A Common Theme

One of the many things I have enjoyed in my time alone with God is when He shows me something new in the Scriptures. It’s always been there but for some reason I had not noticed it before. This theme has stood out to me in the last few months and I want to share it with you. It is the Holy Spirit’s power working in His people. This theme is in the Old and New Testaments. I find this to be very important because the same Spirit that empowered them is the same Spirit that empowers us. The power of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life is vital to serving our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King. 

I always enjoy the stories of the Old Testament but not until recently did I notice the power of the Holy Spirit in a lot of these passages. Look at the story of Samson. The Philistines had received Samson as a prisoner and the Bible says, “then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon Him”, (Judges 15:14 ESV). When that happened, he killed 1,000 Philistine men with the jawbone of a donkey. Another story in the Old Testament is that of David. “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him, (David) in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward”, (1 Samuel 16:13 ESV). David’s life became effective at this time because the Holy Spirit began to empower him. You can see this played out in the very next chapter where he takes on Goliath! 

There are stories in the New Testament that show the power of the Holy Spirit in the early church. One of my favorite stories is when we see the Holy Spirit empower Peter is in Acts 4. This is the same Peter who was scared and denied Jesus in Luke 22:54-62. Peter and John are arrested and they will not back down from preaching the Gospel. In this story Peter and John knew that the people who arrested them were the ones who called for the death of Jesus. Peter and John were not afraid but instead were filled with the Holy Spirit. This power allowed Peter to speak in boldness to them in Acts 4:18-13 ESV: 

“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”. Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished”. 

There are many instances in the Bible, (more than can be put in this Newsletter) where the Holy Spirit comes upon the person first and then they are effective for God. It is the same way for believers today as it was in the Old and New Testaments. If we want to serve God effectively, then we need to come to God and ask Him for help. There should be a point in our lives where we tell God, “I can’t do this on my own”, and this should be the point when we ask for the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. When we come to this realization, then we will be able to reach others and serve God more effectively. 

Difficult Questions

The Bible is an amazing book! It is God’s divine, written word to us. The Bible has the power to give life through the power of the gospel that covers its pages. The Bible is full of hope, able to penetrate to our very souls so that it can surgically excise our sinful character. The Bible is inerrant and is without contradictions. It is completely and absolutely true. There is no other book given to men that is as powerful. God is to be praised for giving us His word so that we can know Him more! 

While Scripture accomplishes these things—and even much more than I have listed—it is also full of statements, teachings, doctrines, and messages that are really difficult for us to hear. It seems hard to believe that one of the identifying marks of a believer is that we will suffer, just like our Master. It seems difficult to realize that Scripture calls a believer to live a countercultural life while here on this earth. The very things that are totally acceptable and even popular within a culture are rejected by Scripture. While I totally believe Scripture, these hard truths often collide with our society and now leave us as believers with some difficult questions that we need answered. 

Even though we have difficult questions that we desire answers to, we can rest assured that the same Scripture that declares these hard truths also gives us the answers to these questions. Jesus longs for us to know Him and to know the answers, and we can get them directly from Him. To help our church find these answers to these difficult questions, I am going to lead a 4-week study on answering these difficult questions directly from Scripture.

We will begin on Sunday, July 30th at 10am in the Sanctuary. But before we get there, I’m asking you to submit a difficult question you’d like to discuss. You can submit them by emailing me, filling out a Connect Card, or put your question on the index card and place it into the box in the foyer. I’m trusting that this will be a great discussion and blessed time. Life is difficult. Faith can seem difficult. Let’s turn together to God’s Word and see these difficulties dealt with by Jesus Himself. 

Resolved

Happy New Year! The coming of a new year always brings hope. For some, it brings the continued hope of things going incredibly well. For others, the ringing in of a new year is a chance to start fresh. There are still others who have had particularly difficult years filled with suffering and grief and are reaching for the hope of better times. Regardless of your reasons, I’d imagine that a spirit of hopefulness is upon you. 

But let me now ask you to examine yourselves a little more specifically. What are you hopeful for? Some would address this question by asking themselves what are they resolved to do? Many set new year resolutions to either get in shape or lose weight or spend more time with family. What’s yours? 

As I’ve been praying over what to say and even how to approach the new year, there’s been a common phrase scrolling through my mind that I believe is worthwhile to share. The answer that God is giving to me is to be resolved to know Him better. What an interesting concept. I thought that I knew God well and that our times were rich and deep, and yet I’m sensing His desire for me to know Him even more. After the initial shock wore off, I’ve come to realize that even though things are going pretty well in our relationship, there’s so much more that God longs to reveal and do in me. 

Let me challenge you to make this your resolution as well. Do you want to know Him better? It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been walking with Him, He simply desires for us to know Him more. Let this trump any other resolution that you have. May God bless your new year as you walk with Him. 

Are You Prepared?

How long does it take you to get ready for the day? For some it is simply a matter of jumping out of bed, stretching his arms over his head, feet hitting the floor, combing his hair with his hand, get dressed, and grab an apple on the way out of the door. For others, you might be the person that it takes a long time to get ready. Your clothes need to be just right, you shower, shave, eat breakfast, and maybe even get a few chores done before you feel prepared to meet the day. I must say that I vacillate between the two of these examples, but in either case I feel prepared for the day. I’m ready to meet those who will come across my path. 

One of the traditions that many hold dear during the Christmas season is the celebration of Advent. For those of you who do not know about Advent, it is a 4-week celebration where we remember the characters of Christmas and the values God displays throughout the Christmas story as it leads us to Jesus’ birth. It is celebrated every Sunday by lighting the Advent wreath, which is to be the focal point of our celebration and remembrance. 

We celebrate Advent every year here at CDAC. We read the stories, light the candles, everyone has a sparkle in their eyes because of the joy of the season. But this year I’ve been challenged to think of Advent differently than I’ve recently done. I received a book about Christmas traditions for pastor appreciation this year. It discusses the history of these special Christmas traditions—how they came about, what they look like now, and how they’ve impacted our celebrations of Christmas.

About halfway through the book I came across the chapter on Advent. It did talk about the wreath and the stories, but when I looked at the history, I was convicted that I got it all wrong. Advent isn’t just simply anticipating Christmas (which is a good thing). It is so much more than that. It is a celebration of Christ’s mission on this earth and that it began on that first Noel. Advent is looking forward to the whole mission of Jesus—to redeem us from our sins to live a life with Him! 

When the author was done exposing this, I was left with the question—am I prepared to celebrate all that Christ is? Am I right with God? Am I looking forward to being closer with Him? Friends, this is the purpose of Advent—to be a time of preparation to make sure that we are right with God and free in Him to be able to share His passion and heart! 

Today, as we come to Advent, I must ask if you are preparing to celebrate Jesus? There’s nothing that brings us greater joy than being close to God, and friends, this is what Advent and this season is all about. 

A Life of Thanksgiving

Our God has and continues to do some amazing things in our lives—He has given us life, food, clothing, shelter, purpose, love, grace, salvation through faith, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, the hope of an eternity to be spent with Him—and the list can go on and on and on. Each year, especially in the month of November, we take time to give thanks to God for all He’s done and all that He’s given. This year is no exception for me and I trust for you. God has done so much that when I ponder all of the ways God has provided for me, my mind drifts to such a beautiful time of worship. I love thanksgiving! 

Scripture refers to the principle of thanksgiving all over the place. There are appointed times of giving thanks, the feast of Booths is one such example. But this isn’t all. There are countless more references that deal with a lifestyle of thanksgiving that needs to characterize a believer’s life. Paul was writing to the church at Colossae and spent time articulating what a life in Christ looks like by saying, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” We see quite clearly that when Jesus has transformed our hearts and lives, thanksgiving is to be our response. 

I could quite easily finish this message by encouraging you to make time to give thanks to God during this month (I do believe you should do that). But instead, I want to point out a couple of things that will help you to be a believer who is characterized by a life of thanksgiving. 

 Don’t think that you are entitled to blessings. It is easy to see that we live in a society that thinks we are entitled to things simply because of who we are or where we live. Instead, be a person who sees that everything we have has come from the hand of God. 

 Giving thanks renews your perspective on life. A believer cannot think that he/she is self-sufficient. By giving thanks to God, we realize that we cannot do anything on our own. It also reminds us of how good God really is. 

May we be a people who are characterized by a life of thanksgiving—it’s who we are. 

Experiencing God's Passion

The last words that Jesus spoke while on this earth are words that drive the church’s focus and passion. As Jesus was ascending, He turned to His disciples and said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” These last words of Christ to His church reveal His heart, and as believers in Jesus Christ our hearts need to beat in time with His. 

There are a couple of opportunities that will take place this month that will aid us in keeping in step with God’s heart. Let me share these with you. First, when we look at the Gospels, we can plainly see that God has a special place in His heart for children. He wants them to come to Him, to grow in Him, to love Him. On October 23rd, we will have the great pleasure to hear and interact with Melissa MacDonald, The Alliance National Children’s Director. She will share how we can better lead children to know Christ and better strategies to share that love with them. There will be a time for questions and answers for anyone involved with Children’s ministries at 10am that Sunday. This is an amazing opportunity for us and I’m looking forward to how God will work. 

We also see God’s heart for missions. Our first core value in The Alliance states, “Lost people matter to God: He wants them found.” We need to have a huge heart for missions, and on October 29th, we have a great opportunity to hear about how Alliance Missions work and allowing God to impassion us for this great commission work. Our Vice-President for International Ministries will be speaking and sharing God’s heart for us. This opportunity is open to anyone who has a passion for missions. 

I’m excited to see where God is going to take us and impassion us for. 

 

Be Still

There have been many, many spiritual blessings that I’ve been given by God throughout the course of my life—my salvation, His presence with me through the Holy Spirit, the empowerment to live a life of faith in Jesus Christ—that have truly impacted me. But there is another blessing that God has given to me recently that I believe is one of the simplest lessons and yet in our society and culture in the United States today is one of the toughest for people to receive, even for the Church of Jesus Christ. Let me share a little of this journey with you today. 

One point from God’s character that I see throughout Scripture is that God is the God of progression—He never wants us as His children to stay where we are—He desires us to progress. He longs for us to progress in our relationship with Him. He longs for the Church to progress in holiness and also in making disciples of all nations. And there’s one area where God has been speaking to me recently that is of such importance, but honestly, sounds counterintuitive to the issue of progression—God is calling me to progress in stillness. 

I must make a confession to you all today. Many of you know that Pastor Levi and Megan’s departure to Alabama was a bittersweet moment for me—sweet to see this couple follow God’s leading, but bitter as I lost not only this daily relationship, but also my ministry partners. We saw the staff work of the church get even busier while trying to perform these tasks with half of the laborers. For about the last month and a half, I’ve been putting in way more hours on the job than was healthy for me—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve been confronted about this not only through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but by my family and some of our church family as well. Friends, this is not good, I am wrong for doing it, but despite this God is using it to grow me. 

I know that many of you, especially as we look at the newness and busyness of the fall season rapidly approaching, are tempted to continue to live a life that is so all over the place that we lack any real focus and perspective. I struggle with the same thing. But God gives us tools to be able to be still in our lives. Let me share some with you. 

 Cultivate your relationship with God: Nothing is more important than this, but it oftentimes seems to be the first thing to be sacrificed on the altar of busyness. Make this time the priority of your day. Spend it reading the Bible, enjoying other books that cause you to think about God, praying, taking time to enjoy His creation and praising Him for it. 

 Purposefully Unplug: We live in a world that is full of technology at our fingertips, and this does make life easier in certain regards. But the constant strain of always being “on call”, having to check and deal with that final email of the day, or “checking in” so that your friends know you’re done for the day, really does impact our ability to be still with God. Take time to unplug—you will survive, your job will survive, your friends will survive, and the time away with God will refresh you! 

Set Up Boundaries: don’t let the work day comingle with your God time or your family time. Many of us are guilty of this. If we continue to get caught up in constantly working, other relationships will suffer. Set up times during the day that are sacred and are not to be interrupted. And remember the only time that should go throughout the day is your God time! 

My prayer is that you’ll consider these. 

We are headed into a busy season, and many of us struggle with busyness. But friends, it doesn’t have to be that way. God is speaking to me and to us. Let your life be so secure in Him that we don’t have to be constantly trying to fill our lives with busyness or other purposes. Instead, may the Lord Jesus bless you with the ability to simply “be still and know that I am God.” 

 

Life is Change!

We live in a day and age where change occurs very rapidly. Technological innovations are occurring each and every day to the point where my IPhone 6S will be considered old and obsolete in a couple of years. We see the air of change in the political climate in the United States and around the world. There are also social changes occurring all around us, as well as a change in the way that people treat others. We only need to look around us and notice that change is taking place all over—some of it is good and some of it is bad. 

When we look at the changes that I mentioned above, most of these really don’t have a dramatic impact on our lives, making the effects of the changes on our lives a little less dramatic. But there’s one thing about change—it does affect us at a very deep, personal level sooner or later. As I’m writing this article, my life is in a tremendous period of change, and I can honestly say that I really don’t like some of it. I’m writing this article just after receiving news that my grandpa has just passed away. This is a huge change for me, living the first moments of my life without my grandpa being here. I don’t like this change. As a pastor, I’m also grieving over the change of my partner in ministry being called to a new venture in Alabama. While I know that this is God’s will and a great opportunity to be stretched for them, I don’t like the fact that someone I’ve joked with, fought the battles of ministry with, and saw great things happen here at CDAC with won’t be in that relationship with me anymore. These changes are tremendously difficult for me. 

Changes always bring a time of uncertainty. The status quo is now different, and this impacts all facets of life. For me, I now face the uncertainty of what will it be like not to celebrate holidays and milestones of life without my grandpa? I don’t know how it will be! What will God call us as a church to do with a new ministry partner? I don’t know! And if you know me at all, this is a really big deal for me. I hate uncertainty, and life is full of it. 

But as I spent time praying this morning, I was reminded of a very important point from Scripture. When we face times of uncertainty, we can trust in the certainty of God. Even though these changes impact us, they don’t have an effect on God. He is far above these issues, changes, and feelings. Friends, God is the fortress that we can run to and rest in. 

As we face change in our lives, remember that God is our fortress of rest, stability, and reassurance. You will get through change. God’s plans and purposes will continue to accomplish His will no matter what. Even in this time of uncertainty, there is no one more sure than God Himself. 

 

On Mission in Alabama

Many of you have heard by now that Megan and I will be transitioning our ministry to a church plant in Birmingham, Alabama.   It's been difficult to explain the emotional tension between bitter and sweet that this new opportunity brings to us.  On one hand we are so excited to be following the call of God in our lives and on the other we are heartbroken to leave the people we've grown so close to.   I am so thankful that God brought us to CDAC in this season because this church has treated us like family and it's been an absolute joy to serve here. 

On August 1st we will be making our way down I-81 to Birmingham, Alabama to take part in a church plant of the C&MA.  Things will be different for sure.  Neither Megan nor myself will be taking a salary from the church, we will no longer be working with teens, and we will have to start using words like y'all and fixin'.  We are excited to be learning how to disciple others and how to plant a church in a post-church culture.

There are three things I'd like you to consider as CDAC sends us out into the "mission field."

1. God has always been faithful.

CDAC has a rich history of serving the community, worshiping in spirit and in truth, and equipping people for ministry.  It's incredible to hear of the men and women that this church has touched in the past 75 years.  I have no doubt that God will continue to use CDAC as a place where people encounter God.  

2. God is still working.

As I shared a few weeks ago, we are leaving in the midst of good times.  God is working in and through people's lives right now at CDAC and it's awesome.  Home Groups are thriving, the youth ministry is growing, and we can't seem to find room for all the people coming on Sunday morning.  I am so glad that the next pastor who comes after me will be entering a healthy place.

3. God will provide.

As you pray with the Elders for the next staff pastor, know that God is a provider and will give the church exactly the person He wants to be here.  He has already been working in that person's heart and has been leading him here.  Pray that the Lord's will be done at Circle Drive in these next few months.  

Stop Living For Jesus

Christianity is not simply a cause that needs defending or a movement that inspires people.  At it's core, Christianity is a relationship between God and His church.  The Bible actually uses relational terms in referring to the church when calling it His bride (Rev. 19).  As we look even closer to the relationship that God has with His people we see that God calls them His children, who have been adopted into the family.  The emphasis that God puts on relationships is so visible we can tell that God cares about people and He wants to be in relationship with them. 

If we fast forward to today's culture we see that everyone likes to identify with a cause.  Whether it's black lives matter, 2nd Amendment rights, clean water for developing nations, or to end human trafficking people love to defend, help, and support others.  To say that the generations coming up are standing up for those that can't stand and helping those that can't help themselves is to say something good of the next generation.

In a culture that is seeking to serve we see that the church can often be viewed in the same way.  Not as a relationship that we cultivate but a cause we defend.  Not a person that we love but an agenda we seek to advance.  It's much more popular to do a service project for your community, feed the poor, or dig a well(all good things) than it is to spend a morning fasting and praying.  If we're not careful we can substitute a life with God for a life for God.  We can sacrifice the relationship withGod for the mission of God.  When we pursue the relationship the mission will come naturally. 

I hope that as you are reading this you take an honest look at what you're doing to cultivate that inner personal relationship with the Lord.  That relationship is how we are empowered to do ministry.  I hope that as you begin to spend more time in prayer and in the Word and as God places a burden on your heart for people you will be empowered to love, listen and serve them.  Don't spend so much time living for Jesus that you stop living life with Him.