Friday, May 25, 2018

Grace in the Shadows


Our brother, Daniel Eguiluz, will be installed as a pastor among us this Sunday. Like a graduation, an ordination looks back as a celebration of sustained trials necessary to get to this point, as well as looks forward. After all, the ordination is really just a beginning with most of the story yet to be written.

So, we wonder what will the story look like? Being called as a pastor is to be called to carry out a role in a community of equals. In other words, there is no clergy/laity distinction as a pastor is not inherently more holy than a plumber or a stay-at-home mom. But, like each of us, a pastor has a particular role to play in the community to which he is called. They are to handle the Word, be diligent in prayer, enter the difficult places, seek green pastures, and always point to the finished work of Christ. Eugene H. Peterson, one who has reflected much on the nature of pastoral ministry, offers this reflection in his book Under the Unpredictable Plant: an Exploration in Vocational Holiness:

Pastors enter congregations vocationally in order to embrace the totality of human life in Jesus' name. We are convinced there is no detail, however unpromising, in people's lives in which Christ may not work his will. Pastors agree to stay with the people in their communities week in and week out, year in and year out, to proclaim and guide, encourage and instruct as God works his purposes (gloriously, it will eventually turn out) in the meandering and disturbingly inconstant lives of our congregations.

This necessarily means taking seriously, and in faith, the dull routines, the empty boredom, and the unattractive responsibilities that make up much of most people's lives. It means witnessing to the transcendent in the fog and rain. It means living hopefully among people who from time to time get flickering glimpses of the Glory but then live through stretches, sometimes long ones, of unaccountable grayness. Most pastoral work takes place in obscurity: deciphering grace in the shadows, searching out meaning in a difficult text, blowing on the embers of a hard-used life.”

Perhaps it is a good time to stop and pray for pastors and congregations. These are perilous times for pastors and we need your prayers, daily. It is so easy to deviate from the vocational calling Peterson describes above. But pray for yourselves too, both as individuals and as a community, for it is truly together that we seek grace in the shadows. May God give us eyes to see!

If you want to read ahead we will be exploring this pastoral ministry a little more through 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16.


Friday, May 18, 2018

What does this mean?


This Sunday we remember one of the most significant days in the history of the church, the day we call Pentecost. Most of you probably know the story as it is told to us in Acts 2:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1–4)

But knowing the story is not the same as understanding the story. Those gathered during this outpouring immediately sensed the difference between observing and understanding — And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12)

So what does it mean? Pentecost is full of meaning. Let me make just a couple of observations. First, it means that God is true to his word. As we have seen throughout our study of the upper room discourse, Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is the keeping of that promise. Second, Pentecost is the fulfillment of the journey that the Incarnation began. When God became flesh we experienced Immanuel, God with us. Now, in Pentecost, we are reminded that God continues to pursue his people, drawing even closer. One Jesus, physically located, was not his full plan. God's intent was to take up residence in each believer, God in us! The implications of this are rich and full.

I am looking forward to digging into this with you on Sunday. If you get a chance read Acts 2 as you prepare for worship.

God in us. Amazing!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Sent


As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. - John 17:18

What do you think of when you think of being sent into the world? Do you think of packing up your stuff and moving to a 3rd world country? Perhaps you have images of feeding the homeless in an urban setting? Maybe you think of street preaching on the corner of a busy intersection? Or, maybe it is something more ordinary such as going to school, attending a neighborhood picnic, or joining the local cribbage club (15-2, 15-4, and a double 3 card run is 12)? It could be any of these things (and many more), but it is never less than leaving our comfort zones because our love for the other is greater than our love for security. Sent, as Christ was sent. Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). And in Philippians 2, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:5–7).

Yesterday Scott, Ruthy, Addison, and I had the opportunity to attend a forum for church leaders thinking through the opportunities and challenges presented to the church as we engage an LGBT+ world. I share this in connection with the above thoughts on being sent because surely this LGBT+ world is a world into which we are being sent. The “sending” in this case may not be as much locationally as ideologically. In fact, there is little doubt that you have people in your orbit that are on this LGBT+ journey. From those who identify with this orientation to friends whose kids do, and to those struggling with the social and theological implications of LGBT+ ideology, we all encounter this reality, maybe daily. The invitation (or if you prefer, the call) is to leave our ideological and relational comfort zones, equipped with the truth and grace of the gospel, to love those who find themselves on a different journey of faith and life than we find ourselves. Some of our “going” will look like educating ourselves. What does the Bible have to say? What is science telling us, or not telling us? What does love look like for those on this journey? Much of the "going” will involve listening. Almost certainly we will need to apologize for assumptions made, cues missed, or bad behavior of those identified with the body of Christ.

Yet, Jesus doesn’t send us on a mission doomed to failure. According to Andrew Marin*, who closely studied the relationship between the LGBT+ community and the church, 83% of those identifying as LGBT+ were raised in the church. Perhaps surprising only 3% left church because of the church’s belief in a historically Christian view of sexuality (i.e. between a man and woman). Overwhelmingly, people left the church because they did not feel safe or relationally connected, because there was an unwillingness to dialogue, or in some cases they were kicked out. Obviously, these kind of experiences make our “going" an uphill battle, but the good news is that truth engaged with humility and grace will get a hearing.

It really is an amazing journey that Jesus has us, his imperfect community, on! Left to ourselves it would be hopeless. But, our hope is not in ourselves. We can never forget the potency of Jesus’ prayer for us. We must never underestimate the Gospel’s power to heal, restore and renew. Armed with this hope we really can engage the sending both personally and corporately. And, as we will be reminded Sunday (in John 17:6-19), like the Trinity we can expand the circle of our love because the Gospel truly is good news.

*Marin, Andrew. Us versus Us: The Untold Story of Religion and the LGBT Community.


Friday, April 27, 2018

Near the Brokenhearted


No, I haven’t forgotten what day it is, I am simply writing a day early. A day off afforded me some space for reflection and the calendar reminded me that 24 years ago today our oldest daughter, Madilyn, died of complications arising from congenital heart defects. She was 3 months and 16 days into her earthly journey when the Lord took her. Even after 2 dozen years I can still feel the vacuum that Lisa and I experienced in those days of empty arms. Those of you who have experienced loss know that there is simply no way to escape the pain.

But, pain is not the end of the story for the Christian. Certainly in our family the Lord has "restored the years the locusts have eaten" (cf. Joel 2:25) by filling our home with 3 amazing sons, 4 delightful daughters, and a number of other wonderful young image bearers to share our home and life with. We have been reminded of His sovereignty and believe that His best has operated both in our life and in Madilyn's. Even more than these things God has filled empty spaces with Himself. The One who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son has entered the heart of this grieving parent with life-giving promises of hope.

David, who also knew the pain of loss, says this:

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living!
Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27:13–14)

So, in our places of pain or confusion may we find ourselves before the Lord who restores the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3). May we cry out with saints from all ages, "We believe, help our unbelief" (Mark 9:24). Together, let us all wait for the Lord who conquers death and intercedes for His people. This Sunday we will begin a first-hand look at the intercession known as the "High Priestly Prayer" by diving into John 17:1-5.


Friday, April 20, 2018

Ready for Growth?


What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, ....
(1 Corinthians 3:5-9 ESV)

We come to this Friday with a hope of Spring. I know the calendar has claimed that it is spring for a time now, but perhaps our weather is finally catching up. Spring means lots of things. It means a winding down of school. It means a wardrobe change. It means baseball. And, it means a season of planting and cultivating.

As you get ready to till the soil in your gardens and as you prepare your lawns, perhaps it is a good time to think about the fact that this is an image that God uses to describe His work in our lives. We are God’s field, Paul tells the Corinthians (I Cor. 3:9). Plowing, planting, pruning and watering all take place in the fields of our lives. And like a master gardener, God is working the process in just the right way, at just the right time, in order to produce just the right harvest. We recognize that not every stage is pleasant. Who likes the churn of the blade or the cut of the knife? But like the vine stripped of its grapes, standing bare through winter, cut back to the stem, despoiled, disfigured, left a leafless stock we are being shaped into fruit-bearing instruments in the Redeemers hands. Ugo Bassi sums up this life of the vine with these words: While the vine undergoes this death, the wine it has produced is gladdening the heart of man.… We need the paradigm of the vine, which is not bitter for the torment undergone, not barren for the fullness yielded up … the vine from every living limb bleeds wine.

May God give us the grace to look ahead and trust the work He is doing in our lives and in our church. As we move forward we can take heart for, as we will hear this weekend in God's word that Pastor Steve will be opening with us (John 16:25-33), Christ has overcome the world. With this as our basis, may our life together bleed wine.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Present Perfect Progressive


Without giving away too much, a question has been percolating in my head these last couple of weeks heading into our text from John 16:16-24 for this coming Lord’s Day. The question has to do with which tense the Christian life is best lived in. Is it the past, the present or the future? You will have to wait till Sunday to get the full reflection, but we can at least agree that because of the resurrection of Christ, who is the firstfruits of our own resurrection, Christians live in the present informed by the promises of the future. Perhaps the present perfect progressive, a tense which describes an action begun in the past, continuing in the present, and that may continue into the future, best captures the sentiment.

Practically it is this present perfect progressive that has occupied the session lately. As you know, there are a number of issues before Christ Church as we seek to carry out God’s calling for us in GR. (I shared the 8 pressing initiatives a couple of weeks ago). Just this week the session had an opportunity to meet and move along some conversations that have been ongoing both in the session and in the congregation. First, we were thrilled to be able to commit to our missions team an extra $30,000 due to the generous beyond-the-budget giving in 2017. As an extension of our January missions month, the missions team came with a plan to encourage and expand some ministries of current missionaries for the cause of the Gospel. It was a delight to be able to support those plans.

Second, we continued discussions centered around ministry vision going forward, including building expansion. The Lord has been gracious in giving a great deal of unanimity within the session to see that building expansion is a means to continued stewardship of our calling, not an end in itself. That said, we are excited to share with you in the coming weeks thoughts on building expansion, continued church planting efforts, and efforts to continue to be welcoming to those who do not have a relationship with Christ or a church home. We are excited about the direction of the conversation and look forward to hearing your thoughts as collectively we refine things further.

Finally, a key piece of maintaining a strong “home base” at CC and ensuring continued Gospel worship, teaching, discipleship and congregational care will be initiating a search process for a pastor who will eventually address some of the gaps left by Pastor Steve. As you know, Steve has announced his intention to retire. The session has begun to assess pastoral needs going forward and has tasked our personnel team with leading this search. Specifically, over the next months they will be seeking guidance as they develop a profile that best fits our needs and add members to their team to be representative of the congregation. Note the special Session Soundings Live version of our April Showers of Praise (April 25) as a further invitation for dialogue.

I hope you catch that we are excited about the things God is doing in our midst. Even as we are excited we are mindful that every person connects with growth, change, and development differently. For some, these changes are full steam ahead excitement! For others, change is more colored by loss of what was and fear about what is to come. For most, the journey that God has Christ Church on is probably some mixture of the two. But, as always, we remember that we don’t journey alone. Our Savior has promised to never leave us or forsake us. Or, to put it into the context of our text for Sunday where Jesus speaks to disciples facing an uncertain future, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. ... Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. ... Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:22–24). What wonderful promises these are indeed! Made all the sweeter because they are Yes! and Amen! in Christ! So we journey, but we journey together with the joy of the Lord as our strength (cf. Neh. 8:10).


Friday, April 6, 2018

Convergence

I am not sure where it started. I know my sermon prep for this week’s message at Gracehill had something to do with it as I was digging into Ephesians 2:11-22 and thinking about the truth that is in Christ we are fellow citizens of a heavenly kingdom (v.19). Then there was the conversation in the sauna on 2nd amendment rights and the responsibility that churches have to love and protect. (fascinating conversation by the way, with a Vietnam Vet who subsequently taught for a number of years.) There were also the many reflections on the 50th anniversary of the MLK assassination. Where are we as a nation 50 years later? What was the central message of MLK? How can I, as a member of the majority culture, listen and learn from the reflections of others? There were other strains too; the conversation through tears with a minority sister in Christ sharing pain, voicing questions, seeking her place in GR. Conversations in our own family about belonging. Conversations echoed with friends, one of whom intimated “is it OK as an adult to long for a best friend?”

While each these streams has its own course they converged for me while reading in 1 Peter 4:8–10. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. Our privilege and responsibility as a church of Christ is to welcome others as we have been welcomed in Him. Fundamentally what we long for as humans is to belong; to be received, cared for, protected. When alienation occurs socially, racially, or personally we are set adrift and we flail about seeking purchase. What Christ accomplished in redemption was to bring those who were far off near, to make those who were not a people, a people (cf. Eph 2, I Peter 2). In Christ we do belong! We have found our footing. More than just personal forgiveness, we have come home.

My great desire, both personally and for Christ Church, is to steward well this grace we have received. Listening this week has reminded me how deep the longing is to belong.