A Missed Forecast

The recent prediction of 2-3 inches of snow and freezing conditions that would create havoc on the roads turned out to be wrong. Many schools, businesses, daycares, churches, etc. closed all over the Birmingham area due to the forecast. Anita got a message from her boss on Sunday evening to come to work the next prepared to stay for 3 days! But, as we experienced, it was a major non-event. Lots of folks got really upset … you should go check out the mean tweets directed at James Spann, calling him all sorts of names, labeling him as incompetent, blaming him for loss of business and income, holding him responsible for disappointing children, and all sorts of other such wild stuff. Never mind the fact that it actually did snow in a few places and the forecast itself said not all places would get snow. But still, for the most part, it was a missed forecast and wrong prediction.

But would we prefer meteorologists not give us sufficient warnings of what could occur? Would we rather just go back to the days when the weather person was literally just for show, someone pretty to look at, only able to say what had already happened or what the current temperature or rainfall was? I believe anyone around B’ham who endured the 13 inches of snow back in March 1993 would rather be overly cautious. I suspect anyone who spent the night in their car, stuck on a B’ham road in the 2014 Snowpocalypse, would appreciate ample warning and be thankful for the extreme forecasts.

Every few years we get someone who proclaims with great certainty that Jesus is returning on a certain date. They point to world events, hidden Bible codes, prophecies, etc. Though these folks have obviously been wrong every time, they keep the predictions coming. Even a few nights ago I had a couple of men try to convince me about how current world events proves that Jesus is coming back in our lifetime.

Though I don’t buy into any of these claims about Jesus’ second coming, I do believe He is coming, and will come again soon … just as the New Testament writers believed He would return soon, even during their lifetime. “Soon” could be another 2000 years or more, but in the eternal scheme of things that’s soon!

I truly have no idea when He is coming but I do know the Scripture tells us to be ready.

Mark 13:32-33 - “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not now when the time will come.”

Jesus may not come today, but I am to be ready. The second coming may be years in the future, but I’m to be on guard and keep awake. My preparation and readiness for His return may cost me financially, may mean I get a little disappointed, may mean I’m viewed as an incompetent Christian fanatic, but nonetheless I’m to live each and every day looking for my Savior to come back and make all things right!! I’m actually hoping He comes today.

Mark 13:37 - Stay awake

Appearance is Deceptive

As you’ve likely noticed, the church office area and several classrooms have beautiful new flooring. It’s really nice and thanks must go out to our deacons who orchestrated the deal. In order for the flooring to be installed in my office they had to remove all the furniture … ALL the furniture, including bookcases full of books. So, it was up to me to pack them up in boxes and try to keep them organized as best I could.

As I started this task I noticed that there were many, many books that were absolutely useless; books I hadn’t looked at in 20 years; books I would have no intention of looking at in the next 20 years. So the dumpster behind the church became my friend for several hours one day as I threw away between 100-200 books. I know what you’re thinking … “Burt, why didn’t you give them to someone, or allow folks to look through them, or donate them to a thrift store?” Because these were the books that not only I didn’t want, I didn’t want anyone to have to weed through the mess of interpretation, controversy, or confusion that most of them would involve. But fear not, as I’m going through the boxes and selectively unpacking them, I’m now setting aside probably another 100-200 books that I will make available to others.

It’s not that I don’t value books anymore, rather I just don’t value the appearance of having so many books. I suspect most all of us want to be thought of as smart, wise, knowledgeable, and well-prepared for whatever we do. I certainly enjoyed it as people would come into my office, see the enormous accumulation of books, and make positive comments and expressions. But I’m admitting that many of those books were nothing more than decorations on the shelves to give the appearance of a well-read, thoughtful, knowledgeable, theologically astute, wise pastor. Of course, those of you who know me well know none of that is true, but it was fun to play the game!

If I’m honest, there are several areas in my life where the appearance is somewhat deceptive. I’ve always been told what a great faith I have … maybe, but I wrestle with fear all the time. I’ve been told what a wonderful marriage and family they see in the Boykin home … I guess we’re okay, and though my wife is absolutely wonderful, marriage is hard; and while I think all my boys are incredible, it’s not because they have such a good dad. I’ve been told I’ve modeled the Christian life well … hmmm, if you only knew the secret sins tucked away down in the hidden places in my heart. This list could go on and on and on.

A couple of points I need to make. Though appearances are deceptive, the Lord knows the real me in absolute detail and HE LOVES ME ANYWAY. This Gospel truth is what keeps me going in the face of sometimes feeling like a fraud. Second truth, I don’t think I’m the only one who realizes this about themselves. We all wrestle with this feeling. The church must be a place where it’s safe to be exposed, where our identity isn’t in appearance but rather in who we are in Christ, where forgiveness and grace characterizes everything we do, every relationship, every conversation, and every activity.

By the way, I have some books you’re welcome to come pick through!

Desensitized and Unaware

A few days ago Anita asked me if I noticed an ammonia smell in the laundry room. I told her I hadn’t, but that with my cold I really can’t smell much of anything. So we let it slide. She mentioned it again the next day and my response was the same. I did mention that I had used some ammonia for some cleaning a few days prior so she figured the smell must be from the rags I used and probably not yet washed. Well, this morning she again mentioned this ammonia smell and my response was exactly the same. Not only am I congested and can’t smell anything, our house has historically had all sorts of smells that sort of run together, creating a constant strange scent. So even if I didn’t have a cold, I seriously doubt I would have noticed the smell. Turns out, the jug of ammonia I used the other day apparently had a tiny crack in it and, sure enough, probably a quart or so of it had leaked out onto the storage cart and eventually on the floor.

How in the world can someone not immediately notice the strong smell of ammonia and fix the problem before it gets so bad? It’s actually fairly simple. First of all, the drip was small and slow. Had the jug emptied all at once it would have been very noticeable, but the tiny leak only gave a whiff of something wrong, and a whiff is fairly easy to explain away. Secondly, as I mentioned, we’ve become rather desensitized to all the smells in our house … boys, animals, fireplace, dirty clothes, food, etc. It’s just too hard to explore the reason for every smell so you just sort of accept it and move along in spite of it. And thirdly, I really do have the issue of sickness and major congestion to contend with. It hinders me from being aware of the various smells around me, both good scents and bad odors.

It hit me that this is very much a description of my life! I find myself going through a world full of good and bad to which I’ve become desensitized. I have a hard time noticing the nasty sin in my life - which often starts as just a tiny “drip” of a problem. And though I know sin is present, everything just sort of runs together and it’s too hard to explore the reason behind the sins. And, of course, the indwelling sin problem of my heart is a major issue that literally prevents me from even noticing certain sins. But it’s not only my sin I fail to notice … I fail to notice what God is doing … I fail to notice the majesty of God’s grace in life situations … I fail to observe the beauty of the image of God in others … I fail to see His good providence in everyday affairs … I fail to rejoice in the love He extends to me throughout each and every day.

Yep, my heart is hardened and unable to “smell” anything. Jeremiah 17:9 nails it - “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” So the hope of the Gospel is NOT that we’ll just make our hearts better, but rather that the Lord actually gives us new hearts, living hearts, hearts that CAN be aware and sensitive to the world around us. Ezekiel says it well in 36:26 - “I will give you a new heart, and new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” The theme of Christianity is never “let’s just do better” but rather “death and resurrection”, the old is gone and the new has come. So today let’s behold the One, Jesus, to whom we’re united to by faith. Let’s set our gaze on Him who lived the life we should have lived, who died the death we should have died, and who rose from the dead to secure for us new life!

The Agony of Defeat

Many in my generation grew up watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Each week the show started with Jim McKay’s narration over a montage of various video clips from various sports. Jim’s most famous phrase from the show’s opening was, “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.” Coinciding with the audio phrase “agony of defeat” was a video clip of Yugoslavian ski jumper, Vinko Bogataj, loosing his balance toward the end of the inrun, tumbling, flipping, and ending with a spectacular crash through a light retaining fence near spectators. Most everyone in my generation has that image and phrase fixed in our minds.

This past Monday night Alabama’s football team experienced the agony of defeat … an image that also may stick in the minds of many a fan. Tuesday morning I had a couple of out-of-state friends text or email to ask if I was doing much grief counseling that day! I honestly saw most of my Alabama fan friends handle it fairly well … not too much mourning, grieving, excuse-making, or complaining. But I did notice a common theme from several of them. It was the idea that it’s actually good for Alabama to lose a game like that … that the humbling effect of the loss would prove to ultimately be a good thing.

While I absolutely agree that the character development of young men on the team is far more important that wins or losses, I also know that this comment is made only half seriously. It’s a way to help soothe the pain of losing. I say this, not to enter into a debate about college football, but rather to show the parallel of how we as Christians think about losing, pain, suffering, the agony of defeat. I suggest the average Alabama fan may be okay with losing an occasional national championship game but likely expects to be there again and win it all next year. I suggest the average Christian may be okay with experiencing some occasional suffering but likely expects God to make it soon go away, not have to experience that agony again, and start living in victory. If losing a national championship game builds character, then wouldn’t an entire losing season build even more character? If occasional suffering on the part of an American Christian builds character, then wouldn’t it be better for us to experience the intense persecution that fellow believers face in much of the world?

This is in no way an indictment of Alabama fans … every fan of every team is guilty of the same thing. Sure, I want the players on my team to have and build character, but I also want them to win! It’s just a game and we need to keep that in perspective. But I am trying to seriously address the mindset of Christians when it comes to adversity and loss. I suspect this is why the prosperity gospel message is so popular and well-received … you don’t have to factor in suffering and persecution. But authentic Christianity is full of pain, suffering, opposition, agony, loss, and trouble. Most Christians throughout history and around the world today have barely even been able to field a team, much less make it to the national championship game. The only “victory” they know is the abundance of grace they receive while in the midst of suffering.

I certainly don’t want and I’m not suggesting we ask God for more adversity. But if it does come our way, in large or small doses, we can be certain God is working to build our character and make us more like Jesus. Let’s fix our gaze on Jesus rather than desired outcomes and enjoy the abundance of grace He gives.

Exposing the Sin

As wonderful as it is to see all the Christmas decorations go up, it’s equally wonderful to put them all away and get the house back in some semblance of order. As we were storing boxes of decorations back in the attic during one of the recent rainy days, I happened to notice a section of wet wood. The water is likely coming in along an area that may require some roof repair work. Needless to say this didn’t bring immediate joy to my heart! I don’t think there’s any rotten wood yet but had I not gone up there when I did and not seen the problem until next year, it could / would have been a much more serious situation. So although my immediate reaction was disgust, it soon changed to thanksgiving!

As we begin this new year of 2019 let’s take the time to explore those parts of our hearts and lives that don’t typically get much exposure. Ask the Lord to graciously press into those secret, hidden places and allow us to see any problem, sin, iniquity, idolatry, pride, etc. that needs to be addressed before it’s allowed to deteriorate into something even worse than it is. Let’s make sure we’re making use of the ordinary means by which this grace of God is given - worship, reading/study of God’s Word, sacraments, prayer, fellowship. The immediate emotion to having our sin exposed is horror … but our ultimate response will be one of thanksgiving. May 2019 be a year of repentance and faith!

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! - Psalm 139:23-24

A Christmas Blessing

I noticed something the other day while eating lunch at Guadalajara. Three men were checking out up at the front counter and engaging in conversation with one of the employees … nothing unusual so far. Then I noticed one of them pull something out and hand it to the worker behind the counter … again, nothing too strange. But then this man motioned to the worker to kiss whatever it was he had handed to him. The employee, as requested, kissed it and handed it to another employee who also kissed it. It was evident that the three men at the counter were greatly pleased by this activity.

I suspected these men were Catholic and after they cleared out, I asked the Guadalajara employees what I just witnessed. They confirmed that these men were Catholic …. in fact, a couple of them were priests. One of the priests years ago had apparently met Mother Theresa and had a few strands of her hair in small plastic bag, approximately the size of a sugar packet. He had instructed the Guad workers to kiss it in order to receive a blessing.

I’m not Catholic, certainly not an expert on Catholicism, and in no way want to demean those who are Catholic, but I feel pretty confident in saying that kissing a bag containing a few strands of someone’s hair will not bring a true blessing, even if the hair belongs to Mother Theresa. There are many attributes of Mother Theresa that I would love to see displayed in my own life but I don’t believe that’s going to happen by kissing her hair.

So how are we to think about God’s blessings? A few years ago social media seemed to be obsessed with the hashtag #blessed. Home decor stores are full of items to purchase that announce to anyone entering our homes we are “blessed.” It’s not uncommon to greet someone, ask how they are doing, and get the answer “blessed.” So exactly what does it mean to be blessed? How do we get a blessing? I suspect we all would agree that the source of blessing is God Himself. But our questions tend to revolve around the substance of blessing … what exactly are we getting when we get a blessing? I contend the substance of blessing is the exact same as the source of blessing, God Himself. A true blessing isn’t merely getting good things from God, it’s actually getting more of God. I’m as guilty as anyone I know in misunderstanding the nature of God’s blessings. I constantly long for things from God rather than long for more of Him. Nancy Guthrie says,

“Since more of God himself is the substance of blessing, whenever we ask him to bless us, we’re essentially inviting him to pervade all of the ordinary aspects of our lives. When we ask him to bless our plans, we’re inviting him into them, inviting him to even disrupt or change them, believing that his plans are always better than ours. In asking for his blessing we’re confessing that the outcome of our lives will not be the sum of our grand efforts or accomplishments. Instead, anything and everything good that emerges from our lives will be a result of his sovereign presence in it.”

Am I ready for God to bless me with more of Himself? This opens the door for potential suffering, pain, loss, sacrifice, and failure. This means I must learn, like Paul, the secret of being content in any and every circumstance. This means I must live by faith, trusting in the glorious truth that I am already blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).

It’s pretty clear that blessing comes by faith, not by jumping through the right hoop. In many ways it would be preferable to be able to kiss someone’s hair, have an evangelist lay hands on me, send a check to a particular ministry, have gold dust fall from the ceiling during worship (an actual claim of recent years), or any other such way to receive something good from God. But the real blessing is to taste of the goodness of the Lord.

So my prayer for you this Christmas is that you would be blessed! And while I do hope you get some good stuff as gifts, my real desire is that all of us get a bit more of Jesus. He is our true Christmas blessing!

He Needs My Help

Last night I was driving to the store listening to the radio and heard an ad to promote a Toys for Tots campaign somewhere in the B’ham area. It was a rather typical promotion, asking for people to contribute to the cause of helping disadvantaged kids get presents for Christmas … certainly not a bad program. But at the end of the ad was the statement, “Santa needs your help.” My first impulse and response was, “No he doesn’t, he’s Santa.” Of course, after pondering it for a few more seconds I remembered Santa isn’t real … duh! But initially, I literally was dumbfounded that the advertisement would say something so dumb. Yep, I’m a pastor, believe in the Bible and everything, and I still had an initial shock hearing that Santa doesn’t need my help. I mean, who wants to believe in a Santa that needs our help?

But, of course, when it comes to our belief about God we’re not so opposed to believing He needs our help. I would even go far to say that the default view of God in the USA is that He does require our help, that we actually do contribute to our own salvation, that God is a “gentleman” and would not do anything without our invitation, permission, and cooperation. We’ve been told it’s dangerous to believe in a God who does as He pleases, who doesn’t need anything from us, who is completely sovereign and independent.

But consider God’s Word as He speaks about this very matter.

Acts 17:24-25 - The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

Psalm 115:3 - Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

Psalm 135:6 - Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.

These verses give us confidence that God is sovereign, omnipotent, self-sufficient, eternal, infinite, lacking nothing, and doesn’t need our help.

Does this really matter? Who cares what we think about God as long as we’re trying to do the right thing. A.W. Tozer in The Knowledge of the Holy says it well -

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.

We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.But the same Bible also reminds us that we’re to be obedient and have the privilege to participate in HIs glorious, purposeful, and redemptive plan. It’s not that God needs my help, but that He graciously involves us in His work.

A God who needs me, who lacks something apart from me, that His glory hinges on me, who is dependent on me, isn’t really much of a God. But I sure do need Him, truly lack everything apart from Him, and am completely dependent on Him. So while it’s perfectly acceptable to be Santa’s helper over the next few weeks, let’s not think or live as if God is somehow lacking unless we help Him.

Where's the Joy?

A few nights ago as I asked one of my unbelieving friends how he was doing, he paused and said, “I’m ready for January!” I smiled and replied, “December does tend to be a hectic month; so much stuff going on.” Nodding in agreement, he then affirmed that he’s already tired and exhausted and December has just started.

You surely notice I said this was one of my unbelieving friends … well of course this person wouldn’t know the joy of the Christmas season, the grace that Jesus brings; he would not have experienced the new birth of regeneration and would not have God’s Spirit dwelling in him; he’s operating from a very worldly perspective that doesn’t see Christ as all-sufficient; he has not submitted himself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We can’t expect unbelievers to walk around with joyous expressions, speaking words characterized by hope, living in the excitement that God is making all things new, having positive attitudes that focus more on gratitude than complaining. Of course he’s tired, exhausted, without hope, frustrated, weary, and skeptical of the supposed “joy” that the Christmas season seems to promise.

But how many of us … believers, followers of Christ, disciples, redeemed, adopted, regenerate, born again, Spirit-filled … feel pretty much the same way? So very many of us Christians are tired, weary, live with little joy, act as if we have no hope, complain, and are skeptical of the supposed “joy” that should be present during the Christmas season. And as if this frustration we share with unbelievers wasn’t enough, we have the guilt of knowing we shouldn’t feel this way. And to top it all off, the Christmas season always seems to highlight the normal struggles of life - grieving the loss of a loved one; strained family relationships; financial woes; scheduling needed family time; overeating; anxiety over traveling; etc.

Don’t you wish there was a simple formula to use to capture or recapture the joy of Christmas? Well, there sort of is … it’s called preaching the Gospel to yourself every day. This doesn’t guarantee you’ll have more money to buy gifts, it doesn’t make traveling any safer, it doesn’t automatically restore broken family relationships, it doesn’t make our departed loved ones come back, and it won’t automatically create better eating habits - but it can and will allow us to enjoy the sufficiency and contentment that can only be found in Jesus Christ. The Gospel is real, true, powerful, and beautiful. And though it may not cause our circumstances to be any different than those of the unbeliever, it literally does change our hearts. Our challenge is to believe it. So let’s pray for more faith … ask our Father to pour out His Spirit on us and allow us to see our own sin and need of a Savior … pray fervently to be saturated with His peace and comfort … plead with Him to immerse our hearts in the soul-satisfying grace found only in Him … beg Him to grant us an ever-growing faith in the person and work of Jesus.

And know that this really is something that our unbelieving friends don’t and can’t have. So are we praying for them? Are we sharing the good news with them? Are we inviting them to church so they can hear the Gospel and see it displayed in the lives of God’s people? There’s plenty of God’s grace to go around to everyone … let’s believe it, feed on it, and share it.

The Galleria Shooting

We’ve all heard about the tragedy last Thanksgiving evening at the Riverchase Galleria in Hoover. Here’s what little we know at this point - an 18-year-old and 12-year-old were seriously injured by gunfire and 21-year-old Emantic Bradford Jr, 21, of Hueytown was killed by Hoover police who, at the time, suspected him of shooting the other two. Later investigation concluded that he was not the shooter. But most of the details of this event are unknown to the public despite what some are saying. We don’t know who the actual shooter was; we don’t know the identity of the two gunshot victims; we don’t know the identity of the Hoover policeman involved; we don’t know what security or body cam video shows; we just simply don’t know exactly what happened.

As in so many of these horrific incidents, there are those who wish to politicize it and use it for their personal or group agenda. People are quickly taking sides, dealing in speculation, making assumptions based on preconceived notions of what “they” are like, defending actions of someone without any hard facts. What seems lost in so many conversations that I’m hearing is the fact that a young man’s life has been lost, a family has lost a son, a police officer is wrestling with the trauma of having fatally shot a man, and this officer’s family is likely going to face a lot of turmoil in the coming months and years. While it’s easy to pick sides and justify whatever actions fit your particular favored agenda, it’s somehow hard to remember that these are real people with real lives and real families. We prefer to use them to promote our views rather than grieve with them in their pain, hurt, and loss.

And what are our views on this matter? What “side” are we on? Are we quick to condemn Emantic Bradford because he shouldn’t have been there with a gun in the first place? Are we ready to condemn the policeman because he apparently shot the wrong person? Are we prone to assume that young black men gathered at an athletic shoe store is a sure-fire recipe for trouble? Are we to assume that police officers simply racially profile before taking action? Are we immediately critical of those protesting this incident down in the Galleria area?

While there is certainly corruption in our system, the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers are brave, responsible, just, moral, trustworthy people who serve us faithfully by putting their very lives on the line every day. They are to be commended, trusted, admired, and respected. And while there are definitely a number of young men who cause trouble (white, black, Asian, Hispanic), the overwhelming majority of them are responsible and pose no threat. It also can’t be denied that the white majority culture has a history of injustice and distrust directed toward people of color. We all know law enforcement officers who are among the finest people in the land, and we may know some who aren’t. We likely also know people of color who have suffered injustice, rejection, and live under constant suspicion.

Does any of this factor in to the Galleria shooting? I have no idea … and I’m not sure anyone else does at this point. But I fear that we too quick to judge, too eager to defend our group, willing to politicize most anything, and do all this without hard evidence or facts. What we know is that a life bearing God’s image has been lost, two families are hurting, unfounded accusations are being made, a community is becoming more divided, and the Lord’s heart is grieved by it all.

So what are we to do as God’s people? Again, I’m not wise enough to offer great solutions to such a complex matter. But I do believe that that the Gospel speaks to the situation. Conversations need to take place, humility must characterize these conversations, forgiveness needs to be extended, justice needs to be relentlessly pursued, mercy is to be practiced, and the glory of Jesus must be pre-eminent; as God has loved us in Christ, so must we love one another.

Micah 6:8 is a good reminder: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Join me in praying for the families involved, for the community to be healed, for wisdom and discernment for investigators and authorities, for police officers to be respected, for justice to be served, for the church to take the lead in community-wide reconciliation, and for Christ to be glorified in the midst of it all.

A Thanksgiving Feast

Many of us will enjoy this Thanksgiving with family around a table full of food … likely more food than we’ll know what to do with! I suppose this tradition is to celebrate the blessing of the harvest and acknowledge the abundant blessings that God has bestowed on us. And while we certainly must be mindful of the multitude of people who will remain homeless, hopeless, and hungry this Thanksgiving it’s not inappropriate for us to enjoy a scrumptious feast together and give thanks to our Father for His lavish grace. This is one reason we have a church-wide Thanksgiving Feast each year. This year’s supper was incredible … one of the larger crowds we’ve ever had and the array of food was spectacular!

Let me explain to you one of the things I love about Community and which makes us unique and distinct from some other churches. At the Session meeting just prior to the Thanksgiving Feast I asked the elders if they wanted some sort of program - music, testimony, message, etc. - right before or during the meal. One elder said, “I’m not opposed to doing something.” Another elder said, “I’m not opposed to not doing something.” The elders then looked at one another, sort of nodded in agreement, and in unanimity essentially said, “let’s just eat together.” Why do I love that so much? Because I think our elders understand that we don’t need to artificially tack on something “spiritual” in order to make the Thanksgiving Feast a spiritual event. The event of God’s people gathering together around the table, engaging in conversation, sharing their lives, laughing, hurting, listening, and simply being physically present with one another is itself a very spiritual thing. As a pastor I enjoyed observing young and old interact with each other, new families being welcomed by long-time members, and unmarried singles interacting with married couples. And though no ecstatic spiritual gifts were displayed and no gold dust fell from the ceiling, I genuinely sensed the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in and among our congregation this past Sunday evening.

I guess the point is that certain things are just spiritual … doesn’t matter whether or not we put our packaging on them. Corporate worship is spiritual whether or not we “feel moved” during the service. Reading God’s Word is spiritual whether or not we “get something” from it (God’s Word never returns to Him without accomplishing its purpose). Prayer is spiritual whether or not we feel our prayers don’t get higher than the ceiling (God is present on this side of the ceiling, too!). Sharing the Gospel with unbelievers is spiritual whether or not we see fruit. Fellowship with believers is spiritual whether or not we tack on something to it trying to make it spiritual. And so on, etc.

There’s a lot at CPC we get wrong, no denying that. But I’m thankful this Thanksgiving for a church that is a spiritual family, who doesn’t so much try to be a spiritual family, but rather operates in the knowledge that we are a family because of the redeeming work of God through His Son, Jesus Christ.