Friday, September 21, 2018

Resurrection


For those of you around last Sunday, perhaps you have been as taken by the notion of a God who raises the dead as I have been. I spent some time reflecting this week on the resurrection and simply want to pass on some fruits of that reflection. May they be a blessing to you as they were to me.

Reality
"Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep."
- John Chrysostom

A Starting Point for Renewal
"The resurrection is, of course, the point at which the question, 'What really happened?' becomes most pressing... Indeed, the simple truth is that the resurrection cannot be accommodated in any way of understanding the world, except one of which it is the starting point... The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the beginning of a new creation, the work of that same power by which creation itself exists. We can decline to believe it and take it for granted that we have only the old creation to deal with. Or we can believe it and take it as the starting point for a new way of understanding and dealing with the world.’
- Leslie Newbigin, To Tell the Truth: The Gospel as Public Truth


Joy Unspeakable 
"On the Day of the Lord—the day that God makes everything right, the day that everything sad comes untrue—on that day the same thing will happen to your own hurts and sadness. You will find that the worst things that have ever happened to you will in the end only enhance your eternal delight. On that day, all of it will be turned inside out and you will know joy beyond the walls of the world. The joy of your glory will be that much greater for every scar you bear. So live in the light of the resurrection and renewal of this world, and of yourself, in a glorious, never-ending, joyful dance of grace."
- Tim Keller, King’s Cross

I look forward to seeing you Sunday. We will continue on in 2 Corinthians looking at chapter 2:12-17.  This is a wonderful section on the reality of the Gospel that both makes us captive and sets us free!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Session, Presbytery, Church, O My!


I had a great time this past Sunday in our adult institute class as I took a gauge on people’s understanding of the PCA in Grand Rapids. One of the questions that came up was about the way presbyterians handle church governance, and then this week for me turned into a very “presbyterian” week with session meeting Tuesday night and presbytery looming ahead this weekend.

For those of you new to the lingo, Session is the elders of a local church charged with serving the church by ensuring the centrality of the gospel message and overseeing the various ministries. We meet once a month (generally the 2nd Tuesday) to pray through the congregation, deal with congregational care issues that arise, hear ministry reports, and prayerfully give consideration to items of business before the body. As you can imagine, in addition to the everyday ministry cares, some of the “biggies” on the agenda these days are our staffing search, our capital campaign, and Gracehill. Each of these are being given support by teams focused on carrying forward the objective, but the session continues to monitor and make adjustments as needed. As reported recently, both the staffing search and capital campaign have hit visible slowdowns as we await outside response, either from candidates or from the construction company. But, they continue forward and we expect more visible progress in the days to come. Gracehill has recently made progress on a new and desired meeting facility at Coit Elementary School. We continue to seek to follow where God is leading as the public launch of Gracehill gets closer and the ministry becomes increasingly viable.

Presbytery is comprised of representative elders (both teaching elders and ruling elders) from our region who meet three times a year for various cooperative ministry endeavors, including the examination of ministerial candidates. We will meet this Friday and Saturday in Fenton, MI. Our own Addison Hawkins will be undergoing his final examinations for ordination. He will be examined in the areas of church history and sacraments, and will have to preach for the gathered presbytery as well. Presbytery has its moments of mind numbing minutiae, but it is important as the holding forth of the standard of the Word and sacrament is seemingly more of a battle in today’s culture than it has ever been.

Church is this Sunday as we will gather for worship again. Here we will exchange greetings with friends, fist bump with a five year old, open our copies of the Word together, and encourage those in despair with the confidence we have in a God who raises the dead. Feel free to read 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 ahead of time. It is just a few verses, but they are filled with a hope that touches down into the reality of our daily lives!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Here Comes the Bride


It is wedding season for Christ Church. Congratulations to Kray and Kyra Freestone who were married two weeks ago. Tonight Dustie Buwalda will become Mrs. Stephen Smithers. And, two weeks from tomorrow the little boy with big glasses that I used to pitch wiffle ball to will become a husband as Josiah marries Morgan. Americans love a wedding. Shows like “Say Yes to the Dress” or "Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings" or “Bridezillas" capture our fascination with the whole affair, but do they capture the heart of the wedding?

Biblically, there is little else that is so full of imagery pointing to our relationship with Christ like the relationship between a bride and a groom, and the wedding celebration. The prophets spoke early on of the relationship between God and his people in terms of marriage (cf. Ezek. 16, the books of Hosea, Song of Songs, etc...). Foundational passages in the New Testament, like Ephesians 5 and Revelation 19, again cast our eyes toward marriage as talking about the mystery of Christ and the church (cf. Eph 5:32). In this context, one of my favorite things about weddings is watching the reaction of the groom as he sees his bride walk down the aisle (check out a few reactions here). From beaming faces, to misty eyes; from incredulity, to barely contained excitement, these grooms give us an insight into the heart of a Savior so utterly taken with his Bride.

This is the point in which we come close to the heart of the wedding. As Lauren Winner puts it, marriage is a gift "designed to tell a story to the entire church, a story about God’s own love and fidelity to us.” This is not a shallow love centered on the romantic “coupling" of two star-crossed lovers. A love whose end is the meeting of my needs, fulfilling of my wants, completing me. Rather, it is a love that seeks the other through sacrifice and eternal commitment, and a love that redeems. My forgetful heart so needs this picture! May every wedding we witness and every faithful marriage we observe (despite their imperfections and human inadequacies) serve to strengthen our hearts by pointing to the Bridegroom who is taken with his bride.

Beyond the weddings, this week we begin a series on Second Corinthians. As we will discover, this is a book that explores the interplay between power and weakness. It is a book that looks at comfort in the face of affliction. It is a book that ultimately holds forth our God as the God of all comfort. Feel free to prepare yourself by reading 2 Cor. 1:1-7.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Partnership


I have been much in mind of the Apostle Paul’s words to the Philippians:
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.     Philippians 1:3-6
Of course I have been thinking of Steve and Kris as this Sunday will mark their last among us in their current capacity. Paul’s words to the Philippians hit the high notes of remembrance, prayer, joy and partnership. These are notes that will surely be struck as we remember together in worship Sunday evening at 6 p.m.

One of the things I love about Paul’s words to the Philippians is that even as he reflects back he also looks ahead with hope and surety to the “He” who began a good work. For both the Holladay’s and Christ Church, our great confidence as we move forward is that what He has started He will complete!

Pastor Steve will be opening Genesis 48, 49 this week. We are coming to the end of Jacob’s generations now, in fact these chapters are Jacob’s last words right through his death and burial. Once again God gets the credit for maintaining the line of Jacob!


Friday, August 17, 2018

A Root of Bitterness?

I hesitate even to type these words, but wow! we are really moving toward Labor Day and the symbolic end of summer. As we move in time, we are moving to wrap up our study of Genesis as well. Making that happen necessitates taking some bigger chunks of the story. This week we will cover Genesis 42-45:15, the reunification of Jacob’s family.

Since we won’t be able to cover every detail I thought I might reflect a bit here on a moment that Jacob has after his sons first go down to Egypt and return with the news that Simeon is retained and any return trip will necessitate taking Benjamin. Jacob is overwhelmed by this news and moans thus:
“You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.” … [Benjamin] shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is the only one left. If harm should happen to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.” (Genesis 42:36,38)
This is not a good look for Jacob. After all that he has been through - despite YHWH’s provision for him away from Canaan, his protection of him from Esau, his wrestling with the Lord at the brook Jabbok and the blessing he received - Jacob still is not able to rest in the Lord. All he can respond to is his loss. All he can see is his circumstance. In this moment, he is not able to see blessings he has been given and he is bitter. Life without Benjamin would be a living hell.

But we are sympathetic to Jacob. We know how easy it is to fall into the bitterness trap. Like Jacob we allow circumstances to dictate our experience. Family troubles, job stress, health failings; all can cloud our horizons and prevent us from seeing clearly the One guiding our lives. Of course disappointment and hardship are realities this side of eternity, but we must remember that they do not define our story.

Jacob is bitter. But it is a moment. Soon his clouds will clear and will be able to see more clearly the graciousness of YHWH again. And when we see him finally he is resting on his staff and passing on a blessing to his children (cf. Heb 11:21). Are circumstances overwhelming you? Can you discern a root of bitterness beginning to sprout? Rest in God Almighty. Practice seeing the blessings he has given you. And trust with the hymn writer:
We expect a bright tomorrow; All will be well
Faith can sing through days of sorrow, All is well
On our Father’s love relying
Jesus every need supplying
Yes in living or in dying
All must be well

Friday, August 10, 2018

Take Care How You Hear

I peeked in at Pastor Steve this week. Two things stood out. First, he had a lot fewer books in his office as he cleans things out in preparation for his upcoming move:( But second, like the faithful servant he is, he was hard at work bringing together thoughts and themes of Genesis 40 and 41!

My thought this week however doesn’t have to do with Pastor Steve’s preparation, but with your own. Thomas Long, a preacher, says the following about sermons in The Witness of Preaching: People may call it our sermon, but it does not belong to us alone. It belongs as well to those who help create it by their listening. To put it theologically, a sermon is a work of the church and not merely a work of the preacher.

The idea that sermons are co-created between preacher and congregation is something that the Westminster divines captured in Shorter Catechism Q & A #90:

Q: How is the word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?
A: That the word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer, receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.

Jesus himself, commenting on the sowing of the word by the sower in Luke 8:18, says simply, “Take care then how you hear.”

So how do you prepare to hear well? Let me offer six observations to gauge your hearing. As I offer these observations note that I do not offer them as a list to burden or condemn you in any way. God constantly shows up even in the midst of our abject failures. My hope is that in some way maybe one of these considerations will open up a pathway that will allow you to experience the delights of the Gospel more fully!

Prayerfully Present — Attending to the word is always the Spirit’s work. He is the author. We share the life of Christ through the Spirit. We must seek the Spirit’s illumination if we are to hear well. (Ephesians 6:19-20).

Physically Prepared -- Think of a job interview, an ACT test, your wedding day. These are huge events and we know instinctively that we need to be rested. When we open our Bibles or come to worship we meet with the CREATOR of the universe. That is HUGER than huge! Let’s do our best to be attentive.

Relationally Reconciled — I will suggest two avenues here:

  • Reconciled with God. -- in Psalm 66:18 the Psalmist says with regards to prayer, “If I had cherished sin in my heart The Lord would not have listened.” God does not demand our perfection but he desires our authenticity, repentance and fresh reliance on Christ.
  • Reconciled with others -- so much is dependent on our horizontal relationships -- Matthew 5:23 reminds us to be reconciled with our brother (or sister) before coming to worship. The intimation is that unreconciled human relationships will stunt the yield of the word. Why is this so? I think we can point to double mindedness. Again our relationship with God needs to be that of fresh, total and humble reliance. If we are not working to reconcile with others we evidence the fact that we are not living out a God-reliant life.

Scripturally Saturated — In Acts 17:11 we are told how the Word took root in Berea. Part of its fruitfulness hinged on the eagerness of the Berean’s to search out Scripture. Our own knowledge of, delight in and reliance on Scripture will effect how we hear the Word.

Active in Application --- James 1:22 tells us “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourself.” There is a link between hearing and doing. Let us not be mere evaluators of exposition, devotees of doctrine or hearers of homilies, but may we be transformed by living out the Living Word!

Worshipfully Wondered — In Nehemiah 8:6 after the people the Lord heard the words of God they “answered, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads and worshipped the LORD”. The Westminster Divines call us to “lay it up in our hearts”, to ponder as Mary did, and allow the experience of God through his word to continue to shape us in the days to come.

I know Steve, and I know he will be ready, will you?

Friday, August 3, 2018

Kindness

Before we head into Genesis 39 and look more closely at Joseph for a couple of weeks, I have two thoughts to underline yet in connection with Judah. First, Judah is in many ways the “patron saint” of wandering children. A member of THE covenant family, set off away from home, wandering in a far off country; as lost as one can be. But God was faithful to meet him in his lostness and bring him home after so many years, decades even. I know that many of us have children that are not walking with the Lord. They have been baptized, they know the truth, yet they wander. Take heart from God’s dealings with Judah. Like Judah their story is not complete in the middle. There is more to be written. God’s eye is not dimmed and his arm is not too short to reach them in their wanderings.

Second, we have confidence in God because the work that he brought about in the heart of Judah was evidence of his kindness. Judah was broken and exposed, brought to repentance left with only a desperate faith. Scripturally both repentance and faith are put in context of grace and kindness.
      Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?     Romans 2:4
      In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace.    Ephesians 1:7

It is kindness that leads to repentance, the riches of grace engenders faith. For so many, their relationship with God is born out of fear and maintained in fear. There exists a mentality that believes a step out of line means getting zapped. Yet this is not the picture that we are given. In both faith and repentance, the kindness and grace of God are given as motivators for right relationship. Fear is not meant to call us to Christ or to keep us there; it is His kindness and grace.

So whether you are Judah involved in hardcore wandering, or you have a Judah you pray for, or you are caught in a Judah moment; pray for the eyes to see his kindness!

Lord, give us eyes today to see your kindness. It is so tempting to listen to the Accuser and approach you out of the fear that you could never love us. Help us realize that when we think this way, we are looking for something in us that is worthy of being loved by you, rather than looking at your grace that invites and welcomes us while we are still in our sin. Lord, forgive us for our continual failure to reckon with your kindness. Spirit, help us today, in faith, to respond to your kind invitation to repent!