives.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Lenten Longings

My heart is heavy after yet another school shooting. Seventeen young lives lost, senselessly, tragically. My heart is heavy for the 19 year old who pulled the trigger; himself a sufferer, a victim of loss. My heart is heavy over the polarization that exists in the country, evident in the op-eds and the political rancor that fills our FaceBook feeds. Where do we go? To whom do we turn?

Throughout scripture the answer comes back resoundingly. Whether it is Asaph in Psalm 73, “Whom have I in heaven but you? There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. ” Or Peter in John 6, “to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”; we realize that in Jesus alone we find what we need. In Jesus alone we find both truth and grace. He is the one who came both preaching repentance and healing the sick. We struggle for that kind of balance. Politicians cry for more freedoms or more controls. But both our freedoms and our controls will prove to be empty cisterns (Jer. 2:13) if they are outside of Christ. We look for more truth or call for more grace when what we need is more Jesus.

Which brings us to Lent and a prayer from my good friend Scotty Smith. May our thirst be for Christ alone.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Ps. 42:1-2
     Lord Jesus, thirst is certainly an appropriate theme to ponder this Lenten season. For Lent is a season of igniting our longings for you; and there’s no craving, yearning, or need more demanding than thirst.

     Thirst is neither patient nor polite, and we’re usually quick to slake its unrelenting demand, one way or another. Thirst will not be denied. We’ll do almost anything to satisfy its cry and ache.

     Because this is true, we join the psalmist in crying out: Jesus, intensify our thirst for you. Keep us panting like the deer, which pants after streams of water—the unpolluted, un-distilled, never-ending brooks of your grace.

     Quickly drain the broken cisterns of our own making. Don’t let us be even momentarily satisfied with any other beverage than the draft you draw, the potion you pour, the life-giving libation you alone give.

     If we take up King David’s lament, “When can I go and meet with God?” you answer back without delay, “Right now, my beloved; do not wait. If you’re thirsty, come to me and drink.” “Whoever believes in me, streams of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:38).

     If we should say, “But Jesus, where can we find you?” you answer back even quicker, “Not in the law; not in your strivings; not in your labors; not in your penance; not in your earnestness; not in your self-loathing; not in your re-dedications; not in your vain promises; but only in the gospel of my grace.”

     “Come and fall into the rivers of my love. Come, you who are thirsty, come and bring your poverty of heart and I will make you rich in my love. Stand under the cascading waterfalls of my compassion. Open your heart wide to my affection, and I will fill you to overflowing with everything you need, and more than you want.”

     Even so and evermore, Lord Jesus, school us well in panting after you. Fill us afresh that we might be a people to the praise of your glory and grace. So very Amen we pray in your all-glorious and all-generous name.

Friday, February 2, 2018

On Into Mission

Whew! Though some posters and wall hangings still remain, the formal missions month is over. It has been mentioned to me a couple of times that there has never been such a focus on mission at Christ Church. It truly was something to behold and difficult to walk away from unchanged.

We don’t truly walk away though, do we? Rather than walking away we walk into this mission that the Father inaugurated, Jesus died for, and the Spirit continues to fan into flame. We walk into mission; in our neighborhoods, at the grocery store, in our schools, our families, churches and around the world. Everywhere we go we see the need for the welcoming, healing, liberating, stain-removing Gospel!

As our missions conference was going on, we have been reminded by events in our own state how terribly broken the world we live in is, both in the hearts of individuals and in the institutions that they run. We have been reminded that we are surrounded by hurting sisters and brothers, many of them victims with very few places to call “safe”. This is our mission: to extend the welcoming balm of the gospel to these hurting. To invite those who might not be sharing the sweet fellowship of Jesus into our church, our homes, our lives.

So how do we, a disparate group of ragtag individuals carry out this mission? You know the same thing could have been asked about the disciples who gathered with Jesus in the upper room, the same ones he called to carry out His mission. Judas would betray. Peter would deny. Philip and Thomas were confused. And all would scatter. And yet … These were the ones through whom the Lord would build his church.

This Sunday we will find ourselves with these disciples listening to the words of Jesus in what is known as the Upper Room discourse. We will begin with the first 20 verses of John 13. Like the disciples, we are an imperfect community to be sure. But as we walk with our Savior and allow him to minister to us, we find that he will use us nonetheless.

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.