Friday, May 3, 2019

Post Christianity (long post but hopefully worth the read)

This week a young man walked into a Jewish synagogue and opened fire. Yet another atrocity committed against image bearers of God, apparently motivated by hatred against a particular people group, joining other such crimes in our nation as well as many around the world. As we grieve this senseless loss of life we also take time to reflect for, in this case, the alleged shooter was one of our tribe, the son of an Orthodox Presbyterian elder. How does this happen? How does a young man who knows the truths of scripture, has a solid theological underpinning, and a supportive family end up in this position? There are plenty of avenues for soul searching: the nature of our discipleship with young people, are we communities that allow hatred to get a foothold, have we somehow misled people into thinking theology is more important than actually following the way of Jesus? All of these questions and others deserve consideration. But part of the answer lies simply in the post-Christian nature of our culture of which it's characteristics will continue to allow for these types of seemingly incongruous acts.

Some of you have picked up on my use of the term “post-Christian” recently; a term that has been used to describe the cultural moment that we in the West live in. I thought I'd take a moment to flesh it out here, since understanding the characteristics of post-Christianity will help us better understand how to live as followers of Jesus in this day and age, and perhaps how to better understand events like that which took place this week.

One way to understand post-Christianity is to define it against pre-Christianity and Christianity as we use these terms to describe a culture. A pre-Christian culture is one in which Christianity or its ideas are not known. Think of unreached people groups who have no exposure to Christianity or Christian values. They obviously don’t know Jesus as their Savior, and we would not be surprised to see them inhabiting some values that are completely contrary to Christian values. For example, revenge and murder may be the route to tribal ascendancy. This may be held in honor, whereas forgiveness and gentleness may be despised.

A Christian culture would be a culture in which the existence of God is accepted and Jesus is known as Lord and Savior. Values such as in the Ten Commandments are held in high esteem: truth, respect for authority, sexual fidelity, etc… While some may debate the actual extent to which Europe and America have ever actually been Christian cultures, there is certainly a sense in which we can look back and see the impact of Christianity on our culture and recognize that we have been shaped by belief in God and an adherence to his revealed Word. During a Christian era the values of Christianity are respected and the culture is populated by many followers of Jesus.

This leads us to a place to better understand our current post-Christianity. It is period where the influence of Christianity has waned or has fallen off dramatically. The authority of God’s revelation is no longer given the prominence it once had in a Christian culture. However, contrary to a pre-Christian culture, remnants of Christianity in the collective conscious exist that are valued, though often in an incomplete or even sub-Christian way. The result is that people have a notion of “God”, and they may even call themselves “Christians”, but the Being they are ascribing worship to is very different than the God who reveals himself in the scriptures. This is how a radical ecumenism develops in which one can go to a synagogue, a mosque, or a church and “worship" equally. Or, one can be a holder of sound Biblical theology but also radically hate those different from themselves. Post-Christianity wreaks havoc on the left as well as on the right.

So what does this mean for Christ Church:

1. We need to accept the fact that as Jesus followers we are no longer in the majority. That means we cannot assume that people accept our values nor should we be surprised when otherwise “good people” act in ways that are very contrary to God’s word.

2. Increasingly the thing that will define a Jesus follower is their willingness to surrender to the authority of God’s Word. In a post-Christian society many people use Christian words and may even describe themselves as Christians, but they do not surrender themselves to the totality of God’s Word. The result is a sort of DIY, cobbled-together spirituality that picks and chooses acceptable Biblical values. People may crusade for justice and mercy while living morally profligate lives without even batting an eye. Others may stand for orthodoxy and be strong morally but, as we have seen this week, be very comfortable with an anti-Semitism or other extreme alt-right ideologies. Of course we all have blind spots in our lives, but the difference is an unwillingness to look at the scriptures and shape one's life to the Word, and rather insist that God's Word needs to conform to us.

3. Not all who use the name “Christian” are truly following Jesus. As mentioned above, many people take on the term "Christian" because it is in the culture, they are not Muslim or Mormon, and they have cobbled together a spirituality by that term. Unfortunately this is true of churches as well as individuals. It is shocking how many churches have moved away, both explicitly and implicitly, from the authority of God’s Word. It has been said that folks in this camp want kingdom values but they don’t want a king.

4. We hold out an ongoing invitation to believe and belong. Using the language of our sermon series, we hold out to all the invitation to get to know the God of the scriptures: a God who sees, hears, and knows. A God who rescues and redeems. We continue to surrender to Him in all things, and in so doing we find a place to belong within the fellowship of His people.

Thanks for sticking with me through an admittedly long piece. As you can imagine there is so much more that could be said! We will be back in Exodus this Sunday. Pastor McGee will be looking with us at the first 10 verses of chapter 2 as God preserves the life of Moses and begins to prepare him for his life’s work.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Simon the...

Since it is Wednesday I am thinking about the events of the Wednesday in Holy week. (For a full account of the events of this day, see Matthew 26:6–16, Mark 14:3–11, Luke 22:3–6.) After a period of tension Jesus largely lays low on Wednesday. He visits the house of a friend, Simon the Leper. I was struck reading this again that Simon is named by his disease, or more importantly societally, the thing that made him a pariah. Yet here is Jesus, a day before his arrest, two days before his crucifixion, sharing a meal with “the leper”.

Jesus being at Simon’s house says something about Jesus to be sure. It says that instead of hanging with the establishment or those known by their strengths, he came to seek and to save the lost. He invites the weary to come find rest in him. This is the Jesus we meet in Holy Week. This is the Jesus who goes to the cross and empties himself in order that we might be filled. It says something about Simon too. He saw something in Jesus. Perhaps something deeper, more pure than in the religious establishment; something that he longed for. The truth of his disease was no longer something to hide from nor was it the most important thing in his life. What was most important was to be near Jesus! Simon opened his home, and his heart to Jesus.

As we make our way through the week we are presented with the same options that presented themselves in the first Holy Week. Who do we perceive Jesus to be? A threat to our way of life? Or one to trust for the promise of life? How will we act on our choice? Will we align ourselves with those who move to kill the troublemaker? Will we passively stand by while he expires? Or will we eschew the crowds, acknowledge our disease and invite him into our hearts and homes?

We will be filling our hearts tonight with our Maundy Thursday service. Come sit with Jesus on his road to the cross. For who desire to go deeper this weekend you can join me at Seventh Reformed Church on Friday from noon to three to meditate on the words of Jesus as he hung from the cross during those hours so long ago. (You can also catch the broadcast on WFUR 102.9 FM) Then Sunday, Resurrection breaks upon us with a greet-the-morning Sunrise Service. Followed by our full Easter services at 8:30 and 11:15.

To him who is able …

Andrew (the often callous narcissist being shaped by a loving Savior).

Friday, April 12, 2019

A Never Ending Supply

What if you had a never ending supply of money, energy, entertainment, friends, or whatever you might need?! What kind of confidence would you have as you engage life? What kind of perseverance would you be able to employ?

Isaiah 58:11 promises just this sort of never ending supply for God’s people: "And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail." Did you hear those claims? Continually; a spring of water, whose waters do not fail! These bold, audacious claims are promises that our living God makes to his people. What is even more striking is the placement of these promises in the broader context of Isaiah 58. These promises are given in response to the call to "pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted" (v.10), which itself is part of the broader call to "loose the bonds of wickedness" (v. 6). The picture that is painted for us is that of a vessel being upended and poured out, but the waters don’t end, they keep flowing!

I need to sink my roots deep into these promises! Family, work, health, world events, my own sin patterns, etc… all these conspire to leave me empty. Only by resting in the finished work of Christ do I realize that He has created in me a spring whose waters will never fail. "On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’'” (John 7:37–38).

This week we welcome Karl and Debbie Dortzbach to Christ Church as part of our Missions focus. Karl and Debbie have a deep love for the Lord and have served faithfully in service of the Kingdom for many years now. It is a privilege to host them and to glean from the unique perspective that God has afforded them.

This Sunday also is tinged with sadness as we say goodbye to Ruthy Rodriguez in terms of her role as community outreach coordinator for Gracehill. Ruthy has served faithfully and has been mightily used by the Lord for the past 18 months, but has come to see that her heart’s desire for serving the Lord will be best met in different arenas. We are deeply grateful for the way she has helped Gracehill in these beginning stages and are also grateful that Ruthy will continue to be involved in the Gracehill and Christ Church community.

Friday, April 5, 2019

A Whole New World

I, for one, am happy it is Friday. Sickness has made its way to the VM household this week and it is just time to turn the page on another week! I am also excited to begin our week long focus on missions this Sunday as we make our way to the cross!

What do you think when you think missions? Mark Noll, writing in The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith (IVP Academic, 2009),* comments that, "A few short decades ago, Christian believers were concentrated in the global north and west, but now a rapidly swelling majority lives in the global south and east.” He goes on to posit that if you were a Christian Rip Van Winkle and you were to wipe "a half-century of sleep from your eyes [after awaking this past week] and tried to locate your fellow Christian believers, you would find them in surprising places, expressing their faith in surprising ways, under surprising conditions, with surprising relationships to culture and politics, and raising surprising theological questions that would not have seemed possible when you fell asleep.”

And this my friends is good news! As our hearts sang with Psalm 72 last week and with the prayer that the whole earth would be filled with His glory, we find that the Lord is indeed building his Kingdom. Noll goes on to cite encouraging facts including this one: “More than half of all Christian adherents in the whole history of the church have been alive in the last one hundred years." Imagine that. In the last 100 years the entire, throughout-history, Christian population has doubled!

I punctuate with an exclamation point because we need to recite this stupendous encouragement in our conversations and shout this loudly in our living rooms. So often it seems that we are morose and downtrodden watching our nation’s news cycle. I sometimes feel like I am presiding over the funeral of Christendom with some of the conversations I have with believers. But, our God is on the MOVE! We just fail to see it because we are not looking in the right places. Again to quote Noll, "This past Sunday it is possible that more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called 'Christian Europe'. Yet in 1970 there were no legally functioning churches in all of China…”

So, this Sunday let us expand our hearts and minds as we come to worship this God of the cosmos. Let us pray and sing and join our voices in longing for our God to be known. May we be encouraged to see ways that God is on the move and may we be freshly energized to join the throng exulting Him before the nations. As part of our missions focus we welcome this Sunday Serge missionaries to London, Chris and Josephine Hatch, who will be joining us in the adult institute hour to talk about world religions. From the pulpit, we will be looking at Psalm 63 and the soul’s longing for God; a longing that invites mission.

* here's a more complete synopsis of Noll’s book

Friday, March 29, 2019

Preparing for the King

I am sure most of you noticed that the president came to town this week.
From roadside stands hawking t-shirts and placards, to secret service ensuring security, to crowds gathering from early morning on, Grand Rapids was transformed for his arrival.

This week we will be digging into Psalm 72. It is known as a Royal psalm, a celebration of the true King of Israel. It concludes with these words: "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!" (Psalm 72:18-19) In a similar way to the way that GR was prepared for the arrival of a president, the whole earth is being prepared for the arrival of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! The earth is being, and will be filled, with his Glory!

This is the story that we are in. We are invited to think “whole earth" big with our lives, our church, etc. We are preparing for the arrival of the King! More than t-shirts, we point people to robes of righteousness. We invite people to join us in line, to gather with the throngs so that we may greet the One who comes in perfect righteousness, justice and compassion.

To that end I am grateful that the motion to push forward with mission at Christ Church by making our facilities a place for the “sparrows and swallows" of the world to find a home overwhelmingly passed this past Wednesday (referencing Psalm 84). I am grateful that there was an embrace of a continuing commitment to church planting. Preparing for a King gives us a lot of work to do in the coming months and years, but we take heart that it is the King's work!

I know many of you are out on spring break adventures. Our prayers are with you for refreshment and safety. For those of us holding down the MI fort, I look forward to greeting our King together Sunday morning.

To the King! To the Kingdom!

Friday, March 22, 2019

In the Courts of the Lord

Psalm 84 is next in our series of Lenten psalms. In it, the psalmist expresses his longing for the courts of the Lord, a place for him that encapsulates joy and security that comes with resting in the Lord. I look forward to unpacking it with you this Sunday as it is a treasure trove of encouragement for the believer.

I think it is also incredibly timely for our particular community. This coming Wednesday we have called a congregational meeting to primarily consider the session’s recommendation that we move forward with a building renovation and a capital campaign to support it. This is a big decision for the life of our local body. We consider that God has given us a beautiful community that is pressing into the Gospel. We want to nurture this Gospel life among ourselves and to continue to share what we are experiencing with others, both those finding their way here now, as well as those in the greater GR area who have no connection with this beautiful Gospel. We believe the proposal before us supports and encourages that mission.

But following the Lord, in big ways and small, always has its challenges. One challenge we have as we come to our meeting Wednesday is that our general fund giving has been down the last quarter in a way that gives pause. Honestly, we are not sure what to make of this. The Lord has blessed us in the last 4-5 years and we have responded by increasing ministry within our church, in our community and throughout the world. This means we have taken on greater responsibilities from a budget perspective. In an effort to help us all understand our situation clearly, we have prepared a handout available this Sunday that seeks to outline where we are clearly.

We do hope that you will make an effort to be present at our meeting Wednesday. One of the principles of presbyterianism is the importance of the gathered assembly, seeking the Lord’s will together as we collectively make decisions*. Like the psalmist, we believe that the Lord is our Sun and our Shield. He is the one that lights our paths and protects us in the face of adversity. Blessed is the one who trusts in Him (Psalm 84:12)!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Think Big, Think Long, Think Biblically

We welcome this week's letter from the desk of Cheryl LaFleur...

Happy Friday Christ Church!

Picture yourself with one of your hands reaching forward and upward as you pursue Jesus. In that same picture, your other hand is extended behind you as you take someone along on that journey. This is leadership. This is discipleship. Does the picture describe you? Are you pursuing Jesus and calling others to come along? Then perhaps you are a leader.

On Sunday morning Pastor Addison will lead us through Psalm 32. The psalmist praises God for the ways He deals with our sin then after the “therefore” in verse 6, describes how we are to respond to that: with bold prayer, with trust, by yielding to God and through rejoicing in Him. At the PCA Women’s Life-giving Leadership Conference in February, Lynnette Hawkins and I learned that forgiven, life-giving leaders respond like this by:

THINKING BIG – Do I aim to do something that is doomed to failure unless God is in it or do I play it safe? Do I ask God to do “exceedingly abundantly more than I can ask or think?"

THINKING LONG – Do I lead others in the light of eternity or are my investments short-term and short-sighted?

THINKING BIBLICALLY – Do I take advantage of opportunities to listen to good teaching, to study God’s Word for myself, to ponder it, apply it, memorize it, talk about it with others, and pray about it? Do I allow it to convict and correct me? Does it inform everything I do?

Here are three other takeaways from the conference:

We serve an amazing God, and He is at work in powerful and life-giving ways.

We are part of an amazing denomination. From work being done on college campuses, at Covenant Seminary, in the military, overseas, in engaging disability with the Gospel, in pursuing justice and mercy, through publications, in small and large churches, through church plants and a host of other ways, the Word is being declared, lives are being changed and the Gospel is going forth.

The PCA is full of amazing women (and men, too). We met many leaders that fit the description in the initial picture. They are strong, humble, wise and godly, and they sacrifice much so the Gospel goes out.

Lynnette and I were privileged to be in their company and our prayer is that we will be servant leaders who pursue Christ and continually invite others to join us on the journey. Here are the large group talks and seminars from the conference which can be downloaded and listened to at your convenience! There is a lot of wonderful information packed into these talks.

We look forward to seeing you for worship Sunday as Pastor Addison walks us through Psalm 32 in our Lenten series.