Easter Reflections

—Rick Hawkes, Ruling Elder
April 13, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sweetness of Self-Righteousness

—R. H. Hawkes, Ruling Elder

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Morning’s Best Kept Secret

—Ruby Bea Peters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and bring the kids!

Samaritan Health Center Alms, March 31

—Jessie Prestwood, CCC member

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What Is Troubling You?”

—Molly Richards, CCC member

“I’m not actually good at things I think I should be good at.”

This was a dismal, but not earthshaking journal entry I made a few weeks ago.

It wasn’t a self-abasing complaint, instead it was an honest answer to Greg’s recent sermon prompt:

Name what’s troubling you
Link it to the God of Scripture
Ask for Help

Since Greg’s sermon, I’ve been using this exercise on my own to help bring to the surface anxieties that I normally wouldn’t name.

Thus the downcast entry: What is troubling you? I’m troubled that I’m not actually good at things I think I should be good at.

In providential parallel, I’ve also been following a Scripture reading plan called “The Names of God” focusing on the different ways God’s character is revealed by his names. This has brought into focus details that sometimes get lost in my overall picture of “God.”

For example, El Shaddai, God Almighty who is powerful to bring about seemingly impossible change in my life. Immanuel, God With Us who is intimately attuned to my daily troubles and fears. El Qanna, Jealous God who will not share his glory or pander to our misplaced affections (difficult and challenging contrast to the gentle compassion of Abba Father).

I grew up in the church, I can recite the first catechism answer, yet this intimate and specific connection of God’s character to my daily bumps and bruises, to my petty and passive aggressive reactions, and my self-doubting longings is something new. This is God in all His active, mysterious, vivid complexity, not a still portrait whose face I’ve memorized.

Coming back to my Journal Entry:

Name your Trouble:

I’m not actually good at things I think I should be good at.

Link it with the God of Scripture:

  • God Almighty, El Shaddai who moved powerfully in Abraham and Sarah’s life to fulfill His promise of a multitude of nations (Genesis 17:1-8) will also move powerfully in me. He will bring about change, in accordance with who he has made me to be.

  • God Himself, Immanuel promised to be with Moses through the perilous exodus to the promised land (Exodus 33:12-17). So too, He is right here with me, even through weakness, doubts, and difficulty (Revelation 21:3).

Ask for Prayer:

Pray that I would remember that El Shaddai moves powerfully to bring about his story. Immanuel is with me through discomfort and poor performances, and uncertainty, His power will embolden me, His love will heal and comfort me.

Through the simple exercise of answering “what is troubling you” and connecting that to the names of God, my understanding of God immediately comes to life, rooted in the details of my experience. I see myself in relationship not with a single, static image of God, but with a vibrant, complex, nuanced Creator, who loves me wholly, and is working powerfully in me—even though I’m not (yet) good at things I think I should be good at.

Your Christian Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

—Byron Peters, Pastor

We all know Christian education is important, don’t we? I heard recently of one of the children in our church who, when tempted by her friend to “do this and don’t tell your Dad--he’ll never know!” said to her friend, “I’m not Adam and Eve!” She refused--because she had learned and applied God’s Word.

Christian education stretches all the way back to early Israel, and that Jewish commitment to the Scriptures (Psalm 119; Psalm 1: Joshua 1:8) carried into the New Testament.

Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Paul, the greatest missionary Jesus ever called into service, was “...educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today” (Acts 22:3). That education, gained before he came to faith in Christ, served him well as he served Jesus. Timothy learned the Bible from his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5), as well as the mighty apostle Paul himself (2 Tim 3:14).

Timothy was to “do his best to present himself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). Women in Ephesus (2 Tim 3:6-7) were being deceived because they were untaught, unfamiliar with the word “which is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:25).

Our culture, even our Christian subculture, undervalues Christian education. As a result, many of us are like sheep among wolves, tossed about like waves of the sea, easily deceived. We struggle to know how to guide our families, help our friends, and live wisely in God’s world.

CCC is committed to robust Christian education for all ages because we envision God transforming us into the likeness of the risen Lord Jesus by his Word and Spirit so that we (and our children) grow to see as he sees and love as he loves. But how does this happen?

This Fall we are going to try a new approach to adult Christian education called “Discipleship Cohorts.” These smaller, targeted learning communities will allow for more educational options, conversation and practical application. Adults learn best by discussion and applying, and we hope our cohorts facilitate that very sort of interaction.

Discipleship cohorts will launch in September, 2019. Please be praying for this initiative, that God will grow us up and grow us together in Christ. Click here for more details on course offerings. NOTE: Church Leadership Training, open to men and women, requires a 9-month commitment. The others are shorter in duration.

Don’t waste your Christian mind. Invest in your Christian education and pray for God to bring a great and gracious return on that investment.

Jesus, What A Friend

—Ashley Yarnoff,
on behalf of the Women’s Ministry Team

One day, not too long ago, I had a conversation with someone go horribly wrong and now our relationship lies in tatters. God only knows if and when it will be healed. Yet, that very same day, I had a conversation with a friend at CCC that was beautiful, encouraging and deepened our relationship. This is not the first time I have noticed the realities of life often run in stark parallels.

Those conversations gave me a glimpse into the beauty of Jesus’ friendship to me. That bad conversation? It reaffirmed that God alone is worthy of my allegiance for He is not a God of mere sentiment but of deep abiding love (John 1:4). In the good conversation I understood like never before, the “friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Is Jesus not our Elder brother? Christ was loyal to God the Father, in His death and Resurrection and we are now called sons, daughters and friends! I trust God will provide in both of these relationships because He has promised me so. Praise God! He is a firm foundation when our earthly friendships are great and especially when they are ugly! This illustrates some of the themes from this past sermon series, ‘Caring for One Another.’

On Saturday April 6 the women of Christ Community Church will continue on these themes as we gather on the UNC Chapel Hill campus and discuss “Who God Made Us to Be” and how that impacts our relationships with one another. I am excited that our very own, Jacklyn Tubel, will share what she has learned regarding our identity in Jesus Christ. I am grateful God is encouraging us as a church to be more vulnerable so that we might care for one another as Jesus called us to!

Would you describe your relationship with the Lord as a friendship? Are you confident God is at work in your relationships? Are you the kind of friend with whom others can share the good, the bad, and especially the ugly? Please join us next month at this local retreat so we can grapple with these sorts of questions together! We need you and value your presence!

“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8

Did You Know?

—Greg Norfleet, Pastor

Over these last two months, we’ve had the privilege of giving focused attention to our calling to care for one another. God has been good to us. He’s met us in our Sunday worship, adult Sunday School, and Community Groups. He’s used these means to cast his vision, renew our minds, and spark honest and fruitful conversations.

We’re learning that to be human is both to need help from one another, and to give help to one another. We’re learning that our church—this “body” of mutually dependent “members”—grows to maturity as ordinary Christians have ordinary conversations infused with extraordinary truth and love. And we’re learning that all of this can and really does happen because of Jesus, the living “head” of our church; he empowers each one of us to give and receive his extraordinary care.

Since our series soon draws to a close, and since we have largely highlighted those “everyday conversations” through which so much care comes, it seemed fitting to highlight a few more important channels of care within our church:

• Did you know that Community Groups are designed to be the first line of pastoral care at CCC? Having a baby? Moving? Going through a rough patch? Consider sharing these things with your group and even with your group leader.

• Did you know that your elder is a great resource for you as you face challenges in living? He is not only eager to listen, understand, and support you in prayer, but often times can help you consider how, in Scripture, God speaks directly to your questions and challenges.

• Did you know that one of the primary roles of our deacons is to assist members with issues like financial counseling and other practical helps? They, too, stand ready to assist with needs like these.

• Did you know that our Women’s Ministry Team is growing in new and exciting ways? In many cases, they are uniquely equipped to help other women grow as Christians or work through difficult challenges.

• Did you know that Christ Community Church and Hope Counseling Services continue to develop our mutually beneficial partnership in pastoral care? Staff at both are equipped to provide biblical counseling, so feel free to ask which resource might fit you best.

What a privilege to be and do church together. And what a joy to watch Jesus work through us to care for one another. Let’s excel still more!