Community

—by Megan Goodwin, CCC member

Let me begin by saying I am definitely an introvert. I like people and interacting in small groups, but I will never be the one to stand up and speak at church, or sing with the music team (probably best for everyone). Despite that, I want to share how much I have been blessed and convicted by the outreach of the members of Christ Community Church. Their dedication to building the church community and connecting with me personally has changed my mind set over the past year.

A recent 6TEN email had the verse Ecclesiastes 4:12—“And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not easily broken.” After college and marriage we moved to Nashville and joined a church. The teaching was biblically sound, the music was beautiful, and…the church was huge, well over 1,000 members and multiple services. Though there were many ways I could have (and should have) become involved and served the church, it was so easy to just slip in and out and go home. I wanted to just operate alone. I wasn’t engaging in my church community, I wasn’t using my gifts, and it was so obvious that I wasn’t making serving God my priority.

Craig’s work brought us to Chapel Hill, and it just so happened that a visit to the dentist (Dr. West!) came with an invitation to visit his church. The first good sign—members who are eager to share their church with you! As we continued to visit CCC over the next several months, we were met with such an outpouring of love that it was overwhelming. We both were invited to participate in Bible studies. My son Matthew was welcomed into the children’s ministry with open arms where the leaders learned about his personality and helped him participate in class, Easter and Christmas events, and play dates. When my daughter was born, I declined a baby shower (introvert’s nightmare!), so instead no fewer than ten ladies, some of whom I didn’t even know, showed up at my home with delicious meals to get us through the first several weeks. This is the first church I’ve attended where I’ve received personal communication from the pastor just to say he’s praying for my family. The staff and members of CCC met us where we were, and it has truly been a humbling experience for me. I even said to Craig early on in our time at CCC, “These people are relentless!” What a gift to us, to be relentlessly pursued by a congregation intent on bringing believers into the fold and glorifying God.

This leaves me with a lot of work to do. Having been on the receiving end of so much kindness, it’s important that I also find ways to reach out to others who might need the same grace that I was given. I don’t have to stand up and sing (and I won’t—there are others much better suited for that!), but I can take a meal to a new mom. I can help serve in the nursery. God loves to see the church working together to glorify Him, and I know He has called me to be an active part of the church.

 

I'm on Vacation

—by Jeffrey West, Ruling Elder

I have come to really enjoy the rhythm of a college town. The fall is full of life as students arrive to start a new academic year. Home football games punctuate the fall calendar and give way to basketball in the winter. Spring break comes, and the pace quickens until the students are mostly gone by Mother’s Day. Then there is summer. The town takes a collective breath. Families head to the beach and the mountains. Parking is easy on Franklin Street. Church gets a little thinner, making it easy to spot the extended families visiting from out of town, or the new hospital resident hoping to get established with a local church.

This is also the time of year that this thought starts to creep into my head on a regular basis: “I’m on vacation.” This thought can operate in a positive way and perhaps keep me from checking my email while on a trip or help me stay unplugged to focus on my family. After all, I’m on vacation, and the point is to lay some things down to recharge. At its worst, the thought gets me to eat and drink too much, check out from serving those around me, or cause me to feel justified in being selfish with my time. It can also lead me to neglect reading my Bible and praying. If you’re like me, it’s hard to catch these tendencies in the moment, and more often it’s only in hindsight that I recognize I was being led astray by my heart’s desire for comfort.

To this Paul speaks a word in Galatians 6:9-10:

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

This has challenged me as I have faced the blessing of being able to take a break this summer. The Bible is clear that rest is good, but there are no free passes to sin, no excuses for selfishness. Thankfully I only need to recognize my folly, repent, and ask for better foresight in the future.

So, let us rest this summer as we find opportunity, but let us not grow weary of doing good.

 

Appealing to God for Mercy

—by Charles Chowa, CCC member

To you I call, O Lord my Rock;
do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
I will be like those who have gone down to the pit.
Hear my cry for mercy
as I call to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your Most Holy Place.

I have been reading through the Psalms and I am amazed at their richness and beauty. I am also challenged daily to grow my faith in God!

This week, Psalm 28 really put on the pressure for me to live a transparent life before the Lord. The first two verses helped me to understand that if I claim to love God so much, I must persist in appealing to him to speak to me when he is silent. Unfortunately, I seem to give up easily when my prayers go unanswered in a short period of time. Not so the psalmist!

The psalmist, king David, cries out for God to speak and answer his prayer. It can be deduced from the psalm that David had been praying for a long time without getting an answer. However, David did not give up, like I usually do. Instead he follows up with a good argument by reminding the Lord that if he remains silent, “I will be like those who go down to the pit.” I appreciated a few things from David’s example:

1.    David’s importunity: David was persistent in his prayer because he imagined himself standing at the edge of a pit, about to topple into it to certain death, and God as the only one who was nearby to hear his terrified screams for help. If I viewed my problems that way I am sure I would never give up asking for help until God answered.

2.    David’s attitude: David was not praying arrogantly or belligerently as if God owed him anything! God does not owe anyone anything. David was aware of this and so was humbly asking for mercy and help. I think subconsciously I feel that God owes me his love and therefore his help. After all, am I not his child? Have I not been joined to Jesus Christ and become an adopted son? Why then does my Father not answer my prayer right now? David, even as a man after God’s own heart, did not presume upon God’s kindness, but prayed with humility. He says in verse two, “hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help!” His attitude is that God is free to answer my prayers or to withhold his help, but I will continue begging for his mercy.

3.    The basis of David’s appeal: David says “Hear my cry for mercy…as I lift up my hands toward your most holy place.” This refers to the holy place of the tabernacle where the ark of the covenant was kept, and where the blood sacrifices were offered for the nation’s sin on the day of atonement. David’s appeal to God through the most holy place is an indication that David acknowledged that his prayers would only be answered on the basis of shed blood. David was a sinner whose sins needed to be atoned for before he could approach the Almighty! The eternal equivalent of which is the mercy seat of Jesus where we find eternal atonement for our sins.

This psalm taught me not to give up, but instead to pursue God in humility and faith. Every situation I encounter may be likened to a pit, and I need God to help me to avoid it or navigate it safely. Yes, he has made many precious promises in his word, yet his command to me is to come in humility, and persistence, asking for mercy!

Parting Thoughts for Departing Adventurers

—by Jeremy Purvis, Ruling Elder

A few weeks ago, our church had the privilege of honoring its high school graduates as they reached the end of their hard-earned journey. Five young, energetic faces stood eagerly on the podium, ready to embark on new academic and vocational adventures.

What do we want them to remember as they go into the world?

We find an answer to this question in 1 John, in which the apostle encourages us to hold fast to what we have been taught. “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you,” he says. “If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you, too, will abide in the Son and in the Father.”

Just a few years after Jesus’s death and resurrection, the Church was already facing opposition from a variety of sources. One of the biggest threats was false teaching: subtle theories that served to chip away at the full truth of the gospel. Was Jesus fully divine? Isn’t there something I can contribute to my salvation? Are there other ways of understanding God that I should consider?

These teachings were presented by persuasive, highly decorated, and well-respected philosophers. Sadly, their words probably turned many people astray. We catch a glimpse of this battle for the truth in a letter from Irenaeus, an early church cleric who defended the orthodox view, to Florinus, who supported the false teachings of Gnosticism:

“These doctrines, O Florinus, to speak mildly, are not of sound judgment. These doctrines disagree with the Church, and drive into the greatest impiety those who accept them…”

He then goes on to describe what he learned as a small child, sitting at the feet of Polycarp, a faithful teacher of the gospel who himself had learned directly from the apostle John.

“For when I was a boy, I saw you [Florinus] in lower Asia with Polycarp…I remember the events of that time more clearly than those of recent years. For what boys learn, growing with their mind, becomes joined with it; so that I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and the manner of his life … and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord. And as he remembered their words, and what he heard from them concerning the Lord, and concerning his miracles and his teaching, having received them from eyewitnesses of the Word of Life…”

This letter is fascinating. The writer is two-degrees separated from the apostle John and therefore three degrees from Jesus himself! Irenaeus recalls with detail what he had learned as a boy and how the truth was firmly established in his mind. He appeals to his reader, Florinus, on the basis of what they learned as children and is not afraid to confront the disagreeing voices around him.

I think there is a strong message here not only for our young people as they head off into the greater world, but for the rest of: Remember the original story. Be ready for opposition. Help your friends who are running off the road. Hold fast to what you learned from the beginning.

The Sharp Edge of Grace

by Rick Hawkes, ruling elder

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Cor 5.17
 
Just to be clear, I’m all in favor of grace. I understand it is a good deal that I don’t deserve. I’m happy to get in on that. However, you don’t necessarily learn everything about grace up front. There are some kickers in the deal.
 
So, the Holy Spirit is at work in me and through me. That’s nice. Sin no longer has free rein. I still find myself doing things that my regenerated heart hates, but I also find myself doing good things I would never have thought of before. It is so encouraging to see that.
 
Now for the twist. The Spirit working through me can be helpful to other people. And these other people form expectations of me. They see me as helpful and reliable. And I’m thinking, “Uh-oh. I’m just a selfish sinner. Don’t look to me to be helpful or reliable.” But I can’t really say that because that would be suggesting the Spirit is not able to transform me.
 
The Spirit doesn’t let people down, but I do. It is painful to fail people when they were looking to me for help. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for making my failure so obvious against the contrast of your good work.
 
Now, you might be thinking, “So this is the sharp edge of grace, that the Holy Spirit’s work in us shows us our sin for its true sinfulness.” But the still sharper edge is that I know I did not have to sin (1 Cor. 10:13). It is a comfortable fiction to say that I am just a sinner and will inevitably fail. The truth is that God in Christ has moved heaven and earth so that I am holy to the Lord. When I fail, I have to work at it, work against the hand of God pulling me to himself.
 
The new creation in us is not a static but a growing, living thing. Each day I live in Christ, he is growing me, and sin in me is becoming more despicable and my participation in it more hateful to me. Not only is there no turning back, there is no standing still, only the upward call of God in Christ. Grace eventually cuts off every comfort, every hope, every prospect, but one: He who calls is faithful and shall surely complete his work in me and for me.

Psalm 31

by a CCC Member

Psalm 31
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
    my eye is wasted from grief;
    my soul and my body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
    and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,
    and my bones waste away.
(vv. 9–10)

When Emily, Maggie, and I moved to Chapel Hill in August of 2016, we thought everything would be perfect. Dream job, dream location, dream life.

We were wrong.

While we loved living in Chapel Hill, after a few months I began to realize my new job was not what I had hoped. Demands in so many directions, expectations I could not meet, overwork, toxic work relationships, and a lack of the freedom that academia had promised dragged me down into a deep depression. I felt like my work situation would never change, that hope was lost, and worst of all—that nobody cared.

Anyone who has had a depressive episode knows the toll it takes not only on you, but also your family and friends.

Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach,
    especially to my neighbors,
and an object of dread to my acquaintances;
    those who see me in the street flee from me.
I have been forgotten like one who is dead;
    I have become like a broken vessel.
For I hear the whispering of many -
    terror on every side! -
as they scheme together against me,
    as they plot to take my life.
(vv. 11–13)

Late in 2017 I sought help from Hope Counseling Services. I was introduced to this very Psalm, which has much to say about depression. I began to have a glimmer of hope that I was not stuck, and that I had options. In fact, I began pursuing other jobs and a potential move for our family. This past February was a blur, with trips to three different states in only a few weeks. On a flight back from one of these trips, as I was pondering my family's situation, I believe God spoke to me: "Matthew, you are a good man, and I have good things for you. I will not abandon you and leave you to wallow in this situation. I've got you."

But I trust in you, O LORD;
    I say, "You are my God."
My times are in your hand;
(vv. 14–15)

Although I had good visits to other universities, none of them felt quite right. Therefore, Emily and I made the decision to stay in Chapel Hill, and that decision came with enormous peace. In addition to undergoing treatment for depression, we have found great support and love in our community here at CCC, which has been an enormous source of encouragement.

We are coming out the other side of a heavy season, and we are making strides to have better relationships between my work, each other, and our children. We feel much hope resting in the Lord and that he gives good gifts. I know there are others at CCC who are struggling with work environments and careers that have similar difficulties. Remember: God has good things for you and will not leave you to wallow in your pain. He has you.

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
    all you who wait for the LORD!
(v. 24)

 

“How Shall We Then Speak?”

—by Greg Norfleet, Pastor

Got a moment for something different? This space is dedicated to giving a thoughtful, biblical perspective on an important issue facing members and friends of Christ Community Church—so hang with me, we’ll get there. But Cindy and I got such a kick out of the following that I wanted to pass it on.

“The European Union (EU) has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the EU rather than German, which was the other possibility. As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5-year phase-in plan that would become known as "Euro-English.”

“In the first year, ‘s’ will replace the soft ‘c.’ Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard ‘c’ will be dropped in favour of ‘k.’ This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter.

“There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome ‘ph’ will be replaced with ‘f.’ This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.

“In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent ‘e’ in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

“By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing ‘th’ with ‘z’ and ‘w’ with ‘v.’

“During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary ‘o’ kan be dropd from vords kontaining ‘ou’ and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensi bl rite n styl. Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.

“Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas. (If zis mad you smil, pleas pas on to oza pepl.)”

Creative, don’t you think?  Once my laughter died down a bit, a more serious thought came to mind:  Scripture foresees a united community of its own, and the means to get us there—a day when “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

The Bible’s vision for Christ Community Church raises important questions for us to consider:  What is the “official language” that marks our daily conversations?  Do we “concede” that the truth revealed in Jesus has some “room for improvement”?  Do we “negotiate” changes such that, little by little, we wind up speaking a different language, a variation of “the lie”?  Has the talking world around us pressed our speech into its mold?  If by the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus spoke only what is true and loving, and if Jesus has given that same Spirit to indwell and control us, how shall we then speak to one another this week?

The Real You Engages the Real God in the Real Hard

—by Greg Norfleet, CCC Pastor and HCS Counselor

At the heart of biblical change is a relational transaction: the real you engages the real God in the midst of real trouble. When someone seeks help from Hope Counseling Services, this is one key principle that I try to help the person understand in the early stages of the counseling process.

Of course, grasping this concept is one thing; putting it into practice is another. Inevitably, a counselee will ask me, “How do I do this?” Great question!  I think the answer is more easily “caught” than “taught,” which is why I love taking people to the Book of Psalms to eavesdrop on the prayers of God’s troubled people. When we slow down and watch closely, we see this relational, heart-to-heart transaction happening before our eyes.

Take up and read Psalm 25, for example. Yesterday morning, I pondered this prayer of David through the lens of three questions. Here’s a sampling of my takeaways:

1. What action does David ascribe to God? “You are the God of my salvation” (v. 5); “You are good and upright; therefore, you instruct sinners in the way” (8); “You will pluck my feet out of the net” (v. 15). David knows who God is and what God does, because David has already spent lots of time soaking in Scripture, taking to heart what God has revealed about himself.

2. What action does David request from God? “Let me not be put to shame” (v. 2); “Make me to know your ways” (v. 4); “Remember your mercy” (v. 6); “Pardon my guilt” (v. 11); “Turn to me and be gracious to me” (v. 16); “Bring me out of my distresses” (v. 17); “Guard my soul, and deliver me!” (v. 20). David petitions God to rescue him from both his sufferings and sins, because David knows that the situational evils that come against him and the moral evils that lurk within him are “enemies” too strong to overcome by himself (v. 2).

3. What action captures how David relates to God? “To you I lift up my soul” (v. 1); “In you I trust” (v. 2); “My eyes are ever toward you” (v. 15); “I take refuge in you” (v. 20); “I wait for you” (v. 22). David does not turn inward on himself, chasing his tail in futile, “I-Me” monologue; David turns upward to God, escaping the self-referential orbit by wakeful, “You-I” dialogue: “You seek after me, so I come to you. This is my struggle, so I plead with you. You promise to help me, so I bank on you.” This is living faith transacting with the living God in the raging battle. And this is what is so radically and wonderfully unique about the dynamics of biblical, Christ-powered change: Streams of grace fill hearts of faith to comfort sufferers and transform sinners in the deserts of life.

The question came up again recently: “How do I engage God when trouble strikes?” a couple asked. With Psalm 25 still fresh in my soul, I decided to “show” them rather than “tell” them. So, we read David’s prayer together, and probed its riches by asking the same questions I had put to the text that morning. At the end of our discussion, I asked, “What do you make of how David engages God in his time of trouble?” “It’s beautiful,” they said. “Yes, indeed,” I responded. “And these words will map how you engage God in your time of trouble, so let’s give it a try this week.”

And you? Psalm 25 locates and reroutes you in your time of trouble. As Scripture, it re-scripts how you engage with God. So, how about you give it a try this week, too?