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Church Update

First of all, we want to encourage you. 

I was listening to a podcast with a couple influential pastors who often have the opportunity to talk with hundreds of pastors. He said that he’s seeing more pastors quit than ever before - largely because of the difficulty of the last several months. It’s easy to see why. There are so many issues swirling around the church, and opinions are held with great tenacity. Emotions run high - and pastors are getting barraged with questions about these things:

Pastor, why aren’t you speaking up?

Pastor, why did you speak up?

Pastor, why are you being a coward?

Pastor, why are you being a rebel?

Pastor, why were you so soft?

Pastor, why are you being so black and white?

Pastor, have you seen what this church is doing - do that!

Pastor, why are you doing what that church is doing?

Pastor, stop making us wear masks!

Pastor, make sure everyone wears masks!

In other words, the last several months have put us in a pressure cooker. Pastors and elders in churches are facing extraordinary pressure - and in some churches, the members are exacerbating the pressure and attacking their own pastors or fellow church members. 

By God’s grace, this has not been happening at Grace Rancho. On behalf of the elders, I can say that pastoring you has been an absolute joy this season. It is a privilege to serve a church that values the word of God, works for unity, prays for fruit, and labors for the advance of the gospel. Paul asks the church in Thessalonica to “respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord” and to “esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thess. 5:12-13). We feel respected, honored, and loved. Thank you, Grace Rancho.

From my perspective, we’re enjoying a great unity in the church. Not uniformity - there are differing opinions on some of these matters. But there’s been a joyful unity through this. 

I’m reminded of Paul’s letter to the Philippians when he urges them: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…” (1:27). According to Paul, the gospel-shaped life includes standing firm in unity, and striving side by side for the gospel. By God’s grace, Grace Rancho is doing that. Not only is there a high level of unity, there’s a high level of gospel-advancing ministry taking place. Praise the Lord for that!

Second, we want to inform you. 

There have been a couple questions we’ve been hearing and we thought it’d be good to answer: 

  1. Why are we still submitting to government regulations?
  2. What are we going to be doing when the weather changes?

First, why are we still submitting to government regulations?

There are two main reasons for this, and they’re both simple. First, we believe submission to our government is obedient to God. Romans 13:1-7 makes this clear. Paul writes: “Be subject to the governing authorities” (vs 1), reminds us that resisting government is resisting God (vs 2), implores us to “do what is good” (vs 3), and concludes, “Therefore, one must be in subjection” (vs 5). These commands are so clear that we believe the only time to disobey the government is when it requires what God forbids or forbids what God requires. Whether the authority is Nero or Newsom, we honor God by submitting to the God-ordained institutions. 

Secondly, we believe that submission to the government aids the mission of the church. This is Peter’s point in 1 Peter 2:11-17. He urges the church to keep their conduct honorable among the Gentiles because it will bring them to glorify God on the day of visitation (2:12). We could ask: “What must I do to keep my conduct honorable to outsiders?” Peter’s answer to that question is found in verse 13: “Be subject to the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” To press this point further, he writes, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” If we want to reach unbelievers with the gospel, we need to live honorable lives, and one important feature of an honorable life is one that humbly submits to the governing authorities. In this way, submission to governing authorities aids the mission of the church.

The second question is: What are we going to be doing when the weather changes?

Governor Newsom has issued a tier-system for determining when California will be able to reopen. Purple means we can’t do anything indoor. Red means we can use 25% of our building capacity (which is around 50 people). If we get to orange, we could do 100 people inside. If we get to Yellow, we will still only be able to do 100 people. 

We’re in purple. Newsom introduced this in August, and we’re still in purple. According to our best estimates, it’s going to take months to get to yellow, and even when we’re there, we can still only meet with 100 people.

So we’ve been meeting outside. But What happens when it gets cold, rainy, and windy?

 

  • We are planning on getting a tent. 

 

This will enable us to be sheltered from any potential rain. It enables us to have certainty every Sunday as to what we’ll be doing. And it will, Lord willing, be something that can be usable even after California is completely reopened.

 

  • We don’t plan on going back to multi-service indoor gatherings, even if allowed. 

 

We have a strong conviction that the whole church ought to meet together at the same time and the same place. So even if we could do multiple indoor services (100 or so at a time), we would rather meet all together in the tent.

 

  • We’re working on getting a modified, somewhat limited childcare ready for by the end of this month. 

 

There are protocols in place for childcare to be done even now. Lord willing, by November 1st we’ll have a form of childcare available to aid parents of toddler and younger children. 

 

  • Continue growth groups and Bible studies

 

We believe that one of the essential ways the church cares for each other is by physical presence and hospitality in homes. This is something we’ve committed to do in our affirmations. 

We’ve decided to handle this by allowing groups to decide how they meet. Though we’ve encouraged groups to meet outside - we understand cold and rain is coming. We are deferring to leaders to make these calls and communicate with their groups.

Conclusion

We are thankful for you, Grace Rancho. Let’s “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13).

Posted by Eric Durso with

How I Can I Prepare to Hear God's Word

 
First, Come ready.

I’ll give you three areas to address if you want to come ready: Sin, Scripture, Sleep.

First, address your sin. James 1:21 says “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” In other words, sin is blinding. It’s impossible to hear the word when the noise of sin is blaring in your heart. It’s hard to taste the sweetness of the word when you’re chewing on the gravel of your lust. To hear the word, remove the sirens of sin. To taste the sweetness of the word, spit out the gravel, confess your sin and run to Christ.

Second, address the Scriptures. I once heard a story about an ordinary pastor who received a phone call Saturday evening. It was Mark Dever, a well-known pastor, author, and conference speaker. He was in town with his son that weekend and informed the pastor they’d be attending his church in the morning. But that’s not why he called. He called to ask the pastor what text he would be preaching on so he could meditate on the passage with his son. I think that’s a good example for all of us. Prepare to hear the preached word by meditating on it the evening before.

Third, address your sleep. You are an embodied soul; a soulish body. Your sleep affects your mind and your heart. How many of us know the feeling of dozing off in church? I’ve done it (before I was the one preaching!). For some of us, work demands a late Saturday night. God provides grace for that. For many of us, the reason we’re dragging on a Sunday morning and having difficulty hearing the word is because we piddled away Saturday night.

Second, Raise Your Expectations.

What do you expect a sermon to do? Have you forgotten what the Bible claims to be? It’s a sword that pierces (Hebrews 4:12-13), it’s a seed that causes new life (1 Pet. 1:22-23), it’s a mirror that reveals (1:22-23), it’s milk that nourishes (1 Pet. 2:2), it’s a lamp that shines light onto our path (Ps. 119:105), it’s a fire that consumes (Jer. 23:29), it’s a hammer that shatters. 

When you hear the word of God, you are putting yourself before the most powerful force in our universe. The preacher may be average. His message - if he’s preaching the word - isn’t. 

I think your expectations reveal a lot about your faith. Do you have faith that God uses ordinary sermons from ordinary guys? And that those sermons can do extraordinary things in you?

Ask, Seek, Knock.

The Psalmist prayed “Open my eyes, that I might see wondrous things in your law” (Ps. 119:18). This is God’s Word, and he alone can open our eyes to see it. Let’s pray for the Holy Spirit’s help.

Listen with your Church.

I’m thankful for livestreams and podcasts and pre recorded videos. But there are no substitutes for real, in-person, sit-with-your-church-family sermons. You see, sermons are not only to instruct the mind, but they’re also to obligate the will. Good sermons call for response. 

Now, if you’re listening on your earbuds, who’s holding you accountable for what you’ve just heard? If you’re watching youtube videos of Paul Washer and Steve Lawson, I know you’ll get pumped up. But who’s going to help you keep whatever resolutions you might make?

Christopher Ash writes, “When we listen together, you know what messages I’ve heard, and I know what messages you’ve heard. I’ve heard it. You know I’ve heard it. I know that you know I’ve heard it! And you expect me to respond to the message, just as I hope you will. And so we encourage one another and stir up one another to do what the Bible says.” 

This is, by the way, why so many of you stick around after service. We’re talking about what we’re learning, we’re talking about how it applies to life, we’re talking about our struggles, we’re praying for God’s help to obey. 

Open Your Bible. 

It is the task of the preacher to teach and apply the Word of God. You will hear better if you have your copy of God’s Word open, and you’re following him as he explains the text. 

Additionally, the unfortunate reality is that preachers can be unclear, or worse, irresponsible. Every believer has the responsibility to examine the Scriptures and see if it aligns with the word of God. This is what the Bereans were famously known for. They “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). 

Obey Today. 

There is an urgency to the word of God. The writer of Hebrews says, “Today, if you hear his voice, don’t harden your heart.” How many sermons have bonked you on the head before landing unapplied to the floor? How many sermons stirred up good intentions that were snuffed out before you left the parking lot? 

There is always a right-now relevance to the Word of God. Maybe you need to write in your notes: “What am I going to do about this?” 

I know many families who spend Sunday lunch talking about what they got out of the message. We have an entire growth group on Friday nights that aims to do this: how can we apply God’s Word more deeply? We believe the church should be an echo chamber - God’s Word is preached and it echoes throughout all the relationships of the church family throughout the week. 

The most important thing is how we listen to God’s Word. How are you listening? Are you ensuring that you are listening? Fathers, are you the lead listener in your family? Mothers, are you helping the family listen? Children, do you really listen to God’s word?

Again Christopher Ash urges us: “Don’t go to sleep Sunday night without having asked yourself, ‘How will I respond to God’s Word?”

Posted by Eric Durso with

Part 4: Words Matter

This article is part 4 of a series about the current events. See Part 1 & Part 2 & Part 3

The church is the pillar and buttress of the truth. Our happy and high calling, as an assembly of Christ’s redeemed, is to protect our precious gospel so that, if the Lord tarries, our great-great grandchildren will still be able to hear it preached from the Grace Rancho pulpit. It’s an amazing privilege to be enlisted in Christ’s army for this task, and I’m thankful for a church that takes this responsibility seriously. The Bible repeatedly calls us to be vigilant, sober-minded, and alert, like soldiers at the watch. In times like these, we need to be reminded of that.

R.L. Dabney in his book Evangelical Eloquence makes a brilliant observation about how doctrinally sound churches slide into apostasy. He describes three stages. First is the golden age, where “scriptural truth is faithfully presented in scriptural garb.” The second stage is what he calls the “transition stage”: where doctrines taught are still from the Scriptures, but “their relations are moulded into the conformity with the prevalent human dialectics” - that is, the church attempts to speak biblical truth using the language of the culture. This leads to the third stage, where the doctrines themselves morph, following the values of the world.

Words Matter

In our previous articles, we’ve been thinking about a prevailing ideology, often called critical theory, that has shaped the way many people are thinking today. Last week we observed that as secularization increases, self-expression becomes the highest virtue. Powers that suppress self-expression are viewed as participating in oppression. Life is viewed in terms of power and people are categorized into oppressed/oppressor groups. 

In this article, we need to see how this outlook has affected our language. The greatest attacks against the truth have always involved an assault on words. Satan is known for twisting and corrupting words so as to deceive and mislead.

In our day, nice sounding  words are being used as Trojan Horses to smuggle godless ideologies into the church. Words matter. They are carriers of ideas, and ideas shape minds, hearts, and destinies.

Shifting Definitions

This is why we need to perk up when familiar words begin to be used in new ways. Whenever this happens, it means a new definition has latched on to the old word, implanting ideas foriegn to its original meaning. If you pause and think about it, I’m sure you’d be able to identify several words that have morphed over the last decade: diversity, love, inclusion, and equality are some of the obvious ones. Today, words like oppression, racism, and justice are being redefined as well. Let’s consider these words.

The word “oppression” used to mean “prolonged cruel or unjust treatment.” Now, “oppression” includes being a part of a group that’s not the majority, a group that’s not in power. To be an oppressor now has nothing to do with actually treating someone cruelly or unjustly. Everyone in the majority culture has privilege and is guilty by virtue of their participation in it. 

The word “racism” used to refer to the belief, attitude, or action that implies people are inferior or superior because of their race. This is not the case anymore. According to this worldview, all majority culture participants are racist. Racism is the underlying explanation for any interracial conflict or disparity. 

The word “justice” has been hijacked as well. Justice used to refer to doing that which is good, right, and just. Today, however, justice is defined in an entirely new way. One proponent of the social justice movement says: “Working towards a celebration of diversity implies working for social justice - the elimination of all forms of social oppression…” (emphasis mine). Did you catch that? Social justice means working against “all forms of social oppression.” What counts as “social oppression”? The nuclear family, traditional gender roles, and even gender itself. Justice, in this sense, means working toward anything that hinders “equality” (another redefined word).

These new definitions implicitly redefine sin, guilt, and repentance, which, inevitably, redefines the gospel. This is why we Christians must not embrace uncritically the modern social justice movement.

A Redefined Gospel

Social justice, as defined by those promoting this godless ideology, is anti-Christ: It redefines sin, which redefines guilt, which redefines repentance, which redefines the gospel. This worldview is not compatible with Christianity. 

Dr. Neil Shenvi points this out in his booklet Engaging Critical Theory and the Social Justice Movement. He points out that not only are these ideas incompatible with biblical Christianity, but that this worldview is actually like a religion of its own:

Many people, including many atheists, have noted the similarities between critical theory and the doctrines of Christianity. Just as Christianity teaches that all human beings are stained by original sin, so contemporary critical theory teaches that all people (or at least almost all people) are stained by their membership in oppressor groups. Just as Christianity teaches that we must confess and repent of our sin, so contemporary critical theory teaches that we must confess and repent of our participation in structures of power and privilege. Just as Christianity teaches that sin must be atoned for, so contemporary critical theory teaches that our privilege must be atoned for. Just as Christianity looks forward to a kingdom of perfect justice and righteousness, contemporary critical theory looks forward to a utopian society of perfect justice and equity. But unlike Christianity, “salvation” in contemporary critical theory is achieved not by grace, but by works. 

As a church that cares deeply about the gospel, we rise up in protection when we feel it may be threatened. There are real instances of oppression, racism, and injustice today, and to be able to address them, we need to understand them biblically, not through the lens of critical theory. Critical theory, and the social justice movement that flows from it, is a threat to the church and must be recognized as such.

Posted by Eric Durso with

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