Why Join a Church?

Its a fair question and one that our independent western minds quickly conjures up —

  • “Why join a church?”
  • “What is the need anyway?”
  • “How is it going to benefit me?”
  • “Isn’t it good enough that I am attending?”
  • “Aren’t we all just one body in Christ anyway?”

Well, what do you think? What are some good reasons for joining a church? Also, What do you think are reasons why many believers are reluctant to join a church?

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Wives & Daughters

O.K. they say that confession is good for the soul…so here is something that I must confess, understanding that some of my male counterparts will reel back in horror, sickened that one of their own has capitulated to the dark side…

So, what is my confession… Well, although I do enjoy a good action packed movie – Lord of the Rings, Braveheart, etc. I am a sucker for a good Masterpiece Theater quality movie. Yes, the ones where the ladies are all dressed up in their frilly dresses and the men prance around on horses with top hats and cravats. I have seen many if not most of these movies and usually enjoy them – even without my wife!!

One of my favorites is from Elizabeth Gaskel’s novel Wives and Daughters, set in 19th Century (1820’s pre Victorian) England. Its a story about Molly Gibson, the 17 year old daughter of a country town doctor, who finds herself endeared to the Hamley family due to Mrs. Hamley’s illness. The Hamley’s have two sons, Osbourn, the hope and future of the family, and Roger, the younger and least likely to succeed. It is a humorous and intriguing story of the pressures of a young lady, the propriety of English society and the frailty of a good reputation.

Now, as much as I like Action movies, there is something to be said about the substance of a movie like Wives and Daughters. There are many excellent and/or Biblical themes to be gleaned. The characters are varied and complex – my favorite being Squire Hamley, who’s country attitude toward the upper crust of British society is both refreshing and humorous. He always says what he is thinking and you can’t but help like the guy. Warninig! The movie is about 5 hours total (4 episodes), but well worth it.

So, if you want to have a nice long evening with your wife and enjoy a classic story at the same time, grab the popcorn, a copy of Wives & Daughters and enjoy…

Other A & E type movies I recommend…

  • Sense and Sensibility
  • Pride & Prejudice – the A&E version is much better than the more recent one with Kiera Knightly
  • Jane Ayre

Just to name a few…

A Modern Day Night

My son Gavin attends Redwood Christian Schools and just finished the 8th grade. We are all very proud of his accomplishments, just like any parents would be. He was honored to be a part of the leadership of the 8th grade class and was asked to close the graduation ceremonies in prayer. It was humbling and rewarding for me as a dad to hear my son pray before his peers and a large crowd and not once ask me for help! He did a great job and I am very proud of him.

Of course, friends and family were all present to celebrate the evening with him. (The picture at the left is Gavin and his youth leader, Shaun Ing) And, yes, that “is” a pink shirt – only real men wear them in public!

That is Gavin with his older sister, Vanessa, who will be going into 12th grade in the fall – but, of course, she says she is already a Senior.

Another activity took place prior to the graduation that I was not as prepared for or expecting. Gavin had been challenged at the beginning of the school year to be involved in a young men’s Bible Study during the Wednesday lunch hour. He had mentioned it in passing, but never really told me much about it (typical guy). Well, what I found out was that he had been a peasant, then a page, followed by a squire and that I was to have the privilege to knight my son with a name reflecting his gifts and character.

As part of the ceremony I was able to challenge Gavin and I chose Caleb as the man I wanted him to learn from. Caleb, a man of God, and a man of conviction. A man of strength, a warrior, but he was happy to not be the man that took center stage. He lived in the shadows of Joshua, and, in doing so, lived out his calling faithfully. I stressed to him that it is o.k. to not get the glory, because what is more important is bringing glory to God.

After my challenge I knighted my son “Sir Gavin of Noble Task” because God has gifted him with athletic ability, a grasp of God’s Word, a natural ability to lead, and a sensitivity to those who have been treated unjustly. I wanted him to be reminded that his giftedness should not be squandered on selfish endeavors, but rather for noble tasks.

Gavin is growing into a fine young man and I am praying that his faith in God will continue to grow and produce in him a passion for God’s glory.

Thank you D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones…

There are some preachers from more recent church history that have had a great impact on my life. One of them, whom I will quote often, is D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, once a leading British physician turned preacher during the late 1920’s. He was born in Cardiff, Wales, and his family attended a Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church (Now, if you can figure out how those words all go together without some conflict, please help me out).

His first church was in Aberavon, Wales, where he took a dying and very pragmatic church, reintroduced the systematic preaching of the Word, bringing revival to the church and then the town. After ten years he accepted the call to co-pastor with G. Campbell Morgan, an American pastor, at Westminster Chapel in London.

Ian Murray’s two volume biography of the life of Loyd-Jones is a rare treasure and excellent reading. I find that he faced many of the same issues that I face as a pastor in 2008. Certainly the garments of the issues are a little different, but in essence they are the same. Lloyd-Jones was a consistent reader and was instrumental in the beginning of printing quality books for Christian growth establishing the Banner of Truth and was instrumental in the birthing of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship.

As you can see, he was a very serious man and took his Bible study and preaching very seriously.

I praise the Lord for counselors like Lloyd-Jones who keep my nose in the Word of God rather than the latest fad that is blowing through Christian culture.

It is uncanny, but when I think about these men working together for the Gospel I can’t help but think about some of my other friends that I grew up with…

Would You Like to Visit the Gates of Hell?

I enjoy living in the California Bay area for a number of reasons. The weather, the beauty of the scenery, the changing ecosystems within miles of each other and the variety of ethnic food that is slowly adding to my fleshly burden.

So, when I have friends visit I enjoy giving them a view of where I live, but I love to ask them, “Have you ever been to the gates of hell?” It is a tongue in cheek question, but I truly mean it. When they say “no” I follow up with, well, it looks like it will be a great day to do just that.” Then I explain to them one of the incredible wonders that I have found located at the Art Museum at Stanford University.

Of course I play with it a little. I ask them what they think the gates of hell look like, or what they are expecting and when we arrive I take them immediately to the gates and have them contemplate for a few minutes.

The Gates of Hell is a sculpture created by Musee Rodin that depicts scenes from the Old Testament, contemporary cultural life and one person that really made me think (and this is not a pun). As you look at the sculpture you notice people in all sorts of circumstances being sucked into the gates with expressions of despair and hopelessness. But, sitting on top of the Gates of Hell is probably the best known sculpture of Rodin’s, The Thinker, who seems to be contemplating all that is taking place below.

It is amazing to me that a pagan could create such a masterful, visual and vivid picture of the predicament of mankind destined for a tormented eternity in hell. And to have The Thinker as the focal piece. Wow! There is something very humbling standing in front of this masterpiece. The weight of the world, the burden of the souls of man, the destiny of so many and the seriousness of the picture of man’s hopelessness and despair.

I enjoy visiting the Gates of Hell every now and then. It is a healthy reminder of the beauty of the certainty that I have as a child of God. I don’t have a thinker sitting above, I have the very Son of God, enthroned above, who has my soul in His safe and secure hands. He has snatched me from the Gates of Hell and will one day bring me to my inheritance prepared for me in heaven.

It is hard to imagine, but it is a certain truth that the Bible calls “our hope”. Let me encourage you to be the thinker for a few minutes today and contemplate man’s plight…

Heading To Russia

Let me tell you about a young lady whom God is using to encourage our Russian Brothers and Sisters. Last year, she, along with a collective camp team from our Northern California Antioch Initiative (notice blog link to side) served faithfully and established a deep-rooted trust between the churches in Bashkortostan and California. Well, she is going back for more.

Jamie Atkinson, a student at Simpson University in Redding, CA, and a member of CVFirst, will be assisting with the lively summer children’s ministry which includes working with the Street Kid’s Ministry (notice video’s at side), ministry in orphanages and in particular helping the running of two weeks of camp.

She will be working closely with Natalia & Victor Slobodyan who oversee all the children’s ministries for the Baptist Churches in Bashkortostan.

Please keep her in your prayers…

A Godly Jealousy

Our pastoral staff has been meeting regularly on Monday mornings from 9:30-11:00 and is at present reading and discussing Paul Tripp’s excellent book, “Instruments In The Redeemer’s Hands”.

This past week he highlighted 2 Corinthians 11:1-3. My first response to this passage was, “Is that really in the Bible?” Wow, it is, and am completely blown away by how much I identify with what the Apostle Paul is saying to his beloved Corinthian church. He says…

“I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that. I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to Him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

You can see how this pastor’s heart is expressed to the church that he loves. Notice that he is not talking about a church that is already deceived, but a church whose devotion to Christ is already sincere and pure. So, what he is saying here isn’t a put down, or a reflection on their ineptitude or weakness, but rather it is a genuine and loving recognition of the power of deception and of drifting.

Often, we as pastors are misunderstood when we bring deception to the attention of our flocks or expose false teaching for what it is. It is often viewed as condescending or that somehow we think we are above or better than our people. But, the reality is that we are truly jealous for the flock that God has entrusted to us and that we desire to present to Him. We are carefully looking out over the landscape watching to see if danger is on the horizon or even cropping up from within our own ranks. This is not a panic, a form of pastoral anxiety, or something that consumes us. No, it is part of our God-given responsibility and we (I) will stand before God one day and give account for our (my) faithfulness in this regard.

That is why Paul calls it a “godly jealousy.” It is good and it is right for me to think that way about the church that I love – CVFirst – and, because I know you are promised to Christ, I want to do all I can to present you as a pure virgin to Him.

Now as I do that I want you to see that our difficulties, struggles, disappointments and blessings are all preparation — pre-marital counseling if you will — for the wedding that is to come in heaven. All our experiences “now” are preparation for “then”. So, in the now we must be willing to be discerning, careful and clear concerning what is healthy and not healthy for God’s bride. To pursue holiness for the marriage to come.

“Hands In”

Here is an article written to prepare and encourage our church family regarding the “Hands In” series which challenged them to consider what it means for us to be a team putting their “Hand In” together…

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Me and Don (right)It always amazes me, yet, I realize that I should never be amazed by God’s hand at work, for it is clear that He has purposefully worked in and through us to establish and direct His will among us. Now, I realize that you have heard this story a number of times, but it is worth repeating to give context to what God has in store for us this summer.

Let me take you back to March of 2006. Don Ott (right), my associate and I, were on a return journey from Napa. I shared the burden and concern that God had put on my heart that we needed to glean a more complete understanding of where we were as a church. That conversation developed into 8 months of dialogue with Deacons, staff, groups in our church and individual interviews which we labeled as “Rediscovering CVFirst.” It was during this time that we determined the health, nature and mission of our church.

The fruit of those intense months produced an 18 week “Rediscovering CVFirst” series where we unfolded our new Mission/Vision: “We exist to know God, love God and live according to His will so that we can present everyone complete in Christ.” And during this series we drilled into our heads and hearts three words that described that mission: Learning, Loving and Living. This was an important and foundational step because we needed to know who we were, why we existed and what God was calling us to do.

Next, we spent 8 weeks in a church wide emphasis on evangelism and sought to develop our focus and abilities to become Contagious Christians. For many it was an opportunity to find common ground in the Gospel and a common language to express the often difficult ministry of sharing the Gospel. We developed testimonies, practiced sharing our faith and encouraged one another along the way.

Now, maybe you are getting the picture that we were not following an orchestrated plan out of some book, but were, at ever step, praying about our needs as a church and seeking to determine where God would have us go next. It became very clear that He wanted us to park for a few months (18 weeks) in Hebrews 10:19-12:17 and take notice that as a people of faith we needed to Keep our Eyes Fixed on Jesus Christ. Each character in the hall of faith was another example shouting at us that we could be a people of faith and that in every situation we could keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. That took us through 2007.

As we approached 2008, once again, through prayer, waiting on God and careful assessment of the needs of our church we embarked on a journey to emphasize our need as a church to be a team – to have our Hands In together for His glory. And, as we unfolded what this series would look like to our staff we began to talk about our burden for reaching Castro Valley.

Now, looking back, 20/20 visions kicks in and God’s purposes working in and through us begin to take focus. We can see that He is now asking us to…

1) Mobilize on our mission with a vision.

2) That the mobilization would be evangelistic in nature.

3) That the evangelistic mobilization would require a grounded faith in God, His purposes and plans, and a determination to keep our eyes fixed on Him.

4) That this mobilization would be a team effort. Not just something that the staff is doing, but a ministry that our whole church is embracing, praying over, preparing for and partnering in.

We are calling this evangelistic team mobilization “Mission CV”. If you are a part of our church then you are a part of the team. You have a place and a role to play. This is not a time to sit back and watch the others “do” ministry. It is an opportunity to learn, love and live for the glory of God. And for us to be effective as a team we have to agree on some basic things…

Team players need to embrace the right playbook.

The Bible – it is our standard, our guide and God’s revealed will for us every time and all the time.

Team players need to affirm the right purpose.

Based on the Bible we see our need to know Him, love Him and live according to His will so that we can present everyone complete in Christ.

Team players need to acknowledge the right positions.

For a team to be effective each player must understand the different roles necessary to play the game. God’s Word is clear as to the different positions, or gifts, in the church and to the effective utilization of every member of the Body to do the will of God.

Team players need to exercise the right practice.

Flabby team players are not usually effective, but those who apply themselves to the needed discipline of training can be ready and will be much more effective when it is time to play. Similarly, we are to be exercising ourselves toward godliness or pursuing growth toward Christ-likeness. It requires some hard work, but the payoff is great.

Team players need to rest on the right power.

Our source of strength needed in order to play the game is found in our obedience, prayer and the ministry of the Holy Spirit freely at work in and through our lives.

Team players need to nurture the right partnerships.

We can’t evangelize the whole world, but we can join together with others who are impacting various places around the world. In our case that means Russia, Africa, Indonesia, India, New Zealand, China, and Korea to name a few. It also means college campuses, city missions, local outreaches.

Team players need to pursue the right prize.

There is usually some kind of trophy, prize or bragging rights for a successful team. We, however, do not boast in ourselves and only rejoice that we have been faithful to please the Father by our faithfulness to His revealed will.

Now all of these things are important, but they assume something…that there will be a game to play in. Listen, a team doesn’t do all these things to not play in the game. Playing the game “is” the reason to meet, learn, and practice. It does us no good if our uniforms are nice, we know and understand our positions or that we have mastered the skills of kicking or hitting a ball with strength if we don’t have a game to play in.

The good news is that we do have a game, and although that game should take place everyday in our homes and neighborhoods, cubicles and lunchrooms, campuses and coffeehouses, we as a CVFirst team want to focus our efforts together this summer over the two months of July and August in an effort to reach out to Castro Valley.

This cannot be done by sitting in the stands or retreating to the comforts of your home. It can be done if we are truly burdened for our community, praying for God’s will to be accomplished and are willing to be used in any way He sees fit.

God is on the move and you are part of the team.

Will you be at practice? Will you follow the playbook? Will you be ready to play in the game? No signups are required! No cuts are allowed!

Let’s play…and for His Glory!

A Tribute to Dad

On May 17th in La Habra, CA, I, along with my brother Jeff, had the privilege of watching my father, Aubrey Thomas Balmforth Phillips, graduate from California Graduate School of Theology with a Doctor of Ministry degree.

We had arrived on the Friday and made our way to the Art Gallery at the Crystal Cathedral for a banquet in honor of the graduates. We enjoyed walking around the grounds of the Cathedral, taking in the water fountains, the many life size bronze Bible Story statues, and the interesting architecture – very 60’s.

Of course, my excitement began to rise and I knew that a leap was in the works. So, having trained my brother in the art of taking a “leaping” picture the hopping began. In just two shots he mastered the timing and struck gold as I was in full stretch with the Cathedral behind and my slightly amused and embarrassed father looking on. Once the job had been done I felt a relief and a satisfaction and we all pressed on toward the Art Gallery ready to eat and fellowship with others who were gathering.

When we arrived, however, we realized that being punctual for dinner meant that we were actually half an hour early, so we small talked with the hosts and ventured out into the courtyard to look at the 100 year old olive trees. While looking at the trees a middle aged lady who seemed to know her way around whispered to us, “Would you like to see inside the Cathedral?” To which we all responded, “Yes, of course!” She led us over the Cathedral…which was dusty and dirty – not quite as crystal as I had imagined it to be. Then when inside we noticed the strange and unusual seating, the placement of the choir and the platform from where the Schuller family preaches their message of self esteem and positive thinking. We all took pictures inside and I was given permission to enjoy a leap. The lady humored by my strange practice encouraged me, but asked that I don’t leap on the marble floor – apparently looking at me she was concerned about a medical issue – sheesh! With the job done once again, and with a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, I joined my father and brother for the events of the evening: salad, roast beef, garlic mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, bread rolls and cheese cake to finish things off. We all enjoyed spending time with two fellow Britt’s who happened to be the president of the School and his wife – Mr. & Mrs. Roger T. Beckwith. They were the tenderest couple, sweet and gently spoken. He was a graduate of Oxford and taught in the religion department for over 40 years.

The next day, Saturday, we arrived at the school for the commencement ceremonies. My father dressed up in his regalia looked extremely smart. He was very proud of his accomplishment, as were his counselors. He had been working on this degree many years ago and then set it aside due to some life changes. The school sought him out and encouraged him to finish what he had started and at age 85 he finished the job. His dissertation on the “Ministry of Elijah” has been a life’s study; so much of it flowed when it was time to write. My brother Jeff spent many hours helping my dad with the layout and printing requirements for the dissertation. But now, it was all done, and received well by the dissertation committee.

My father would be Dr. Aubrey Thomas Balmforth Phillips. Wow! I am really proud of his accomplishment and his example and he has put a fire under me to finish my schoolwork too…but I have 42 years left to work it all out.

To my father – Well Done! You deserve the honor and the reward…

My First Official Post

Today I embark on a new journey, and I hope that you will come and join me every once in a while. I have spent some time interacting in the blogosphere, mainly for missions trips and for keeping people posted on the continuing news of ministry in Ufa, Bashkortostan. But today, I begin my own personal blog.

You might be asking, “Why blog?” Well, I want this to be an opportunity to fill in the gaps of your awareness of who I am, to talk about things that I might not get to talk about from the pulpit because of time constraints, appropriateness or simply because it would put people to sleep. I also want you to get to know me, my family, my loves and of course my strange sense of humor (ask my wife about that one!)

I have set as my goal a blog post for every day. Some will be short (a paragraph or two) and others will be articles on some aspect of life and ministry. Sometimes it will be to tell a story, at other times it will be commenting on a particularly significant point of theology, or it may simply be me being goofy.

Now, what I need from you is participation. Comments, as I think you will understand, will always be monitored and approved, but I want to hear your thoughts and ideas as I propose mine. It is O.K. to disagree as long as we are willing to be Christ-like in our disagreement.

So, welcome and join me as often as you can…

Rod