Thursday, November 10, 2016


Fear.  This is one of the most prevalent words in conversations leading up to and following Tuesday’s Presidential election.  My hope is that people who do not share the same fears will not belittle or disparage the fears of others.  Fear is one of God’s great gifts to humanity.  And that idea may be foreign to too many Christians.

Some of you are already quoting 2 Timothy1:7.  That’s not prophetic…just predictable!  Let’s talk about this wonderful verse.  I like to start with the last word in the verse, a wonderful Greek word, “sophronismos.”  I like this word because there is only one appearance in all of Scripture and this is the solo performance in 2 Timothy!  Some translations choose sound mind, others use discipline, while another is sound judgment.  The best would be to combine them all.  My spirit when renewed by the Holy Spirit should transform my mind in a way that is Biblically sound leading to self-discipline and good judgment.  I should be characterized by this description as a devoted follower of Jesus.  Now, let’s read the verse.  Paul says to Timothy “spirit” not “emotion.”  Too many people misuse this verse to demean an emotion that should be present in us all.  While I should not be characterized as a fearful person, fear as an emotion must be present in an emotionally healthy Christian at proper times.  When “sophronismos” is a word that best describes me, I am able to experience the emotion of fear without emotions taking control of my life and becoming the shaping force and influence on my spirit.

So if someone talks about their fears related to this election, spend time listening before you bludgeon them with a verse that was given to us to inspire…not wound.  Especially if you are the one needing some correction, in regards to how we should cherish fear.

Might I share some examples?  We readily acknowledge the importance of the fear of the Lord (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 15:33, Revelation 15:4).  My capacity for fear was created by God and is vital; take for example Jesus admonition in Luke 12:4-5.  People like to restate “fear” in these texts as “respect” but that is not what the Holy Spirit chose.  Don’t edit the Holy Spirit!  Is respect a component of healthy fear?  Most certainly, but that does not change the essence of fear…it is to be afraid!  And as long as that feeling of being afraid remains a healthy emotion, it will not displace the virtues of courage and faith.  My capacity for diverse emotions is evidence of emotional health.  And my strength of character (that “sophronismos life”) becomes the boundary that keeps those emotions from becoming spiritual traits.

So if fear is necessary in my relationship with God, are there other applications where fear should be embraced?  Yes!  Fear saves lives.  When I am unsafe, the emotion of fear is an alarm that prompts protective action.  I would like to suggest to you that fear is also an indispensable facet of choosing political leaders.  If you suppress healthy fear in others, you are a dealer in shame.  And if you are devoted follower of Christ, you should be ashamed of your shaming!

This is a time for people to talk about their fears.  Last night I met with a new friend to talk about our fears.  His fears are different than my fears.  And my fears are not more important than his fears, neither his relative to mine.  I must seek to understand the fears of others if I expect others to value mine.  If you can’t accept that Christians were legitimately divided at the polls on Tuesday, then you are part of the problem that divides this nation.  You are a person that is belittling the fears of others.  You are a person that is a shame dealer.  My fears are always going to be more present in my life than your fears.  That is the nature of fear.  We are not able to manufacture emotion.  But, as you have heard me say many times, right feelings follow right actions (Matthew 6:21).  If you don’t understand the fears of others, put in the time to talk with them, hear their story, ask questions, reflect, ponder, contemplate their feelings!

The progress we need in this nation should start with The Church.  And that progress will begin when people who have divergent fears begin to feel the fears of others because their right actions led to shared feelings.  So do me a favor, don’t reach for 2 Timothy 1:7 prematurely.  Let Romans12:15 reach you.  I believe this verse in not just limited to the emotions of joy and sorrow.  I believe this is a fill in the blank text.  I believe this verse is about emotions.  In fact, when I look back to the beginning of this chapter, I find a command that my mind should be renewed!  That sounds like a “sophronismos life” to me!  Paul, in one of the most celebrated doctrinal books of the New Testament, is making a demand of all Christians that emotional empathy is the minimum!  Emotional empathy expects me to have an appropriate, gracious, understanding response to the feelings of others.  Romans 12 tells us we should actually share in their emotion, regardless of whether or not we share in their circumstance.

So this is my question to you…if you voted for Donald Trump, have you found some people who did not that you can sit with and ask them about the fears that helped to motivate their decision?  If you voted for Hillary Clinton, have you found some people who did not that you can sit with and ask them about the fears that helped to motivate their decision?  If you don’t know anyone who voted differently than yourself, you are intellectually and emotionally isolated!  Next, here comes your prayer.  Ask God to help you experience Romans 12:15.  We need to feel one another’s fears.

Be all about that “sophronismos life!”

Pastor Fred

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Stranger Things

Well if you are tracking with our most recent sermon series at all three campuses, you know we are all about some Netflix binging!

Here is a portion of the plot description that you can find on one of my favorite websites and most used phone apps...IMDB, "In a small town where everyone knows everyone, a peculiar incident starts a chain of events that leads to the disappearance of a child - which begins to tear at the fabric of an otherwise peaceful community.  Dark government agencies and seemingly malevolent supernatural forces converge on the town, while a few locals begin to understand that there's more going on than meets the eye."  At the time I pulled that quote, there were over 165k user reviews for this show and the average rating was 9.1 out to 10...which is historically high!  Now be warned, the show can be creepy, evil, and disturbing.  So if you are prone to nightmares, you may be living with EVERY light on in your house for a while...especially all the new Christmas lights!

I love this show because I believe it reminds us that just because something is strange doesn't mean it can't be real.  In the series at the Newport News Campus, we are exploring some strange things in the Bible that I believe God wants to be our reality!  They may belong in an "upside down world" but God's hope is that we will grow to both expect them and embrace them!

We started our study in 1 Corinthians 12.  If you are interested in listening to those two opening messages, then you can use this link:  City Life Podcast.  Last week I was not able to finish our look into this amazing chapter and wanted to share my final thoughts to complete the teaching on this text.

In the first two weeks, we talked about how God wants us to expect and embrace a "strange voice" in our lives.  That is the opening of 1 Corinthians 12.  Paul is exhorting them and now us that we need people in our lives who love us enough to challenge and even when necessary bring correction.  That feels strange if you aren't used to it but it is most certainly a vital part of any healthy spiritual family. I build trusting relationships at church so God can use me to help others and so I can have people I trust to help me.  We also talked about a "strange expectation."  This is where we worked through the list of nine results of grace that manifest God's reality in a supernatural way.  I like the phrase results of grace because that is the true meaning of the word "gift" that appears in the text.  But for simplicity sake, we call them:  three gifts that reveal, three gifts that declare, and three gifts that command.  Being a candidate for God to use to reveal Himself in a supernatural way feels strange, especially the first time we experience something otherworldly like the working of a miracle or a word of knowledge.  We talked about a "strange reliance" that took us through verses 12 to 27.  All ministry begins by learning how to serve one another as part of the same body.  Mutual dependence is not easy for us; it feels strange.  We like to champion this idea of rugged independence!  You will never be fully complete until you connect your life to others in a covenantal community called the local church and there is a local church out there somewhere that will be forever incomplete until you show up!

The point we never reached is a "strange deference."  Take a minute to read 1 Corinthians 12:28-30.  Remember, Paul has already given us an outline for this chapter in verses four through six.  Here he is shifting gears into part three of this chapter in talking about a "varieties of activities" that he connects to God.  (If you recall, he connected a "varieties of gifts" to the Holy Spirit and a "varieties of ministries" to Jesus).  I believe what Paul is trying to communicate to us here is that if the activity of church is not directed by the activity of leaders who ensure order then chaos will soon be present which is why Paul is having to write this letter to Corinth...they are a chaotic church!  Paul is assuming that you have read the preceding verses.  His use of "first, second, and third" are to say all of these three are examples of directive leaders in a church.  We know this from connecting this text to Ephesians 4, which Paul also wrote.  Paul believes in the principle of directive leaders (which I also call nucleus leaders or senior leaders).  And these numbers are not to be interpreted as an order of importance.  It is simply three offices in a church whose primary activity is to bring healthy authority.  The emphasis should not be placed on the unique role that apostles, prophets, or teachers carry out.  That is more related to the "varieties of ministries."  The emphasis should be placed on their specific activity of being directive leaders.  This is why we have this portion of the chapter connected to God because He reminds us of the need for the presence of a directive authority.  Again, Paul assumes you have read the whole chapter so when the verses shift in the NKJV with the use of "after that" and "then" Paul is pulling examples from both of the two former lists.  He gives us some examples of "varieties of gifts" and "varieties of ministries."  He is saying that what makes a church a safe place for these former two lists of "varieties" is the activity of directive leaders.  It can be strange for people to allow others to be in a place of spiritual authority in their life.  Although I am a nucleus, directive leader now, that has not always been the case.  Many of my years in church were benefitting from the direction of elders and other senior leaders.  They created order, defined vision, created ministries, set the pace in giving, exemplified Christ, cared for people in crisis, and invested in others who might one day walk in their shoes.  I can't imagine what my formative years as a Christian would have been like without them.  Leaders can never demand this relationship from people.  They can make demands of people and sometimes that is necessary but those demands are never fruitful unless the person being directed has already embraced that person's authority in their life.

Verse 29 is basically a synopsis verse for everything that preceded before.  Every person matters.  Every ministry is important.  Every role is essential.  The family of God is made complete when each part does it's work in love...again, the great partner text here is Ephesians 4.  Remember, even though I am constantly referring to verses and chapters, this was originally a letter.  It did not have verses and chapters.  Verses and chapters aid our study but sometimes they break the flow of the original text.  Verse 31 is supposed to flow right into chapter 13...where Paul reminds us that love must be the defining aspect of any church culture.  And love is not the only standard...all of chapter 13 points to every other portion of Scripture that demands of us the character of Christ.  And when we find ourselves immersed in a healthy community of people called the local church, we are able to challenge one another to that let's be a little "strange" together!

Pastor Fred

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Divergent - Politics of 2016

Frustrated, disappointed, angry, sad, and embarrassed are all words that best describe my reaction to the 2016 Presidential race.  I am not speaking of any candidate in particular nor any one political party.  These feelings are the result of what I believe to be the root of the dissension and frustration in the entire elective process.

In 2014, the first in a book series by Veronica Roth became a successful film at the box office -- Divergent.  Her blog describes Divergent this way:  "In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives..."  If you have read the books or seen the movies you know that once an adolescent chooses a certain faction, they must serve that virtue for the remainder of their lives.  For example, if I am Amity, I will never be allowed to work or serve in any role that is assigned to the faction or class of Erudite.  What makes these fictional stories so compelling is the contrast to our society where we celebrate and cherish our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as so courageously penned in our Declaration of Independence.  America is a great nation because we champion the right of self-determination...unless we are talking about politics.

One of the distinctive differences between the Republican and Democratic primary process is the presence of super-delegates in the Democratic Party.  Both parties are well into their respective primaries whereby citizens in each state have the opportunity to vote for their candidate of choice.  In an effort to simplify this process, think of it this way.  The number of votes a candidate receives correlates into points.  The Republican candidate must amass a total of 1237 and the Democratic candidate 2383.  These points are called delegates because they are actual people.

At each party's convention this summer, every state will send delegates/representatives to select a candidate that will run for the office of President.  And while both party's rules vary, the expectation is that these delegates will vote at the convention based on how their state voted in the primary.  For example, in Virginia's primary, Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by approximately 65% to 35%.  So she was assigned 62 delegates and Sanders was assigned 33 delegates from Virginia.  If both candidates are still in the race by the Democratic convention, those delegates will vote for their assigned candidate.  The Republican party operates in a similar fashion.  However, if there were two candidates still in the Republican race at the time of the convention, the only delegates who are allowed to vote are those sent by the states.  And those delegates sent by the states vote according to results determined solely by the voters.  However, if there is more than one ballot, then the rules begin to change so that a candidate can ultimately be selected.  But the first ballot is clear, delegates sent by states represent the will of the people as expressed through their vote in the individual state primaries.

So back to super-delegates.  If you are interested in a more complete history of super-delegates you can see this article by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.  There are 712 super-delegates.  These individuals are major elected officials, notable party figures, and select leaders of organizations affiliated with the Democratic National Convention (definitions by Becca Stanek).  Their support is not dictated by the voters.  They are allowed to choose which Democratic candidate to support.  Now you have to decide which process you prefer.  For me, I always want a process that has the opportunity to be determined solely by the outcome of voters.

The former Democratic Governor of North Carolina Jim Hunt said the following in November of 1981, "We must also give our convention more flexibility to respond to changing circumstances and, in cases where the voters’ mandate is less than clear, to make a reasoned choice."  I'm not sure how the voters' mandate can be anything but clear.  People vote and margins are based on math and a winner is declared.  Really what Governor Hunt was saying is that sometimes the voter is not savvy enough to pick the right candidate and we the political elite must step in to protect the general public from themselves.  Is it possible for no single candidate to gain enough delegates to be selected?  It is certainly possible in the Republican Party.  In that case, there are rules that guide the process forward so a candidate can be selected.  But what the Democratic Party has done through the creation of super-delegates is to never give the voters of their party an opportunity to express a clear mandate.  

We have factions.  They are not formalized factions like Veronica Roth's novels but they exist and they are powerful influences in our society.  And I believe one of those factions is the faction of the political elite.  The presence of super-delegates is a clear example.  712 of the 2383 delegates that choose the Democratic candidate for the President of the United States are not bound by the vote of citizens.  This concerns me.  The will of the people can be thwarted.  As of this morning, Hillary Clinton has earned 1,716 delegates through the voting of citizens.  Bernie Sanders has earned 1,433 delegates through the voting of citizens.  So when you hear news outlets continue to report that it is mathematically impossible for him to win the nomination for his party, doesn't that surprise you?  The will of the people has yet to be determined.  In an article by Huffington Post yesterday, Bernie Sanders has won 19 of 25 State primaries/caucuses and is only a few hundred thousand votes behind in the popular vote which is a small margin given how many votes have been cast.  Both he and Hillary Clinton are tied in National polls for their party.  But super-delegates swing heavily in her favor, people who are not bound by the will of voters.

I am equally concerned for the Republican Party.  There are no super-delegates in the Republican Party.  But there is a faction of political elites that should be equally disturbing to us.  When former Presidents and their families publicly state they will not support the candidate chosen by the people at the polls, they are the political elite.  When candidates who ran but lost publicly state they will not support the candidate chosen by the people at the polls, they are the political elite.  When elected officials publicly state they will not support the candidate chosen by the people at the polls, they are the political elite.  Oh they are going to say it violates their conscience or their position is because of their personal integrity...they lie.  They are the political elite.  They are a part of the class of people in our society who have been controlling the political process for decades.  And now someone who is not part of their "faction" is trespassing.  They should be ashamed of themselves.  Their withholding of support has nothing to do with character.  They are spoiled elites who are pouting about their loss of control or they are political candidates posturing in a way they believe better positions them for future elections...or both!

Regardless of how you may feel about any of the candidates in this year's Presidential race, champion and protect the foundation of our political system...a free elective process whereby the will of the people is expressed at the polls.  Do not support the political elites who seek to control outcomes and derail the will of voters.  Be wise and recognize when media outlets who are supposed to be journalists stop reporting the narrative and begin creating their own narrative.  Don't be naive.  Both conservative and liberal media outlets are pushing an agenda and that agenda is the profitability of their respective brands.  In addition, many of them are just as much a part of this "faction" of the political elites as the candidates themselves.

I'm for a faction free world.  I don't want to live in Veronica Roth's dystopian society.  May we never stop being these people, which people?  "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Pastor Fred

Thursday, March 17, 2016

An Answer to Prayer

Do you remember your first prayer?  Not the first time you memorized, "Now I lay me down to sleep..." and not even those meaningful prayers you may have prayed at bedtime as a child.  I'm asking for you to recall that first time you cried out to God in desperation.  I'm asking you to remember that first time you faced a situation so overwhelming that it exposed the magnitude of your human limitations and left you in a place of frenzied faith for divine intervention.  Do you remember that time?

I do.  I was eleven.  My mom was well into her pregnancy with my brother.  I remember my mom being in her room and dad was on the phone calling people on the phone to come to the house.  I'll never forget the expression on his face.  It is the only time I ever remember seeing my dad afraid.  Neighbors came rushing over, mom was helped into a car that raced off to the hospital.  They told me and my sister (13) that everything was going to be okay and that we should go back to bed.  It was one of those moments as a child when you realized that adults lie.

September of that year my brother was born after months of my mom being on bed rest.  I know scores of people were praying that night.  No Facebook in 1978, just the telephone!  Churches then had prayer chains.  You were assigned people to call to notify them of a prayer need whenever you were called...I think all of Varina's phones were ringing that night!  I made a call too, my first prayer.

I was in bed crying, afraid, I saw the look on everyone's face.  Was that going to be the last time I ever saw my mom?  Was she going to die?  Was my brother/sister going to die?  I found my prayer voice that night.  And although my prayer life went through what should probably be referred to as the silent years during the debauchery of my high school and college life, that first prayer has now become a life of prayer.  And God answered.

As I was praying for North Riverside Baptist Church on Wednesday, March 16th for their impending vote to invite City Life to join them at their church here on 311 Selden Road, God reminded me of that night in 1978.  Faith builds in our hearts when we recall the times from our past when God heard our cry!  Think of all the times God has intervened on your behalf!  Think of all the answers to prayer God has graciously given to you!  Think of all the times you have posted on Facebook, called a friend, shared at church, cried with your family...because of an answer to prayer!

But what if you could be an answer to prayer for God?  What would that be like?  Even though we call Matthew 6:9-13 The Lord's Prayer, this is really our prayer.  This is Jesus teaching us to pray.  But Jesus does have a prayer.  But that prayer is in John 17.    Look at verses 20 and 21.  Jesus says this prayer is for us, for all future Christians.  And what does He pray?  In verse 21 He prays for unity.  City Life has a vision for multi-church campuses for one central reason.  We want to be an answer to Jesus' prayer just as He is so often an answer to ours!  When NRBC voted in the affirmative last night, Jesus pointed at 311 Selden Road and told all of Heaven that another room full of Godly people answered His prayer!

I know there will be dissenters.  There will always be people who are not able to see past their own superficial, personal preferences...people who only ever want answers to prayer but never willing to make the kind of sacrifices necessary to be an answer to prayer, not even for Jesus.  I love how this decision for City Life to join NRBC and form a new multi-church campus here in the 757 is just weeks before Easter as we celebrate Jesus' greatest of sacrifices!  It's never wrong to question.  It's never wrong to be honest about your concerns.  It's never wrong to share your fears, your reluctance.  But God expects us to work through the reaction that comes from our humanity and feel the eternal part of who we are deep within beginning to resonate with the call of the Holy Spirit within us saying, "Be an answer to Jesus' prayer!"

City Life has never had 24/7 access to a facility before.  We have never had a campus where all of our operations were in one central location.  I believe God is going to give some of you dreams for new ministries, dreams that are going to be possible now because there is a place for those ministries to begin.  For example, we have never been able to do conference type ministry that starts on a Friday night and culminates with our Saturday night service.  We've dreamed for years of encounter type weekends where people can come for extended times of prayer and worship.  How about being able to baptize people...during our weekend worship service!

There is triple the parking capacity here compared to The Mosaic and a building with endless classroom space, phenomenal nursery, youth rooms, a commercial kitchen, and a fellowship hall that can accommodate our entire campus.  The sanctuary can seat 400 people which means our NN Campus can double in size.  There is also a budget to renovate the existing chapel for our weekly youth service on Wednesday nights!  I know from the picture I posted to Facebook yesterday of the existing sanctuary you see a worship space that is quite different from what you are accustomed to seeing on Saturday nights.  But once the renovation is complete which includes $70,000 in theatrical lighting, a stage redesign, $20,000 in sound upgrades, and all the technicals support systems necessary to provide a modern worship experience, you are going to fall in love with this sanctuary!

Jesus prayed.  Will you be an answer to prayer?

Pastor Fred