Celebrating God’s Faithfulness

More than we could ask or imagine. Five million, four hundred ninety-nine thousand, six hundred sixty-seven dollars and thirty cents ($5,499,667.30). Amazing! We have reached our starting point for the everyONE initiative. Let me say that another way. We’re not at the finish line. Everything we have been doing to this point has been to get us ready for our journey. Now is the time to act on the commitment we’ve made, while at the same time asking others to join us on this journey. While our financial goal is important, our desire is to see 100% participation. During these next two years, we would love to see everyone who calls Community Bible Church “home” to be a part of everyONE. It doesn’t matter if the gift of your time, talent and treasure is large or small, every gift and sacrifice matters.

Our financial goal is just a vehicle for the greater goal: life transformation, ministry alignment, and gospel focus. God’s work to bring about congregational transformation, alignment and focus will only be accomplished on a shared journey and through a shared experience. EveryONE is a focal point for us to work together to fulfill the vision God has laid in front of us.

EveryONE is about impacting one another, our city and the world through our ministry plan (budget). It’s about updating and renovating our campus and gathering spaces because we believe our building is an important part of the discipleship process, a vehicle for every person to creatively connect for the sake of the gospel. And we want to fiercely focus on the future God has for us by continuing to ask, “What’s next, Jesus?”

Four questions set the stage for our next steps.

“What Do We Do Now?”

The everyONE initiative officially launches on Sunday January 5. That’s when we are asking everyone to begin honoring their commitment to the everyONE initiative. However, we’d love to go big and bold into the new year. If you are able and prepared to offer one-time gifts to the everyONE initiative right now, we would invite you to do so. We also want to keep in mind that we desire to finish out the current calendar year well. We have current ministry obligations that we need to honor, and your generosity matters. Every story of life change – such as the five we witnessed in baptism last Sunday and the seven we will witness during baptisms in December – are generosity stories. What you give towards gospel initiatives at Community Bible impacts lives.

“If We’ve Met Our Goal, Why Do You Need Me?”

Early on in this journey I asked the question, “If someone writes a check for $5.5 million, will we still do this initiative?” The answer is a resounding “yes”. That’s because this journey is about transformation, not a financial goal. We want every person who calls Community Bible home to experience Jesus in a new and fresh way because of this journey together. The everyONE initiative is not about what God wants from you; it’s about what God wants for you.

So, if you have not yet filled out a commitment card, we invite you to do so. Even if you are unsure about what you can give toward everyONE, we’d still love to know that you are with us.

“What Does It Mean that We Are at 99% of our Goal?”

The number announced on Sunday morning (found at the beginning of this blog) represents the following:

  • Pledge amounts indicated on submitted commitment cards (of those who completed a pledge card, we are seeing an increase in giving of 53%!).
  • Anticipated giving from the generosity patterns of regular committed contributors to our annual ministry plan (This is the same data we use annually to plan our budget. For example, if an attendee at Community Bible gave $5,000 the previous year, we budget anticipating their giving will continue at that same level or an increased level the following year).
  • A conservative estimate that every person who gives generously to gospel initiatives at Community Bible, but who did not complete a commitment card will increase their regular gifts by at least 5% (This is a very conservative estimate which usually ranges from 5%-12% and is used in all generosity initiatives).

“What’s Next?”

The Initiative Leadership Team will begin planning our next steps as we look towards 2020. We will be meeting with the architect next week to finalize our conceptual drawings. The architect will then develop our construction drawings. Once those are completed, we will begin work with the city of High Point to get project approval, and then bid out the campus renovation project to the at least three contractors. Those bids will provide hard numbers for actual construction / renovation costs.

In early January, the elders, Initiative Leadership Team, and finance teams will begin working together to outline how to prioritize each element of the everyONE initiative. The ministry plan (i.e., budget) is always priority number one. What we do week in and week out for the sake of the gospel will never take a back seat to the other elements of the initiative (campus renovation and debt elimination).

Here’s how the One Fund works:

  • The first fruits of our weekly offering will go toward our ministry plan. For example, if our weekly ministry plan requires $30,000 to meet our operational and ministry expenses, and we receive an offering of $37,000, the first $30,000 will go towards our ministry plan, and $7,000 will be put in reserve to be applied to the other priorities in the everyONE initiative.
  • We will build our reserves on a weekly basis and prioritize our needs based on how leadership has determined what our next steps should be.
  • We could conceivably begin campus renovations in summer 2020, depending on the availability of contractors, financial status and reserves, etc.
  • Lord willing, at the end of 24 months, we will have funded a two-year ministry plan, revitalized our campus meeting spaces, and completely retired our debt (including the costs of the campus renovation).

This is an incredibly exciting time to be a part of this family of redeemed sinners called Community Bible Church. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us. I can assure you we haven’t even conceived of everything he has planned to do!

More Than We Can Imagine

Three wishes. What would you ask for if you could be granted three wishes? In the movie Alladin, he asked the genie to make him a prince and save his life. For his final wish, he asked that Genie be set free to live a life outside the confines of his magic lamp. It can be fun to ponder what you would ask for if you could have anything your heart desired.

Think of your most extravagant thought. Think of something beyond your wildest dreams. No matter how creative your imagination is, and no matter how insatiable your appetite for pleasure might seem, there is still a limit to what you are able to conceive. There are boundaries around what you imagine happiness and fulfillment could be. There’s a limit to what you can comprehend.

But God does not have the same limitations you and I do. For the past several months I’ve been meditating on Ephesians 3:20-21:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

God is able to do far more abundantly than what we’ve asked him to do. He is able to do immeasurably more than what we think. There are no boundaries or limitations to his power and work. God knows no earthly boundaries that can confine or confound the work he is pleased to do through the church. Nothing and no one can prevent him from fulfilling his best plans and purposes for his children.

Did you notice where his immeasurable work is accomplished? It is accomplished “within us”. The immeasurable, inconceivable, incomprehensible, unmatched work of God isn’t accomplished as an outside force or power imposed upon us. It is the power of God at work from within us as the presence of Christ dwells in his people (Ephesians 1:13, 3:14-19).

God, who has overcome our weakness and sin and rebellious hearts, who has redeemed us by faith through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who ensures our endurance through the trials of this life by the power of his Spirit, is capable of far more than we can ask or imagine. Think about it. Who of us thought the latter was possible? Who of us, at our conversion, were as confident in God’s power to set us free from the slavery of our sin, as we are today? We can testify of God’s power to do for us more than we imagined him doing when we first met him by faith in Jesus. He’s done great things in our lives that we never imagined, and perhaps didn’t even ask him to do.

We have every spiritual blessing we need in Christ, and yet, in our experience of Christ, we’ve only scratched the surface of the reality that is promised to us by faith in Christ. God is not just able to do more than we can ask or imagine. Because God’s goal is great glory for himself and our great joy in his glory, he is going to do more than we think to ask or imagine. He understands we are far too easily pleased and distracted because there are limits to what we can imagine. C.S. Lewis speaks to limits on our imaginations in his sermon, “The Weight of Glory”:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Here’s the thought that has consumed me in recent weeks: we are not asking enough of God. While I can’t wait to share with each of you stories about what God has done and will continue to do in our church in recent weeks in the everyONE Iniatitive, I can’t escape the haunting thought that we’re asking God to do far less than we should be asking him to do. I truly believe he has more for us. More transformation. More discipleship. More freedom. More impact in our city and around the world for the glory of his name.

Will you consider joining me in asking God to help us dream big for Jesus beyond the limits of our imagination? I want a more audacious faith. I want a boldness before God that shamelessly asks him to make Ephesians 3:20-21 real at Community Bible Church. What I want is not more of God’s blessings. I want more of God. I want to know in ways I’ve yet to experience the fullness of joy that is found in Jesus alone (Psalm 16:11). I want us to live full lives in his acceptance and embrace.

The Spirit Illuminates

I’m so excited about our new series titled “Holy Spirit”. If we are going to experience the fullness of God’s work in us as a family of redeemed sinners, it won’t happen apart from understanding and yielding to who the Spirit is and what the Spirit wants to do in each of us personally and our church corporately. The Holy Spirit makes Jesus real to us. The Holy Spirit awakens us to God and what He is doing all around us. The Spirit’s work is vast and vital.

In our message this coming Sunday, we are going to explore three elements of the Spirit’s work in our lives. But He does far more than just three things. I wanted to take just a few minutes to share with you one aspect of His work that we won’t be able to address this coming Sunday.

When I was a kid, I used to love catching lightening bugs (fireflies). How cool is a bug with a bulb on its backside? I recently read a fascinating story about the synchronous firefly, found only in a few places in the world. You can see this rare species with a short drive to the Allegheny National Park (Tennessee) or Congaree National Forest (South Carolina). These fireflies all light up at the same time. One spectator said it was like watching the Milky Way “flash on and then off”. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see the dark sky illuminated all at once by a hundred thousand fireflies showing of their glory in one spectacular mating ritual (that’s why they do it)?

To illuminate something is to “cast light on” or “make something brighter”. That’s what the Spirit does for us concerning the things of God. He enables us to see what we would not otherwise be able to see without His light.

Here’s what we often vastly underestimate about our capacity for God. We have no shot at understanding God or the gospel or what it means to follow Jesus apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. Paul speaks to this in 1 Corinthians 2:14:

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

The world – and we are all products of a worldly way of thinking as a natural person – has rejected the Spirit (John 14:17). Consequently, we cannot understand the things of God. Worldly wisdom rejects the wisdom of God revealed by the cross of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18). This is a by-product of our fallen, sinful nature. In addition, the Enemy blinds us to the beauty of God (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Without the Spirit giving us light, trying to understand spiritual things is like asking a newborn to do calculus. It’s beyond our reach. What this means practically is that our pursuit of God – through spiritual disciplines, by faith, in community – is always a spiritual journey.

We, of course, use our mind when pursuing God. But pursuing God is not only a pursuit of the mind or heart. The Spirit must turn the light on for us. The gracious work of God is to enable us to “see” the Kingdom (John 3:3; Acts 16:14; Ephesians 1:18; Rom 2:29; 2 Cor 3:15-16). The work of the Spirit is to dispel darkness and point us to Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Where we see Jesus most clearly is in God’s Word. The Spirit opens our deaf ears and blinded eyes to see the truth about God revealed to us in the Word of God. Intellect alone will not make us believe in God and follow Jesus. The Spirit must bring His beauty, truth, power, and love into the light and enable us to see it.

What does this mean for us practically as we seek to deepen our relationship with Jesus? It means (at least) two things:

  1. Embrace the reality that your relationship with Jesus requires supernatural intervention. You and I cannot – in our own strength, mental capacity, intellect – rightly understand the things of God. God certainly uses means of grace (prayer, Bible study, biblical community, suffering, etc.) to grow us in godliness, but none of those means of grace can be rightly applied or engaged in apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. So, we need to ask the Spirit to work through whatever means of grace God provides to make us more like Jesus.
  2. Ask God to open your eyes when you seek Him in the Word. The psalmist prayed, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). Every encounter with God in His Word should be preempted by a humble acknowledgement we are completely dependent upon God to rightly understand who He is in His Word. Ask the Spirit to show you God’s intended meaning for you that reaches far beyond the ink that forms the words impressed upon the pages of Scripture.

I’m praying we would all rightly discover more intimacy with God as the Spirit lights our path to show us the beauty and all-surpassing worth of Jesus.

Seeking the Spirit’s Illuminating Light Together,

Pastor Aaron

You Won’t Get All of Jesus Alone

Hebrews 11 is one of the more famous passages in all of Scripture. Some theologians have called Hebrews 11 the “hall of heroes” or the “hall of faith”. I think we identify with this chapter in the Bible because it’s about real people who walked with God by faith. In addition, Hebrews 11 doesn’t sanitize the Christian experience. Following Jesus is, at times, very difficult. And we see that in Hebrews 11. Some people were imprisoned, mocked, tortured and died for the sake of the gospel. Yet, they kept following Jesus by faith because they were certain of future reward and future grace found only in Jesus. They believed they were promised a “better possession and an abiding one”.

One of the more interesting things about Hebrews 11 is that there is an incompleteness to our experience of Christ by faith apart from the community of faith. The author says that though Abraham, Moses, David and others were “commended through their faith” (11:39), they did not receive the fullness of what they were hoping for in Christ. In fact, they could not receive the fullness of all that was promised to them in Jesus until you and I receive “something better for us” (11:40) – which is Christ himself. Notice how the author ends this chapter: “… apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

What is the author suggesting? He’s saying that we all share in Christ, but that our experience of Christ will be different in two ways. First, our experience of Jesus will not be equal. In Hebrews 11, some – by faith – conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched fire, escaped the sword, are made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight, and received back their dead (11:33-35a). But some are tortured, mocked, imprisoned, beaten and murdered. Some Christians lose everything and die destitute.

There is an awful lot of comparing that happens in our world, and social media platforms only exacerbate the problem. What most of us see when we look at the lives of others is a highly idealized image of their actual reality. We don’t see people as they are, but as they want us to see them.

Yet, the gift of biblical community created by the power of the gospel is a context where people can be known as they are, not as we wish, or even they wish themselves to be. Living in community offers us the opportunity to see and experience first-hand the truth that the inequity in our life experiences is not a sign of forsakenness by God, but merely a different expression of our experience of Christ. The saints in Hebrews 11 who lost everything were no less loved that the saints who stopped the mouths of lions. Yet, unless the hungry, naked, and forsaken among us are walking with Jesus in community, they might be tempted to believe their circumstantial misfortune is evidence of God’s indifference, or worse yet, his punitive wrath.

Our experience of Jesus will also be incomplete apart from following Jesus in a community (i.e., what we call the local church). Notice how the chapter ends again. The Hebrews 11 saints were incomplete and imperfect apart from our faith. Our salvation is perfected through the community of faith. This means that you will not grow in maturity in Christ as you should apart from rooting your life deeply among the community of believers (i.e., the local church).

Individualism is not a biblical concept. In fact, individualism is an idol. It teaches us to be self-centered and self-focused without any consideration for others. Spiritual growth is not a personal and private matter. It’s a community project. That’s why the author says, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (10:24-25).

None of us has an equal experience of Christ by faith, but if we choose to try to walk with him alone, we will also face the deficit of an incomplete experience with Jesus. Our faith will be jeopardized, especially in trials, because we will not have anyone around us to remind us that despite the inequity of our experience in Christ, we are more than conquerors through Jesus who loves us and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:35-39).

I want to encourage you to look for intentional ways to live in community with other Christians as you talk about your experience with Jesus. This can happen organically over a cup of coffee, breaking bread together, and practicing hospitality by opening your home. But I also want to encourage you to connect with one another through groups at Community Bible. Consider being a part of Community Groups (sermon-based discussion small groups of 10-12 people) or D-Groups (same gender discipleship groups of 3-5 people that meet for 12-18 months) this fall. Sign up for an Equip Group this January – February. Or plug into a men’s (Tuesday mornings) or women’s bible study (coming this fall). Whatever you do, take proactive steps to engage others and share in your experience with Jesus for the sake of your maturity in Christ, as well as theirs.

Grace to You,

Pastor Aaron

The Strength of Gentleness

When you hear someone described as gentle or characterized by gentleness, what thoughts come to mind? The dictionary defines gentleness as kindness, meekness, mildness, even delicate. We tend to think of gentleness as a sign of weakness. Gentle people get walked over, taken advantage of, ignored. Most of us aren’t interested in that. Charles Swindoll once said in this age of rugged individualism, “we think of gentleness as weakness – being soft and virtually spineless.”

As such, gentleness doesn’t seem like an effective strategy to deploy when we experience relational conflict, disappointment or failure. And yet, Scripture points to gentleness as one of God’s most effective remedies to the relational mess we often make of our lives.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1)

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26)

“Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness with patience, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)

It is striking to me that God’s Word tells us to pursue gentleness in the most intense and complicated relational entanglements. In Galatians 6, Paul tells us to be gentle with those who sin against us and others. I usually retreat or retaliate. In 2 Timothy 2, he tells us to be gentle with argumentative, contrary, hostile, devil-influenced antagonists. I’m tempted to take them down with an articulate counter argument. In Ephesians 4, he tells us to demonstrate patient kindness with people we’re called to put up with for the sake of Jesus (meaning we might not have chosen this relationship of our own volition). I’m more likely to find a new friend group than put up with people who frustrate or annoy me.

Gentleness means to approach others (including our enemies) in a humble and caring spirit, not using force to get our way. Strong’s Greek Concordance defines gentleness as “exercising God’s strength under his control…demonstrating power without undo harshness.” When you consider that gentleness is the opposite of using force, coercion, manipulation, or power to get people to conform, we surprisingly discover that deploying gentleness as a strategy in conflict requires far more strength and self-control than we typically associate with gentleness.

Scripture is showing us that gentleness is one of the most beautiful other-centered expressions of love we can offer someone in a relationship. When we treat sinners with kindness, quarrelers with compassion, and annoying folk with patience, we are honoring the dignity of those made in the image of God. When we counter a heated exchange with calmness and peace, we seek to disarm the person who, in their anger or shame or disappointment or self-righteousness, might otherwise lose their mind if we matched their level of emotional turmoil and unrest.

Gentleness is not the releasing of strength in our relationships. It’s yielding to the strength of God through the power of his Spirit. I tend to make a mess when I try to navigate relational disappointments, conflicts and failures on my own. Things tend to escalate quickly. But that’s not what I should desire when I’m mired in a relational mess. I want things to de-escalate, not escalate. And the way towards nuclear disarmament in my relationships is through gentleness. Reserve and strength. Power and control. These are not words we typically associate with gentleness. Yet, the lives of the Spirit-empowered gentle ones are marked in this way.

Here’s my confession: I’m not a naturally gentle person. That probably doesn’t surprise some of you. But just in case there’s any question about it, gentleness is not one of my strong suits. I tend to use my words to gain power over people and situations (this is probably a weakness of most communicators). And my words are not always guided by the Spirit. I want them to be. They can be.

But I, like most, need to grow in this area. The Spirit’s purpose is to guide the way we access and leverage the power of God at work within us. One way he leverages it is through gentleness. So, even if the world thinks I’m weak for desiring to increase in gentleness, I’ll take being thought less of for seeking gentleness if it means being an advocate for peace and dignity in this relational mess we call life.

Looking to Jesus Together,

Pastor Aaron