To keep us encouraged during these difficult times, Pastor Robert is communicating regularly.
This week's blog post is written by Patrick Hanly, Pastoral Associate.
While I sincerely hope that you all made it through the hurricane without serious damage, I believe that might not the case and some of you are hurting as a result of the storm. Please call the church for prayer or if you have needs and we can help. Blessings to you all. - Pat
08-05-2020 - By No Means!
When the Apostle Paul laid out his case for God’s grace, he had a good idea that this concept would be misused or at least misunderstood. Paul was saying that there is absolutely nothing you can do to earn OR KEEP God’s grace. I imagine that many of his listeners were shocked by this idea. “You mean I don’t have to keep the law to be right with God?”, they might say. “And if I am right with God, are you telling me that there is nothing I need to do to satisfy God once I am right with him?”, another might also wonder.
Yes, this is a very radical concept that Paul was teaching and a very different one then what they had been hearing from the religious leaders of the day. As I discussed in the sermon this past Sunday, Paul says that we are literally “dead” to sin. It has been killed in us and we are no longer under its power or penalty:
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been set free from sin” - Romans 6:5-7
As Paul anticipated, some of his hearers began to believe
and teach that it is ok to sin because it doesn’t matter anyway – we are no
longer under its penalty! Paul was incensed by this and immediately spoke out
against it – “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but
under grace?” (Romans 6:15), he asked rhetorically.
And then he answered his own question in the emphatic – “By no means!”.
Paul then goes on to explain why they cannot think this way by pointing out that the true believer cannot help but serve righteousness. It is now part of their nature. Paul lays out the case that we are no longer bound to sin but rather we are bound to righteousness and while we are bound to righteousness, any desire to sin will go against our nature and repulse us. The believer has a new nature and that new nature desires righteousness.
This by no means is saying we will be perfect in this life. We will fail and we will sin as long as we are in this body. But thankfully, God has made a way for us to be restored when we do fail as a believer and this is one of the topics that I want to speak to you about this Sunday.
I hope to see you this Sunday under the tent!
07-29-2020 - My Thoughts Are Not Your Thoughts
My Thoughts Are Not Your Thoughts Neither are Your Ways My Ways. (Isaiah 55:8)
We usually quote the above verse as a quick response to the difficulties and uncertainties in life. God knows better. He is in charge. It also might be used to abdicate responsibility. But the context is surprising because it reveals God’s holiness and compassionate heart.
I recently read a chapter dedicated to this verse in “Gentle and Lowly; The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers,” by Dane Ortlund. He unpacks the context of this often-quoted verse.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts….11…my Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:7-9, 11)
The difference between God and us is that God doesn’t think that he is us. We assume God would respond as we do. Though I would not want others to know how my thoughts have wandered, it is no big deal. We are all human; none of us are perfect. “His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.” Our ways and our thoughts are more often than not offensive to the Lord. Our direction is toward self and not God, toward our ways and not his ways. The remarkable thing is that he is not like us. We often struggle to forgive someone who has betrayed us but rarely are we able to embrace them. Yet the Lord freely and abundantly pardons us and welcomes us. Ortlund states, “This is profound consolation for us as we find ourselves time and again wandering away from the father, looking for soul calm anywhere but in his embrace and instruction. Returning to God in fresh contrition, however ashamed and disgusted with ourselves, he will not tepidly pardon. He will abundantly pardon. He does not merely accept us. He sweeps us up in his arms again.” Ortlund goes on to say that even when we hear of his compassionate pardon, we latch onto it but have a diminished view of God's heart for us from which his mercy flows. God is saying here, my thoughts and my ways are higher than yours. God does not do this begrudgingly or embrace you cautiously. Bible scholar, Alec Moyer calls it a “Multiplying in pardon (like) compound interest.”
God’s sure Word makes this happen, not the repentant sinner. Moyer comments, "It speaks particularly of the divine Word heard n the call to repentance, the command to come back to God, the promises of compassion and forgiveness. These are effective in achieving what they say, not because the sinner responds and uses words of penitence and faith, but because God has spoken."
The work the Lord does by his Word culminates in an invitation to a party a world like no other – a new world (Isaiah 55:12-13). He is working everything out for our good. Trust that he is who he says he is. His thoughts and ways are beyond us. This includes sending his Son who suffered for us in ways we will never fully understand.
07-23-2020 - Christianity without Discipleship is Christianity without Christ
Some say the problem with the church in our nation today is that people
are not acting like Christians. They are not growing to be like
Christ. I think Gary Johnson is right in saying, “Some believe that in
our quest for numeric growth we have grown big but are shallow,
producing an American Christianity three thousand miles wide but two
The church is responsible to see that people become disciples. The Great Commission states that we are to make disciples of all nations. C. S. Lewis has said, “The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, If the church is not making disciples, then all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible, are a waste of time.”
Much of the churches efforts in making disciples is strictly knowledge-based. Understanding things like the nature of God, the person of Christ, and the working of the Holy Spirit is essential to growing spiritually. But it just begins there. There is a knowing that scripture refers to that is more personal, intimate – like a sheep knowing the shepherd, wife knowing her husband, and in a son knowing his father.
Some transition from knowledge-based discipleship to obedience-based discipleship is needed. This is popular in other parts of the world and not so much in our consumer-driven society. In the Gospels it appears Jesus is looking for obedience not just merely correct understanding:
Another of his disciples said, first, let me go bury my father." But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." Matthew 8:22
Follow me,” he told them, “and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:19
(Rich Young Ruler) said to him I have kept all these (commandments mentioned by Jesus) from my youth. Looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “you lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. Mark: 10:21
Oswald Chambers comments on Jesus’s call to follow Him. "At the back of it, there lies the central of obstinacy: I will not give up my right to myself- the thing God intends you to give up if ever you are going to be a disciple.”
Yet, just defining discipleship as obedience can be a problem. Left unchecked, it can quickly turn cultish. Your acceptance or status is determined by your good deeds, how much you have given up to follow Jesus. The focus of obedience drift to become horizontal and not vertical.
A more helpful understanding of discipleship is threefold:
We are in Christ. We experience all the benefits of being in Christ.
We are with Christ. We are communion with Christ often; therefore, we become like him.
We follow Christ. We join Him on His mission.
Many people call themselves Christians. There are some of those who attend church. There are fewer who are disciples. Do not miss out on the joy and blessing of being a disciple. D. A. Carson commented, “The Kingdom of heaven is worth infinitely more than the cost of discipleship, and those who know where the treasure lies joyfully abandon everything else to secure it.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it simply, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”
07-16-2020 - An Immature Christian Is Hard to Please and Easy to Offend.
I read the above quote from a twitter feed. I started to think of the
immature Christians that might be offended by that statement. It
appears judgmental. Christians should be sensitive to those who are
immature in their faith? Maybe. The question is, am I easily
offended. Do I have specific preferences that need to be met, and if
they are not, am I annoyed?
You can be offended if you are ignored, dismissed, or challenged. You can be offended if someone sees the world differently. Someone easy to offend is also hard to please. Something needs to be done a certain way to satisfy me. We are all critics. We know how the world should be run. We have expectations of others in how they behave. They need to meet our standards. In this attitude, there is a self-centered entitlement that is toxic.
On the flip side, why is a mature Christian easy to please and hard to offend? Are they not discerning? Are they just a pushover? They are easy to please because they are not looking to others to please them. They agree and adjust to others' preferences as long as it does not directly undermine their faith. Even if it is against their beliefs, they are not easily offended since the Lord is Sovereign, and he will put to rights all things in the end. I think Christians should expect persecution and suffering because we live in a sinful world, and God said we would (2 Timothy 3:12). We can fight for justice but need not be surprised or offended when we are persecuted. God shines through believers when we have a Godly response to being treated poorly.
Maturity is God's goal for us as we see it in Paul's ministry:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3
He is the one we proclaim, admonishing, and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. Colossians 1:28
There are many indicators of disciples who are growing into maturity:
1. Receive the foundational message of the gospel – God's grace for sinners.
2. Stop pointing out others sins and start confessing their own.
3. Know when not to speak.
4. Grow to be less dependent on themselves and more dependent on Christ.
5. Make every effort to build on their faith.
are also slow to hold grudges, quick to forgive, care for those in
need, defer pleasure, have a childlike sense of wonder and joy, and take
personal responsibility. Christians are to be satisfied in Christ, and
what used to be so troubling and offensive to us becomes a mere bump in
the road as we journey toward glory, a place where all is pleasing
because God is at the center, and there is no need to take offense.
07-08-2020 - A Reflection on Patriotism
This past weekend we had a much more subdued Fourth of July celebration. Limited fireworks and no crowds. Regardless of the limitations, it is a time for patriotism and giving thanks for living in a free country. For some, patriotism is a bad word where others wear it on their sleeve – or t-shirt. How should a Christian respond?
Some would argue God cares about all people, and nations are a human construct. We need to focus on the kingdom of God and not any earthly kingdom. We are to have limited or for some non-existent patriotism, and that allegiance to a nation has no eternal value. Jesus is Lord, He is our King, and we should not submit/ give praise to any human institution. Yes, there is only one King we are to submit to, yet scripture is not void of speaking of nations.
Nations have a place in the biblical narrative and are worthy of our commitment and affection. God worked through the nation of Israel to impact other countries. God uses nations and kings for his purposes. Scripture also references nations in the book of Revelation.
The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Revelation 21:23-26
The nations here have eternal significance. Each nation is bringing their gifts and splendor (most likely referring to those redeemed) to the Lord. All countries have something to offer, and so does the United States. Despite its flaws, there is something worth preserving and praising as it promotes values of God’s kingdom, and in the end, results in believers. It is not perfect by any means and all nations will have some splendor to bring to the Lord. God is active in all nations.
Since this is the case, we can sing America the Beautiful as we did on Sunday. “America! America! God shed His grace on thee. Till selfish gain no longer stain, The banner of the free! America! America! God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law!” America is not an object of worship but a work in progress. God sheds his grace on us as he does with all nations. You can not ignore the unique role this nation has played in the last two hundred years of world history; that being said, we ask God to mend every flaw. Not for the sake of our nation but to Honor the Lord and for the world. It says in Daniel 4:25, "the Most High rules in the kingdom of men.” This song reflects God's activity in the nations and not merely a general action on earth. We can thank the Lord for our country's beauty but also ask for the country’s restoration.
Bruce Ashford recently commented that “Lesslie Newbigin wrote, ‘It is good to love and serve the nation in which God has set us; we need more, not less true patriotism. But to give an absolute commitment to the nation is to go into bondage.’ For that reason, as Christians, we must cultivate a moderate patriotism. We must be grateful for what is good in our nation’s history and appropriately critical for what is bad. We must cultivate a real but limited allegiance while reserving our ultimate allegiance for Christ." Let's pray that we can be lovers of our country and reserve our absolute devotion to God. Let’s do this in the same way we are to ‘hate our parents’ (Luke 14:26).
07-01-2020 - Lamenting our Lack of Confession
have been speaking and writing a lot about lament lately. Communal lament is seen in the Psalms as
people confront God with their plea. Theologian
D. A. Carson observes, "There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the
anguish of God's people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God; they
complain to God; they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to
dry-eyed stoicism, but to a faith so robust it wrestles with God." “Awake!
Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do
you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression (Psalm 44:23-24)?
We can lament over the events in Minneapolis and the issues it raises, our
current political climate, or the pandemic that has no end in sight. Lament is an essential posture of a biblical
community, but a desire for justice and peace to reign without our confession
and repentance appears hollow.
In seeking God through lament, God might also reveal to us our need to confess our sins. More than a vaccine, peace in our streets or healing of the political divide – we need to repent and turn to the Lord. A life of ongoing repentance is required, not merely a one-time turning to the Lord.
can lead the way in confessing that we have not followed the Lord and loved
others as He commands. We have leaned into
politics rather than the scriptures and prayer.
We have fought battles we may not be called to fight, but we have not
even begun fighting the struggle of sin in our hearts. We cry out for comfort and protection, but it
is the enemy within that we need to wage war against.
We all can be in this position trying to defend a long-held position or reinterpreting events so that you are not in the wrong. Oswald Chambers states, “The fact that we insist on proving that we are right is almost always a clear indication that we have some point of disobedience.” We also can be hindered in confession by taking on a victim mentality. There are many ways people have been hurt, yet that does not preclude them from confessing their sins. True fellowship occurs among Christians as we see ourselves as a sinner saved by Grace and not more righteous than others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer comments why a lack of confession hinders Christian fellowship, “The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners… Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is found among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.”
It is often the confession of sin that has fueled revivals of the past. The Welsh Revival of 1904-1905 was one such case where every town on the Island of Wales was impacted, and 100,000 people came to faith in Christ. Evan Roberts, a young preacher, promoted four tenets needed for revival, and the first one was: “Confess all known sin, receiving forgiveness through Jesus Christ.” By confessing, we agree with the Lord in what he sees in our life that has been wrong and needs to change. When confronted with the reality of who we are before a living God, we do many things: we deny it, dismiss responsibility (I have my Dad's temper), downplay it, or divert attention (by judging other people or groups of people). The power of confession enables you to live in the light, experience the joy of forgiveness, and a renewed relationship with the Lord. You can embrace your identity as a forgiven child of God and embrace the truth that “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
You can use a portion of Psalm 38 as an example to lament over sin.
Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. 2 Your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down on me. 3 Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin. 4 My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear. 5 My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly….. 17 For I am about to fall, and my pain is ever with me. 18 I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.
We are all troubled by many things, but I lament that I am often not troubled by my sin.
06-24-2020 - Weekly Epistle "Waiting for Mercy"
A song of ascents.
1 I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven.
2 As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.
3 Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us, for we have endured no end of contempt.
4 We have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud.
Sometimes all you can do is wait for God. In a difficult decision, a trying circumstance, or a troubling conflict, you need to hear from God - so you wait. We are to wait with determination, eagerness, and hope. We cannot solve our most deep-seated problems or perplexing circumstances on our own, so we wait. God is not approached like a Wikipedia search. We do not look to pry an answer from Him. We are on a pursuit to know Him though He is veiled from us at times. This is same reason why a parent does not always give in to every child’s request. Children need parents to help them grow into maturity despite how painful that is sometimes. How much more do we need God to train us in the way we should go.
Psalm 123 indicates that we need to wait for the Lord if we are on the receiving of contempt. We are to live a life worthy of the calling that we have received. We are to go to the Lord for mercy rather than responding in contempt. We do this by being utterly attentive to the Lord and His hand rather than reacting to criticism and contempt of others.
I am reminded of when I waited tables in NYC. You learn to be entirely attentive for any gesture of your guests (which provokes an appropriate attitude toward them rather than calling them customers). Whether they are looking for something, have an expression of displeasure, or showing signs of needing or wanting something. The goal would be to respond before they raise their hand. We need to have the same attentiveness to the Lord for our spiritual health, whether on the receiving end of contempt or just through the ordinary course of our day.
I once heard a preacher say that as he headed to the pulpit, his repeated prayer was, "Lord have mercy on me a sinner.” This statement needs to be our prayer always, just like the tax collector in Jesus's parable. We need to learn to be thankful for his mercy and not for our righteousness while we wait. Let's wait with humility and gratitude for the Lord’s mercy no matter what is before us.
06-17-2020 - Weekly Epistle "I Think Therefore..."
One of the problems in our current partisan culture is that we are no longer encouraged to think. We read about an incident and quickly take sides, whether we discern who we are to be rooting for or allow others to tell us. This is not how a Christian is to love the Lord ... with their mind. It is detrimental to think you know how you should think about a particular situation without actually doing some hard thinking. We often prefer someone to tell us how to think rather than someone challenging us to think.
I remember, while at seminary, a professor recommended that we spend a half hour each day thinking about a particular difficult issue in order to exercise our mind. This is similar to the practice of meditation in which you meditate on the deep truths of God’s word and His character.
Glenn Tinder gives recommendations on how to think in an essay, How does a person go about thinking? He states that students (that means all of us, since we should always grow in exercising our mind) are not necessarily taught how to think, but are best directed by teachers who offer encouragement and criticism. Tinder sees “the glory and the burden of thought that it is an exceedingly personal undertaking.” He states that since the mature thinker thinks all alone, the beginner must learn to think all alone. He concludes, “Everything depends on the capacity for solitary effort.” He gives four recommendations on thinking:
1. Do not try to arrive at ideas no one has ever thought of before. An idea is your own if it has grown by your own efforts and is rooted in your own emotions and experience, even though you may have received the seeds from someone else and the idea may be very much like ideas held by many others.
2. Be open. You place yourself in a fundamentally wrong relationship with ideas if you assume you can control their appearance. You can only be open to them. "It occurred to me that..."
3. Do not hurry. Initial efforts to think about a problem are often completely frustrating. They may best be regarded as a tilling of the ground; time is required before anything can be expected to grow.
4. Beware of substituting reading for thinking. The great thinkers inspire, provoke, confirm, and in other ways help you do your own thinking. But to think you must at some point lay down the book and strike out on your own.
What strikes me about these encouragements from a Christian perspective (by the way Tinder is a Christian) is that thinking takes humility and effort. Humility to know that there is nothing new under the sun. You are not thinking to show yourself intelligent but arriving at a solution to some perplexing problem or to understanding something more deeply. Though Tinder does not state this, openness can be seen as also being open for God to reveal things to you that is consistent with God’s word or coming from his word. It is important to not rush to a conclusion and also consider the best argument against your current opinion. You can go to others to get inspired, but you truly must strike out on your own.
Most importantly meditate on questions you have about God and his character, humanity, our current problems in the world and what God’s word would have for us. Our thinking is significantly informed by our prayer life, reading of scripture and obedience. All of these practices direct us so that we can have the mind of Christ.
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9
06-11-2020 - Weekly Epistle "Racial Tension and The Gospel
The racial tension throughout our country is still festering. Criticism has come from both sides because people are not saying what they want to hear. Drew Brees got in hot water for stating he would never agree with kneeling for the flag. Then later he apologized and communicated missing the mark and his commitment to racial equality. But Brees cannot please everyone. On one side, some feel he caved under pressure and should not have. Others do not believe his confession is true because he caved under pressure for his self-interest. It seems comments are unacceptable unless stated in a precise way. Where do we go from here as Christians?
First, we are held to a biblical standard in how we treat others. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). Yes, all lives matter, but we need room in our hearts to listen to others that are hurting.
Second, we are not ultimately judged by society, but we face another judge who knows the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. All people groups and ethnicities have gifts to bring to their broader culture and patterns of sin that are destructive. It is easy to judge other groups, to treat them as inferior so that we feel superior.
Third, partisan politics is not the answer. To say that all cops are evil or that the Black Lives Matter movement is evil is not a fruitful endeavor. The problem today is that we see no nuance, but see the world blindly from an all-or-nothing perspective. This attitude is evident by the number of ad hominem attacks you hear. If we are all in with Jesus, we realize he is not a member of a political party. We need to make room to see the errors in our position or party.
Fourth, enmity even more than ethnicity is the problem. Hostility leads us to lack mercy for someone created in God's image. Also, there are godly Christians on both sides. Scripture encourages us to "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:12-13). For those who have yet to come to Christ, we are to offer the message of reconciliation. As the Apostle Paul states, “From now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view…Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: (2 Corinthians 6:17-19).
Christ is the answer. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two
groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians
2:14). By Christ’s death on the cross, all who are in
Christ are unified. The Jew and Gentile
divide is eliminated for those who are in Christ, so lesser divisions come
together for those in Christ. God is
glorified when we are united. In Jesus High Priestly prayer, he prays that
believers would be united and states that John 17:23, "the world
will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Tim
Keller gives an insightful application in a conflict between Paul and Peter in Galatians 2:14-15:
He did not simply say to Peter, "Repent of the sin of racism, you bigot!" but rather, he said, "Repent of the sin of forgetting your gracious welcome by God through the costly sacrifice of Christ." Paul did not focus just on the behavioral sin but also on the root of the self-righteousness beneath it. This approach is far more persuasive and effective than simply ranting at someone for being a racist. When you are trying to motivate people by urging them to see their riches in Christ, then you are pointing to their value and dignity in your appeal. You are not putting them down, but lifting them up even as you critique. On the other hand, if you try to motivate people by shaming them, they will (rightly) sense a self-righteousness on your part, and this will only stimulate and enhance their self-righteousness, not diminish it. When we instead use God’s grace as a motivator, we can criticize sharply and directly, but the listeners will generally be able to perceive that we are nonetheless for them.
Let’s be reminded of the riches we have in Christ and be for others.
06-04-2020 - Weekly Epistle "A Response"
recent months, our nation has been reeling from COVID 19, the continuous
political divide over reopening, and now the death of George Floyd and the ensuing
protests. We have seen the unspeakable
horror of Floyd being murdered and the subsequent protests in which the
violence and looting have ravaged cities.
It is a time to listen, to pray, and to be God’s voice into this
all come from different places on this issue. I have a variety of experiences
that have influenced my opinion and perspective. I was born in New Haven, CT,
in a neighborhood that was 40% Black 40% Hispanic and 20% white. My dad had told me that when I was in preschool,
I came home and told him I wanted to be black. I moved around several times and
ended up going to High School in Minnesota, where there was not one black
person in my graduating class of 450 students.
When I was a staff member with InterVarsity at the Milwaukee School of Engineering,
the group elected a black student to be the president of the Christian
fellowship that was primarily made up of 50-60 white students. This president shared with me his black
experience in Milwaukee. At least 10-15 times, he was stopped by security
before entering his dorm building. He
wondered about dying young as some black young men had at that time. For the
first time, I began to consider how someone experiences the same surroundings
in such a different way because of their skin color. For a couple of years, I
was a minority in a neighborhood I lived in in Minneapolis, but it does not
compare to being black in America. I need more to draw from than just my life
do I respond as a Christian? I think of
the sermon text from last week. “But the
wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full
of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness
is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17-18). We need the meekness of wisdom that brings
peace. We have seen scenes of this when
cops are kneeling or hugging protestors (social distancing
notwithstanding). As Christians, we need
to be ‘open to reason’ and ‘impartial.’ We
should not force a situation to form into a narrative that fits our political perspective
but have a genuine concern for people created in God's image. We need to be full of mercy; for the Floyd
family, for those mistreated and abused by the police, for the cops that have a
difficult job and for the shop owners (some who have lost everything).
are hurting, there is a divide, but we need to listen to and care for one another.
Politics can seduce the church on either side. An African American pastor Jason
Cook said, “Many people derive their
identity and their goodness based on how much they care about a particular
issue when, in fact, our identity is hidden in the person and work of Christ
and what he’s done
on our behalf. All our activism must flow from that. If our activism is
issue-driven, then we’ll fall into the same camp, where we will only chase
after the issues, but not after the hearts of people.” We
need to chase after people’s hearts.
That is what a person of peace does.
It will take a while, and it will not be easy.
Kevin DeYoung quotes at length a book by David Kennedy, "Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America," that addresses this issue. Kennedy stated, “The racist history, the long trauma of black America, makes relations between cops and black neighborhoods, especially jagged, especially hurtful, especially explosive. It shapes them, gives them different meanings." The author goes on to describe the different narratives that are believed about each other and a refusal to listen. Some argue that racist incidents are a few isolated cases, but it doesn't seem to be the case. There has been a litany of viral cases from bird watching while black, napping while black, running while black, staying in an Airbnb while black, going to Starbucks while black, and many more. We cannot turn away from this. One fulfills that false narrative by not listening and showing compassion. The church can play a critical role in making the difference in this conflict today in our nation. Let’s be the kind of people that are willing to follow Christ and be His hands and feet.
05-29-2020 - Weekly Epistle "The Essential Church"
The Essential Church
Is the Church essential? The Church is the most important institution on earth because it was created by God for His eternal purpose – to advance the Kingdom of God by making disciples of all nations. The Church is also essential for society since it reminds humanity that it is not the center of the universe. Though all may not come to believe in God, the Church's saltiness preserves society. The recent question raised these days is the Sunday morning physical gathering of a church essential for the Church to be the Church. As important and cherished as it is to gather together with our brothers and sisters on Sundays, we still can pray, read the Bible, share the gospel and encourage one another while we are waiting to meet again.
Some congregations might open up sooner than others. Other congregations might feel the urgency but out of the care for others, and the interests of the health of the community decide not to meet. Either way, the Church should not make this decision as if it is at war with the culture but instead wanting to fulfill its mission as the Church. The real battle is spiritual, and with the principalities and powers influencing the culture away from God. The Church should not create any unnecessary barrier for people to know and follow Jesus Christ. It has been said that “The church is the only institution that exists for the benefit of its non-members.” The Church is not a social club or preserving a religious tradition but a worshipping community committed to loving one another, serving those in need in the community, and making disciples of all nations.
Many are commenting on what God might be doing during this time. It might be as some have said that God is raising up those who desire to know and serve Christ more than anything else in their life. Other interests in life have been on hold from all of us and for some reevaluated. Maybe some parts of our life will be forever changed, but for those who know Lord, it has been a time to consider how deep is our relationship with Christ. Many are sharing more intimate times in prayer and His Word. We need to be reminded that we are the Church throughout the week, including Sunday. Let us not miss what the Lord might be doing while we wait to meet again, preparing us to be the essential Church.
05-20-2020 - Weekly Epistle "My Heart Recoils Within Me"
My Heart Recoils Within Me
How does Jesus view our sin? It is difficult to grasp because we often minimize our wrongdoing but exaggerate others. We are on good terms with ourselves. Think of any argument you have had. Afterward, you always think of the things you did say or could have said that puts you in the right. We always win. The other person is in the wrong. Even those of the sensitive temperament who have an over-realized guilty conscience unnecessarily focus on self. The only way to see that we are sinners is to see God. And He is full of compassion.
In a recent article, a pastor comments on the five shifts churches need to make to transition to the post-COVID-19 world. These are essential changes to make, but it made me think of a more significant shift required in my understanding of God. One major shift is trusting a Holy God, who is drawn to us because of our sin. We often think God is repelled because of our sin. So, we move away from God, thinking we need to earn his love again. We might be tempted to falsely diminish his holiness, permitting us to indulge in what pleases us. The truth is He is Holy and moves toward us when we sin.
This shift in thinking came from reading an excellent book, “Gentle and Lowly the Heart of Christ for Sinner and Sufferers” by Dane Ortlund. He quotes from Hosea 11:7-9 in a chapter titled What our sins evoke:
7 My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them. 8 “.. How can I hand you over, Israel? … My heart is changed (recoils) within me; all my compassion is aroused. 9 I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man— the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities.
“My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.” This is an anthropopathism (similar to anthropomorphism- using human terms to speak of God, speaking of God's hand, for instance). Ortlund states that this word is used when God’s emotions are described in human terms. “God is not like us in our emotional fickleness; rather, he is completely perfect and transcendent and not affectable by circumstance in the way we finite humans are. He is ‘impassible.' At the same time, we should not so write off the way the Bible speaks of God's inner life that we make God a basically platonic power divorced from the welfare of his people."
When I sin, Christ sees that I am in misery. He paid the price for our sins and will not give up on us. He truly loves us. Instead of seeing this as a license to sin, we know that it is his kindness that leads us to repentance. We also fear him because of his forgiveness. There is forgiveness; therefore, you are feared (Psalm 130:4). He is kind and loving in our waywardness. Yes, he will discipline us, as it says in Hebrews 12. He wants what is best for us and is willing to experience pain if that is what is needed for us to mature in faith. When we sin, the very heart of Jesus is drawn out to us. We can be thankful that "Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20).
This shifts my perception of others. If I see Christians’ flaws or patterns of sin, I might be prone to think how displeasing they are to God (which might be true) but not know of God’s love for them. I can judge them while the Lord’s heart is going out to them in their rebellion. God hates what is ruining them. It is their sin, keeping them from being loving, faithful, and joyful. He is for them, he died for them, and he is not giving up. Neither should I.
5-13-2020 - Weekly Epistle "Spontaneous Love"
“Love is spontaneous, but it has to be maintained through discipline.”
I read this recently and find this to be so true. Love takes time; it takes discipline. When the moment requires a loving response, is your heart ready? I have been thinking about this more recently, being with my family, 24/7. It seems like conflicts, fights, and complaints arise out of nowhere in a house with three young children. Some days they wake up happy as can be and helping each other, and the next morning they are at war as if possessed by someone else overnight. I have been praying for spontaneous love. But this can only happen if my heart is ready.
I always thought it a thought-provoking non-Biblical line from the movie “The Passion,” when Jesus says before he is flogged, “My heart is ready, Father, my heart is ready.” Ready to receive the beating? Ready to say forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do? Or is it ready to start what will be the most painful experience of all, being separated from the Father? It says in Hebrews that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). His heart was in the process of being trained. The perfect God-man knew his Father and never wavered to love perfectly.
We need to discipline our hearts. Charles Dickens once referred to a relationship he once had occurred from a poor decision. He described it as “A mistaken impulse of an undisciplined heart.” What are your impulses? What comes out of your mouth when you are under pressure, stressed? What prompts you to make the decisions that you do? The power of positive thinking might have some surface-level benefit, but it’s taking care of your heart every day so that by impulse, you do the loving thing.
I am working at being more loving. I am training my heart. It is a fulltime, all-consuming job. To be instructed by the Lord. The training is often riding yourself of idols that get in the way of your relationship with God. “Knowledge puffs up love builds up.” (I Corinthians 8:1) Spending more time with Jesus enables you to love and be like him. If you are not growing in love but are spending time in spiritual activity – it may not be the kind of activity that is bearing fruit for you. We can be deceived. Let’s go to great lengths not only to strengthen the mind but also to grow in love. “For the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)
5-06-2020 - Weekly Eblast "Long Obedience"
During this pandemic, there have been many sermons/ articles/ tweets on God being our refuge and strength. Rightly so. God is merciful to those in need. It is fitting to look to HIM and cry out HIM during this stressful time. There has also been a call for renewal and revival in this time of social isolation. Many Christians desire to see God’s spirit come in power to revive us and see many come to faith in Christ. There is a lot of content out there. We can listen to many sermons from all over the country, and that is a good thing. I read a tweet that said, “So much content in the church, so little power…” You could also say ‘so much content in the church, so little obedience.’
Mark Twain once said, “It is not the parts of the Bible, I don't understand that bother me; it is the parts that I do understand.” It is not how much knowledge we have about the Bible or how often we discuss it (or write about it), but if we obey His Word. Obedience is better than sacrifice. Deuteronomy 11:26-28 sums it up like this: "Obey, and you will be blessed. Disobey, and you will be cursed." In the New Testament, we learn through the example of Jesus Christ that believers are called to a life of obedience. The gospel of John states, "If you love me, you will obey my commands” (John 14:15).
This pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint. As we reopen, the way we do life together will change. A vaccine may not come for another year or two or even longer. We go to Jesus for peace, guidance, and relief from anxiety. For us to be faithful in the long run, we must obey what the Lord is speaking to us to do today. Eugene Peterson's excellent book has a great title that is a message in itself: "Long Obedience in The Same Direction." Obedience leads to more revelation of His Word and spiritual growth. Though we need time to recreate, unwind, and chill, we should not justify our increased self-indulgence or laziness during this isolation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it quite succinctly, “Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”
God is getting our attention, and let’s pray that we see “the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6). Obeying his word. Let’s pray for renewal and revival and wean ourselves from being fans of Jesus to being unreservedly committed to him. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow (Galatians 6:7). A prayer from the Valley of Vision:
“May I enter him as my refuge,
build on him as my foundation,
walk in him as my way,
follow him as my guide,
conform to him as my example,
receive his instructions as my prophet,
rely on his intercession as my high priest
obey him as my king.”
4-2-20 - "Meditating on Peace"
Text of Blog
As a young Christian college student, I was encouraged by my mentors to memorize scripture. The first verse I memorized was John 14:27. I have found that what I learned long ago has been very helpful, especially in times like this. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled or afraid. John 14:27
In this verse, Jesus is explaining to the disciples that He is leaving them. In John 14:26, He gave the fullest expression of the Holy Spirit in this Gospel. Jesus said that the Counselor (Holy Spirit) was sent by the Father in His name to teach us all things, including everything Jesus said to them. What a gift. What is the nature of this gift when it has the first place in a person’s life? Peace. It is not the world's wishing others peace. This peace is also not the absence of conflict –it is so much more. It is God-given serenity that is not dependent on outward circumstances. We get the peace that God has by His Spirit. Peace is the absence of spiritual unrest and the assurance of God’s salvation and loving presence under all circumstances as we put our faith in Christ (14:1) and meditate on His gracious promises. When this peace from God is present, anxiety is driven out. The world may give external pleasures, restful vistas and enjoyment but never that inner assurance, which reflects God's smile in the heart of the child.
The verse also indicates that we have a role in maintaining this peace. “Do not let your heart be troubled or afraid.” How do you do this? One way I have found is the practice of meditation. Apply yourself to rest in Christ quieting yourself by repeating this Bible verse. Think of what is causing anxiety and repeat this truth over it.
Scripture encourages this practice.
I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. Psalm 119:15
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. Psalm 143:5
His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law, He meditates day and night. Psalm 1:2
Do you delight in His word, His ways, and His works? Take pleasure that He has given you the counselor to speak words of strength and hope. Take time to repeat, meditate even memorize for the peace of your soul.