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.