It Was Only A Week

I noticed right before I left home to drive to Greensboro, NC for last week's PCA General Assembly that the grass in the yard was getting a little high. I really wasn't too worried about it ... the grass has been much higher in the past and I'll be back in less than a week anyway. But when I did return I started to worry! It's just unreal how fast things can grow when given the right conditions. (in my yard the term "grass" should be interpreted more literally as "weeds" because that's mostly what we have growing at our place. What little grass we do have doesn't grow nearly as fast as do all the weeds.)

I've noticed that my spiritual life is very similar to my yard ... given the right conditions things can grow very quickly, both the good and the bad stuff.  When I abundantly avail myself of the means of grace - God's Word, prayer, sacrament - then I see good spiritual growth in my life. When I'm faithfully involved with God's people in fellowship, when I'm consistent in personal and corporate weekly worship, when I'm right relationship with the authority over me, when I'm preaching the Gospel to myself ... this is when I see healthy spiritual growth take place. But when I don't do these things, when I limit my involvement with the means of grace, when I distance myself from God's people, when I'm sporadic in worship, etc. ... this is when the weeds grow. And guess which grows faster in my heart and life - yes, the weeds! Healthy spiritual growth is typically a slower process than we'd like it to be while unsightly and unwanted "weeds" grow much faster in our lives that we'd like. 

So what's the solution? Do we just try harder to make good things grow and hope the weeds don't? Just cutting the weeds every so often doesn't seem to help - they keep coming back. But there is yet hope ... Round Up! The goal is to kill the weed at the root and this is what Round Up (or other similar product; I've actually found Spectracide to be just as or more effective) is all about.

The Gospel is Round Up ... kills sin at the root rather than just trimming back visible growth. The Gospel addresses such heart issues as pride and unbelief rather than just surface levels of behavior management.  The Gospel is poison to our sin and shows us that we have nothing to be proud and self-righteous about but rather shows us that the person and work of Jesus Christ is the only object worthy object of our faith and trust. When consumed with the Gospel of Jesus His goodness, grace, and glory become much more attractive to us than anything the world could offer and we then naturally develop the desire to quickly repent when our hearts are drawn to things other than Christ. 

How are you going to deal with the "weeds" in your life? Apply generous portions of the Gospel and watch those weeds die away and healthy stuff grow in its place. Are you in a place, relationship, group, etc. where you will be saturated with the Gospel? If not, get used to the weeds.

General Assembly 2017

After a loooong day of driving yesterday (distance, traffic, weather) I finally arrived here at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro, NC to join up with Joe and Adria who were already here for the 45th PCA General Assembly.  In some ways it's already been a rather historic meeting for our church. Last night we elected our first ethinic minority as Moderator of the Assembly - Dr. Alexander Jun, a Korean-American, a ruling elder at New Life Mission Church in Fullerton, CA. This is an exciting opportunity for our denomination and for our future. Hopefully, the watching world will see that the PCA is committed to racial reconciliation and hopes to reflect the diversity that is already seen in the universal church.

We also heard a report from the ad-interim committee that was tasked with bringing a report on women serving in ministry in the church. It was a great report (the Assembly will discuss it tomorrow afternoon) and the committee made it abundantly clear that nobody is suggesting that women be ordained to authoritative leadership in the church. Their focus was on what women can do within Biblical boundaries. Again, we won't know how the Assembly will respond until tomorrow but I already think CPC can and will benefit from this paper. As we already know, CPC is blessed with some amazing women who already contribute a great deal to the life and ministry of the church and it will be good for us to explore even more deeply what that might look like in the future.

I've also been able to meet with my Evangelism trainer, Allan Dayhoff, as well as some other brothers who are in the evangelism residency program with me. Very encouraging, yet challenging conversations about how the Lord is using various men in places around the country to engage in the lives of unbelievers. We're hoping to have an Evangelize Today conference here in the B'ham area around the last week of September. Some of you may want to try and attend! (don't worry ... hanging out in local bars is not a requirement for effective evangelism).

That's it for now ... back to the world of meetings, agendas, motions, parliamentary procedure, committee reports, etc. Do pray for the many folks who are here doing the work of the church. Pray for healthy and peaceful discussions filled with grace; for pastors and elders and families to be spiritually encouraged this week; for the work of the PCA to aggressively move forward; for safety in everyone's travels.

 

Rain is Good

Please allow me to impress you with my agricultural, horticultural, botanical, and ecological knowledge for just a moment. When rainfall is plentiful things grow well ... when there is no rain plants do poorly and even die. That pretty much sums it up!

After experiencing last fall's drought and watching so many plants and trees simply die due to lack of water, it's amazing now in the midst of so much rain to see everything growing and flourishing! The grass is greener ... flowers are brighter ... plants stand straighter ... vegetation is more plentiful ... etc.  Sufficient rain is essential to plant health.

Now allow me to display my impressive theological knowledge. When a believer is saturated in the means of grace (God's Word, prayer, sacrament) he or she will flourish ... when a believer is not really engaged in these things he or she will do poorly. That pretty much sums it up!

I'm amazed at how hard my heart often becomes and nine out of ten times it's because I'm not really engaged with the means of grace God has given. I somehow imagine and even expect God to zap me with some sort of secret spiritual fertilizer vitality growth enhancement formula product that bypasses the ordinary means of Bible Study, prayer, and regular observance of the Lord's Table with His people. Unfortunately, I haven't found that product yet ... likely because it doesn't exist! The sad thing is that I continue my relentless search for it. Likely many who profess Christ do this same thing. Do you?

Don't misunderstand what I'm getting at here. I'm in no way saying that a regular devotional time and faithful worship attendance obligates God to give you a comfortable or easy life. In fact, it may actually result in greater suffering, hardship, and persecution as we more closely follow Jesus and become more like Him. Yet even if that is the case we can be confident that being soaked in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (through His means of grace) will enable us to experience life in totally different way ... life is sweeter, brighter, straighter, more colorful, more plentiful, etc.  Why? Not because our circumstances magically change, but rather because our focus is the unchanging beauty and sufficiency of Jesus.

Friends, please don't underestimate the importance and necessity of being fully engaged with the means of grace. Make it a priority to get involved with a small group of fellow believers who are digging into God's Word together and praying for each other. Don't minimize the value and nourishment received from weekly worship attendance where the Gospel is proclaimed, God's family prays, and we eat together at the Lord's Table. Make sure you have personal daily intake of Scripture and daily express your heart to your Father in prayer. And don't just do these things in token amounts.

Please don't expect to have a flourishing or abundant Christian life apart from these things. It doesn't take a scientist to know that rain is good and drought is bad.  Also, it doesn't take a theologian to know that Christians need to be saturated in the Gospel through the simple and ordinary means of grace in order to grow and thrive. Maybe last fall we were glad just to keep our plants from dying so we occassionally applied a little water to them ... but as God's children we know that the Gospel is free and abundant, no shortage whatsoever!  Don't just settle for survival with a light sprinkling every so often.  Let the rain of the Gospel fall in abundance and may our hearts and lives flourish with the fruit of grace!

 

Youth Beach Retreat 2017

It's Wednesday morning ... about halfway through this year's youth beach retreat ... and so far it's been an incredible trip! We had a nice trip down, great weather, well-behaved students, excellent food, fantastic adult leaders, encouraging small group times ... and best of all, a faithful God Who is actively involved in the lives of everyone here. Please continue to pray that the Lord will work His grace in all of our lives during the remainder of the trip.

Of course, this isn't quite heaven ... we have the visible reminders that we're sinners living in a fallen world. The mattresses aren't the most comfortable, the gnats are as bad as I've seen them here, and then there's the boy's bathroom (just use your imagination on this one). I raised 7 boys so I know the destruction that can come to any living quarters when you put several of them together. I think there's a Bible verse about that - something like, "Where two or more are gathered ..."

Right across the street from the place we're staying (Jericho dorm at Laguna Beach Christian Retreat) is a new 3.2 million dollar home under construction. It's beautiful, classic looking, big, 3 story, nice design, etc. This house anywhere would be fairly expensive just due to its size and quality. But what makes it SO valuable and expensive is the location ... beach front! It's right on the Gulf and has a large deck and walkway that gives instant access to the "world's most beautiful beaches." It's been the topic of much coveting the past couple of days. We're thinking of asking the congregation to consider purchasing the house for future retreats!

One of the things we discussed in our small group last night was the idea of contentment ... of how the Gospel empowers you to be content no matter what sin, flaw, inadequacy, weakness, etc. may be exposed in your own life. Sure, we're here in the Jericho dorm where the beds aren't so great, where the water pressure is often weak, where hot water may run out, where the sofa has a sheet of plywood underneath the cushions, where the internet is sketchy, where the furniture is dated, where the AC isn't as cold as you'd always like, where you have to cram several in a room together, etc. ... and surely the house across the street won't have any of these problems or limitations. But here's the deal - we have all this and Jesus Christ too!!! When we truly begin to understand the Gospel we realize we no longer deserve or may demand for anything; rather, knowing what we actually deserve (God's wrath and curse) we become grateful recipients of what we do have in Christ - forgiveness, mercy, kindness, grace, new life, sonship, redemption, love.

Sure, all this is nice, but we're still NOT living on the beach front! But you do realize we're literally just across the street from the beach ... we only have to take a few steps to enjoy it. In my mind this is a picture of the "now" and "not yet" of the Kingdom of God. We're not yet living on the beach side in total luxury but we can enjoy the many blessings it offers now even though we're in a much lesser location. 

The day is coming soon when our beautiful beach front home will be ready for us and Jesus, wearing His flip-flops and everything, will welcome us to our eternal home that He is constructing for us. But today, enjoy where you're living, despite all the limitations, and take a few steps of faith and enjoy all the abundant blessings of God's Kingdom that are already available!

 

A Fearful Thing

Unfortunately many of us have been rattled by the news of death lately. Obviously the deaths of Mike and Mary Johnson hit our church family very hard ... they were charter members of CPC and did so much over the years to help build the solid foundation that we enjoy today. They both dealt with long-term illnesses and suffered much over the past few years. Our thoughts and prayers certainly go out to Michael, Michelle, and their families who lost both parents / grandparents in such a short time. Those of you who grew up in the grunge rock era likely were saddened by last week's death of Chris Cornell (Soundgarden; Audioslave) who took his own life. And then the recent terrorist bombing in Manchester, England that claimed the lives of 22 people at a concert event primarily for teenagers. Death is ugly, a consequence of the fall, described as an "enemy" in 1 Cor 15:26, and certainly a fearful thing according to Robert Murray McCheyne:

Ah! It is a fearful thing to leave the company of living men, and lie down in the narrow house, with a shroud for our only clothing, a coffin for our couch, and the worm for our companion.  It is humiliating, it is loathsome.

I guess most of us sometime or another wonder about death ... hoping that our own is still many, many years in the future. We've felt the pain of it, we've been angry at it as it takes our loved ones, we've seen families suffer from it's horrific impact, we've observed it taking so many from us prematurely, we've hated it. We hear various well-intentioned people (and as Christians are likely guilty ourselves) try to comfort those in grief by using certain trite and shallow comments, often even using Bible verses, that are somehow supposed to bring comfort. And while I'm most certainly not underestimating or devaluing the significance and power of God's Word, sometimes we just need to do what the Scripture says and "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." (Rom 12:15).  A good friend recently asked me what they should say to a young couple who was losing their baby and my advice was, "Say little, tell them you love them, and cry a lot with them."

As Christians we know we shouldn't fear death! We feel like we should be like those great saints who have gone before us and who stood strong in the face of death whether it was due to martyrdom, disease, or tragedy. It's rather easy for us Christians to say what a "blessing" it is for those suffering with a debilitating disease to now be home with the Lord! We even like to quote the Apostle Paul who said, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain ... My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." (Phil 1:21-23)  But we're still afraid of death and want to avoid it at all costs, and probably not for the same reason as Paul who said he knew he should continue to live for the "progress and joy in the faith" of others (Phil 1:25). Most of us are afraid of death because deep down we're convinced that this life is to be valued and treasured above everything else. Consider these words from G.B. Caird that cut deep into our hearts:

The idea that life on earth is so infinitely precious that the death which robs us of it must be the ultimate tragedy is precisely the idolatry that [God is often trying] to combat.

I don't really want another reminder of my idolatrous heart! But that's exactly what is being exposed as we fear death because of what "precious" things we think will be taken from us.

We aren't called to love death, we mustn't do anything to hasten its arrival, and we may never make light of the pain and sorrow associated with it ... we should hate it, we should grieve and weep over it, we should stand against the unjust taking of life, we must fight for the sanctity of life for both young and old, we must seek to live for the "progress and joy in the faith" of others. But let's not attach our hearts so firmly to the things of this world that we believe death actually robs us of our greatest joy! At death our greatest pains will be left behind and our greatest joys will be realized. I give you yet another quote, this one from the Puritan Thomas Brooks.

A Christian knows that death shall be the funeral of all his sins, his sorrows, his afflictions, his temptations, his vexations, his oppressions, his persecutions. He knows that death shall be the resurrection of all his hopes, his joys, his delights, his comforts, his contentments.

So today you're alive ... make use of today for God's glory and the benefit of others, tell someone about Jesus, rejoice and weep with others, serve someone in need, rest in His sovereign care.

To follow up on my last post .... I'll be starting a regular Sunday night work at the Moody Blue Bar ... we'll eat together, sing a few songs, I'll do a short lesson, and we'll conclude with a Q & A time ... it's gonna be called Blue Bar Fellowship. First night is June 4 so please continue to pray for the Lord to shower down His amazing grace on this opportunity!

A Plentiful Harvest

Many of you may already know I've been involved in an evangelism training ministry for the past several months.  The ministry is called Evangelize Today and the essential emphasis is really pretty simple - find time to be still before the Lord and marinate your heart in the Gospel, engage with people by asking them a set of questions, listen to "hear" what they say rather than just listening to respond, shepherd and care for the person before you attempt to "convert" them, and then look for relationships where you can easily give a Gospel proposal. It's really not rocket science but it's so much more difficult than it sounds - none of us have time to be still; as Christians we're not trained to listen to "hear" because we know the real need is for unbelievers need to hear us; we're more interested in results than relationships. It's been quite an eye-opening experience so far and thank you so much to the many who have partnered with me both financially and in prayer. Let me share what your partnership in this ministry is about to produce!

To understand this you need to know that this ministry encourages you to find a place where non-Christians gather. The problem here in the Bible belt is two-fold ... first, hardly anyone identifies as a non-Christian and second, the primary place where non-Christians gather is in church buildings! So at first I struggled with where to do this type thing. I have a long-time presence at Guadalajara Restaurant so I have been able to interview and build a relationship with most of their staff, some of whom I have had the privilege of speaking to about Christ. But the pool of unbelievers needed to expand and my trainer kept urging me to consider various options. The ballpark seemed like a good option but the thought of an older guy like me hanging around a children's park just didn't sound right. Of course, everybody goes to WalMart but how much shopping do I need to do? As we kept exploring options I sort of jokingly mentioned the Moody Blue Bar as the far end of the spectrum. The problem was that my trainer didn't take it as a joke ... he thought it was a great idea! I strongly resisted but he kept pushing. I tried to argue - "I'm not familiar with how bar culture operates!" (he reminded me I'm a grown man and could figure it out)  "What about my reputation, what will people think?" (that argument didn't get very far) "That place is full of sinners!" (that only strengthened his argument)  Well, I finally agreed to give it a shot and asked a friend to go with me for the first visit. We decided a Thursday night was the best - not the rowdier weekend folks but still a good crowd since it's open mic night every Thursday. It wasn't too scary so I decided to go back a second week, this time by myself. Lo and behold, I had folks coming up and welcoming me back - even the bar owner. I was being warmly embraced by people there even though they knew I was an ordained pastor. Surreal might best describe this experience!

After a handful of weeks the featured weekly Thursday night musician was in a serious automobile accident and the people at the bar were deeply concerned for him. So they asked me on a number of occasions to stand before the bar crowd and lead them in prayer for their dear friend. Nobody was offended by this ... in fact, many would come and hug me afterwards. Again ... surreal.

Anyway, to make a long story short, the bar has asked me to start a Sunday night something there ... I say "something" because I don't know what shape it will take. Maybe it'll be a Bible study, or small group, or discussion, or maybe even a worship service - I really have no idea. Our first meeting is this Sunday 21 May at 5:00 pm to gather with those who are interested and see what is the need and desire. Please pray with me for this meeting and for whatever may result from it. The opportunities for ministry are just being rolled out on a red carpet for me and I need to faithful in my response.

Who are the people I'll be meeting with this Sunday? Actually, I don't know specifically who will be coming though have been told that quite a number are interested. But here are the type folks I've had the opportunity to build relationships with so far - the man who's struggling after his wife has committed adultery and is leaving him; the young man living with his girlfriend and who is uncomfortable going to church because he knows he'll never measure up; the guy who is asking the ultimate questions of "why death and poverty?"; the granddad who is spending a lot of time helping raise a granddaughter because his own daughter is involved with a drug dealer; the guy who's recently been hospitalized to get his mental illness medicines regulated; the young man who's parents recently got divorced; the couple who have both been previously divorced who say they'll never go back to church because they feel they've been blackballed; etc. Each of these folks are image bearers of God and I've been able to see the beauty of that shine through even in the midst of their junk.

This is what your partnership with me is about to get involved with! So I'm in serious need of your prayers - this is a messy and wild adventure where I truly need God's abundant grace. And to be clear, I'm really not asking for CPC folks to join me at the Moody Blue Bar - for many it would be very uncomfortable. Also, I don't want people there to think CPC is taking on the bar as a "project" for ministry. I'm just asking you to pray and ask the Lord to pour out His abundant grace. I'll let you know what happens after this Sunday night's meeting!

Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest - John 4:35

Don't Know Why

Toward the end of last week I had some sort of unexplained pain in my left foot that nearly had me confined to a chair or sofa. That thing hurt ... and for no apparent reason! I tried and tried to remember what I had done to cause such pain - did I step on something and bruise it? did I strain it doing some odd job? had I worn different shoes? did I sleep with my foot in some weird position? I kept asking myself such questions because the pain was both so severe and so strange and I couldn't understand what was going on. 

But thanks to Google my search for an answer continued. Perhaps it was one of these problems - plantar fasciitis, arthritis, gout, bursitis, tendinitis, muscular dystrophy, or fractured bone. But the symptoms didn't match any of these possibilities so I remained confused, hurting, and searching for answers while I strapped ice packs to the bottom of my foot, took ibuprofen, and tried to keep it elevated.

As you might suspect, after a few days the pain subsided and I was able to once again freely move around. While there's still a bit of soreness in that foot it doesn't limit my mobility at all. But I still have no idea what caused this pain and may never know ... unless the pain returns and a doctor can figure it out.

This is just a very small glimpse of the reality of living in a fallen world. Things happen all around us every day for which we simply have no explanation. Why would my loved one suffer with cancer? Why did my family member abuse me as a child? Why was my friend involved in that accident? Why would my child be born with this disease? Why would my employer betray me? How did my child get involved in that behavior? Why was that person innocently murdered? Why did that family get devastated by the tornado? Why are we infertile? Why doesn't that father take responsibility for raising his children? How did my spouse get involved in that affair? Why was my child the victim of that molester? Why was that family left homeless by a house fire? How did he get the promotion at work when I was more qualified? These and a million other questions remained largely unanswered as we trudge through our daily lives. And maybe the biggest unanswered question of all - "Why won't God answer my questions?"

Maybe you're reading this thinking I'm going to offer an answer to all the unanswered questions. Ain't gonna happen! If I had answers I'd surely give them, but the reality is that I wrestle with this stuff just like everyone else. But here's what I do ... I try to focus on those things that I do know. I know God is good, that He is in control, that He never changes, that not a hair falls from my head without His knowledge and involvement, that He is my Father, that He cares for me and my family far more than I'm even capable of, that His covenant promises never fail, that He is faithful, that He has more invested in my life than I do. I know because of the cross that whatever horrible thing is happening in my life is not because He doesn't love me. I know because of the cross where Jesus suffered far more than I could ever possibly imagine that He is not indifferent to or detached from my hurt, pain, and suffering. I know because of the resurrection that my present suffering is not in vain. I know because of the resurrection and Christ's second coming that all things will one day be made right and the glory of that day will somehow be greater because of the brokenness and suffering I presently experience.

So what questions are you struggling with today? What pain and sorrow in your life is simply unanswerable? Let me suggest this: strap on the ice-pack of the fellowship of other believers, regularly ingest God's Word, and keep your thoughts elevated and clinging to the many certain promises of God's covenant love and faithfulness. You may not get a quick answer, but you'll get much grace for daily living!

The Old and New

One of the challenges every church faces is how to simultaneously be relevant, current, up-to-date, etc. yet also tied to the historical beauty and majesty of the church.  Though this is seen in practically every area of church life, perhaps it's most visible in worship ... the blend of the old and new, ancient and modern, historic and innovative, etc.  I must say that CPC has done a fair job with this over the years ... we've avoided major conflict over such stuff! Yet the challenge is still before us and it may be more critical than ever for us to address.

This issue isn't just some hypothetical, transcendent matter that churches deal with in theory ... it actually works its way into the daily life of every local church. The Session of CPC is intentionally trying to posture our church family to face and handle this challenge through the recent church staff hires of Stokes Skellie and John Perry.  While both men are incredibly sharp and competent in the work of ministry, they bring unique voices and perspective to the future health and growth of CPC. 

Stokes, in many ways, represents the rich history of Community Presbyterian Church.  I firmly believe that there is nobody better skilled and suited for CPC than Stokes. Those of you who have enjoyed his leadership in worship since 2005 know what I'm saying. And with all the recent changes in the make-up of our church family over the past few years it is quite a comforting thought to know that we'll again be blessed with Stokes' participation and leadership in our worship. While we certainly don't want to live in past, it is wonderful to have this link to what everyone likely considers the "golden age" of worship music here at Community.

John, on the other hand, represents the future of CPC. To prevent us from living in the past we must constantly be challenged to properly understand the changing culture in which we live. And while we're certainly not seeking to employ the latest "trend" in church we do want to be appropriate and pertinent in what we're doing and how we're doing it. Though the Gospel never, ever changes we must always be willing to examine our church structure, programs, methodology, strategy, etc. to be sure that newer generations hear, understand, and can apply this unchanging and eternal Gospel.  As I get older I realize more and more the importance of us looking to and planning for the future.

I ask that you pray ... that CPC would be well prepared to rest in and enjoy the historical beauty of not only the universal church of the ages but also that rich past of our own church family ... that we would be intentional in assuming a posture that welcomes younger generations of those Christ is calling to Himself ... that our Father would give us grace to navigate this course in patient love for one another ... that each of us would be willing to lay aside our personal preferences for the sake of the Gospel ... that He would richly bless CPC and use us to penetrate this area with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Best Kept Secret

This past weekend I enjoyed a good bit of time out at Barber Motorsports Park for the annual Indy Race. It is truly one of the most beautiful sporting venues in the country ... I've heard it described as "the Augusta National of Racetracks" (which only makes sense if you're a golf fan).  Every year I'm amazed at the number of local B'ham area folks who say it's their first time there and that they didn't really know about it until recently. How can such a world class facility and a world class event like an Indy Car race be kept hidden from the masses? Everyone should know about this place and come out and enjoy it.  It's beautiful, has great views of the track/racing, and very family friendly ... and it's in our backyard!!

There are a lot of other so-called "best kept secrets" in our lives. We all know of a restaurant somewhere that we can't believe not everyone knows about. Then there's that special vacation spot that is absolutely amazing yet nobody else seems to be aware of it. And, of course, there's the life-changing "hack" that saves a lot of time and money that nobody seems to know about. These, and many other "best kept secrets" tend to bewilder and confuse us as to why awareness of them is so limited and they're not more popular than they are.

Do you know what is the "best kept secret" in the Moody/Leeds area? Answer = Community Presbyterian Church. This was highlighted once again to me recently by someone who said they pass by the church all the time but didn't know we were here. And I'm not talking about a visitor from Mars ... no, this was from a member of a PCA church, very involved in ministry, even headed to serve on the mission field. Amazingly enough, this is even fairly common from folks who live in Moody. How many of you have had this conversation with a Moody resident?:

You say, "I attend Community Presbyterian Church."

The response: "Really? Now where is that? Is it in Moody?"

How is it that people who live in this community and who drive past CPC a hundred times a month don't know we're here? Granted, we don't have a 50 foot tall inflatable gorilla out by the road that draws people in, we don't have flashing lights on our sign, and we don't even have a guy dressed up like Jesus with a sandwich board out by the street but it still seems like folks should know we're here.

Actually, I think I know the reason we're relatively invisible ... and I bet you know, too. It's because we're just not very intentional, active, and vocal in our love for the bride of Christ. It's because our lifestyles don't truly reflect the radical nature of what it means to follow Jesus Christ and be a part of His family. It's because we often get too closely identified with worldly culture that the distinct culture of the church is essentially lost. Thus, we become somewhat invisible.

Please don't misunderstand, I don't desire for CPC to be the topic of conversation around every water cooler ... I don't intend for us to sport around in our CPC t-shirts to advertise ... I don't want us to be known as some sort of cult-like group that acts weird for the sake of standing out and being different ... I surely don't want CPC to be be self-righteous and think we're God's only true gift to this area.  Rather, we must constantly demonstrate humility and grace and keep the focus on Christ rather than ourselves. But we are called to be the church and that actually means something: we are God's people, called to take up our cross and follow Him, called to die to ourselves and live for Christ, called to live "in line with the Gospel" (Gal 2:14), and behave in a certain way because we are "in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth." (1 Tim 3:14).

I share a couple of quotes from a book I recently completed - The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher. It's not an inerrant or infallible source of truth, not even inspired by God, but it does boldly challenge us in some areas where we need to be challenged.

But you cannot give what you do not possess. Too many of our churches function as secular entertainment centers with religious morals slapped on top, when they should be functioning as the living, breathing Body of Christ ... The sad truth is, when the world sees us, it often fails to see anything different from nonbelievers. Christians often talk about "reaching the culture" without realizing that, having no distinct Christian culture of their own, they have been co-opted by the secular culture they wish to evangelize. Without a substantial Christian culture, it's no wonder that our children are forgetting what it means to be a Christian, and no surprise that we are not bringing in new converts." - p.102

A church that looks and talks and sounds just like the world has no reason to exist. - p.121

Let's not allow Community to remain Moody's best kept secret. We have something incredibly important to offer to this area ... the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  May we be those who boldly, clearly, lovingly, graciously, passionately, and loudly proclaim it through both word and deed. Let's let our love for Christ, for one another, and for the unbelievers around us be the thing that makes us visible and known in the community. Folks may still drive by and not realize our building is here (and that's okay) ... but may these folks never be unaware of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Missions Week

Community Presbyterian Church, since her inception, has always had a strong emphasis on missions ... it's really a part of our DNA, and it should be! One of my favorite missions stories goes all the way back to 1987! This was our first of many trips to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. As we publicized this trip we drew a lot of interest but not everyone could afford to go.  The total cost back then was $485 ... most of that being the whopping $210 price of the roundtrip flight from Atlanta to Cancun.  One of the persons interested in going was a young single man, Sean Hollis, who simply couldn't come up with that much money. I remember hearing one day that Sean had just won some sort of $1000 cash prize on a B'ham area radio station.  After following up with Sean, he saw that as the Lord's provision and ended up going! Lesson #1 - if the Lord wants you to go somewhere and do something He'll provide.

We've taken several other trips to the Yucatan, multiple trips to England, one to Ecuador, and most recently to Bangladesh. Our youth have taken around ten or so missions trips over the past fifteen years.

Perhaps the greatest indicator of a church committed to mission is the number of folks it sends rather than merely how many it keeps. From our own little congregation we've seen the Jennings go to England, the Morgans to Ireland, the Donahoos to England, the Webbers to Uganda and Kenya, and the Davises to England. We've also seen former members and staff be used by the Lord to plant, establish, and/or serve churches in remote villages such as Orlando, Columbus, Anniston, Shreveport, and soon Tryon.

Community has also been active in local church planting ... with successful church plants in Pell City and Springville. And though our church plant in Leeds didn't actually particularize there was a tremendous amount of ministry and mission done there.

But before we get a bit too prideful about what CPC has accomplished in the past we need to seriously consider what we're doing right now and what we intend to do in the next 5,10,20 years.  And don't think of CPC as everyone else ... rather, ask yourself, "What am I doing in terms of mission, both locally and globally?" Perhaps the Lord will continue to call folks from CPC and send them to foreign lands; I sure hope so! I trust even some who are reading this will be on foreign soil in 5 years (is the Lord calling you?) But the pressing need of the moment is local mission. I know this is easier said than done and the term "missional" is widely misused to justify almost anything in church life these days, but the mission (essentially the Great Commission - to make disciples by proclaiming the Gospel) is still before us.

I hope you're not reading this expecting me to tell you exactly what to do. I am writing to urge you to fervently pray and ask our Father for wisdom and guidance. The need is all around us ... it's now just a matter of listening, watching, waiting, discerning, and taking appropriate action when the divine opportunity presents itself (which, btw, occurs on a daily basis!!!) The Session is seeking to figure out ways to lead and encourage CPC to get involved in local mission. Please pray for them as they do this. But also go ahead now and start doing some very simple things: invite someone to worship here at CPC; have a neighbor or co-worker over to your house for supper; or tell someone you're helping your pastor do some research and ask them a very simple question - "If you could ask God one question right now, what would it be?" Then listen intently to their answer without trying to actually be God and answer that question. Prayerfully follow up with them as appropriate and watch the Spirit work.

Anyway, as we enjoy this weekend's missions conference let's ask the Lord to use us in His amazing work of mission. Whether He sends us overseas or to our next door neighbor, all we can do is be obedient. As Isaiah said, "Here am I. Send me."