From Chaos to Deliverance

Photo by Samara Doole on Unsplash

by Zach Simons

Baptism is one of the greatest privileges of the church to witness. Partaking of this act of worship and obedience is crucial to the mission of the church (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” — Matthew 28:19-20). It would be impossible to unpack all the significance of this sacrament in a short letter like this, but I want to pause and highlight a few aspects as we prepare for Sunday.

In the Old Testament worldview, water is the realm of chaos. Genesis tells us that, in the beginning, God’s Spirit hovered over the waters. It wasn’t until he separated the waters from the dry land that creation became habitable. Later, creation was destroyed by flood, yet God preserved Noah and his family in an ark of protection and salvation. Then, as God led his people out of Egypt, he did so by parting the waters of the Red Sea, leading them down into it and safe out of it on the other side; then bringing the waters down to cover and destroy their enemies. In fact, all throughout the Old Testament, the drowning, destroying, chaotic waters become instruments for the deliverance of God’s people.

In the New Testament, we find the practice of baptism by John the Baptist; a going down into the waters and an immersion signifying deliverance and repentance. Baptism always carries with it that element of deliverance from the chaos and destruction of sin, a rebirth through water with all its dangers and possibilities. Beyond this, the gospel infuses this act with rich significance. When Jesus commands the church to baptize disciples, it is because of this significance:

  • Baptism unites us to Christ’s death (going down into the water) and resurrection (rising up out of it). “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” — Romans 6:3-4
  • Baptism into Christ involves us in a new society, the church. In scripture, baptism not only defines our personal identity by uniting us with Jesus, it also defines our social identity as a member of the body of Christ.
  • Baptism into Christ signifies washing away of our sins. As water washes our bodies clean, so the water of baptism signifies the washing away the stains of sin, regardless of our past.
  • Baptism is the sign and seal of our new spiritual life. In Titus 3:5 Paul calls baptism “the water of rebirth,” and in John 3:5 Jesus speaks of being “born again by water and the Spirit.” When we trust Christ as Lord and Savior, our spirits are born anew; taken from darkness to light. Baptism signifies this.

For these reasons and more, we as the church ought to rejoice in witnessing something so rich and wonderful.

About a Family

By Josh Hughes

Of all the word pictures the Scriptures use for the church, “family” is perhaps my favorite. Why? Because even when it’s difficult, family is pretty wonderful. In a family, we give and receive care. We work through conflict. We bear burdens. We hold one another up in prayer. We share what we have without expectation of reciprocation. We delight to be present with one another. We give ourselves away for each other’s flourishing.

I left our family meeting last Wednesday with a renewed sense of wonder and a heart filled with gratitude at the fact that God has made us a family. It’s a great joy to walk with the people of Four Oaks in the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).

My wife recently took a few well-deserved days away with some beloved friends, and I was reminded of how desperately a family needs every member playing his or her part in order to be healthy and functional (turns out that for whatever progress I’ve made at our family’s version of “dad-stuff,” I’m lousy at the “mom-stuff.” I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that relative to the omni-competence of my wife, I am a complete idiot). As I was thanking God for my sweet Katie and all that she does to make our family go, I took a minute to thank God for the many who are steadfastly serving in our faith family as well. Here’s a sampling of what I came up with:

…for our community group leaders who struggle with us in the word and prayer over the application of the gospel in our lives so that care, mission and community might thrive.

…for our many deacons who have been generously giving of their time and energy to scheme service and care for our family and for our neighbors.

…for our myriad of Sunday volunteers who give up a measure of Lord’s day rest and time with loved ones to play music, teach and pray over our children, show hospitality, and serve behind the scenes so we can gather.

…for the dedicated souls on our staff team who are constantly coming up with creative ways to maximize the resources of the church for mission.

…for my brothers on the pastoral team who labor diligently and humbly for your sake.

…for the non-vocational elders who serve us generously and wisely with their perspective and care.

…for our men’s and women’s Bible study leaders who apply themselves every week to the Scriptures for our up-building.

…for our redemption group leaders who gladly step into the mess of difficult care situations so that hurting people might make progress in the gospel.

…for our student ministry volunteers who patiently shepherd souls through the labyrinth that is adolescence.

I could go on and on. The point is, to everyone who sacrifices to make Four Oaks go, I thank you and I love you. What a joy is to dwell in unity with you. Together. As a family.

Safari Animal Pastors

by Paul Gilbert

The summer is in full swing, and so is ministry around here at Four Oaks.
Recently, in honor of the kick off of our Safari Sundays in kids ministries, I asked all of our future spiritual leaders of tomorrow to do something "fun": to draw a picture of a pastor in the shape of their favorite safari animal.
We had many many entries, but here are a few that really distinguish themselves....

"I'm Pastor Paul and I'm a BALD Eagle" by Kara Middleton

"I'm Pastor Paul and I'm a BALD Eagle" by Kara Middleton

"Pastor Paul as a Monkey" by Kaylah Feldman

"Pastor Paul as a Monkey" by Kaylah Feldman

"I am Pastor Paunda" (with New Coke)

"I am Pastor Paunda" (with New Coke)

"Pastor of the Forest"

"Pastor of the Forest"

As you are marveling at the uncanny likeness between these jungle creatures and yours truly, remember to pray for our 4Oaks Kids ministry this summer. In addition to Safari Sundays, there is Salt and Light camp and VBS on the horizon.
Pray that God would do a great work of grace the lives of our kids. Pray for our children staff and volunteers. And remember to thank our children's ministry team members investing themselves in our little ones. 
Pray for fruit and grace this summer.

Lamenting in Prayer

By Scott Stake

As many of you know, this past week was a very difficult time for the Four Oaks family. With several of our members losing loved ones, we are faced with the painful reality that we live in a fallen world filled with sin, sorrow, and suffering. And our hearts ache with them.

In these hard places, we can sometimes feel at a loss for how God wants us to respond. In fact, we might even wonder if it's okay to grieve. But if you were with us on Sunday, you know that one practice God invites us into and that we pursued corporately is lamentation. To lament is to tell the Lord about a difficult situation and to cry out honestly before Him and ask Him for help.

If you're not familiar with lament, honestly I wasn’t either until recently. While laments are regularly featured in the psalms, we often neglect this form of prayer and wonder if it’s even biblical. However, as D.A. Carson says, “There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but to a faith so robust it wrestles with God” (How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, p. 67).

So, over the past several months, I’ve begun praying and lamenting before the Lord over difficulties and pains in my life and have found great comfort, freedom, peace, and hope. I’ve carried my burdens to Him and cried out to Him and have received grace, mercy, and strength from Him in my places of brokenness. Sometimes I’ve prayed through certain psalms of lament (examples include Psalms 6, 13, 42, and 77) and other times I’ve simply lamented with no particular guide. (Note: the basic pattern of a psalm of lament is address to God & introductory cry, complaint or lament, confession of trust, prayer for deliverance, and praise.)

If you’re interested in connecting with the Lord in this way, here are a few things to consider.

  1. Set aside time and space. In order to lament, we must learn to slow down and get time away with God. Too often, we use busyness to hide our pain and distract ourselves from what matters most. So put aside the to-do list and allow yourself to truly engage with the Lord in a quiet, secluded place. I’ve found extended times (several hours) away have worked best for me, but even a long walk around the block or in a nearby park can provide an appropriate setting. 
  2. Be honest. Tell Him how you really feel and how you really are doing. Don’t hide; He already knows anyway. Follow the example of the psalmists who brought their concerns, questions, longings, and fears to the Lord, entrusting it all to the only One who is perfectly wise, infinitely loving, and ever-present in our times of trouble. 
  3. Cling to Christ and His promises. As you’re honest with the Lord, remember Christ and His love for you. Look to the cross and see your Savior who willingly gave up His life for you and me. He sympathizes with you, He knows and understands what it’s like to cry out in agony. He also suffered so that we could have a relationship with a God who is near to the broken-hearted and who promises good things to His children. Also consider holding onto a particular promise from God’s Word that relates to your circumstances and trust that it is “Yes and Amen” through Jesus (2 Cor 1:20). 
  4. Take the next step. God wants us to not only come honestly before Him, but also to pursue righteousness and holiness. As you spend time with Him, He might also reveal a particular path forward. Maybe it’s to ask others to pray for you, maybe it’s to confess your sin to a person, maybe it’s to teach what you’ve learned with others, or maybe it’s to serve or minister to others in a similar situation. Remember that God uses us in our places of weakness and brokenness to accomplish His purposes and bring His Kingdom on earth the way that it is in heaven. 

Four Oaks, I love you and am praying for you. May God draw near to us as we draw near to Him (James 4:8).

Pastor Scott