It’s OUR Fight

On May 25, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, after a deli employee called 911, accusing him of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived at the scene, Mr. Floyd was unconscious and pinned beneath three police officers, showing no signs of life. Shortly thereafter, George Floyd was pronounced dead.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Silence about the 8 minutes and 46 seconds it took to end George Floyd’s life is not an option. Silence about ignoring the appeals of a man pleading for his life as he gasped out the words “I can’t breathe” is inexcusable.

But what words appropriately communicate the gravity and universal threat of the grotesque abuse of power? What words cut through the man-generated, sin-corrupted political and cultural fog that minimizes God’s concern for justice, mars the dignity of all people made in God’s image, and fuels our tribal instincts?

George Floyd’s death is an unspeakable tragedy. It is a ruthless miscarriage of God-given authority. He died at the hands of a man who betrayed his oath to protect and serve the most vulnerable. Floyd’s death is the exclamation point on decades of unjust treatment of people of color in America.

It’s now been ten days since George Floyd died. Ten days of sorrow, anger, repentance, rage, protest, violence, and conversation. It’s been ten days for some of us. But for others, these ten days have been a painful reminder of a history on repeat, tragically manifesting the sins of the past in the present. Will it ever end?

As the white pastor of a predominantly white church with predominantly white friends who outnumber my relationships with people of color by an embarrassing margin, no matter how hard I’ve tried to place my focus on my African American friends and understand what they must be feeling right now, I keep coming back to a thought that applies primarily to my white friends and acquaintances.

Do we even know why African Americans are angry? Seriously. Do we really know? I thought I did. I’m not sure I do. But I can assure you that we’ll never know as long as we assume we know. We’ll never know unless we listen more than we talk. We’ll never know until we become advocates instead of bystanders.

These words are risky. I know they may be received or interpreted as political. Too often when ideas – even true and good ideas –  are politicized, they become controversial and divisive. Everything today is political, which is to say that everything is polarizing. Meaningful, honest, sincere, other-focused dialogue is hard to achieve these days. 

I’m not being “political”. I can say that because racism isn’t a political issue. Racism is a heart issue, and that makes it a gospel issue. And only God can change the heart.

Talking about racism is inherently controversial because it is personal and painful. But Jesus did not come into the world to ultimately deliver us from difficulty and controversy. He came to work redemption in each of us by sustaining and empowering us to overcome that which separates us from God and one another.

In one month, I’ll be 46 years old. George Floyd was less than a year older than me. Did he even know he was making a purchase with what might have been counterfeit money? Has that ever happened to me without knowing it? I wonder, if that was me buying cigarettes (or Gatorade or donuts or any other number of things one might purchase at a convenience store), with my white skin and socio-economic favor, if that same deli employee would have called 911 on me? Or would he simply have given me the benefit of a doubt?  How many counterfeit bills are in circulation? Did you buy that Starbuck mocha latte with real currency?

I didn’t know George Floyd. But a brother I didn’t know died that day. I’m moved by Barnabas Piper’s words as he reminds us of how interconnected we all are to that fateful day.

                It is your brother who was killed when his neck was kneeled on

                And your brother who killed him

                And your sisters and mothers who mourn him

                And your sons who rage with brick in hand

                And your sons adorned in riot gear and wielding weapons

                Christ loves sinners.

                Christ loves justice.

                Christ loves the oppressed.

                Christ loves black.

                Christ loves white.

                So we do not get to choose a side

                We do not get to choose whether to love

                Or care or be involved

                If we are in Christ

                Then we must be as Christ.

My brother died, and my brother killed him. And my family is grieving. Grief and loss have made me intentionally circumspect with my words. I know I’ll be weighed and measured by them.

So many words are being spoken by so many. Side-choosing words. We’re all tempted to do that. But don’t forget. If we belong to Jesus, we don’t get to choose a side.

We don’t speak to choose sides. We speak to mourn. We speak to advocate for the oppressed and afflicted. We speak to communicate, “You are not alone.” We speak to “be as Christ”.

Our words matter. Scripture is clear about this. Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us there is a time to speak. God’s people must speak up and plead the widow’s (or any other disenfranchised or marginalized person) cause (Isaiah 1:7). Psalm 82:3-4 tells us to “give justice to the weak…maintain the right of the afflicted…rescue the needy…[and] deliver [the oppressed] from the hand of the wicked.”

Nine days after George Floyd’s death I spoke on the phone with an African American brother about what he was feeling and how I could support him. His first words straining through the cracks in his voice: “I’m tired.” There have been too many stories like George Floyd’s. And if things don’t change, there will be more. God, have mercy. Please make it stop.

This tragedy, and much of the unrest occurring in response to Floyd’s murder, is a sin issue. And the gospel is, without a doubt, the ultimate resolution to this sin issue (and every other sin issue in the world).

But the gospel is, as Piper said, “a summons, a call, a command”. As the church, we are called to lay down our lives for others, to love our enemies, and to pursue a life in Christ Jesus where there is no Jew or Gentile, no black or white, no male or female, but a life displaying we are all one through faith in Jesus. God isn’t just in the business of saving souls. Jesus has come to redeem structures. He comes to make all things new.

For too long the evangelical white church has been content to say (explicitly or implicitly) to our black brothers and sisters, “This is your fight.” One reason there has not been more progress toward racial equality in America since the Civil Rights movement is because white evangelical churches were content to stay on the sidelines. We told black Christians, “This is your fight.” But it’s not their fight. It’s our fight. We are the Body of Christ, and each of us members of it. If one part suffers, we all suffer with it (1 Corinthians 12).

My friend went on to say, “I’m tired of sucking it up. I want someone else to stand up.” And by someone else, he meant people like me. And you. He said, “I need my white brothers to say, ‘I got this.’”

I confessed to him that I don’t know what that looks like. I’m not entirely sure how to stand with him. But I don’t want him to fight alone. Not anymore. And I’m so thankful to be a part of a church where I’m confident that many of you feel the same way.

It’s our turn to share the weight of this. Our fight is not a political or cultural fight. We aren’t choosing those kinds of sides. We’re choosing the side of valuing life in all its colors because God has made all men in His image. Father, please show us how and where we can be the hands and feet of Christ to the hurting people of color – especially African Americans  – all around us.

Pastor Aaron

Should We Take Communion During “Church at Home”?

Social distancing and government-imposed shelter at home orders have contributed to the loss of many things we have long taken for granted: coffee dates with friends, greeting one another with hugs, 3-on-3 pick up basketball, and more. This week we were having some work done in our kitchen, and when the contractor introduced me to one of his employees, I instinctively extended my hand for a handshake. Even that’s a loss, albeit small. Not every loss we feel is devastating, but the mounting accumulation of social and cultural losses incurred by the coronavirus feels overwhelming.  

Congregational life at Community Bible has certainly changed over the past six weeks. We have had to pivot to a new way of gathering to receive the Word and prayer. Those who used to hide their voices in the 350+ person congregational “choir” (that we call congregational singing) are now in the spotlight as living room duets, trios, and quartets. Worship at home is quite different than what we are accustomed to. We are in new territory as a faith community.  

One lost element of worship gathered over the past 6 weeks is the monthly observance of Communion. Communion is an important part of our worship gathered experience because of what it expresses: it visibly expresses our inner treasuring of the infinite value and beauty of Jesus Christ who loved us and gave his life for us. Communion, which mimics the final meal our Lord ate with his disciples, is an act of worship (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23).  

Our inability to gather in person for corporate worship has created a dilemma: should we observe communion as a part of our online “Church at Home” worship experience? The act of observing Communion would be simple enough. All you need is a little grape juice (or wine if you please), bread, and cue in the service letting you know the right time to eat and drink.  

The execution of Communion would be simple enough. But there are, at least in my estimation, some theological considerations.  

  1. It’s not sin, in extraordinary situations like this, to refrain or “fast” from the practice of the Lord’s Table, just as it is not a sin to refrain from gathering together physically (Hebrews 10:25) during a public health crisis in submission to government authorities.  
  1. The Lord’s Table is a New Covenant meal for the gathered church. In 1 Corinthians 11, which provides explicit instructions about the Lord’s Supper, five times Paul says, “…when you come together…”. Communion ordinarily involves a physically gathered church, a group of people from different households, in an act of physical sharing of one broken loaf and a cup of win. You could argue that a physical gathering is essential for observing the Lord’s Table rather than optional.  
  1. The Lord’s Supper is not intended to be a feasting of the individual before God only. It is a meal shared with the body of Christ. There is an important vertical and horizontal element involved in the Lord’s Supper. The horizontal element of taking Communion is why Paul writes, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29).  
  1. The Lord’s Table expresses the value of Christ in three ways, and at least one of these ways requires an “audience”. Communion is an opportunity for us to remember Christ. The meal reminds us of who He is and what He has done for us.  

Communion is also opportunity for us to be nourished spiritually by Christ. There is a holy mystery in how God is present in the Table. This is what Paul has in mind when he says we “participate” in the body and blood of Christ through this meal (1 Corinthians 10:16). When we say, in faith, “By this meal I am nourished by you, by this cup I share in the grace you have bought for me”, and as we do this over and over with longing and conviction, Christ nourishes us spiritually.  

But it is the last expression of the value of Christ that matters supremely for this discussion. At the Lord’s Table we proclaim Christ. We proclaim his death (1 Corinthians 11:26), and we are meant to proclaim it to and over one another. This is difficult in a virtual setting, just as congregational singing (which we are commanded to do in Scripture) is difficult in a virtual gathering. You may know other people are present, but you cannot hear them or see them. Hearing and seeing one another makes the incarnational reality of God coming close to us more concrete. And when we take the elements together, we also experience Christ embodied in the physical gathering of His people.  

You have probably noticed that we have not observed Communion since the government-imposed regulations on the size of corporate gatherings. Our present situation raises all kinds of questions for how we “do” church during a public health crisis. But the fact that we have not observed Communion recently is mostly because we are still sorting through whether we should observe Communion in the present ministry environment. We are still working through the issue as an Elder Council, weighing what Scripture says about the Lord’s Table with practical consideration and present needs. In fact, if you want to read an excellent article on why we perhaps should offer communion during this time, this is a good one.  

Please pray for us as we wrestle with these important questions:  

  • Does the setting for Communion matter?  
  • Is virtual connectedness the same as physical connectedness?  
  • Would observing Communion in an online format negatively reinforce our already highly individualized worldview?  
  • Do the actual elements matter (would a bagel and coke work just as well)?  
  • Does who administers Communion matter?  
  • When should we make exceptions to our normal practice? For example, we often offer Communion to shut-ins. Why is our current situation different? Is it different?  

As we labor over these questions, let me ask you a question. What good work might God do if we wait to feast until we are together again? The longer we are apart, the more our distance should create greater longing for the physical realities of worship gathered and a feast around the Table. Our inability to gather in person to worship our Savior is a tragic loss. We should grieve that loss. Yes, be thankful for technology. But also lament that “Church at Home” is not the same as worship gathered on campus at Community Bible Church. “Church at Home” is not better than gathering together face-to-face (Hebrews 10:25).  

We live in an age of instant gratification. The easy thing to do in times like these would be to say, “This isn’t ideal, but it’s the best we can do.” And maybe the answer to the Communion conundrum is to take the less than ideal route. That may be where we land. But too often we make the mistake of thinking that if we can make something happen, we ought to make it happen.  

It is hard to be okay with loss. We want to offer as much comfort to people during this time of hardship as we can. But it is also okay to grieve loss and not rush to find a substitute for the real thing. It is possible God might use the waiting – even waiting to take Communion – to increase our desire for the real thing.  

Grace to You, 

Pastor Aaron  

Can a True Christian Lose their Salvation?

In Sunday’s message we explored what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit from Matthew 12:22-32, where Jesus heals a demon-oppressed man, and the religious leaders attribute Jesus’ power to the work of demons. We learned that blaspheming the Spirit is settled opposition or resistance to God in the heart. The drift towards final rejection of Jesus is revealed when we attribute God’s transforming work to someone or something other than God or question Jesus’ power to change circumstances or people. This miraculous healing is accounted for in three of the four Gospels (see also Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10). Each account has different audiences (Pharisees in Matthew, scribes in Mark, and disciples in Luke). In each account, Jesus does not say that the audience has blasphemed the Spirit, but rather that unbelief sets a person’s life on that trajectory.

If you haven’t heard the message, I encourage you to check it out. Following the message, I had a couple of people ask me if I was suggesting that a true Christian could blaspheme the Spirit and lose their salvation. While I had hoped I was clear on this point, I thought it would be wise to answer this question with as much clarity as possible.

The answer to this question biblically is a clear, resounding, emphatic “no”. A true Christian cannot lose their salvation. There are several verses that gives us this assurance. In 1 John 5:11, John writes, “This is the testimony that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” God gives us eternal life – not temporary life – by faith. This promise is confirmed in Romans 8:30. Paul writes, “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Notice the progression. The predestined are called, the called are justified, the justified are glorified. There is no uncertainty here. God’s work of salvation will be brought to completion in us by faith (see Philippians 1:6). In 1 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul writes, “Jesus Christ will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Those who are truly in Christ will finish the race set before them.

How, then, do we reconcile the reality that we cannot lose our salvation with the warning Jesus gives about not blaspheming the Spirit? This isn’t the only warning offered to true believers in Scripture. There are multiple references in the New Testament where Christians are warned against willful sin against God. Hebrews 6 and 10 could give you the impression that a Christian can lose their salvation. The Apostle John also dealt with these issues in 1 John. He actually tells us that he wrote 1 John to help assure the believers of their standing in Christ (“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” [5:13]).

The person who has blasphemed the Spirit is either unwilling or unable to repent. They have no desire for God, no interest in spiritual things, and nothing but contempt for Jesus and the Spirit’s work in their lives. But the life of a true Christian is a life of repentance and belief. Not just one-time repentance and faith, but a daily posture of repentance and faith. If you have that posture and desire, you can’t blaspheme the Spirit.

Someone who is truly in Christ will not remain in a willful state of defiance against God. In fact, that’s John’s point in 1 John. He writes, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6). Henry Alford says this about blaspheming the Spirit (the unpardonable sin): “It is not a particular species of sin which is here condemned (like, oh have I done that one thing?) but a definite act showing a state of sin, and that state a willful determined opposition to the present power of the Holy Spirit; and this as shown by its fruit, blasphemy.” Did you notice the key? Willful determined opposition.

A true Christian may experience a season of disobedience. But he or she will not remain there. He or she will not set up long-term camp in a life of disobedience. We can grieve the Spirit and quench His work in our lives, but a true Christian cannot and will not dig his or her heels in the dirt in opposition to the Spirit’s work. God’s Spirit will lead them to repentance. Our very repentance is evidence of God’s mercy to awaken us to our need and set us back on course in our faith.

We must remember that the evidence of our faith is not merely a past decision or past act of faith. Many believers have a false assurance of salvation because the basis of their hope (confession of faith as a child) is not matched but an active, vibrant, present pursuit of Christ. Our salvation is revealed as much by the present expression of faith and repentance as past expressions of faith and repentance. If a person has a kind of hardness of heart that sees Jesus as true, but willingly walks away from his influence, authority, and work in their lives, they are on a perilous trajectory spiritually.

This is why the Holy Spirit warns those on the edge of danger: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95:7-8; Hebrews 3:7-8).

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.