Church Covenant, Section 2 (Newsletter 10.04.17)

Dear Church Family,

The second section of our newly adopted church covenant reads: “We will walk together in brotherly love, exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over one another, and faithfully encourage and counsel one another as occasion may require with wisdom and humility.” Let’s break this down into its three parts.

1) We will walk together in brotherly love.

This commitment probably doesn’t surprise anyone, but this is something we must all work on on a daily basis—even when we’re doing well here (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10). We are committed to love one another because God is love and love is from God. We know love because He laid His life down for us. We love because He first loved us in order that we might follow in His self-initiating and self-sacrificing love (1 John 3-4). Through His ultimate demonstration of love, He has made us sons of God by faith in Christ. And if all of us are sons of God, then as Christians we are all members of the family of God. This is why we are called to show brotherly love—we are called to love one another like the family of God we are. Continue reading

Church Covenant, Section 1 (Newsletter 09.27.17)

Dear Church Family,

After much discussion, last Sunday night (9/24) by God’s grace our church voted unanimously to adopt updated documents as they were proposed. This is no small feat. Of course, until Jesus returns there will be all kinds of things we disagree about, but the beauty of the vote is the way it trumpets the unity that we have in Christ. In connection with this, one of the documents we adopted is our church covenant. Over the next few months, I plan to use these newsletters to briefly discuss one section of the covenant at a time. The first section reads: “We will work and pray for unity among the members of this body, choosing to love one another even as we love ourselves and make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification.”

Why is unity important? Unity is important because the God we are called to reflect is One. Christ is not divided and therefore His people must not be either. Listen to the words of Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17:22-23, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” Did you catch that last part? Jesus says our unity within the church causes the world to know Son’s unity with the Father. Continue reading

Upcoming Members’ Meeting (Newsletter 09.20.17)

Dear Church Family,

Lord willing, this coming Sunday night (9/24), the Long Range Planning Committee’s proposal for our updated church documents will be discussed and then voted on by all members present in our regular quarterly business meeting. These documents include our church constitution, bylaws, and policies. I wonder how many of you read “church documents” and immediately feel a nap coming on. There are some who argue having church documents is an outdated, overly formal practice. Others see documents as unhelpfully narrowing who can join our church. The list of objections could go on and on, but rightly understood, church documents are helpful, relevant, and—dare I say—even exciting.

Church documents are helpful because they clearly articulate what we believe and how we are committed to practice what we believe. Of course, we shouldn’t expect to find everything we could say on any given subject, but these documents do speak to the general convictions we hold in agreement as a local, Southern Baptist church. These beliefs, convictions, and their applications strive to be faithful to what the Bible teaches and as such, they are immensely relevant. We believe we exist to glorify God and that we do this by loving, cherishing, and obeying His Word. So, these documents serve to take Scripture seriously. Continue reading

Different Preachers, Updated Documents, and a New Series (Newsletter 09.06.17)

Dear Church Family,

This coming Sunday (9/10) and the following Wednesday (9/13) our church will be privileged to have Nathan McCravey, Jim Roberts, and Harold McConnell minister the Word to us. It is a great blessing to have so many men equipped by God serving our church. This will be Nathan’s first time to preach God’s Word to us as a member of our church serving in the role of Family Minister. I speak for all of us when I say we were helped and encouraged in a powerful way as he preached from 1 Corinthians 15 and I am confident the same will be true as he begins to lead us through the book of Mark in 1:1-9. Please join me in praying for these men as they stand before our church and open up the Bible.

Also, this coming Sunday (9/10) the tireless labors of the Long Range Planning Committee on the proposal for our church constitution, bylaws, and policies will be made available. We would ask you to take one set of documents per family and to review them closely. To help the process along, after reviewing them, please notify any member of the committee with any questions, comments, or suggestions you have before our next scheduled quarterly members’ meeting on 9/24 at 6:00 p.m. At that time, we will formally discuss the documents and any edits needed and vote on the finished product. Continue reading

Is Work a Good Thing? (Newsletter 08.30.17)

Dear Church Family,

Is work a good thing? Many would argue the answer depends on compensation, time commitment, responsibilities, and satisfaction level. Others give their answer through their evasion of work by either refusing to work altogether or being off task when they’re supposed to be working. Our federal government’s Department of Labor has answered this way, “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” In other words, the upcoming national holiday was created to recognize and celebrate the goodness of work.

Did you know the Bible gives the definitive answer to this question? In Genesis 2:15 we’re told, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Notice, this is found in Genesis 2 before sin entered the world through Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Genesis 3. God designed those He created as His representatives on earth to work because He works. As He created it, work is a good thing. Continue reading

Monthly Wednesday Night Dinners (Newsletter 08.23.17)

Dear Church Family,

Next Wednesday night (8/30), we will start back with our dinner rotation on the last Wednesday of every month—with a few exceptions. Lord willing, we will pick up where we left off in answering the question, “Who Is Jesus?” If you know of someone who may feel a little intimidated to go to church on a Sunday, this is a great opportunity to invite people to enjoy a free meal in an informal environment. Maybe if you have a friend you would like to hear the Gospel from someone else, we are committed to clearly sharing the Gospel in these meetings. Or maybe since retiring and needing to slow down due to health reasons, you feel as those your opportunities to share the good news with new people have dwindled.

Whatever your scenario, these meals and evangelistic studies are designed to be used intentionally by you, the members of this church. Make these work for you and your evangelistic efforts and let us partner with you in those. If you don’t currently have any relationships in which you are praying and working to be a faithful witness, let us pray with you for boldness and commit to take a first step toward faithfulness this coming Wednesday. We know that the harvest is plentiful and that Jesus has commissioned His church to serve as laborers in that harvest. That means it is our duty to share the Gospel with unbelievers and it is also our joy because we have the confident hope there will be some who will have eyes to see and ears to hear. Continue reading

Upcoming Sunday Night Study (Newsletter 08.16.17)

Dear Church Family,

Lord willing, this coming Sunday morning we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper and will again be reminded of the shed blood of Christ and the promise of His return. We truly commune with God as we partake of this family meal together. To be a member of the family of God is a wonderful blessing. Attached to this blessing is the covenant or agreement to live as a son or daughter of the King. In other words, being a member of the family of God is also very weighty because we are called to reflect our Father and Savior.

As God’s children, we are called to be holy because He is holy (1 Peter 1:13-16). This is not something any of us have attained in and of ourselves, but it is something all Christians are commanded to pursue (Hebrews 12:14). God’s people will inevitably sin, but as those who have been freed from the bondage of sin, we are forbidden from making a practice of sinning (1 John 1:8; 3:4-10). To say it another way, Christians must always be repenting sinners. Living this way is a reminder to us of the Gospel that saves us by faith in Christ. We are not without sin and therefore we are not the Savior. However, the sinless Savior does enable and command us to treasure Him above all else—including our sin. Continue reading

Welcoming the McCravey Family (Newsletter 08.09.17)

Dear Church Family,

Lord willing, by the time you are reading this, Nathan and Katy McCravey will have closed on their house and will have begun moving in. I know I speak for all of us when I say that we are extremely glad they are here. We have prayed for God to direct our path to the man for this new position of Family Minister, and He has blessed us with the McCravey family.

To convey our thankfulness and love for them, this Sunday (8/13) at 9:00 a.m. we will fellowship with one another and welcome the McCraveys to our church family. Please join me in praying specifically and intentionally for them as they continue through this time of transition. Let me also encourage you to begin praying that the Lord would show you where you personally might serve the children and youth associated with our church.

We don’t know what the future of our church holds, but we do know our God is faithful and He will glorify Himself. Each one of us is vital to the health of this church. God has united us together through the Gospel of His Son and has placed His Spirit within us in order that each one of us might be a blessing to one another and play a role in serving the body. No one person can do everything, but together we are the body of Christ. If we refuse to commit ourselves to serving the Lord in the context of the local church, we are hurting ourselves as well as the rest of the members.

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). Let’s pursue the Lord with all that we are as we strive to be faithful and entrust the outcome with the Him. We don’t know precisely what He’ll do, but we know what He’s capable of.

Gentry

Are You Still Afraid to Fail? (Newsletter 07.26.17)

Dear Church Family,

Are you still afraid to fail? Last week I wrote, “we should be afraid to fail when we are resting on the one we see in the mirror, but we shouldn’t be afraid to fail when we are resting on our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” That sounds simple enough, right? Maybe for some of us, but there are others who read a statement like that and think, “Well, sure, but how will I ever know I’m resting fully and only in Jesus? I always seem to find myself trusting in myself or someone or something else—even if ever so slightly. What am I supposed to do?”

Christians with this temperament may think of Romans 14:23b where Paul writes “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” and feel paralyzed. We want to live fully resting in Christ, but we’re afraid of failing Him. We’re afraid to live boldly for Jesus because we know our faith so often falters. This might be expressed in a timidity to evangelize the lost or a nervousness to make disciples or a refusal to cultivate community. We don’t fully give ourselves to these tasks because we’re paralyzed by the fear of failing. We tell ourselves those Scriptural commands are for the Christians that really “have it all together” and not those of us who struggle. We think it’s better never to take off since we know we’re going to crash… Continue reading

Are You Afraid to Fail? (Newsletter 07.19.17)

Dear Church Family,

Are you afraid to fail? I imagine most of you would say, “Yes.” You may even think of 1 Corinthians 10:12 which says, “Therefore let anyone who think that he stands take heed lest he fall” as indicating the fear of failure is a virtue. In one sense, that’s right, but in another sense that’s wrong. Here’s what I mean.

What Paul is after in the first part of 1 Corinthians 10 is exposing and uprooting the folly of self-sufficiency, otherwise known as pride. He uses examples from the exodus generation to show as Jude does in Jude 5, that having religious experiences—no matter how radical—are meaningless without faith. You see, we tend to understand Paul’s application of the truth in this chapter as essentially suggesting, “God won’t put more on you than you can handle.” So then it follows, “Get out there and do it!” Continue reading

Newsletter 07.12.17

Dear Church Family,

In case you weren’t able to be with us, this past Sunday night we changed things up a little. For all of you who were there, thank you for your openness and your willingness to publically connect with the other members of our church. We live in a culture that boasts of being social and all-access, but what it so often isn’t, is real. But because this kind of community isn’t real, people’s connectedness contributes to their isolation. Many are putting the best versions of themselves forward in order to defend their internal vulnerabilities, while potentially doing more damage to themselves than the threats they’re guarding against ever could.

You see, God created us to be in community. It wasn’t good for Adam to be alone in the Garden—in a paradise free from sin. How much more do we need community now, in a sin-warped world? Now of course, we too are affected by sin, and so we contribute to the difficulty of creating meaningful community with other sinners. However, as those whose eyes have been opened and hearts have been changed by the grace of God, Christians should and must displaying compelling community before the watching world. Continue reading

Newsletter 06.28.17

Dear Church Family,

Next Tuesday will mark the United States of America’s 241st birthday. Some of us have been around for a larger percentage of those years than others, but I think we would all agree our nation is changing. Think about what life was like for the colonists and how different their lives were from ours. The industrial and technological revolutions we’ve experienced have dramatically transformed so much of life as we now know it—and in less than 250 years!

Now, a quarter of a millennium may seem like a long time to most of us, but there is One who doesn’t think so. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Our God is unchanging though we and our nation change constantly. Mediate on that for a moment: our God does not—indeed, He cannot—change! This is glorious news to those who know Him through His Word and love Him by His Spirit. Continue reading

Newsletter 06.21.17

Dear Church Family,

This coming Lord’s day, we will be honored to have Nathan and Katy McCravey worshiping with us. Nathan has been interviewing for our open family minister position and many of you had the opportunity to meet them the last Sunday in May. After much prayer on both sides, he has accepted our invitation to come again in view of a call. We will be blessed to hear Nathan preach the Word of God to us and subsequently we will have a congregational vote to voice our decision.

Now, I am thankful that most of us do rightly honor the weight of being included in the governance of our local church, but let me remind all of us why this is so important. Although it should be granted that some events, roles, and circumstances were unique to the early church (as the Acts of the Apostles indicates), the book of Acts and the New Testament letters bear out that each member of every local church has a significant role to play. One of the main ways we see the office of church member carried out is through voting on those selected to serve the church. Specifically, deacons, elders, and missionaries were selected by the church as a whole. Continue reading

Newsletter 05.17.17

Dear Church Family,

Ten years ago our church planted another church under the leadership of then-pastor Phil McGehee. Since that time, Casa de Restauración has been served well by its pastor, Carlos Aguilar. We are two churches meeting at different times in the same building. However, though we are two separate local churches, we are all members of the universal church by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This means we are all apart of the family of God. This also means we are all working together for the same end—to glorify God through the spreading of His Gospel as we labor to make disciples through the context of local churches.

If we were able, we would merge into one church with great joy, but for now, language keeps that desire from becoming a reality. We remember that God in His sovereignty has determined even the languages we speak and nothing is outside the purposes of His wise providence. We are enabled to reach some and they are enabled to reach others. However, there is coming a day when we will join together with “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” as Revelation 7:9-10 describes. Continue reading

Newsletter 05.10.17

Dear Church Family,

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. Like many holidays, Mother’s Day can be met with mixed emotions. There are those who have lost their mothers. There are women who have longed to be mothers, but they were unable. There are mothers who have lost children. There are also mothers whose children and husbands seem ungrateful.

Of course, Mother’s Day is meant to be a day to celebrate our mothers and to express our thankfulness to them. But the fact that it isn’t purely a happy day for so many reveals that all is not right in the world. Since the Fall of our first parents until the Lord returns, sin reaches its tentacles down into and around the blessings given to us by God. Motherhood was meant to be an honor, but it can so often feel like a horror. There is pain attached to mothering now because of the curse of sin. Continue reading

Newsletter 05.03.17

Dear Church Family,

This coming Lord’s Day we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This meal of remembrance is often called Communion, but with whom are we communing? Is it with God or with man?

Well, we know regardless of our ethnicity, social status, gender, or any other divider—the repentance and faith that defines us as Christians makes us all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:25-28). This is true for all who are members of the universal church. However, we experience this unity and communion through the community of the local church of which we are members. Continue reading

Newsletter 04.26.17

Dear Church Family,

When a woman came and anointed Jesus’ head with very expense ointment, some were indignant and saw her expression of love as a waste. In fact, they scolded her for not using it for the sake of the poor. Jesus corrected them and explained in Mark 14:7, “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.”

Jesus may have been alluding to the first half of Deuteronomy 15:11 which says, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land.” Moses continues on in this verse to command the covenant people of God on how they must respond to poverty in the Promised Land: “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.” Continue reading

Newsletter 04.12.17

Dear Church Family,

How does a person become a member of the universal church? Upon each person’s being united with Christ by grace through faith, he or she instantaneously becomes a member of the universal church. In other words, every Christian is a member of the universal church. And only Christians are members of the universal church. Membership in the universal church depends on faith in Jesus Christ. There is no exception to this rule.

Now, let’s pause to think about that statement. We have defined the universal church as the true people of God throughout time—which would include several millennia before Christ came to earth as a man. So, how can the people of God who lived before Christ properly be called “Christians”? Great question. Continue reading

Newsletter 04.05.17

Dear Church Family,

Last week we focused on a definition of the universal church, and this week we will focus on a definition of the local church. A local church is a covenant assembly founded by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ resulting in love for God and His people as revealed through her united pursuit to obey His Word by the power of the Holy Spirit to the praise of His glory thereby representing Christ in the world. Yes, that definition is entirely too long—but yes, I love it.

Until the Lord returns, the universal assembly of the people of God remains unrealized. We are unable to gather together with all the believers on this earth—let alone all the believers who have ever and will ever live on this earth. The great assembly that lies ahead is foreshadowed through the local assemblies that take place throughout the world. In this way, it is appropriate to refer to these mini-assemblies as local churches, plural, while still affirming the one universal church (Acts 15:41; 16:5; Romans 16:16). Continue reading

Newsletter 03.29.17

Dear Church Family,

If someone asked you “What is the church?”, how would you define it? Or, if someone were to form a definition based on your typical usage of the word “church,” how would they define it? This may seem like a basic question to many of us, but if we think about it for long, we may discover it is a bit more complex than we first realized.

As we work toward a definition, we first begin with the Scriptures as the source of origin. Within the Scriptures, we find different usages. These usages break down into two categories: the universal church (sometimes called the lowercase “c” catholic church) and the local church. Here we will focus on the universal church. Continue reading

Newsletter 03.22.17

Dear Church Family,

Does the means justify the end? This may be a less common question to you, but it is one growing in popularity though no one talks this way. Some will suggest the journey is what matters, not the destination. In other words, it doesn’t matter where you’re going, just how you get there.

It sounds nice, doesn’t it? Like a slow drive through the mountains when the leaves are changing their colors. But if we use this motto to define our lives, the end won’t be as nice. How we make this journey of life we’re all on matters—in fact, it matters eternally. Continue reading

Newsletter 03.08.17

Dear Church Family,

Does the end justify the means? It can. I think we all would agree that the end of spreading the Gospel justifies the means of illegally entering a closed country. On the other hand, entering that same country illegally, in order to spread your business, would not be justifiable.

But does a good end always justify the means? Not always. Producing results outside of God’s ordained means may seem effective temporarily, but it will eventually incur God’s judgment. This is true no matter how good the end itself is. Neither divine provision, knowing the future, or performing miracles justifies transgressing God’s Word. You might not think those ends are possible for those who disobey the Lord, but they are. Continue reading

Newsletter 02.22.17

Dear Church Family,

Why do we assemble together as a church every Lord’s day for corporate worship? Some of you have difficulty driving. Some of you have pressing time constraints on your hands. Some of you have health issues that make it very difficult for you to climb stairs, stand and sit, and even listen for extended periods. The list could go on and on, but the beauty of this church is that you still come—regardless of what it costs you. Your steadfast commitment to gather together with this body is enough to move me to tears. Your attendance is such a marvelous testimony of your love for God and His people. I thank God for you.

So, why do you do it? Maybe you grew up going to church and you have been in the habit ever since. Maybe you relish the opportunity to be with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe you have taken to heart the command of Hebrews 11:24-25 not to neglect to meet together. All of those are wonderful reasons and all of them are important. However, the Scriptures speak of another, over-arching reason for why we regularly come together that is true about you—even if you don’t know it. Continue reading

Newsletter 02.08.17

Dear Church Family,

A few weeks ago we talked about perceived and actual hopelessness. I argued that before Christ’s blood was applied to us, we were actually hopeless, but now as Christians, any hopelessness we experience is solely perceptual. When God granted us faith to truly see the Gospel for what It is and then to respond accordingly, our hopelessness was replaced with the hope of Christ. This exchange is gloriously irreversible.

As the Spirit works within us, we don’t want to keep this good news a secret. So, as those who were once in the same situation, we strive to tell others about how they too can have true hope. However, in order to tell people how they can have real hope, we must first tell them that in and of themselves they are currently hopeless. Continue reading

Newsletter 01.18.17

Dear Church Family,

According to the most recent estimates (from 2014), abortion rates are at their lowest point since Roe v. Wade was decided forty-three years ago this Sunday. This is wonderful news and we should thank the Lord for His intervention here. However, the figure recorded for the number of abortions in 2014 is around 926,200. That is staggering—close to one million abortions in a single year. Statistics on this scale are incredibly difficult to take in, but using the totals from the 2010 census, there are six states whose entire population is less than the number of abortions in one year.

To end a pregnancy is to end a life. Every human being, even in the earliest stages of development, is created in the image of God. For this reason, we treasure life and we defend it—especially for those who are unable to defend it for themselves. This is not a political issue. This is a theological issue. I do not pretend to know all of the hardships and difficulties surrounding those who seek out abortion, but I do know the Almighty God of the universe does and He is able to see every woman, child, and family through. Continue reading

Newsletter 01.11.17

Dear Church Family,

Hopelessness is a terrible thing that leads people to do terrible things. In my estimation there are two kinds of hopelessness. One is a perception, but the other is a reality. Before we delve into these two categories, we need to define our terms.

In our current vernacular, being hopeful means feeling joyfully expectant about the future. Being hopeless, on the other hand, means feeling despairingly certain about the future. There are many people who consider their situation hopeless, when in fact there is hope for them. This is probably the most common way we think of hopelessness in connection with some sort of crisis where the outcome seems bleak. Even though this hopelessness is a perception and not a reality, when people live in light of this feeling, the effects are devastating.

Interestingly, the Bible defines hope and being without hope a little differently. In the minds of the New Testament authors, hope is not an expectant feeling—it is an anticipated certainty. The reason this hope is actual and not potential is because of the source of our hope. Our hope rests in Jesus Christ, who is Himself in the presence of God the Father serving on our behalf as a forerunner (Hebrews 6:19-20). For this reason, just as Jesus is alive after finishing His earthly work, including His death on the cross, so too our hope is alive with Him (1 Peter 1:3-5). This means it is impossible for the Christian to ever truly be hopeless. No matter the situations we face, no matter the calamities we endure, no matter the suffering we feel—our hope remains steadfast though we may need to be reminded.

There was once a time in all of our lives, before being born again, when we truly had no hope. Hopelessness was our reality. We had no hope because we were separated from Christ and not united with His people. If we don’t have Christ, we don’t have hope; that is, the certainty of the blessings of God. But now that we are in Christ, we will never be without hope again (Ephesians 2:12-14). So then, when we feel hopeless, we must plead with the Lord to open our eyes to see our bedrock hope. We must fight to remember by clinging to the cross, resolving to act according to our theology and not our feelings.

Furthermore, we are not alone in this. All of us will deal with seasons of despair, but God has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He has also given us the local church in part to tangibly manifest that reality. Our hope is secure, but we still struggle and strain as we wait for it to be realized. Be of good courage, Christian, that Day is closer now than it has ever been.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

Gentry

Newsletter 01.04.17

Dear Church Family,

“You’re perfect just the way you are” and “Don’t ever change” are two expressions of the same popular sentiment in our culture. Those are comforting and encouraging words to hear, but if we take these statements at face value, we find them to be false. In and of ourselves we are not perfect because in this life we are always struggling and often succumbing to sin. If we define perfection as flawlessness, then we will only be flawless when we are sinless.

Now, to be sure, there is certainly a sense in which the Christian is in fact already perfect because the righteousness of Christ has been applied to him and the blood of Christ has completely cleansed him. We are becoming what we are as it were, but though God has committed to accomplish His purposes in us to the end, we are not yet what we will be.

Why do I bring this up at the beginning of this year? There is a false assurance hissing behind those two claims with which we began and I hope to guard you from them. But my greater desire is for your true encouragement and comfort to be rooted in the promise that the One who never changes has committed to continually be about the work to change us. Meditate on that for a moment. God, who is perfect, is actively involved in the process of gradually changing us to be like Him.

At the start of a new year it is good to remember we are called and also empowered by the Holy Spirit to change. If you have not already paused to assess your life (whether you are nine or ninety makes little difference), begin this year by prayerfully considering how you might grow in your faithfulness “as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” And when He opens your eyes to the follies and failures of your life up until this point—don’t be discouraged, but rejoice that the God who wills your sanctification will supply your need and see you through.

If we are in Christ, we are not locked in or enslaved to any sin, ungodliness, or bad habit that may have characterized us in the past. “Don’t ever change” only sounds liberating. As Christians indwelt by the Spirit, we must be an ever-changing people by the grace of God, through the power of God, and for the glory of God alone. Living in this way truly frees us from the prison of sin’s tyranny.

So then, in light of His indwelling power to change us, what are your plans and godly ambitions for this year? May the Holy Spirit fill us with a love for God that calls us into greater obedience to His Word.

Gentry

Newsletter 12.21.16

Dear Church Family,

Christians who are faithfully living according to God’s Word should pray with confidence the Lord will answer their requests. However, that doesn’t mean every time one of our prayers isn’t answered it is in direct correlation to a particular sin. If that is the case, what finally determines whether He hears us or not?

The Apostle John answers this in 1 John 5:13-15 explaining, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” Ultimately God’s hearing of our requests is rooted in whether or not those requests are in keeping with His will.

Now, pause and think about all the things you have prayed for in the course of your Christian life and think about the ones that weren’t heard. If we’re honest, our initial feelings in coming to grips with our prayer life’s dependence on the will of God may be discouragement. Here’s what I mean: we pray for what we think is good and important, which means if those prayers aren’t answered we may feel like God’s will isn’t for what is good and important to us. But though our flesh may take us down this line of thinking, we must never linger there. Why? Because those who do are in grave danger of putting themselves in the position of God and then becoming bitter about the reality that they are not.

There is a reason we pray, “Your will be done” and not, “My will be done.” There is also a reason why we should pray for God’s will to be done with great joy. As we grow in our understanding of God’s Word, we will see ourselves and our Savior more clearly and fully. This is a cause for great humility and comfort. We are not perfect—He is. We are not omniscient—He is. We are not omnipotent—He is.

His will is for our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3). He is the Giver of all good gifts (James 1:17). When we combine these truths, find peace in knowing that in this life as we continue to battle against our sin, our will will not be done, but His will will always be done. So then we look to Him as the One who knows best and is working all things together for our good—even when we ask for something different.

Gentry

Newsletter 11.30.16

Dear Church Family,

When you pray, do you believe you will or won’t receive what you ask from God? Are you surprised when God hears your requests or when He doesn’t? Should we feel one way or the other?

It’s probably fair to say many Christians pray expecting not to receive that for which they ask. Several factors play into our predispositions here, but one that is not often talked about comes from 1 John 3:21-22. It reads, “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”

John wrote this letter to God’s children; that is, the church. Christians are those who have entered into the New Covenant with God through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is within the context of this relationship that God’s steadfast love is poured into our hearts. With that being said, only the prayers of those who have been born again are heard by the Father. God is good, kind, patient, and loving in some ways to all without exception. Nevertheless, there are other ways in which God is good, kind, patient, and loving only to those who bear the blood of His Son.

However, as you may have noticed, John qualifies that there will even be times when Christians are not heard by God. Those whose hearts condemn them have no confidence before God that He will answer their requests. What does John mean when he talks about a condemning heart? I will leave it to you to dig into the broader context of his letter, but specifically in this same sentence he links it with not keeping God’s commandment and not doing what pleases God.

What do we make of that? If we are not living in obedience to God’s Word and not fighting to honor Him, we have no confidence our prayers will be answered by Him. Why would God refuse to hear the prayers of His children when they are disobedient? Again, please look into the whole of John’s letter to see this, but God does this to discipline us in order to lead us to repentance. Though it may not seem this way at first, it is truly a blessing from God for Him not only to warn us of the danger of not being in good standing with Him, but also to motivate us to walk in obedience from an eagerness for Him to hear us when we pray.

So, from these two verses, John teaches us that genuine Christians who are walking with the Lord in the light of His Word should pray with a confident expectancy that the Lord will hear their requests. Does that mean if God doesn’t answer your request you either aren’t a Christian or you aren’t walking in obedience to His Word? Not necessarily. Those are good places for us to begin testing ourselves, but John gives us one more factor later in his letter that may be the reason why God does not grant our requests. We will look at this remaining element next time, Lord willing.

Gentry

Newsletter 11.09.16

Dear Church Family,

In Numbers 22-25, the Moabites have a problem. The Israelites have made their exodus out of Egypt and now they are moving into Moabite turf. What’s more is that they haven’t just been moving in, they have been wiping out everyone opposed to them. That’s bad news for them. So, their king, Balak, decides to take matters into his own hands and make a preemptive strike. However, his plan doesn’t involve a physical attack at this point—it involves a spiritual attack. Balak sends messengers to a man named Balaam who has a reputation for possessing mystical powers for this purpose: to curse the people of God.

Well, at the end of the day, not only does God keep Balaam from cursing His people, but He actually causes Balaam to do the opposite of what Balak wanted—he blesses them. Looking back on these events some time later, Nehemiah succinctly describes what happened by saying “our God turned the curse into a blessing” (Nehemiah 13:2). For the sake of clarity, Nehemiah makes this comment basically in passing and it is not the main point of what he is addressing, but even that impresses on us the reality that this is not out of the ordinary for God and therefore should not be surprising for His people.

In other words, the consistent teaching of Scripture is that God delights to turn curses into blessings and evil into good for His people. Two classic texts to corroborate this are found in Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” and Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Christian, don’t let this truth roll off you like water on a duck’s back. We are meant to find great comfort in the almighty power of our great God who will not let anything—absolutely anything—derail the plans for good He has for us.

But how can we be sure? We can bank our entire existence on this truth because through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, the greatest possible curse that stood against us has been fully and finally dealt with once and for all. But how do we know that? Because our Lord did not stay dead but was raised from the grave in order to prove that His substitution for His Bride was accepted by the Father. Brothers and sisters, with all due respect for the seriousness of the trials many of us have been through, are going through, and will go through—everything else is incomparably small. We must remind ourselves that even in the greatest of our challenges, our God remains unchallenged. If Christ has been raised from the dead, there remains no curse that our loving Father will not ultimately turn into a blessing.

So then whatever we experience and no matter the curses designed by the evil one against us, we are enabled to sing with great joy, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

Gentry

Newsletter 10.26.16

Dear Church Family,

“No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4). Let’s briefly locate this verse in its context. Paul is in the process of encouraging Timothy to persevere in zealous faithfulness to the God who called him. If we are in Christ, we have also been called by God to live in this same manner. The call of all Christians is one and the same: pursue the Lord with, through, and in everything.

We are in the Lord’s army. He enlisted us. We are His soldiers. He leads, guides, and commands us. We listen, heed, and trust Him. Our objective is to please Him in all things. Submitting to the orders of our commander may seem life-draining, but it is actually life-giving. God is not out to get us. God is out to bless us. However, these blessings are always bestowed in connection with obedience to God’s Word. You see, God never orders us on a path of destruction—even though there may be times when it appears that He has.

Well now, that sounds pretty simple to me. If God’s path of obedience always leads to blessing, then walking in the light should be no sweat. Does that sound like the experience of your Christian life? Of course we know that living in submission to God’s Word is always best, but when the theoretical must become practical we really find out if we believe it.

Paul has run his race and he knows what lies ahead for Timothy. There will be innumerable opportunities for good things to cloud out the best thing. Civilian pursuits are not evil in and of themselves, but they become entangling when they choke out the pursuit of our lives. God is not a mean-spirited grouch or a cosmic killjoy in calling us away from the cares and concerns of this world to a whole-hearted devotion to the kingdom. In fact, when we “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…all these things will be added to [us]” (Matthew 6:33).

Finally, let me qualify that this doesn’t suggest we are meant to only ever be singing songs of praise to God, sharing the Gospel with unbelievers, or supplying orphanages across the world. Those are all great things, but Paul’s call away from the “civilian pursuits” doesn’t narrow the field as much as it focuses the mission. In other words, all of the ordinary things we do and don’t do in the course of our lives are now meant to be in line with our overarching purpose of glorifying God. By ordering our lives in this way, we are enabled to joyously win the fight for faithfulness through the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

As we long for the day when all striving will cease, let us make it our aim to please Him by zealously pursuing Him through living in the light of His Word. For He alone is worthy.

Gentry

Newsletter 10.12.16

Dear Church Family,

A good friend is hard to find. Why is that? It’s hard for us to find good friends, because it’s hard for us to be good friends. In the book of Proverbs, Solomon compares a true friend with a biological brother. Here are three examples: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17), “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24), and “Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away” (Proverbs 27:10).

No doubt we could tease out many implications here about friendship, but for now, let it suffice to say a true friend is loving, loyal, and local. Here we will focus on the third aspect. In our days of fast transportation and faster communication, we may shrug off the need to be local as being culturally outdated. Of course, technological advances may enable us to feel more connected on the surface, but deep down we know that FaceTime can’t replace faces, and pictures can’t substitute for people. Is it any wonder then that so many identify themselves as lonely even though they have every form of social media available?

My point is not to suggest we can only have friends locally or that all communication must be done in person. Rather, I want to point out the great value and importance of being a friend to those around you—those in community with you. This is not earth-shattering news to anyone, which is part of what makes this so difficult to implement in our lives. We all want true friends. We all want to be true friends. But when we seek to move from the theoretical to the practical, we find that having and being true friends demands being real. Again, I know this seems overly basic and cliché, but let me explain.

All of us have a vision for who we want to be. Some of us want to be independent and strong, or charming and witty, or beautiful and composed. When we aren’t those things, we want people to think we are. In other words, we want people to perceive us in certain ways that are often inconsistent with who we really are. One of the problems with this is we will never have the kind of deep and abiding friendships we all crave, while clinging to falsified self-perceptions in pride. It’s hard to fake local, living-life-together, friendships if there is any depth to them at all.

Christians should be the best friends and have the best friendships—not because we are better than other people, but because we know we aren’t better than other people. Our salvation is not rooted in what we have done, are doing, or will do. Our salvation is solely rooted in what Christ accomplished on our behalf. The vision we have for our lives is Jesus Christ, Himself. In one sense, we know we aren’t there yet, but in another we know that when God looks at us, He sees the perfect righteousness of His Son. This frees us to fight against the fear of man that lurks in our flesh. We are fully and truly known by God, including the sin with which we struggle. Therefore, if God sees and knows us in these ways—and yet He loves us—then what could possibly keep us from seeking to know and be known by other Christians?

Do we air all of our dirty laundry to everyone every chance we get? Of course not. Do we celebrate our sin or minimize its seriousness? May it never be. We show up in one another’s lives and we bring the Gospel to bear in every aspect of our life together. God, in His great wisdom and compassion, has commanded every Christian to be a faithful member of a local church in order that we might be blessed with the kind of genuine friendships for which He has designed us. We recognize we are all still in process. But, by God’s grace, being known by others reminds us we do not make this journey alone. We covenant together with a local assembly of believers in order to link arms with one another and press ahead until we “shall know fully, even as [we] have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Gentry

Newsletter 10.05.16

Dear Church Family,

Who are your enemies? To whom are you an enemy? In other words, who is against you and who are you against? As any General will tell you, these are important questions to answer. According to the Bible, both of these questions have answers for every person at every point of his or her earthly life. Let’s try to answer each of these questions for the non-Christian and the Christian.

Before God saved us by grace through faith in His Son—regardless of anything else about us, we were enemies of God Himself (Romans 5:10; Philippians 3:18). There is no neutral position. Every person who doesn’t love Jesus hates God. Furthermore, hating God goes hand in hand with hating other people (Titus 3:3). In a word, not presumably where anyone would want to be.

Our natural response to an overarching, general claim like this may be to say, “Well, that’s not fair.” However, we need to be reminded that God designed, created, and sustains all that exists and therefore He alone is endowed with the right to define mankind’s purpose and meaning. We exist to glorify God; that is, to give Him the honor and praise He fully deserves. That means, when we fail here, we are in effect rebelling against His rule. Our sin is like attempting a coup against the King of the universe—bad idea.

Nevertheless, the fact the we are still here and that we haven’t been instantaneously punished by this sovereign God should give us pause to ask, “Why?” The time each one of us has been given demonstrates God’s unmerited patience and goodness. But even greater than these, in sending His Son to die, God’s love is revealed for all those who will repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

Now, for those who are trusting in Christ, we are no longer enemies of God—we are His children. We are no longer enemies of other Christians—we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Furthermore, we aren’t personally against of any other non-Christian, but rather we love them (Luke 6:27). They may hate us and be our enemies, but they can never be our enemies while we are gripped with the beauty of the Gospel that Christ loved us and died for us while we were still against Him (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10-11). We know non-Christians are not a threat to us, which enables us to show compassion as we offer them the hope of the good news.

So then, who are the Christian’s enemies? Our enemies are no longer evil people, but evil powers (Ephesians 6:12) which we battle most intensely inside ourselves. The greatest threat to our souls is sin. Therefore, we are warned “if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).

This life is constant war, but thanks be to God by trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ we are no longer fighting a war we can’t win. In fact, because God raised Him from the dead we know we have victory in Jesus. So then, let God’s church fight like we’ll win and love like He did.

Gentry

Newsletter 09.28.16

Dear Church Family,

As someone who is renovating a house, I can say from experience that sanding by hand is hard work. This includes all levels of sanding, on all kinds of materials. It is a slow process. No matter how quickly the paper moves, the bulk of the material being removed still remains.

The alterations being made are small. There are often times when nothing seems to change, in spite of all the time spent sanding. When a slow process is coupled with small change, a large amount of energy is used to reach the desired result. Sanding is all about friction. Where there is friction, there is heat, which serves as a reminder that sanding is hard work.

But even though all of those aspects of sanding contribute to my angst toward it, the main reason sanding is so bothersome to me is that it seems endless. Who decides when a project is considered smooth? The levels of grittiness go up so high that it begins to seem like the manufacturers are just making up numbers. One person’s “Finished!” is another person’s “Just getting started,” which can be incredibly discouraging.

Similarly, in the Christian life, when God saves sinners His work has just begun. Yes, of course, the work of Christ on their behalf is finished. But, because of Christ’s completed work, God continues His work of redemption and transformation in the lives of believers. This is the process of sanctification in which Christians are made more like Christ.

The Apostle Paul explains it this way, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Sanctification is like sanding. The process is slow—it takes a lifetime. The changes are often so small they are unperceived. The transformation is exhausting, because our aim is complete perfection. Where this metaphor breaks down is where the beauty begins to break through. Ultimately, Christians are not the sanders, we are the sanded. We are His workmanship, which He created in Christ and transforms into Christlikeness.

Although we may be unable to discern the degrees, if we have been made into new creations by God, we can rest in the reality we are being transformed by Him. It is in His transformation of us that we actively struggle for maturity, “with all His energy that He powerfully works within [us]” (Colossians 1:29).

Thank God He has committed to bring to completion the work He began in us. In His perfect plan, God has determined to use individual Christians and local churches as tools in the process of making us more like Christ. Let us then embrace His design for our lives by walking in obedience to His Word.

Gentry