Friday, December 29, 2017

A Prayer for the New Year

It is hard to believe that this is it. As of Sunday 2017 will be finished, Monday marks the the beginning of 2018. I trust that you take some time to reflect on all that was and all that is coming. As we reflect we ask ourselves questions like, “Where do we see God at work in the world? in our lives? How is God exposing our fears? Meeting us in our fears? Where are we growing in grace? Where do we need to grow in grace?

Growing in grace is my prayer for Christ Church in 2018. Peter puts it this way, "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. ( 2 Peter 3:18).” As we have talked about before this growth has first a depth, may our roots sink deep, and then a breadth, may our branches extend wide. This growth has a focus. The focus is none other than the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the singular focus for the Christian. Saying that in no way limits us or makes us too heavenly minded to believe we are of no earthly good. To the contrary, when our lives are fixed on Jesus, only then will we truly strive against sin and evil, and embrace the world around us with manifestations of his grace. Why? Because we are consumed by his glory, now and forever, not our own. Finally, I say this is my prayer because it is only through the present work of the Holy Spirit that we will experience this growth. Please Lord, open our eyes, our hands, our hearts as we go into this new year.

The Vander Maases are heading out for a spot of vacation later this afternoon. Pastor Steve will be opening the word the next two Sundays. This week we will be returning to the book of Isaiah, chapter 40 as he takes up the theme of "How to soar through a bad year”.

Friday, December 22, 2017

You Shall Call its name ...

As we move into Christmas one begins to think about the importance of names. Take Joseph who was grappling with the reality that he would be the earthly father of the Messiah. The angel told him, you shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins. (Matt 1:21) The name Jesus, speaks of salvation and casts light on the mission of Jesus.

As our Belknap church plant comes together we have been thinking about names as well. Names that would speak to the mission of the church and the salvation of the Lord. As the launch team wrestled with this some principles became clear:

  • As a second site initially, the name “Christ Church” should be able to complement the chosen name.
  • Have a name that can stand alone once the plant is particularized and separate from CC.
  • Steer clear of a solely regional/neighborhood name if the church’s location should change in future.
  • Make it something that points to the Lord, and not to our lives. If not naming the Lord Himself, then maybe a theological/biblical concept that reflects Him.
  • Make sure it doesn’t have to be explained and isn’t too long.
  • While not adopting the seeker sensitive church “ethos,” the name should probably be somewhat sensitive to contemporary seekers or those outside the church presently.
After some prayerful consideration and discussion the launch team believes the name GRACEHILL is the direction the Lord is leading. In addition to fitting the above parameters well, it corresponds nicely with our Belknap roots. (Bel-knap translating to “Beautiful Hill”). It boasts a combination that has both a modern feel, yet grace is such a wonderfully historic and theologically rich doctrine that certainly speaks to our mission, i.e. holding forth the gracious truths of the Gospel to our city. Our prayer is that Christ Church GRACEHILL will prove to not only be a strong name, but a real extension of the ministry that Christ initiated so many years ago and has invited us to carry on!

This week is the 4th Sunday in Advent as well as Christmas Eve! In the morning we will continue looking more deeply into the person and work of the Servant through the eyes of Isaiah 52:13-53:12. This is a deep song with many truths that can only point us to the Lord himself. In the evening (6:30) we invite you to celebrate the finished work of the servant captured so beautifully in what is often called the 5th Servant Song, Isaiah 61:1-3.

PS - For those interested, you can find a recap and slightly lighthearted look at the VanderMaas year by reading Lisa’s annual Christmas Letter! We are grateful for our life together with you!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Hope, Love and Joy

This Sunday we will light our third Advent Candle, the candle of Joy. It joins Hope and Love shining in the dark places of our world and in our hearts. Recently these themes emerged in my readings in Proverbs:

The light of the righteous rejoices, but the lamp of the wicked will be put out. … Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13: 9,12

Whatever else we may identify that we long for in life, joy and hope are near the root. Here we are reminded that only through the righteousness of the Gospel will our hope be fulfilled and joy be complete. I have been reminded lately of how sick many of us are. Literally my friend Mike is quite sick. Mike is my age, his oldest daughter Zoe’s age. Mike’s cancer had been dormant for 16 years and now has returned with a vengeance. Mike is facing the prospect of more battle with this dreaded disease. Hope deferred makes the heart sick … Many of us feel the “sickness” of this world. We feel it in our bodies. We feel it in our minds and spirits. We feel the heaviness in our relationships. Where do we find hope? Do we put it in doctors? In our body’s ability to recover? If these things are our hope, then we will struggle to see it fulfilled. Two nights ago I prayed with a young man in a place and a position where hope eludes. But as we prayed, there was a firm reminder that we were not alone and that there was hope. Advent is the story that the Great Desire of Nations has come and our trees, though seemingly barren, will bear their fruit in season.

In finding hope there is joy. Not necessarily circumstantial happiness; life radiates challenge and surface level happiness often escapes us. But beyond challenge is joy stemming from a connection to Christ, mediated through his Love, that is deeper than our circumstances. Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Praise God from whom all blessings trickle.

The Lord gave me a metaphor for my advent season --
a plumber unclogging my kitchen drain.

I rented a 25-foot snake to coil down the pipeline to loosen the clog, but I couldn't reach it. The clog-expert plumber had a 40-foot snake that reached all the way into the depths of the pipeline to breakup the blockage that had slowed the flow. Clean pipes. Full flow.

"Dear Heart-expert Lord, this advent season I want to receive the full flow of your blessings through Jesus the Savior. Please reach deep down into the places that I cannot reach and unclog my distracted and unattentive heart. Help me to receive your Word and the ministry of your Spirt, so that the Glory of Christmas flows through my heart. Amen."

Pastor Steve