Is That It?

—by Rik Gervais, Ruling Elder

Coming out of college, beginning my Air Force career, I had one goal: To be as good as my father.  My dad, one of many in a long line of military people in our family, had been a colonel, a pilot, and a commander.  In my eyes, a big success. So I wanted to be as good as him. Maybe “better” might be nice, but at least as successful.
 
Twenty-five years later I could say, “I did it!”  I, too was a colonel, had been a commander, and was involved in launching space shuttles among many career highlights.  But then came the nagging question: “Is that it?”  My air force career was over, now what?  I had lost my identity.

Upon reflection, I realize I’ve had many “identities” in life: husband, father, grandfather, stockbroker, corporate executive, missionary to name a few.  I still have many of them, but others are distant memories.  Some I gave up willingly.  Some were taken from me by life’s circumstances.  Some I desperately cling to and hope never to lose.  But, in time, even they will slip away.  I’m about to end my seventh decade on this earth… nothing of this earth lasts forever, as we all know.

So what’s the point?  I’ve been asking myself lately, “So, who am I?”  I told you above who I have been.  But if those identities don’t last, then what’s the point?

Thankfully, I have one other identity I haven’t mentioned.  It’s the most important: I’m a child of God.   John tells us in his gospel: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12 (NIV, 1984).  How sweet is that?

About twenty years ago, as one of my many identities was being ripped away from me, when my life was on the verge of becoming a total mess, He found me.  His Spirit called me.  My heart was opened, I heard His call, and trusted in Jesus Christ.  By no work of my own, my one true identity was made known to me.  Today, I have an identity that NO ONE can ever take from me: I am, in Christ, a child of the Living God.  I have a purpose far above any of the wonderful purposes reflected in my earthly identities: To glorify my Father and enjoy Him forever.

So what about you?  Mom?  Dad?  Husband?  Wife?  Executive?  New graduate?  Grandparent?  Missionary?  Lab rat?  PhD candidate?  Who are you, really?  Is that all you really have to look forward to?  What happens if one or more of those identities is taken away?  Can you say to yourself, “It’s okay.  I am and will always be a child of God in Christ Jesus?”

If you aren’t sure…can we talk?

CCC-Italy Exploratory Trip Launches Next Week

—Byron Peters, Pastor

“I met Jesus, but what to do with my drugs? They were really good drugs. I hated to throw them away so I gave them to my friends.”
 
That is the testimony of Sam Spatola, Joy Purvis’ father, whose conversion to Christ in the 1960’s meant a radical break from the California drug scene—albeit not without giving his friends one last “trip.”
 
After that Sam became a fervent witness for Jesus Christ. Burdened to evangelize in Italy, he moved there and started planting churches. Forty years later missionaries are being raised up through Saints Bible Institute (now led by Samuel, Joy’s brother) and churches are being planted through Saints Equipped to Evangelize—both organizations launched by the Spirit of Jesus through Sam. (By the way, know someone looking to study abroad? Saints Bible Institute may be a perfect fit for that gap year or semester abroad).
 
The connections seem too tight to be merely coincidental. Christ Community Church values the very same things these ministries encourage: Biblical literacy, a broad humanities education, evangelism, missions and church planting. Ministry in Chapel Hill and in Italy are very similar—both are deeply secular. And the Purvis family spans both of these worlds (Joy grew up in Italy).
 
So CCC is sending six members on an exploratory trip to Italy to ask, “Lord, might there be some synergies between our ministry and theirs? Might you be calling us to come alongside one another to reach Italy with the gospel?” The team is: Dana Saleeby, Michael Bruxvoort, Bob and Susan Sisk, Garret and Jessie Prestwood. They leave May 16.
 
Would you please pray for them? Pray for team unity and health, for ministry opportunities, for insight into gospel partnership opportunities, for creative thinking about how to engage secular Italy with the gospel, and for faith that discerns God’s hand on this trip and possibilities for future engagement between these ministries and Christ Community Church.

All of Us Are “Youth Ministers”

—by Kathryn Eriksen, Director of Children and Youth Ministries

This Sunday you will see a new Children’s and Youth Ministry Brochure on the Welcome Table. It has turned out beautifully, and I believe it clearly conveys the goals and purposes of our Children’s and Youth Ministries. Please be sure to take one and share with friends who may be interested in a vibrant, growing ministry for their families.  

But as I read and re-read the proofs it struck me again that this ministry is truly bigger than the families with kids - this ministry belongs to the church family as a WHOLE!

I read a great article on the Gospel Coalition site by Mike McGarry, “Youth Ministry Feeds the Church and the Family.” It reminded me a lot of our own Children’s and Youth ministry goals. Mike reflects that, “In Deuteronomy 6, Moses wanted to ensure that the coming generations would remember their history and remain faithful. In the midst of God’s deliverance of Israel, it defies comprehension that parents would neglect teaching their children who the Lord was and what he had done for them.  And yet, just two generations after leaving Egypt there ‘arose another generation after [Joshua’s] who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel’ (Judges 2:10).”

He continues by remarking that “The verbs ‘teach’ and ‘talk’ (Deut. 6:7) carry the force of commands—not merely to tell one’s children about the Lord, but to deliberately structure family life around worship such that his laws would be engraved on their hearts.”

I think most parents realize the incredible importance of this command and try diligently each day to speak God’s truth into the lives of their children. There are days when I feel prepared for and encouraged by conversations with my children and there are days where I feel completely overwhelmed with the task God has put before me and wonder why I was ever trusted with so great a responsibility.  
 
What always stands as an encouragement to me is the fact that my family is a part of a covenant community that engages with my children deeply and with a tender love that continues to draw them closer to the Lord. The sentence in Mike McGarry’s article that made me smile was “the whole church should place a high value on welcoming the coming generations and encouraging them to meaningfully contribute to the life of the church.” It is my great honor to help walk beside parents in the raising of their families in my role as Children’s and Youth Ministry Director, but it is much more of a blessing to my family that I get to watch as so many of you pour into the lives of Rusty, me and our children.  
 
With many changes on the horizon for this growing ministry and the life of our church, I sense the need to convey that this relationship of the WHOLE church body towards the coming generations is critical. There are so many ways to help mentor, disciple, teach, and encourage the 60 children and youth in our church. If you need help finding a way to connect please let me know at kathryn@cccpca.org.
 
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/youth-ministry-church-and-family/

Six Whys After the Cross

—by Marshéle Carter

I struggled with a subconscious gag order for decades. I feared that by asking God to explain the seeming injustices and unexpected losses in my life, I would somehow be demonstrating a disappointing lack of faith and, therefore, be displeasing to God.

 In the books of Luke, John, and Acts, I recently found nine questions that Heaven asked after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. I gathered them up like one who finds $100 bills strewn along her path. I was surprised (and happy!) that six of the nine questions ask why! Angels asked three whys; Jesus asked three.

 

1. Why do you look for the living among the dead? (Angels, Luke 24:5)
The angels seemed confused that the women were surprised by Jesus’ absence. They seem to be asking, do you still not get it? Perhaps today they still scratch their heads under their halos and wonder why we look for life in all the wrong places. They must look at one another, shrug their winged shoulders and say, “He’s not here (in anything that promises relief, recreation, or relaxation apart from Christ); he has risen!”

 2. Why are you crying? (Angels, John 20:13)
The angels asked Mary Magdalene why she was crying. Based on what she saw, she reasoned that someone had robbed or relocated Jesus’ body. We do the same thing today. We look around at the visible circumstances and reason that we’ve been robbed of what matters most to us or that someone is being cruel and playing games with our heart. Angels must look again at the empty tomb, then up at the Lord Jesus Christ seated in authority at the right hand of God, and ask us, “Why are you crying? God is on His throne and He is faithful. There’s so much taking place in your favor that you can’t see right now. He will complete what He started in you.”

 3. Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for? (Jesus, John 20:15)
Jesus, raised from the dead and in full view, was standing right beside Mary Magdalene. She did not recognize Him until He spoke her name, “Mary.”  Immediately, she recognized His voice and turned to Him in faith. Jesus stands beside us, too. He sees our tears and asks us, “Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” He is with us, at our right hand and even living in us by His Spirit. He has not left us alone.

 4. Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your minds? (Jesus, Luke 24:38)
The disciples were in lock-down, frightened and hiding after Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. When Jesus appeared and greeted them, they thought they saw a ghost. Despite the deadbolts and the dresser pushed up against the door, the One they needed most showed up, just as He had promised them! But, their first reaction wasn’t joy! They, like Mary Magdalene, did not recognize Him. They were startled and frightened by what they saw. Are we afraid and hiding?

 5. Why do you stand here looking into the sky? (Angels, Acts 1:10)
Jesus had clearly told his followers to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to clothe them with power and, then, to go, make disciples of all nations, baptize and teach them. There was much to be done! But, they stood there gazing into the clouds. Perhaps their hearts were grieving after watching the Lord leave. Perhaps they leaned toward the sky, hoping for just one more glimpse or word from Jesus. There was only silence and a cloudy sky. Jesus’ work was finished. Their work had just begun.

 

6. Why do you persecute me? (Jesus, Acts 9:4)
Jesus showed up in the life of one of His greatest opponents. Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. Saul had done everything he could to silence the message about Christ’s resurrection. Jesus asks the same of those today who oppose Him and His message. Do we, with our words or actions, hinder or hurt—verbally or physically—those who believe and obey Christ’s message? 

 A Half Dozen Reasons to Ask Why
Finally, from the cross, Jesus asked the Father why. Therefore, there must be nothing sinful or wrong about asking God why, because we know that Jesus never sinned. I am humbled and encouraged by Heaven’s whys. I am at the same time corrected and comforted. I’m learning it’s okay to cry out to God and ask Him for help in understanding what happened and why it happened. God will not despise a heart that is broken, nor will He wave off His child who sincerely and humbly asks why.

 “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
1 Corinthians 13:12

 

Sufferer Par Excellence

Pew-Thian Yap, ruling elder

Part of my job as a scientist is to understand assumptions and how they are involved, consciously or unconsciously, in reaching conclusions. At the very foundation of science is a collection of axioms scientists believe to be true. Assumptions shape our world views and influence how we interact with God, man, and the created world.

In a sense, the book of Job is about assumptions. It records the dialogues between God, Satan, Job, and his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu. A large portion of the book is about Job and his friends exchanging words to challenge assumptions about the creator and the created to make sense of suffering. It is down-to-earth in asking some of the most difficult questions about the nature of suffering in relation to God. It wrestles with the uncomfortable thought of why God, who self-proclaims to be good, allows suffering. It deals with the perplexing question of why good people go through sufferings, often beyond apprehension...

I can certainly identify with Job. If my possessions, family, and health were taken from me, I’m not sure if I could do better than Job. But the Bible tells us to “consider it pure joy” when we face trials (James 1:2-4). How is this even possible? A hindrance preventing us from joy in the midst of suffering, I believe, is our assumptions about blessings. Our understanding of blessings is often associated with a good life – a loving marriage, obedient children, a healthy body, a thriving career, etc. But earthly blessings are fleeting and can all disappear instantly. The biblical idea of blessing is revolutionary:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit. ... Blessed are those who mourn. ... Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. ... Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:3–4, 10–11)

No hint of material abundance and not quite what we would call a good life.

The book of Job can be mysterious and hard to decipher. Puritan Joseph Carroll took 23 years to preach through the book with 424 sermons, and in the final sermon he noted: “I’ve not attained a clear understanding of some of the passages.”  I’ve not spent nearly as much time and can be as clueless as many on the book of Job.

Here’s a shameless plug: If you’re like me and feel you could use some help on the book of Job, Sunday School this upcoming summer is for you. We will run a Ligonier video series where Dr. Derek Thomas will wittily expound some of the core concepts of the book of Job. It is my hope that through this we will be equipped with Job’s steadfastness (James 5:10–11), and will in times of suffering proclaim with Job, the sufferer par excellence, "I know that my Redeemer lives." (Job 19:25).

Land! Now What?

— by Byron Peters, Pastor

On April 8, 2018, members of Christ Community Church gathered and voted overwhelmingly to purchase 2.83 acres of land on Erwin Road in Chapel Hill. Looking back on the hundreds of man-hours expended over the last decade in the land-search task, I see all sorts of amazing lessons God has taught us. And then, in his perfect timing, he gives us land we can afford right in the heart of Chapel Hill! Truly amazing.
 
The next 18–24 months will be filled with work by our professional team (Bo Harrison and Phil Post). Then, if all goes well, we will own a chunk of land upon which to establish a base from which generations of Christians can glorify God by connecting the riches of Christ to the realities of life.
 
So now what? Perhaps you’ll find this passage, tucked away in
2 Thessalonians 1:11–12, helpful as I have:
 
With this is mind (their belief in Jesus because of Paul’s testimony), we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
 
1. Let’s keep praying and working.
Paul’s prayer is fascinating in the way it weaves God’s gracious power and initiative together with our “good purposes,” dreams, and acts of faith and love. God calls, empowers, and fulfills. We pray, purpose, trust and work it out. “Father, do this in us!”
 
2. Let’s grow in our worship, nurture, and evangelism.
One practical application of this passage is that we can excel still more in living Spirit-filled lives. “Every good purpose” includes holy lives turned heavenward in worship, helpful lives turned outward in service to our church and community, and heralding lives as bold and kind evangelists. “Enable us to keep our eye on the ball, Lord—being about the things you call us to!”
 
3. Let’s give all the glory to God.
Our willing submission to God flows directly from the grace of God given in the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Our lives in Christ are all of grace, from first to last. United to Christ, we have all we need for life and godliness. “To God be the glory!”
 
So what’s next for you? How does this prayer of Paul’s refocus you as the dream of a more permanent home in Chapel Hill takes a significant step forward?

“Easter Reflections”

—by Rick Hawkes, CCC Ruling Elder

“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.

A Letter at Easter

—by Ruby Bea Peters

Getting ready for Easter… that is what we are doing at Christ Community Church. I love Easter. I always have.

As a little girl I enjoyed shopping with my mom for a new dress and shoes and hat...even gloves. The church egg hunt with all my friends. Next up…the surprise of my Easter basket and getting to wear my new clothes and seeing all my friends in their new clothes at church. Then a BIG Sunday dinner. Also, the days were "longer" and the weather was warmer. As a little girl…precious, secure, delightful memories pointing me to something greater...

My salvation, where Christ opened my heart and eyes to the true meaning of Easter. Where He has clothed me in forgiveness, total forgiveness from head to toe, and He has put me on an adventure of a lifetime. Not one where I have to search for the golden egg, but one where I have it, can't lose it, and can share it freely without regret. And the friends I have made and continue to make—oh, how beautiful they are with life stories of all colors and shades of darkness and tints of brightness. As an adult...even more precious, more secure, and delightful memories still pointing me to my Savior.

I love Easter…it sets off a new season where you get to see new birth, get a fresh start, shake off the dead of winter, and soak in the Son.

The image of  God invisible, the firstborn of all life
Before and within, He holds it all in
One name, one faith, one Christ
 
No one is good enough, to save himself
Awake my soul tonight, to boast nothing else

 
I trust no other source or name, nowhere else can I hide
This grace gives me fear, and this grace draws me near
And all that is asks it provides

*Awake My Soul, Sandra McCracken

I'm forgiven, because You were forsaken
I'm accepted. You were condemned
And I'm alive and well, Your Spirit is within me
Because You died and rose again
 
Amazing Love! How can it be
That You my King have died for me?
Amazing Love! I know it's true
And it's my joy to honor You
In all I do, I honor You

*Amazing Love, Billy J. Foote

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost it grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
 
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
'Til He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand!

*In Christ Alone, Keith Getty | Stuart Townend