Matthew 8:8-9 “the centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.   For I also am a man under authority…”

The words of the centurion are interesting there, “for I also am a man under authority”. We don’t often think of Jesus in the context of being under authority, but He was. Jesus ministry was centered on doing the will of His Father in Heaven, even to the point of death. “Not my will, but yours be done” was His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The centurion was very wise in this matter because he knew somebody who was exercising the power that Jesus exercised must be operating within a structure of authority. I’m not a person who craves authority, and yet throughout life I have often found myself entrusted with it. In large part, I attribute that to honoring the authority that God has placed in my life.

I believe to be a good leader you have to know how to be a good follower.  In 2007 I was pastoring an independent church here in Redding, California. The building we were renting was putting a strain on our budget, so I gave my wife the task of searching out a new facility for us. She has a real eye for those things. She set up a meeting between me and the pastor of a church that owned a little A-frame building near where we were currently located. In my meeting with him he suggested that consider joining the Foursquare denomination. I asked him, “Why on Earth would I want to do that?” His answer to me was “because the Foursquare is a family, man.” I’ve since found that to be true, but it’s not primarily why I joined the Foursquare. I realized that I didn’t like being independent very much. There was a void of authority in my life, and I was beginning to pay a price for it, along with my wife, kids, and our church. I was introduced to the Divisional Superintendent of the Foursquare in our area, Pastor Jack Witt, and immediately I knew this was the type of leadership I needed in my life. We gave him license to speak into our lives, and into our ministry. He became to us a man of great authority. But we knew him also to be man under authority, and we honored that. As I now serve as Executive Pastor at the City Church, I can say without any doubt that had I not honored Godly authority I would have never been granted this opportunity.  Likewise, had the Centurion not honored authority his life would have been radically different. It’s not just that his servant wouldn’t have been healed; he would have never even risen to the rank of Centurion or merited having a servant.

As Kingdom minded people we have not only different ideas of success from the world, but we have different ways of achieving that success. This is not only true concerning issues of authority. We as Christians have different financial goals. We settle conflicts differently. Here are just few statements I’ve found to be true.

  • To be prosperous you have to know how to give.
  • The quickest way to end up with nothing is to try to hang on to everything.
  • To be lifted up you have to know how to humble yourself.
  • To get the victory over an enemy you have to know how to love them.
  • To be a good leader you have to know how to be a good follower.

Being a good follower results in power! Jesus did what His father wanted:  John 5:19-20 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.  20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.”

I believe the key to advancement, whether things related to the Kingdom of God or this world’s systems, is to take the lowly place, honor authority, and work hard.

-Pastor Chris Light

Fishing for Solutions

quarter1Matthew 17:24-27  (NIV)

24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes, he does,” he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?”he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”

26 “From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

This short passage describes a problem that Jesus solves with a miracle.  That is not so unusual for Jesus. What is a bit different is that this is the one and only time that Jesus performs a miracle concerning money, and the one and only time that the miracle brings help or provision for himself.  Those two things alone should send us exploring this setting and digging behind the event to see larger principles that can instruct and guide us.

The problem begins when Peter is approached by tax collectors from the temple who were seeking from Jesus what was called a “temple tax.”  This tax was instituted back in the Old Testament and required every male over 20 to pay an annual fee for the support and upkeep of the temple.  When Peter is asked whether or not Jesus paid that tax, Peter answers without hesitation, “Yes he does.”  In this answer we find that it was Jesus’ custom and practice to pay whatever taxes, duties, and fees that were expected of Him, even if He did not agree with the reason for them.  This is an important point right off the start that merits deeper examination.  Jesus accepted the situations that created the need and did not seek to change them.  This is a common mistake that many people make in prayer.  We can easily find ourselves asking God to do what He will not do.  We do this by asking Him to use His power to change the person or circumstance that has created the need.  Praying for God to remove legal demands, unfair penalties, or wipe out fines and tax burdens is one way to address our needs before Him, but is it a way He will answer?  I regularly see what appears to be God’s favor in those matters where fees are reduced significantly or some form of compromise is provided so that the debt or obligation is able to be satisfied, but God did not change the system that created the need.  The fact that you got relief from a ticket that you had no idea how you were going to be able to pay does not provide that you won’t get ticketed for speeding or “barely” running that red light if you do it again tomorrow.  As a rule, God does not intervene to change the things that create the need.  If God were to do that, He would be creating a utopian world here and that is not part of His plan.  At least not yet…  We would be better to do as Peter intended to do, which was to present the need to Jesus and seek His solution for paying what was due.

As soon as Peter turns from the tax collectors, he goes to find Jesus.  Before he has a chance to even bring up the matter, Jesus (knowing what was going on) begins a short Q & A with Peter about taxation.  It can seem at first glance that Jesus is saying that the tax being requested was unfair, but as we already noted, the temple tax was instituted by Moses and followed by Israel into the time that Jesus walked upon the earth.  What Jesus appears to be pointing out was that He was the Lord of the temple and as such neither He, nor those who served Him (His disciples), should be required to pay the tax.  While this was true in the largest sense, Jesus also knew that a refusal to pay the taxes on the basis of that argument would have created an unnecessary offence, so He then gives Peter instructions on how to gain the provision to meet the demand.  There are a couple things here that should be pointed out.  First, we all need to grow in our belief that Jesus does know about our needs before we have had the chance to “fill Him in.”  I find that so many of my prayers are informational, as if Jesus has lost track of me and needs to be briefed.  In this setting we get the idea from the Greek language that Jesus starts this conversation even as Peter enters the door or as the question was forming on Peter’s face and he was opening his mouth to speak, Jesus interrupts him.  I wonder how much my life would improve if the first act of my prayer life was to sit and listen, rather than dive in and spill the details of what Jesus already knows.  The other point I would offer is how Jesus was able to make a value decision about the taxation matter even though He could claim the higher ground of being justified in refusing to pay it.  This is a level of wisdom all of us could stand to gain.  I see it in myself and in others with a great deal of regularity where our point of clarification on a matter quickly becomes THE point of contention.  I’m sure you’ve had the same experience I have in watching people who are pressing a matter with someone else that goes beyond wisdom and will not end well.  I’ve found myself muttering things like “let it go… just back off now… please don’t step into that…” under my breath as a very self-righteous and determined friend has turned a pleasant conversation into an awkward and unnecessary brawl.  Jesus was able to say, “This is not worth provoking or offending them, so let’s pay the bill.”

The decision to pay the tax instead of starting a debate brought Jesus and Peter right back into the place of need.  Don’t be afraid to go there with Jesus; He always has a plan.  His plan, as it turns out was to send Peter fishing.  Jesus told him that he would catch a fish (which in my fishing experience is the real miracle), where to look for the coin and the value of the coin.  The takeaway for us is to realize that the path to God’s provision will frequently involve instructions for us to follow.  Trust and obedience, more often than not, are a required part of the way that God meets needs.  You may want to argue about the fishing expedition, but you would be better off to trust and obey.  Another important observation about this is that the money provided was just enough to meet the need.  I’ve seen people turn down a job because, “while it might help today, it won’t take care of my needs in the future.”  I don’t know if you’ve noticed it or not, but Jesus is pretty focused on today and He wants us to confine our obedience to today as well.  Trust is for the outcomes, the eventualities of tomorrow; obedience is about what He has instructed us to do right now, today.

Let your mind wander a bit back down the trail of this miracle.  When did the coin fall into the sea?  Who lost it and how did that happen?  When did the fish swallow the coin?  What kind of forces does God impose on creation to place them in cooperation with this specific timing, location and appetite?  As you think through these questions and wonder at them, let your soul be comforted in the assurance that long before you came into the awareness of your crisis, God was setting things in motion; lost things, found things, swallowed things, hooks, worms, the tug on a fishing line, the warm sun on a happy fisherman’s face.  It’s a good day to go fishing.  It’s a good time to be following Jesus.

The last thing I want to point out from this event is that the money harvested from the mouth of the fish took care of Jesus’ needs and Peter’s.  We are not let in on where the other eleven were at this point or how their taxes were paid.  All we know is that the need was created by a question that concerned Jesus alone.  The question was asked of Peter, but the object of the question was his “teacher.”  When Jesus spells out the plan to secure the provision, he tells Peter that the money will be enough to pay the taxes for both of them.  Here we find ourselves needing to make another shift in our thinking.  The acts of God that involve your needs are always intended to do more than merely meet your needs.  We are inclined to seek provision that is enough for the immediate need and include some bit more to insure our comforts against tomorrow’s needs.  The provision for Jesus’ needs extended to and included Peter’s.  I think that God is seeking a specific kind of person to bless with His full miraculous measure of provision.  God delights in meeting needs by giving creative solutions to His people who are willing to hear, interested in others, and ready to act in faith.  I want to be that kind of person.  I need His creative solutions.  The need is greater than what the effort of hands and intelligence of heads can provide.  Will you believe God enough to ask for His solutions?  Are you willing to follow His instructions?  Are you ready to share what you receive so that the needs of others are met?  God is looking for those who will say yes in all these places and follow Him.

-Pastor Jack Witt

“This is a Day of Good News…”

easter2_2A coaching word from
Pastor Jack Witt

 I was reading in 2 Kings chapter seven a couple days ago and fixed my attention on this odd story of the city of Samaria (capital of Israel at the time), having been surrounded by a vast Aramean army for so long that they suffered a great famine as no provisions could be brought into the city due to this besiegement.  Four leprous men stood at the gate of Samaria and reasoned that they were certain to die of starvation if they stayed in the city, so perhaps they should go over to the Aramean soldiers.  They would either receive mercy from them and enjoy the provisions of food and water that they needed, or the Aramean’s would kill them on the spot.  They weighed out the options of: (A) dying a thousand deaths through starvation in Samaria, or (B) a quick death at the sword of an Aramean soldier.  The second option, however, included a slight possibility that as lepers, they would not be killed, but rather given mercy by their enemies.  They decided to take option “B” and set out at dusk to go to the Aramean camp.  When they arrived they found that it had been deserted… in haste.  God had caused the Aramean soldiers to hear the sound of a huge army rushing toward them.  In crazed fear they left everything behind, even creating a trail of belongings that they threw down along the way of their escape; trying to lighten their load as they ran away.

When the four leprous men discovered this abandoned city of tents, they started having a private party among all the food, wine and possessions left behind by the fleeing army.  They even took some possessions out of the camp and hid them in case someone else would discover this gold mine and chase them away.  At some point their consciences were stirred about keeping this abundance to themselves while the inhabitants of Samaria were going to sleep hungry and suffering.  “We’re not doing right,” they said to each other, “This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves.”  Even though it was now well into the night and the people would be settled in their beds, they would rouse them and tell them this good news.  Matthew Henry in his commentary on this passage wrote, “Though it wake them from sleep, it would be life from the dead to them.”

This story and the decision of the leprous men to not conceal this good news from the famine-stricken city reminded me of the call that we have been making for believers to “invite, invite, invite” friends and family members to Easter services this weekend.  Part of this appeal is based on the fact that people in our society are more inclined to attend church on spiritually significant days like Christmas or Easter, but the greater reason is that the night of a protracted spiritual famine is upon the lives of the inhabitants of this city.  You may be concerned about their reaction to your invitation; wondering if they will be offended or put off that you are poking into their lives or recommending something to them that is none of your business.  You must not be intimated by that fear, or allow your perspective to be informed by those who claim that spirituality is a private matter, relegating it to some politically correct “off-limits zone.”  The reach of the church into the unbelieving world must be driven by a Biblical belief in the radical power of the Gospel that must be communicated in order to be received, and a Biblical understanding of what is truly at risk for those who live a spiritually besieged life; cut off from God and His life-giving Spirit.  If we adopt Scriptural beliefs and understandings, there is no other conclusion we can reach besides this:  This is a day of Good News… we are not doing right, keeping it to ourselves!

Getting Right With God…

There are 2 reasons why the phrase “getting right with God” has been mulling around in my head for a couple of days now.  Firstly, because as I sold all my stuff last year, I could see my shopping addiction from a new perspective.  All the things that I was sure would make me happy at one point were now being sold for a quarter.  It promised me everything, and gave me nothing (quite the contrary, it cost quite a bit).  For some of these items, I can remember specifically what sorrow I was trying to escape at the time of purchase.  Those sorrows are long gone, my life is very different, much more happy and fulfilled.  But I am left with a new sorrow, and the need to make things right with God about my shopping addiction.  I want to learn to process my pain differently.   The second reason is that an old friend passed away recently.  I knew it was coming, I’m ok, and have peace.  I am just in prayer for the family, who also knew it was coming, but that doesn’t really matter does it?  Painful either way.  I wonder if he “got right with God” before passing.

It occurred to me this morning that because of Jesus’ work on the cross, getting right with God is so simple.   But I have observed that many of us fall into one of two categories when we think about getting right with God.

The first is that it’s a painful, guilt ridden, long, drawn out process.  This is where I tend to go.  Though, the Lord is changing that.  Getting right with God used to be awful.  So much guilt.  I lacked an accurate understanding of grace.  I would feel horrible for weeks about something.  Never was this validated by anyone I knew.  All my Christians friends have only ever told me that I am too hard on myself.  It’s true.  And I am deciding to recognize the truth that getting right with God is a simple thing.  Jesus suffered so that I would not have to.  I don’t know how to do this, but Jesus will help me.  I do know that the work to get right with God was done by Jesus on the cross.  All I have to do is decide that I want to take him up on his offer.  It’s not supposed to be a bunch of work on my part.  Looking forward to embracing that truth.   If you struggle with the grace and guilt thing, may I recommend Daniel Brown’s “Embracing Grace”?  Practical book on grace.  Loving it.

The second perspective that many people have is that they do not need to get right with God in order to have a relationship with him, or in order to get into heaven.  I obviously don’t fall into this category, and here is why.  I do not subscribe to the old saying that “love means never having to say that you are sorry”.  That’s called denial, actually!  Lol!  There is not one intimate relationship that I have where I have not had to apologize, to “make things right”.  Some relationships have required many apologies (parents, spouse), and some far less (friendships).  But every genuine relationship requires an apology now and then.  If you have, on occasion, offended your family, what are the chances that you have never offended God?  Intimate relationship allows and even requires a certain amount of honesty.  For many years, I thought that certain things would not offend my husband, because, after all, he’s almost 6’ tall, he’s a tough guy, he’s strong, and he can “take it”.  But I was wrong.  He does not want to be treated with disrespect any more than I do.  The same is true of God.  Just because he is God does not mean that we never need to square things away with him.  This may bring up the question “why does he never need to ‘make things right’ with me?”  All I can say is… take time to get to know him.  He has much to say to you.  He has incredible good for you, and offers much relief from the things that torment your soul.  Getting right with him is easy.  The following video has a great prayer for doing just that.

I’d love to hear from you if you are interested in getting right with God, no matter which category you fall into.  Come to the City Church and learn to be a part of a family of grace.


Letter from Pastor Jack…

Everything for everything image -final

To the Family of the City Church,

I hope this letter finds you doing well.  I am excited to write to you this month and talk to you about some of the things that are going on in around the City Church.  I think you’ll be encouraged by these things and that you will find them to be helpful in the next steps you are taking in Loving God, Growing Together and Serving Others.

We announced in the beginning of February that our church council had made the decision to bring Pastor Chris Light on our staff as an Executive Pastor.  This is huge step of faith for us, so I am asking for your prayers and financial support toward this decision.  There has already been a significant improvement in our church in terms of staff organization and cohesion.  Pastor Chris is a very gifted leader and is stepping into this role at one of those points that we recognize as coming at just the right time.  His title sounds like he should be doing my job, so some of you have wondered if I am going anywhere.  Nope, I’m not.  He is taking over a lot of the day to day functions of pastoring so that I am free to work on the larger matters of vision, teaching, and leading City Church into the full breadth of what we know God has called us to do in our part of the expression of Christ’s Body in this community.  With the addition of Pastor Chris to our church staff we have a really complete and functional team of leaders who have the right heart, right gifts and right roles to break out in an all-out sprint into our future of Loving, Growing and Serving for the growth and glory of God’s Kingdom.

Another exciting development that has been in the works for some months now is a revamp to our School of Church Leadership called Qadash.  From the very beginning of this school (nine years ago) we have had to turn people away who wanted to get in on the deeper levels of Bible training and study that we offered in Qadash because the design and intention of the program was to equip those who were preparing themselves for primary leadership roles in the church or as a step toward vocational ministry.  The question has been asked for years now, “Why can’t we have a Qadash-lite?”  I always think, “Same taste, half the calories!” and that has not been helpful at all.  I’m happy to announce that in June we will offer a parallel program to Qadash that we are simply calling “GROW.”  Brad Fulton and I have been working on reformatting the teaching content in Qadash so that we could offer the basic Bible track in a 6:30pm to 8:00pm time slot on Tuesday evenings.  GROW participants could sit in on the Bible training along with the Qadash students and then from 8:00pm to 9:30pm the ministry students would be taken through the personal, spiritual and leadership development training that is geared for their future as leaders and pastors.  The Bible track classes will be offered as open enrollment and without cost unless you wanted to purchase the textbooks that are prescribed for that course.  In order to make this as available as possible we pushed the start date for the next trimester of Qadash three weeks later than what we normally would.   That date is Tuesday, June 3rd which falls after the end of the spring session of our Community Groups.  The course theme for the next trimester is a survey approach to the New Testament with a particular emphasis on the book of Romans and is 10 weeks long.  Look for enrollment information to show up for GROW at the resource center, your weekly bulletins, and announcements over the next few weeks.

Beginning this Sunday we will start a new teaching theme that I am calling “Everything for Everything.”  I thought this teaching emphasis would focus primarily on the first eleven verses of chapter one of Second Peter, but as I’ve continued praying, reading, and planning I’ve decided to take a verse by verse approach to the entire book.  This will take 15-16 weeks to do and push into the end of July to complete.  Peter’s first letter was written to encourage people who were facing great persecution for their faith and following of Jesus.  When he set out to write this second letter, much of that persecution had subsided, but new threats faced these believers.  It seems that the calmer things are around the church, the riper the environment is for false teachers and problems to arise within the church.  All you have to do is spend a few minutes reading the titles of Christian books or pay attention to the “spiritually-sounding” things that people post on Facebook and it is evident that there is a lot of confusion around who we are as Christians and what we believe.  If you don’t think that this kind of environment is being populated with people who have self-serving motivations to mislead people or who are deluded themselves, I would encourage you to shake yourself a bit, sit up, and take this thing a bit more seriously than that.  The warnings that Peter offers in this letter are right on point for our times and the conditions of Christian spirituality today.  That’s not all that Peter says in this powerful letter, but it is one of the reasons I decided to teach through the whole book.  The assurance is true; God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.  We need to find a way to access and persist in the great truths that center on Jesus and His power to make us into new people not just those who are slightly improved.  This focus of teaching and preaching will saturate our thoughts in the wonder of God providing “His Everything for our Everything”.  But along the way we will also glean some important warnings and reminders so that we can keep our hearts anchored in the truth that belongs to Jesus alone.  Remember that teaching theme starts this Sunday.  Invite and encourage others to join in.

We are just about three weeks out from Easter Sunday.  I want to encourage you to go out of your way to invite, invite, invite!  The first expression of our mission is to introduce people into a loving relationship with God.  Easter Sunday is an extraordinary opportunity to do that.  We have some great things planned for the service, but most importantly the message of Christ’s Gospel will be declared clearly, passionately, and creatively.  Don’t miss this opportunity to ask even those people who have said “no” to you in the past.  That was yesterday… this is today.  You have no idea what the Holy Spirit has been doing to draw them to Christ while you waited, slept, and watched American Idol.  Ask again.  We won’t be able to see with our own eyes what kinds of things God is able to do unless we step into the realm of faith and Kingdom risk.  Remember also, that there are those e-invites now available under the “Contact” tab on the new and improved website.

Community Groups are firing back up next week.  The depth of God’s work in these groups is growing session by session.   We will again have groups that focus on marriage, some that are gender based, some on a themed bible study, and a couple that take the messages given on Sunday and talk and pray them into a deeper application in a mid-week small group gathering.  There are plenty of places and times to work this important point of connection, fellowship, and holy interaction into your schedule.  Don’t wait around for a better time; you will wait yourself into spiritual stagnation.

Lastly, I wanted to let you know what was going on with Pastor Steven Lennstrom.  Steven and Amy became a part of City Church a few years ago, moving to this community to attend Simpson University.  At the end of April Stephen will graduate from Simpson.  He has applied to Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and they are moving to the Seattle area for a few months to prepare for a move to England in the fall.  Stephen and Amy have been great servant-leaders here leading greeters ministry, serving in Children’s ministry and most recently leading our ministry to young adults.  We are sorry to see them go, but very excited with them for their future.  We will be praying for them and saying a formal goodbye in the Sunday service on April 13th.  Be sure to thank them for their role among the pastoral leadership here and bless them with us as they prepare to move away.

I think that’s it for now.  Thank you for sticking with it to read through this novel-sized letter.  There are just so many good and exciting things going on, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to share them with you and encourage your faith and participation in them.  I noticed something about Paul’s letters recently.  Almost every letter begins with a pronouncement of grace upon those reading, but every one ends that way.  I usually sign with “blessings”, but I’ll go with the great Apostle Paul as an example for me…

May you grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, our King and Savior,

Pastor Jack



Children. They’re everywhere.  Do you see them?  Do you even notice them?  I do.  I notice them in parking lots, at school, at the playground and parks, on the streets, at church.  Everywhere, children.  That word for me conjures up images of bodies in motion, lots of laughter, chatter, and non-stop action.  Ever heard someone say, “Wish I had half of their energy?”

Children.  They’re important to Jesus.  And they’re important in the Kingdom of God.  Therefore, they should be important to all of us who consider ourselves to be Kingdom builders.  If you’ve been in a church service where a baby dedication took place, did you accept the challenge Pastor gave the congregation to pray, be involved, set an example, and help raise that child?  Is there a child in your life?  There should be.  You would be blessed.

Children.  Yes, they’re messy, and noisy, and full of energy.  But they need us.  They need us to love them and show them the way to the Father’s heart.  I’ve been reading The 5 Love Languages of Children, and it’s no surprise that children need words of affirmation, physical touch, and quality time, the same as adults do.  My own life was marked by an elderly gentleman who always had lemon drops in his pocket, which he loved to share with children.  Is it possible that the simple act of greeting a child, stooping to talk or ask a question, listening, and remembering his name, could have a bearing on that young one’s eternal future?  I think so.

Children.  Don’t miss an opportunity.  Here are several ways you could show kids you care:

  1. Notice them.
  2. Smile a lot.
  3. Learn their names.
  4. Seek them out.
  5. Look in their eyes when you talk to them,
  6. Listen to them.
  7. Be nice.
  8. Listen to their stories.
  9. Share their excitement.
  10. Kneel, squat, or sit so you’re at their eye level.
  11. Answer their questions.
  12. Point out what you like about them.
  13. Keep the promises you make.
  14. Wave and smile at them when you part.
  15. Give them lots of compliments.
  16. Give them your undivided attention.
  17. Mention something you’ve noticed about them.
  18. Thank them.
  19. Tell them about yourself.
  20. Ask them to help you.
  21. Do something together.
  22. Do what they like to do.
  23. Give them a special nickname.
  24. Notice when they grow.
  25. Hug them.
  26. Love them no matter what.

One more for good measures:

  1. Volunteer to help or teach in a Sunday School Class.

“Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’.” Matthew 18; 2-4

-Pastor Dora Clarkson


Several years ago my parents experienced a life-changing event.  My mom had a brain tumor that caused her to lose much of the dexterity in her right side, mostly in her arm and hand.  After surgery, a therapist met with my parents to help them adjust to the many changes.  The therapist asked my mom, “What do you want to do now?”  She replied that she wanted to learn to write with her left hand, since her right hand was going to be slow to recover.  When the therapist asked the same question of my dad, he replied, “I just want things to be like they were.”

One thing that is certain in life is that we will experience changes.  Some will be gradual, while others will be dramatic and more sudden, like a brain tumor.  But typically there is some degree of anxiety around change.  Too often we can only see what was, and forget to look forward to what can be.  We just want things to be like they were.

God knew this about His creation.  When Israel was in bondage in Egypt, God rescued them and sent Moses to lead them to the land He had promised them, but He knew that at the first sign of trouble they would be discouraged.

“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”  Ex. 13:17

In fact, Exodus records more than one time when the Israelites complained to Moses, and suggested they would have been better off in Egypt. Given the opportunity, they probably would have returned to their bondage, just because it was familiar and secure.  Although they wanted the land God promised them, they were unwilling to make any sacrifices to get there.

We tend to resist change, even though God has proven to us that what He has in store for us is much better than what He’s asking us to leave behind.  How many times do we hear of the person who lost his or her job, only to end up in a far better position?  Or an unwanted transfer that brought a family to a place where God wanted to use them in ministry?  We have all heard these testimonies, and the truth is, we all have our own.  Change can be like a wild roller coaster ride:  you resist and get on only after friends drag you kicking and screaming, and when it’s over you run to get in line and do it again.

So why do we fight against the changes God wants to make in our lives?

The unknown can be scary, and change takes us into the unknown.  But let’s face it:  almost everything about the future is unknown.  One thing we can know for sure is that no matter what the future holds, God will be right there with us, making everything that happens work out for our good.  Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28 that “…we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

So maybe it’s time to walk boldly up to that roller coaster, or whatever change God is trying to affect in your life, and get on board.  If we want to live in God’s promises, we have to be willing to let Him move us.  In the end, we’re likely to find ourselves wondering why we ever resisted in the first place.

-Bob Newell


The final part of our mission is to SERVE OTHERS. There is no other attribute of Christ so clearly communicated through His very own statement “I have not come to be served but to serve”. Follow this blog category to keep apprised of the many City Church opportunities to serve.

We’ve all heard those cheesy sayings about friendship…

“A true friend is someone who you can go for years without talking to, and pick up right where you left off.”

That sounds really nice, and by all means, if you have a friend like this, enjoy!  But let’s look at this a little closer, and with some honesty.  Aren’t the people that we rarely talk to much easier to get along with?  We can kind of idealize those people in our minds… how accepting they are of our choices, how unconditionally they love us.  It is easy to feel like these friendships are better than the ones right in front of us.  “After all, I rarely get into any disagreements with them, and they never annoy me!”  But really, how likely are you to disagree with, or have to confront any issues with someone when you don’t chat regularly? How do you define this kind of friendship?  How much iron is really being sharpened? (Proverbs 27:17)
It is usually quite easy to idealize a friendship that doesn’t require much.  But what is the point of friendship?  “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”  John 15:15.  This is how Jesus is defining friendship.  The people that he was calling “friends” here were people who would later abandon him!  Even deny their ever having known him!  Jesus was not saying that his closest buddies were people that made him feel good.  What about “get behind me Satan”?  Um, awkward.  Why would Jesus be friends with such “losers”?
We tend to choose our friends based on those that we “click” with.  People that we can laugh with, have stimulating conversation with, or those that share a common interest. Certainly, it must be someone that we are comfortable with at the very minimum.  Do you wonder how Jesus chose his friends?  Do you think this group of men felt comfortable together?  How do you think the others felt when the tax collector joined the group?  Did you ever notice how many times the Gospels mention that they were arguing with each other?  Do you think it records all of them?
How do you think Jesus chose his friends?  “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing…” John 5:19.  Did he choose them himself?  Or did he allow his Father to choose his friends for him?  He sort of got stuck with a sorry lot of friends there at the end, don’t you think?  While most of these friends that Jesus was saddled with did not prove to be faithful friends at the cross, the hardship and the forgiveness of Jesus made these men stick together like glue, and they came to respect each other after having experienced a very hard time together.  Indeed, these friends changed the world… together.
How do you choose your friends?  What if all the crazy people that seem to annoy you in your life, dare I say, in your church, are put there by God for a glorious purpose?  Rather than idealizing something that seems easy, let’s really work at the friendships that are before us.  Let’s forgive, serve, love, and share “everything that I learned from my Father” with one another.

You say Conviction, I feel Condemnation.

link2Lisa is broken. On the outside she is pretty, confident, a hard worker, and a good conversationalist. On the inside she is horribly vulnerable to hearing criticism of any kind and takes even the suggestion of change as an indictment of her worth. There is a reason for that brokenness. Some of her friends came from homes where parents belittled and ridiculed everything they did. Mean people make terrible parents and the scars they leave in the lives of their kids last a lifetime. Lisa’s home wasn’t like this at all. Her family was made up of achievers; successful parents and older siblings who went after and gained seemingly everything they pursued. Disapproval wasn’t really voiced in her home, but that can be even more condemning than open criticism. At least when words are used you know what the other person thinks about you. The silence left her to imagine the worst when she got poor grades, made the choice to date a boy she knew her parents did not like or got let go from her first job… and imagine the worst, she did. Lisa learned to hide things because it was apparent that in her home, perfection was acknowledged. Anything less than perfection was given a shrug of the shoulders and the silence she knew was concealing her family’s judgment and contempt.

Lisa married a man that was in many ways just like her dad. The exception was that when he disapproved of something she did, he would ask questions that let her know he thought she was stupid. “Did you even think about that, or did you just shut off your brain and do it?” It didn’t matter if it was getting a speeding ticket or forgetting to pick up something at the grocery store, his questions always had the same underlying message: Doing something wrong makes you dumb and treated like you don’t count for anything.

After her divorce, Lisa was invited to a “Lady’s Night Out” put on by a church one of her co-workers attended. At the end of the evening one of the ladies gave her testimony about God’s love, acceptance and approval. Her story was filled with all of the open damage and physical abuse that Lisa had only heard about in other homes and families. Her deep longing to be loved without conditions as the woman had described the love of God through His Son, led Lisa to pray with someone that night and accept the saving grace of Jesus into her life. For several months she felt like she was floating. Something deep and profound had taken place in her heart and she felt peace and security like nothing she had ever even imagined. Then, one day it started happening; she began feeling disapproval from God. The first incident took place at work when she “pushed the line of truth” with a client and purposely hid some details to conceal that she had dropped the ball. As she got into her car to leave work that evening Lisa heard a voice inside her head that asked, “Are you okay to live with these lies?” She shifted her thoughts quickly to the things she had planned for the evening and drove home. That Sunday the pastor of the church she attended was giving the sermon and at some point his words that had always been kind and hopeful turned dark and condemning. He said something about God wanting us to become like Him and He is holy. “He loves us as we are, for who we are, but He also loves us too much to leave us that way” is what her ears heard him say, but what she felt was condemnation. The question she heard when she was leaving work reappeared in her mind and as she closed her eyes to pray she saw the dismissive and arrogant face of her ex-husband. What was happening? This God of love, acceptance and approval was shrugging His shoulders and expressing His disapproval. What could she do with that?

At first Lisa was leaning into blaming the pastor and the church. “Maybe this place is too legalistic” she thought. That idea had been planted by an aunt who was initially happy that Lisa had turned to God, but warned her that organized religion was man’s system and she should watch for manipulation and legalism to be used in getting people to do things the system needed to have done. Now that suspicion was creeping into her thinking and she found herself avoiding the weekend services and Bible studies she had been attending. She had been influenced by that suspicion and was wrestling with it, but she also knew that the feelings of God’s disapproval had started inside of her and not really from a sermon.

Finally Lisa answered one of the multiple requests that a friend kept making to get together for coffee. Mary was a woman who had met with Lisa right after she gave her heart to Christ and taught her things like how to read the Bible and pray. As Lisa described her experience, Mary carefully guided her into the Scripture to give her the perspective she needed to learn on conviction and helped Lisa to see where she was vulnerable to misread that conviction as condemnation because of her family environment and past. Lisa would have to guard this area of her life for a very long time until she could disassociate the condemnation she felt for not being perfect from the conviction that God was imposing because of His love for her.

This is a common battle that many believers face. The aversion in our society to being judged or rejected is on one hand an expression of strong pride, but on the other hand it is rooted, for many people, in some deep pain and fragile insecurity. We have a whole language around being “guilted into something” “emotionally manipulated,” or “packing our bags as we are being sent on a guilt trip.” The radar sensitivity most of us have to guilt and condemnation picks up the faintest appearance of it while it is still a block away. For those who have damage like Lisa’s, they can sense it when it’s not even really there. Here are a couple of perspectives that Mary would have shared with Lisa to get her to the place of responding in faith to the true convictions of the Holy Spirit.

First you have to know that there is a past, present and future to the way in which God deals with our sin. Three words are used in Scripture, but are not very common in our language or understanding. They are justification, sanctification and glorification. Justification is the work that Jesus completed through His death, burial and resurrection. The sin that mankind chose in rebellion against God and that separated us away from Him and warranted His wrath and judgment against us, was dealt with perfectly and forever in the finished work of Jesus. John in the opening chapter of his gospel says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 (NKJV) This right is not given and taken away on a day by day basis or even on the incidence of specific acts of obedience and disobedience. Those who trust in Christ and have received Him as Savior have been reconciled to God. The perfect righteousness that belongs to Jesus is attributed to them so that they can stand before God without blame or shame. This is justification and those who are justified through faith in Christ are so far removed from the penalty of their sins, that God regards them as though they never had sinned against Him in any way at all. It is all about Jesus, grace and mercy. The way into this justified state is though faith alone. No good behavior, promises of reform or following of laws and rules can earn it for you. Justification deals with the past in that we are delivered from the penalty of sin by the once-for-all-time saving work of Jesus. When people come to Christ in faith they will experience the freedom of release from sin’s penalty and the peace that comes from a reconciled relationship with their Creator.

The second word is Sanctification. Where justification is a past event that continues in its effect into the future, sanctification is a progressive work that the Holy Spirit initiates in the life of a believer from the moment that they are reborn. This work is a holy-making process. Paul tells Timothy (2 Timothy 2:20-21) that our usefulness in God’s house is connected to the sanctification (making holy) of the “vessel” of our lives. As that cleansing goes on the lesser or unholy practices are set aside and God can then use us for His holy purpose. There was a little story that was made into a movie many years ago called “King Ralph.” The premise was that the whole known royal family had been killed in a tragic accident and the only surviving heir to the British throne was some uncouth American named Ralph. The comedy develops as the proper counselors and attendants to the man, who was king by lineage, try to reform him to become a king in poise, actions and understanding of the realm. While the premise is absurd, it does cast a faint shadow on the work of sanctification. Through the new birth provided by Christ’s actions of justification we have been granted a status as sons and daughters of God (the King of everything). Our life before new birth has only prepared us to live selfish, prideful, disobedient, greedy, lustful, angry, dishonest… you get the point. And all of these practices are sinful. So the Holy Spirit begins the process to reform us or separate us from those sinful practices so that we are living outward lives that are consistent with who we have been made to be inwardly. This is the work of sanctification.

Now, let’s talk about guilt, because a lot of people experience guilt and do the disclaimer “There is therefore now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus…” quoting Romans 8:1. That passage is talking about the justifying work of Jesus and the condemnation referred to means “punishment” not guilt. So does the Holy Spirit as a part of His sanctifying work produce the awareness of guilt? Yes. This is what you may have heard referred to as “true moral guilt.” There is a false guilt that is imposed on a person who has trusted in Christ’s justifying work and been reconciled to God. This guilt is the effort of Satan to bring the actions of the past back into the view of a believer in an attempt to question God’s goodness and the sufficiency of the Cross. That is false guilt and must be defended with Scripture. On the other side of this, however is the presence of true guilt. This is what Lisa first experienced. The lie she told her clients at work was wrong. It may have been a functional part of “business” that she had done before and rationalized as being a necessary part of doing her job, but as a daughter of God, that lie became incongruent with her Father’s holy nature. I’ve had some people tell me that they did not like my teaching style because they would sometimes feel guilty while listening to me. My response: “Perhaps you are.” If we do something that is contrary to God’s ways even in our justified state, we will feel guilty for having done it. In fact the presence of this guilt is part of the assurance of our justified status because the unjustified couldn’t care less about lies, lust and licentiousness. What we must understand in the face of true guilt is that it does not indicate God’s rejection of us. On contrary, this guilt or conviction is the loving actions of a Father who wants His children to live conformed to Him so that we may experience the fullness of His blessings and freedom.

One other observation that messes with this whole guilt, conviction and condemnation matter: people in places of spiritual authority do get the delivery wrong… a lot. What I mean by this is that Lisa’s first inclination to blame the pastor or the church may not be as “off” as pastors and church leaders would like to think. I’ve gotten the lines crossed plenty of times where the teaching about God’s holiness has become polluted with a good deal of my personal convictions. Living responsive to the personal convictions produced in my heart by the Holy Spirit is essential to my growth in Christ. Making other people feel responsible to adopt and obey those convictions is a quick path to condemnation. Paul addressed this subject in the controversy over the observance of certain traditions or dietary practices. In contrast to sins like lying, stealing or coveting, there are simply not any clear warnings or commandments that speak directly to every point around which people would carry a personal conviction or hold a strong opinion. So Paul says that these matters are to be settled in each person’s own soul. (Romans 14:1-5) I’ve heard leaders and pastors go on campaigns against watching television, sending our children to public schools, putting up Christmas trees in our homes and even on driving habits. Those in places of spiritual authority, whether that is in giving sermons or one on one disciple-making need to be careful in the way that we are guiding people. We must guide them to uniformity in following the clear teachings of Scripture, but for the other matters of personal choice, they must be led into a life of responsiveness to the individual convictions of the Holy Spirit and tend those for themselves. That line of distinction needs to be rigorously taught and practiced.

Jesus was clear in describing the Holy Spirit’s work in the world. He used terms like comfort, teach, guide, reveal and remind. Another word that Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit’s work is “convict.” This is part of what Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would do. It’s promised because it’s important for us to grow up in the salvation we have received and progressively overcome the power that sinful practices have had in our lives. I’ve had people say that they were okay with conviction, but they just can’t deal with any guilt. I guess it’s a semantics thing, but the word convict as Jesus uses it to describe the work of the Holy Spirit is a Greek word which means to admonish, tell a fault or rebuke. I’m not sure where the line of differentiation would fall to keep that from feeling like guilt; the Holy Spirit is pointing at your sin and calling it wrong. If all of this (justification through Christ and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit) is true, there is no room for condemnation in the presence of Holy Spirit conviction. That which the Holy Spirit points out does not change the past work of justification that has delivered me from the penalty of sin. The Spirit convicts of sin, so that through repentance and reliance on the Holy Spirit, I can live progressively freer from sin’s power. If you are a believer and your sin makes you feel worthless and rejected by God, you need to go back to the truth of Scripture, fortify your heart with truth and then welcome the Holy Spirit’s conviction as a an expression of God’s love for you. This is the truth that Lisa needed to understand. She has to learn to stand in the reality of Christ’s justification that produced that “floating on air” feeling and the amazing peace she experienced. Then she has to welcome the convicting work of the Holy Spirit as He is lovingly reshaping her character into the image of Jesus.

As you read the section of Scripture (John 16:5-11) where Jesus talks about the convicting work of the Holy Spirit you will notice that He describes that conviction in three expressions: Conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment. It is pretty easy to see where the Holy Spirit’s work to convict people of sin and to bring their actions into the perspective of a coming judgment would be important. We get a bit confused over the conviction concerning righteousness wondering what distinction that would have apart from the conviction of sin. The answer is found in Jesus’ explanation in verse 10 where He says that the Holy Spirit will convict regarding righteousness “because I go to the Father and you see me no more.” This is the positive side of conviction. Where the conviction of sin draws us away from activities that are inconsistent with God’s nature, righteous informs us on what conforms to Him. Jesus was the living example of righteousness with clothes on, so with His return to the Father the Holy Spirit would provide the conviction of “do this” along with the warnings to “not do that.” We need daily internal guidance to move us away from the destructive patterns of sin and toward the life-giving actions of doing what Jesus would do in relationships, work, charity, and service. If your aversion to guilt keeps you away from the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, you are being kept from proactive guidance as well as preventative.

The third word is glorification. It refers to the transformation of our physical bodies after death where everything that has been vulnerable to sin is finally removed. This is the future work of God in relationship to our sin and in that glorification of our bodies we are freed forever from the presence of sin. Justification deals with the past and removes us from the penalty of sin. Sanctification deals with the present and progressively frees us from the power of sin. Glorification deals with the future and will free us from the very presence of sin… forever!