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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Commendable Faith and Love at PBF

Just a quick post to commend the body at PBF for your work of faith and labor of love so obviously on display of late.  I’ve been moved to think many times over the last few weeks, “I love this church.” 

Clearly, we are in the middle of a huge transition with our move to the new property.  Our members have given generously of their time to serve in a variety of ways.  The property steering team has contributed countless hours to the cause.  In the last few weeks, more and more people have been needed to accomplish various tasks—packing different parts of the church, meeting with contractors/service providers/utility companies, pulling up church signs, etc.  Of course, the bulk of the work of moving is still ahead of us and we need as many hands as possible, but the work that has already been done is enormous.  People have taken off work early or taken off entirely to do tasks that need to be done.  I’ve talked to several people who have taken vacation days for next week so that they can be at the new property helping set it up.  They are doing this because they believe in Jesus Christ and in what we are doing as a body to know Him and make Him known.

With all this transition going on and the time it takes to do it, we have SEVEN individuals currently going through the arduous task of being trained to be biblical counselors.  We put out a call last Fall, stating that we were in dire need of help in the counseling ministry.  These people answered…and they are reading, writing, and studying while ministering in a host of other ways, including helping with the transition.  They are doing this because they love the members of this body.

Additionally, in the midst of the chaos, PBF contributed 112 bags of shoes (2,800 pairs) to the Orphan Care Shoe Drive.  While we were stockpiling boxes for the move, we were also stockpiling shoes to raise funds to help bring another orphan home.  Numerous people gave their time to bag these shoes, transport them, and prepare them for pickup.  Four people showed up in the rain on Tuesday morning to load the moving van that carted them all away.  They did this because they love the gospel.  

This week, one of our families had a close family member pass away.  We asked for and received the honor of providing the funeral meal for the family.  This came during the first of two weeks of great upheaval as we approach our last week at Cox Road and prepare for our first at Summerhill Drive.  Everyone is busy.  However, you never would have known that by how quickly all the slots were taken to provide crockpot meals, salads, drinks, and desserts for this grieving family.  It was as if our people were waiting by their computers just anticipating an email about an opportunity to serve.  I heard from some who were disappointed that they weren’t quick enough to get one of the slots (and you had to be QUICK to get one).  “How else can I minister to the family?” they asked.  Members of the body loving members of the body.

These evidences of grace and many others fill me with great affection for you and for the Lord Jesus at work in you.  

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing… But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more (1 Thess. 4:9-10)

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Sanctified Hyper-Flexibility

“We fear change.”  —Garth Algar, Wayne’s World (1992)

Indeed, we do fear change.  Some more so than others, but all of us are creatures of habit.  We get into a groove, know what to expect, and find a sense of security in that familiarity and predictability.   When an event, person, or thing comes along and threatens our status quo, we can begin to feel nervous or even anxiety-ridden.  We’ve all experienced it, perhaps when new management assumed the helm at our workplace, when we became part of a mixed family, when we moved to a new state, or when our favorite restaurant went under (this one keeps happening to me).

A quite common reaction to the new normal is to do whatever necessary to accommodate it to our preferences.  If we can’t have the old normal, maybe it would be even better to mold the new space so that it makes us feel optimally safe and comfortable.  We could call this the impulse to contend for our preferences.

Another reaction is to resist change altogether.  Even though obvious and even irrevocable change has taken place, the attempt is made to replicate the old normal as much as possible.  “This isn’t how we’ve always done things.”  “The old way is better; why can’t we just keep doing that?”  “This is different—I don’t like it.”  We could call this the impulse to turn back time.

There may be other common reactions to change, but these two can be quite damaging to any body of people, especially a church like ours on the eve of perhaps the greatest change we’ve experienced in our short history.  Lord willing, we have two more Sundays of worship in the building at Cox Road.  Then we’ll be moving to a new space, a new normal.  If we contend for our preferences or try to turn back time, it is likely that we will face conflict that could derail our focus on gospel ministry.  

I’d like to take just a moment to put these things in perspective for all of us, including myself.  I don’t like change.  However, if we all make a concerted effort by the grace of God to keep our eyes on the big picture, we will breeze through this transition with the biggest challenge being physically moving all our stuff.  To keep things in perspective, I would propose that we all think about what is changing compared to what is not changing.

What’s changing

Our address: For the last 10+ years, we’ve worshiped at 7938 Cox Road.  We will now be worshipping at 7000 Summerhill Drive.  Our new location is no longer two turns off of I-75.  It will likely take some of us several minutes longer to get to church.  For some it will be shorter.

Aesthetics: The building doesn’t look the same.  Doesn’t smell the same.  Some will find this wonderful; others not so much.  Some of us will find the extra space refreshing; others like to be “cozy.”  

Service and class times: We will be moving to one service with the Sunday school hour preceding it.  We will all be able to worship together regularly for the first time in about 10 years.   

Our familiar spots:  Some of us park our vehicle in the same spot every week.  We tend to sit in the same seats every Sunday during worship.  Our move means different parking spots, different seats.  

What’s staying the same

God:  What a wonderful thought.  We live in a world of constant change, but we serve a God who never changes.  This means that as the whole world is in flux around us, we can trust Him.  Psalm 46:1-3: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

Us:  Certainly, we are all in progress and changing all the time, but what I mean is that we will be the same church worshipping at 7000 Summerhill that worshipped for years at 7938 Cox.  Same church—flawed believers who love each other.  Because we’re flawed and make mistakes, there will be tweaks to make here and there in the weeks surrounding the transition.  We should be able to take this in stride because we’ve always been flawed, made mistakes, and adjusted the way we do things.  Wonderfully, though the aesthetics will be different, the faces will not.  Praise God for that.

The Gospel and our commitment to it:  There are NO theological or philosophical changes coming with our new address.  We will continue to be God-centered, Bible-focused, and gospel-driven.  Our convictions and philosophy of ministry will remain unchanged.

It strikes me that a major difference between the above lists is that all the things that are changing are temporal in nature.  The things staying the same are eternal.  That’s perspective we need.  As we are confronted with new things that are unusual, difficult, or uncomfortable, we should be reminded, “The temporal details are changing.  The eternal essentials are not.  We trust not in predictability, but in a God who does not change.”

With this perspective in mind, Paul called the believers at Philippi to what we might call sanctified hyper-flexibility: Let your reasonableness be known to everyone (Phil. 4:5).  Be so reasonable that it draws the attention of the world as being something other-worldly.  It’s essential for the survival of a church like ours as much as it was for the church at Philippi.  

To that end, let’s not fear change, but embrace it as the gift of an unchanging God who uses it to cause us both to hold loosely to the temporal things of this life and to cling tenaciously to the eternal things of this life and the next.  

The week prior to our first meeting will provide much opportunity to practice this sanctified hyper-flexibility and to serve the Lord and one another.  There is much work to be done—unpacking and setting up the new building, in particular.  Many hands make light work.  Friday, Feb 28 and Sat, Feb 29 will be our unpacking days.  Please make every effort to join us in this endeavor.  Talk to Becky Bolser to see what you can do.


Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Toilet Paper Rose

After this [Jesus] went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:27-32, ESV)

First-century Palestine provided plenty opportunity for tax collectors to be slandered and treated as deplorable. Why? Was it because the Jews of the time found themselves under an oppressive Roman regime? Likely. Could it be that even some of the Jews were joining forces with the Romans to enlarge their own bank accounts at the expense of defending the welfare of their own? Highly probable. What about overcharging in an effort to keep a little for self? You bet. Could it be that tax collecting erected a facade of a lavish lifestyle, despite its unethical basis? Now we’re getting somewhere.

When the Pharisees and scribes querulously asked Jesus’ disciples why he eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners, notice it was Jesus who stepped up to answer. In fact, he answered with an emphasis not on the issue of tax collecting but on sin. Jesus penetrated beyond a here-and-now issue and exposed his audience to gospel grit, the very fiber of why the gospel was/is necessary. It is for sinners that Jesus came, and all those outside the realm of the repentant align with such a label. The Greek word translated sinners in Luke’s text points to the reality of the detestable and blatant nature of one who sins. This is what Jesus’ audience missed. They did not see themselves as detestable before a holy God. The blinders of conceit or egotism had kept them in the position of pursuing ritual “righteousness” that was anything but approved by God. Certainly the tax collectors needed to see their spiritual depravity, but so did the Pharisees and scribes. 

From experiential observation, it amazes me how much more receptive those often labeled “down and out” or destitute are to entertaining spiritual conversations than the prominent and wealthy. (I fully understand there are exceptions. This is simply a general observation I have made during recent evangelistic attempts in wealthy and oppressed environments.) The reality is, however, that all without faith in Christ stand depraved, estranged from God, and in need of saving grace. The wealthy but lost and poor but lost stand on equal footing. Nonetheless, I have had more opportunities to share and discuss the gospel with those who fully recognize at least the perceived low status they hold in society.

Where am I going with this? Well, just yesterday I had the privilege of visiting the Greyhound bus station in downtown Cincinnati with a dear brother from Providence, Dave Doerman. We went prayerfully prepared to share the gospel with as many people as possible within the span of one hour. God blessed us with numerous conversations, most of which included a full presentation of the gospel. In total, ten people were exposed to the gospel—not a prosperity message of false hope, but the message that calls for repentance and faith. Who were these individuals? Some were homeless folks keeping warm indoors that had no intention of departing on a bus to anywhere. Others were young people who professed to be Christian but denied or misinterpreted major tenets of the Faith. Still yet, a handful of these individuals were folks who were recently released from jail and are attempting to start afresh.

This is the point in which I introduce you to my new friend, Jack (name changed for identity protection). Recently released from a local jail for serving time regarding multiple drug and abuse-related crimes, Jack walked into the bus station without a clue of what the Lord had in store for him. As Jack walked around the facility with clear release bag in-hand (his only possessions being a couple outfits, a couple bags of chips, and a Gideon bible that had been issued to him while incarcerated), Dave and I were both drawn to him. The next thirty minutes entailed us sitting on a germ-filled bench with a man who understood his current lot in life. In fact, he understood his societal condition to the point that he verbalized his lack of bathing as a token of honor. (I wouldn’t have opted to be anywhere else.) But did we just listen to his backstory and express empathy? No. Like Jesus, we called a sinner to repentance. We did listen patiently to the wandering soundtrack of his musings—the narrative of his young wife’s death was gut-wrenching. We listened well, by God’s grace. And it was by God’s grace that we probed Jack to consider his position before the holy God of all. Similar to those whom Jesus conversed with in Luke’s account above, Jack didn’t fully realize the reality of his sinful nature.

But he was receptive to what we were saying…

From Ephesians 2, Dave and I explained the depravity of man and the saving grace available to the repentant through Christ’s atoning work. God tore down in Jack’s thinking the wall of being in God’s good graces simply because he is now attempting to do better at life. His demeanor was softened as the terms repentance and faith were defined. He listened and he listened well. He was a type of surface on which the gospel landed. Jack did not make a decision to forsake all and follow Christ but he was exposed to gospel. It might be that he is kept by the evil one from seeing his need for the shed blood of Christ. It’s possible that a time of testing will prove a lack of gospel implanting. Might Jack get caught up in the cares and pleasures of this world? It’s possible. But so is the possibility of Jack repenting and bearing godly fruit (Luke 8:9-15).

Maybe he repented and trusted Christ yesterday…

Dave and I will likely never know on this side of eternity what Jack did with the message given him. But we are ever hopeful that Jack will be granted new life in Christ and respond in faith to the gospel. Our aim was to propagate the gospel among the sick, the sinful. All glory to Christ, we learned a lot from our endeavor. Personally, I walked away pondering, “As I seek to honor Christ with my life, am I purposely pursuing the “tax collectors and sinners” around me? Am I consistently laboring to winsomely call sinners to repentance?” I long for greater diligence in this area of my spiritual growth, and I kindly encourage you to ponder the same questions as I am currently. Let us pursue joy as we pursue our lost friends, neighbors, relatives, etc. with the beauty and authority of the gospel.

Just a quick word in closing. Why is this blog entry entitled, “The Toilet Paper Rose?” I intentionally failed to mention another item in Jack’s possession—a rose made from toilet paper in his jail cell. This was literally all Jack could offer as a token of his gratitude, and it was hard for him to do so—he clutched the rose as if it were a million dollars. Where is it now? It is taped to my office wall, immediately left of the light switch. Why? God used Jack to remind me to be often about the business of proclaiming the gospel. When I see it, I hope to pray for Jack and his need for salvation. In tandem, I also hope to pray for deeper conviction and discipline of evangelism. How might God use Jack’s toilet paper rose to move you toward greater service and joy in various settings of evangelism? Stop by my office sometime. Take a look. Pray. Let us pray together. Let us serve together. All for the glory of the One who has delivered us—sinners—from death to life.

Pastor Jay

Thursday, January 30, 2020

A Night Of Thanksgiving

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Thess. 1:2-3)

I love these verses for a couple of reasons.  First, they remind us that thanks is due to God for the godly lives of those around us. All good gifts come from Him, including the good works of our brothers and sisters.  Second, these verses give us a mode of thanksgiving that might not occur to us otherwise.  Thanksgiving takes place when we reminisce with God ("remembering before God...") about what He has done around us in the lives of others…and give Him the glory for it.

We are in a season of transition at Providence Bible Fellowship as we prepare to move to another building.  Wednesday, February 5 will be our last prayer meeting in the building at Cox Road.  So much ministry has taken place here, both during our tenure and long before PBF existed.  This is an appropriate occasion to express our thankfulness to Him for the ministry, relationships, memories, and spiritual growth He has given over the years.  So we are going to dedicate this prayer meeting to remembering before God what He has done in and around us at this location for these many years.  And we are going to give Him the glory for it.  

This prayer meeting will be a little different than those of the past.  We will be singing hymns a capella.  We will be spending time throughout the building, thinking and praying about events, relationships, blessings that have occurred here, all due to God’s generosity.  We will thank God for what He is currently doing and what He is going to do.  

I encourage everyone to make every effort to attend.  It will be a time of great fellowship and thanksgiving.  Wednesday, February 5, 6:30pm.

Monday, January 27, 2020

This Is the Way

With the release of the streaming service Disney+ came a new Star Wars show called The Mandalorian. One of the fun things to come out of this well-received series has been several quotable lines that have already weaved their way into pop culture. One of my favorites is an oft-repeated line by the title character: "This is the way." It's not only fun to drop into a conversation with a grumbling kid asking why? but represents the central motivation of the Mandalorian.

If you’re not familiar with the Mandalorian mythology from Star Wars, you’re not alone. Before it aired, many casual fans knew nothing except “that dude looks a lot like Boba Fett.” But this is okay, as the series unravels and mythology for the viewer. And one of the things you find out in the series is that though the Mandalorian way started with an actual race of people, it has moved beyond ethnic identity. It’s now a creed that anyone can choose to follow.

This is exactly what we see played out of the series. Against what may be rational thought, or more often the easy way out, the Mandalorian repeatedly chooses to be faithful to his chosen path. And when challenged on his decision-making, his response is simply, "This is the way." This is also how other Mandalorians affirm one another and offer encouragement in difficult situations. Thus, the words this is the way are shorthand for explaining to outsiders or confirming with themselves that this is the way they have chosen to live, despite any difficulty it may bring.

I couldn't help but be struck the similarity to Christianity. Originally called the Way (Acts 9:2), our religion is rooted in Jewish ethnicity but open to anyone. It is a belief that leads to a certain way of life; namely, following Christ who is himself the Way.

But a sharp distinction is also seen. Sadly, there are many ways Christians loose their resolve to the follow the Way. We are tempted to lose hope, give in to our sinful desires, forsake God-given responsibilities, and more. In the end, we chose to step off the path forged by Christ, and live contrary to the way he has set out for us. This is unhelpful to us spiritually, discouraging to the church, and dishonoring to God. Thankfully, Jesus is able to identify with our weakness (Heb 4:15), and intercedes for us when we come to our senses and repent (1 John 1:9-2:2), choosing to step back onto the path of faithful Christian living.

But what I long for and pray for--not just in my own life, but in the church as well--is more of a Mandalorian-like Christianity. I long to see believers who live with spiritual grit. I pray for a Christianity where believers remain faithful in the midst of the darkest valleys and most difficult times. More and more, I want see Christians who, by faith in God's Son, consistently kill sin, sacrificially love others, and joyfully choose to follow Christ instead of the world.

This is the way.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Tools for Improving Your Prayer Life

In Wayne Mack and Dave Swavely’s Life in the Father’s House: A Member’s Guide to the Local Church, the authors comment, “Many Christians today feel a…lack of confidence in their patterns of prayer. Very few of us could say that we need little or no improvement in this area of our lives” (p. 213). We understand the importance and privilege of prayer, don’t we? I think we do. “But despite its universally accepted status,” writes one author, “prayer remains for many Christians a difficult task, a duty without joy and sometimes seemingly without effect. Christians may waver between the poles of neglect and frustration when it comes to prayer” (What Is a Healthy Church Member, p. 105). 

If you have ever or currently find yourself in this position, please understand you are not alone! See if these questions sound familiar:

1. What language do I use when praying—my own words or only Scripture?

2. How much time should I spend asking God to “fix” things, as contrasted with voicing how worthy of praise He is?

3. I want to pray Scripture, but how do I do it?

4. Why do I get so sidetracked when I pray?

5. How do I avoid rote praying or repetitious phraseology?

6. What are the differences between the categories of prayers? (For example, how does praise differ from thanksgiving?)

I'll be honest, these are questions I have struggled with many times over the years. There are plenty other questions to wrestle with, I'm sure, but these are a small number to get us thinking. And as we’re thinking, I don’t want to spend time unpacking a biblical theology of prayer, however fun and edifying that may be. (Remember, we already know the importance and privilege of prayer.) Rather, I want to present seven helpful tools (below) to assist in improving our prayer lives (and answer the above questions). My prayer is that these resources will deepen our understanding of the centrality of prayer for believers and invigorate a sense of delight in expressing God’s worth, fervently praying for others, and petitioning for ourselves those things that align with our growth in Christlikeness.

Tool #1: A Method for Prayer: Freedom in the Face of God, by Matthew Henry (book; FREE website content HERE)

Tool #2: A Guide to Prayer, by Isaac Watts (book)

Tool #3: The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett (book)

Tool #4: At the Throne of Grace, by John MacArthur (book)

Tool #5: Praying the Bible, by Don Whitney (book)

May God move us to truly pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17)!