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Family Update: Candidating at Stonebridge Church in Cedar Rapids

February 1, 2019

IMG_0324 2I don’t typically use this blog for family updates (let’s be honest . . . I don’t typically use this blog lately). But it seems as good a venue as any to let folks know about some recent developments in our life and ministry.

In two weeks, I will be candidating for the Lead Pastor position at Stonebridge Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Pastor Randy Scheil, who has served in that role for 27 years, will be retiring this year. And if God wills, it will be my privilege to succeed him in joining the elders and pastoral staff in leading Stonebridge in their passion to help each person they meet take their next step with Jesus.

For some of you this will come as quite a surprise. When we came to New England nearly eight years ago, we had no intention of ever moving on. And it has been an unspeakable privilege to share life with our Westgate Church family and partner with them in gospel ministry. We truly cherish the years God has given us here, and especially the people he has placed in our lives.

Yet being far from our family in Nebraska has been difficult. And with some recent health concerns among our family back home, and the increasing difficulty of making the trip back, the Lord brought Carissa and me to a place last summer where we felt we needed to be open to the possibility of relocating to the Midwest.

Little did we know that within a few weeks we would be contacted by Stonebridge Church. I had met Randy and several others from Stonebridge a few years earlier through the Charles Simeon Trust Workshops on Biblical Exposition. With the help of their search consultant, Greg Allen, we began getting to know each other more closely last fall. Through our conversations with the Stonebridge search team and leadership, and through the counsel and prayers of friends, mentors, and fellow elders at Westgate, the Lord recently brought Carissa and me to a sense of unity and confidence in his call to Stonebridge. We are thankful that our Westgate family, despite their sadness, has supported us in this call, and we are prayerfully eager for the Lord to confirm it through the candidation process at Stonebridge in two weeks.

Transitions like this are by nature bittersweet. There is a real excitement at the prospect of serving God in this new opportunity. Stonebridge is a healthy church, with godly leaders, humble servants, a heart for their community, and a gospel-driven approach to ministry. We have really enjoyed getting to know the leadership, and are excited for the days and years ahead. But it’s not without the sadness that comes from saying goodbye to our Westgate family, to dear friends, to our Veritas school community, and to life in New England. New England has been our home. We have seen God move here. We have been deeply loved here. One of our children is buried here. There have been many tears so far, and there will no doubt be more to come.

Several years ago, when we were coming to the end of our time at College Church in Wheaton and waiting on the Lord to see what was next, I sat down with one of our pastors, Wendell Hawley. I remember lamenting to him at the time how awkward it felt to think of serving a new church, and how I didn’t know how I’d be able to love them the way I loved College Church, or Oak Lake Church (where we had previously served in Lincoln, Nebraska). Wendell’s response went something like this: It’s kind of like having another child. When you have your first child, your heart is so full with love for them, that it’s virtually impossible to imagine having any more room for loving a second child. And then one day you meet that second child, and the love is just there. Not because you love your first child less, but because God has expanded your heart.

That was certainly our experience when we came to Westgate; we loved you as soon as we met you. And that love has only grown over the last seven-plus years. And so far, that’s been our experience with Stonebridge too in the time we’ve spent with your leaders—we loved you as soon as we met you. And we trust, by God’s will, it will be our experience as we meet the rest of you in the weeks ahead.

So we invite you to pray with us—for our family, for Westgate, and for Stonebridge, as we seek to follow God’s call. May his gospel continue to bear fruit and grow, for the glory of his name and the good of his people.

Brandon & Carissa

Do you even blog, bro?

November 26, 2018

As I’m drafting advent readings for the upcoming season, it dawns on me that I haven’t updated this blog since . . . well, last advent.

Not that many have really noticed, but here are a few reasons why:

The Priority of ‘IRL’ Ministry. This blog was always intended to serve and supplement my shepherding and teaching ministry in real life (‘IRL’). That is, my primary audience is my congregation at Westgate, and folks in the surrounding area (though it’s been nice to see the Lord use it beyond that scope). In that regard, I’ve noticed two things over the past couple of years: (1) my pastoral and leadership responsibilities at Westgate have left less time and energy for blogging, and (2) this blog is not a particularly effective a platform for our congregation. Hence, less time blogging.

A Reduction of Time Online. Added to that, I’ve tried to reduce the amount of time I’m online over the last year or so. I don’t spend near as much time reading blogs as I used to. Not because there isn’t great content; for whatever reason I’ve spent more time with podcasts. Nothing particularly strategic or intentional to this, but less time reading blogs has also translated into less time blogging.

An Assistant who Oversees Communication at Church. I’ve also been blessed this year by adding an assistant who now oversees our communication at church, including our online presence (i.e., website, social media). In the past, I did a lot of the social media communication, which I no longer have to spend a lot of time thinking about or doing. And less time thinking about using social media to communicate, has meant less time generating content to be communicated. Hence, less blogging.

I still expect to post here from time to time in the future (i.e., see the upcoming advent readings). And I plan to keep the resources here available for the foreseeable future. But for anyone, these are the main reasons for less traffic.

A Reading for Christmas Eve

December 23, 2017

advent-1348639Relight the three purple candles and the pink candle.

Introduction

The word “advent” means coming. Advent is a season of expectation and longing. It’s a time when we prepare to celebrate the arrival of Christ in his incarnation, and a reminder that Christ is coming again to make all things new.

With each candle of Advent this year, we are rehearsing God’s story of redemption. On Christmas Eve we celebrate God’s faithfulness to redeem his creation and save his people by sending his eternal Son, Jesus, into the world.

Scripture

John 1 says:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him . . . In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:1-5, 14)

And Jesus says in John 8:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (John 8:12)

Light the white candle in the center.         

We light the final candle of Advent to celebrate the birth of God’s Son, our Savior and King, the true light of the world who gives light and life to all who believe in him.

Prayer

Please pray with me:

Faithful Father,

Thank you that you have not left this world in darkness, but have sent your Son to show us your glory and give us new life. Anchor our hearts in Christ this Christmas, as we follow him and wait for his glorious return, that the earth may be filled with the knowledge of your glory as the waters cover the sea.

Amen.

A Reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 22, 2017

advent-1348639Relight the first two purple candles, and the pink candle.

Introduction

The word “advent” means coming. Advent is a season of expectation and longing. It’s a time when we prepare to celebrate the arrival of Christ in his incarnation, and a reminder that Christ is coming again to make all things new.

With each candle of Advent this year, we are rehearsing God’s story of redemption. The fourth candle reminds us that sometimes we have to wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Scripture

Psalm 13 says:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.    (Psalm 13:1-3)

And 2 Peter 3 reminds us:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.      (2 Pet. 3:8-9)

Light the last purple candle.           

We light the fourth candle of Advent as we wait with faith for the Lord to answer all his promises in Christ.

Prayer

Please pray with me:

Sovereign Lord,

We confess to you that it is hard to wait. Yet we know in Christ that all your promises are sure. As your ancient people waited centuries for the arrival of their King, give us patience and faith this Advent season, to wait for the light of Christ to dawn again and fulfill your promise to make all things new.

Amen.

A Reading for the Third Sunday of Advent

December 17, 2017

advent-1348639Relight the first two purple candles.

Introduction

The word “advent” means coming. Advent is a season of expectation and longing. It’s a time when we prepare to celebrate the arrival of Christ in his incarnation, and a reminder that Christ is coming again to make all things new.

With each candle of Advent this year, we are rehearsing God’s story of redemption. The third candle reminds us of the promises of God through the Prophets to send light into our dark world.

Scripture

The Prophet Isaiah said:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. . . .
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

(Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

Light the pink candle.

We light the third candle of Advent to remember God’s promise to send his Messiah, our Savior and King.

Prayer

Please pray with me:

Merciful Father,

Long ago you said of your Son: “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”*

Thank you for not leaving us in the darkness. Thank you for the promise of your Messiah, our Savior and King, who brings light and joy to all who trust in him. Prepare our hearts to receive him this Advent season.
Amen.

*Isaiah 49:6

A Reading for the Second Sunday of Advent

December 6, 2017

advent-1348639

Relight the first purple candle.

Introduction

The word “advent” means coming. Advent is a season of expectation and longing. It’s a time when we prepare to celebrate the arrival of Christ in his incarnation, and a reminder that Christ is coming again to make all things new.

With each candle of Advent this year, we are rehearsing God’s story of redemption. The second candle reminds us of our need for God’s light due to the darkness of sin.

Scripture

Isaiah 59 says:

Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness. . . .
Their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood;
their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity;
desolation and destruction are in their highways.
The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths;
they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace.
Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us;
we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
(Isa. 59:1-3, 7-9)

Light the second purple candle.     

We light the second candle of Advent to lament the darkness of this fallen world, as we wait for the light of Christ to dawn.

Prayer

Please pray with me:

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.”* Heavenly Father, we lament the darkness that fills this world—the grip that sin has on so many, the pain it causes, and the offense it brings to your holy name. Forgive us our sins, and let the light of your gospel shine into the darkness this Advent season. Amen.

*John 3:19

A Reading for the First Sunday of Advent

November 30, 2017

advent-1348639

Introduction

The word “advent” means coming. Advent is a season of expectation and longing. It’s a time when we prepare to celebrate the arrival of Christ in his incarnation, and a reminder that Christ is coming again to make all things new.

With each candle of Advent this year, we are rehearsing God’s story of redemption. The first candle reminds us of God’s purpose in creation.

Scripture

Genesis 1:1-4 says:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.”

1 John 1:5 says:

“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

And Revelation 4:11 declares:

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Light the first purple candle.           

We light the first candle of Advent to remember that God is light, and he made this world to reflect the light of his glory.

Prayer

Please pray with me:

Heavenly Father,

“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”* You made this world that you might fill it with the light of your glory. You promised to accomplish your plan and redeem this world by sending the light of your Son. Prepare our hearts to receive him this advent season. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”**

Amen.

    *Ps. 24:1; **2 Cor. 4:6

Prayer for Peace and Racial Reconciliation: A Liturgy

August 21, 2017

Eph 2.14 bThe events in Charlottesville, Virginia, a little over a week ago were horrifying. White supremacists marching with torches, Nazi flags paraded down the street, violent outbursts that claimed the life of one woman and injured dozens more. It can only be described as a satanic display of racism and hatred, an offense against God and an assault on people made in his image.

But those events are also indicative of a larger and much deeper problem in American society—one that is not buried in our nation’s history of slavery, segregation, and racial discrimination (as some might like to think), but has continued to poison relationships and systems for decades, and is now finding fresh energy in the alt-right white nationalist movement.

Our Savior weeps over this. And we should too. There is no supreme race; only a Supreme Savior. Racism is an abomination in God’s eyes and antithetical to his gospel. But violence is not the answer either. In times of racial tension and evil, we must rally around the only thing powerful enough to bring true and lasting healing: the cross of Jesus Christ.

For this reason, we gathered last night at Westgate Church to pray. For those who couldn’t join us, or any who wish to seek God in prayer or this critical matter, we’re making available the liturgy we used last night (see below).

The liturgy uses a combination of responsive readings, Scripture readings, and open times of prayer. It begins with an affirmation of God’s glory and majesty, and the beauty of his design for humanity–a diverse yet single humanity, made in his image. Next it moves into a time of lament over the sin of racism in our country’s past and present. This is followed by a time of confession and repentance, both on behalf of our nation, but also personal confession as we ask God to search our hearts and reveal ways we have been part of the problem. The liturgy then moves into the gospel, the assurance that God’s grace through Jesus is the answer to the sin of racism among us and within us. Finally it concludes with a time of supplication and intercession, seeking God’s help for this time of need in our country.

You can download the liturgy here: Prayer Gathering for Peace and Racial Reconciliation.

Handbook for a Healthy Church

April 18, 2017

Video credit: John Crist

If you could only pick one adjective to describe what’s most important to you in a church, what would it be?

Big? Small? Friendly? Active? Innovative? Traditional? Contemporary? Culturally-engaged? Bible-teaching? Missions-minded? Young? Established? Seeker-sensitive? Kid-friendly? Cutting edge?

In reality, many of our criteria for church today are a matter of mere preference. They’re not necessarily bad things, but they’re not always biblical, and often too narrow.

So what should be the most important adjective for a church? It’s hard to pick just one word (and no doubt many words would suit). But if we had to pick just one, our humble suggestion would be healthy.

What is a Healthy Church?

Healthy things work the way they’re supposed to, according to design. Which means a healthy church is one that grows and functions the way God intended it. So what does that look like? And what will it take?

This is the question the apostle Paul was answering in his letter to Titus, whom he left in Crete so that he might “put what remained into order” (1:5) among the churches they had recently planted. In that light, Paul’s letter to Titus is kind of like a handbook for a healthy church: here’s what it looks like and what it takes for the church to grow and function according to God’s design.

Join Us

This Sunday at Westgate Church, I’ll begin teaching an adult Sunday School class on this subject, walking through Titus together in order to listen to and learn from this handbook for a healthy church. The schedule is below. I hope you can join us!

For more about Sunday morning learning opportunities at Westgate, including the class Pastor Bruce will be teaching on the Trinity, click here.

Handbook for a Healthy Church: Lessons from Titus (9:30 am, Room 302)

  • April 23: Gospel Foundation (1:1-4; 2:11-14; 3:3-7)
  • April 30: Godly Leadership: Biblical Offices (1:5-9; et al.)
  • May 7: Godly Leadership: Character (1:5-9)
  • May 14: Sound Doctrine: Constructive (1:9; 2:1, 7, 15; 3:8)
  • May 21: Sound Doctrine: Corrective (1:10-16; 3:9-11)
  • May 28: Good Works: From the Heart (1:16; 2:11-14)
  • June 4: Good Works: Practice (2:7-10; 3:1-15)
  • June 11: Discipleship: Pattern (2:1-10; et al.)
  • June 18: Discipleship: Practice (Various)

 

What Does the Gospel Have To Do with Politics?

October 20, 2016

Two Foundational Principles for Navigating Church and State

Underneath the questions facing evangelicals during the 2016 presidential election, there is a more fundamental question that is often assumed or overlooked, but is actually critical to acting wisely as Christians in America: what hath the gospel of Jesus have to do with politics? How should we think about the relationship between church and state?

Processed by: Helicon Filter;  MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOld Glory and the Old, Old Story

About four years ago, Christianity Today ran an article about whether churches should display the American flag in their sanctuary.[1] For decades this was a normal practice for many church denominations—a mark of one’s commitment to God and country. It is less common today, as people are wary of conflating the cause of Christ with the cause of ‘Murica, and all the more so as we find the aims of God and country increasingly at odds. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Church, tells the story of one pastor

who wanted to do away with the flag, but didn’t want to be seen as un-American, so he devised a plan to secret the flag away in the middle of a Saturday night, hoping the congregation just wouldn’t notice the next day. This game of “Rapture the Flag” didn’t work, of course. By dawn’s early light, they saw that the flag was not there. And that’s when the metaphorical bombs started bursting in air.[2]

It’s a ridiculous story, but it illustrates the question at hand: what does the gospel to do with politics?

On the one hand the church is not an American institution. God promised Abraham descendants from all nations; Jesus sent his disciples to preach the gospel to all nations; and when he returns there will be, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9; see also Gen. 17:4; Matt. 28:18-20).

Nor can we honestly say that America is a Christian nation. While the vision and values upon which this country was founded were certainly influenced by a Judeo-Christian worldview, that doesn’t mean our founding father were all Christians. They simply weren’t. And the kind of revisionist history that attempts to “baptize the dead” and claim unorthodox historical heroes for Team Jesus is not only embarrassing, it does more harm than good.[3]

Moreover, there is the simple fact that you cannot claim to have religious freedom and be a Christian nation at the same time. We need to be honest about that. The historical influence of Christianity has been good for our country, but the vision has always been one of plurality and religious freedom—our first amendment right.

And yet, as followers of Christ who are also citizens of this nation, we are Christians and Americans at the same time. Citizens who enjoy the rights and protections and freedoms afforded by our country, and who bear certain civic obligations in return: jury duty, paying taxes, voting. Some of us make our livelihood in public service, holding office or serving in the military; some of our private sector work largely deals with government contracts. Many of us are “proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” We can sing “God Bless the USA” in our sleep. We love our country; we’ve had family and friends die for our country. And many of us are worried about the direction of our country—the kind of world we’re leaving for our children.

More than that, being a good Christian actually means being a good citizen. The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 13:1-2: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” As much as we might be tempted to completely disengage from politics and separate ourselves from the world, that option is neither possible nor biblical.

So how do we navigate the tension between church and state? How do we engage politically without resorting to religious coercion on one side (imposing the expressions of our faith on those who don’t share it), or religious compromise on the other (forsaking, or being forced to forsake, our unique message and kingdom commitments for public acceptance and political expedience)?

A Message for Christians in Exile

In 1 Peter 2:13-18, the apostle Peter offers us sage wisdom for living as God’s people in a fallen world. Read more…