The membership process for joining consisted of two rather informal meetings, one with the preaching pastor at his home and another with him and another elder at the church. The first one involved walking through the church's statement of faith which I both loved and sincerely appreciated. Not only did we walk through and discuss each core doctrine (justification, perseverance of the saints, ordinances of baptism & communion, etc.), but we did so in a way that was personal. At our previous church, this step in the membership process consisted of a class you attended which normally included 25+ other prospects. While some churches simply do what they can, in this case not being able to do much about having such a large class, I highly respected the fact that the pastor wanted to meet with us personally and answer any specific questions we may have. This intimate meeting gave us a more thorough picture of what the church is all about, from foundational doctrines to faith in practice. After receiving our former pastor's blessing, wishing us all the best in our move to this church, we attended the second of the two membership interviews and then joined this past Sunday! There are numerous aspects about this church that excite us about being members there. I have already had the humbling opportunity to sing each week with the worship team, and my husband has been helping the preaching pastor with a number of small tasks (one in particular was helping him put sermon audio on the church's website!). We have been amazed and encouraged perhaps more than we have been since moving to Louisville three years ago by the vibrance and eagerness of this young church body. With it being just over a year old, the elders are open to various ideas for both service to one another as well as to the surrounding community. Pastor Mark has a deep passion for the surrounding neighborhood, a key factor in the decision to plant the church where it is currently. We have also been involved in a small group for a couple of months now, something that was critical for my husband and I for candid and sincere church fellowship (see previous posts from Easter and the Party Palace cookout).
Pastor Mark has been preaching through the Book of John, and has focused our attention in recent weeks on John 12. This is a transitional point in John when Jesus is shifting from His public ministry to being more private in the days leading up to His death. In John 12:36-44, Jesus is answering questions regarding those who continue in unbelief. After all of the miraculous signs and wonders their eyes beheld, the people still did not believe. When asked why, Jesus responds by quoting Isaiah, "Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 'He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart...'" (v. 40). There were even those who actually believed, but were so fearful of the authorities that they kept their faith hidden, "for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God" (v. 43). As the two sermons on this particular text unfolded, Pastor Mark continuously emphasized the glory of God above the glory of man. Rather than concluding his sermons as merely good theological discussions pertaining to God's ultimate sovereignty over man's ability to choose, he focused on how these truths apply in our daily lives. How can a loving God really cause men to harden their hearts and not see Jesus as the Son of God? We can see His causal nature even in the death of His Son: Jesus death was planned, and yet the Father was still grieved. Does this reality cause us concern regarding God's character and control, or does it fuel our hope and compel us to praise? Consider this:
- Why would God exist and act in ways that our minds can fully encompass? Should it surprise us when He is infinite and we are finite? (Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 11:25-36)
- If we love God as God, as testified to in His Word rather than according to our feeble attempts to mold Him into our liking and understanding, wouldn't we be thrilled that He is working all things to the purpose of His will? Who else's plan can we trust?
- We are not at the mercy of chaos. We have hope knowing that God says, "That is part of My plan." We are not at the mercy of man's choices.
- Let us never forget that the same One who has the power to harden also has the power to soften hearts (Ezekiel 36:26).
There is a joy that has been restored in me, replacing dryness that my heart had become increasingly accustomed to these past few years, and I know my husband would echo similar words. There is a dynamic in fellowship shared with a vibrant, active body of believers that we were hungering after for so long, and we have found that encouragement at this church even in the few months since first attending. I have been reminded of and amazed by the correllation between our relationship with the body and our relationship to the Father; when one is broken it inevitably affects the other. I have recently been listening to one of my favorite albums, one I had put away for some time and nearly forgotten. How sweet it has been listening to the lyrics I oftentimes selfishly wish I would have written myself. Such lyrics reflect the very thoughts and praises I am incapable of uttering~You repair all that we have torn apart and
You unveil a new beginning in our hearts and
We stand grateful for all that has been left behind and
All that goes before us
(Chorus) You've got all things suspended
All things connected
Nothing was forgotten
'Cause your love is perfect
You are our healer
And you know what's broken
And we're not a mystery to you, to you, oh Lord, to you
We will dance 'cause you restore the wasted years and
You will sing over all our coming fears and
We'll stand grateful for all that has been left behind and
All that goes before us
Lord, you mend the breech
And you break every fetter
You give us your best, but what we thought was better
And you are to be praised
You are to be praised