April 14, 2022

EdgeUcation: Person NOT Program

This is the first in a potential series of posts where I would like to introduce newcomers (and others) to Edgewood. 

At Edgewood Church, in Danville, IL, we are about the person... NOT the program. What do I mean by this statement? Well, I'd like to answer that with Five Thoughts. 

Thought One: We don't really have programs.

This is just the truth of the matter. We don't really have programs. We don't have any full-time staff. We have two bi-vocational pastors (I'm one). We have a part-time-not-on-site secretary. We also pay for a part time janitor and a part time Biblical counselor. So we don't have any program directors or even anyone with enough time on their hands to be a program director. 

Please don't misunderstand, if there were someone who wanted to volunteer their time to start and run a program, I would not fight against it... but in the meantime, it is important for anyone who visits or is considering committing themselves to this church to understand that we don't have any kids programs, teen programs, adult programs, senior programs, or anything of the sort. This isn't to say that we don't have anything going on, we do have people in the nursery during the worship/preaching service time. And during our Sunday School time there are those with a passion for children who are teaching them as well. 

To be even more clear, I (as a pastor) am not fundamentally opposed to programs. To have a specified flow of purpose (a program) when it comes to ministering to one another can be hugely helpful: How do we attempt to disciple new believers? What do we do to help young parents with the raising of their children? What can we do to support those struggling with addiction? Who is watching over the widows and others in need?  The issue isn't one rooted in some sort of philosophical opposition to the creation or maintaining of a program, not in the least.  We are simply at a place where the needs of our church community must be met by the individuals in the church community as they are led by the Spirit, not as they are directed by a program.

Thought Two: We are not a service.

Even though I am not philosophically opposed to programs, I am also not overly motivated to work in that direction, no matter how much we grow. I won't oppose programs, but you won't ever catch me as the driving force behind a program in the church because the church is not a service that is offered. We aren't the country club. We aren't a baby-sitting service. We aren't a private school. We aren't entertainment. ... in fact, you won't really understand the church community until you start to understand that YOU are part of the WE and there is no THEY.  

That last sentence might be a little confusing, allow me to explain: The church absolutely does have a leadership structure to it. There are to be elders in the church and there ought to be deacons. This leadership structure is important in the church for accountability, training, and stewardship. But too many churches (especially those that could be called a "mega-church") have fallen into a corporate sort of structure with the pastors operating as Managers, Administrators, CEO's and CFO's. Not only (do I believe) that this is a faulty way of structuring a local church, this corporate mentality will also lend toward some wrong views of ministry and membership.

In fact, members are not meant to simply be the recipients of ministries. Every member is in the ministry. Being in the ministry is not limited to some elite, specially trained paid staff. Paul the Apostle states in Ephesians 4 that when Christ ascended, that he gave to his people who are still here (the church), "... the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds (pastors) and teachers..." to do the ministry? No.  It says, "... to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ..." (Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV) So the ones who are typically thought of as being in the ministry, are actually the ones who are there to equip every member for the work of the ministry. We are all in the ministry.

If you look for a church, choose a church, stay at a church, or leave a church based on what they do or do not offer, there is a high probability that you are viewing church through a faulty lens. 

Thought Three: We aren't trying to "keep" you. 

Ok. That sounds a little more harsh than I wanted it to. 

Here's the thing: I absolutely want every Christian to go to and be faithful to a local church. Without a doubt, there isn't a person that lives within driving range of Edgewood that I wouldn't love to have as a part of this local church. Our doors are open and we cordially invite you to join us, and when you do join us, we will do everything in our power and under the direction of the Holy Spirit to work together and keep you to the end.  (I Corinthians 1:8)

But if the thing that keeps you is the programs that we offer, I would rather you go. A person that attends a church for the programs they offer will not last through the fiery trials that we must face. So, if you are not properly entertained by our music, or your teens aren't enjoying the youth group games, or if there aren't enough activities for the singles, or the kids don't have enough to keep them contained in a kids room... then go. OR... Stay. Stay for the right reasons. 

Thought Four: Person NOT People

The right reasons might be contained in the phrase, "It's about the people -- not the programs."  But you may have noticed that I didn't phrase it that way in the title. 

This is because it is not about the people, it is about the person... the Person of Jesus Christ. He is the head of the church: both the local church and the universal church. Jesus is supreme in all things and has been given all authority by the Father. And the Father has, "... put all things under his feet and gave him [Christ] as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all."  (Ephesians 1:22-23 ESV) The Local Church and ultimately the Universal Church over all ages, is the body of Christ in this world. And the authority that the Father gave to the Son is intricately and eternally tied to us in the form of the church. 

This doesn't mean that the people aren't important, but their importance changes from central importance to consequential importance. Every individual becomes important because HE is important. This shift protects local churches from three things: One - it protects churches from being dependent on one or a few individuals because of what they bring to the table. Two - it protects individuals from being discarded because of what they might lack. And Three - it protects the entire group from developing hierarchies or cliques within the community.  When Christ is the head of the body, and especially of a local church body, we are free to become the members of that body that we are called to be. 

Another great way to describe this is True Christian Community. 

Thought Five: Welcome to Community. 

The local church is meant to be a community. And it ought not to be a community that we design and pick, but it is the one that is given. We must avoid the attempt to gather or attract those that we believe will create the community we dream of. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way: 

"Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial." (Read more of this quote here.)

This means that those who step through the door each and every week ARE our community. These are my brothers and sisters in Christ. These are the members of this body. And I completely and whole heartedly trust our Head (Christ) to bring to this particular community those exact members he chooses to bring. With open arms toward each other, we will gather together each and every week. We are dedicated to one another, we love one another, and we serve one another. 

When dedicated to a local body in this way, I won't lie to you, it can be rough. There are real people here with real problems and real attitudes and real issues. Feelings will be hurt. Tempers will be pressed. Thoughts will be challenged. Emotions will be jostled. But we serve a real Savior who really saves. And when a real community bonds together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the results are sweet and the benefits are eternal. 

March 28, 2022

Sermonic Timing

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;

This coming July, I will have been preaching at Edgewood Church in Danville, IL for thirteen years. I have preached at least three sermons per month, with several long stretches of preaching every sermon in the month. If I had to estimate the total number of sermons that I've preached, it would be well over 600 sermons.

For the most part, all of these sermons have been expository in nature. For those of you who do not know what expository preaching is, I could sum it up with the phrase, "Preach the Word" from Paul's letter to the young pastor, Timothy (2 Timothy 4:2). Expository preaching is to preach sermons firmly rooted in the text of scripture. The most straight-forward way of accomplishing this is by "preaching through" portions of the Bible. I began this endeavor when I started at Edgewood, by beginning with an introduction to Ephesians with Ephesians 1:1 and some 62 sermons later with the Conclusion to Ephesians from Ephesians 6:19-24

I have proceeded from there to preach through The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), The Gospel According to John, The Book of Acts, 1 Corinthians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, James, 1 Peter, Revelation 1-3, Genesis 1-25, Various Psalms, The Book of Jonah, and I am currently in The Gospel According to Luke. Even the sermons that were meant to be topical in nature, I attempted to focus on one particular passage of scripture. 

I mention all of this, NOT because I feel that doing this or accomplishing this is a feat of any measurable value... no. I mention this because I am always amazed at the wonderful timing of the topics that arise from working through these passages of scripture and their specific relevance to, not only our modern world, but to the nature of the situations active in our own little church. This amazement is turning into a blog post because of our current church situation and the passages we are working through. 

Allow me to paint a picture for you.  We have seen a striking increase in attendance over the last year or so, and especially over the last few months. This attendance increase has come from a variety of sources: from those who have not been faithful to church to people who have, for a variety of reasons, been looking for a new church home. The resulting church body feels very much like we are at the beginning of something new. 

We are currently working our way through the Gospel According to Luke. We are near the end of Chapter 9, and this chapter marks the beginning of something new in Jesus' ministry. He has just divulged, for the first time, the core focus of his ministry -- his own journey to the Cross. The disciples do not comprehend what he is talking about, but he is laying the foundation for all of the Christian Walk... I couldn't have asked for a better time to lay this foundation in our own little fellowship. The next several chapters of Luke focus on several different teachings of Jesus. As I scan ahead, I see the amazing Sermonic Timing of the preaching that is cued up to be presented. 

Ok. I made up that word: Sermonic... But it just seems so fitting to what I am experiencing. I am no musician, but I love the elements of harmonic timing that can be heard in different forms of music. Individuals' skill in their ability to sing in Harmony, along with those who understand the mathematics behind developing harmony in the writing of music is truly fascinating, but equally fascinating... no... more so fascinating... is God's perfectly timed presentation of his truths through his ordained ministers of the Word. 

And it is just so exciting to get to be a part of that. 

So, whether you are a preacher of the word or a recipient of that preaching on a weekly basis, marvel with me at our sovreign Lord who grows his people through his truth. If you go to a local church, you get to be a part of this each and every week. 

Here is a hymn to worship the great teacher, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who works in perfectly orchestrated ways to teach us through His Word, but to also guide us through all of the other of life's events.

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill;
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding ev'ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow'r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

William Cowper, Light Shining Out of Darkness, 1773

February 19, 2022

What is Old and What is New

In the Gospel According to Matthew, right after a section of recorded parables, we read this: 

[51] “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” [52] And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” 

Matthew 13:51–52 (ESV)

I have no idea what this means. 

I love it. It is wonderful and marvelous and mysterious. Important truths have been opened to me in the reading of this short little parable. But I don't really know what he is talking about. 

I do know that I genuinely want to be a scribe who has been trained for the Kingdom of Heaven. 

February 5, 2022

Filling up the Afflictions of Christ by John Piper - Book Review

 Filling up the Afflictions of Christ is book number five in the series of books by John Piper called, The Swans are not Silent. I think, but I'm not sure, that each of these books... and even each of the three short biographies in each book... sprang from a conference message or a church message that John Piper originally delivered. I believe most of these have sermons that you can find online at DesiringGod.Org. 

In this book we can read about William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton. The unifying thread with these three men is, as the book subtitle states: "The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations..." in each of their lives. 

The title of this book comes from Colossians 1:24 -- 

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

Piper goes on to explain this passage by saying, 

"What is lacking in the afflictions of Christ is not that they are deficient in worth, as though they could not sufficiently cover the sins of all who believe. What is lacking is that the infinite value of Christ's afflictions is not known and trusted in the world. These afflictions and what they mean are still hidden to most peoples. And God's intention is that the mystery be revealed to all the nations. So the afflictions of Christ are 'lacking' in the sense that they are not seen and known and loved among the nations. They must be carried by the missionaries. And those missionaries 'complete' what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ by extending them to others."

All three of these short biographies are impactful in their own right, but I found the elements of Adoniram Judson's life to be the weightiest in my own heart and mind. The enduring hardships, the regular encounters with death, and the deep distresses of dark emotions all left me with a lasting respect for what was accomplished through God's sovereign grace in his life and an odd desire to follow, in what ways I could, in his footsteps. 

The reading of Christian biographies and autobiographies is important for many reasons; including reminding us of our rich heritage, prompting us toward deeper and more lasting affections, and inspiring us to keep our eyes on things that are eternal and lasting. The benefit of this series of books is found in the brevity of the stories, the emphasis on their lasting impact, and the unpacking of how Biblical doctrine that is both wide and deep will serve as the spiritual food and strength for Spirit-filled people. 

February 2, 2022

Contending for Our All by John Piper: Book Review

It is a snow day today... And I just completed a book!

The book is Contending for Our All, by John Piper. This is the 4th book in his series: The Swans are not Silent. 

This is the first book I have read in this series. In this book, John Piper writes about three men who contended for the Faith: Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen. He isn't attempting to give a complete biography of any of these individuals, but instead is seeking to highlight one aspect of their lives. In the case of these three: it is the controversies that surrounded them, and the heart for the beauty of God in the face of Jesus Christ that supported and motivated each of these men through these controversies. 

With each one of the biographical summaries that Piper shares, I found myself to not only be intrigued by these men... wanting to read more of each of their lives and to read more of their writing, but also spurred on toward a more persistent delving into the mysteries of God myself. 

I would encourage you to read this book, especially if you know nothing about the lives of these three men. This book will give you a taste of our rich historical lineage in the truths of Genuine Christianity.