Growing In Grammar = Growing In Jesus

What we believe determines how we behave. Even secularists know this is true. This axiom is a foundational belief in therapeutic and behavioral counseling. Our thoughts are catalysts for self-perpetuating cycles in our lives. If you think you are a failure, you will act like a failure. If you act like a failure, it reinforces the idea that you are a failure.

What we think about – meaning what we value, what we focus on, what we meditate one, what we turn over in our minds throughout the day – either unlocks the door to despair and the unending cycle of failure and defeat, or it unlocks the door to experiencing the power and freedom promised to us in the Gospel of Jesus.

In our Chasing Glory series two weeks ago, we learned that freedom from the paralyzing grip of sin begins with a grammar lesson, knowing the difference between an indicative and an imperative (Colossians 3:1-4). A gospel indicative tells us what Christ has done for us. A gospel imperative calls us to gratitude-filled, Spirit-enabled obedience to God as a response to what God has done and who God has made us in Christ.

We saw this clearly in Colossians 3:1-4, but let’s examine it in another passage of Scripture. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul writes,

“I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

There are three commands (imperatives) in the text. Two are stated positively, and one is stated negatively. Do you see them? (Stop reading. Take just a minute to see if you can find them on your own).

Alright, back to group work. The three commands are “present your bodies as a living sacrifice…”, “do not be conformed…” and “be transformed…”. What God is calling us to do is clear, right? Offer your life as worship to God. Be transformed by the renewal of your mind (i.e., seek and set your mind on things above).

But these commands are predicated on what God has done. Did you see how Paul is calling us to obedience by grounding it in the work of God in the Gospel? Take a look at the text again. What are we to build our lives upon? Why are we being urged to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice? Where does the power to have a transformed mind come from?

Paul says, “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God…”. What are the mercies of God? Well, Paul has spent eleven chapters leading up to chapter twelve explaining the mercies of God revealed to us in the Gospel. The mercies of God are:

  • The power to save everyone who believes in Jesus (1:16)
  • God who justifies the ungodly by faith (4:5)
  • Access into the grace of God by faith (5:2)
  • The hope of life change through the power of the Holy Spirit (5:4-5)
  • The promise of redemption through one man, Jesus Christ (6:18)
  • No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (8:1)
  • The power of the Spirit to put sin to death in our bodies (8:13)
  • Purpose in our suffering (8:18)
  • The Spirit interceding for us in our weakness (8:26)
  • The promise that nothing will separate us from God’s love (8:38-39)
  • The certainty that God will save people from every tribe, tongue, and nation (9-11)

The motivation to offer our entire lives to God as an act of worship is predicated upon the mercies of God. What we must do is motivated by what Jesus has done on our behalf.

Saint Augustine once said, “Lord command what you will and grant what you command!” God tells us what he wants us to do (i.e., live a life of worship), and he makes it possible by his mercy. When we obey God, not to seek his favor, but because we already have his favor in the Gospel, he grants us the power to do what he wills.

It’s my hope and prayer that as you grow in your understanding of the Gospel, you begin to see in increasing measure that all your hopes for life transformation begin and end in what Christ has done. It’s only then that we can “be transformed by the renewal of our minds”. Right thinking not only sees what is valuable (e.g., the Gospel). Right thinking values and treasures what is valuable.

What God values more than your obedience is anchoring all your hope to the redeeming obedience of his Son, Jesus Christ. And when your hope is rooted in Christ’s obedience as the only thing that gives you favor with and access to God, you will then find the Spirit energizing humble, God-honoring, Christ-centered obedience in your life, the kind of reflexive response to God that is “good and acceptable and perfect”, wholly pleasing to the will of God.

 

Seeking and Setting My Mind on Jesus With You,

 

Pastor Aaron

Confirming Our Standing Before God

Sam grew up in a Christian home. She placed her faith in Jesus at a young age, and she was baptized shortly thereafter. She learned more about following Jesus from her mom and her small group leader at church. She grew in her faith, and her zealousness for Christ was real. Her teenage years were rather mundane and uneventful, filled with normal teenage drama, athletic pursuits, and a yearning for more freedom than her parents allowed. Her social life primarily revolved around church activities and a small band of loyal girlfriends. All in all, her life was rather predictable: school, soccer practice, youth group, and sleep. Rinse, wash, repeat.

Upon graduation, she enrolled at a state university. She was excited about the change of scenery in her life, and she was looking forward to living to magnify Jesus as a young college student. She knew it would be challenging to live for Jesus while at college, but she felt well-equipped for the task.

More personal freedom resulted in less relational accountability. Her class load often derailed her attempts to spend time with Jesus in personal devotion and prayer. Sunday’s became a time to “catch up” on lost sleep. The faith of her youth was regularly questioned, discounted, and at times, even mocked. Professors and classmates alike ridiculed the “simple-mindedness” of her “blind faith”, especially in dialogue about science versus faith. On campus, most people agreed that religion was a social invention for the weak-minded, and Christianity was a particularly annoying superstition. Untethered from the friendships of her youth and the godly influence of faithful Christian adults, Sam’s faith began to waver. Before she even knew what hit her, her de-conversion was well underway.

By the time Sam graduated, she was living as a functional agnostic. She had not renounced the faith of her youth, but nor did she live as though Jesus was real and relevant to her life. She wasn’t an atheist in the truest sense of the word. She still “believed” in God, but she no longer saw his relevance to her life on everyday matters. She didn’t pray, read her Bible, or attend church, well, except when she was home for the holidays. When momma said, “We’re going to church,” everyone went to church.

If Sam stays on this trajectory, what would you say about her faith? Is it real? Is she a Christian? When she dies, will she go to heaven?

Sam’s story isn’t unfamiliar to most of us. We all know people like Sam, even though the details of their lives may be different. We know people who have professed faith in Jesus, walked with him by faith for a season, but then at some point in their lives their confession of faith becomes irrelevant. They don’t live to make much of Jesus, their lives don’t bear any significant spiritual fruit. I guess the best way to assess the situation is to ask, “What confirms a person’s standing with God?”

1 John was written to answer this question. 1 John is an interesting book because, if you’ve ever read it, it’s the kind of book that can make you wonder whether you are really a Christian. But John didn’t write this letter to stir up doubt in our hearts. Quite the opposite. He wrote it to “you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (4:13). John wants us to have assurance that our faith is real, that we belong to God, and that when the last chapter of our life is written, we will dwell with God forever as his people (Rev 21:3).

In 1 John 2:19, John writes, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” Who is this group of people? These are confessing believers who have left the church and functionally abandoned their faith. And it’s clear in John’s writing that this is a painful event for the church, and their departure has raised the issue of eternal security and assurance.

We feel this tension, right? We know people who once walked with Jesus who aren’t walking with him now. We feel concern for them, but we aren’t sure how concerned we should be about their spiritual state. We find some measure of hope from Bible passages that tell us no one can snatch us out of Jesus’ hand when we trust him by faith for our salvation (John 10:27-28). We find reassurance as Paul promises that God will glorify (finally save) the one he justifies (Rom 8:30) and God will finish the work he starts in us (Phil 1:6). How do we interpret 1 John 2:19 in light of these promises?

John isn’t contradicting other parts of the Bible. God himself is committed to keeping his own sheep and preventing them from utterly forsaking him. But what John is telling us is that those who truly belong to Jesus will not ultimately and finally depart from the faith. He is saying that because they left the church / faith, they are showing themselves never to have been in Christ in the first place. If a person forsakes the faith, that person was never really a part of the flock.

This, of course, raises another question in the text: “If some of our church leaders can abandon the faith and be lost, then how do we know whose faith is genuine and whose faith is not? How can we be sure about ourselves?”

The answer is embedded in 1 John. For the sake of simplicity, here’s the false teaching in the church: you can be in Christ (i.e., have faith in Jesus), but that faith does not have to produce good fruit (i.e., good works). You can be a Christian and keep loving sin. They are saying you can enjoy assurance of standing sinless before God in righteousness and light, even if you walk in darkness (1:5-9), disobey God’s commands (3:6-9), and hate your brother (3:10). That’s the false teaching John is correcting. And this teaching, of course, isn’t consistent with what John, Paul, or Jesus taught.

What, then, does confirm our standing before God? How do we know we belong to Jesus by faith?

  1. Those who know Jesus Christ will obey his commands. John writes, “By this we know we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (2:3). If you know Jesus, your life will bear spiritual fruit. Not perfectly, but increasingly.
  2. Obedience to Jesus is where we gain assurance we belong to Jesus (see 2:3 again). Let’s go back to Sam again. What assurance do we have that Sam belongs to Jesus? Yes, we have her childhood confession of faith and baptism, but as long as Sam’s life is not being lived in obedience to Jesus, we have very little assurance she is genuinely in Christ. This isn’t to say Sam isn’t a Christian. It’s simply to say we cannot say she is a Christian with any measure of confidence based on the presenting fruit (or lack thereof) of her life. What we do know is that God disciplines his children, and if Sam is truly in Christ, God himself will work to bring her back into the fold (Heb 12:7-11).
  3. Finally, if say we belong to Jesus, then we should strive to see that our walk mirrors his own. Notice what John says in 2:5b-6: “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

Knowing Jesus gives rise to obedience. Here we see a connection between what John says and what we learned from Paul this past Sunday morning regarding perseverance or persistence in faith. Our spiritual “before” and “after” story is proven to be true “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister” (Col 1:23).

Fiercely fix your gaze on Jesus every day. Keep pursuing him in the power of the Spirit by walking in his ways and seeking to obey whatever he asks you to do this week. And as you see evidence of his grace in others, encourage their faith by telling them what you see of Jesus in them.

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?

A New Reference Point

All you have to say is November 22, 1963 or September 11, 2001, and everyone knows what you are talking about. The assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas and the collapse of the World Trade Center towers due to a terrorist attack on American soil are reference points by which many people judge or understand other events in life. They are historical markers that have defined two different generations. History, in some ways, has been divided by what life was like before and after these events.

The other day, I was sitting in our leadership team meeting with Josh, Jon Eric, Kim, Todd, and Haley, and the topic of conversation was some ministry challenge. Honestly, I don’t even remember what the topic was, but in the context of the conversation, the reference point – what we understood the situation by – were the events that happened at CBC almost four years ago. Our reference point was a tragedy – or maybe even a series of tragedies – from our past.

And then Pastor Josh said something that has just stuck with me ever since. He said, “We need a new reference point.” What he meant was, we need something new by which we judge or understand all the other events that are unfolding around us. I couldn’t agree more, Pastor Josh. The problem with allowing tragedy to be the reference point by which we understand everything else is that it fosters a victim mentality. But here’s the thing: by the grace of God, this family of redeemed sinners called Community Bible are not victims; we’re survivors.

As I’ve been pondering this idea, I’ve been wondering what Scripture has to say about reference points – events by which we understand everything else. Surely the Bible can help us embrace a new reference point. I desperately want God to do something new at CBC, and as I’ve been praying to that end, God keeps bringing a “survivor” from the Old Testament to mind.
If anyone had the “right” to play the victim card, it was Joseph. Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, which must have tested his patience tremendously. But he is given a good job in Potiphar’s house in Egypt. Then, when he is acting uprightly in the unplanned place of obedience, Potiphar’s wife lies about his integrity and has him thrown into prison — another great trial to his patience.

But again, things turn for the better, and the prison keeper gives him responsibility and respect. But just when he thinks he is about to get a reprieve from Pharaoh’s cupbearer, whose dream he interpreted, the cupbearer forgets him for two more years. Another painful trial to his patience.

I bet Joseph was struggling to figure out the meaning to these troubles. For many years, I bet the reference point for his view of God and the way God works and His character was attached to being betrayed by his brothers and unjustly imprisoned by his boss. He may have thought of God as mean, indifferent, capricious, and cruel. We can be guilty of the same thing, allowing life and ministry to be defined by the “bad”, rather than looking for God’s future grace and trusting in His good, wise, and loving purposes.

But then perspective comes, and what Joseph expresses reveals a robust confidence in God’s sovereign ability to triumph over sin, circumstances, and the scheming of spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as you are today (Genesis 50:20).”
Eventually the meaning of all the detours and delays in Joseph’s life became clear. Joseph is raised up to be a leader in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. And his leadership results in saving thousands of lives from starvation. He even ends up saving the lives of the very brothers who sold him into slavery.

Years of exile and abuse. Have you ever wondered what kept Joseph’s faith afloat? What gave buoyancy to his hope in God when the waves of despair came crashing down? Where did he find light when surrounded by darkness? Faith in God’s future grace and his ever-present goodness.

This story is in the Bible for several reasons:

There is One greater than Joseph, and Joseph points to him. Jesus was betrayed and forsaken, yet unlike Joseph, he was completely innocent of all wrong doing. Joseph was kind of a brat, boasting that he was his father’s favored son.

But Jesus was the sinless One. Just as the acts against Joseph were evil, the evil committed against Jesus was infinitely vile. Luke describes Jesus and his betrayal this way: “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:22-24).

God purposed to deliver up Jesus to lawless men, just like he did with Joseph. And in both cases, those who turned against them committed an act of evil. But God was working something greater in the detours they experienced.

This story is also in the Bible to give rise to faith in our lives, especially in times when we cannot see God’s hands because of the present detours and delays. I know that has been where we’ve been for several years.

But it’s time to stop focusing on the reference points we don’t understand – for Joseph it was slavery and prison – and instead looking ahead in faith to the God who redeems the unplanned places we find ourselves. It’s time we look to God who is faithful and willing for us to experience the fullest of joy, not only in heaven, but here and now, because He is with us.

Here is the key to developing a new reference point for ministry: believing God is working for our good (Rom 8:28), even when He takes us down the strangest and most unplanned roads to accomplish that good purpose in our lives.

We have survived unspeakable difficulty by the grace of God. We are still here because God is still writing our story and making us more like Jesus because of the story He is writing. I’m eager to see and experience what He is doing. I want us to be able to say with Joseph, “What the Enemy means for evil, You (God) have turned for our good and for your glory.”

God is on the move at Community Bible. The God who does great things has great things in store for us as we chase after Him. The psalmist says when we live life with reference to the power and pleasure of God, he will fill our mouths with “laughter, and our tongue[s] with shouts of joy” (Psalm 126:2).

I’m praying God will give us a new reference point by which we understand everything else He is doing through and around us. Will you join me in asking God to make that new reference point clear? Will you make that something you regularly and faithfully ask God to do?

Grace to You,

Pastor Aaron

Should We Rejoice or Weep?

Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” How is it that we can and should count death as something precious for those who are in Christ?
When a Christian dies, shall those of us who remain weep or rejoice? It is human nature to juxtapose joy and sorrow as mutually exclusive things. But as we remember, honor, and celebrate Pastor Dave Annan’s life, we should do so with simultaneous joy and sadness.

In Philippians 2:17, the Apostle Paul, who is writing from prison and from the possibility of his own death, pens these words: “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise, you should be glad and rejoice with me.” Paul poured out his life for the sake of the gospel so that others might experience redemption, forgiveness, and a new identity through faith in Jesus. His faithfulness to Jesus cost him his freedom. It also threatened to rob him of his very life. He was facing the real possibility of martyrdom.

Yet, Paul rejoices in his sufferings for Christ, knowing that as he pours out his life for the sake of Jesus, he will be one with Christ, who emptied himself to be obedient to death on a cross (2:8). Jesus does not ask of Paul what he is not willing to endure himself. In fact, Jesus laid down his life so that there would be meaning in Paul laying down his life for the sake of the Kingdom.

Paul’s joy is anchored to two realities: his union with Jesus by faith and how God was pleased to use his faithfulness to Jesus to bring others into God’s forever family. Paul is rejoicing at the prospect of his own death. In fact, he has already told us “to live is Christ, to die is gain” (1:21). Paul was ready to see Jesus face-to-face. Pastor Dave echoed a similar sentiment just a few days before his death. He said, “I can’t wait to see Jesus.”

And so, for similar reasons, we rejoice in the life and death of Pastor Dave Annan. Many people, especially children, know and love Jesus Christ because Dave faithfully helped aim their hearts at Jesus in worship, through teaching the Bible, and by laughing and having fun with them. He exuded joy and hope in Christ in the face of an agonizing, lengthy battle with cancer. He was one of the most affirming, kind, mischievous men I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. Dave often told me he was praying for me, but it was not until recent months that I realized and saw first-hand how committed he was to prayer. Even in his weakest moments, he would write out and draw prayers at his prayer station in his home, praying for me and for each one of you as the Spirit brought you to mind.

I rejoice in Dave’s life and death. He poured out his life for Jesus. He loved Christ, and he desperately wanted others to know Jesus as he did. I cannot think of Dave apart from feeling joy. And he is in the presence of Christ, experiencing the eternal joy of being with Jesus. How could I not feel joy at his present reality?

Yet, at the same time, I feel deep sorrow. Again, Paul is instructive here. I can feel great joy at Dave’s departure, while also feeling deep, intense sorrow. When writing about his partner in the gospel, Epaphroditus (2:25), Paul tells about how a significant illness almost took his life. He writes, “Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God (are there any greater words in the Bible for God’s ability and purpose to intervene in our lives when we need Him most?) had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (2:27).

The prospect of potentially losing Epaphroditus as a partner is gospel ministry was too devastating a possibility to entertain. Paul could not imagine adding the grief of losing Epaphroditus to his present sufferings and circumstances. Men who devote their lives to the gospel and work of Jesus are worthy of honor (2:29). They are great warriors (2:25) and ambassadors for the kingdom of God. They help bear the burdens of this earthly life, give us perspective when we doubt, love us with the love of Christ when we need comfort, and give us a sense of stability when everything around us feels uncertain.

The sorrow upon sorrow we bear in Pastor Dave Annan’s death is the sense that one who so often pointed the way to Jesus will no longer be present in this life to remind us of the greatness and sweetness of Christ. For so many of us, Dave has been a burden bearer, a prayer warrior, a jovial sidekick, a mischievous friend bringing laughter to our day, and a gospel-sharing God-fearer. We will miss him… dearly.

It is okay for us to shed tears. It is okay for us to feel an aching sorrow and acute sadness. Jesus has not yet destroyed every rule and every authority and every power (1 Corinthians 15:24). But that day is coming. That is certain. Very soon Jesus will deliver the Kingdom to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:25). He is – even now – putting all his enemies under his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Death has not had the final word in Pastor Dave’s life. He has never been more alive than he is right now. Because we know, for followers of Jesus, to be absent from the body is to be present with Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:8), we are full of joy for Dave. We cannot even imagine the beauty, wonder, and majesty he is experiencing right now. But we also feel great sorrow, for to be present with Jesus is to be away from us.

I thank God for Pastor Dave Annan. He was my brother in Christ, fellow gospel laborer, encourager and friend. I will miss him. I regret that I didn’t have more time to get to know Pastor Dave, as so many of you did. But I grieve with hope and joy. Since Jesus has been resurrected, all those who fall asleep in Christ will also one day be resurrected, and “we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Encourage one another with these words, dear redeemed sinners, “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (Colossians 3:12). May God give each of you grace upon grace as you grieve. Don’t hide your tears. Take them to Jesus. He cares for you, more than you can possibly imagine.

With Affection and Prayerful Intercession,

Pastor Aaron