It has been too long since posting here. That is mainly due to the fact that my life as a husband-father-pastor-planter-barista has dominated the time that God has graciously given. Still, I’m going to try to post here more frequently, although the subject matter will be taken from the pastoral blog at the CCC (Christ Community Church) website. Just a reminder, then—to keep up to date with us and the work of the Lord in Newton, MA, visit us at christcommunityma.org. There, you will find all the information you could possibly want about us and the church plant. You’ll find all of our sermons, posts, and happenings. May the Lord be praised!
On October 7, the core group (and, Lord willing, many visitors) will be gathering to begin our first study as the church plant to be known as Christ Community Church in Newton, MA. For info on why Mark’s Gospel, how you can pray, and other pertinent info, go here.
As we have settled in Newton, MA, much of my posting will be originally assigned to the pastoral blog of the Christ Community Church website (still somewhat under construction). I highly recommend your visitation. In fact, this is your invitation. For two other brothers much greater than I, Erik Schaefer and Joe Keune, will be blogging there as well on everything from pastoral ministry to biblical counseling to mission in Newton and to the nations. However, my posts there, I’ll link here. And I’ll continue to write here occasionally, while also linking up to other thoughts that I think will be tasteful food for your hearts and lives.
Go here to read Fumbling and Trusting, a brief synopsis of our discovered weakness in Christian mission and how this realization is the best place to be, for there God’s power is made perfect.
Please continue to pray for us, especially for our faith, holiness, love and unity in the Spirit. Pray also for our first Bible study, beginning October 7.
As we read through the Bible, we come across passages that we have read before except that, by God’s grace, some greet us afresh. For me, this has been the case with Psalm 111 over the past few months. It, and particularly a single verse within it, has laid hold of my heart and surfaced time and again to spur me into wonder. While the whole Psalm is quite beautiful, it is verse 2 that has captured my attention and affection. It goes like this:
“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.”
A single bonded thought I offer from this verse: delight in the works of God motivates the study of the same, and the study of the works of God deepens delight in the same. Or theological delight incarnates in theological study, and theological study feeds theological delight.
The two are inseparable. Knowledge of God is not an end in itself. It must enter the heart and terminate in affections appropriate to the knowledge of the truth. Likewise, true delight in God is pursued in the study of God. As we behold Him, we can’t but love and adore Him and His great works.
If we complain of joylessness, perhaps it is because we have wandered away from studying the Scriptures and the God who reveals Himself to us in them. Little delight may be the symptom of little study. What we need is a fresh delight in God, and this must turn us to the Scriptures wherein He has revealed Himself to us in the history and work of creation and redemption.
On the flip side, study that does not aim at delight is an errant study. So we can study until we are blue in the face with the knowledge of God, but if it is not translated into delight, if pleasure in God is not the goal of it, then our study is hollow, missing its blood and marrow. The study of God and His works are meant to result in pleasure and praise. Insofar as it does not, our study is incomplete.
Now, a word to those with little time. It would seem that little time means little study, which means little delight. While it is true that a person who has more time to study will, most likely, reap the benefits of that extended study, study needs to be nuanced beyond nose-in-book ideals. In other words, while the study and practice of the Scriptures will be primary and the most indispensable parts of your pursuit of delight in God, study is more nuanced than that. And understanding this opens up a world of possibilities to those who do not have eight hours every day to read and study the Scriptures.
A few thoughts here:
1. As you read the Scriptures, take the verse that jumps at you and let it fill your thoughts throughout the day. Have a scrap piece of paper and jot down all the insights that arise from that verse or group of verses.
2. Memorize the Scriptures. If you memorize, you can take it with you. You can have the kids in the car and be studying the works of the Lord in this way.
3. If you have small windows of time, be sure to set the dial of your study to delight in God. Let that 5 minutes produce praise and thanksgiving to God.
4. Give up the notion of study as that which only happens behind a desk. Go outside with your two year-old and examine the trees and squirrels and ants, the sun and moon and stars, and let these things lead you into adoration for the Creator, your Redeemer — and to the evangelization of your two year-old. Just for balance against misconception here, though, get behind a desk and search the Scriptures! How we are to understand the elements of creation, yes even the ants, is subject to the Word of God.
5. Give up a compartmentalized worldview that says you must fit Bible study into a pocket of minutes or even a pocket of your life that does not transcend and pervade every minute and pocket of life. We were created with the capacity for infinite joy. Only God can satisfy this capacity. We have been saved such that God not only indwells us by His Spirit, but that God should reorient our view of the world, reorient the use of our time, rearrange our priorities, and absolutely consume all of our hearts, souls, minds, and exertions. We must allow the way we view all things to be colored by the biblical vision of God, of Christ, of grace, of the gospel, of glory. As we put our five minutes to practice in this way, we have our hearts continually set upon God and His Word, and delight in Him is ever near to us.
Sum: even as delight in God should never be set aside, neither should the study of God be left behind. Study is not about time, mainly. It is more nuanced than that. It is more exacting than that. It is more pervasive than that. While it begins in the Word of God, it is to stay with us throughout the course and activities of all our days.
At issue, then, is true study and true delight in God. If we languish in study, it is because the root of delight has dried up. And if the root has dried up, it is because it has ceased to be nourished by the steady stream of God’s Word. The Christian armed with the Bible is like a tree planted by streams of water. As the roots stretch out for the water, so delight will strain for the Word of God. And as the roots are fed, so they will grow and deepen. Delight will increase. The pursuit of delight in God will exercise itself in biblical study, and this exercise, aimed at delight, will yield ever-deepening delight indeed. The two are inseparably bonded by God.
My two year old likes to sing. And when he sings, he sings with all his might. And, you know, he can carry a tune — for a two year old. And because he is two and can barely put sentences together, and because he has not been trained in the academy or raised for operatic genius, I would critique him quite differently than I would a professionally trained singer. The slightest error might be cause for a corrective and stringent critique towards the trained professional. But for my son, the slightest error is only part of a larger reality that he is putting words together and being excessively cute. And so that sort of critique would not exist. Critique might come, but it will come much more indirectly and softly, according to his ability to handle it. Depending upon the experience and training and ability and maturity of the singer, the critique will be more or less stringent. It might even address different things.
The issue in giving critique is to know the one whom you are critiquing. The better we know them and their abilities and their level of training, the better equipped we will be to offer appropriate and gracious criticism. I think we largely fail at this. The reasons for this suggested failure are manifold: perhaps, pride — we cannot stand to fathom that this person might be more gifted than me, so we have to knock them down a notch with our superior knowledge. Perhaps, extreme expectations, which is another way of saying gracelessness. This is the inability to consider room for growth. We tend to think of people in static terms. What they are now, that they will always be. So we are more inclined to criticize harshly, thinking that by our effort they might be transformed. Tangential to this, I think, is the lack of a truly pastoral heart. Again, a failure to understand sanctification and how best to bring others along to full maturity in Christ. Or worst of all, perhaps, a simple lack of love. This idea is underneath the others. Love seeks to edify, to build up. And don’t misunderstand me. Direct and stringent and tight criticism can be edifying and has been necessary and useful in my own life as I have received it from others. I am not calling for the abolition of such critique. It can be done, it must be done in love. But a lot of what I have witnessed on this front is, ultimately, a failure to apply growth-inducing compassion. It requires the hard work of getting on the other person’s level, understanding their foundation, trusting in the inward work of God’s Spirit to transform, and offering edifying critique on those grounds.
An example and a final thought.
Example: My local church has an apprenticeship for men aspiring to the office of pastor, or missionary, or, very wonderfully, the biblically-informed and brave-hearted husband and father. Preaching a handful of short sermons is part of the course. While I am not in the apprenticeship, I sat in on one of the sessions a few months ago. One of the brothers preached for the rest of the men, about twenty-five of us. It was his first attempt at preaching before other human beings, much less a room full of present seminarians and future pastors and missionaries. And when he finished, he was critiqued — critiqued hard. One of the brothers used his knowledge of biblical Greek to criticize one of his points. What’s the problem? Not that this brother desired to help this other brother see things a bit more clearly by means of New Testament Greek. But that a critique was offered by means of New Testament Greek to a brother who had not yet taken New Testament Greek. And a few other such critiques were offered. I have been in both shoes. By God’s grace, I was able to see his discouragement. So afterwards, I went to him and mentioned a few things that he had said that were encouraging to me, that God really used to build me up in the faith. He had studied hard. He had genuine affections for the truth of the text. He had wrestled with it experientially. And he taught it with passion appropriate to the glory of Christ. He even used suitable illustrations (something I envy). And so I made these things known to him in order that he might be encouraged to continue to grow in his craft. Later, he sent me an email thanking me for the encouragement.
A final word: what this means is that while a critique may be true, a true critique may not always be wise. Again, know the person, know their foundation, give room for growth and sanctification, trust the working of God’s grace, seek to build up, and before speaking, consider humility. It is not that they do not need to know the truth at the center of your critique. They do! It is rather the packaging of it. And the packaging of it usually shows the maturity of our own hearts. Do we only seek to be a corrective? Or do we also seek to offer affirmation? Do we hold them accountable for things beyond their current level of knowledge or ability or experience? Or do we package these things with understanding and an encouragement that looks to future growth in what they lack? If we approach criticism in the latter ways described, then our hearts are venting a shepherd’s love. And at the end of the day, it is this shepherd’s love that must serve as a guide to all of our conversation.
Two years ago to the month, we decided to church plant in the Greater Boston area. My wife, Jenny, and I hail from South Carolina — and her accent is thicker than Andy Griffith’s. Joe and Melissa Keune are from the St. Louis area of Missouri. And Erik and Anna Schaefer are moving to Newton, a suburb of Boston, with us from South Dakota and Iowa, respectively. We come from different states and parts of the country, so various cultures, speaking accents, favorite sports, favorite sports teams, varying preferences concerning the weather, ideal temperatures and seasons of the year. We come from different home lives, economic situations, and stations in life. And yet we have somehow come together.
We have come together to leave what is comfortable to us, to leave family and friends, to leave present securities. We have come together to pull up our stakes and move them to Newton, MA, 6-7 miles southwest of Boston, one week from tomorrow. We have come together to church plant, to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to Newton and the nations, to live and die for the sake of Christ and His church. Is this explainable? Of course.
We have come together because, though our differences remain, the gospel has bound our hearts to Christ and to one another. The gospel, as always, is greater than our differences. Indeed, it accentuates them, while bringing them under a single, transcendent banner: the gospel and glory of Christ. The grace that we have received from God in the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought us together in the same body and, through the new birth, made us to be of one great household. And so by God’s providence, we have come together to work out our sojourning, our going outside the gate to Christ, our gospel ministry in Newton and the surrounding area of Greater Boston.
We are aspiring to bring the gospel to Newton, and praying that God would give us that land as we follow Christ. What once seemed very far off is now a mere 8 days from reality. As we approach our move, I would ask you to consider a few things:
1. You can pray for us. Having found housing, we are most immediately in need of jobs that will provide suitable resources for our families and strategic advantages for the advancement of the gospel. We have written a prayer guide also that you can use as you serve us and the kingdom of Christ in this way. Simply leave a comment to this post with an email address, and I’ll gladly send this to you.
2. You can partner with us in the grace of giving. While we will be transitioning out of fund-raising life support over the next 5 years and moving towards financial stability as a congregation, we will still be actively pursuing partners — individual brothers and sisters, and gospel-centered churches — as we are getting our feet under us. If you would like to give to Christ Community Church, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
3. You can connect us with other believers in and around Boston. It is amazing how many people we know know people in Boston. If you know of believers in the area who may be struggling to find a healthy body of believers, and you think they might be helped by Christ Community Church, let them know we will be on the scene by September 1, and that we would love to sit down with them and be of some gospel encouragement to them. If this is the case, see the email addresses above.
4. You can connect us with unbelievers in and around Boston. Wonderfully, this is already happening, and we desire it more and more. We are moving to find Christ’s people and bring them into His sheepfold. Again, see the email addresses above if you think of someone in this condition and would like for us to meet up with them once we arrive.
5. You can connect us with local churches. We desire to be tethered in partnership with Christ-treasuring, Christ-proclaiming local churches. Healthy churches are a source of great encouragement, wisdom, spiritual gifts and abilities, saints, prayers and various other kingdom-advancing resources. If you think of a church, whether your own or another that you think might be a good partner for us, please let us via email at the addresses given above.
If you have any further thoughts or questions, feel free to comment to this post and I’ll get to them as soon as possible.
Trusting in His might,
Your servant in the Lord,
Brian R. Mahon