Story Saturday: When An Atheist invites a Muslim to Your Church

Two weeks ago, I got a call from a good friend of mine who told me that he had just invited out someone to Christ Church.  Nothing too out of the ordinary right? Well, this friend happens to be an atheist who hates the idea of God.  The person he invited out to our church was a Muslim who had never met a Christian before.  My question was; what in the world is an atheist doing inviting a Muslim to a Christian church?  His reply was that this Muslim was a good friend of his who was going through a really hard time and he didn’t know how to bring encouragement or help.  He said that while he disagrees with what we believe, he can’t deny the love that he feels when he visits and he wanted his friend to be able to experience that.  After picking my jaw up off the floor, I told him that I’d love to meet this person.

One of the things that fascinates me as I read the gospels is how Jesus is uncompromising about truth and yet unrelenting with his love.  He calls out sin for what it is and he is very clear about who He is and that salvation is only found in him.  Yet,  while this truth is clear, his love is also clear.  And so even though sinners were being called out, they still wanted to spend time with him.  

Christ Church, by God’s grace, this is the reputation that we have.  People hear truth when they come, but they experience love.  And so the truth doesn’t drive away, but actually draws them in.  My prayer is that this is what people would always experience from us.   Even if they don’t believe like we do, I pray that they would feel loved and valued.  I hope that we have a lot more atheist and Muslims come out to our church, so that by God’s grace these friends can become family through responding in faith to the gospel of Jesus.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Jeff

You can connect with me:

On twitter:  @Pastor_Jeff

On Facebook: Jeff Boettcher


 

Two Questions to Ask

Dear Christ Church,

Almost every Sunday night my parents would lead our family in a time of prayer and discussion about our church service that day.  There were definitely plenty of eye rolls from us kids.  However, there were two questions that they would always ask which I have never forgotten, and have shaped how I approach every Sunday gathering to this day.

They would ask:  Who did you meet that was new?  What did you do to serve?

Those weren’t random questions.  My parents were trying to instill something in us.  They were trying to teach us that the best life comes when your life isn’t about you.  It is so easy to come into a Sunday service only thinking about what we hope to get out of it.  There is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to experience God and be built up personally.  However, God wants something more for us than that.  Not only does he want to meet us, he wants to use us.  If we are only coming to the Sunday service with ourselves in mind, then we are missing out on a bigger reason (and greater joy) that God has for us.  We are missing out on how God wants to use us in other’s lives.

Who did you meet that was new?

We don’t have a greeting team at Christ Church and that is a very intentional choice.  I don’t want a new person to be greeted by someone because it is that person’s “obligation” that week.  Every member of Christ Church should view themselves as greeters.  It’s been studied that people make a decision within 5 minutes of walking into a church whether is is a place they will return to or not.  At the end of a service people make a decision within 2 minutes whether they will stay to connect with people or leave, because they aren’t being engaged.  I’m so grateful that the comment I get again and again from visitors is how welcomed they felt.  However, the more we grow the harder this will be.  It will become easier and easier to just greet our friends and talk to the people that we want to catch up with.  So ask yourself on your way over to church; who can you meet that is new?  Ask your kids this question too.  Start training them now.  In our culture teens don’t engage anyone, but only think about themselves.  It can be a tremendous testimony to see teens interacting with adults and younger children, as well as reaching out to other teens who are new.  

What did you do to serve?

Most of our members serve on some kind of ministry team.  We are incredibly blessed to have a church that takes serving as an act of worship to God.  But there are always unexpected things that can come up.  Spills happen, moms with strollers need help opening doors, trash is left out, someone needs some prayer or a word of encouragement, extra chairs need to be set up, some chairs need to be taken down.  I remember a Sunday where I blew out of church and ran off to play with my friends.  When my Dad asked what we had done to serve that day, I had no answer.  He asked me why.  I told him that no one had asked me to do anything.  I’ll never forget his response, “Isn’t it good that Jesus didn’t wait to be asked?”  As followers of Jesus, we don’t wait to be asked and just check off the little box that we’ve been assigned.  No, we are to follow the example of Christ, who defined himself as a servant who came to look out for the interest of others.

So Christ Church:  Who can you meet that is new?  Who can you serve?

Grace and peace,

Pastor Jeff

You can connect with me:

On twitter:  @Pastor_Jeff

On Facebook: Jeff Boettcher

Story Saturday- United for Jesus

Dear Christ Church,

For the past several months I've been meeting with a group of church leaders from around the city.  We have been thinking and praying about how we can celebrate together the awesome work that God is doing all over Philadelphia.  This past Thursday our efforts came to fruition as we gathered 100 different people from 20+ different networks, denominations and groups at XinfityLive!  We had some great food, heard from some church planters (I was on that panel) and had an inspiring message from one of our city's spiritual giants, Reverend Herb Lusk II.  There was a lot of laughter, fun and connection.  We ended our time by praying over church planters.  This was just the first on a year long series of events called The Tour.  We are taking a tour around different sections of Philly seeking to shine a spotlight on what God is doing in the varies areas of our city.  

Reverend Lusk, who has been ministering in the same church in Philadelphia for over 40 years, started his talk by saying, "I don't think I have ever heard of a more important meeting than what is taking place here today."   It was a powerful statement coming from a man of his experience.  I'm not sure if that is true or not, but you could feel heaven smiling upon what was taking place.  No one was there touting their tribe or specific brand of Christianity.  We were all there united by the simple cause of Christ.  It was truly beautiful.

Thank you to all who support Christ Church.  Because of your faithful giving we were able to participate in helping to financially support The Tour and allow me to be part of the planning team.  We are a small church, but God is showing His favor upon us and allowing us to be used in influential ways in our city.  It's really amazing to watch Him work.

If you want to check out more about The Tour, go to the website at www.thetourphilly.org

See you around the neighborhood,

Pastor Jeff

You can connect with me:

On twitter:  @Pastor_Jeff

On Facebook: Jeff Boettcher

What's Your Plan- Part 3

This is the final post in my mini series on how to make plans so that you can join God on his mission.  The word “planning” might freak some people out.  But don’t be intimidated.  Planning is not about being super structured, but rather learning how to be thoughtful and intention in pursuing God’s mission.  If you haven’t read part 1 or part 2 of this series, I’d encourage you to do so before reading below.  

Use tools

One of the things that makes humans human, besides the whole “made in God’s image” thing, is that we are tool users.  If scientists find a chimp that picks up a hammer and hits a nail 1 out of thousand times, they go nuts.  But my son Judah, when he was only two years old, knew how to drag a stool over to the pantry, pick up a broom, and reach the highest shelf to knock down his snack bars.  Humans are natural tool users.  Yet, for some, when it comes to planning we totally forget this.  All of a sudden we think we have to keep everything in our heads.

On the other end of the spectrum is the person who uses so many tools to keep themselves organized that they spend all their time being “organized” and don’t actually get anything done.  The key here is to have a few simple things that allow you to put your plan into action.  I personally use two tools:  Google calendar and a project based to-list.

A. Google calendar

If you want to work out a plan then it is crucial that you don’t just know what, but also when.  Not much of significance can be done apart from being scheduled.  Certainly schedules can be interrupted (anyone who was with us for the first year of our church plant can certainly attest to that).  However, while a schedule can be interrupted, that does not mean that there is no value to having one.  Having a schedule allows us to choose our own priorities, rather than having them dictated to us.  A carefully constructed calendar is what turns you from just being busy (taking a bunch of steps in a bunch of different directions) to being purposeful (consistently moving in one direction).  

Just as one example of what this looks like, Angie and I sit down every month and plan out what we hope to accomplish that month.  We plan out a rough idea of when we will do different “steps” that take us further on the path towards the end that we feel God has called us to.  We then meet on a weekly basis to fill in those details fully for the coming week.  We also do some big picture stuff for the year.

The great thing about google calendar is that you can have multiple calendars for various things.  I have my church calendar, family calendar, Sovereign Grace Churches calendar, neighborhood calendar and Eagles calendar (yup) all loaded in.  I can choose to only look at one at a time or all at the same time depending upon what it is that I’m trying to schedule.  Also, Angie has access to the same calendar and if either of us make any changes the other sees it immediately.  This has almost eliminated our double booking ourselves (apart from human error, which we definitely still have).  

Having a calendar also helps us be realistic about what we can do and not feel bad about what we can’t.  The reality is that there is only so much time in each day and only so many days in each week.  God is unlimited and unbound by time and having a schedule is a good way to remind ourselves that we are not Him.  Our schedules let us see what we realistically have time to do and they are a great tool to look back on and see how well we are doing in pursuing what God has put in our hearts to do.  Calendars let us look back and see where we’ve been spending our time, which gives us the opportunity to course correct as we then look ahead and make our plans.  To rephrase a popular saying from Ben Franklin, if you don’t schedule your plan, then you have scheduled to fail.

I’ve heard it said that living by a calendar can stifle creativity.  However, John Alan Lassitar (Chief Creative Director at Pixar) would disagree.  He uses his schedule to make sure that he has time for free space to think creatively.  Without a schedule he always feels like he is missing something and it is harder for him to think creatively.  But when he is operating with a schedule, he knows that he doesn’t have to think about certain things, because it isn’t time to do so and therefore he is free to be as creative as possible.  This disciplined pursuit of free space then allows him to be spontaneously creative throughout the rest of the day.

B.  Project based to do list

As we come to the end we finally are going to talk about lists.  Some people love lists, some people hate lists.  The unavoidable reality is that if you want to make plans, you need to make lists.  Lists are what move plans into more than just plans, but actual execution.  As you break down each goal into manageable steps, put each step on a list and then systematically work through that list.  

1.  Keep all your lists in one place

You have probably heard of split personality disorder.  I think there is also a disorder called split list disorder.  This is when someone has lists all over their house, car, room and desk.  These lists don’t know each other, have nothing to do with each other and you never know when one might be in prominence.  It is complete chaos.  A good system for lists is when they are all in one place and so you can look at what you have to do at any given moment and be freed from having to remember anything (praise God for reminders!).  My Mom was old school and always kept her list in the back of her daytimer.  I’m not sure if they even make those anymore.  I’ve used several apps over the years and have found todoist and meistertask to be my favorite with meistertask having the edge if you need to collaborate with other people.

2.  Don’t just list tasks, but list groups of tasks

If you look at a to do list and there are 30 tasks on it, I don’t know about you, but I’m giving up and just going back to sleep.  I think it is helpful to have all your tasks listed under bigger header groups.  For example, I usually have anywhere from 5-7 big groups of things that I am trying to get done on a weekly basis (Family, Sermon prep,  Pastoral Care, Leadership Development, etc…)Each of these are “projects” that have multiple tasks under them.  The beauty of this is that i don’t have to think about “What am I supposed to do here?”  I already thought about that in my yearly, monthly and weekly planning time.  As I go through my week, I just have to execute each task on my list.  As I do that eventually big projects get done.    

3.  Everything goes on a list

We only have so much mental capacity.  We can only remember so much.  We can only think about a certain number of things at any given time.  It takes mental space to make plans and seek to live an intentional life.  There is no way we will have the space to access that if we always have all these different things floating around in our heads.  My rule is that if it isn’t written down, then it doesn’t exist.  Everything I plan for has to go on a list or it will never get done.

Conclusion:

If you read all this and just feel completely overwhelmed, let me give you some encouragement.  First, praise God for the strengths He has given you!  People who naturally like to plan need people like you in their lives just so that we remember how to have fun.  The world would be a terrible place if everyone’s natural strength was planning.

Second, be willing to work on your weakness.  I need to work on being ok when things don’t go according to my plan.  That’s my weakness.  If your weakness is thinking that you don’t need to plan, let me encourage you to consider working on that as well.  We can either turn a blind eye to our weakness and never grow, or we can humbly acknowledge that there are things in our life that make us very aware of our dependence on God and we can press into those things and experience God’s transformative work.  If planning isn’t a strength for you, don’t be discouraged.  Press in.  And consider getting some help.  Find someone (family or friend) that you can reach out to for whom this is a strength and see what you might be able to pick up from them.  God promises to give grace to the humble and seeking to grow is a sure sign of humility.

Ok, that will do it.  

See you around the neighborhood!

Pastor Jeff

If you want to connect with me:

On twitter:  @Pastor_Jeff

On Facebook: Jeff Boettcher

 

Story Saturday- Hunger for God

Dear Christ Church,

This past week we cancelled all our small groups and pulled everyone together for a night of prayer and praise.  Some small groups were better represented then others, but every group had someone that was there.  I get so excited as I think about what God will do through us taking some time to slow down and pray.  We can have all the plans and strategy that we want, but we can't manufacture a move of God.  And so we need to hunger for the presence of our Lord and for Him to come and do the great things that only He can do.  

If you weren't able to make it out, here's the outline of what we prayed for:

Praise

  1. We Sing
  2. Come Praise and Glorify

Prayers of Praise

  1. Salvations that we have seen in the past few months
  2. Remission of cancer for someone that our church has been praying for
  3. People experiencing community and life change like never before

Pray for “Making Disciples” (groups of 6-8)

  1. People in our sphere (Neighbors, co-workers, family)
  2. Our addictions ministry
  3. Our thanksgiving Dinner outreach
  4. Furness bible study
  5. Next generation (Children and youth in our church)

Praise

1.  Let Your Kingdom Come

Pray for “Maturing Disciples” category 7:45-8pm

  1. Church events
    1.  Digging deeper classes
    2.  Small groups
    3.  Sunday service
  2. Church staff members
    1.  Brittanie Demeno- Admin support
    2.  Ashley Magitz- Admin support
    3.  Kristen Catoe- Social Media
    4.  Melissa Fehlinger- Graphics
    5.  Jessica Slingerland- Supplies
    6.   Elise Neumann-Logistics
    7.  Jessie McCurley- Accounting
  3.  Pray for people in their various seasons of life:
    1. Married couples
    2. Parents
    3. Singles
  4.  Pray for our pastoral interns (Joe Catoe and his wife Kristen, Caleb McCurley and his wife Jessie), pastor in training (Steve Crowell and his wife Megan) and lead pastor (Jeff Boettcher and his wife Angie)
  5. Pray for greater ethnic and racial diversity in our church

Pray for “Multiplying Disciples” 

  1. Unity amongst churches in the city
  2. Pray for churches that are friends of our church:
    1.  Citylife (Brad and Leah Leach)
    2.  Grace and Peace (Jonathan and Rachel Olsen)
    3. Liberti Church East (Steve and Christne Huber)
    4.  Synder Ave Congregation church (Dave and Lisa Grainge)
  3. Pray for churches that are family to our church
    1.  Grace City Northeast (Rob and Stephanie Chisholm)
    2.  Grace City Frankford (Stephen and Abby Bowne)
    3.  Grace City Wissonoming (Dan and Jodi Birkholtz),
    4.  Covenant Community (Ian and Rachel McConnel)
  4. God to raise up more pastors in our church so that more members can be equipped for ministry
  5. Pray that God would give us an opportunity to church plant
  6. Pray that God would provide for us financially so that we can keep moving forward in mission

Praise

1.  Great is Thy Faithfulness

See you around the neighborhood!

Pastor Jeff

Connect with me:

On twitter:  @Pastor_Jeff

On Facebook: Jeff Boettcher

What's Your Plan? Part 2

In my last post I discussed the importance of having one big goal for your life which is vital if you want to make plans for your life.  You can’t make a plan if you don’t know where you want to go.  You can call this a personal mission statement, life goal, purpose, whatever, the point is that we see people all throughout scripture who have a very specific vision for what God had called them to do on earth.  We need to have a purpose if we want to make a plan.

Once you have the big goal, though, what do you do in order to make plans to work it out?  

Determine your steps

If you have an end in mind then what are the steps that you need to take in order to pursue it?  We all only have so many “steps” that we can take in our life.  Eventually our step count will max out and the Lord will take us home.  So imagine that two people each have 20 steps.  One person takes one step in 20 different directions and the other person takes 20 steps in 1 direction.  Who went further over the course of their life?  Obviously, the person who went in one direction.  The key to effective planning is not about trying to get more things done, but rather getting the right things done.  

Again this is why it is important to begin with the end in mind.  We need to know the direction that our steps are to go in, so that we can determine what our priorities should be.  Make no mistake, if we don’t determine our priorities, someone else will.

So break down your big goal into yearly, quarterly and monthly goals and think of those as steps.  Angie and I both take personal retreats every year where we create space to be alone with God, pray, reflect and plan out goals for the year.  I highly recommend getting some time to get away, get quiet and listen to God.  Change of place and change of pace bring a change of perspective.  So take time and map out what God puts on your heart.  Write your thoughts down, because if something just exists in your mind then it doesn’t exist in the real world yet.  Make your steps tangible and put them on a piece of paper (or in an app-we’ll talk more about that later).

The other benefit of determining your steps is that it give you the freedom to say no.  If we just say yes to every opportunity we’ll be like that person who takes 20 steps in 20 different directions.  We need to know how to say no and be ok with that.  Now we shouldn’t say “no” just to serve our own selfishness.  Saying no to one thing should be done so that you can say yes to the right thing.   

Let me give you an example of this.  I was recently presented with two different opportunities.  One was to be the President of my neighborhood association.  The other was to be a coach for a church planting group outside of Sovereign Grace (my family of churches). I had three options (side note, studies have shown that the best decisions are made when you are able to come up with three options, because it allows for more analytical thinking). I could say no to both, yes to all, or yes to one.   After thinking about my current roles, goals and schedule I knew that I could not say yes to both, but I could probably say yes to one.  Both options were equally exciting to me.  I love my neighborhood and want to do whatever I can to contribute to its thriving.  Plus it would be a great opportunity to connect with more neighbors and hopefully have opportunities to have spiritual conversations.  On the other hand, I am passionate about church planting, enjoy the act of coaching and would love to be more intentional about investing in future planters.  I  prayed and I sought counsel from wise people who know me well.  What I was seeking to discern was what would take me one step further in the direction of what I want to pursue with my life.  You see, both were good options, but a good option does not mean it is the right option.  If you remember from the first blog post, I feel called to see another percentage of Philadelphians come to know, love and serve Jesus in my lifetime.  So which of these opportunities was a step in that direction?  While I love church planting, ultimately that opportunity was not focused on this city and so I turned it down and went with being the President of my neighborhood association.  Time will tell if that was the right choice, but regardless of the outcome, I feel at peace because I think I made that choice in the right way.  It was an intentional step.  

Create rhythms to your life

I’ve seen people shoot themselves in the foot by thinking that planning means just writing more things down and learning to live off a list.  What this fails to account for is that we are, as the great human observer Shakespeare said, “creatures of habit.”  Study after study has shown that we operate best when we have routines, not necessarily lists.  Lists are important (we’ll talk about that when I discss tools), but before you make lists you need to establish some kind of general rhythm for your life.  If you don’t take this step you will just feel overwhelmed by your lists and not be able to actually make good on your plans.

So, the question that should be asked is, ‘What rhythms do I need to have in place in order to pursue the end that God has placed on my heart?”

This will be different for each individual.  For example one of my rhythms is that I need to work on my sermon early in the week and keep my calendar clear and then fill my calendar up towards the end of the week.  If I don’t get to my sermon early in the week, I feel stressed and my whole work (and home) life suffers.  But if I get a good bit of that done, then I feel relaxed and able to take my time dealing with other things.  My Dad has the exact opposite rhythm.  He can’t start working on his sermon until he feels under the gun.  It is hard for him to focus without feeling some sense of pressure. So he does most of his busy work in the beginning of the week and saves his sermon prep for the end.  

Those are examples from a work environment, but the same thing applies to our home life.  So for Angie and I we know that if we are going to see another percentage of Philadelphians come to know, love and serve Jesus in our lifetime then we have to get to know a lot of people.  So we have a rhythm to our week about connecting with others.   Angie and I don’t like to plan things in the beginning of the week, but keep that open so that we can connect together, but then we know that generally we will have something going on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  We don’t have to plan whether or not we will do something those nights. We know we will.  It is our rhythm.  We just have to fill in the details of who is coming over or where we are going.  

Good planning involves some thinking on the front end, but ultimately should result in you having to think less as you go through life.  How many times have you gotten in your car on your way to work, home, or some kind of destination that you routinely go to and when you get there you realize that you don’t even remember making the trip?  We have a high capacity to live on auto pilot.  This can be a bad thing if we have the wrong routines in place, or a really powerful thing if we are intentional about training ourselves to have the right rhythms.  

So how can you create rhythms?  What are things that just need to be automatic in your life?

Any plan about how to do this that doesn’t involve creating a rhythm of prayer and Bible study will never deliver you to the end of glorifying God.  So if you don’t already have a rhythm of personal time with the Lord, start there.

As we create rhythms it is crucial that we do not allow those rhythms to make us slaves. Some people can become so attached to their routines that they miss out on the spontaneous opportunities that God gives to love and serve others (See the Priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 15).  We need to have rhythms, but we need to be flexible with those rhythms and give God space to use us in unplanned moments.  If we are unwilling to do that, then our rhythms have become our gods and we have fallen into idolatry.

Ok, that’s all for now…  Next up:  How to use tools to work out your plan

See you around the neighborhood,

Pastor Jeff

Connect with me:

On twitter:  @Pastor_Jeff

On Facebook: Jeff Boettcher

Story Saturday- An Intern's Experience

As my summer internship reaches an end, I've been meditating on the different things I've learned this summer and the things that I'll be taking with me for my future ministry. I've seen and come to appreciate many things in the community that makes up the people of Christ Church. Jeff asked me to write a blog post summarizing the various things that I've observed and learned from an outside perspective, both as an encouragement to you and as a different perspective on things you may be unable to see because you’re in the thick of it.

People

I've come to love and appreciate many of the individual people that make up this church. People are not part of a church, they are the church. I see this attitude modeled by the individuals of Christ Church. One of the great issues of the German church is an unwillingness to get involved in the church life and a perspective on church that church is simply something that you attend. A place to go on Sunday morning as opposed to a living and dynamic community of believers to love and serve with your spiritual gifts. While I'm sure there may be room for improvement, as there always is, this is something I appreciate tremendously about this church. I always felt loved and welcomed by the people of the church and have formed some real friendships. Whether it was letting me practice my driving (I've been working on getting my American license this summer) or just spending a free evening over at someone's house I've enjoyed it tremendously!

The other main thing that has stood out to me is the power of biblical truth and doctrine to shape people's lives. The church in Germany often falls into a very doctrine-opposing attitude. Theology is almost a bad word because it conjures up images of arrogant men dividing churches and waging war over trivialities. I don't need to tell you this, but nothing could be further from the reality. The intensely personal and practical implications of the study of God for how we align our lives in relationship to him can hardly be overstated. I have tremendously enjoyed coming to know, and building relationships with, people whose personal aim in life is to bring glory and praise to God. God is the center of the universe, man is not. The power of the church is drained when this role is reversed and I praise God for the many individuals of Christ Church where this is not the case.

Leadership

I've gained a new respect for the amount of work that goes into running a church on the “back-end.” Jeff works hard every day and so do many volunteers that make everything that happens in this church possible. I appreciate the sacrifices made by Joe and his family that enable him to take care of much of the administration of the church. It's exemplary that Jeff chooses to pray for each individual in this church and has a burden to reach more people. A strong elder body is extremely important for the health of the church. Therefore I can only reinforce: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Heb. 13:17)

Church Life

One thing that stood out to me was the actual church events. I always found myself very much looking forward to church services and to small group. I often enter a church service in Germany wondering how much of the service I will be able to give a full “Amen” to, and how much will sadden me. Here it was wonderful to see that we sang songs that had God in the center and gave glory to him. I enjoyed the focus of the sermons on Christ and what HE has done. I loved the open and joyful atmosphere of small groups and the meaningful and deep discussion that accompanied it. Small group specifically was consistently one of my week's highlights.

Overall

Overall I have learned much this summer and am leaving America with a burden on my heart for the people and the churches of Germany. I believe God is not done with the country where the reformation began, no matter how liberal some churches become or how secular the society as a whole becomes. I encourage everyone in this church to appreciate what God has done and is doing in this church and in the lives of its individuals. Often we need to take a step back to get a full view of what God is doing and the blessing that we so often overlook or take for granted. This is something I've been privileged to have by coming into this church from the outside. We should praise the Lord for what he has done and press on to labor with all our might in what he will continue to do through this church!

God bless you!

Jimmy Beevers

What's Your Plan? part 1

Bill Gates had a vision to put a computer into every home and so he made a plan about how we would to pursue that vision.  Steve Jobs had a vision to change the way we use our phones and so he made a plan about how he would pursue that vision  We see things like this in the business world all the time.  Few are as successful as Gates or Jobs, but there are all kinds of people who have a vision for something and make plans to achieve their vision.  They don’t wait for “doors to open”.  They don’t rely on “feeling led in the moment.”  They make plans and get stuff done.  

Christians can have a hard time making plans.  We can feel like planning is somehow “unspiritual” and prefer to be “led by the Spirit”, which we think means just going through life spontaneously with no clear focus.  But go ahead and try to find a verse that says we shouldn’t plan.  Let me save you some time (feel free to check me though), that verse doesn’t exist.  Yet there are many verses that call us to make plans.  Eph 5:16 commands us to “make the best use” of our time, Proverbs promises that “the plans of the diligent surely lead to abundance” and the wise man is commended for making plans.  Every day that God gives us is a gift from God that He wants us to use to maximize the good that we can do in this world for him.  It is the lazy servant who took the talent the master had given him and made no plans about how to increase it, but buried it in the sand.  He is condemned for squandering what he had been given (Matthew 25:14-29),  It is a tragedy when businessmen like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs make better plans to sell goods than the people of God who have the only message of hope for this broken world.  Our vision of seeing people come from death to life through faith in Jesus should be too great in our hearts for us not to make a plan to get after joining God on His mission.  I couldn’t agree more with John Piper when he writes, “Aimless, unproductive Christians contradict the creative, purposeful, powerful, merciful God we love.”

How do we do this though?  How do we move from just feeling inspired to actually getting stuff done?  How do we go from good intentions to meaningful action?  

I am going to do a series of posts with some practical advice on how we can make plans to join God in His mission of building from brokenness.  Now, as a pastor, I can’t just jump right into practicals without making sure that it is clear that doing things for God must always be empowered by who we are in Christ.  God doesn’t love us based upon what we get done, but upon what Jesus has done.  In our efforts to spread the gospel it is vital that we don’t forget the gospel.  God loves us because we are united by faith to His son Jesus and therefore, God’s love is ever abounding, always forgiving, never diminishing and constantly faithful.  We must be secured in God’s love for us as we seek to share God’s love with others.  “A Christian is something before he does anything; and we have to be Christians before we can act like Christians.”- Martin Lloyd-Jones

One more quick thing before we get going.  I want to make sure that it is clear upfront that everything that I’m going to  write about planning is completely unoriginal.  I owe a lot of this to my Mom who is a master planner, Tim Wolf who taught me how to plan during a high school discipleship class and from reading broadly on this topic over the years.    Since I don’t think my Mom or Tim are teaching any seminars on this topic, let me recommend the books that I have found most helpful.

1. Do More Better by Tim Challies

Short and punchy.  It is written by a pastor with tons of very practical wisdom.

2.  What’s Best Next? by Matt Perlman

The best biblical case I’ve read about why being a productive planner matters so much for the Christian.  I think he gets a little bogged down in details sometimes, but overall, a very helpful read.

3.  7 Habits of Highly Effective Individuals by Stephen Covey

This book has sold well over 25 million copies for a reason.  It is a timeless classic written in a very accessible and practical manner.  This is a book that I think everyone should read in their lifetime.

4.  Essentialism by Greg McKeown

A question I commonly ask leaders is what are they currently reading that is really challenging them?  In the past two years from pastor to CEO, this is the book that I have heard most commonly recommended.  I have read it through three times and still gain something new from it each time.  

Ok, so with these things in mind, here are some suggestions about how we can make plans.

BEGIN WITH THE END

A common thing that motivational speakers will say is to think about what you want people to say at your funeral and then to give your life to achieving that eulogy.  As Christians, I don’t think we should think about our funeral.  I think we should think about the day when we appear before our Savior and he says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” What do we want God to say well done for on that day?

You see, we need more clarity than just “Glorifying God and enjoying him forever”.  God has made each one of us as unique individuals.  He has given us unique combinations of abilities, resources, experiences and opportunities that He wants us to use in a unique way to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.  Certainly there are general principles that apply to each one of us. We are all called to do justice and love mercy (Micah 6:8), care for the vulnerable (James 1:27), do good deeds to others (Matthew 5:16) and in all these things “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Col 3:17 ESV) However, in scripture we see people living by more than just these general guiding principles.  From  Nehemiah who had “what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem.” (Neh 2:12 ESV) to Paul who said “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation” (Rom 15:20 ESV), we see people throughout scripture with very clear “ends” in mind.  They knew what they had been given to do.  They knew what they wanted their lives to count for.  They had more than just an idea of wanting to “glorify” God.  While they were excited to get to heaven, they knew there was a reason that they were still on earth.  They shaped their whole life around that reason.

So why does God still have you on earth?  It must be for more than just glorifying Him.  You can do that in heaven.  What are ways that you can only glorify God on earth?  What’s something that is broken that you feel God has called you to join him in rebuilding?

A. Pray

We need to pray and ask God to show us.  He is not reluctant to do so, for he has prepared good works for us to walk in (Eph 2:10).  We don’t start to find our purpose by getting out into the world, but falling to our knees before the God of heaven.  If you have listened to our Nehemiah series we’ve already seen this repeatedly.  Nehemiah was a man of action, because he was a man of prayer.  Through his prayers, God put in his heart what He wanted Nehemiah to do (Nehemiah 2:12).  In order to plan we need to have purpose.  Purpose comes from prayer.

B. Feel

What burdens has God given you?  What do you seem to care about more than other people?  While there are certain things that we are all called to as Christians, God will give some of us greater burdens for particular things.  We can either use those burdens to feel self righteous towards those that don’t share them, or we can use those burdens to start making plans about how we want to go about what God has put on our heart.

C.  Think  

What are the abilities, resources and experiences that God has given you which you can use for Him?  From swinging a hammer to talking well, being business minded to artistically creative, God has made each one of us in such a way that we have unique things to contribute to His mission.  So think about your abilities (and ask others so that you have an honest picture).  What are you good at and how can you use that for the Lord?

D. Watch

We need to live with our eyes wide open.  Often the direction we are praying for is right in front of us, but we don’t see it because we aren’t watching.  What has God put in front of you?  Who has God put in front of you?  

We need to begin with the end in mind, because if we can find one big thing that will then inform how we plan the million of little things of our lives.  Martin Luther King, Jr had a dream to see people of all colors living in equality.  William Wilberforce had a vision of a world with no more slavery.  I have a desire to see one more percentage of Philadelphians come to know Jesus in my lifetime.  I know a very successful businessman who wanted to make enough money so that he could live on 5% of his income and use the other 95% to fund mission efforts in his church and community.  I have another friend who is a doctor and uses his skills and expertise to serve in a variety of ways in his church.  I know a man who is a janitor and who uses that position to make meaningful connections with kids who otherwise would get looked over in the system.  They are all very different people and they all have one common goal, using their lives to glorify God through reaching people who are far from God.  However, how they go about that goal is as different as they are.  When they get to the end, they will be commended for different things.  But by the grace of God, they will all be commended.

So what is your end?  Here’s another way to think about this: what is something that you can only do on earth that you can’t do in heaven?    

Now we might not ever achieve our end.  This is why it is crucial to have our identity built on Jesus, not on our achievements.  However, an identity built on Christ should never lead us to live an unintentional life.  If we value the life we have in Jesus, then we should want to spend that life for the glory of Jesus.  We can’t make plans about how to do that if we don’t have one big goal that we are seeking to pursue in our lives.

Check out part 2 coming soon, where I discuss figuring out priorities and using our habits for good.

See you around the neighborhood!

Pastor Jeff

Twitter @Pastor_Jeff

Facebook Jeff Boettcher

Story Saturday- It's good to be back!

Dear Christ Church,

As I was away for the last two weeks of August it was incredible to tour historic sections of Spain and Italy.  Let me tell you, those people know how to eat and how to build impressive church buildings.  However, as I came back this Sunday I was freshly struck at how grateful I am for who you are.  Our church is not about a building.  It is about you and how each one of you intentionally seeks to be a disciple of Jesus in the everyday rhythms of your life.

I went to Dickinson Square Park after our service and when I got there, I saw the Mattalianos  engaging with some neighbors.  I ran into one of the young boys that my family has been bringing to church for the past few weeks and my kids and I spent some time playing soccer with him.  The Sosas showed up and as I went over to talk with them Eric Neumann walked past.  We picked some honeysuckles and soon had kids lining up to be taught about how to get the sweet nectar out of the flower.  There were laughs, conversation and a few opportunities to talk about Jesus.  As I walked back home my thought simply was “It is so good to be back.”  I wouldn’t trade living here in this community for anything.  Where else can you walk out your front door and have multiple spontaneous opportunities for fellowship and evangelism?

We don’t have gilded gold doors on our building.  We don’t have priceless works of art lining our walls.  But we do have something those places don’t have.  They are impressive museums, but their mission has long died out.  We have people living on mission.  I’ll take people anytime.

It’s good to be back home with you!

See you around the neighborhood,

Pastor Jeff

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September Prayer Requests

Hi Friends,

I am so blessed to know that there are so many people all over the country (and world!) who regularly pray for our church.  As we continue to see God transform lives one person at a time, I am very aware that His miraculous work is being carried out in large part because of prayers that are being prayed for us.  We need, and we hunger for, God to continue to move in mighty ways in our midst.  Here are some ways you can pray for us this month.

  1. Please pray that God would give wisdom as we continue to explore opening a non profit that will operate a recovery house and a business to underwrite the operating costs of the recovery house.  The brokenness of addiction continues to plague our neighborhood and while we are grateful for the opportunities that we currently have to minister, we want to do more.  Please pray that God would supply finances for this ministry, as well as the people resources that we need in order to be effective.

  2. For the past several months we have been praying for greater ethnic diversity in our church, so that we might better bear witness to the unifying power of the gospel.  By God’s grace we are seeing those prayers answered in the people that God has been bringing.  Yet, this has also caused a little bit of a backlash from some in the neighborhood.  Please pray for wisdom, courage and boldness as we continue to seek to be an answer to Jesus’ prayer when he said, “Let your kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.” Please specifically pray that God would bring ethnic minority music leaders as we would love to have greater diversity in our times of singing.  

  3. We are going to be starting several new Digging Deeper classes this fall.  Please pray that God would use these times to further help us mature as a church.  To find out more about these classes check out http://www.christchurchsouthphilly.org/digging-deeper-classes/

  4. We have had many new faces at our church over the summer.  Please pray that God would help them get integrated into the life of our church through making and maturing disciples.

  5. The summer months are always challenging financially, particularly for smaller churches like ours where every dollar counts.  Please pray that God would continue to supply for our needs as we continue to seek to be faithful to the mission He has called us to.

Thank you!

Pastor Jeff

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Sermon Follow Up- Prophets?

Dear Christ Church,

This Sunday we kicked off our series in Nehemiah called Building from Brokenness.  I am really excited about how I believe God is going to use this study in the life of our church to continue to inspire and invigorate us to join God in his great mission of renewal in our neighborhood

I received two questions sent in via text on Sunday.

Question #1  How do we know that Nehemiah was a prophet?

If you have spent some time reading the Bible, you probably think of prophets as people who were called to a life time of prophetic ministry, like Isaiah or Jeremiah.  You might also think of men like Daniel who predicted the future and spoke of events yet to unfold.  However, in the Old Testament a prophet is anyone who spoke the words of God.  So for example, Samuel was a man who fulfilled the office of prophet and had a life time call to be a prophet, but King David also is considered prophetic in his writings of the Psalms.  Also, the historical writings of the Old Testament are considered to be prophetic, not in that they record events yet to come, but in that they are the revealed words of God.  The same is true for Nehemiah.  His role was primarily as a civic leader for Israel.  However, we will see him giving some prophecies in this book and his account of what happened is considered to be prophetic in that it is the revealed word of God intended for our instruction.

Question #2  Did Nehemiah know that he was referring to Jesus when he spoke of redemption?

Jesus said all of scripture speaks about Himself, so everything you read in the Bible can somehow be tied in to Christ.  This does not mean that every Biblical author fully understood all that they were writing at the time.  There are layers of meaning in every text and it is not always clear how much the author understood about what they were writing down.  There was some kind of understanding though as they looked forward to the revelation of the mystery of Christ (Hebrews 11, 1 Peter 1:10).  So as I said on Sunday, Nehemiah was probably writing things that meant more then he knew at the time.  However, there was certainly a faith he had in God's salvation of his people which would have pointed him forward to the coming Christ.

If you are interested in studying more about the relationship between the Old Testament and New, I'd encourage you to read God's Big Picture:  Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughn Roberts,or  According to Plan:  The Unfolding Revelation of God in the BIble by Graeme Goldsworthy, or honestly even the Jesus Storybook BIble by Sally Lloyd Jones would be really helpful.  If you have any desire to really get into it, the best academic resource that I've read is Kingdom through Covenant by Stephem Wellum and Peter Gentry.

See you around the neighborhood!

Pastor Jeff

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Twitter @Pastor_Jeff

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The History of Nehemiah

 This coming Sunday we will be starting a new sermon series through the book of Nehemiah.  In preparation, Pastor Jeff has asked me to provide you with some of the historical background of the book, so that we might get as much out of this series as we can.

Historic Background:

The book of Nehemiah takes place around 450 BC. The Babylonian empire whose most prominent king was Nebuchadnezzar II (also known as Nebuchadnezzar the Great) has fallen into the hands of the Medo-Persian coalition.  This empire spans the entire ancient fertile crescent, the most strategic land in the ancient near east, located between the Tigris and the Euphrates river (also known as Mesopotamia). Nehemiah is in the royal court at Susa, the capital of Medo-Persia. When Babylon initially spread out its conquest over much of the same area that is now controlled by Medo-Persia, it captured and exiled many peoples including the people of Israel. The people of Israel live side by side with their captors, in accord with what they were commanded to do, as we see in the case of Daniel or Esther, who was the favourite wife of Xerxes I. Xerxes was the father of Artaxerxes I, the king in whose court Nehemiah now served.

Biblical Background:

Following King David, there were very few kings that followed entirely after the word of the Lord. King Solomon is the most well-known example.  He built Israel's military power by horses (something he was not supposed to do).  He took numerous foreign wives which turned him away from God to the worship of foreign gods. After his death, Israel split into two kingdoms, the North Kingdom (10 tribes) and the South Kingdom (Judah and Benjamin). The South Kingdom kept the Davidic dynasty going and had several good kings who followed God. The kings of the North Kingdom, almost without exception, rejected the Lord. For this reason, the North Kingdom was taken into permanent exile from which they never returned in 722 BC by the Assyrians.  The Lord was merciful to the South Kingdom for longer, but the sins of Manasseh were too much. Manassah worshipped idols, defiled the holy temple with altars to the Baals. He burned his child alive as a sacrifice to the child-devouring god Molech. He used witchcraft, consulted mediums and turned the temple in Jerusalem into a house of Asherah, or, in other words, a brothel where cult prostitution was conducted.

Because of his sins and those of the whole people, the people were exiled by the Babylonians in 586 BC. By the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord declared that the period of the exile would be 70 years. (Jeremiah 25:11). So the people of Israel were to expect a return and restoration by 516 BC. In one of the most stunningly accurate biblical prophecies, the Lord promised that his “anointed” namely his chosen one that would bring this about would be a king by the name of Cyrus.

“Thus says the Lord to his anointed Cyrus... it is I the LORD, the God of Israel, who call     you by name... For the sake of my servant Jacob... though you do not know me.” (Isaiah  45:1-4)

And as God is faithful, in 539 Babylon fell into the hands of a Medo-Persian King named Cyrus the Great. He issued a decree allowing the people of Israel to return home under Zerubbabel. There they began reconstruction of the temple which was completed in, you guessed it, 516 BC. Precisely 70 years after the temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Nevertheless, this wasn't enough. Israel's temple was rebuilt and they had returned to the land but they were not a politically significant nation.

It is impossible to understand the circumstances of exilic and post-exilic prophecy and events without Deuteronomy 28-30. Here Moses spelled out in great detail what would happen to Israel if it broke the covenant (exile), and how the Lord would restore Israel. The promised restoration after the exile was promised to be a full restoration.

“When these things come upon you...and you return to the Lord your God... he will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you...And the LORD your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. (Deuteronomy 30:1-6)  

Nevertheless at Nehemiah and Ezra's time, roughly 450 BC, news reaches Nehemiah that the wall has not been rebuilt, the people are hard pressed on all sides. The people have “great trouble and shame.” In the ancient near east, a city wall was almost as important defensively as the military itself. Having no city wall to your capital city means you are barely legitimized as even being an independent nation. You are at the mercy of the nations around you. The Israelites didn't have the resources to rebuild the walls or the city and so, although they had returned to Jerusalem, Israel was no political power but rather a few Jews huddled in the ruins of their ancient city. They had rebuilt the temple but were far from the full restoration that God had promised.

This is where the account of Nehemiah begins.

Jimmy Beevers (Pastoral Intern)

Digging Deeper Into John: A Reflection by Jimmy Beevers

When studying the Bible, the longer you look at and study a text, the more things begin to stand out to you. It's not possible to fully explore every detail of the text in detail in 40 minutes on Sunday morning so I wanted to expound on something that stood out to me in my own personal study of the text in preparation for last Sunday's sermon. Specifically, verse 32 “and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” stood out to me as something worth going deeper into than I had time to do on Sunday morning. So let's study this somewhat deeper.

 What Kind of Freedom?

The very first question I asked was: “What kind of freedom is this text talking about?” It's absolutely vital to know “what is this text addressing” before we draw conclusions, lest we interpret what we want the text to be saying into the text and thereby violate the actual meaning of the Word of God. Is this talking about “freedom from guilt” meaning forgiveness? Does this mean political freedom? Freedom from the curse of sin? These are all senses in which the word freedom is used in other Biblical passages.

The answer to the question is found in the context. Reading the context is the fundamental principle of all biblical interpretation. The Bible doesn't exist as a random collection of “life verses” but as individual literary units. The Bible wasn't even divided into chapters till the 13th century and verse divisions were added another 200 years after that! The answer that the context provides is: “Freedom from the practice of sin.” I got this answer from verse 34 where Jesus talks about “practicing sin” leading to slavery. The contrast is naturally drawn between “the truth will set you free” and “practicing sin.”

So this is actually more directed at those who wish to be free from doing/practising certain sins than it is directed at those who want to be forgiven of their sins. Both have their place in Biblical revelation but in my study, I became convinced this text is talking about the former.

How Does the Truth Set Us Free?

So the next question I asked myself was how exactly does the truth set us free? And this text doesn't directly speak to the how. It just assures us that this is indeed what will happen. The rest of the Bible gives us clues, however. The book of Hosea is adamant that “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” That those without true knowledge of God will come to ruin (Hosea 4:14). Romans 12:2 commands us to “be transformed by the renewal of our mind.” So in some sense, sanctification (see rest of Romans 12) comes from renewing one's mind in the truth. The next question to ask would be: “How does this practically take form?” or “How do I actually begin to “renew my mind” in truth.” Here are 3 areas of truth that I have taken on myself to meditate on more frequently!

Truth about Sin

The first sin began when mankind was convinced that sin wasn't so bad. That its consequences were not really as devastating as God had said. “The serpent said to the woman “you will not surely die.”” Often I believe the same lie. Though rationally I may speak of the wickedness of sin against a holy God, that truth does not penetrate as deeply as it is supposed to. I don't feel the disgust or indignation about my own sinfulness that I should if my mind had fully been renewed in the truth of the wickedness of sin. We should remember the wrath of God that is poured out on sin. The western church, myself included, has a tendency to gloss over the wrath of God and move quickly to grace. But the hatred that God has for sin should not be reduced to a quick segway into “but Jesus loves you.” It should remind us how a holy God feels about sin, how sin really is, and how we will one day see sin! I believe when I enter the presence of God and behold his glory in heaven I will be stunned that I did not fight harder to defeat my sin against this glorious God while still on earth.

Truth about God

That leads to the second thing that I have chosen to meditate on, namely the glorious attributes of God. God's holiness and perfection, his wrath and anger and, yes, his love and mercy. The fact that God in Jesus has come to us, offers us a relationship with him, fullness of joy in his presence, pleasures everlasting at his right hand should move us to full devotion. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matt. 13:44) To joyfully sell all and strive for the kingdom of heaven, counting everything else as loss compared to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”  (Phil 3:8) can only happen when you see how great God is.

John Piper uses an illustration at times that if you were imminently about to give in to the temptation of pornography and someone walked in the room with a gun and your best friend and said “I'm going to shoot him if you don't stop”, you would have no difficulty fighting temptation. You see the consequences before your eyes. Conversely, in the same situation, let's say someone walks in with a bag of cash and offers you a million dollars for fighting temptation, you again would be, in the moment at least, able to. This kind of replacing the pleasure of sin with the pleasures of God comes from meditating on the perfections of God, and for this reason, I have chosen to take that upon myself in these next weeks (and hopefully for the rest of my life). I aim to get to the point where I say “why would I want sin if I can have greater intimacy with Jesus instead.” 

(An excellent book to read to this end is “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer, which I am currently reading.)

Truth about the Gospel

Finally and ultimately I have found that it is the truth about the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is given to us to meditate upon. Understanding my sinfulness in light of the holiness of God, and understanding the grace of God in light of my sinfulness is still the most wonderful truth to renew my mind in, to drive me to sanctification. Jesus told the Pharisees a story of a man who had been forgiven a small debt and a man who had been forgiven an inestimable debt by the master. He then asked this all important question: “Which one will love him more?” And if he who has been forgiven much loves more, we should also take to heart what Christ said: “He who loves me obeys my commandments.” (John 14:21)

To know the truth of the forgiveness of sins is the most important truth to meditate upon. If he has done all this for me how could I not lay down my life for him? Because my sins have been forgiven, I will try to heed Jesus' words: “go, and from now on sin no more." (John 8:11)

Story Saturday- Candy's Testimony

 

This past Sunday I had the privilege of baptizing Candy Bonecorse.  This story has been two years in the making.  Here it is in her own words:

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (22 miles to be exact), there lived a very sad lady in Bensalem.  Her daughter had recently died of a drug overdose and she and her husband had taken custody of their grandson, whose father had also died.  She prayed and prayed to God, but she never felt any answers. 

One day, a good friend of her family invited her to come to the grand opening of a new church.  As soon as the lady walked into the building, she felt that this was where she belonged.  She felt that God had led her here to help her heal.  The lady was greeted by so many people that made her feel like she was part of a family.  She met a woman named Michele Finizio who seemed to have a glow about her.  The lady could not understand this glow, but then she heard Michele’s husband get up to speak and she saw that he had it to.  The more people she met at this church, the more she wanted what they had.  Something went off in her head that God had brought her here to bring her to faith in Him, because that is what she saw in the people, faith and love for God.  For two years now this lady has been coming to this church.  She has read through the New Testament 4 times.  She has learned what it means to pray.  She has met many incredible people who have been there for her through tough times, have helped her tremendously as she continues to battle physical pain and have always pointed the way to God.

As I’m sure you have guessed by now, this lady is me.  I stand before you today as someone whose life has been completely turned upside down.  I never thought that I would want to get baptized, but I am different person standing here today, then when I first came two years ago.  I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and I want to give my whole life to him.  My favorite bible verse is Proverbs 5:6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”

I am getting baptized today as a sign of my trust in God and desire to acknowledge him in all my ways.  Thank you Christ Church family!

What made this baptism even more special was that Candy has severe pain in her legs, hips and abdomen.  I knew that it would be excruciating painful for her to get into our baptismal and so I had offered to just pour some water over her head.  However, she insisted though in going all the way in.  Her faith in Jesus and expression of love to Him was so inspiring.  

God is continuing to do awesome things here in South Philly.  Praise His name!

Grace and peace,

Pastor Jeff

Defiant Faith: A Reflection by Jimmy Beevers

Defiant Faith and the Glory of God

What’s sticking with you from this past Sunday’s sermon?  Pastor Jeff has asked to write a few blogs posts reflecting on my experiences at Christ Church’s Sunday service.  Today, I want to think a little deeper about one point of last Sunday's sermon on “Defiant Faith” taken from Psalm 6, focusing especially on verses 4 and 5 and on the truths that can be derived from them:

Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?

The Purpose of Salvation

David calls on God to save him and the reason he gives to God is “for the sake of your steadfast love.” He goes on to appeal to God's desire for praise when he says, “for in death there is no remembrance of you. In Sheol who will give you praise?” David is appealing to God's desire for his own Glory. He is basing his prayer upon the Lord's desire to be glorified. At the end of the Psalm we see David full of confidence that the Lord will answer his prayer. David is confident that God will act for his own sake, that God will save for the sake of his own glory!

Now this can raise some questions or objections.  I certainly have seen them in my own heart.  Mainly, “Is it not selfishness or megalomania for God to desire his own Glory?” The answer must lie within the nature of God.  There is no analogy that parallels God. He is the supreme being. He is the ultimate reality, the source of truth, the most glorious being in all the universe. The chain of praise must stop somewhere. In all truthfulness, some small part of me would in my fallen condition has perhaps desired for the chain to stops with humanity. That in some sense God would be even more “selfless”. But objections to God's glory being the highest good in the universe come from a source of pride. Remember how the serpent in the garden elicited the first sin by promising: “you will be like God”? Giving glory to anything less than God is ultimately Idolatry. But this truth is not meant to suppress us into begrudging obedience and praise. We don't glorify God because we have to. Giving glory to God is the purpose of human existence. The first statement of the Westminster Catechism which I had to memorize as a child is that “Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” There is a reason every society in the history of the world invented a deity. Because despite Man's sinful desire to ultimately BE God, humanity feels its need to give glory and to give praise to another. That is the most soul satisfying thing a human being can do. God's desire for glory and our own desire for happiness are never at odds, when God is most glorified, we who love him will be most joyful. Neither is this saying that God never makes much of us or glorifies us in some sense! We should be all the more humbled that he who is ultimately worthy of all glory has humbled himself, taking on human form, and conversely will one day glorify us. Nevertheless in the end:  “Unto him be glory in the church and in Christ.” Jesus."throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph 3:21)

The effect that this has on me is that it gives me confidence that God will look past all my failure. In all honesty, we as humans are not worthy of God's help. We don't earn or deserve his salvation. David at this point cannot appeal to his own worthiness in asking God to help him. I've often felt very much the same. I see the depravity of my own heart and feel that I don't really have the right to call in a favor from God. Verse 1 clearly shows that David isn't on a spiritual high as far as holiness is concerned. He is under the discipline and anger of the Lord. The only thing that is left to appeal to when we don't deserve for God to help us, must then be something entirely separate from us. This is why God's desire to be praised is the only rock on which the unworthy may take their stand. We don't say “God vindicate me!” we say “God vindicate your own faithfulness!”

But how is God glorified in rescuing David? Looking at the bible, some of the most beautiful and most often praised attributes of God are his mercy towards the undeserving, his faithfulness to his people, his love of those who are unlovable. These are the things that God is praised for. If then God will be praised, he will most certainly do that which is praiseworthy. If God's glory is revealed in salvation, he will most certainly save. If God's glory is put on display in his rescuing his people, he will put his glory on display, and I will be saved, when he shows himself to be powerful on behalf of his people. My final and ultimate confidence in my own salvation and its permanence, is rooted in this fact: That God most finally and ultimately looks not to my own worth when saving me but acts in accord with his own glorious character.  That’s really good news!

 

A Theology of Rest

Dear Christ Church,

In our fast paced, performance based culture of Northeast America “rest” can be a dirty word.  Despite widespread consensus amongst psychologist is that our brains need rest in order to function at peak capacity, in our pride we continue to push on.  We think that rest is for the weak.  We think that we can just keep going.  We think that the answer to everything is just working harder.  Or at least this is what I can think.  I am guilty of taking work with me on vacation, not wanting to take any vacations and even trying to cut my sleep time down, so that I can get more done.  Fortunately, God knows my need to be humbled and so he Had two different groups of people invite us to go on vacation in back to back weeks.  So this Saturday, I am leaving and won’t be back until September 3rd.  I have never been off for this length of time since I first started working at 15 years old.  To be honest, it is a bit unnerving. Not because I think I’m indispensable, but because I am so aware of all the things that need to be done.  However, trusting God with those things is part of growing in faith and so I am eager to see how I (and you) will experience the Lord during my time off.

I will be taking a break from posting for the next two weeks.  I have assigned our Summer Intern a few topics that he will be guest posting about while I’m away.   Below is his first assignment:  A Theology of Rest

See you in a few!

Pastor Jeff

A Theology of Rest

By Jimmy Beevers

What place should resting or even going on vacation have in the Christian life? There is a spectrum of Christians from the lazy to the average hard working to the workaholic.  As with most things in life, if we do not consider carefully what place rest out to have, it will default to an imbalanced position.  Here then are a few balancing biblical truths to help us make sense of an issue that so practically touches on all our lives.

Work is not Part of the Curse.  

The backdrop of every discussion about rest must be the truth that work is fundamentally good. From the very beginning of the bible, the sinless and perfect created man Adam is told to work the garden before sin enters the world. The examples of the Bible that go before us in this include the apostle Paul who said of himself “his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though not I but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10) Paul's understanding of work is that it is the grace of God. A few verses later he calls on all of us to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:58) So we are ultimately to “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Col. 3:23)

Then Why Rest?

Why then do we rest? We are not just called to work hard for the glory of God, but to do all things for his glory including seemingly random menial things such as eating or drinking. (1 Cor 10:31) Though certainly other reasons could be named, let's think through these 4 central ways the Bible teaches us to rest to the glory of God. 

When We Rest, We Express Trust in God

We express our trust in God to remain in control when we rest and let go of the reigns. Why did the Lord institute a mandated Sabbath rest for Israel, a people that lived off of agriculture in a constant race against time? He was teaching them to trust, and indeed, He always provided a double portion of Manna every 6th day so that the people could rest on the Sabbath.

Psalm 127:2 gives us further insight by the example of sleep: “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.” Sleep and rest are a gift from God, a break from “the bread of anxious toil.” a gift given to God's “beloved”. When we rest we express our confidence in Him who never sleeps. “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121:3-4). Sometimes it is necessary for us to learn by releasing the reigns of control that God is not dependent on us to build his kingdom or to provide for his children.

When We Rest, We Look Forward

Another key function of rest is to look forward to our final rest. Hebrews 4:9 tells us that there remains a future and final Sabbath rest for the people of God in the age to come. In the same way, Jesus said that he would give rest to all who come to him (Matthew 11:28), just as he would give living water to all who thirst (John 7:37). All earthly blessings are a shadow of more glorious things to come. Resting in preparation for more fruitful earthly labor should remind us of the final and perfect rest that we will one day enter into.

When We Rest, We Recover

Resting simply for the sake of recovery is of course also a purpose of rest. In Mark 6 we read that the disciples went to Herod and collected the body of John the Baptist to be buried. In the midst of this dangerous and stressful time (we read that they didn't even have the time to eat) they return to Jesus worn out. His answer is "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while." (Mark 6:31). We don't need to pretend we have no need for a time of rest in order to be effective again. Jesus knows our weakness and he himself has felt it all, including tiredness (John 4:6).

When We Rest, We Focus Spiritually

This is especially important for those involved in ministry. When your job is to study the bible, write sermons, interpret passages and a host of other “spiritual” things, it is easy to get so caught up that you forget your intimate time with God. Jesus, a man who was constantly ministering in some way knew this to be true. We read “But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:16 NASB). Taking a step back from the responsibilities of daily life and especially from the pastorate at times is vital for the health of our spiritual lives. Pastors know well that there is a world of difference between studying a text for a sermon and meditating on and internalizing a passage for yourself. There is a world of difference between praying for the church service with the prayer team and spending an hour in intimate prayer. There is a world of difference between providing marriage counseling and working on your own marriage.

We shouldn't see this as “take a break” from our spiritual lives. We should rather use the break to focus with greater clarity on God, our marriage, our family and thinking through our ministry.  If we rightly rest the result will be even greater effectiveness.

What Can We Do?

What can Christ Church do as our Lead Pastor takes this time of rest? First, we should wholeheartedly support Pastor Jeff in taking a break.  We should labor to take every burden away in this time from Jeff in order to make it truly restful.  This includes continuing to attend church even when he is gone.  Nothing will more burden a pastor than the knowledge that the congregation stops attending church when he isn't around.  This gives the impression that all stands and falls with him which makes stepping back for a break more and more burdensome. We should also pray for him during this time that the Lord may spiritually regenerate him and Angie and bring them closer together, teach them the lessons he wishes to teach them, and prepare them both for greater even effectiveness in the months to come.

Story Saturday- Unbelievable Summer Festival!

Dear Christ Church,

This past Saturday we had the biggest event that we have ever done as a church as we served over 1,000 people at our Summer Festival.  For the kids there was a moonbounce, relays, Zumba, facepainting and a play zone.  For the dog lovers there was a dog show complete with judges and awards.  For jocks, there was a basketball tournament with refs and a grand prize.  We gave out 600 hotdogs, 500 bottles of water, 25 gallons of lemonade, 500 bags of chips, 300 soft pretzels and 18 gallons of water ice.  About halfway through the event, a 50 year resident of the neighborhood came up to me with tears in his eyes and said there has never been anything like this Summer Festival in the neighborhood.  I had more people than I could count come up and tell me how grateful they were that we were putting this on and bringing our community together.  

Jer 29:7 says, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Our desire in having this event was simply to be a blessing to our neighbors.  We want to seek to do whatever we can to help our neighborhood thrive.  This is what motivated 40 volunteers to give many hours to pulling this event off for our neighbors.  We love Christ.  We love each other. And we love our city.  It was awesome to be able to show off that love this past Saturday.  We believe that there is going to be some awesome fruit that comes from all these seeds that were sown.  

See you around the neighborhood,

Grace and peace,

Pastor Jeff    

Twitter @Pastor_Jeff

Facebook Jeff Boettcher

Responding to Child Abuse

Dear Christ Church,

There have been numerous people reaching out to me both in our church and our community who are deeply troubled by the breaking news story of alleged sexual abuse of two children by the owner of a child’s daycare in Queen Village.  My heart has been grieved, as I have walked past that daycare many times.  These things are always terrible, but it hits even harder when this happens so close to home.

Here are a few thoughts about how we should respond:  

1.  Pray for the victims

As we just read at our child dedication this past Sunday, “ Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD.”(Psa 127:3 ESV).  Children are a precious gift from God and this is what gives us confidence to pray to God for there to be comfort and restoration for these young ones.   God is not unmoved by what happened.  He hates all evil and there is nothing more heinous than abusing the life of a vulnerable child.  So church let’s pray to God for him to bring about supernatural healing for these children and their families.  Also, remember that the abuser’s family are victims of his behavior as well.  I don’t know if he molested anyone in his family, but there is no one who is attached to him who is not affected by his choices.  His family must be devastated.  Please keep them in your prayers also.

2. Share the hope of Christ

In the love of Jesus there is healing for the brokenhearted, restoration for the broken spirit and renewal for the broken innocence.  One of my deepest sorrows has been working with victims of sexual abuse and seeing the scars that they bear in their souls.  But one of my deepest joys is seeing the true power of Jesus make people anew.  When terrible things happen like this it can be a natural question to ask, “Why would God let something like this happen?”  I don’t think trying to answer that question though, brings much comfort.  Comfort comes not from knowing the why, but from knowing the who.  I often find myself saying, “I don’t know why God let this happen.  But I do know who God is.  He loves you.  He loves you so much that he died for you.  He is here with you now and he wants to cry with you and be a comfort to you.”  This is not a time for quick and trite answers, but to enter into people’s grief.  Cry their tears with them.  May our hearts be broken by the things that break the heart of God.  But may we also have hope in his love and gently offer that hope through our tears.

3.  Be vigilant with your own children

Most parents spend most of their time talking with their kids about being careful around strangers.  That is a good thing to do.  However, don’t let that make you think that you have your kids covered.  90% of child abuse comes from someone that they know.  How predators operate is by getting close to children and winning the trust of their parents, so that they can be gained access to abuse the child.  Here are a few suggestions about how you can protect your child from sexual predators.

  1. Don’t allow secrets

Predators work by starting to get your children comfortable with keeping secrets.  It might start out as giving candy and saying, “Don’t tell your parents.”  The more your child learns not to tell you things the more of a target they become.  Don’t allow secrets of any kind to be kept, even if they are perfectly innocent.  When we have our kids buy gifts for each other, we explain how that isn’t a secret, but a surprise.  Surprises always get found out.  Secrets don’t and they only hurt.  We talk about this almost on a weekly basis and regularly ask our kids if anyone has asked them to keep a secret.  We don’t make a big deal about it.  We just have it as a regular part of what we talk to our kids about.  So far, we’ve only found out about a lot of little crushes.  But we want to have that rhythm built in.  If anyone says “Don’t tell your parents.  It’s a secret.”  It doesn’t matter if they are family or friends, encourage your kids to tell.  And never ask ask a child to keep a secret.  You might think it is cute to help them sneak a snack or something like that, but your innocent actions are making a vulnerability in them.

2. Teach them about boundaries

Children should not feel ashamed or embarrassed about their bodies.  However, they need to understand that there are boundaries about what is and isn’t private.  Encourage dressing in privacy and taking baths by themselves (unless they are in bathing suits).   

3. Let them make their own boundaries

While we want our kids to be respectful to others it should be totally fine for them to not shake hands, give hugs or kisses to people if they don’t want to.  They need to know that no one can tell them what to do with their body.  Again, even if it is a family member that you totally trust, by forcing your kids to give Aunt So and So a hug, you are teaching them that they need to do things, even if they are uncomfortable.  Predators target kids who have loose physical boundaries and who don’t stop them as they get more and more physical.

 

4. Use correct anatomical language

It might sound cute to talk about winkies, hush hushes, etc…, but you are robbing your child of the ability to know what their body actually is.  Made up body parts teaches dissociation which allows predators to move in.  Also, if your child doesn’t know the names of their body parts, then they can’t tell you if they ever are touched inappropriately.  And studies show that if a child speaks with anatomically correct language, predators are far less likely to target them, because they fear a child that is educated.

5.  Regularly ask questions

Have it be a regular part of your relationship with your kids that you ask them questions that could uncover potential abuse.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Has anyone, even in our family, asked you to do something lately that has made you feel uncomfortable?
  • Has anyone asked you to keep a secret?
  • Do you know that you can tell me anything and that I will always love you?  Is there anything you’d like to tell me?

6. Be a safe person

We all want to think that our children trust us and would tell us immediately if something happened to them.  Sadly, that  is often not the case.  Predators will tell your child that you will get mad at them if they tell you.  They will do whatever they can to drive a wedge between you and your child.  You need to regularly affirm for your child that they can tell you anything and that they will never get in trouble for telling the truth.  Make sure your actions follow through on that.  Our children learn far more from what our actions say than what our words say.  Do whatever you can to build trust with them and to show them that they can feel confident to speak to you. Don’t come down on them for what they might disclose, but celebrate honesty.  

 

7.  Be aware of our church’s child protection policies.

We want to make our Sunday service as safe as possible for each and every one of our children.  

A.  Per PA Law every Christ Church Kid’s volunteer is background checked at the state and federal level and undergoes FBI fingerprinting.  Sadly many places stop simply at this requirement.  However, most of the occurrences of child abuse are from perpetrators who pass a background check.  So while this is a good step to take, by itself it is not adequate.

B.  No Christ Church Kids volunteer is ever to be alone with a child.  Two adults must be present at all times.  This might make bathroom runs more cumbersome and require us to have more adults in each class.  But I’d rather have us work through the headache of finding more volunteers so that this policy can be implemented, than put a child in an at risk situation.

C.  Every child is assigned a badge that has a unique number on it and a card with the corresponding number is given to their caregiver.  Only someone with that card is allowed to pick up the child from Christ Church Kids.  

D.  Our policies can only do so much.  The biggest key to protection is creating a culture where all adults are on alert and on the same page as it comes to our children’s safety.  To that end, we will continue to provide education to each new child care worker, as well as review safety steps with the entire congregation from time to time.  Many eyes make a safe place.  To further help you have conversations with your child, here are some recommended resources from our Christ Church Kids leaders, Steve and Megan Crowell:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1942572301/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_hdrIzbZN1XSF8

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1878076493/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_VdrIzb6Y26AT8

Now, God would not be honored if this post only succeeded in making you fearful.  The Lord must be trusted with our children.  Parenting is a daily exercise of faith.  However, God would also not be honored if we did not vigilantly seek to protect the precious lives that he has given us to raise.   I hope this serves you to know how to pray, share, and be vigilant.
 

Grace and peace,

Pastor Jeff

Twitter @Pastor_Jeff

Facebook Jeff Boettcher

August Prayer Requests

Dear Christ Church,

At our last member’s meeting it was suggested that I send out monthly prayer requests to you all, so that you would know specific ways to pray for our church.  I was so grateful to hear that suggestion!  I love how much you all love to pray.

Here are some prayer requests for August.

  1. We are having our big Summer Festival this Saturday.  Please pray that God would use it to allow us to make meaningful connections with neighbors that we don’t yet know and to draw people out to Christ Church.

  2. Please pray that God would give wisdom as we continue to explore opening a non profit that will operate a recovery house and a business to underwrite the operating costs of the recovery house.  We have the house lined up, the non profit information in hand and pro bono legal counsel secured.  We are currently working through information for the business, as well as dialoguing with a potential investor.

  3. For the past several months we have been praying for greater ethnic diversity in our church, so that we might better bear witness to the unifying power of the gospel.  By God’s grace we are seeing those prayers answered both in the people that God has been bringing and also, several great brainstorming conversations that I’ve been having with those in our church who have cross cultural ministry experience.  Please pray for wisdom as we continue to pursue being a church who believes that the gospel is big enough to reach across races.

  4. We are going to be starting several new Digging Deeper classes this fall.  Please pray that God would use these times to further help us mature as a church.

  5. We have had many new faces at our church over the summer.  Please pray that God would continue to give us the gift of hospitality, so that we always be looking to include those who are new.

  6. We had a very strong first half for our financial support.  July has been a little bit of a setback as the vacation season has hurt our giving a little bit. That is obviously to be expected, but it is also a fresh reminder of our need to continue to pray that God would provide the means for the mission.

Let’s ask God to do things that only He can do!

See you around the neighborhood,

Pastor Jeff

Pastor Jeff

Twitter @Pastor_Jeff

Facebook Jeff Boettcher

Meet Jimmy Beevers

Dear Christ Church,

This coming Sunday you are going to meet our new summer intern, Jimmy Beevers.  He will be with us for all of August and most of September.  Since Jimmy is completely unknown to all of you, here is a little interview so that you can get to know him.

So who are you Jimmy?

My name is Jimmy Beevers and I will be working at Christ Church this summer as an intern. I am looking forward to meeting and getting to know the people of Christ Church! I currently live in Germany where I have spent the past 8 years.  Before that, I lived in Switzerland for 11 years. My parents are missionaries in Europe and the church that my father planted in Zürich, Switzerland, cooperated with several churches in the Sovereign Grace Churches family. I am currently attending Bonn Bible Seminary near Bonn, Germany.  I hope to graduate next year with my undergraduate degree in Theology.

What is a German theology student doing in South Philadelphia?

I am here as part of the summer internship program of my school which requires that students, in addition to being actively involved in ministry for the duration of their studies, have at least 6 weeks of ministry internship in some form (church internship, missions work, para-church organizations etc.) every summer. My past summer internships have been being a counselor at a camp, a missions trip to Africa as well as being involved in German churches and evangelistic ministry.

This Summer, I am specifically here to familiarize myself with church work in the United States. Having both an American and European heritage, the question has arisen as to where God wants me in ministry. I am very familiar with the church situation in Germany but have not had a chance for a longer, in-depth look at ministry in the American context. I am praying that God would help me to grow this summer and provide guidance as to my future path, in addition to me being able to serve Christ Church in any capacity possible.

When it came to deciding which church to do an internship at I was most interested in the Sovereign Grace churches in the Philadelphia area for several reasons. I've always been connected to Philadelphia. For as long as I can remember, I have had very dear friends here who I visited every time we came to America on furlough. This is the city where my parents met, where my sister was born and where our family lived before moving to Switzerland. If someone in Europe asks me where I'm from in America, and I don't feel like explaining that I've never actually lived in America, I'll generally say Philadelphia.

In addition to this, I share most, if not all, core theological convictions of Sovereign Grace and therefore am connected to Sovereign Grace by a similar vision and understanding of God. Accordingly, when looking for an internship in America I wrote to several churches including Christ Church. Interestingly, Pastor Jeff's father, Warren Boettcher, is friends with my father, Brad Beevers so that was an additional connection point. In fact, Pastor Jeff and I have met before, when I was a toddler and he was a young teenager, although I don't remember the encounter. I didn't want to go to a megachurch where I would not have the chance to serve much so Christ Church is a good size for me to be able to serve and learn in a more one on one setting.

How can we be praying for you?

Pray that God would use this summer to shape me more into a person that is pleasing in his sight. That I would live more totally for his honor and understand more in which capacity I am to use the gifts God has given me to glorify him in this life. Pray that in addition to learning things for myself I would be able to serve the church here and be an encouragement to the people that I come in contact with.