Holy, Holy, Holy

How do we know when we’ve lost our awareness of the holiness of God? I would submit to you that this is one of the most significant questions we could ponder today. If something is broken, but we don’t know it’s broken, we can’t possibly fix it.

Let me clarify from the outset what I mean by “holiness,” because for some of us the very word conjures up negative images of stiff and stodgy people who care more about critiquing others than exuding the life-giving grace of Jesus Christ. When our God describes Himself as “holy,” He is referring to His infinite distinctness from all that is evil. God is our perfectly pure Creator to Whom we will one day fully answer, and this should cause us to fear Him, in the sense that He captures our awe and respect. For Christ-followers, specifically, God is also our Father. If you ever had or still have a healthy relationship with your earthly father or mother, then you know something of what it means to regard someone with both love and respect.

But that’s not the end of the Bible’s treatment of the subject of holiness, because God calls us to holiness as well. I could cite numerous passages including Isaiah’s vision from which I drew today’s title, but I’ll simply refer you to First Peter 1. Check out that great chapter before you read any further.

So, when it comes to God’s holiness, how do we know when we’re off-base?

Callousness.

It is the natural tendency of every person, and every congregation, to drift away from a red-hot realization of God’s holiness. We drift naturally. As the old hymn put it: we are “prone to wander.” We get lazy in our spiritual disciplines. We get negligent in the intentional discipleship of our children. We shrink back from evangelism. We let fears overwhelm us. We crave the world’s applause. These things don’t generally transpire overnight, but more often it’s inch-by-inch. And I would submit that each one of those behaviors I listed shares a common denominator: we have forgotten God. Or at least we’ve dethroned Him in our hearts. A person is “calloused” when they’re no longer moved by what really matters. Lord, forgive us! You and I must never cease to pray for personal and corporate (remember, we’re part of a body) revival.

Casualness.

The very definition of “holiness” communicates separation. God is set apart. We as His people are set apart. But we can lose our distinctively Christ-honoring character by failing to keep it straight that we’re the creatures and not the Creator. We’re the dependent ones. We’re the desperate beggars. It’s true that, in Christ, God has become our Friend. But God is not like our other friends, and we must never treat Him as such. He is “high and exalted,” to steal again from the ancient prophet. He abhors the adulteries of Babylon, and so must we. Always remember that “reverence” is not a style of music or worship, but a proper posture of the human heart toward a sovereign and omnipotent God. And real reverence never goes out of style.

Conflict.

Notice also in the text our call to “brotherly love.” This love isn’t cooked up by our positive thinking or by the natural effervescence of our personality, but Peter tells us its precise origin: Christlike love comes from knowing the “imperishable seed” of “the living and abiding word of God.” We must never try to anchor our sense of right and wrong in anything impermanent, which is the incessant and alluring whisper of the culture in our ear, but only in the Lord’s Word. Here’s my point: when we as believers are experiencing disharmony among ourselves, we can rest assured that someone has lost their spiritual footing. Conflict among the saints, which can lead eventually to utter turmoil and chaos, is a sure sign that worldliness has invaded the church.

Carelessness.

Notice that Peter calls his gospel message “good news!” There’s a direct correlation between gospel joy and holy living. We stumble and fall when we’re not walking in the light of truth. And we take others down with us. Without the cross and resurrection remaining front-and-center in our affections, we have no power to overcome being overwhelmed by the world’s lifeless idols and false worship. (Imagine a spiritual and universal version of COVID-19.) So here’s my last question: is the gospel still good news to you? If it’s been a while since you delighted in our sin-conquering and forever-risen Savior, today might be a great day for that. When we taste the beauty and glory of Christ, without fear of judgment because of what He has accomplished for us, our battle against sin can be driven by love. You see, friends, we don’t brush up on important doctrines so that we can fill our heads with information, but we brush up on important doctrines so that God can fill our hearts with praise!

As you’ve just read in God’s Word, you and I have been “born again to a living hope.” It just doesn’t get any better than that. We’ve been caught up in the greatest love story that’s ever been written.

And, at the heart of that timeless story, is the Lord our God Himself. He is Holy, Holy, Holy indeed!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Our Selfie-Savior

My friend Mark Medlin was driving home from Missouri, where he had enjoyed his grandson’s double-header. Mark noticed en route a lighted church sign: “Jesus is God’s selfie.” That message blessed Mark, and he shared that beautiful thought with Eileen and me via text message on Independence Day (at 7:41 p.m. here in Massachusetts). That very evening, while admiring Cape Cod Bay, I snapped this photograph before I had a chance to read Mark’s text.

Enter Providence, Stage Right. As I later reflected (pun fully intended) on Mark’s message, I was reminded of a compelling verse (Hebrews 1:3) and its gorgeous description of our Lord Jesus: He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power …

As I celebrated the Fourth of July here in Plymouth, I found the unofficial fireworks over the ocean to be invigorating after a coronavirus shutdown, but what most captivated me was that dazzling moon. That grand celestial body was announcing the glory of God by reflecting the light of the sun. I believe that the Lord of all creation was calling out that night, to every creature: “Worship Me!”

Our Bluegrass State is famously known for some song lyrics: “The sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home.” But do we really take it in? Rays of sunlight don’t travel 93 million miles through empty space to go unnoticed, friends! If we’ll only give it a moment’s consideration, we’ll recognize the incredible magnitude of the sun’s power. So it is with Christ. When we take the time to notice His amazing attributes as they’re revealed to us in Scripture, we find ourselves tasting the very character of God. Because Jesus is God’s selfie.

That glorious summer night, not only was the moon reflecting the sunlight, but so was the water. It was as if the sea itself was continuing God’s painting, and stroking the divine paintbrush right in my direction! I was overwhelmed as I began to recognize that others, in every corner of America, were experiencing what I was experiencing. My friend Elena Watkins described the moon as “magical” and uplifting over her Texas lake, and that increases my delight. Joy shared is joy magnified!

Another message came my way via Facebook. My California friend Jan Matz commented on my photo to remind me of something special: wherever we are, God brings the light right to us. He loves each of us that much. Said Jan: “Our God is just like that. He’s very personal.”

I’m so glad that Jesus came. Had we only the sun, moon, and stars, we would know there is a God, but we wouldn’t know His name. Jesus came to live the life that we failed to live, and to die the death that we deserved. FOR US! And He rose again so that His light could shine not just in the heavens, but in our hearts (see 2 Cor 4:6). That brings the gospel message of Hebrews 1:3 full circle.

… After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High …

Saturday was a spectacular day. From across the fruited plain, literally, I was reminded of the beauty and excellence of Christ. Now you have been too. So don’t make the rocks shout His praise because you won’t.

Worship Him!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

What Say You?

Sometimes it’s good to get back to the basics. Don’t you agree? In a world of trolls and clickbait, where hysteria happens as quickly as headlines, I find myself longing more and more for a firm foundation. Maybe you do too. Good news: we have one!

The scene was Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13-20; in order to get the most out of today’s blog posting, please read this passage carefully). In a critical conversation that was transpiring among Jesus and His disciples, our Lord posed the million-dollar question: “Who do you say that I am?”

When Simon Peter declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” those ten words become a total game-changer. This is the first and only confession of Jesus as “the Christ” in this Gospel account. Friends, I would humbly submit that this is the foundation for which you and I are searching. In fact, four of these ten words are definite articles in the original language.

Christ is the One.

“Christ” is simply the Greek rendering of the Hebrew word “Messiah.” Does the absolute uniqueness and exclusivity of Jesus still matter? I think it matters immensely and immeasurably, and here’s why: the moment for us to GET JESUS RIGHT is NOW. Right now!

I want you to consider another passage: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Though his authority will eventually be ended, Antichrist will rule for a season of time. Only the Holy Spirit is presently restraining Satan from orchestrating this. I believe that evil is held back by the influence of the church on the culture, via human governments, and through other divinely empowered means which we can’t often perceive. But the day is coming when all restraint will be lifted. This “lawless one” will use fake signs and faux miracles to deceive everyone who does not know CHRIST.

If we don’t get Jesus right, we will be “shaken in mind” by the affairs of this world – just as Paul warns. So, back to Matthew, “Who do you say that I am?” becomes the most important question we’ll ever answer.

Christ is God.

Every major religion, as well as every significant cultic group, rejects the deity of Jesus Christ. Some of these objections are the result of rationalism: “reason” is supreme, not God or God’s Word. Others have simply never been taught the Scriptures. A common objection results from revisionist history, which claims that Christ’s deity was invented at the Council of Nicaea in the 4th Century. But you and I must never forget that, if we deny the deity of Jesus, then we do not know God as Father (1 John 2:23).

Christ is “the Son of the living God!” It’s not just His office or His role that makes Jesus unique – it’s His very nature and being! It’s neither postmodern nor politically correct to declare these things so unequivocally, but we do so today because they’re true. These are just the facts, y’all. Just the facts.

Christ is Lord.

Peter is not Lord. Christ is! “Upon this rock I will build my church,” declares Jesus. What’s the rock? Well, it’s not Philip the Tetrarch’s rock, though that is a nice backdrop for this lesson. Roman Catholics use this passage to defend the Papacy and in fact claim Peter as their first Pope. But all you have to do is jump ahead to Verse 23 (please do!) to discover one of many problems with that. Some Protestants claim that Peter’s faith is the rock, but I’d say that has its own problems too. I think the best answer is that Jesus is using a pun – a play on words – centered on Simon’s nickname (“Rock”).

Some people get really technical and claim that, because there are two different words for “rock” in this story, it must mean that Peter is a small stone – but Christ is “the Rock” on which the church is founded. Could be, but I’m sticking with this: Jesus is creatively communicating – with these men whom He deeply loves, and whom He wants never to forget this lesson – that Christ is establishing His church on the apostles and the gospel truth which He will leave with them (Jude 3). After all, without the correct knowledge of Jesus, there is no church.

The Hero isn’t Peter. Or us. Just Jesus.

Christ is Sovereign.

A sovereign is a ruler, a king, and a lord. Period. Holy Scripture refers repeatedly to God as the one who rules over all. God’s most common proper name, “Yahweh,” is regularly translated “Lord” in the English Bible. “Lord” in turn is found over 7000 times in the Bible as a name of God – and specifically as a name and a title of Jesus. (Sidebar: soak in the glory of Exodus 3:13-15, and consider that great text in the light of Peter’s confession of faith.)

 This is the conversation where Jesus promises that the church can’t and won’t be stopped! Why? Because we’re Christ’s Church! As a spiritual community being crafted for God’s glory, we are His called-out body of believers. Not even “the gates of hell” will overcome the church, and “gates” here is all-encompassing figurative language meant to wrap in every power and force of Satan.

Christ is Love.

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Imagine that! What love is that! Jesus brings us into His plan of salvation. We become the instruments through which He shares the good news of Christ to the ends of the earth!

How do we know that they’re not just Peter’s keys? Because every Christ-follower is a fisher of men (and women). Every disciple is an ambassador of reconciliation. It’s humbling, but powerful, when we grasp that.

I believe that Jesus wants us to experience, and live in, such well-grounded amazement at His absolute authority over everything that we will give our lives to His seemingly impossible mission. May we hear His irresistibly gracious voice today, and respond with our whole being – willing to leave behind all security and comfort to expand the fame of the matchless Lord Jesus Christ!

Christ is Enough.

“Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” But here’s a literal translation: “Whatever you bind on earth SHALL HAVE BEEN BOUND in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth SHALL HAVE BEEN LOOSED in heaven.” See, you and I share the gospel of Jesus, but we trust the Lord with the results – now and for all eternity. Salvation is His enterprise – we’re just the good-news agents.

Carefully consider what Jesus further explains in Luke 11:52. The religious leaders were not content leaving the power to save in the hands of God, and the “lawyers” were adding so much tradition to God’s Word that they were making it impossible for people to find any saving truth at all.

Do you and I receive eternal life as the “reward” of our discipleship? Yes, but this promise should not be the only reason that we follow hard after Christ. There is an amazing story linked to the phrase, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” A believer and his family from Assam, India, were living in direct opposition to the chief of their very violent tribe. They were threatened with their lives unless they denounced their faith. Eventually, the chief killed the man’s two sons right in front of him. Then his wife. But the family’s faith was resolute – they would not forsake Christ. Ultimately, all were killed. But, after the bloodshed, the chief was so shaken by the power of Christ that he and his entire village repented and converted.

“Christ is enough for me.” We sing it, but do we mean it?

Christ is Ours.

He is our Prophet, our Priest, and our King. So, we affirm with David: “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.”

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Christ’s righteousness is already ours. His gift of faith is ours. And even His resurrection will be ours!

“Who do you say that I am?”

His with you,

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Sink or Swim

Today I’m expanding on some thoughts which I shared Monday on Facebook. I hope you find them helpful as we seek to understand such a tumultuous scene at the national level.

Christian theology often speaks of “the world, the flesh, and the devil” as the three enemies of the soul. This makes perfect sense when you consider the temptation of Jesus (Luke 4:1-13). God’s plan to save a people for His glory would have been forever thwarted if the Son of God would have bowed to idols, or yielded to carnal desire, or acted on satanic lies.

And take a look at Ephesians 2:1-3. Apart from Christ and His radical work of grace in the human heart, we’re dead. Not just sick, and not just dragged down – but dead! And then take a peek at 1 John 2:15-17. The nature of sin hasn’t changed, and neither has the nature of temptation – in this example articulated by John as “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions.” World. Flesh. Devil.

If these principles are true in regard to temptation and sin – and of course they are – doesn’t it follow that our struggles as a people (Lord knows, we have plenty of them right now) might be 3-dimensional as well? Friends, I think that this is worthy of our time and prayerful consideration.

Let’s take racial division, for example. It makes sense that there would be a systemic (world) component. Here’s what I mean: our world is broken by sin, and that inherent brokenness manifests itself in broken systems. That’s why it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that every system is imperfect, whether we’re observing the judicial system, the post office, or the way in which I have my papers arranged in my drawer. Large or small, it doesn’t matter this side of heaven – the system always has its imperfections. So, in the area of race relations, let’s not pretend that we don’t have work to do, or room to grow – if we start the conversation on race with an arrogant attitude, it’s going downhill fast. And it’s terribly unwinsome in the public square.

Likewise, it makes sense that there would be a personal (flesh) component that always gets in the way of how I see (and regard) other human beings. In other words, we’re all guilty as charged. We all have our blind spots and shortsightedness with which to contend. I don’t mean that each one of us is as wicked as we could possibly be, but I mean that every facet of our personhood is tainted by sin. That means that we all struggle with a selfish bent toward considering our own tribe to be the best tribe. That’s who we are as people, and that’s what we do. Thankfully, our gospel frees us from self, and empowers us to live a life of service, openheartedness, sacrifice, and love.

Furthermore, it also makes sense that there would be a demonic (devil) component behind all racial strife. Jesus reminded us that our enemy’s mission is “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). It seems like Satan would be all about doing whatever he can to fill our cultural climate with hatred and rage. He stokes the natural (and national) fires of pride, racism, prejudice, and fear. We’re presently primed for that kind of societal explosion and meltdown. For you and for me, Jesus speaks directly into this: when we insult our brother, we’re in grave danger ourselves (Matthew 5:22). But when we keep the reality of spiritual darkness in mind, it protects our hearts from blaming our problems on “that other group of people,” and it reminds us that the biggest foe we face is not the person on the opposite side of a political debate.

Here’s where the church comes in: we’re the ones who understand these things! At least, we’re supposed to. We’ve got to remain hopeful, even in chaos. We’ve got to remain faithful, even in darkness. We’ve got to remain prayerful, even in the face of what can feel like a never-ending barrage of attacks against wisdom, reason, and order.

Because you and I are standing on God’s Word, we know that it will never be enough to change laws, policies, or even monuments without changing hearts. Our nation is bleeding, and our leaders in government are finding themselves more and more impotent, as people look to them to fix the mess. You and I are going to have to step in and help fix it, and that’s going to be accomplished most effectively as we share Christ – and serve others in His name – one person at a time. YOU can make a colossal and eternal difference in the world right now!

We also understand that it will never be enough to “change hearts” without humble trust in God’s power to do what we simply can’t do on our own (defeat the powers of sin and darkness). What I’m saying is that, even if we change people’s minds politically, that will not make for lasting peace. Because real peace is spiritual in nature, it only comes about between people as those same people experience peace with God. I know that’s an unpopular thought today, but it must be said. I’m not saying that we don’t strive and work for peace in the political arena – I think we should – but I’m reminding you that we can’t stop there: we’re the church!

The great Reformer Martin Luther described our enemy in vivid language. I thought we might benefit from a reminder from history: “Satan is by nature such a wicked and poisonous spirit that he cannot tolerate anything that is good. It pains him that even an apple, a cherry, and the like grow. It causes him pain and grief that a single healthy person should live upon the earth, and if God would not restrain him, he would hurl everything together in ruin. But to nothing is he a more bitter enemy than the dear Word; because while he can conceal himself under all creatures, the Word is the only agency that can disclose him.” Wow! I’m sure you get my point: we’re in way over our heads! Come, Holy Spirit, and help us believe and apply everything the Bible says!

People of God, let’s lead forward right now, starting with me – and starting with you. Here are some attempts to get that ball rolling, as we consider our own personal responsibilities to live as ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).

  1. How can I work against racial division where I live and have influence? Give that some thought. Open your heart. You are uniquely you, and you are uniquely positioned to be a voice of calm in the storm. Be you, but be more than you – be who Christ has called you to be right now!
  2. How must I change my views, speech, and actions in order to promote gospel peace and unity? If you don’t know what people mean by “white privilege,” get to work and do your best to read, study, and reflect. We can’t make a difference in the conversation if we’re ignorant, and we can’t make a positive impact if we unknowingly use inflammatory and divisive language. We’re gospel people, and – as I preached Sunday – the gospel is offensive enough. Let’s not add to the offense our own lack of preparedness (1 Peter 3:15).
  3. How will I pray with desperation for a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon our nation and upon the body of Christ, for such a time as this? We can’t fix it – but we know who can! It’s that simple.

We better keep our identity as Christ followers thoroughly intact as we navigate these troubled waters, or we are sure to sink.

Swimming with you,

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Created for Community

“It is not good that the man should be alone …” (Genesis 2:18).

COVID-19 has taken its toll on us. I probably didn’t need to tell you that. This pandemic has been so pernicious that it’s got introverts dreaming of taking the middle seat on a flight full of talk show hosts.

Here’s why I think the natives are restless: this just isn’t who we are! We’re people people at heart, and that goes for even the quieter types among us.

We were made for safety in numbers. Not safety in isolation. If you’ve ever gone camping in a place where bears roam the wild, you were probably warned not to wander off alone. For good reason, you needed a nature buddy. Similarly, God made us to look out for each other. Yes, we are our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper, like it or not. The Israelites had to become a community. The early followers of Jesus had to become a community. It’s just who we’re designed by our Creator to be.

We were made for sharing life together. The koinonia of the early Christians was much more than a Sunday gathering. It was spending time and breaking bread and praying for each other. They were devoted to each other, and they were devoted to the gospel, together. They were in it together. That shared identity, and the familial relationships that came with it, was worth living and dying for.

We were made for relational intimacy. In fact, we get sick without it. Johann Hari, in Chasing the Scream, observes: “Human beings have an innate need to bond and connect. When we are happy and healthy we will bond with the people around us. But when we can’t because we’re traumatized, isolated or beaten down by life, we will bond with something that gives us some sense of relief. It might be checking our smartphones constantly. It might be pornography. It might be gambling, etc. but we will bond with something … Addiction is just one symptom of the crisis of disconnection that’s happening all around us. We all feel it.”

We were made for humble interdependency. That’s part of our deep need for each other: it takes iron to sharpen iron. We are a living body, connected to our living Head, Christ. He is the source of our life, and that life is breathed into us in and through a spiritual community. It’s not that Christ can’t meet our needs when we’re alone, but it’s that Christ often chooses to meet our needs through other people.

Community is a glorious opportunity for you and for me, as Christ’s Church becomes our sacred tutor. In the sometimes painful stretching of each one of us, as we learn to embrace and serve each other, we experience our Lord’s grace in real life. And we grow into the life-giving and irreplaceable family we were always meant to be.

So here’s to you!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

These Things

As an “undershepherd” who seeks diligently to observe and learn from the evangelical subculture in America, I must admit that I sometimes get very discouraged. We’re a hot mess right now. Professing Christians are fighting over President Trump. Fighting over COVID-19. Fighting over social justice, race relations, the criminal justice system, and the removal (or not) of historical monuments. Fighting over just about everything in the news.

Don’t get me wrong: some of these are good fights. Good, in the sense that the issues underlying the disputes involve important Biblical precepts that need to be mined carefully for all of the truth which we can dig out of them for both knowledge and application. But I am saddened nonetheless to see so much overt hostility among sisters and brothers.

So I’d like to do two things this Monday morning: 1. offer three simple suggestions toward preserving unity in the body of Christ, and 2. outline for you the handful of Christian doctrines which I believe are so critical that they must be preserved without debate in order to maintain the gospel and the integrity of the Church (in any and every generation).

First of all, we need to strive to be extra gracious right now. We need to assume the best in regard to each other. We need to recognize that these are turbulent times and that we’re all a bit weary. Most of us did not have a college course on pandemics, nor are the experts who did study such things finding easy answers right now. Regarding many subjects, we need to be O.K. with others landing in a different spot than the one where we’ve landed. And how many of us aren’t finding our opinions on some things changing, in relatively short order, as we take in new information? Let’s walk in love.

Secondly, as we walk in love, let’s try to do that in a way that transcends political loyalties. You and I are citizens of a higher kingdom, and we can’t forget that. At the very beginning of the pandemic, I predicted to our pastors that we would soon see a season of tremendous social unrest – but even I was caught off guard when it happened! So much for my success as a social commentator. In a period of nearly moment-by-moment new news, you and I must be firmly anchored in something stable and eternal: God’s Word. And, when it comes to our study of Scripture, let’s be in the Word for the purpose of growing in grace and truth – not for the purpose of scoring political points so that we can win an argument.

Thirdly, we must pray for discernment. You and I desperately need discernment, so that we can make our best effort toward living out an old adage:

In essentials, unity;

In nonessentials, liberty;

In all things, charity.

 Those words date all the way back to the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648) and are specifically credited to Rupertus Meldenius, who wrote them during a bloody time in European history which was fueled by hostilities among people who claimed loyalty to God. That speaks to me. Loudly. Now. How about you?

Please don’t misunderstand me, friends. I’m not advocating that you and I sit on the sidelines and pretend that nothing really matters. Far from it. I’m just urging you to consider not making a mountain out of a molehill right now. We have enough mountains. Some matters of our faith are downright non-negotiable. I’ll share a key verse (Jude 3).

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

Sometimes we have to contend for the truth. It’s part of our calling. We don’t want to fight over whether or not Adam had a belly button, or what the weather will be like during the millennial reign, or who Jesus would vote for in November. Get my point? So not worth it. So not productive. So not who we’re supposed to be right now (or ever).

I don’t know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and it doesn’t matter. But, in case you’re still interested and still reading, here’s my shortlist of live-or-die issues:

  • the inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility, and authority of the Bible (all other sources are lesser in authority)
  • God as Creator of everything, and as Sovereign over all things
  • the virgin birth of Christ; the deity of Christ; the two natures of Christ; and the deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit (distinct personality and equally God; Tri-unity)
  • humankind created in God’s own image
  • the cross as the complete atonement for sin (no additional sacrifice required, only faith)
  • the bodily resurrection (of Christ and us)
  • the return of Christ (literal, physical, and visible)

In a sermon not long ago, I shared with you my passionate belief that racism is sin. I hope that I persuaded you from the Scriptures that it’s an assault on the fourth bullet which I just articulated. That’s just one example, among many, of where I must make certain that my preaching is based on God’s authority and not mine, because THESE THINGS I know to be true. Like you, I’m concerned about lots of other things too, but you and I might not perfectly agree on all those other things. What makes us part of the same family is not those other things. It’s these things.

In order to experience genuine unity around these things, we’ll have worked through lots of other things, but unity can happen even in regard to hard subjects when we’re all humbly submitted to the gospel of Jesus.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

From Love to Love

This August will mark 401 years since African slaves were first brought to America and traded with European settlers for money and food. Though slavery as an institution was abolished years ago, I don’t have to tell you that our nation still has a long, long way to go down the rocky path toward real racial reconciliation. The tragic events of the last week alone have shaken and rattled us all, as the death of George Floyd has become yet another symbol of our national brokenness.

If the body of Christ is to lead forward with grace and truth, against the backdrop of such pervasive pain and anger, then we better have a plan. What I’ve been pondering is not just a plan to apply within the context of our current racial disunity, but a plan that we might apply to whatever cultural crisis – at any given moment – that happens to be demanding the attention of the Church. Our attention is demanded because you and I have been called to care deeply and to respond wisely. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Friends, the only answer to that question, for the follower of Christ, is YES.

Love.

This is where it all starts. Our Lord made that clear. It’s what He has taught us, and what He has shown us. The way of peace can be very costly, but I’m so glad He paid the price.

Now, you and I are called to live as peacemakers and reconcilers. Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart write: “Everyday peacemakers are men and women who choose to see the humanity, dignity, and image of God in others and who understand the plight of the voiceless. We are people who choose to see our own biases, opinions, lies, and fears as well as our contributions to what is broken around us. We are men and women who acknowledge our blindness, understand what has contributed to it, and ask God to heal our sight.”

Listen.

When people are being divided, whatever the particular issue is that seems to be causing the fracture, the roots of the conflict are often many. Particularly when we’re part of the majority culture, our natural tendency is to offer a solution. Don’t. At least not right off the bat.

Here’s what we must remember: we can’t empathize with someone who’s hurting if we’re trying to prove a point. That just doesn’t work. (And we don’t like it when people do it to us.) We must learn to listen well.

Listening demonstrates love, tangibly.

Lament.

… weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). I can’t emphasize this one strongly enough. There’s another not-quite-as-old adage: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Truth. One of the things we ought to be doing right now is asking God to give us the compassion we need as we survey the landscape of this broken world all around us. Otherwise, without the fruit of Christ’s Spirit, you and I will become fearful, angry, and judgmental. And fast.

Let me offer an example, in our current context. When someone is grieving over white-on-black violence, that’s not the time to inject into the conversation a discourse on black-on-black violence. Let people grieve, and grieve with them. We want to be “incarnational” in our love for others: crawling into their pain whenever and however we can – the same way Jesus has loved us by crawling into our pain.

Let’s be honest: you and I don’t do “lament” easily. It makes us uncomfortable, as it should. We must have God’s grace in order to do this well.

Learn.

You and I should be lifelong students.

Here’s just one example of why that matters. According to the latest research from Barna, a surprising number of respondents – across demographics – says they “don’t know” how the Church should respond to historical mistreatment of African Americans (26% overall). I think this simply points out that people are confused about what should be our appropriate response right now. Why wouldn’t we be confused? The issues are complex and, well, confusing. All the more reason why we should commit ourselves to doing everything we can to try to understand.

You may have to read some things which make you squirm, written by people with whom you disagree on multiple subjects. Read anyway. Stretch. Learn. I’ll simply remind you that true learning begins with humility.

Leverage.

You have a sphere of influence. I have a sphere of influence. And, together, we have a sphere of influence. As we gain understanding of the problem facing us, we gain the momentum we need to do something about it. We can really get engaged in creating a meaningful solution. And we can make a positive difference, all along the way, while we work toward seeing that solution come to fruition.

Even when we’re faced with a daunting task, there can be joy in the journey when we know that the car’s finally out of the garage. It’s downright fun to put the pedal to the metal, but it’s always best to know – before we punch that accelerator – that we’re headed in the right direction. That’s why “learning” must precede “leverage.”

We will not all choose to respond to the same crisis in the same way. Some will march in a peaceful protest – others will engage the issue differently. That’s O.K. Leave room for people to be people. But, whatever you do, choose to leverage your God-given energy and resources to help fix the problem. Try hard, and don’t grow weary trying. And don’t give up.

Love.

As God heals our sight inch by inch, you and I will be set free to love, and not just to love God – but to love our neighbor more deeply than ever before. I hope you find that a glorious thought.

So there you have six steps toward a brighter tomorrow – regardless of the cultural crisis – for your prayerful consideration. Perhaps most important: #1 and #6 are “Love.” It starts and ends with love. Let’s do it!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Point People

Instagram delivered the news: Jonathan Steingard no longer believes in God. Not what you expect from the lead singer of a Christian band – in this case, it’s the band Hawk Nelson – but we’re seeing more and more of this kind of formal faith renunciation.

Jon’s came in the form of a May 20 apology: “I’ve been terrified to post this for a while – but it feels like it’s time for me to be honest … After growing up in a Christian home, being a pastor’s kid, playing and singing in a Christian band, and having the word ‘Christian’ in front of most of the things in my life – I am now finding that I no longer believe in God …”

I get super sad whenever I see things like this. It represents so many misunderstandings on so many levels. Not only that, but I’m sad for Jonathan. He’s obviously in a state of crisis. You and I should pray that God meets this man right where he is. Not too much for God.

Now, please allow me to make a few personal observations …

a. Almost without fail, this kind of announcement is generally followed (in relatively short order) by a second announcement: that the person who made the first announcement has entered into a lifestyle that is incompatible with Christianity.

b. We in the Christian community are at least partially responsible for the damage we inflict by elevating anyone in a ministry spotlight to “celebrity” status. We can add to the hypocrisy and the pressure without intending it or realizing it.

c. Nothing can replace the church! God has instructed us to learn our doctrine and theology within the context of the local assembly of believers, to whom every member is accountable – and the church must be shepherded by qualified and tested leaders.

d. This is a truth from Scripture, and from the lips of our Sovereign Lord Jesus (John 6:37): “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” That never changes, friends. Period.

I wanted to say all of that so that we don’t set up our kids to be disappointed by another fallen hero. That will still happen from time to time, but we need to minimize that fallout danger by making sure that we are strong in the gospel! When we’re strong in Christ, we’re much less likely to be shaken by someone who appears to be abandoning orthodoxy. In fact, the Bible tells us to expect such departures (check out First Timothy 4, for example).

So let’s say that we have a friend or a family member who is struggling, intellectually, with the claims of Christ – whether the person professes to be a believer, or not. Are there some ways in which we can help them reason through their struggles – and navigate through those murky waters of doubt? Yes.

We can point people toward the basic principle of cause-and-effect. Every known thing in our world has a cause. That seems more than accidental. It’s worth pondering that the cause of a universe as awesome as ours must be none other than an awesome God.

We can point people toward the incredible and undeniable design which is all around us. By making even simple observations from nature, we can highlight the harmony, order, and design of the cosmos – and suggest their consideration of the intelligent purpose behind such a grand design.

We can point people toward logical deduction. (Bear with me.) This example goes all the way back to Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109). 1) God is the greatest being one can conceive. 2) Is there a being that meets the definition we assign to God? 3) If so, then I have an understanding of God in my own mind that is not based on prior understanding. 4) I then have an understanding of God’s existence. 5) Hence, God exists in the understanding of a person. 6) But, God cannot exist in the understanding alone because He is the greatest being that can be conceived, thus God must exist in reality, which is greater than understanding alone. 7) Therefore, God exists. (I don’t expect you to get it the first time, but keep at it.)

We can point people toward fundamental notions of right and wrong. Most everyone you talk with will express some innate sense of “good” and “bad” – as well as some desire for justice. Perhaps we can help them see that there must then be a God who is just, and who will one day accomplish perfect justice.

And we can point people toward an empty tomb! When we make Jesus the main thing, and when we keep Jesus the main thing, we can know that we’re at least walking down the right road.

These conversations may help people correctly evaluate the evidence, and correctly reason to a true conclusion, but they’re unlikely to dispel every doubt. Our aim as Christ-followers is to help others overcome at least some of their objections even to the existence of God. We must remember, however, that we can’t create saving faith in anyone – only the Holy Spirit can accomplish that. So our posture must always be one of humble prayer and desperate dependence on the Lord.

It has been my experience that most people have moral struggles with God which in fact far outweigh their intellectual struggles with God. It’s the problem of human pride, and it reminds us how much we all need a Savior!

So let’s go initiate some encouraging and life-giving conversations …

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Peligro

The tragic scene early Wednesday morning was on L.A.’s Venice Beach, where the body of pro wrestler Shad Gaspard had washed ashore. Last weekend, Shad was caught in a rip current about fifty yards from the beach. A wave swept over Shad, and it was all over. He was never seen alive again.

As I read the story, my heart sank.

Because it was my story.

Except that I’m still here.

When I was 15, I was enjoying “Las Playas” in Acapulco, Mexico, swimming in the cold Pacific with my father and sister. We were having the time of our lives and paying little attention to the red flags dotting the hot, sandy beach. Red meant “peligro” (“danger” in English) – and for a sane person it would have meant “no swimming” – but what teenage boy doesn’t feel a certain sense of invincibility? In fact, if I had any real worry at all that afternoon, it was for my sister.

In the blink of any eye, a wave that I never saw coming crashed over my shoulders, and I was under the water. It felt like a thousand arms were grabbing me from every direction. The force was so intense that I knew that fighting it would be futile. And even though this all happened within a few seconds, my memories of that day and those moments are crystal clear. I suppose I’ll never forget those powerful seconds.

My life passed before my eyes, just like in the movies. It was exactly like that. I saw quick mental snapshots of who I was, and of a couple of things that were important to me, but I was absolutely certain that I was going to drown. There was no doubt about it. I didn’t even try to swim, or to pull myself up. It was like I was frozen and held motionless, except that I could tell that I was being moved further and further from the shore, because I could feel the momentum of the unstoppable pull through those dark waters. I even saw, in my mind’s eye, my obituary and the accompanying photograph in the newspaper. I could not breathe because my head never came above the water.

Until it did.

Three hundred and fifty yards offshore, the “undertow” (that’s what we called it back then) spat me out just as quickly as the fish that followed Jonah upchucked the reluctant prophet. Every powerful arm below me released me. I could breathe.

By then I had time to be afraid. I felt like I had been zapped by a sedative or a surgery, and I knew that I couldn’t swim all the way back to the beach. I could, but I felt like I couldn’t. Then I became convinced that a hungry shark would have me for an appetizer within minutes. (I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with those creatures.) But I swam. Slowly and cautiously.

Before long, I was visible to some lifeguards, who met me in the water. The trepidation eased. It was over.

No, it wasn’t over, and that’s my point.

In the mercy of God, He gave me more time. Time in fact that would be necessary for me to know Christ, and to profess Him as Savior and Lord. Time to reach legal age and go to college. Time to get married and have a son. Time to preach the gospel. Time. The Lord gave me more time.

Shad Gaspard did not survive the ocean, but I did. And we all know that was no test of physical fitness.

Perhaps more than anything else, the Protestant Reformer John Knox is remembered for his bold prayer: “Give me Scotland, or I die.” John’s prayer was not an arrogant demand, but it demonstrated the substance of the ministry to which Knox desired to spend the remaining energy of his life. All threats by opposing forces aside – he had been imprisoned and enslaved – John was willing to die for Christ’s truth.

If you’re reading this, you, too, have been given more time.

Make it count, friend!

Will God use you to revive a nation?

Will God use you to give hope to a tired church?

Will God use you to pray for those who need to experience forgiveness and grace?

It can get exhausting but don’t lose heart. The ultimate danger is that you and I will give up. We can’t let that happen, because there’s still time. Very valuable time.

When you think about it, please pray for Siliana Gaspard, Shad’s wife, and for Aryeh, their 10-year-old son who was swimming with his dad when the riptide struck. They need our prayers.

Every second counts.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Is Wisdom Still Wise?

Confusing times, huh? Did you ever even imagine some of the issues before us?

The people on our streets don’t trust media or government. And they barely trust scientists and doctors, who are also falling in the polls. In our world where every issue has become politicized to the point of nearly unrecognizable, and when such a climate breeds nothing but widespread distrust, can you and I live as people who are wise?

Yes.

Because of Christ.

I’m captivated by the last few verses of Romans, where Paul offers his “final instructions and greetings.” Rich. And the apostle says it right there (16:19): I want you to be wise!

The Apostle Paul did not write this epistle in a vacuum. He wrote it in deeply troubled times. Paul recorded these words so that believers living in chaos would be wise in every situation. Paul longed for his sisters and brothers in Christ to grow in God’s wisdom in some very specific ways …

WE MUST STAY STRONG IN THE GOSPEL.

This is the language of Paul’s doxology in 16:25. You and I need God’s strength because life can be very difficult at times. You know, pandemics and all. The strength with which we’re supplied doesn’t come out of nowhere, but it’s rooted in the person and work of Jesus.

Then check out 16:17-20. Divisions, and opportunities for further division, are all around us. Paul sternly warns the Romans about what will destroy their church. They have to stand against those who cause divisions and confusion in regard to matters of utmost importance. Paul understands that, when we lose the gospel, we’re powerless.

The gospel strengthens us because it strengthens our faith. God uses faith to produce in and through us wonderful fruits of righteousness. You and I are soul-strengthened by the good news of Jesus, and we must preach it to ourselves over and over again.

WE MUST DO WHAT WE KNOW TO BE RIGHT.

Check out 16:19 and 16:26. Why is Paul so excited about what the Lord will do in the lives of the people who will receive this letter? Simply this: Paul knows that the Holy Spirit will use the great doctrines of Romans to create transformed people – people who are submitted to Christ and working together for the glory of God.

A lifestyle of obedience to Christ sets us apart from the unbelieving world. Our obedience – not perfection, but a new direction of thought and affections and behavior – is the fruit that demonstrates that our faith is alive. That it’s real! That’s it’s true! But never forget that our commitment to the gospel doesn’t come without cost. And that our growth in grace doesn’t come without cost, because our old nature will try to bring us down. More than once.

But we persevere. And God meets us in our weaknesses. In fact, that’s where Christ shines brightest.

WE MUST BE A PEOPLE OF NO-MATTER-WHAT PRAISE!

All you have to do is look at the very last verse of Romans, and it will jump right off the page.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our church family, and our calling together for such strange times as COVID-19. The 1960s was a period of great social turbulence in our land, but our Sovereign God used that season of unrest to raise up a generation of young adults who eventually became “the Jesus People” – a movement that started on the West Coast but impacted all of American evangelicalism. You see, sometimes the Lord uses prolonged and polarizing unrest to create in His own sheep a profound dissatisfaction with business as usual, and a stark realization that only Christ can truly satisfy the deepest longings of the human soul.

We need wisdom, friends. Gospel wisdom. You do. I do. We do. And it starts and ends with bowing before the only Giver of wisdom.

So let’s seek Christ for it, and light up this place with it!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts