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.

"Men and Women: Working Together for the Kingdom of God"

—Byron Peters, Pastor

A new day is dawning at CCC.

Over the last couple of months God has begun to answer a prayer that has been on my heart for several years now. “Lord, would you show us the way forward in appreciating and enabling the full expression of the gifts of women within our church?”

Women have always played central roles in CCC: Leading global ministry initiatives, leading capital campaigns, community groups, ministry teams, outreaches, counseling, prayer initiatives. But some women have struggled and even left CCC over this very issue, feeling that our understanding that Scripture reserves church offices (elder and deacon) only for men to be sending the wrong message and out of step with our culture.

Of course, this question ultimately must be resolved by Scripture itself. So, this Fall we’ve tackled the topic of “God’s Design for Male and Female” in our Adult Christian Education class. It’s been fascinating and incredibly informative to see this issue (the value of men and women, together, building the kingdom of God/His church) through the larger lens of God’s design as revealed in the Bible.

We’ve also revisited the biblical principles guiding CCC’s Women’s Ministry Team and sought their honest input. They, too, are eager to engage with this issue, and God has given us incredible traction. I’m pinching myself! And I’m also beginning to see lots of my blind spots! The conversations are rich, substantial, and honest. Of course, time is limited, so getting us all together has its challenges, but understanding is growing among us, progress is being made, and we hope to have some actionable takeaways soon.

In the meantime, if you’re up for a good read on this topic, I recommend Aimee Byrd’s No Little Women. Here are some quotes that give you the flavor of her insights.

• “No matter what our different circumstances and vocations may be, every woman is a theologian.”
• “Women especially play a huge role in showing the face of Christianity to the watching world.”
• “If we take women seriously, we will want them to be good teachers of the Word.”

Please join me, the elders, and the Women’s Ministry Team (Ashley Yarnoff, Mandy Holt, Crystal West, Jacklyn Tubel) in praying for increasing opportunities for CCC women to fulfill their callings at CCC.

The Love that Will Not Let Us Go

—Wes Tubel, Executive Director,
Hope Couseling Services

I love the psalms. One reason is that they put words on our experiences, and teach us ways to cry out to the Lord. And there is this God-given balance of being both specific enough about our struggles, but broad enough for you and me to fill in our own particular details.

I have routinely been meditating on Psalm 13 recently. David is in anguish and it seems like the Lord is silent to his pleas.

13:1-2 Honest questions
1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

David has been wrestling with God in prayer, asking him to intervene in his troubles, but the Lord seems silent. Notice the interplay between the spiritual, personal, and circumstantial elements of David’s struggle. God seems to have turned away from David (spiritual). David seems to be his only source of help (personal). And enemies seem to be getting the upper hand (circumstantial).

Can you relate?
• How long will I experience this unending pain?
• How long will my wayward child refuse to turn back to God?
• How long will this besetting sin be part of my life?
• How long will I be stuck in this dead-end job?
• And perhaps the biggest question: how long until you return, O Lord, and make all things new?

13:3–4 A (seemingly) illogical plea
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have a hard time continuing to pray when God seems silent. Yet David perseveres in prayer: “Consider and answer me, O LORD my God.”

But how do we have that kind of trust in God, especially when he seems silent?

13:5–6 A love that will not, cannot let us go
5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Verse 5 is the pivot point of this psalm.

Circumstances have a way of unearthing all kinds of existential and spiritual crises. But David trusts the Lord because of the Lord’s steadfast love. This is one of the most profound promises of God. We routinely sing a song at Christ Community Church: O Love that Will Not Let Me Go. What kind of love is that? It is a committed, steadfast, covenantally faithful love of our God in Christ.

David underscores something powerful for us. Our circumstances are not our anchor. Our feelings are not our anchor. Our understanding of how God has or hasn’t answered us is not our anchor. Our anchor is that God loves us with a committed, steadfast love that will not, cannot let us go.

Would you join me in praying Psalm 13? We long for the day when Christ will return, and make all things new. And as we wait, we recognize that life is hard, and God can often feel silent. But he has promised to love us with a love that will not let us go. And that love makes all the difference.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus. And sustain us in your love as we wait.

“Be Still? How Do I Do That?!!”

—Rik Gervais, Ruling Elder

"Be still, and know that I am God….” Psalm 46:10 (ESV)

Tropical Storm Michael. You remember the day. High winds. Torrential rain. Schools closed. Power outages. It’s 2 PM. Michael is racing up I-85. At the same time, my wife is getting into a car at Lake Gaston on the Virginia state line, about to head right into the middle of Michael. I’m stressed (to say the very least!). I’ve got the Find My iPhone app going. I can watch her every turn. I’ve also got the TV on. I can hear the incessant, frenzied descriptions of the storm conveyed by journalists who are also out in the middle of it. I’m really stressed! Anxiety, in one of its worst forms, has a hold on my heart right now. What can I do? What should I do? What would you do?

I’m going to give the bible answer first. I prayed. I really did. Over and over. For God’s protection for her. For a calmness that only the Spirit’s power could give me and her.

But I also nibbled. Every snack in the cabinet got raided. I paced. I flipped channels looking for better descriptions of what was happening along I-85, minute by minute. For almost three hours I was a nervous wreck…even as I continued to pray. This is probably an understatement, but I was anxious.

What is this thing called “anxiety” and what can we do when we are feeling it? According to Merriam-Webster, “…anxiety [is] anguished uncertainty or fear of misfortune or failure.” Well, that was me alright. Funny. There are 19 synonyms listed for anxiety, but there is only one antonym. Anxiety is all-encompassing and overwhelming.

What do we do when we are anxious. I bet my responses were fairly typical. But for some, anxiety can be absolutely crippling. Maybe that’s you. Maybe snacks or pacing and even some prayer are not anywhere close to helpful. So what should you do? One choice would be to go to a website like anxiety.org where renowned experts in the medical and psychological fields from leading universities can offer countless articles. I’m not knocking them. They are smart people who really want to help.

Or you can turn to God. I searched the web (yes, even elders do that!) to see what the Psalms teach about anxiety. Articles there pointed me to more than 35 places in the Psalms where the ancient writers helped themselves, and us, find our answers in our loving, caring, protecting, sovereign God. Meditate on these passages. Make them your passages. Carry them in your pocket and in your heart. They really do help.

What else can you do? Attend the Hope Counseling conference, “Be Still, My Soul: Understanding and Addressing Anxiety,” November 10, 9:00–12:30. There, Dr. Mike Emlet will provide solid, biblically-based perspectives on dealing with anxiety. Please join us. And yes, we’ll probably have snacks!

“The Gift of Forgiveness”

—Rick Hawkes, Ruling Elder

One of the things I pray CCC will never move beyond is the simple, personal, humble work of confession and forgiveness. Seeking and giving forgiveness (not simply 'apologizing') is an essential mark of spiritual health. It means we are constantly recognizing Jesus' relevance to every thought, intention, word and deed of our lives. Since its publication in 2006, this article has been distributed far and wide, benefitting people literally around the world. I encourage you to read it, take it to heart, and apply it in the power of the Holy Spirit. To God be the glory. -Byron Peters

This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:28)
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

Forgiveness is the heart of the Gospel message: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). You would think that Christians would be experts in forgiveness—ready to discuss the intricacies of working out forgiveness in daily life; the legal, spiritual, emotional, relational perspectives of forgiveness; how forgiveness works with confession, repentance, restitution, discipline, and restoration; how forgiveness relates to the duty to uphold justice by private individuals, civil courts, and church courts. Unfortunately, the only part of forgiveness that seems to hold our attention is the part that gets us out of trouble, so we can have a pleasant life.

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

Scripture says, "Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Col 3:13). God forgives us by judicially transferring our debt to Christ. We do not have the power to declare someone innocent. We do have the power to say, "I am not your judge. From what I can see, you did not fulfill your God-given duty to me. However, you do not have to clear this debt with me. Because I am not my own, because I owe everything to Christ, I give everything due me to him. I am at peace with you. It is now between you and Christ." Notice that only those who know Christ and stand in debt to him have some place to discharge debts due to them. Outside of Christ, there is no account that can legally or morally accept a debt due to us. Outside of Christ, there is no force that can loosen our grip on our debtors.

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

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

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

The principal tragedy of unforgiveness is that it breaks our experience of peace with God in Christ. We are God's precious ones, each one a sparkling jewel springing from a white-hot kiss of God's eternal love. Unforgiveness turns our prismatic souls from transmitters of divine glory into opaque idols of self-worship, caked with the grimy accounting of other men's sins. If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:15). These words should make us tear ourselves from the grasp of seductive fault-finding, leaving behind our fouled garments of self-righteous judgment. We cannot confess our own failure while we are concentrating on the failure of another. When we think, "They should be more like this or that," wanting to shape people in our own image, we are displaying an attitude antithetical to the Lordship of Christ and forgiveness in him.

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

The Purpose of God’s Design of Men and Women

—by Rick Hawkes, Ruling Elder

EDITOR’S NOTE: On October 7, Rick began a 7-week Adult Sunday School series on “God’s Design for Male and Female.” In our cultural moment there may be no more important topic on which to be biblically clear and informed. Plan on attending and participating in this important discussion each Sunday, 9:25-10:25 a.m. (Rick earned a Master of Divinity and a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary).

A modern eye regards the Bible as a fatally flawed book because it is mostly about males. But the modern eye is jaundiced. In the eye of autonomous man, God is very distant and small, even vanishingly so, while everything about me is of the utmost importance. In Scriptural terms, the Bible is largely concerned with God’s covenant representatives and his covenant people. God’s design of creation, including his design of mankind as male and female, is the context within which God’s covenant drama is played out.

While my modern sensibilities may grate at finding that all God’s covenant representatives are male, these representatives share a much more important characteristic which I am almost wholly unable to grasp: they are not me. That God should make my relationship to him dependent on the someone who is not me leaves me sputtering with indignation. Who died and made him…whatever? Part of me believes that law, politics, economics, even sexuality, is all about me. Fortunately, this belief is an illusion that is continually torn apart by the diamond-edged buzzsaw of God’s creation design.

It befuddles me that something so riveting to me as sexuality should be of secondary importance in the biblical story which claims to be the central story of my life. If God had issued a survey before writing the Bible, I would have requested chapters on how to be financially successful, how to be admired by all, how to get people to do what I want, and what’s up with men and women. Instead, issues like the differences between men and women are secondary to a bigger story.

Yet in that bigger story, the secondary questions, including that of male and female, keep popping up at crucial turning points. Eve, as a female, somehow plays into the fall of all mankind. Sarah and her struggles with infertility, with her husband, and with her servant are a link in the birth of a nation. The beauty of Bathsheba seems to undermine, then establish the line of salvation. The disobedience of one Persian queen threatens an empire while the obedience of another Persian queen saves God’s people. On the word of a simple Galilean girl hang all the angels of heaven.

God’s design of male and female is glorious in itself. But it has far greater glory and significance as part of the story of redemption. We will go hopelessly wrong in living out our sexuality if we look at it only in reference to “me”. However, if we can pry our eyes off of ourselves and look at the bigger story in which we live and move, then we will begin to see the full glory of what it can mean to participate, as a man of God or as woman of God, in his divine comedy.