Easy to Forget

Sometimes in corporate worship, we can get wrapped up in the music, be distracted by things around us or sing a song so much it becomes easy to forget what we’re singing. Here at CBC, we’re committed to theologically rich songs that point our hearts towards the Father and magnify Jesus. We’re careful in our song selections and it’s something I appreciate about our leadership and congregation’s commitment to singing Truth.

We introduced a new song a couple of weeks ago called Ever Be, and it’s one of my favorites – it has been for a few years. I admit I can sometimes fall into the category of singing a song so many times, I don’t pay attention to the lyrics as much as I should. As we were singing on Sunday, I was drawn to the opening lyrics, “Your love is devoted like a ring of solid gold, like a vow that is tested, like a covenant of old… Faithful You have been and faithful you will be. You pledge yourself to me and it’s why I sing.”

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is found in Hebrews 6, where we read of the certainty of God’s promise.

For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So, when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

I have always loved the assurance we see in these verses of the character of God and the depth of His promises. An oath is defined by, “a solemn promise, often invoking a divine witness, regarding one’s future action or behavior.” To capture the greatness of God, we see that when He made a promise, He had nothing greater to swear by than Himself. He is His own divine witness. That thought alone can blow my mind when I consider how big, powerful and holy God is. We also see that His desire was not to just make a promise to His people, but to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose.  When God has made promises, oaths, or covenants to His people throughout Scripture, it is impossible to change them and His desire is to encourage and reassure us of His love and commitment.

So, when we sing songs like Ever Be, we don’t have to just sing the lyrics and not know the deep, rich meaning behind them. There are countless reasons to sing His praise and to declare how worthy He is. We sing because His love is devoted to us like a covenant of old, like the promises He made to Abraham. We sing because He who promised is faithful (Heb. 10:23) and will continue to be. He has pledged Himself to us as we have given our hearts to Him in surrender and we have this truth as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul to give us hope as we press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:13).

 

Just a Child of the King

Recently I had the great privilege of speaking at a memorial service after the passing of a family friend. I saw this man come to begin a relationship with Jesus just a couple months before his passing and it was important to me to be there, even though I knew almost none of his family. He and his wife retired about 10 years ago and had lived in various places up and down the east coast in their RV since retiring. At the memorial I was introduced to one of their good friends that they had met during their campground travels. His name was Wayne. Wayne had extended stays in a few of the same campgrounds as my late friend, and they had developed a good relationship over the years.

After welcoming everyone to the memorial service and saying an opening prayer, I invited Wayne to come up and eulogize our late friend. Wayne started by explaining that he wasn’t a preacher, but that he was “just a child of the King”. Wayne then went on to describe in his distinctive southern voice how they met and had become good friends, sharing humorous anecdotes along the way. But after a few minutes Wayne began sharing about how he spoke to our friend many times over the past few years about Jesus. He explained the gospel in simple terms, just as he had with our friend in recent years. As he spoke, I kept thanking God for the encouragement that I was receiving through Wayne. This man was speaking with boldness, clarity, conviction, and an honest legitimacy that often isn’t available for clergy. It’s not that vocational pastors can’t speak to this legitimacy to the ears of a listening audience, but sometimes it is easier to establish this legitimacy in the minds of an audience when it is a lay person delivering the message. You see, when I have gospel conversations with unbelievers, most of them are thinking “yeah, but it’s your job to say that… you’re a pastor.”

Wayne’s words encouraged me, and they fell gently on the ears of everyone listening. Partly because of his clarity, but partly because he wasn’t seen as one who had to share because it was his vocation. He wasn’t sharing a scripted line, but a heartfelt and personal testimony of God’s grace. What Wayne lacked in the way of formal seminary education, he leveraged by speaking candidly about his own faith. Wayne had obviously been a faithful student of the Bible over the years, and his words of grace seemed to flow effortlessly from his heart.

I’ve thought a lot about Wayne since that memorial service, and I’ve thought a lot about how everyone of us who follow Christ have the same responsibility to testify to God’s grace through Jesus.

The Bible speaks to this clearly. Consider 1 Peter 2:9 where all who have been redeemed by Christ are called a “royal priesthood”. The priesthood is not just the clergy – the vocational pastors. The priesthood is all the redeemed. And all the redeemed are called to be ministers of the gospel in our unique contexts. Some priests are called to serve as doctors, some as waitresses, same as retail workers, some as truck drivers… and some are called to serve on a church staff. But we’re all called to serve as priests.

The last words of Jesus are a call-to-action for all his disciples. In his Great Commission Jesus says for his disciples to go and make other disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). Did you know that’s why the mission of CBC is what it is? We are called to magnify Jesus Christ by making disciples who advance the mission of God among all people. What is the mission of God? I just referred to it in the Great Commission. It is to make disciples. So, in other words, we are called to make disciples who make disciples. That’s what we’re called to as the collective priesthood.

What kind of steward are being of God’s grace?

We are all stewards of the grace of God. The only question is how we are stewarding this gift. We have the message of redemption, but are we sharing it for the sake of God’s glory and the eternal security of the people we do life with? Consider Wayne. Wayne took seriously his stewardship and he took advantage of the opportunities God appointed for him to speak to our friend. And you know what, God used Wayne’s faithful witness to till the soil of our friend’s heart.

This reminds me of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where he writes:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So, neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers.” (1 Cor. 3:6-9a).

God was at work in our friend’s life. First through Wayne and then through me. First in Florida and then in North Carolina. The Lord used Wayne and he used me, but it was the Lord that was at work all along. The Lord’s sovereignty is on display in situations like this. Wayne planted, I watered, but our sovereign Lord of salvation was giving the growth.

I want to exhort you, dear brother or sister, to make yourself available to the Lord today, for His name’s sake. Engage the Word of God today and regularly that you may be armed with the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17) and “as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (6:15). We have the tools to be equipped for ministry… the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16), the church (Eph. 4:11-12), and the Spirit of God (Matt. 28:20; Acts 1:8). We must choose to arm outfit ourselves with all that the Lord has provided for this work, and then we must choose to engage in His work.

You’ll never feel like you’re adequately equipped for all the possible scenarios that you play out in your mind, but we’re still called to be good stewards of the grace of the gospel wherever we’re at. But take it from me, one who was “just a child of the King” doing lay ministry for years before becoming a vocational pastor just 5 years ago: the Lord is faithful and able to work through your feeble attempts to serve Him. His power is made perfect in our weakness. He is the sovereign Lord. He is looking for us to suit up, to make ourselves available for His work, and He’s faithful to provide the grace we need.

Wayne identified himself as “just a child of the King”. The faithful witness of that one “child” has been an encouragement to me and a blessing to others he has ministered to. I hope it serves as an encouragement for you today as well.

Where is Romania?

As I write this, I am less than 72 hours away from boarding a plane bound for Bucharest, Romania. However, I’ve never been to Romania. I’ve never even been to Europe. And I will lead a team of ten other individuals in this country I’ve never been. Over the last month, the excitement has grown in my heart as I have waited with expectation to go. But I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t nervous. This week, I will say good-bye to my husband and two boys for 9 days. I will travel halfway around the world to a land I have never been and a country whose language I do not speak. At the moment, I have no idea who our team will meet or all that we will encounter. The questions that flood my mind, as I try to prepare, continue to build. And my flesh is weak.

My flesh is SO weak.

Over the last two weeks, the Lord, in His goodness and grace, has been speaking to my heart and reminding me of His faithfulness and purpose in my life.

I was reading the story of the rich, young ruler {the same one that Jim Burchel preached the other week} one evening while my kids lay sleeping in their beds and my husband was at work. The house was quiet and peaceful. And as I sat at my kitchen table and read this passage of scripture, my heart was encouraged by the perspective the Lord gave me. The rich, young ruler wanted to know “what good thing must he do to get eternal life.” And Jesus tells him to follow His commands. But Jesus didn’t leave it with that. Jesus took it one step further. For Jesus, it’s not about obeying a list of commandments which this rich, young ruler was about. And it was especially not about obeying a list of commandments out of duty or obligation. Jesus is after our hearts. It’s all about giving our lives to follow Him and we obey His commandments out of a love for Jesus and what He’s done for us on the cross.

So, Jesus tells him to sell his possessions. Sell ALL his possessions.

It’s a ‘drop the mic’ moment.

Sell ALL your possessions and follow Him. Follow Jesus.

The rich, young ruler was sad. He had no problem going through the checklist.

  • Don’t murder. -Yep!
  • Do not commit adultery. -Got it!
  • Do not steal. -Okay.
  • Do not give false testimony. -Check.
  • Honor your father and mother. -Sure.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.

BUT, sell your possessions. Give to the poor. Now, that is difficult. And he left sad. His heart was wrapped up in the things of this world. His grip was not on the eternal. He was holding on to what was temporal.

We can be good people, but not live fully surrendered to the Lord. It’s not enough for us to run through a checklist. He wants ALL our heart, fully devoted to Him. We can’t give Him all of ourselves if we are holding on so tightly to the things of this world.

So, I sat at my kitchen table reading this passage and being reminded to keep my eyes fixated on Jesus and what really matters. To draw close to Jesus and live with eternity in mind. These words were hard because my spirit is willing, but my flesh is SO weak.

Jesus, I’m nervous to get on a plane. I’m nervous to fly halfway around the world to a land I’ve never been and a country whose language I don’t speak. Jesus, I’m so nervous to be away from my husband and my boys.  SO. MUCH. CAN. HAPPEN.  Jesus, I am out of my comfort zone. There is so much about this situation that I can’t control. Help me, Jesus. 

And so, today, Pastor Aaron began a new sermon, Scandalous Grace, out of the book of Jonah in the Bible. And once again, Jesus came alongside me and encouraged my heart and spirit. Through Jonah’s story, I’m reminded that when God speaks, He usually asks us to do hard things. It’s easy to follow Him when it’s convenient for us. But sometimes, it looks like leaving your husband and boys for 9 days, to travel to a land you’ve never been, to share the Gospel with a people whose language you do not speak. It doesn’t *always* look this way, but right now, this is what it looks like for me. This morning, the Spirit gently reminded me that this world needs wide-awake Christians to point them to God in the chaos and storms of life– just like those sailors needed on that boat in the middle of the storm with Jonah sleeping.

So, I will board that plane. I will go. I will trust the Lord. I will walk in obedience to His word. Even though it is hard. Even though my flesh is weak. Even though it means being away from loved ones and being out of my comfort zone.

Jesus asks each of us to follow Him. Even when it’s hard. Even when it doesn’t make sense.

What is Jesus asking of you today?

And by the way, Romania is located in Eastern Europe.

Reflecting on Costa Rica

This past spring the Global Mission Team and Community Bible’s spiritual leaders (elders, pastoral staff) committed to a five-year partnership (requiring two trips by CBC teams per year) to train pastors and local church leaders through IBAC (Central American Biblical Institute) in Costa Rica. The primary goals of IBAC are to produce servant leaders who: (1) handle God’s Word accurately; (2) embody authentic spirituality; and (3) foster healthy churches.

Over the next five years, each local pastor and church leader who attends IBAC will receive approximately twenty hours of training for each course, giving them practical tools for reading and studying the Bible, exploring the doctrines of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit, using the Bible in counseling, the developing a healthy ecclesiology of the local church. Someone who attends all fourteen weeks of training will receive over 280 hours of biblical training!

This past week Pastor Josh Sands, Mike Wagner (Elder Chair), Todd Phelps (providing trip documentation) and I spent our first week of training with local Christian leaders in San Jose. I wanted to share some random thoughts about our trip.

  1. Costa Rica is a beautiful country. As a resource-rich country, there is an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables (I had the best pineapple I’ve ever eaten last week), stunning scenery, and outstanding coffee. But Costa Rica’s best quality is her people. Generally speaking, Costa Rican’s care more about people and the quality of personal interaction than they do completing the next task on their “to-do” list. They aren’t slaves to the tyranny of time and production, at least not in the way we are as North Americans, and the fruit of this quality is a depth and intimacy in personal interaction that is often lacking in North American culture.
  2. The Christians we met and worked with really care about God’s Word and the Gospel. We met Monday through Friday from 3:30 pm to 9:00 pm. Each session had one ten-minute break for coffee and a thirty-minute break for dinner (we shared meals together). The rest of the time was spent in training. Most of these individuals came straight from work to each session, and I would say that 75% of those in attendance came every night. They made a tremendous sacrifice to pursue growth in their understanding of Jesus, His Gospel, and His Word. And they are committed to this training three times a year for the next five years (side note: we have a partner church in Ohio that will do one of the trainings each summer, with our teams traveling in February and October each year). One of the men in attendance, Jose, worked third shift at his job. He worked from 12 am – 8 am, got home around 9 am (where he slept for four hours), got up at 1 pm, spent some time with his family, and then came for training. I was humbled and deeply encouraged by their commitment to growing in their relationship with Jesus.
  3. North American Christians could learn a lot from our brothers and sisters in Christ in Central and South America. Far too often, Western missionaries go on the field thinking they primarily are going to the nations because they have something to offer. And it is true that we go on mission because we want to share the Gospel. But if we go thinking primarily that we have something to offer and not to learn, we risk ministering from a posture of arrogance. Generally, what happens when Western missionaries arrive on the field – whether it’s a short-term or long-term trip – is we expect people to sit down and listen to us while we stand and speak. We bring the Gospel, the Bibles, and the hymn books. We bring the medicine, the Bible school, the discipleship. We want a say in choosing the leaders. We build the orphanages and the schools. We come as the teachers and experts.

And these things are not necessarily bad. These can be wonderful things. But it would be wiser for us to come as brothers, friends, and peers. It would be better to partner with indigenous people in ministry, to give them opportunities to serve and teach, to allow them to lead in the light while we stand in the shadows. It would be better for us to model Jesus in service, the same Jesus who wrapped his cloak around his waist, the very cloak that identified him as Rabbi and Master, in order to become a servant to all as he washed his disciples’ feet. It would be better if we came asking questions instead of assuming we have all the answers, if we gave those we’ve come to serve opportunities to use their gifts and even give of their resources to the cause of the Kingdom of Christ, even if they must give out of their poverty, rather than doing everything for them.

Christian believers around the world do not need our pity. In many cases, they don’t even need our resources. They need our prayers, our friendship, our humble service, and our willingness to help them grow in dependence upon the Spirit and understanding of God’s Word.

  1. The Costa Rican cuisine is “muy bien”. I’m pretty sure we ate about 5-6 times per day. If you ever visit Costa Rica, you must try the patacones. Patacones are green plantains that are deep-fried twice. The end-product is a lot like a delicious cracker. Top it with some pureed Frijoles Negro, cheese, pulled chicken, and Pico de Gallo, and you’re tasting just a little bit of heaven.
  2. Gordon and Debbie Crandell are selfless saints of God. Many of you may not know Gordon and Debbie, but they are long-time members of Community Bible who are serving as missionaries at the English Language Institute in San Jose, Costa Rica. More than 17,000 missionaries have been trained to speak Spanish through the English Language Institute since the mid-1940’s. Gordon and Debbie provide support, spiritual encouragement and leadership, and counsel to many of the students. They served as our host, concierge, and companions throughout the week.

As I’ve reflected on their service, I was reminded of what Paul said about Timothy, “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” (Philippians 2:20). Paul goes on to say that many who serve Jesus “seek their own interests” (2:21), but Timothy pursued the interests of Jesus Christ with single-minded devotion (2:21). I sensed this in Gordon and Debbie. They seem genuinely concerned and motivated by what Jesus wants to do in them and through others, and nothing else. They are concerned for the welfare of others more than their own. But on that note, their financial support to stay on the field is currently at lower levels than is sustainable long-term. If you are interested in learning more about how we support them as a church, or how you might be able to bless them with a one-time gift or by regular monthly support, please contact Kim Lehmann, Missions Director at (kim.lehmann@cbchurch.org).

I want to say “thanks” to those of you who prayed for us last week. It was a really encouraging week. I’m looking forward to what God is going to do through this partnership. You may not be a teacher, but you can stay invested in what God is doing in Costa Rica in several ways. First, you can pray. Pray for Jim Wilson, the creator of IBAC. Pray for the local believers who are being trained. Pray for Gordon and Debbie Crandell. Amazingly, we got connected to IBAC through Gordon and Debbie, who more than five years ago thought God was leading them to China, only to have Him plant them in Central America. You can also be involved by giving regularly to ministry at Community Bible. Twenty percent of your tithes and offerings go to support local and global missions. Twenty cents of every dollar you give goes to advance the mission of God among all people. God is on the move among the nations, and I want to be a part of what He is doing. Do you?