Faith Development

Where We Are Meant To Be

compassIn Christ there is no east or west, in Him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.

 John Oxenham

It’s a wonderful thought isn’t it?

This great fellowship of love stretching itself around the world, making loops and crisscrossing the globe, touching everyone.

It’s true. This is the way of Jesus, his love finding us wherever we are, there being no place where he is not. His red blood dripping down on us, into us. We embracing it and saying, “Hallelujah! I’m saved!”

And then what?

Because Christ restores the peace between God and us, we now go and, “…are Christ’s ambassadors…” to this message of reconciliation and peace, (2 Corinthians 5:20).

And some of us will go and tell, unable to hold back such a beautiful ministry of reconciliation. But for others, it will be uneven road, because while we are forgiven and reconciled, we have much to forgive and reconcile with each other. This world is filled with high rocked walls of entitled rights and petty preferences, abuse and forgotten-ness. Yes, even the church looks like this.

What can we do? Perhaps pick up a sledgehammer and destroy it? That would do it, a glorious rubble at our feet.

But just as we know what will happen when we swing that heavy handled, forged metal overhead, letting it fall, we also know what will happen to us.

We’ll be exposed. Our truth we be told, that we hold on to our self-created, small and shallow hearts.

But Jesus sees how deep he’s made us. He sees the capacity he’s given us to love like him, to forgive seventy times seven, to turn the other cheek, to go and tell the world about what he’s done for all of us.
It’s a hard, handled thing to reconcile. It’s pride-draining. It’s red-faced vulnerability. It’s looking past our perceptions, into eyes that Jesus sees and saying, I love you anyway. It’s taking the long way, with shaky knees and sweaty palms to be reconciled in truth, one to another, opening the way to share what Jesus has done.

Jesus restores the peace. He reconciles us back to God. It is where we are meant to be.

It is where we are meant to be with each other, all people, everywhere.

We have miles to go, to the east, west, north and south, making amends with each other and telling how Jesus saved us. But for those who have uttered, “Hallelujah! I’m saved!,” it is our charge, to love and be restored to God’s creation, and be sent to proclaim it across the whole wide earth.

Resurrection: Death has been defeated

Easter.

It’s a story of Light shattering the Darkness. A story of the God who so loved the world that He would offer the ultimate sacrifice of His Son. It’s a story about Jesus, who held such a resolve in his heart to rescue the world that was bound up in sin, shame, lies and darkness, that He would pour his life out for us completely.  It’s a story of Death being defeated. It’s now a story of a people shaped by resurrection, a story that binds us up in hope. It’s our story.

Its also a story that our hearts should never tire of. As is often life, Easter weekend is upon us and we can just blow by it without truly pausing and considering the magnitude of what has happened on our behalf. We need to remember all that was given and all that was won by our God. The Lord has rescued our souls but He also defeated Death once and for all. Let the Message version of 1 Corinthians 15 remind you of the power of Resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:21-28   There is a nice symmetry in this: Death initially came by a man, and resurrection from death came by a man.  Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ.  But we have to wait our turn: Christ is first, then those with him at his Coming,  the grand consummation when, after crushing the opposition, he hands over his kingdom to God the Father.  He won’t let up until the last enemy is down—  and the very last enemy is death! As the psalmist said, “He laid them low, one and all; he walked all over them.” When Scripture says that “he walked all over them,” it’s obvious that he couldn’t at the same time be walked on.  When everything and everyone is finally under God’s rule, the Son will step down, taking his place with everyone else, showing that God’s rule is absolutely comprehensive—a perfect ending!

We need to remember that in the resurrection of Jesus, God defeated Death once and for all.  “According to Paul, death has entered the world as a personified power, has penetrated to all humanity like an epidemic, and has incited all to sin. Thus from the fall of Adam and as a result of the fall death has established a domain of sovereignty, in which in its turn sin came to power among humankind, who deserved the judgment of death through their conduct and had to die.” (EDNT)

Death was never part of the original design in Gen 1, yet through sin, death has inflicted humanity since the time of Adam. Understanding death as a “personified power” transforms our understanding of it from being a common human experience to an infliction that must be cleansed if any hope is to be realized. NT Wright explains, “as the present age is inflicted by death, who is an intruder, a violator of the creator’s good world. The creator’s answer to death cannot be to reach some kind of agreement or compromise. Death, must be, and in the Messiah has been and will be, defeated.”

So this is way more than a story of some dude who seemed kind and was faithful, and if we think about it he might be a good role model for us. NO! This is the story of the Son of God who obliterated His enemies and as a result rescued his people. This story sparked a revolution of love and its a story that we draw strength from when our world gets turned upside down. In the resurrection we remember that God rescued us and will rescue us again.

This story never grows old or gets stale. It should paint a picture in your hearts of Jesus that is so compelling that it draws you daily to follow him. But our hearts can grow cold, can grow stale and so we need to remember this story and remember how BIG it is.

Death has been defeated | He has truly rescued us.

So my prayer for you is the same one Paul had for the church of Ephesus 1:19-23   I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power  that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.  Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come.  God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

Hey Jude

judeJude 3 Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people.

The Book of Jude is a small 25 verses. But the lessons are large. The first thing that strikes me about this scripture, and possibly the least talked about, is the brief mention of a change of heart on the subject matter. Jude set out to speak to believers about their salvation that they share in Christ, but He ends up warning them to contend for their faith. He seems to respond in urgency to a nudge from the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t deliver his planned words and his well thought out message. He writes instead from the heart, where God resides. The first lesson we can take is to let the Holy Spirit interrupt our plans.

Jude 12 When these people eat with you in your fellowship meals commemorating the Lord’s love, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you.[e] They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. 13 They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness.”

In our Christian culture people like to point to prominent politicians and celebrity pastors and claim them to be false teachers. While there surely are some that come to mind, this letter from Jude instructs us to pay attention to the more nuanced and close at home. He writes of the false teachers that ‘worm’ their way in to our churches. He doesn’t speak about the mighty and powerful, he speaks of the man in your church who is a grumbler and complainer and seeks to satisfy his own needs. He warns of the lady next to you in the pew who focuses so much on grace that she forgets righteousness and holy living. He says be cautious about the neighbor that is so secure in the victory that they don’t show up for battle. Jude cautions us about those that care only for themselves and whose lives bear no fruit, those that divide instead of unite. He writes of the believer that sits in church on Sunday and leaves Jesus there the rest of the week. The most subtle and perhaps most dangerous, the one who ‘follows their natural instincts because they do not have God’s spirit in them.’ Being for Godin God, and of God is vastly different than a mere belief in Him. There is a whole lot of road between salvation and sanctification. The spirit of God makes all the difference. I might be a nice enough person without it, but everyone in my life should be happy I have it.

The people God is working in are doing the work of God…in their own lives and others. They are in partnership with Him. Christianity doesn’t happen to us. He commands us to take up our cross and follow Him. Jude tells us to contend for the faith; like in a prized fight. He is asking us to go to battle. He is urging us to be vigilant. This is serious stuff. The original language uses the word Epagonizomai, to contest or contend, which literally means to agonize about. Contending for our faith is paramount to our walk with Christ.

It is easy for us to point outward to the false teachings, the wolf in sheep’s clothing…it is easier to think they are out there. It’s a bit more uncomfortable for us to think it could be within our church. Within our ministry. Within our own hearts. Let us allow the book of Jude to be a catalyst for looking at those areas of our own lives.

Jude gives us some solid advice on how to protect ourselves from false teachings and how to contend for our faith. First, we must build one another up in the faith. Study God’s word and know the truths of it, know the truth of His heart. Compare those qualities to the people you look up to and then to your own heart.

Secondly, we must pray with expectation…with the power of the Holy Spirit in us. Those who count on their own power, their own brilliance, don’t have time for prayer. Those who have truly given their life to Christ know there is nothing better than God with us. The humble, the righteous, know that it is only through His power. They understand the importance of making time for it, for the connection to Christ it brings.

Finally he says to await God’s mercy. To accept it for yourself and then offer it to others. Accept it and then rescue others with it.

Jude 20 But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit,[g] 21 and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.”

Jude instructs us to do all of this so we might stay rooted in the love of God. So we stand firmly planted in God’s love for us and His love for others. And what does he say to do with those false teachers? Those that threaten our faith? Do we picket? March? Boycott? Does he tell us to scream with red faced anger the error of their ways? Should we point, ridicule, shame?

He prompts us to stay safe in God’s love. To hold one another up in our faith. To steep in the presence of the Almighty. To pray. To offer rescue and mercy. He prompts us to God’s great love. Us Christians are quick to talk about defending our faith but we need to pay close attention to how that was done. You see Jesus’ victory wasn’t won on a battlefield. He won in surrender. He didn’t have a crowd surrounding him for autographs, he wept while he asked, “why have you forsaken me?” He didn’t stand with his trophy in the winner’s circle. He hung from a cross with a crown of thorns. It wasn’t a moment of pride, but an act of humility. And then while his blood dripped down, he offered mercy…forgiveness…love. That is how you contend for your faith. That is the Gospel. That is the Truth.

~Jen Harris

Without Vision the People Perish

Milestones have always been a big deal to me.

What a stud, look at the hair!

What a stud, look at that hair!

From early on, it was ingrained in me to think ahead and dream about what could be possible. I always wanted to know what might be next, and what did I need to do now to prepare for then.  I still do. In those early years the dream consisted of playing left tackle for the Houston Oilers, then in high school I figured out my mind was sharper than my athletic prowess so I started dreaming back and forth from being a psychologist to a coach.

In college, my life was transformed as I finally understood the beauty of the gospel and my call to being a pastor soon followed after that. Through it all, I knew there was something more and in order to obtain it, I needed to dream and have a vision for what that “something more” could be.

This girl is something else

This girl is something else

In my young adult years I dreamed about where I wanted to be in life when I was 30. I remember distinctly praying that I would be at the foothills of whatever great work God would call me to. I was frustrated that this dream wasn’t coming to life as I was only halfway through seminary when I hit the 3o milestone. 35 was the next milestone and I longed to be a father and serve in an amazing church. I am grateful to say that I have gotten to check those boxes off big time. And now I dream about what 40 will be like for my family and I am praying that I will be able to live into that dream.

I don’t think I am unique in this, at least I hope I am not. We have dreams – both big and small – that we hope/long to see manifested in our lives.The scriptures speak to the need for people to have a vision consistently set before them that beckons them forward. Proverbs 29:18 in the KJV tells us “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. Other translations help articulate this truth further:

  • NIV – “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint”
  • NLT – “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild.”
  • The Message – “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves”

All four of those word pictures seem to illustrate that we need to have a vision of something that is bigger than ourselves. We get lost when we aren’t looking at the horizon, hoping for something more. As believers, we need to keep a picture of Jesus and His good Kingdom work ever before us. Asking Him, how might He use me? What blessing could I be to another person? I know when I have a clear direction of what is possible, I am more invigorated to do the work to see that dream actualized.

As a church we are still dreaming.

Dreaming about what could happen if we all locked arms together to Connect Every Life to Jesus. This weekend we are going to be talking about the dream God has given us as a church. And my hope is that you dream with us! My prayer is that you will come into this weekends services with attentive hearts, seeking to see just how God might be calling you to participate in the dream He has given our church.

So let’s dream big and give our God our very best!

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

FLAT Out Evangelism (F1rst Series)

Through our F1rst Series we have looked at the importance of daily/corporate worship and generosity. This week, we are focusing our attention on the importance of sharing our faith — or Evangelism as it’s known in Christianese 🙂 To help us unpack this important concept I have asked Derek Lynas, our Outreach Pastor, to lay out some practicals for sharing our faith. His approach is something we should all be incorporating in our daily lives of following Jesus – Tom Rich

Thoughts on Evangelism 101: You can’t save anyone. There- all the pressure is off! You can also throw out all the hidden agendas, people projects, and awkward conversations too! It’s our great God who does the saving! However, He has given us (you and me) both the privilege and responsibility of helping people discover a life changing relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. And that’s Good News! 🙂

So how do we do it? Where can we find an example? I don’t think we have to look any farther than the life and interactions of Jesus himself. He was the master of meeting people wherever they were at in life with a steady dose of truth and love. He noticed people like Zacchaeus who was literally up in a tree as hundreds of people pressed in around him as he walked through town. His heart broke for the rich young ruler as he rejected Jesus invitation toward a new life, but He loved him even still. He met the woman at the well right in the middle of her sinful life and told her the flat out truth that would set her free. Jesus could be found in places others wouldn’t have even thought about going and hanging out with people that others wouldn’t think of spending time with. He was a friend of sinners. And He still meets people right where they’re at in their lives with the power of His death, burial, & resurrection.

Ok, so Jesus was all that while on this earth, but what about someone other than the Son of God? How about Phillip, one of His followers? In Acts 8:25-36 there’s an amazing sequence of events that I believe can serve as a guide for us to walk with the people God puts in our path toward a life with Jesus. I call this approach FLATout evangelism because it’s not a “bait & switch” trick, it’s not a formula, and it’s not a step–by-step process. It’s more of a lifestyle that we have the opportunity to live. So here it is…

(F)OLLOW Jesus faithfully in your own life

If we’re not following Jesus faithfully in our own lives, we have no chance of helping someone else find Him in their life. Following Jesus everyday will also prepare us for the people He puts in our path, to notice them in the midst of all the busyness, and to sense the leading of the Holy Spirit in any moment.

(L)ISTEN to people’s hearts

Listening is possibly one of the most important things we can do when walking with someone toward Jesus. If we aren’t really listening, how can we ever expect to know where someone is in his or her life? We need to be actively listening to what’s going on in the lives of people God loves. It’s not thinking about what to say next and certainly not being judgmental merely because they’re not speaking our same language.

(A)SK relevant questions toward the relationship

If we’re listening well and following the leading of the Holy Spirit, we’ll know what questions to ask and our relationship will have a chance to go deeper. Asking relevant questions also shows the other person that you were actually listening to what they had to say.

(T)ELL people about life with Jesus

Simply showing Jesus to others isn’t enough if they’re going to begin a relationship with Him. We have to be able to tell them how to begin. Even the Ethiopian asked Philip “How can I know unless someone explains it to me?” (Acts 8:31)

Derek Lynas
Outreach Pastor