HCS Update

—by Wes Tubel

Every week at Hope Counseling Services, we walk alongside people who are in the midst of intense suffering. The causes of suffering are many: broken relationships, death of a loved one, unfulfilled desires, health issues, and other forms of loss just to name a few. Regardless of the root cause, one of the common questions any of us ask in our suffering is “why?”

A couple weeks ago in Adult Christian Education, we had a thoughtful conversation around this very topic. We had been studying the book of Job, and the lecturer highlighted that at the end of the day, we do not know all (most?) of the reasons why we continue to experience pain and suffering.

Our discussion that Sunday has had me thinking a lot this week about the counsel we provide to others in the midst of their darkest sorrows. What comfort in suffering can we offer? Or to put the question a different way, what do we know in our suffering?

There are many ways God orients us to faith and trust in the midst of suffering. Here are two precious realities we have in and through Christ:

1) God, himself, takes note of our tears. Psa. 56:8 tells us that God puts tears in hisbottle. The context of the Psalm is intense suffering at the hands of other people. And in the midst of the trials, God sees the impact the suffering has on David. God is not distant, passively watching us endure our misery. He is grieved and moved by the affliction of his people, and he sees the distress of our souls (Psa. 31:7).

2) God, himself, will one day wipe away every tear from every one of his people’s eyes, according to Rev. 21:4. Recently I was struck with the intentionality of God to wipe away our tears. Two things stood out to me from this verse. First, it seems to indicate that we will enter eternity with tears, a sobering reminder that our suffering will last until Jesus Christ returns. But second, it is a beautiful thought to realize that our tears don’t simply disappear. God, himself, will wipe all of our tears away. The work Jesus began in his life, death, and resurrection will be completed when he returns, and we enter our eternal home.

When someone comes to Hope Counseling in the midst of their grief and sorrow, we aim to walk patiently, wisely, and carefully. Each suffering is different. We aim to understand as much as we can about the particular details. And at the same time, we want to offer a drink of Living Water in the midst of the pain and hurt. We want to offer True Hope in the midst of their questioning. And we desire to be a safe place for all to speak honestly about what they are facing, in order to also experience the comfort that God alone can provide.

If you know of anyone who needs help and support, please let them know about Hope Counseling Services. And please pray that all of our counselors would have wisdom to know how to speak a helpful and hopeful word for each person’s time of need.

Spicing Up Your Prayer Life

—by Pew-Thian Yap, Ruling Elder

Let’s face it. We are not praying as often as we ought to. When we do pray, we tend to say the same old things about the same old things. Our repetitious prayers bore us to the point where we could hardly find the motivation to pray. Why is talking about the most important things in our lives to the most fascinating Person in the universe so mundane, monotonous, and lifeless?

In Praying the Bible, Donald Whitney puts his finger on the heart of the problem: Our tendency to repeat the same prayers about the same matters again and again. The remedy, he argues, is to center our prayers on the text of the Bible: “To pray the Bible, you simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as you read the text.” Whitney explains the many benefits of shaping our prayers with the words and thoughts of the Scripture. I’d like to mention here two points that are helpful to me.

Prayer as Conversation
We often assume that we must do all the talking when we meet with God. Consequently, our prayers become monologues and eventually our creative energy runs dry and we cannot think about fresh new ways to talk to God about our daily concerns. Prayer centered on Scripture lifts this burden and promotes two-way communication. We take in God’s words, circulate them through our hearts and minds, and voice out our thoughts to God. This empowers us to not only pray in new different ways, but also pray for things we don’t normally pray about. We are unlikely to run out of prayers.

Focusing on God
Our thoughts are less likely to wander when we have the text in front of us to guide our prayers. This helps battle the mind-wandering boredom of mindless repetitious prayers. The text also directs our attention more toward God and less toward ourselves. The fact that we are actively engaged in the text when we pray means that we are pondering more deeply about God’s words and are hence able to shape our prayers in greater conformity with God’s will. We don’t expect God to answer if we are not praying according to His will (1 John 5:14–15).

The new season of prayer is a great opportunity to put this into practice. Repetitious prayers ultimately become meaningless words. “When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7). If our prayers bore us, do they not also bore God?

Ashleigh and the Terrible Boss

—by Ashleigh Meeker, CCC member

I had a terrible boss for over two years. She was mean. She was passive aggressive. She pawned off all of her job responsibilities on me. I tried giving her feedback and talking to superiors but it just made matters worse. I decided to “wait it out”—putting my trust in the saying “You reap what you sow.” So I sat back and waited, thinking I was trusting God, but really I was just rooting for her to fail. I wanted her to be exposed and humiliated for all her wrongdoings. Instead of immediately confessing my true feelings to God, I ignored them and let them fester. Guess what happened. She got a big promotion with a huge raise! WAIT A MINUTE!! I’m the reason she succeeded!
 
The unresolved feelings of resentment that I had let fester came rushing to the surface. My “waiting this out” strategy wasn’t working anymore, and it seemed like God’s sense of justice was misguided. My resentment told me to deal with this situation in a way that made me feel great. I gossiped. I complained. I kept a literal list of grievances in case I needed them as ammo. I would go over her head on things, and I was passive aggressive. My growing resentment justified all of these actions. Fast-forward to a year later. Our company laid off 100 people, and she was on the list. After years of suffering she was finally gone! God was finally answering the desires of my heart.
 
Then something else happened. I was asked to apply for some higher level positions because my accomplishments in the past few years had been noticed. That is when God’s Holy Spirit confronted me with my sin. Having a terrible boss gave me the skill set I needed for these higher level positions. Without her, I would have never learned how to do all the things that qualified me for this next level job. God allowed me to go through the “terrible boss” trial to prepare me for better things. I immediately was reminded of my terrible attitude, the gossip, the complaining, and my desire for vengeance.  If I had truly trusted God and confessed my anger and resentment regularly I would have had an enjoyable time at work, and impacted the work culture in a positive way. Thankfully, God doesn’t depend on me to conquer my sin. The penalty for my sin has been paid. By grace, I have been forgiven, and by grace he allows me to learn from my mistakes. God’s timing is always perfect, he always knows what is best for us, and he always forgives our dark hearts. If you are going through a Joseph moment— I encourage you to look past the current circumstances and have hope in God’s provision. God’s grace is new every morning!

Ukraine Summary

—by Byron Peters, Pastor

It could be a golden Christmas tree, right there next to the soccer field. Juicy apricots polka dot the branches like lights and litter the ground like presents. Turn the corner and Mulberry trees proffer their blackberry-like fruit to passersby free of charge. Roses spring dense, deep and fragrant adjacent to the simple camp dormitories as if to say, “Sure, we’re beautiful. We know it well!”

Ukraine could feed the world. It’s as if God had Ukraine in mind when David, foreseeing the fruitful new heavens and earth, wrote in Psalm 65, “You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops…The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness…they shout and sing for joy.”

But spiritual darkness cloaks the country with devastating effect. It ranks first in corruption in Europe. The divorce rate is 70% with a biblical understanding of family life a distant memory. A disheartening cocktail of legalistic Orthodoxy and frantic emotional health-wealthism stifles and smothers spiritual curiosity.

Our sister church, Covenant of Grace, is at the heart of the hard work of the gospel in Ukraine. Ruby Bea and I had the immense privilege of serving alongside these dear brothers and sisters, including our own CCC missionary Robin Price, for a week-long English camp in June. The conversations were rich and thoughtful. God’s Spirit crowded into our interactions and even those less spiritually inclined pressed closer to listen in.

I mean, think of it: What can be more life-giving than a week alongside kind and curious new friends eager not only to absorb English, but to explore the gospel?

As a result of our trip, Ruby Bea and I sense the Lord leading us to make a more robust commitment to CCC’s Ukrainian strategic partnership. And your elders agree. English camp will surely remain central, but administrative support, pastoral care, elder training, and more are on our radar for the future. These are exciting times in the CCC/Covenant of Grace partnership.

Might God be gifting and calling you for a week in Ukraine next summer? If you’re interested in being considered for our team, first pray! Then email me at byron@cccpca.org.

You won’t believe those melt-in-your-mouth apricots!

The Wonder of Adoption

—by Kelby Kizer, CCC member

Have you ever felt alone? Do you sometimes feel like you don’t “belong” with whatever group you’re around, whether it is coworkers, roommates, neighbors, or at a social gathering? I’ve certainly felt that way before.  
 
I imagine that an orphan can feel extreme loneliness and uncertainty of his or her identity. I’ve had the opportunity to witness family members work through the long adoption process to bring home their adoptive daughter from another country. I’ve witnessed them pressing on in faith through this process that is physically and financially hard, and emotionally painful. Watching them has given me a chance to witness a beautiful picture of the realities of our adoption by the Lord, through Christ.
 
An Orphan’s Identity
An orphan does not belong to the family, does not know his/her parents, and is powerless to change that. But Scripture says that though we were at one time “separated from Christ…and without God in the world,” yet now, “in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:12-13)

An Orphan’s Inheritance
An orphan is not an heir and he does not have an inheritance. In some cases, they inherit the negative consequences of the parents’ decisions (e.g., abuse). Scripture describes the inheritance we had as non-Christians as being one of “alienation and hostility of mind” (Colossians 1:21). But now, in Christ, The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:16-17)

An Orphan’s Relationship
An orphan does not have a permanent relationship with her family. She is alone and without the community, love, and support of the family. But in Christ, “we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us…There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:16a, 18a)

A Parent’s Pursuit
While watching my friends, it was immediately obvious that adoptive parents have to provide 100% of the initiative and cost to find and bring back their adoptive child. Without their initiative, this child would never have known them. I was encouraged to see how the Lord pursues us with the fervor of an adoptive parent, and pays a heavy price for our adoption!

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”—Galatians 4:4–6

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.—Ephesians 1:5–6

While observing my family members work through the long, faith-filled adoption process I’ve been greatly encouraged in my walk with the Lord.  My identity, inheritance, and relationship with God all depend upon God’s faithful pursuit of me in Christ. If any of you are struggling with loneliness or a sense of belonging, I hope that these truths will be an encouragement to you as they have been to me.

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!