I Love My church

i-love-my-church

The title pretty much says it all, I love my church.  I love the Church as a whole, but I particularly love my local body of church.  I am a member of Veritas West, a part of Veritas Community Church here in Columbus, Ohio.  I love my brothers and sisters in Christ here, I love my deacons, I love my elders, I even love our Bengals loving pastor (why do all the pastors in my life like the Bengals?!).   They are all fall from perfect, but I love them because God has put me here and under their discipline and discipleship.  Lisa and I started attending Refuge Church back in March and became members in June.  So we have only been attending here for a little less than a year. But I have no doubt that this is where God wants Lisa and I at this moment.

Same with our current living situation here.  Lisa and I have felt called to the Hilltop/Franklinton area for a while now, and this past November we finally found a place to rent here in the Hilltop.  It definitely has it challenges, but we are grateful for God placing us here right now.  We have met other people living in the Hilltop who also feeled called by God to this area, and shortly after our move here, our church relocated to half a mile up the road from our house.  I am excited when I hear of other families who want to move to this area as well to help spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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The Great Commission Vacation

short term missionsIt seems to me that many short-term mission trips are problematic for a number of reasons. Let me give a few off the top of my head; 

1) Service missions are a waste of money that could have been used to hire local workers to do many of the jobs much better. I don’t understand why we spend thousands of dollars to send unskilled workers, often teenagers, when we could give jobs to local workers who actually know what they are doing for less money.

2) The false implicit assumption seems to be that missions and service need to be done somewhere other than within our own communities and to our own neighbors.

3) It reinforces the dynamic of impoverished people needing to be taken care of and saved by affluent, (typically white) Americans. Instead of empowering others and standing beside them as equals, a hierarchy develops even under the guise of service.

4) People gain an undue sense of their own goodness and the ‘impact’ or ‘difference’ that they made in other people’s lives. This also perpetuates the false belief that poverty is not an issue that should be addressed in the public sphere because charity is good enough to handle it.

5) While exposing people to poverty is a good thing, the lack of ongoing relationships does not actually improve people’s awareness of the reality of poverty. You often end up with affluent people who falsely think they understand the experience of poverty and the issues surrounding it.

6) The people being served are dehumanized as objects that we get to feel bad for, show compassion toward, feel love at, etc… They exist to make us feel like good Christians. How many people end up taking pictures of locals as if they are tourist attractions? Wouldn’t you find it weird if strangers went through your neighborhood and started taking pictures of you or your kids?

We’ve turned The Great Commission into something that is nothing more than an expensive vacation for church people.  If God has called you to missions, then do mission work.  But don’t do mission work for a week, come back to your home and share about how much you loved it and can’t wait to go back next year.  Just go do it.

 

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But They Don’t Understand How Jesus Feel About His Church

church-blocks1Lisa and I have been living in Columbus since a month before we got married or so (Fall of 2012).  Soon after we got married, I started a job where I was required to work almost every Sunday and my shifts throughout the week varied constantly.  It made finding a church incredibly difficult.  Occasionally when I would have a Sunday off, we would visit a church we thought could become our home church, but we never really felt like any of those could be churches where we grow, helped others grow, and raise a family in.  That’s not to say some of these churches were not biblical or gospel-centered, they just weren’t where God wanted us, which is evident now.  A couples months ago, I was lucky enough to trade the weekend shift in for the regular Monday through Friday, 9am to 6pm shift.  We began looking through websites (The Gospel Coalition, Acts 29 Network, Sojourn Network) looking for a church that wasn’t super far away and also shared in our same reformed theology.  We visited a couple of churches whose doctrine we didn’t completely agree with, some of it minor some of it major.  Some churches we did find, we emailed and never heard back.

Somehow, during my 10th scanning of The Gospel Coalition’s I saw a church that I hadn’t seen before.  Refuge Church, which was located in Grove City, about 15 minutes from where we live.  I went to their website and thought to myself “this looks like it could be a very good place for us to visit and check out”. I emailed the pastor, half expecting never to hear anything back like 90% of my prior inquires with other churches. But to my surprise, I heard back rather quickly, and most of the questions I had, he answered.  Usually when I had heard back from a church I emailed with questions, I got super vague answers back with them trying to get me to come to service to get all the answers.  It was  a refreshing twist.  Needless to say, we attended their Sunday service that week and have been going back ever since.  Next month we hope to take the membership class and become full-fledged members of Refuge Church.

Our first visit was crazy, it was made pretty obvious to us on our first trip that this was where God wanted us.  We were approached after service by one of the elders of Refuge and asked to have lunch with us (Something to note, Refuge offers a lunch buffet at church after Sunday service as a way for fellowship and getting together). Readers of my blog will know that Lisa and I feel called to the poorest area of Columbus, Franklinton (aka The Bottoms), without knowing of our call to that area, one of the elders brought up how Refuge is involved in that area and hope to eventually plant a church in that area one day.  Lisa and I kind of looked at each other, almost in disbelief.  It was obviously from there on, that God wanted us at Refuge.  It has been such a blessing getting to know the people at Refuge and making friends.  I had forgotten how much I longed for a church family during the last two years.  It would have been a lot easier dealing with our miscarriage had we had a church family then.  I can’t wait to see where God takes us and Refuge next.

But I With The Voice of Thanksgiving, Will Sacrifice To You; What I Have Vowed I Will Pay.

ImageI’ve written about my perceived calling to inner cities several times before.  If you know me outside of this blog, I’m sure we have spoken about it before as well.  Moving back to Columbus after college has really only served to further fuel that desire.  To be honest, it’s a calling I have struggled with believing.  Not because I don’t want to minister to that type of area, but because I want to minister to that type of area so badly.  I have feared at times that I have made myself feel that calling because I like to hear people tell me how brave I am for wanting to move to a ghetto to share the gospel or how I’m a better Christian because I’m willing to sacrifice comfort for the gospel.  After living the last two years pretty comfortably in Columbus with my wife and attending a couple of churches who minister to wealthy suburbs of Columbus, I just can’t shake the calling to the inner city.  Specifically in this case, the bottoms of Columbus.  My wife and I want to buy a house in the bottoms and move there as we share the gospel with our neighbors.

I firmly believe that in order to effectively reach a community, you have to live in and be apart of the community.  While I was in college I attended a church that desperately wanted to reach out to the poor and lost of the towns urban areas and asked for their members to live in those areas, while the church leaders (some, not all) lived far away in very nice houses while sending their kids to private Christian schools.  You can’t share the gospel with people when you only want to interact with them when it’s convenient for you.  I know it’s a scary thing to live in the ghetto, there have been many times where I have thought about moving my young bride to the drug riddled and crime capital of Columbus and have simply wanted to ask God for another calling, but as a husband, I have to lead my wife and my future children to where God wants us.  And right now I am completely confident that He wants us in the Columbus ghetto.

Lisa and I are in the very beginning stages of looking for a home when our apartment lease is up this coming winter.  I pray that if this truly where God wants us to set up shop, that it will be made obvious in this part of our journey.

Love is a Decision, Not a Feeling

We have totally and completed corrupted the word “Love” beyond all measure.

“Love” is the most talked about,  written, sung, contemplated subjects we as Human beings have ever had to live with.  It’s probably because it’s the most misunderstood,  ill-used, overused and abused concept known to Humankind.

There are hundreds of resources that debate whether or not Love is an Emotion or if it is a Decision.  The reality of Love in Marriage though is obvious.  Love is a Decision.  It is another of the valuable paradigms that has been introduced to me through Retrouvaille and one which I am learning to Live.

God has Blessed Humanity with the Gift of Emotions.  The problem with viewing Love as an Emotion in our Marriages is that Feelings belong to each individual person.  Simply Stated,  Our Emotions are our own and our Feelings are our own.  Feelings and Emotions are fleeting, volatile and at times uncontrollable.  There is nothing wrong with what we Feel.  It is vital to our mental well-being.  As such, this volatility is what causes so much chaos when we allow it to control our Marriage.  It is how we act and how we let Emotions affect are decisions that is important.

The Secular Viewpoint is that Love is an Emotion.  They claim that it becomes meaningless if it is just a decision.  Secularist arguments are that Love is a Decision belongs only in the “institution” of Marriage (Notice the shot at Marriage as an Institution).  This viewpoint is extremely destructive to a Marriage and it is one that we hear Over and Over again, Day in and Day out from everywhere.  The World we Live in minimizes the often times difficult decision to Love in spite of our feelings.

To Decide to Love in Spite of how we feel requires Sacrifice and Hard Work.  It requires Selflessness,  Courage and Humility.  It requires the Holy Spirit because as Fallen Creatures we are incapable of this on our own.

If you believe Love is only an Emotion, then you’ll be enslaved by Your Anger,  Your Pride,  Your Jealousy and your Happiness as well as the entire range of Emotions we experience as Humans.

I am not denying the Emotional Aspect to Love.  God is Love,  therefore it is multifaceted.  Infinite.  What I am saying is any Emotional component of it cannot be the only part of your Marriage.  It simply cannot.

The Very Nature of our Emotions is that they are Self-Serving and Self-Preserving.  They serve our Interests and our Needs First, and that in itself is why Love must be a decision.  There is no place for only yourself in Marriage.

You can “Feel” You Love your Spouse Today.  What happens when you have an Argument ?  Do you still “Feel” Love ?  If your Spouse Offends You ?  Do you still “Feel” Love ?  When your Spouse is Selfish,  Do you still “Feel” Love ?   When your Spouse does not meet your Needs, Do you still “Feel” Love ?

The Most Powerful example of Love being a decision comes from Our Saviour Jesus Christ.  He Agonized in the Garden about the Suffering he was about to Endure.  Every Emotion he experienced was that he not have to bear his Torture,  Cross and Crucifixion.

In Spite of all those Emotions though What did he Do ?  Did He decide to forget about the whole ordeal?

Instead, Jesus Decided to Give Himself Up.  To sacrifice Himself for the Good of All Mankind, regardless of our Ignorance, Ingratitude and Unworthiness.

Our Saviour showed us that in spite of what we feel.  We must decide to Love in Marriage.  Just as Jesus did for his Bride, the Church.

Had he given in to his Emotions and let it decide his Love for Us then he would not have gone through with The Passion.

That is Why Love is a Decision.

I Started Running But There’s Nowhere To Run To

So I almost didn’t write this blog because I thought it would come across as whiny and self-pity and you people would judge me.  Then I thought “screw you guys, it’s my blog!”. The longer I’m single, the longer I feel that I will be single for, if that makes any sense, probably not.  Let me explain.  I feel that the longer I’m single, the higher my expectations become, and the harder it becomes for someone to live up to them.  Which is weird, most people become desperate after so long of being single, not me… I get more picky.  Maybe I do it out of self-defense, or perhaps out of spite.  But regardless, it happens.  I guess only time will tell if someone will be able to meet up unrealistically high standards.

Me and two friends (Matt and Alex) were talking a few nights ago, and one thing we came to the conclusion of is that Men need to step up and be leaders.  But more-so then that (I believe) is women need to sit-down and follow.  I know so many girls that say they want a male Christian leader, but they stop supporting him when he does or says something they don’t like.  It’s a two-way street.  Men can’t lead if there is nobody there to follow.

Another issue we discussed was modesty.  We understand that girls aren’t always aware of this, our brains are wired differently, guys pick up on things girls don’t and vice-versa.  But really ladies, step up your game.  And when your brother pulls you to the side and asks you not to wear a bikini or any other garment, respect that.  Otherwise, you’re just being a tool.

Calvinism Isn’t Enough

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Charles Dickens wrote in his classic A tale of Two Cities. Perhaps years from now historians will reflect on the state of Calvinism at the beginning of the twenty-first century an offer similar commentary about the historico-theological tale of two, three, or four different shades of Calvinism.  Perhaps the future thoroughgoing Calvinist editors of Time Magazine will come out with a top-ten list called “Ten Ways God Changed the World as He Sovereignly Worked Through the Secondary Cause of Our March 12, 2009, Top Ten List.”  And perhaps, years from now, Collin Hansen at Christianity Today will write a follow-up book titled We’re Neither as Young Nor as Restless as We Used to Be, But We’re Still Reformed.

Recovering the Meaning of Reformed

It’s hard to know what may come of this so-called “New Calvinism.”  However, we do know that if the New Calvinism does in fact endure, it will endure only because it becomes firmly established on the old Calvinism of John Calvin himself – the same Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, Augustine, and the apostle Paul, which is nothing less and nothing more than the all-encompassing gospel-religion of our eternal and triune God – a religion, in the best sense of the term, existing in and among the people of every tribe, language, and nation whom our Lord has sovereignly called into an eternal relationship with Himself through the redeeming work of the Son and the applying work of the Spirit.

The Calvinism I’m describing is an historically and ecclesiastically grounded Calvinism established within and upon that which our covenant Lord established and against which the gates of Hell shall not prevail – the church of Jesus Christ.  And we, the called out ones, are the confessing church of Jesus Christ, and have been given ordinary means of God’s grace through which God has promised to convict, convince, convert, equip, purify, discipline, sanctify, and sustain to the end, that we would love God, glorify God, and enjoy God forever.

Against such, there’s no argument.  However, argument does exist over the very meanings of some of the words I have used to describe this old Calvinism.  Words such as covenantal, church, confessing, and sacrament represent particular doctrinal affirmations of historic, confessional Reformed theology to which I adhere, but to which many churchmen, past and present, do not adhere while at the same time using the words “Reformed” and “Calvinist” to refer to themselves.  As to whether or not this phenomenon of Reformed classification is appropriate, many have disagreed, and they disagree on reasoned grounds on all sides of confessional Protestantism:  Anglican, Baptist, Dutch Reformed, Lutheran, and Presbyterian.  On one hand, the words “Reformed” and “Calvinist” are historically and ecclesiastically rooted in confessional Reformed “theology, piety, and practice,” to employ the language of R. Scott Clark in his helpful epilogue, “Predestination Is Not Enough,” in Recovering the Reformed confession. Yet, at the same time, there is a foundational doctrinal element that is common to all our confessions and to which all confessional Protestants adhere.  It is the overwhelming, overarching, and often underrated doctrine of God.

Calvinists new and old, around the world, have been convinced biblically of this one crucial tenet of historic, confessional Calvinism: God’s sovereignty over all – life, death, pain, disasters, relationships, salvation, condemnation, the good things, the bad things, the big things, the little things, the in-between things, and all the things we don’t even know about or can’t even see – over all.  Simply put, we believe that God is God.

Calvinism Isn’t Enough

When I finally came to affirm the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty after fighting against it with all the free will I could muster, I found it wasn’t merely predestination that governed  my theology.  Rather, it was a more biblical knowledge of God himself that began to change every aspect of my theology, starting with my knowledge of our gracious and just God and my knowledge of my dead and depraved self, which is precisely where Calvin started his Institutes of the Christian Religion and where the synod of churchmen at Dordtrecht (1618 – 19) hung their doctrinal hats in combating the Arminian Remonstrants.

In essence, the Reformed doctrines of grace as taught by Calvin and by every other faithful student of God’s Word throughout history, gave me a new hermeneutical lens through which I began to interpret all of Scripture.  At the time, it wasn’t my foremost concern to wear a particular label, and because of the great respect I had for men on all sides of the Reformed camp, it was my foremost concern to study the Word of God and to study the theology of men of God throughout history who studied the Word of God to the end that I might rightly preach and teach the Word of God and submit myself to the ecclesiastical body that I believe to be in closest accord with Scripture.

My desire then, as it is now, is to think, speak, and act biblically and not to base my doctrines, my affiliations, or my allegiances on a respected name, a “successful” ministry, or an historical faithful or unfaithful denomination.  This, in essence, is the predominant mind set of the New Calvinists, just as it was the mind set of Calvin himself, who was concerned neither with keeping up unbiblical appearances nor with keeping the Roman Catholic status quo.


A Really Radical Reformission

In truth, day by day we’re all growing a little older, a little more wiling to settle down and listen to our faithful forefathers, and a little less eager to jump on any sort of personality-driven bandwagons.  And for what it’s worth, I think this is precisely the way Calvin (and all the old and New Calvinists) would want to see true, lasting reformation take place in the church and around the world.  However, considering he wanted no stone to ever to mark his grave, Calvin would likely raise the more radical question of whether we should employ his name at all in our doctrinal shorthand.  He would probably prefer instead that we simply employ the name of our sovereign and gracious Lord, who is sovereign over the New Calvinists, the old Calvinists, and all the Calvinists yet to come – all of whom desire simply to be known as faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

-Burk Parsons

**Note: I do not believe Calvinism saves.  The only thing that can save us is Christ and his work on the cross.