“More of Him”

—Josh Smith, Ruling Elder

Some of the best advice I ever received from a wise friend early in my walk with God was, “stop should-ing on yourself.” This timely word landed on a stressed out, self-absorbed mindset overly focused about what I was or wasn’t doing, and how I was doing at it.

I still need this reminder. I’m pretty awesome at knowing what I am supposed to do because I desire others’ approval. I’m also pretty awesome at not doing whatever that is because I still desire people’s approval. As I’ve reflected on it more I find myself in a terrible trap. If I could only get my attention off myself, life might be more simple and I could stop should-ing myself.

The Great Commision is a gift. It is a command given that forces us to forget about ourselves. God doesn’t need us to accomplish his purposes. Strangely, he desires to include us. He could have chosen to propel His glory in countless other ways—ways that wouldn’t have to include half-hearted, self-absorbed image bearers mixed up in comparing themselves to one another.

Praying through Matthew 28 a few years ago I noticed something I will never be able to unsee and it helps set my heart free from myself. Perhaps you’ve already noticed it. Beautiful, meaningful facets of His character book-end this command.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This huge task of making disciples of all the nations is not possible by human effort. So as he hands us the keys to build his Kingdom, he gives us Himself. When we obey, we experience Him. As we trust what he says, we get more of Him. This is truly awesome.

The Great Commission is a gift because it keeps God right where he should be. At the center of our obedience. Not before or after. Center. His omnipotent authority to save anyone is displayed through Spirit-filled, humble submission. The incalculable task accompanied with unimaginable resources necessary to teach obedience to God’s Word in every culture become available by the joy of His intimate presence. When we hear stories of a heart responding to the name of Jesus we realize all authority is His. As we move towards others he proves Himself closer than we ever realized.

Perhaps we want more of Him. Let’s embrace this command and experience more of his character together.

"The Call"

—Karah Lorbacher, CCC member

So, I don’t get many phone calls. Okay, let me rephrase that…I don’t get many legitimate phone calls. Now, calls from telemarketers, I am wonderful at getting those. Most times if it is a number from a different state, or an 800 number, I just ignore it because I know it’s not someone I’m likely to know. My phone has a lovely feature that can let me add the number or block it immediately. So, I block it. But then, there are those times when the phone number is a (919) area code and I answer it…and I find out that I’ve “won an all expense paid vacation to some warm island somewhere.”

For me those calls aren’t very different from the calls I get from Satan. Calls from him saying:

“No one loves you.”

“You’re not worth it.”

“You know, you’re not a very good mom…”

I shouldn’t listen to him. I shouldn’t answer the call. But I do… Then I drown. I despair. I become lost. I feel hopeless.

When those calls come, it is hard for me to hang up the phone because I start to question my behaviors and me. All the times when I wasn’t the most patient mom or loving wife come to my mind and I believe. I believe everything he’s selling. I hear it and I feel it, so it must be true. The despair grows.

But then, I’m reminded of what I teach my children when they are upset. I’m reminded that in any situation Christ is my hope and my help. So I go to the Bible and look up something, anything that can help me. Flip, flip, flip. Okay here’s one, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10). But then, I hear a voice from the receiver that shows me all the ways those words are false. I walk around with that phone pressed to my ear and to my heart and I wear those thoughts around my neck. But they choke me. Didn’t I just read this in the Bible? Isn’t this God speaking? He doesn’t lie. So if he says it then it, and it alone, must be true.

So I take a leap of faith and hang up the phone. And I’m drawn to verses like this: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) I pause. I breathe in his truth and I breathe out the lies that I’ve believed. Even if I don’t feel it, it is the truth. God doesn’t lie (Numbers 23:19). I may be like the man in the epistle of Mark when he cries, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) but that’s okay. My God, My Father, My Creator is patient, ever-patient with me and he will always answer my call.

“Caring for One Another:” Our Upcoming Sermon and Sunday School Series

—Byron Peters, Pastor

“We are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Live in harmony with one another. Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (various passages from Romans).

I recently met a direct descendant of a family that moved to Chatham County in 1750. As we talked, we marveled together at the vision and stamina it takes to do something as significant as establish a farm in the wilderness, as his ancestors did.

Some ideas simply take years to germinate, take root, and grow.

In 2005 God led about 80 people to trust God to plant a church in Chapel Hill that “glorifies God by connecting the riches of Christ to the realities of life.”

From the very beginning, we envisioned a covenant community so robust, biblical and Christ centered that we would be connecting God’s tailored mercies in Christ to the very specific needs of life in the 21st century Chapel Hill--not just in sermons, but in small groups and personal conversations over a cup of coffee. We envisioned each member vitally connected to others and employing their gifts for the mutual upbuilding of the church.

So we went to work trying to get our heads and hearts around God’s heart for “one-anothering.” We practiced. We trained. We conferenced and read. Eventually God opened the door for Greg to complete his Doctorate of Ministry in Biblical Counseling and paved the way for Wes and Jacklyn to start Hope Counseling Services. It was a decade of growing, learning and prayer.

Beginning January 6 we are thrilled to be dedicating nine weeks to learning better how Jesus would have us care for one another, walk with one another, and share and bear life’s burdens. For maximum impact, we’re going for a triple whammy: Sermon series, small groups, and the Adult Education hour (led by Wes and Jacklyn Tubel) will all be dedicated to this topic.

You won’t want to miss any of it, because this is God’s heart (see verses above). Would you join us in praying that God will use this season to sink our roots more firmly into Christ, establish CCC as a community that really does deliver biblical mutual care, and mature us into a church that connects the riches of Christ to the day-to-day realities of life?

Pruning Season and Wounds that Can Be Trusted

—Marshéle Carter

This week the Lord cut away from my life something I treasured, something that seemed right for me, something I loved and enjoyed. The wound is still raw. This was no simple snip to remove a withered leaf or dead twig. This week’s pruning required great patience on His part—and sharp power tools.

I’ve been here before. I should be getting straight A’s on these types of tests by now. I recognized the silence of God in this area of my life. I was disheartened by the absence of His peace and blessing. The inner restlessness and the struggles that stole much-needed sleep were sadly familiar, too. And yet, I resisted God’s invitation to trust Him for something better. The valley between good and better yawned too wide and too difficult. Ignoring my discomfort and discontent, I nodded no in response to His nudge. "Hadn’t I been through enough already?" I asked the Lord.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes (cleans) so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15:1-2)

I think it’s interesting that the pruning season for trees arrives after the leaves fall. My calendar says that’s the time to shop, buy, and add more stuff to my life. Yet the seasons that God created tell me just the opposite: It’s time to trim down and let go.

There have been times when God’s pruning scissors sliced away unwanted, wiley growth in ways that were beyond my control. In those instances, I didn’t have any say in the matter. I didn’t have a vote. My only choice was either to be bitter or to let God work through the pain of the loss to make me better.

But this time, the letting go was different. This time around, God waited for me to set aside my plan on my own. He waited for me to trust Him. He waited for me to obey Him. The longer I procrastinated, the more miserable I became. And yet, He waited.

I asked Him to handle it for me, to intervene on my behalf as my valiant Warrior Almighty Sovereign Father for whom nothing is too hard...Sigh…He didn’t. I asked Him to change the situation. He didn’t. So, because I was afraid of what waited on the other side of surrender, there was a standoff. Note to self: God always wins the who-isn’t-going-to-blink-first game. He waited for me to bow willingly to His shears and to trust His eons of experience of tending His vine.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. (John 15: 5)

I’m learning that God only removes things in my life—a job, a relationship or whatever—to reshape me. His reason for pruning me is to make room for healthy growth and, at the right time, to produce fruit that nourishes and lasts. The distractions and death traps that I allow to remain only steal life-giving energy and blur my focus of the Lord’s better purposes for me. I’m learning—again—that the good has the power to siphon life away from the best. The result is that I become stunted, I become shorter and squattier in spirit than He designed me to be. I don’t want to be squatty in spirit.

So, why am I gazing downward today, looking at what has been lovingly lopped off and longing to reattach it somehow to my life? Why do I pine for the good past when my Father has told me that the best is yet to be? I want to get better at keeping my focus on the compassionate eyes and nimble fingers of the very capable Gardener, my Heavenly Father, and not on the people, projects and places He has removed from my life.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:7-8)

I believe this recent, terrible trimming-back is intended to help me grow and become stronger and to produce the kind of fruit God looks for in me. My only role in all of this is to remain in the vine, that is, to stay connected to Jesus, by talking with Him, listening for His direction as I read His word and doing the next right thing. As I do so, my Father, the gardener, will cover the stinging, raw wounds caused by His pruning shears and will heal those painful places where He has cut away the seemingly-good-but-not-best from my life.

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11)

Embracing My Incompetence

—Dave Stepp, Ruling Elder

I recently applied for a new job. It was for a higher level position, and the lengthy application was due only two weeks after it posted. When Lori agreed it was worth the effort, I went “all-in.” I called in favors from friends who were exceptionally gifted at writing and providing feedback. I cleared my schedule, stayed up late, worked long weekends, and submitted a polished application just before the deadline (with considerable help from friends and family).

At the appropriate time, I wrote to ask for an update. Almost immediately, I received the response, “…sent out two e-mails to inform you that you were not considered because you failed to submit a complete application.”

Things suddenly slowed down. It felt like my brain folded over on itself, my heart started pumping blood in the opposite direction, and someone kicked my stomach into my chest cavity—all at the same time. I had worked so hard! I had been so careful to make sure everything was complete. How could this be? Even more crippling, how would I ever be able to explain this to those who had given so much to help me? In that moment the Holy Spirit revealed to me a horrifying truth about my heart: I have a deep and controlling fear of being found incompetent.

Merely writing this article digs up those fears again. I am not at all comfortable with what you will think of me when you read this. Even after learning the response I received was in error and my application was complete, my fears of incompetence linger just beneath the surface—almost too much for my fleshly heart to bear.

But if the riches of Christ connect to the realities of everyday life, there must be hope for me in Christ.

The Bible is rich and deep with stories of people who were found incompetent. God found Adam and Eve doing the one thing he told them not to do. God found Moses unable to speak to Pharaoh on God’s behalf. The Lord found the disciples, right after instituting the Lord’s Supper, arguing about who was the greatest. In Jeremiah, God finds all of us broadly and inherently incompetent, asking, “Has a nation ever changed its gods?... But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols.”

But the Bible is also dense with stories of how incompetent people were changed and God was glorified through them. He is not the God who chooses competent people, but “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things… ”

I want so badly to be found competent, but my desire is at odds with the Lord’s redemptive plan. I want to be found wise, and strong, and “glorious,” but He is God and I am not. The Lamb that was slain is—uniquely—competent. Only He is wise. What can compare with His strength? His glory? Even more important to my heart, my desires distract and blind me to His grace—because His redemptive plan is to redeem incompetent people like me! He promises to be with me and to guide me. And he promises that, “he who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” When I cling to these riches, my eyes are opened and my fears begin to subside. When I can “be still and know that [He] is God,” when I can pray, “not my will, but your will be done,” I can embrace my incompetence (perhaps even boast in it?) and run to Him—the one who loves me, the one who dwells in me, and the one who finds me, more fundamentally than anything else, “His.”

Gospel-Shaped Love and a Brunch

—Byron Peters, Pastor

One of the wonders of God’s work in Christ Community Church is the quiet authenticity of gospel-shaped love. That was on display this weekend at the annual Women’s Christmas Brunch. I’ll let Crystal tell you about it in her own words:

We are grateful to the Lord for the 52 women, including 19 guests, that he brought to the Women’s Christmas brunch last Saturday, December 2.

We ate delicious food in a warm, festive atmosphere as we enjoyed sweet fellowship with one another. We also heard an inviting message from CCC member Katie Patsakham about the story of the gospel from Mary's perspective.

Our prayer is that this event will continue to grow as an outreach opportunity for our women members to love on this community, giving guests a window into the rich relationships we have because of Jesus.

We look forward to nurturing our relationships with one another at the 2019 Women's Retreat that will be held locally on Saturday, April 6 - put it on your calendar!

Gospel-shaped love is rarely spectacular or flashy. It’s a tiny mustard seed germinating. A bit of leaven worked into dough. A cup of cold water offered. A friend inviting a friend to a church brunch.

Ultimately, gospel-shaped love is a very special baby in a very ordinary manger.

In a world that demands perfect holidays with delightful families, gourmet food and smiling, obedient children, God’s interests are elsewhere. He’s dialed into our broken families, frozen dinners, and fussy kids. Indeed, he absolutely loves being right there. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

His love was intensely personal and largely unspectacular. He healed a poor paralytic, fed that hungry crowd, restored a bleeding woman to health, turned a leper’s life around and raised a little dead girl, avoiding fanfare. Finally, he died in ignominy that he might then raise us up in himself to unimaginable delights.

Jesus personifies gospel-shaped love. He’s still doing it, and I’m personally very encouraged that he did so last weekend through the women of CCC. One relationship at a time. They’ve reminded me that the real treasure won’t be found where the world is looking. It will be in the quiet authenticity of gospel-shaped love, offered in Jesus’ name.

“Missions in Action: Fellow Workers for the Truth”

—Joy Purvis, Global Ministries Team Member

The goal of the Global Ministries Team (GMT) is to develop a heart for God's world through cross-cultural gospel ministry. To that end, the GMT is very excited to host Sunday School during the first three weeks in December. We are hoping to continue making missions more visible at CCC, just as our missionaries continue to serve faithfully around the world. The global work of our church is something we need to be in constant prayer about, and to be reminded of continually. Even if we are not called to go to a foreign land ourselves, our efforts are just as important. We are called to pray and to give to mission work. These activities are vital to sustaining the livelihood and work of our missionaries and their families. We are fellow workers for the truth.

This year we will focus on three themes: praying, going, and giving. And, more importantly, what it looks like to actually put each of these themes into action!

The first week we will be focused on prayer. Prayer may sometimes seem like the “lesser” of the three activities. It seems more straightforward to do and appears to require less commitment. But prayer is actually just as vital as giving or going. We will have opportunities to hear about the importance of prayer from some of our missionary families and then spend actual time praying for them specifically.

The second week will focus on going. CCC has a strong record of assembling short-term mission teams. Many of you have been on mission trips to Honduras, Odessa, or other partners around the globe. This year, we will focus on the increasing opportunities to support our sister church in Odessa, Covenant of Grace. Over the past few months, we have been making detailed plans to help train and equip that congregation to be a stable presence of worship in the Odessa community. We hope that you will prayerfully consider these opportunities in advance.

The third week will focus on giving. When we give to missions, where does the money actually go? How does it get to missionaries? Many of us have jobs by which we earn a wage. We perform work and are paid for our time and talents. This is precisely how missionaries earn their salaries. They dedicate their time and effort to spreading the gospel and are compensated cheerfully by supporting churches and individuals. We support them so that they can thrive in their communities and devote their attention to gospel work without undue concern for where their next paycheck will come from.

Finally, let me be clear: This isn’t just another opportunity to learn about missions. This will be a time to examine our own hearts and discover where we fit in, individually, to the call to missions. The real goal of this series is to provide each of you with the tools to make missions a part of your daily Christian walk.

I hope you will join the GMT beginning this Sunday for a lively and informal time to focus on putting missions into action!

"The Humble God"

—Rick Hawkes, Ruling Elder

“Can we ever expect to understand existence? Clues we have, and work to do, to make headway on that issue. Surely someday, we can believe, we will grasp the central idea of it all as so simple, so beautiful, so compelling that we will all say to each other, ‘Oh, how could it have been otherwise! How could we all have been so blind so long!’”

“Information, Physics, Quantum: The Search For Links,” 1989, John Wheeler, Physicist

Why doesn’t God make the truth of Christianity more obvious? When he announced the Gospel, why didn’t he appear in the sky to all the world as a giant as big as a mountain and proclaim in a voice of thunder his offer of salvation in such a way that there could be no doubt that this was coming from the God of all creation? It is a little embarrassing, after all, when sharing the Gospel, to have to explain that this comes from the words of a carpenter’s son who lived 2000 years ago. Couldn’t he at least have come as a Roman Caesar or somebody else with significant public standing? Christianity is easily dismissed as yet another religion resting on the words of some ancient teacher who could not possibly have any relevance to the modern world.

Put yourself in God’s shoes, figuratively speaking, for a moment. Imagine you are omnipresent, but you want to create something. Where will you put the thing? You will have a devil of a time just finding room for it seeing as how you are already everywhere. Somehow you surmount this difficulty because you are, after all, God. Galaxies, stars, and planets are wonderful, but they can be a little bit the same, mostly going around and around. So, you come up with monkeys in jungles. Now this is really something. Who knows what a monkey will do next? You do, of course, but no one else does, not even the monkey doing the things. These creatures express a creative freedom of action impossible for planets.

Yet the monkey, like the planet, knows nothing of right and wrong, good and evil. Having a creation that is morally free is an even more wondrous work than monkeys. Making room for planets and monkeys required some work. But how can God make a moral spiritual being whose freedom is not obliterated by God’s own overwhelming sovereignty? How could mankind not be compelled to love and to submit to God simply by the beauty of the Lord? Such a moral yet utterly dependent creature could only exist in the presence of a humble God, a God devoted to preserving the shimmering bubble of that creature’s liberty in the face of the piercing radiance of God’s own glorious goodness. Each time this moral creature thinks, “Shall I lie or tell the truth,” the universe catches its breath that such a terrible choice can exist.

We say that God is invisible meaning that we cannot see him with our material eyes. Rom 1:20 tells us that all the material world functions as sort of a veil that mediates between us and the glory of the Lord. God is revealed to us in creation, but in such a way that we can choose not to recognize his revelation. Just as the Lord covered Moses while the glory of the Lord passed by, so God covers us, buffering his glory by means of the material universe. He gives us the freedom to be seeing, but not perceiving. It is foolish for us to pretend not to notice the glory of God in creation so that we can pursue our rebellion against him. But it is a course that God purposefully left open to us.

The work of redemption is the most delicate of all surgeries. Our hearts will be confirmed in spiritual death if confronted by the righteous God in judgment. So, God comes up with a secret way, a hidden way, to circumvent our wall of rebellion, to appear not in glory and judgment, but in a gentle way, without power, without overwhelming rightness. He comes not as a mountain-sized giant, but as an unremarkable baby who takes years to learn to walk, talk, and read. God goes to all this trouble because he is determined to preserve the delicate freedom of his unique spiritual and material creatures. Our liberty of will makes our love and obedience beautiful in a way that is unique in all creation. He will not violate his own design of mankind.

God so loved us, that he was willing to be humble and even to be humiliated in order to save us without compelling us. He compares his love for us with the love of a shepherd for his flock, a husband for his wife, a father for his child. He knows us better than we know ourselves. His love seeks our benefit even at great cost to himself.

If we demand the respect of the world because we are ambassadors of the God of all Creation, then we undermine the message of the humble and gentle Christ. When we are ashamed of the humility of Christ, when we wish he would have come in manifest power, so we would not have to tiptoe around pleading with people to consider his message, then we misapprehend the beauty of the love of God. God’s humbleness in Christ is the ultimate proof of the greatness and majesty of his love for us. The power of the Gospel does not come as a coercive force against sinners. It comes like yeast hidden in his people’s hearts, slowly and secretly raising them up. It is no small part of Christian discipleship to learn to love the humility of Christ which is so contrary to our pride and to learn to rest in our simple calling as his followers.