Letting Your Light Shine, in Wake Forest

Letting Your Light Shine, in Wake Forest

On Sunday, February 3, Noah Joyner preached to us on 1 Peter 2:11-12:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Noah pointed out that to follow this passage, each one of us must (a) have good deeds, and (b) they must be visible.

Click HERE for the live stream of this Sunday.

Those good deeds will occur in honest labor in our jobs (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12), and in our homes (1 Timothy 3:5, Titus 2:5) and with our families (Ephesians 6:4, 1 Timothy 5:8). But many of those will be close to invisible.

For some of us, God will open opportunities to do good in more public ways. These places give opportunities to serve other our neighbors, and meet our neighbors. The work and relationships can create strain that requires us to depend on God, and allows us to explain why we approach life with hope.

God-Focused Involvement

You need solid reasons — a purpose — to get involved beyond your comfort zone. Some do it for credit here, but please do it for a greater purpose. Only a greater purpose and meaning will be enough to help you through the difficulties of serving others. Here are four purposes that have served me.

Rely on God, Not Yourself

Sometimes you’ll see a need, but not feel capable yourself. That’s the right feeling — because God is the one who works in us. Doing work beyond our comfort zone also calls us to depend on God. Paul describes his difficult experiences, and sees the purpose: to make him depend on God, and not himself.

2 Corinthians 1:9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

Few of us have any tasks that are as difficult as Paul’s, but we can learn the same lesson because we have the same God. Since God is able to raise the dead, he can support us in difficult work that he enables us to do.

Look to the Interests of Others

When you join an effort to help and serve your neighbors, you get to live out the God-enabled commands to love your neighbor and to look to the interests of others.

Mark 12:30-31 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Philippians 2:4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Bring Wisdom

God gives wisdom and enables his people to walk in his ways. Another reason we look for public opportunities is to bring the wisdom God gives each Christian to the solve the problems we encounter.

James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

The “Proverbs 31 husband” was known in the city gates (Proverbs 31:23) — the public place where locals and visitors came to transact business and settle disputes. He offered time and the strength of his family to the difficult matters of life.

Love Practically, Visibly

It can be tempting to love the world theoretically; but public involvement often gives us ways to do good practically. In Galatians 6:9-10, Paul makes it clear that our good is to be done for everybody — including those in Christ, and those not.

Galatians 6:9-10 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

James shows us that trusting God will always spur us to actions; and the example action is relieving suffering of cold and  hunger. Here he says it’s foolish hypocrisy to merely wish someone well without doing what is possible to fix the misery.

James 2:15-18 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

Public Opportunities

Missio Dei Chicago, a multi-congregational church seeking to bring the gospel to bear upon each of its unique neighborhoods, encourages its pastors to build relationships with local city leaders, serve on community boards, or join the PTA. The church’s Gospel Communities—missional small groups gathered by neighborhood—take part in their communities by caring for refugee families, joining in city farming, and getting active in local events.

Lead pastor Josh Taylor says, “We’re not trying to build a mega-church across ZIP codes. We’re going for the presence of Christ in a specific neighborhood. With no strings attached, we’re seeking to live out of the question, ‘How can we be a blessing to this community?'”CT Pastors

Civic Involvement

The Town of Wake Forest has many volunteer opportunities. For example, volunteer advisory boards are organized to assist in planning the future development of the town, to provide safe and productive places to live.

Schools

Schools have Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) that do work to support the teachers and the students; you can read more about the Wake Forest Elementary PTA on Facebook. If you have kids in school, you can speak to their teachers or school administrators to find out about the volunteering needs.

Sports and Scouting

Wake Forest Parks and Recreation organizes volunteer coaching for baseball, softball, t-ball, volleyball, and basketball. You can volunteer to help on their site. 

Neighborhoods

Many neighborhoods have Homeowners’ Associations (HOAs). These are normally nonprofit that help in invisible ways to care for your neighbors’ by protecting their property and properly caring for the earth God gave us to care for (Genesis 1:26-28).

Know WHY You’re Doing It

I hope you are optimistic at the prospect of doing good and meeting people; of helping your spouse and brother’s and sister’s in Christ in this effort. But the going will get tough.  It’s crucial you know why you are doing what you are doing. Look for the purposes of God for you before you endeavor to be a public light, and while you are in the midst of the challenge.

As John Piper preached, “There is power and strength in seeing significance and purpose in your hardships. If you see the good design of God in the manifold stresses of your life, you gain strength to endure, and the stresses themselves are often transformed into energy-giving challenges.

 

An Edible Parable at Communion

An Edible Parable at Communion

For a season here at North Wake Church, we’ll be using unleavened bread for Communion. This is a brief explanation of the purpose.

In the last days of Jesus’s life before crucifixion, he and his disciples observed Passover meal. But if we go back over thousand years before that, God started Passover started long before, when God rescued the Israelites from Egypt. Passover was a festival, with a meal, where God set the original menu.

Exodus 12:3, 7, 8:

[God said] Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. . . . .Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.

It was a reenactment of the first Passover meal was what Jesus and his disciples were celebrating. Luke 22:14-20:

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Jesus said we are to “Do this in remembrance of him.” This is what we call Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. But as we read forward, with the trouble at the Church in Corinth, Paul told them to focus only on the key points when they gathered together as a church:

  1. Jesus’s own body given as a sacrifice for every one of us.
  2. His own blood shed to pay the penalty for every sin.

What is unleavened bread?

At Passover, God specified they would eat specific bread — unleavened. Sourdough bakers know there is natural yeast floating in the air all the time. Leave dough out long enough, and it will become leavened. But when the Exodus occurred: they had no time. God was emphasizing that it would be that very night — that was the moment of salvation, of rescue from Egypt.

Afflicted

Unleavened bread reminds us of Jesus in several ways. Just before entering the promised land, Moses taught the people about the annual Passover celebration later, and emphasized the Unleavened bread.

Deuteronomy 16:3

You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.

Moses called unleavened bread a bread of affliction. And Jesus identified himself with the bread, holding it up and saying, “This is my body which is for you”. So Jesus intentionally made the unleavened bread of passover a symbol of himself.

The prophet, Isaiah, writes about the Messiah, Jesus, long before he was born. About the Messiah to come, Isaiah 53:3 says:

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Jesus, went through suffering, sorrow, rejection in my place, and your place. The God Man was afflicted, in my place. The bread of affliction can remind us of that.

Pure

A second reminder comes because leaven tells us something about sin. It only takes a tiny bit of yeast or baking soda to make a dough rise, because of the way it permeates every bit of the dough. One of the problems in the Corinthian church was tolerating sin in its midst, in one of its members. Paul taught them that sin allowed to remain in one member of the body would work through the entire congregation. They were even proud of their tolerant, open-minded attitude.

1 Corinthians 5:6-8

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

So we see Paul uses the symbol of unleavened bread as a reminder of putting out of the sin. Because God requires perfect, sinless obedience of us! Jesus calls himself the true bread of life, and he was completely without sin. Unleavened bread helps us remember his complete sinless perfection; his complete life of obedience to the Father.

Pierced

One other image comes from the way bread is made. If you bake flour and water, to make bread, some air bubbles will naturally form. These thin spots make the bread fragile. Bakers usually prick holes in the dough to keep these bubbles from forming, sometimes just with a fork; so nearly all unleavened bread is pierced with holes

In Jesus’s work to save you and me,

* He was nailed to wood,

* Stabbed with a spear,

* Scored with thorns,

* Striped with whips

They weren’t accidental, or merely tragic. These very wounds worked our healing: they were powerful and effective.

Isaiah 53:4-5:

Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his wounds we are healed.

So, this bread with which Jesus identified himself — it too is pierced. With this, we can remember the immense pain He chose to endure to buy our freedom.

Jesus fulfilled God’s law perfectly, and explained to us what Passover was all about. For thousands of years, God’s people have been invited to a feast to celebrate His victories —

  • First: victory over Egypt for the people of Israel,
  • Last: The eternal, universal victory over Sin and Death

Communion is a regular opportunity to remember this Final, massive victory.


Homemade Unleavened Bread photo and recipe, courtesy Sunset.com

When Vacation Isn’t Easy

“Are you going anywhere this summer?” We ask each other this question to know each other better. With school out, many students and families take time to travel and get away.

In August 2012, I had a tough time starting a family vacation to a wooded cabin near Blowing Rock, North Carolina. My wife packed everything we’d need for our small children, while I strained to get my mind off my work projects. If a customer heard I was going on vacation while they had a need, they would sometimes get upset. (Though I had five colleagues who were eager to help.)

I was a huge grump. Transitioning from billable-hours-Mark to at-ease-Mark was hard on everybody. Who wants to make banana boats with a guy still struggling to get into vacation mode?

Vacation should be easy, right? When we get away, we stop the daily grind of packing lunch, waiting at red lights, pushing to meet deadlines, and grading papers. But for many of us vacation can incredibly stressful. We’ve been pushing throughout the week nonstop to be responsible, productive, and keep up with our demands. Suddenly pausing that — and enjoying it! — can be a difficult burden. On top of that we have the shame of not enjoying an activity that I’m supposed to enjoy.

Is my work the problem?

Our jobs aren’t designed for vacation. The folks I know are not alone — Huffington Post reports that a quarter of Americans find vacation time stressful. Often this is because the vast majority of us are already stressed about work, and taking time off isn’t an easy option. Even if you’re blessed with a job that allows time off, work may pile up for us while we’re away. Some have to get ahead make up for the vacation before we even leave. And our employers and coworkers may resent our absences because of the additional strain it causes them.

Tip 1: Make Vacation Better for your Company and Coworkers. If you help run your business you know this is tough. But if you’re an employee, be patient with your managers and try to find ways to make everybody’s vacation easier. One Raleigh company with strong Christian influence, Bandwidth, goes to extreme measures to protect and defend their workers’ vacation. They have written rules against contacting your coworkers when they’re on vacation. Even if your company doesn’t have such rules you can try to support your coworkers in their time off.

We work to please people. This strain might help us see where we’re looking for acceptance and satisfaction. Do you work to primarily to stay out of trouble — avoid conflict and controversy? Colossians 3:22 advises everyone with a boss work “not only when their [the employer’s] eye is on you, and to curry their favor” (NIV). There’s a real risk that we are primarily trying to curry favor — get people to like us.

Tip 2: Identify your True Boss. We’re offered such a great alternative in Colossians 3:23-24 —

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

So you’ve got two options to work for:

  • Favor — from your boss, your coworkers, your customers
  • Inheritance — from the Lord Jesus

Work for Jesus, and you get much more than a happy boss.

We work to avoid trouble. You’re not going to make everybody happy — even if you’re doing everything right. So it’s not logical to only judge yourself by the standard of whether coworkers and customers are happy with you.

Tip 3: Endure the resentment and criticism mindful of God. Peter warns us to expect trouble — and lean on God when we’re criticized for doing good. In 1 Peter 2:18-20:

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. . . . But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

In our context, a “master” might be a formal manager — or it could be our customers. They want the project done right now!

Going on vacation, getting rest, may be the right thing to do. Even when you’re doing the right thing you will be criticized. But it is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. Our reliance on God during this unjust accusation and abuse brings us grace — His love, his nearness.

Am I my own problem?

I’m more comfortable at home. Most of us have found ways to be a little bit comfortable: a minute in the morning; our favorite coffee; a good chair; a favorite show at night. And on vacation our personal comforts are disrupted: the kids wake up earlier than usual; all they have is tea; the chairs are all wet from sitting outside in the rain; Netflix doesn’t work at this hotel.

On vacation, I really hope I get to. Perhaps you’re going on vacation hoping to get time with a book, but then your family wants to go to the amusement park. All you hoped to do was take a nap — but you find yourself driving endlessly to reach somebody’s favorite restaurant.

I’d rather just stay and get this done. Or perhaps you’re going on vacation because vacation is what people do and you’ve got tons you’d like to do at home. You’d love to clean out the garage, or start a garden, or wash the car, or learn to code, or put together that project you bought.

In all these cases, vacation is just in the way of your comfort. I’ve definitely been there: while I like the idea of vacation, and the pleasantness of being with my family and seeing new sites, I really have a long to-do list I’d rather get through, and books I’d rather read. And book-reading is not a family activity. So I was resentful.

Isn’t rest laziness? God created us to work (Genesis 1-2) — so should we really be gaps from it? The principle of Sabbath given by God in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) focuses on six days of work and one mandatory day of vacation each week. But too few of us are willing to accept from God even one day of rest per week even though this pattern was created for us by God himself. John Piper writes:

The rhythm of work six, rest one, work six, rest one, work six, rest one would probably spare a lot of heart attacks and give longevity to many lives prematurely taken because they never unwind the spring. They always working. They are working at home and they are working at work and they are working in their play and they can’t stop working.

Tip 4: Spot the pride and agree it’s wrong. Pride is my problem. In the church, and in our families, in humility we should look for the interests of others.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)

My to-do list? My reading list? Those are called “selfish ambition”.

My unwillingness to take any rest at all? This could be rejection of a gift God offers (James 1:17), reliance on my own strength instead of His (Colossians 1:29), and trusting my own wisdom ahead of His (Proverbs 3:5).

My resentment that the coffee isn’t good out the chairs are uncomfortable? That’s conceit. Jesus, my Messiah who is in me, calls me to humility — counting the interests of others more significant. And Christ enables me with His strength (1 Peter 4:11) to serve the weaker ones. (If you’re in charge of the vacation, everybody else following your plan are the weaker ones.)

Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.

Romans 15:1-3a (CSB)

Family Vacation

For many parents, vacation doesn’t feel restful. Like all good things, Vacation is a gift from God (James 1:17), and I should fight to use is well. Vacation can sometimes include rest from certain labors, and rest is a gift from God. Not only is rest a gift — children are a gift!

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.

Psalm 127:2-3 (ESV)

Parents. We who are parents, during the short time they live with us, traveling with children is primarily not our vacation: we are taking our children on vacation. The way you handle vacation teaches them what you think of rest God provides, and what you think of the children.

It also instructs your children in how to use your spare time — what you value. If you want to teach your kids to love the outdoors, vacation gives you a chance to show them yourself outdoors. If you want to demonstrate that husbands and wives like to spend time with one another, then remember to seek out time with your spouse.

Finally, vacation creates moments for getting to know your children, and caring for them, that you won’t have elsewhere. You’ll see your kids enjoying different things they’ve never seen before, or have a few minutes just to have non-programmed fun with no digital screens involved. Those moments are gifts to your and your children to enjoy and to show love to one another.

Adults.If you’re an adult traveling with friends, Vacation can give you rare opportunities for conversation with others, and moments for reflection. (Romans 5:15) For spouses, we have the opportunity to understand each other in new ways and contexts (1 Peter 3:7).

Children. If you’re a child family, vacation is gifted to you, provided by God through your parents. The family needs your help to be fun to everybody; find things to be thankful for, even if they’re not the things you hoped to do.

Tip 5: Pray for your vacation. God can use vacation to show you your pride, cause you to lean on Himself, to grow your bonds with your family, and sometimes to give you rest. Pray for God to make these things happen. If you can’t presume to make profit in your work (James 4:13-15), then you definitely cannot presume that going on vacation will bring you relaxation and happiness. Ask God to prepare your heart and bring you these blessings.

God used that August 2012 trip to Blowing Rock to help me tremendously. My children were a gift, and while my kids were small, they took naps. During their naps, God taught me through the book Desiring God (Piper) [Free Ebook]. He woke me up to the problem of pride, of my priorities; that I was demanding too much of my vacation and my career. I know God used the vacation to help me value Him more, and better evaluate my work, and family, and hobbies and — yes, my vacation.

Nowadays I prepare for vacation differently. I plan ahead at work to cooperate with my coworkers. With God’s help, I fight the temptations of my personal aspirations for vacation. I know I’m naturally tempted to pride and conceit, which shows up as grumpiness. But I believe vacations are gifts; that time with family is a blessing; that willingness stop producing can help me start trusting.


Other resources:

Thanks to Jerry Lassetter for the initial inspiration for this piece.

My Father is Shockingly Happy with Me

denys-nevozhai-185408-unsplashWhen you and I, Christians, look to our Heavenly Father, he doesn’t look back with eyes that remember our shameful moments. My “history,” as far as God is concerned, is Jesus’ perfect life.

Even as he [God the father] chose us in him [Jesus, his Son] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him…
Ephesians 1:4

He who knows my heart only sees His Son’s perfect heart in mine. We trust God, the one who is capable of this miracle:

To the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. — Romans 4:5

That sin — the angry thought or the harsh text message — is still real evil and horrible before God. My sin, even secret sin, is great. But Jesus the Sin-bearer is magnificent.

We can be really sure God looks on us happily, without thought of that sin, because Jesus’ bloody death already paid for it. What a glorious God — who has the ability and the desire! — to forgive every sin, every fault.

My garments stained with sin and guilt,
I came to Christ, his peace I felt;
And now my heart with love doth glow,
His blood — it washes white as snow.

I do not doubt, nor will I say,
“I hope,” “I guess,” I’m clean today;
For in God’s word, I read it so,
His blood doth wash us white as snow.

Barney Elliott Warren, “My garments stained with sin and guilt”

Paint Your Treasure in Hues of Gold and Purple. (Wear Out That Highlighter.)

pexels-photo-272337.jpegIn the Survey of God’s Goodness in Joshua 1-5, Pastor Larry Trotter described himself as a treasure hunter:

When you open your Bible, look for God. [Among] lots of fascinating, wonderful, delightful things in the Bible — God’s will, Geography, Culture, Language, Poetry, Literature, all kinds of things you can learn about, but I want to suggest right at the center of it all, we should open our Bibles to look for God.

I look for insights into who God is, to what he’s like. I’m looking for what the pages of scripture show me is good and beautiful about my God. I look for that intentionally. I’m on a treasure hunt of sorts — and God is that treasure.

So, even above looking for God’s will and God’s guidance, I find it helpful to look for glimpses of God himself. (Larry Trotter sermon, BOUGHT, April 15, 2018)

Author and Pastor Robert Morgan wrote:

When I was a college student, I had the privilege of being taught by Ruth Bell Graham, who opened her home to me on several occasions; and I was impressed by her personal “collection” of memorized verses. “Some people collect paintings and some collect coins,” she said, in effect, “but I collect Bible verses.”

Treasure collections concentrate value in a single place. Most coin collections are small, so you could easily see and examine them. A collection of family recipes may be bulky, but could be precious and highly useful.

I, too, have made a collection in my Bible study, similar to Larry’s and Mrs. Graham’s. I’m searching for passages that tell us just about God himself using clear statements. I just highlight these passages purple. My “oldest” treasure in the collection is:

Psalms 3:3 — But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.

God is a shield. God is my glory. God uses his power to lift my head. This tells me a great deal!

Another in this collection is from Nehemiah:

Nehemiah 1:5 — And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments,…

And another from Luke:

Luke 1:68-69 — Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,

Every passage asserts something direct and specific about God. I pull them out in prayer and reflect on the God I’m praying to. I use these to open LifeChange Fellowship; if we’re to be Mature & Ministering Worshipers of God, these scriptures are a straight line to worship. After 6 years I’ve found over 300 direct statements that are eternally true about God. I’m proud of my collection.

And because I have highlighted them, I see them as I’m reading. These bright, clear statements occur in unexpected places, like:

Malachi 1:11 — For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.

So go on your own treasure hunt. Buy a highlighter, and go searching. Wear out your highlighter, and treasure your collection.

iPhone6_TextHighlight
Highlighting in the OliveTree Bible Study app. Other apps provide similar functionality that allow you to save and access your highlights anywhere.

Full disclosure — I don’t actually use a paper highlighter. Instead, I highlight in my Bible Reading app, Olive Tree Bible Reader. My highlights are automatically visible on my phone, my iPad, and my desk computer, and in every Bible translation I use. But beware: some apps won’t keep your highlights. For example, Amazon Kindle will delete your old highlights — don’t let that happen to your collection!

By Mark Lindsey