Thursday, February 5, 2015

Great Blessings

When we think of our daily routine we often-think first of a shower (hopefully), maybe the appointments you have, work issues, food for the day, or the clothes you will wear. But I wonder where Bible reading, meditation and prayer come into the equation? Many times when I think of personal disciplines they feel like something to do in order to accomplish my tasks for the day, almost like they were a part of my job. It seems like that may be the reason why we find reading and prayer drudgery and not a blessing.

So how do we move from boring to blessing, from job to joy? I don’t think it is by someone telling you that they are important for you to do, you already know that. What I do think aids in our practice of discipline is to see them as a time for us to partake in the blessings of God. This is the picture that the scripture sets out for us.
Ps 1:1a, 2 “Blessed is the man…but his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.” Blessing (the life to be envied) is clearly related to meditation on the word of God.

Prov. 1:7–9 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and forsake not your mothers teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.” The writer of the Proverb is saying that the knowledge that is found in the Godly wisdom of parents is like fine jewelry. Where do parents get this type of wisdom? I can think of no better place than the Word of God.

Isa. 55:2b “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good and delight yourselves in rich food.” Here Isaiah equates the prophetic word with good and delightful food.

Matt. 4:4 “But he answered, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” Here our Lord (using scripture that he had stored up in his heart) answers the temptation of Satan by saying that we live by the word that comes from the mouth of God.

Rev. 1:3 “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” Now the apostle John points to both the blessing of reading and hearing the word of the Lord.

How is Scripture a Blessing? It is a blessing because it communicates to us God’s grace in many ways. First, God works through his word as it is read and especially as it is preached to build us up and to feed us until we are satisfied. Do you want satisfaction? Sit under the word Preached! Read God’s word! Second, God works through his word to put on display his grace in saving us. Do you find yourself asking if God loves you or cares about you? Read God’s word and see there the written account of his love for you! Third, the Spirit works with the word to make you into the person you were always meant to be. Do you wonder what God has for your life? Do you wonder what your future will hold? Read God’s word and see Jesus!

Reading God’s word is a great blessing because we are blessed as we read it. It is like sitting down to dinner with the most important person in your life and feasting till your heart is content. And when it feels like you are slogging through, know that in those moments Christ still is communicating his grace to you!

Here are the Ligoneer app and the Logos Bible app by Faithlife that both contain helpful Bible reading plans and are easy to use.

iPhone apps

Andriod apps

Joel Fitzpatrick

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Living in the Blender

We have a blender at home that is truly amazing.  We can put almost anything in there and get a smoothie out of it: unpeeled fruit, raw vegetables, spare car parts… the possibilities are endless.  The motor is so powerful that you have to be careful not to turn it on at full speed.  You have to start on the lowest setting and work your way up, or else the thing might just launch into the stratosphere. 
Sometimes I feel like life is a bit like my blender.  I throw in a full serving of fatherhood and husbanding, a healthy dose of ministry, a smattering of soccer coaching, a few spoonfulls of extended family, a smidge of exercise, and you’ve got a life smoothie.  Oh, and don’t forget to add an undetermined cup of sickness to make it interesting.  Sometimes the blender is on low, but there are other seasons when it feels like someone just turned it up to the speed of the chipper my tree trimmer uses.  In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast.” One way I know I’m too busy is that when people actually say to me, “I know you’re busy, but do you have time to get together?”  When I’m projecting busyness to everyone around me, that’s a sign I need to slow the blender down or manage my ingredients better.  Realistically we all know we are busy people, and it often feels like there is nothing we can remove from our schedules. So with all our packed calendars, how do we manage to cultivate real communion with God, true fellowship with His people and significant ministry to those around us?  Hmm, sounds like “worship God, live in community, and serve our world.” Three simple things that may in fact help us decide what is important and what is not! There are many different ways to answer this question, but for this post let’s just think about one thing you can do for starters, one thing God has given to help you manage the blender well.  He has given you the Lord’s Day.   Sundays have perhaps been the most significant way I’ve found that God has helped me not lose my sanity. 
But before we go there and unwittingly turn this into a handy list of time management skills, remember our Savior first.  You see, Jesus himself was busy – perhaps more busy than we would ever be.  He was constantly teaching, healing, meeting with people, preaching from city to city and in general doing His Father’s work.  He was extremely busy, but He seemed to always have time for people and seemed to be swimming in a life of prayer.  Granted, He was the divine Son of God, so one thing He never allowed to drain his time was the entrapment of sin.  But He dealt with the same temptations we do – temptations to waste and misuse time, temptations to engage in sinful activities, and temptations to say yes to the wrong things.  But what gave His life clarity was the perfect focus concerning His mission.   We must always remember that we have a Savior who lived His days with perfect balance of communion with the father, fellowship with His disciples and ministry to the world.  Even in the end, when He hung on the cross, it was all according to the perfect plan and mission laid out for Him.  Praise God for a Savior who has lived His life perfectly and died for our failures in this area!  The grace we have received from Him is to be a constant fountain for us to return to and be quenched.   Our busyness often hinders us from feasting on the Gospel.   
The Lord’s Day is one of God's chief means to feast on the good news.  When you see it this way, it then becomes a gift of His grace rather than another event on the calendar.  We need our Sundays not just as a break from our schedules, but as a full day to drink from the waters of divine mercy.  It is the day God has provided so we can see and savor Jesus’ beauty and love for us!  God has given you a day where you don’t have to be ruled by your to-do list and your event calendar.  Have you ever tried to add another event to your calendar only to have siri respond “You already have five overlapping appointments then. Are you sure you want to schedule this meeting?”  If so, then the Lord’s Day is God’s rest from the blender.  Imagine one whole day in seven where the sole focus is on God.  We rise to worship God in the morning; God speaks to us and renews His covenant to us in worship and shows us again His love poured out through the cross of Christ.  On the Sabbath we get the joy of looking forward to our eternal rest when we will be at home with the Lord forever.  God gives us the gift of His people: we can be together, singing, praying enjoying one another, learning together (the reason for Sunday School!).   One of the sweetest parts of the Lord’s Day for me is getting to be with God’s people, sharing a meal on a Lord’s Day afternoon or evening.  Now don’t get me wrong:  As a pastor, Sunday is my busiest day of the week.  When the Lord’s Day is over, I’m tired!  Some Sundays aren’t as full, so I take a nap (without guilt – it is a day of rest!).  But this day is also the sweetest for my soul!  The opportunity is there for me to focus on God, His Word and His people without the pressures that invade Monday through Saturday.  Often God even uses the Lord’s Day as an opportunity to share the Gospel with unbelievers too.  What better day than Sunday to reach out to someone who doesn’t know Christ?
Our calendars are all full – perhaps so full that other important things are getting lost. Deciding what is important and needful in our lives is a difficult question.  But God knows you need rest, and He has given you a day where you don’t have to say “yes” to those things.  One entire day in seven is free for the good of your soul.  If you are like me and often feel trapped by the calendar, then let me encourage you to clear away the things that drain the glory and joy from the Sabbath.   It may become the pinnacle of your week, the way God designed it to be. 

Looking forward to our eternal rest –

Pastor David

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thoughts for Parents on Moving to Two Services

By now if you’re a part of NCPC you’ve probably heard that we will be moving to two morning worship services in February of 2014.  I’ve been thinking about this shift for years, and there are a pile of details to get in order as we make such a shift in the ministry of our church.  One of those areas is deeply relational and personal to me, and it confronts me when I take off my pastor’s hat and put on my Dad hat.  Now admittedly I don’t do that (take off one role for another) since one role informs the other and as I’m more or less faithful in one it deeply impacts the other.  But as I think of moving to two services, I find myself asking what impact will it have on my children and my family.  Here are a few  things that come to my mind for all of us, some challenges, and some encouragements:

The ebb and flow of our Sunday schedule will change. This may seem obvious, but our kids are accustomed to routine, and that routine is about to change.  Whether you choose to attend the early or late service, there will be an adjustment.  Naps for very young kids, dealing with hunger during the service, getting up earlier or leaving at different times all will be an adjustment that will take time.  The good news is that they (and we) are creatures of habit, and it won’t take too long before those new habits become old hat. 

There will be people (especially friends) that my kids won’t get to see as much.  One of the things I love about NCPC is that my kids have developed their closest friendships at church! I love that they want to come and see one another on Sunday.  (Now I recognize that this is not everyone’s experience; some kids have found close friends at school, in sports or in their neighborhood and that’s a great thing too, unless they are friendships that are dragging them down spiritually.  If you’re interested in the topic of navigating your children’s friendships, come to our parenting Sunday School where we are discussing this currently!) But going to two services will mean that some of their friends’ families might choose the other service and they won’t see them as much.  How can we help our children if that happens?  Hopefully we will help them with the same things we can do for ourselves: we need to seek community in a variety of venues.  The biggest and most obvious is coming to Sunday School and staying around for the fellowship time in between services. There they can get some of the very same interaction they are used to every week!  Getting involved in Community Groups, Youth Ministry, and other informal times during the week are all part of how we go beyond just casual friendships to significant connections in the Body.

There will be an increased awareness of our church’s mission for our children to experience.  At a meeting of English ministers in the late 1700’s the young minister William Carey was invited to suggest a discussion topic.  Carey had become burdened for the spiritual condition of unreached peoples in the world, and suggested they discuss their obligation to reach them with the Gospel.  The leader of the meeting interrupted him and said “Young man, sit down.  When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid and mine.”  Fortunately Carey did not listen to this man, and instead on another occasion stated that we should “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”  Carey began the English Baptist Missionary Society, sailed for India, and is known now as the father of modern missions.  Carey’s statement (even though it is about global missions) highlights what we should be seeking in this change as a church.  Attempt something that feels risky, but is an act of faith.  In that attempt, we should have a great expectation that God will actually bless the Gospel proclamation in our midst!  May our children see that and own that mission for their life as well.   

They will have a fresh occasion to think through how they can use their gifts in the Body.  We will all be called to think about how we can give ourselves and use our gifts in this new strategic initiative.  Why should it be different for our children?  Over the holidays, spend some time talking about this upcoming change with your family.  Pray and think and discuss together about how you all might serve the body and the world in this new season of NCPC’s ministry.   Ask the Lord to use this for their spiritual growth, that they might serve one another through love (Gal. 5:13). 

They will have a new opportunity to reach out to unbelieving friends.  Now that there will be more options at NCPC to worship, our hope is to use this season of change as an opportunity to invite people to church with these new options.  Pray as a family about whom you might like to invite.  Perhaps they have friends from school, the neighborhood, or a sports team that come to their minds.  Talk together about the best ways to invite people, and then pray for opportunity to do so. 

They will see our church as a place seeking to love people with the Gospel, and Lord willing they will learn to love this way as well.  I pray this will happen in all of us.  One of my great hopes as a Father is that my kids would not only know the deep love that Jesus has for them, but they would also desire to extend that same love to others.  May our children grow up knowing that NCPC is a church that loves people enough to tell them about Christ!  And, may they see NCPC as a place willing to attempt great things for God, and expect great things from God. 

Let’s pray to that end in this great ministry endeavor.  “O God, do great things for your glory and your fame!”

Pastor David

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Finding a Rock in Times of Change

With all the changes and challenges afoot these days at NCPC, you may feel a bit unsettled.  We have said goodbye to several families, including leaders who have been relocated for work, and this trend will continue for a bit longer.  Add to all these changes our financial struggles as a church and it could make a recipe for real uncertainty.  So how should we respond?  While we don’t know all the answers as to why God does things, here are a few sound biblical principles that we can give us grounding:

1.     God has promised to build His church.  We spent a whole Sunday morning on this recently, so I’ll refer you to our recent sermon on Matthew 16:18, but this promise must be our rock when things shift beneath our feet.  Is it not sweet to know that the church stands on Jesus alone and not on any one of us?  It is tempting to think that our “success” as a ministry is based on having certain leaders, ministries and plans in place.  Those are good things to be sure, but the hope rests on Jesus’ unfailing promise to finish what He has started among us.

2.     Times of uncertainty reveal something about our hearts.  When finances are down, it can reveal that we tend to rejoice in God only when things are going well.  When a dear friend or pastor or leader moves, it can reveal that our hope is in people far too much.  The deepest reality for us is that we live every breath completely dependent on God – “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  Could it be that at least part of what God is doing is revealing the sandy foundations we tend to pile under our feet, hoping and trusting too much in people and prosperity?  Could He possibly be pressing us to see that He is the only One strong enough to bear the weight of our spiritual well-being?

3.     God is moving the troops for the good of His broader church AND our good.  This may sound strange, but if we recognize God’s complete sovereignty AND His loving purpose, then we must be able to say that He has good in mind for NCPC in these times of change.  Yes, we all would easily admit that He is going to bless other churches as these beloved friends go and minister to these other believers.  We know He is caring for His broader church as these mature servants go to new ministries.  But do we also believe that His taking them from us is also for OUR good?  Now don’t get me wrong on this point!! I am not saying that we’d be better off without them!  Far from the truth.  But, for some reason which perhaps none of us can know yet (or may ever know) God will use the time of stress, sadness, and transition to work in our hearts and move us to seek His face as a church.  In Paul Tripp’s words, God will take us where we didn’t want to go to accomplish in us what would not have happened otherwise.  God has a good plan that even extends to times of struggle. 

4.     God wants us to depend on Him and cry out to Him.  Make no mistake, this MUST be our response in all circumstances, but particularly in times of change and struggle.  David’s words in the psalms should guide us:

Psalm 5:1-2  Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning.  2 Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray.

In his “groaning” (time of struggle) he calls out to God for help.  He knows deeply where help and stability is found:

Psalm 5:7  7 But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you.

In this Psalm David’s specific situation is different (he is pursued by enemies), but his call for help and his trust in God’s power are needed for us today. 

Psalm 5:11-12  11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.  12 For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield.

Run to Him today!  God’s shoulders are big, and he wants to hear your struggle.  Will you call to Him and receive hope and help?  Let’s seek our Savior together, and rest in His perfect plan for us.

Praying with and for you,

Pastor David

Monday, September 9, 2013

For Further Study: Resources on the Apostles Creed

It has been a fun summer working through The Apostles Creed in the evenings. I never really had an appreciation for the depth of wisdom contained in this little document, but throughout the summer I was amazed at the implications of these little statements. There are some great resources that helped me to understand what it meant when I said, “I Believe”, these are some of those resources.

The first and most obvious one is the Heidelberg Catechism (HC). We used these 41 questions to aid us in directing our thought on what we were confessing. I love the HC for it’s straightforward Christ centered explanations. If you do not own a copy of this little catechism I would strongly encourage you to get one.

The second book that I used extensively was Affirming the Apostle’s Creed by J. I. Packer. At 149 pages this book is deceptively simple. I thought at first blush that this book may just go on the shelf and not be used much in my preaching, but I was dead wrong. I often found myself leaning on Packer’s explanations and argumentation to aid in my preaching of some complex issues. The beauty of this book though is that Packer does not overwhelm the reader with complexity, but instead dazzles with his simplistic approach.

 To buy on Amazon:

A third book that was helpful was The Heidelberg Catechism: A Study Guide by G. I. Williamson. This book was helpful in unpacking what the Catechism saw as the important points in the Creed. As usual Williamson can be counted on for clear cogent teaching as wells as helpful questions.

In the same vein as Williamson’s book Kevin DeYoung’s book The Truth we Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism was a helpful aid. Some have found this book to be very helpful and I would agree, although I would read Packer and Williamson before this book. DeYoung writing style is clear and the way he applies the truths of the Creed is helpful.

It is my hope that the summer sermon series piqued your interest and that you were challenged to know what you believe and why you believe it. I think that you will find these little tools helpful in that regard.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Eternal Weight

I don’t know about you, but I am decidedly NOT good at gardening.  Don’t get me wrong, we have one at my house, but I’m best fit to dig holes and mow lawns, not tend things and feed them well to make them grow.  Not my department, but my wife is good at it.  One thing I have noticed is that as the summer wears on it gets more and more difficult to keep my grass green.  As I consider our rather unhealthy backyard it reminds me of a biblical image that Peter uses from Isaiah 40:

1 Peter 1:23-25   …since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever." And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

Even though it hasn’t been too hot this year my grass is still not doing so well.  When my grass does grow and I wait too long to mow, the grass can flower.  Peter likens our existence to the grass – we are here for a season, and then we wither and die.  We are temporal and frail, subject to decay.  Perhaps you feel this rather keenly – you are personally acquainted with the withering that Peter talks about.  Really, whether we know it or not that is everyone’s experience.  Everyone is dying – we are all just at different places on that road.  Peter wants to bring out this reality and place it before us so we might have a proper view of self, lest we think we’re invincible.  This is meant to put us in our place.  As Moses says, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

But Peter is also showing us what is often called the “Creator/creature distinction.”  In contrast to our weak and temporal existence, the Word of God is eternal – it “remains forever.”   This eternal Word gives us life, even though we are a blade of grass preparing to wither and die on the outside.  Someone once said, “There are only a few things that will live forever:  God, His Word, and the souls of men.”  While we are not eternal, our souls will go on forever.  This certainly tells us what is really important!  Eternal realities are what really matter; everything else will not last.  What should this do in us?  It should urge us to attend to those important, eternal matters – seek God, take hold of His Word, attend to our souls!  We spend so much time spending our energies on things that will have no bearing on eternity.  Don’t get me wrong; there are normal things we must do every day.  But things can be done by us with eternity always in view.  WHY and HOW we do the mundane makes all the difference. 

The apostle Paul tells us this:

2 Corinthians 4:16  16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

Though we are all (at various stages) experiencing outward decay (physically, because our flesh is like grass), we can be encouraged because inwardly we are being renewed.  How?  Peter tells us: “…The word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (v. 25). 

So what are you pursuing today?  Do those things hold the weight of eternity?  Let’s take hold of those things and pursue those things that will last forever.

Pastor David

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Why Creeds?

Next Sunday we begin an evening sermon series through the Heidelburg Catechism’s discussion of the Apostles Creed. We are praying that this evening series will be a great opportunity for our church to be built up in some of the core truths of the Christian faith, as well as provide a context for evangelism. With so many patently false ideas regarding Christianity floating in our culture, this study of the Creed gives us an easy structure from which we can present the basics of Christianity too many who may never have heard it. Please pray for this study, come yourselves, and invite friends and neighbors. 

However, as we move closer to the summer, I want to address a potential question that many Christians have, perhaps some in our church: Why are we basing a sermon series on a man-made document? Why not preach the Bible? After all, one of the hallmarks of reformation theology was “Scripture Alone.” Why do we need creeds and confession if we have the Bible?  These are important questions and deserve a good answer. 

Everyone has a Creed

The first point to make is that everyone has a creed. A creed (from Latin meaning “I believe”) is simply a concise summary of Biblical truth, and all of us summarize what we believe before we express it. Let me put it this way, if a neighbor asks you, “What do Christians believe?” what will you say? If you only say, “We believe the Bible,” then your neighbor will ask, “But what does the Bible teach?” Unless you are prepared to start reading verse by verse from the Bible beginning at Genesis 1:1 (probably not a good evangelistic strategy), your answer to this question will be a summary of your understanding of the Bible - A creed.  Everyone has a creed because everyone has a way of summarizing what they believe the Bible teaches. So the question is not, “Should we have Creeds?” But “Is the Creed I confess faithful to what Scripture actually teaches?”

The Importance of Creeds 

In the NCPC membership class, Pastor David lists several important purposes the creeds have served the Christian church from the very beginning:

  • Counteract Error

From the very beginning the church has been plagued by teachings contrary to the Scripture. Creeds became an import test for determining whether or not a teaching or group was consistent with the Scripture or not. Think about it this way. If the only requirement for membership in our church was that a person say “I believe the Bible,” would that be sufficient standard for membership? Absolutely not! Why not? Because people with fundamentally different beliefs about what the Bible actually teaches, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, could all affirm such a statement. Clear statements of belief such as Creeds are essential if the church is going to successfully pass on the orthodox faith to the next generation. Creeds also provide a clear standard against which any new truth can be judged.

  • To provide a basis for fellowship

This is the flip side of counteracting error. The Creeds/Confessions provide a concise summary of theological truths that the people of God can affirm together, and which binds them together. There can be no true fellowship that is not based on common truth.

  • As a tool for Christian Education

This is precisely what the Apostles Creed was used for beginning as early as the 2nd century, continuing to the present. Clear summary statements of biblical truth are invaluable tools for teaching children and new converts the content of the Christian faith. Many of our parents at North City use the Children’s Catechism with their young children precisely because it faithfully takes majestic Biblical truth and presents it in a form suitable for children.