Friday, December 21, 2018

Look what has come to the world!

Well, we have almost arrived at Christmas. There are only a few more shopping days left. Schools are drawing to a close. Traffic is getting lighter. Families are gathering. For many, it is the most wonderful time of the year.

But all is not idyllic in this fallen world. This week people will feel the loss of loved ones and the disappointment of family. Others will be reminded of financial hardship. All of us can look out and see the effects of global conflict, global poverty, and global injustice.

But it is Christmas, and that means GOOD NEWS! The best news in fact. Pastor Darrell Johnson puts it this way, "The early Christians looked out on a world as challenging, as frightening, as confusing, and as overwhelmingly broken as ours, and they did not say, 'Look what the world has come to.' What the world has come to is not the content of our message." Instead, Johnson points us to the true focus of Christmas: not "what has the world come to" but "look what has come to the world" - the Savior, King, and Redeemer. Johnson quotes the missionary E. Stanley Jones who said, "[The early Christians] saw not merely the ruin, but the resources for the reconstruction of that ruin.”

This is exactly the message of Micah that we come to this Sunday and again on Christmas Eve, when we will look at the nature of the promised Shepherd-King who will rule in justice and might (Micah 5:3-6). It is a message that culminates with the glad tidings that we have a God like no other, "...pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love" (Micah 7:18).

So whether you be merry of heart or struggling to find joy, ring the bells! Christ has come to the world!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 14, 2018


Lately I have been reflecting on the number of words that I use in the course of life. Part of it is an occupational hazard. Literally thousands of words per week are required in pursuing the vocation God has given to me. Then, there are the words at home, the words online, the words in the marketplace, etc. As we know, words have the power to build up or tear down, to clarify or confuse, to wound or to heal, to lead to life or to death. I often lament how frequently my words - intentionally, unintentionally, carelessly, or simply as a result of the difficulty of communication - have achieved the less desirable result over the more desirable. Over and over again, my words reveal my need of a Savior.

Contrast that with the perfect clarity with which God speaks. Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs (Hebrews 1:1–4).

The Savior that we need; the Incarnate Lord that we welcome this Christmastime, is the perfect, final Word. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1,14). To borrow the words of Mary, “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”! (cf. Luke 1:47)

So as we venture forth on a sometimes storm-tossed vessel of words in the tumultuous seas of life and relationships, may we find our anchor in our Lord, the Word of Life!

I look forward to seeing you Sunday. Pastor Daniel will be opening the wonderful prophecy of Micah (Micah 5:1-6) that points to a Savior arising from Bethlehem. Feel free to read ahead and soak in the wonderful words of promise!

Grace and Peace (good words to end on!)

Friday, December 7, 2018


How are you being provided for? In the season of Advent I often think on this idea of provision. We enjoy the provisions of the Lord in friends and family. We enjoy the provision of breaks in the middle of busy lives. Most of all, we bask in the provision of a Savior to a world in desperate need of saving!

Our congregational meeting this past Wednesday also highlighted the Lord's provision to us. We reflected on all the ways that God has provided for us as Christ Church throughout 2018: people to minister to and with, opportunities to teach and learn from God’s word, and the financial wherewithal to steward and pursue what we believe God has called us to. We see the provision of two new elders and the return of veteran leaders to respective posts.

While we give God thanks for providing all this and more, his provision is also not something we can presume on in ways that we may humanly expect. We know, for instance, that there are Christians suffering thoughout the world who are still loved by God. We know that we still deal with the effects of a fallen world in bodies that break down physically. We know the provisions in the crowded stores are not affordable to all. We also know that God’s people lose their way from time to time and face consequences of not walking in God’s gracious provision.

As we continue through Micah this Advent we will wrestle with a people who lose their way by focusing on these themes in chapters 2, 3, and 6. Feel free to read ahead and wrestle with our neediness even as we anticipate God’s greatest Provision, Jesus.

Friday, November 30, 2018

What is in a Name?

This coming Sunday we turn our attention for the next weeks of Advent to the book of Micah. "Micah" is a sentence name meaning "who - is like - YHWH".  Bruce Waltke, in commenting on the significance of this naming, says the following, "By this naming his parents constantly praised YHWH as being incomparable to any other deity. It also portends the prophets message. By artfully inserting his name in the people's hymn of praise at the end of his book (cf. 7:18), their prophet-son added luster to YHWH’s glory, who like Yahweh forgives his guilty people to be true to his covenant promises to the Patriarchs? God's memorial name initially became famous when he hurled the Egyptian army into the depths of the sea to keep covenant fidelity with the patriarchs. He will however add even greater luster to his name in the last days when he hurls Israel's iniquities into the depths of the sea to be true to his covenant with Abraham and Jacob."

It is an appropriate book for Advent as it connects us to a people in desperate need of a Savior, it reminds us of a God who will rend the heavens to come down, and it hints at the one who will save; one who is like no other, a ruler who will shepherd his people in grace and truth.

I hope you will read through the seven chapters over these next few weeks. We will be taking selections for each of the Sundays in Advent, starting with the opening verses of the book this Sunday.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Only For the Truth

Have you recovered from the tryptophan effect yet?  Perhaps you are still enjoying some family time, battling the malls, or right back at it with work. Whatever the case, I am sure that one’s moral center is being challenged as we interact with the world, either directly or through conversation.

I can hear you now, "Wow, that seems heavy for a post-thanksgiving reflection.”  Perhaps, but our moral center is always at work (and on display). I was reminded of this while prepping for Sunday’s message, and when I encountered these words from 2 Corinthians 13:8, "For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.”  Paul is talking about a specific interaction with the church in Corinth, but it makes a general application concerning ethos. All our interactions, every decision, every choice that we make must correspond with the truth or run the risk of sinking into a morass of largely self centered ambiguity.

This of course raises the question of standard. If not ourselves, then what should we be looking to as our guide, or “rule”? The framers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism many years ago answered this in a very satisfactory way:

Q: What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him? 
A: The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

When we say that the scriptures are the “rule” that directs how we are to glorify and enjoy our creator, we mean that it is the scriptures alone that provide the standard for our moral center. We mean that the Bible trumps man’s authority, church tradition, and our own opinions. We mean we will allow nothing that opposes God’s Word to dictate our actions or control our thinking. It means that we all must adhere to a standard of right and wrong formed outside of our own need for affirmation or self direction — “If it’s good for me, then it’s good; and if it’s bad for me, then it’s bad.” No matter how heart-wrenching or how socially, political, or culturally awkward it may feel, we must operate beyond ourselves.

This may put us at odds with those around us. We may feel out of step with the culture. We will have to make some hard choices. It is “rule” that applies to the highest levels of our country making decisions on foreign policy and big budgets, to the ways we interact on the playground, and to the people we host in our home. In every situation the tug toward expediency, safety, or immediate self-benefit will always exist. Rarely will these motivations align with the truth. It is the love of Christ which compels us to land with Paul: "for we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth."

Friday, November 16, 2018

Life of the Church

I am often struck by the nature of our life together in the church, and by the church I mean the organism more so than the organization. I am contemplating Debbie Young’s memorial service and communicating with the Rodeheavers about the birth of their son, Wilder, as I write this. Together we experience life, death, and everything in between. As a body, it is our great privilege to experience this broad spectrum together. Sometimes we rejoice, as we will at the coffee house tonight, and sometimes we grieve. We worship, we pray, we disagree, we share, and we reach out, always pointing to Jesus, our refuge, our joy, and our hope.

Please remember our congregational meeting this Sunday evening at 6pm. We will consider a call to Pastor Bryant McGee, perhaps inviting him to come among us, to come into our lives, to help shepherd us through these experiences. I trust you have been, and will continue to be, in prayer as we face this important step in the life of our congregation.

Sunday morning we will be looking at 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Returning to the themes of God’s utilization of his people in providing comfort, we encounter Paul’s exhortation to generosity. A generosity born out of the overflow of what God has given to us.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Steadfast Love

Twenty-Six times! That is how many times the refrain is repeated in Psalm 136, “His steadfast love endures forever.” Twenty-Six times to shape a people with the most important message they can grasp. Twenty-Six times to ease our fears in the wake of the political machine. Twenty-Six times to comfort us when the “meanies” have us down. Twenty-Six times to remind us of eternity, when our days feel too short or too long. Twenty-Six times as we look into the future of our church and wonder which way to turn. Twenty-Six times that push us to promiscuously proclaim the good news! Twenty-Six times! His steadfast love endures forever! Twenty-Six times! But will I get it?

Psalm 136 is a worship Psalm, part of the liturgy of the people of God that gave shape to their daily lives. It reminds us of the importance of weekly worship to give shape to our lives. This week Pastor Bryant McGee will be opening 2 Corinthians 12 with us. I hope you will make plans to join us for worship Sunday as Bryant helps us get to know the Lord better. Then I hope that you can join us at 6 on Sunday evening to get know Bryant and his wife Jennifer a little better, as we consider whether they are long term fits at Christ Church.

Twenty-Six times! Do you remember? His steadfast love endures forever!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Reformation Freedom

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.
Martin Luther - 1st of 95 Theses

You may or may not be tracking with the idea of this coming Sunday as Reformation Sunday. It is that time of year when we commemorate a Catholic monk named Martin Luther who raised some questions about the state of the church which led to a massive overhaul that we call the Reformation. This all happened over 500 years ago but those of us in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition still pause to remember the tremendous freedom that was regained through that reformation.

The Reformation moved the church from the confines of an all-encompassing and constrictive religious system back to a relationship of freedom and grace with God. The Reformation moved the spotlight off of humanity and what we needed to do in order to attain salvation, and placed the spotlight back where it belongs on God’s gracious provision of a Savior in Jesus Christ.

In particular, Luther struggled with the penance rituals he was performing and the lack of progress he was making in his relationship with God despite his attention to penance. What Luther discovered is that penance is not the same as repentance. As Luther realized this, he experienced a freedom he had never experienced and his soul began to sing.

As we continue through Second Corinthians, looking this week at 2 Corinthians 7:8-13, we come to this same truth: penance is not the same as repentance. Paul says, "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:10). Penance is the worldly grief that is dependent on human effort and is ultimately not born of the Spirit. Repentance is a freedom wrought by the Spirit that knows things are bad with our heart and our lives, but trusts the forgiveness of the Lord that simultaneously imputes to us the righteousness of Christ along with the freedom of life by the Spirit. The Psalmist captured this so clearly when he said, "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!" (Psalm 139:23-24).

I look forward to seeing you Sunday as together we persevere along the way everlasting.

Friday, October 19, 2018


In my time of study and reflection I come across various resources. Recently I encountered the following corporate confession:

Lord, we are reminded of our corporate sin of inhospitality. We confess, Lord, that we are quick to justify our inhospitality with empty excuses. Lord, you have shown so much hospitality to us by opening your arms and bringing us into your home, not just as guests, but as children! But Father, we confess that such a posture of invitation and hospitality is not always a mark of this body—either towards other members, or towards visitors and guests. Holy Spirit, please convict and guide us in this area where necessary; may we reflect the kind of hospitality and generosity that is befitting of a congregation that boasts of boasting in nothing but the gospel.

Hospitality is foundational to the Christian life (cf. Romans 12:13; I Timothy 3:2; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9). And, hospitality is difficult and involves sacrifice. As the above confession notes, we are quick to justify our inhospitality with all sorts of empty excuses. We cite things like busyness, lack of giftedness to host, uncertainty as to who to host, etc… But the reality is that we are busy with what we want to be busy with, hosting is not about giftedness but presence, and there are plenty of lonely, hurting people all around us who would benefit from an open seat at the table.

Bert Froysland, who recently lost his wife of 66 years, shared the following with me, "Mae has been gone four months. I have not touched her desk, emptied her dresser, entered her closet. She is everywhere I look, but she is not there. Not at 3:00 p.m., not at 3:00 a.m. 'Hello darkness, my old friend/I've come to talk to you again.' The silence is deafening."

As those who have been welcomed into the family of Christ and given a seat at the table, may we push more deeply into his loving welcome and find that in so doing we push past the empty excuses and find the time, resources, and the vision to extend a seat at our table, to send a card, or to give a word of encouragement to those in need.

I look forward to seeing you Sunday. We will be looking at the first 13 verses of 2 Corinthians 6. Here Paul touches on the resources supplied for those in Christ and grants a vision of our life in Christ that is truly glorious.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Eat Your Enemy

"Eat Your Enemy” is a somewhat disturbing Nike t-shirt slogan that I encountered this week. I imagine this is not some cannabalistic fantasy to be taken literally, but rather a figure of speech that evokes total domination; a swallowing whole, if you will. This of course is exactly the image that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 15:54 when he talks about the total domination of Christ over sin and death, stating, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory'". This Sunday we will be looking at 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 as Paul returns to the theme of life swallowing our mortality and the true hope to be found in Christ even in the midst of our groaning.

Moving on from the subject of enemies to the subject of a hoped for friend, I am happy to announce the Session, in cooperation with the Search Team, is inviting Reverend Bryant McGee, formerly senior pastor at Redeemer PCA in McKinney, Texas, to candidate for an associate pastor position the weekend of November 9-11. It goes without saying that we are very excited about this possibility and are working to put together a visit that will help us get to know him better. Please continue to pray that God would lead both us and the McGees as we seek to discern his will.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Lament, Legacy, Life Together

My heart has been full this week. It's full from watching the exciting life changes of Josiah and Morgan as they start their life in Costa Rica, from interactions with you, our neighbors, and the world around us, and from reflecting upon the passing of a mentor.

Often the worship of Sunday shapes my week in some way. Our lament service this past Sunday certainly had that effect. Those who shared did so vulnerably, honestly, and so on target, both with their laments and in the hope that they have. We were reminded in the words of Kirsten Ryken that, "You can’t offer real hope and happiness to those suffering without first acknowledging that they are, in fact, suffering." We were encouraged by our music makers' rendition of Is He Worthy by Andrew Peterson. It was a shaping time.

This week I also found out Dr. John R. de Witt passed away. He was the first pastor I worked with, with that being over 20 years ago. Looking back on that time, I was so inexperienced that I didn’t realize what a gift our relationship was or how fortunate I was to have someone with his experience and wisdom to glean from. His integrity, character and love for his congregation shown through. Over the years snatches of conversation or his ways of being have emerged, and I have come to realize his legacy that he continues to leave for me. I haven't found so much sadness as I have reflected, but rather the continued invitation to strive into Paul’s words of 2 Timothy 4:7-8, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing."

As we think of our own legacies we also think of our lives together. This Sunday Christ Church, along with the Great Lakes Presbytery, will formally recognize the call to ministry for our brother Addison in ordaining him to the Gospel ministry. What a testimony to those who have invested in him along the way and to the continuing story of God working in and through his people. Dan Denk will be bringing the message while other members of the Presbytery also attend.

May God give you grace in your own reflections.

Friday, September 28, 2018


"For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
— 2 Corinthians 4:5–6

We have been focusing on the theme of comfort as we've been walking through 2 Corinthians, and how Paul develops that theme in light of strength and weakness. We have not looked as closely at Paul’s defense of his ministry, but that does not mean his defense is not important. In the two verses printed above (which come just before the verses we will be looking into this Sunday, namely 2 Corinthians 4:7-18) Paul again asserts that they are not building a name for themselves but they are “proclaiming” Jesus Christ as Lord.

Paul is fixated on the truths that have been revealed to him. He does not promote himself but sticks to these truths as they are set down in the Scriptures. These truths revolve around the person of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, who left the glory of heaven to pursue a rebel people and make them his own. This is the Gospel of grace. As I was reflecting on these verses I was reminded of the mission statement of the PCA (which I've been looking at a little more closely in connection with the Adult Institute currently happening). The mission statement goes like this, "Faithful to the Scriptures.True to the Reformed Faith. Obedient to the Great Commission". These doctrines of grace are the heart of the Reformed faith and at the heart of who we are as a denomination. And, like Paul, our purpose is to proclaim these truths. That is what it means to be faithful to the great commission. This outward proclamation of these truths was very much in the mind of the founders the PCA, and is ultimately the purpose of any church.

But note that in the end—we individually, we as the PCA, or any church of Jesus Christ—will only be able to shine the light of Christ to the extent that the light has shone in our own hearts and is the center of our life together. So let’s make much of Jesus! May his death and resurrection captivate us as a community as we see it in his Word. And may the Holy Spirit give us the overflow that looses our tongues and flings wide our lives to welcome in those in need of the light!

Friday, September 21, 2018


For those of you around last Sunday, perhaps you have been as taken by the notion of a God who raises the dead as I have been. I spent some time reflecting this week on the resurrection and simply want to pass on some fruits of that reflection. May they be a blessing to you as they were to me.

"Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep."
- John Chrysostom

A Starting Point for Renewal
"The resurrection is, of course, the point at which the question, 'What really happened?' becomes most pressing... Indeed, the simple truth is that the resurrection cannot be accommodated in any way of understanding the world, except one of which it is the starting point... The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the beginning of a new creation, the work of that same power by which creation itself exists. We can decline to believe it and take it for granted that we have only the old creation to deal with. Or we can believe it and take it as the starting point for a new way of understanding and dealing with the world.’
- Leslie Newbigin, To Tell the Truth: The Gospel as Public Truth

Joy Unspeakable 
"On the Day of the Lord—the day that God makes everything right, the day that everything sad comes untrue—on that day the same thing will happen to your own hurts and sadness. You will find that the worst things that have ever happened to you will in the end only enhance your eternal delight. On that day, all of it will be turned inside out and you will know joy beyond the walls of the world. The joy of your glory will be that much greater for every scar you bear. So live in the light of the resurrection and renewal of this world, and of yourself, in a glorious, never-ending, joyful dance of grace."
- Tim Keller, King’s Cross

I look forward to seeing you Sunday. We will continue on in 2 Corinthians looking at chapter 2:12-17.  This is a wonderful section on the reality of the Gospel that both makes us captive and sets us free!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Session, Presbytery, Church, O My!

I had a great time this past Sunday in our adult institute class as I took a gauge on people’s understanding of the PCA in Grand Rapids. One of the questions that came up was about the way presbyterians handle church governance, and then this week for me turned into a very “presbyterian” week with session meeting Tuesday night and presbytery looming ahead this weekend.

For those of you new to the lingo, Session is the elders of a local church charged with serving the church by ensuring the centrality of the gospel message and overseeing the various ministries. We meet once a month (generally the 2nd Tuesday) to pray through the congregation, deal with congregational care issues that arise, hear ministry reports, and prayerfully give consideration to items of business before the body. As you can imagine, in addition to the everyday ministry cares, some of the “biggies” on the agenda these days are our staffing search, our capital campaign, and Gracehill. Each of these are being given support by teams focused on carrying forward the objective, but the session continues to monitor and make adjustments as needed. As reported recently, both the staffing search and capital campaign have hit visible slowdowns as we await outside response, either from candidates or from the construction company. But, they continue forward and we expect more visible progress in the days to come. Gracehill has recently made progress on a new and desired meeting facility at Coit Elementary School. We continue to seek to follow where God is leading as the public launch of Gracehill gets closer and the ministry becomes increasingly viable.

Presbytery is comprised of representative elders (both teaching elders and ruling elders) from our region who meet three times a year for various cooperative ministry endeavors, including the examination of ministerial candidates. We will meet this Friday and Saturday in Fenton, MI. Our own Addison Hawkins will be undergoing his final examinations for ordination. He will be examined in the areas of church history and sacraments, and will have to preach for the gathered presbytery as well. Presbytery has its moments of mind numbing minutiae, but it is important as the holding forth of the standard of the Word and sacrament is seemingly more of a battle in today’s culture than it has ever been.

Church is this Sunday as we will gather for worship again. Here we will exchange greetings with friends, fist bump with a five year old, open our copies of the Word together, and encourage those in despair with the confidence we have in a God who raises the dead. Feel free to read 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 ahead of time. It is just a few verses, but they are filled with a hope that touches down into the reality of our daily lives!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Here Comes the Bride

It is wedding season for Christ Church. Congratulations to Kray and Kyra Freestone who were married two weeks ago. Tonight Dustie Buwalda will become Mrs. Stephen Smithers. And, two weeks from tomorrow the little boy with big glasses that I used to pitch wiffle ball to will become a husband as Josiah marries Morgan. Americans love a wedding. Shows like “Say Yes to the Dress” or "Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings" or “Bridezillas" capture our fascination with the whole affair, but do they capture the heart of the wedding?

Biblically, there is little else that is so full of imagery pointing to our relationship with Christ like the relationship between a bride and a groom, and the wedding celebration. The prophets spoke early on of the relationship between God and his people in terms of marriage (cf. Ezek. 16, the books of Hosea, Song of Songs, etc...). Foundational passages in the New Testament, like Ephesians 5 and Revelation 19, again cast our eyes toward marriage as talking about the mystery of Christ and the church (cf. Eph 5:32). In this context, one of my favorite things about weddings is watching the reaction of the groom as he sees his bride walk down the aisle (check out a few reactions here). From beaming faces, to misty eyes; from incredulity, to barely contained excitement, these grooms give us an insight into the heart of a Savior so utterly taken with his Bride.

This is the point in which we come close to the heart of the wedding. As Lauren Winner puts it, marriage is a gift "designed to tell a story to the entire church, a story about God’s own love and fidelity to us.” This is not a shallow love centered on the romantic “coupling" of two star-crossed lovers. A love whose end is the meeting of my needs, fulfilling of my wants, completing me. Rather, it is a love that seeks the other through sacrifice and eternal commitment, and a love that redeems. My forgetful heart so needs this picture! May every wedding we witness and every faithful marriage we observe (despite their imperfections and human inadequacies) serve to strengthen our hearts by pointing to the Bridegroom who is taken with his bride.

Beyond the weddings, this week we begin a series on Second Corinthians. As we will discover, this is a book that explores the interplay between power and weakness. It is a book that looks at comfort in the face of affliction. It is a book that ultimately holds forth our God as the God of all comfort. Feel free to prepare yourself by reading 2 Cor. 1:1-7.

Friday, August 24, 2018


I have been much in mind of the Apostle Paul’s words to the Philippians:
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.     Philippians 1:3-6
Of course I have been thinking of Steve and Kris as this Sunday will mark their last among us in their current capacity. Paul’s words to the Philippians hit the high notes of remembrance, prayer, joy and partnership. These are notes that will surely be struck as we remember together in worship Sunday evening at 6 p.m.

One of the things I love about Paul’s words to the Philippians is that even as he reflects back he also looks ahead with hope and surety to the “He” who began a good work. For both the Holladay’s and Christ Church, our great confidence as we move forward is that what He has started He will complete!

Pastor Steve will be opening Genesis 48, 49 this week. We are coming to the end of Jacob’s generations now, in fact these chapters are Jacob’s last words right through his death and burial. Once again God gets the credit for maintaining the line of Jacob!

Friday, August 17, 2018

A Root of Bitterness?

I hesitate even to type these words, but wow! we are really moving toward Labor Day and the symbolic end of summer. As we move in time, we are moving to wrap up our study of Genesis as well. Making that happen necessitates taking some bigger chunks of the story. This week we will cover Genesis 42-45:15, the reunification of Jacob’s family.

Since we won’t be able to cover every detail I thought I might reflect a bit here on a moment that Jacob has after his sons first go down to Egypt and return with the news that Simeon is retained and any return trip will necessitate taking Benjamin. Jacob is overwhelmed by this news and moans thus:
“You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.” … [Benjamin] shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is the only one left. If harm should happen to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.” (Genesis 42:36,38)
This is not a good look for Jacob. After all that he has been through - despite YHWH’s provision for him away from Canaan, his protection of him from Esau, his wrestling with the Lord at the brook Jabbok and the blessing he received - Jacob still is not able to rest in the Lord. All he can respond to is his loss. All he can see is his circumstance. In this moment, he is not able to see blessings he has been given and he is bitter. Life without Benjamin would be a living hell.

But we are sympathetic to Jacob. We know how easy it is to fall into the bitterness trap. Like Jacob we allow circumstances to dictate our experience. Family troubles, job stress, health failings; all can cloud our horizons and prevent us from seeing clearly the One guiding our lives. Of course disappointment and hardship are realities this side of eternity, but we must remember that they do not define our story.

Jacob is bitter. But it is a moment. Soon his clouds will clear and will be able to see more clearly the graciousness of YHWH again. And when we see him finally he is resting on his staff and passing on a blessing to his children (cf. Heb 11:21). Are circumstances overwhelming you? Can you discern a root of bitterness beginning to sprout? Rest in God Almighty. Practice seeing the blessings he has given you. And trust with the hymn writer:
We expect a bright tomorrow; All will be well
Faith can sing through days of sorrow, All is well
On our Father’s love relying
Jesus every need supplying
Yes in living or in dying
All must be well

Friday, August 10, 2018

Take Care How You Hear

I peeked in at Pastor Steve this week. Two things stood out. First, he had a lot fewer books in his office as he cleans things out in preparation for his upcoming move:( But second, like the faithful servant he is, he was hard at work bringing together thoughts and themes of Genesis 40 and 41!

My thought this week however doesn’t have to do with Pastor Steve’s preparation, but with your own. Thomas Long, a preacher, says the following about sermons in The Witness of Preaching: People may call it our sermon, but it does not belong to us alone. It belongs as well to those who help create it by their listening. To put it theologically, a sermon is a work of the church and not merely a work of the preacher.

The idea that sermons are co-created between preacher and congregation is something that the Westminster divines captured in Shorter Catechism Q & A #90:

Q: How is the word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?
A: That the word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer, receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.

Jesus himself, commenting on the sowing of the word by the sower in Luke 8:18, says simply, “Take care then how you hear.”

So how do you prepare to hear well? Let me offer six observations to gauge your hearing. As I offer these observations note that I do not offer them as a list to burden or condemn you in any way. God constantly shows up even in the midst of our abject failures. My hope is that in some way maybe one of these considerations will open up a pathway that will allow you to experience the delights of the Gospel more fully!

Prayerfully Present — Attending to the word is always the Spirit’s work. He is the author. We share the life of Christ through the Spirit. We must seek the Spirit’s illumination if we are to hear well. (Ephesians 6:19-20).

Physically Prepared -- Think of a job interview, an ACT test, your wedding day. These are huge events and we know instinctively that we need to be rested. When we open our Bibles or come to worship we meet with the CREATOR of the universe. That is HUGER than huge! Let’s do our best to be attentive.

Relationally Reconciled — I will suggest two avenues here:

  • Reconciled with God. -- in Psalm 66:18 the Psalmist says with regards to prayer, “If I had cherished sin in my heart The Lord would not have listened.” God does not demand our perfection but he desires our authenticity, repentance and fresh reliance on Christ.
  • Reconciled with others -- so much is dependent on our horizontal relationships -- Matthew 5:23 reminds us to be reconciled with our brother (or sister) before coming to worship. The intimation is that unreconciled human relationships will stunt the yield of the word. Why is this so? I think we can point to double mindedness. Again our relationship with God needs to be that of fresh, total and humble reliance. If we are not working to reconcile with others we evidence the fact that we are not living out a God-reliant life.

Scripturally Saturated — In Acts 17:11 we are told how the Word took root in Berea. Part of its fruitfulness hinged on the eagerness of the Berean’s to search out Scripture. Our own knowledge of, delight in and reliance on Scripture will effect how we hear the Word.

Active in Application --- James 1:22 tells us “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourself.” There is a link between hearing and doing. Let us not be mere evaluators of exposition, devotees of doctrine or hearers of homilies, but may we be transformed by living out the Living Word!

Worshipfully Wondered — In Nehemiah 8:6 after the people the Lord heard the words of God they “answered, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads and worshipped the LORD”. The Westminster Divines call us to “lay it up in our hearts”, to ponder as Mary did, and allow the experience of God through his word to continue to shape us in the days to come.

I know Steve, and I know he will be ready, will you?

Friday, August 3, 2018


Before we head into Genesis 39 and look more closely at Joseph for a couple of weeks, I have two thoughts to underline yet in connection with Judah. First, Judah is in many ways the “patron saint” of wandering children. A member of THE covenant family, set off away from home, wandering in a far off country; as lost as one can be. But God was faithful to meet him in his lostness and bring him home after so many years, decades even. I know that many of us have children that are not walking with the Lord. They have been baptized, they know the truth, yet they wander. Take heart from God’s dealings with Judah. Like Judah their story is not complete in the middle. There is more to be written. God’s eye is not dimmed and his arm is not too short to reach them in their wanderings.

Second, we have confidence in God because the work that he brought about in the heart of Judah was evidence of his kindness. Judah was broken and exposed, brought to repentance left with only a desperate faith. Scripturally both repentance and faith are put in context of grace and kindness.
      Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?     Romans 2:4
      In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace.    Ephesians 1:7

It is kindness that leads to repentance, the riches of grace engenders faith. For so many, their relationship with God is born out of fear and maintained in fear. There exists a mentality that believes a step out of line means getting zapped. Yet this is not the picture that we are given. In both faith and repentance, the kindness and grace of God are given as motivators for right relationship. Fear is not meant to call us to Christ or to keep us there; it is His kindness and grace.

So whether you are Judah involved in hardcore wandering, or you have a Judah you pray for, or you are caught in a Judah moment; pray for the eyes to see his kindness!

Lord, give us eyes today to see your kindness. It is so tempting to listen to the Accuser and approach you out of the fear that you could never love us. Help us realize that when we think this way, we are looking for something in us that is worthy of being loved by you, rather than looking at your grace that invites and welcomes us while we are still in our sin. Lord, forgive us for our continual failure to reckon with your kindness. Spirit, help us today, in faith, to respond to your kind invitation to repent!

Friday, July 27, 2018

A Full Share

Never underestimate the Bible. We find truth and wisdom on every page. I was reminded of this recently in talking about the aftermath of a battle that David had with the Amalekites. In this battle there was a group of soldiers that did not go out to the front line, but rather stayed behind with the baggage. Following the battle, those who went to the front line wanted a larger share of the spoils than those who stayed behind. But David was having none of it. Listen to what he says,
“For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.” And he made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day (1 Samuel 30:24–25.)
What an encouragement that there are no little roles, and by extension no little people in the kingdom of God. Those who stay with the baggage receive the same share as those on the front line. There are so many roles in the service of the kingdom. Some we see regularly, those who preach, teach, or lead music. Others labor in obscurity; back in the hallways of the nursery, or tucked away in an office paying bills and balancing budgets. Some personalities stand out, while others prefer to operate in the shadows. But all are judged equally in the kingdom of our God.

So what role are you carrying out for the kingdom? It may be your time and place to shine, smack dab in the middle of the front line. Terrific! Those roles are needed. On the other hand your station in life, gifts or personality may have you tucked away; a necessary support role for the active mission of Christ. Know this, in the Lord’s army all receive a full share.

Friday, July 13, 2018

See you on the dance floor.

Tonight as the Big Band plays, I expect we will see some really young kids out on the dance floor. Maybe we will also see some folks out there who danced to those tunes back in the 1940’s when they were first popular. Some of those guys could probably teach us some moves!

What a delightful image of the church -- gathering together, enjoying good music, out on the same dance floor -- the tiniest of tinies together with the oldest folks in our church family.

Isn’t it marvelous?

When we gather together to worship this Sunday, look around you. Find some kids. They’re the ones standing on their chairs during the songs so they can see the worship leaders. They’re the ones crinkling packages of fruit snacks during the sermon. They’re the ones waving the colorful flags during the closing song.

This is just as it should be.

This is the church. This is the body of Christ.

Each Sunday morning as a church body all the generations gather together, worshipping and soaking in God’s word. Some of us are still and quiet, some of us wiggle and ask questions. And all of us are on the same dance floor together.

~ Debbie Bukovietski

Friday, June 29, 2018


In Titus 2 the apostle Paul lays out instructions for the church community in Crete with regards to life style. He exhorts older men and women to be active in the discipling of younger men and women. He exhorts bondservants to be submissive to their masters in everything, so that in everything “they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” (cf. Titus 2:1-10) Like finding just the right accessories to complement our outfit and bring out our eyes, so our lifestyles are to bring out the beauty of the Gospel which we have been given!

It is this Gospel that Paul goes on to say is both the “why” and “how” for pursuing Godliness. Here are his words:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14) 
Why do we pursue godliness? Because Christ gave himself to redeem us! In whose power do we pursue godliness? By the power Christ has given us in redeeming and purifying us!

As we head towards Independence Day this next week, may we recognize that our true freedom is to be the people that God has made us to be in his Son. And may the loudest and most vibrant firework be the illumination of the Holy Spirit as we follow the path of Godliness he lays out.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Patient, Hopeful Trust

Let me start with a confession. In the outworking of ministry I regularly fight an internal battle between the felt urgency to accomplish what I believe God is calling us to do and the patient trust that God is working out his will and plan in his time. There are many facets to this struggle, but I now focus on how this struggle affects our ability as a community to serve together.

In Numbers 20, Moses was leading the people in the wilderness and seeking to provide food, and in this case water, for the people. God showed him a way forward that involved him speaking to a rock. Moses grew frustrated that things were not moving more smoothly, particularly that the people were being difficult. In a fit of frustration Moses said, “'Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?' And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice.” (Numbers 20:10-11) Some of you know that it was this incident that prevented Moses from leading the people into the promised land, despite his many years of faithful service.

What is the issue here? Is it not the struggle mentioned above, that of Moses’ felt urgency to move things along versus waiting on God by doing things his way? Again, I share this with you in way of confession. I really relate to Moses here and the frustration that he experiences as he works to serve God’s people. Striking a rock in frustration doesn’t seem that radical.

As ministry leaders, our desire is to shepherd well as we seek to follow the Lord. There is much work to be done. The places to jump in and serve feel endless in our context. There are task-oriented jobs such as office admin, building maintenance, and finances. There are people-nurturing opportunities ranging from nursery, to teen discipleship, to shut-in visitation. We need people to handle God’s word, to show hospitality, to share musical gifts. And the list goes on and on and on.

Recently our staff talked about walking this line of needing to get things done and trusting God to work in his time. I am grateful for my colleagues and was encouraged by their insights. Betsy Bray captured much of the conversation with these words: "have a hopeful trust that calling servants to work is God’s business under his control. As leaders seeking to fill needs, we must focus our trust in God, who calls each to the work prepared in advance by him. It takes the pressure off us to be convincing, and leaves it between the person and God. Our work comes of praying for our needs, and praying for future volunteers to be prepared to respond in faith to the call to serve... work for God is without cost. Trusting that “God doesn’t call the equipped, rather he equips those he calls” means embracing the adventure of seeing God work things out after being obedient to begin (or even after agreeing to pray about the possibility of beginning!). The idea of obstacles being in the way of saying "yes" to serving God is an acknowledgment of the existence of a working enemy (who is already defeated). Obstacles exist for whomever God is calling to serve, so ultimately it’s not about only saying "yes" when the path is perfectly clear, rather it’s all about the call."

These are wise words and I am grateful to have such colleagues. I hate it when the urgency of tasks overtake the care for people and the patient trust in God. I hope you will forgive me when that inevitably happens. My prayer going forward is that together we will look to God's leading and fulfill with joy the roles that he has, and is, calling us to.

A final word here. In Numbers 20, again verse 11, we are told, "and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.” This is a tremendous outpouring of blessing that God gives to his people despite their rebellious hearts, and despite the anger and poor leadership of Moses. It is a reminder that God strikes straight blows with crooked sticks, and truly this is our hope going forward!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

All the People Said Amen

I am coming to you from Atlanta this week, this year’s home of our denomination’s General Assembly (GA). GA is a wonderful time of reunion and refreshment for folks in the trenches of ministry. It is a chance to share ideas, to pray with brothers and sisters, and remind ourselves of why we do what we do. GA is about affirming the things that are important to us as a denomination, like a commitment to the Scriptures as the authoritative rule for faith and practice. Like the rightness of t marriage being between a man and a women despite what others may be saying. Or like the importance of loving all people and seeing their gifts utilized, whatever their background or ethnicity. GA is unique among many of the Reformed denominations that you may be familiar with because of its larger size. Every church across the country can send all of their pastors (TEs) as delegates and at least two elders (REs). Hence the assembly has over 1200 voters! While it is unwieldy at times, and debate can be ponderous, every church truly has representation and the actions taken are representative of the denomination. ByFaith Online our denominational magazine, has regular updates for those interested.

Missionally I have been encouraged. Sometimes being in MI and a bit isolated from much of what is going on in the denomination, I forget just how passionate the PCA is when it comes to church extension and reaching the culture for Christ. ​It is encouraging to know that as we take up the opportunities given to us in our little corner of the kingdom, that we are joined with sisters and brothers throughout the world pursuing the same goals.

Friday, June 8, 2018

What are you doing Sunday 8:30 or 10:30?

So what are you doing this Sunday at 8:30 or 10:30? My hope of course, is that you will be attending one of our worship services as these are the summer hours that begin this Sunday!

On the one hand, the above sentence was ​a ​clever way of reminding you that our summer worship hours start this Sunday. (Hint, Hint. Don’t miss it!) On the other hand it really is an expression of the hope of my heart. Weekly worship is so key for our life as believers. Worship is what we were created for. And while it is true that all of life is worship, focused, praise of God weekly, is a clear way to fulfill this calling. Gathering for worship is also where we avail ourselves of the means of grace, i.e. - word and sacrament, where we are met by Christ and sustained in our journey through the days of our weeks. It is here where we encounter the blessing of Christian fellowship, true koinonia, in which we find those true soul mates that walk with us through life. So yes, my hope is to see you Sunday.

Pastor Steve will be picking up the story of God working in and through his people in Genesis 25, focusing on vv. 19-28. We will be reminded again that while his ways are not our ways, he does have a plan and we can trust him.

A final word, as much as you need worship this Sunday, don’t forget others need you as much as you need them. We are all mak​ing our way to Zion together!

Friday, June 1, 2018

How Wise, How Strong!

Lisa and I were talking the other day and noting that apparently we were under the mistaken impression that with summer upon us things would slow down a bit. In some ways just the opposite has occurred. Graduation parties, mission trips, General Assembly, weddings(!), even things like vacation, all add layers to our life. Then go ahead and throw in the unplanned stuff of life, illness, kids in crisis, house projects, car failure, you name it, and we often catch ourselves coming and going. In the midst of this, I sometimes wonder, “Am I hearing the voice of the Lord?” “Am I really following his path?”

As much as we ask these questions personally, we ask similar questions corporately as a church. Attached are documents pertaining to our proposed capital campaign and the ongoing search for an assistant pastor. These are huge initiatives where we look for the Lord to guide us. On top of that, we continue to pray for and support Gracehill as they look toward a public launch date. We look forward to summer picnics and getting out to engage our community. We seek to care well for one another as the body of Christ, especially as we see people wrestle with recent diagnosis and surgeries. In the midst of it all, we ask ourselves, “God, are you with us?”

As we dive back into Genesis this summer, it is instructive to note that God always shows up for his people. In chapter 24, Abraham is again in trouble as he sees his life coming to a close and Isaac still not married. How will the seed survive? Will the promises come to fruition? But, Abraham has learned a thing or two in his sojourns. And, in the midst of crisis he affirms his faith in YHWH in the presence of his servant, "The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father's house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you… “ (Genesis 24:7). God sees! God knows. God acts.

A lot is going on in life, and the way forward is not always crystal clear. We may not even be certain we are hearing his voice. But, what is crystal clear is that our God is faithful. He who brought us this far will continue to guide us.

Paul Gerhardt in an old hymn, Give to the Wind thy Fears, puts it appropriately this way:

Leave to His sovereign sway
To choose and to command;
Then shalt thou, wandering, own His way,
How wise, how strong,
how wise, how strong
How wise, how strong His hand.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Grace in the Shadows

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 18, 2018

What does this mean?

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

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

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

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

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

God in us. Amazing!

Friday, May 4, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 27, 2018

Near the Brokenhearted

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 20, 2018

Ready for Growth?

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 13, 2018

Present Perfect Progressive

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 6, 2018


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

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

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

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday

What to write for a greeting on Good Friday? Is it Happy Friday?

My prayer is that this week has been a week of allowing the space in our lives to be filled with the truths of Christ. That you would let the paradoxical truths of the Gospel pervade your being.

Melito of Sardis captures the paradox of our faith in an Easter Sermon. Melito is not a household name, but he held a foremost place in terms of Bishops in Asia in the 2nd century due to his personal influence on Christianity and his literary works. It was said of him that his “whole walk was the Holy Spirit”. So through the centuries I offer his thoughts to you this Good Friday for your reflection:

“And so he was raised on a cross, and a title was fixed, indicating who it was who was being executed. Painful it is to say, but more terrible not to say ... He who suspended the earth is suspended, he who fixed the heavens is fixed, he who fastened all things is fastened to the wood; the Master is outraged; God is murdered.”

“Who is it that contends with me?
Let him stand in opposition to me.
I set the condemned man free;
I gave the dead man life;
I raised up one who had been entombed.
Who is my opponent?
I am the Christ
I am the one who destroyed death,
and triumphed over the enemy,
and trampled Hades underfoot,
and bound the strong one,
and carried off man
to the heights of heaven,

Friday, March 16, 2018

Comfort amid March Madness

March Madness is truly upon us. Not only are there basketball games happening all day (Go MIZZOU - sorry had to) but Gracehill is preparing for soft launch this coming Sunday. Easter is ever approaching and there is also this little little thing called life that is still happening day by day. Some of us find ourselves in the middle of lenten fasting, a task that can prove to be very difficult, dare I say, mad at times? Some of us are preparing for the madness of a church plant launching. Some of us feel like vagabonds, wondering what else 2018 is going to hurl our way. All of us are in the throws of life. Which begs the question, where does one look amidst the madness? How does one live in the madness?

Comfort. That is what we long for when we are in the throng of madness. We look for something, someone or some situation to soothe us, console us, to bring cheer in or through the madness. A national championship, a vacation, physical healing, all examples of mediums that can result in comfort.

This Sunday at Christ Church we are delving into our last installment of our intentional look at the Holy Spirit in our Upper Room series. Andrew will preach on the Holy Spirit as Comforter. Consider these words from Jesus in John 14;
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid”
What’s remarkable about this passage is what Jesus leaves with his disciples. Peace. Shalom, the Hebrew word that peace derives from had a much more rich direction than our word and translation peace. Shalom conveys the absence of conflict, but it also, at the same time, conveys the notion of positive blessing, most pointetly in terms of a right relationship with God. One might say its a “two-for”, both comfort from turbulence, AND blessing in Union with Christ.

Here we find true comfort, provided to us through The Comforter. So whether you are scrambling through your taxes, managing a household of kids, preparing details for a church plant, fumbling through a full calendar, or sitting alone - wherever you find yourself in this March madness, remember we have the peace, the comfort and the blessing of The Comforter working through us.

“And this is his work [The Holy Spirit] to the end of the world—to bring the promises of Christ to our minds and hearts, to give us the comfort of them, the joy and sweetness of them…”
(Vanhoozer, Communion with the Triune God)

~ Addison Hawkins

Friday, March 9, 2018

Foundation of Consolation

Many of you know that today and tomorrow we will be greeting the family of Mark Kolk to offer our sympathy, share in grief, remember a life well lived and ultimately reconnect to the Source of Mark’s hope and ours. We come together as a community; individuals whose lives have been woven together to love one another and bear one another’s burdens.

But we are not alone in this burden bearing. As we have been learning through this Upper Room Discourse of Jesus’, he has given us another Paraclete. That word, paraclete, is translated helper, comforter, advocate, counselor in the various translations. Literally it means a side-caller, one who comes alongside to speak for us and to us of things that are greater than ourselves.

Part of the question is why don’t we call to mind more readily the presence of the Holy Spirit? Why don’t we invite the help that is so readily offered? John Owen put it this way in his book Communion with the Triune God:
I deny that ever the Holy Spirit does absolutely and universally leave a believing soul without consolation. A man may be darkened, clouded, refuse comfort—actually find none or feel none; but radically he has a foundation of consolation, which in due time will be drawn forth. 
We have a “foundation of consolation”! We may not always experience it, but for the believer, it is there and will be drawn forth in due time. What a gift it is to lean into this foundation during our grief. Whatever your grief is, whatever questions you have, whatever pain you are in the midst of, know that the paraclete is with you.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Youth. Not Wasted on these Young.

“Remember your Creator during your youth: when all possibilities lie open before you and you can offer all your strength intact for his service. The time to remember is not after you become senile and paralyzed! Then it is not too late for your salvation, but too late for you to serve as the presence of God in the midst of the world and the creation. You must make take sides earlier—when you can actually make choices, when you have many paths opening at your feet, before the weight of necessity overwhelms you.”

Jacques Ellul, Reason for Being: A Meditation on Ecclesiastes

A couple of years ago we brought on Addison Hawkins to help us think through and provide some intentionality in welcoming college students into our community. He, along with his wife Lynnette and more recently Ruthy and Simon, have been doing just that. And not only welcoming them but discipling them as well.

To get a better sense of how things are going I thought I would share a “by the numbers” look that Addison recently gave in his session report:

I was so encouraged by that list. I think we all know how critical the college years are for faith formation. Steve Garber in his book The Fabric of Faithfulness, which seeks to explore the factors that influence the sustainability of faith through the college years and beyond, identifies three key ingredients for said sustainability: 1) Worldview formation - does the student have a view of the world that distinguishes truth from falsehood and incorporates a narrative that makes sense of good and evil, death and life, success and failure. 2) A nurturing community beyond the campus in which the student can continue to draw from and grow in once the college years are done. 3) Mentors who can give a vision for what faithfulness can look like as the years play out. What better place to gain all three of these is there than in the local church!

So praise the Lord for these young people and pray for them! Pray specifically that leadership would emerge, both from within the group as well as from these “mentors” who would walk with these college students. Specifically we have a desire to expand our hours spent on downtown campuses to even more intentionally connect with students, many of whom are unaffiliated with church. And don’t be afraid to pull some of these folks aside and introduce yourself, invite them over, take them to a movie, whatever … They need people like you in their lives.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Lenten Longings

My heart is heavy after yet another school shooting. Seventeen young lives lost, senselessly, tragically. My heart is heavy for the 19 year old who pulled the trigger; himself a sufferer, a victim of loss. My heart is heavy over the polarization that exists in the country, evident in the op-eds and the political rancor that fills our FaceBook feeds. Where do we go? To whom do we turn?

Throughout scripture the answer comes back resoundingly. Whether it is Asaph in Psalm 73, “Whom have I in heaven but you? 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. ” Or Peter in John 6, “to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”; we realize that in Jesus alone we find what we need. In Jesus alone we find both truth and grace. He is the one who came both preaching repentance and healing the sick. We struggle for that kind of balance. Politicians cry for more freedoms or more controls. But both our freedoms and our controls will prove to be empty cisterns (Jer. 2:13) if they are outside of Christ. We look for more truth or call for more grace when what we need is more Jesus.

Which brings us to Lent and a prayer from my good friend Scotty Smith. May our thirst be for Christ alone.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Ps. 42:1-2
     Lord Jesus, thirst is certainly an appropriate theme to ponder this Lenten season. For Lent is a season of igniting our longings for you; and there’s no craving, yearning, or need more demanding than thirst.

     Thirst is neither patient nor polite, and we’re usually quick to slake its unrelenting demand, one way or another. Thirst will not be denied. We’ll do almost anything to satisfy its cry and ache.

     Because this is true, we join the psalmist in crying out: Jesus, intensify our thirst for you. Keep us panting like the deer, which pants after streams of water—the unpolluted, un-distilled, never-ending brooks of your grace.

     Quickly drain the broken cisterns of our own making. Don’t let us be even momentarily satisfied with any other beverage than the draft you draw, the potion you pour, the life-giving libation you alone give.

     If we take up King David’s lament, “When can I go and meet with God?” you answer back without delay, “Right now, my beloved; do not wait. If you’re thirsty, come to me and drink.” “Whoever believes in me, streams of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:38).

     If we should say, “But Jesus, where can we find you?” you answer back even quicker, “Not in the law; not in your strivings; not in your labors; not in your penance; not in your earnestness; not in your self-loathing; not in your re-dedications; not in your vain promises; but only in the gospel of my grace.”

     “Come and fall into the rivers of my love. Come, you who are thirsty, come and bring your poverty of heart and I will make you rich in my love. Stand under the cascading waterfalls of my compassion. Open your heart wide to my affection, and I will fill you to overflowing with everything you need, and more than you want.”

     Even so and evermore, Lord Jesus, school us well in panting after you. Fill us afresh that we might be a people to the praise of your glory and grace. So very Amen we pray in your all-glorious and all-generous name.

Friday, February 2, 2018

On Into Mission

Whew! Though some posters and wall hangings still remain, the formal missions month is over. It has been mentioned to me a couple of times that there has never been such a focus on mission at Christ Church. It truly was something to behold and difficult to walk away from unchanged.

We don’t truly walk away though, do we? Rather than walking away we walk into this mission that the Father inaugurated, Jesus died for, and the Spirit continues to fan into flame. We walk into mission; in our neighborhoods, at the grocery store, in our schools, our families, churches and around the world. Everywhere we go we see the need for the welcoming, healing, liberating, stain-removing Gospel!

As our missions conference was going on, we have been reminded by events in our own state how terribly broken the world we live in is, both in the hearts of individuals and in the institutions that they run. We have been reminded that we are surrounded by hurting sisters and brothers, many of them victims with very few places to call “safe”. This is our mission: to extend the welcoming balm of the gospel to these hurting. To invite those who might not be sharing the sweet fellowship of Jesus into our church, our homes, our lives.

So how do we, a disparate group of ragtag individuals carry out this mission? You know the same thing could have been asked about the disciples who gathered with Jesus in the upper room, the same ones he called to carry out His mission. Judas would betray. Peter would deny. Philip and Thomas were confused. And all would scatter. And yet … These were the ones through whom the Lord would build his church.

This Sunday we will find ourselves with these disciples listening to the words of Jesus in what is known as the Upper Room discourse. We will begin with the first 20 verses of John 13. Like the disciples, we are an imperfect community to be sure. But as we walk with our Savior and allow him to minister to us, we find that he will use us nonetheless.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Worthy of Mission

One of the issues that I wrestle with, both personally and pastorally, is the idea of making progress in the Christian life. To put it in context of missions, one of the most frequent barriers that people need to overcome is their own sense of worthiness to share the good news. As we noted last week the Gospel, i.e. the good news, is precisely good news because it meets us in both our brokenness and our guilt and makes us new. The Gospel isn’t about good people becoming better, but rather it is about enslaved wretches finding freedom and life.

But why don’t we make more progress in the Christian life? What if I am still struggling with this sin or that, does that mean I am not getting closer to God? What does it mean for mission?

Recently John Newton has been my teacher in these areas. His short letter entitled The Advantages of Remaining Sin has given me fresh eyes to the work that God is doing in our lives. What Newton highlights is that the goal of God’s work in our lives is not independently moral and upright people, but rather a people that live in grateful, loving, intimate, dependence with their Father, Savior, Redeemer, Friend, and Counselor. To that point, what Newton highlights is that our need is what keeps us at the feet of Jesus, leaning on his loving breast (to quote a hymn). Here are some lines from Newton himself that capture much of this same thought. I offer them for encouragement, that in our struggles and in our need, God has us exactly where he wants us and there is no better springboard from which to tell out the Good News!
I asked the Lord that I might grow In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know, And seek, more earnestly, His face. 
I hoped that in some favoured hour, At once He’d answer my request;
and by His love’s constraining pow’r, Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell Assault my soul in every part. 
Yea more, with his His own hand He seemed intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, Blasted my gourds, and laid me low. 
‘Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried, ‘Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?’
’Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied, ‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.’ 
‘These inward trials I now employ, From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy, That thou may’st find thy all in Me.’ 
Indeed let us find our all in him, and invite others to do the same! Are we worthy of mission? Probably not. But our Savior is infinitely worthy to be lifted high!