Journal

Letters to the Church by Pastor Edmund

Dear Church,

This past Sunday, many of you stayed for the “post service” time of praise and prayer in God’s presence! While service had ended, God chose to work as He pleases, and when He gives more of His presence in a palpable way, we must not miss it by hurrying away. So I’m thankful many of you remained 🙏

What makes a church A CHURCH? Is it the building? No. Is it the people? Sort of. If what makes a church a Church is only the people, we are no different from a club or commune where people gather and do life together. What makes a church A CHURCH is (quoting the great preacher Martin Lloyd Jones) “the presence of the glory and power of God”! If this is not present in “the church” then it’s not really the church!
 
In 1 Samuel 4, the people of Israel are routed by the Philistines. They are initially defeated by them and conclude that it was because they didn’t have the ark of the covenant with them in battle. v3 – “And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, ‘Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.'” Initially, the Philistines are afraid as the Israelites get all riled up (shouting in their camp). But they end up destroying Israel in battle and the ark is captured by the Philistines. The Israelites thought they could use the ark as their “lucky charm” and that God would fight for them whenever they wanted Him. Truth is, they had been living in rebellion and utterly ignoring and disobeying God as they lived as they pleased and did what was “right in their own eyes”. God was not going to suddenly show up now and fight for them because they brought out the ark! His presence and power is not something that shows up on a whim…

When the news of Israel’s defeat, the death of Eli’s two corrupt sons (who were priests), and the capture of the ark comes back to Eli (who had served as a Judge of Israel for 40 years), he falls backward and dies. Eli’s daughter in law is pregnant and when she hears the news, she gives birth to a son. Women who are attending to her try to encourage and console her with the news of a son, but she is inconsolable. Why? The answer is in the name she gives to her son – “Ichabod”, for “the glory has departed from Israel because the ark of God has been captured.” (v21-22). God’s presence and glory had left His people….

What makes a church A CHURCH is “the presence of the glory and power of God!” So we, as a church must be discerning and careful that His presence is in our midst and that His glory does not leave us. As we have been in this series on the Holy Spirit, I hope we are realizing how it is through the Spirit that God’s presence and power is in our midst. Without the Spirit, His glory has left His people. 
Perhaps this past Sunday was a little glimpse of His presence returning to His people. Perhaps He wanted to help us see the difference between when His glory is present and when it is not. Perhaps He wanted to create in us a greater longing and hunger (in prayer) for more of His palpable presence. We have become so accustomed in our churches of having other things “make a church a Church” – programs, community, fellowship, social issues, politics, etc. that the “glory of His presence and power” are foreign to most churches. So many churches are actually missing God! 

Eli’s daughter in law was so aware and concerned with the loss of God’s presence and glory she would not be consoled, even by the birth of a son. We can be so unaware and unconcerned with God’s presence that we will be consoled by and pay attention to anything but God. May we become more sensitive and aware of God’s presence. May we be much more greatly concerned if His presence is lacking. 

How do we know the glory of His presence and power is in our midst? We saw this past Sunday from Acts 2 that the Spirit comes as a Wind and Fire – like a “mighty rushing wind” and “consuming fire”. Thank God that He does not actually consume us! But we truly know the glory of His presence and power is present when we are in awe, tremble in fear, are alarmed, and humbled by His presence. There is the overwhelming sense of God’s holiness and our lack of holiness; of His greatness and our smallness; of His power and our utter dependence. May God make the presence of His glory more known in our church – it is the glory of His presence and power that must make our church A CHURCH! 
 
Pastor Edmund

Merry Christmas Faith Harvest!

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!'”  Luke 2:10-14
 
As you awoke this Christmas morning, are you filled with great JOY? 

I don’t mean the joy of a special holiday and the anticipation of opening gifts and spending time with loved ones and enjoying good food, although those things are good (some of you may actually being experiencing a bit of sadness this year because those things are being muted from years past due to the pandemic which reflects how some of our “normal” Christmas rituals  only provide a temporary kind of joy). The joy the whole Bible and the first Christmas describes is not one rooted in temporary pleasures and favorable circumstances; it is rooted in the good news of the arrival of the Savior, Christ the Lord who alone can save us from our sins and reconcile us to God! But describing this joy as not based on circumstances is too small and narrow of a description – this “great joy” is an “indomitable joy” (John Piper). It is immovable, insurmountable, and unbeatable! So this joy is not based on circumstances, yet it weathers the circumstances that come that try to defeat, discourage, and overwhelm us. How is this possible?! It is because Christ not only was born and came into this world, He WON! He lived a perfect sinless life, died in our place, and rose again – defeating and overcoming everything and anything that would conquer and destroy us. And when it comes to the suffering and sorrows of this life, we are told that Jesus was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3) and yet He was also the happiest, most satisfied, joyful human being who ever lived! So then, we too in Christ can live in this world and the suffering and sorrows of it and yet rejoice. Paul describes it as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor 6:10). This is the kind of JOY we can have in Christ. This is not a light hearted, casual, feel good “joy”; this is deep and supernatural and produced by the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. If you are a Christian, but your joy bears no resemblance to this kind of joy, it is because your joy is not being rooted in Jesus. Your “joy” is rooted in all kinds of lesser things – possessions perhaps, approval of men, physical health, success in your performance, family, romantic love… all these “sources” of joy are easily defeated. Loss of job; hurtful, negative comment; sickness; failure; child that disappoints; relationship that ends – your “joy” is gone. These things may rightly cause us sorrow, but in Christ we can always rejoice. And when disappointments and sorrows and suffering come, they don’t overwhelm us and cause us to be afraid and defeated but we actually sense Jesus’ presence is stronger and that He is fighting for us all the more because He loves us. This Christmas, do you know and have this kind of JOY?!  

As you awoke this Christmas morning, do you have true PEACE? 

This peace is first and foremost PEACE WITH GOD through Jesus Christ. This means we would have woken up with a clear conscience – no guilt, no shame, no sin counted against us because of Jesus. He is our Peace! This year has been a tumultuous one – from the pandemic, to protests, to the election – there has been conflict and a lack of peace all around us. But that’s not at the center of a lack of peace in our hearts. When we lack peace it is because of our sin. Perhaps for many in the church, this quarantine brought out more of your sin and lack of peace with God. Perhaps the biggest sin this year revealed in those within the church is the sin of unbelief. Though we say we believe and trust in God, this quarantine may have revealed you really don’t. Whether it’s being overcome by fear and anxieties or doubts about God’s goodness or using the quarantine as an excuse to give yourself to sin (no one will know), this year may have revealed how weak and flimsy your faith is. You do not have peace with God. You have been giving in to sin. Is there still hope and peace available for you? There is always in Christ! In Micah 5, there is a prophecy given concerning a Ruler who would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and how He would “stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord… and he shall be their peace.” (Micah 5:4-5) Micah is speaking of the Good and Chief Shepherd that is to come who will actively “stand’ – protect, fight, lead, and “shepherd his flock” – care for, and lay down His life. And He shall be their PEACE! At the end of the book in Micah 8:18-20, we read of this amazing promise that is ultimately fulfilled in Christ, who is our Peace – “Who is God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham…”  He will not only pardon and pass over our sins; He will tread (trample underfoot, crush) all over them and “cast ALL our sins into the depths of the sea”! He destroys our sin and removes them far from us so that we can have true peace with God! This Christmas, do you know and have this kind of PEACE?!
For those of you who woke up this morning with this kind of JOY and PEACE, you know it is only because of JESUS! It is not because you are more righteous or good or faithful  – we have nothing to boast in of ourselves. It is because of Christ and Christ alone and we know it! He is our joy and He is our peace and we boast in Him! 

May we all be more fully awakened to Jesus this Christmas!

Pastor Edmund

Dear Church,

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“This Thanksgiving sucks…” I’m pretty sure Joshua feels this way isolated in his room since Friday (he’s doing well – almost symptom free while we all tested negative and will test again at the end of this week). But he didn’t say these words. Neither did Justin say this… These honest words came out of the mouth of my beloved wife! She went on to say this Thanksgiving “sucks” because we won’t be seeing any of our family, are stuck quarantining at home, and can’t even spend time all together as a family in our own house! She then qualified her statement with “but I’m grateful for all that God has done and His goodness to us!” I’m guessing some of you may also be feeling this way, not just about Thanksgiving but the majority of 2020. 

So how is it possible to carry out God’s will for us in Christ – to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances? The problem with these commands is not that we can’t do these things sometimes – we can rejoice sometimes, pray sometimes, give thanks sometimes. That is very doable. It is the “always” and “without ceasing” and “in all circumstances” that seems impossible. But God wouldn’t give us commands that couldn’t be fulfilled (with His help of course). He wants these things to be true and lived out in our lives as those who belong to Christ.

2020 has actually helped make these commands more real and “attainable” in my life by the grace of God. It is truly possible to have perpetual joy in the Christian life, provided that we see Christ as THE treasure in this life and eternity. What this year has made more clear to me is that Jesus is more valuable and precious than anything this life can give and what we might lose – He is truly better than all these things. I’ve heard some say that this year has taught people to value family and health above all else. Important as those things are, they aren’t our treasure and can’t provide lasting joy. Only Jesus can, not only because He saved us through the Cross but because we now belong to Him for eternity- “I am my beloveds and He is mine!” (Song of Solomon 6:3) So we can rejoice, always. 

2020 has also helped make us more aware of our need. There has been many things to cause fear and anxiety – from loss of loved ones, to financial struggles, to uncertainty about the future. I imagine for some of you, this has helped you pray more than you ever have. We then better understand how the more dependent, needy, and reliant we are on Christ for our lives, the more we will pray until we are praying and aware of Christ constantly. This posture of dependence then becomes about more than our needs and struggles – we grow to simply want to be with Him – like a child that wants to stay with their Father when He stays and go with Him when He goes. This kind of praying is more than about asking God for help – it is about communing with Him and being in His presence. When we desire Him like this, we will be praying, unceasingly.

And finally 2020 has helped make us more aware of God’s sovereignty. God is in control of all things. There are no “maverick molecules in the universe” (RC Sproul) and there are no maverick viruses. God is not caught off guard and He is sovereign over all. While we can’t see as He sees and know what He knows, when it comes to the “whys” and “purpose” for all that happens, we can trust that He is over all and that He is good. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8:28) And the more we believe and take comfort and courage in His sovereignty and goodness, we will be able to “give thanks in ALL circumstances” because everything that happens in our lives as His child is ultimately for our good and His purposes. And yes, this also includes our afflictions and suffering. I am thankful that every trial and struggle throughout this year has made me want to cling to Christ all the more – and that is THE Blessing. Thank you Jesus!

Yes, there are things that “suck” about this year and even this Thanksgiving but, more importantly, there has been so much to gain – as in Christ. For those of you who have gone through this year more or less joyless, and have barely prayed, and mostly complained and grumbled about all that has gone wrong; I pray that God would open your eyes to what you do have – you have Christ. “I am my beloveds and He is mine.” And He is more than enough!

Happy Thanksgiving Church!
Pastor Edmund