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

A Work of Healing

Have you experienced the death of someone very near and dear to you, whether recently or in months or years ago and the grief seems still as strong as the day they died? Or do you seem to be in a prison of grief that you can’t seem to get out of? For some though there is guilt due to a lack of grief for the loss of a loved one. We all grieve differently and that is normal and ok. We all experience and respond to death in varied ways with varied results and consequences. Some have very delayed experiences of grief. One thing is for sure. We all grieve. And there are consequences due to the way(s) we handle and attempt to deal with our grief. Those consequences can be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.  Usually we experience a combination of problems and issues in these areas and not just one.

2014 & 2018 were very difficult years as I lost not only three very close companions in ministry but two of my closest and dearest friends Rob Black and Dave Annan. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I came to realize (as my sweet wife knows only too well) that I’m a “stuffer” when it comes to grief.  I want to help others and comfort and assist. But my own grief? It’s so easy to ignore the need to grieve while you are in the midst of comforting others. And so, I went on in the following months and even years not realizing I needed to grieve and do some work in my own life and soul, deep down. But God was gracious, kind and merciful.

Knowing that many in our congregation had experienced much of their own loss as well in the death of loved ones, the Lord put the ministry of GriefShare in my midst. It really resonated with me that this could be a help to many in our congregation who had lost loved ones and were struggling in their grief journey. So, in the fall of 2018 we launched our first GriefShare ministry and the 12 or so of us who were in that first group went down a road together that we’ll never forget. God met us in our grief, new friendships were forged, and God began a real work of healing in each and everyone of us. We cried, we laughed, we learned, we grew, we listened to each other’s stories and we began to heal. We are still healing and many of those in that first group will be there for this next group to continue healing and to be a blessing to others who are where they’ve been. Me included.

God began an amazing work in my own life in that first GriefShare group.  We’d like to invite any of you who are struggling, alone perhaps, to take a step of faith and courage, and join us on Thursday, September 12th @ 6:30pm in room C200 to be part of GriefShare. I promise you won’t regret it. I know the first step is hard but once you take that first step, I don’t think you’ll regret you did.

If you’d like more information on GriefShare click here to learn more and register. We do need you to register so we can make sure and have your personal workbook for you. You can also call me at 336-841-1104 and I’ll be glad to tell you more. I look forward to walking the journey with many of you.

Planting Seeds in a Hurricane

At the beginning of summer, I tried to set up a friendly, reading competition with my oldest boy. I wanted to keep his mind sharp and his nose in a book throughout the summer, so he would be ready for third grade this Fall.  We were going to see who could read a book a week for the duration of his summer break. There would be 9 weeks, with us taking a week off for our vacation. His books average 100 pages and mine are a couple hundred more than his. It seemed like a fair competition. 

The only problem is that my boy HATES to read. It is like pulling teeth to get him to do it. 

This week alone, he is supposed to read Chapter 4.  It’s 22 pages.  How long can that take him?!

But he has put it off and put it off. 

And now. He has consequences. 

No tablet. No TV.

Until his book is read.

And for an 8-year old, it’s the end of the world. And basically, the end of the world for my husband and I, too, because now our parenting really gets tested. 

As his Momma, I have been SO frustrated with him. “Just stop whining and pick up your book and READ.” “Just do it.”

Ugh.

And then the Holy Spirit gently pricks my heart.

I’m the same way.

When it comes to my Bible reading and time alone with God, I put it off and put it off. I let myself become distracted with everything else that I push my Bible reading to the side and don’t do it. I want to do SO many other things, than sit and read my Bible. 

Why is that?

  • I’m tired.
  • I’ve made other things a priority over my quiet time with the Lord.
  • I don’t love God’s Word.
  • I’m a sinner.

The truth is, we can’t live our lives for ourselves without consequences.

Same for my boy. Same for me. 

My boy has lost his tablet and TV time. I’ve lost my peace and joy and strength that comes from being in God’s Word. My brain is mushy, and I get emotional.  I don’t have right perspective on my circumstances or God’s character. I look to other things to bring satisfaction when my soul will only be filled through God and His Word. 

Spending time with the Lord is a choice. Same as my boy has a choice to obey or not, so do I. 

In the summer Bible study, Firmly Rooted, with Susan Black, she said, “being in God’s Word is like a marriage- there are not always fireworks, but we don’t pull away.”

Pastor Aaron prayed during our Leadership Meeting this week, “help us to fulfill our duties until our duties become joyful.”

Being in God’s Word often feels like a duty. There are not always fireworks or big “Ahh-ha!” moments.  But let’s not pull back. Let’s continue in our duty until our duty becomes our joy!

The beautiful part is that God is our Everlasting Father.  And unlike me, He is patient and long-suffering with us. He doesn’t grow tired or weary. He continues to work in our hearts to grow us and shape us into His image. Just as I feel like I’m planting seeds in a hurricane as I parent my boy, the same is true for God in my life- He’s planting seeds in the hurricane of my life.

If this is for you, if you are struggling to be in God’s Word- you’re not alone. I’m there with you.  But it’s not okay. We’ve got to make the hard choice.  Carve out time. Make God’s Word a priority. Let’s confess our sin to the Lord and safe people in our lives. Let’s invite others to hold us accountable. Let’s get into His Word and allow it to work in our lives.

Maybe I need no Instagram until my time in the Word. What about you?

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

Forgetful Hearts

Easter is my favorite time of year. I recently heard that according to the church calendar, Easter actually lasts for 50 days. I would like to propose that we all commit to wearing pastel colors and provide Cadbury eggs to the congregation during these days at CBC. Who do I need to speak to about that?  (Joking, joking…)

In all seriousness, Easter can splash by us like a rock skipping on a lake.   Many of us moved from praising our risen Lord in the morning to vacation mode or back-to-work-the-next-day mode in a matter of hours. As believers, we live in the shadow of Easter every day, but as we know, we are a forgetful people.  

The message of Easter is a familiar one to most of us, but still we move through it, here today gone tomorrow. The Lord knows that we are forgetful, and he reminds us to remember again and again, no matter how familiar the message. Peter tells us, “So, I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.” Not only does he give us his own Word so that we will always have the “remembering” at our fingertips and in our heart, he writes the story of Easter so our eyes can see it. I heard someone say last week, “Isn’t it beautiful how creation tells the Easter story over and over again?” Yes, it certainly is.

Some years ago, long before we moved into this house, someone planted a magnolia tree in our back yard. It’s a rare kind, according to my dad who knows about such things. When we moved in a few years ago, it quickly became my favorite view. It grew up tall and huge, shading the corner of our sun-room and perfectly hiding the unattractive corner where the air conditioning unit and coiled-up hose lived. 

However, apparently its glorious leaves and branches that I loved to see draped over the corner of my house were (not quite so gloriously) threatening to rub the shingles off the roof. One summer day last year, my husband casually mentioned that he was going to trim it back “because it’s brushing all over the roof.”

I headed out for the afternoon and this husband of mine—whom I will identify by his initials to protect his identity B(ert) W(ilson)— killed my tree. All that remained was a sawed off fat stick in the ground with spiny looking angry branches that poked out from its once beautiful form. I sputtered and stared and may have gotten a few tears in my eyes and said (yelled), “What have you DONE to my tree?? You killed it!”

“Of course I did!  It was destroying the roof, Shannon!”

For the past year I have stared bleakly in the direction of my once beautiful tree, hating the stumpy spiny thing that remained, lonely for its previous shape and health and life and shade. A few weeks ago I walked out onto my porch and sat down facing the used-to-be-tree. The tree that was dead. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Out of the spiny hideous poking remains bloomed the most pristine, perfect white flowers. My dead tree (indeed, dead!) was suddenly gloriously bursting with life. 

I stared and then cried as this tree proclaimed the story of Easter to me. It shouted it with flitters of joy in the petals of those flowers. “Remember Jesus!” It said. “Remember the good news!” And I did. I remembered that his body was once dead. Dead! His body was ruined, crushed, destroyed, pierced, buried behind the rock and sealed in death…. until LIFE burst forth where there was no life. This is the resurrection story of my Jesus written on the white bursts of life on that tree. Before my very eyes. 

I love Easter and I loved celebrating here at CBC among our body. I love that one week later I sat and thought of that magnolia tree again as Pastor Aaron painted the picture of my heart- our hearts. Dead. Without life. No thready pulse, no shallow breath indicating life. No life. 

“You (me, us!) were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ!”

Because of HIS life bursting forth that Easter morning, our hearts that were dead can burst to life.

We heard from Ezekiel the prophet that it is the LORD who does this. HE washes us with clean water so we can be clean. HE cleanses us from all our idols.  He gives us a new heart and a new spirit. HE doesn’t just give our old heart a jolt, he removes it (as it was dead and made of stone!) and puts a new soft heart within us —  one that will love the Lord our God. One that will  mark us as a child of God. One that was bought for us with the blood of his Son. 

And into the world we go with our new hearts pumping the life of Christ in our veins. No longer are we followers of the course of the world and the prince of the power of the air, but we are followers of our Jesus who died and gave himself for us. 

So, Happy Easter (again and still), brothers and sisters of Community Bible Church.  It is a joy to walk with you in the newness of life. Let’s be on the lookout for the story of Jesus as creation proclaims it in these weeks and tell others what we see! 

Growing & Changing

You can teach an old dog new tricks.

You are never too old to grow and change.

I’m so glad those sayings are indeed true! The question before us today is are we growing and changing more and more into the likeness of our Savior, Jesus Christ? If you examine the Scriptures, you see quickly that there were those who were committed to staying exactly the way they were and those who were seeking to be conformed more and more to what God had called them to be in Christ. Some examples of the first group would be the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. . . the Sadducees and the Pharisees. They knew it all, or at least they thought they did, and were rock solidly cemented and committed to not changing. Unfortunately, though, they were committed zealously to a wrong understanding of the Scriptures.

But God has called us, as His sons and daughters to become more and more like His Son Jesus. We are to be conformed to His image. To walk in His ways. . . His heart. . . His thoughts and desires as opposed to ours.  In effect, Jesus has called us to a lifestyle of surrender.  Jesus said in Luke 9:23-24, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it”.  For the Christian, this is called the process of progressive sanctification and it is hard work.  The words process and progressive imply that this new life is ongoing.  There should be growth, development and change. It is a process and it is progressive. Just as a seed grows from underneath the ground and begins to break through the soil a change takes place. There is a seed, then a sprig, then a sprout, and on and on until we have a fully developed plant producing a flower or a fruit. 

Similarly, we’ve all heard about the process a butterfly goes through. It must work at and labor to get out of the cocoon.  The work of struggling to get out of the cocoon is actually what finishes the growth process for a butterfly.  I recently heard a story of a man who saw a butterfly struggling to get out of a cocoon and “helped” it get free.  The problem was, the butterfly couldn’t fly because his process was intercepted by the “help” being offered.  His wings were not fully developed and eventually died.  Sometimes the pain and agony of walking with Christ is what helps us grow and develop our spiritual muscles.  Our culture today, and I include in that our church culture at large, doesn’t think that way, but too often thinks of the fast food model.  I want it now.  Instant gratification.  Instant spirituality.  Instant growth. That’s not the way of Jesus or the Bible.

In contrast, Paul uses language like. . .  “pressing on” . . .  “straining forward” (Philippians 3:12-14) or “run” . . . “strict training” . . . “beat my body and make it my slave” . . . (I Corinthians 9:24-27). 

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

God gives grace in abundance for the living of the Christian life.  Even though we are to put forth effort in the process of sanctification, it is never to be done so in an attitude of independence, as if we can accomplish anything on our own.  It is only as we act and move in dependence on the Holy Spirit, that we can ever grow personally or be effective in ministering to others.

So, in complete dependence on the Holy Spirit, strive to grow and walk with the Lord in faithfulness and obedience. His grace is sufficient for such a task! If you are wondering, “Ok, JE, that all sounds great, but just exactly how do I grow and change?”.  If that’s you, give me a call! I’d love to get with you and talk about that more in depth.

Jon Eric Woodward

Pastor for Congregational Care & Worship Arts