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: http://www.amazon.com/Affirming-Apostles-Creed-J-Packer/dp/1433502100/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378762641&sr=1-1&keywords=affirming+the+apostles+creed

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.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Confession and Freedom

May I ask you a personal question?  Are you weighed down by guilt today?  Is there some specific sin hindering your relationship with God and you want nothing more than to be rid of it?  Perhaps you’ve had a long relationship with the Lord Jesus, but you are holding something that needs to be confessed.  There needs to be reconciliation between you and God, perhaps between you and a friend or a loved one as well.

I’d like to take a moment to meditate on the glorious freedom that comes to us when we confess our sin and come clean about how we’ve offended a holy God.  A classic example of such humble confession is found in Jonah 2 where we get to peer into someone’s prayer closet, that place where we get alone with Christ and pour our hearts out to Him.  In Jonah’s case it just happens to be in the belly of a fish in the heart of the sea! If God had not seen fit to put this into the canon of Scripture, I would almost think it inappropriate for us to read this, because it’s so personal. But God has put it here so that we can learn from the experience of Jonah – even from his own sin!   Listen to his words and be encouraged:

Jonah 2:1-4  Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish,  2 saying, "I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.  3 For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.  4 Then I said, 'I am driven away from your sight; Yet I shall look again upon your holy temple.

Jonah knows he is in the depths literally, in the sea, but also because of his sin he is far away from God.  That is what sin is like, even in the temporal experience of the believer.  It is not that the believer is cast away permanently.  No, Jonah even knows this in his hint of hope in verse four: “Yet I shall look again upon your holy temple.”  If you believe in Jesus, the experience of hindered fellowship with God is painful and dark, but God’s heavy hand upon you is never anger.  Rather it is the loving discipline of a Father who is calling you back to Him in humble repentance.  God will not let you go! 

Now look at Jonah’s clear words of repentance:

Jonah 2:7-9  7 When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.  8 Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.  9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!"

Jonah remembers the Lord!  It is not that he has forgotten Him altogether, but then again this is exactly what the irrationality of sin does to us:  we forget God!  His holiness, His mercy, His faithfulness and goodness are forgotten so we can engage in our sin.  But God graciously sent the trial of the fish into Jonah’s life to arrest his conscience and bring him back as a loving shepherd.  Is God perhaps pursuing you in some way too, not letting you go headlong into hard-heartedness?  In the end, Jonah recognizes that he has been guilty of idolatry (v. 8).  But now he turns back in thankful worship, (“But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you,” v.9) and obedience (“What I have vowed I will pay.” v.9).  The joyful conclusion, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” is a powerful sign that Jonah is again right with God.   

Now read the words of the 17th-18th century pastor Matthew Henry, who sums up the power of confession:

“It is very difficult to bring sinful man humbly to accept free mercy, with a full confession of his sins and self-condemnation. But the true and only way to peace of conscience, is, to confess our sins that they may be forgiven; to declare them that we may be justified. Although repentance and confession do not merit the pardon of transgression, they are needful to the real enjoyment of forgiving mercy. And what tongue can tell the happiness of that hour, when the soul, oppressed by sin, is enabled freely to pour forth its sorrows before God, and to take hold of His covenanted mercy in Christ Jesus! Those that would speed in prayer must seek the Lord, when, by His providence, He calls them to seek Him, and, by His Spirit, stirs them up to seek Him.  In a time of finding, when the heart is softened with grief, and burdened with guilt; when all human refuge fails; when no rest can be found to the troubled mind, then it is that God applies the healing balm by His Spirit.”                       

It doesn’t matter how far you think you’ve strayed; if God can hear the prayer of Jonah from the depths of the ocean in the belly of a fish, He can hear you now.  Jonah’s prayer of repentance shows us how far down the spiral of sin we can go, but never out of the reach of our Savior.  Jonah was given grace and freedom when he trusted God and repented of his sin; you can receive the same, whether you come for the first time, or you are a saint of many years.  Don’t delay!  Go to God in humble repentance and you will find freedom.

In His grace,
Pastor David

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hope, Forgiveness and Knowing: Gospel Remedies for Pain, Fear and Anger

“I am afraid!” he said. “I am afraid that all that is in store is more pain, and I have experienced so much pain in my life. I just don’t think I can take it anymore.” He said with fear and anger in his voice. “I just don’t see how anyone, let alone God could love me. Not after what I have been through.” He felt the pain of being separated from humanity and God. He could not ignore it, and he was angry with God.

How do we connect someone like this with the larger story of God’s redemption? What overcomes pain, fear and anger? Hope, Forgiveness and Knowing. 

Pain and Hope

We have all heard the expression, “Hope springs eternal!” We hope that tomorrow will be better than today; that the pain will go away. The problem is the hope that we often look for is based in the temporal, physical nature of life.

We want God to bless us with riches, a good job, a family without problems and the list goes on. But when things don’t go our way we look at our circumstances and cry out, “God, where are you?”

In the face of this the apostle Paul says:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:18-27).

Paul’s instruction is two-fold; First, when you are experiencing pain and suffering look to the hope of the new creation, when all wrongs will be made right. Look to the time we will be remade. “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:2b) This hope is the eternal bedrock we stand upon in the storm.

Second, remember the Holy Spirit is with you. Hope comes with knowing that when we cannot utter a word, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” We are not alone!

Fear and Forgiveness

Often when we are in a difficult situation we feel separated and fear God. We listen to the lie that says, God is all-powerful and could stop my suffering but he chooses not to and is untrustworthy and to be feared. He is a tyrant.

There are typically two ways that people react to this. They run and rebel against God shaking their fists in hatred of him. Or they cower, living their lives constantly wondering if they are good enough to appease the angry giant.

For the believer Paul answers:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).

And again,

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?... For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:31–39)

Nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus because as Isaiah 49:16a says, “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…”

Anger and Knowing

Many times when we suffer our initial response is to lash out in anger, especially when we feel that our suffering is glossed over.

In response to this Paul tells us that God sent “his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh…” The prophet Isaiah said of Christ, “Just as there were many who were appalled at him – his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his for marred beyond human likeness… He was despised and rejected by man, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering… Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities… He was oppressed and afflicted” (Isaiah 52-53; NIV). He entered our suffering.

The Puritan David Clarkson said this,
He knows all of our infirmities. None of them are so small that does not take notice. We may feel our afflictions are more than we can number, but he counts them exactly. He does not only know them notionally, but experimentally. He has himself been exercised with them. He knows their weight and how they smart, for he felt them. He knows by experience what it is to be in need to have nothing upon which to ride, and no where to lay his head. He knows what it is to be in pain, and to be despised, abused, reproached and hated. He knows the sorrows of life and the pangs of death by his own experience… He knows what it is to be deserted by his friends and to be forsaken of God. He became like us in all these things… He not only has suffered what others feel, but suffers with them in what they feel.[1]

He was tortured and killed to purchase us. He suffered physical and mental anguish so that we might know the peace that comes from forgiveness.

[1] David Clarkson, Works, 111:81–85