13 Jan

1/11/15 Sermon


Typically, each Monday we will be posting the previous Sunday’s sermon. Here is the sermon from yesterday.

Sunday, January 11, 2015
Preaching: Vergil Brown
Sermon Series: Be The Church
Title: “Unity”
1 Corinthians 1:10–3:23

You can also access the sermon HERE.

09 Jan

Links we recommend 1/9/15


Trading Fear for Fear
Christina Fox offers some clear thoughts about the concept of fearing God.

The Bible is More than Stories of Morality
This post addresses the question, “Is it possible to teach Bible stories without teaching the Bible story?” (One thing I really appreciate about our Children’s Ministry leadership is their desire to teach our kids the whole story of Scripture.)

Why the Church Needs Intergenerational Friendships
This is an insightful post on the benefit of relationships in the church that span age groups.

Faithful with Fifteen Minutes
This post gives some good perspective on the significance of regular Bible reading, even if it’s just for a short time each day.

5 Reasons We Eat Together as a Family
Tim Challies discusses some of the benefits of families having regular mealtime together.

08 Jan

GBC Core Values: Part Three


Written by: Josh Mathews

The five Core Values of Gresham Bible church are:

Knowing God deeply in his word

Praying fervently for God’s purposes in the world

Making God known by spreading the gospel locally and globally

Fostering unity and building up the body through genuine community

Expressing a growing love for Jesus in a life of worship

In the first two posts in this series (you can read them HERE and HERE) we introduced these core values and looked more closely at the first two values, Knowing God deeply in his word, and Praying fervently for God’s purposes in the world. In today’s post we’ll consider Core Value number 3, Making God known by spreading the gospel locally and globally

Core Value #3: Making God known by spreading the gospel locally and globally 
When we talk about knowing God we are talking about relational knowledge. As we grow in our intimate understanding of and relationship with the God of the universe, we can’t help but be struck with awe and praise for what he’s done for us in his Son Jesus. The climax of Scripture and the heart of what it means to know God is the gospel, the profoundly good news that Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead, conquering sin and death.
And as we grow in our knowledge of this gospel truth, we can’t help but pass along that good news to others around us and throughout the world. Core Value #3 is intentionally linked to Core Value #1.
The wording—that we value “spreading the gospel”—is also intentionally broad, in order to communicate a value for gospel ministry that includes both proclamation and action. Spreading the good news of Jesus means we tell people, using words, about him. And it also means we love people with Christ’s love, seeking to live in a way that displays mercy, kindness, and justice in a manner worthy of the gospel. We strive to speak and act, in our local community and throughout the world, with explicit reference to the broad story of redemption that spans Scripture and culminates in the death and resurrection of Jesus. 
This core value is based on some of Jesus’ final words to his disciples before he ascended to heaven. In Matthew 28:18–20, the final verses of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says this to his disciples:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This charge to the disciples extends to the Church around the world, and to us at Gresham Bible Church in particular. We are commissioned with the task of multiplying God’s kingdom and making disciples of Jesus. At GBC there are many ways we try to implement this value. Here are a few of them.

Local Outreach—Serving Dexter McCarty and its students, teachers, and administrators; Engaging in various work projects in the community; Supporting the YoungLives ministry.

Global Outreach—Supporting missionaries in Slovenia, Basque country, and Mexico.

Church Planting—Membership in the Waterhouse church planting network; Regularly supporting Hub City Church plant in Albany, Oregon.

This task of making disciples and spreading the gospel is not only done through these “official” ministries, and it’s not only up to pastors, staff members, elders, deacons, and ministry leaders to fulfill the great commission. We are all called to make disciples, and there are many ways that each of you can get involved in the work of making God known by spreading the gospel locally and globally.
Here are some ideas:

Give to support missions and local outreach endeavors, like YoungLives.

For some of you, go overseas. This could be either a short-term trip like the Bolts, or it might mean going to another country long-term.

Be a part of Local Outreach efforts. Giving of our time to serve those in our community can provide significant opportunities to demonstrate and speak of Christ’s love.

Reach out to your own neighbors. Develop relationships with them so you can point them to Jesus.

Make God known in the workplace, by working hard at your job as unto the Lord, and by looking for opportunities to tell people about him.

05 Jan

1/4/15 Sermon


Typically, each Monday we will be posting the previous Sunday’s sermon. Here is the sermon from yesterday.

Sunday, January 4, 2015
Preaching: Vergil Brown
Sermon Series: Be The Church
Title: “An Introduction to 1 Corinthians”
1 Corinthians 1:1–9

You can also access the sermon HERE.

02 Jan

Links we recommend 1/2/15


New Year’s Resolutions: Aim for Godliness and God’s Glory
This post looks to the example of Jonathan Edwards and gives a few thoughts on New Year’s resolutions.

Resolved: To Read the Bible
Here are some helpful points about regular Bible reading. Notice the links near the bottom of the page.

The Weakling’s Secret to Being Filled with Confidence for the New Year
Mark Altrogge offers some simple and profound insight on resolutions.

A Matter of Life and Death: Prayer
Derek Rishmawy reviews Tim Keller’s new book on prayer, and offers some encouragement as well.

30 Dec

12/28/14 Sermon


Here is the sermon from Sunday.

Sunday, December 28, 2014
Preaching: Josh Mathews
Sermon Series: Wisdom for Navigating Life
Title: “Wisdom and Life and Death”

You can also access the sermon HERE.

22 Dec

12/21/14 Sermon


Typically, each Monday we will be posting the previous Sunday’s sermon. Here is the sermon from yesterday.

Sunday, December 21, 2014
Preaching: Vergil Brown
Sermon Series: Wisdom for Navigating Life
Title: “Wisdom and Money”

You can also access the sermon HERE.

19 Dec

Links we recommend 12/19/14


Time Is Now for Gospel Transformation in Race Relations
On Tuesday several evangelical leaders and pastors got together to discuss race and the gospel. This post reviews these discussions and includes a link to the video.

Advent: The Announcement

Paul Tripp looks at Luke 2:14 and talks about the Good News of Christmas.

Christmas Traditions: For Progress and Joy in the Faith

Here are some thoughts about Christian Christmas traditions.

3 Christmas Pitfalls for Parents
Christmas can be a dangerous time for Christians, particularly when it comes to parenting. This post addresses 3 potential issues.

5 Questions to Ask Before Posting on Social Media
This post lists a few helpful safeguards against unwise Facebook posting.

18 Dec

The Hole in Our Holiness: A Review in Quotes


Written by: Dan Stump

This is a book review of The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness, by Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is one of my favorite authors. He is the type of guy who can put to words what I have in my head, only he says it much better than I ever could. His 2012 book The Hole in our Holiness is one that challenged me and that I heartily recommend. I would encourage you to pick it up yourself, or gift it to someone this Christmas. 
In the book, DeYoung contends that the hole in our holiness is that we don’t really care about it. We don’t give holiness much thought. We are content to cruise through the Christian life, and while we try to avoid the really big sins, holiness isn’t much of a concern. 
Rather than a traditional book review/summary, I thought I would instead share a bunch of my favorite quotes from the book. I’m the underlining type of person when I read. One of my favorite things is to go back and re-digest an old book by reading what I underlined. 
Here is a sampling of some favorite quotes from the book: 

The Bible could not be any clearer. The reason for your entire salvation, the design behind your deliverance, the purpose for which God chose you in the first place is holiness. 

On the last day, God will not acquit us because our good works were good enough, but he will look for evidence that our good confession was not phony. 

Worldliness is whatever makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange. 

Many Christians have the mistaken notion that if only we were better Christians, everyone would appreciate us. They don’t realize that holiness comes with a cost. 

It sounds really spiritual to say that God is interested in relationship, not in rules. But it’s not biblical. From top to bottom the Bible is full of commands. They aren’t meant to stifle a relationship with God, but to protect it, seal it and define it…Just like if you love your wife, you’ll keep your vow to be faithful to her as long as you both shall live. The demand for sexual fidelity does not pervert the marriage relationship; it promotes and demonstrates it. In the same way, God’s commands are given as a means of grace so that we might grow in godliness and show that we love him. 

The right way to go is also the best way to go. When God gives us commands, he means to help us run the race to completion, not to slow us down. 

Some Christians make the mistake of pitting love against law, as if the two are mutually exclusive. You either have a religion of love or a religion of law. But such an equation is profoundly unbiblical. For starters, “love” is a command of the law (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:36-40). If you enjoin people to love, you are giving them law. Conversely, if you tell them law doesn’t matter, then neither does love, which is the summary of the law. 

There is no abiding in Christ’s love apart from keeping Christ’s commandments (John 15:10). Which means there is no fullness of joy apart from the pursuit of holiness (v. 11). 

“No one can attain any degree of holiness without God working in his life,” Jerry Bridges writes, “but just as surely, no one will attain it without effort on his own part. God has made it possible for us to walk in holiness. But he has given us the responsibility of doing the walking.” 

Sanctification is not by surrender, but by divinely enabled toil and effort. 

Our first love is Jesus. Holiness is not ultimately about living up to a moral standard. It’s about living in Christ and living out our real, vital union with him. 

God doesn’t say, “Relax, you were born this way.” But he does say, “Good news, you were reborn another way.” 

Do not strive after holiness because you cower in dread of God. Strive after holiness because you are confident you already belong to God.

I’ve never heard a Christian couple regret all they didn’t do before they were married. 

Ironically, if you say “I can’t forgive myself,” it’s probably a sign of worldly grief—either unbelief in God’s promises and the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross, or regret that is merely focused on your loss of esteem and your loss of opportunities. 

There is an eternal difference between regret and repentance. Regret feels bad about past sins. Repentance turns away from past sins. Regret looks to our own circumstances. Repentance looks to God. Most of us are content with regret. We just want to feel bad for a while, have a good cry, enjoy the cathartic experience, bewail our sin, and talk about how sorry we are. But we don’t want to change. We don’t want to deal with God.
16 Dec

12/14/14 Sermon


Here is the sermon from Sunday.

Sunday, December 14, 2014
Preaching: Vergil Brown
Sermon Series: Wisdom for Navigating Life
Title: “Wisdom and Words”

You can also access the sermon HERE.

12 Dec

Links we recommend 12/12/14


The Role of Singing in the Life of the Church
In this post the author discusses three principal reasons for singing in church.

An Advent Prayer: Knowing and Treasuring Jesus
In the same vein as Wednesday’s blog post Scotty Smith writes a prayer for the Christmas season.

The Santa Question
This post gives two things for Christian parents to think through when it comes to Santa.

When God Doesn’t Zap away our Sin
This short piece talks about God’s grace in our struggle against sin.

10 Plumblines for Local Outreach (part 4, with links to parts 1–3)
These are the guidelines used by the Summit Church in North Carolina for their local outreach ministry. It’s a larger church than GBC so the principles apply differently, but generally they are quite helpful to consider.

10 Dec

First Thing First: Anyabwile, Tripp, and Strickland on the Priority of Abiding in Christ


Written by: Josh Mathews

There’s a theme that I’ve been thinking about and challenged with lately. It has to do with prioritizing communion with Christ. Life is busy, full of doing, thinking, and talking about all kinds of things, many of which are very good. But all these endeavors will be fruitless unless we are abiding in Christ.
Jesus says, 

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me (John 15:4).

Here are some thoughts from three wise men on this theme:

Thabiti Anyabwile
In a post on The Gospel Coalition website, Thabiti Anyabwile offers several suggestions for how to apply the gospel “in actionable ways” in light of recent events in our country. 
His first point is to Stick Close to Jesus Personally. He quotes from the puritan Richard Sibbes’ book, The Bruised Reed, which says this: 

That age of the church which was most fertile in subtle questions was most barren in religion; for it makes people think religion to be only a matter of cleverness, in tying and untying of knots. The brains of men inclining that way are hotter usually than their hearts. 

Anyabwile goes on to say, 

We must recognize the danger of entrapment in “subtle questions,” whether they’re the subtle questions of theology or of sociology. Those dangers include—to paraphrase Sibbes—hot heads and cold hearts. A quick visit to most twitter feeds and Facebook pages will supply ample evidence that this heating of the crown and cooling of the chest is well underway among many Christians. 

We have it on the greatest Authority that, “Whoever abides in [Christ] and [Christ] in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Apart from Christ we can do nothing. We become unfruitful in spiritual knowledge and barren in our activism. Nothing could be more vital in Ferguson-like times than we sing and pray, “Jesus keep me near the cross.” To put it another way: We must first apply the gospel to our own lives by immersing ourselves in the truth of God’s word, warming ourselves with the Spirit’s fervency in prayer and keeping ourselves in the love of God. We begin here and never finish this delightful duty.

Paul Tripp

The elders have been reading Paul Tripp’s book, Dangerous Calling. This book, and the quote below, is directed towards pastors, but the truth applies to all Christians. 
In chapter four Tripp highlights the importance of a pastor’s communion with Christ, over things like knowledge and skill. He tells a story of a pastor who seemed to have it all together in ministry but then crashed because he was missing the most important element. 

The problem was the pastor’s lack of a living, humble, needy, celebratory, worshipful, meditative communion with Christ. It was as if Jesus had left the building. There were all kinds of ministry knowledge and skill, but those seemed divorced from a living communion with a living and ever-present Christ.”

Just a little later, Tripp says that to be truly effective in ministry (and again, this doesn’t just apply to pastors), 

The pastor must be enthralled by, in awe of—can I say it: in love with—his Redeemer so that everything he thinks, desires, chooses, decides, says, and does is propelled by love for Christ and the security of rest in the love of Christ. He must be regularly exposed, humbled, assured, and given rest by the grace of his Redeemer. His heart needs to be tenderized day after day by his communion with Christ so that he becomes a tender, loving, patient, forgiving, encouraging, and giving servant leader. His meditation on Christ—his presence, his promises, and his provisions—must not be overwhelmed by his meditation on how to make his ministry [or marriage, job, family, etc.] work.”

Rob Strickland
At last Saturday’s men’s breakfast we talked about ways we can strive to keep Christmas preparation and celebration centered around Jesus. We were thinking together about how, as men particularly, we can lead in this area. There were several wise and helpful comments. One thing that stood out was something Rob Strickland said. He gave this advice:

You can’t give away or lead in an area that you don’t have yourself. So make sure to spend time daily nourishing your spirit with the Lord, reflecting on his gifts to us and the awe inspiring story of his birth.

Rob’s challenge—which applies to all of us, men and women—was to make a priority of cultivating a heart of worship through regular communion with Christ. What we do and say and how we lead flows from our hearts. Abiding in Christ is the starting place for doing things that help keep the focus on Jesus, at Christmastime and beyond.
08 Dec

12/7/14 Sermon


Typically, each Monday we will be posting the previous Sunday’s sermon. Here is the sermon from yesterday.

Sunday, December 7, 2014
Preaching: Dave Martin
Title: “The Story behind the Story”
John 1:1–18

You can also access the sermon HERE.

05 Dec

Ferguson and Justice


Written by: Josh Mathews

This post is a follow-up to Vergil’s sermon on justice last Sunday. If you weren’t there you can listen to it online here, and you can read Vergil’s column in the Gresham Outlook last week here. Vergil asked me to write and address some of the tensions and pushback you may be feeling in response either to the sermon or to the situation in Ferguson more generally.
To be honest, I’ve been wrestling through this kind of tension myself. Some tension, and even disagreement, is probably valid. It isn’t necessarily rooted in racial prejudice, apathy about justice, or lack of compassion, though it might be. I hope you can read along here and think, “yeah, I agree with that point and that’s how I think and feel about it.” 
But what I really hope and pray is that you can move beyond having your perspective validated and come to the point of humbly responding. I’m convinced the tensions and pushback do not negate the core challenge of Vergil’s message. And so the two responses this post is shooting for are the same as Vergil’s message: 1) understanding and compassion towards those who are hurting and those with different perspectives than ours, and 2) conviction to strive for justice and correct injustice. The goal here is to build unity and affirm what Vergil preached. 

Issues of Tension

There are several difficulties that could be raised, more than this post will address, but let’s start here.

What about the facts?
Maybe the most confusing tension, which underlies the other arguments, has to do with the specific details of the situation in Ferguson. The fatal encounter between Michael Brown and officer Darren Wilson and the ensuing grand jury decision not to indict Wilson are what set off the powder keg of emotions and outcry from the black community. But what about the facts? We don’t know what happened that day, or what exactly went down in the courtroom. What if Wilson was acting in self-defense, like it seems he was? Doesn’t that matter? Shouldn’t facts and truth be considered?
In response to these questions, we hear things like, this isn’t just about Ferguson. This is about the broad issue of injustice towards black people. But this is about Ferguson. This intense, even violent, outrage occurring across the country has indeed been instigated by the shooting of Mike Brown and the grand jury decision last Monday. In the interest of giving voice to the larger narrative of systemic injustice, am I supposed to disregard the details of this individual case? That is hard to understand.
I don’t think anyone knows exactly why it was this tragic situation that sparked such an explosive and polarizing response. Perhaps it’s because of the volatile racial tensions in the St. Louis area, or because of the recent killings of other black men, like Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin (and now Eric Garner), by law enforcement (or wannabe law enforcement) officers. I don’t know why, but the truth is, for some reason, people seem to align very strongly with either one perspective or another. Some are powerfully impacted by the general issue of racial injustice Ferguson represents, regardless of the facts of the situation itself; while for others it’s impossible to separate the facts of Ferguson from the outrage and demands for empathy and justice. 
It would probably be helpful for those of the first perspective to acknowledge that the facts do matter to some degree. Nevertheless, I’m addressing here those who have a hard time separating the facts from the response. The primary responsibility falls on us to do the hard, humbling work of putting ourselves in the shoes of those who are hurting, even if their hurt doesn’t make sense to us; because it does make sense to them, and that is profoundly important.
One way that has been helpful for me to think about this is using an analogy with marriage. Stacy and I have had arguments where I think logic, facts, and truth are on my side, while she feels very hurt or misunderstood on her side. (Sometimes the situation is reversed.) I’m still learning this lesson but, even on the rare occasion that I am right, it’s often best for me to forgo a logical, fact-based argument in order to listen to Stacy’s heart, and work really hard to understand what she’s feeling. This inevitably opens the door to moving forward in the conversation and in our relationship. 
This is the kind of sacrificial love we’re called to in the marriage relationship (Eph 5:25–32; 1 Pet 3:7). And if the principle applies to marriage, it certainly applies to relationships with other Christians as well (Phil 2:1–11). To take it a step further, in marriage, a spouse should address feelings graciously even if they’re not based on truth. This issue of race is different in an important way. The emotions are based on truth. There is real basis and a vast resource of facts—from history, today’s culture, and every minority individual’s life experience—supporting the feelings of injustice. In this situation, there is most definitely a truth-based foundation for deep emotion. 
Like the marriage analogy, we must be the ones to take the sacrificial step of really listening to those who are feeling hurt and misunderstood right now. We must engage in the deep-seated sense of injustice and systemic oppression that the African American community is feeling so strongly. We might talk about the facts more later, but for now let’s accept this as an opportunity to listen and empathize with the pain of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
[See this article by Bryan Loritts on facts and feelings. And also look at Prov 18:13; James 1:19; 1 Cor 12:26; Heb 13:3.] 

What about the other side of justice?
Closely related to the tension between facts and feelings is the question of different aspects of justice. The focus of the conversation, again from the perspective of those who are hurting, is on the racial injustice evidenced by another white police officer killing an unarmed young black man and then not being accused of a crime. But, as Vergil said, justice is complex (Lev 19:10, 15; Prov 10:4; 13:23).
What about the side of justice from Darren Wilson’s perspective? Again, we don’t know the facts, but to many it seems like what people are protesting is that Wilson wasn’t wrongly accused of murder. Or even more troubling it might appear that the grief and anger is because the struggle for Wilson’s gun didn’t go the other way, that Wilson isn’t dead instead of Mike Brown. What message about justice is this sending to Darren Wilson and his family, or to all the police officers of all colors and races in our country? I think this is the kind of tension many of us are feeling. Whether we’re close to someone in law enforcement or not, we wonder, if we’re going to talk about justice, what about that side of it?
As Vergil said, we care about justice because God is just and He cares about justice (Isa 61:8; Prov 14:31). Perhaps that is part of why Christians feel very strongly on both sides of this situation. A few days ago it seemed to me like the only options were either to uphold the justice of this individual event, or to take a stand against broad, systemic racial injustice. And since justice matters to us because it matters to God, it’s very troubling to feel like we have to reject one aspect of justice in order to uphold the other.
While that kind of tension is real, and much of what is being said on both sides contributes to it, it’s not an impossible choice we have to face. We don’t have to relinquish our sense of justice for Darren Wilson, or for police officers across the country (or for the residents and shop owners in Ferguson who have been impacted by riots and looting), in order to engage with genuine, sacrificial effort in the painful sense of injustice this grand jury decision has triggered. 
As Christians, we must admit that racial injustice is a still a very real and very sinful problem in our world today. We can and must pray and work to correct that injustice, and contend for justice, because the Lord is just. And we can, and must, do this without needing to let go of our sensibilities about the justice that may have indeed been served in the Brown-Wilson interaction and legal proceedings. 
Again I think people, Christians especially, on both sides of this justice tension would do well to consider the other perspective. But again I’m primarily addressing those who have a harder time focusing on racial injustice. Like it or not, we are the ones who should feel the weight of responsibility to engage the other perspective and do the soul-searching work of striving for justice towards the downcast and oppressed. If we’re honest it is a lot easier to deny, or at least overlook, the reality of racial injustice. We often don’t have to think about it and this is an opportunity to let it sink in, to have our hearts changed, and to heed the challenge to care, correct, and contend for the Lord’s justice towards those who are treated unjustly.

Isn’t racial injustice a thing of the past?
Moving to the next tension, you might be wondering whether racism and racial injustice are really even a problem today. Because of where and when we live, it might seem like racial oppression is a thing of the past. We have a black president and really, around here in the progressive Portland area especially, we don’t see much outright racism, at least we don’t notice it. 
Maybe you’ve even experienced the other side of this complex matter, or run up against seemingly unfair attempts to advance the cause of diversity. Many white people, myself included, have been overlooked for education or employment because of explicitly stated policies to favor minority applicants. If we’re honest though, that kind of unfairness is nothing like the systemic injustice they have experienced and are experiencing. 
First, the reality is, racial injustice is still an issue. If we would resist the urge to be dismissive and defensive, I think we’d have to acknowledge this is true. And now there’s the news of Eric Garner, another black man who died at the hands of a police officer. Earlier this week we found out the officer would not be indicted. There might be arguments for why the grand jury did not indict him, but the video makes it tough to see from that perspective. It’s about time we admit there’s a problem, and at least the possibility of widespread racial injustice. 
[You can access two of the many helpful responses to the Eric Garner situation here and here.]
Second, even if you don’t admit there is still a problem, it doesn’t make sense to say, “It’s in the past. You need to get over it.” As one writer has pointed out, I doubt we’d deny the damage and scars that still remain for Jewish people from the holocaust. As embarrassing as it is, slavery and Jim Crow segregation are not very distant memories. 
And third, even if somehow you still think there shouldn’t be feelings of injustice, it is still our responsibility as Christian brothers and sisters to listen, to labor to understand, and to have compassion. We must strive to be one as the body of Christ (Eph 2:11–22).
What about the rioting and looting?
You might also be thinking, “How am I supposed to respect or listen to people who are rioting and looting?” First, the vast majority of the black community, and those who are empathizing with their pain, are neither participating in nor condoning in any way the destruction we’ve seen on the news. We must be very careful to distinguish between rioting and peaceful grieving or protesting, even if that distinction isn’t always easy to see. 
[Carl Ellis, jr. offered some helpful thoughts on this distinction in response to the initial situation in Ferguson in August.] 
Second, without in any way excusing or overlooking the rioting and looting, we need to try to see through those wrong responses and get a sense of the pain and helplessness. The feelings of being wronged by those in power is raw, and it’s something white people in America have never experienced in anything close to the same way. Sure, there have doubtless been instances in which a black officer killed an unarmed white person, and you could probably think of other examples too. But as white people in America, we’ll never fully know what it’s like, as a race, to be in the minority. As we attempt to empathize, not just quickly but in a sustained and deliberate way, I think we can begin to understand the helplessness, fear, distrust and despondency of our minority brothers and sisters.

There might be other aspects of tension you are feeling, questions like, “Why the demand to understand when it seems like I’m being misunderstood too?” or “Can I have a different perspective without feeling accused of racism?” But let’s conclude this already too long post by thinking about tension related to the gospel.
With the Advent season upon us we rejoice in the gospel. We exult in knowing that Jesus came and defeated sin, including injustice, on the cross, and that He’s coming again to consummate His justice and His kingdom finally. It was appropriate that we sang these words last Sunday:

O come, Desire of nations, bind 

All peoples in one heart and mind 

Bid envy strife and quarrels cease 

Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Yet, as Vergil pointed out powerfully, we have failed to grasp the gospel fully if our joy and hope in Jesus’ coming stops short of longing, praying, and acting as Christ’s body, for His kingdom and His justice to come here on earth as it is in heaven. Gospel action and gospel hope are not competing against each other. It’s not either-or, it’s both-and.

In times like these in our world today we must labor to represent Christ. We must rise up and defend the oppressed. We must be arduous in our efforts to oppose the sin of injustice and defend God’s perfect justice, displayed ultimately at the cross. And we must also anchor our hope and joy deeply in the saving and sin-defeating work of Jesus on the cross, and in the certainty of His coming kingdom.
As a mostly white church with a black pastor, we’re in an uncommon situation at GBC. And it provides us with a distinct and exciting opportunity, an opportunity for which we should be very thankful. As a church, let’s embrace this opportunity and respond by repenting of apathy and inaction if we need to and by heeding the challenge to correct injustice and contend for justice. Let us show compassion and empathy for those who are hurting, whether we understand them or not. And let us grow in unity as we strive to love one other sacrificially and as we learn how to talk, and especially listen, to each other when we see things differently. 
01 Dec

11/30/14 Sermon


Typically, each Monday we will be posting the previous Sunday’s sermon. Here is the sermon from yesterday.

Sunday, November 30, 2014
Preaching: Vergil Brown
Title: “Wisdom and Justice”

You can also access the sermon HERE.

26 Nov

My Journey into Calvinism: Part Two


Written by: Dan Stump

In part 1 of this series I shared how I went from having no understanding of Calvinism, to not believing it and not liking it, to believing it was true but still not liking it, to finally loving these doctrines. Many call Calvinism the Doctrines of Grace. I imagine John Calvin himself wouldn’t love the idea of having a theology named after him. For me, it isn’t about following a man, but digging into God’s word to see what it says. 

I don’t really care what you call it. I just want it to be true.

One thing you will find when researching Calvinism is the acronym TULIP. It isn’t the most helpful and can lead to some unhelpful assumptions, but since it is so well known, I plan to use it as a frame of reference when discussing this theology. Here is what it stands for:

T – total depravity.

U – unconditional election.

L – limited atonement

I – irresistible grace

P – perseverance of the saints

Total depravity is a good place to start. What is the condition of humanity after the Fall? Are we able to choose to follow God? Total depravity is also referred to as total inability, which I think presents a more accurate picture. 

Total depravity can conjure up images of people who are rotten to the core and as awful as humanly possible. While we see some pretty horrific things happen in this world, we know from experience that everyone is not a bad as possible. People choose to do good things all the time. The idea behind this doctrine is not that we are as bad as we could be, but that on our own, we are unable to come to Christ due to our sin. It has affected us completely. Our mind, will, and emotions are corrupted. In fact the Bible portrays it as worse than just corruption. We are spiritually dead. Without a work of God, we would all be lost in our sin forever. 

The biblical support for this doctrine is immense. I will touch on a few key passages to get things started.

Paul lays out our rebellion in
Romans 3:9–18. “I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: None is righteous, no not one; no one seeks for God….There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Later in Romans 8:7–8 Paul says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” 

Finally, in Ephesians 2:1, we are told that we are dead in our sins. Until God makes us alive, by His mercy and love, we will remain spiritually dead.

A small sample of some more passages would include: Mark 7:21–23; Jeremiah 17:9; Titus 1:15–16; Psalm 51:5; Colossians 1:21; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Isaiah 53:6.

The picture that we get from God’s word is that sin has totally corrupted us. It has spiritually killed us. We have no desire to submit to God, and we are unable to do so. Jesus tells us in John 3:36 that God’s wrath is on those who reject Him. In fact we are born under God’s wrath because of our nature (Ephesians 2:3). This is what all mankind is deserving of, and destined for. In and of ourselves we have no hope. 
Luckily Ephesians 2:4 has some of the sweetest words in the Bible, “But God”. 

We are hopeless, “But God”We are spiritually dead, “But God”We are deserving of His wrath, “But God”

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4–5).

Our merciful God has stooped down out of love to breathe life into spiritually dead people. The only way out of our hopeless situation is God. The next post will explore whether or not God has given spiritual life to everyone.
24 Nov

11/23/14 Sermon


Typically, each Monday we will be posting the previous Sunday’s sermon. Here is the sermon from yesterday.

Sunday, November 23, 2014
Preaching: Vergil Brown
Sermon Series: Wisdom for Navigating Life
Title: “Wisdom and Marriage”

You can also access the sermon HERE.

21 Nov

Links we recommend 11/21/14


In three parts, Gerry Breshears identifies several lessons to be learned from the sad situation at Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

Prayer in the Facebook Age

Here are some eye-opening and thought-provoking remarks on prayer and social-media.

Mothering in the Internet Age

Continuing the theme of our technological age, Betsy Childs thinks about Titus 2 and the overabundance of advice in today’s world.

Choose Hospitality over Entertaining
In this post, Jen Wilkin compares and contrasts entertaining with hospitality. “Entertaining seeks to impress. Hospitality seeks to bless.”

Evangelism: It’s Too Complicated

Here is some simple, yet true and pointed, advice about evangelism and hospitality.

Russell Moore Speaks on Gospel and Marriage at Vatican

Earlier this week a worldwide group of religious leaders gathered at the Vatican in Rome to discuss the topic of marriage and family. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission addressed the group, offering an evangelical perspective on gender and marriage. At the bottom of the page is a link to the transcript of Moore’s whole speech.

19 Nov

Truly Dying with Dignity


Written by: Thomas Slawson

On Saturday, November 1st Brittany Maynard swallowed a concoction of medicines prescribed by her doctor and died shortly thereafter. She was twenty-nine.
By now, most people have heard her story. She was diagnosed with a stage IV aggressive brain tumor earlier this year, and doctors said it would take her life in about six months. Learning of Oregon’s “Death with Dignity” law, which allows certain terminally ill patients to receive life-ending medications with the assistance of their doctor, she moved from California to Oregon to die.
Since her passing I have wanted to write down my thoughts from a Christian perspective and have found it extremely difficult to do. Not because there’s nothing to say on the matter, but because, quite honestly, there’s too much say. And not only that, but how it is said is also critical. I could fairly easily rattle off a list of five points as to why assisted suicide is wrong, but the hard part is not sounding like a cold-hearted insensitive jerk while doing so. 
Before Brittany took her own life she had made her intentions publicly known, and this caused quite a stir. Many came out in support of her decision, while others were highly critical. Others compassionately and loving encouraged her to not go through with it. Then it was done. So the question now is, what do we as Christians make of it?
After about five or six separate attempts at writing something, each resulting in me hitting the delete key, I took some time to try and see the issue through the eyes of someone facing a painful terminal illness. In reading about Brittany’s story I remembered that one of the things that initially prompted her decision was watching the movie How to Die in Oregon. I found it on Netflix and watched it. It was probably one of the most difficult things I’ve watched. I won’t take the time here to recap the whole thing, but the movie follows several Oregonians as they plan and carry out their own deaths in the face of terminal illnesses. They spend their last days of “good” health doing their favorite things, visiting friends and family and then, finally, they gather in a room while someone mixes the meds in a glass of water. They say their goodbyes and drink the solution. Within about ten minutes they fall into a coma and die. 
Part of me can totally understand the reason. These people were in pain. They faced the prospect of losing all of their normal everyday functions of life. They didn’t want to face the final, excruciating days of death that their respective diseases would bring, nor did they want their families to have to face it also. And to be honest, I don’t blame them. Given the choice between getting hit by a bus or dying of brain cancer, I’d take the bus just about any day. 
But other than the fact that they were all dying, there was another common thread between them: They believed that at some point their circumstances would no longer have worth or value, and it would be at that point that death would be the best option. 
So why should this matter to believers? Some might even argue, “Why wouldn’t a Christian want to ‘die with dignity’ if he or she is faced with a terminal illness? He or she gets to go to heaven!” But there’s a bigger picture here. For the believer there’s so much more to terminal cancer than simply getting sick and dying. 

Suffering in and of Itself is NOT good.
Let me be clear. Suffering, pain, death, cancer, etc. are NOT good things by themselves. They are bad things. They are not part of the original intention of God’s good creation. They are unnatural, and exist because of the fall that left our world, our lives, and all of creation broken and marred. God’s warning to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:17 was that if they ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree that they would “surely die.” They ate, and since that time all humanity has faced the prospect of death and the suffering that comes with it.

But God sovereignly USES and ordains suffering for good.
Here’s the bigger picture. God is not the source of evil. We live in a sinful world, and the suffering and evil we face is because of the fall. Yet God in his sovereignty is working all things together for good, and to accomplish his purposes (Rom 8:28).
There are numerous stories in Scripture that could be noted here. The evil plots of Joseph’s brothers that led to his enslavement and false imprisonment, ultimately resulted in him being in a place to save his entire family from starvation (Genesis 37–47; see 50:20). But probably the clearest example is that of Christ himself. In Luke 22:3 it records that “Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot who was one of the twelve.” The act of betrayal by Judas, as prompted by Satan, resulted in the arrest and crucifixion of Christ. Make no mistake, this was an evil act. Jesus himself prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus was not excited about the prospect of the suffering that awaited him on the cross. Yet it is through this evil and suffering that God accomplished his purpose of salvation through Christ’s shed blood.
There IS real value in suffering.

It is valuable for the one who is suffering.

It has been said before that this life is the only opportunity we have to identify with Christ in his suffering. Our suffering and pain do not save us, but through them we have the opportunity to draw closer to him in the process. John Piper says it well:
Satan’s and God’s designs in our cancer are not the same. Satan designs to destroy our love for Christ. God designs to deepen our love for Christ. Cancer does not win if we die. It wins if we fail to cherish Christ. God’s design is to wean us off the breast of the world and feast us on the sufficiency of Christ. It is meant to help us say and feel, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8) and to know that therefore, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).” John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Cancer, pg. 10.

It is valuable for those around the sufferer.

Suffering can often open doors of opportunity into the lives of others that simply wouldn’t be there otherwise. Brittany Maynard spent her last six months of life fighting for and promoting physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. How much more valuable would it have been for her to use her voice to proclaim the eternally life-changing power of the gospel? 

For the believer, every breath, even those that are heavy, labored and painful, may utter the goodness of Christ to a listening ear. Even when speech or even any physical communication is no longer possible, the very existence of life itself testifies to the amazing work of God’s creation. God will not let the death of one of his saints be wasted.
There is hope.
The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.“ For the believer there is a real hope. A hope of eternal life in Christ. A hope of the New Heavens and the New Earth.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3–4).

Christians may hope in this truth, that there is a day coming when the very effects of the fall will be completely and utterly removed and all of creation will be restored to a state of sinless perfection. 
If you are interested in further reading on this topic, Randy Alcorn and John Piper have also weighed in. Click on the links to read their thoughts. 

17 Nov

11/16/14 Sermon


Typically, each Monday we will be posting the previous Sunday’s sermon. Here is the sermon from yesterday.

Sunday, November 16, 2014
Preaching: Vergil Brown
Sermon Series: Wisdom for Navigating Life
Title: “Wisdom and Friendship”

You can also access the sermon HERE.