Traditions, Liturgy, and Advent

Traditions

Do you have any Christmas traditions? Did your family have them when you were growing up? What were they? Take a moment to think about them. Are your memories of them fond? I bet you have more traditions then you think. Sometimes that which is normal to us becomes invisible.

I will give you one example from my own life. If you are a part of the Van Dyke family, then Christmas day had a very important tradition. It actually started the night before. My brothers and I would all sleep in the same room. We weren’t allowed to exit that room until the next day when we heard Christmas music – It always seemed to be Bing Crosby. When the music started playing, we would run down the hall towards the kitchen – it became a full contact sport as we got older and older- and there in the kitchen we would find glasses of orange juice. We would race to drink the glasses of orange juice and sit down. The first one finished and seated was the victor and the first to get to open a gift. No one quite knows how this tradition got started. It proceeded my brothers and me. And yet we all continue it with our own children to this day. You can say that in a weird and funny way, it marks us as a family.

The Christmas season is full of opportunities to make traditions, renew old ones, or borrow from others.

Liturgy

These traditions can be really important markers in our life. They can mark us as a family, a culture, or even as Christians. Within the church, these traditions have a special name – liturgy. A liturgy refers to the structure and ritual of a church service with a purpose to point us and others to God. Liturgies are the structures we use to formalize our worship. They are structures that are meant to teach us something, express something to others, and lead us into deeper worship. Some churches are more “liturgical” than others. Some denominations and churches have highly structured ways of worship. If you grew up in a highly structured church or “high” church, as it is sometimes called, then you will know what I am talking about. You may even balk at my mentioning them because all that form and structure stifled your worship.

But here is the problem. As James K.A. Smith talks frequently about, the problem is not in the form, structure, or liturgies themselves. The problem is how we use them.

Think about the Christmas traditions that we just talked about. I don’t think many of us would say that those rituals or traditions have stifled Christmas. Just the opposite. Those traditions marked us. They give us an identity as a family, part of an ongoing story. They form and inform our worship. As Paul David Tripp says, “worship is an identity before it is an activity.” We are made to worship, and we will worship something, and we will create structures for our worship, whether we know it or not.

Advent

Which brings me to my ultimate point: Advent. We are in the middle of this Advent season. You may or may not have noticed the candles upfront of the church, the special prayer, and the lighting of those candles these past two Sundays, but those are a part of the way we, as a church, recognize that we are in the Advent season. Advent means coming. Advent is the season leading up to Christmas. It starts 4 weeks before Christmas, so we already in the 2nd week of Advent.

Each week is marked by a different word – Hope, Love, Joy, Peace – or Bible reading. There have been more traditional ways of celebrating Advent with specific Bible readings, an Advent wreath, etc. Advent is a liturgy/tradition of the church and hopefully will be a liturgy in your family and your life.

Why?

Advent is a season of looking back- of remembering what God has done. Advent is about placing ourselves, as a community and family, in that part of history that looked towards the coming of Jesus, not back at it. It’s about connecting to what is being sung when we hear Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. Ponder these words from that great hymn

Come thou long expected Jesus

Born to set Thy people free;

From our fears and sins release us,

Let us find our rest in Thee.

Have you ever been to a jewelry store? If you have you know that they always display the diamonds on black velvet. They do that so that the brilliance and beauty of that diamond can be seen in its entirety. Advent is like that. It is about remembering the black velvet of Ephesians 2:1-3 (you were dead in your sins and trespasses…) so the diamond of Ephesians 2:4-10 (But God, being rich in mercy…) can shine bright.

That is Advent. A season of remembering the bad news so we can fully appreciate the glad tidings of great joy. We need Christmas. We need to celebrate better and with more joy than the world does. But we shouldn’t rush to the 25th without taking some time to remember what we are celebrating and why we are celebrating it. Advent is one of those liturgies, traditions, rituals, whatever word you like, that helps us see the weight.

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!

The Strength, Encouragement & Power of God’s Word

Isaiah 40:6-31 is an amazing passage of Scripture that is so encouraging, comforting, challenging and uplifting. Verses 6-8 remind us of the frailty of mankind in this life (compared to grass and flowers) and in contrast the eternity and the power of the Word of God. 

Verses 9-11 reveals that although our Sovereign God is all powerful (Omnipotence) and He rules justly, He also takes care of us like a shepherd tends and gathers His lambs.  He gently holds us in His arms, close to His heart. In addition, He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek and obey Him (Vs. 10b & Hebrews 11:6).

The word “who” is repeated 6x’s in three verses (12-14) asking the question “who did all these things”, referring to all of creation.  The text goes even further to reveal that our great God had no counselor or advisor as He created everything that exists, and that He, as the Sovereign ruler of all, has never needed nor will ever need any assistance in sustaining or ruling over His creation. Our amazing God is omniscient (He knows everything) and therefore is fully capable of ruling and reigning over all things.

Lest we think that God’s Omniscience and Omnipotence are limited, verses 15-17 make it clear they are not, but rather are over all nations. The nations are but a “drop in the bucket” to our great and awesome God (vs. 15). Hebrews 4:13 makes it clear that nothing is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account. This reveals God’s omnipresence (God everywhere at the same time).  Mind blowing, right?

As a result, it is a ridiculous thought then to reduce God to mere images and objects of worship (verses 18-20.  It is a horrible attempt to reduce God to what our small minds can conceive God as. Isaiah blasts this blasphemous thought and idea by proclaiming in even more vivid detail truth about who God is and what He has done (verses 21-25).  We, like grass and flowers before, are now compared to grasshoppers (vs. 22).  There is no one greater than our God, not kings, rulers or princes. He simply blows on them and like the grass, flowers and grasshoppers, they perish like, when a whirlwind sweeps away chaff (vs. 23-24).

In verse 26 we are called to look to all creation (general revelation) for evidence of who God is and what He has done (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-20). God does indeed speak through all that He has created! Yes, we are without excuse based on God’s self-revelation in all of creation.

Verse 27 reveals that our ways are not hidden from the Lord.  Our lives and the paths that we are on are not out of God’s sight. God has not forgotten us. He knows our joys and sorrows and has bottled up our tears and knows our wanderings (Psalm 56:8).  He knows that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14).

Then the finale and summary truth about God comes in verses 28-31.  Read it and glory in who God is and what He has done and continues to do today:

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary they will walk and not be faint.

The Word of God can bring perspective, insight, wisdom, discernment, strength, comfort and peace to us if we will but believe and trust in it (Psalm 119; Proverbs 1-9).  God has revealed Himself in the general revelation of creation for sure, but He has specifically revealed Himself in the Scriptures! In this passage of Scripture, God has given us insight into who He is and what He has done on our behalf.  This is why we need all of Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments.  Look at all of life through the lens and filter of God’s Word and more of life will make sense. We won’t have all the answers this side of heaven (Deuteronomy 29:29), but we can live life very differently if we will take Him at His Word.

An Article about an Article about an Article

Often times I will read an article or a blog that makes me realize I don’t have to write on that subject because someone has already done a better job than I could have done.  The below articles are from Chap Bettis, a pastor, speaker, and author on biblical parenting, and Tim Challies, pastor and Christian blogger.

They both write about a phenomenon they notice in today’s churches. The phenomenon of  parents that are resistant or reluctant to receive and be given parenting advice in the church. I am thankful and honored every time a parent asks me for wisdom, for many reasons, but many times because I know that it is a rare gift to speak into someone’s life.  It is a rare gift that shouldn’t be that rare in the church. Bettis and Challies give explanations for why they think this is and I think both are right. 

I highly recommend that we all read these articles.  They aren’t just for parents.  They are for those whose kids are now out of the home.  Our young parents need those that have gone before them.  If we want our next generation to be equipped and supported so that they know and love Jesus Christ, then we need to know how to disciple them in both a formative and corrective way.  Which means we need parents that know how to form and correct their children as they disciple them, which means our parents need someone to form and correct their parenting. We aren’t meant to do this Christian life thing alone.  This is actually one area that our some of our parents can learn from our single parents.  Our single parents are usually much better at asking for wisdom and advice from older people in the church. 

I will end by saying this. I don’t know how much Sarah and I have done right in our life, but I do know that one of the things that we did right was to ask older people to speak into our lives about our marriage and parenting. And when they did, we promised to receive what they had to say knowing they were people that loved us.  We decided to be unoffendable in our pursuit of discipleship. Sarah and I are eternally grateful for people that came into our lives that were able to guide us in our parenting.  People who I can still name and call on.  I will continue to be grateful for those people that the Lord puts in our life that will help us through the next season. We need each other.  We need the covenant-community-of-the-unoffendable-because-they-are secure-in-Christ.  Parenting is hard enough that we shouldn’t try to do it without our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in the Lord.

Read this article. And then read this article about that article. And then you will better understand my article about an article about an article.

3 Contexts & 6 Convictions

As we seek to magnify Jesus Christ by making disciples who advance the mission of God among all people, Community Bible holds to six core convictions. These convictions are not arbitrary but are actually the convictions of the early church. Specifically, we see these things valued in Acts 2:42-47. When we assign one-word summaries of these convictions we arrive at:

  • Proclaim
  • Worship
  • Pray
  • Belong
  • Multiply
  • Serve

*You can get a fuller explanation of these convictions at the end of this blog.

The first step to realizing these convictions in our family of redeemed sinners is to identify them. As I’ve heard it said, “without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination”. Our goal is to have these six convictions move beyond being aspirations to being realized in our body. In other words, as we make disciples who advance God’s mission of making disciples, we believe we need to have these six convictions realized.

But how do we move beyond the aspirations of such convictions to actually seeing them realized? There’s a strategy for that. And at Community Bible, that strategy involves three ministry contexts.

The first of those contexts is our corporate gatherings. When we gather together for corporate gatherings there are a number of wonderful things that happen, including the proclamation of God’s Word and our congregational worship. Each week you can expect to hear expository preaching of God’s Word, which the Spirit uses to convict, encourage, teach, and correct us. With the proclamation of the Word, we learn more of what God desires of us, examine ourselves in light of God’s plan for us, and commit ourselves to move toward God in the power of the Spirit. In that way we are realizing our “proclaim” core conviction. 

Additionally, by singing songs that express what we believe about the gospel together, we are reminding ourselves of good theology. When I am singing these truths and I hear & see my brothers and sisters singing the same, it does a lot to encourage me that we are in this together. To be clear, worship is not limited to singing songs on Sunday mornings, but by coming together regularly to sing our worship to God we are (at least in part) realizing our “worship” core conviction.

Besides our singing together and the proclamation of the Word, we also dedicate time to pray together as a body during each corporate gathering. Each Sunday morning service includes multiple times of prayer (not to mention the Boiler Room prayer group that is praying during the first service each Sunday morning) but we also value prayer in other corporate gatherings, including our quarterly Community Gatherings (formerly known as member meetings). These gatherings often include an extended time of praying for one another, for our church, for leadership, for the lost, for our local, state, and national leaders, and for our ministry partners around the world, thus realizing our “pray” core conviction.

The first context that I’ve mentioned here is the corporate gathering context. In that context, we see the convictions “proclaim, worship, and pray” realized. The second context is groups.

In the groups context we move from large gatherings to smaller gatherings and we move from facing forward to facing one another. In the groups context we realize a few of our core convictions also.

One of the convictions that is most difficult to be realized in a large gathering context is “belong”. It is totally possible to be in the middle of several hundred people and yet feel all alone, like you don’t belong. However, in a group context where there are much fewer people present and those people are committed to knowing one another, you can more easily feel like you belong. Engaging with one another around the gospel and supporting one another is a beautiful experience, which happens within the Community Bible context through groups.

In addition to realizing the conviction of belong, we also see the conviction of “multiply” being realized in the groups context. The concept of multiplying really boils down to disciples of Jesus making other disciples who follow Jesus. Disciples make other disciples via relationship. As relationships are built within the context of a group, group leaders can build into the lives of others and group participants build into one another’s lives as well. So the multiplication of disciples is realized through intentional investment in Christ-following gospel-centered relationships.

Within groups there are three defined objectives: gospel application, mutual care, and prayer. So I find it helpful that even within groups people are realizing the “pray” conviction on a regular basis.

So what about “serve”?  Well, I’m glad you asked. The third ministry context is missional service and that’s where we realize our “serve” conviction. Being on mission — or serving — takes shape in two main categories: serve the church and serve the world. With the gifts that the Lord has deposited and the Spirit activates, we are called to serve the church. In other words, asking how we can leverage our gifts, time, and energy to serve other brothers and sisters. Maybe this looks like serving on the First Impressions team, or the technical team, or the worship team, or as a deacon, or as a Community Group leader, or in our Next Generation ministry. In all these (and many more) ways the Lord uses the church body to build one another up and bring Himself glory.

But then there are the lost… those who have not yet submitted to the lordship of Jesus… and we are called to love all our neighbors, not just our Christian or like-minded neighbors. So as a church we deploy people to serve the lost, for their good and the glory of God. This happens through Local Outreach and Global Outreach involvement and through our strategic partnerships with like-minded organizations. So there are many opportunities to serve at Community Bible and we want all disciples to be engaged in this context as we realize our “serve” conviction.

In summary, there are three ministry contexts at Community Bible that are designed to realize our six core convictions as we seek to make disciples who advance God’s mission of making other disciples. To be involved in only one or two of those contexts means you are handicapping your growth as a disciple. We believe that being involved in all three contexts over time gives you the best opportunity to flourish as a disciple of Christ at Community Bible. There is certainly more to be said here, but this is a blog and not a novel so I’ll stop typing and listen to your comments.

If you have questions about how to become engaged in one or all of these ministry contexts I’m glad to help! Feel free to contact me at josh.sands@cbchurch.org with your thoughts and/or questions.

Don’t Save Your Children from Things that Jesus Wouldn’t Save them From

My favorite part of being a Family Pastor at Community Bible Church is when parents trust me enough on their journey to becoming the primary-discipleship maker in the life of their children, to ask for my advice.  It is something I always take seriously and never want to be flippant about the wisdom that I give them – I pray it is wisdom a majority of the time.  I want to point them to Jesus, the good news of the gospel, how to apply that good news, and the Bible. 

There are times that I get questions that my answer actually surprises parents.  Sometimes Biblical wisdom goes against the natural reaction to protect our children that all parents have.  Which is why I say that we have to be careful not to save our children from things that Jesus doesn’t save them from. 

Here are 3 areas that I see parents try to save their children:

1. Rejection

It is back to school time and we all know what that means. School drama. Rejection of some sort. We have all felt the sting of rejection, some more than others.  We remember what it was like to get picked last on the team, or wear the wrong brand of shoes, or simply not fit it.  We have all probably been laughed at by someone we thought was our friend.  Truth is that we all know the sting of rejection.  And when our kids come home from school with that sting of rejection causing a spiritual anaphylactic shock, we too often reach for our emotional epi-pens to try to calm and protect the hearts of our children.  Maybe we try to build our kids up in telling them how great we think they are and how lame we think the other kids are for making fun of them.  But protecting our children from rejection won’t help them.  As Christians we know we will face rejection.  It is promised to us; even more so as the days get darker.  So instead of trying to put a self-esteem bubble around our children, we need to help them learn how to walk through rejection with confidence in the Lord and confidence of his presence. The good news of the gospel assures us of God’s presence in the midst of rejection and that he sees us.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” John 15:18

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Romans 5:3

2. Sin

Another area that I see parents trying to protect their children from is by minimizing their children’s sin.  This is how I typically hear or see a parent describe it to me:

Parent of a 5-year-old: “My son/daughter has a real hard time when we call them out for something that they have done.  They usually get really sad and sullen and start crying out that they are “So bad. I am so bad, mommy.”

Me: “How do you respond?”

Parent: “I try to comfort my child that what they did was wrong, but it wasn’t that bad and they don’t need to be crushed by it.”

This is where I usually try to tip-toe into a massive truth that we all need to grasp, and it is this:

We are all worse/more bad/more sinful than we realize. 

Now, a child could be communicating this for a couple of reasons.  One is that they actually feel bad about what they’ve done, and they are expressing it.  Or they are trying to manipulate the situation.  They are trying to get you, the parent, to focus more on consoling them and less about their offense.

The truth is this: your children are worse than you think.  They are worse than they think.  So when they are expressing their “badness”, don’t try to make them feel better by minimizing their offense or by protecting them from feeling guilt or shame.  Instead, agree with them about their sin, without any tone of rebuke, and then introduce them once again to the good news of Jesus Christ.  Jesus, of course, saves our children from their own sin.  That is the beauty of the gospel, but he doesn’t save them from understanding their need for the gospel.  He doesn’t shy away from showing us our need for Him comes out of our own rebellion to the Father. We are all bad.  They are actually expressing a biblical truth, one that is fundamental to the gospel.

 “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – everyone- to his own way” Isaiah 53:6

“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquity, O Lord who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” Psalm 130:3-4

“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans5:8

3. Death

Every so often, maybe at the death of a loved one or even the death of a family pet, children may begin to ask about death.  “What does it mean that we die?” “What happened to grandpa?” “Will I die?”

For so much of their life, children live with an invincible view of themselves and the world.  They don’t think about death because it doesn’t enter their mind.  Their life is often too busy or, frankly, self-absorbed to think about death.

At some point, though, children might begin to ask about death and too often parents don’t want their children to worry or be anxious. So, parents will tell them “Don’t worry about that.  You have a long time until you have to worry about death. Grandpa was old and lived a good life.  It was his time.”

But in reality, it is not until our children begin to think deeply about the consequence of being mortal that they can begin to understand the deeper scope of the good news.  Death makes the gospel more real, even to a child.  And besides, none of us can promise our children a long life.  That’s not in our power to promise.

Instead, we can give our children a taste of an ever-expanding view of the beauty of the gospel. 

“Daddy, will I die?”

“Yes, son.  You will.  I don’t know when. But it will happen. Does that make you afraid?”

“Yes.”

“It makes me afraid sometimes too.  But that is why I have to remind myself of what Jesus Christ did on the cross.  And that he tells me that I will have an everlasting life with him.  That if I have faith in Him that nothing can separate me from him.  Not even death.”

“Even though I walk though the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Psalm 23:4

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

To summarize all of these examples in one statement: Try not to protect your children from things the Bible asks you to help them walk through, not around.  And the way we walk through it with our children is by showing them how the good news applies in all areas of our life, even rejection, sin, and death.