Stash Your Problems On The Gospel Shelf

When life falls apart, Christians often close their Bibles and turn to anyone and everything else for help. Afterall, the gospel seems to know little of Instagram bullies, chronically depressed spouses, and teenagers overdosing on opioids. The gospel bookshelf deals well with the issues of life, rebirth and death. But the Jesus shelf appears to weak and awkwardly shaped to hold the massive and never-ending series of short and long stories entitled “My Issues.” To make it through life, we stick these books onto the self-help bookshelf, or display them on the social media bookshelf, or jam them into the therapeutic bookshelf. In so doing, we miss out on some of the best aspects of our salvation and sanctification. Those books that contain our sorrows, sins, and trials belong on the gospel shelf. It is strong enough to hold them all. More importantly, it is the only place that can make sense of our pain, sorrows, and struggles.

Micah and the Hope of the Gospel

In Micah 5:1-6, the Old Testament prophet and his audience faced an existential crisis. The Assyrian army stood outside their gates intent on Judah’s death. All political options had been exhausted. The bribes for peace had been paid. The God’s Holy temple and the palace of the Davidic king had been stripped of their gold. The nation had been humiliated And still, the Assyrian army came, seeking more plunder

Seeing their panic and fear, the prophet Micah could have counseled the nation to adapt a new form of taxation, to have developed new geopolitical alliances, or to have reinvested into their national defense. The prophet did none of those things. He pointed his people to Bethlehem Ephrathah.

We do not have to impress God to gain salvation. Jesus did not come from Jerusalem. He come from Bethlehem. He came from nowhere to save nobodies.

Micah focused on the city of David because it represented the King who had arisen out of obscurity to defeat Goliath and to establish the kingdom of Israel. It was a story of redemption and salvation that pointed to the great salvation would be accomplished by the Messiah who would also come from the tiny, humble town of Bethlehem.

Jesus’s origin story reveals that he knew we were weak. He does not find our sins, failures, and weakness offputting. He knew we would face armies of adversity that we could not conquer. He came because he knew we needed help, his help. We do not have to impress God to gain salvation. Jesus did not come from Jerusalem, the land of the kings and the powerful. He come from Bethlehem. He came from nowhere to save nobodies.

Jesus arrived tiny and lowly in Bethlehem intent upon ransoming captive Israel. Times of sorrow wrapped in falleness drop into our lives. Back pains strike us unexpectedly and neighbors persecute us for our faith. The Egyptians enslaved Israel. The nation of Judah would go into exile. But the our fall is never the end of our story for we are tied to the gospel story, the story of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. According to the gospel, the birth pains of sorrow that we experience in this world always point to our salvation: redemption and new creation.

The Hope of the Gospel

We hope and trust that God will work in our lives today, because he has saved us. He has redeemed us, the children of Adam and Eve, from the exile of our grandparents. Like them, we too had rebelled against God. And yet, Jesus still came and brought us back as brothers and sisters (Micah 5:3). Jesus lived, died, and rose again to transform rebels like us into sons and daughters of the king when we repent and believe. But that is not all.

Christ does not save men and women and then leave them to figure out what to do next. God guides his children to eternity. He walks with us as we struggle with temptation, failures, and disappointments, reminding us of God’s glorious promises. He protects us from false teachers, evil friends, and fools who seek to ravage our souls. And he empowers us to victory over sins and death. Theologian David F. Wells helpful captures the transforming hope of the gospel when he writes:

Hope…has to do, biblical speaking, with the knowledge that “the age to come” is already penetrating “this age,” that sin , death, and meaninglessness of the one is being transformed by the righteousness, life, and meaning of the other, that what has emptied out life, what has scarred and blackened it, is being displaced by what is rejuvenating and transforming it…hope is hope because it knows it has become part of a realm, a kingdom, which endures, where evil is doomed and will be banished.

Above All Earthly Powers

When we make the gospel our hope, we discover that our problems are not the measure of the power of God’s promises. Jesus is the guarantee of success. Micah proclaims, “He shall deliver us from the Assyrian (5:6).” God is at work. Friends do not despair of today’s problems, assuming you will be defined by brokennes. Place them into the gospel. Redemption, the return from exile, the new creation, is coming! The cosmic story of redemption will transform our lives. Don’t hide your problems from the gospel. Stick them right in the middle of it.

Do you trust the gospel with your problems?

God Doesn’t Have An Affinity For Affinity Groups

Affinity-GroupAll Christians want to be a part of growing, dynamic and thriving church. We all want to be part of a movement where the 150 seat sanctuary is replaced with a 2,000 seat sanctuary. We want to part of a movement that plants hundreds of churches. We want to drop our Pastor’s name and the water cooler and know that our coworkers will know who we are talking about.

Sadly a majority of Baptist Churches are trending the opposite way. They are remodeling their large 2,000 seat auditorium to seat 500. Most SBC churches lack members.  The members that do attend suffer from a severe case of biblical illiteracy and lack passion and gospel fervor.

To remedy the situation, some Baptists leaders have tossed forth the idea of Affinity Groups. This new spin on the old church growth game teaches churches to form small groups around their communities’ interest.  The deer hunters would meet in room A; the single moms would meet in the old social hall, and the Hispanics would meet in the Mrs. Sammy’s old Sunday school class. People are grouped into Bible study groups based upon hobbies, societal designations, and racial norms. These smalls groups should facilitate communication and relationship because all the members have a least one noteworthy similarity. Those who bound over their shared experiences are more likely to feel a connection to their group and by that connection that should feel more connected to the church. The end result being more church growth, more people, and more money..

Though basic elements of the Affinity Group idea resonate with the common sense notion that birds of a feather flocking together, Affinity Groups do not belong in the local church because they stand opposed to the witness of the gospel.

The gospel seeks to unify a diverse and holy people. The people of the church are not bound together by mutual sports interest, commonality of social standing, or by their race. The church has never been composed of just college football fans, or upper-middle class white folks who drive GMCs, or black deer hunters. Rather the church is made up of all of these people and more. The church should be filled with all kinds of sports fans, all kinds of social classes, and all kinds of races. Colossians 3:11 proclaims,

Here there is no Greek and Jew circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian , Scythian, slave, free: but Christ is all and in all.

The church does not exists to place people into groups based upon their earthly interest or genetic markers. The church exists to abolish those boundaries. The church exists to encourage both the old and the young to worship together. The church exists to bring about racial and social reconciliation at the foot of the cross. What binds the church together, what draws people into our church and keeps them in church is Christ. He is all and in all.

We should not come to church because everyone looks, thinks, and acts like us. We should come to church because everyone loves, depends upon, and looks like Jesus.  The unity of the church is the unity of the cross. If glories of Jesus do not compel people to church, why we would think that people would come to church to hang out who look and sound like us?

And if people do come simply because we have a divorce, single mom’s tea-room for women 60 and over or because they share our love for Cubs baseball, have we done our church a service? Have we done anything more than fill our churches with people who love the world more than Christ?

Now I do not believe all small groups are evil. Paul instructs women to train women. Paul also personally mentored many people including Titus and Timothy. Jesus worked with the twelve disciples. Churches have to freedom to create small groups within the church to facilitate discipleship and spiritual growth. The church should be about such intense training.  But such groups should never be the draw or the focus of the church. And such groups should be driven by the gospel and not the trends of our secular culture.

The church assembles not to divide people from one another but to unify around the gospel. What brings people from all age ranges, cultures, nationalities and skin color to church is Christ. What keeps people in Church is Christ. God is more than glorious enough to be a draw people to himself. He does not need our help to build his church.

At the end of the day, we can safely conclude from Scripture that God does not have an affinity for Affinity Groups. He has an affinity for his Glory whichAffinity-Group transcends all earthly measures and interests. How about us?

Witkowski Memo: Amissville Start Date

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I will preach my first sermon as the Senior Pastor of Amissville Baptist Church on April 22, 2018. On that day, I will kick off our study in 2 Timothy, working through each phrase and verse found in the text to expand and deepen our knowledge of the one true God. I look forward to seeing all my ABC family that day and warmly welcome all in the area to come worship with us!

As we continue to pack boxes, to switch around official documents, and to ready for the arrival of our baby, we want to thank both our First Baptist Church Eastman family and our ABC family for all that they have done.

April and I have been deeply blessed by the multitude of compliments, encouragements, and hugs that are being showered upon us and upon our kids by our FBCE family. You have loved us well through this transition, doing above and beyond what we could have anticipated. We thank God for you and for all the many memories that we have formed together while doing Easter Egg hunts, watching toddlers, leading VBS, fellowshipping together, and teaching together. God is good!

fcb64785-f132-497f-b1ae-4d58b1ad9535While April and I leave our FBCE family with full hearts, we enter into this transition period with great excitement, looking forward to developing bonds with our ABC church family. We are especially thankful for Dr. John L. Lindsay Sadler and for the Elders of ABC. They have diligently worked and sacrificed to lay down the foundation for ABCs future, a future full of gospel hope and godly expectation! April and I look forward to working with the Elders, Deacons, and members of ABC to build up and to expand upon their fruitful labors.

When April and I look around our house and see that our living room resembles a storage unit, our hearts fill with joy. We know that God is leading us to ABC. He led each member of the search team to my resume before they met to discuss potential candidates. He made April’s and my path to ABC clear and direct, including the unanimous call. God has been good, gracious, and faithful throughout this process. He had done far more than we could have ever hoped for! And April and I know he will do far more than we could ever anticipate or hope for when we arrive in Amissville.

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As we wait for that day, we find our hearts increasingly encouraged by and drawn to our new church family. The leaders of ABC and many, many others have been faithfully loving us from afar. They have helped us find doctors, places to rent, office furniture, phone numbers, and so much more. We praise God for you and cannot wait see you face-to-face!

Counting Down The Days,

Peter and April Witkowski