Dear Church Family,
It was August of 2009 and lightning was pulsing over the Front Range of northern Colorado. That evening we were spending time with Marla’s family at their home just north of town (Marla is something of a country girl, if you did not know). My phone rang with a 925 number—that meant California was calling. I nervously excused myself and stepped outside into the dry summer heat. A voice on the other end asked me if I wanted to join the leadership team of Valley Community Church. Given that I am writing this letter, the answer was obviously, “yes.”
This memory was triggered today as I held my four-year-old son Silas in my arms and watched his eyes flash as he watched lighting for the very first time. Much has changed between that Colorado lightning storm and today’s brilliant strikes that sparked Silas’ imagination. Much has changed for my family, for this church family, and for you personally, I would imagine. Together we have faced loss, found love, buried loved ones, and married best friends. We have laughed together over long dinners, and lingered on porches talking of wonderful things. We have wounded each other, called each other to account, confessed, lavished grace, and healed together. We have asked questions, and we have wrestled with doubt. We have fallen on our faces, and helped each other get back up again. We have wondered together at the Good News of heaven breaking into a broken earth. We have marveled at Jesus being the truer and greater one, the reality and substance of the shadows and intimations buried like gems in the Old Testament. We have been through a lead pastoral transition, merged two different church communities into one diverse family, and opened an Inkling’s inspired coffee shop and venue to seek the good of the city. We have grown in maturity as the body of Christ, yet there are miles of maturing left to go—I know there is for me.
Things change, yet the same love of Christ remains, leading us, comforting us, empowering us to grow in grace. From season to season his constancy is our anchor, his grace teaching us, forming us, freeing us. He continues to call us to one glorious future, one incredible calling—that we might look like Jesus, making every effort to walk in step with his Spirit. In the Letter of 2 Peter 1:3-11, Peter writes:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Did you catch that line?—that we are “partakers of the divine nature”? Incredible. We have been united to Jesus by his grace and great work, and now he dwells within us. His Spirit lives within us, comforting, counseling, calling us forward, and empowering us to practice living the Jesus life. God remains the same but he calls us to change, to grow in grace, from one degree of glory to another. This is what apprenticeship is, isn’t it? Becoming more like our master.
I am thankful that things have changed over the years. I am thankful God loves us too much to allow us to stay the same. He is ever sculpting our souls, ever disrupting our unhealthy routines, mercifully dis-illusioning us, leading us into new and healthy habits of the heart as we live by grace. And in his love for this church, for its leadership and for each and every member, he is leading us as family into a season of leaning into the practices of grace.
When I say practices of grace I mean what many have called the spiritual disciplines (prayer, meditation on God’s word, Sabbath, solitude, silence, fellowship, etc.). Practices of grace are those habits that help us turn our eyes towards the truth, abide in his presence, experience his love, and aid in the deep work of altering our affections so that we may grow in loving others as Jesus loves us. They are aids in learning how to live, you might say. As 1 Timothy 4:7 says, “train yourself for the purpose of godliness.” That is what we plan to do, and the practices of grace are how we will do it.
As we have been journeying through the Gospel of Mark together, God has captivated me anew with the life of Jesus, and he has been showing the entire team that we must arrange our lives around the kinds of practices that Jesus lived and that we see taught throughout the New Testament. Therefore, the leadership of this church is committed to arranging our own lives to abide with Jesus and follow his way. And as leaders called here to equip the saints for ministry (Eph. 4:11-16), we are committed to arranging this church for a culture of apprenticeship—growing in our knowledge of Jesus and living the practices of grace day by day together. Or one might say, we are committed to pursuing the Jesus life together! And this life of apprenticeship, this Jesus life, is what we will continue to teach, model, and celebrate in all we do.
Hebrews 13:8 tells us that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Thank God that we are not! We are a people in process needing transformation! Thank God that he is forming us in love to look more and more like Jesus with each passing day. With all this said, what does success look like for us as Valley Community Church? It looks like looking more and more like Jesus. What is the goal of arranging the church for a culture of apprenticeship? That we look more and more like Jesus. The practices of grace are for this purpose alone: to help us be formed into the likeness of Christ; not to burden us, not to puff us up with pride, not to entangle us in vain works, but to train us in living by grace. So by his grace, as we launch into our 50th year as a church family, may we trust him, making every effort to look more and more like Jesus as we grow through the practices of grace that we will explore together.
So, yes, I am thankful that things have changed over the years. I am thankful that I am no longer the man I was standing in that August heat watching the night sky pulse all those years ago. I am thankful I will be more than the man I am today who watched awe flash across the horizon of my son’s eyes. And I am thankful that God loves us—his church—too much to allow us to remain as we are. He is calling us forward that we might look more like Jesus tomorrow than we do today. What hope! It is as famed hymn writer John Newton said, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” May the Holy Spirit have his way with us, and to Christ be the glory!
With great love for you all,