Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bethel Fellowship

Last week we had our first baptism at Bethel Fellowship.  It was a milestone for the church to be sure, and one of many wonderful "firsts" we will no doubt experience in the days to come. 

I don't know that I have ever seen an entire congregation moved to tears quite like that.  From the touching words of a proud mother, to the heart-felt prayers, to the magnitude of the moment itself, God's mighty hand was evident, I think, to all of us.  

But whatever that first baptism may have meant for us as a church, it is nothing compared to the meaning I hope it had for the young lady who made the decision to be buried with Jesus in his death and raised with Jesus again in his resurrection.  I hope that whatever significance that moment had for the church, that it meant a great deal more to that young lady's family, to her friends, and potentially to generations yet to come.

There was a time in the early days of the church when baptism was taken quite a bit more seriously than it is often taken today.  Once upon a time baptism came only after a meaningful time of instruction and preparation -- the person being baptized knew in no uncertain terms the seriousness and meaning of the moment.  Even then, both the person performing the baptism and the one being immersed were asked to fast at least a day, and preferably two, before the event.  The question, I suspect, to be pondered and prayed about was whether one as truly willing to die to self and to be raised a new creation in Christ.

The truth is that in order to experience the new life that we have in Jesus we must first experience death.  The old must die in order to make room for the new.  Our old sinful life must be left behind, a new life birthed into the world evidenced by obedience to the voice of God.

Baptism is, in essence, a covenant with God.  It is our agreement to allow the Holy Spirit to take the reigns of our life and to begin the hard work of conforming us to the very image of Jesus. 

I hope and pray that at Bethel Fellowship we never lose sight of the awesome responsibility that comes with performing baptisms.  I hope we keep our eyes focused on the prize and the magnitude of each of these moments.  I am afraid that a casual prayer followed by an emotional decision to be baptized too often results in "faith" without transformation -- faith that never grows to maturity.  Grace is costly, and through baptism we must count that cost.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.
                                                                                                         Dietrich Bonhoeffer

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.  The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.  Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.  For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
                                                                                        Romans 6:1-14

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Thank You Heartland Church

Dear Heartland Church:

It is with both sadness and great excitement that Pam and I let you know that after nearly seventeen years (eleven on staff) our time at Heartland Church has come to an end.

We are eternally grateful for your encouragement, support and prayers over all of these years and, even more so, for your love.  You shared in many of the most joyous times in our lives and, of course, the most tragic time in our lives, and we will always thank God for each of you.  In the worst of times we do not know how we would have survived without you.

At the same time, we are so thankful for the opportunity we have had to serve so many of you, and are still humbled and amazed at the many times you allowed us to be a part of the most private, intimate and important moments of your lives.  It has been incredible to see God's hand at work, and we will always count serving you as one of the greatest pleasures of our lives.

Thanks to the entire church staff for your friendship over these years.   There is not enough room here to say all the things that should be said to each of you.  In fact, I am still looking for the words to try to explain the impact you have had on our lives.

We are particularly indebted to Pastor Dan for recognizing the calling on our lives, and for his mentorship and friendship over the years.  If there is one thing we have never doubted it is Pastor Dan's love for God and his love for God's people.

Still, in the past few months we have seen the unmistakable footsteps of God leading us to somewhere new.  I have accepted a job in the legal department of an incredible company and will be working with an amazing and talented group of people.  As we are all commanded to do, it is my intention to work at this new position wholeheartedly, as if working for God himself.  Colossians 3:23-24. ("Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." )

And, by doing so, I will also be able to continue serving God without being a financial burden on God's people.  While there is certainly nothing wrong with being in full time ministry, there is also an incredible blessing in being able to preach the Gospel for free.  Pam and I know that God is not finished with us just yet, and we are extremely excited about the plans He has for us.  We are anxious to share more about those plans in the days ahead.

We have tried, to the best of our ability, to serve you in love -- proclaiming the Gospel and teaching the whole truth through the Word and through our way of life.  Know that Pam and I love each of you -- and always will.  Keep watch over yourselves and continue to draw close to God.  Follow Jesus alone.  We pray that God would continue to build you up so that you may attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  See Ephesians 4:1-13. 

Love you all.

John and Pam

P.S., Just because we are transitioning doesn't mean we need to stop seeing the people we love!

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.   Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?   He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)   So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

                                                                                 Ephesians 4:1-13.