Friday, October 13, 2017

In the Grip of Weariness

In his book, The World Beyond Your Head, author Matthew Crawford muses that “Once upon a time, our problem was guilt: the feeling that you have made a mistake, with reference to something forbidden. This was felt as a stain on one’s character. [More recently it has been suggested that] the dichotomy of the forbidden and the allowed has been replaced with an axis of the possible and the impossible. The question that hovers over your character is no longer that of how good you are, but of how capable you are … With this shift comes a new pathology. The affliction of guilt has given way to weariness—weariness with the vague and unending project of having to become one’s fullest self. We call this depression.”

Crawford is not arguing against clinical depression, nor does one need to be clinically depressed to know something of the reality ​he identifies. It can seem, for the old, the young and those of us who fall somewhere in between, that we are trapped on a treadmill of accomplishing with little relief in sight. Fellow PCA pastor Todd Gwennap gets at this feeling with what he calls the Anti-Psalm 23:
The approbation of others is my shepherd;
I shall always be in want.
There is no nourishment, never enough.
Anxiety and performance are my lot.
My soul is exhausted.
I must constantly be my best self for my name’s sake.
When I walk through difficulty, I must be better.
There is only fear of being found out, for I am utterly alone;
your approval and applause last as long as our eye contact.
The need for approval prepares me as a feast for my enemies;
I have no security, no abundance.
I am left to chase a moving target all the days of my life,
and I shall seek to justify my existence until I die and am forgotten.
While penetrating, these haunting words help us to see that we cannot find rest in our accomplishments. Ultimately it is only the Gospel truths of who God is, our adoption as daughters and sons, the forgiveness and freedom we have in Christ ​which ​are truly the answer to our fatigue!

Here are the words of Psalm 23. May they be balm to your soul as we navigate these weary days ...
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Men, Women, and God

As Christians, we’re adopted sons and daughters of the living God—that’s the gospel, given to us freely, and always our primary identity!

But this world is fast-changing and complex, and when we attempt to live our lives faithfully in response to the gospel, things can get… messy. Some of the most basic questions have to do with how we see ourselves as men and women. What does that exactly mean in today’s contemporary society? How can men and women relate to each other at home? In the church? How can we address modern misconceptions? How can we respond to past abuse and hurt? How can men and women use their unique gifts to respond to God’s call?

Our church cares about these issues and has a history of equipping and listening to both men and women, even as we wrestle with faithful application. Our denomination, the PCA, is also thinking deeply and critically about men’s and women’s roles as they pertain to the church. This past summer at our General Assembly a report was received that digs into these issues. (The report is long. Of course you are welcome to read the whole thing, but you might also start at pg. 58 and read through the pastoral letter and the recommendations.)

In order that we might be informed and equipped to lean into these issues we have planned a two day event for Friday Evening, October 20 and Saturday Morning, October 21, to share Biblical observations on women, men, and God, as well as dialogue about the application of these principles in our homes, world and church. We have invited Mary Beth McGreevey to join us. Mary Beth is a teacher, scholar and contributor to the PCA report. She will share some of her own story, talk about the formation of the report and what it means for the PCA, and be the featured speaker for a Women’s Fall Brunch on Saturday. Our prayer is that it is a good time of coming together for Christ Church as we seek to be faithful and winsome in engaging these issues.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Consecrated

To consecrate something is to formally designate something or someone to a religious or divine purpose. We see in the following verses that Saul and Barnabas were formally designated for their work of missionary church planting by the church at Antioch.
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:1-3)
So why are we talking about consecration? As most of you are aware Christ Church has been laying plans with respect to church planting for some time now. Recently we have made some progress in identifying the location and the nature of the work that we are targeting. Christ Church members have started to raise their hands and say count me in. And over the summer we have constructed a staff team to serve these efforts. In the spirit of the church in Antioch we would like to commission these folks to this work this Sunday.

Addison Hawkins, Ruthy Rodriguez, and Daniel Eguiluz all are playing key roles in providing servant leadership to our fledgling efforts. They, along with others at CC, have sorted through demographics, talked to community leaders, visited restaurants, businesses and homes; all of which served to lead us to pursue a church plant in the Belknap community of GR. This is a rapidly changing community that is relatively under-churched in GR. It is a strategic location from which to reach current residents and extend existing ministry efforts to college students and the medical community. More information will continue to emerge as we follow the Lord’s leading forward.

But back to consecration. As a church we would like to set apart these three staff servants to this work. Sunday we will have a time of prayer in the service which we will invite all who want to come forward to do so, lay hands on these dear ones, and together as Christ Church, commit ourselves to this work. Sometimes I wonder what it was like to be in Antioch as Paul and Barnabas were sent out. This won’t be exactly the same, but God is still at work and the Gospel is still going forward unhindered! (cf. Acts 28:31).

Friday, September 15, 2017

How does your Garden Grow?

I realize that fall is not the time to be talking about planting gardens. Fall is the time for harvest​ -- harvesting what was planted, nourished and cared for during the course of the year in the ecosystem that is our gardens.

Paul uses a similar imagery for the people of God in I Corinthians:
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, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)

The overarching emphasis of these verses is that of God’s work to bring to about the harvest. But it is also important to note that God utilizes servants like Paul, Apollos and others like Priscilla, Aquila, Luke, etc… to plant and nurture the field at Corinth..

What about the field at Christ Church? Or even more broadly in Grand Rapids? I believe God is at work planting and nourishing. I see this work in your lives. I hear it in our conversations. I meet people, new people finding the rich soil of the Word in our midst. All praise to Him!

And God is faithful to bring workers. I am humbled by the hours of service ​that ​faithful Sunday School teachers dedicate at all levels. Bible studies have qualified and faithful leaders. C-Groups are poised to flourish. Ministry teams pray and plan. Elders and deacons serve in so many ways. Our finances are watched over and stewarded with care. And there is staff. Faithful servants in the office and in the halls. Ministry staff that has served through the decades (Steve, Susan, Scott) alongside new workers for new fields (Addison, Daniel, Ruthy). Even now God has given us the opportunity to nourish a sapling in our field for probable transplant into another field (intern Simon Boenaidi). It is quite an ecosystem, humming with life and balance, each part critical to its sustainability regardless of its visibility.

But in all things let’s give praise to the Lord of the Harvest for the work he is doing in and through our field!

Friday, September 8, 2017

I have been thinking about you ...

Have you ever had someone tell you they were thinking of you? It is a relatively easy thing to say to someone, but it is so encouraging, so empowering to be on the receiving end. In Christian parlance we often “upgrade” our thoughts to prayers. Paul recognizing the power of being thought of in this way says, “Brothers, pray for us (1 Thess. 5:25).” What an encouragement it must have been to him to hear that he was indeed thought of and prayed for!

But note that the converse is also true. Precisely because we love to be thought of, we also hold keys to one of the more powerful opportunities that we have to engage those around us. When we think of/pray for those around us, and let them know we are doing so, we draw close to folks and are often invited into deeper levels of relationship. This, of course, is true for those who are part of the family of God, but is equally true for those who are outside of the family of God, perhaps even more so. Just this morning, conversation with a waitress concluded with “say a prayer for me.” I happen to know she is not attending church right now, but is craving the type of remembrance that we in the family of God can often take for granted. God has given me an opportunity to pray for her and follow up by letting her know. While I can often be overwhelmed by the thought of being active in outreach and all that it might entail, perhaps this is as good as place as any to start, “Hey, I have been thinking about you.”

Friday, August 18, 2017

Our Life Together

“History repeats itself. Has to. No one listens.” Steve Turner, poet.

During the 1940’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned the classic Life Together. His reflections were largely based on his experiences in the secret seminaries hiding from the Nazi’s in Germany. Bonhoeffer was later executed by the Nazi’s for his role in resisting the “supremacy” they purported. Perhaps this can serve as a jumping off point for a few observations.
  1. Any claim or action that claims supremacy of one person over another is fundamentally against our nature (Gen. 1:26) and the redeeming work of the Gospel (Eph. 2:14). This supremency absolutely needs to be denounced and we must not even have the appearance of toleration for those who promote it. I am grateful that we belong to a denomination that has already publicly decried such belief and behavior. 
  2. We must tell … Again, we must be clear that this so called supremacy is not part of the gracious story of the Word. To quote words attributed to Bonhoeffer, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil … Not to speak is to speak.” What does this mean? Our speech should be that of prayer, both public and private. We need to be speaking to our family and neighbors, encouraging when we can, denouncing when we must. Finally, we must exhort each other in following the right path. 
  3. But, we must also … show: Telling is action. PRAYER is action. But it is not the last action to be taken. All Christians should do all that they can in their various spheres of influence and as neighbors to bring healing and reconciliation. We must weep with those who weep. Listen to the hurting, and through practical and courageous love, prove false the claims of white supremacy, even to the point of openly standing with those being attacked by white supremacists. The cost of discipleship for Bonhoeffer was his life– a cost he was willing to pay in looking at his Savior. Again Bonhoeffer, “not to act is to act.” (There are many opportunities for these practical acts of love right here in our midst. Please talk to me if you are willing but don’t know where to start.) 
  4. Finally, we must abide in our Gospel core. It is only as we draw deeply from the basic Gospel truth, we are a lot worse off in ourselves than we think, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever could imagine, that we will have the right mix of humility and boldness to engage this present moment with the grace of Christ.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Looking and Seeing


Artist David Arms recently reflected on looking and seeing:

To “look”, I engage my eyes.
To “see”, I ask my eyes to join hands with my heart, mind and soul.
I have the gift of vision which gives me the ability to “look”.
But, unfortunately, I don’t always “see”.
Certainly pleasure can be obtained from looking.
But seeing turns that pleasure into an experience, often making clear the presence of the Divine.
“Looking” sees a rock as grey.
“Seeing” observes in that rock the unexpected painter’s palette of lavenders, blues, golds and greens.
“Looking” sees a bare tree on a winter’s day, standing lonely. Quietly
waiting for its beauty to return with the first sign of spring.
“Seeing” realizes that beauty remains in each tree’s unique, intricately designed architecture,
silhouetted starkly against a mottled grey sky.
Seeing might take a moment. To be present. To be aware.
And that’s where the problem often lies for me.
Life is busy. In that busyness I forget. So I look. But do not see.
When I “see”, I’m more likely to live in a state of awe and gratitude.
I’m aware of the magnificent world just outside my door.
Full of wonder. A miracle at every turn.
I recall the many reasons I married my wife.
I see a human, a being, inside the ragged clothes, at the corner, holding a cardboard sign.
I am less likely to focus so greatly on myself.
Which opens my eyes. Makes me aware.
Then I can turn my eyes to a whole new world that awaits me in this very spot I have been for many years.
If I just breathe.
Then look.
Then see.

While we often struggle to see, God never fails to see. We encounter this God again Sunday in Genesis 16 as we come to patriarchs who struggle to see and a woman on the run who has a remarkable encounter with her “seeing” God. As we learn to rest more and more in this God we find that being seen helps us see. Or as the psalmist put it, in your light do we see light. (Psalm 36:9)

Friday, August 4, 2017

Grace from beginning to end

There is a much-loved hymn that communicates some of the themes we’ve been exploring the last couple of Sundays in our series on Genesis:
The God of Abraham praise, whose all sufficient grace
shall guide me all my given days, in all my ways…
He by himself hath sworn, I on his oath depend.
One of the main lessons we’ve been learning from Abraham’s journeys is that the life of faith is not a straight line. It would be great if we only experienced steady progress in holiness after answering the Lord’s call to follow him. However, as we all know full well, following Jesus has its ups and downs, and sometimes we take a couple of steps back. The beautiful thing is that God uses these setbacks to remind us that our salvation is by grace from beginning to end. That is why we don’t sing, "Abraham praise," but "The God of Abraham praise." None of us can boast in our moral accomplishments. We can only praise God for remaining faithful to his promises despite our shortcomings.

God is so gracious that he doesn’t just give us wonderful promises: he also confirms and seals these promises unto our hearts through his sacraments. On Sunday Pastor Steve will be opening the word for us as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Just as the Lord confirmed his promises to Abraham, He will confirm his promises to us through bread and wine. In fact, the Lord will confirm to us the very promises he made to Abraham, because in Jesus, all of God’s promises are "yes and amen" (2 Cor 1:20).

Daniel Eguiluz
Church Plant Coordinator for Discipleship and Admininstration

Friday, July 28, 2017

Split Personality People

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)

We refer to the above story as the account of the rich young ruler, or the rich young man. While this is not intended to be a complete exposition of this passage, we can at least observe the split in this man’s heart between his desire for eternal life and the grip this current life had on him. As we noted last week, it is the difference between living by the eye (the stuff in front of us) and living by the ear (the promises God gives us). It is a split I relate to, and surely a split that many in America relate to.

I recently read a reflection on ministry in the suburbs in which the pastor said this:
Behind the barriers of immaculate lawns and white picket fences ... ​hide real people. People full of fear, full of anxiety, full of stress, full of idolatry, full of sin and full of almost endless potential for gospel advance if we would engage them well. My mind and my heart reflected on Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler. I know that not everyone in the suburbs is rich, but I think most people in the suburbs wrestle like that young man with having a split priority heart. Mark’s gospel tells us that as the young ruler is spitting out self-justification, and just before Jesus is going to pull the rug out from under him, that Jesus looks at him and loves him. We are called to do the same. To love and serve split-priority people.
Two things by way of reflection. First, I am so grateful that the Scriptures record the love that Jesus has for this man. Jesus truly is the great high priest, who knows our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15) ... and still loves us. ​He loves us enough to die to heal us of our split personalities, our rebellious, self serving, self aggrandizing hearts. It is this love, as the Spirit helps me see it, that will move my split personality toward wholeness. Secondly, my great desire is to get caught up in that love and have it propel me to share it with others. Surely the author above is right on in pointing out that we are surrounded by split personality people who need to be reminded that they were created for eternal life. They, like us, need these reminders in order that we might live by the ear, by the promises, and not merely by the eye.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sophia's London update

We wanted to share with you Sophia's latest update on her work with Serge in London. Thank you for praying for her!

To my partnering brothers and sisters,

I wanted to wait to get out my next update until after this week as my church, New City IPC, has hosted a mission conference called R7. We hosted teams from the US and led them in everything from community gardening to street corner evangelism. Personally, three experiences stood out to me. Those experiences were visiting two temples, running book tables, and prayer and praise night.
The first main experience this past week was visiting a Hindu and Sikh temple. I am glad that I had the opportunity to experience both of these temples. It was fascinating learning more about world religions firsthand and how in some places it actually has similarities to Christianity.

The second main experience for me was running a book table. How the book table works is we go to a busy area (like outside a tube station) and set up a table with Bibles, books of John, and prayer pamphlets and then we just hand out pamphlets to people. I was surprised how many people took and read the pamphlets. Muslim and Sikh men came up and asked us about Christianity, what we believe and how it differs from their religious beliefs. Even full covered Muslim and Sikh women took and read the prayer pamphlets. Keep praying for the power of the Spirit working with the word in their life!

My third main experience was Prayer and Praise night. On Saturday we had an open church prayer and praise night where we sang songs in different languages and people were open to pray in their native language. It just reminded me of Psalm 149:1-2 “Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly! Let Israel be glad in his Maker, let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.”

As I go into the next week I want to ask for strength for God to use my life for His glory. Please continue to pray for all the people affected by the Grandfield fire. It was devastating and we are praying for God to comfort the families who have lost loved ones and are in a time of confusion and sadness that God would show them His everlasting light and love.
I thank you again for all of your prayers and support.

With many blessings,
Sophia VanderMaas

Friday, July 21, 2017

For God So Loved the World

Perhaps the most recognizable verse in the Scriptures is John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” What a joy it is to be recipients of such a magnanimous grace! How awesome it is to live in a cosmos marked by the love of God. And what a privilege it is to reflect this love to others.

One of the influential figures in the history of Christ Church is Francis Schaeffer. What drew some early CC pioneers to Schaeffer was a solid Biblical teaching and apologetics that invited people to eschew irrationality and live within the contexts of human flourishing that God has laid out for humanity. But for many who would encounter the Schaeffers what stood out the most was the way they extended the love of God to others. John Frame in commenting on the ministry of L’Abri says the following:
The inquirer is to be treated neither as a statistic nor as someone to be manipulated into a verbal commitment; nor is he to be treated with contempt, though his unbelief is loathsome to God. He is a human being, made in God’s image, and is to be loved and treated with dignity. The work of the Schaeffers at L’Abri will be an enduring example to us in that regard, for they laboured to present thoughtful answers in a context of love and respect.

All unbelief is loathsome to God. But God, in Christ, has found a way to reconcile the world to himself. In Christ, we too, extend a gracious hospitality that treats others with dignity, presents thoughtful answers to hard questions, all from within a framework of love and respect.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Moon or Sun?

It has been said that Christians are more like the moon than the sun. Particularly in view is the fact that the moon has no light of its own, but it reflects the glory and beauty of the sun. So we too are called to reflect the beauty of the Gospel. This idea of reflecting the beauty of the Gospel has become a conversation cornerstone in our church planting discussions.

What might that look like? Here is an excerpt from a vision statement that Daniel has been working on:
      We dream of a renewal that touches all aspects of life and every part of society: men and women exchanging selfish and harmful patterns of thought and practice for lives that reflect God’s heart of love; longtime church attenders discovering a joy and vibrancy in the gospel they had never experienced before; struggling marriages finding strength for their restoration in Christ’s forgiveness; families opening their homes to those who look and sound different; young and old giving up comfortable lives to introduce the unreached of the world to Jesus’ name; church outsiders being surprised by a sense of belonging at church; intellectuals humbling themselves and resting in the superior wisdom of the God whose ways are past finding out ...

The Gospel is beautiful. There is nothing that we could possibly add to it and nothing can ever be taken away. May God help us, moon-like, to reflect this beauty to all!

There is a lot of stuff on the church plant located here on the website. Feel free to peruse. We welcome Ruthy officially to the team this week. She is back from New Hampshire. She jumps into the deep end Tuesday, heading to Nashville for a church planting conference.


PS — for your listening enjoyment

Friday, June 30, 2017

General Asssembly Reflections

Over the years I have joked about the process of Presbyterianism which is at times painfully slow and often at odds with with my more quick decision making style. Despite the "poke your eyes our moments" of legislative procedure, I am really glad to be a presbyterian and General Assembly (GA) is a great reminder of that. Here are some reflections from my week away.

GOSPEL CENTERED WORSHIP. Any shortcomings that we might want to highlight about the PCA are dwarfed when experiencing the preaching and worship of the sisters and brothers of the PCA. From beginning to end our communal worship is thoroughly Biblical, Gospel focused and ultimately Christ exalting. When denominational attributes are audited this shines forth like a diamond. The worship services at GA alone speak to the worthiness of our mission as sisters and brothers join together at the foot of the cross and in shadow of the empty tomb. If you're interested in seeing some of these worship services and sermons, you can view them here.

EVERY CHURCH A VOICE. The idea of having a non-delegated assembly with over 1400 eligible-to-speak voices (most of them pastors!) is a daunting and sometimes unwieldy prospect. Inevitably we do get bogged down with speeches, motions and points of order that do not represent the majority, but that is the beauty of the process. Every church has a voice, and the very process is a check and balance against the kind of wayward thinking that can sometimes take over a more streamlined delegated assembly. Sometimes slowness is a virtue. I rejoice when I see 1300+ votes cast on motions before the court. We are working together!

BIG TENT. The PCA is a confessional denomination, meaning we adhere to the Westminster Standards as a faithful exposition of Biblical doctrine and ecclesiology. This confessional approach keeps us anchored in the scriptures and provides a framework for our life together. At the same time there is a diversity of interpretation in the application of the Standards that makes for a breadth of different approaches in the PCA. True there is sometimes frustration in this, both for those with a more “narrow" interpretation of the standards and for those with a more “broad” interpretation. But it seems to me that this diversity faithfully represents a more complete picture of the body of Christ than any one church or interpretation could on their own. Some wrestle with implementing a robust complementarianism, others struggle with more expressive worship that doesn’t fit familiar cultural forms, collectively we discuss and debate approaches to theological education, missions and discipleship, but we do it together in our "big tent."

Are there challenges facing the PCA in the coming years? For sure, both within and without. Outside the denomination we are seen as repressive and backward in our positive assertions of Biblical headship, marriage that is between a man and a woman, among other things. These attitudes aren’t likely to change anytime soon. Inside, we are still sinners who struggle to listen to each other at times, convinced that we know best and are suspicious of those not like us. But thanks be to God, who honors those who walk with him, those who seek his face and listen to his word. Our hope is in him and his joy is our strength.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Power

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8 (ESV)

As many of you know Sunday is Pentecost, the day that the church remembers the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a group of, until then, timid, untrained, “little faith-ed” disciples. What emerged from Pentecost is quite simply a world changing group of people that had not been seen before. Power was manifest.

Often we wonder if that same power is at work today? Perhaps this story will encourage you.

Sarah Irving-Stonebreaker “grew up in Australia, in a loving, secular home, and arrived at Sydney University as a critic of 'religion.' ” She didn’t look for or need faith to ground her identity or her values. She knew from an early age that she wanted to study history at Cambridge and become a historian. She would find her identity in academic achievement, and secular humanism, based on self-evident truths.

But then the power and love as described in Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven tracked her down. Here is part of a tremendous testimony of what she found:
Christianity, it turned out, looked nothing like the caricature I once held. I found the story of Jacob wrestling with God especially compelling: God wants anything but the unthinking faith I had once assumed characterized Christianity. God wants us to wrestle with Him; to struggle through doubt and faith, sorrow and hope. Moreover, God wants broken people, not self-righteous ones. And salvation is not about us earning our way to some place in the clouds through good works. On the contrary; there is nothing we can do to reconcile ourselves to God.
So YES! The Power of Pentecost is still at work today. The beauties of the Gospel are still wooing the most apathetic of hearts.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a federal holiday for remembering those who have died serving in the armed forces. To mark the day flags are out, flowers are placed on graves and parades are held. For many, Memorial Day also marks the unofficial start to summer and a great time to get yard work done in preparation for the summer months.

Lamentations 5 talks about a different type of “memorial day.” Remember, O LORD, what has befallen us (Lamentations 5:1). Much of the Christian life centers around remembering. It is about us remembering God, as well as about reminding God of his people and his promises. Of course, God does not forget in the way that we do. And it is precisely because of his faithfulness that we have the confidence to “remind” him of his promises. And so we come to the end of Lamentations where the people are led to pray before their steadfast God, reminding him of their plight and pleading for him to remember. We too are invited into this remembering cycle and consequently invited deeper into a relationship with our steadfast God!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Back in the Lab

It is great to be back from vacation. We had a wonderful time. We enjoyed some nature viewing and hiking in the Smokies and then celebrated with Josiah at his graduation from Covenant College. Our travel was safe and a new batch of memories was made; very thankful.

Now we are back into the flow of the life of the church. The church, as an institution often takes a beating, sometimes rightfully so. Never the less, the church is God’s instrument for the incubation of his Kingdom here on earth. And it has, like Noah’s ark, continued to float despite the floods of the years. Mark Sayers, In a recent book entitled, Strange Days: Life in the Spirit in a Time of Upheaval, says this about the church:

“The cautionary tales of the book of Acts, the warnings against false teachers found in the pastoral epistles, the corrections and rebukes of Paul’s writings, offer a realistic view of the church. A concert of people fighting the flesh, living through the Spirit. At times, just as Paul warned, falling back into the slavery of the elemental forces, at other times losing itself in the freedom, forgetting its source. As Christ promised Peter, the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church, and in every age, the principalities and powers, humiliated and exposed could not contain its advance. And so it will continue to move forward in our age of upheaval; the gospel will continue to change hearts, the living laboratory of Spirit-filled life that is the church will grow and advance the kingdom in our time.”

I share this for your encouragement. There are times that life in the “laboratory” is difficult, but the source of our life together is none other than the living risen Christ!

Friday, April 28, 2017

How Lonely Lies the City

In the spirit of Luke 24:27, we turn our attention from the Gospels to search out Christ in all of the Scriptures. Our next stop is the Old Testament and in particular the book of Lamentations. Sunday we begin a five-week series, entitled "Peace in the Pieces." Historically, Lamentations is set around 587 B.C. and describes the fall of Jerusalem. It traditionally has been attributed to Jeremiah the prophet. Pastorally, Lamentations is a good place to look as we seek to make sense of life that seems to have moved away with increasing rapidity from God as the center. Author and scholar Christopher Wright says, "Lamentations is a book for today. In a world where the tide of human suffering threatens to overwhelm whatever dykes we put in place to contain it, is there any book of the bible more relevant than this book that gives voice to the most awful pain imaginable?" (The Message of Lamentations)

So join me in getting ready to dive in. It would be great if you could read through the Book of Lamentations prior to coming to worship. While the book is short (5 chapters), the chapters are lengthy and we probably won’t be able to read it all in our services. In the same vein, it would be great to bring a copy of the Scriptures with you as printing the entirety of the text may be difficult.

Friday, April 14, 2017

O Come and Mourn with Me

We have arrived at the apex of the holiest of weeks in the Christian calendar. My prayer for you today is that there may be some space to reflect on the perfect note struck by our Savior incorporating perfect love and perfect justice as he ascended his cruciform throne. I offer as an aid this hymn by Frederick William Faber redone musically by a good friend of mine, Eric Ashley and performed by Jars of Clay. Use it, words and/or music, as it best suits you.

Today the light is dim. But Easter is around the corner.



O come and mourn with me awhile,
O come ye to the Saviors side
O come, together let us mourn,
Jesus our Lord is crucified.

Seven times He spake seven words of love;
And all three hours His silence cried
For mercy on the souls of men;
Jesus our Lord is crucified.

Chorus: O love of God! O sin of man!
In this dread act Your strength is tried;
And victory remains with love;
Jesus our Lord is crucified!

O break, O break, hard heart of mine!
Thy weak self-love and guilty pride
His Pilate and His Judas were:
Jesus our Lord is crucified.

A broken heart, a fount of tears,
Ask, and they will not be denied;
A broken heart loves cradle is:
Jesus our Lord is crucified.(Repeat chorus)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Help! I'm Leaking!

She’s leaking CK. Technically speaking, the muscle breaks down leaking high levels of creatine kinase (CK) into the bloodstream. By now, many of you are aware that our daughter Lydia has been battling Rhabdomyolysis (RAB-DOE-MY-O-LIE-SIS) for over a week. Rhabdo is most often the product of extreme exercise. One way to think of the symptoms is that she feels she ran an ultra-marathon in intense heat. The most immediate danger has been to her kidneys, which have thankfully have been able to keep up and are showing no damage.

This is Lydia’s second bout with Rhabdo. Since it is recurrent, it has become necessary to dig beneath the symptoms associated with Rhabdo and seek for its cause (which in Lydia’s case is not extreme exercise). Don’t get me wrong. We are dealing with the pain and fatigue associated with Rhabdo, but we now know  there is something beneath the Rhabdo that needs to be uncovered if to truly deal with this problem in Lydia’s life.

In a similar way, we leak toxins in our experience of the Gospel, leading to various debilitating effects. In the Gospel, we are invited to a life of love, joy, and peace. But when we leak toxins, we debilitate the way we treat our family, effect our attitude towards the world’s politics, and torpedo our contentedness with our finances. Our Gospel muscle breaks down, but what is the cause? It looks like Lydia has a metabolic myopathy that is underlying her Rhabdo. For us as Christians, it is a myopathy known as unbelief.

In this season of Lent, as we make our final approach to Good Friday, let us remember that God has purposed in his being to do his people good (Zechariah 8:15). Let us experience afresh the love that has been lavished on us in Christ (Ephesians 1:7-9, I John 3:1). May our belief in these Gospel truths be the source of nourishment that drives away the toxins of unbelief and gives us the strength we need to truly experience love, joy and peace of the Gospel.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Always Jesus

This past week I had the opportunity to look at the life of Barnabas with the group of Junior High boys that I meet with on Wednesdays. Barnabas is best known as being Paul’s missionary companion. But a closer look at the Scripture shows a man who is a leader in his own right (Acts 9:27, 11:22,25), set apart by God (13:2), bold and courageous (13:46)... and flawed (15:37-40, Galatians 2:13).

But looking at Barnabas is no different than looking at any other biblical characters who were also flawed.

Barnabas fought with Paul.
Jacob was a cheater.
Peter had a temper.
David had an affair.
Noah got drunk.
Jonah ran away from God.
Paul was a persecutor of the church.
Gideon was insecure.
Miriam was a gossip.
Martha was a worrier.
Thomas was a doubter.
Sarah was impatient.
Elijah was depressed.
Moses stuttered.
Zaccheus was short.
Abraham was old.
And Lazarus was dead.

Surely you see yourself somewhere in this list of characters. The Bible does not pretend that we are more than we are or spare the details of the sin and infirmity that manifests in our hearts and lives.

Telling it like it is is one of the great blessings of the scriptures. For truly it is only as we see the unvarnished truth about ourselves that we can really appreciate the absolute beauty and sufficiency of Jesus. As we continue through Lent and journey toward Good Friday/Easter may we be encouraged that, like Barnabas and all the others, the best thing about us is always Jesus.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Path of Discipleship

As a relatively small denomination the PCA does not often garner a lot of national headlines. This week was an exception though as Princeton Seminary reversed course and decided to withdraw an honor that they had intended to bestow on well known PCA pastor and author Tim Keller. Pastor Keller was on track to receive the annual Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness – named after the former Dutch Calvinist theologian and Prime Minister of the Netherlands. But the decision was reversed based on public backlash and the fear that awarding Keller with the Kuyper award might “imply an endorsement” of Keller’s complementation views regarding headship in the church and the home.

There are many observations to made in the wake of this decision, you can read a couple of the more interesting here or here.

My purpose for mentioning this today is simply to observe that we live in a complex world of ideas. Inevitably the path of discipleship will demand that opinions we hold will, at times, be unpopular. In some cases we may even face the type of exclusion that Pastor Keller has faced this week. One of the things that I have always appreciated about Pastor Keller is the grace with which he takes criticism. He wrote about it a while back for the Gospel Coalition. Here again, in the face of what I would call an “unjust” reversal, Keller has agreed to keep his speaking engagement at Princeton, even without receiving the award. A very gracious response.

Of course the challenges that we face are always going to be in line with what our Savior faced during his earthly sojourn.

Friday, March 17, 2017

And Then There Were "Nones"

If I were to ask you to guess the percentage of people in the GR area that claim to have “no religious affiliation,” what would your guess be? Surely in a place like GR with so many churches the number must be low. 20%? 30%? 40%? Actually overall numbers are closer to 60% of respondents who claim no religious affiliation, a category demographers are calling “nones”.

Perhaps this number is surprising to you, perhaps not. In either case it is a call to prayer, a call to action. Your community is not as churched as you believe. Think about it. Roughly every other person you meet today claims to be a “none”. They do not belong to a worshiping community. They do not hear the Gospel regularly. Most importantly, there is good reason to believe that they do not have a relationship with the Savior.

How are we going to serve them with the love of Christ? Certainly our individual lives offer ample opportunity for hospitality and involvement in the lives of these “nones.” What about our church life? Consider these words from Tim Keller on why we plant churches. “Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60–80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshiping body, while churches over ten to fifteen years of age gain 80–90 percent of new members by transfer from other congregations. This means the average new congregation (i.e. church plant) will bring six to eight times more new people into the life of the body of Christ than an older congregation of the same size.” There is much to dissect her to be sure. But we can say at the very least this is a major reason for pursuing church planting.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Gladdest Thing

“Turn around and believe that the good news that we are loved is gooder than we ever dared hope, and that to believe in that good news, to live out of it and toward it, to be in love with that good news, is of all glad things in this world the gladdest thing of all.” 
Frederick Buechner,  The Clown in the Belfry: Writings on Faith and Fiction.

Joy. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5). It is our constant call (Philippians 4:4)​.​ The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Joy. It is just a small three letter word, but it truly has the power to turn around your life and the lives of those around you. Why? Because true joy is rooted in our deliverance from sin, death, and the devil and anchored to our adoption as daughters and sons of the living God. This “gladdest truth” is so overwhelmingly bright that nothing can diminish its luster when properly contemplated. There is no trial or hardship (Romans 5, James 1​) -- no principality or power​. Nothing can separate us from the joy of being known and loved by God (Romans 8). Can you pause for a minute right now and bask in this gladdest thing?

Joy this good cannot be contained. Or maybe a better way to say it is that joy this good is meant to be shared. It is OK. Let it out. The joy is the Lord’s and his supply is infinite. I love the line in the Christmas carol “why should we on earth be sad, when our Redeemer has made us glad?” Why, indeed!?

Friday, March 3, 2017

When Life and Preaching Collide!

I know some of you remember the book by Carolyn Custis James, When Life and Beliefs Collide. This week life collided with the text for Sunday in big way. As we continue through Luke we will be looking at Luke 8:22-25, the story of Jesus calming the storm after the disciples were descended on by a sudden squall on the Sea of Galilee.

Tuesday such a squall hit the VanderMaases. It started with pain in the abdomen. Was it flu? By midnight poor Lisa was doubled over in pain and we headed to the hospital. There they discovered a bowel obstruction due to scar tissue from a decades old appendectomy. This led to surgery late Wednesday afternoon which was successful in freeing the obstruction. As I write this Friday morning, she is still in the hospital, hoping to be released. Like the disciples we have questions, (Do you not care that we are perishing? - cf Mk 4:38). While not life threatening this event was very unexpected, inconvenient and quite painful. But we are very grateful to be in the boat with Jesus who has the power to calm the storm. We are also grateful to be in the boat with his disciples (you, our CC family) who have been the hands and feet of Christ to us during this time of vulnerability.

We all can relate on some level to these sudden squalls. Over the centuries Christians have dealt with the various storms of life through the eyes of this text recognizing that our Master can calm the seas. For Lisa and me, as for all of us, our Savior’s last question is always the pertinent one, “Where is your faith?”.



Friday, February 24, 2017

Repentance Reprised


“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand;
  repent and believe in the gospel” Mark 1:14,15
The faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance … saving faith is permeated with repentance and repentance is permeated with saving faith. John Murray, Redemption—Accomplished and Applied
The two great graces essential to a saint in this life, are faith and repentance. These are the two wings by which he flies to heaven. Faith and repentance preserve the spiritual life—as heat and water preserve the physical life. Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance
Whether one is talking about beginning the Christian life or continuing in the Christian life, repentance and faith must be the constant companions of the Christian. Over the years some have debated which precedes the other. These are honest questions seeking to understand more clearly the nature of our relationship to the creator. My own belief is that while they are virtually Siamese Twins for the truly born again, it seems to me that the seed of faith must be present for one to truly repent. In the end however, searching out the order is not all that profitable practically. Practically, what we must recognize in our lives is a real experience of both faith and repentance, both at the outset of our Christian life and every day throughout. Or in Luther’s words, "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, 'Repent' " (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

What is sometimes difficult to get our minds around is that the continual practice of repentance is among the most freeing and life giving things that we do on a daily basis. Far from being a dour and morose recapitulation of sins, true repentance is so tied up with faith, so focused on the finished work of Christ and so infused with hope, that overwhelming joy is the result. It is repentant faith that overflows with the kind of love we meet in Luke 7.


Friday, February 17, 2017

White Castle and the Church


During our St. Louis church plant days we inhabited some office space two doors down from White Castle. Often, when I needed a change of scenery, I would head down to the ‘Castle, book in hand, to do some reading. Honestly my motives were mixed. At the time, I was probably hankering for a Diet Coke and I do enjoy the $.39 Slider. But the other thing that I love about White Castle is the people it draws.


Our community was an eclectic mix of people. Traditionally, it was a more of a blue collar neighborhood, that took a downward turn about 30 years ago and became known as a place where others wouldn’t let their children go. There are still remnants of that community evident, particularly in the government housing areas and the abnormally high percentage of people struggling with mental illness. However, in the last 15 years there has been significant change. Houses have been rehabbed, businesses developed, and the school district turned around. Now the renters are just as likely to be white collar, Ph.D types, as out of work, government subsidized types.

Here is the beautiful thing, they all come to White Castle. At any given time you could be sharing the overpowering smell of grilled onions in the confines of the tiny restaurant with a lawyer who pulled up in her BMW or with a homeless person who hasn’t bathed in a noticeable amount of time. These, along with guys like me, are drawn together by the combination of the beauty of the Slider, value and satisfaction into a community where we knowingly share in the delights of the ‘Castle. How much more so the Church? In the church people are drawn from the various circumstances of life, offered the beauty of a Savior who gave his life to save his people, who offers a life that is truly satisfying (cf. Jn. 10:10), for free! These words from Isaiah are among my favorites:
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live..." (Isaiah 55:1-3 ESV)



Friday, February 10, 2017

Those darn parasites!


When you have a child who is almost two years old, your life is very much their life. What do I mean by that? Well essentially what Theo does, we do. We are into the things he is into (currently that’s trains), we speak a language that sounds different than our normal “adult” talk, we even cater our diet to things that he may eat. Our lives are very much intertwined. So what happens when your almost two year old gets sick? Inevitably, we get sick. Parasites have this way about them. They are like water, they find cracks and enter in, forever changing the landscape they enter into.

Idols are parasites. They find their way into our lives through cracks large and small. And they are distortions of what is good. Idols take something good, let's say belonging, and distort how we see and experience that. Instead of fulfilling that longing with a deep relationship with God, we look to niche groups. These groups like everything we like, they talk the ways we talk, they experience the world the exact same way we do. Or we go destructive routes. Get involved in gangs or groupthink, enter into emotional or physical relationships that are unhealthy. Idols are parasites. Those parasites change the landscape of our lives.

In our Wednesday night class, Christianity Explored, we are looking at the world through the lens of Mark. Rico Tice, the host and narrator of the program, at one point says something pretty incredible, and pretty challenging. He states that “after hearing the Good News, if you don’t think it’s the best news you’ve ever heard, you can be absolutely certain, you’ve not understood it.” Understood what? Well, understood that the Gospel plugs the crack the water is trying to get through. It stops and kills the parasites in our lives. The idols we’ve constructed around us can’t stand up against the Gospel. The best news we’ve ever heard is the Gospel, and it fundamentally, and radically changes the way we engage with one another and the world.

We can take heart in the words of John the Baptist in Mark 1:7,8;
“After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

What John is saying is remarkable. Not only will Jesus come to forgive sins (remarkable in itself) but that for those of us who know that we aren’t the people we ought to be, Jesus will fill us with God’s Holy Spirit to bring about radical change. This is the best news in the world. It’s not up to us. God, the great initiator and great fulfiller brings this about.

When those parasites find their way into your life, may the Gospel be at the center of our lives, sucking the air right out from underneath them.

Addison Hawkins
Pastoral Resident for Outreach & Engagement

Friday, January 27, 2017

No Plea Bargain


Yesterday I fulfilled my civic responsibility by answering the bell for jury duty in the 16th district court. After gathering with perhaps 60 other potential jurors and waiting around for a couple of hours my name was called to ascend to the courtroom for questioning and potential selection to a jury. As the group of 25 or so potential jurors walked into the courtroom, we could see the defendant talking with his attorneys. Eventually we could hear him say “I’ll take it” and I had a sense we might be going home early. What had happened is that as the possibility of a trial got to be real. He decided he wasn’t going to take his chances and opted for the plea bargain. Sure enough a couple minutes later the judge came out, thanked us for coming and being part of the judicial process, then dismissed us.

My experience in the courtroom made me reflective of the heavenly courtroom and our worship service this past Sunday. When it comes to the great heavenly tribunal there is no option of a plea bargain. We cannot agree to a lesser charge, for a lesser sentence. In the words of Habakkuk, the eyes of the Lord are too pure to look upon evil (1:13). Our only hope of surviving the Lord’s judgment is to be declared righteous. And our only hope of that is through the work of Jesus Christ our mediator/substitute. Which brings us full circle to last Sunday’s declaration of forgiveness from 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” In Christ no plea bargain is needed. We are declared righteous!



Friday, January 13, 2017

Temptations!


While it is true that we are all different in many ways, we can safely say that we all share a commonality in facing temptation - daily. Often we think of temptation in terms of obvious vices, drink, sexual sin, spending, gossip, etc… And to be sure these temptations are a battle! But each of these temptations proceeds from a deeper root, a root which Satan, the tempter, is always seeking to sever. Ann Voskamp has wisely said that “all fear is but the notion that God’s love ends” (One Thousand Gifts, 161). I think that we do no harm to the truth expressed here by stating that all temptation is but the notion that God’s love ends. From the beginning, whether Adam and Eve, Noah, Jonah, David, Jesus or us, Satan has sought to tempt us by creating fear and causing us to question God’s love for his children. Thankfully we have a Savior who has both showed us the way forward in the face of temptation as well as stood in our place withstanding the temptation that we so easily succumb to.


Friday, January 6, 2017

A Comprehensive Whole


How is the first week of 2017? How many times have you started to write a 6 before catching yourself to write the 7? I am excited for 2017 and our life together at Christ Church. As I reflected last week, there is so much to be thankful for, even as we wait on the Lord to guide and sustain us.

Looking toward 2017, one of the things that has caused much excitement in our collective life is the prospect of church planting. We are right to be excited about planting. Church planting is not a growth strategy, nor is a method for dealing with overcrowding. Rather, church planting is one of the best ways to reach new Christians and people who are outside of a regular participation in the means of grace. Church planting creates fresh Gospel opportunities, unearths new leadership, and a whole host of other benefits.

But while we are right to be excited about church planting, or foreign missions for that matter, we must realize that they are part of a comprehensive whole that we call church. Our church life envelops everything from planting, to missions, VBS, clothing the needy, standing for justice, systematically sharing our faith, and other outreach endeavors. But it also encompasses coming in the foyer, greeting our friends, sharing joys and heartaches, studying the scriptures, praying. In short our life together is a comprehensive whole, a whole that needs comprehensive nurturing.

Getting a bird’s eye view of this comprehensive whole is the goal of our January series. Along the way we will address questions like: What is the goal of our life together? What kind of people do we need to be to sustain ministry that truly glorifies God? What kind of structures will best support this all-encompassing ministry?

This week we will begin by hearing from Rev. Mika Edmondson, lead pastor at New City Fellowship OPC here in GR. Mika will be both preaching (from Ezra 2) and sharing with us during our Adult Institute time. As a church planting pastor, Mika will be sharing his vision for what God is doing in our greater GR community while pointing us to the Glory of the Lord, a glory which our God has promised us is on the move!

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