Of Bugs and Braggarts

I don’t recall a time when more people were suspicious of government. For that matter, I don’t remember a time when people were more suspicious in general. As you know from your newsfeed, many Americans now question the integrity of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice. The current climate of distrust is concerning, to say the least. Whether or not the distrust is based upon legitimate reasoning, the fact that we’ve landed here is unsettling for all of us.

It should come as no surprise to us that the truthfulness of time-honored government institutions rests on an increasingly shaky foundation the more that we, as a civilization, buy into the lie of moral relativism. We can’t have it both ways: “Truth can’t really be known. Oh, by the way, please tell the truth.”

This moral abyss around us sets up a personal struggle within us. Who can I trust? Does anyone really pursue justice? Is there no place where ethics and honesty are values for real? Can I take anyone at his or her word?

The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the people (Psalm 33:10). That sure seems to be playing out right now. But, I’m happy to report, that’s not the end of the story! The very next verse is pivotal: The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.

There it is. We have hope! God’s plans and purposes count forever. In the end, chaos will not win. “History” is “His story,” you see. William Ernest Henley did not get it right: “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” The Lord replies: “Don’t kid yourself.”

New York Times best-selling author Raymond Arroyo just released his findings that “people tend to project their image and beliefs onto their image of God.” In other words, we imagine God to be like us – or we imagine God as we would prefer Him to be. The technical word for that is idolatry. It isn’t new, but it is sin.

Thankfully, no matter how hard we try to bring God down to our level, it just won’t happen. He is high and exalted (Psalm 97:9). He will not share His glory with another (Isaiah 42:8). He is all Truth (John 14:6). As such, God’s character can’t be manipulated. He can’t ever do anything other than that which is absolutely best, including that which is absolutely best for us.

A newly-elected politician had just arrived in Washington, D.C., and was learning the ropes from a ranking Senator. As the two stood looking out over the Potomac River, an old log floated by. The older gentleman remarked, “This city is like that log.” “How’s that?” asked the younger colleague. His new friend’s explanation was this: “There are lots of bugs on that old log, and every one of them thinks he’s steering it.”

Remember that next time you’re tempted to despair just perusing the headlines. Truth may be hard to discern these days, but the Lord will have His way. We may or may not see peace on the Korean Peninsula – or sanity on Capitol Hill. But our God can be trusted entirely.

R.C. Sproul expressed it well: “I’m delighted that my future is not in the hands of the stars or the soothsayers … my confidence in the future rests in my confidence in the God who controls history.”

We are Christ followers. We choose to love. We choose to trust. We do not trust in vain.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Reckless Love

As I mentioned last time we were together, this Sunday (June 10) I am planning on sharing with you what is most commonly known as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” from Luke 15:11-32. I’m excited about it! I have titled my sermon “Reckless Love,” and I borrowed that title from a song by Cory Asbury which is incredibly popular these days on Christian radio.

You may be wondering about the term “reckless” when it comes to a description of the love of Christ. After all, we tend to use that word when referring to someone who is careless or imprudent. Certainly not God! But there is a deep sense in which the love of God is reckless indeed.

God’s love is daring. Turning over the tables of the moneychangers. Jesus Christ going out of His way to pursue the woman at the well. A Samaritan, mind you. Scandalous. Unheard of. Unsettling. Calling us to hope when everything around us is crashing in.

God’s love is desperate. Taking on human flesh and blood, so that He could be known by the likes of you and me. Sending the spotless Son of the living God to a rugged and cruel cross for our sin. Inviting little children to come to the Savior of the world.

God’s love is breakneck. It overcomes a person as mysteriously and ferociously as a strong wind. It revolutionizes the human heart in the blink of an eye! We are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light in a millisecond. That’s what it means to be born again.

God’s love is audacious. This is what got Jesus into so much trouble with the spiritual elites. Christ was always pursuing the undesirables. Lifting up the dregs of society. Touching abandoned lepers with His bare hands. Opening the door of God’s kingdom to every nation. Pushing the religious boundaries so that all could be welcomed at the table of salvation. Inviting little children to come.

I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God!

If you’re interested in hearing a little bit more about the theological nuances of “reckless,” I’ll refer you to this audio clip from Pastor John Piper. You’ll find it interesting and thought-provoking in regard to how we ought to go about determining what is appropriate (or not) for worship singing. After all, our goal is to exalt Christ as wonderfully and as truthfully as we can!

What I appreciate about this particular segment is that Piper doesn’t answer all our questions, but he makes us think. Maybe, like I, you’re concerned that thinking and reason have fallen on hard times.

Lastly, if you’re still unfamiliar with the song, I encourage you to listen to it at least once before Sunday. Here’s the official link.

It’s my profound joy, honor, and privilege to be able to worship our gracious Lord with you every Sunday. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

And you thought summer was a time for sleeping in. Silly you.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

For Spacious Skies

 

I’m no scientist, but I love astronomy. I can get lost in a technical conversation on the subject, but never before being humbled again by the enormity and grandeur of Creation.

Our Milky Way home, alone, contains some 200 billion stars. 200 billion. Just think about that.

Now experts are telling us that it’s even bigger than we’ve ever imagined. The latest estimates are that the distance across the Milky Way galaxy is at least 170,000 light-years. Some put it as high as 200,000 light-years. Now, that might be a number so large that it means nothing to you, but try this on for size: start driving at 60 miles per hour, and it will take you two trillion years to make that journey. 2,000,000,000,000! Not including fuel stops, of course.

A friend recently gave me The Science of God by Gerald L. Schroeder. Dr. Schroeder is an Orthodox Jew, and an acclaimed professor of astrophysics. Educated at MIT, Schroeder currently teaches at the Aish HaTorah College of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. I’ll share just one quote for now: “While a creation to the universe does not prove that God created the universe, it opens the door quite widely for that possibility. NASA, on the other hand, which has calculated an age to the universe, that is, it accepts the fact of the creation, posits that the creation was the result of a quantum fluctuation. NASA has assumed in this that the laws of nature (not nature but the laws of nature) are eternal. Within the laws of nature is the possibility that an aspect of those laws, a quantum fluctuation, could in theory have produced the universe from absolute nothing. All we need is eternal laws of nature. This almost sounds like God!”

This almost sounds like God.

Our galaxy is shaped like a disk with a bulge in the middle. Scientist friends, please forgive my naïve description. Earth is in the disc, but we’re closer to the edge than to the center. The disk has spiral arms, but we can’t really see those – because we’re in those. So our view is more of a faint cloud band stretching across our summer sky (for those of us in the northern hemisphere). Thus, “Milky Way” is a very good name.

The observable universe contains some 300 sextillion stars. (I won’t even include the digits for that one.) And we humans, though unique reflectors of our Creator’s divine glory, occupy the tiniest fraction of real estate. Even our entire planet is a drop in the ocean of space. Remember that next time you’re tempted to get too worked up about the midterm elections.

And this is that glorious time of year: summer is knocking on our door. Get out. Turn off your cell phone. Breathe. Be still. Look up. Enjoy. Worship!

… He also made the stars (Genesis 1:16).

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Broken Road

Dr. Paige Patterson has been fired from his post at Southwestern Seminary, but his detractors are still angry. They say he got too many perks on the other side of the deal. Patterson made remarks about women and girls which should not have been made, and he gave flawed advice to female victims of assault, but the question in my mind and heart today is this: what critical life lessons are being served up for you and me?

Patterson’s situation is just one of several which have rocked our evangelical bubble in recent weeks. #MeToo has reached the church, and what appears to be a holy reckoning is underway. In anger over Patterson’s firing, another prominent Baptist pastor posted something on Facebook for 90 seconds – meaning he quickly took it down – but that was long enough for a kill shot. People had already copied the text and the photo, and it went viral. In my opinion, this man’s public ministry is over.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the politics of our denomination over the last few weeks. Two candidates for President represent two very different visions for the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Steve Gaines, the current President, has appointed me to serve as a Teller at the SBC annual meeting in June. Quite honestly, I will land in Dallas with a bit of apprehension. What is ahead, organizationally, for the people called Southern Baptists? How contentious will the proceedings be when it’s all said and done? As has been threatened, will people walk out when the annual convention sermon is preached, outraged because Patterson is in the pulpit? We should be much in prayer, as the unbelieving world will be watching in real time as all of this unfolds.

I need to be a shepherd and a teacher for a moment, so please bear with me. These concerns are like fire in my bones, and I must get them out.

Sexual violence is a huge problem in American life. The Centers for Disease Control reports that one out of every five American women has been raped. 23 million women. The CDC also reports that 44% of American women have experienced some other form of sexual violence. That means that 53 million American women have been subjected to sexual harassment, sexual assault, or some other gender-based violence excluding rape. That is a national crisis. So the #MeToo hashtag birthed last year by actress Alyssa Milano was just the tip of the iceberg. For the church to ignore this cultural and moral catastrophe would be tantamount to spiritual malpractice. How we handle this, and how we minister to victims, will speak volumes. Christ calls us to nothing less than swift and gracious action!

Throughout His earthly ministry, our Lord Jesus elevated women. The Romans devalued women to the point of a husband’s life-or-death power over his wife. The Greeks forbade women to speak in public. The Jews silenced and segregated women too. But Jesus, to the dismay of His friends and His enemies, was radical in His respect for women! He started a conversation with a Samaritan woman in public, and He offered her living water for her thirsty soul. And that was only the beginning. Instead of capitalizing on vulnerability, Christ modeled protection and empowerment.

We must do the same. No bawdy Stormy Daniels jokes, please, or anything else which belittles any person created in the image of God. People are watching and listening, and we want them to see and hear Jesus. If any woman is being abused, we are to call the authorities at once, and to do everything in our power to intervene, rescue, and redeem. No handling of criminal activity “in house,” which only furthers the suspicions of many women that they are unsafe, even at church. There shall be no conspiracy of silence on our watch!

With all of that being well established, I need to offer just a little more in the way of (hopefully) wisdom for such a time as this. We need to be wary of extremes. On the one hand, there is the denier. This is the person who claims: “We have no problem. Harvey Weinstein may have stepped out of bounds, but women who feel abused or threatened by men are overreacting. There is no crisis in the culture, and there is no threat to the integrity and witness of the church. This is all just a choreographed smokescreen for political gain.” The denier is wrong, and any church adopting this posture will do so to its own internal demise.

On the other hand, the opposite extreme is equally perilous, and equally wicked. This is the person who longs secretly for men to be destroyed. “Let’s bring down the patriarchy, with no presumption of innocence, and without basic human decency. If a few guys fall victim to the overreach of our movement, so be it. The injustice we’re up against is so vile that the ends justify the means.” Surely, like the impending disaster posed by the denier, this would never be the way of Christ.

Friends, social media only fuel both fires. Be very, very careful. We belong to Another. Never forget that.

These are tense and tough times. We have to deal with hard subjects. We have to talk about things in church which would have made our grandparents blush. Because, if we fail to deal with life as we find it, we will leave our children and grandchildren unprepared and ill-equipped to navigate the coming twists and turns in the road. The theologians known as Rascal Flatts said it well: “God blessed the broken road.” It’s the road we’re on, by faith.

Wherever you are, and whatever you’ve experienced, never lose sight of the power of forgiveness. We are the forgivers – it’s simply who we are (Matthew 6:12). As the dark evils of our nation stream more and more into the light of day, a spirit of vengeance and hatred mounts. But that’s not who we are, in Christ.

Just one more thing, please. Our world is broken, but we are not without hope. In Dallas and to the ends of the earth, Oh Jesus, please bless our broken road!

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Ready or Not!

 

 

Not.

This whole thing has gone way too fast for my liking. My boy is all grown up, but still my boy. He graduates tonight. Among the seniors at his school, Joshua won the science award at the honors ceremony Wednesday. Eileen and I are very proud of him.

But I’ve been choking back the tears for a month.

There is much to celebrate, and much to look forward to about tomorrow. At the same time, I know that 50% of kids Joshua’s age disengage from their faith during their college years. Quite honestly, that statistic terrifies me. The environment is rough. A recent Harvard/George Mason study revealed that at least 25% of college professors self-identify as agnostic or atheist. In case you’re wondering, the general population scores at 5-7%. Contemporary academia seems to breed unbelief. God, please save our kids.

So, friends, this is a huge trust-the-Lord season for me. (I know every season is, but this one actually feels like it.)

Just a few years ago, Josh wrapped his little toes around my fingers. We played in the snow. We fake-wrestled. We read “Imogene’s Antlers” and C.S. Lewis. We watched The Sandlot. We camped out on the beach.

Then I did something stupid. I blinked.

Some parts of being a dad I’ve done O.K. at. Other tests of fatherhood and parenting I’ve failed miserably. Josh has taught us patience. But, truth is, we have taught him the same. I guess we’re all works in progress.

I must tell you that the parts of Joshua’s childhood I’ll miss the most are not the expensive “special” vacations or the notable milestone moments. What I will miss the most is the ordinary. I wake up. Josh is there. I come home. Josh is there. I settle in for the night. Josh is there.

But, today, there’s a cap and gown hanging in Joshua’s room. I can barely look at it. Lord, I need grace to trust You with this. I feel so small, and I feel like I’m releasing my boy into an awfully big world. In August, we will drive a man to the University of North Georgia. (Or he will drive us.)

I already miss Imogene.

 

“For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him” (First Samuel 1:27). Thank You, Most Gracious God.

Josh, if you read this, I love you with all my heart.

 

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Unhitched?

In Part 3 of his “Aftermath” sermon series, Andy Stanley just preached that Christians should “unhitch” the Old Testament from their faith in Christ. If you’re unfamiliar with this gentleman, Stanley serves as the Senior Pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. I’m quite certain that Pastor Stanley’s primary desire is that many come to Christ. It seems that he is attempting to make that easier by setting aside the parts of the Old Testament which he and others consider to be violent, disturbing, and offensive to contemporary sensibilities. In other words, if God’s actions as recorded in the Old Testament seem gross, then just don’t talk about them. They have nothing to do with faith in Christ today. Just preach the resurrection of Jesus, and go from there.

Here’s why I’m disturbed by this message. I’ll try to state this as succinctly as I can, and I’ll do this in the form of seven observations from my perspective as a pastor-teacher and a lover of God’s Word.

  1. God never changes. He is immutable. God’s immutability is a critical dimension of His character and nature as God. The earliest Christian heresies included attempts to draw hard lines between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. Marcionism was thrown out on its ear because it pitted the character of Jesus (mercy and grace) against the character of God (justice and wrath). I fear that Pastor Stanley is flirting with this error, and doing it in a very public and dangerous way.

 

  1. Historically, there is a sharp distinction between the errors of the Judaizers and the Scriptures of the Jewish people. One was a perversion of truth, but the other was And is truth. Legalism was (and is) a killer, and Jesus called it out. So Did Paul. So did the early church. But that’s not the same as “unhitching” from the Old Testament. Human pride prevented many Jews from seeing Christ’s gospel with clarity, but that’s not the fault of the Scriptures. The Jerusalem Council made it clear that Gentiles don’t need to become Jewish in order to follow Christ, but the Old Testament was never thrown out as irrelevant. Check out the Emmaus Road event in Luke 24, where Christ specifically uses the claims of the Old Testament to reveal Himself! From the call of Abram onward, God’s one plan of salvation has been woven together by Christ’s grace.

 

  1. Respecting the Old Testament does not make a person a rabid fundamentalist. I hope that goes without saying, but I feel the need to say it because Andy seems to suggest that the Old Testament breeds intellectually unsustainable interpretations of the Bible. What we need today is not a jettisoning of the Old Testament, but to teach our people how to rightly divide the Word. We need sound hermeneutics for both Testaments. We need to understand the Ancient Near Eastern world as best we can, as well as our own. We need the whole counsel of God’s Word, not less of it.

 

  1. I think that Paul, James, Peter, and Jesus would be horrified by the idea that we’re unhitching from the Old Testament. Christ said that He came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). There’s a huge difference. One erases redemptive history. The other makes its purposes clear. Had Jesus preached an “unhitched” message, He would have been immediately disqualified as the promised Messiah.

 

  1. The moral foundations of the Old Testament provide energy for the New. Paul uses Old Testament accounts to exhort us to holy living. The Ten Commandments given to Moses find their way into the New Testament practical instructions for marriage and family life. And on and on. Are we under the dietary laws anymore? Of course not. But, again, that’s a matter of sound interpretation – not rendering our past null and void. “The New is in the Old, concealed; the Old is in the New, revealed!”

 

  1. The Bible of the first Christ followers, both Jew and Gentile, was the Old Testament. Those promises about “all Scripture” being “God-breathed” were first made about the Old Testament; we now apply them to the New. Our “New Testament” is “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). Almost one in three New Testament verses contain Old Testament quotes or allusions. Three-fourths of Revelation draws directly on Old Testament texts. Why? Because the Bible is one storyJust one.

 

  1. We don’t have to undo the Old Testament in order to celebrate the newness of the New Covenant! You want to preach against legalism? You want to preach against stupid manmade rules and regulations? You want to preach grace? You want to preach CHRIST and His resurrection power in us? You’ll hear a hearty “Amen” from my corner. But please don’t toss out most of the Bible in order to make your point.

I do not mean to throw stones. I do not mean to cause trouble. I do mean to exalt Christ, and to honor and protect His Word. All of it.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Glory in the Church

I’m super stoked about our new Sunday morning series: THIS IS US! My hope is that, when we finish our study of James, we will find ourselves more grateful for our church family than ever before. We need each other!

Unless we are physically prohibited, we should be part of the church’s regular worship gathering. Actually, there’s nothing “regular” about it; it’s phenomenal! The church is where you and I are strengthened, and where Christ is exalted (Ephesians 3:20-21). It is within the specific community of believers in a local church where you and I figure out how to grow up in Christ, so what we can shine as bright lights in the world (Philippians 2:14-15). In and through Christ’s church, and the glorious gospel proclaimed there, God is constantly at work gathering up all of the broken pieces of this cosmos – and bringing it all to wholeness, completion, and unity under the Lordship of Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-10)! There’s nothing regular about that. It’s nearly indescribable in glory.

It is in the church where you and I are met with the mercy of God. Were you and I followers of Hinduism, our best shot at life together would be grappling in the dark for dharma – and hoping that we could impress each other by our character and propriety. But we have come to something far, far better. At the cross preached here, in the full light of our sin against the backdrop of a Savior’s love, we can lay our burdens down. Really, down. Finally, down.

It is in the church where you and I discover the grace of Christ. I mean really discover it. Every day we’re bombarded with this report and that of somebody doing the wrong thing. This person got caught cheating, or that person lying. But, if we’re honest, it’s not just shock or disappointment that we feel. With each corruption scandal or scandalous affair, we usually experience a subtle satisfaction that it’s not us. It’s vindication mixed with schadenfreude. And then it happens even closer to home. Our trust gets broken. One of our family members deceives. Or maybe it’s me. You see, the church can be a very disappointing place the first time you realize that nobody’s perfect. But the church is also the place where you figure out that the highly imperfect are those for whom Christ died. And grace becomes more than a theory when we have to extend it to real people, and even to ourselves. In the church.

It is in the church where you and I learn to face the losses of life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged for his role in the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler, expressed it like this: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Here, in the real life of the church, we face cancer, together. We lose loved ones. We cry out to God to rescue rebellious grandchildren. We lose jobs, and survive. We lose hope, until friends lift up our tired arms and hope is restored. We question the claims of our faith, until a friend ministers the Word in such a way that I become alive again to its power even for me. I can’t imagine not having a church family. From whom would I learn how to live? From whom would I learn how to persevere? From whom would I learn how to love, and to sacrifice?

It is in the church where you and I can laugh as those who know who wins in the end. Sometimes what we need among the saints is a good ole gut-bustin’ snort-your-milk-out-of-your-nose belly laugh! We have to help each other with this, because – when we’re under the gun – it’s not so easy to pull off. The Bible makes it plain that our Sovereign God laughs at His enemies (Psalm 2:1-4). Why? Because He knows who He is. So, in the sweet and sustaining fellowship of Christ’s beloved and blessed church, you and I can laugh at our trials – both the known ones and the unknown ones – because we know who He is too.

We are the gathered and redeemed. It is through the preaching of the Word, the giving of our talents and treasures, the loving of the unlovely, and the edifying of the body – all within the context of the church – that Christ receives glory.

This is us.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Que Zara Zara!

No, it’s not a typo. I did not mean que será será. I’m referring to Zara Tindall.

Mrs. Tindall is of interest to me because Prince Louis Arthur Charles of Cambridge just moved into fifth place. Though just a few days old, he follows Britain’s Prince Charles – the Prince of Wales – and only three others in the line of succession to the royal throne: Prince William (the Duke of Cambridge, and the oldest son of Prince Charles), Prince George (Prince William’s 4-year-old son), and Princess Charlotte (Prince William’s 2-year-old daughter). If you’re wondering about newly-engaged Prince Harry, he just moved down to sixth in line because of the birth of Louis Arthur Charles.

That’s just the way it works across the pond. Then there’s Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, at #7 in line. Prince Andrew is the third child of Queen Elizabeth II, and her second son. And it goes on from there. At the age of 67, then, Princess Anne just slipped to #13. So that makes Zara Tindall, Anne’s only daughter, #17. Zara is an accomplished equestrian married to a former rugby star.

We might want to think about these things, you know, since the reigning queen is now 92. Elizabeth will not be queen forever, and descent and parliamentary statute will govern the day.

I think you would agree with me that Zara will never be queen. It just won’t happen. She’s too far down the line. So I’m glad that she’s got plenty to do with her horses, and apparently she’s quite good at it – and the horses are fond of her too.

We may be temporarily fascinated with British monarchy, but we should be permanently fascinated with this: CHRIST IS KING!

Revelation 1:4-5 includes this greeting from John: “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords! By virtue of His resurrection from the dead, His office is established and eternal.

Christ presides over every earthly ruler and authority. He controls who is in every lower office, and who is out. He builds and destroys empires. He orders international events for His own sovereign, wise, and good purposes. We can trust Him.

Christ rules over the Middle East, over North Korea, over war-torn Africa, and over the Americas. Nothing escapes His sight or His grasp. His gospel is for all people, everywhere. He has authority to claim citizens from every corner of the globe, from every tribe and tongue, and from all walks of life. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Christ is restraining evil by reigning over human government, law, politics, conflict, chaos, and influence. He is building His church: His unstoppable people of grace. He is winning through us, and – some days – in spite of us. He is righteous in everything He does, and kind in all His ways. As our faithful Shepherd, He goes before us into every chapter of human history. He is aware of every wolf on the horizon, and He has promised us green pastures and still waters even in an age of nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare – and weapons of mass destruction. Even where and when the church – His body – is persecuted, His grace is deeper still.

Zara will not reign, but Christ does reign, and He will triumph in the end!

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

A Time for Every Purpose

This is a season of significant transition for our family. Eileen is leaving her post as a staff attorney for the Federal Judiciary. Some call that “retirement,” but we prefer to think of it as a time to seek God for the next exciting adventure!

Thursday we celebrated Eileen’s law practice with warm words of thanks and encouragement from Judge Thomas Russell and Judge Lanny King, and from Vanessa Armstrong, the Clerk of Court for the United States District Court in the Western District of Kentucky. Vanessa, specifically, thanked Eileen for the example of faith, and perseverance even in the face of tremendous difficulties, which Eileen has set for many years. Vanessa recalled numerous times when Eileen called her colleague and friend to prayer, searching the Scriptures, and trusting God.

Eileen’s service to the federal government goes all the way back to the late 1980’s. For a decade she worked as an Assistant United States Attorney, and we have enjoyed meeting some wonderful people in the context of each assignment along the way. From Eastern North Carolina in the U.S. Attorney’s

Office to Southern California in the Department of Homeland Security – and from medical malpractice defense to securing the Port of Los Angeles – we would not trade in a single chapter. Each has been hard work, but each has brought with it tremendous spiritual blessing.

Let’s face it: I married up. My better half is a brilliant attorney. But, far more than that, she is “a wife of noble character” (Proverbs 31:10). “She is clothed with strength and dignity,” and she models integrity for anyone who knows her. Eileen lives by an unparalleled work ethic, in my humble opinion. She “perseveres under trial” (James 1:12) – and you can interpret those “trials” both ways.

A very wise man once said: “Let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

In days ahead, I look forward to seeing how the Lord will use Eileen’s many gifts for His glory. After she gets Joshua settled into college this fall, she plans to pursue her practice of law in the arenas of mediation, conflict resolution (particularly in service to churches and other nonprofits), teaching, and religious liberties.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

 

Pastor Charles

 

Posted in Blog Posts

Lessons from a Felled Giant (Not Goliath)

I know before I pen this blog posting that some people will misunderstand me. Risking that anyway, I’m going to speak my mind (and heart). I’m concerned for the church. Why? Because Sears is closing its last store in Chicago. On the edge of the Portage Park neighborhood, it’s all over. A liquidation sale will begin April 27. The Auto Center will close in mid-May. The location was perfect: the intersection of Milwaukee Avenue, Cicero, and Irving Park. But it’s all over. Though Sears has called Illinois home for more than 120 years, it’s all over for the last Sears store in the city of Chicago.

“What does that have to do with the church?” you may ask. “Everything” is my answer. Simply everything.

You see, it’s not that Millennials don’t need major appliances. They do. In fact, they’re reaching ages where they’re purchasing their first home. Demographic trends clearly indicate the growing sales of major appliances in America. But they’re not buying them at Sears.

Home Depot, yes. Lowe’s, yes. Best Buy, yes. Even J.C. Penney is bringing back major appliances to get in on the action!

Why not Sears? Because Sears has been deemed irrelevant. We need look no further than Kentucky Oaks Mall to see evidence of that. Big evidence. And how attractive is that colossal empty building, at the corner of Lone Oak Road and Bleich, now that Kmart has closed its doors? It’s all part of the demise of the Sears retail giant. It’s not that bricks-and-mortar stores can’t make it anymore, just not Sears.

Irrelevant.

Those aren’t the only “going out of business” signs in town. Churches are closing too. A large church structure within one mile of our own campus will hit the auction block on May 10. Congregants were there the Sunday after Easter. No more.

Irrelevant.

Please do not misunderstand me. The church is not an advertising scheme, or even a business. We do not adjust the “truth” with the winds of marketing trends or popular opinion. Christ’s gospel is not for sale.

But we better not be so foolish as to think that people won’t ever write us off as “irrelevant.”

I’d like to propose seven questions for your prayerful reflection. These speak for themselves, so I’ll be a man of few(er) words today. Perhaps these questions will spark some important conversations around our dinner tables.

  1. As a church, are we so enamored by our successful past that we assume a successful future?
  2. Are we humble enough to take an honest look at how our community sees us, and to learn some things (even some hard things) from their assessments?
  3. Are we happier to be united around the gospel than we are to be united with people who are just like us?
  4. Are we eager to change some things which are non-essential in order to advance those things which are essential?
  5. Are we willing to do whatever it takes to speak CHRIST in the language of a generation that is highly suspicious of all organized “religion”?
  6. Are we committed to the prize enough to take some bold leaps of faith, and to attempt some new and risky adventures in ministry?
  7. Are we ready to be real?

Many young adults assume that “religious” people are phony, fake, and hypocritical. Let’s not prove them right.

And one more thought: we can chase cultural relevance all day long, and never get there. What we really need is contextual relevance: the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to relate the good news of Jesus to the gaping holes in the empty and distracted hearts of our neighbors and friends. Let’s give it our best shot.

I am old enough to remember one of the highlights of my autumn every year of my childhood: the Sears Christmas Catalog! “The Wish Book” it was called. Who couldn’t sit around with that and

dream for hours? But, though my Sears memories are fond and familiar, Sears is in a death spiral. The chain that once dominated sales of refrigerators, ranges, washers, dryers … and even awesome toys (which none of us really needed) … nearly done.

Irrelevant.

Water down the truth? No way! Truth like never before. May God grant us the wisdom to show the world Christ’s light, and salt, and relevance. The Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus, is oh so very, very relevant.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts