Wednesday, November 4, 2009

David - Living and Loving As He Saw Fit

On October 30, 09', President Barak Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepherd and James Bird Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  Commenting about the bill, the President said the following: "This is the culmination of a struggle that has lasted more than a decade.  Time and again we faced opposition.  Time and again, the measure was defeated or delayed.  Time and again we've been reminded of the difficulty of building a nation in which we're all free to live and love as we see fit."

Now if you're reading these words you might be asking yourself: Does President Obama really mean this?  Does he really envision a nation where we're all free to live and love as we see fit?  We might ask – what would this look like?

In our Wednesday evening Bible study, we have been working our way through the Old Testament book of 2 Samuel.  We recently arrived at chapter eleven where we have King David, a "man after God's own heart", committing adultery with another man's wife.  After being informed by Bathsheba that she is now pregnant, David begins to scheme, ultimately having Urriah placed on the front line of battle, insuring his death.  Bathsheba, after a brief period of mourning, moves in with David and becomes his wife. 

So what do we have here?  Some would say adultery and murder, which is correct.  However, David might say, "I'm just living and loving as I see fit!"  

Is this the nature of the freedom President Obama is talking about?  Is this the kind of society he envisions for America?  I hope not.  For this is not freedom – this is rebellion.  President Obama is echoing the battle cry that resounds in the heart of every fallen sinner – "…to live and love as we see fit."

The eleventh chapter of 2 Samuel closes with these words: "But the thing David had done displeased the LORD."  We may chose to live and love as we see fit, but what our President is not telling us is that one day we will stand before God and give an account, answering for where our freedom has taken us.

Pastor Van

Monday, October 5, 2009

Attention All Men! Watchmen Needed

If you knew the most likely place a thief might strike, how would you react?  Research shows that the front door and first-floor window are the most common places burglars enter homes.  However, I read recently that in spite of this information:

49% of people leave windows open; 37% leave their front door open.

The Bible warns believers of an adversary they must be on guard against:

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

When you consider that the Bible speaks of a Christian marriage as a picture of the relationship between Christ and His church, don't you think the devil will seek to deface that picture?  When you consider that the Bible says that children are a gift from God, and that they have been given to us to raise in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, don't you think that the devil will do all he can do to prevent us from succeeding?  The devil hopes we will not be sober-minded or watchful.

In ancient society, cities were surrounded by walls, and on these walls were watchmen.  Watchmen were assigned the task of standing guard and warning of impending danger.  These men were respected, trustworthy individuals.  To be sure this wasn't a job for a lazy, distracted man.  For if they failed the whole city would suffer destruction.

God used the imagery of the watchmen in Scripture:

On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. (Isa 62:6)

We understand this basic idea, don't we?  We have locks, alarms, security cameras, but when it comes to the souls of our loved ones - these things will never provide sufficient protection.  Men are needed, dependable watchmen who sacrifice for what they value - men who are sober-minded and watchful.

In the above text, Peter is giving a military picture: "Be sober-minded; be watchful..."  To be sober-minded is to not be intoxicated by the things of this world - even good things!  In other words, don't give yourself to too much.  When Peter says, "be watchful" it is be very watchful.  One must keep their eyes on the danger points, all the while battling spiritual sluggishness.

Why?  Because our adversary is on the prowl, seeking someone (your daughter, your son) to devour (literally; to drink down).

Men - take your place!

Pastor Van



Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Is The Bible a Reliable Document?

Unfortunately there are people who have been led to believe that the Bible is an unreliable document. The truth is, however, that of all ancient literature the New Testament is the most well-authenticated document, with an overwhelming amount of evidence supporting its reliability.  There are more New Testament manuscripts, copied with greater accuracy, at earlier dates than from any secular classic from secular classic from antiquity such as Herodotus, Plato, or Aristotle.

Some charge that there are grievous errors in the Bible.  Actually, Bible scholars who have examined the thousands of manuscript copies discovered 150,000 "textual variants."  These variants are slight, involving a missing letter in a word.  For example, note the variants in the following:  Youha*ejus#wonamilliondol^ars.  My guess is that you would not have any problem making out this message in spite of the variants.  In more than 99 percent of the cases of textual variants in the New Testament , the original text can be reconstructed to a practical certainty.

In October 2003, Odyssey Marine Exploration recovered a ship's bell off the coast of Georgia.  They believe it is from the ship called the TENNESSEE, which sank back in 1865 with a cargo of up to $180 million in gold.  They aren't absolutely certain this is the TENNESSEE because the bell's inscription is partially obscured.  Only the letters "SSEE"are visible.  The rest of the inscription won't be legible until it's cleaned.

With $180 million at stake, do you think they will allow this fragment of a word to hinder their search?  O, by the way, after the bell was cleaned it was determined that it was indeed from the TENNESSEE.

Pastor Van

Monday, July 27, 2009

Good, Thoughtful Questions

From time to time I receive interesting, thoughtful questions in response to a particular sermon I've preached.  This past Sunday I made reference to Romans 5:18-19, which speaks of Adam's disobedience which led to many being made sinners.  In contrast, by one man's obedience (Jesus Christ), many will be made righteous.  In response to these verses, a question was posed: (I will paraphrase it)  If our being made sinners is automatic, through Adam's disobedience, then why aren't we made righteous automatically through Jesus' obedience – irregardless of whether we believe or not?

I can see how one could easily come to the conclusion that this is what the text is teaching.  However, a closer look suggests otherwise. First, let's notice verses 15 & 16.  Paul states, "But the gift is not like the trespass…".  The "gift" refers to justification by God's grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  Paul has already stated this in chapter 3:24.  So we can see that Paul is warning his readers not to draw a strict comparison between Adam's disobedience ("the trespass") and Christ's obedience ("the gift").

Paul gives the same warning in verse 16, "And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin."  The result of the one man's sin was that many were made sinners.  However, the free gift is  not like this – it is to be "received" (note verse 17).

We conclude that this is a consistent theme throughout Scripture:

 "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…" (John 1:12).

Pastor Van

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Book All Parents Must Have

Over the years I've been asked by parents, "Can you recommend a good book I can read to my children that will help explain biblical truths that are a bit difficult?"  I can now.

The book is entitled Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God.  The author is Dr. Bruce Ware, professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.   Dr. Ware is a gifted writer and has provided a tremendous resource for all parents.  I agree with the recommendation of Mark Driscoll:

"A theologically rich resource to aid parents in training their children.  Anyone who wants to help children grow in their love for Jesus and understanding of the Bible needs this book."

This book was born out of family discussions at dinner - those "daddy daughter dates"- with his two daughters.  Bruce was passionate about sharing truths that would give his daughters confidence in their Christian faith.  It was in large part through his daughters encouragement that this book came about.

Chapter titles include:

One God in Three Persons

Pain and Suffering in the World God Controls

How Sin Spread to All People

But Is Jesus really the Only Savior?

You will benefit from this book – and so will your children.

Pastor Van

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why Do You Do That?

I had a conversation recently with a fellow believer who attends a church in another city.  He said he had received Christ as his Savior and had been baptized, however, he was currently struggling over tithing (giving 10% of his income).  He said that he had been able to do so a few times, and that when he did he "felt good" and that "it made him proud". 

I asked the young man how he felt when he failed to give.  He replied, "I feel guilty."  I then asked, "Why do you give?"  He seemed puzzled at first that I would ask such a question.  I assured him that I was just curious, and that it was a good thing to know the true motivation behind our actions.  With that, he answered, "After our pastor preached on tithing, I told my wife, 'We've got to do this – I don't want to go to hell!'". 

I then asked, "Didn't you say earlier that Jesus was your Savior?"  He answered, "Yes."  I then asked if he felt that his giving would help his standing before God on judgment day, to which he answered "Yes."  So I asked, "Then who is saving who?"  He responded, "I'm saving myself."  Then, as if he suddenly realized what he had said, he remarked, "That didn't sound good."

Before the Apostle Paul ever became a follower of Christ, he had amassed quite a religious resume'.  He wrote about in his letter to the church at Philippi: "…circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law; blameless.  But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…"

Paul was not going to stand before God, relying in any sense upon his own record (a righteousness of my own).  Why not Paul?  Why not bring that along?  Just in case of course!  Isn't it because that the truth of the gospel is that Christ's righteousness has saved us from God's wrath and hell already, and there's nothing we can or should attempt to add to that?

So what about our giving, what should our motivation to give be?  Our giving, our service, all that we do for the glory of God is not to be done to keep ourselves saved.  No, no, never!  We who are "found in Him" are to be motivated by joy and gratitude for the grace we have received – both past and future grace.

Pastor Van

Thursday, June 18, 2009

C.C.C. is Shining In Mt. Washington

Kathryn and I had lunch today at one of the sandwich shops in Mt. Washington.  The lady who waited on us commented kindly about the church.  "Your church building is beautiful!  Even my little girl said, 'Wow mommy, look at that church, it's pretty.'"  We thanked her and moved on through the line. 

After a couple of minutes she mentioned that she had visited our recent yard sale at Fisher Lane.  She commented that she had bought some of the baked goods and that they were very good.  She then said something that thrilled my heart. 

"I just want you to know that I'm really impressed by the unity of your church."  At first I wasn't sure just what she meant by that, however, she went on to elaborate further.

"Your church seems to be a real family – nor just on Sunday – but every day."

I'm still not sure specifically what she meant by her gracious comments, but this one thing I do know: People are watching.  They are looking for something deeper than the physical structure of a building.  The question they are likely asking is: Are the people inside the building real?   Is church making any real difference in their life?   And when they find that it is, they take notice.  So shine on Calvary, shine on.

Pastor Van 

Thursday, June 11, 2009

'Worship Wars' - Coming to a Church Near You? Let's Hope Not.

Worship Wars.  That sounds a bit harsh doesn't it?  I first heard the phrase nearly 20-years ago.  It was a phrase coined to describe the battle going on within congregations over music – praise choruses vs. hymns.  And for those over fifty, it appeared that the choruses were winning.

Over the past 15-years at C.C.C. I must admit that I've been far removed from the fray.  However, the sounds of warfare are within earshot.  Over the past two months I've talked with those over the phone or in person who are angry and weary from the fight.

"It's been 15-years since I've heard someone say 'Open your hymnbooks to page…I almost fell over when you all asked me to do so."  This was the reaction of one brother who visited us recently.   Another lady called and asked specifically about our music.  I could smell the smoke of battle.  "They're not even using the hymnbook anymore," she said.   Apparently for some worship leaders the battle lines have been drawn – and there's no compromise.

Now trust me, I don't live in la la land.  I'm sure there are those in our congregation who would perhaps prefer all praise choruses as well as others who would like all hymns.  But at least so far no one has drawn up any battle plans or launched any hand-grenades. 

I remember an incident nearly 13-years ago in our fellowship hall at the Fisher Lane location.  We had learned "Ancient of Days", a chorus that was a bit different for us at the time.  During one of our informal get-togethers, one dear lady decided that I needed to know that she didn't like that song.  I remember quite well what I told her:  "That's what I like about you (name withheld for the sake of my health), even though you don't like it, you're not insisting that we stop doing songs like that because you're aware there are others who do like them."  And not another shot was fired. 

I'm in an unusual position.  In addition to preaching I also lead the music at C.C.C., which means I'm responsible for song selection.   Being 53-years of age does have its advantages.  I feel that I, at least somewhat, have my feet planted in both camps.  I love well written praise choruses.  When we sing "Jesus Messiah" by Chris Thomlin joyful worship is expressed.  I love hymns as well.  How can you beat rich hymns such as "Fairest Lord Jesus" and "It Is Well With My Soul"?  I feel the church must have them both.  And this exactly what we try to do – as imperfect as we are.

I am truly proud of our congregation.  When they sing the hymn "We Have Come To Join In Worship" they mean just that – they join in, instead of waging war.  Perhaps it's because for them the unity of the fellowship, as well as sincere worship in spirit and in truth, (Whether it's a hymn or chorus) is ultimately more important than their own musical preference.   It's a pleasure to join in worship with people like that.

Pastor Van



Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Good Movie and Glimmers of The Gospel

I'd like to recommend a movie.  Now I realize this can be dangerous since many movies, PG and PG-13, have some profanity, however, there is nothing particularly over the top in this movie.

The movie I'm speaking of is "Taken", starring Liam Nieson.  He plays the father of a 17-year-old girl who must have his permission to go on vacation in Paris.  She lies to him, telling him she is just going to be 'visiting museum's and stuff', and that her and her cousin will be staying with adults.  However, she knows that museums are not on the schedule.  They are actually going to following U-2 on their European tour.

Her father reluctantly grants his permission, even though he discovers that she has lied to him.  Then ironically, upon arrival in Paris, the daughter discovers that her cousin has lied to her, for the adults they were supposed to stay with are actually on vacation.  The liar has been lied too!  (Oh yes, this is one you should watch with your teenager.)

Things go bad quickly.  Both teenage girls are abducted by a group of Albanians who sell girls into prostitution.  Get ready for your outrage to build as you realize that this sort of thing is actually taking place in the world, (just Google; "Human Trafficking" or "Teen Prostitution").

The father goes to every extreme to rescue his daughter and ultimately succeeds.  At the end of the movie there is moving scene where the daughter is rescued by her father, and she clings to him, weeping, saying, "You came for me."  It's a moving scene.  You see, up until this point the daughter has kept her father at a distance, only reaching out to him when she needed something.  However, the rescue changes her.  She now clings to him.

Isn't this a picture of the amazing grace of God?  We keep Him at a distance, only acknowledging Him when we need something.  But when we are made to see just how enslaved we really are to sin, and that we cannot rescue ourselves; when the greatness of the Gospel of Christ finally gets through too us, we are changed.  Christ's extreme rescue wins our heart and we receive Him.  We cling to Him.  And we say, "You came for me."

Now watch the movie, and look for glimmers of the Gospel.

Pastor Van

Our First Service In The New Building

Our first service in our new building was this past Sunday (May 31st, 09'), and my, my, it was an outstanding day!  In addition to it being beautiful weather outside, the presence of the Lord was beautiful inside.   As we sang 'Holy, Holy, Holy' I could see the look on people's face, many weeping for joy, many smiling with delight.  It was a great day.

We even had to set out chairs out in order to seat everyone who attended.  We estimated, conservatively, our attendance to be at least 450.  Many in our church family invited their family and friends to come and worship with them on our special day.  It was so very kind of them to come and celebrate with us.

There were some personal challenges for me, getting used to all the new – the new building, the platform heighth, the new microphone (it's called a countryman.  It reminds me of something Garth Brooks would wear!), the acoustics, all of this was a bit un-nerving.  After all, I've been used to the old building now for 15-years.  I guess I had gotten rather comfortable.

Now we move on to the "dedication service" this next Sunday.  I'm expecting another great day with God's people.  I hope you'll be there!

Pastor Van

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wednesday Prayer Meeting

   On Wednesday evening, May 20th, we had a prayer meeting.  Let me explain why.

   As we near the day of our first worship service in our new worship facility, we have had plans of visiting our new neighbors, inviting them to join us for worship.  However, recently I was in Ohio for a pastor's conference and while I was there the thought occurred to me that we should gather and pray before we went out into the community.  By doing so, we would be declaring our dependency upon God, saying that our hope of great ministry does not lie in a new facility, but in the God of all creation.

   So we gathered and prayed.  One by one, men and women came forward to the microphone and offered prayer concerning a variety of topics.  It was a beautiful time, a time that many missed out on, (don't worry, we will be doing this much more!)  I am very grateful for all who did come and participate.  God was honored and we were helped by Him.

   As I mentioned, we will be doing this more on Wednesday evenings.  I'm convinced and convicted that we should.  There are many reasons why we should, however, let me offer one by Peter Masters:

"In the prayer gathering, preoccupation with ourselves as individual believers slips away, and we become a group of people longing for the blessing of others, and for the prosperity of the cause [of Christ].  In the prayer gathering we are refined and honed as a united body of people.  It cements unions, and promotes respect.  We hear each other pray; we subordinate ourselves to each other; we appreciate each other….The church that prays together stays together."

Let's stay together church.

Pastor Van

"Open Mic. Sunday" - A Concert of Praise

   On Sunday morning, May 17th, we had what we coined as "Open Mic. Sunday".  This was an opportunity for our church family to collectively offer praise unto God for His many blessings over the past 32-years.  It was a memorable day indeed.

   Men and women, mothers and fathers, young and old, all came together for a concert of praise.  There were those who have been at C.C.C. since the founding of the church.  There were those who spoke who have only been with us for a short time.  However, everyone who shared something blessed God, Who deserves all the glory.

   It was a splendid time to reflect upon God's faithfulness and to rejoice in His marvelous deeds.  I feel certain that everyone in attendance felt empowered to face the new challenges we have as a congregation.  I know I did!

Pastor Van

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Loving Jesus - More Than Anyone?

Recently, I preached a sermon from Luke 7:36-50, and in it I stated, "We must not just love Jesus - we must love Him more than anyone!" Of course this resulted in many questions, such as, "How can we do this?" "How can I love Jesus more than my daughter, my son, my spouse? And should I ?"

After reflecting on the questions, I'd like to say a little more about this.

First we must understand, the call to love Christ more is among the, so called, "hard statements" of Jesus.

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. ( Luke 14:25-26 , ESV)

At first glance this does indeed sound hard. However, we should begin with asking: What is Jesus saying?

Something I have personally found helpful is to let Scripture be its own interpreter. For example, let's consider a parallel passage:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37, ESV)

In light of this passage, isn't it clear that the meaning of hate (Luke 14:26) is to love less?

Consider William Hendriksen's helpful comments in his commentary on Luke:

"That the word "hate" in Luke 14:26 cannot have the same meaning which we generally attach to it is clear also from the fact that Jesus tells us to love even our enemies (Matt. 5:44). Then we should certainly love and not hate members of our immediate family."

So we see that we are to love our spouse, our children, our parents, even our enemies, yet we are to love Jesus more. He is to have preeminence in our life.

Someone may ask: "But why should I love Jesus more?" Let's explore this question for a moment.

In Luke 7:41-42, Jesus gives what has been called the "parable of the two debtors." On debtor owes the creditor a debt of 500-pence, the other 50-pence. The creditor forgave them both, so Jesus asked, "Which of them will love the creditor more?" The Pharisee to whom Jesus is speaking answers, "To whom he forgave most."

The point Jesus is making is clear: Receiving extravagant ,undeserved forgiveness, for a debt one is aware they have results in more love. You see, when we are made aware of (convicted of) our great debt, (we are all sinners), and we are made to see that Jesus Christ came and bore our sin, loving us more than anyone has or ever will loves us, won't we now love Him more than anyone? Shouldn't we? While we love our spouse, we know that our spouse cannot do for us what Christ did for us. While we love our children, we know that our children cannot do for us what Christ did for us. No, we love Christ more, for only He is worthy of such pre-eminent love.

Yet someone may say, "But what if I don't love Jesus more than anyone else - what then?" The simple answer is this - you are not yet aware of your sin and your desperate need of forgiveness from God. Otherwise, you would love Him - and you would love Him more than anyone, for He has loved you more than anyone has ever loved you. Why not pray now, "Almighty God, help me to see what I have been unable to see till now. Help me to see my sin, and my need for that which Jesus Christ has done for me."

Pastor Van