Friday, May 3, 2019

Post Christianity (long post but hopefully worth the read)

This week a young man walked into a Jewish synagogue and opened fire. Yet another atrocity committed against image bearers of God, apparently motivated by hatred against a particular people group, joining other such crimes in our nation as well as many around the world. As we grieve this senseless loss of life we also take time to reflect for, in this case, the alleged shooter was one of our tribe, the son of an Orthodox Presbyterian elder. How does this happen? How does a young man who knows the truths of scripture, has a solid theological underpinning, and a supportive family end up in this position? There are plenty of avenues for soul searching: the nature of our discipleship with young people, are we communities that allow hatred to get a foothold, have we somehow misled people into thinking theology is more important than actually following the way of Jesus? All of these questions and others deserve consideration. But part of the answer lies simply in the post-Christian nature of our culture of which it's characteristics will continue to allow for these types of seemingly incongruous acts.

Some of you have picked up on my use of the term “post-Christian” recently; a term that has been used to describe the cultural moment that we in the West live in. I thought I'd take a moment to flesh it out here, since understanding the characteristics of post-Christianity will help us better understand how to live as followers of Jesus in this day and age, and perhaps how to better understand events like that which took place this week.

One way to understand post-Christianity is to define it against pre-Christianity and Christianity as we use these terms to describe a culture. A pre-Christian culture is one in which Christianity or its ideas are not known. Think of unreached people groups who have no exposure to Christianity or Christian values. They obviously don’t know Jesus as their Savior, and we would not be surprised to see them inhabiting some values that are completely contrary to Christian values. For example, revenge and murder may be the route to tribal ascendancy. This may be held in honor, whereas forgiveness and gentleness may be despised.

A Christian culture would be a culture in which the existence of God is accepted and Jesus is known as Lord and Savior. Values such as in the Ten Commandments are held in high esteem: truth, respect for authority, sexual fidelity, etc… While some may debate the actual extent to which Europe and America have ever actually been Christian cultures, there is certainly a sense in which we can look back and see the impact of Christianity on our culture and recognize that we have been shaped by belief in God and an adherence to his revealed Word. During a Christian era the values of Christianity are respected and the culture is populated by many followers of Jesus.

This leads us to a place to better understand our current post-Christianity. It is period where the influence of Christianity has waned or has fallen off dramatically. The authority of God’s revelation is no longer given the prominence it once had in a Christian culture. However, contrary to a pre-Christian culture, remnants of Christianity in the collective conscious exist that are valued, though often in an incomplete or even sub-Christian way. The result is that people have a notion of “God”, and they may even call themselves “Christians”, but the Being they are ascribing worship to is very different than the God who reveals himself in the scriptures. This is how a radical ecumenism develops in which one can go to a synagogue, a mosque, or a church and “worship" equally. Or, one can be a holder of sound Biblical theology but also radically hate those different from themselves. Post-Christianity wreaks havoc on the left as well as on the right.

So what does this mean for Christ Church:

1. We need to accept the fact that as Jesus followers we are no longer in the majority. That means we cannot assume that people accept our values nor should we be surprised when otherwise “good people” act in ways that are very contrary to God’s word.

2. Increasingly the thing that will define a Jesus follower is their willingness to surrender to the authority of God’s Word. In a post-Christian society many people use Christian words and may even describe themselves as Christians, but they do not surrender themselves to the totality of God’s Word. The result is a sort of DIY, cobbled-together spirituality that picks and chooses acceptable Biblical values. People may crusade for justice and mercy while living morally profligate lives without even batting an eye. Others may stand for orthodoxy and be strong morally but, as we have seen this week, be very comfortable with an anti-Semitism or other extreme alt-right ideologies. Of course we all have blind spots in our lives, but the difference is an unwillingness to look at the scriptures and shape one's life to the Word, and rather insist that God's Word needs to conform to us.

3. Not all who use the name “Christian” are truly following Jesus. As mentioned above, many people take on the term "Christian" because it is in the culture, they are not Muslim or Mormon, and they have cobbled together a spirituality by that term. Unfortunately this is true of churches as well as individuals. It is shocking how many churches have moved away, both explicitly and implicitly, from the authority of God’s Word. It has been said that folks in this camp want kingdom values but they don’t want a king.

4. We hold out an ongoing invitation to believe and belong. Using the language of our sermon series, we hold out to all the invitation to get to know the God of the scriptures: a God who sees, hears, and knows. A God who rescues and redeems. We continue to surrender to Him in all things, and in so doing we find a place to belong within the fellowship of His people.

Thanks for sticking with me through an admittedly long piece. As you can imagine there is so much more that could be said! We will be back in Exodus this Sunday. Pastor McGee will be looking with us at the first 10 verses of chapter 2 as God preserves the life of Moses and begins to prepare him for his life’s work.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Simon the...

Since it is Wednesday I am thinking about the events of the Wednesday in Holy week. (For a full account of the events of this day, see Matthew 26:6–16, Mark 14:3–11, Luke 22:3–6.) After a period of tension Jesus largely lays low on Wednesday. He visits the house of a friend, Simon the Leper. I was struck reading this again that Simon is named by his disease, or more importantly societally, the thing that made him a pariah. Yet here is Jesus, a day before his arrest, two days before his crucifixion, sharing a meal with “the leper”.

Jesus being at Simon’s house says something about Jesus to be sure. It says that instead of hanging with the establishment or those known by their strengths, he came to seek and to save the lost. He invites the weary to come find rest in him. This is the Jesus we meet in Holy Week. This is the Jesus who goes to the cross and empties himself in order that we might be filled. It says something about Simon too. He saw something in Jesus. Perhaps something deeper, more pure than in the religious establishment; something that he longed for. The truth of his disease was no longer something to hide from nor was it the most important thing in his life. What was most important was to be near Jesus! Simon opened his home, and his heart to Jesus.

As we make our way through the week we are presented with the same options that presented themselves in the first Holy Week. Who do we perceive Jesus to be? A threat to our way of life? Or one to trust for the promise of life? How will we act on our choice? Will we align ourselves with those who move to kill the troublemaker? Will we passively stand by while he expires? Or will we eschew the crowds, acknowledge our disease and invite him into our hearts and homes?

We will be filling our hearts tonight with our Maundy Thursday service. Come sit with Jesus on his road to the cross. For who desire to go deeper this weekend you can join me at Seventh Reformed Church on Friday from noon to three to meditate on the words of Jesus as he hung from the cross during those hours so long ago. (You can also catch the broadcast on WFUR 102.9 FM) Then Sunday, Resurrection breaks upon us with a greet-the-morning Sunrise Service. Followed by our full Easter services at 8:30 and 11:15.

To him who is able …

Andrew (the often callous narcissist being shaped by a loving Savior).

Friday, April 12, 2019

A Never Ending Supply

What if you had a never ending supply of money, energy, entertainment, friends, or whatever you might need?! What kind of confidence would you have as you engage life? What kind of perseverance would you be able to employ?

Isaiah 58:11 promises just this sort of never ending supply for God’s people: "And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail." Did you hear those claims? Continually; a spring of water, whose waters do not fail! These bold, audacious claims are promises that our living God makes to his people. What is even more striking is the placement of these promises in the broader context of Isaiah 58. These promises are given in response to the call to "pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted" (v.10), which itself is part of the broader call to "loose the bonds of wickedness" (v. 6). The picture that is painted for us is that of a vessel being upended and poured out, but the waters don’t end, they keep flowing!

I need to sink my roots deep into these promises! Family, work, health, world events, my own sin patterns, etc… all these conspire to leave me empty. Only by resting in the finished work of Christ do I realize that He has created in me a spring whose waters will never fail. "On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’'” (John 7:37–38).

This week we welcome Karl and Debbie Dortzbach to Christ Church as part of our Missions focus. Karl and Debbie have a deep love for the Lord and have served faithfully in service of the Kingdom for many years now. It is a privilege to host them and to glean from the unique perspective that God has afforded them.

This Sunday also is tinged with sadness as we say goodbye to Ruthy Rodriguez in terms of her role as community outreach coordinator for Gracehill. Ruthy has served faithfully and has been mightily used by the Lord for the past 18 months, but has come to see that her heart’s desire for serving the Lord will be best met in different arenas. We are deeply grateful for the way she has helped Gracehill in these beginning stages and are also grateful that Ruthy will continue to be involved in the Gracehill and Christ Church community.

Friday, April 5, 2019

A Whole New World

I, for one, am happy it is Friday. Sickness has made its way to the VM household this week and it is just time to turn the page on another week! I am also excited to begin our week long focus on missions this Sunday as we make our way to the cross!

What do you think when you think missions? Mark Noll, writing in The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith (IVP Academic, 2009),* comments that, "A few short decades ago, Christian believers were concentrated in the global north and west, but now a rapidly swelling majority lives in the global south and east.” He goes on to posit that if you were a Christian Rip Van Winkle and you were to wipe "a half-century of sleep from your eyes [after awaking this past week] and tried to locate your fellow Christian believers, you would find them in surprising places, expressing their faith in surprising ways, under surprising conditions, with surprising relationships to culture and politics, and raising surprising theological questions that would not have seemed possible when you fell asleep.”

And this my friends is good news! As our hearts sang with Psalm 72 last week and with the prayer that the whole earth would be filled with His glory, we find that the Lord is indeed building his Kingdom. Noll goes on to cite encouraging facts including this one: “More than half of all Christian adherents in the whole history of the church have been alive in the last one hundred years." Imagine that. In the last 100 years the entire, throughout-history, Christian population has doubled!

I punctuate with an exclamation point because we need to recite this stupendous encouragement in our conversations and shout this loudly in our living rooms. So often it seems that we are morose and downtrodden watching our nation’s news cycle. I sometimes feel like I am presiding over the funeral of Christendom with some of the conversations I have with believers. But, our God is on the MOVE! We just fail to see it because we are not looking in the right places. Again to quote Noll, "This past Sunday it is possible that more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called 'Christian Europe'. Yet in 1970 there were no legally functioning churches in all of China…”

So, this Sunday let us expand our hearts and minds as we come to worship this God of the cosmos. Let us pray and sing and join our voices in longing for our God to be known. May we be encouraged to see ways that God is on the move and may we be freshly energized to join the throng exulting Him before the nations. As part of our missions focus we welcome this Sunday Serge missionaries to London, Chris and Josephine Hatch, who will be joining us in the adult institute hour to talk about world religions. From the pulpit, we will be looking at Psalm 63 and the soul’s longing for God; a longing that invites mission.

* here's a more complete synopsis of Noll’s book

Friday, March 29, 2019

Preparing for the King

I am sure most of you noticed that the president came to town this week.
From roadside stands hawking t-shirts and placards, to secret service ensuring security, to crowds gathering from early morning on, Grand Rapids was transformed for his arrival.

This week we will be digging into Psalm 72. It is known as a Royal psalm, a celebration of the true King of Israel. It concludes with these words: "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!" (Psalm 72:18-19) In a similar way to the way that GR was prepared for the arrival of a president, the whole earth is being prepared for the arrival of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! The earth is being, and will be filled, with his Glory!

This is the story that we are in. We are invited to think “whole earth" big with our lives, our church, etc. We are preparing for the arrival of the King! More than t-shirts, we point people to robes of righteousness. We invite people to join us in line, to gather with the throngs so that we may greet the One who comes in perfect righteousness, justice and compassion.

To that end I am grateful that the motion to push forward with mission at Christ Church by making our facilities a place for the “sparrows and swallows" of the world to find a home overwhelmingly passed this past Wednesday (referencing Psalm 84). I am grateful that there was an embrace of a continuing commitment to church planting. Preparing for a King gives us a lot of work to do in the coming months and years, but we take heart that it is the King's work!

I know many of you are out on spring break adventures. Our prayers are with you for refreshment and safety. For those of us holding down the MI fort, I look forward to greeting our King together Sunday morning.

To the King! To the Kingdom!

Friday, March 22, 2019

In the Courts of the Lord

Psalm 84 is next in our series of Lenten psalms. In it, the psalmist expresses his longing for the courts of the Lord, a place for him that encapsulates joy and security that comes with resting in the Lord. I look forward to unpacking it with you this Sunday as it is a treasure trove of encouragement for the believer.

I think it is also incredibly timely for our particular community. This coming Wednesday we have called a congregational meeting to primarily consider the session’s recommendation that we move forward with a building renovation and a capital campaign to support it. This is a big decision for the life of our local body. We consider that God has given us a beautiful community that is pressing into the Gospel. We want to nurture this Gospel life among ourselves and to continue to share what we are experiencing with others, both those finding their way here now, as well as those in the greater GR area who have no connection with this beautiful Gospel. We believe the proposal before us supports and encourages that mission.

But following the Lord, in big ways and small, always has its challenges. One challenge we have as we come to our meeting Wednesday is that our general fund giving has been down the last quarter in a way that gives pause. Honestly, we are not sure what to make of this. The Lord has blessed us in the last 4-5 years and we have responded by increasing ministry within our church, in our community and throughout the world. This means we have taken on greater responsibilities from a budget perspective. In an effort to help us all understand our situation clearly, we have prepared a handout available this Sunday that seeks to outline where we are clearly.

We do hope that you will make an effort to be present at our meeting Wednesday. One of the principles of presbyterianism is the importance of the gathered assembly, seeking the Lord’s will together as we collectively make decisions*. Like the psalmist, we believe that the Lord is our Sun and our Shield. He is the one that lights our paths and protects us in the face of adversity. Blessed is the one who trusts in Him (Psalm 84:12)!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Think Big, Think Long, Think Biblically

We welcome this week's letter from the desk of Cheryl LaFleur...

Happy Friday Christ Church!

Picture yourself with one of your hands reaching forward and upward as you pursue Jesus. In that same picture, your other hand is extended behind you as you take someone along on that journey. This is leadership. This is discipleship. Does the picture describe you? Are you pursuing Jesus and calling others to come along? Then perhaps you are a leader.

On Sunday morning Pastor Addison will lead us through Psalm 32. The psalmist praises God for the ways He deals with our sin then after the “therefore” in verse 6, describes how we are to respond to that: with bold prayer, with trust, by yielding to God and through rejoicing in Him. At the PCA Women’s Life-giving Leadership Conference in February, Lynnette Hawkins and I learned that forgiven, life-giving leaders respond like this by:

THINKING BIG – Do I aim to do something that is doomed to failure unless God is in it or do I play it safe? Do I ask God to do “exceedingly abundantly more than I can ask or think?"

THINKING LONG – Do I lead others in the light of eternity or are my investments short-term and short-sighted?

THINKING BIBLICALLY – Do I take advantage of opportunities to listen to good teaching, to study God’s Word for myself, to ponder it, apply it, memorize it, talk about it with others, and pray about it? Do I allow it to convict and correct me? Does it inform everything I do?

Here are three other takeaways from the conference:

We serve an amazing God, and He is at work in powerful and life-giving ways.

We are part of an amazing denomination. From work being done on college campuses, at Covenant Seminary, in the military, overseas, in engaging disability with the Gospel, in pursuing justice and mercy, through publications, in small and large churches, through church plants and a host of other ways, the Word is being declared, lives are being changed and the Gospel is going forth.

The PCA is full of amazing women (and men, too). We met many leaders that fit the description in the initial picture. They are strong, humble, wise and godly, and they sacrifice much so the Gospel goes out.

Lynnette and I were privileged to be in their company and our prayer is that we will be servant leaders who pursue Christ and continually invite others to join us on the journey. Here are the large group talks and seminars from the conference which can be downloaded and listened to at your convenience! There is a lot of wonderful information packed into these talks.

We look forward to seeing you for worship Sunday as Pastor Addison walks us through Psalm 32 in our Lenten series.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Orientation, Disorientation, Reorientation

Could it be? Could the hold of the White Witch be loosening here in GR? I am pretty sure I heard birds chirping this morning. Furthermore, I am seeing pavement through the ice-trough that is our street! With the rise in temperature comes an anticipation for spring. We are longing for the day when we can throw open the windows, get out the buckets of Mr. Clean, and chase all the staleness and stuffiness of winter away.

This season of Lent is similar. It is an opportunity to "open the windows" of our hearts and let the fresh breezes of the gospel blow through, chasing away the staleness and stuffiness that inevitably collects. I love the psalmist in Psalm 139:23-24 where he says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" This is a spring cleaning type prayer, an honest invitation to allow God to "clean house" in our soul. Not in a groveling sort of way that focuses on our effort or sees a need to deny ourselves to earn God’s favor. Rather, proper Lenten “cleaning” is a fresh application of the promises of the gospel joyfully brought to bear on our lives.

What better place to look Scripturally for guidance in this Lenten season than the psalms! The psalms speak to us of life as we know it. They speak to us of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation; a cycle that seems to capture the story of humanity on a daily basis as we relate to God in the midst of a messy and broken world. During Lent this year we will learn how God uses the Book of Psalms to lead us through this ongoing cycle. Together we will explore how it teaches us to speak and sing to God in a way that expresses the full range of our emotions to God in prayer. Because psalms are prayers composed for singing, we will not only learn about them, but will pray with and from the psalms by singing them together in a variety of different forms. God’s people have been singing this biblical hymnbook to pray to God in worship for 3000 years since the time of King David. Jesus himself learned to pray using the language of psalms, and in his life and prayers we find their greatest fulfillment. As we learn the discipline and delight of following Jesus in the way of the cross during this season of Lent and preparing for the great celebration of Easter, we anticipate the guidance of God’s prayerbook.

This week Pastor McGee will be leading us in a look at Psalm 116. As is our tradition at Christ Church, we will begin a cycle of weekly communion during the Lenten season to aid us in connecting afresh to God’s grace.

O Lord, search us and know us! Lead us in the way everlasting!

Friday, March 1, 2019

Side by Side

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” Philippians 1:27

What are you striving for these days? Personally, I have been thinking a lot about this verse and what it means. I have been trying to keep my walk shoveled, (yet again), trying to keep the salt off of my car, and just trying to stay warm. I’ve been trying to keep up with all of my commitments. Winter can put me in survival mode. But what am I truly striving for?

Paul reminds us that our real purpose is to strive side by side for the faith of the gospel. What a noble purpose God has given us in this life! Our great Savior has gone before us and now has given our church community a commission to be His ambassadors to a waiting world. We get to do this right here in Grand Rapids. But God’s heart is for this whole world. We also get to be part of His work by striving side by side with the missionaries that Christ Church supports.

During Lent, (Yes, Ash Wednesday is coming on March 6th!), we have the opportunity to strive with our missionaries in prayer as a church community.

A booklet entitled, Praying With Our Missionaries through the Season of Lent is available for your use. It is comprised of 40 entries highlighting missionaries and their prayer requests. Each entry features a scripture, song, hymn, or thought that is dear to one of our missionaries. It also gives specific prayer requests for the day. Please consider making this part of your daily routine for the next five weeks.

This Sunday, each child from kindergarten through high school will also come home with a leaflet highlighting one of our missionaries. The information is presented in simple, straightforward language so that it is accessible to everyone, both young and old. During the next five weeks the children will be learning about and communicating with their particular missionary in their Sunday School class. It is our hope that the children of Christ Church will deepen their understanding of missions, know who their missionaries are, and faithfully pray for the cause of Christ. Will you join with them and encourage them in this endeavor? The leaflets will be available to everyone in the congregation the following week, so that we can all take part.

The last week, (April 7th through 14th) will culminate in our Missions Festival, Beyond our Doors: Missions 2019. We are excited to see what will happen.

It is our hope that our own faith will be strengthened as we pray together with our missionaries. May they know that we are” standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side” with them.

Alice den Hollander for the Missions Committee

Friday, February 22, 2019

A Generous God

I would say that it is good to be back from sunny Costa Rica, but that might not be entirely true…

However, it is also not entirely untrue. It is good to be back engaging with sisters and brothers in the work that God has called us to at Christ Church! It was good to interact with women and men coming for Bible Study on Monday night. It was a joy to sit together with the Session, now including Bryan, Sean, and Bryant, and pray for the people that God has given us to care for, and seek his wisdom for the work he has called us to in GR. We were reminded that as we experience our limitations in serving and leading this congregation, we come to a God who is generous in dispensing what we need, because his character is to give good gifts to his children (cf. Matt 7:7-11).

As you may have taken note of already, we hope to share with you some of the things we have been seeking the Lord’s wisdom on this coming Wednesday at 6:30pm at a Session Soundings Live (i.e. town hall style discussion). The first topic we want to bring you up to speed on is the happenings with the proposed facility expansion. We have had a couple of slow downs in moving the project forward. Thankfully, it looks like we are now at a place to present the project in anticipation of calling a congregational meeting for March 27 to officially vote on the project. The other tyopic we would like to share this coming Wednesday has to do with staff roles and responsibilities now that Bryant is on board.

We are so grateful that we have a Father in heaven who dispenses wisdom to those who seek it. We are grateful that we can seek him as a body and know that his heart is generous toward us. We will be reminded of this truth as we look into the nature of the King whom we approach in prayer through the lens of Luke 18:1-8 this Sunday.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Snow Days

       Unless one learns how to relish the taste of Sabbath while still in this world, unless one is initiated in the appreciation of eternal life, one will be unable to enjoy the taste of eternity in the world to come… The essence of the world to come is Sabbath eternal, and the seventh day in time is an example of eternity. (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath)

Well, that was quite a spate of weather this week! I hope you enjoyed your snow days off from school, church, work, etc. Snow days, while an inconvenience in some ways, are such a gift of unexpected time: time to rest, bake cookies, clean a closet, go into your prayer closet, talk with friends or family, take a nap, read a book, watch a movie, etc. In other words, snow days are a wonderful picture of God’s gift of Sabbath.

Author Peter Scazzero practically and helpfully talks about the Sabbath principle as follows:

Stop. Sabbath is first and foremost a day when we cease all work — paid and unpaid. On the Sabbath we embrace our limits. We let go of the illusion that we are indispensable to the running of the world. We recognize we will never finish all our goals and projects, and that God is on the throne, managing quite well in ruling the universe without our help.

Rest. Once we stop, we accept God’s invitation to rest. God rested after his work of creation. Every seventh day, we are to do the same (Genesis 2:1 – 4).

Delight. After finishing his work in creation, God pronounced it, “very good” (Genesis 1:31). This was not an anemic afterthought — "Oh, well, it’s nice to be done with that" — but a joyful recognition and celebration of accomplishment. As part of observing Sabbath, God invites us to join in the celebration, to enjoy and delight in his creation and all the gifts he offers us in it. These innumerable gifts come to us in many forms, including people, places, and things.

Contemplate. Pondering the love of God is the central focus of our Sabbaths. What makes a Sabbath a biblical Sabbath is that it is “holy to the Lord.” We are not taking time off from God; we are drawing closer to him. Sabbath is an invitation to see the invisible in the visible, to recognize the hidden ways God’s goodness is at work in our lives.

In a busy world where we are often on the run to obligations of various sorts may we learn to embrace God’s weekly snow days - His Sabbath.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Giving Ourselves

I have an admission to make. A part of me is unsatisfied in writing to you week by week. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really love writing to you as this is a good avenue for communication on important issues, and there is opportunity to share things I am thinking about in a different format, but there are limitations, too. Zach Eswine, in his book Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being notes this as well by saying, “Twitter, Facebook, virtual conferencing—these allow us the illusion of being somewhere other than where we are. Positively we have a voice in places otherwise absent to us. But we type on our keyboards while sitting in a chair where we are—the local knowledge and work of the day in our place awaiting our presence. The danger here is that it allows us to give our gifts without giving ourselves.” You see, unlike Jesus, I am not omnipresent. And while we are connecting in some way right now as you read this, there are limitations to the ministry potential of this interaction.

Right now are some of you feeling this is kind of a strange Friday letter? However, I note this as a way of contrast to say how grateful I am Christ Church is officially adding three men to our session (board of elders) this Sunday. Sean Doran and Bryan Burke will be installed as ruling elders, while Bryant McGee will be installed as an Associate Pastor for Christ Church. Three more elders means that in significant ways, as elders, we will be able to give more of ourselves to you and to the service of the church.

Our worship on Sunday will focus around these installations. We will be taking a break from parables to hear a word from Paul to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:9-18) that has much to say about caring for each other in general, and in particular, about the care needed in the service of the church.

So, I will keep writing and hopefully you will keep reading, only may we give more of ourselves to each other day by day!

As always — Grace,


Friday, January 18, 2019

Meeting the Cares of the World

On Sunday we will be looking at Matthew 13:1-23. It is the well-known parable of the sower, or perhaps more accurately, the parable of the soils. In it Jesus emphasizes the reality that while the Word is sown consistently it produces differently based on the type of soil that it falls into. Primarily, it is an invitation to cultivate the good soil that will bear the greatest yield to God’s glory. Secondarily, it is a reminder that as we carry out our mission as Christ Church we interact with folks representing the different kinds of soils, which in turn requires different ministry approaches.

Below is an open letter from Robin Luymes on behalf of the deacons, highlighting an important ministry of Christ Church geared particularly at coming alongside those for whom the cares of the world (cf. Mt. 13:22) are choking out the Word. We are so grateful for the men and women of Christ Church involved in diaconal ministry through our DMTs (Diaconal Ministry Teams). Perhaps this piques your interest as a place to serve.

At a recent Deacons Meeting, the deacons of Christ Church discussed Pastor Andrew's recent sermon on 2 Corinthians 8 & 9 about God's utilization of his people for providing comfort and Paul's exhortations to generosity.

The reality is that Christ Church is amazing when it comes to the generosity of their financial and material resources. As deacons, we are faced with many needs emanating from within and outside our congregation, and we are almost always able to help with funds. It is a great privilege for the deacons to be entrusted with these funds to help those simply trying to make ends meet or others facing large, unexpected challenges. Being able to provide funds that help a person in need can be a great blessing, but the greater blessing comes when the financial gift comes with our personal time and attention.

Two years ago, we set out to create Diaconal Ministry Teams (DMTs) with four different focus areas: Finance & Personnel, Facilities, Congregational Care, and Community Care. 

These four teams, involving deacon leadership, were created to involve Christ Church members in diaconal ministries. We would like to invite Christ Church members to become actively involved in two of these: the Congregational Care and Community Care DMTs, providing leadership for and participation in addressing the needs of people within our congregation and within our broader community.

As a DMT member, you would probably participate in five or six meetings per year at which you would discuss how we proactively and reactively meet the needs of others. You might be asked to lead one portion of that DMT's practice, whether that be our involvement with an outside ministry like Grace's Table for young, unwed mothers, our support and coordination of visiting the sick and shut-ins, transportation needs to attend our church or go to medical appointments, and much more. If it is something that our church currently does or could do for an individual or group, it may be a ministry that one of these two DMTs will tackle.

You may not feel you have the time, but you probably do, and even if you can't always make it, the deacons would love to have you there from time to time. You may think it is hard work that you do not have the talent for, but you do. It just requires that you care for other people, and we know you do. You may think it's someone else's job, but you're wrong! It's a job we all share, and we are inviting men, women and young people of Christ Church to become involved in one of these teams! Please prayerfully consider becoming an active part of these diaconal ministries through our DMTs and, possibly, as a deacon.

If you feel that the Lord is calling you to get involved please feel free to contact any of our deacons. Thank you in advance for your generous response to this call to become actively involved in Christ Church's diaconal ministries through participation on a DMT.

On Behalf of the Deacons,


Friday, January 11, 2019

Flowing to the Word

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Micah 4:1–2)

Perhaps more than anything recently the Spirit has captured my imagination with the desirability of living in accordance with God’s Word. As our recent study of Micah made clear, the consummation of the Kingdom of God will coincide with people flowing to the mountain of God to live under the Word and to walk in its ways. Tired of going their own way, tired of running into the despair and dead ends that humans create for themselves, people will flock to their Creator and delight in his Word and his ways. It was this Kingdom that Jesus was inaugurating and teaching about through the parables that we have taken for study. These parables were designed to capture the listener and make him a participant of this gracious rule.

But it is precisely this “flowing" to the Word of God that so many of us resist. Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp, in their book How People Change, put it this way, "More than any before us, an American today believes 'I must write the script of my own life.' The thought that such a script must be subordinated to the grand narrative of the Bible is a foreign one."

As we move into this new year may we increasingly become people of the Word. I recently heard one person put it this way, “Have you ever met a growing Christian who is not reading the Bible and praying with regularity?” As an aid, the Session has again made available a devotional book for us to pursue together as a church throughout this year. This year we have once again turned to Tim and Kathy Keller, who, this time, take us through the book of Proverbs. Filled with Gospel wisdom and practical application, we hope that this resource is a blessing to your household and an encouragement to an even greater pursuit of God’s Word.

Friday, January 4, 2019


So just like that we're off and running in 2019! It is amazing how quickly things can resume their normal pace.

Speaking of normal, as we move into the new year we wanted to take a minute and talk about the ways in which we care for each other at Christ Church, in particular our elder fold groupings. For the past several years, the Session has arranged the elder folds around C-Groups. There are advantages to this to be sure - the top advantage being all members of a C-Group have the same elder. Conversely, the fluid nature of C-Group membership has meant that members were reassigned elders often based on the new C-Group they joined. And for anyone not in a C-Group, fold assignments were rather random. All of this could cause confusion as to what fold someone was in.

As Christ Church continues to grow numerically, the Session considered if there was a better way to handle these divisions. Many good ways to do this exist, but we had to choose one. So, going forward in 2019, we are moving to Elder Folds based on geography. As our membership stretches from Saranac to Holland, and from Middleville to Greenville, arranging folds in this manner hopefully will assist us all in being able to care for those who are closest to where we live.

As we think about caring for each other, the primary level is member to member care. This can mean someone who lives close to you, someone in your C-Group or Bible study, or other small group you are a part of. The next level of care is to call on the elder or deacon now assigned to you geographically, to put them in closer proximity to where you live. The outer level of care then involves calling on the pastors and ministry staff, often in crisis situations. Here is a diagram of what this type of care might look like:

In addition, we have also consolidated the number of folds and are moving to a team approach. Thus, each fold will have either two or three elders assigned to watch over those within that area. Hopefully this change will help us more effectively care for one another. Expect that your elders will be communicating with you soon.

We pray these changes will not only assist the session, but also all of us as individual members of Christ Church as we seek to care for each other. May God give us hearts to do so.

Belonging to one another is one of the great benefits of belonging to the Kingdom of Christ. Over the next several weeks we will be looking more closely at the nature of this Kingdom as we explore some of the parables that marked Jesus’ ministry. We begin in Matthew 13:44-52 and note the priceless nature of the Kingdom!

See you Sunday!

(on behalf of the Session -with special thanks to Mark Jurries for his work on the fold redistribution.)