Mt. Hope Avenue Mission

Last night I was up late doing what I love to do most, dive into a dusty old book! This particular book is a late 19th century robust history of Detroit and Michigan. Wouldn’t you know it, Mt. Hope was and is counted worthy to be mentioned on a short list of important congregational ministries in Detroit. This book was published in 1884. Notice Mount Hope on the right side of the third image in this post.

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Notice what it says, “Mt. Hope Avenue Mission.” Mount Hope was founded as a local missionaries Sunday School endeavor. Our Mission is rooted in our history and our history is rooted in mission! God isn’t just calling us to be, but created us to be, a group of Jesus followers who’s Mission is to share the Good News of God’s love in Christ! We are a chosen people. We are loved people. We are the people of God!

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We or a part of historic Church, but we are not relegated to the pages of history! God is at work in calling us to life on mission today!

Notice further, the Mt. Hope Mission was built at a cost of $400 on least ground in 1882. Our current parking lot renovation cost, let’s say, many times more than that. We are a “Divinely Resourced” people! God has given and will continue to give us everything we need to prosper in accordance with is calling on our lives as a cluster of Christian families and as it fellowship of believers.

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I’m excited to be your Pastor today because I know that God’s provision and protection remain on His people and His calling is as grand and eternal as it is beautiful in the simplest of details. Many blessings in Christ and… In the grip of his grace!

Pastor Chris

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September 2019 Congregationalist Magazine, Galatians 6:2, Pastor Surber

I’m excited about my article in the September 2019 issue of The Congregationalist Magazine. (Pages 25,27 – this is a screenshot image. follow the link below to download the .PDF magazine) There are some other great articles worth reading. Notice the smiling face of Kim Quint, who went with Christina, the kids, and me to Haiti, along with several other folks and her husband Jay Quint, daughter Emily Quint, and a team of folks from Mt Hope and Harvest Bible Church in nearby Westland, MI. Kenneth R. ErtmanSue CasbarAnnMarie Bulbuk Dan McGhee

http://www.congregationalist.org/MagUploads/MagazineIssue_121_The%20Congregationalist%20magazine%209-2019%20WEB.pdf 

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Come Home to Grace, Sermon August 25, 2019, Rev.Dr. Chris Surber

Love Stained Glass
Love Stained Glass, Mt Hope Congregational Church

“The Unveiling of Deity,” John 3:12-17

The Experiment of Faith

Introduction

For years, I have been telling people that Haitian Creole is rooted in French and that many of the words are just slightly altered French. I have said that to a number of French speakers and then had them report to us how baffled they are by so much of Creole. Their French skills will work sometimes, especially with more highly educated Haitian people who are learning modern French in the university. Well, their in lies the problem. Haitian Creole is the amalgamation of French, Spanish, and West African Tribal Languages, 17th Century French! “Both Haitian Creole and French have experienced semantic change; words that had a single meaning in the 17th century have changed or have been replaced in both languages. For example, “Ki jan ou rele?” (“What is your name?”) corresponds to the French Comment vous appelez vous ? Although the average French speaker would not understand this phrase, every word in it is in fact of French origin: qui “what”; genre “manner”; vous “you”, and héler “to call”, but the verb héler has been replaced by appeler in modern French and reduced to mean “to flag down.”

 

Language is a manner of communication, whereby we attempt to express an idea or impression that exists in our mind, quite possible only in form of an image or series of impressions and feelings, to the mind and heart of another person. Language is horribly imperfect bridge to transport ideas.

 

CIS: God revealed Himself fully in Christ. In order to share Christ with one another and to the world we must learn to speak God’s language in the world.

 

Transition

Human language is imperfect but it is what we have. We must cultivate care in the art of langue and learn that God’s language is not only or even primarily about words. We are called to reflect the unveiling of deity in Christ; Sometimes in words but always in ways consistent with the person of Jesus.

Exposition Let us consider first how it is that God has communicated to us in Christ.

 

What does that mean? What is Bushnell saying? There is a very real sense in which Jesus atoned for our sin in terms of taking our punishment upon Himself. This is salvation in a kind of legal sense. This is Jesus as advocate and judge taking our life sentence. He grants us a truly unconditional pardon.

 

This is a little like the judge for Carmelie’s adoption who required us to take several extra steps in her adoption to make the decree iron clad. God didn’t just pardon us without merit. He revealed His perfect nature of love and justice, truth and grace, in Jesus and then transferred His life to us in blood.

 

That is pictured, revealed artfully, in communion. “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:20b NASB) However, the simple knowledge that there is a pardon available seldom leads anyone into a genuine and honest relationship with God. The knowledge that there is a pardon for sin available in Jesus leads no further than the lobby of religious tradition. It seldom leads to honest religion that warms our heart and transforms the actions of our hands in the world – making us living reflections of the love, truth, power, and justice of God revealed in Christ.

 

Bushnell is calling us beyond the language of a courtroom into the language of a royal dance hall. These notions caused a great deal of controversy in his day because he was calling Christians to think and feel their way more clearly into answering the great question, “Who are we saved from whom in Christ?”

 

Are we being saved from the wrath of God through Jesus who implores the Father to relent from His deep desire to destroy us? Or are we being saved from ourselves who, in our self-destructive nature, nearly refuse to receive the deep fellowship offered to us by God because of His love for us?

 

Jesus did not come into the world to save us from wrath to spite the cruelty of His Father. Jesus is the fullness of the revelation of God’s love for man! Jesus said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” (John 14:9) Christ is the fullness of the revelation of God, not an alternative deity. God in Christ is rescuing from ourselves! The language of God is love and that love is expressed in portrait of Christ on the Cross. The Blood of Jesus covers our sin. It is the method of God. The Love of God in Christ calls us home. It is the motive of God. Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s love, not wrath. Jesus on the Cross is an artful, living, painful, bloody, soul-rending, communication from God to man that grabs hold of our hearts beyond the capacity of words.

 

The message of Christ is a message of pure hope. It is God saying, “This is how much I love you, no matter what…” Too often, the message of the Church and of individual Christians is “God does not love unless…” Conditional love is not consistent with the love of God revealed in Christ. What kind of love do you carry in your heart when Christ is the content of your thoughts? Did Jesus, in our conception, die only to appease the wrath of the Father, even perhaps against His will, or is He the artful expression of the deep, not entirely explicable love of God for you and me and everyone?

 

How consistent is my understanding of the love of God in Christ? How consistent is my communication of that love to the world around me? Have we narrowly escaped the wrath of the Father or are we the formerly lost sheep that God left the 99 in Christ to discover, rescue, and cover in love? Our conception of God’s love for each of us frees or cages our heart’s ability to be the reflection of God’s love in Christ to the world around us.

 

Conclusion

The limitations of communication with words is a despicable curse. That is what the biblical account of the Tower of Babel is saying to us. While I take that account as historical and literal, whether you take as such or not, the psychosocial implications are obvious. The difficulty of communication is a constant and present reality and directly linked to sin and the curse associated with the rebellion of the human heart to God. It harms us.

 

My wife Christina accumulated a whole host of quirks of communication that took me years to get over! Have you ever heard of a hoppergrass? Me neither but apparently that is another way to say grasshopper – for her at least!  At the recent funeral for my dear friend Dine Baldwin, the funeral home attendant kept saying to me that the repass would be the last event. I had no idea what he was saying! I am an experienced professional Pastor. I did not want to ask and seem ignorant of something he considered clearly to be so obvious and self-evident. I asked my wife. She had never heard the phrase. I finally found the humility to ask. It turns out a repass is a funeral reception.

 

The Cross is the artful, painful, loving, needful, treacherous, and perfect communication of God to man that His love is available. Come Home. “Jesus Christ was and is the Savior of all humankind and indeed of all creation. The transcendent God, beyond the reach of our minds, has entered our world with a saving power in a way that we can only grasp by faith.”  In the expression of that faith, we should mimic God in Christ. Everything we need to know about communicating Christ to world is found at the Cross. We share His love through actual acts of sacrifice. We grow to know His love more completely as we grow through sacrifice. Keep thinking that you will be happier if you comfortable. That trap will enslave the mind and heart.

 

This sentiment is at least a part of the practical application of Hebrews 12:2. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV84) Sacrifice. Service. Sharing the love of God in Christ. These alone are where joy is found!

 

This is what Jesus is saying in Luke 17:33 and related passages, “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (NIV84) Love is His message, calling us home. Love is to be our message through acts of real service, sacrifice, and separation to God, calling them home. Amen.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking isn’t the tool of the judgemental Pharisee, the hypocritical know-it-all, or the despondent postmodern man that has lost his faith in the transcendent divine. Critical thinking isn’t that kind of criticism. Tearing down. Dismantling simply for the sake of something being historic or classic.

Critical thinking means to carefully analyze the evidence, the details, and come to a wise conclusion as unencumbered as possible buy nonsensical influences, a logical assumptions, or absurd ways of thinking.

Critical thinking may lead you to conclusions but you don’t want to arrive at. It’s like Gil Grissom’s character on the television show CSI. “We go where the evidence leads us.” It is critical thinking, not blind faith, it is examination of the evidence, not pie-in-the-sky thinking, that has led me to the conclusion that Christ really rose from the dead and that I am His and He is mine.

There’s much I don’t understand, but all the evidence, from the disciples willingness to die to the rise of the early church under the radical persecution, leads me to believe that those men suffered and died for a savior they saw die on a cross and rise again.

A Creation Sermon

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“A Creation Sermon,” Hebrews 11:1-6, The Experiment of Faith

 Introduction

Malcolm Muggeridge wrote, “O God, stay with me; let no word cross my lips that is not your word, no thoughts enter my mind that are not your  thoughts, no deed ever be done or entertained by me that is not your deed. Amen.” That was my own prayer, and its form is an exception. That is why I wrote it down because I don’t very often feel induced to address my Creator in that sort of way. To me prayer is a sort of understanding.” I agree entirely.

I often pray in sentences, clauses, and direct statements to God. More frequently in prayer, I am silent listening for the still small voice of God, for a prompting, for clarity, feeling with my spirit for His presence. As often, I am silently seeking an understanding of Him. That understanding is faith.

CIS: The essence of prayer is faith. The foundation of faith is taking God at his Word about who I am, who He is, and how I may relate to Him.

Transition

This morning, I want us to see the connection between how we understand creation and the life of prayer. My thesis is something like this: how directly we understand God’s hand in our personal and collective creation directly relates to our ability to know God personally and collectively. In other words, only when I understand that God created me directly and personally will I have the ability to cultivate a direct and personal prayer life with Him.

Exposition

Why does Genesis and the biblical account of creation matter and what does it have to do with prayer? How we understand the shaping of the Universe, the Galaxies, the World, and us, shapes our understanding of our relationship to our creator at a fundamental level. Who is the God that made me? How did He create? Why did He make me?  Can I relate to Him directly and how?

How God created us holds the key to understanding why He created us…

There are three major Christian views as to how God created:

(1) Young Earth Creationism. This is sometimes called YEC. A popular voice for this view is Answers in Genesis with multiple platforms for education, ranging from videos, books, and curriculum to their creation museum and recreation of Noah’s Ark. The books, commentaries, and ideas of the late scientist Henry Morris remain popular among those who hold this view.

The essential tenants of this view are that God literally created the universe, the world, all the creatures in the world, and in six literal 24-hour periods. The Hebrew word “Yom” that is used in Genesis and translated “Day” in English literally means one day – a 24-hour period. It is used in that context in every place in the Old Testament, including when the sun “stood still” for 24 hours in Joshua chapter 10. This is based on a literal-grammatical reading of the text and a simple and plain reading of the Bible within the context that the Sacred Scriptures are the revealed Word of God.

(2) Day-Age Creationism. Another attempt to accommodate science to a literal, or mostly literal, reading of the Bible is the day-age theory. Here religion is accommodated to science by having each of the six days of creation be not twenty-four hours but long periods of time — even thousands or millions of years. This allows for recognition of an ancient age of Earth but still retains a quite literal interpretation of Genesis.

(3) Theistic Evolution. Theistic evolution is a theological view in which God creates through the laws of nature. Theistic evolutionists accept all the results of modern science, in anthropology and biology as well as in geology and elsewhere. Views vary in whether and how much God intervened — some believe that God created the laws of nature and allows events to occur with no further intervention. Others believe that God intervenes at critical intervals during the history of life (especially in the origin of humans). [1]

You can hold to any of these views and be a Christian. This is not about salvation. This is about knowing God. This is about knowing that God created you and me intentionally and with immediate and direct purpose.

The trouble with theistic evolution, as it relates to knowing God, is that the God who creates over countless millennia through evolution does so from a distance and with seemingly no regard for the immensity of the pain and suffering involved in millions and millions of creatures over millions and millions of years torturously grinding out survival as they evolve. That God is more like a detached mind behind evolution than a personal God. Then He pops on the scene after perhaps billions of silent years to know us personally?

This view is that of those who make the mistake of insisting that religious claims must line up with scientific claims to be valid. I do not think they do. There are many other possibilities. Religious claims are different categorically from scientific claims. They do not have to line up. They are different sorts of claims. In addition, modern science is always evolving like the evolution of the species that it increasingly claims as known fact, rather than theory.

 

Appearance of age is well explained by the Noahic Flood. (answersingenesis.org)

The trouble with day-age creationism, as it relates to knowing God, is less obvious but a bit more sinister. This view acts as if it is taking the biblical account seriously but instantly allegorizes the creation account. It sets out a manner of biblical interpretation that, if applied to the rest of Scripture, makes me the judge of what parts of the Bible ought to be taken directly as revealed truth and which I can say are allegory.

Both of these views turn biblical history on its head. They both say that perhaps the Genesis account is just a retelling of other ancient creation myths such as those of the Mesopotamians. If we take biblical history seriously, we can easily account for the commonality of creation myths with the Genesis account. At the Tower of Babel, humankind were spread throughout the world. They took variations on the Genesis account with them, retelling it from a place of having lost connection from their source, the God of creation. As the nations were paganized, the account of creation was paganized.

What is a sound way of considering our creation? What is a way of viewing creation that aids our ability to know God? Must we accept and hold firm to a literal 6-day creation to be saved in Christ? None of us was present at creation. None of us was present in the garden. We have in front of us, however, the record of Scripture, which was affirmed by the Early Church and the resurrection of Jesus to many witnesses, to be the Word of God.

The Bible, though, while commenting on science and history and containing the same is primarily a religious, not a scientific text. It makes theological claims which are frankly of a higher and more eternal order than that of human science, which is as helpful as it is often arrogant. What, then are we left to do and believe and how are we to think about our creation?

I accept first the primacy of Scripture. I see in the creation account the beauty of the intentionality of my creator in having created me to know Him. I read the creation account and the entire Bible through a historical-grammatical lens. The doctrines of salvation, which are intrinsically linked to Christ, are laid in Genesis, when God tells us that He will send the seed of man to crush the head of the deceitful serpent, who will bruise His, heal. That is the foretelling of Jesus at the Cross crushing Satan’s hold upon us in sin.

I read the Bible as God’s Word to me, telling me how I may know Him. That knowledge of Him begins with our intentional creation and ends with our intentional salvation. That is collective for the Church and personal for me.

Did God use evolution in creation? I am unconvinced, but perhaps He did. I am primarily concerned with knowing God and not with pleasing man. I am concerned with being a fool for Christ, not appearing wise to men. My faith, which is of eternal consequence if it true, is of far more real and personal consequence than thinking that my thinking must be in line with the fickle, limited, ever shifting, thoughts of even the most brilliant men.

 

I am free of any sense of obligation to synthesize my faith

with the findings of men, even brilliant men, in the world.

Even if God did use evolution in the creation of man, one still must explain the ex-nihilo creation of the universe, matter, and me.

Conclusion

The foundation for knowing God is, indeed, a kind of understanding. That understanding must be rooted in the knowledge that He created you and me with purpose. That is why it matters how we think about how He did that.

That is why it matters that we think about how and why He did that.

Verse three of our text for today, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Hebrews 11:3 NIV84)

Henry Morris said the Genesis creation account refutes atheism because the universe was created by God. It refutes pantheism [God as spirit of the universe] for God is transcendent. It refutes polytheism for one God created. It refutes materialism for matter had a beginning. It refutes dualism because God alone created. It refutes humanism because God, not man, is the ultimate reality. It refutes evolution because God created all things.

The essence of prayer is knowing God. The foundation for knowing God is knowing that He created us with intentionality and purpose. Don’t settle for a man-centered view of the world. We were created to know God. Amen.

[1] https://ncse.com/library-resource/creationevolution-continuum.

Reinhold Niebuhr and Faith Applied in the Real World.

I recently ran across Mayflower Baptist Church, formerly Bethel Evangelical Church, where Reinhold Niebuhr was Pastor in the early 1900’s for 15 years before leaving Detroit in 1928 to Teach at Union Seminary in New York for 30 years.

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Reinhold Niebuhr

From New York he had his most fruitful and productive years commenting on politics and society from a distinctly Christ-centered point of view. I’ve been busy racking up late fees in the Michigan library system digging into what he wrote. He spoke a lot about the collective responsibility of the Church and Christians everywhere to care about and participate in bringing the justice of God to bear in practical ways in the real lives of actual people in the world through various means of engagement in the processes that make up the world social systems.

I’ve always been skeptical of Christian involvement in anything that looks like politics. I remain skeptical, largely because of the political excesses of modern Evangelicalism and being co-opted by political parties and modern Liberal Christians being guilty, I would suggest, of similar things, just in a different direction. Somehow, we’ve got to be bearers of the image of God in the world, putting Christ on display in every possible way without being co-opted by political parties and agendas.

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Bethel Evangelical Church

I’m fascinated by Niebuhr’s thoughts and life. It was Haiti’s plight that opened my eyes to the effects of ecology, sociology, economics, labor conditions, racism, corruption, and similar realities upon the spiritual conditions of people. There is of course biblical instruction for growth under difficult circumstances. There is also the reality that God is calling His Church to bring His power to bear in both leading people to freedom spiritually through faith in Christ and to share compassion in the real physical circumstances of people’s lives! (Matthew 25, 28, James I)

I don’t know if any serious minded Pastor-Scholar in our country will have the kind of influence of Niebuhr again. However, together, we can put our hands to the same plow and not look back. I heard Niebuhr in an interview with the late James Baldwin say, “The Protestant Church too often sentimentalizes love, avoiding action. Love is the motivation. Justice is the tool.”

The Gospel preached sets men free eternally in Christ. Free men fight the battles of liberating others from spiritual and physical chains. Christianity is not an escapist religion. It is a here and now revolution motivated by a love of eternal origin and consequence.

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Pastor Chris Surber

 

The Bible is our Lighthouse.

In the modern age we find ourselves adrift psychologically, philosophically, and spiritually. When each man is his own guide, he has a fool as his leader. How can we navigate the complexities of post-modernity apart from a lighthouse calling us safely home to the shores of sanity?

To find safety from the storm of ideas raging about us, we must not live in isolation from our creator, His Church, or His Word revealed to us as a guide to navigate the world on our pilgrimage home to Heaven. Where the Church rejects the Word of God, she stumbles, falls, even ceases to be the Church…

  • In an age of irreverence, calls to holiness are seen only as harsh criticism.
  • In an age of unbelief, calls to truth will always be regarded as judgmental.
  • In an age of compromise, biblical calls will be seen as archaic and foolish.
  • In an age of controversy, the prophet is judged; his message disregarded.
  • In an age of skepticism, prayer is suspect; man is removed from his source.

In an age of disrespect, a man honors his opinion above else and turns the pursuit of knowledge inward, cutting himself off from all right sources of truth, knowledge, and wisdom. Consequently, men, even men who claim to be Christian, become pagan. Irreverence removes the possibility of worship.

Unbelief removes the possibility of growth. Compromise nullifies the fertility of faith. Controversy dims our interest in the possibility of knowable facts. We are left to eat only the skeptic’s rotten fruit of eternal questioning, of a meandering pilgrimage leading nowhere to do nothing.

Bolster reverence in abandonment to worship and prayer. Bolster belief with teachability. Kill compromise by choosing this day whom we will serve. Cut through the fog of controversy with the two edged sword of the Word of God. Open the Bible and pursue its truth. Reconnect to the source of life in prayer and discover real power to reshape our skeptic hearts on the forge of faith.

“The man who does not pray is attempting the live his life in isolation.”[1]

At the root of Christian faith is choice to believe in invisible beauty rather than visible destruction. It is choosing the promise of Christ on the evidence of His resurrection rather than the emptiness of the world on the present visible evidence of its constant destruction. Hope heavenward and find the real spiritual power to reconstruct a life of purpose, meaning, and hope in this world.

To find real elevation for living, we have to set aside the all too common self-adulation of our culture and learn that truth that when we humble ourselves in the sight of God, He will life us up!

[1] The Experiment of Faith, Fiske, 1917