More than a Picture

“I need Christ, not something that resembles Him.” ~ C. S. Lewis

I have tons of pictures and videos of my granddaughter, Nora. I love to look at those pictures and watch those videos. I’ll find myself in the middle of the day scrolling through them, wanting more of them.

But what I (and Eydie and the Gardner grandparents and aunts and uncles) want is more than a picture. What I really want is to hold Nora in my arms. To hear her squeals of delight and even her cries for comfort. What I really need is Nora, not something that represents her. 

The hunger in every human heart is for more than something that simply imitates God. A picture will not do. 

When C. S. Lewis was in deepest moments of despair following the death of his wife, he described his own journey of grief. He talked about the pictures that he had of his wife, and how he would look at them. But the pictures would not do. He needed his wife, not a picture that represented her.

In the same way, he talked about his need for Jesus in the time of his sorrow.

“I need Christ, not something that resembles Him.” ~ C. S. Lewis

We need the real-time, real-life, soul-satisfying, heart-securing presence of God. A picture just won’t do. Jesus has come to bring us to God, in-person and on time.

“Jesus is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)

When our hearts are breaking, we need Jesus, not something that resembles Him. We need Jesus who brings us to God personally and intercedes for us perpetually. We need Jesus who transforms our lives with the beauty of His grace. We need Jesus who secures us daily in the grip of His love. We need Jesus who sings over us in the midnight moments. 

A picture will not do. We need Jesus, not something that resembles Him.

So come to Jesus and find all that your soul craves and your heart longs to possess. Come to Jesus in prayer with confidence crying out to Him for the comfort of your soul. Come to Jesus and find life, hope, joy, and peace. 

Jesus, in-person and on time, will rescue hope for you right now!

Snakes, Fear, and Faith

We don’t have to let fear win the battle of our mind or soul. God’s promise to those who belong to Him is that the battle belongs to Him too.

The other day, my wife showed me a picture that was posted by some neighbors of a rattlesnake that was killed not far from us. I have to tell you, seeing a picture of a rattlesnake in our neighborhood changes the way I walk in my backyard. I don’t like rattlesnakes. They scare me!

What is it that scares you today? There are certainly a lot of different things that can fit that description. It may not be a snake, but fear often feels like a serpentine, slithering thing. Fear leads us to sleepless nights. Fear can cause us to isolate ourselves or push others away or do crazy things.

Jehoshaphat was king in Judah, and he led the people in the kingdom to pursue a life that was pleasing to God (2 Chron 19:4). While he was leading the nation back to God, combined armies from Moab and the Ammonites came to do battle against Judah. Jehoshaphat was afraid.

“Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.” (2 Chronicles 20:3)

In this one verse, God shows us first steps in dealing with fear: Seek the Lord. I love the language of this verse, Jehoshaphat “set himself to seek the Lord.” When fear hits, and it will, our first response should be to seek the Lord. We need to position ourselves for God to speak to us, for God to comfort us, for God to encourage us. 

When fear hits, have you set yourself to seek the Lord?

Now, listen to God’s response to us when we set ourselves to seek Him.

“Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” (2 Chronicles 20:15)

We don’t have to let fear win the battle of our mind or soul. God’s promise to those who belong to Him is that the battle belongs to Him too. He is the God who loves us and is committed to us. Seeking the Lord in the face of fear sets us on a path of faith, where confidence in God and courage from God rules our minds and hearts. 

Today, face your fear with faith by seeking the Lord!

Empty Stadiums and Heaven’s Applause

What matters to those who follow Jesus is heaven’s applause rings loudly for followers of Jesus. In fact, what matters most is that we have given all that we have for God’s pleasure.

Well, professional football has returned. Different teams played on the gridiron looking for dominance play by play. The rivalries, like Green Bay and Minnesota or Philadelphia and Washington, were very different though. 

Instead of fans in the stands cheering their team and taunting their opponents, the stadiums were empty. The television shots were focused on the sidelines or the field, but there were no shots of the stands. No “John 3:16” signs in the end-zone. No celebrations of spectators at the score of the home team. 

It was very, very different.

Football teams may have empty stadiums, but that’s merely a “right now” reality that has no eternal glory. What matters to those who follow Jesus isn’t how many people are cheering and not jeering our daily journey. What matters to those who follow Jesus is heaven’s applause rings loudly for followers of Jesus. In fact, what matters most is that we have given all that we have for God’s pleasure.

“Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:9)

God is watching what we do and how we live. He sees us as we go through our days, and He knows the level of our commitment to Him and His mission for our lives. As we weigh our priorities, God is watching. As we conduct our business, God is watching. As we relate to others, God is watching. God sees us and knows the level of our faithfulness to Him.

For four grueling years, Michelangelo worked incessantly on one of his most enduring and influential works of art. For four years, he lay on his back and painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Originally, Pope Julius II had asked the famed sculptor to paint a simple depiction of the twelve apostles on the small chapel ceiling, but once Michelangelo accepted the assignment, he created a wondrous masterpiece that included more than four hundred figures and nine scenes from the book of Genesis. Michelangelo was committed to the task so completely that he spent days working in a dark corner of the chapel painting a scene which no one would ever see. When asked why he worked so long and hard on an unseen portion of the ceiling, Michelangelo responded simply, “God will see.”

The stadiums on earth may be empty and the applause of peers may be silent. But God is watching and heaven is applauding as we live each moment of this day for God’s pleasure.

Make the most of this day God has given you to honor Him, and you will find joy, encouragement, and strength at the sound of heaven’s applause!

Noxious Odors and Sweet-Smelling Aromas

The gospel delivers. The noxious odor of our sin is eliminated eternally through Jesus! Today, let’s live in the sweet-smelling aroma of grace and life!

Have you seen the ads for the spray that “eliminates odors”? It promises us that no matter the strength of the smell, this product is stronger. 

I’ve always wondered if it really does eliminate odors, so I did a little research. First, the science behind the product delivers something different from “elimination.” The chemicals in the product masks the “stinking” molecules, but they don’t eliminate them. Second, testing the effectiveness of the product, independent researchers discovered that any masking of the bad odor is temporary, not permanent.

Now, I’m thankful for the temporary relief of a noxious scent in room for sure. But the product doesn’t deliver on its promise: the spray does not “eliminate” odors.

Although the product doesn’t deliver on its promise, the gospel does! God’s love promises to eliminate the noxious offense of our sin and replace it with the beautiful aroma of His acceptance.

“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19)

Here’s the promise in plain terms. The sin of Adam pervades our souls with the scent of death in our own sin. The obedient sacrifice of Jesus offers a permanent (even eternal) removal of that scent, replacing it with the life-giving aroma of His righteousness.

When we come to Jesus as our only hope for rescue from the “stink” of our sin… When we place our trust in His death on the Cross as the payment for our guilt and the purchase of our forgiveness… When we embrace Jesus as our righteousness… then the odor of our sin – the guilt and shame and death that comes with it – is eliminated forever.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4)

Through Christ’s perfect obedience to the Law in the flesh, He perfectly fulfilled the righteous requirements of God’s standard of holiness. When Christ died on the cross, all condemnation was placed upon Him. Condemnation was killed by Christ on the cross.

“No condemnation” means that we who are “in Christ” are free from the guilt of sin and from the enslaving power of sin. The stench of death in sin is gone forever from our soul.

The gospel delivers!

The noxious odor of our sin is eliminated eternally through Jesus!

Today, let’s live in the sweet-smelling aroma of grace and life!

Redeeming Redirection

Have you ever asked kids around you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The preschooler in my house seems to have a different answer every time I ask him! That’s because usually his answer has something to do with the direction life is taking him in that moment. But as soon as his little life goes in a different direction (or different toy, or different movie, or a random bug flies by…), his new answer simply reflects the new direction of his life!

Preschoolers aren’t the only ones this happens to. Ask someone with gray hair and grown-up kids, “What did you want to be when you were in high school” or “What’s different in marriage that you didn’t expect” or “What’s different between how you thought parenting would be and how it was” or “How is being single different than you thought it would be” and I bet they have a story or two about what they thought life would be like, what life became as they went along, and what life is like now! There might be a few who knew everything beforehand and it worked out exactly like they thought, but for everyone else that’s being honest life often takes twists, turns, or leads to dead ends that causes us to do something we never saw coming! 

This is normal life, isn’t it? It’s full of redirection caused by unexpected turns. If anything, Covid has caused us to realize that if someone eats an animal wrong in another part of the world, your job will stop being normal, church can’t meet like it did, and our kids will not be able to go to school! If it wasn’t that, it’s a new job, a lost job, a sick family member, a new family member, a broken relationship, a new relationship, or a million other things that cause redirection in our lives. If we’re not careful, we can find dismay in a redirection. But is there a way to redeem redirection for Gospel purposes instead? What do we do in our lives when we can’t do what we thought we’d be doing? 

Thankfully, God has not left us without wisdom to answer this!

Paul in Philippians 1:12-18

Paul’s example in Philippians, given to us as a way to learn how to live as Christians (4:17), is a beautiful lesson on how to redeem redirection. After all, his salvation (just like yours) began with a massive life redirection and continued to be that season after season. Instead of wallowing in self-pity or being frozen in fear, he learned something about redeeming redirection that we all need to know! As a seasoned Christian who has seen his share of redirection, what can we learn about our own redirection to redeem it? 

Keep your eyes on Christ’s kingdom (v.12)

Paul was sitting in jail. Jail wasn’t the plan, but it is now. Though Paul is still unsure of how it will all work out, he is sure of one thing: it’s working out to advance the message of Christ. Read the whole book and you’ll see this as a recurring them!  I am not overstepping the context of Philippians to summarize it like this: whatever Christ has for Paul, Paul is resolved to have it for himself. And now, because Paul was in chains, we have the beauty of this passage of Scripture handed down to us forever. 

What does it look like to maintain a kingdom perspective in your new direction? Well – because of this redirection, you’re in a new place. You wouldn’t be sitting in that meeting, another room, a new grocery store, or an unemployment line if it weren’t for this new change. Why it all happened may always allude you, but what to do with your new direction remains clear if you maintain a kingdom perspective: know Jesus more and make Jesus known. You get to know Christ like you haven’t known Him before and you get to live out life in Christ in a new place. God has a purpose that He may never tell you.

Look for new ministry (v.13-14)

When Paul left for this missionary journey, there was never any mention of a ministry to those in the jail-system by becoming an inmate! But as way leads to way, Paul found himself in jail. His ministry of preaching the Gospel and church-planting among the Gentiles took a new direction, but the mission didn’t change! Though it wasn’t the plan, those who are now around Paul are now hearing the Gospel – and this is because Paul saw this new redirection as a new ministry.

It isn’t an accident you are where you are now. God is not worried about what to do with you now that life took a turn you didn’t expect! Look for Gospel work. You can’t do what you were doing, but what can you do? Live out the Gospel for others to see!

Trust God with what you can’t control (v.15-17, 20).

On a macro level, Paul had no more control over those outside of his imprisonment than he had control over how his Roman guards were running the military. On a micro level, the ministry that others were doing was done in a way that minimized Paul and maximized their own egos. What does Paul do? He trusts God to take care of all the details of others! Paul’s trust of God allowed him to think beyond what others might be doing – even if it caused harm to his reputation. 

Do others who are on your former path whisper of your demise because you aren’t there anymore? Does your child’s behavior give another a reason to think they are superior to you as a parent? Does someone at work whose position stayed the same seem puffed up because yours changed? As T. Swift once said, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” (“Hate” is a modern way of saying “look down on you in an egocentric way.”) It’s what people do sometimes, but you don’t have to. Trust God both in your new direction and for those who are left on your old one. Walk faithfully in your new direction while trusting God to act faithfully everywhere else!

Choose out-loud joy (v.18).

Related to trusting God, Paul rejoices in the fact that the preaching of Christ is happening. The irony in this passage is incredible – Paul was in jail because of preaching Christ, and some were self-validating a feigned ministry superiority because they weren’t like Paul! It’s sinfully human to think we are spiritually superior because another’s ministry is numerically diminished, but God does something divine in Paul’s heart – Paul rejoices at Christ being made known, even if it leads to his own demise.

Rejoicing is simply “out-loud joy.” Just like joy, rejoicing is not a denial of the pain or an ignorance of the difficulty. It isn’t a mindset that tries to avoid talking or thinking about the difficult of a new direction. In fact, sometimes trying to “get your mind right” or “think positive thoughts” instead of embracing the situation can be reckless. To rejoice means that in the face of your redirection and all that that means, direct the source of your joy in Jesus – and be LOUD about it! Remember, He chose you. He knew what He was going to do with you. He isn’t caught off guard by this. He’s with you until the very end. Allow the truth of Christ’s purpose to fuel the out-loud feeling of joy – aka, rejoice!

Make it known to God in prayer (v.19)

So at this point I’m asking, “Well, what do I do to change this?” New directions can cause discomfort at best – if not extreme difficulty. Are we to passively accept our new location in the process of redirection? NO! But what we act on is different than what we might think: we pray and tell others to do so as well.

Paul makes it known to God, through his own prayers and the prayers of others, that he would like to be delivered from this difficult direction. Paul does not suffer in silence! His redirection is made known, and Paul is not afraid to make sure God is hearing all about the chains he is in. He is telling others – literally writing to entire churches (cf. Ephesians 5:19-20), to ask for prayer that his current imprisonment would be finished. In other words, God is not only hearing about it from Paul, but by entire churches, their leadership, and the community of faith he is in! 

When we are given a new direction, there is a tendency to put on a brave-face, suffer in silence, and not say anything to others. Christian – tell somebody! But don’t tell them in order to complain, tell them in order to communicate on your behalf before God. Wouldn’t it be cool if, when you see Jesus face-to-face in heaven, one of the first things He said with a smile on His face is, “You wouldn’t stop talking to me, and you just kept sending messengers to be on your behalf every time something happened in your life.” 

So has life given you a new direction in this season? If not, one is coming at some point! When it comes, keep your eyes on Christ’s kingdom, look for new ministry opportunities, trust God with what you can’t control, choose out-loud joy, and make sure God is hearing from lots of people about it! In these days where life has changed, the Great Commission has not. It might look different to love God, love others, and live the mission today. But this redirection can be redeemed!

Serving Season (By Lauren Bassett)

What are you doing right now for the team? How are you serving? If your answer is “well, church isn’t functioning like it normally is”, then we need to have a quick team meeting.

I was standing in line at Target the other day, as I have many times in the past few months, and remarked to the masked person behind me, “This is crazy, huh?” Every once in a while, it hits me that the past six months have looked so incredibly different.

I don’t know about you, but as I was thinking about the year 2020 back in January, none of this was in my minds-eye. Life has altered. We are finding a new pace. Six months into this we know that there are lasting implications that are both visible and invisible. 

In our journey through Colossians, Pastor Eric reminded us that we are a team put together to serve the glory of God, so I’d like to ask you to consider a question.

What are you doing right now for the team? How are you serving?

If your answer is “well, church isn’t functioning like it normally is”, then we need to have a quick team meeting. 

I am a person who likes roles and positions, job descriptions and responsibilities. I like to know what my expectations are. I’m a “Martha.” I know people often say that with an undertone of pride because of everything that one can accomplish when you are giving yourself to the work, the roles, the events, the things. I like the challenge of living life as if I am in a batting cage, thriving on pressure and prioritizing.

But I am learning more and more as I grow that my “Martha tendencies” often keep me from greater things, the best for me, for Jesus, and those I love. In that moment, Martha was all about the work, less so about the people, even the Person of Jesus. So many of us are like that. Perhaps you have always served in a Preschool Sunday School class (then Bible Study, then LIFEgroup), or been a First Impressions greeter, led worship, a VBS teacher, a member of this ministry team or that committee, a care group head for your Bible Study. 

Yet, during this time when uncertainty has colored the way we can safely do what we have always done and our roles feel like shells of what they used to be, how are you serving? We cannot hit the brakes on serving Jesus while we wait for everything to return to “normal”. That’s not what He asked of us.

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. – Hebrews 13:15-16

You see these words – “continually” and “do not neglect”. There is no time out from our service, even if the roles we previously identified with serving are on the shelf or look different right now. Maybe you are new to your faith or new to the idea of serving and you have never had a “role” like these. There is still a message here for you! 

We have never, in our lifetimes, been a Church in pandemic like this before. There is a freedom in this time to look at our world with fresh eyes. Instead of being a Martha looking for the work and the roles, the structured hierarchy of service, let’s be a Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to what He would have us do and spending our labor on what is lasting. And when we study Scripture, we see Him ask us to look for the people we can love. Here in Hebrews, he says to “do good and share what you have”. That command requires no formal role, no specific way to carry it out. It is a simple lifestyle that we walk in constantly, whether we are in a familiar season or one of great upheaval. 

We are surrounded by people that are walking through a confusing time, looking for community when so much of our normal support systems have altered. Whether these are neighbors, people from work, newer people to our church or your LIFEgroup, or your child’s teacher, we should be going out of our way to be a support, to love them extravagantly. This is our calling, and God rolls out the red carpet every day for us to answer it. In Romans 12, we see the gifts of grace that Christians have at their disposal, each one of them is unencumbered by our current circumstance. We live in a time where love can be expressed regardless of distance and conversations can be held for hours on end via video, telephone, or text. There is no excuse for us as followers of Jesus to avoid this responsibility. 

Like I said before, I tend to be a Martha in the way I use my time. To-do lists to check off, an endless quest to perfect the details of my day, Pinterest-worthy parenting moments to create, and I resonate with Martha in her overwhelmed plea to Jesus, “Tell her to help me!” I often want to be the helpee in the story, the victim of my own great aspirations and self-laden schedule. But what does Jesus say to the Martha in me? 

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:41-42

Thankfully, He responds with mercy and love, redirecting my gaze. It is time for us to choose what is best. Perhaps the removal of all the name tags and titles we normally wear in church is the healthiest thing about this season. We need to stop hiding behind a role as the foundation of our Christian love, checking off our boxes with a passing glance at the rest of the world and the rest of our week, believing we have “done our part”.

Loving on our brothers and sisters in church is easy, as Matthew reminds us, even the tax collectors love the ones who love them! The greatest part of our love is needed outside the walls. Let’s start choosing to really see those we come into contact with daily, loving them radically and without restraint because that is the greatest commandment Christ gives us in how to relate to people. In the end, the role we all share is “follower of Jesus”, and that’s the only one that matters. 

Cancel Culture (By Lauren Bassett)

Truth, grace, and mercy should consistently be the clothes of the follower of Christ, working to do good and seeking His face in their individual lives.

Cancel culture. This is a hot topic in our world right now. Have you heard of it? The basic idea is that when someone offends you enough, or is silent enough, or holds to an opinion opposite to your own enough, it is time to cut them off from your life, particularly in the social media sphere but sometimes entirely. Let me say first, I understand the inclination. I have done the periodic purge of people from my friends list. People I never see or talk to anymore, or even those who I cannot remember where in the world we met if we ever did at all. That’s not what I’m talking about here. 

I’m talking about that knee jerk reaction to a post that so grinds against my personal sensibilities that I hover my mouse over the Facebook menu, highlighting the choices… Do I unfriend? Do I snooze? How do I avoid this feeling of frustration or disappointment or rising fear again? My thoughts racing at how I can possibly experience the world so differently from another, even a close friend or family member. Friends, if you think that the last few months of social media circus is anything, we have entered the final two and a half months before a presidential election. It is only going to get crazier from here, so how do we react to it as followers of Jesus? These are my thoughts as I have processed what I have seen played out against Scripture.

First of all, I don’t know why we are surprised sometimes. We are promised in Scripture that we are going to stand out, that we are not going to feel at home in our own cultures. We should not expect to agree on much with the world because our home, the place we are totally comfortable, is with our Father. In recent memory, the US may have enjoyed a little more alignment with Scripture in some aspects of our culture, but that is the exception rather than the rule of history. We seem to have lapsed into being armchair critics of our culture, forgetting that we were told not to judge those outside the church and only lovingly call out the sin of our brothers when they were being inconsistent with the mantle of Christ. 

Now, we seem to be grasping so tightly at these elements of our own comfort that we are hurting our witness. Our attitude toward the rest of our culture resembles more the smug defensiveness of the in-power Pharisees than the overflowing hearts of those Jesus healed, Mary sister of Martha, or the Samaritan woman. We have forgotten that Jesus tells us we should be uncomfortable. The light shines brightest in darkness. If we are committed to being like Jesus, it should be challenging and is often found in the identity of the minority rather than the mainstream.

That does not mean we can turn inward, cancel the world, and only spend time with those like us. If your social media feed or sources of information confirm everything you already think and your conversations all end in agreement, you may need to examine how you are spending your time. We are called to “go into all the world” in the Great Commission not to just go unto those like us. This can be physically traveling to foreign places, where we find ourselves at work or school or play, or just getting outside the social bubble we create for ourselves. 

Once you get there, listen. Don’t be tone deaf and blast your opinion without understanding those to whom you are speaking. Missionaries do not arrive in a new culture and walk around with signs in English that say “Repent!” – that would be ineffective. They learn the language, they get to know the culture and the people, they listen and understand them. God reveals inroads and ways to bring Christ into the conversation naturally. We are called to be in our world, not of it. Cancelling the people around us because they have dissenting views takes us completely out of the world. We should try to genuinely understand and appreciate the people God has placed around us.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” ~ Matthew 5:38-48

In the church, we have a bad habit of labeling those of a differing view, political party, belief system, or lifestyle as “the other”. It becomes an us versus them attitude where we are painted in our mind in a favorable light and they are less than. This is also directly against Scripture.

Friends, everyone around us is an image bearer of God. We are called to think of those around us as better than ourselves. BETTER. THAN. OURSELVES. That’s not just a trivial phrase. It has so much meaning for us. When we spend time with people different from us or see their post on Facebook, our ears should be open to their thoughts and their experiences and opinions.

Jesus consistently listened throughout Scripture. He sat with the unclean and the tax collectors and the Samaritan. When He shared truth, it was coated with mercy and grace and love. The only time Jesus spoke to people with anything resembling the vitriol we use with those who differ from us it was to the Pharisees, the religious, the people who paint themselves in a favorable light and wanted to cancel and condemn everyone who was not like them. 

There is one place in Scripture where we try to justify cancel culture. Here it is:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. – Matthew 18:15-17

Let’s look at this though. We read this verse and we see the phrase “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” and we think, “Yes! This means we just cut off those who sin.” It fuels our justification for removing difficult circumstances and relationships from our lives (side note: plank, meet speck). Wait a second and take a breath. First of all, this verse is about if a fellow Christian sins specifically against you. Secondly, remember Zacchaeus? That’s how Jesus treated a tax collector. It doesn’t look so much like cancelling as spending time together, showing the love of Christ the same as you would with anyone. 

If we cancel, what happens? We lose our opportunity to witness. A grave mistake. If we surround ourselves by only those like us, how do we look like Jesus? He was constantly at the table with people who could not be more different. Truth, grace, and mercy are not owned by a denomination or a political party; these should consistently be the clothes of the follower of Christ, working to do good and seeking His face in their individual lives. If we can grasp that, if we can truly approach the world with love and mercy, we can hope to see a glimpse of His kingdom, our home, here on earth. 

Waiting on the Lord (By Curt Breland)

I am so thankful for the technology that allows us to continue to evangelize and disciple these Southeast Asian young students and early career individuals until the Lord opens the door for us to return.

I have never been good about waiting on anything. I am results oriented and want to see something happening all the time. I previously would pray for patience but God uses difficult experiences sometimes to help us gain patience. I try to remember to pray for wisdom now because of some of those experiences.

MY plans were to be back in Southeast Asia at this time because there is so much to do there in terms of evangelism, discipleship and church planting! Briefly, for fear of God’s wrath, I thought to myself that God doesn’t fully understand the importance of MY plans. Surely, He knows there is work to be done and I am constantly saying, “Here am I Lord, send me!”

Well I have been diagnosed with a ruptured disc and other issues with my back. I certainly would not want to be anywhere else other than home as I journey through this challenge with my health. Isaiah 55:8-9, reminds me of my need to surrender MY plans to a sovereign God, 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

But only as our great God can do, He allows us to provide online Bible studies to groups and individuals in this Southeast Asian country 10 or 11 times each week! I am so thankful for the technology that allows us to continue to evangelize and disciple these young students and early career individuals until the Lord opens the door for us to return.

Would you continue to pray for the new believers and those whom God is drawing to Himself? Would you pray for the Good News Coffee shop to be a lighthouse in the darkness of this atheist country? And would you pray that we can connect each of these wonderful young adults to a local church? And finally, would you pray for our missionaries in this country that God would keep them safe and healthy as well as bless them with a great harvest of souls?

La Chapelle Update

First Norfolk joined in a partnership with believers in Montreal to help start a church called la Chapelle. Since their first meeting, la Chapelle has had supernatural growth, led by Pastor David Pothier. Each week, First Norfolk tithes and offerings go to support the advance of the gospel among the Quebecois through la Chapelle.

Several years ago, First Norfolk joined in a partnership with believers in Montreal to help start a church called la Chapelle. Since their first meeting, la Chapelle has had supernatural growth, led by Pastor David Pothier. Each week, First Norfolk tithes and offerings go to support the advance of the gospel among the Quebecois through la Chapelle.

In their most recent update, we can see the wondrous work of God’s grace through First Norfolk’s partner in the gospel. 

The update begins with their gratitude for our friendship and partnership.

“We want to say to you that we are really thankful for your friendship, your prayers and your support. It’s making a huge difference in this difficult time.” 

Since May, things have changed for the better. La Chapelle churches are now able to have gatherings of 250 people and less and to have some outdoor gathering. To have indoor small group is not possible right now because we only can have 3 different household in the same house at the same time. 

Even if the church continues online, many people are excited to restart in person gathering. They are planning to begin to reopen in mid-September. Unfortunately, because 2 of our churches are in a school and that the school’s association don’t want to rent to anybody at this time because of Covid, they cannot restart in person gathering for all our churches. At the same time, the church online continues on Sunday, and during the week they have a morning devotional. Many people have received Christ through the online services, and they will soon have their first baptisms of the year in their offices. They are also continuing to serve their city through “I Love Montreal,” by giving food baskets and other necessities to those in need. 

Finally, la Chapelle launches the 5th church in the city of Quebec City in June with pastor Jean-Philippe Beaudry. Already 100 people took part in the activities of the church. Please continue to pray for them as they are trying to reach the non-Christian in the province of Quebec. 

La Chapelle Online

Even when la Chapelle begins to reopen in person gatherings, the church online will stay. They are reaching many French-speaking people all around the world through la Chapelle online. Some received Christ through it. More than 100 small groups are also meeting online or in person (in park).

La Chapelle Outdoors

People are tired of the zoom and are hungry to have in person fellowship. So the churches in Montreal did picnics in park during the summer.

La Chapelle Musique 

La Chapelle is blessed with many artists and they will soon release the first album of la Chapelle Musique. Really few French-speaking worship song written by French-speaking artists exist in the world.

Each Sunday, the production team and musicians prepare a dynamic worship time for the service. With that, many of the videos can be put online on the la Chapelle Musique YouTube channel. Since there are few good quality French-speaking worship songs in the world, this is a really good news for the French-speaking believer who can now listen to it anytime.

La Chapelle Rosemont (Pastor David Pothier) 

La Chapelle Rosemont was the first church plant of la Chapelle. The church has 850 people, most of whom are families. The church cannot meet in person right now because the school where they were doing the gathering cannot rent for now due to Covid restrictions. The school has also asked them to move all their stock, but the congregation is excited about getting back to gathering together as normal. 

La Chapelle Quebec City (Pastor Jean-Philippe Beaudry)

Pastor Jean-Philippe Beaudry and his family moved to Quebec City in June to plant the 5th la Chapelle church. Already 200 people from the city are in the Facebook group and 105 people came for the first event in person (in a park) last month. 

La Chapelle Gatineau (Pastor Josias LaPorte)

La Chapelle Gatineau is in pre-launch phase since July 2019 and have more than 80 people. Covid has delayed the official launch, which was planned for September 2020.

La Chapelle Ahuntsic (Pastor Jackson Ntumba)

La Chapelle Ahuntsic was planted in 2017 and has 280 people. The church cannot meet in person right now because the school where they were doing the gathering cannot rent for now due to Covid restrictions.

La Chapelle Mile End (Pastor Jean-René Bibeau)

Planted in 2015, La Chapelle Mile End has 340 people (average of 29 years old). The church will be the first to reopen in September.

La Chapelle “I Love Montreal”

“I Love Montreal,” with the support of the la Chapelle churches gave more than 220 food baskets in Montreal since the beginning of May and also more than 160 school bags in Montreal, Gatineau, and Quebec City.

First Norfolk, let’s keep la Chapelle and her pastors daily in our prayers! God continues to do amazing things through this wonderful partner in the gospel.

Beware the Mommy Blog (By Lauren Bassett)

Based on the number of times that the New Testament mentions the importance of unity and avoiding conflict, we should not let these round and round debates of preferences and opinions waste our time.

I have been a Mom for three years now and am wildly blessed to have the advice of trusted, experienced mamas in the last one thousand and some-odd days. Wonderful, supportive women have listened with patience as we have reached each new stage with Lucy and with it the associated challenges and triumphs.

Now that we have added a second little to our team, I would like to think I have some wisdom to share with those coming after me. Oh, I have little tidbits learned from experience. Like, buy three more packs of wipes than you think you need because those things grow legs and walk away. Remind family members to be careful when referring to one another by pet names. One casual “schnookums” or “baby” and that will be the only name that will be used by the toddler for weeks… or months. 

Another one I tell new moms all the time is to avoid the mommy blogs. Have you heard of those? One of the challenging parts of parenting in 2020 is that if you Google a question, even a straightforward one, the results pages are full of every answer you could imagine and probably thousands more. Many of those results pull from the pages of mommy blogs. Women create a blog to share their experience and advice and well, frankly, their opinion.

My generation is one that loves a good soapbox, a platform from which they can relate their experience to others. I’m sure you see that to an extent on social media, but a mommy blog becomes a long-form examination of all things parenting, child-rearing, schooling, or homemaking.

I am sure these mothers are well-intentioned and altruistic in their purpose for blogging. Maybe they genuinely want to help other families, maybe they want their blog to serve as a sort of family memory book, maybe they just want a creative outlet. If you get enough followers, you can even turn your blog into a source of income.

But a problem surfaces when a singular experience is communicated as absolute, sweeping truth. In twenty minutes of perusing I can become completely overwhelmed, confused, and turned around by the number of opinions out there on any given issue. Many of these entries are not researched beyond a personal experience. Reviews of different baby gear, sleep training tips, and developmental expectations are so much more nuanced than these blogs often give them credit for. 

Especially for first time moms, this leads to confusion about parenting decisions and mounts pressure onto their shoulders during an already challenging time. What starts as responsible research becomes a black hole of self-doubt. It turns choices that should be about their personal preference into high stakes gambles that could change the course of their child’s life.

Pacifier or no pacifier? Sleep in the crib or in a pack in play or in a basket or co-sleeping? Cry it out or comfort? Breastfeed or formula? Baby-led weaning or pureed food?

If this concept is new to you, maybe you are feeling some sympathy for these sweet first-time moms just trying to navigate a confusing new world. Let’s turn it on its head a bit. 

We do the same thing in the church, in our church. We often take our singular experience or opinion and we preach it as gospel truth without considering if there is Scriptural basis for differences. Our staff is going through a study together right now and last week we discussed the idea of disputable matters. The Word of God does teach many absolute truths for the follower of Jesus that we accept Him. These are truths like the authority of the Word, the identity of Christ as the Son of God, who alone accomplishes salvation for mankind through His death and resurrection.

There are some Scriptural questions that believers differ on in a way that creates different church communities or denominations, but all are still believers. These are issues like baptism traditions, the Lord’s Supper, and tithing. But did you know there are still further questions in Scripture on which it is OKAY for us to differ in opinion based on our interpretation, even within the same congregation? Some of these are methods of discipleship, politics, spiritual gifts, alcohol, worship style, Bible translations, tattoos, and holiday traditions.

It can be hard to discern the difference between what was culturally practiced in church history and what is mandated by the Bible. In order to figure it out, we must read chunks of Scripture in context and not just cherry pick a verse here and there.

So, what do we do with these areas of disagreement amongst ourselves? How can we be different from the mom blogs blasting a matter of opinion as one of unequivocal truth? Paul tells the church:

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. – Romans 14:1-4

What matters for us is that we have personally worked through with an open heart and an open Bible on our lap. We cannot just take our cue from culture or our friends or our favorite preacher or Instagram personality. We need to come to Scripture and discover what it says for ourselves. Moreover, Paul says here that we are not to critique those around us for their discernment of these freedom issues. It is not our responsibility to “win” them to our position.

Disputable matters are not an issue of sin, until we use them in a way that causes another brother to stumble. If one person likes to read from the ESV and another the NIV, so be it! If one likes hymns and the other modern worship songs, that’s great! If one person is a Calvinist and another an Arminian, that’s fine! Some may consume alcohol responsibly and another may abstain. Based on the number of times that the New Testament mentions the importance of unity and avoiding conflict, we should not let these round and round debates of preferences and opinions waste our time. We should focus our eyes on what God is revealing to us and take the gospel to the world. 

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. – Philippians 2:12-16

This past week, we heard from Pastor Eric that we, as a church, are a TEAM that God has put together in order to change the world. In order to keep our team healthy, there are two things we need to do in this arena.

First, it is our responsibility to make the most important thing the most important thing, and that’s the Gospel. As we are able to, we should work to clarify where there is room for Scriptural disagreement and end disputes that lead to anger and bitterness, detracting from the Gospel. I can tell you that this is an area I am working on. I have a conflict aversion. Even just observing the conflict of others gets me all twisted up inside. As a result, I often struggle to push back when I see that an issue where there is freedom is being elevated to a one-sided absolute. 

Second, we need to avoid the urge to start these sorts of conversations to crusade against another’s stated option and examine our hearts and our Bibles to know if we are dealing with a Scriptural absolute or a preference. When we label this dichotomy incorrectly and get into a bitter argument about something that does not matter, we do not love one another well and we can turn people off, especially younger believers and the lost. It’s just not worth it, friends! When it hit me this week that this mom blog tendency is just another illustration of our struggle in the church to give grace, I saw through new eyes. I think my response to newer or younger believers about these arguments is going to be the same as with the blogs, just don’t. In fact, Paul says the same thing. 

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. – Titus 3:9

Let’s put down our preferences, our affinity for “friendly” debate that isn’t really friendly, and our evergreen certainty that WE ARE RIGHT and instead appreciate the areas where there is nuance and freedom in our Christian walk.

Let’s not marginalize the people in our congregations that feel differently on sensitive issues that Scripture gives freedom on. The study I mentioned above says that often our views on these disputable issues are shaped by our upbringing. If you have read to this point and think that a matter listed here as disputable is absolute, maybe go to Scripture and examine that. We all have to constantly assess our own hearts and biases to head off division in the church.

Let’s be a team!