Church Unity: Your smartphone is a poor companion

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20)   

Like most of you I have a smartphone, that magical portal to a universe of information, helpful apps and once in a while contact with another human being, usually by text. It has become a practical necessity to do life in a digital age. How did we get places before Google Maps? How did we stay current on our friends’ lives before Facebook and Instagram? The smartphone has opened up a world of good things for us.

But alas, your smartphone also has the potential to poison your relationships and destroy your unity with others. Because not only does it give you access to the good stuff, but also to an inexhaustible reservoir of news feeds and social media, much of which is designed to stir up outrage and divide us. 

Adam Mabry, pastor and author of a new book titled Stop Taking Sides, says the following. 

The “smart” folk in the media no longer treat disagreement as an occasion for conversation but for tribal competition, mud-slinging, and point-scoring—and five minutes on any social-media platform will show even the most optimistic of us that the world takes its lead from its media. In their “Hidden Tribes” study, More in Common—an international initiative trying to understand this phenomenon—found that “many of today’s most contentious issues are framed as us-versus- them identity-based struggles.”

In other words, we are learning from our smartphones (or our laptops) how to hate the people we disagree with. Civil dialog leading toward better understanding is replaced by the imperative to crush the opposition. Therefore, if we immerse ourselves too deeply and too constantly in the flood of “us-versus-them” mentality that the media provides, our ability to have unity with those of a different viewpoint suffers.

This is where the proverb comes into play. The companion of fools suffers harm

A companion is someone you spend a lot of time with, someone you’ve chosen to be close to you, someone who has your receptive ear. How much is your phone your companion? How much influence have you given its media stream over your thinking? It may be more than you realize. One way to tell is by how you react when your fellow believers say something you don’t agree with. Do you feel justified in unleashing your ungracious words? Do you believe you have a moral mandate to shame them into repentance? If so, then you’ve probably been harmed by your foolish companion.

There is a better companion, a supremely wise one, who bids you to walk with him and learn his ways. His name is Jesus. Mind you, he is no stranger to disagreeing with others. Far from it! In fact, he was crucified for the very reason that he would not compromise on the truth about our sin and our need of forgiveness. But he teaches us a different approach in our disagreement with other believers (or anyone else for that matter). 

He says learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29). His word says Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29). How different this tone is from the “tribal competition, mud-slinging, and point-scoring” of media. Choosing to be gracious from a posture of gentleness and lowliness is the wisdom we learn by walking with Jesus. And counterintuitively, it is much more likely to generate productive conversations when we disagree.

Believing friends, by all means use your smartphone as a helpful tool. But make Jesus your companion. That is how we build unity.

Pastor Mark

Church unity: Do we just agree to disagree?

“We should disobey because the COVID-19 restrictions are nothing more than an election year plot to unseat Donald Trump and attack the church.” “No! We should obey because the COVID-19 restrictions are science-based actions to prevent the spread of a disease that kills.” Both positions are held by genuine believers in Jesus Christ, the beloved of God which he obtained by his own blood (Acts 20:28).

What’s a person to do when we have strongly opposing opinions on matters like the government response to the pandemic, or racial injustice, or climate change or fill-in-the-blank? Just agree to disagree? Or is there a point where our disagreement is NOT okay? 

There is a saying that has been handed down to us from church history that summarizes biblical wisdom on this question. “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” In other words there are some things we must agree on and other things we need not agree on, but always the tone of our discussion should be Christian love for one another.

This historic wisdom is seen in Paul’s letters to the churches. 

“In essentials unity”

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God… Ephesians 4:11-13

Where the Lord wants there to be unity and harmonious agreement is in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God. It is agreement on the truth of God’s word which is the authoritative foundation of our faith, and agreement on the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is something we are to attain, to succeed in reaching through effort. The Lord gave us the apostles and others to bring about unity around these essentials. In this life we will never agree on every point, which is why we have denominations, but each local church is to strive to attain as much doctrinal unity as we can in order to walk together deeply and not merely superficially. In essentials unity.

“In non-essentials liberty”

What is “non-essential” applies to matters of doctrine that are less clear or do not impinge upon the core tenets of the faith, such as whether a church can have women deacons. While it will be important for a church to take a position on some of these matters, they are not essential for our salvation and sanctification. We don’t have to agree.

But what is also non-essential to agree on is how we apply the principles of Scripture according to our individual consciences. And this gets more to our immediate question concerning our opinions on social issues. Consider the principle in Romans 14:5-6.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

What we have here is two people who want to honor the Lord, but they don’t agree on what that looks like. One is from a Jewish background and thinks observing Jewish feast days is important. The other is from a Gentile background and sees no reason to do so. Paul counsels liberty in this area. As long as both are trying to please the Lord, they don’t need to agree. This is a non-essential. Now, if their choices are inherently sinful, or if they are carried out with wrong attitudes and motivations, then there is reason to challenge that in the pursuit of holiness. But if someone is trying to please the Lord, and their application is different from how you would do it, leave room for that, for God has welcomed them. In non-essentials liberty.

We can apply this to differing positions on a range of issues. 

Let’s say you have two believers who want to honor the Lord and the issue of police shootings of black men comes up. What is the right Christian response? One defends the victims of unjust death at the hands of police. The other defends the police force from unjust broad-brush condemnation. How do we walk together as believers while taking different sides on the issue?

One important thing we can do is this: let’s both agree on the essential truth that justice for all people matters because God is a God of justice. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing (Deuteronomy 10:18). We may not agree on the particulars of the appropriate response (the non-essentials) but let us both agree to imitate the character of God who loves righteousness and justice (Psalm 33:5).

“In all things charity”

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  Ephesians 4:1-3

This is the imperative of humility and love in our interactions with one another. In the midst of our disagreements, the only way to attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God is to be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We’ll never get to the unity Christ wants for us if our relationships fall apart through division over non-essentials and sinful attitudes.

So we cultivate humility by remembering that we do not see everything as clearly as we might think, that we may lack wisdom in staking our position on a subject, and that as sinful humans we are prone to reaching conclusions that we want to believe while disregarding information that would challenge us. This gives us a healthy self-suspicion about our own opinions.

And we cultivate love by remembering that we share the same Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of God, as members of the body of Christ. We are eager to maintain this God-created unity, not ready to separate at the first conflict. We are to be for one another as we journey toward conformity to his image and the eternal glories that await. Like the brothers forgiven by Joseph, who was a type of the Savior to come, the Lord would say to us “do not quarrel on the way” (Genesis 45:24). Let’s discuss the issues and let “iron sharpen iron” but not attack each other. In all things charity.

In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity. If we keep these things in mind, we can fruitfully walk together in the bond of peace.

Pastor Mark

We ordained Todd!

On Sunday, August 30th, 2020, we had the privilege of holding a special outdoor service to ordain our newest pastor: Todd Santee. It was a beautiful Sunday morning and so many were able to gather to celebrate God’s goodness to our little church. We hope you enjoy the photos, and the full length video.

Congratulations Pastor Todd!

You can enjoy watching the service here.

The day began early with some audio, video, and sunshade set up. Thank you to the many folks who came early to help prepare our parking lot! God blessed us with a cool morning, but not too cool.

Photo of a parking lot without cars. Four large sunshades are set up along the perimeter.

Many thanks to Will Huffaker, Jonathan Hutchings, and Bill Maxwell for all of their work to provide us with great sound, as well as audio and video recordings of the service.

Photo of two men, one at a computer, one at a sound board.
Jonathan Hutchings (left) on video, and Will Huffaker (right) on sound
The quiet just before everyone arrives

With ample space in our parking lot folks were able to social distance as needed, so many members we haven’t seen in months were able to attend! We were so glad to see their faces.

This was the first time we had all been able to come together and worship since March and it was wonderful to hear the swell of voices praising our Lord!

Spencer Hooker leading us in worship

And we even shared in communion! Hooray for individually packaged communion cups and crackers!

Pastors Dan and Tony opened the service with some encouraging words to the church and Pastor Todd, as well as a little good-natured ribbing!

Pastor Dan
Pastor Tony Walsh from Grace Community Church
Pastor Todd

Pastor Mark then addressed Todd, with the church as witnesses, with three things for him to remember as he begins his ministry as pastor to our church. After the message, the ordination began and all four pastors took the stage. Each pastor took turns praying for Todd and then presented him with some gifts.

Todd’s wife, Bekah, looking on
Pastor Todd receiving his Certificate of Ordination and a Bible

After receiving his gifts, Pastor Todd addressed the congregation for the first time as their pastor, sharing his excitement.

It was a good Sunday!

Pastor Todd and his wife Bekah
Pastor Todd with his parents, Danny and Amy

Church Unity: Seeing What God Sees

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 
Acts 20:28

We are talking about unity among believers in the local church, and perhaps the best place to start is with the big picture. Why should we even care about the local church and the people in it? Is the church’s unity all that important to preserve?

The answer is found in Paul’s word to the elders of the church in Ephesus. These leaders needed to remember how God feels about the people he gave them charge over. Paul said they are the church of God which he obtained with his own blood. Think about that for a moment. Obtained with his own blood.

Your church, like the church in Ephesus, was obtained – purchased by God who secured it for himself – by the death of his only beloved Son. The people in the chairs on either side of you when you meet, or whom you see on the screen on your Sunday Zoom church meeting, are people of whom God said, “It is worth it to me to have my Son suffer and die for their sins so that they can be with me forever. The agony that Jesus must go through in mocking, contempt, being spit upon, lied about, struck in the face, whipped, crucified in public shame and utterly forsaken – all of that will be worth it to have these sinners brought to me in forgiveness and restored friendship.” 

These are the same people of whom Jesus said, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:3). Jesus wants us to be with him! He actually takes pleasure in the thought of being with believers forever. Prophetically speaking of the heavenly future, the Lord says I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul (Jeremiah 32:41). It is a heartfelt affection that our Lord has for his people. He will have the prize for which he died; he will have the fruit of his suffering, namely, his bride the church already counted blameless in status and one day to become blameless in experience. Can a person be given a higher honor than this?

In light of that, can we look at these same people with apathy, or worse, disgust? Can we readily nurse grudges, rehearse their faults (real or imagined), hold their forgiven sins against them and cast them off at the first moment they displease us? If they hold a different political opinion, or own a gun, or go to a protest, or express some other view you strongly disagree with, does it give us license to write them off and dismiss them as not worthy of fellowship? Of course not. Such things are the product of indwelling sin in our hearts which is reinforced by the shaming culture we live in.

We do not learn such things from Christ who loves his bride, the church. Grace teaches us to see fellow believers as the people that God obtained with his own blood. The church, for all its faults and differences, is still loved by God and called to be saints (Romans 1:7). As we make the effort to see what God sees, we learn to love them too. We develop the attitude of David who said, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3). That is good ground for unity among believers to grow in.

Pastor Mark

An introduction to unity: Are you voting for Trump or Biden?

Now that I’ve gotten your attention with that question, let me explain where I’m going with it. 

First of all, I don’t want to know your answer. Nor am I going to tell you who to vote for. A pastor is not your political advisor; he is a gospel preacher. That doesn’t mean he says nothing that would influence your politics. It means he majors on that which is of first importance, which is Jesus Christ and him crucified, who is the hope of the world, not elected officials (1 Corinthians 2:2; 15:3-4). It means he gives himself to God’s word which gives you everything you need to navigate troubled waters, everything you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). That should influence not only how you vote but everything about you.

No, where I’m going with the question is this: it is to talk about church unity. I know from conversations I’ve had that in our church we have people who will vote for Trump and others who will vote for Biden. I hope that doesn’t come as a shock to you. It does, however, come with a challenge; namely, to learn how to pursue a unity that is deeper than political attachments. If your participation in Sovereign Grace Church is conditioned on the belief that everyone in it votes like you, schools their children like you, has the same interests as you or agrees with anything else that is of secondary importance, then you will be very unsettled when you find out they don’t. It will tempt you to disunity and division. But Christian unity is built on something far beyond these things.

Listen to what Paul said about unity to the church of Ephesus. 

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–  one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:1-6) 

Do you see what is not in that list of what we all have in common as believers? Political views. Race. Gender. Age. Social status. A position on mask-wearing. You get the picture. The unity of the church is built on the calling to which you have been called, which is our common rescue from our sins by Jesus Christ into one body under the one God who is over all and in all through his Spirit. This produces a people who are humbly bearing with one another in love in our differences. Jesus is building a church that has unity, not uniformity. How else could the church consist of both Jews and Gentiles, people historically at odds with one another and culturally different?

Herein lies our opportunity in these angry, polarized times. God has given us the resources to have the gracious, gentle, patient, peaceful community across difference that the world is trying to get by demanding uniformity. “You must agree with everything I say or I will have nothing to do with you” is a strategy that doesn’t produce unity but only more outrage. Loving one another out of the grace of salvation builds a unity that shows the world what it can only have in Christ (John 13:35).

During this challenging season one of the enemy’s schemes is to turn Christians against each other over political and social issues. So we’ll be addressing unity in a series of upcoming blog posts in order to maintain the unity of the Spirit that we have and build on it. This is an opportunity for us to demonstrate the beauty of the gospel, so I hope you’ll stay tuned for more on how we can walk this out.

Pastor Mark

Are You Afraid of the Future?

Fear has been with us since the fall of mankind into sin. After eating the forbidden fruit, the first known words out of a human’s mouth were these: “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid.” (Genesis 3:10). They knew no fear before then; fear has been with us ever since. It is the byproduct of distance from the God of peace in whom alone is complete and permanent security (Romans 16:20, John 14:27).

We can name some of the fears of our current times: fear of catching a life-threatening disease, fear of what changes will become permanent because of the pandemic, fear of growing chaos, fear that the government is turning oppressive, fear that we will be persecuted, fear of losing freedoms and everything we hold dear. All of these are possible futures and the specter of them may haunt our minds, preventing rest. The fearful person lives in constant dread, generating a thousand possible outcomes in his or her imagination, all of them a clear and present danger just around the corner of becoming lived reality.

There are two ways to relieve fear. One is to make sure the thing you fear never happens. But this is something you cannot guarantee, so you will never get peace that way. The second is to know that even if your worst case fear happens, you will get through it. This is something that God promises to the believer in Jesus Christ, and it is the pathway to peace. For an example of it, let’s think about the prophet Habakkuk.

Habakkuk lived in a time when there was much that could make a person afraid. Consider his description of current events in his complaint to God.

“O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:2-4)

Doesn’t this sound a lot like our current times? Violence in the streets, evil practiced openly, injustice in the cities and in the courts, laws being broken, a sense of being surrounded by the wicked. Habakkuk lived in such times. But even more trouble was coming! For here is God’s response to his complaint.

“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand.  At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!” (1:5-11)

This is a prediction of, among other things, the rise of Babylon and the invasion of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of God’s people. Instead of reassuring Habakkuk that things would get better, he assured him that conditions would get worse, and that God himself was behind it! I am raising up the Chaldeans.

This is not what he wanted to hear! But is that the end of the story? No. The Lord also gave assurances, promises to hold onto, certainties like stars in the sky untouchable by the affairs of mankind.

“The righteous shall live by his faith.” (2:4)

“Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (2:12-14)

Two certainties emerge from these verses, which are fleshed out in the New Testament.

First, those who put their trust in God shall live, despite all the chaos, violence and injustice. The promise is of indestructible and eternal life that becomes your possession through faith in Jesus Christ. Not even your physical death ends your life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live (John 11:25).

Second, evil will not win in the end. The nations will weary themselves for nothing. The violent and unjust who assert strength over the weak will not succeed in building their kingdom with blood and founding it on iniquity. God himself will assert his dominion, crush all rebellion, and renew the world. It will be filled with his glory that is known and worshiped in the hearts of all people everywhere, who are declared righteous by faith in Jesus (Rom. 1:17; 5:1). It will be a world without evildoers or anything to make us fearful ever again, because the God of peace will dwell with us forever (Revelation 21:3).

Even without knowing the full story behind these promises of God, Habakkuk had enough to put away his fears and find peace, to settle his soul with the knowledge that he was going to get through whatever would come his way. He responded this way.

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (3:17-19) 

Habakkuk means that even though everything is going wrong and nothing good is on the horizon, it doesn’t have to send me into the abyss of despair and hopelessness. I don’t have to control it, I don’t need to fix it, and I don’t need to make sure that the worst doesn’t happen in order to experience joy right now.

I can take joy in something that is real, something that is certain, and that is stunningly good and provided for me today and forever – God himself. He is the God of my salvation, which means that he has promised to save me, and therefore I will get through this. He will give me the strength for each day. In loving relationship with him I can be sure-footed through the days like a deer bounding through the woods or walking along a precipice on high places, not afraid of falling. My life will not be without tribulation (John 16:33), but it need not be without hope (Psalm 42:5).

So, brothers and sisters, there is a way to relieve your fears. It isn’t by trying to guarantee that all of your “what if” scenarios don’t happen. It’s in knowing that “even if” the worst happens, you still have the God of your salvation, and saving you is his business. Let him be in charge of that as you face today’s challenges, renewing daily your confidence in his loving care for your life. He will be your strength for getting through these times.

Pastor Mark

Should the church disobey government restrictions?

Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29) 

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-2)  

A question on many people’s minds at this time is whether we should disobey the restrictions being placed on churches regarding attendance limits, face mask wearing and social distancing. Aren’t we capitulating to secular political agendas rather than taking a bold stand for the gospel? Aren’t we disobeying God’s command to meet together?

These two texts set the boundaries for a Christian’s obligation to obey secular authorities. One boundary reminds us that we are citizens of an earthly kingdom; the other, that we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom. These two citizenships give us a framework for answering the question.

Our earthly citizenship

By God’s decree we have been placed into a particular nation at a particular time. Paul alludes to this in his message to the men of Athens in Acts 17:26, saying he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place. God has determined where and when you live as a citizen of a particular country. For us at Sovereign Grace Church, that is the United States and the state of Colorado.

As citizens of this earthly country, we are to be subject to, that is, submit to the laws of the governing authorities here. We are to be the very best citizens of this country and abide by its rules, seeking the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile (Jer. 29:7). Jesus himself acknowledged, regarding the paying of taxes, that one should “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:15-21). Paul also worked within the legal system of his day by appealing to Caesar to escape the murderous intentions of his false accusers (Acts 25:10-11).

We are to obey the laws and executive orders of secular authorities, knowing that however these leaders got into their position, God has appointed them over us and we are not to resist. But there is also the heavenly citizenship to consider as we do this.

Our heavenly citizenship

Paul told the Philippian church that our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20). We are citizens of the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:13), who is King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16), the ruler of kings on earth (Revelation 1:5), and who has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). 

Since the Lord is the ultimate authority and heaven is our true country, our heavenly citizenship is our priority citizenship; our ultimate allegiance is to God. We make it our aim to please him (2 Corinthians 5:9). This looks like keeping his commandments, for this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).  It means loving God and loving our neighbor (Luke 10:27) in a multitude of ways.

But what happens when the laws of these two kingdoms are opposed to one another? Which way do we choose? Answer: we must obey God rather than men.

If a law in the earthly kingdom forces us to disobey God, or stated oppositely, prevents us from obeying God, then we must not obey that law. This is when civil disobedience becomes necessary. This is what the apostles chose when they were charged to not teach in Jesus’ name (Acts 5:28-29). To obey this charge would have forced them to disobey the Lord’s command to “go and make disciples… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). This is rendering “to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Between Caesar and God, God has the higher claim on our lives.

How this applies in the current pandemic

We do not think the current restrictions force us to disobey God or prevent us from obeying God. The restrictions, in Colorado at least, change how we can meet, but they don’t prevent us from meeting. They make life harder, they are not what we want long term, but they don’t prevent us from sharing the gospel, encouraging one another in the faith, doing good works, and worshipping God. They also do not unfairly target the church, but apply across the spectrum to all gatherings including major league baseball, concerts, movie-going, restaurants, and even political conventions.

One can argue whether the restrictions are wise, necessary, or politically motivated but their stated purpose is to protect public safety during a worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 which does in fact pose a health risk. This is a legitimate function of government and is not to be resisted on the grounds that “we must obey God rather than men.” To follow these rules (in their present form, at least) is obeying God who appointed these authorities over us.

The day will surely come when we will need to disobey the laws of man if they force us to deny the tenets of our faith. We just don’t think that day has come yet. So we will seek to obey the restrictions placed on us while at the same time find creative ways to be the church for one another.

This brings us to the application for each of us.

The priority question right now is not whether we should disobey man, but how we can obey God by not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:25). The pandemic restrictions make it harder to connect, and the temptation will be to resign ourselves to it. But we are still called to meet together for encouragement in the faith.

So take initiative to reach out to one another during these restricted days. Fulfill the ‘one-another’ commands as best you can. Meet together in a park or your backyard for a meal. Take a socially distanced walk with a fellow believer and talk. Zoom with someone in the church. Text, call, email, or even snail mail them. Come in person to our Sunday meeting if that is at all possible. Meet on Zoom if it is not possible. Do anything but take a vacation from church life, lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13 NAS).

These days present challenges to us, but we know God has sovereign purposes for good in our trials. We can grow through this. And by God’s grace we will as we lean in together.

Pastor Mark 

Is the world out of control?

When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.

Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island.” (Acts 27:20-26)

The narrative of Paul’s shipwreck is real history and not an allegory, and yet there are many parallels to the journey of the believer in these changing and troubled days. If the world seems out of control to you, take heart, it is not. Our God is in control of everything that is now happening. 

For proof, consider what God must have control over in order to keep his promise to Paul that “there will be no loss of life among you” on a ship where “all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned”. 

  • He must have control over the size and force of the waves tossing the ship so that they will not capsize or break apart the ship until a safe haven is reached.
  • He must have control over the structural integrity of the ship itself so that it remains afloat until the appointed time.
  • He must have control over the coordination and movements of each man so that no one is swept overboard to drown.
  • He must have control over the predators of the sea – sharks, poisonous jellyfish and the like – so that when the ship sticks fast on a coral reef and they all jump in the water none of them is attacked (vs. 41-44).
  • He must have control over the decisions and actions of each person on the ship so that the soldiers cannot carry out their plan to kill the prisoners (vs. 42).
  • He must have control over the strength of each man who can swim and over the availability of floating debris for those who cannot swim so they all reach shore alive.

In summary, God had control over every single force with the power to harm Paul and “all those who sail with you” so that all were brought safely to land (vs. 44).

Believing friends, the same is true of your journey in this world. 

No small tempest lays upon us in the pandemic, social upheaval and political agendas.  Are you tempted to abandon all hope? God controls every decision of man and every force in the world with the power to harm you, therefore it cannot unless divine love allows it. We pass through the storm of trials and tribulations, but God’s promise is that there will be no loss of life among you, for God gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). 

Yes, the ‘ship’ will be lost, for the present form of this world is passing away (1 Cor. 7:31) and we must run aground on a reef of trouble before reaching our safe haven. But God sends us the message “Do not be afraid,” for by his sovereign power you must stand before someone greater than Caesar, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, in a renewed world of never-ending joy. 

So take heart, church, and have faith in God that it will be exactly as we have been told.

Pastor Mark

What is “SGC” doing about “BLM?”

This question was recently asked about our local church. It’s a good question. You may be wondering yourself. The answer is in two parts.

The first answer to what we are doing about Black Lives Matter is this: it’s what YOU are doing. You see, the church isn’t just an organization that is “doing something” the way a corporation does, like making cell phones. The church is the people, and what the people are doing is what the church is doing. Paul wrote To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:2). The church of God is restated as those sanctified in Christ Jesus. The church is the people. What you are doing as a member of our church is what the church is doing. It may not be organized by the church leadership, it may be helpful or unhelpful, but it is what we are doing. It is the product of what we have individually become under the teaching and ministry of the church over the years.

Some of you have taken specific actions related to BLM, whether that is to advocate for victims of injustice, or do practical good works for the city, or post things online. We hope all of it is being done graciously, in humility, and guided by God’s word and not by the world. For this is the only approach that can make them truly good works which others may see and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

But the question is obviously aimed at the church as a whole, at what the church leadership is doing about BLM. And our answer is this: we are preaching the gospel. You see, at the end of the day, the deepest solution to injustice – both against man and against God – is Jesus Christ crucified for our sins. Paul spoke to this in his letter to the Ephesian church which was made up of Jew and Gentile, two groups very much at odds with one another in those times. And here is what he pointed them to:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Ephesians 2:13-16).

Being made “both one” is about reconciliation between man and man. This is the “one new man in place of the two”. This addresses the root of racism and injustice and every other offense between man and man. But this deep healing comes only “by the blood of Christ” who reconciles us not only to one another, but “both to God in one body through the cross”. We must be reconciled to God in order to be truly reconciled to one another, and that comes through repentance for our sins and faith in Jesus as the one who died for our sins. 

So we preach the gospel because it addresses the deepest root of our injustice against one another by addressing the injustice we have done against God. Reconciling others to God is how we can show that black lives (and all other lives) matter. This is the solution only the church can offer the world, so we must be faithful to communicate it. Can we do more than preach the gospel? Surely, and perhaps we will learn what that is. But we can never do less. And if we can only do that one thing, we are doing what is most important. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3). 

Pastor Mark

Something Greater Than Solomon

And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the LORD, there was no more breath in her. 

And she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard.  Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! (1 Kings 10:4-8)   

When I was a senior in high school, and not a Christian, the Lord put it into my heart to read through the Bible for the first time. When completed, the only content I could remember was the story of Solomon. I was impressed by his staggering wealth and success. As a young person going into engineering with visions of getting a good paying job I could not imagine anything better than to seek the same. It never occurred to me that Solomon was only a pointer to something greater.

Jesus said, “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Matt. 12:42). This was a rebuke for the unbelief of his hearers. The queen sought out wisdom from Solomon and saw the glory of his kingdom; Jesus’ hearers rejected the wisdom of the gospel which would bring them into an eternal kingdom greater than Solomon’s. For “Christ Jesus …became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).

Trusting in Jesus as our sin-bearing Savior is the true wisdom that opens the kingdom of heaven to us, a kingdom of surpassing glory and renewal unlike anything we can imagine. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). Like the queen of Sheba, once we see it, it will take our breath away. We will say, “Behold, the half was not told me.” 

Followers of Christ, remember this when the world of woe is pressing you down. A kingdom awaits, and you are a citizen there (Phi. 3:20).  Your happiness will exceed that of Solomon’s servants, for “something greater than Solomon is here” in the person of Jesus Christ, in whose presence we will be forever.

Pastor Mark

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