What Are We Doing Here?

—Rik Gervais, Ruling Elder

What are we doing here? How often do you find yourself asking that question when you sit in church? Not just Christ Community Church, but ANY church? What are we doing here!? It should be clear what any church, but especially CCC, is all about. Our church is about discipleship.

“The church is not an arena where a professional minister is cheered on by lay people who are nothing more than spectators. The church should be discipling and training Christians for ministry. Church members, not just staff, are supposed to be ministering. That is the point of Ephesians 4:11, 12. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers are given to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.” (MacArthur, J.F., Jr., Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World, p. 184)

MacArthur reminds us, “Discipleship is the ministry of developing deeply spiritual friendships focused on teaching biblical truth, applying Scripture to life, and thus learning to solve problems biblically.” That’s how we learn, for ourselves and others, how to “Connect the Riches of Christ to the Realities of Life.” We don’t want people to simply sit in the seats and enjoy a good sermon. No, we want people to be growing in their understanding and love of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, so that they can do ministry (connect Christ’s riches to others’ realities) in His name.

MacArthur goes on to say, “[Discipleship] must be reinforced by a godly example, not just delivered as a set of academic precepts. Therefore, discipleship involves time and personal involvement with people...the church must provide an environment that encourages that kind of discipleship at every level, from the pastor to the newest convert.”

So here’s the question (or maybe questions): Do you see that CCC is all about discipleship? If not, maybe we aren’t obvious enough about it. Or, and here’s where a second question comes up, maybe you are wondering if being all about discipleship is what YOU want to be all about!

Discipleship is not easy. It takes effort to 1) develop deeply spiritual friendships, 2) focus on teaching biblical truth, 3) apply Scripture to life, and 4) learn to solve problems biblically. It takes time and commitment. And it takes willingness to be vulnerable. It takes a desire to know God that transcends all our personal wants and desires (whew, that’s heavy!). Are you willing to invest that deeply? Do you want to be more than a spectator? I hope so. So does Jesus!

Are you wondering where to even start? May I suggest you take a second or third look at the Discipleship Cohorts forming this Fall. The specific focus of each may differ, but the desired outcome of each is the same: Growth in spiritual friendships, teaching biblical truth, applying Scripture to life, and solving problems (ours and others’) biblically. If you are asking the first question, maybe it’s because you haven’t figured out the answer to the second question. Here’s a great place to start finding the answer!

Who-R-“Us?”

—Byron Jay Peters, Sr., Pastor

1 Thessalonians 5:9–11: For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

I often feel sorry for pronouns in a biblical text. They’re so tiny and familiar. They often just live in the shadows of the more venerable nouns, charismatic adjectives, and muscular verbs (not to mention those wily conjunctions) that populate biblical sentences. Plus, often “they-R-us” and most of the time we’ve had about enough of ourselves, so we’re happy to not give them a lot of attention.

But here’s a passage that lives or dies by its pronouns. For God has not destined us for wrath…Now, whomever that “us” is, they are not destined for wrath! And it gets better: …but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.That’s literally a life-and-death distinction.

So who is the “us?”

Context is king in biblical interpretation, so let’s back up. All throughout the book Paul addresses the Thessalonians to whom he is writing this letter as “brothers” (i.e., spiritual family in Christ) and in chapter one we see this amazing testimony: 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

Paul and his associates witnessed the unmistakable work of the Holy Spirit bringing new life to some people in pagan Thessalonica. That’s why Paul can start the letter as follows: “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…”

This little passage, tucked into 1 Thessalonians 5, is the sort of passage that is very useful in underscoring the centrality of the church to your assurance of salvation. But you’ll miss it if you overlook the pronouns. The “us” is the church—particular people in a particular times and places bound together in covenant to worship God, nurture one another, and evangelize the world.

Perhaps this is why Cyprian said “You cannot have God as your Father without the church as your mother.” Family! God’s household! Christ’s body! Each week we start our week together, worship God, hear his Word, pray, and teach our children. During the week we’ll gather with others for further “life-on-life” and prayer. We help the weak, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted among us. We band together for things nearly impossible to obey apart from load-sharing (like missions).

Local church membership—mutual vow-taking through honest conversation with others about God’s work in our lives, openness to the love and accountability of other Christians who know us, willingness to put ourselves under word-based authority, is a beautiful and fundamental aspect of our assurance in Christ.

Of whose assurance in Christ? Ah, indeed, the church’s assurance. That is, “ours!”

It Takes NOT a Village, but the Body of Christ

—Rebekah Nash, CCC Member

"Congratulations!"

"How exciting!"

"Your life is never going to be the same!"

I knew the sentiments expressed were true. I knew we were in for a life-altering, even life-disrupting, event. But I also had no idea what was about to happen.

I am a prideful person, and (one of) my primary sources of ill-placed pride is a sense of control over my surroundings, with a subsequent (and also ill-placed) sense of self-sufficiency. I like to believe that even if others fail to keep their side of the bargain, I can take up the slack. I (emphasis on “I”) will figure it out. And I hate to ask for help.

So, God in His wisdom called me to be a mom. While it may not take a village to raise a child, it definitely takes more than one person. The first week of William's life, I was hit, head first, in overwhelming, and tear-producing fashion, with this truth.

I was tired, tired, tired. In a way and to an extent that even years of medical school and residency could not compare. I was clueless, scared and convinced that every new symptom that William exhibited would land us in the dreaded emergency room with a fever. I was lonely. I dreaded the hours of night-time feedings, dreaded watching the sunset, dreaded seeing the windows in our neighborhood go dark, and dreaded knowing I would not be sleeping more than 2-3 hours in a row, for yet another night.

But I had help available! Dave, my parents, Dr. Jessie, amazing neighbors, and the incredible train of meals from each of you. I just hated to ask for help.

But, God in His mercy, slowly, patiently broke me of my pride. It is very hard to put on a brave face when you are sleep-deprived, covered in spit-up, and holding an inconsolable infant. So, I asked for help.

And I received help in overwhelming, overflowing measure (and still am!).

Dave stayed up through the night-time feeds, queuing up endless episodes of Parks and Recreation. I texted Jessie about every odd symptom that William developed (black stuff on his tongue? what is that goop coming out of his eye!?); and Jessie, time and again, patiently calmed my frantic mind. My parents cleaned our house, made dinner, and ran endless errands (MORE diapers!).

In the words of Sally Lloyd-Jones, God, with his “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love”, showed me my sinful pride and my need. But he did not leave me to despair. He gave me the support of family, friends – the body of Christ.

The Gift of Forgiveness

(Originally run in two parts on November 30, 2006 and December 7, 2006)

—Rick Hawkes, Ruling Elder

As we consider the topic of “Conflict and its Resolution” in our current sermon series, ruling elder Rick Hawkes has put his pen to work to bring additional clarity in a 2-part “Connection” series on forgiveness.

Matthew 26.28: This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Matthew 6.12:Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Forgiveness is the heart of the Gospel message: Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2.38). You would think that Christians would be experts in forgiveness—ready to discuss the intricacies of working out forgiveness in daily life, the legal, spiritual, emotional, relational perspectives of forgiveness; how forgiveness works with confession, repentance, restitution, discipline, and restoration; how forgiveness relates to the duty to uphold justice by private individuals, civil courts, and church courts. Unfortunately, the only part of forgiveness that seems to hold our attention is the part that gets us out of trouble so we can have a pleasant life.

When we forgive someone, we are affirming that they, on account of a God-given duty, owe us something, but we are discharging that debt to the account of Christ, to whom we owe all. Maybe a husband promises to call his wife, but he doesn't want to stop what he is doing, so he doesn't call and makes himself a liar. If she says she forgives him, but then she sulks or complains to a friend or expects him to be extra nice, then she has not forgiven him. She is just collecting her debt. Maybe a wife grumbles against a legitimate requirement of her husband. If the husband says he forgives her, but then is distant from her, brings the matter up again, or keeps an especially strict lookout for further disrespect, then he has not forgiven her. He is just collecting his debt.

Scripture says, "Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Col 3.13). God forgives us by judicially transferring our debt to Christ. We do not have the power to declare someone innocent. We do have the power to say, "I am not your judge. From what I can see, you did not fulfill your God-given duty to me. However, you do not have to clear this debt with me. Because I am not my own, because I owe everything to Christ, I give everything due me to him. I am at peace with you. It is now between you and Christ." Notice that only those who know Christ and stand in debt to him have some place to discharge debts due to them. Outside of Christ, there is no account that can legally or morally accept a debt due to us. Outside of Christ, there is no force that can loosen our grip on our debtors.

In any human interaction, there will be sin in at least little ways. Because, in our own merit, we stand in desperate poverty before the justice of God, our eyes look greedily to find any flaw in others, so that we might squeeze some debt out of them. He doesn't meet my eyes when we speak; she doesn't sit properly; he never returned my email; her car is dirty; his child is ill-mannered; he's heavy; she's loud; he's proud. Our hundred-million candlepower self-righteousness searchlight probes for a few pennies of offense under someone else's cushion, and we know they are also coming after us, so we keep thick drapes on our windows. This culture of offense finding is perfectly natural to our fallen state. We know we have to build up an armory of offenses we find in others so that when they find an offense in us, we have a ready counter-attack. Why would I let him off the hook and unilaterally disarm? The extent of forgiveness we find in our fallen hearts is a willingness to declare a truce because the other has as much against me as I have against him.

True forgiveness is not about a truce. True forgiveness is costly. It is about being willing to suffer at the hands of another without holding any claim against him. We are taking something that is really ours, this debt created when the other person sinned against us, and we are giving it away. Our grasping hearts can hardly stand the thought of giving away this little bit of victim self-righteousness: I am better than at least this one who has wronged me. Christ was the most offended against of all men, yet he gave in return the best of all gifts. The way of the cross is not one of generic suffering. The cross shows how we must be willing to suffer at the hands of the very ones we love, returning good for evil, not because we are so good, but because we are so loved.

Forgiveness in no way undermines the law and order of God. Rather, it gives us the right perspective with which to apply God's law. While our calling as parent, boss, judge, or jury may require us to decide what consequences follow wrong actions by others, we are always aware that, as individual sinners, none of us has a place to stand or the right to hold something against another. I will punish my child if she clearly disobeys her father, but I cannot seek any personal retribution or hold the offense against her. As a boss, I might require extra oversight of an employee who has told small lies in the past, but I will not look down on him or withhold approval and renewed trust as he meets his particular duties. These requirements of punishment and restitution reflect God's order in this world, showing us the limits of our own humble positions. God's order is applied with wisdom and mercy and justice as defined by God, not by me. This further undercuts my tendency of maintaining a private self-righteous judgment of others.

The principal tragedy of unforgiveness is that it breaks our experience of peace with God in Christ. We are God's precious ones, each one a sparkling jewel springing from a white hot kiss of God's eternal love. Unforgiveness turns our prismatic souls from transmitters of divine glory into opaque idols of self worship, caked with the grimy accounting of other men's sins. If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6.15). These words should make us tear ourselves from the grasp of seductive fault-finding, leaving behind our fouled garments of self-righteous judgment. We cannot confess our own failure while we are concentrating on the failure of another. When we think, "They should be more like this or that," wanting to shape people in our own image, we are displaying an attitude antithetical to the Lordship of Christ and forgiveness in him.

We should pray for the Spirit to root out the countless grudges, grievances, and complaints against others that we have tucked away in the secret places of our hearts. Under each offense that we hold against someone else lies the hidden fungus of our own self-rightness that shoves a humble love for God out of our heart. Christ alone can and will overcome these bastions of unforgiveness in our hearts. O Christ, free me from the deadly fault finding and self-righteous judgment that tears me from you and blinds my eyes to the beauty of your love for me.

Realities of Life

—Paul Hlad, Deacon

"I don't want to live like this...but I don't want to die."

The title above is the chorus of an alt-rock song that has recently come out and has resonated with me. Susan Sisk gets credit for the current "hot term" in our church as I can relate to not being one of the "shiny happy people." I have real problems and struggle mightily on a daily basis. Marriage is hard, being a father is hard, work is hard, being a good friend is hard, and though it was long ago now—I can remember that trying to live for Christ as a student K through grad school is hard, let alone trying to compete and get good grades.

Beyond the things that are hard, I have to fight my selfish sinful nature every day while trying to serve the Lord. God knew all this, though, which is why he sent his Son for me and you. However, I still have to deal with "the hard" of every day. Again, God in his provision (manna) sent me tools to help with "the hard." We are talking about some of those tools in church these past weeks and working on them in our community groups.

You see, God knew I needed a body beyond myself to include a Meeker, Roscoe, and Jacob in my community group to tell me it is okay when I struggle and they will pray for me. Or even their wives to lovingly reprove me when necessary. I also need my friends in the church body, Ben and Adam, to sympathize with me when I just ran my car through my garage door at my house out of stupidity. A lot of times, I just don't want to live like this—sinful, flawed, struggling. But the body is there to build me up.

Hopefully it is not shocking that a church officer struggles, as everyone needs God's redeeming all the same. He came to save the lost, not the shiny happy that have everything together. Somehow, someway, I figure it is glorifying to God for me to realize my fallenness and talk to my brother Wes at church about it, and how badly we need Christ, and together to lift each other up in conversation and prayer as we rely daily upon him.

I often don't want to live this sinful life, but I have been called to serve our church body, my family, a community group—and my Lord. We have each been called and equipped, despite the struggle with hard. Struggle with me and let's run the race together and humbly pray that side by side together we may be received into glory. I'm a mess and my garage door proves it, but I would love to have you encourage me in community group if you need one, or next week at EV starting at 9:15! (As for CG we meet in South Durham on Wednesdays and Ashleigh, John, Michael, Jordan, Lesley, and Jacob would love for you to laugh and struggle with us).

10 Facts and Myths About Church Leadership Training

—Jeffrey West, Ruling Elder

1. Tony Robbins will be leading the class–Myth. In fact a few of our very own elders will be leading it. They are much less inspiring, but it should still be good.

2. You must commit to attend all 30 classes and never miss a single class–Myth. True to most things in life, the more you put in, the more you get out. While we realize everyone will have to miss some weeks, our goal is to have a committed group that grows together.

3. There will be homework–Fact. There will be small amounts of reading each week that we will discuss in class. The readings will be short and well worth the time spent on them: an easy supplement to your daily devotions.

4. The class is only for potential officers in the church–Myth. The class is for anyone wanting to understand better what the foundations of our denomination are, the vision of our church is, and what the biblical call to disciple making is like.

5. This class will be practical and not purely academic–Fact.

6. The class participants will grow in their love for each other and the church–Fact. Bold claim I know, but I expect the Spirit to work.

7. You must sign up for the class in advance so we know how many binders to make–Fact.

8. There will be exams–Fact. Purely for bragging rights.

9. Upon completion you will receive a frame-worthy certificate, documenting your achievement–Myth...but could happen, I guess.

10. You will be better equipped to serve and lead in the church after participating in the class–Fact.

Returning to Odessa

—Lauren Murphree, CCC Member

Dear CCC Family,

By the time you are reading this, I may already be on a plane (or in Odessa!) with this year’s CCC Ukraine Team, headed for Odessa and the Christian English Camp run every year by Covenant of Grace, our sister church in Odessa. Many of you may know that I went on this trip two years ago, but what you may not know is that this is actually my fourth trip to Ukraine. George Kadyan, the pastor at Covenant of Grace, was actually trained by my first pastor, Reverend Paul Alexander. The church I grew up in partnered with developing Pastera, the church that planted Covenant of Grace. I knew that CCC was the right church for me after I sat down on my first Sunday by myself and the woman next to me introduced herself as Robin Price, missionary to Ukraine!

Ukraine started out as this distant place that I heard about often, but my first trip in 2010 to Kiev brought it all to life, and I began to fall in love with the country, the culture, and the people (and the food!). However, it was my first time out of the country, and I sensed for the first time what it felt like to be in a place of spiritual darkness—combined, of course, with the remnants of Soviet oppression. Just think about how much hope was sucked out of people’s lives under communism, how difficult it would be to hold on to the hope of the gospel when faced not only with the rigidity of the Orthodox Church but also with the oppression and genocide that came during the 20th century. And yet then how much more need for the light of Christ to shine through!

My trips to Ukraine were in 2010, 2012, and 2017, but it was not until the most recent trip that I realized that one of the greatest needs in Ukraine is not just the Good News, but gospel discipleship. Which is why I love this trip, and am so thankful to be part of a church that has partnered with this endeavor for so long. This camp introduces people to the gospel, yes, but it also cultivates relationships between the campers, the church members, and the missionaries - opening doors both for the gospel and for intimate, discipleship relationships between believers. Pray for us as we go that we will walk alongside the campers during the week according to 2 Timothy 2:15. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

I am overjoyed to see my family in Ukraine—Bob, Robin, George, Snezhana—to hug some of my favorite campers—Vika, Katya, Vladik—and to meet some new faces and develop new friendships. Pray for the Lord to use us to further his kingdom in Odessa, Ukraine!