An Illustration of Sin

—Jeffrey West, Ruling Elder

Genesis 3:4 – But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.”

Jason was an average, likable guy. He did well at work, played on the church softball team, and enjoyed hanging out with his roommates. There was something, though, that he kept hidden from his friends—his love of snakes.

Since he was a boy, Jason loved learning about snakes and had always kept at least one as a pet. He knew most people were averse to snakes, so he didn't mention his small corn snake, Harry (Jason liked ironic names), to his roommates when he moved in. Harry lived in a compact aquarium that Jason kept in his closet. Jason would take Harry out occasionally and "play" with him, letting him slither up his arms and around his hands.

One day Jason's roommate, Philip, walked by Jason's room and saw him with Harry through a crack in the door. Philip was surprised and burst into the room without knocking. Jason, startled, explained that Harry was harmless and nothing to be afraid of. Over time, Philip and the other roommates got used to Harry being in the house. They did question Jason however, when he told them he wanted to buy a ball python. He explained that they made great pets but would require a bit more space in his room, as it would grow up to 5 feet in length. Finally, Philip and the others agreed to allow Jason the new snake under the condition that it stayed in his room at all times.

Jason was thrilled and immediately bought Chuck, his new boa constrictor. At first, Philip and the others would see Jason playing with Chuck much like he had with Harry. Then, as Chuck grew, Jason would not only bring him out to hold, but would also put Chuck beside him on his bed while he watched Netflix on his computer. Then, after falling asleep watching TV a few times with Chuck out, Jason began intentionally putting him in the bed while Jason slept at night. At this point Chuck had grown to a full 5 feet in length and Jason cared for him like anyone would a loyal dog.

One day Jason noticed Chuck wasn't eating well. Jason waited and worried while watching Chuck continue to refuse to eat before he finally made an appointment at the veterinarian. After an exam, the vet explained to Jason that there was nothing wrong with Chuck. He was exhibiting the typical behavior of a full-grown boa constrictor as it prepared to kill a very large prey.

Please Come, Just As You Are (and pray on Sunday mornings!)

—Susan Sisk, CCC Member

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Charlotte Elliott’s words from that hymn capture perfectly the qualifications for those who would attend the Sunday morning prayer time—people in need of a Savior who are willing to come. Come and sit down in the Rosemary Room at 9 a.m., and you will be provided with a list of people and requests for which we pray: An elder, a deacon, a staff member, a group leader, a ministry team leader, 5 members and their families, missionary requests, and the Norfleets. If you are a member and your last name starts with A through G, you’ve already been prayed for! Of course, people are always welcome to pray about other topics as well.

Each week a designated leader opens the prayer time and then we use the “popcorn” method, each praying just a few sentences about a specific topic, allowing others to add to that idea or to move on to other areas. We don’t go in any specific order through the topics or around the circle of people. In fact, not everyone even prays out loud. We finish up by 9:20 a.m.. If you arrive a bit late or need to leave a bit early, no worries.

So I’ve provided the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “how.” But what about the “why?”

· We are created in the image of a triune God, and so an essential element of being human is enjoying communion with the Lord and with other people. By praying, you are participating in the life for which you were created. This is a concrete way that you can “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

· Prayer is a way of acknowledging our utter dependence on the mercy, goodness, and provision of God in Christ. What better way to start the day of worship, or indeed, the week, than in a posture of humility before the Lord and others, praying for God’s presence and power?

· When we pray, we are obeying God. For example, in Ephesians 6:18 we are told to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…keep on praying for all the saints.” We are also told that our prayers are a pleasing aroma to the Lord (Psalm 141:2).

· Prayer is a means of grace by which God strengthens us. All of us face circumstances that require much enduring, and Jesus modeled and taught “that at all times [we] ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1) so that our love for Him will not grow cold (Matthew 24:12).

So please be encouraged and know that you are welcome to come as you are to the Sunday morning prayer time any time you can attend. It is open to all each week.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Perfect Love

—Kathryn Cavin

As most of you know, I have served as CCC’s Youth Discipleship Coordinator since September. I would love to tell you that I assumed this role with complete confidence and that I never made a mistake, but of course I didn’t. I had a lot to learn and still do. If I had to use one word to describe my first couple months on the job, I would say they were anxious. I worried constantly about what the next activity would be or if I was doing a good job connecting with the kids.

Then I read this verse:
1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

I was afraid because I did not believe I was already loved by the Lord. Although I would have said differently, my actions showed that I believed ministry was something I did on my own. If I worked harder, the youth program would be better and I could take all the credit. After I read this verse, I began to pray for the kids I was serving and for my own heart. I prayed that the Lord would use the time I spent with them and that he would keep my ego from getting in the way. This verse did not change me completely, but I am moving into a greater understanding that I am simply a tool the Lord is using. Because I am already loved, I don’t have to be afraid. If I make a mistake, I can pray about it, ask for forgiveness, and move on.

I still get anxious, but I have seen a difference in my heart and I have been able to watch real growth happen in the lives of the kids at CCC... This semester we are studying worship in middle school Sunday School. I have been encouraged by the discussions we have had about everything from predestination to snake handling. A few weeks ago, we were talking about the importance of community with one another and one of the kids asked, “Is that why we have youth events on Sunday nights?” I was so excited that he understood!

One Sunday night I met the middle school kids at Dunkin Donuts. As our rowdy group chowed down on donuts and threw Uno cards at each other I thought, “Those college students over there probably wonder why I’m hanging out with 5th graders, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.” It has been an honor to watch these kids grow and connect with the Gospel in their own lives.

It Will Not Be Taken Away from Me

—Jeremy Purvis, Ruling Elder

The following scenario has happened to me more than once.

Some critical event is approaching—a presentation, grant deadline, or difficult conversation—and I am preoccupied by it. I plan around it, prepare for it, and work hard to mask my irritability toward innocent bystanders. Then, just as the final minute comes, disaster strikes: a flat tire, sick child, ice storm, or some other emergency suddenly needs my attention. Like a puff of smoke, that all-important event vanishes into thin air. What was once so important becomes embarrassingly small as I realize how little it really mattered in the first place.

This scenario is similar to one Luke tells us about in his gospel. It is a story about two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha is famously bustling around the kitchen preparing food for her special guest, Jesus. Mary, meanwhile, is sitting around and listening to Jesus, doing (apparently) nothing. Martha’s irritation rises to the point that she rebukes Mary for not helping, and even asks Jesus to take sides with her. What happens next is amazing. Jesus corrects Martha by teaching her that Mary has chosen to do the right thing. He then delivers this crunching line that has been ringing in my ears for the past few days:

“…and it will not be taken away from her.”

With this statement, Jesus not only approves of what Mary does, but he defends her actions as absolutely necessary, to the point that it would be impossible for anyone to change them. Apparently, the opportunity to spend time with the Master is the irrevocable right of any follower of Jesus Christ.

This message is certainly for me. I need to remember that the time I spent with the Father in worship, prayer, and his word is the only real fixture in the calendar of my life. No other event can compete with it, however urgent or consequential it may seem. I am trying to remember that time with the Lord is not so much an obligation as it is a divine privilege. It is the truly critical event that makes all other competing obligations fade like puffs of smoke. When I view it like this, I am so happy to know that it will not be taken away from me.

Easter Reflections

—Rick Hawkes, Ruling Elder
April 13, 2006

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10)

A part of me is embarrassed by the resurrection. The cross is a clean and simple, though gracious, transaction. We love talking about how Jesus died for us. The resurrection is tougher. Now that I am forgiven, what does the resurrection have to do with anything? I feel pretty good about telling people that Jesus died to save sinners. Even if the details are a little foggy to them, they get the idea of sacrificial love. In our naturalistic society, the idea of the resurrection can only seem a pre-scientific myth, just another version of Osiris. "What is this babbler trying to say?"

Human religions—from Hinduism to Atheism, from Buddhism to Disney—agree that death is not an evil; it is a natural part of life. In our society, we can only celebrate the life of those who die; mourning is hardly acceptable since death and life are all one. The world beats this idea into our heads to displace the idea that is born there: we are all heading toward death and that is a profound evil.

In a world that has been anesthetized to the pain of death by religious and scientific reassurances, preaching relief from that pain is a non sequitur. The Athenians didn't get it; my co-workers don't get it; often, my own heart doesn't get it. Besides, in a world divorced from its God, our life is so dim and partial, it is not always all that different from death. The daily grind and ceaseless march of prosaic tragedy can even give death a seeming edge over life: "I have been half in love with easeful death."

The resurrection life that Jesus offers drives back all the brain numbing philosophies that twist life and death together. Resurrection life is a child's Christmas morning, a bride's wedding day, a father holding his newborn, a son returning from war—all rolled into one and magnified by the Hubble telescope. This is a life so valuable, to miss out on it is a cause to cry to the end of time. This is a life so sweet, to not taste it is to burn in a fire of regret forever. Life and death are no circle; they are separated by a vast immovable gulf. Resurrection life is so un-death, a three day old corpse locked in a stone vault cannot resist it. Neither can my stony heart.

Jesus says, "I am the resurrection." Resurrection life is no more or less than our relationship with Jesus. It is living in intimate peace with your maker. The resurrection sometimes means little to me is because of my weak relationship with Jesus. But this is why Jesus rose from the dead, so that he could make a way for me to come to him. I read his word a little and get a reminder of who he is. I see his Spirit working in me and others, and I think of him. That isn't much, but it starts something stirring, a searing spark of pure life without any of the rotten admixtures of this tainted world.

The resurrection life in me reminds me that the Lord of all creation is standing by me, after having given all for me, waiting for me to show him some gesture of gratitude or friendship. He looks at me not with condescension, smoldering impatience, or resentment, but unchanging longing and love. Now every little thought that takes me from him becomes repugnant and horrible to me, stinking of death. I am made for you. I am made to share a life with you that could not be reasonable or right to have an ending. All the sudden, the gray world which cannot imagine such a life is what seems mythological. His love endures forever. How could the Lord of creation, the God of love and life change his mind and let the objects of his eternal love cease? Because I am, you are. Because I always will be, so will you. Lord come.

The Sweetness of Self-Righteousness

—R. H. Hawkes, Ruling Elder

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.
Proverbs 21:2

Apparently, children taste sweet things more intensely than adults do. When I was a kid, I dreamed of when I could get my next sugar. As an adult, my tastes have changed. I now find myself irresistibly drawn to the spiritual candy of self-righteousness. When I see someone do something foolish while driving, I think what a reliable driver I am and, mmm, what a sweet taste that has. Or if I solve a difficult problem at work, I pass right by healthy feelings of a job well done and head for that tasty self-aggrandizement so familiar to little Jack Horner.

Self-righteousness is a great spiritual short-circuit. I am designed to rejoice in what God declares to be good. Instead, I usurp his authority and sanctify imitation and lesser goods, declaring stones to be bread. I relish my good sense in shoes or the humble inflection of my voice. Even sin in me does not dull my self-love. Confessing minor sins and self-deprecation confirm my goodness and turn out to be just as tasty as more obvious forms of self-glory.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the elder brother is free to join the feast with his father and brother, but that is not what he wants. The elder brother wants something from the father that he can enjoy without the father himself. This is exactly my position in self-righteousness: give me something good, something tasty so I can revel in the sweetness of that thing without you.

To be addicted to the sweetness of self-righteousness may seem a natural thing in a world where self-promotion is the rule. In reality, it is unspeakably sad that our own perceived goodness should be so sweet to us. Being good is a good thing. Our goodness, however, is not meant for our pleasure but for the Father’s pleasure. Because we have stolen this sweet designed for God, namely appreciation for our own goodness, we have lost the taste for our proper food which is God’s approval of us.

Thinking well of myself on account of God’s gifts instead of thinking well of him turns me inward. It cuts me off from communion with God. Who can free me from my self-referential, narcissistic prison, this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Behold, the new has come. What seemed sweet, I now find to be unspeakably bitter. I have acquired a new taste that has no parallel on earth. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good. Please, Lord, help me to open my hand to receive the Bread of Heaven and to be satisfied in your goodness, not mine.

Sunday Morning’s Best Kept Secret

—Ruby Bea Peters

Oh, to be a fly on the wall on Sunday mornings—not at the worship hour or even the earlier Sunday school hour—but from 7:45 to 9:00 a.m. So much happens in that hour and 15 minutes!

For just about a year, I have had the opportunity to drive into EV’s parking lot at 7:44 a.m. with Byron’s guitar and Host Table items in hand. We walk into a quiet, unlit building. Moments later Gary Benjamin and one of our wonderful deacons arrive (often with a few children) and the transformation begins. Lights are turned on, the supply closet is opened, and an outpouring of bins and sound equipment emerges.

Oh, but wait, the music team saunters in, and more children. Then more folks for set up walk in along with more children. Then Kathryn Eriksen drives into the parking lot to begin a transformation downstairs, turning partitioned areas into inviting children’s Sunday school classes and a nursery, and sure enough come more children!

Everyone is talking, laughing, playing hide-and-seek (that would be the kids), holding a child or two so that a parent can concentrate on making the coffee or setting up the sound connections up front.

As the aroma of coffee begins to fill the air, a sweeter aroma of Christ is all around as this community of believers works, laughs, prays, practices, and folds bulletins so that others may walk into a space readied for worship.

Just last Sunday, Lucy (age 4) and Oscar (age 2) folded bulletins with me. I got to play chase with Zora (age 3), and I got to catch up with a few of my church family members. It’s a sweet time.

If you ever want to arrive early on a Sunday morning, you won’t just get to be a fly on the wall...you’ll be employed for the kingdom with a great group of folks.

Oh, and bring the kids!

Samaritan Health Center Alms, March 31

—Jessie Prestwood, CCC member

The Alms Offering collected 3/31/19 will be given to Samaritan Health Center. CCC has partnered with SHC since the clinic’s inception in 2009, with both money and the involvement of our church members in various ways. I get to work at SHC one day per week. The mission of Samaritan Health Center is to share the love of Christ by serving those in need through health care.

What does this look like? Well, on the surface it looks about like you’d expect. We have a beautiful, free-standing clinic (in a strip mall in Durham—3205 University Drive—just down from Target, next to Domino’s) with 4 exam rooms and a blood draw area, a room for physical therapy, a couple offices...and three bathrooms (luxury!). We have primary care doctors. We also have a part-time staff dentist and many dental volunteers. And we have volunteer optometrists and ways to source free glasses most of the time. We do lab tests, order radiology studies, review outside records, and help people get quality medicines as cheaply as possible. We keep costs low by having a small paid staff supplemented by a large team of volunteers (nurses, administrators, grant writers, doctors, college interns, data reporters, and a dedicated board.)

More than 80% of our patients do not have insurance. (18% of adults in North Carolina are uninsured. Currently in NC, poverty alone does not qualify an adult for Medicaid.) Some of our patients live at the Durham Rescue Mission. Some are refugees—we have an invaluable interpreter corps. Some are adults who have jobs that don’t provide insurance.

There are of course as many different stories as there are patients. Many are deeply personal but medically not so dramatic. We treat lots of hypertension and diabetes. And some stories are more dramatic. It's not rare to hear about an alarming symptom (chest pain, bleeding, even new seizures) that has been going on for “a while.” We are grateful for amazing local hospitals (of both shades of blue) that provide high-tech, lifesaving care.

So, this looks a lot like any other primary care clinic. But the “share the love of Christ” part is not just verbiage. We aim to love sinners well and help them know the good news of real forgiveness and life-transformation that we, as sinners, have found in Christ. We aim to love saints well, encouraging them with all the riches of fellowship with Jesus. We aim to love sufferers well, working with any and all tools to provide compassionate presence, relief, and comfort. And like Greg has taught us, we often find the sinner, saint, and sufferer all in the same person.

We are very grateful for CCC’s ongoing support. It has been a fruitful partnership that we hope will continue to bear fruit for years to come.