A Reflection after Nine Years of Pastoring this Awesome Congregation

A Reflection Nine Years in the Making

 

Last month Hope of Christ Church celebrated our ninth year in worshiping our Savior and serving each other and our community.  This means we are now in our tenth year of worshiping together as one Body of Christ.  It is exciting to begin thinking about how we will celebrate ten years next March.

 

I saw on Facebook, shortly after our anniversary came and went, a “memory” posted by a friend of and supporter of Hope of Christ. I usually enjoy seeing those Facebook memories either from my own account or from others.  It is fun to recall the past or see the things that struck us funny or worth posting about all those years ago.  This particular memory was a picture of the majority of the Hope of Christ congregation at our one year celebration.  As I looked at this picture, however, I must confess that I was not filled with sweet nostalgia.  My first look at the picture filled me with sadness. But the more I looked at and thought about the picture the more I was filled with hope and a new sense of faith in Christ and his promises.

 

Why sadness?

As I looked at the picture I could not help but see a lot of pain and suffering and loss and struggling.  I see a family that will be forced to do the unthinkable in one month and say goodbye to their daughter not even four months old.  I see a man who will bury his mother without any assurance of her salvation.  I see two families who will watch their daddy walk away from them, from their mommy, and from God himself as each of those men pursues lust and selfishness to the extreme.  I see families who will leave Hope of Christ with tears as God moves them to new places for their journey to continue.  But I also see families who will leave, not because God is moving them away, but because tastes and wants will move them to walk away from friends and vows.  I see a man who, in three years, will accuse me of stealing from the church and another man who, in one year, will tell me I have no business being a pastor.  Other than my own family, there are only two families in the picture still worshiping and serving at Hope of Christ. Interestingly, neither of those families were part of the launch team, which means my own family is the last family still in the church who helped start the church.  People who study these kinds of numbers tell church planters to plan on losing the entire launch team within the first five years. We made it almost nine years.

 

Why Hope?

Seeing all of that in a single Facebook memory, how can I possibly see hope in that picture?  I see hope because I see in this picture of pain and suffering and loss and disappointment a picture of God’s faithfulness to his children. I see the family who had to say goodbye to their daughter surrounded by dear friends who have become family who will weep with them and bear that unbearable burden with them. And I see that same family who knows real loss and can help others with the losses they are sure to face in this fallen world. I see families to whom God is remaining faithful even if the husbands/fathers are not. Though men (and women) disappoint and abandon, our Savior never will. Though there be husbands who will sacrifice others for their own wants, we have a Savior who died to self and sacrificed himself to secure our marriage to Him. Though I see a picture mostly of people who are not at Hope of Christ anymore, God has remained faithful and there are so many, many families who, though they were not around for the one year celebration, are with us today and committed to the work to which God has called us.  I also see in that picture many young people who have grown up at Hope of Christ and have now declared their own faith in Christ and are serving faithfully in the church and growing in their understanding and application of God’s amazing grace.

 

So much of the New Testament is written to help us remember the words of our Savior, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world.”

 

The church has always been made up entirely of sinners and sufferers.  Not two categories of different kinds of people, but rather two titles that we all share.  All of us are sinners.  All of us are sufferers.  We have a Savior who suffered for us, suffers with us, and bore our sin in his own body on the tree so that we could be healed by his suffering.  In these last nine years, I have been asked often, “What exactly is the hope of Christ?” Our hope is not that we will never suffer again or be sinned against, but that we have a Savior who is himself our Hope and Comfort.  He is our Rock and an ever present help in times of trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way or the mountains be thrown into the heart of the sea.  No matter how much chaos or turmoil we are called to face in our own lives or in the fellowship of the saints, we will not fear because God is with us.  And he who began the good work in each of us will remain faithful and will complete that work he has begun.  This is good news indeed!

 

So, Happy Anniversary, Hope of Christ.  I am delighted to be with you and am eager (though admittedly a little anxious) to see what God will do in and through us in the next ten years.

 

Enjoy the journey!

Hope for Hump Day, May 7

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

So begins the Heidelberg Catechism. The answer tells me that my only comfort is that I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

Is that true? I mean, do I live my life as if that is true? Do you live every day, every week, as though the one thing that makes life worth living and death worth facing is that you belong to Jesus Christ the Son of God and Savior of sinners?

Jesus says in John 11.25:

I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though he die, yet shall he live.

But do we really believe this? Actually that was Jesus’ follow up question (John 11.26). Do we believe that everything this world tells us will give us life and satisfaction actually overwhelms our lives and eventually amounts to nothing?

I was in a meeting recently with some other community leaders. We were discussing ways to serve our greater community with opportunities to come together and enjoy family and friends. We were discussing parades, arts festivals for children, historical celebrations for our community, and other similar events and venues. The discussion turned to the most effective day of the week to hold these activities. One man pointed out that Saturdays were hard because of baseball and softball and soccer and other children sports events. Someone else pointed out that Sundays would eliminate or at least greatly inhibit the involvement of local churches in promoting, supporting, and taking part in these community events. One of the attendees quipped, “People are more willing to skip church than their kid’s sporting events.” Everyone laughed.

And there it is.

What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That my children have been given all the opportunities that their friends have been given to shine like the superstars they are.

What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I make enough money to fill my two-car garage and my basement with more stuff than I my kids can use in a year.

What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I am my own. My kids are my own. And I am in control. No one is going to hurt my children or control my children or tell my children what to do except me. I am the captain of my own ship and of my children’s destination.

What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That My kids are smarter than yours, richer than yours, prettier than yours, better than yours.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” -Mark 8.34-36

Are we teaching our children this truth? Do we even believe it ourselves? Do we believe that the God who breathed his own breath into us, shed his own blood for us, poured his own Spirit into us has every right to our devotion and love?

What are we teaching our children about the value of worship? I fear that mostly we are teaching them that worshiping God is mostly a “if there’s nothing better to do” activity. If we don’t have a game or there isn’t a game on tv or we aren’t on vacation or we aren’t getting ready for vacation or we haven’t just returned from vacation or we haven’t had a hard week or we don’t need to mow the lawn or drywall the basement or go to brunch or just have some ‘me’ time THEN we will worship God because we love Jesus and want to show him.

Are we helping our children learn to deny themselves and take up their crosses and follow Jesus, or are we giving them a false god who would never change or even deny their dreams?

Are we teaching our children that there is nothing in their lives that gives them more comfort, more value, more hope than belonging to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, or are we teaching our children that there is nothing in their lives that gives them more value, more comfort, more hope than their performance, their abilities, their sports activities, their recreation?

What would the impact be on our homes, our hearts, even our relationships in our communities if we began teaching and living out with our children that there is nothing more important in the week than gathering with God’s people to worship God and enjoy a rest together? What would have to change in our calendars, in our homes, in our hearts for that to become a reality?

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” -Augustine of Hippo, 354-430.

Enjoy the Journey

Peace We Don’t Get: Hope for Hump Day with a View to Sunday

This Sunday we will be looking at what is possibly one of the better known passages in the Bible on peace.

 

Philippians 4:4-9

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

It seems to me that as Christians we have an odd relationship with peace.  We have turned a gift from God into a rule we are failing at.  “You don’t have peace? Oh, well, you’re supposed to have peace.  What are you worried about?  What are you anxious about?  Stop it.  Peace! Be still!”

I wonder if a lot of our lack of peace comes from our lack of peace.  Do you worry about how much you worry?  Does your anxiety make you anxious?  “Why am I so worried about this?  I’m really screwing this up.”

This passage mentions the peace of God (verse 6) and the God of peace (verse 9).  These are not the same thing.  They are related, but they are not the same.  You can have peace with God only because he is a God of peace.  God created you to be a recipient of his love and therefore to live at peace with him.

So what robs us of our peace?  We have believed some lie the world, our flesh, or the devil has sold us.

Maybe you have believed that joy comes from happiness.  That’s a lie. I know many apparently happy people who have no joy in their lives.  Likewise I’ve known many joyful people who have gone through very unhappy circumstances.

Maybe you have been directed by all the little white lies your own thoughts tells you instead of directing your thoughts.  Is it time to stop listening to yourself and start talking to yourself?

Maybe you have allowed the accuser more hearing than he deserves.  The number one robber of peace in our lives is shame.  Shame is always only a tool of the accuser.  God is not a God of shame but the God of peace.  Do you know the God of peace?  Does his peace with you surpass even your own comprehension?

Come this Sunday to Hope of Christ Church to meet this God of Peace for the first time or become reacquainted with him.  Learn how to deal with the shame that is falsely used against you.  Learn what it means to pursue joy over happiness.  Learn what it is to know and be known by the God of peace.

Hope for Hump Day, October 30

Never Use ‘Always’ – Always Avoid ‘Never’ – Unless…

It happened again. Your spouse, your teenager, your brother or sister, your friend has let you down. An argument, a disagreement, a misunderstanding, a missed opportunity. And now the words begin to flow – maybe to the offending party, maybe to someone else about the offending party. Soon the words are not merely flowing, they are flying with the speed and accuracy – and deadliness – of an arrow off a crossbow. And then it comes:

“You always…”

“She never…”

“You never…”

“He always…”

They are such easy words to say. And they certainly communicate well your frustration and hurt. But do they over-communicate? Do they say more than you intended to say? And is it true?

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4.29-32).

Hello, My Name Is…

When you use words like, “You always,” or “You never,” what you are saying is, “This trait, this offense is your identity. This defines you.” In other words, nothing else in the person’s past has any capital or impact on who this person is at his or her core. This, and this only, is their identifier. It becomes the monochromatic lens through which you view the person. Everything they do is colored by this one fault or flaw or sin.

But if you can take a moment to be honest you have to admit, that is simply not true. Hyperbolic language is always over-the-top and never accurate (see what I did there?). This sin is NOT the defining character trait of your husband or wife, your teenager or sibling or friend. Our sin is not our identifier. It is certainly true that our sin used to be our identity, but no longer. Christ has delivered us.

“You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6.11

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Romans 8.14-17

If God himself does not identify us by our sins, we ought not use each other’s faults as identifiers either.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here

When we use the language of “you always” and “you never” and other phrases like them, what we are saying is that there is no hope for change. “This is so much your definer that the Holy Spirit is not going to change you.” “I have no hope for anything ever changing in you.”

Is that what we are seeking to communicate with one another? Is that an accurate assessment of the ongoing struggle with the power of sin?

“He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” Philippians 1.6

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4.8,9

If God’s view of us is that we are washed, justified and sanctified shouldn’t that be our view of each other?

Our words have meaning and power, power to heal and help or power to tear down and destroy.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18.21

Where ‘always’ will always work and ‘never’ will never be out of place

So, how does God use always and never when he describes our relationships on earth? Won’t we always be dealing with each other’s sin? Won’t we never be perfected before the Lord returns? Yes, and so we need love… always.

1 Corinthians 13 is that well-known passage that is read at so many weddings. It’s the “love” chapter. Have you ever noticed that most of the descriptors of love are in response to a negative situation? “Love is patient.” When is it that you need patience? “Love does not insist on its own way; it is not resentful or irritable.” When is it we are most insistent that others follow our way? When are you tempted to be irritable or resentful?

The passage ends with four “always” and one “never.”

“love bears all things (always bears), believes all things (always believes), hopes all things (always has hope), endures all things (always endures). Love never ends.

Love never gives up. This is the love God has for you. This is the love God grants to you for each other. The next time you are tempted to throw the “always” and “nevers” into an argument. Remember the always and nevers of the Gospel, of Christ’s love for you, of the Spirit’s presence both in you and in the other person. And never give up.

Enjoy the journey.