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?

 

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/