Our New Vision

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With our 10-year anniversary quickly approaching in 2020 (hard to believe!), this year has served as a strategic opportunity to think about the future. We recently introduced our new vision, mission, and values (see here). We also launched a sermon series to flesh it all out (listen here). And to top it off, we revealed a new church logo:

 
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The new logo represents a transition into a new season in City Church’s life. The church building welcomes you in but the leaves draw your attention to what is happening outside the building as God’s diverse family brings life and renewal to the world.

I look forward to how God will continue to weave our diverse stories and backgrounds together so that we might live into his story over the coming months and years!

Pastor Jason

We Are Hiring: City Church Kids Coordinator

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Kristina Pansa, who has served as our City Church Kids Coordinator for the past 6 years, will be stepping out of her role due to the responsibilities of her full-time job. We are grateful for all of her hard work in helping to build our children’s ministry in recent years.

With Kristina's impending departure from our staff, we are looking to fill the Kids Coordinator position. You can download the job description here. Please direct inquiries to Pastor Jason.

Meet our New Church Planting Resident

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City Church Family:

In our congregational meeting this morning I announced that we have hired an assistant pastor who will serve as a church planting resident over the next two years.

Israel Ruiz will join our staff on October 1st. He and his wife Marietta, and their two children, Antonio and Lessley, will move to the area in mid-October. Israel is an ordained minister in our denomination who has served as an assistant pastor at a church in Virginia the past four years.

The funding for this residency will come largely from external sources. The money we invest in the residency will come from our savings so the impact on our general budget will be minimal.

In addition to preaching and administering the sacraments, Israel will focus on community outreach. He will be immersed in our ministry philosophy and introduced to a variety of relationships and resources to help him prepare for the possibility of church planting after the residency.

I am excited for the Ruiz family to join our church family as we seek to fill our diverse communities with the presence of Jesus in this next season of City Church’s life!

Grace & Peace,
Pastor Jason

August is Sabbatical Month

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Our endless activity exhausts us. We easily become enslaved to the daily grind of life and miss out on the freedom found in Christ. During August we take a church-wide sabbatical in which there are no scheduled activities other than our Sunday worship gatherings. The purpose of the sabbatical is to rest from our normal church activity so that we can slow down a bit for spiritual renewal. Think of it as an opportunity to rediscover freedom in Christ. 

The resources below are provided to help you make the most of the month. Copies of each can also be found on the Connect Table in the lobby at Sunday worship. 

August is Sabbatical Month

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It's easy to get so busy and distracted in life that we are unable to locate ourselves. Of course we know where we are physically. But awareness of our spiritual location is another matter. We move through our days at a hectic pace. We fail to make time for reflection and spiritual growth. We lose sight of God as our reference point and wander without direction. All the while, our souls long to be spiritually located in Jesus. 

The month of August is sabbatical month at City Church. There are no scheduled activities other than our Sunday worship gatherings. The purpose of the sabbatical is to take a break from our normal activity in order to slow down for spiritual renewal. Think of it as an opportunity to locate yourself in reference to God.

The resources below are provided to help you make the most of the month. Copies of each can also be found on the Connect Table in the lobby at Sunday worship. 

May God meet you in deep ways this month and locate you in his presence. 

Philippians: A Summer Sermon Series

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When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, it’s easier to surrender to cynicism than to fight for joy. Consider how naturally we grumble and complain when things get hard. We do so without much thought or effort. Nursing our bitterness and isolating ourselves from others might feel like an easier path, but it’s one that damages us along the way. Cynicism robs us of the joy and character formation that God intends for us in the life of faith.

The apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians exudes great joy, despite him writing it while under house arrest. If there was ever a time for cynicism, that might be it, right? Paul did not know what the future held—whether he would be released or executed. Yet, instead of giving in to cynicism, he displayed Christ-like resiliency and humility. How?

He was transformed by the gospel. The resiliency and humility that Jesus displayed by giving his life for others forever changed Paul’s life and introduced him to a new way of being human. But there’s more. Paul was enlivened by a partnership in the gospel. He knew that he was not alone in his suffering. The Philippians had his back. They were his partners in the work of the gospel. 

Our summer sermon series, “Partners in the Gospel,” is a series on the letter to the Philippians. May we experience deeper joy this summer as we nourish our togetherness in the gospel.

Indwell: An Evening of Storytelling

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We held our first Indwell evening on Saturday, December 9. The night included readings, carols, original music, and stories about the experience of indwelling (i.e., living inside) the Advent story in our own lives. There was also a time of open sharing. 

It was a beautiful night. We are thankful to all who read, sang, and shared so openly. We appreciate you inviting us to indwell God’s Story with you!

HERE is the program from the event.
Below are the two poems that were read:

"The Risk of Birth, An Advent Poem" by Madeleine L'Engle
This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn-
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn-
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

 

"Christmas Poem" by G.K. Chesterton
There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost---how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wife's tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Advent 2017

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Advent is a word that means “coming” or “arrival.” It’s a four-week period leading up to Christmas in which we celebrate the first coming of Jesus and look forward to his promise to come again. The church calendar (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time) moves us through the year according to the story of Jesus' life.  Advent represents the opportunity for a fresh start since it's the beginning of the year in the church calendar. 

Cultivating our relationship with God can be difficult during Advent. It’s easy to grow distant from God while getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season. Our hope is that this Advent season will be a time of spiritual renewal for you as you take time to indwell—to be at home in—the story of God’s redemption. 

Check out the resources and events below to help you indwell the story of Advent this month:

Resources
Indwell Scripture-Reading Guide
Daily Scripture Readings for Advent

Events
Indwell Storytelling Evening

Candlelight Christmas Service

God in the Uncertainty

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At City Church, we love to remind each other of God's story of creation, fall, redemption, & renewal. We also strive to remind each other that God's story intersects with our own personal journey. Each Tuesday for the past 8 weeks, a City Church attender has be sharing a piece of their story on our blog of a time when this intersection was especially evident for them. The last story in this series comes from Rebecca Boyer-Andersen.

 

 

In another week my semester at UD will be starting up again, classes will resume, and I will be on my way to finishing a Master's degree in Education. I wish I could say this is part of some well-thought-out career transition, or the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, or something like that. But the truth is, I'm not really sure what I'm doing or where this is leading.  Oh, don’t worry, I do have a "story" I use in order to talk about this choice.

One thing I've learned in over half a century of living is that you have to have a story. This is sort of like when you're in college and well-meaning adults ask you what your major is, and what are you going to do with that. You have to have some justification for the direction you've chosen. This need persists after college, through job interviews with questions like: why do you want to come work for this company? or, where do you see yourself in five years?   The real answer may be that you just need a job-- any job-- and that you have no clue where you'll be in five years, but you need to show that you've thought about your career, have a plan, and that this job fits just perfectly into this plan in a way that will benefit your prospective employer. You have to have a story to tell.

For long stretches of my adult life, I have struggled with knowing what kind of work I should devote myself to and invest my time and energies in. I figured God has made everyone with some unique combination of talents, temperament, and passions-- so there must be some vocation that I am uniquely called to pursue.  Homeschooling my three kids was that calling for me when I was younger. All of my interests and talents seemed to mesh perfectly with the business of educating my kids at home. In addition, I was active in the Delaware homeschooling community, taught co-op classes, took on leadership roles, and formed great relationships with other Christian women. It was 15 years of feeling like I was made for this.

Then my kids grew up. And I needed to get a job to pay for all that college tuition. I went back to school to pursue another undergraduate degree, one that would hopefully get me paid employment. I finished a degree in Medical Technology the same year my oldest graduated from college. I got a job in a local lab, then went into industry to work in technical support, then moved into management. Honestly, none of these moves were that well thought-out. I stumbled into Medical Technology (most people had never even heard of this as a major), got my industry job after completely blowing the interview for a different job with the same company, and took the management job because I was starting to get bored and figured I'd try something new.  After a couple years in management,  I was so stressed out by my job I knew I wanted out, but saw no graceful exit strategy. I needed a story, an explanation, a justification for leaving. I settled on grad school. And it worked out well,  my exit. My team was happy for me, I had a great going-away experience, and everyone congratulated me on following my dream. Only trouble was-- I wasn't really sure I was doing the right thing.

For the past 10 or 15 years, I am continually asking God to tell me what I should be doing with my life in the world of adult work. Should I be practical and just look for a job with a good salary and benefits? Should I look for work that will help people & benefit humanity somehow? Should I try to figure out what I'm the best at and do that? I always knew my homeschooling dream job wasn't going to last forever.  But I couldn't believe that I was created to be a great homeschooler for 15 years, and then just wander aimlessly for the next 30 or 40. There had to be something I was supposed to do next.

But honestly, I haven't really gotten much of an answer.  Well, I take that back.  I haven't gotten the big, vision-for-my- life answer, but I have gotten lots of smaller answers:  Go there. Now go there. Now do this. It's just really difficult for me to take direction like that because I long to know the endgame.  What's the goal? What's the big picture?

I try to think of Abram being told by God to "Go from your country ...  to the land that I will show you." Abram didn't know where he was going, he just went. I'm not very good at that kind of obedience. I always want to make things happen. I need a plan. I need to be in control.

The thing is, I can see the good God had for me along the paths I followed only by looking backward. No experience ever goes to waste.  God had something in mind. However, I just can't see the goal at the time.

I've always been the kind of person who runs at any opportunity that looks interesting, or useful, or like it would be "good for me."  A number of those kinds of opportunities have presented themselves recently, so I'm trying to resist wanting to "make something happen" that will nail down the direction I'm going in. I'm trying to listen for God's voice, and not the voice inside my head. I'm trying to actually wait until I hear him say, “Ok, now go do that.” And I'm trying to be ok with not knowing the big picture.  So that when he says go, I can just go.

Pastor Jason's Sabbatical Recap

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Pastor Jason shared a few reflections from his sabbatical in last Sunday's worship service. Below is a recap...

The word “sabbatical” comes from a Hebrew word which means to “cease” or “rest.” It's an extended period of time for physical rest, spiritual renewal, and overall refreshment. I'm happy to report that I experienced all of the above during my sabbatical this summer!

Before sabbatical I felt fatigued. An extended break from the pressures of everyday ministry was healing for my mind, body, and soul. The opportunity to get more rest and exercise was incredibly beneficial. I return feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Sabbatical was also life-giving for us as a family. It was a joy to travel and spend so much time together. Don't get me wrong... we discovered early on that you don't cease to be a sinner just because you're on sabbatical. Spending lots of time together makes getting on each other's nerves inevitable! But those were occasions for us to lean into the gospel and grow in Christ-likeness. A family highlight was our "Sabbatical Feast" that we enjoyed together to close out sabbatical. We feasted, shared our favorite memories, and gave thanks to God for his goodness. We made many memories together this summer that will not be forgotten. 

A personal highlight was my prayer retreat that allowed me to get away for a few days to experience God's presence through Scripture reading, prayer, solitude, and study. God met me during this time. I took time to reflect on the past seven years of ministry, to grow in self-awareness, to seek vision for the future, and to discern what changes I need to make by God's grace in order to grow as a disciple of Jesus, husband, father, pastor, and leader. 

I can't express how grateful we are as a family for the gift of sabbatical this summer. I want to thank all of the City Church leaders who stepped up in various ways to compensate for my absence. I want to especially thank Wayne Pansa and Margie Comanda for carrying a heavier load so that I could disengage from ministry for a season. I'm confident that my sabbatical will bear fruit for me, my family, and our congregation for years to come. Thank you for your prayers!

Pastor Jason

God in the Unbelief

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At City Church, we love to remind each other of God's story of creation, fall, redemption, & renewal. We also strive to remind each other that God's story intersects with our own personal journey. Each Tuesday for the next 8 weeks, a City Church attender will be sharing a piece of their story on our blog of a time when this intersection was especially evident for them. Today's story comes from Kristina Pansa.

 

Last year, I quit my job and entered nursing school. While there are many things I am excited about in my pending career and many things I am grateful for throughout this process (like having the option to quit my job and go to school full-time), it has also been an emotionally challenging and spiritually draining process.

The job I quit was something I stumbled into, when I was desperately in need of a job. But, I ended up being really good at it, and I found purpose in the work I was doing. It was engaging, challenging, and impactful to the world around me. When I quit, I left it behind. The first few months of nursing school were a combination of academic classes and practical learning. I learned that despite being 30, I apparently didn’t know how to make a bed. In my first patient’s room, it took me more than 5 minutes to move a table…that had wheels. I felt clumsy; out of my element. Suddenly, I wasn’t good at anything.

It was during this time that I realized how much value I placed on being good at things. And, while I had always considered myself up for a good challenge, I realized that by-in-large, the challenges I’ve selected for myself over the years were mostly things I would be good at on the first try---no one would ever see me fail. Even that last job I’d had: I could edit and proofread my work a hundred times before passing it along, ensuring no one saw the ugly first drafts.

In nursing, everything you do is supervised and critiqued. And shockingly, the first time you put on sterile gloves, or move a patient, or give medications, you probably aren’t going to get it right. Beyond that, there are a hundred non-procedural things you are supposed to remember. And you know how you get better at those things; at integrating classroom knowledge with practice? By trying, over and over and over and failing, publicly. I’ve jokingly told people who ask that nursing school is one big slice of ‘humble pie,’ but my laughter hides the truth: It sucks. Not school, not the job—that’s awesome. But the process: it sucks to be bad at something and to have your faults on display.

Sometimes I fall into the comparison trap-- If I look at my 30-year-old peers, many have graduate degrees; some are practicing doctors; some have been nurses for 10 years already. Some are lawyers; some have large families. So many days, I feel like a total failure-I’m still a student, not even proficient in basic nursing skills. Over the past 1.5 years, I have struggled to remember that my value is not in how well I perform academically or clinically. It’s not in what I’ve ever accomplished, or what I ever will accomplish. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve forgotten this.

Jesus reminds us over and over that we belong to Him. That our worth is found in Him. That our redemption is found in Him. He tells us: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6); Paul reminds us that the cross was a bloody ordeal, offensive to Jews and Gentiles alike, but their salvation nonetheless: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (I Corinthians 1:18, 22-25).

Through Jesus’ blood (read: not my best efforts at perfection), I am sanctified and claimed. Through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, I am spiritually renewed outside of my own effort. These are the truths I cling to in my moments of doubt and unbelief. Like the man who asked Jesus to heal his son of an unclean spirit, I pray: “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

God in the Seeking

At City Church, we love to remind each other of God's story of creation, fall, redemption, & renewal. We also strive to remind each other that God's story intersects with our own personal journey. Each Tuesday for the next 8 weeks, a City Church attender will be sharing a piece of their story on our blog of a time when this intersection was especially evident for them. Today's story comes from Greg Luna.

 

I have participated in worship services on and off throughout my life. However, as a child, it was obligatory because my father drove our family to church. As an adult, my “participation” was at best random. I confess the autonomy to make my own schedule that included sleeping in on Sunday mornings was a welcomed freedom that played a factor. 

Although my attendance was sporadic, I always contemplated God.  I wanted a better understanding and relationship with God.  God was present but remote.  There was more than a fair amount of questions and rationalization on my part about how I was living my life in accord with the teachings. I read the Bible independently and also read secular books on religion and Christianity but wanted a deeper understanding and better relationship with God. On one of my visits to church, the priest opened his sermon with two frank sentences:

You chose to have your relationship with God. You define that relationship.”

Confronted with candid language, I acknowledged I was remiss despite my self-proclaimed interest.  The image of Michelangelo’s painting “Creation of Adam” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel came to mind.  God is looking directly at Adam with his arm fully extended reaching towards Adam.  In the portrayal, Adam does not respond with the same outstretched arm.  He is indifferent.  Adam is reclined and aloof.  His arm is resting on his bent knee; a feeble effort.  His limp wrist demonstrates his lack luster attempt to meet the hand of God.  I thought: “Am I not guilty of the same?” 

I spent a good portion of my childhood asking questions about all kinds of things: Who is God; Why should we be glad Jesus died on the cross; Did he really die for us; What does [insert curse words here] mean? (They called Renee Bernard a certain name on the school bus one morning on the way to school.) To my father’s credit, he tirelessly entertained all of my questions. In doing so my father fostered in me a healthy curiosity and that it is good to ask questions. When confronted with the two-sentence introduction from the priest I realized I still had questions but stopped seeking answers.  The Apostle Thomas had doubts and asked questions.  Most poignantly, he doubted the resurrection.  He had to see and feel the wounds to believe.  Jesus welcomed those questions.  There are stories throughout the Bible that demonstrate Jesus not only embraced questions from honest seekers but elicited them.  For me, the significant lesson in the story about Thomas was when it was further explained to me: “Thomas’ faith was strengthened by asking those questions.” 

Was it random or God reaching?  I was at Bethany Roberts’ house for a Neighbor Game Night. It was a casual gathering of neighbors laughing and playing board games.  Through that, I met Maggie Lyon who invited me to Community Group.  I had hoped to find a Bible study group and the Cool Spring Community Group fit what I had hoped to find.  From that, I was invited and encouraged to attend City Church.  So here I am…

When City Church opens the service each Sunday by saying “We welcome the believers, the non-believers, and seekers …” that is me: a believer, a seeker.  I still have questions.  I still ask questions but I am also learning, and growing in faith with a better relationship with God and a better life.

God in the Absence

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At City Church, we love to remind each other of God's story of creation, fall, redemption, & renewal. We also strive to remind each other that God's story intersects with our own personal journey. Each Tuesday for the next 8 weeks, a City Church attender will be sharing a piece of their story on our blog of a time when this intersection was especially evident for them. Today's story comes from Bethany Roberts.

 

We can all think about our younger selves and think about the life we dreamed we would have.  For some, this dream played out just as it was envisioned.  For others, what we thought our life would look like looks drastically different than the life we now have. My life is the latter, drastically different than what I dreamed or imagined.  

In many ways this is good.  I live in a city that is deeply broken with some of the most amazing people.  On my block alone there are 4 houses of people from City Church with many others within just a couple blocks. These people have been an enormous source of blessing, encouragement, and the best people to share a glass of wine late at night with.  However, there are other areas of my life that are difficult to reconcile with the dreams of my younger self.  I always imagined that I would be a wife and mother by this point in my life.  With each passing year, the ache and pain that comes with this absence deepens. And bitterness knocks at the door of my heart.  

If you take my personal circumstances away, there are some common emotions that are part of the human condition.  Emotions like longing, the withholding of something seemingly good, or the death of a dream and desire.  There’s a grief that accompanies this experience.  My struggle is not the absence of the family I dreamed I would have, my struggle is seeing God as good.   It’s the bitterness that knocks on my heart and the coveting of the circumstances of others that I struggle against.  I have found that there is little room for gratitude, joy, or faith when my heart is focused on what I do not have. When I look to the Scriptures I see that God is good, that he loves me endlessly, that His plan is perfect, and that He is not vindictive or cruel, but instead that He is a loving and gracious Father.  

Romans 8 is a chapter of God’s word that I cling to regularly.  One of the beautiful parts of this chapter is the description of the tension between our own desires and God’s plan.  It so strikingly points us to the hope of being made perfect with Jesus and our part in the grand tapestry of God’s plan.  When I look at my life as an individual experience with my own individual desires that must be fulfilled, it leaves me feeling very isolated and empty.  

Our lives don’t make sense on their own.  We must look at our lives relationally in the context of living in a community of believers, non-believers, seekers, and doubters.  A phrase I dislike is the one that says, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” God gives us more than we can handle every day.  What he wants us to do is lean into the pain and cling to Him.  He longs to provide comfort, the people to walk this life with us, and to provide for our every need.  There’s a line that comes from the song “Brokenness Aside” by All Sons and Daughters that hits me in that part of my heart &  impacts me so deeply:  

"Will your grace run out
If I let you down
'Cause all I know
Is how to run"

Oh! How often I run from God.  How often I willfully live in discontentedness because it feels better in that moment than seeking joy.  I am so incredibly thankful for a God that relentlessly pursues me to bring me to Him.

Romans 8: 18-27

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 

God in the Ordinary

At City Church, we love to remind each other of God's story of creation, fall, redemption, & renewal. We also strive to remind each other that God's story intersects with our own personal journey. Each Tuesday for the next 8 weeks, a City Church attender will be sharing a piece of their story on our blog of a time when this intersection was especially evident for them. Today's story comes from Barb Duszak.

 

In late June, I was reading Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods and was struck by one thing in particular: when we have our eyes opened to our own idols, we must repent of our sin & rejoice in the Gospel.

Throughout the last season of my life, I have struggled with feeling purposeless. When I was a kid, I always imagined doing “great things” by the time I was 30: being known by others for my good works, intelligence, care, and compassion. I also thought I would have a husband and possibly a child or two. I wanted to be young, loved, and low-key famous.

I’m 29 and single. I have an enjoyable, unprestigious job, and I have been living in the same city for most of my life. Things are not as glamorous as expected. As I’ve grown up, fantasy became less realistic and desirable, but that standard still lingered in my head. Coupled with depression, my idol of perfection and greatness leaves me numb and paralyzed.

Throughout the spring and summer, I have often caught myself drifting and feeling like my life hasn’t amounted to much. Sometimes I feel too guilty to admit to feeling tired, stressed, sad, or used. Surely there are many who have it worse than me: the exhaustion and stress of the newly-promoted, the new parent, or the new homeowner. Why am I complaining? What right do I have when everyone else is growing their careers and families?

Luckily, my God is a God of hope and promise, who gives me ways out of my own pride and self-pity. I keep re-learning certain lessons throughout my life, and recently they came around again:

First, the comparison and denial of pain is futile. Additionally, no one’s pain negates someone else’s. While I may not have shared your experience, we can sympathize because of a shared emotion. Covering up my hurt from my community in Christ only caused more hurt. As I confessed my pride and envy to my community group two weeks ago, I was heartbroken by my own sin.

I realize that I am always ready to preach the first part of the Gospel to myself: I feel my brokenness and pride and know my need for a Savior. Tim Keller’s book reminded me to rejoice in God’s love for me as well. I had difficulty preaching the second part in that moment at community group. Once I got home, I turned to Psalm 139. It’s always been my fallback scripture when I am feeling low, and I was humbled by flipping to it that evening:

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit
   Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
   If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
   and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
   and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
   and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
   the night is bright as the day,
   for darkness is as light with you.
13 For you formed my inward parts;
   you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.

Even here, in this dark place of sin that I had been blind to, God had been as near as ever. I easily get swept in wanting to be known, chosen, and loved, and all of that yearning is put to rest when I remember how accepted I am in Christ. God has known, chosen, and loved me; He has never stepped away.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Instead of fighting to keep this perspective, I am retreating to prayer and confession instead of waging my own mental battle. I am grateful for the forgiveness and connectedness my God gives and that reassurance and joy that He restores.

Living Redemptively in the Everyday Stuff of Life

At City Church, we love to remind each other of God's story of creation, fall, redemption, & renewal. We also strive to remind each other that God's story intersects with our own personal journey. Each Tuesday for the next 8 weeks, a City Church attender will be sharing a piece of their story on our blog of a time when this intersection was especially evident for them. Today's story comes from Luke Trader. 

 

20 years ago, if you had  told me that I would own a restaurant, I would have laughed and said, “No way!”

It was my junior year of high school when God awakened me to the Gospel in a deeper, more powerful way than I had previously understood. I had participated in several mission trips to Jamaica. I had seen the brokenness of people, places, and things, and was feeling a strong call to “Full-Time Ministry.” I felt God wanted me to give my life to sharing the Good News of Jesus- whether it be as a Missionary, Pastor, or Church Planter. Over the next few years, God would lead me to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Studies, serve at a church for 3.5 years as the Director of Student Ministries, and then serve for another 2 years as a Pastoral Apprentice.

God would also lead me away from that path, through a twist of events, and into the business world. I would never have imagined falling in love with the restaurant business, which I like to call “the people business.” Each and every day, I’m faced with countless opportunities to serve, love, lead, and care for people. Though I never dreamed I’d be doing what I am doing, God, in His Providence, has me right where He wants me. And He is using me in ‘the everyday stuff of life.’ Whether it be serving customers or team members, every day the Lord grants me ‘glimpses of glory’ as I seek to lead and operate a business with excellence, develop leaders, and serve in “REMARK”able ways.

I remember when Dan Cathy (Chairman and CEO of Chick-fil-A) came to Delaware years ago. We were sitting around a table in the Christiana Mall food court talking. Dan wanted to hear our stories. My turn came, and I started off by saying, “I used to be in ‘Full-Time Ministry’, serving as a youth pastor.” Dan quickly cut me off, saying with a smile, “You’re still in Youth Ministry. Look at the team behind that counter.” Dan would go on to say, “Most pastors, if they’re lucky, have a 2-foot-wide pulpit that they get to preach from for about 30 minutes, one day a week, to maybe a few hundred people.” Pointing to the counter again, Dan said, “We have a 30-foot-wide pulpit that we get to preach from for 14 hours a day, 6 days a week, to thousands of people.”

As my path has gone in directions I did not anticipate, I often wonder if I am where God wants me to be. I have prayed, “God, are you calling me somewhere else?” I want my life to count…to matter. I don’t want to waste it. Sometimes I feel like I could be used more elsewhere—in another country that doesn’t have access to the Gospel or that has great physical needs. I think and pray on it, and though I am open to wherever the Lord would lead, I find Him continually telling me to “stay put.” I recently read a quote from Mother Teresa, which resonated with me:

Stay where you are.
Find your own Calcutta.
Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right there where you are—
in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools.
You can find Calcutta all over the world,
if you have the eyes to see.
Everywhere, wherever you go,
you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society—
completely forgotten, completely left alone.
—Mother Teresa (Founder of The Missionaries of Charity)

Just this year, I have had the humbling opportunity to lead, officiate, and preach at three funerals…one of which was for an employee. I preached at two summer youth camps. I spent countless hours with unbelievers in the workplace—I  visited some of them in the hospital. I have been a life-coach, a counselor, a friend, and a pastor to my team. I have prayed with and for them.

In a unique, unexpected, and back-door way, I am being and doing what I always felt God calling me to be and do. The story is still unfolding- for me, and for all of us. What an awesome privilege it is to play a small role in the story of God…of Jesus making all things new through redemption and renewal.

    And this is going to be a glorious unfolding
    Just you wait and see and you will be amazed
    You’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over
    So hold on to every promise God has made to us
    And watch this glorious unfolding

    —Steven Curtis Chapman

Have I not commanded you, be strong and courageous, be not afraid, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go!

—Joshua 1:9

 

Found in the Plot

At City Church, we love to remind each other of God's story of creation, fall, redemption, & renewal. We also strive to remind each other that God's story intersects with our own personal journey. Each Tuesday for the next 8 weeks, a City Church attender will be sharing a piece of their story on our blog of a time when this intersection was especially evident for them. Today's story comes from Lauren Bailes.

 

I am a reader and a writer. My earliest memories include sounding out words while nestled in the laps of my parents and then painstakingly tapping out stories of animal families on a typewriter (before typewriters were trendy home decor). For years, I taught middle schoolers that their stories mattered as much as the books we poured over together. Even now, I relish the work of translating abstractions into practice and fiddling with vocabulary, with sequence, and with structure to meet that end.

Through stories, I understand the world. Meg Murry of A Wrinkle in Time gives voice to my big-sister heart when she shouted through the veil of IT, “I love you, Charles Wallace, I love you.” I learn of Jesus as Lucy learns of Aslan when Mr. Beaver tells her that Aslan is not safe, but he is good – a proposition I repeatedly test and find true. Van Auken’s A Severe Mercy shows me the faithfulness of a near God amidst unspeakable pain. A Midsummer Night’s Dream warns me that earthly treasures are, “Mine own, and not mine own.” There Are No Children Here re-envisions me to build just cities and schools. Tattoos on the Heart brings me to tears when Father G mercifully and insistently reaches through one young man’s venomous veneer to identify a universal human need: “We all just want to be called the name our mom uses when she’s not pissed off at us.”

Stories are my sustenance. Yet I am immensely grateful to know that I am not the author of my own story. At each major plot point – college, my first teaching job, graduate school – I thought I had the story written, the location chosen, the characters in play, and the timeline set. The true Author, and the only one who can truly see the climax, has directed me through a story better designed for his glory and for my joy. I’ve begun to get the hang of this, because I’ve begun to attend to this Author’s story and notice patterns. I make a plan. It seems effective and efficient. I prepare for my story to unfold. Then: the twist. Inevitably, with all the formula of a weekly sitcom, another option emerges – Eastern University, then Brooklyn, then Ohio State, then UDel – that wasn’t even in my storyboard. And it’s better. The Author’s choices for me are always better. So I trust him incrementally more and more with my story.

The unresolved plotlines are the hardest because no amount of scheming on my part can bring about their satisfactory ends. Most of these stories are painful and worrisome. So I pray for the salvation of my brothers, diversity in my church, and compassion among our lawmakers. It is in the living of these plots that I am most prone to question the Author’s choices. Just fix this, I’ll mutter. If nothing is too great for you, prove it. My story and so many others are evidence of exactly that: God the Author writes a better story, remains steadfastly near the characters, and works each ending for good. So I work and read and await the denouement of the “story which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

God in the Sorrow and Unknown

At City Church, we love to remind each other of God's story of creation, fall, redemption, & renewal. We also strive to remind each other that God's story intersects with our own personal journey. Each Tuesday for the next 8 weeks, a City Church attender will be sharing a piece of their story on our blog of a time when this intersection was especially evident for them. Today's story comes from MaryEllen Hobbs.

 

On a Saturday this past February, I received a phone call from my dad with the news that my Papa (Dad’s dad) had been diagnosed with a very rare form of colon cancer. Papa had already been in the hospital for several weeks with internal bleeding, and by the time they discovered the cause of the bleeding- the cancer, his body was too frail to receive chemotherapy. The conversation that Saturday with my dad ended with him telling me that there was essentially nothing more the doctors could do for my Papa. Feelings of hopelessness, fear, and anger consumed me. I was angry that the doctors had wasted their time with countless tests and treatments focused on the wrong issues in my Papa’s body. I was fearful of what was to come, and I was deep in denial that this was the time God was going to take my Papa to be with Him.

I am so thankful for the close relationship I had with my Papa and for the person he was to our family. He loved Jesus so faithfully, he cared for our family, and worked hard without ever complaining. He was strong with a witty sense of humor. He was always present and supportive in our lives.

After receiving the call on that Saturday, my husband Matt and I quickly made arrangements to take time off from work so we could travel to South Carolina and be with my Papa for a few days. The next week was filled with long hospital visits. I would sit next to my Papa and hope that God would miraculously heal him. I expected God to heal him, and prolong his life here on earth. I wanted my Papa to go back to being the active, hard-working man we knew him to be so that our family wouldn’t have to go through the hurt of losing him.

At the same time, not only was I wrestling with the emotions of what was happening in our family, but I was also wrestling with sudden decisions about my commitments back home. I had a full-time job that was steady paying and comfortable, but it wasn’t going to allow me the time I wanted in South Carolina to spend sacred moments with my family.

I was deep in the sorrow of reality. There were so many unknowns. How could anything good come from these circumstances? How was I supposed to make a rational decision in the midst of these emotions? What would happen if I made the wrong decision? We had no idea how long my Papa would be with us, but I couldn’t fathom missing out on time with him. I feared the unknowns and the results. The weight of the decisions were suffocating.

Without knowing what the future would hold, we drove back to DE so that I could resign from my job, tie up loose ends, and head back down to SC for an extended period of time as quickly as possible. The evening we arrived home in Delaware, Papa went to be with Jesus. At that moment, I felt so angry that my plans to spend more time with him had failed. And yet, although I was angry and sad, I also had a huge sense of relief. The moment I dreaded was now a reality, but there was peace in the middle of the fear and chaos. It didn’t matter what was happening to my plans; it mattered what was happening to Papa- and he was now free from pain. God promises eternity for His children and there was comfort, peace, and hope in my Papa’s homecoming.  

When Matt and I drove back down to South Carolina, God gifted us with so many beautiful moments together as a family, reminiscing on memories of our Papa. He gifted Matt and I with time to heal. He gifted my family with an abundance of love and care from our friends.

Through quitting my job, God has guided me towards new passions- seeking to help others through wellness and nutrition. He’s also opened doors which has that led to my new position as administrative assistant at City Church.

This story is still unfolding. My heart is still healing. There are unknowns, fears, and excitement about the business I hope to create. In light of how God carried me through those dark days, I take joy in the purpose of our sorrow. God was so real to me in that moment of loss and Heaven was so close. He is present always, even in our sorrow, fears, hopes, and joy.  

For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. 2 Corinthians 4:15-17

 

Summer in the Psalms Series

This summer we will be going through a sermon series called, "Summer in the Psalms." While Pastor Jason is on sabbatical, a guest pastor will visit each Sunday to share with us from the Book of Psalms. 

The Psalms have a timeless appeal. Consider the words of Athanasius, the Egyptian theologian of the fourth century: "The Psalms contain all the particular movements of the human soul—in the Psalms you learn about yourself." Or this statement from the sixteenth century Swiss theologian, John Calvin: "I have been accustomed to call this book an anatomy of all the parts of the soul; for there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror." 

Athanasius, Calvin, and countless others throughout history have encountered themselves in the Psalms. How? The Psalms speak honestly about the ups and downs of life in a fallen world. They cover the full range of human experience—joy, sadness, contentment, anger, peace, fear, trust, and doubt. The Psalms confront us as we really are and guard us from approaching faith detached from the real world. 

The Psalms do more than show us ourselves, however. They also show us God. They train us in how to bring our true selves to God so that we might experience transformation in his presence. May you come to see yourself and God more clearly this summer as we mine the riches of the Psalms together.

The schedule for the series is below:

July 9 - Pastor Jim Weaver (Psalm 1 - "The Way of the Righteous")

July 16 - Pastor Robbie Schmidtberger (Psalm 32 - "The Power and Danger of Admiration")

July 23 - Pastor Tom Harr (Psalm 129 - "But the Lord is Righteous")

July 30 - Pastor Doug Perkins (Psalm 56:8; 126:4-6 - "How Do We Trust God in Our Tears?")

August 6 - Pastor Derrick Parks (Psalm 46 - "God Is...")

August 13 - Pastor Derrick Parks (Psalm 47 - "God Is...")

August 20 - Pastoral Assistant Wayne Pansa (TBD)

Pastor Jason's Sabbatical

sabbatical.jpg

The word “sabbatical” comes from a Hebrew word which means to “cease” or “rest.” It is an extended period of time for physical rest, spiritual renewal, and overall refreshment. As you know by now, I will be taking a sabbatical from July 3 through August 21, during which time I will be disengaged from life and ministry at City Church. Pastoral Assistant, Wayne Pansa, will oversee pastoral care in my absence. Margie Comanda, our Director of Congregational Life, will oversee the logistics related to daily church life. 

I am incredibly grateful for this gift from the elders. They recognized that after seven years of church planting in an urban environment it would be wise for me to have an extended break. They (as do I) desire for me to serve as pastor of City Church for years to come.

Here are ways you can pray for my sabbatical:

  1. Pray for rest and refreshment. Over the past several months I have detected signs of fatigue. I look forward to returning reenergized in August. 
  2. Pray for us as a family. I am thankful for the opportunity that I will have to be present with and attentive to Katie and the girls without the demands of pastoral ministry before me. 
  3. Pray for spiritual renewal. I feel the need to withdraw, reflect, draw near to God, and seek vision for the next few years of ministry.

I am confident that this sabbatical will bear fruit for me, my family, and our congregation for years to come. Thank you for your prayers!

Pastor Jason