Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Babies, Farts, and a God Who Delights

Over Thanksgiving, I met my four-month old nephew for the first time. It was a delight: I was able to hold him while he was going to sleep, change his diaper, and the best of all—to make farting noises and watch him crack a big smile each time. (I am convinced that this is one of an uncle’s primary roles—along with roughhousing as nephews grow bigger.)   

As I reflected on this time, it was interesting to notice that Paul didn’t have to do anything for me to delight in spending time with him. He couldn’t carry on a conversation, throw a football, or help me brainstorm a sermon idea. And yet I had a great time with him. In fact, pretty much all he could do was smile. But that’s the most rewarding thing to my brother, sister in law, or the rest of his relatives: When we made a silly face or funny noise, seeing him smile was an incomparable delight.

How easily do we forget that God delights in us before we can do anything? He knit us together in our mother’s womb (see Psalm 139:13), and He claims us as His own in Jesus. In Mark 1:11, the Father tells Jesus, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” And believing in Jesus, we have been claimed by God as His own beloved sons and daughters—before we have done anything. He delights in us, and He delights to see us simply smiling up at Him in response.

How easy to forget that we are not called to be so different from my nephew. In the busyness of doing things "for God", we often neglect to rest in His delight in us as His son or daughter whom He loves. Yes, Paul will grow up and be able to do more than smile, but one would hope that this mutual delight would remain at the core of his relationship with his parents and others who love him.

“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17) Belonging to and following Jesus, this promise is ours to claim (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). We are called to grow in using our gifts to serve God and others, but must never forget this core truth that our Father delights in us before we can do anything. And perhaps what He desires from us right now is a simple smile in response to His delight in us.

December Update from New Hope

Dear Friends and Family,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thank you to each of you for your prayers, encouragement, and support of New Hope in this past year. I am grateful for your partnership in whatever form that takes, and pray that God blesses you as He provides for all your needs in this upcoming year.

A few news items from this past month...

Fighting Well: We just finished our study on a biblical approach to conflict (using Peacemaker Ministries’ curriculum, “Resolving Everyday Conflict”). It was a good time as a group, both with the teaching as well as the discussion times, and the subject matter was relevant to everyday situations. It’s often easy to pretend conflict doesn’t happen, or to implicitly assume that following Jesus simply means being “nice”. As a middle child, I gravitate toward the role of peacemaker, but have been learning the importance of actually engaging in healthy conflict and not just seeking surface peace. Conflict is inevitable, and as Christians we have been equipped to handle it well. This study addressed how to navigate conflict—not just avoiding or attacking, but actually engaging in healthy conflict in light of the gospel.  

Sermon Series: After an Advent series on what it means to get ready for Christmas (and for Jesus’ return), we will return to the story of David in 1 Samuel. I have found it a privilege (and for some passages, a healthy challenge) to be preaching straight through a book/narrative, as it means engaging with topics that I might naturally shy away from. But the whole of Scripture is God’s Word, and sometimes the most challenging passages give the glimpse into God’s character and work in our lives that we most need.

Building Search: We continue to look for a more permanent worship space, and in early January I will meet with another pastor in the area to discuss a potential location. We appreciate continued prayers for clarity in mission and direction in this upcoming year, and discernment in the building search (that it would be in service of what God wants us to do and where He would have us be). In a recent budget meeting, it was profoundly encouraging to see the unity and shared vision among leadership team members—and the shared desire that the budget reflect the mission God has given New Hope.

Thank you for taking time to read, and for any prayers. Please don’t hesitate to contact me directly should you have any questions, or find yourself in the Bangor area.   

In our Lord,

Thursday, November 27, 2014

How We Approach Community

Some months ago, I was leading a small group study, and was discouraged by how few people showed up. That evening after the study, I went home frustrated and disappointed.

The next morning, I picked up Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (in which Bonhoeffer seeks to describe true Christian community). I happened to open it to a particularly poignant section. Bonhoeffer was writing about how, all too often, we come to community with our own “wish-dreams”: our personal ideals and picture of what the community should look like. Of course, this ideal doesn’t often include annoying personalities (including our own quirks), and the daily need to forgive and be forgiven, bearing with one another. And when our “wish-dreams” clash with the messier reality of the actual community, hopefully those wish-dreams will be shattered. Otherwise we will be living in a fantasy world—never able to actually love the actual community because we are so wrapped up in it not matching our ideal. In fact, “He who loves his dream of a community more that the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” (Bonhoeffer, Life Together)

This was convicting to me. I had come with my ideal of church community, and of course (subtly in my mind) this entailed an exuberant response to this particular small group by many congregants. For various reasons, this ideal was not realized this week. Would I love the actual community (of which I am a part—and which is, including me, much “messier” than my ideal), or would I cling to my ideal and grow distant from the actual community?

Bonhoeffer continued. We all too easily approach the community of which God has allowed us to be a member as takers rather than grateful recipients. We don’t celebrate the “small” workings of God in the everyday community, thinking it’s noble to always be aspiring towards bigger successes. But if God big things only to those who are good stewards of the small things, why should He give us “big” successes if we aren’t truly grateful for the “little” successes He gives every day? Here I was, frustrated about lack of numbers, but neglecting to thank God for the growing hunger for God’s Word that I’ve seen, or the intergenerational relationships at New Hope, or the way members care for one another. And even more, Bonhoeffer wrote that we even ought to be grateful for the privilege of bearing with and forgiving one another! When we are wronged, we have the privilege of extending God’s grace—thus also reminding ourselves of it, of which we stand in need every day.

Through these passages, God shifted my whole perspective. My prayers for New Hope have changed from being primarily requests, to being slightly more saturated with gratitude. In slowly releasing my own (not necessarily God-shaped) “wish-dreams” for the community, I am freed to see and celebrate what God is doing even in the midst of the messiness in our lives.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t long for more. The apostle Paul longed, strove, prayed, and rebuked tirelessly as he sought to foster the growth of the churches around him. But he also loved the churches, and knew that he himself was in need of the “most” grace of all. But we need to realize that we are not the creators of community: God is, and we have the privilege of entering as grateful recipients and participants. So we can trust Him and His work in us and the Christian community, and be grateful for the privilege of participating in His Church.

November Update from New Hope

Dear Friends and Family,

Once again, thank you for your support and interest in following what’s happening at New Hope. Here are some updates and reflections from this past month in Bangor.

·         Hospitality: Sometimes it’s easy to see only the weaknesses and growth areas of one’s own congregation, when God has also given us so much for which to be grateful if only we notice where He’s at work. One of those areas of strength at New Hope is the hospitality extended to fellow members and visitors (and which I also experienced upon my arrival last year). A few weeks ago, I saw this on several levels. Someone was visiting for the first time—his first time back in church in years, I believe—and it was wonderful to see how naturally and genuinely he was greeted by many people, and even how he appreciated being able to work alongside other members in setting up and taking down chairs and partitions for the service. He felt sincerely welcomed, and returned the following Sunday. It was encouraging to see not only how caring people here are for one another, but also how they extend that care to others as well.

·         Defined by Our Professions: As I’ve continued to navigate what it means to be a “pastor”, I’ve found it all too easy to view this as my primary identity. As soon as someone else discovers what I do, their reaction often shifts significantly: I am no longer just “Jonathan”, but “Pastor Jonathan” (with all the associations that may accompany it). And whether in pastoral or other vocations, perhaps this same tendency (of being identified by what we do) is reflected in the first question we often ask someone: “What do you do?” In these past months, I’ve been reminded that my identity is not first that I am a “pastor” (or for others, that they are a teacher or an electrician or a software engineer); my identity is first that I am a Christian. Knowing who we are—that we are sons and daughters of God—must come before our “doing” identities. If I forget this, I could easily become a “professional” pastor—“doing ministry” but not being truly grounded in my faith. So before we are pastors or professors or nurses or contractors, we are sons and daughters of God. Out of that identity, then, comes our profession and work in the area in which God has equipped us.

·         Sermon Series: Over the course of the past couple months, we’ve been studying the story of David in 1 Samuel. It’s been rewarding to study the story in its immediate context (with all its “messiness”: Scripture, like life, is certainly not “G-rated”), and then see how it points us towards Christ—the Son of David—and then where we find ourselves in the story. Preaching from narrative also lends itself to skits: It’s been enjoyable to have children in the congregation help act out the passage, modern parallels to the passage, or do role-play scenarios related to the sermon theme.

Thank you for reading!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Walking a Dog and the Image of God

A couple months ago, I noticed a woman taking her dog for a walk in my neighborhood. She was perhaps in her upper fifties, and not in the best of health. The dog was about a foot tall at the shoulder, weighing maybe twenty pounds.

But the striking thing was that, though I said she was taking her dog for a walk, in reality it was more as if the dog were taking her for a walk. One moment it would be charging down the sidewalk, leash taut and dragging the woman along as fast as she could run (which was not very fast because of her health; she looked as if she could easily stumble and fall). The next moment the dog would stop to sniff the base of a telephone pole, giving the woman a brief respite. Then he would take off again, the woman stumbling behind him.

My first reaction to this scene was to be somewhat judgmental. My mother is a dog trainer, and she had shown us the need for boundaries and training for our dogs. Couldn’t this woman put limits on the disrespectful behavior of her tiny dog? But quickly my perspective changed. Of course this is guesswork as I’ve only just begun to become acquainted with this woman, but I began to wonder how she might have been treated and the things she’d been told about herself, that would bring her to this point of being dragged along by her dog’s agenda.

God delights in and cares for the smallest members of His creation: He even feeds the birds of the air. They are important. But Jesus then says, “Are you not much more valuable than they?”  (Matthew 6:26b, emphasis added)

This scene has haunted me since. Here was someone who has been made in the image of the eternal, omnipotent and majestic God of the universe. Here was someone who had been formed by the One who calls every star by name. Here she was, at the mercy of her dog’s whims, dragged along behind it when she herself could barely run.

What does this woman—and so many others in Bangor and our world, including you and me—need to know? She needs to know the God who has made her, delights in her, and claims her as a daughter of the King in Jesus. In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis gives a glimpse of what this looks like:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”  (http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2011/10/17/there-are-no-ordinary-people-you-have-never-talked-to-a-mere-mortal/#sthash.8sVO2sGj.dpuf)

This woman—and thousands of other men and women in Bangor and wherever we find ourselves—needs to hear the gospel. They and we (for it isn’t just “those people” who need to hear the gospel, but each of us every day: we receive before we can give) need to hear of a new center and grounding of their worth and how much they are loved in Jesus. They need to hear and tell of God’s glorious rescue plan for the lost; they need to hear of God’s love for the unlovable; they need to hear of God’s forgiveness and cleansing; they need to hear the party in heaven that takes place whenever one sinner repents; they need to hear God’s blessing spoken over them. We need to hear God’s Word to us.

This woman is so much more than she thinks she is—as we are also in God’s eyes—and in Jesus, the road is paved for her to live as a beloved and treasured daughter of the living God...the God who, with every Christian as with Israel, “will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zeph. 3:17) We need to daily receive God’s love and delight in us because of Jesus. And we have the calling to introduce others around us to the God who delights to claim weak and broken sinners like us and them as His own beloved sons and daughters. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October Update from New Hope

October Update from New Hope

Here are a few news items from this past month at New Hope/Bangor...

Small Group StudyOur current Thursday evening small group has been entitled “Fighting Well: Christian Conflict”, and we are using Peacemaker Ministries’ curriculum on addressing conflict from a biblical perspective. Some of us need to learn how to change from destructive patterns of conflict to God-honoring habits. But the leadership team has also recognized that, perhaps for more of us in the church, we need to learn how to actually engage in conflict in the first place—rather than pretending it doesn’t exist or just maintaining a surface-level peace. There has been strong interest in this study, and we pray that God will continue to work through it to teach us healthy habits of conflict and peacemaking.

SoccerMy coaching season wrapped up mid-month, and it was a delight to work with this group of students. My captains even shared that, with the 24 high school girls on the team, there were no cliques. Instead, the players were invested in and excited for each other’s success and the success of the team as a whole. It was a privilege to work with my captains as well; I am slowly learning the value of equipping them and giving them more responsibilities rather than trying to do everything myself. I also had a couple opportunities to discuss matters of faith with girls on the team (particularly noticing how the jump-off point for these conversations is often their curiosity about supernatural forces: something which Jesus was not shy in addressing). I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to coach, and the mentoring moments during the season.

BuildingAs New Hope has been gathering in a school gym for several years now, we have been open to options for a more permanent space. We have a good relationship with the school, but hope to have a space that would not involve weekly set-up and take-down. So far, we have considered sharing space with another congregation, leasing our own space, or purchasing a building. Please do join us in prayer for guidance as we continue this process. With that said, God has also reminded of the potential danger of seeking a building with the idea that a worship space will itself create a shared mission and vision (an external solution to an internal need). We need to first be listening to (and following) how God is shaping New Hope’s mission and vision as we enter these next years, and then, out of obedience to Him, we can seek a building that facilitates what He would have us do/focus on. This month, our leadership team is taking time in listening prayer, attune to how God has equipped and worked through New Hope in the past, what He’s doing in the present, and how He may be leading us into the future. We will then come together in our December meeting to discuss this further. Please pray for discernment and sensitivity to God’s leading—whether or not the areas in which He would have us focus involve a building.

“Random” Meetings: As I often work in local coffeeshops, there have been many opportunities to meet and build friendships with other regular customers. I have met several individuals in particular who have moved from outside Bangor, and who have expressed feeling isolated in this area. One day, I noticed a woman (I’ll call her “Julie”) at a table by herself, looking quite depressed. I had seen her there before, so introduced myself. We had a relatively brief conversation, but Julie shared how she felt isolated, and a little of her past. Then, a couple months after this initial conversation, I saw her again. This led to a much longer conversation, with her asking questions about many aspects of Christian faith. I was struck by how much she opened up, and I’ve found that although it is very rare for anyone to initiate a conversation with me, the vast majority are quite open when I take the first step. I’m grateful for these opportunities to meet others and hopefully begin to introduce them to Jesus.

Thank you for your prayers, support, and encouragement.

Friday, October 10, 2014

September Update from New Hope

Dear Friends and Family,

I apologize about taking so long to write another update. It’s been a full summer, and below I’ve given just a couple glimpses of what’s happening at New Hope and here in Bangor. Thank you for your interest in reading, and for all your prayers!

Sermon Series: For the past couple months, I’ve been preaching through the story of David in 1 Samuel. We’ve come to some challenging passages, but it’s also been a great opportunity to address how to read the Old Testament (and any difficult passages in the Bible). Each Sunday, we spend time addressing the immediate passage in its own context, then how it points to Jesus, and then what that means for us. So in the story of David and Goliath, we saw the family and political dynamics at work in that time and place, and then saw how Jesus (the “Son of David”) is also our representative champion who defeats sin and the devil through his sacrifice—and how we participate in His victory by faith, like the Israelite army no longer had to be afraid after David had killed Goliath.

Youth night: One of our leaders observed that the youth in the church don’t have much connection, so in July we started a once-a-month youth night. I am co-leading with another couple in the church, and encouraging other adults to join at times, hopefully allowing for informal mentoring relationships. We start by eating together, then do a group lesson (watching a popular advertisement, and then discussing its messages through the lens of Scripture—learning a Christian worldview), and then play games. It’s been exciting to see the response from the youth, to see them engaging with one another and the leaders, and to see the parents’ appreciation of this opportunity for their children. Please continue to pray for mentoring relationships to develop between adults and youth, as well as for friends and visitors who come—that they may experience the hospitality of the gospel and come to know Jesus.

Street Pastors: For the past few months, a management team (of which I am a member) of leaders and members from various churches in the area has been meeting to bring a ministry called “Street Pastors” to Bangor (see streetpastors.org for the organization; bangormaineusa.streetpastors.org for the in-the-works local website). This organization began in the U.K., and local chapters train and send out lay “pastors” to extend the love of Christ on the streets—being a listening and caring presence during the high-crime times. Cities in the U.K. have seen crime rates drop dramatically with Street Pastors’ presence, as people experience God’s love through Christians meeting them where they are. In our first “patrol” a couple weeks ago (a group goes out every Friday between 8pm and 1am), it was amazing to see God at work. There have been many opportunities to listen to what people have to share, pray with them, be a presence that prevents conflicts that otherwise might have escalated, provide for basic physical needs and/or direct people to resources and social services agencies, and to share the gospel in deed and word. One of the most amazing parts was to see Christians from many different congregations presenting a united witness. One of the men who had gone summarized it something like this: “An Anglican, a Methodist, a Congregationalist, a Reformed believer, an Adventist, and a Baptist walk into downtown Bangor…It sounds like the start of a joke, but it’s not—it actually happened last Friday!” In fact, one man was so blown away by seeing congregations working together that he just (completely unsolicited) offered a monetary donation on the spot. Please continue to pray for Christian unity (in the midst of the diversity of more peripheral convictions held by believers who are involved). God is at work!

Soccer: In August, I began my second season coaching girls’ JV soccer at John Bapst—a local private high school. Coaching keeps my schedule full, but I find it refreshing and enjoyable. It’s a great opportunity to build bridges within the community, and at our first team dinner, I was able to connect with one parent in particular about a challenging church situation.  This past week, I also met with my captains for dinner to talk about leadership, and the team/season in general. It was neat to see them noticing teammates who are more on the margins—and thinking of how to integrate them. We also talked about leadership as investment in others’ improvement as well as one’s own. I could tell that the captains were genuinely excited as they observed improvement by one of the girls in particular. A couple weeks into the season, and it’s been a great time.

Babies: Over the course of five months this summer, there were four babies born at New Hope. We’re grateful for all healthy deliveries, and the increase in noise is well worth it!

It is a privilege to continue to be able to live in Bangor and work alongside those at New Hope. Thank you for your encouragement and support.

In our Lord,


Friday, July 18, 2014

July Update from New Hope

Thank you for your continued support of the work at New Hope here in Bangor, Maine. We see God at work, and trust that He is Lord of this congregation and this city!

A few updates from the past couple months…

We are currently in a sermon series entitled “Are You Crazy Busy?” in which we are seeking to grow in a Scriptural perspective on rest, work, and what is of eternal value—all in light of the gospel. So far we've addressed the gospel and rest, a biblical perspective on work, Christian "ambition", and worry. 

Over the past couple months, we have been re-working the mid-week men’s and women’s Bible studies, and in late June started a mixed (men’s, women’s, and youth) Bible/topical study. We hope to give couples and families the opportunity to study and grow together, with multiple generations present and a setting where friends and neighbors can also feel welcome—allowing for both discipleship and evangelism. I meet with a leadership team each week prior to the study, to brainstorm, plan, and pray together. One or two of those on the leadership team will be leading each session (sessions running for about two months before we shift to a different topic), but with the support of the whole team. This should allow for both growth opportunities for current and future leaders, as well as shared responsibility that will hopefully allow leadership to lead directly at times, and at other times simply attend as participants. Our first study met on June 26th, and there was a good turn-out. For the first two-month session we are going through sections of Richard Foster’s Devotional Classics—addressing spiritual disciplines and growth towards maturity in Christ. Please pray for the leadership team members to continue to grow, and for those participating in the study.

God has persistently been reminding me and others at New Hope of the centrality and importance of prayer. Two years ago, following the CRC prayer summit, a prayer team was formed at New Hope and has been meeting weekly since then. It’s wonderful to see the faithfulness of these members, their hearts for God, and their prayer that is saturated with worship. In addition, this past winter I was able to attend a seven-week prayer training (addressing repentance and spiritual/emotional/physical healing from a strongly Scriptural perspective) and shared the materials with our prayer ministry team leader, and a few members were also able to attend a weekend “retreat” led by a local congregation that focused on prayer and repentance. We are hoping to continue to encourage and equip members these areas—and are looking to find and train prayer partners who would be available to pray with individuals after the Sunday service. Please pray that God would give New Hope an increasing hunger to seek Him in prayer—recognizing prayer as communion with God and as an arena for spiritual warfare. God works powerfully in response to His people’s prayers!

We have seen God working in response to our prayers in many ways. One individual in particular comes to mind, although there have been numerous other ways that God has worked through the prayer team. We had been praying for one member’s mother for some time; she was diagnosed with cancer, and we began praying not only for her physical health but for her salvation. And God powerfully answered those prayers as He worked through those who spoke to her about Jesus. I could see a change in her: Where before she had seemed to only express faith on a surface level, she now began to actually want to hear Scripture, expressed genuine joy and hope in Jesus, and began to open up to her daughter and others in a new way. She died this past week, but God had answered our prayers for healing on the most profound level: healing in her relationship with Him and with others. It’s amazing to see God’s work even in the lives of those who are near the end of their lives. Please pray for His continued regenerating work in the lives of other spouses, parents, children, and friends.
On another note, God has given us growth on two levels over this past year: New families have been coming to New Hope, and we also have four babies expected (two already born, two on their way) in the span of five months!

New Hope has also been partnering with other churches in Bangor, and it’s encouraging to see the united witness to Christ that can result. As one example, members at New Hope co-sponsor the “Gen Rev (General Revelation) Outdoor Club” with others at a local conservative Anglican church, planning hikes and outings that provide the opportunity for time together and the opportunity to invite those who don’t yet know Christ.

My tennis coaching season ended well; the boys’ team made it into the post-season but lost in the first round. However, it was a good time to begin to build bridges in the area, and God also provided opportunities during the season to share my faith with players and parents. We just started a middle school summer tennis camp, and I look forward to continuing coaching tennis each spring and soccer each fall.

Once again, thank you for your partnership in the gospel. We appreciate ongoing prayers for protection for our leadership, spiritual protection and restoration where needed for marriages, and an ever-increasing hunger for God and recognition of our dependence on Him. He is Lord of the Church and King of this world.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

May Update at New Hope

Easter at New Hope was a great time. A number of visitors joined us, and the message was on the story of God’s redemption in Scripture. Adam and Eve fell into sin when they believed the lie that God was not good, but God fiercely loves His people so much that He would stop at nothing to bring them (us!) back home—even giving His only Son. This is the story we all need to hear every day, as we grow in the gospel and in the knowledge of God’s goodness to us. During this service, we also presented families with young children with The Jesus Storybook Bible—a powerful and theologically rich children’s story Bible, which shows how all the stories in the Bible point to Jesus.

On the weekend after Easter, I was ordained as Minister of the Word at New Hope. I am grateful for such support in this time from friends and family, and from everyone at New Hope. It has been a privilege to serve God alongside the congregation, and I look forward to the years to come!

In a couple weeks, we will be wrapping up our Sunday School for the summer. We’ve been watching television commercials, and then discussing their implicit and explicit messages and comparing them to Scripture. During the past few weeks, we’ve also been addressing spiritual disciplines that counteract destructive messages, such as prayer (versus cultural values of self-reliance such as in Chrysler’s “It’s Halftime in America” Superbowl commercial) and fasting (versus an idolization of food in various commercials).

We’ve also seen a number of answers to prayer in the past months. God has worked powerfully in the life of an elderly relative of a church member, and we have seen a change of heart even as she approaches the end of her life. God is still at work to save, and it’s been a good reminder to never give up in prayer or our witness! This and other evidences of God’s goodness have been an encouragement, and it seems that God has been growing in us a hunger to seek Him in prayer.

Thank you all for your support and prayers. In this next month, please pray for God to continue to give us a greater hunger for Him as we expand the prayer ministry here at New Hope. In addition, in late June we will be starting up a Bible and topical study for men, women, and youth, so please pray that God would be preparing leaders and those who will be attending—including those who don’t yet know Jesus.

In our Lord,

Jonathan Fischer 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Making" Jesus Lord?

I remember a conversation I had with a teenager several years ago, who professed to be an atheist. When I asked him why he didn’t believe in God, he explained that he didn’t like the idea of someone up there who could tell him what to do.
That stuck with me. He professed not to believe in God because he didn’t want to have to obey God.
Of course, underlying this statement is the assumption that his own way of living is better than God’s design for his life. And that’s a lie: The God who created and loves us calls us to a life of flourishing, away from our own self-destructive and impotent self-centeredness.
But there’s another problem with his statement. The fact of God’s existence is not determined by whether or not we like the idea or acknowledge Him. We have to reckon with the reality of God’s existence either way. It’s not a question of whether God is “up there”; the only question is whether this teenager will acknowledge God’s claim on his life.
But this mindset isn’t only true of professing atheists; it’s also true of each of us at times. Whenever we sin or go our own way, we’re acting as if there were no God, as if Jesus were not really King. And sometimes, even when we are seeking to honor God, our language reveals this faulty understanding of God. We find ourselves using phrases such as “make Jesus Lord of your life” or “I need to put Christ first”. I understand the sentiment behind these phrases, but ultimately they are confusing.
You and I can never “make” Jesus Lord; He already is Lord and King—period. You or I can never “put” Christ first; He already is the “First and the Last” (Revelation 22:13). So it’s not our job to “make” Jesus Lord; it’s simply for us to first acknowledge that Heis Lord, and then to appropriate/receive Him as our Lord.
We weren’t the ones who crowned Jesus King; if we were, that would put us in a position of authority over Him. Remember what Peter said in Acts 2:36: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” When we recognize this, we see that we’re simply called to align ourselves with this reality.
We could think of it like this: Imagine if I assumed that the law of gravity didn’t apply to me, so I climbed every house and jumped off the roof. It wouldn’t go so well. But if I finally learned to acknowledge and respect the law of gravity, I would stop jumping off roofs and wouldn’t get injured. In doing this, I wouldn’t have “created” the law of gravity or “made” it true; I would have simply aligned myself with it and stopped rejecting its claim on me.
As another example, think of WWII in Europe after the Nazi surrender. If the few scattered troops were to continue resisting the new authority in Europe, they would be defeated. They would need to recognize that the war was over, and surrender. By surrendering they would be acknowledging the authority and victory of the Allies—not “making” the Allies victorious.
On Easter, we celebrate that Jesus is the living Lord. Christ is King. We don’t “make” Him King; He is already King, and we simply acknowledge His authority and align ourselves under Him.
As Christians, that means that when we speak to others about Jesus, we’reannouncing. We’re not trying to get others to “make” Jesus Lord of their lives; we’re pleading with people to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord—and to rest in (or to appropriate) Him as their Lord.
And thankfully, Jesus is not only a Lord and King who conquers and judges, but a King who forgives, saves, and protects His own! He has limitless grace for all who throw down their arms and come to Him for forgiveness. And He doesn’t just give amnesty; He pours out upon us the never-ending favor of God. When we come to Jesus and acknowledge that He is Lord and Savior—and our Lord and Savior—we are no longer under the anger of God; we are under His favor as adopted sons and daughters.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Call and Ordination to New Hope Church

I have been a long time in writing, and have a few updates to share.

Call and Ordination

As I mentioned last year, Pastor Carl Bergman (the lead pastor at New Hope) took a sabbatical from October 2013 – February 2014, and as Intern Pastor, I was functioning as the sole pastor during this period. Over his sabbatical, it became clear to Carl that God was leading him to step down from pastoring New Hope and to enter a partial retirement. (He will still be working for the denomination in this region.)

Following this news, New Hope later extended a call to me to serve as lead (long-term) pastor. Through a period of thought and prayer, God gave me a sense of peace about the call, and I accepted in late February. It will be a privilege to continue to serve the congregation and city in this region!

In mid-March, at our regional denominational leadership meeting, I was examined in my faith and life, preaching, and biblical and theological understanding. Although I certainly approached the exam with some trepidation, it was a very affirming time—and especially encouraging to have family and several long-time friends and mentors there. Now that I have been ordained, there will be a special ordination/installation service at New Hope on April 27th. Thank you for all your support and prayers leading up to this point! I know I will continue to need them in the coming years.


I just started coaching tennis at a local high school, and as always it’s a delight to work with the team. We have 17 students, and already I see several potential captains/leaders among them. It can be exhausting to coach on top of everything else, but in many ways it’s even more refreshing to run practices and be able to mentor these students in an enjoyable and challenging athletic context. Please pray that this season provides opportunities to point the students and their families to Christ.


Our Ephesians sermon series will be finishing up this Sunday, and we are praying that next week’s Easter service will be a time when many others will have the opportunity to hear the gospel. In addition, as we have gained more young families in our congregation and anticipate the birth of four more babies within these next couple months, we will also be giving out The Jesus Storybook Bible on Easter morning to all families with children. (This is the best children’s Bible I have seen, showing how the whole of Scripture points to Jesus. I actually bought my own copy as well; it’s well worth it for children and adults!)

New Members

It’s been a privilege to teach a new members’ class that will conclude this upcoming Sunday. Two long-time members are co-leading the class with me, and three couples are participating. We spent the first week addressing the foundations of Christianity, seeking to answer the question, “What is the gospel?” The gospel is something that Christians are called to live into, not move past—so it never loses its relevance. It’s like a good book that only gets better the more we read it. The second class focused on our Reformed “accent”, with an overview of the Reformation, Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, Canons of Dort, and our denomination in particular. Our last class will focus on membership at New Hope in particular. We will discuss the history of New Hope and its membership covenant, and also the importance of addressing previous church experiences—forgiving where necessary before pursuing membership at New Hope.

As always, thank you for your prayers—I know we need them. And if you find yourself in Maine sometime in the next few years, please let me know; I will now be here past this year!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

God Even Saves Pastors

I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ… (Philippians 3:8-10)

God’s grace is powerful. It’s big enough to save drunks, murderers, users, abusers, and persecutors. But that’s not all; He doesn’t stop there. He even saves those who grew up in the church and never slept around, never got in a fight, never smoked a joint. Can you imagine that? His grace is so big that He even saves me.

That’s my testimony. I grew up in a good home with loving Christian parents; I did well in school; I’ve volunteered in a nursing home, graduated from seminary, and I’m serving as a pastor. And yet none of that gives me an “in” with God: The only confidence I can have before our holy God is Jesus Christ Himself, to whom I belong body and soul. I need Jesus just as much as anyone else: I need the Jesus who even saves pastors.

When we begin to see God for who He is, and His law for what it is, it doesn’t matter how good and “churchy” our lives appear. We quickly find that we are desperately in need of forgiveness and transformation. We see pride that we never thought was there; we find selfishness that sucks us inward; we discover a self-sufficient and independent attitude that keeps us from trusting and yielding to our God. And we recognize that anything truly good in our lives—anything—has come not from us or our merits, but from God, the giver of all good gifts. And from this God we—even we!—can receive pardon alongside the most notorious criminals.

And if Jesus can save someone like me—prideful and rebellious as I am—He can save you and anybody. Jesus didn’t just died for the murderers; He died for the “good” people who looked down on the murderers and congratulated themselves that they weren’t like them. He brings even self-righteous hypocrites to a place of brokenness and a posture of repentance. That’s grace! There’s hope even for me, for you.

We don’t have to have gone off the deep end, and reached the world’s idea of rock-bottom, to truly experience the depth of God’s grace in Jesus. So for those of us who grew up in the church, never really “rebelled”, and maybe lead a Bible study, we need Jesus. And our testimony can just as powerfully point to God’s power and grace as that of the most hardened criminal.

Our God is so big that He doesn’t just save murderers; he even saves “church people” like me. That’s amazing grace.