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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Gospel: Just Forgiveness?

Our featured blogger, Bill Stroup, is a husband, father, and grandfather.  He is a Christian businessman having worked in the publishing industry early in his career, and now as a partner in a company that develops safety equipment for the transit industry. Over the years, Bill has served churches in various ministry positions including pastor, and spent 20 years as a missionary leader and seminary teacher in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) in Africa. 

We recently concluded a five week series called “Supernatural” which explored how we can victoriously engage the spiritual battle raging around and within us.  A couple of thoughts stuck out from week 4 (Sep. 9), of the series, which addressed what we should do when we or others fall in the spiritual battle. 

The end of 1 John 1 acknowledges that Christians still sin.  It also makes clear that (1) God knows we still sin and (2) if we try to convince ourselves that we do not sin, we only deceive ourselves.  What is left unsaid, but might be implied, is that we may deceive ourselves, but those around us are not deceived at all – they know all too well that we are not sinless!

Still, that same passage goes on to say that when we manage to get past deceiving ourselves about being without sin and confess our sins to God instead, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins”.  As we read this, how can we not rejoice that God is “faithful…to forgive us”?  After all, we don’t have to hope without certainty for God’s forgiveness, as we might hope for sunny weather on Saturday.  Forgiveness is a solid promise of God when we confess!  He will forgive us; He promised!

But when we read this passage, do we think about the second part?  The passage also says that “He is…JUST to forgive us our sins”.  There is a lot that could be said about God being “just” to forgive our sins.  But let this single thought be enough for now: 

Jesus paid for our sins – past, present and future.

Our confession (agreement with God about our sin) deals with the relational distance caused by our sins, but God is “just to forgive us” because Jesus has already dealt with our sins by paying for them completely on the cross. 

Boy, does that take a load off my mind.  A line from the old hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul”, perhaps sums it up best:

My sin, Oh the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, Oh my soul!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Jesus: The End or Just the Means?

As soon as David killed Goliath, Saul resolved to keep him nearby from that point forward and to use him for his own agenda (1 Sam 18:2 & 5).  He did this until he perceived David as a threat to his agenda, at which point he no longer wanted David nearby.  In fact, at that point he just wanted him to no longer exist and he set his mind to making that a reality (1 Sam 18:6ff).

But upon David's victory over the big Philistine, "the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul" (1 Sam 18:1), and he "stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David" (1 Sam 18:4).  So much for "like father, like son".  Jonathan recognized David as God's King and, in his own words, only wanted to "be next to (him)" (1 Sam 23:17).  To Jonathan, God's anointed one was not the means to another end; he was the end.

We are often more Saul-like than Jonathan-like. For many of us, doubtless all of us at times, Jesus, "the Son of David", the Lord's anointed King is someone we want to keep close when we believe he can advance our agenda. We want proximity not intimacy, and this only so that we might have something else that we want.  Worse than this, when God won't advance our agenda or when we feel he threatens our agenda, we may prefer that he just didn't exist.  And although we can't make that a reality, we may try to live as if it is.

Jonathan wanted more than proximity.  He didn't just want to be king himself in the presence of God's anointed.  Jonathan wanted to experience the covenant love of God's king, to be his friend, to be "next to" him.  He didn't want proximity, he wanted intimacy.  He didn't want God to advance Jonathan's plan; he wanted to advance God's plan.  Jonathan wanted God's king and God's plan to succeed.  There was no "so that..." behind his desire to be close to David.  He simply loved him as his own soul.

What do you want with Jesus?  And why?  A.W. Tozer wrote in his book The Pursuit of God:
"Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people.  He waits to be wanted.  Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long in vain."
God give us a soul that is knit to his own, a love for him that makes us desire intimacy with him without any "so that..." behind it.  God give us a heart like Jonathan's who wanted to "be next to" the king for its own sake. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sacrificing mission on the altar of family?

Sacrificing mission on the altar of family?

by Mike Breen
As I've said before, we are often creatures of overreaction. One of the recent things I've been seeing in working with pastors is an almost paranoia about bringing the life and mission of the church into the life and mission of their family. My observation is that clearly a generation or two of ministry leaders are ensuring not to do what they've seen some of their forebears do: Sacrifice their family on the altar of mission (ministry). And they should be commended for this.
What often happens is an unhelpful compartmentalization rather than integration of life. We've been given ONE LIFE so we should live ONE LIFE. So rather than working 60, 70, 80 hour weeks and leaving our families on their own, we've pulled the work hours way back (good!), but have put up impenetrable walls between the life of the church's mission and the life of our families. There is often very little overlap between the two.
But is that what we really want for our families? Don't we want the mission of Jesus to be their mission? Don't we want the whole of our family to function in that mission together?
Here's the problem. For far too long, many of us felt we were pushed into having to make this false dichotomy: Is it family OR mission?
Rightly recognizing we shouldn't sacrifice our families, we started to put some healthy boundaries in place, but also some unhealthy ones. So we started to compartmentalize. But I believe it's part of the progression. So for many of us, this is now the question of our time: Is it family AND mission?
But when we learn to integrate our life and live well as a people participating in the mission of God each and every day and as we listen to the mission God is calling our family to, this is the next progression: Is it family ON mission?
Yes there are still smart boundaries we put in place, but it's integration that opens up our families to a new reality of life in the Kingdom of God.
It's fascinating to watch the leaders we work with make this progression as their life becomes more and more integrated and their family is part of that calling:
  • Family OR Mission?
  • Family AND Mission?
  • Family ON Mission.
We have one life, so let's live one life with our family on mission together.
Where do you think you and your family are functioning right now?

Friday, February 10, 2012


Stories are powerful. They inspire, encourage, and capture us. They draw from us a myriad of emotions. I remember as a child, my mom reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my brother and me every morning at the breakfast table. I was instantaneously transported to a land of fantasy and intrigue over a bowl of Life cereal.

Today, we read stirring stories in the Bible of God’s provision and faithfulness. We hear of God providing food and water for Moses and the wandering Israelites (Exodus 16-17), delivering Daniel from the mouths of hungry lions (Daniel 6), and producing oil for a widow to sell so her sons would be saved from slavery (2 Kings 4).

We personally hear amazing stories of God providing for people in truly miraculous ways. We have listened to people tell their stories of how they received an unexpected check in the mailbox, or a refund in the exact amount needed for an unforeseen expense, or how someone had an available refrigerator at the exact time that theirs went out.

But just like listening to a story about Narnia, we have only heard, we have not experienced. A lot of us do not have our own stories of God’s faithfulness and provision that we can share.

The potential for the writing of some our own stories is one of the main reasons I am excited about the “40 Days of Giving Challenge.” If you missed last Sunday, it is based out of Malachi 3.8-10. The people had not been faithful in bringing their tithes and offerings to God and were guilty of robbing Him. For the first time in Scripture God tells them to put Him to the test by giving to Him what is rightfully His. He tells them that if they do this, He will “pour out a blessing until there is no more need.”

We have the opportunity to do a few things through these 40 days. First, we have the opportunity to become the kind of sacrificial, cheerful giver that God loves (2 Corinthians 9.6-7, 2 Corinthians 8.2-3). Secondly, we have the opportunity to grow in our trust of God through giving (2 Corinthians 9.8). And thirdly, we have the opportunity to become part of the story of what God is going to do in these 40 days (Malachi 3.10; Proverbs 3.9-10).

We have already begun to hear stories of God’s blessings in the lives of those who have committed to becoming a more God-honoring and trusting giver. God is already demonstrating His faithfulness and we wait with anticipation to see how this chapter of the story of The River Church is going to be written. We invite you to contribute a page to this story… to God’s story… to your story… to our story.

Let us hear your story of how God blesses you in these 40 days. Email us at or drop us a note in the offering basket or in one of the black boxes located at the rear of the auditorium.