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Author: MattMacNaughton

Missing Church

I’ve missed church two weeks in a row. I missed our ninth birthday celebration due to what was likely COVID. I missed this past week due to a non-Grace Life work event in Atlanta. Needless to say, it’s strange to go a few weeks without being with my Grace Life family. 

As a young child, my parents instilled in me the importance of attending church. We went Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. My parents weren’t just attendees either. They served. So we would show up early and stay late. It wasn’t even a question when baseball practice landed on a church night where we were going to be. Church was a priority for our family. 

Now, my family has the same priority. We’re going to do everything we can to be with the people who belong to our local church. Yes, there are days when we are sick or out of town, but a late night on Saturday or a sporting event on Sunday won’t be the reason for us to miss. The church must be a priority because Jesus has made the church a priority.

 

Jesus Loves the Church.

In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul is speaking to Christian husbands and how they are to love their wives with Christlike love. Here’s what he says.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25–27)

The husband’s love for his wife is to be equivalent to the love Jesus has for us. Jesus gave his life for the church. He purifies the church. He does everything He can for the church. Jesus has an unconditional, eternal love for His church! And we know his love was demonstrated through His death and resurrection for sinners. (Romans 5:8)

Years ago, I heard a statement that changed my perspective as a pastor. It went something like this: “Pastor, Jesus loves your church more than you do”.

I’ve poured a lot of energy and spent a lot of hours doing what is necessary and required to faithfully pastor/shepherd the wonderful people of Grace Life Church. I love what I get to do day in and day out. 

I get to wake up every day and point people to Jesus. Sometimes it’s in hospitals. Sometimes it’s over text messages and phone calls. Sometimes it’s through encouragement and sometimes it’s through correction. I get to study God’s Word and then preach it to God’s people. I get to be one of the celebrate with people when they find out they’re pregnant after years of infertility and I sit with people and mourn with them as they share devastating news with me. 

Yet, Jesus loves the people of Grace Life far more than I ever will! He gave his life so we can live! He died so our sins would be put to death. He conquered our sins so we can live with him for eternity. We were his enemies and through his death, He has made us His friends!

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”. (John 15:13)

 

We Should Love the Church Too.

I believe Jesus’ love for the church is a model for us. Right before he makes the statement about laying His life down for His friends, He says this:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”. (John 15:12)

The love shown to us by Jesus is to be shown to one another. This context speaks specifically to our faith community. Yes, we are to love our neighbor and love our enemies, but we should love the church too. We should love the people in our church whom we gather with weekly. We should love them, serve them, care for them, encourage them, and be present with them.

It’s quite difficult to love or to know how to love someone when you’re never present with them.  

Throughout the New Testament, we see the familial theme given to those who belong to the church. We are brothers and sisters together in Christ Jesus. There is an understanding that the Christian life is not intended to be lived alone (Acts 2:42-47). It’s through the mutual edification of one another that we are loved and encouraged and our burdens are carried as well (Galatians 6:1-5). 

In Hebrews 10:24-25, the author of Hebrews gives this encouragement to us on being with the church.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25)

I truly believe that if we say we love the church, we will be present when the church meets together. We will be with the saints singing songs of our Savior, reading Scripture together, encouraging each other, and praying with one another. Is the local church perfect? By no means. But it’s a beautiful place to belong. 

Grace Life, I’m looking forward to being with you on Sunday. I’m looking forward to the hugs, laughter, and encouragement. I’m looking forward to pointing you to Jesus and you doing the same for me. Two weeks is too long not to be with my brothers and sisters.

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

Why we’re using a Catechism in 2024

We introduced the New City Catechism to our Sunday liturgy (order of worship) on Sunday. The New City Catechism (NCC) is a set of 52 questions and answers designed to help us remember the core teachings of Scripture. Like the Apostles’ Creed, the NCC is another intentional effort to ensure that everyone who makes Grace Life Church their home church is adequately discipled in God’s Word. Why?

Because sound doctrine leads to a sound life.

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11–14

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” 

One of the main responsibilities that God has given the Pastor-Elders of Grace Life Church is to help shepherd and disciple members of Grace Life to the fullness of Christ. This is Christian maturity.

Understanding the wonderful truths of Scripture leads to our spiritual maturity. As the Apostle Peter would write in his first letter:

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)

The New City Catechism is a tool in the tool chest of growing in God’s Word and understanding sound, Biblical doctrine. Let’s answer a few questions about this new tool we are using at Grace Life.

 

What is a Catechism?

For most of church history, the Christian church has utilized catechisms to teach doctrine to children and adults. A Catechism is a method of teaching that includes an oral element. It is also done within a community (i.e. Sunday church gatherings, Sunday school, small groups, etc).

The word “catechism” comes from the Greek word “Katecheo”, pronounced very similarly to catechism. We see this Greek word mentioned in the New Testament.

“Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue”. (1 Corinthians 14:19)

“Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.” (Acts 18:24–25)

If you notice from these two examples, catechisms are both for our instruction and to instruct others. Intentional community discipleship.

 

Why are we specifically using the New City Catechism?

The New City Catechism is not the only catechism available to the church. In fact, it’s quite new compared to several others. The NNC was written and made available in 2012.

The Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Westminster Catechism (longer and shorter versions) (1648), and the London Baptist Catechism (1689) are a few examples of catechisms used throughout church history. The Heidelberg and Westminster Catechisms are predominately used within Presbyterian churches. Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, Richard Baxter, and many other pastors and theologians took advantage of catechisms in their ministries.

While these catechisms are very thorough and, for the most part, follow Scripture, the New City Catechism offers a fresh, updated language that is built off of these historical catechisms. You can read more about the layout of the New City Catechism on their website

The New City Catechism builds off of a rich foundation and brings modern tools to help equip the church with sound doctrine.

 

How can I use the New City Catechism?

The catechism will fall short if you only take advantage of it on Sunday mornings. We’ll read the week’s question in our LifeGroups and post reminders in our weekly Newsletter and on social media. But it will also take effort on your part.

Here’s how you can use it at home.

  • Read the question to your spouse or your kids and then have them respond with the answer.
  • Have someone read you the question and then you respond with the answer.
  • Play the corresponding song with your kids. (Parents, this will help you memorize it as well)
  • Download the New City Catechism app in your app store and follow along with weekly readings, songs, and additional resources.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. 

It’s my prayer to see you grow in the fullness of Christ and it is my joy to come alongside of you and help you deepen your roots in the wonderful doctrines of Scripture.

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

The Five Solas and Why they Matter Today

** This post is a part of our ongoing focus in the month of October as we look back to the Reformation of the 1500s and why it still matters today. This blog post was written by Josh Bird.

On October 31, kids will dress up as ghouls, monsters, superheroes, and all sorts of different creatures.  They will roam from house to house threatening tricks to get treats. And when all is said and done and they get back to their own homes, their dads will take the customary candy tax from them.  This is how we celebrate Halloween, but while October 31 is normally devoted to witches and goblins, it is also important historically for another reason.  It was on this day in 1517 that Martin Luther posted his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany. 

That day in 1517 is often credited with beginning the Protestant Reformation.  It is important to realize that there were reformers before Luther, and there were reformers after Luther, but that Halloween day in 1517 was most assuredly a landmark day.  Luther’s primary complaint at that time was that the Roman Catholic Church was abusing its members through the selling of indulgences.  But while that was the complaint that sparked the Reformation, it was not the primary impediment or theology that drove the Reformation. The theology of the Reformation is often summarized in what is known as the five solas: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria.  The word sola is Latin for “alone.” Ironically, as we will see, no sola truly stands alone, but they build off one another to give an understanding of God’s ultimate plan of redemption and how he conveys that message to us.

Sola Scriptura

The first primary argument of the reformers was that scripture is the highest infallible rule of faith for the Christian church.  As 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” The reformers were ardent on this subject. In his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther said that “a simple layman armed with scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it.”  

Protestants and Roman Catholics believed and still believe that scripture is infallible, inerrant, and inspired by God.  The difference between the two sides is that Protestants believe that scripture is the only infallible rule of faith. Roman Catholics believe that there is also an infallible oral tradition.  They also believe that an authorized official is necessary to interpret both oral tradition and scripture to ensure their proper understanding and application.  This is sometimes described as the three-legged stool. For the Roman Catholic oral tradition and scripture are intertwined. 

The reformers were sensitive to the importance of church history and tradition. They often cited theologians and early church fathers to support what they were arguing.  However, they continuously claimed that all traditions must be tested against the authority of scripture. Because at its heart, Sola Scriptura is a claim of authority. There is certainly authority outside of scripture.  For example, at Grace Life Church, we are under the authority of the elders, Pastor Ben and Pastor Matt.  But the only infallible rule of faith and authority for God’s church is sacred scripture.

Sola Gratia

Sola Gratia is the emphasis that we are saved by grace alone.  It is a gift from God. As sinful humans, we can do nothing to earn or merit God’s grace.  The Holy Spirit brings us to Christ by releasing us from our bondage to sin raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life. There is nothing that we do to warrant grace.  

Scripture, which as we discussed above, is our sole infallible rule of faith, shows us how this works.  Before God’s grace, we were lost in sin and slaves to our passions and pleasures.  But once God shows his grace upon us, we are regenerated through the working of the Holy Spirit. Examine what Titus 3:3-7 says:

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become hairs according to the hope of eternal life.” (ESV)

Praise be to God that we are saved by his grace. No longer do we have to attempt to earn our salvation through the law. Which is a burden we could never bear.  As Charles Spurgeon once said, “If I could lose my salvation, I would.”

Sola Fide

Where Sola Gratia highlights that it is by grace alone that we are saved, Sola Fide shows us that it is through faith alone that we can accept God’s grace. Where we are saved by God’s grace alone, and through no works of our own, faith is the mechanism by which we receive God’s grace.  Roman Catholics believe that God’s grace and faith are essential elements to salvation. For a Roman Catholic, you cannot be saved without God’s grace and without faith. However, the key distinction the reformers highlighted, was based on the word “alone.” 

The reformers taught that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone.  Roman Catholicism teaches that humans must cooperate with God’s grace. Meaning that there are works that man must do in order to remain in God’s favor. Protestants teach that we are justified by faith alone.  Then, following that justification and regeneration, the Holy Spirit will produce good fruit within us. This is called sanctification.  Our sanctification takes place after our justification. For the Roman Catholic, the sanctification takes place in conjunction with justification. So, from the Roman Catholic perspective, we are not saved or justified by faith alone, but by faith and works.

In response, we should look to Ephesians 2:8-10:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works,so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (ESV)

We see from these verses what we have been building as we work through the solas. We are looking to Scripture as the basis for God’s truth. We are saved by grace.  That salvation comes through faith.  This is a work of God so we have no room to boast. And then we are God’s workmanship able to perform good works after we are saved.

Solus Christus

We have looked at why we must look to scripture first for our beliefs.  Then we saw that we are saved by God’s grace alone.  That grace is accepted by faith alone. But faith in what? That brings us to the next sola. Our salvation is accomplished by Christ alone.  

It is only through Christ, in his mediatorial role that we can be made right and have reconciliation with the Father.  It is through Christ’s perfect and sinless life, that he was able to offer a sufficient sacrifice to cover our sins. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 we see that “For our sake he made him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (ESV). Paul is telling us about the great exchange. Christ became sin on our behalf, so that through him we may be made righteous before God. We are saved by what the reformers called an “alien righteousness,” which is Christ’s.  Christ mediates on our behalf. Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:5 “for there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”  (ESV)

In Acts 4, Peter and John were preaching to the people when they were arrested and taken before a council.  When questioned, Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 8) and tells them that Jesus, the stone rejected by the Jews, has become the cornerstone and there is salvation in no one else (v. 11-12). We can seek our salvation in no one else but Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria

Scripture is our highest authority. We are saved by Grace alone which is accepted through faith alone.  That salvation is accomplished through Christ alone. But for what purpose? To the glory of God alone. This sola reminds us that all of God’s plan of redemption is for his own glory.  Consider what Paul says in Ephesians 1:7-14

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory”

Paul is making clear that we are saved through Christ according to God’s grace.  And in v. 12 he tells us why, so that “we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the five solas of the Reformation remain foundational principles that continue to shape the theological landscape. As theological disagreements persist, and the theological chasm between Protestants and Roman Catholics endures, it becomes all the more crucial to cling to the unshakable pillars of our faith. Scripture alone is our infallible source of authority, grace alone our saving grace, faith alone the means by which we receive that grace, and Christ alone our Savior. In it all, to the glory of God alone.

A Brief Overview of the Book of Hosea

When you hear the name “Hosea”, what images come to mind? For some, it may be one of those hard-to-understand prophets that we don’t spend time with. For others, they may know the story of his life, particularly his wife and children, and then the doom and gloom that comes from God’s prophetic word through his ministry. Or perhaps it doesn’t ring any bells. As we get ready to study not only the book of Hosea but the entirety of the minor prophets, let’s take a step out and look at some major themes throughout the book of Hosea.

First, unbridled sin leads to cold hearts.  Right from the beginning of the book, the “whoredom” of Israel as represented by Gomer shows a blatant disregard for the marriage relationship. Then throughout the rest of the book, we see the terrifying picture of what it means to forget about God and ignore His call. The bride of Christ was bought at a great price, and we are foolish to turn to anything else that distracts us from Him.

Next, God desires that all would repent.  We see a clear invitation throughout this book, that God is waiting for those who will repent to return to Him so He may restore and heal them. This is not a one-time call and then a list of awful sins that need repenting. Instead, this is a father’s call to his wayward child. We today must listen for God’s call to repent when we find ourselves sucked into the temptations of sin.

Third, We must be careful to guard our beliefs and practices against worldly influence. Since their inception as a nation, God warned His people about mixing with the people around them in regard to culture, worship, and general life practices. Yet it seems the world is always enticing and offers something better than what’s in front of us. Taken to the extreme in this book, we know that we too face the temptation to compromise.

Finally, God’s love and forgiveness is so much greater than our sin.
The picture of God over and over lamenting Israel’s choices, and His tempering His wrath with His mercy and love is a shockingly sweet message in the midst of darkness. But it helps us to understand just how vast the love of God truly is. If we take anything away from the book of Hosea, we should be encouraged and challenged by how deeply the Father loves us.

I pray that as we study both this book and the remainder of the minor prophets we will learn to understand just how great God’s love is for us.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Ben

An update from the Lynn Family (September 2023)

In the book of Acts, we see the church sending out missionaries to take the gospel to the world. This was to obey Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:9. Paul was one of those missionaries. In fact, he took three missionary journeys during the course of his ministry, planting churches along the way. As he wrote letters to the churches, some of which are recorded in the New Testament, he would often include updates on his journeys or send someone to give an update. Paul never left his supporting churches in the dark.

So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts. – Ephesians 6:21–22

Every so often, we receive an update from our ministry partners. We read them in our Sunday gatherings as a reminder to pray for those who have been called by God to go overseas to share the gospel and as a reminder that we too are missionaries exactly where we are here in the United States.

To read the most recent update letter from the Lynn Family in Ethiopia, click here.

Commit to praying for them frequently and be intentional in sharing the gospel with someone today.

Waiting for the Lord

Language is so fascinating, and unfortunately, we can pass over it so quickly.  There are many different verses with the phrase “waiting on the Lord.”  The ones I want to focus on are in the Old Testament, using the Hebrew word “qavah.”  Literally, the word means “to bind together,” as in, to make a rope by bringing many strands together.  Figuratively it is used to mean “to wait eagerly, to hope, to expect.”  I know I am in a state of waiting for the Lord in more ways than one in my life.  Several other close colleagues of mine are also in this place.  But does it mean that we need to sit and wait for the Lord to move?  Let’s explore three passages:

 

Isaiah 40:31- But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

 

Lamentations 3:25-27-  The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.  It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.

 

Psalm 25:4-5- Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

 

I see a lot of activity in those verses, even though each of them focuses on waiting. Isaiah says waiting on the Lord gives us renewed strength, lets us soar, lets us walk or run and not run out of steam!  That’s awesome.  So if we use the literal translation, it means that those who bind themselves to God will be empowered.  That’s really cool.  If we go more figuratively, it means those who hope and expect the Lord’s power will receive it.  Again, really cool.  But I think the clear implication is that upon having God’s power, we do something with it.

You know what it doesn’t say?  Wait and God will take care of everything.

Lamentations puts the phrase of seeking after God in the same thought as those waiting for him.  Continuing on in the same vein of thought, he says it’s good to be quiet as we wait for the Lord’s salvation.  I think this is referring to the way that we like to tell God how we want things to be done.  But instead of telling Him what to do, we need to remember it’s worthwhile to keep quiet.  Jeremiah spends the first part of chapter 3 complaining about how hard he’s had it, and then he interrupts himself with the thought of hope in God.  So, it might mean bearing a difficult situation, but God never said life would be easy nor that our definition of good is His (Romans 8:28).

Again, I say, the “waiting” in these verses is active.  Seeking God, holding one’s tongue, bearing the yoke.  Nothing about sitting around while God works, but us working with the understanding of hope in God (remember what hope is all about anyway).

In Psalm 25, we don’t see the waiting until the end, and additionally, all the imagery is about paths.  For me, path implies that you are moving.  What’s the point of asking God where you are supposed to go if you’re just going to stand by and look at it? “Yeah God, that looks cool, but I’m just gonna stand here and stare at it for a while.  Thanks for revealing where I’m supposed to start heading next, I’m gonna wait till you start dragging me along.” That’s not a great way to use a path. I love what Charles Spurgeon has to say about Psalm 25: “Patience is the fair handmaid and daughter of faith; we cheerfully wait when we are certain that we shall not wait in vain. It is our duty and our privilege to wait upon the Lord in service, in worship, in expectancy, in trust all the days of our life. Our faith will be tried faith, and if it is of the true kind, it will bear continued trial without yielding. We shall not grow weary of waiting upon God if we remember how long and how graciously he once waited for us.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/devotionals/morning-and-evening/1739/07/08)There’s one other little point, but if we’re going to analyze words, let’s also analyze phrases.  The translation is typically “wait for” and not “wait on.”  I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that.  We wait for doctors to call us back, we wait for people who are late, and we wait for food and drinks to be brought to our table at a restaurant.  That’s a very passive activity (as long as you don’t ask a waiter!).  On the other side, we wait for Christmas morning, and we prepare for it by getting and wrapping gifts and singing songs and such.  We wait for the end of the work day, diligently accomplishing our daily tasks until it is time to clock out.  We wait for the weather to change so we can go outside, but we typically fill our day with an alternate activity.  “Waiting for” is active.  It’s anticipating a change.

So, what are you doing?  Are you sitting and waiting for it to happen, or are you waiting for it while continuing to move in the direction you are led?


Love in Christ,


Pastor Ben

Five Intentional Ways to Promote Unity and Community at Grace Life Church

***This blog post is part two of our current focus on church health. Listen to the sermons here and read part one of the blog here.

 

As we continue looking at the Biblical description of a healthy church, there’s no better example to turn to than the early church. The premier passage to life in the early church is seen in Acts 2:42-47, the text of Scripture we looked at this last Sunday. 

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42–47)

How the early church lived in Christian unity within Christian community should be important to us. While the modern culture we live in is vastly different than the ancient culture they lived in, the importance of Christian unity within Christian community remains the same. 

I want to give you five intentional ways you can promote unity and Christian community within our church. (Note: there are obviously more than five ways, these five are more applicable to our context.)

 

Agree to disagree on matters of second and third-order theological differences.

The early church devoted themselves to the Apostles’ Teaching or the teaching of the character and work of a Triune God. 

We all have differing opinions and beliefs and those differing opinions and beliefs are often the source of conflict in our relationships. Within a church family, it is important to understand what is my opinion or personal belief and what is a matter of Theological importance. There are theological matters that we believe must be held for someone to be a Christian. As Dr. Al Mohler states,

“First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith alone, and the authority of Scripture. These first-order doctrines represent the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith, and a denial of these doctrines represents nothing less than an eventual denial of Christianity itself. First-order issues determine Christian identity and integrity. Second-order issues determine ecclesiology. Third-order issues are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations.”

We agree that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (first-order example) and we believe that baptism is the immersion of a new believer (second-order example), but the enemy will use the difference in those third-order matters (end times timeline, what day Jesus died, etc) to divide even the most doctrinally sound of churches. In those times of good nature discussion on third-order matters where a conclusion is not reached, agree to disagree with your brother or sister. 

It should also be stated that beliefs on matters outside of the teachings of the Bible should not be the cause of disunity within the church. 

 

Join a LifeGroup

We see the early church gathering together in homes to enjoy one another’s company and to grow in their faith. This is the goal of our LifeGroups. We want to gather throughout the week in homes (and the church building) for mutual encouragement and to study Scripture together. 

Our Sunday morning gatherings serve an important purpose in our lives, but there is not enough time to build meaningful relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ. LifeGroups provide this opportunity. 

This semester of LifeGroups begins the week of September 11th. To join a group, click here.

 

Invite someone to do something with you.

As you go about life throughout the week, ask yourself this question: “Is what I plan to do something I can do with someone in the church”?

Are you planning on going to the beach? Invite someone from church. Going to a movie? Invite someone from church. Taking your kids – or dog –  to the park? You got it. Invite someone from church to go with you.

 

Get together for a meal.

The early church appeared to enjoy food in the presence of good company. Despite the change in cultures, we still do the same. We have to eat, so be intentional about inviting someone over for dinner or going out for a meal. You don’t have to pay for their meal, though you could. Just a simple invite to go eat some Chick-fil-a or enjoy a cup of coffee fosters Christian community.

 

Watch out for brothers and sisters by themselves.

I want to encourage us as we approach our Sunday morning gatherings. I want us to look for other people. Look for someone you don’t know and sit with them. Look for someone by themselves and sit with them.

Let’s be more about the people of the church than the preferences we love. This is what fosters unity in the local church and by God’s grace, we will continue to gather and connect with one another, knowing it is Jesus alone who brings us together.

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

The People of Jesus

***This post is a part of our current Sunday morning sermon series called “The People of Jesus”. Each week during the series, we’ll look at what it means to be a healthy church according to Scripture. You can listen to the sermon series here.

 

One of my favorite places to be is Truist Park, the home of the Atlanta Braves. I know this doesn’t surprise you. I wear my Braves fandom proudly. 

Most people have some sort of hobby or interest that is similar to my love for the Braves. You may enjoy going to Bike shows, proudly wearing your favorite Biker gear. Perhaps it’s going to see the latest superhero movie while dressed as said favorite superhero. Perhaps it’s the entirety of the Christmas season. Maybe it’s a favorite band or author or tv show. 

And what happens when we coincidentally meet someone who loves the same thing as much as we do? It brings joy! “This guy gets my love for fishing!” “She understands my passion for painting!” It brings at times an instant friendship over a common love.

And yet, we as Christians, and in this case the people of Grace Life Church, have been graciously given something far greater than any hobby or interest. We have been given the local church. 

The gathering of the local church is far greater than any sporting event, concert, book club, or any other interest group. We gather together around the One who bought us and brought us together: Jesus Christ. There is nothing more joyful than that!

We have more in common with our brother or sister in Christ than we do with anyone else who shares an interest with us. The fans in Truist Park are not my brothers and sisters. The people dressed like the Justice League are not my brothers and sisters. The people I work with are not my brothers and sisters. No, my brothers and sisters are the ones who belong to Jesus!

Jesus in fact said something similar in reference to his own family!

 

“While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46–50)

 

We have more in common with our brothers and sisters in Christ than we do with our own flesh and blood.

This is why unity within a local church is vital to church health. Gospel unity means we understand we are different by God’s design (Psalm 139). Gospel unity means we understand who we are in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10). Gospel unity means we understand who brings us together (Ephesians 4:14-16). Gospel unity means we understand that first and foremost, we are people of the cross. No other group of people has what we have. They do not have the unity we have, the joy we have, the family we have. Sports will die. Superheros will die. Hobbies will die. 

But because of Jesus, the Church will never die. While many local churches will close their doors for various reasons, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church as a whole (Matthew 16:17-18). The local church gives us just a small glimpse of heaven when all the people of God from all ages and places will gather around the throne of God to worship Him (Revelation 5). 

The difference between the worship gathering in heaven and the worship gatherings we have here on earth comes down to the sin that so often entangles us in our walk with the Lord. 

The story is told that The Times of London at one point early in the 1900s posed this question to several prominent authors: “What’s wrong with the world today?” The well-known author G.K. Chesterton is said to have responded with a one-sentence essay:

Dear Sir,

I am.

Yours, G.K. Chesterton

 

The problem within the local church is often us! We allow our preferences to become more important than people. We allow our beliefs on secondary and tertiary theological matters to anger us and become more important than the unity of believers. We allow our own sins of selfishness, jealousy, pride, bitterness, and laziness to disrupt the people of God. And because of this, we fight all the more for unity. 

Yet, despite this, there is nothing on earth like the local church. Charles Spurgeon notoriously stated,

If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I would never have joined one at all! And the moment I did join it if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, the church is the dearest place on earth to us.”

 

As we remind ourselves from Scripture of what it means to be a healthy church, let’s not forget that all of it begins with Jesus. We bear his cross. We bear his name. We are his redeemed people. Programs, personality, property, and preaching may only bring people together for a time, but it is Jesus who will hold us together.

We are people of Jesus and we are united together in Him.

 

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

How to Support Oversea Missionaries

At the time this blog was posted, Jeremy and Karissa Lynn are heading back to Ethiopia where they will serve and proclaim the gospel to the people outside of Addis Ababa. 

They are returning home.

It’s strange for me to say that because in my mind, Ethiopia is a place they go to for a few years and then return home to see family and to rest. In my mind, they’re just on an extended mission trip. My mind thinks this way because selfishly, I want them to come back home.

But this is not their home. Ethiopia is their home.

Last night we said goodbye. We hugged and cried and said “See you later” even though we don’t know when “later” is. I watched as my kids said goodbye and was heartbroken when my daughter yelled through the car window, “See you when I’m eleven!”

She’s eight. Three years is a long time for them to be away from home. A lot can happen in three years.

But that last sentence is layered with selfishness because, for them, the four weeks here in the United States was a long time to be away from home. Their heart is in Ethiopia. It is where God has called them. It is where they have obediently gone. Leaving everything they know behind to take the gospel of Jesus to people halfway around the world.

This is just a very small glimpse from our perspective as a family of oversea missionaries. 

As Jeremy preached from Revelation 3:1-6 this past Sunday, he made a statement that has burned a fire within my soul. A statement that I am sure will be repeated several times in our gatherings.

“The influence we have today does not guarantee the influence we have tomorrow”.

The loss of our gospel influence occurs when we lose sight of Jesus and our mission and begin to focus either inwardly or allow the outward influence of the culture to infiltrate. The church in Sardis is a reminder that we fight for our influence. We do not give up. We do not give in. We press on as lights of the world and salt of the earth.

For a brief moment, I want to give three ways we can support the influence of overseas families. They are an extension of our church, partnering with us in the same mission to make disciples of all nations. 

 

Frequently Pray for them.

“Of course, we should pray for them!” you may say. But let me encourage us to put it into practice. Let’s actually do it, as modeled to us by the church in Acts 12.

“So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” (Acts 12:5)

When we share the missions update, take the time to pray for them. Set a time each week to take their name to the throne of heaven. Pray for their strength in the Lord. Pray for their encouragement in their calling. Praying for their protection, both physically and spiritually. Pray for their ministry.

As you pray for them, pray also for the disciples and leaders they are developing. These brothers and sisters will be on the front lines of ministry with the missionary family. Pray for their families, for their hearts to be strengthened, and for their joy to increase.

 

Financially Support them.

In Philippians 4, Paul writes to the church in Philippi, thanking them for their generous gifts in support of his ministry.

And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. [16] Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. [17] Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. [18] I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. [19] And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. [20] To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:15–20)

Overseas missionaries rely on the generous giving of churches back in the United States. It takes a lot of financial resources to not only get missionaries over there but to help them stay there. Most missionaries go on a religious visa, preventing them from working. Some go on a work visa, which likely means they are going to a place that is unfriendly towards Christianity. Either way, mission giving helps support overseas missions.

Our church supports the Lynn family at $200 a month. This is made possible because of your generous giving. Not only do we seek to be cheerful givers individually, giving what the Lord has led us to give  (2 Corinthians 9:6-7), but we seek to be ten percent givers as a church too. We don’t want to keep the resources just inwardly but use them to proclaim the gospel close to home and to the nations.

One way you financially support the Lynns (and other missionaries) is by giving faithfully and giving directly. If the Lord leads, you can give above an beyond your normal tithe/giving and give directly to the missionary families. You can do so directly in our giving portal. If you need any assistance, please reach out to Pastor Ben.

 

Faithfully Encourage Them.

Finally, we can faithfully encourage them when we see them or we can encourage them by sending them an email or text. They may not always hear our prayers and money may be the resource that keeps them there, but encouragement is the fuel that often helps them get to the next day.

Some days heavily weigh on them. There are days when it seems easier to quit than to stay. It could be due to a stressful situation in the local market. Or a day where they waited in line for gas for several hours only to find out the pumps were empty. Or a day when the tension of the government runs into the streets. Or a day when the power goes out and you have no access to water.

These are just a few examples of daily life in Ethiopia and why simple encouragement is an incredible blessing to the Lynns. Encourage them to persevere. Encourage them to look to Jesus. Celebrate their service. Tell them you love them.

If you would like to send the Lynns a note of encouragement, email the encouragement to us at info@thegracelifechurch.org and we will forward it to them. 

In the future, we will introduce you to new mission partners. All of these practices listed above are our way of saying to them, “You are not alone. We are behind you. We are praying for you!”

And one day when we are all truly home in heaven, we will celebrate the missional heart of the Father who not only sent His Son for us, but sends us out to proclaim His gospel.

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

A Prayer for our kids as they return to school.

It’s pretty remarkable how quickly a summer flies by us. We trade in our beach chairs for school desks and our summer vacations for scheduled routines. The new school year is filled with a household of emotions. The kids are dreadfully excited to return. They will see their friends again, but they are not looking forward to the work. The parents are, well, pretty much in the same boat. There is excitement for the school year to start, but an anxiousness that surrounds the return. We know that the culture we live in is seeking to devour our children. It is not a Christ-centered culture and we know the dangers – physical, emotional, mental, and intellectual – that brings. 

Here’s what I know. It is a good practice to pray for our children on a consistent basis. And as we head into the new school year, I want to offer this prayer on behalf of our children and I encourage you to spend time preparing them and praying over them as the new school year begins.

 

Gracious Father,

With boldness we come before your throne as your children (Hebrews 4:16), welcomed into your presence by the righteousness of Jesus that has covered our sins. You, Jesus, our king of kings, Emmanuel our God with us, are magnificently beautiful and you are the radiance of the Father’s glory (Hebrews 1:3). 

In you Jesus, we have redemption through your blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which you have lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of your will, according to your purpose, which you have set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in you, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:7-10).

Your Word says in Proverbs 3:5-7, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil”.

As we head into another year of school, another year of activities, another year of busyness, Father we lift our children up to you. You have blessed us with these little ones, some of which are not so little anymore, and you have entrusted their care to us. There are moments when we’re not sure how to parent them and even how to protect them, so Father help us to do so in the way that you have cared and protected us. 

We pray that as our children head back to school, that you will protect them from evil. Protect them from evil attacks and evil ideologies. Protect them from the schemes of the devil that seek to take them away from you. Care for them when they are out of our care.

Lord, we pray that our kids will trust in you with their whole heart. That the faith of their parents will become their faith. Stir within their hearts a need for salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Convict them of their sin and regenerate their hearts. More than anything in this world, more than wealth, or comforts, or prosperity, we long to see our kids come to know you as their Savior. Help us Lord to point them to Jesus in all things. To disciple them along the way. To show them the incredible truths from your Word. Help their hearts to not be anxious, but to trust that you are with them every step of the way.

Lord, we pray that our kids will not lean on their own understanding, but in all their ways acknowledge you. The world believes the knowledge of Christianity is foolish and seeks to take a generation of kids with them. Help our kids to see the foolishness of sin in this world. Help them to lean into your understanding. Help them to live according to your good and beautiful design. We know your Word never returns void. We know your Word is true and right and sufficient. Holy Spirit, remind them of the Words of Scripture. Remind them that the Words of God are far better than the words of this world. We pray that our kids will acknowledge you in private and in public. That they will stand bold for the gospel as they face peer pressure. 

Lord, we ask that you go before our kids. Direct their paths. Only you can make them straight. The plans we have for them, the plans they have for themselves are nothing compared to your will in their life. We know your will for them is their sanctification and that they live their lives for your glory and your glory alone. We pray that no matter if they are eating or drinking, they will glorify your name. Help them not to be wise in their own eyes, but to fear you in all things, to see your greatness, to see the beauty of your eternal salvation.

Lord, we pray that you will help us as parents to carefully shepherd our children. Be with us as we send our kids to school, off to college, or keep them at home to teach them. We ask that you give patience to every home school mom and dad, give them rest and wisdom, and the support they need. We ask that you be with every mom and dad fighting the anxiousness and worry of dropping off kids and helping them navigate new schools and new friendships. Help us as parents to trust in you as well. Help us to know you are directing our paths and making it straight.

Thank you, Lord, that we are your children and you care for us and love us far more than we will ever realize. Help us to seek you, knowing that you came to seek and save us. Help us to live out your Word all the days of our lives. Thank you for your sovereign care over us all.

In your holy name, we pray,

Amen