My heart is filled with so many emotions as I write to you this month. By now most, if not all of you, have heard that Kathleen and I are soon to be moving back to NY to help take care of my 90 year old father, whose health issues warrant a greater degree of involvement than we are able to give long distance.
As I explained this past Sunday, for us this is both an act of familial love, and a call of God. Not only are our own hearts pulled to want to help, but we find a clear principle in Scripture; in passages such as Ephesians 6:2-3 and 1 Timothy 5:8; that the Lord places a high priority on caring for our families, including our aging parents. Matthew 15:4-6 particularly spoke to me as I prayed through this decision; being already in the ministry and following God’s call on my life. In speaking to the Pharisees – the most religious folks of the day – Jesus said “For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.
You can see then, through these few examples, how God has revealed His will to us as we have sought Him over the last several months. As I have always told you and now show by example, the written word of God is the foundation for how we live our lives and discern God’s will. Notice that first we found a general principle (does what we are thinking of doing line up with an overall precept found in the word as a whole?). Then we asked the Lord to speak to us in a more personal manner; the Holy Spirit illuminating the word to answer specific questions we had or address our particular circumstances. Once we had solid footing on the word, God also began to show us through circumstances, as He put various pieces of the puzzle into place that revealed His working in the matter. And finally, even though this is a huge life change for us, leaving the church and the people we love so dearly, we have a deep sense of peace in the Lord. We know that He is in this. Convinced of that, we have the assurance that He will meet our needs, and those of Christ Community Church.
As I alluded to Sunday, since we needed to put a date on this, Kathleen and I will remain full time until the first of the year (unless something radically changes with my Dad). What happens after that will depend on many factors that are unknown at this time. What is clear is that we are not just walking away, but will help the transition process in any way we can. And we still have family and friends here, so we won’t be strangers!
I can’t tell you what it has meant to us, as so many have expressed their love for us, and also their understanding and support for what we are doing. It blesses me as a pastor to have a mature church that “gets it”. One that understands the biblical value of family and commitment. Because of that I also know that your commitment to the family of Christ Community Church runs strong. It is this very commitment that will cause CCC to not just get by, but thrive during this time of transition. Your love led commitment to this body - to its wellbeing, to unity and harmony, to earnest prayer for your church and for your leaders, to encouraging one another, to stepping up to help where needed, to financial support, etc. – will not only sustain you, but draw the blessing of God in great measure. We so look forward to hearing about that blessing and watching what the Lord does in and through you in this season ahead!
Let me close by saying, on behalf of Kathleen and myself, what an honor it has been to know you, to serve you, and to help guide you in Christ these past almost fifteen years. The time has passed so quickly, and yet looking at the family we’ve raised here, the friendships we’ve made, and the community we’ve been a part of, this has been one of the biggest, most important parts of our lives. Dellroy Ohio, and Christ Community Church will forever be a part of who we are.
Thank you so much for your love and support. Please pray for us as we will do the same for you.
I love the grace of God. We are loved because God is love. We are forgiven of our sin and reconciled to the Lord because of the cross of Christ. We are accepted as His beloved children. If God is for us (and He said He is) who can be against us? What incredible blessings are ours in Christ!
But a relationship, is a relationship...period. In order to have one, two individuals have to relate; they have to interact. This has nothing to do with being "good"...it's not that we are supposed to put in our daily dues. It's about two individuals sharing life together.
I remember when my wife and I were dating. We would talk for hours about all kinds of things. Then we got married and for a few weeks after our honeymoon, we just got real busy. One morning I woke up, looked over at Kathleen and realized how distant I felt from my new bride. We weren't fighting. There was no animosity at all between us. We were still two newlyweds who deeply loved each other. But because of the lack of any deep emotional interaction more than surface chit chat, we felt distant.
Are you feeling distant from the Lord? Don't let guilt put you into "works" mode and try to earn His love trying to be "good". When we do that, we trade "time with someone we love" into some kind of duty.
When it came to my bride and I, we had to make a decision to put some other things aside and reconnect. We realized that just being married and caring for each other wasn't enough. If we were going to experience a closeness in our relationship, we had to spend time together, we had to share our hearts - our thoughts, our struggles and our dreams.
Sure, sharing our hearts with the Lord may very well include confessing sin (and He will be faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness 1 John 1:9), but we can't just get to the point that we know we are forgiven - that there's no "bad feelings". We may feel "clean" but we will still lack that sense of closeness. If we are going to know that closeness and the joy and confidence it brings into out lives, we are going to have to make room for regular "under the surface" (I need this and that) interacting with the Lord. When it comes to relationship, there's just no substitute for relating.
During our Monday night prayer meeting last night, we read through the account of Elijah when God revealed Himself by fire and drew His people out of hybrid worship of the Lord and Baal (2 Kings 21). If you are familiar with the account, two altars were built and two sacrifices were prepared and whoever answered by consuming the sacrifice with fire from heaven was the true God. After many hours of crying out ritual dancing and cutting themselves, the prophets of Baal were unsuccessful at getting a response. Before Elijah called on the Name of the Lord, he (by God's direction) had a trench dug around his altar and water poured over it. They poured water over the sacrifice not once but three times until the bull and the wood were totally soaked, and the trench overflowed.
Elijah prayed, and the Bible says, Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”
What an awesome sight that must have been!
But it struck me that sometimes as we are waiting for our miracle from God, the water gets poured on us. Bad news comes bringing doubt and discouragement. Often these discouragements come in multiples like another wave of water nearly knocking us over, leaving us catching our breath - far from the picture of confidently standing in faith.
Yet as we read the account of Elijah, we can gain valuable insight. Why did God have Elijah pour water on the sacrifice? So that there would be no way to accomplish this feat by natural means. When God stepped in to reveal Himself, there was to be no question that this was in fact a divine action. Thus no one could say it wasn't really the Lord, just that such and such happened. The Lord made a clear statement that showed who was really in charge which bolstered the faith of the whole nation. The same thing happened with Gideon when the Lord shrunk the size of his band of soldiers twice until they were hopelessly outnumbered. As someone once said, the greater the odds, the sweeter the victory.
So if you're in a situation of trusting the Lord and find yourself being knocked by the waves of discouragement, hold your breath and get ready. Expect God to do something incredible in your life.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1–3, ESV)
Read Job 38-39 today, where God answers His "faultfinder" by reminding him who is who. After reading this passage, I am left with this question, "Are we trying too hard to sell Jesus to people?" Yes, our God IS an awesome God, full of love, grace, and mercy. Yes, He offers us forgiveness, a personal relationship with Himself, a new identity, purpose, inner peace, etc. Sure, He has the best retirement program going. BUT...
I couldn't help but think it's like walking into a dog kennel and saying to our fellow K9s, "You really should go with THIS owner...He has a big backyard, lots of chew toys, a dish with your name on it, and ......" When the truth is, these dogs have already been scheduled to be euthanized.
Now you know that I'm not a hell fire and brimstone preacher, but perhaps the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Somewhere we have lost the sense that sinners (like us) NEED to be saved. True repentance can only take place when we realize that we have sinned against a holy God and deserve the wages of that sin - eternal separation from His holy presence. Without that sense of conviction, God's grace is robbed of its utter amazingness and becomes one of many choices.
So tell me why I should give up doing what I want to do when I want to do it and be accountable to some deity? "Well, we have great music, and a community of people who smile at you on Sundays, and we do a bunch of churchy stuff that you have absolutely no interest in now, but you will if you join us." Ummm...no thanks.
Where is the burden for the lost? Where is the urgency knowing that if people die without Him they will spend eternity where Jesus said there would be darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth?
Shortly after my first attempt at higher education, I did a short stint in the life insurance business. Most of my acquaintances at the time were young and single - without dependents. Sure, life insurance was a good idea, but they didn't see sufficient need for them to choose that over the myriad of other things they could do with their money. And the fact was, I wasn't very convincing because I didn't see the need either.
I'm not saying we go back to the street corners shouting "Turn or Burn!" But may God give His church back a holy concern for the lost!
Is Anybody Out There?
Boy… Satan doesn’t let up, does he? Finally we have a church that doesn’t seem to be infiltrated by the Judaizers. But instead they are receiving false reports supposedly from the Apostles that the day of the Lord had already come. Still the enemy is trying to confuse them, divide them, and throw them off track Fortunately Paul is able to them straight.
Sometimes it’s like that in life, isn’t it? It seems like if it isn’t one thing it’s another. You wonder if it’s ever going to quit so you can have some breathing room. The heavier the trials, the worse it gets. Prayer can sometimes feel like it’s bouncing back off the ceiling and not going anywhere. Do you ever wonder if God is listening…or even cares anymore? Dare we say it? But it’s true.
I can remember a time when things were like that for me. I remember standing out in the middle of a field and literally screaming into heaven, “What do you want from me?!” Can anyone relate?
When I look at the whole of Scripture, I see this principle at work. God is able to work independently of our understanding. I know; profound, right? But what I also see is this; God works miraculously in the lives of those who trust Him when they don’t understand the hows and whys. Noah, Abraham, Moses, Esther, Joseph, Gideon, Mary, and on it goes. One of the key elements of faith is that it operates outside of our understanding. As Proverbs 3:5–6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” To make our paths straight means that those paths are not winding up and down and turning in circles going nowhere, but straight; that implies a solid road, going in a sure direction. To us it can seem at times like we walk that path in a fog. But just like a pilot navigates a plane through thick clouds with his eyes on the instruments, we need to navigate with our eyes on the Lord, who will keep us on that straight path. And that is what faith is all about. Andy Stanley, in his book “Visioneering” hit the nail on the head, he writes, “Faith is…not a vehicle by which we can coerce God into something against His will. It is simply an expression of confidence in the person and character of God”
So then we look at this God who was willing to sacrifice His Son for us and say in our hearts, my God will not let me down, He will be faithful. We can say God will not give me any more – NOT “than I can handle”, BUT “than He will empower me in” And He wants to empower us, not only to just “make it through”, but to accomplish three things. To glorify Himself; to cause us to become more like Christ; and to reveal Himself through us to the world. None of those things can happen if we crash and burn. God has a vested interest in preserving us through trials.
Remember the disciples caught in the storm? There were seasoned sailors on that boat and they gave up all hope. “But he [Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”” (Mark 4:38–40) What was Jesus saying? If I am with you, what is the real difference in your safety between a calm boat ride and a great windstorm? Church…our well being comes not from our circumstances, but from the character and nature of God. So hang on…our God will not abandon you. Even if it looks like He is sleeping. And if your boat is in a storm, the best I can tell you is this; the closer you sit to Jesus, the better you’ll feel.
The Real Thing
You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” (1 Thessalonians 1:5–8)
I obviously wasn’t too far into this book when this passage jumped out at me. So…we have been saved by faith in Christ alone. We have been given righteousness as a gift. We are reconciled to God because of what Jesus did on the cross. We are eternally loved, accepted, forgiven, and favored. So why do we seek to live exemplary lives? The first reason should be out of love for the One who saved us. The second reason? For them. For those who are bound in sin. For those who need to know the same grace we’ve found. For those who will step from this life into a forever without God.
For them we hold our tongues. For them we work hard for a mean boss. For them we stay away from gossip. For them we put hedges around our marriages. For them we live our lives in such a way to be above reproach – and not just on Sunday, but 24/7 (and if you want a 24/7 t-shirt, we still have some available).
No it’s not easy. But look at the results in Thessalonica. Paul and the gang modeled it. The Thessalonians imitated it. They then became the example in Macedonia and Achaia. And it went forth from there to “everywhere”. Church, the world is crying out for role models. The young people of this generation are crying out for role models. Those who don’t just preach Jesus, but live it out on a consistent basis. This does not mean perfect; it means “real”…real enough to live what we preach, and when we do make mistakes, to own up to them and handle those situations in a Godly manner.
OK, so we blow our stack or whatever…then what? Then we humble ourselves before others, confessing that that was not right and ask for their forgiveness. In a world where most people justify their actions or blame it on someone else, humility will (as I read on a sticker) stand out like a strawberry in a bowl of peas.
We as Christians need to realize that our labor is not in vain. We can make a difference in our world. As someone once said, you may be the only Bible that someone ever reads. So let us draw near to God. Let us seek His face and strengthen the relationship that guides our lives. Let us draw upon the power of the Holy Spirit, that our lives might be the “real thing” that others need to see.
The New Self
“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,” (Colossians 2:11)
Circumcision was the sign of the covenant given to Abraham, which set the Israelite males apart from the other nations of the world. In an area of life that is the most prone to unrighteousness, God gave them a way to remember that they were a chosen covenant people. Within the bounds of marriage, this would be wonderful. Outside of marriage however, this would hopefully serve to keep people on the right track.
Under the new covenant however, Paul refers to the circumcision of Christ. Not a physical work done by a rabbi, but a spiritual work done in the heart by Christ. He calls it a putting off of the flesh – sarkikŏs – “that which is fleshly or carnal”. What it means is this. When we are born again, not only does the Spirit of God come to reside in us, he also cuts away that carnal nature we inherited from Adam. Yes we still have a human body that is subject to many desires, but it is no longer our nature to serve them. That’s why Paul said in Romans 6, that sin shall not be our master. We have been set free.
The Bible says my people perish for lack of knowledge. The biggest problem we face in this area is that we do not fully understanding what Christ has done for us. We don’t know that we know that we have been set free. Because of past experience we THINK that we’re just too weak sometimes to resist. And as Proverbs says, as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. That’s why we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2) and “set our minds on things that are above” (Col 3:2).
The more we “think in our hearts” according to the truth of who we are, the more we will begin to live according to all Christ has done for us, and "put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Col 3:9)
He Emptied Himself
“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. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8)
If I have to pick one section of Philippians, it would have to be this. I believe this is a critical passage of Scripture for us as Christians, not only to better understand Jesus’ life and ministry, but also to better understand our own. This passage is referred to by scholars as the “kenosis” – the “emptying” of Jesus. The word means to completely lose power and position. It was used of those who by military discipline lost their rank and status. Someone might say “But Jesus had both power and position; He healed the sick and drove out demons.” That is true. But the Bible says here that He emptied Himself of power and position. How can we reconcile that?
What Jesus did when He took on human flesh was to, for lack of a better term, lay down His “God powers”. Among other things, we know that God is omnipresent (everywhere at once), omniscient (all knowing), and omnipotent (all powerful). While Jesus walked in human flesh, He obviously was not omnipresent. Being bound not only by a human body, but also a human brain, I believe He was also not all knowing. Think of the gospels where it says Jesus “marveled” at someone’s faith (Matthew 8) or at His hometown’s unbelief (Mark 6). Jesus also did not appear omnipotent. He told Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane that if He had wanted He could have asked His Father to send twelve legions of angels to His defense. All powerful doesn’t need to ask, nor does it need help from angels.
How did God lay down His power and position? That’s the mystery. But the Bible says “…he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17) This verse not only confirms what we have been saying, but tells us one reason why. Jesus had to be human in every way, so that He could qualify to stand in for us on the cross and reverse the curse.
I see two more important reasons for Jesus’ emptying. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15–16) Jesus, as a human being can FULLY relate to what we go through and deals with us with compassion. And, since He triumphed, He can and will strengthen us so that we will likewise triumph over temptation to lead lives following the Holy Spirit.
So…coming full circle…what about Jesus’ obvious power and authority in His ministry? Matthew 3:16 says, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;” Jesus’ power and authority came from the Holy Spirit who came upon Him. The same Holy Spirit who we saw come upon the believers in the book of Acts at Pentecost and beyond.
Jesus did all that He did as a MAN filled with the Holy Spirit, that He might not be unique unto Himself, but the example for the rest to follow. That’s why He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) and again, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)
So again, the HOW remains a mystery, but the WHY is clear. Jesus emptied Himself, so that we could be filled!
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us IN CHRIST JESUS. (Ephesians 2:4-7 emphasis mine)
Yesterday we talked a little about being baptized into Christ; from Romans 6:3. This is still somewhat of a mystery; that Jesus is in us, and we are in Jesus. But when we believe in Christ and are born again, God puts His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, into us. It’s not like He detaches a piece of Himself, that Spirit who resides in us also remains in Him. Therefore, He is in us, and we are in Him.
Now, I believe that Paul refers to us being “in Christ” rather than “in God”, because we came to God through Christ. Like I say…still somewhat a mystery, but however it works, we are in Christ. We are all a part of Him. That’s why we are called the body of Christ. Just like you and I are spirit beings who interact with the world through a physical body, so Jesus interacts with this world through us.
Now that’s a concept to take a few minutes to meditate on. When you’ve done that, go through these three chapters (and beyond if you want) and highlight all the verses that say “in Christ, or “in Him” or “in Whom”. There you will begin to see a marvelous picture of God’s plans, purposes, and promises for us. And remember, these things do not apply to you because of anything you’ve done, but because you are “In Christ”. Enjoy!
I Will Give You Rest
Ooops, yesterday I went into chapter 4 too early, so today I’ll go back into chapter 2.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
I used to see this scripture as kind of wishful thinking. Something maybe unattainable by Paul, but doubtful for people like you and me. It doesn't take much to see that "I don’t do my will any more, only Christ’s"; is not the reality for most of our lives. Though I do believe that the closer our relationship is with the Lord, and the longer we walk with Him, the more like Christ we will be, I don’t think that’s what Paul is getting at here.
In context, he is talking about law and grace. He says that “through the law, he [and we] died to the law”. Look at it this way. Having taken the sin of the world upon Himself, Jesus took the full punishment of the law – death. Then He rose again. So the law, having already killed Him, has no more claim on Him. It also has no more claim on us, because we who are in Christ partake of both His death and His resurrection. Romans 6:3–4 says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (he is speaking here of the spiritual work of the Holy Spirit who baptizes us into Christ when we are born again). We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” And so, buried and raised with Him we walk, not under the bondage of the law, but under the freedom of love.
So what Paul says in our text is...I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. In other words, he’s saying it's not about me living for God, it’s about God living in me. Not about my keeping the rules to produce righteousness, it's about Christ living His life in me. The life I live is not one of striving to be a better Christian, but of faith in Christ. Faith that He not only secures my place as a beloved child of God, but that He strengthens (empowers, energizes) me to do all things (see Philippians 4:13). His grace is sufficient and His power is perfected in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
After struggling for many months, Hudson Taylor, the famous missionary to China, finally saw this truth. He talked about it in a letter to his sister, published in a book called Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. “There was nothing I so much desired as holiness…but far from in any measure attaining it, the more I strove after it, the more it eluded my grasp.” Then he received a revelation while meditating on Jesus’ words, “I am the vine and you are the branches”. He had always understood this to mean that Jesus had an abundant supply of “sap” in the root and stem, but try as he could he was failing to pull that life into his branch. Then God showed him that the vine is the WHOLE plant – root, stem, and branch. He saw that we are then a part of Christ. He wrote, “Can Christ be rich and I poor? Can your right hand be rich and your left poor?” In this truth, Taylor found a rest from striving. He made it his aim to simply abide in the vine and trust Christ to be faithful to supply power sufficient for any situation. His striving ceased and his joy abounded. And as history records, the results speak for themselves.
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4:9–10) Let us seek to enter into that rest.