Today is my 40th birthday and with it comes large amounts of food, well wishes, and some really horrible singing. I’ve been blessed the to steal away with Denise to St. Augustine for a few days of rest and relaxation. While I’m fine with the whole ‘turning 40’ thing, it has caused me to stop and consider what I have learned on the first half of my journey of life and prepare for what lies on the ‘other side of the hill’. Here are a few of my musings and ruminations...

I’m not who I was and I am not who I will be I am so thankful for this truth. I so often cringe when I consider the mean, cruel, and thoughtless words spoken in haste and impatience. When I think back on the cruel things I did to classmates and rivals I am ashamed. I wish I could take back the hurt and heartache I caused. Far too often my actions and words were unbecoming of someone who claims the name of Christ. I’m am very sorry. By God’s grace, I am no longer that person. Yet, I am not what I will be. Each day I am waging war on my selfishness, pride, and vanity. I am clinging to the promise that the Lord has given me the Holy Spirit who is making me more and more like Jesus in my thoughts, actions, and motivations. There will be a day that my sin is wiped away and my body is clothed with the glorious righteousness of Christ. Yet until that day, I will cling to the promise that the Holy Spirit is transforming me into the image of Christ. My prayer is the prayer of David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” Ps. 51:10.

I overestimate my ability and underestimate God’s ability I cannot tell you how many times in my forty years I have bitten off more than I can chew, made a hash of something by my delusions of grandeur, or my innate propensity to only finish 80% of a project. Yet in my 40 orbits around the sun I have learned that God always does what is right. God provided faithfully during the lean years of my childhood, the day-to-day needs of my young family, and lavishly during Crosby’s adoption. He gives me what I need, when I need it, and in the proper amount. I will never be in error when I wait on him (Is 40:31; Ps 57). His grace is amazing, his strength unflinching, and his mercies unending. May I wait upon the Lord to renew my strength, satisfy my soul, and lead me in paths of life everlasting in these years to come.

I am not able but Christ is able - Recently, at a local pastor’s forum I sat down with a retiring pastor who was asked, “What do you want to tell these young pastors that will better equip them for ministry?” Wilth tears in his eyes he said this, “I am not able, but Christ is.” No truer words could have been said. I am not able to love my family, care for my flock, or guard my own heart like Jesus can. I must trust him for my daily bread and for those in my care. Though I am prone to wander, the Good Shepherd is quick to retrieve that which has wandered. My prayer is that I always have an attentive ear for the voice of the Shepherd, for when I am in his sight there is nothing I could possibly want.

My life is not my own I did not give myself life and I will not choose when it is over. Why do I think I am sovereign over the time in between? I don’t want to live my life as if my comfort, my pleasure, or my desires are ultimate but rather live it for the glory of Christ. To follow Christ we must die to selfish ambition, personal comforts, and individual goals. We follow his example by not demanding what is our due but willingly laying down our rights in service of others (Phil 2:6-7). My prayer for my remaining years is for the grace to, “not...think of [myself] more highly than [I] ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” Rom 12:3. May I lay my dreams, desires, and goals down that I may be satisfied by the greater and more satisfying purposes of Christ and His kingdom.

I don’t want to waste my life - I have been given a sound mind, able body, and satisfied soul. I don’t want to fritter away my time on silly things or waste my mind, body, and soul on fleeting things but invest each moment of things that are beautiful, good, and true. I pray that I would put down the phone, turn off the TV, and get off the couch. That I would play with my children, talk to my wife, read my Bible, and love my neighbor. May I invest in eternal and satisfying things so that I will not be ashamed when I stand before my maker to give an account of how I invested each precious second. My pray is that “whatever [I] do, in word or deed, [I] do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” Col 3:17.

I will be forgotten When I was a boy I used to dream of being rich and famous, recognized by many and appreciated by multitudes. I realize now how vain and dangerous that thinking was to my life and soul. By God’s grace, I have been brought to the comforting realization that I will be forgotten. Memories of me will fade within a few generations of my passing. All those who knew me and loved me will cry a tear, say kind words (hopefully), and move on with their lives. Yet the impact I have on future generations will not be my wisdom, efforts, or love. It will be how effective I was to point those I love toward Christ. He is eternal. He is everlasting. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I will have been a success in life if I have sowed the gospel of Jesus Christ into the hearts of my wife, children, grandchildren, and my congregation, for Christ will remain long after I am a forgotten footnote in the pages of history. May I be humbled by this truth when I am riding high in the saddle of self-congratulations and encouraged by it when I am downtrodden by the heaviness of life. My prayer echoes the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” John 3:30.

Time is fleeting and God’s blessings are sweet Forty years have come and gone in a blur. Just yesterday, I was a little boy in Hebron, CT, lost in the imaginary world I created in the backyard of my parents home. Just yesterday, I was a clumsy kid running the halls at Cornerstone. Just yesterday, I saw my radiant bride in her wedding dress and promised her my life. Just yesterday, I was holding my newborn children in my arms for the first time. Just yesterday, I was a new pastor. Turning 40 will soon become a “just yesterday” as well as so many other wonderful moments. I pray that I will stop to savor each moment and savor the sweetness of God’s grace. May each blessing, large and small, turn my heart toward my Heavenly Father who gives good gifts to His children. May my prayer be, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” Lam 3:22-23.

I want to finish well - I am now the age of the adults I knew as a child. My teachers, my friends parents, and the adults from my church family. As I have gotten older I have witnesses the deaths of those precious people. Mr. McCauley, Pastor Beliasov, Robert Konemann, Mrs Ralston, Mr Edwards (CCS janitor), Auntie Grace, Dr. And Mrs Lapp. I remember their love for Christ in life and cherish their faithfulness in death. I have also seen others whose faith in Christ grow cold, hearts become unresponsive to the gospel, and love for Christ fade. I desperately want to finish well! Whether I die at a young age or live to see my great grandchildren, may it be said of me, “His faith Christ, hope in the gospel, and love for the brothers persevered to the end” (Col 1:3-5). I pray the words of the Psalmist for my remaining days, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24).

No one is guaranteed tomorrow (I know because I almost didn’t make it to this day). I am so grateful for the grace of my Savior, love of my wife, blessing of my children, and friends to share life with. I am truly a blessed man! May God be glorified in my life ‘over the hill’! .

Soli Deo Gloria
Pastor Chris

"Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!" Psalm 96:1-3

500 years ago Martin Luther shocked the religious establishment when he did the unthinkable...he led his congregations in the singing of German language hymns (the 95 thesis was sort of a big deal too). It was rare in the 16th century that the congregation would ever speak, let alone sing, in church. On rare occasions, the congregation would sing during processionals and festivals but only in the sacred language of the church, Latin. Luther, wanting to teach his people the truth of God’s word. So he embraced the power of music to communicate the character of God and comfort the hearts of his people in times of trouble. Thus he wrote Christian hymns in the common tongue of the German people. In 1527, as the Great plague was approaching Germany he wrote the words of his classic hymn, ‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God’. Intertwining the picture of a sovereign God from Psalm 46, ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble...’ with a traditional German melody, thus the classic hymn was born. Luther’s new hymns gave the people a reason to sing as they boldly clung to the truth of a Sovereign God in the face of opposition. The song became the anthem of the Reformation. ‘It was sung by poor Protestant emigrants on their way into exile, and by martyrs at their death’[1] Luther, using the medium of music, was able to communicate the richness of the truth of God to the people in a new and powerful musical expression.

The same can be said of every generation of hymn writers and musicians. I cannot tell you how the songs of Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby, Bob Kauflin, and Keith Getty have encouraged, comforted, and corrected me through dark valleys and high mountains. These songs have comforted me at the gravesides of loved ones, aided me as I taught my children the gospel, and gave words to the overwhelming joy of my salvation. Music is a powerful tool used for teaching the greatness of our God and proclaiming the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

At Ocean Park we are beginning a new chapter in our ‘church music’. We are not rolling out fog machines and lasers or hiring Animal from the Muppets to play drums (he wasn’t available). God has blessed our congregation with a new music leader, Grant Williams, who desires to lead the congregation in God-centered and Gospel-exalting songs, hymns, and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16). Yet with every season of change there are those who celebrate it and those who fear it. Therefore, we must view change through the lens of the gospel rather than the lens of personal preference. For if you only view life through the lens of personal preference you will allow chronological snobbery to take root in your heart and the heart of our church (see my previous post ‘The Cure for Chronological Snobbery’). This subtle form of pride will only splinter, fracture, and divide the body of Christ. Ocean Park we must not allow this to happen!

Therefore, Grant and I will be very deliberate in the songs and style of music we choose in the worship of Ocean Park. We have been reading the book 'Doxology & Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader’ by Matt Boswell. Boswell lays forth the Five Marks of the Worship of the Church that Grant and I will utilize as we seek to lead the congregation in worship.

God-centered - When the church gathers together we are to sing in a way that glorifies the nature and work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We sing to Him and for Him. We are not coming to church to be entertained but to make much of the God who has granted us life and salvation. We are to follow the admonition in Ephesians 5:19 , “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When God is lifted up, it edifies the body, strengthens disciples, and evangelizes the lost.

Biblically Formed - Without the wisdom of the Father, the work of the Son, and the presence of the Spirit we cannot worship. Without the guidance of Scripture we are like a rudderless ship in a sea of emotion and relativity. Therefore, worship must conform to the pattern of scripture.

Gospel Wrought - Scripture tells us that the Gospel shapes the content, informs the message, and prompts our hearts to passionately pursue truth. We are commanded to ascribe greatness to God, bring worshipful offerings to God, and to tremble before his holiness. Each week Grant has the responsibility to remember the Gospel and remind our congregation of the value and beauty of the Gospel.

Congregational - We don’t gather on Sunday’s for pageantry or performance. We gather to worship as a people who have been redeemed by the power of the cross. If the church is not singing together as one, the church is not worshipping.

Missional - Biblical worship that is aimed at God strengthens believers but it also has an evangelistic purpose. If an unbeliever walks into our sanctuary they should be able to learn the gospel and be directed toward the only one who can save them from their sin: Jesus Christ.

This is the standard by which we will measure the music at Ocean Park. I believe that when you embrace these standards you will be enriched, edified, and encouraged in our worship. We will embrace the richness of the tradition that has been handed down by the faithful pilgrims that have gone before and express it afresh in this new generation. This will cause songs from the 18th century like Holy, Holy, Holy and songs from the 21st Century like In Christ Alone to be transformational as they point us toward the only hope in life and death: Jesus Christ.

[1] Louis Benson as quoted by Tim Challies in Hymn Stories: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Soli Deo Gloria
Pastor Chris

“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:16-17)

This coming Sunday, July 23rd, we will celebrate the baptism of those who have heeded the call of Jesus Christ to, “Follow Me”. Baptism holds great significance in the life of a Christian and in the life of a church as a whole.

First, baptism is an outward symbol of an inward union with Christ. We are New Covenant people who have been brought into a relationship by the work of the Holy Spirit. Colossians 2:11-12 reveals the inner working of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of Christians, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” We are joined to the New Covenant of Jesus Christ by the inward work of the Holy Spirit. This spiritual circumcision made without hands is the New testament equivalent to the physical circumcision of the Old Testament. It is the God who gives us new spiritual hearts (Ezekiel 11:19), puts His Spirit within us (Ezekiel 36:27), and shines on us spiritual light to illuminate the truth of the gospel (John 1:9-14). This is the inward work of the Spirit that brings us into relationship. When the Spirit works in our hearts it is expressed through faith. Faith is the means that God prescribes for us to reconciled us back to Himself. The mark that a person’s heart has been regenerated by the spiritual circumcision of the Holy Spirit is that they respond in faith to the Gospel. Faith sees Christ for who He is. Faith believes the promises of God that Christ took the wrath we deserved. Faith leaves everything behind to follow Jesus. Faith believes that we will follow Christ by being raised to eternal life. When a person goes into baptism they are communicating that they believe the good news of the gospel and they are forsaking the things of the world for the eternal satisfaction of following Christ. Just as my wedding ring is a symbol of the promise I made to Denise, baptism is a symbol of the faith that was sown into my heart by the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the outward sign of inward faith is baptism.

Second, baptism is a command of Jesus. As Evangelicals we have put far too much emphasis on prayers, decisions, and alter calls at the expense of the act of baptism. Jesus never tells us to lead a person in a scripted ‘sinners’ prayer at the end of a gospel tract. Jesus commands us to make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching (Matt 28:19-20). The apostles themselves preached the commandment for believers to be baptized. In Acts 2:37-41 the Holy Spirit began to move in the hearts of those listening to the Word of God being preached which prompted the people to ask Peter, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter prescribed two ways that faith in the Gospel is demonstrated: “Repent and be baptized”. We know that those who listened to Peter had faith in their heart because verse 41 says they, “received his word [and] were baptized”.  There is no such thing in the New Testament as an ‘unbaptized’ believer. Those who believe the gospel express their faith in baptism. If we value the call of the Gospel and obedience to Christ we will follow Him in baptism.

Third, Baptism brings us into the Covenant Community. All throughout the New Testament you see Christians living together in a community bound by the New Covenant of Christ’s body and blood. The mark of being apart of the family of God is a shared baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. Baptism itself is a dramatization of the radical transformation of an individual. Immersion into the water symbolizes our spiritual death and association with the Christ’s atoning death. As we are raised up out of the water, we symbolize the new spiritual life that Christ has imparted to us and the new nature we now possess. A nature that brings forth the fruit of the Spirit, a desire to follow Christ, and to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. This new life we possess is not lived in isolation but apart of the faith community. Many people say that I do not have to be a ‘church member’ to be a Christian. However, there is never mention of a Christian in isolation from other Christians or apart from a fellowship of believers. New Testament believers were devoted to the Apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and to prayer (Acts 2:42). Even in remote parts of the earth the goal of missionaries is to plant churches where the fellowship of Christ can be enjoyed and cherished. The metaphors that are used of a Christian’s new life are a spiritual body, temple, and household to name a few. None of these can be done in isolation, we need one another. Therefore, baptism is the means by which we are brought into communion with other believers, a local expression of the universal body of Christ (local church), and the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper. The more I meditate on the significance of baptism the more I am thankful for the Gospel which it symbolizes. May we at Ocean Park be faithful to live out the Great Commission and make disciples by calling those in our homes, work, and community to follow Christ in Baptism.

*The July 23rd Baptismal service will be at 6:00 at the 16th Ave S Beach not in the sanctuary. 

Soli Deo Gloria
Pastor Chris

Article by Jon Bloom

It can be really hard to love the church. Every Christian, who’s been one for very long, knows this.

The earthly church has always been a motley crew. It’s never been ideal. The New Testament exists because churches, to differing degrees, have always been a mess — a glorious mess of saints still polluted by remaining sin, affected by defective genes, brains, and bodies, and influenced by life-shaping pasts.

This mess rarely looks glorious to us up close. It looks like a lot of sin and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears invested into a lot of futility. It often looks like something we’d rather escape than join.

But this is the way it’s supposed to be. Because the mess is what draws out the one thing that advances the church’s mission more than anything else. And this one thing is why we must not, for selfish reasons, leave the church. The Church We Didn’t Choose

Jesus’s very first disciples didn’t get to choose each other. Jesus chose them (John 15:16). They just found themselves thrown together.

The very next generation of early Christians didn’t get to choose each other either. They too were thrown together with others they likely wouldn’t have chosen: Palestinian and Hellenistic Jews, Jews and Gentiles, educated and uneducated, slaves and slave owners, impoverished and aristocrats, former zealots and former tax collectors, former prostitutes and former Pharisees.

And Jesus gave these early disciples, and all disciples afterward, an impossible command: love one another (John 15:17). It had to be impossible to obey in mere human power because this love was meant to bear witness of Jesus in the world (John 13:35), and to give visible evidence of the invisible God (1 John 4:12). It had to demonstrate that “what is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).

And Jesus gave his disciples an impossible context in which to carry out this impossible command: the church (Matthew 16:18) — a community of diverse, sin-polluted, defective individuals from all sorts of life-shaping pasts living life together in an impossible love.

Then Jesus gave his church an impossible mission: preach the gospel throughout the whole, God-rejecting, Christ-hating world (Luke 21:17; John 15:18), and plant impossible communities among every people where diverse, sin-polluted, defective individuals from all sorts of life-shaping pasts would live out Jesus’s impossible command to love one another (Matthew 28:19–20).

Impossible love, impossible community, and impossible mission: this is a plan doomed to fail. There’s no way this works, unless a God exists who makes possible the humanly impossible.

And here we are, two thousand years later. The impossible mission has produced impossible communities carrying out this impossible command throughout much of the world. For all the church’s problems, and they are legion, something miraculous is at work here. Miraculous, Struggling Community

But the church rarely looks miraculous at any given moment. “The church,” as we most directly experience it, looks like the less-than-ideal local church we belong to, made up of ordinary people struggling to get along, struggling to figure out how to “do church” in a world of constant change, and struggling to do its part to fulfill the Great Commission.

Struggling doesn’t look or feel miraculous. It’s fatiguing, frustrating, and at times exasperating. Struggling can make us want to give up.

But we must not give up on the church. Because it’s the messy things — those extraordinarily difficult and painful things that can drive us crazy — that provide the very opportunities for the humanly impossible love of Christ to be exercised, giving visibility to the existence of the invisible God.

According to the New Testament, a church’s success is not measured by the number of its attenders, the size of its budget, the excellence of its event production, or the scope of its public influence. Its success is measured by the quality of its love. A church that most effectively witnesses Jesus in the world pursues love through:

  • Honoring each other (Romans 12:10)
  • Contributing to meet each other’s needs (Romans 12:13)
  • Showing hospitality to one another (Romans 12:13)
  • Rejoicing over each other’s joys (Romans 12:15)
  • Weeping over each other’s griefs (Romans 12:15)
  • Pursuing harmony with each other in spite of differences (Romans 12:16)
  • Not excluding the lowliest members (Romans 12:16)
  • Submitting to each other (Ephesians 5:21)
  • Persistently striving for agreement over thorny issues (2 Corinthians 13:11)
  • Using individual freedom in Christ to serve each other (Galatians 5:13)
  • Bearing with each other’s weaknesses, foibles, and immaturity (Ephesians 4:2)
  • Covering each other’s multitudinous sins with forgiveness (1 Peter 4:8; Colossians 3:13)
  • Stirring up each other to press on in the mission of love (Hebrews 10:24)
  • And not neglecting to meet regularly together (Hebrews 10:25).

And what calls such love out? Read each line again and ask what situations prompt such opportunities to love. The short answer is: lots of various kinds of struggling. It’s the messy struggles that call out love.

Churches are designed to be communities of impossible love that only work if God is real, and Christ’s sacrifice is real, and heaven is real. In void of love, the community falls apart or degrades into consumer event products, empty formalism, formless “spirituality,” social advocacy groups, or essentially civic gatherings — all dying or dead remains of a past vitality. Graciously Disappointing Community

Jesus did not design the church to be a place where our dreams come true. Actually, it’s where many of our dreams are disappointed and die. And this is more of a grace to us than we likely realize, because our dreams are often much more selfish than we discern.

Our personal expectations easily become tyrants to everyone else, because everyone else fails to meet them. When we are more focused on how others’ failings and foibles obstruct the ideal community we want to pursue than we are on serving those others and pursuing their good and joy, our expectations can kill love, which impedes the real mission.

Jesus designed the church to be a place where love comes true, where we lay our preferences aside out of deference to others. It is meant to be a living laboratory of love, a place where there are so many opportunities, big and small, to lay down our lives for each other that the love of Christ becomes a public spectacle.

That’s why when it comes to church in this age, the picture of community we should have in our minds is not some utopian harmony, but Golgotha. In living life together, we die every day (1 Corinthians 15:31). We lay down our lives for each other (1 John 3:16). Love the One You’re With

Over forty years ago, Stephen Stills sang, “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.” Though he certainly didn’t write this with the church in mind, we can draw a redemptive application.

There are numerous legitimate reasons to leave a church, and departures are one more messy opportunity to extend gracious love. But we must have a healthy suspicion of our motives if disillusionment, restlessness, boredom, discontentment, burnout, relational conflict, and disappointed expectations are fueling our impulse to leave. Often these fruits have roots in selfish soil. We must not love the church we can’t be with — that idealized community of our imagination. We must love the one we’re with.

We don’t get to choose the disciples we live with; Jesus does. We get thrown into a motley group of sin-polluted, defective saints, among whom, in our own ways, we are the polluted, defective foremost (1 Timothy 1:15).

What we get is the incredible privilege of and plethora of opportunities for loving these fellow disciples like Jesus loved us. We get to love them, warts and all. Because it is through the mutually self-dying, forbearing, forgiving love warty disciples have for one another that Jesus is most clearly shown to the world and his mission is most powerfully advanced.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by Sight, Things Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife live in the Twin Cities with their five children.

Soli Deo Gloria
Pastor Chris