Dear Parish Family,
I continue to pray for you as we continue to deal with what seems like constant challenges going on in our country; the Coronavirus, racial tensions, rioting and looting, an upcoming election, and, an uncertain economic future.
I believe, also, that the Church is going through changes and challenges. Many of us are trying to "be the Church" for one another. Being involved in a church "community" has always been a part of my walk with Him. A walk with Jesus, a growing and alive relationship with Him, always involves doing some sort of ministry and having relationships with others who are believers and who are seeking to grow. In the last five months, this has been more challenging for not only me, but for all of us!
In the midst of thinking about and rethinking how we might be the church together, I have been reading a book entitled Letters to the Church, by Francis Chan. Francis has been a youth minister, a pastor, an author, and a compelling speaker. His background and testimony is compelling. What has intrigued me is his evolving definition of what it means to be "the church." He began a church in 1994 in his home with his wife and about 30 others. It grew, in the next ten years or so, to a church of 1600 members, one of the largest in Simi Valley, California. He has written a number of books (including his well known book Crazy Love, known and read by many pastors that I know, as well as many others. He has given most of his royalties on book sales (around $2,000,000) away, as well as half of his salary to various ministries, including Children's Hunger Fund, and Gospel for Asia. Since that time, he has left his pastorate and began a church in Hong Kong, and has become part of a church movement called "We are Church," which is a network of House Churches. His goal, and one of the challenges in his book entitled "Letters" (above), is to truly find Christian Community. When he was pastor of his large and growing church in Simi Valley, he felt that he had lost something that he had when he was a part of a house church when he first began. He even moved to Hong Kong because he believed that what he was seeking may be able to happen easier there (he moved back to California, too). He has seven children, and was seeking a real church experience for them.
His church, Cornerstone Community, was a wonderful church in many ways! There was good community life with many ministries and small groups. But, there was too much emphasis, in his mind, on "the perfection" of seeking a compelling church worship service that was becoming more about the service than it should have, and he, as the pastor, wanted more. I believe that his "success" was part of his challenge, but I also believe that his point is well taken: How can we "be the Church" in the United States today, which, in many ways, is even more challenging because of our current circumstances!
One of the analogies that he draws in his book is doing a comparison to gangs. I realize for some, this is a stretch! Gangs are often built around some unhealthy practices and goals: drug and alcohol abuse, drug sales, violence, and competition that grows between rival gangs. However, the positive experiences that come with gangs: family (when most if not all of the gang members come from broken and/or dysfunctional families); a sense of belonging and caring for each other: having each other's back; support and encouragement; being a member for life; and we could go on. Again, not all of these are for healthy reasons, but, a gang provides something in an imperfect way that people are looking for in their lives and relationships.
Francis Chan draws an analogy with the early church, beginning with Jesus and the Apostles: they were a "gang" of sorts; in fact, an experience that the brothers James and John may have had (they were called "Boanerges" in Mark 3:17.... “Sons of Thunder!”). The Apostles, a mishmash of misfits in some ways, became a community, with Jesus at the center. Fast forward to the early church when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost after the cross, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. What we see in the early church is: they continued in the Apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and the prayers. The Holy Spirit moved with power in their midst and they shared all things in common. And, no surprise, the Lord added to their numbers daily! (Read Acts 2:42-47). Why? Because "Church" was so much more than an hour or an hour-and-a-half on Sunday. They experienced real community, real love, real care, real spiritual life, real mutual servanthood; they were growing in the Lord and had each other's backs. Perfect? No! Just read Acts 6:1f!
In our modern, progressive, busy, and very different world, this may not be very easy! Throw in a virus, social and political upheaval, economic challenges, and it becomes even more complicated and challenging! But, the question remains: How are we to be as "The Church?" From what Jesus and the apostles modeled, and the early church lived and Scripture encourages; we must learn to be His Community, His Body.
Right now, I can't tell you that it is easy to be "connected," to be "family." But, if you look at my newsletter articles and E-Blasts, I have always addressed everyone as "Parish Family." Families aren't perfect! So, we are not going to try to create a perfect family who loves and serves each other perfectly. However, the question is: Are you seeking to be "His Community," His Body on earth, His Church? Very much related: How can you love others in your Parish Family right now? The "right answer" right now will be different once we are past the threat of the virus. But, the question is still the same: How do I as a believer in Jesus be a member of His family, His community, His Body now?
Pray about and think about what our Lord might be leading you to do now and after the virus, to truly be "one of the gang;" not any gang, but "Jesus' gang." How can you be part of His family so that you are truly connected, truly loving and serving His people as well as others, and how can you grow continually in Him and with others? There are many ways: on Sundays, during the week, in small groups, in ministries, and the list goes on. The reality: it is more than "going to Church" on Sundays or once in a while when it is convenient. Currently it is definitely more difficult; but, try to be creative and consider options that "work" today in our challenging time. Pray about the future; and while you’re at it, pray for our country!!
Your life in Jesus will be incredibly blessed! As will others!!
With love, in Christ,
Dear Parish Family,
I have been using Scripture Union's Daily Bible Reading Guide (Encounter with God) since 1978 and have been blessed or challenged by the readings and devotions through the years.
This week, we began a study in Paul's Second letter to the Corinthians. In II Corinthians 1:3-7, Paul uses a form of the word (in English) "comfort" (in Greek "parakletis") ten times! When you hear the word "comfort," what do you hear? Part of what you will "hear" when you read or hear the word comfort will depend on what you are going through at the moment. For example, if you are sitting in the evening with loved ones, you may think about relational comfort, security, peace; if your family are gathered and at peace: "all is well" comes to mind! However, if there is tension in the household, you may be looking for "comfort," relational reconciliation and peace. If you are experiencing a health threat to either yourself or a family member, "comfort" may mean "healing." If you are on vacation or watching a movie, or sitting in front of a fire after a satisfying dinner (hard to think about sitting in front of a fire during these hot summer days!), you may think of a "comfortable" chair, or, again, “all is well” as you slip into a semi-sleep state. If you have recently lost someone you love, comfort may be elusive since they are no longer there to see or speak with, and you miss them!
Comfort is often about mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual well-being and peace.
Let me take this idea a step further: the source of well-being and peace is the Healer, the One who brings salvation and assurance of eternal life, the One who brings us a "ministry of reconciliation," and relationally we are experiencing health and well-being, if not joy.
Jesus, in His "Upper Room" discourse/teaching in a tender time with His apostles, talks about the Holy Spirit: the (in the Greek) Allos Parakletos; the Holy Comforter, the Holy Advocate, the Holy Helper. "Another Counselor:" one who draws alongside us! He is the "another" (the Greek word "allos") just like Jesus, who brought and represented peace and joy to His apostles throughout His life and ministry; during His life, walking with them, and when He revealed Himself "the Risen Lord."
Think about the words that are translated from the word: "Parakletos." The Advocate: the One who brought us salvation by His sacrificial love on the cross and in the power of the resurrection. He defends us against the condemnation that would come from our sin. He is "the Counselor" who brings us guidance to prevent us from committing acts or breaking healthy relationships that would bring painful consequences. He is "the Helper" who helps us in our struggles, our needs, our pain, our inability to change ourselves or others, or situations; to help us when we are unable and impotent to help ourselves. He is our Comforter, to comfort us in our sorrows, our pain, our helplessness; when we need reassurance and peace and even joy amidst the sorrows and griefs in our lives.
That doesn't always mean that we will be at ease or insulated from pain or struggles; but rather, He is there to "wrap His arms around us" to walk with us, through His presence and words of reassurance. That He is there, He has us, He will ultimately protect us and bring us through, bring us home as we walk with Him, rest in Him, trust Him!
Another word that comes to mind is "Encourager;" an "encourager" is one who instills courage in us and helps us to "keep on keeping on" no matter what obstacle, temptation, trial, persecution, or pain that we are going through! He is our Holy Encourager.
Today, probably more than in most of our lifetimes: as much as 9/11, as much as the "Recession" in 2008, as much as the personal challenges that each of us has faced (and some of you may remember the Spanish Flu, WWI and WWII), and the fears, struggles, and pain of those years. Nevertheless, this is, in most of our lifetimes, an unprecedented time.
Because our lives have changed, our culture, our country, even the world, with the pandemic, racial tensions, political and economic upheaval, we need the Holy Spirit in His fullness: assured of our salvation, assured that Jesus is here, through His "Allos Parakletos" to bring us help, comfort, strength and peace. And, He has given us His Body on earth, the Church, so that we might have peace with one another, carry each other's burdens, pray for and with each other, show compassion, care, and comfort; to be a people of "holy encouragement."
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing" (Romans 15:13); and His "hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Romans 5:5). Rest in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit that has been given to those who believe. Seek daily to be filled by the Holy Spirit that you might be comforted and encouraged, and be a comfort and encouragement to others!
With love, in Christ,
Dear Parish Family,
My wife, Meredith, shared with me a brief video this past week of an interview with well-known Christian author and speaker, Stormie Omartian. Stormie has written a number of books on prayer, and several of them focus on prayer for one's spouse and children. In this video, she was being interviewed about a book on prayer that she had recently written that contained commentary on II Timothy 1:7. In this passage, Paul is writing to Timothy about his ministry that had become challenging for him recently, and Timothy had become "timid" because of attacks that had been launched about him and his ministry. The verse is translated in a few different ways, but essentially it says: "for God did not give you a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and love and a sound mind." I have seen it translated where "fear" is translated "timidity" and "a sound mind" translated "self-control." The words and context are close enough that the teaching is essentially the same, but let me make a few comments on this verse.
I have said several times in sermons and various teachings through the years, that the most frequent command in Scripture is "do not fear" said in various ways, such as in the verse that we are unpacking here. Scripture has 365 verses that address this command and in various contexts. But the important and most telling part is that fear can have positive and very negative results, depending upon how we respond to it. For example, "the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom" suggests that because we have sinned and need a Savior, our response will be “fear” until we come to that place where we receive His forgiveness and know Jesus as the Savior and Lord that we so desperately need. Further, when we are under attack from the Enemy, we need to respond to the fear that rises up in us resulting in a "fight of flight" action. We need to discern the best response, with our Lord's help and guidance. For example, at times we need to "flee Satan," and, at times, we need to resist or "fight" the temptation that comes at us. But, fear unrelated to examples such as these, or not dealt with effectively, can result in bad decisions and consequences that hurt us and others. We are seeing this in our culture right now! The "fear" that results from a pandemic; the fear that results from financial uncertainty; the fear that results from racial tensions; the fear that results from political and social unrest. Further, if we do not address these fears, the results could be more subtle: how we are handling the extra stress; how we are handling family relationships, work relationships, and friendships. I have seen the results of the constant barrage of "bad news" in our current climate that has caused people to be at odds with one another, and fractured or broken relationships.
Paul's encouragement to Timothy, which we need to take to heart today is: if we are "in Christ," then we do not have a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.
Power - The power does not come from our ability to control the social and cultural situations, but the power that comes from prayer and God's Holy Spirit. We may not be able to change these situations or the people around us, but we can be changed within, to deal with both the people and the situations in a godly way, bearing the fruit of the Spirit amidst the tensions, anxiety, and brokenness around us.
Love - Our culture, apart from Jesus, does not always understand Agape love; the love that comes from God alone, demonstrated by Jesus in His life, ministry, and death on the Cross. Because our culture has been dominated as of late with "me first" and "my rights" and "no one can tell me what to do," the "Christ-centered," "Spirit filled" love that is revealed in Scripture and by the Holy Spirit is lost on many around us. Our response is not to react as "the world" reacts, but to seek how our Lord Jesus reacted, and how our God through the guidance of Scripture and the Holy Spirit, with His power, might cause us to respond.
A Sound Mind - Consider how angry people have responded today to the various challenges in our country. Anger is really the result of fear, selfishness, or both. The resultant rage, violence, withdrawal, gossip and slander, self-centeredness, lies, divisions, tensions, and even depression has taken over many lives, or at least a preoccupation in many lives. A sound mind would be the "mind of Christ," where we are able to bear the fruit of both Love (Galatians 5:22) and Self-control (Galatians 5:23), the two "book ends" of the fruit of the Spirit! The kind of love that we are talking about (see above) and the ability to control ourselves in a godly way (not the result of willing ourselves to, but by being empowered by the Holy Spirit) will give us a "sound mind" and a calm spirit, along with wisdom to respond in such a way that we will bear "good fruit," His fruit.
I encourage you to take time to be in prayer and ask the Lord to show you where you may be living "in fear" and not "in Christ;" where you may be responding in a way that is not God honoring or blessing others; where you are not living with the peace of God that passes understanding (Philippians 4), but by the tensions and fears dominating our country in these days of unrest and fear.
May our Lord fill you with His Peace as you trust in our loving Father, Savior and Holy Spirit that will give you a spirit of "power and love and a sound mind".
With love, in Christ,
Dear Parish Family,
Just when we thought that the challenges might be lightening up a little, we are hit with yet another challenge: masks in public places (indoors, it seems for now) aren't just recommended, but required. This comes in the midst of the report that in many states, in our area the Coronavirus is spreading at a "pandemic" rate. It seems that, although many are becoming infected with the Coronavirus, that it is often among the younger people of our society, and the main cause, at least according to the experts, is due to the combination of a lack of wearing masks, combined with the lack of social distancing.
Therefore, our policy regarding our gathering for worship will remain as it is: masks and social distancing. We had, however, "loosened up" at the office: we had left the door unlocked during office hours and weren't requiring masks (though, we were very conscious of "social distancing"). At this point, I do not know of any adult from St. Luke's who currently (as of my writing this e-blast) has the Coronavirus; but we are taking additional precautions at least through July 31st (at this time).
I know that there are many in our community who are growing tired of the masks, the social distancing, the lack of "church" or "business" or even "life" as usual; and, many are still isolating, which all takes a toll. Further, businesses, or at least some, will continue to struggle, and some even more so. I know of two restaurants, for example, that have "shut down for good" i.e., Bonefish and Carrabba's. That is very sad to me and I know there is more such news to come and is causing many in our community angst, fear, or even anger. It can be very challenging if this continues, as if it isn't already! And, it can be wearying!
Paul writes in his second letter to the Thessalonians (II Thess. 3:13) and to the Galatians (Gal. 6:9) to "not grow weary in well-doing." Well doing isn't just about "being good" as many could spin this. Well doing does include our "being Christ-like" in all ways! Which, right now, rather than focus on the specifically moral implications of this "well doing," I would like to focus on some other implications.
There are many "strong feelings" as to what is going on around us because of the Coronavirus, the economy, and racial tensions. We must, during this time, have a peaceful spirit and a calm voice. It is so easy to get inflammatory; we see this in the news all the time from both the commentators and some of those being interviewed. The challenge for us is to bring "the mind of Christ," the "heart of Christ" and the "fruit of the Spirit" to bear. Even if we are misunderstood or challenged, or even verbally assaulted; a calm voice and a loving spirit is our goal, for our own sake, and the sake of others.
Let me take this idea a little further: we must not only speak, but also act in a "Christ-like" way, bearing the mind of Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. And, well doing doesn't just involve how we handle the various tensions and challenges coming our way, but also how we can reach out to others with our hearts, hands, and voices for those who are going through a terrible time spiritually, emotionally, physically, relationally, financially.
We can begin by praying and opening up our hearts to how the Lord Jesus might lead us everyday; who the Lord might lay on our hearts to reach out to with a phone call or a kind act (still social distancing, of course, unless we live in the same house). We must seek to know our Lord Jesus through His Word so that we might know the mind and heart of Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit in word and action. And, this begins in our heart and mind. Knowing His Word, seeking the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit, and acting on what He gives to us daily may not make a huge difference in our community today; but will make a difference in those whose lives we touch. And, who knows what the Lord will do through His people when we live as Christ in word and deed!
Let us not grow weary in well doing: for our sake, for the sake of those around us, for the sake of our witness as His people, and for the sake of the world that desperately needs the gospel, whether they know it or not. We can and will make a difference!
With love, in Christ,