Friday, December 9, 2016

Heart of Advent

How is Advent progressing for you? What is occupying your heart and mind these days? Are you growing weary of the same Christmas music on every radio station in every store? Are you overwhelmed by shopping and preparations yet to do? Or are you filling up with the overwhelming mercy of God that Advent announces? Perhaps our little foray this Friday can serve as a bit of commercial in the ongoing activity of the season to encourage or correct as needed.

This Sunday we will be looking at Zechariah’s tongue-loosed, exultation commonly called the Benedictus. As the old priest’s sentence of silence is broken we hear him proclaim clearly the mission of the Redeemer in these terms: to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God (Luke 1:77,78). Knowledge of salvation. Forgiveness of sins. This is the heart of Advent. These are our most fundamental needs. Here human desperation meets Divine deliverance. Our folly meets His fullness. Unavoidable rejection meets an undeserved Redeemer. Praise God for tender mercy wrapped in the form of a vulnerable babe sent to deliver! As the days progress, may the truths Advent calls to mind form the prism through which we view the world.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Listening to Wisdom

Everyday we engage the community around us, grocery stores, business contacts, neighbors, mechanics, etc … One place I frequent is the YMCA. The Y is a great place for conversation, particularly in places like the hot tub, sauna or steam room. Yesterday, while sweating in the sauna, I was able to meet a young artist from Togo living in GR named Wisdom. It was great to hear a little of his story; to hear about his art, culture, love for GR. It was an initial conversation, I am looking forward to more.

One of the great gifts that we can give to people is to hear them out. I have been struck by this coming out of the recent election cycle. Both leading up to the election and coming out of it, I have seen people much more apt to give their opinion (posting on FB or in person) rather than to listen to their brothers and sisters. James has a perspective that is worth hearing to: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19). When we do this follow, the pattern that God sets when he deals with us: he listens. Take a look at the following list the session compiled a few years ago that indicates how God listens to us:

He inclines his ear to us. He sympathizes with us. Gets down to us (our level). Welcoming - Drawing us to himself. Hears with understanding. Hears the real message through our groaning. Hears us with delight. Never gets tired of hearing us. Without finding fault (not upbraidingly) Objectively. Without neediness on his part. Personally. His hearing has life to it. It’s essential. Hears with undivided attention. Hears above the noise.

Wouldn’t it be great if our listening to one another, both those like us and those different from us (culturally, politically, emotionally, racially, socio-economically, educationally, etc..) looked like that! Well there is no reason why it can’t. After all, who lives in you? Whose ears do you have? We are united to Christ and our life is hid with Christ in God. Let’s listen to Wisdom!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord!

Throughout our study of Colossians we have been talking about inhabiting stories, particularly finding ourselves in the great story of redemption and inhabiting it. Our celebration of Advent is one of the ways we help ourselves along in this endeavor.

Because Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection are the most important events in all of human history, it is not surprising that the Christian church has developed a special calendar to celebrate them. From the second to the sixth centuries A.D., the early church created the annual cycle of special seasons and festivals that we now know as the liturgical year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost. Like all calendars, this liturgical calendar tells a story—it places the life and ministry of Jesus at the center of the church’s worship, identity, and mission in a clear and unmistakable way.

From November 27 to Christmas Day, we celebrate Advent, inhabiting through Word, song and prayer the story of the incarnation. We remember the story of Israel longing for a Messiah to liberate her from sin, exile, and oppression. We sing and remember how Christ came to this earth a first time as a human infant to carry out this mission. Even as we focus on his first coming, Advent helps us remember that, like Israel, we too await the full and final liberation from sin and death that Jesus will accomplish when he returns for the second and final time.

Another aspect of Advent is preparation. Even in the first Advent, God was so good to soften the hearts of his people by sending a forerunner, John the Baptist, to prepare for the life-altering ministry of Jesus. This week we will think about this ministry of preparation, by looking at the role of John in Luke 1:13-17.

Friday, November 18, 2016


“Excuse me. Can you give me some advice for living? I love the Lord and I really would love for that to show. Ultimately, would love for my friends and neighbors who don’t know the Lord to find satisfaction in Him as well.”

If we were playing Jeopardy, that may very well be the question that Paul answers with these words, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:16).” Paul here mixes the conservatism of absolute truth with a liberal, selfless love in order to produce a delectable dish; enjoyed by all, for the glory of God. Doctrine and Life. Belief and Behavior.

There has been so much lately on how to live and respond in this post election world. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by the number of articles, blogs, reflections, mandates, and otherwise that have come out recently, but wow! To be sure there are things to analyze, to educate ourselves with, and to reflect on, but sometimes the “old ways” are the best ways. Here the invitation is simply to check what you believe and pay heed to how you will behave. I would submit Paul’s wisdom here as the optimum, post election living plan.

First, fill your heart and mind with doctrine. Engorge yourself on the absolute truths of God’s word. Let your mind be dominated by his holiness, justice, mercy and grace. Be a reflection of Paul’s words to the Colossians that the “word might dwell in you richly. ( Col. 3:16)” It is a mind filled with God’s truth that will help you discern right from wrong in the media. It is a doctrine devoted heart that will season your conversations with more than inflamed rhetoric. It is God’s truth that will ease your anxiety and give you peace.

Second, love liberally. When Paul says to Timothy, “watch your life”, he is saying be who you are in Christ. May the justice, mercy and selfless love that is yours in Him, exude from your very pores. Like Christ, seek out the least of these who are still in their sin. Do not stand in judgment or wait for them to get their stuff together. Let this mind be in you that is yours in Christ Jesus, who being in the very nature God made himself nothing (Phil. 2). He put our needs before his own. He eschewed his own “feelings” in order to secure our future. Living out Christ in us will glorify God, bring us joy, and be attractive to others.

There will be many more articles to be sure, but I dare say there will be none to match this wisdom of Paul’s, “Watch your life and doctrine closely.”

Friday, November 11, 2016

Complexity (by Lisa VanderMaas)

It has been a truly mundane and yet monumental day. I wake up to new alerts and Facebook posts of grief, shock, exaltation, and confusion. I have no answers for the day, no quick fixes to the problems our world faces; no answers that is except for Jesus. I hear on the radio that voters of a certain party think one thing and the others think another. Is it really that easy? It doesn’t seem to be from where I sit. Perhaps it is the path we have chosen to walk, non-partisan when it comes to the world, yet one that hopefully reflects the Savior. For my own sanity I reflect: Yesterday. Election day:

I begin the day on my knees praying while I scrub toilets at my housecleaning job (yes, even for college educated white women, making it in America involves sacrifice, humility, and hard work) asking for wisdom, true Godly wisdom, to know how to vote and feeling conflicted in my soul over it. I also spend time talking with the people living under that roof. They are of different generations and perspectives, they have deeply divided opinions on the issues and candidates.

I then talk with my African American son who needs help getting to work while telling us he wants to start making better choices and using the opportunities he has been afforded. My other African American son is too busy working to vote. I think of the times both of these precious boys have been profiled and threatened and yet now have to make their way in the world as young black men, making choices and living with the consequences of those choices.

I grade my home schoolers Latin and Algebra and am thankful for the freedoms to educate as we choose. At the same time I field calls from a public school who would like me to substitute teach. Being in the classroom there makes me anxious for the kids and their learning environment. Teachers express very strong opinions over the type of government they need in order to be effective teachers. For many of the kids, home lives are not strong. Hurt is evident.

At 2:00, I decide to go vote. As I head out the door, I pray, apologize to my kids if I am making a mistake, and then remind them that God is always on the throne. I stand in a church lobby under the “Open and Affirming” sign and wait to cast my vote. I drive down streets gloriously adorned with fall foliage and hope my grandchildren and great grandchildren see and value the beauty of God’s creation.

I drive to a wonderful charter academy to pick up our refugee foster daughter who has never had an education in her life. She stands outside the gleaming building in her uniform and tells me as she does every day that school was “Good”. She loves it and loves to learn. The school has gone out of their way to enfold her.

I then drive her over to Bethany Christian Services, a place where you walk in the lobby and feel like you are in the United Nations with many languages being spoken. It has always been a ministry that values life, adoption, and the dignity of women and children. Our foster daughter will spend time here working through traumas that she has experienced that few Americans can comprehend.

Later in the day, the older of my African American daughters, dressed in her professional clothes, shows me her certificate for perfect attendance for the program she is enrolled in. I am proud of her and the commitments she has made to working hard and overcoming struggles.

Dinner is ready (I am only 6 months late for one of our daughter’s B-Day meals)! We sit around the dinner table and I look into the eyes of my children and I think of people who believe that these lives were disposable. That they were not a life in utero and given their birth history certainly born into circumstances that would have justified abortion. My heart physically hurts to think of this.

We Snapchat with our white son in college who just got a haircut (hooray) probably realizing that he should look semi-professional as he needs a job to pay of hefty school debt starting next summer.

I check Facebook and see our friend from Haiti who lived with us for a year and a half, now living illegally in New York (against our advice) and hoping to become a citizen, watching the election so closely. I think of the 10 yr. old Muslim boy that has spent four weeks with us this summer, who hasn’t seen his mom in 5 years, and is terrified of this election.

I go to a meeting where there are many Christians, none excited about either candidate but praying with humility for God to give us wisdom as a nation. All acknowledging the flawed nature of each candidate.

It’s 10 o’clock, I have a decision to make: watch election results or finish my Bible study of I Peter for our church’s women’s group. I opt for the second and am glad I did, although it doesn’t give easy answers either. Peter, living under the rule of Nero no less, calls the church to expect suffering, submit to all others (including our rulers) in humility, and to expect to be treated as outcasts in the world. He also gave promises of life, wisdom, joy, and freedom that come ONLY from life lived under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and with the counsel of the Holy Spirit.

My mind wanders to a few days ago, Andrew and I watched a tiny white coffin be laid in the earth. We grieved with these friends whose hearts were breaking. As we walked hand in hand through the cemetery, we said, “You know one of these days, it will be my funeral or yours.” We will take no earthly treasures with us, but we will also then begin to live in a perfect Kingdom where we will have a perfect Ruler for all ages.

So much complexity. No easy answers. But I ask myself, “Am I spending my time offering this “perfect kingdom, perfect ruler” hope to the world that desperately needs it? Or am I adding to their fear and despair? I can’t even begin to answer all the questions that confront me each day. I feel convicted over the weight of the decisions our rulers must make. For my fellow followers of Jesus and for me, I wonder, are we living lives that truly reflect the footsteps of our suffering, submitted, and outcast Lord? Daily submitted faithfulness in the ordinary places of life, and our prayers, these are what our hurting world needs more than anything else we can offer. There are no easy answers in this world... but there is one sufficient answer: Jesus.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Right Ruler

So barring some hanging chad, by this time next week we will have elected a new president and weighed in on other important matters of state. While we may not often think of it, elections like this tap into our longings. Here is how Richard Lovelace in Renewal as a Way of Life puts it:

“Every four years the American people elect a new president with the hope that somehow this will make things better. Economic downturns, crop failures, moral declines and worsening international conditions are all blamed on presidents – who in most cases have little control over events. In the hearts of the people is a groping, inarticulate conviction that if the right ruler would only come along, the world would be healed of all its wounds. Creation is headless and desperately searching for its head.”

It is this desperate search for our Head that forms the plot of the OT and the NT. It is the revelation of the Right Ruler that is the climax of the Biblical story. The one who can heal our deepest wounds is the one that Paul has been talking about in Colossians:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col. 1:15-19)

So next week we may have elected a new president, but we still have King Jesus on the throne, our Head and the absolute Right Ruler.

To the King!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Gospel Eyes

One of my frequent prayers is that God would give me Gospel eyes. When I have shared this prayer with others they sometimes ask what I mean by “Gospel eyes.” I never know quite how to answer them. Part of me doesn’t want to be too precise in definition. On the one hand, I want to see and understand the Gospel as it comes to me in the word, prayer and experience. But on the other hand, I also want to see the glories of Gospel “restoration” at work in the social structures of our world and in people’s personal lives. After all, God has promised us that in Christ he is redeeming all things to himself (cf. II Cor. 5). Still further I want to interact with those in my sphere of life with actions enabled by Gospel eyes. Could I be a conduit of and for the Gospel?

I share this with you because as I reflect on this last week, I realize that God has helped me see the Gospel in a variety of disparate experiences. For starters, many of us celebrated the home-going of Wes Pontier, even as we said our goodbyes to his earthly body. Through the Gospel the words of Jude sounded the clarion call that believers would be “presented blameless before the presence of His glory with great JOY!” The celestial joy was palpable. The Gospel is true! I saw the Gospel at work through the motivated hearts of the Christ Church many who went out to serve this week, picking up trash, vacuuming cars, singing in the assisted living center, preparing crafts, etc… Of course, these are simply the organized acts of service, I know many of you serve in many unseen ways. It is the Gospel at work through his people. And then more painfully, yet also more joyously, I saw the Gospel at work in my own heart and home as together we wrestled through what it means to love one another as broken people. Broken people who hurt one another; repent; give and receive forgiveness; and rejoice together that we are not our own but belong, body and soul to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ!

The Gospel is indeed always at work. Lord give me the eyes to see it, to see you!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Reflection on Adoption

“The court deems it is in the best interest for Corvat and Corvast Stroud to be placed in the care of the VanderMaas family. This is a permanent action and entitles them to all care and comfort as if they were biological children. Furthermore the court declares that their names shall be Malachi and Isaiah VanderMaas from this time forward.”

As the gavel fell it was done. Final. Irreversible. The boys were ours. They were given new birth certificates. From the perspective of the court, there is no record of their former life.
It is an amazing feeling to go through this process. It is remarkable to be given custody of two beautiful, gifted boys, made in the image of God. It is incredibly humbling. From a human perspective there is some level of weightiness as they really became our responsibility. But that day, adoption day, there was only joy.

Joy, not only because in the courtroom were these two wonderful boys made my own, but joy also because my story is played out; a story of adoption, a story of being given a new identity, a story of being made an heir. 

It is a story told in Romans 8. Here are vv 14 -17a: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. (NIV)

And the best news of all, is that just like with our boys, it is final. There is no going back. These realities have been declared, sealed by the action of the court. So too has the Heavenly Court sealed these actions on my behalf, always and forever, a child of God. Final!

Friday, October 7, 2016


For the earth will be filled 
with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD 
as the waters cover the sea. 
(Habakkuk 2:14 ESV)

Have you had your fill? It may depend on the content we are being filled with. Political banter? Yep, had our fill. Lovely fall pumpkin recipes? Could handle a few more. Baseball? Sadly for the Tigers and Cardinal fans among us we came up a bit empty.

What about the knowledge of the glory of the Lord? This glory: a wonderful experience of the special presence of the Lord in all his holy otherness existing on the mercy seat, both unapproachable yet graciously in our our midst. Here Habakkuk, by the inspiration of the Spirit, sees a day when this knowledge, this experience will FILL the earth! It is just the type of confident proclamation that beleaguered Christians need to cling to wherever they are!

From the Christian refugee displaced from their home, running for their life to the stay at home mom worried about her children growing up in a world seemingly filled with predators. Filled, God is on the move. From the Japanese Christian who feels hopeless with greater than 99% of their country alienated from God to the American retiree despairing over the decline of Christian values in their once proud “city on a hill.” Filled, as the waters cover the sea.

Did you think about that last line? As the waters cover the sea. Of course they cover the sea, that is the definition of sea, filled with water. But that is the point, so certain and so complete is our hope that the knowledge of the glory of God will cover the earth, that we do not need to fret and we can live with complete confidence.

One last application. Let’s lean into this great vision. As those with the certain confidence that our God wins, let’s spread this good news “promiscuously and without distinction.” Or in the framework of Colossians, as we have received the knowledge of the glory of God, let us walk in it, letting His glory exude from our very pores!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Walking by Standing

How much walking have you done this week? With Art Prize in town perhaps more than usual. How about standing? Soccer games. Waiting in line at the grocery store. How about walking in terms of Colossians --Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him (2:6).
Standing? That you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. (4:12).

Walking. Standing. As we have noted the last couple of weeks, the way that we walk is by standing. In other words, we make progress in our Christian life by receiving and resting on Christ as he comes to us in the Gospel. The more we stand in him (and more importantly he in us), the more that we are enabled to walk in a manner worthy of him.

Fundamentally, standing this way means believing what God says is true: true about Him, His world, our status in Christ, etc… . Jesus summed up the need for belief in John 6, identifying it as THE work that God calls us to — “this is the work, believe in the one whom God has sent.” This belief is a day-by-day, moment-by-moment activity. Francis Schaeffer captures this well in True Spirituality:

“So we must believe God’s promises at this one moment in which we are. Consequently, in believing God’s promises, we apply them- the present meaning of the work of Christ for the Christian- for and in this one moment. If you only can see that, everything changes. As we believe God for this moment, the Holy Spirit is not quenched. And through his agency, the risen and glorified Christ, as the bridegroom of the bride, the vine, brings forth his fruit through us, at this moment. This is the practice of active passivity. And it is the only way anybody can live; there is no other way to live but moment by moment.” Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality, 86.

There is part of me as a pastor that wishes that I could offer you something more readily attainable and less labor intensive. In this uber connected world we long for quick answers and simple solutions. In the end, though, this is what Jesus invites us to: moment-by-moment belief in the promises of God applied to the individual situations of our lives. Passively active. Walking by Standing.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Gospel Triumphs

Each week in worship we rehearse the wonderful story of the Gospel! A story of sin and brokenness that is ultimately redeemed in love and rescue. It is a story that is cosmic in nature; a story that catches us up and teaches us to pray, “ Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”

But sometimes it seems that God’s Kingdom will never come. We see this clearly in Acts 12. The chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison and Herod triumphing. We can certainly relate to this seemingly insurmountable set of circumstances. The headlines remind us daily that our politicians are corrupt, our ability to relate cross culturally is challenged, and morality is on the decline. Surely God’s kingdom is a long way from coming on earth, even if we do believe that it may exist somewhere off in heaven.

But read the rest of Acts 12. Did you notice the startling turn of events? Here is how John Stott describes it:

The chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison and Herod triumphing; it closes with Herod dead, Peter free and the word of God triumphing. Such is the power of God to overthrow hostile human plans and to establish his own in their place. Tyrants may be permitted for a time to boast and bluster, oppressing the church and hindering the spread of the gospel, but they will not last. In the end, their empire will be broken and their pride abased.

The overthrow of the empire is very much on Paul’s mind as he addresses the Colossians. This week Pastor Steve is going to attempt to scale the heights of the marvelous Christ hymn in Chapter 1:15-23. Here Paul says, in the face of an emperor who has splashed his image throughout society, there is only one true Emperor, namely Jesus Christ. He is THE Image. The one to be believed, obeyed and adored!

We are indeed being swept along in a wonderful story. It is not a story confined to Paul’s day, but it is the continuing outworking of the Gospel for you and me.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Serving Those Who Serve

Christ Church is hosting the Great Lakes Presbytery this weekend. Presbytery is a time when Ruling Elders and Teaching Elders come together to conduct business like approving ministerial candidates or overseeing church plants. It is also a crucial time for these men to connect in order to edify one another and to seek the Lord in prayer.

From where I sit, it is hard to overestimate the importance of the latter. This past week another prominent pastor stepped down from his ministry post. Pastor Pete Wilson, of Cross Point church in Tennessee had this to say:

“Most of you in this church only experience what I do on Sundays.... You just see me when I kind of come up here on Sundays but the reality is as leader and the pastor of a church, what happens in between those Sundays is just as important and it requires a lot of leadership and it requires a lot of leadership energy. And leaders in any realm of life, leaders who lead on empty don’t lead well and for some time now I’ve been leading on empty. And so I believe that the best thing for me to do is to step aside from Cross Point and so I am officially resigning as the pastor of Cross Point Church.”

Statistics of pastors leaving the ministry vary, but all indicators are that sustaining ministry for the long haul is an increasing challenge. Anecdotally, without pausing to think, I could list you a dozen friends or former colleagues who are out of the ministry for one reason or another. Pressure from the culture, pressure from churches, pressures at home, all play a role in the dissolution of ministries. I recently was made aware of a study that indicated as many as 80% of pastor’s wives struggle with depression. Even if that number is slightly elevated, it is illustrative of a life in which the spouse is often moving and living in an area without supports, where by default they become the nuclear dumping ground for the pastor’s frustrations, they feel the relational tensions of the church but often have no outlet for resolving them, etc...

The point? Pastors, wives and other ministry leaders need to be ministered to as well. This is our focus as we host the GLP this weekend and have invited wives to participate. Pray for us as we come together to eat, pray, worship, share, and conduct business. Like you, ministry leaders need to hear again and again the good, good story of the Gospel.

This week one of Christ Church’s faithful sent me a link to a song by Andrew Peterson that really ministered to him. He called it a “preacher’s song,” meaning that it set the path for preachers to keep reminding the congregation of “the Story” to which we belong. What he probably wasn’t thinking of is how right he is in calling it a “preacher’s song,” for chief among God’s people, we need the story. Let me close with the chorus to “I Will Survive”:

So tell me the story I still need to hear
Tell me we’re gonna make it out alive again
I need to know there’s nothing left to fear
There’s nothing left to hide
So will you look me in the eye
And say we will survive

Friday, September 9, 2016


Time in prayer makes us more dependent on God. It is one less minute that we have to do something “productive.” Paul Miller, A Praying Life

Can we talk about prayer for a minute? Prayer is thought of in different ways. Sometimes it is referred to as an intimate conversation with our Abba. Other times it is a weapon. Often practically, if we are honest, it can be difficult to see prayers being answered or effective in our everyday lives. If this is the case, perhaps prayer disappoints? But prayer is the language of Christians, right?

Absolutely! This coming Wednesday we are going to begin a period where we invite you, the people of Christ Church, to join together in prayer circles. Perhaps you noticed the quote on the top of this note? So often there is the tension in our lives between prayer, which screams dependence, and productivity, doing something, which screams independence I know I battle this in pastoring. Often I feel the tension when I slow down to pray that I should be doing more. Yet, God calls us to “cast our cares on him,” to “pray unceasingly,” and rest in his almighty power. God invites us into His mission through the language of prayer.

So, as we go into a new school year/ministry season, we are going to go to the Lord in prayer, the one in whom we live and move and have our being. We will praise, confess and petition. We will look inward, as well as outward. There will be some form, but there will also be freedom to be moved by the Holy Spirit. At times we will be composed, at other times it may get messy. (Prayer is often messy, but that is another topic for another day.) But through it all we will pray! Miller says later, “if you are not praying then you are quietly confident that time, money and talent are all that is needed in life” (Paul Miller, A Praying Life).

For those of you not familiar with Wednesday Nights, there will of course be dinner (prepared for you, no charge), nursery for kids 5 and younger, and lots of time to connect with your Christ Church family.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Labor Day

What do you think of when you think of Labor Day? Just the word labor sends me off in multiple directions. For starters, in the last 120 years America has set aside the first Monday in September to recognize the contributions of the American worker. Much of this recognition has been geared toward the social and economic achievements that labor has brought to our nation. But as we saw with our Genesis series, labor has an intrinsic goodness to it; it is part of what it means to be in God’s image. So with Martin Luther, we remember that each of us was created to glorify God as we serve one another through our labor: “…A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops, and every one by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other, that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, even as all the members of the body serve one another…” 

But even as we celebrate the contributions of labor, I am also reminded of the insufficiency of labor, particularly as it pertains to our relationship with our Abba. These words of Augustus Toplady ring with Gospel truth: “Not the labors of our hands, can fulfill thy laws demands. Could our zeal no respite know, could our tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone, thou must save and thou alone.” What our labor could never do, Jesus has done in securing our way to God. In Him we now stand without condemnation, clothed in his righteousness!

But there is still a third way we might think of labor. While Christ’s labor is the good news of the Gospel, we know that he calls laborers into his Kingdom; not to earn salvation, but because we have already received it. However, precisely because of His finished work we can now labor for the kingdom with all the resources that He provides! Pastor Steve will develop this theme for us more fully as we look forward to a new church year through the lens of Matthew 14 and Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand.

There is more to Labor Day than meets the eye. May the Lord grant us the grace to reflect with Gospel vision on our work, Christ’s finished work, and our grateful service for Him.

Friday, August 5, 2016

A Day at a Time

One of my reflection partners this past week was an old friend of mine, Zach Eswine, who wrote a very honest pastoral theology entitled Sensing Jesus. In it he takes the measure of a day (among many other things). I found his Biblical construct of a day to be very helpful and thought it was worth passing on. So whether you are old or young; changing diapers, organizing meetings or plumbing a house; walking through your day thoughtfully can actually help you take things a day at a time.

Mornings (6-12) are for Praise — "in the morning songs of praise and thanksgiving can rise because God’s strength has gotten us through the night. The night didn’t win! We awake and see once again that God’s love hasn’t quit on us, and we ask that he will go with us and guide us into what awaits us." Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. (Psalm 143:8 ESV)

The Noon hours (12-6) are for Persevering in Wisdom. During these hours we are often in need of wisdom in work and with people to persevere through the “burden of the day and the noon day heat.” Often the wisdom with which we traverse the noon day will set a course for the remains of the day. By God’s grace, justice and righteousness will shine like the noonday sun. (cf. Ps. 37:6)

Evenings (6-10) are for Hospitality — "extending kindness and the protection of a peaceable presence to our neighbors … by enjoying the blessings of ordinary goodnesses.” This is done with friends or family. There is a breaking from the “work” of the day as we prepare our bodies to rest, enjoying all that God has to offer. (cf. Mark 6:35-41)

Night Watches (10-6) are for Solitude — "not simply being quiet or resting, but taking into the presence of God the very real thoughts, emotions, or questions of the day." Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. …. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:4,8 ESV)

This is obviously very abbreviated and perhaps you want to fill out your own “seasons of the day,” but there is beauty and practicality here for those who have eyes to see:

  1. There is a path through each day. We shall not be overwhelmed for we can take it one “watch” at a time.
  2. There is grace to be sought and grace to be dispensed throughout the day. As we look to God for joy, wisdom, strength, and love, we are mindful of the Holy Spirit and the power he so powerfully works in us.
  3. But there is grace too when we have “blown” one of the “seasons” of the day. A faithless morning can give way to a wise noon. A grumpy noon can be repented of as we gladly reach out to Christ again for evening hospitality. God’s grace is new, each morning, noon, evening, and night!
  4. Mark your days by pausing to pray, reflecting on the passing hours and bringing in the waiting hours, in the hope of the risen Christ.

Perhaps you have your own roadmap through the day. I am sure that I have a lot to learn from those who have been walking this road longer than I have. I would love to hear your wisdom!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Finding Life in Honesty

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1–2

I will start with the bad news first. There is no question about the presence of sin in every one of our lives. If we are honest with ourselves it is obvious. Sure, we can blame our parents or the environment around us. As we will see with Adam and Eve, we can even blame God if we want or turn a blind eye to the “bentness” of heart that produces sinful actions. But if we are honest and practice no deceit, the presence of sin is hard to miss. But here is the good news: the Gospel encourages honesty. Rightly acknowledging the presence of sin in our lives will not kill us. In fact, it is just the opposite: when we keep silent about our sin we waste away (cf. Ps. 32.) But in confession our God is “faithful and just to forgive.” “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Praise be to him.

So as you prepare for worship this Lord’s Day and our initial reckoning with Genesis 3 and the Fall, I invite you pray in all honesty with me, that we might together find the grace of repentance.

Holy Father, whose eyes are too pure to look upon evil, who am I to deny the presence of sin in my life? Surely you see it. You see the annoyance and anger that so easily flashes when things don’t go “my way.” You see my wandering eyes, my greedy heart. If I were to maintain otherwise, I may deceive myself, but I would never deceive you. So rather than go the route of deceit, I would be honest today and throw myself on the mercies of the one who is faithful and just to forgive. I would be found in Christ, where there is no condemnation. What glorious promises you have given. Holy Spirit, strengthen my faith that I may believe. In the strong, sweet name of Jesus, Amen.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Still Resting?

Sabbath is a time to stop. To refrain from being seduced by our desires, to stop working, stop making money, stop spending money. See what you have. Look around. Listen to your life. Do you really need more than this?... You cannot buy “stopped.” You simply have to stop. —Wayne Muller, Sabbath.

I hope you have had good week and had a chance to string along some thoughts from this Sunday’s meditation on Sabbath. Through a creation-ordained, weekly rhythm we are invited to stop (rest and contemplate), shout (worship and delight), and share (mercy and community). Shouting, stopping and sharing don’t come naturally for any of us, but rather are gained through reliance on the Holy Spirit, a reliance born in faith. This is why for some, the Sabbath so embodies the heart of the Gospel (a free gift, received by faith). What a gift it must have been for the Israelites to be told by God in Exodus 20 that one day in seven there was to be a comprehensive, communal ceasing of labor. This was a slave nation who for 400+ years was not allowed to stop, who had to produce more at greater speed. But that is not our God, and it is not the gospel. God said, “Stop. Delight in me. Share with one another. Right the wrongs. Enjoy forgiveness. Eat the fat. Drink the sweet wine. Take a nap.”

So are you ready for Sabbath? It is right around the corner. Be thinking of it ahead of time. Long for it. Prepare for it. And then relish when it comes. Be assured that God will meet you there and transform you, which in itself is a great motive to embrace Sabbath.

But what if your Sabbath rhythms are messed up or you are working through baggage from the past or pressures in the present? As with anything, don’t let past failures stop you from making fresh starts. Lynne Baab, in her book Sabbath Keeping reminds us that, “The goal of Sabbath keeping is not to get it right the first time or even to get it right over time.” It is a gift. Received by faith and to be enjoyed in the weekly repetition, even as we long for the Eternal Sabbath!

Almighty God who, after the creation of the world, rested from all your works 
and set apart a day of rest for all your creatures, grant that I may put away all earthly anxieties, prepare me, Lord, to worship, grant that my Sabbath on earth 
may be a preparation for the eternal rest prepared for your people in heaven. 
Adaptation from the Book of Common Prayer

Friday, July 1, 2016

Our denomination just concluded a momentous week with actions that carry with them a range of emotions. Last week was the General Assembly (GA) for our denomination. For those of you new to Presbyterianism, GA is the “highest court” of the denomination, in which churches throughout the country gather and are represented by pastors and elders to conduct the business of the church. Reports from various agencies like Covenant College/Seminary, Mission to the World, Reformed University Ministries, etc… are made. Often these agencies have business that needs to be voted on by the body. Overtures are also considered. Overtures can come primarily from presbyteries asking the assembly to consider a course of action or statement.

Last year the assembly began a discussion of our denominational responsibility with regards to the sin of racism particularly from the civil rights era and how that has implications for today. Being in the north we do not confront this in exactly the same way that some of our churches in the south do. There are churches and schools connected to our denomination that supported various segregation practices and ideals. Beyond that, last year one of the remaining founding fathers of our denomination confessed that even for those who were not guilty of “sins of commission” the denomination and individual churches did almost nothing to fight racism. This of course, has implications for both those of the majority culture as well as those in minority cultures. To acknowledge these wrongs and their continuing impact on race relations in America the assembly adopted this overture:

Therefore be it resolved, that the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers such as the segregation of worshipers by race; the exclusion of persons from Church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the Presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages inter-racial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations; and the failure to live out the gospel imperative that “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10).

The overture is lengthy and you can read it in its entirety here. It goes on to call individual churches to make this known to their congregations, to commit these issues to prayer, and for individual Christians to examine their own hearts for racial attitudes that may need to be confessed, and to strive to pursue Christian love to all.

Just two comments. First, sometimes as majority folks in the north we can be a bit separated from the effects of our country’s racism. This assembly was a very significant moment for many of our southern churches and also for those in our denomination that are in the minority. In a pastoral letter associated with this overture, Christians are encouraged to learn about, pray, acknowledge, relate to the “other” and commit to living out humble, Gospel-filled lives with those around us, regardless of culture or ethnicity. One place to start is simply reading some of the responses from our brothers and sisters in the minority regarding this action. Here is a hopeful, but realistic piece from an African American leader in the PCA. This is a penetrating piece from another denomination leader highlighting how prevailing attitudes hurt the cause of the Gospel.

Second observation. Doesn’t this discussion bring us back to Genesis 1 and the image of God? If we properly grasp the image of God displayed throughout humanity, how can racially predjudiced attitudes survive? “Let us make man (humanity) in our own image,” God says. It is our privilege and responsibility to see that image in all people, regardless of race, culture, ideology, or creed and to seek to love them accordingly. We are after all, in the image God, both that He created and that Christ came to restore.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Horns of a Dilemma

In the early hours of this past Sunday morning, a gunman opened fire at an Orlando nightclub and left a wake of destruction in his trail:  49 dead, 53 wounded, several critically.  It is undoubtedly one of the worst single shootings on American soil ever.

But response to this tragedy is complicated.  For starters it was perpetrated by a gunman claiming allegiance to the Islamic State and praising the efforts of the Boston Marathon bombers.  This touches into fears that many have regarding Islam, terrorism, militants, etc… Compounding the confusion of our natural empathy is the fact that the nightclub was made up of the “other.”  The victims were predominately Latino which is a culture that not all of us identify closely with.  More distancing yet, the nightclub was a gay establishment, a lifestyle that most of us don’t endorse.

So how do we respond in a Gospel-centered, God-honoring way?  How do we avoid political pandering and genuinely grieve for those suffering without feeling pressured to hold the rainbow flag in solidarity with the lost?

Can I suggest that best place to start is Genesis 1:26-27.  Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Here is the solid, Biblical footing that we need in order to authentically grieve without feeling the need to respond politically out of fear or shame.  What we find woven into the fabric of God’s world is that every single human being is created in the image of God, and as such deserves love, respect, compassion, empathy, etc…  This is true regardless of whether we agree with them ideologically or religiously; whether they speak our language, or if they even speak at all.  What God does by creating humanity in His own image, is create a being of inestimable worth, PERIOD.  This is why the response of those like Stephen Anderson, a pastor from Arizona, who claims that “the world is better off with 50 less pedophiles” and who refuses to see the shooting as a tragedy are so, so wrong.  One does not need to condone a homosexual lifestyle to grieve over the brutal ending of an image bearer of God.

Understanding what it means that we are image bearers of God is one of the most fundamental truths to be grasped for the Christian. So much of how we understand this world, particularly our responses in it, is drawn from the implications of this teaching that we must grapple with it at the deepest level possible.  After all, it is out of love for rebellious, recalcitrant image bearers that Christ gave his life.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Grace that is greater than ALL our sin!

Often when we think of grace setting us free, we think of drugs, debt, depression or other such despots.  Certainly the gospel does set us free from these and more. Included in that “more" are also less noticeable jailers, but jailers nonetheless, like judgmental thinking, irritability and pride. I invite you to read and reflect on the following from Jack Miller. Note the insidiousness of the latter jailers, which he terms Phariseeism. Note as well as the nature of grace to deliver us:

     The essential Pharisee is a person who is more aware of the sins of others than of his own and consequently feels superior to other human beings and judges them without first taking the beam out of his own eye (Luke 6:39ff). He also lacks a living hope. He does not expect grace to do much for himself or others.
     So we recovering Pharisees often find that we have collected in our mind's albums dark snapshots of people, ourselves, and finally of God and his grace. What is real in our minds are negative images of the resistance of non-Christians to the gospel, our own failed attempts at witnessing, and feelings of powerful self-condemnation at work beneath our proclaimed righteousness.
     But here our need makes us teachable. Grace, not sin, is the governing power in our lives, and therefore it stirs us to look at the way prayer and the promises can become the power source for bold ministry.

Praise God! “Grace, not sin, is the governing power in our lives”. It makes no difference whether we are a recovering Pharisee or battling gross immorality.  Grace is what we need. God’s grace is what delivers us. And it is grace that launches us into a "living hope" with prayer and the promises of God as fuel!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Enjoying God with Worship

Over the last few weeks we have been thinking through ways that we articulate/share the vision that God has given us for life in this world. So far we have said, Enlivened by the Gospel, We will Engage God’s World with Winsomeness and Embrace God’s family with Welcome. This week we come to the fourth and final “E”, namely, Enjoy God with Worship. Let’s break this down a bit.

What does the word worship conjure up for you? Sunday mornings? Images of hymnals and organs, guitars, drums, people seated in rows? Is it the music, the preaching, prayer? Is it solemn or joyful? How about all of the above, and more! Worship is the totality of how we live our lives before God as those enlivened by the Gospel. Worship shouts to the Lord in praise and adoration. Worship quietly and soberly reflects on the meaning of our days. Worship engages the marketplace through our occupations. Worship raises kids at home. Worship shares the good news with our neighbors. Worship tosses a ball in the yard or takes a walk in the woods. Worship wakes us up daily to be followers of Jesus in every aspect of life!

And it is important that it is God whom we worship. It is often said that you worship what you love. For some that may be money or cars, academic achievement or music, a spouse, our kids, popularity, power, you name it. Many of these are good things, but when they become ultimate things the worship becomes idolatry. God alone is worthy of our worship. Our fervent desire is that he is at the center of all that we do, both formally and informally as CC.

What is the result of a life filled with the worship of God? Joy! Joy does not mean an unmitigated happiness that never suffers, but rather it is a quality of spirit that is characterized by gratitude, contentment, and hope. Some of you are familiar with the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. and A. #1 which asks after the chief end of humanity. The answer is that the chief end of humanity is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Worship of our God with joy, delight, and pleasure, is why we were made and it is through the enlivening work of the Gospel that we experience the true joy that never fades. The Psalmist captures it well in Psalm 73 when he says, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And 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 " (25-26).

Enlivened by the Gospel, We will Engage God’s World with Winsomeness, Embrace God’s family with Welcome, and Enjoy God with Worship. What a story we are in! What a God we serve! He gives us the dignity of service, a family to embrace, and a relationship to enjoy! It is good news worth sharing and a shape for life worth living.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Embrace God's Family with Welcome

For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35 ESV)

Enlivened by the Gospel, we will engage God’s world with winsomeness ...

This is where we ended last week, in our articulation of vision, engaging our Father’s world. But what happens when we do? As God, through the Gospel, works in the hearts of people, some (many) are drawn into a relationship with the Lord and drawn away from lives lived solely for themselves. In the words of Colossians they come out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his marvelous light (Col. 1:13,14). Or as Jesus says in the verse above, they become members of his family. Which leads us to the next phrase of vision articulation:

We will embrace God’s family with welcome ...

One of the richest metaphors that we find throughout the Scriptures for God’s people is that of a family. God is our Father and we are his children (Col. 1:12 and countless other places). Jesus is our older brother (Heb. 2:11). Fellow Christians are called sisters and brothers. In other places we are called the bride of Christ (Rev. 19). Family is everywhere. And it is not just a metaphor, it is a way of life for God’s people that is given expression in the local church. To be sure being part of God’s family extends beyond the walls of the local church. I am sure that you, like me, have been amazed when miles from home, you find a camaraderie with the people of God in other locales. But it is in the local church that we are embraced most fully as family. Where, like in a family, we are known and know; and still love.

A couple of thoughts to take this deeper: There is an old saying, “you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” How true that is in the church. As mentioned above, God is at work through the Gospel to bring people out of darkness into the Kingdom of Light, his family, where we share his inheritance. And the people that he is gathering are from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Rev. 7). They are short and they are tall. They are rich and they are poor. Extroverts and introverts. Democrats and Republicans. Married, single, old and young. Some get along marvelously with others, while others are more prickly. God takes all these people, throws them together in a local church and says, “Family.” Talking about embracing this family with welcome means gladly receiving this broad diversity because God has done it, and collectively this family gives us the clearest picture of the God we serve.

But loving this kind of diversity is not easy. Therefore, we are encouraged through the Gospel, to embrace the family that God has given us. Embracing is an act wherein we encircle someone with our arms to draw them close and hold them tight. Obviously we cannot physically do this with all in the church. So what does this look like? The answer is surprisingly broad, and surprisingly simple. It looks like showing up: for church, graduations, birthdays, hospital visits, and the like. Our presence is an embrace. It looks like staying steady: rejoicing with those who rejoice, mourning with those who mourn, bearing the burdens of those weighed down, standing in the gap for those whose lives are headed off the rails. It looks like listening... a lot! Sharing what we have. Perhaps most significantly, embracing one another looks like saying sorry and learning to forgive (as God in Christ forgave us - Eph. 4:32). If there is one thing you can count on in the church it is that we will both be offended and offend, be wounded and wound. Embracing our family means leaning into the resources the Gospel affords and learning to live at peace with one another.

How wonderful it is to belong, through no merit of our own, to the family of God. As we do embrace our family with welcome, we give testimony to the world of the reality of the Gospel and more importantly we bring glory to God.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Engaging God's World with Winsomeness

One of my favorite hymns growing up was “This is My Father’s World”. For some reason, as a boy I connected with the truths expressed in that hymn, both the beauty of creation that declares the glory of God, as well as the absolute sovereignty of the Lord over his world. For today I want to think about our Father’s world as the arena in which we begin our response to the Gospel, picking up from last week in our attempt to articulate who we are as a church.

Enlivened by the Gospel, we will engage God’s world with winsomeness ...

Last week we started with the centrality of the Gospel with regards to who we are and in turn how that informs how we live. And of course where we live is our Father’s world, this wonderfully created cosmos that shows forth his splendor day by day. As humans we are the crowning point of his creation, a status that we as Christians share with every other human walking the face of this earth. It is this shared status within our Father’s world that gives shape to the service of the redeemed. First, we are to love the world that he has made. The birds with their carols, the morning light, the lily white, they all declare their maker’s praise. How can we turn our backs on that which God has endowed with such beauty? This comprehensive care for the world is not limited to creation, but also extends to the social systems developed by his image bearers. The care for creation and the development of creation result from the cultural mandate to tend the garden and keep (Gn. 2:15) it and fill the earth and subdue it (Gn. 1:26-28). Second, we are to love the crowning point of his creation, namely his image bearers that inhabit his world. There exists within humanity an incredible equality. We all, regardless of our ethnic background, social status, or religious convictions are made in his image. There is no room in our Father’s world for looking down our noses at those who are different from us, either ideologically or ethnically.

If the world is theatre of our living out the Gospel, what is the manner in which we do so? Two things stand out. First we engage. To engage someone, one is to attract their attention or establish a meaningful connection with them. As those ravished by the Gospel, our great desire is to share the good news with those who are not living with the benefit of Gospel resources. Or as others have put it, as beggars who have found bread, we want to share the good news of where to find bread with other beggars. This is the church scattered. At home, at work, in our neighborhoods, community centers, grocery stores, school systems, retirement homes, wherever God had planted us in his world. We look to engage. We engage informally on our own time and in our own ways. We engage more formally as a church community, inviting, advocating, sharing, always with the Gospel at the center. Secondly, because it is the Gospel that we are engaging the world with, we can always do it with winsomeness. The Gospel is a heart-achingly beautiful story. It is a warm sunrise after a cold night. The Gospel overflows with grace and truth. It is true that the Gospel preached will be the odor of death to some (2 Cor 2:15,16), but that is the message of the Gospel falling on hearts dead set against it, it is not the manner of our messaging that offends. When it comes to engaging God’s world we must be very careful of being “Angry Christians.” A careful reading of scriptures reveals that God’s anger is most often reserved for His people who should know better, while a gracious hand is extended to those who are outside of his grace.

And so we build an ethos, one that starts with that Gospel, and then looks to live that Gospel in our Father’s world. Next week we will take it a bit farther and begin to look at what happens when the Gospel engages the world.

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears ….

Friday, May 13, 2016

Enlivened by the Gospel

Being back in GR and being relatively new I often get asked about our church. Where is it? What is the PCA all about, etc.. ? So after I explain that the church is located on Breton, north of 28th street — and then to clear up their confusion say, “behind the drive-in church” — I endeavor to explain what makes us tick. Articulating what makes us tick is actually a conversation that we have been having on the Session level. How do we best capture who we are in a way that honors the past, reflects the present and points us to the future. I want to take the next couple of weeks to share with you some of the fruits of those labors. For those that have been at Christ Church for some time you will recognize a lot of continuity. Ideas like “where we see the world through the cross of Christ” will resonate, as will “reach up, reach in, reach out.” But as we move forward into the next phase of the journey that God has us as Christ Church on, it is our belief that a fresh articulation of these old themes would be helpful in uniting old and new alike and galvanizing us in the service of the Kingdom.

So where do we start? Where else but with the Gospel. The starting place we have chosen for describing who we are as a community is this Enlivened by the Gospel... Let’s take this statement apart for a minute, starting with the term Gospel. The Gospel is the good news (for all who will humble themselves in repentance) that though we are more broken and sinful than we can imagine, through faith in the atoning work of Christ, we are more forgiven, loved and accepted than we ever dared hope. As you can see, the Gospel is good news for individuals. As Jesus said to Nicodemus many years ago, “ you must be born again”. The promise of the Gospel is that through faith in the finished work of Christ we are reborn, converted as it were from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (Col. 1:13). This is great news, and it is even better in that the Gospel is not only good news for individuals but it is also for communities, cities, indeed all of creation! We will look more into this in coming weeks.

But it is important to note that the Gospel is more than just the starting point for entry into the kingdom; it is actually the prism through which we see and evaluate every aspect of our lives, returning again and again to the truths of the Gospel for guidance. Why did Peter, a mature believer, get off track in his treatment of the Gentiles? Because he was not walking in accordance with the truths of the Gospel (Galatians 2:11-14). We start in the Gospel and we stay in the Gospel. We don’t ever graduate beyond the Gospel. I hope you recognize this as foundational to who we are as a church. Preaching, teaching, counseling, worship, fellowship, service; everything is informed by the good news of God’s truth and grace, the Gospel.

Also note the term Enlivened. This is a passive term, i.e something that is done to us. All of us by nature are conceived and born in sin (Ps. 51:5). The apostle elaborates on that by saying we are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1, Col. 2:13). I trust that all of you know you don’t walk into a morgue and cry for the dead to rise. If the dead are to be brought to life, an outside force has to be brought to bear, they cannot do it on their own. And God through his Holy Spirit has brought about this miracle in his people, where there was death there now is life. But “passive” does not mean powerless, for where that life has begun it is continually enlivened by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. This Gospel life does not only convert us and make us God’s, but it empowers us to live as brightly shining stars (cf. Philippians 2:15).

So what is special about Christ Church? Nothing in and of itself, but we are community infused and enthused with the Gospel and that is something worth shouting about. It is this Gospel wonder that we want to share with as many as we can!

I recognize that we have only scratched the surface of all that the scriptures have to say about the Gospel. Many of you could add to, clarify and elaborate on the above thoughts. We could talk about justification, sanctification, imputation, active righteousness, passive righteousness, etc… Because the Gospel is so full-orbed there is much to ponder and wonder over each and every week. This week we are back to the “Gospel according to Amos”. Chapter 7 brings the justice and mercy of God into sharp relief. Remember this is God’s gracious word to a people whom he loves deeply. May our hearts be ready to receive it!

Friday, April 15, 2016


But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the LORD!” As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God! (Psalm 40:16-17)

I have often reflected on, and been asked about, the tension between acknowledging our sin and neediness before God and the reality of celebrating the grace, mercy and strength that we know in union with Him. There are times when I feel the drag of the first or the jolt of the second. But is it right to live in such tension? Should my experience as a child of God be different?

Well if Psalm 40, penned by David, has anything to say to us, then it seems the tension is real and to be expected in the life of the believer. David begins the Psalm by recounting his deliverance by God (vv. 1-3). He then shares his euphoria at being delivered by the Lord along with the delight that he has in knowing the Lord; giving testimony to it in the great congregation (vv. 4-11). Then in the very next breath David seemingly despairs of himself saying, "For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me. (v.12). The final stanza (printed above) again captures the tension — May all who seek you rejoice ... I am poor and needy.

Looking at the life of saints like David, like Paul, it seems that the tension is real, and even to be embraced. Identifying too much with either side of the equation could be unhealthy. If one has an over-awareness of sin and no sense of deliverance and new life in Christ, it is questionable whether one really knows the joy and life in the Spirit that we are promised in places like Romans 8. On the other hand if one’s life is a seeming uphill climb marked by victory after victory in Christ and there is no awareness of sin, weakness, or need — then I would be concerned about the ability to discern the heart and the inner life, for like David, a man after God’s own heart, we too struggle with remaining sin.

In all this we are encouraged to keep our eyes on Christ. As the author and finisher of our faith, he endured the depths of hell to give us the heights of glory. It is his life in us that keeps us from despair and brings us joy. It is the life of the already, but not yet. With John we say, “Lord Jesus, come quickly!"

Friday, April 1, 2016


Sometimes it is difficult following these high celebrations (Easter) to come back to the reality of physical pain, relational tension, financial uncertainty, unrealized expectations and political turbulence. Sometimes the incongruity of the “already but not yet” takes hold and we slip into the doldrums.

One of the major reasons for this is that we forget that brokenness and suffering are part of this world’s experience. Remember Jesus’ words, “in this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” Or even the description of discipleship that we are invited to in which we “take up our cross and follow him (Mark 8:34).” 

Grappling with the idea of suffering/cross bearing is crucially important both for our own mental/spiritual experience as well as for the testimony we would share with a watching world.

Diane Langberg, a counselor/author with solid theological moorings and over forty years of experience says this:

We have been clearly told in the Scriptures that suffering is part of life in this fallen world. Most of us work hard to push that truth back and live as if it is not so or will not be for us. When it comes it can take the breath away and certainly rock the foundations of a life and a family. *

While the observations from the Word and those that work with the suffering may be obvious, my fear is that many of us have more deeply imbibed at the wells of Westernism than we think. Specifically, the Western mindset that we have adopted is that obedience in following God will lead to an absence of suffering and the presence of (material) blessing in our lives.

One can readily see the disappointment and frustration this will cause personally if we find suffering where we expect its absence. But it goes even deeper, for it is not only our personal perception that is at stake, but also the perception of those that would evaluate the plausibility of the Christian faith. Listen to these words from Ed Shaw reflecting on the importance of embracing suffering as a part of our discipleship:

But, for some reason, in our generation, following Jesus is no longer about our sacrifice and suffering. Western Christians have, by and large, stopped denying ourselves—we now talk more about our right to be ourselves. Our Christian lives are more about self-gratification—seemingly denying the existence of Jesus’ words here. They are a continuation of our previous lives, with a thin Christian veneer: just being nicer to a few more people.

The crosses we bear are the small annoyances we haven’t yet managed to rid ourselves of (a dodgy knee, our interfering mother-in-law, a bad boss at work), rather than any significant suffering we intentionally embrace because we are following Jesus and want others to follow him too. We’ve chosen to ignore the fact that Jesus is here calling his disciples to make a conscious and costly decision to sacrifice ourselves, to say ‘No!’ to things we might want, even deserve or need, because that’s what it means to follow his example.**

Shaw’s point is that as we embrace suffering in our own lives we can begin to help people make sense of the suffering of this world, and so that we can “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1b-2).

Which brings us to the nine chapters of a minor prophet named Amos. It is a message coming to Israel during a time of prosperity, a message that was frankly unpopular and stepped on a few toes. It was a message that said success and prosperity may not be where the life of God’s people should be, and identifying with the poor and needy, suffering, is a mark of godliness. But ultimately it was a message flowing from the heart of the lover to his bride. Over the next several weeks, we will look at this little book in detail, starting this week in Amos 3:1.

* “Suffering and the Heart of God. Interview with Diane Langberg” in By Faith magazine, March 2016.

** Ed Shaw. Same Sex Attraction and the Church, p. 117

Friday, March 25, 2016

It’s Friday …  But Sunday’s Coming!

It is a dark Friday. Yes I know that we call it Good Friday, and it is truly good. But we must never forget that for three hours a darkness descended over the earth as the Father hid his face from the Son, and the justice of God with respect to the sins of the world — from Adam, to us, and continuing in our children — found satisfaction in the self donation of Christ. Because he became an outcast we are welcomed. He was excluded, we are embraced.

But … If we only contemplate Jesus experiencing terrible suffering on the cross, there is a danger that we might even feel sorry for him. Jesus does not want our pity. He wants our worship, adoration, and celebration as the rightfully installed King of the universe! Contemplating the resurrection and glorification of Jesus helps us recognize him for who he really is. (Adrian Warnock, Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything

I can’t wait to worship, adore, and celebrate this Sunday. Easter. THE First Day of the Week. The day that we weekly celebrate the reversal of death, the renewal of all things, the resurrection!

Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22 ESV)

It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming ...

Friday, March 18, 2016

Not Dead, but Living Unto Thee.

God of the living, in whose eyes
Unveiled thy whole creation lies,
All souls are thine; we must not say
That those are dead who pass away,
From this our world of flesh set free;
We know them living unto thee.

Released from earthly toil and strife,
With thee is hidden still their life;
Thine are their thoughts, their works, their powers,
All thine, and yet most truly ours,
For well we know, where'er they be,
Our dead are living unto thee.

Not spilt like water on the ground,
Not wrapped in dreamless sleep profound,
Not wandering in unknown despair
Beyond thy voice, thine arm, thy care;
Not left to lie like fallen tree;
Not dead, but living unto thee.

Thy word is true, thy will is just;
To thee we leave them, Lord, in trust;
And bless thee for the love which gave
Thy Son to fill a human grave,
That none might fear that world to see
Where all are living unto thee.

O Breather into man of breath,
O Holder of the keys of death,
O Giver of the life within,
Save us from death, the death of sin;
That body, soul, and spirit be
Forever living unto thee!

John Ellerton

Friday, March 11, 2016

Spring Ahead

I hope this is not pre-mature, but the signs of spring are in the air. This Sunday we will set our clocks forward one hour. The temperature is starting to nose its way north. And with the rise in temperature comes a rise in spring cleaning projects. All the staleness and stuffiness of winter is chased, as we open the windows and get out the buckets of Mr. Clean.

This season of Lent is similar. It is an opportunity to “open the windows” of our hearts and let the fresh breezes of the Gospel blow through, chasing away the staleness and stuffiness that inevitably collects. I love the psalmist in Psalm 139 where he says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (vv. 23, 24). This is a spring cleaning type prayer, an honest invitation to allow God to “clean house” in our soul.

Thanks be to God that because of his graciousness we can pray this prayer in the confidence that God meets us in his grace, despite the ugliness that we inevitably find while cleaning. Now, it is important to note that spring cleaning repentance is not to be confused with penance. Penance is an approach to God wherein we come with our spiritual tails between our legs hoping that we can show enough sorrow for our sin or generate enough change in our lives that God will love us. This is in contrast to the Lenten, spring cleaning repentance which is something that we are invited to because God has declared his love to his people in Christ. The cross is a real, completed event. The tomb stands empty and we are full of hope, not in ourselves, never in ourselves; but in that finished work of our sweet Savior, Jesus. There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). So get down on your knees, throw open the heart-windows, and let the Spirit breezes blow through!

Friday, March 4, 2016

I Appeal to Caeser

But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.” (Acts 25:9-12)
The above text comes in the larger context of the final episode of Paul’s life, which will eventually see him go to Rome, shipwreck, etc… In the immediate context, there are a group of religious leaders who want to take Paul’s life, which is why Festus’ offer of going to Jerusalem holds no appeal for Paul. Paul is in a bad spot. He is hard pressed by adversaries (the Jews) actively seeking to take his life and he is passively being defrauded of justice by the establishment (Festus) who should be standing up for him, but who is too concerned for his own political skin. Understanding this context it is quite shocking that Paul appeals to Caesar! Why would he seek the help of government that is failing, and failing him?
Perhaps you see why this is on my mind. We are in the wake of a “Super Tuesday” in which America has spoken. Most people I have talked to are not happy with either result, Democrat or Republican. This past week inquiries into what it takes to move to Canada literally crashed the Canadian website. Facebook is filled with hand-wringing (anxiety-driven, the sky is falling predictions), finger-pointing (both liberal and conservative moralists who have all the answers and like to say “I told you so”) and a good dose of those laughing so as not to cry. What is a Christian to do in the midst of failing systems?

Let me offer you 3 principles, learning from folks like Paul. 
  • First, remember who you are. A Father who loves you, a Son who died for you, and a Spirit who lives in you. Paul heard very clearly from the Lord that he was a “chosen instrument” (Acts 9:15). God’s choosing gave him confidence in the face of adversity. He knew that God was in control of the situation and that God was watching out for him. We too are “the called, the beloved, the kept” (Jude 1). As systems fail around us, we must never lose sight of this truth. “If God is for us, who can stand against us?” (Rom. 8:31)

  • Second, remember, you are following your Older Brother. Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” The greatest participator in an unjust system, with the most egregiously unjust outcome was our precious Older Brother. Denied justice, stripped, beaten and crucified like a common criminal, our Lord, not a victim, gave himself for us. He is our example, but even more than that, he is the one who empowers us. You have been crucified with him, divine justice is satisfied. Hell has no claim on you. You are truly untouchable. So, united to Him, go forward.

  • Third, stay engaged. Paul appeals to Caesar. Incredible. The Roman government was a mess. Justice was failing Paul at the moment. But he does not pull out. Perhaps he recalls the words that his companion and writer friend Luke recorded in Luke’s Gospel chapter 21. There Jesus said that his followers would indeed be brought before kings and tribunals. Life would be hard for them and they would be persecuted for Christ’s name. But he went on to add, “this will be your opportunity to bear witness. (v. 13)” Rather than move to Canada, let us look to move into profitable, gospel-centered conversations in the places where God has us. Rather than engage in making mockery of the process and the people, let us look for ways to speak the truth in love. Pray for our processes. Pray for our candidates. Move beyond political tribalism and scour your Bible to discover the principles of the kingdom that should be emphasized. You may feel as if you are up against a brick wall. You may even fear for your life. But remembering principles #1 and 2, stay engaged!