Bonus Content from June 17th

“Shepherd Leadership” (Acts 20:17-38)

There was much more in this text than what I had time to preach. A few notes I had to leave out:
 

1) (Acts 20:22) We’ve talked in recent weeks about how to discern the Spirit’s leading. There is much to be said on this topic, and many of us have had experiences in which we followed what we thought was the Spirit’s leading only to subsequently realize it was another voice leading us.

Here, Paul believes – probably because of prophets telling him (e.g. 21:11) and because of direct revelation from the Holy Spirit – that he is supposed to go to Jerusalem. But despite God telling him where to go, he doesn’t know what will happen to him there.

Don’t we usually want God to tell us where to go and what will happen to us when we get there? Don’t we usually want the why for God’s leading? Aren’t we tempted to assume a why in the absence of that revelation?

When you feel God leading you to a certain college (for example), and then you have a miserable first semester, you might be tempted to think you misread God’s leading. Maybe you did, but your misery doesn’t necessarily mean that at all! God might have called you there to learn something in the midst of hardship. Here, God’s Spirit compels Paul to Jerusalem, even though that will end up meaning much hardship for Paul.

 

2) (Acts 20:24) Do you count your life as of any value to you? Is your life precious to you? Many of us find some value and preciousness in our lives. Are we being rebuked by Paul in Acts 20:24 when he says he counts his life as of no value, not precious to himself (if he may finish his course and ministry)?

Of course, there is a sense in which there is some value and preciousness to our lives as God’s dear children made in His image. But in another important sense (the sense in which Paul speaks here), our lives have no value and preciousness… compared to the value of finishing the race well. How important must it be to finish well? Finishing well is something that other eras of church history have emphasized, but that isn’t so emphasized in our own time. How many elderly Christians waste their last days getting increasingly grouchy and clinging to life at all costs instead of honoring the Lord with peaceful surrender to Him in their dying breaths?

But this isn’t just worth reflecting on for elderly people. Some of us have a pet sin that we find so valuable and precious to us that we won’t give it up for the sake of finishing the race well. We could never give our lives for the gospel like Paul did, because we won’t even give up one little sin habit for the gospel. But it’s not those who appear to have started the race that enter the kingdom of heaven; it’s those who finish well.

 

3) (Acts 20:26-27) I was sad to have to skip over these verses quickly; when I originally planned this sermon, I thought almost the whole sermon would be taken up by these two verses. They are critical for the Christian leader AND for the Christian church member.

Paul is picking up on the watchman analogy from Ezekiel 33:1-6. That passage is worth reading. In the passage, the watchman is innocent if he does his job and the people don’t heed his warning; he is guilty if the people perish because he neglected to do his job and sound the warning. Paul sees it as the same level of responsibility for the Christian leader. If Paul had not been so bold as to teach the whole counsel of God to the Ephesian elders, he believes he would have been guilty of their blood. It’s only because he didn’t shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God that he believes himself innocent of their blood. Doing the job of a watchman (“overseer”) is sounding all the alarms that need to be sounded from all of scripture.

There isn’t much more important in choosing a church than whether the pastors preach the whole counsel of God. To the extent that we pastors jump on “hobby horses” that we keep coming back to, to the extent that we preach our favorite topics and leave out others, to the extent that we avoid difficult topics so as not to offend, we render ourselves guilty of the blood of those we’ve been called to serve. We are called to teach the whole counsel of God.

That’s why we did a series on Amos in the Fall. That’s why we preach through books of the Bible. That’s why we occasionally have one-off sermons on tricky issues. That’s why we field your questions at the end of services. In all of those ways, we are trying to make sure we do our best not to withhold from you anything that would be profitable.

One of my biggest prayers for this congregation is that we’d become a “whole counsel of God” congregation. When we’re immersed in the whole counsel of God, our answers to questions become more nuanced; we’re able to perceive dangers on both sides of an issue; we’re able to see through catchy clichés that only capture one side of a truth.

 

4) (Acts 20:17, 28) It may have been surprising to some on Sunday to hear that the New Testament seems to use the terms “elder,” “overseer (bishop),” and “pastor (shepherd)” interchangeably to refer to the same office. Here is more on that:

Remember that verse 17 called these people the “elders” of the church at Ephesus that Paul had called to Miletus to meet with him. Then in verse 28, talking to these elders, Paul says the Holy Spirit has made them “overseers.” So that’s a second term for the same group. In other words, the Holy Spirit made the elders the overseers of the church.

And then continuing in verse 28, we have an unfortunate translation of the next verb – the ESV has “to care for.” Some of your translations do better – “in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God.” That’s what this word “to care for” literally means – to “shepherd” or “pastor.”

So now we’ve got elders… being called overseers… and being told to shepherd or pastor the flock (the two English words “shepherd” and “pastor” are synonyms). This is one of two passages in the New Testament (the other is 1 Peter 5:1-2) that show pretty clearly that the New Testament regards elders, overseers, and pastors to be different names for the same office. In other words, there’s not a biblical distinction between elders and overseers and pastors – those are three different terms to describe the same person from different vantage points.

Who are these people today in a church like ours? They are our elders. It would be biblically appropriate for us to use all three terms for them today: it’s appropriate to call them elders because they’re mature in the faith. It’s appropriate to call them overseers because they watch over us and chart the course for where we’re headed. And it’s appropriate to call them pastors or shepherd-teachers (to use the term from Ephesians 4) because their primary job to shepherd us, the flock that’s under their care.

So why aren’t the terms “elder” and “pastor” interchangeable in many churches today? Since “pastor” is very rarely used as a noun in the New Testament, many churches have repurposed the term to refer to vocational leaders of the church (as differentiated from elders, most of whom are “lay” or volunteer ministers). So in churches like ours, the pastors are on full-time staff, but not every pastor is an elder, and we don’t often call our elders “pastors” to avoid confusion.



Youth Sunday Was a Success – Thank You!

On Sunday, we stated a goal to raise $2000 for our summer 2018 trips. When added to our pancake breakfast, our women’s event, and our already-pledged gifts, this $2000 would help us complete our $7000 fundraising goal.
 
We are pleased to report that $2016.76 was given on Sunday! Thank you SO much for helping us reach our goal!
 
We look forward to sharing stories with you of what God does on our students’ trips this summer.


DSM Search Update – June 14, 2018

All parents of junior high and high school students have been invited to a meet-and-greet with Alex Rodriguez, a candidate for our Director of Student Ministries position, this Saturday (6/16) at 9:30 AM in the gym.

This meeting is the penultimate step in a process that began back in December when Ken Bryan and the pastors began preparing for a nationwide search for our next full-time Director of Student Ministries.

After preparing all the necessary documents and posting the job, Ken formed a search team with Sam Nenadov, Sharon Krone, Sarah Higgins, and himself. That search team vetted applications and interviewed promising candidates over the phone before interviewing especially promising candidates in person. In the end, the search team put forward Ben Nilsen and Alex Rodriguez to the pastors as candidates who had their stamp of approval for the DSM position.

Both Ben and Alex interviewed next with the pastors. The pastors found them both to be strong candidates and moved both of them on to the next round, which involved interviews with the rest of the staff.

After the staff interviews, Pastor Craig, Ken, and myself met on multiple occasions to put our heads together and review all that we had learned about the candidates from the search team, from reference checks, from the pastor interviews, and from the staff interviews. We found ourselves in agreement that, while we were comfortable with both candidates, we wanted to put Alex before the elders as our recommendation for the next Director of Student Ministries at North Sub.

We would now like to introduce Alex to junior high and high school parents so that they can ask him questions and get to know him. He has not yet been hired, but he has the approval of the search team, pastors, and staff for this role. Now we are seeking parental support as we send Alex to the elders for his final interview.

We think you’ll find Alex to be a mature, experienced leader. He is 34 years old, and he and his wife Margaret have three children (14, 9, and 4). He has a Bachelor’s degree from TIU and a Master’s from Knox Theological Seminary. For the last 11 years, he has been serving at the Village Church of Barrington, an EFCA church in a community with very similar socioeconomic status to ours. He is a military veteran who comes highly recommended by all who have been associated with him, and his testimony is a powerful one of God’s miraculous ability to save from the most hopeless places.
 
You can learn more about Alex here. We are excited for you to meet him!


Get to Know Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez

Director of Student Ministries Candidate
 

Biographical Info

– Alex is 34 years old.

– If Alex should get the job, he and his wife Margaret will be moving to the area from McHenry with their three children (ages 14, 9, and 4).

– He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies from TIU (2013).

– He holds a Master’s in Biblical and Theological Studies from Knox Theological Seminary (2018).

– For most of the last 11 years, he has been serving at the Village Church of Barrington (EFCA).

– He is a U.S. Army veteran who was honorably discharged in 2009.

– His testimony is one of God’s miraculous ability to save from the most hopeless places.

– While he has a wide range of ministry experience, he has about three years of effective youth ministry experience. He has continued to foster relationships with students who have moved out of the youth ministry.

– Alex founded a ministry called “Men’s Muster” in 2017 (mensmuster.com).

– Alex has extensive work experience in the marketplace.

– Alex is Puerto Rican by background and is fluent in Spanish. Margaret is fluent in Polish.

 

What We Like About Alex

– Alex is a mature and gifted visionary leader who can compel people with his words.

– Alex has experience in a wide variety of ministry settings.

– Alex is a gifted teacher and preacher, an avid reader, and a deep theological thinker.

– Alex is gifted in evangelism and is passionate about reaching the lost.

– Alex has several men who mentor him and hold him accountable. His wife is free to talk with these men at any time about any subject.

– Alex has a track record of engaging in intentional discipleship.

– Alex has articulated a clear vision for building up and empowering our volunteer leader teams.

– Alex comes highly recommended by all who have been associated with him.

– Alex will respectfully and wisely challenge anyone to be a loving, committed and faithful follower of Jesus Christ.



Youth Sunday June 10th

What’s happening this Sunday?
 
This Sunday, June 10th, will be “Youth Sunday.” Students played a significant role in planning this week’s service. You will see:
 
– Students leading worship
– Students helping with tech
– Students reading scripture
– Students serving as ushers
– A recognition of graduates
 
Why are students so involved in this week’s service?
 
Our students are playing a front-and-center role this week as we prepare to send them off on several summer trips. The High School students are going on their Challenge and Light Rider trips; the Junior High students are going to the Twin Cities on their BUMP trip.
 
This is the final leg of their fundraising journey to make those trips a reality. In order to help their trips get fully funded, this final fundraising opportunity will include:
 
– A freewill offering during this Sunday’s service
– YOUTHWORKS, in which students sign up to take on jobs for members of the congregation in exchange for donations to summer trips
 
How can I help?
 
Thank you for your contributions to the 2018 student trips up to this point; the pancake breakfast and women’s event blessed our students mightily! We are already $5000 toward our $7000 fundraising goal. Since this is our last fundraising event before the 2018 trips, we are looking to raise $2000 this Sunday. There are two ways you can help us make the push for the final $2000 this Sunday:
 
– Bring money or a check to contribute to Sunday’s freewill offering. That freewill offering will go to the scholarship fund, which benefits scholarship needs in the church (including student trips).
– See a student in the foyer after the service to see what help they are offering through YOUTHWORKS. Consider signing up to have a high school student mow your lawn, clean your gutters, teach your kid guitar, etc.
 
Thank you!
 
Thank you for your love and support for our students, who pour out so much to bless the rest of us in the congregation. Let’s make the most of this opportunity to bless them back.


Sermon Questions from June 3rd (Acts 18:1-17)

Below are answers from Dr. Lau to the two questions that were texted in during Sunday’s sermon:
 
“Why is it that God protects Paul in Corinth and not in Philippi and other places where Paul was persecuted?”
 
Acts 18:10 provides a partial answer to the above question. The risen Lord appeared to Paul and told him that there are many in the city of Corinth who are his people. The Lord therefore protected Paul so that he could do extensive ministry in Corinth. In the other cities, Paul stayed as long as he could until he was chased out. Paul was able to spend 18 months in Corinth, the longest time that he spent in any city thus far. 
 
But why did the risen Lord choose Corinth and not Philippi or Lystra? I think the strategic reason for Corinth is because it was the largest and most prosperous city in ancient Greece during the first century. While Athens had a population of about 30,000, Corinth had about 80,000-100,000. Moreover, the Isthmian games (which ranked just below the Olympian games) were  held every other year in Corinth. Corinth also controlled two important harbors that were essential for East-West commerce. In some sense, Corinth was like the New York of America. If Christianity could establish a beachhead in Corinth, it would play a pivotal role in the spread of Christianity throughout Greece. 
 
“Are we called to testify/witness to or for the Lord? Is there a theological difference, or is it just grammatical?”
 
We are called to do both, and it is both theological and grammatical. We are called to testify to the Lord in the sense that we testify to the fact that Jesus is the risen Lord and Messiah. At the same time, we are also called to testify for the Lord in the sense that our testimony is for the benefit of the risen Lord. The preposition to specifies the content of our testimony and the preposition for specifies the purpose of our testimony.


Sermon Questions from May 27th (Acts 17:16-34)

Below are a few questions from Sunday’s sermon.

“I think it’s important to note regarding your fourth point that we shouldn’t compromise or sugar-coat the gospel message when we try to target people where they are. Rather, we can choose specific words that are relevant to the culture that still convey the full ramifications and spectrum of the gospel message.”
 

Well said. Here’s what was in my original sermon that I had to cut due to time:

Some might wrongly conclude from what I’m saying that presenting the gospel to an unbeliever basically amounts to telling them, “Wow, your existing beliefs weren’t far off! You pretty much were already headed in the right direction!” That’s not often the case, actually. At some point in the conversation with just about anyone, there’s likely to be a point at which it’s necessary to confront deeply held wrong beliefs about the non-negotiables of the gospel.

Where do we see that in Acts 17? We see it when Paul talks about the resurrection. If Paul was just trying to draw out commonalities and connect their stories to God’s big story, He’d play up other parts of the story and downplay the resurrection of Jesus. But he doesn’t back down from it at all – in fact, it’s one of the main things he talks about in Athens.
 

Why was the resurrection so controversial? Resurrection talk was loaded language in the Areopagus. Sure, these people thought the idea of bodily resurrection was laughable – not only was it impossible, but more than that, it was undesirable! Their dualist worldview said the material world was corrupt and the spiritual world was what endures – their whole hope was to get rid of their bodies and live on in a disembodied state! So even if it were possible, why would anyone want their body resurrected?

Many commentators stop there when addressing the factors facing Paul as he brought up resurrection, but a few point out that there’s even one more layer to how controversial this is. There’s a 5th century BC Greek play that tells the mythological story of the founding of the Areopagus – it’s the legend of how the Areopagus came to be. In that play, the god Apollo inaugurates the court of the Areopagus, and here’s what he says: “When a man dies, and his blood is spilled on the ground, there is no resurrection.” In other words, not only was resurrection widely rejected in Athens, the very place where he was speaking was founded on the idea that there is no such thing as resurrection!

Paul is undeterred. The resurrection is critical enough to a faithful telling of the gospel, it’s essential enough, that despite its potential to cause some listeners to reject him, Paul still feels compelled to share it. After all, this is why we can be confident that God will make good on what He said He would do in the future: He has already made good on those promises in the case of one man as He raised Jesus Christ from the dead!

The lesson there for us is that we aren’t merely looking for connections and commonality points and only presenting the desirable parts of the gospel that have obvious points of overlap with people’s lives. We also must present the essentials of the gospel whether they are likely to be well-received or not!
 
 

“Can you provide a mini-exegesis of the culture of the North Shore?”

Anybody who has visited here even once or taken a drive down Sheridan Road will tell you some things they think they know about the North Shore. “It’s affluent, achievement-oriented, shallow, individualistic, unchurched.” There’s some truth to a lot of that, but that’s a surface-level analysis.

What do you learn when you go deeper, when you have better conversations with people, when you open your eyes a little more to what’s beneath the surface? You find that many living here are actually struggling to make ends meet. They’ve bought more than they can really afford because of their need for importance or status… or because they wanted their kids to go to great schools and they made the sacrifice to move to a place that’s really a bit outside their means. You find many wrestling with shame, that they don’t measure up here… or paralyzed by anxiety from the constant need to perform (whether it’s performing at their high-stakes job or performing on college entrance examinations or keeping up with the fitness habits and appearances of other middle-aged women). You’ll find a high value on education. In some of these communities, you’ll actually find a high value on family. All over the North Shore, you’ll find a high value on beauty and excellence. You’ll find people who devote their whole lives to philanthropy because they’re looking for meaning – they have a sincere hope to use their resources to do great good in the world, and their greatest fear is a meaningless existence.

In all, those who live here embody some of the best of what it means to be an image-bearer of God and some of the worst of what it means to be living in a fallen world, all at the same time. We live in a place where there is a great deal to embrace, a great deal to reject, and a great deal to work toward redeeming.

 

“Can you give an example of challenging a ‘B’ doctrine based on an ‘A’ doctrine?”

The Bible teaches that God is angry about sin. The Old Testament has plenty of examples of God pouring out His wrath or threatening to pour out His wrath. But it’s not just the Old Testament – Paul says in Romans that the wrath of God is being revealed today against ungodliness and unrighteousness. The wrath of God in the New Testament carried out by Jesus Christ is scarier than the wrath of God in the New Testament, actually – Revelation 14 has our Jesus slaying his enemies until the blood flows in the streets as high as the horse’s bridle. So even though every once in awhile, a famous or influential pastor will try to excuse or explain away the Old Testament because they don’t like the picture of God that people see there, it’s just as hard in the New Testament as it is in the Old to get around Psalm 7:11 – “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.”

But the wrath of God is obviously a “B” doctrine. The Bible teaches it, but it’s not at all popular in our culture. So how might we start with an “A” doctrine that our culture affirms and from there make the case for the wrath of God?

CS Lewis does it in The Problem of Pain; Tim Keller has done it well elsewhere. It goes something like this. God is love. A great number of skeptics in our culture want to get behind that statement. It’s an “A” doctrine in our culture, among Jews, Catholics, Gentiles, agnostics, etc. that there’s a God of love. But if there’s a God of love, it should be clear that that God has to hate. What kind of love do I really have for Jewish people if I don’t hate the Holocaust? What kind of love do you have for your grandmother if you don’t hate the cancer that’s consuming her brain? Hate isn’t the opposite of love; the opposite of love is indifference. Hate isn’t the opposite of love; in fact, if love is true love, it will necessarily be accompanied by hate for that which threatens or harms the object of that love. There we have a simple argument that builds on the “A” doctrine of God’s love to make a case for the “B” doctrine of God’s wrath. It won’t be persuasive to everyone; it wasn’t for Paul. But it will make sense to those whose hearts are open, because it exposes the inconsistency of believing the “A” doctrine without believing the “B” doctrine.