Sacred Relationship

As apostle Paul neared the end of his life, he took up his pen and wrote to a dear disciple. It would be his last letter. He had an urgent request. Timothy, “Do your best to come to me soon. . . Do your best to come before winter” (2 Tim 4:9, 21a).

Paul not only wanted to see Timothy but desperately wanted his friend to bring him a warm coat, his books, and his parchments (2 Tim 4:13). In all likelihood, the books Paul desired were his copies of Old Testament writings. The parchments may have contained Paul’s study notes. Paul knew which three items he would choose in a survival situation whether on a deserted island or in a Roman Prison.

Though we cannot be sure what those books or parchments contained, we know that Paul was living out what he had been teaching to his pupil: The Word of God is to be treasured. It is to be taught, and it is to be lived. And Timothy, unlike the false teachers of his day, was a good student who emulated his teacher in word and deed (2 Tim 4:10-11). In the increasing hostility to Christianity in the first century, Timothy was both commended and reminded by Paul:

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”
(2 Tim 3:14-15).

Paul’s statement is remarkable. The “sacred writings” (that is the Old Testament) are able to make a person wise unto salvation “through faith in Christ Jesus.” Scripture, from beginning to end, points to Christ and is powerful to convert hearts, producing faith in Jesus.

Timothy had been groomed from childhood on the Bible. The instruction of his Christian mother and grandmother were not in vain (2 Tim 1:5). His growth in Christ continued as an adult as he heeded, emulated, and practiced the witness of Paul, his father in the faith.

We must remember that the Scripture we teach is powerful and effective. It takes root and produces change. We must also remember that discipleship involves a community and is a long term project. What’s at stake? Souls who, like Timothy, would grow up to live, defend, and proclaim the truth when we’re gone.

 

Beyond Celebrity

Celebrity culture is nothing new. People have always elevated individuals based on position, talent, or status. We find an interesting example of this in the life of David.

David was a very young man, likely a young teen, when he first met King Saul. At that time, in the eyes of the nation, Saul was a celebrity. He had defeated the Amalekites and secured his authority as king. He continued to fight Israel’s enemies and lead them to victory.

But Saul’s character was questionable, at best. When he recruited David into his service, he was a troubled man who knew, from the prophet Samuel, that God would take the kingdom away from him.

In Saul’s service, David was warrior by day and musician by night, fighting Saul’s battles against the Philistines and soothing Saul’s troubled spirit with music. David soon found himself in a popularity contest with the king. 1st Samuel 18.6-7 tells us “when David returned from striking down the Philistines . . . the women sang to one another as they celebrated, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’”

The exorbitant praise of David was not lost on Saul, and it wasn’t long before Saul, in a jealous rage, attempted to kill David and pursued him relentlessly in the wilderness. If anyone had the right to bitterness and disillusionment toward Saul, it was David.

Yet at the time of Saul’s death David not only lamented, he heaped praise on him saying that “the sword of Saul returned not empty,” and that Saul and his son Jonathan were “swifter than eagles” and “stronger than lions” (2 Sam 1.22,23). He focused on acknowledging Saul’s virtues, and praised the man who had sought his life and shown a disturbing lack of confidence in God.

How was David able to do this? By remembering neither he nor Saul had become king because of their celebrity. God is the sovereign king. It was only by His sovereign will that Saul became king, and by that same will that he was rejected. Because Saul was the Lord’s anointed, David refused to strike against him in word or deed.

We misplace our faith when we put too much importance on the celebrity of Christians, whether positive or negative. We would do well to check our disillusionment or our elation at the throne room of God and remember that whatever good or bad they do is arbitrated by our sovereign God whose purpose extends far beyond the short lifespan of their fame.

 

The Conflicted 500th Year

October will mark the fifth century since Martin Luther started a debate about the pope’s authority. Luther split Europe by questioning Rome’s power over a person’s spiritual life, control of information, and misuse of money. Limiting Rome’s authority helped remove the institution from the relationship between the individual and Jesus Christ.

Yet as I observe this anniversary, several ironies intrude.

American evangelicals often miss how similar our current situation is to Rome’s then. Like Rome, evangelicals have well-funded lobbyists with political agendas. We also have hucksters like Rome’s, but instead of selling early release from purgatory ours sell prayer-cloths, “healings,” and positive thinking.

The most striking parallel between Luther’s day and ours is skepticism. Rome, marinated in privilege, had lost credibility with the average European, and assumed that the loss didn’t matter. But the skepticism of commoners was powerful.

Today the average American rejects evangelicals’ consumeristic attempts to make spiritual life easy, and their obsession with creating a parallel pop culture where they won’t be offended. Many think evangelicals’ public smile is hiding greed and bigotry. Fair or unfair, this is the skepticism evangelicals face.

The loss of credibility is stark. Too many people have gone forward to “get saved” at mass meetings — only to be abandoned when the hard spiritual work started. Too many have trusted “faith healers” to restore their health, authoritarians to shape their conscience, or politicians to save their culture. And too many, when the gimmicks fail, have been told that it was their own fault.

500 years after Luther, we need another reformation. There are questions we can’t duck. Should pastors “prophesy” that Donald Trump is God’s choice? Are 20-minute TED talk imitations on Sundays really opening the Bible — or obscuring it? Is it right to sell “training” on how to control the Holy Spirit? With practices like these, institutional pragmatism has overwhelmed biblical principle.

Many pastors in our region are grieved by our decline from the Reformation. We are determined to recover that heritage. We are willing to debate these questions candidly. Our goal should be to reset the Bible’s boundaries around the institutional interests of churches, and return to the core of evangelical teaching: the direct relationship between the individual and Christ.

 

Laying a Foundation of Gentleness

At the Hub this year, our kids are embarking on a discovery of foundational Christian truths. At the core of doctrine stands the Scripture, the barometer of truth. The Bible comes from God himself through the prophets. It is sufficient in its scope and effective to save and sanctify us.

As imperative as it is to believe in the certainty of God’s Word, there’s much more. God’s word changes its hearers and is meant to be taught by people who have personally experienced this change.

It’s always better to hear about the Bible’s transforming power from someone who knows it first hand than to be sold a bill of goods from hucksters, charlatans, and profiteers. The book of 1 Thessalonians illustrates the link between the potent truth of God’s word and its delivery by noticeably changed men. Paul reminds the church of this.

“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

Then he adds,

“You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake” (1Thess. 1:4-5).

Thessalonica was a bustling port city on the beautiful Adriatic Sea. At the crossroads of four major roads, it was commercial, it was cosmopolitan, it was controversial. And it wasn’t Christian.
When Paul and his outlaw band of missionaries came into town, they met with many difficulties, yet they toiled with the gentle love of a parent, ready to share not only their message but their lives.

“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:7-8).

This new generation needs to be exposed consistently to a people whose lifestyle, words and character match the message they proclaim. Even in our imperfections and our sin. Are we patient and full of grace, forgiving and quick to repent, gentle in times of hostility? Do our affections for souls drive us to toil for their good?

Share the Good Portion

I am a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a deaconess. I work, and I serve. After all, isn’t it a woman’s duty to busy herself with many things? That is what I’ve always thought and sometimes been taught.

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help 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. 38-42

Martha, it appears, believed the same thing I did – that, as a woman, the measure of her life was in her “much serving.” Martha fretted because she had a houseful of guests. Her value and her identity were on the line, and possibly her pride. But Jesus was not impressed by her busyness. Neither did he mind that her sister sat idly at his feet.

According to Jesus only “one thing is necessary,” and it is not our hustle and bustle. It is the time we spend together at His feet, being filled and transformed by his heavenly words, that will never be taken away from us. That is “the good portion.”

Only learning together from Christ frees us to serve with joy and to love without grudging. That is one reason why CGB Women’s Ministries is committed to providing quality Bible studies for women.

This fall we are offering Hoping for Something Better, a 10-week study of Hebrews, written by Nancy Guthrie. The book of Hebrews was written to people being tempted, like many of us, to trust in our works instead of the gospel. Hoping for Something Better will be offered at two different times, Monday evenings at 7:00, beginning on September 11th, or Wednesday mornings at 10:00, beginning on September 13th. If you would like to attend, please contact the church office at 530-342-8642. We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to set aside your hustle and bustle and learn from Christ together.

Kick Off the Fall with BBQ

In fall we hit the ground running. School begins, the Hub, Real Life Groups, and women’s Bible studies all kick into gear. There’s a buzz of excitement, but it can also feel overwhelming. So many things can equal so many ways to burn out by spring.

Fortunately at Chico Grace Brethren we have a great tradition of beginning the fall with fellowship. Our Fall Kick-off BBQ is a time for kids to play in the bounce house and slip-n-slide (bring your swim suits!) and for adults to relax and talk in the shade. And, of course, it’s a time to eat.

 

In years past we lumped the kick-off together with a ministry fair and cake sale fundraiser for the youth group. We even had a dump tank for Pastor and the elders a couple of times. But in recent years we have streamlined our focus to one thing: enjoying each other.

I look forward to the spirit of celebration and the sound of laughter as the air begins to cool and the church starts to bustle with activity. Though we break bread together at other times of the year, for me anticipating Fall Kick-off BBQ is like the excitement of a holiday.

A Changing Hub

One Thursday evening about the middle of last year, Richard K. and I were doing some team building games with the Hub kids. One of the younger kids wanted something else to do so I helped him find crayons and paper. I was dimly aware of Richard’s voice in the background, but I wasn’t really listening until I turned around and saw that he had shown the kids how to make a simple catapult out of the rope we had been using. I heard him shout, “Pull!” Then two of the girls and my son, holding opposite ends of the rope, pulled away from the center and launched a fourth youngster across the room.

All this to say, it is time once again for what is fast becoming my favorite hour at the church: The Hub. If you want to know what is new and important in the Hub this year and the superstar volunteers who are helping make it happen, then keep reading.

The Hub is moving to Wednesdays,
and the start time is moving to 6 pm.

Wednesday seemed to be a better evening for many people, and the earlier start time is not for the sake of lengthening the Hub, but for the sake of ending the evening a little earlier for our families.

Also new this fall, there will be no more sneaking in through the hallway entrance. Delilah will be outside the main entrance serving coffee and Italian sodas and snacks. Have a drink, chat with some folks. As you do, you may hear the Worship Band warming up. Wednesday is their rehearsal night.

Conflict? you ask. Not at all. They’ll work up one or two songs, and at about 6:15 or so we’ll move into the sanctuary and sing together for a few minutes. At 6:30 the band will keep rehearsing, but the rest of us will move on to our classes.

Pastor Matt will be teaching the adults in the Library. Crux Youth Group will be upstairs with stalwart leaders Austin and Breann, and the Hub kids will be back in the fellowship hall. Pastor Matt will resume his series on Culture Questions, and Heath Jarrett will be teaching our Crux kids from Colossians about who Christ is and the application of Christian living.

Our Hub kids will learn about the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith until about 7:00 pm. While they’re diving into the word, Joe and Michele will reprise their roles as snack providers. Then Austin and Meredith will get the kids running around and laughing with games.

Unlike last year, all classes will end at 7:30 pm, giving our families the chance to head home a little earlier. We hope you will make a place in the middle of your weeks this fall to connect and grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord together.

The Hub re-starts on Wednesday, September 6

Freedom to Love

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Romans 8.14-15

As someone who’s never experienced the
love of a father, the cry of the Spirit of adoption sounds like a voice in a foreign tongue. Fear, not love, is my native language.

It’s hard for me to believe in God’s love or accept his grace. I try to earn it. And when I can no longer fool myself that I am a good enough person, I hide. When I do seek forgiveness, I try to find ways to repay the debt. When that fails, I cower in fear of condemnation.

Fear, not love, also characterizes my relationships with people, especially Christians. Seeing them as God’s representatives, their rejection feels like his rejection; their judgment feels like my condemnation. That is the spirit of slavery.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Galatians 4.4-5

The Scripture reminds me that God’s people are not God. They are people just like me whom God has purchased out of a slavery just like mine. They, too, are adopted children still learning to accept their new Father’s grace and to speak this new language of love.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8.1

The Spirit of adoption frees me from condemnation, frees me from the slavery of fear. Free from fear, I find myself running to God with my sin instead of away from him. Confident in my new Father’s love, secure in his acceptance, I’m free to love others from a pure heart, without fear of rejection. Our freedom from slavery is freedom to love.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5.1

 

Ruin to Restoration

Seven years ago, after five years of following Christ, a series of painful experiences shook my spiritual life like an earthquake. When the dust settled, all that was left was a firm foundation and a stable frame. The foundation was Christ, the framework my conviction that the Scripture is the word of God.  So, with Christ as my hope and Scripture as my guide, I determined to rebuild. I began by rethinking the methods I had used before, to ensure I didn’t make the same mistakes again.

The ruins showed me that one of my biggest mistakes was in allowing God’s word to lose its priority in my life. The shift had been slow and subtle. I had gradually drifted from the Bible itself to books, articles, discussions, and debates about the Bible and doctrine. Though what I was taking in was by and large biblical and contained plenty of Scripture references and scriptural concepts, I had begun to rely on hearsay, so to speak.

Over time I accumulated my favorite group of authors and preachers, a set of pet doctrines, and my preferred attributes of God. Claiming to have the highest regard for Scripture and the God of Scripture, I picked and chose where to focus and mostly ignored the rest. Like a funhouse mirror, exaggerating this and minimizing that, I created a distorted image of God.

Not only is it blasphemous to treat God this way, as if we get to decide what kind of God He should be, it is destructive to us. Every attribute of God is not only essential to who He is, it is also essential to who we are. Christians are beings in whom God’s image is being restored, and this restoration takes place as “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor. 3:18) 

Restoration only happens when we see God as he really is. Christ has revealed God’s image and glory perfectly to us (Heb. 1.3, Col. 1.15), and his glory has been passed down to us through the teaching of his apostles. The teaching of the apostles comes to us through the Bible. This means our spiritual restoration is dependent on Scripture – knowing it first-hand, understanding it, and letting the power of the Holy Spirit rebuild our lives through it.

 

Chopped

We recently got the Food Network at our house. I’m sure there were additional channels made available to us at the time of our cable upgrade, but I can’t say I spend much time watching them. I like food and watching people cook, whether it’s a demonstration or some sort of contest. I enjoy gleaning ideas from them to use in my own kitchen.

One of my favorite shows on this channel is called Chopped. Here’s how it works: It begins with four chefs. Each is given a basket containing four mystery ingredients. They are given a specific amount of time to make one dish featuring all the ingredients they were given. They find out what these items are just before the timer starts. And immediately, the chefs begin to cook.

They use what they know of the ingredients to combine them with other things, or they take chances on what they may not know and hope for the best. From pickled pig lips to sea cucumbers to licorice candies, they use all the things they’re given and every moment of time they have to put together a dish to wow the judges.

When time is called, whether or not they’ve finished, all activity stops. It’s time for the judges to taste the food. They offer compliments as well as criticism. They decide which dish is the least good. The chef who produced it is “chopped” from the competition and goes home, leaving the others to the next round and another mystery basket. After three rounds, the one chef remaining goes home with the title Chopped Champion.

I can’t help but compare this TV show with our lives as Christians. As the chefs do not choose what ingredients they will have to work with, we are not always in control of things that happen in our lives. As they use those ingredients to impress the judges, we are called to live our lives serving the Lord and bringing glory to God. As with the chefs, there is a clock running, but unlike them, we don’t know how long we have. The time will come when the clock stops and whatever we’re doing, wherever we are, we will stop. We will stand before the Lord, the Righteous Judge, and He will judge not the content of our plates, but the content of our hearts. If we’re honest, we all know… we should be chopped!

But it gets better. Because while those chefs get sent home and the show is over for them, we have an advocate with the Father. We have Christ beside us, and he has already covered those errors and missteps. He’s paid for our blunders and stupid decisions. When the Father looks at us and sees his Son, we won’t be “chopped,” oh, no. For us, the Father will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And instead of Chopped Champion, our title will be Child of God!

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