Form Character

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

Worship – Simple Obedience (F1rst Series)

This weekend we kick off a new sermon series titled F1rst: Putting God first in my life.  In this series, Pastor Tim and Pastor Phil will share with us their hearts on why Jesus should reign supreme in our priorities and values. Over the course of the next 5 weeks we will have a fruitful discussion regarding worship, giving, sharing our faith, commitment and the vision God has given us as a church.

I sure hope as we engage 2016 we come to a space where we release our failures and missteps in 2015 and embrace a deeper connection to our God. This weekend Tim is going to share his thoughts on worship being one of the central priorities in our lives. For me this raises a real simple question:

Are We Expectant when we come into Worship?

The first 15min of each of our worship services are pretty amazing. Pews/chairs are relatively empty; but without fail, slowly but surely there is a trickle of humanity that steadily comes in and by the 3rd or 4th worship song the place is usually filled. Its quite the transformation!

Now I am certainly appreciative of anyone who makes space for God in their life, and I know that puts a smile on God’s face as well. But it does raise the question in my own heart: are we missing the point of worship all together?

Are we there to just check the box that we actually attended church this week? Are we there to simply soothe our conscience? Or are we there to express our thankfulness and gratitude to the King who gave so much?

I know this sounds like a first rate guilt trip from a pastor telling you to get your butt to church on time – but the truth is I often have to check my own heart on these issues as well.  When I feel rushed to get into worship or have a million other things on mind, I have to stop and remind myself of why I am even here in the first place. Not surprisingly, the scriptures help us find a proper perspective regarding our attitude towards worship,  consider Psalm 122:1-3

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” 2 Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. 3 Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together. 4 To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD. 

Eugene Peterson says of this verse, “This command, to give thanks, runs right down the center of all Christian worship. A decree. A word telling us what we ought to do, and that what we ought to do is praise…. But very often we don’t feel like it and so we say, ‘It would be dishonest for me to go worship and praise God when I don’t feel like it. I would be a hypocrite.’ The psalm says, I don’t care if you feel like it or not: as was decreed, ‘give thanks to the name of the Lord.’” Long Obedience in the Same Direction p.53-54.

That word from Mr. Peterson is a nice slap in the face to wake me up to the purpose of worship and develops an expectancy in my heart for it. Quite simply, as much as we are drawn into worship by our gracious God, we have much to learn about the obedience of simply choosing to do it. Simple obedience. On my best days I come to worship in anticipation to meet the One who not only created me but also rescued me from the darkness of my own heart and the brokenness of this world. I need worship to remind me of all that I might have forgotten throughout the week. But it is just as important to worship when I am not “feeling it.” I need choose to fix my eyes on Jesus; and when I do, He usually takes care of the rest.

So this weekend as you prepare to worship God with us, ask yourself the question why am I here? And if you don’t like your answer – go anyways. Simple obedience goes a long ways.

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

Taming the Tongue: Speaking and Teaching

Reading: James 3:2-6

It can be rather instructive to read how the Bible describes certain items in a sort of systematic overview. The tongue, for instance, is given all manner of descriptors throughout scripture. It is poisonous (James 3:8). It is a sharp razor and a plotter of destruction (Psalm 52:2). It can be perverse (Proverbs 10:31). It can be backbiting (Proverbs 25:23). While there are also positive connotations, many of the mentions of the mouth and tongue use descriptors such as profane, unclean, boastful, slanderous, and many more along these same lines. It becomes apparent very quickly the Bible is telling us that our speech can be a prime sign of sin.

There’s no doubt if we do not guard our speech as commanded throughout God’s Word, we can run into some serious trouble. James makes it clear in verse 2 that “we all stumble”, and that not being perfect, we all obviously are going to have issues with curbing our tongue.  In verses 3 and 4, James uses some of his outdoor imagery to compare the tongue to a horse’s bridle and ship’s rudder—two relatively small things that control a much larger object. So it is with our tongue and our body. The tongue might be tiny compared to the rest of the body, but the words it forms can control and ruin an entire life.

We see this again in verse 5, when James says, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (ESV). Anyone who has ever seen a malicious rumor or “harmless” bit of gossip run rampant understands this to be a perfect analogy to what even a few words can do. The great Puritan writer Richard Baxter wrote “Words and actions are transient things, and being once past, are nothing; but the effect of them on an immortal soul may be endless”. Writing earlier, John Calvin suggested “since the tongue cannot be restrained, there must be some secret fire of hell hidden in it”. Just as a single smoldering matchstick may destroy an entire forest, one unkind word, one vicious volley, one bit of jealous gossip, can devastate relationships and endeavors that took years to build up.

There is another central aspect to these verses, one that cannot be overlooked. If we look at the verse immediately preceding this passage, James 3:1 states “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (ESV). Whether we’re teaching our children, our friends, our small group, we are going to be held to account for what we teach. It’s not by coincidence that this verse is followed by the stern requirements of watching what one says. We live in a world where many of the most popular preachers do not hold to the Bible on many teachings. The words that come out of their mouths are not scriptural, or perhaps worse, twist scripture to focus on health, wealth, and prosperity or treating God like some sort of cosmic genie for acquiring things or rationalizing away sin. The church today in general often substitutes speaking in catchphrases, “easy-believism”, and worldly self-help ideas in the place of firm, scripturally-based teaching and exegesis.

As James says later in this section, “My brothers, these things ought not be” (v. 10). Before we ever open our mouths in any sort of teaching capacity, we need to follow the New Testament example of the Bereans, who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). If we were explaining to someone on how to defuse a bomb or perform open-heart surgery, we’d make sure every word was correct. God’s Word deserves an even higher level of respect when we share it. It’s easy to slide into “church-isms”—little phrases we like to use in fellowship that are nowhere in the Bible. With no basis in scripture, these can range from the culturally common (no, we don’t turn into angels when we die) to the self-indulgent (“God just wants you to be happy”). We can take nothing for granted, but have to truly read our Bibles and align our speech and teaching with the instructions we find therein.

In verse 6, James states the tongue is “a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life and set on fire by hell” (ESV). In the Greek, “hell” in this passage refers to Gehenna, or the Valley of Hinom, where a large, filthy trash fire continually burned just outside the city of Jerusalem. It was used by Christ (Matthew 5:22, Mark 9:43) as a representation of the sort of eternal torment that awaits the unregenerate sinful. In fact, in one of those passages, Matthew 5:22, Christ stated that those who utter verbal abuse to others are “in danger of the fire of hell” (ESV). These are not softball images, but hard, challenging concepts. Words are carelessly thrown about in our culture. Verbal abuse is thought high comedy or an art form. The name of the Lord is uttered in vain by individuals of all walks of life, without a thought to what is being said. Nasty, angry, careless, sinful thoughts are shared on social media, 140 letters at a time, status update by status update, a modern-day Gehenna that never stops burning.

Friends, curbing our tongue, watching what we say, thinking before we speak, and not instructing without firm knowledge are counter-cultural. The stakes are high, as the Bible reinforces time and time again, from Exodus 20:7 to Ephesians 5:3-5. It’s not just a sort of vapid, moralistic “speak nicely, because that’s nice” sentiment. It’s understanding that what we say is heard before a Holy God, and that those words will have an impact not just on our spiritual life, but on the spiritual lives of those around us. It’s remembering back in 1:26, James calls the religion of someone who cannot curb their tongue “worthless”. Before we ever speak, let us “take captive every thought” (2 Cor. 10:5), and remember this is not optional. Christians are called to a standard that is not that of the world (Ephesians 5:1-2, Romans 12:2). It’s not just saying the right thing, or going through a verbal checklist, but understanding God’s grace and pure holiness, the need for repentance and forgiveness, and continuing to abide in Him through prayer, hearing and reading His word, and acknowledging Him as sovereign over all.

-Zachary Houghton

#714 Prayer | Week 10 | Thanksgiving

We are now in the middle of the final week of our #7:14 prayer initiative. This week, our prayer focus is on thanksgiving. Even in a world that can be as dark and painful as ours, there is still a whole lot to be thankful for. It may be a roof over your head, a meal at the table, or a meaningful friendship. God’s grace is woven into the very fabric of our lives. Consider our text this week regarding thanksgiving, Psalm 100:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come into his presence with singing.

Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he that made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him, bless his name.

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.

This psalm is originally written as a Psalm of Praise in response for all that the Lord has done on behalf of Israel. He had rescued them from the bondage of slavery, established them in the Promised Land and blessed them through the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. From darkness and despair to security and hope: God has made all things new for his people. You hear this specifically in verse 3 when the psalmist exclaims, “Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” All that is good and true in their lives, and in ours, comes from the graciousness of our God. That is why it is important that we put on the forefront of our minds the ways that he has provided for us, instead of simply dwelling on the hard things in our life.

Prayer of Examen

One of the practices you go through in our A Way of Life discipleship process is a prayer technique called the Prayer of Examen. The Prayer of Examen is a great way to look for God’s presence in your life. More than 400 years ago, St. Ignatius developed this technique for his own congregation. The Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and to discern his direction for us. This prayer opens our eyes to the ways God is at work in our lives. Knowledge of his working gives us a tangible sense of his peace, which produces thanksgiving within our hearts.

1. Become aware of God’s presence. Look back on the events of the day in the company of the Holy Spirit. The day may seem confusing to you—a blur, a jumble, a muddle. Ask God to bring clarity and understanding.

2. Review the day with gratitude. Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Walk through your day in the presence of God and note its joys and delights. Focus on the day’s gifts. Look at the work you did, the people you interacted with. What did you receive from these people? What did you give them? Pay attention to small things—the food you ate, the sights you saw, and other seemingly small pleasures. God is in the details.

3. Pay attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. Boredom? Elation? Resentment? Compassion? Anger? Confidence? What is God saying through these feelings?

God will most likely show you some ways that you fell short. Make note of these sins and faults. But look deeply for other implications. Does a feeling of frustration perhaps mean that God wants you consider a new direction in some area of your work? Are you concerned about a friend? Perhaps you should reach out to her in some way.

4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. It may involve a feeling—positive or negative. It may be a significant encounter with another person or a vivid moment of pleasure or peace. Or it may be something that seems rather insignificant. Look at it. Pray about it. Allow the prayer to arise spontaneously from your heart—whether intercession, praise, repentance, or gratitude.

5. Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges. Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey what’s coming up. Are you doubtful? Cheerful? Apprehensive? Full of delighted anticipation? Allow these feelings to turn into prayer. Seek God’s guidance. Ask him for help and understanding. Pray for hope. (Adapted from http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ )

An important aspect to prayer is learning to talk to Jesus like a friend. He wants to hear your heart, but he also wants to speak to you about yours. So end this Prayer of Examen with a conversation with Jesus. Ask forgiveness for your sins. Ask for his protection and help. Ask for his wisdom about the questions you have and the problems you face. Do all this in the spirit of gratitude. Your life is a gift, and it is adorned with gifts from God. When we come to that realization, our hearts can truly be thankful.

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

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God has called his people to pray! Our families, communities, and world are in need of healing and God makes a conditional promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that we want to live out. God is calling us as his people to humble ourselves, pray, seek his face and turn from our wicked ways. Please join us by:

  • Praying daily at 7:14 a.m. & 7:14 p.m.
  • Fasting one time per week

#714 Prayer | WEEK 7 | Understanding

Help me understand the meaning of your commandments,
    and I will meditate on your wonderful deeds.
Psalm 119:27 NLT

We are now in the middle of week 7 of our #7:14 prayer initiative. This week, our prayer focus is on understanding.

A common prayer for many of us is “Why?!” Why did you let this happen God? Why didn’t you answer this prayer I have been asking over and over again? Why?! There are moments in our walk with Jesus that feel impossible to ever understand and can drive you to despair. These moments touch a whole range of our human emotions; ranging from confusion to sorrow. It is in these moments we need to quit asking the “Why?” question and instead our prayers change to asking for help: Lord, help us understand your ways.

One of the primary way God blesses us through prayer is by giving us the grace of understanding. Many times while we wrestle in prayer, we all of the sudden receive divine insight on a particular situation. We are able to have a new perspective because God has imparted to us wisdom and understanding about that situation. This understanding may result in you coming to know why God did or didn’t do what you asked, but more often than not it will result in you experiencing a deeper trust in God. We learn that He is indeed sovereign over every situation of our lives. Understanding allows us to walk with a renewed confidence that His purposes will soon be fulfilled. It might not change a thing about the current struggle that you are in, but will enable you to be hopeful, patient and give you the endurance you need to sustain you.

Understanding in the Midst of Pain

There are many times in my own life that I have had to ask the Lord for the blessing of understanding. As many of you know, my wife and I have battled with infertility for 7 plus years. That journey was and is a very challenging and perplexing one for my wife and I. This is something that we have pleaded with God for time and time again. The Enemy used this time of unknowing to make us question everything: Were we being faithful enough? Had we prayed enough? Was there some sin in our lives holding us back from this blessing? And on, and on…. 

It was in these moments of confusion that we had to press into prayer and re-remember that His heart towards us is good, that we are His children which He loves. While this issue of infertility is hard – He is right there by our side. So over and over again we would gain deeper understanding of both His nature and character. He spoke to us that He is always with us, and that we are never alone. This type of understanding produces trust and hope in even the most dire of circumstances. That understanding sustained us through it all to keep going, and we are so thankful it did: My wife is due to give birth to our little girl in February! However, this does not mean that we were ever guaranteed a child, rather what was promised is that He would be with us through it all. And that is more than enough!

Final Note: Posture of Humility

It is important when we seek understanding from God that we continually humble ourselves before Him. If you sit in the judgment seat and point fingers at God, I promise you, you won’t get very far.  As James 4:6 reminds us, “He gives grace to the humble but resists the proud.” So a good rule of thumb is to be quick to listen and slow to speak, especially when it comes to God. As we humble ourselves before God, He will slowly begin to “connect the dots” for why your present circumstances are unfolding like they are. He wants to speak to you, we must take the time to humble ourselves, be silent and learn to listen.

So remember that when times of confusion come, and they will, our best hope is to seek His face and be reminded that He is with us every step of the way. He will grant us understanding when we need it the most. Take this week to really focus on listening to God, so that you may understand His plan for your life.

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

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God has called his people to pray! Our families, communities, and world are in need of healing and God makes a conditional promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that we want to live out. God is calling us as his people to humble ourselves, pray, seek his face and turn from our wicked ways. Please join us by:

  • Praying daily at 7:14 a.m. & 7:14 p.m.
  • Fasting one time per week
  • Quieting your heart 10 minutes before service to pray
  • Joining us for corporate prayer at the church, Saturday 7:14 p.m. & Sunday 7:14 a.m.

#714 Prayer | WEEK 6 | Obedience

We are now in the middle of week 6 of our #7:14 prayer initiative. This week, our prayer focus is on obedience. Obedience is a concept that most of our world wholeheartedly rejects. Somehow we have gotten to the place where the idea of someone telling you what to do has moved from being “good advice worth listening to,” to a grave injustice. How did we get here?

To thine own self be true (Shakespeare) has served as a motto that has been both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing when it allows us to get to a place of authenticity, when we tap into who we really are in Christ. It is a beautiful thing when we are awakened to see that God made us in a particular way and has called us to a particular mission.

On the other hand, it is a curse when we use this as a self-centered perspective to be our only compass to navigate the world. Instead of simply choosing to be obedient and love others, we rely on our feelings and emotions to dictate the terms for how we engage others. We get lost in a whirlwind of our own ego, and we rarely grow because our only teacher is ourselves. We get lost in this self-centered vortex where all of our conversations are laced with lines like: I think that… My feeling about the subject is…The impression I had was ….

We all need to take a refresher course on what it means to be obedient to God’s leadership over our lives. Obedience is a matter of character, pure and simple. We are obedient when our character has been forged by God’s gracious hand to see that his ways are better than our ways. We need to remember WHO it is we are putting our trust in: What is the nature of God’s character? Has he proven himself to be trustworthy? Is he good? When those simple questions are affirmed in our hearts, it increases our ability to be obedient to his will and his way.

A Story of Calling

One of the most essential things we learn on our discipleship journey is cultivating an ability to say “Yes” to God’s will for our lives. I remember when I received the call into my first ministry. I had just graduated from Texas A&M and I was considering my options for the future: seminary, youth ministry, things like that. Over this last summer at Texas A&M, I got connected with a college ministry that was doing some pretty amazing things. Relationships formed quickly there and I was asked to join their staff to be a college pastor. “Staff” usually means salary + benefits in most church contexts, but here it was a call to raise financial support from outside donors.

When I was asked to come on staff, I remember distinctly my heart singing “Yes,” while all the time my flesh was crying out even louder, “NOOOOOOOO.” My mind was flooded with a whole host of excuses for why this didn’t make any sense. Outside of having to raise support, I was sitting with a pretty substantial amount of credit card debt and this beautiful girl named Rebecca came into my life – I would surely run her off if she knew I was going to take a risk like this.

So I prayed, and prayed and prayed some more. One Sunday I sat in my room for 6 hours listening to Jason Upton (awesome worship leader) and wept before the Lord. Through this time, God kept telling me that this was the plan he had for me if I would submit and be obedient. He reminded me how he had led me to this point in my journey and reaffirmed that he would be with me every step of the way forward. I came to a place where I said, “Yes” to him and submitted to his will.

In the end, I served four years in that ministry and it was the best thing that could have happened to me. The process of being obedient and raising support was a refining furnace that solidified my calling and character. For four years, I lived on the kingly sum of roughly $11,000 a yearBALLER STATUS. Yet, I wouldn’t change this experience for the world, as it caused the fruit of the Spirit to flourish in my character. I learned to be patient, resilient and ever hopeful through this process. I got to see the world via missions trips and married the love of my life, Rebecca and even got out of debt!

I am reminded of our text that we are focusing on for obedience this week, it comes from Psalm 25: 4-5, 8-10. I personally appreciate how the NRSV renders this as it states,

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long…. Good and upright is the Lordtherefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.”

God is the subject of the author’s prayer here. He doesn’t say “Bless my decisions, God” but rather teach me your truth, teach me your way. We need a fresh reminder that God’s heart and character are good. We need to be reminded or learn that his will is the best thing for our lives. Through the posture of submission, we can finally learn the blessings of obedience.

May God grant you the courage to say “Yes” to him in your life as well.

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

—————————————————————————————————————————

God has called his people to pray! Our families, communities, and world are in need of healing and God makes a conditional promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that we want to live out. God is calling us as his people to humble ourselves, pray, seek his face and turn from our wicked ways. Please join us by:

  • Praying daily at 7:14 a.m. & 7:14 p.m.
  • Fasting one time per week
  • Quieting your heart 10 minutes before service to pray
  • Joining us for corporate prayer at the church, Saturday 7:14 p.m. & Sunday 7:14 a.m.

#714 Prayer | Faith | Week 5

We are now in the middle of week 5 of our 7:14 prayer initiative. This week, our prayer focus is on faith.

The concept of faith can feel a bit tricky at times because it can mean a lot of things at one time. Faith is a confluence of belief, trust, love and loyalty all mixed up to result in us accepting/ believing certain things as true about God and what he has done in the world. The Greek term for faith comes from the word pistis, Theologian R.T. France has a helpful definition of pistis when he states, “The language of faith is essential to human relationships in general, but gains its special biblical connotations from the interaction of God with humanity, his reliability and our response of trust in him” (from the “Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels”).

So essentially faith boils down to one idea: TRUST

Chapter 11 of the Book of Hebrews has long been a helpful means for defining what it means to have faith. It gives us not only a strong definition of the word but also is filled with examples of men and women who have proven themselves to be faithful to God. The beginning of Hebrews 11:1 states, Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen … And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” From this definition the author retells the stories of the forefathers of our faith: Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and others, citing their unyielding belief that God would accomplish all that he had promised them.

Think about these men’s lives for a moment: All of them were put in bewildering circumstances. They were pressed at every point and yet they retained a deeper trust that kept them undeterred in the face of opposition. The testimony of their lives forces me to ask the question: Do I really trust Jesus to sustain me in the darkest moments of my life? Do I really believe he will do what he says he will do? Is he really good and trustworthy even when my circumstances suggest otherwise?

In my reading this week I came across a quote from Thomas Merton that really kicked me in the teeth (in a good way 🙂 ). This quote really forced me to ask how much faith do I actually possess in key moments of in my life. He comments:

Cowardice keeps us double minded – hesitating between the world and God. In this hesitation, there is no true faith – faith remains an opinion. We are never certain, because we never quite give in to the authority of an invisible God.

This hesitation is the death of hope. We never let go of those visible supports which, we well know, must one day surely fail us. And this hesitation makes true prayer impossible – it never quite dares to ask for anything, it surreptitiously seeks by human prudence to construct a make-shift answer.

What is the use of praying if, at the very moment of prayer, we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to prayer?

As a planner and processor this nailed me. How often have I hedged my bets to play it safe, rather to believe God for something greater? How often have I shut down the vision God has given me at the first sign of resistance or complaint from our congregation/staff/elders, instead of pressing in through prayer to ask God to make that dream come to life? How little have I believed the possibility that the hard relational issues in my family could be overcome?

But it is in these moments of doubt that we must look back over the course of our lives and cling to the times where we have seen God move, the times that he has made a way for us that once seemed impossible. We must hold onto these moments as we embrace the future with hearts full of faith and trust that he will do it again! 

Let’s not miss the opportunity to press into the Lord’s heart through prayer. My encouragement to each of us is to fan the flames of faith within our hearts – believe again that God fully intends to do amazing things through WRCC. Pray with expectant hearts – believing that God will perform a miraculous work within your homes, your places of work and in your relationships.

So I encourage you to read through Hebrews 11 this week and learn from these saints of old. They serve as examples of how our own faith in Jesus should be expressed in our lives. Not shifting like the sand with the sea, but steadfast and resolved – committed to following Jesus no matter what the costs. So as we continue our journey with #714 Prayer, ask God to increase your faith so that you can see him for all that he is: good and trustworthy!

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

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God has called his people to pray! Our families, communities, and world are in need of healing and God makes a conditional promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that we want to live out. God is calling us as his people to humble ourselves, pray, seek his face and turn from our wicked ways. Please join us by:

  • Praying daily at 7:14 a.m. & 7:14 p.m.
  • Fasting one time per week
  • Quieting your heart 10 minutes before service to pray
  • Joining us for corporate prayer at the church, Saturday 7:14 p.m. & Sunday 7:14 a.m.

#714 PRAYER | WEEK 4 | Repentance

We are now in the middle of week 4 of our 7:14 prayer initiative. This week, our prayer focus is on repentance.

I try to keep a “first things first” understanding in regards to what it means to be saved. It absolutely starts on the front end knowing that salvation can only happen by the grace of God alone. But salvation isn’t just a one-time prayer we prayit is maintaining a posture of repentance and faith, which begins in a moment but is maintained for the rest of your life. Repentance means we are following the ways of God over the broken ways of this world. Faith means that we are consistently trusting in him both to rescue our souls and be our source of strength as we navigate this world.

The concept of repentance stands at the very heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Understanding who Jesus is causes a radical shift for his followers, resulting in a complete transfer of allegiance from our inherently selfish ways into a posture of submission to Jesus’ message and mission. The verb repentance stems from the Greek word metanoeo, meaning to change one’s mind and purpose. One scholarly dictionary defines repentance as “a radical acknowledgment of God, as well as a radical confession of a sinful fallenness that is so total that recourse to the former means of salvation appears hopeless.” Repentance is the response one has to God through the convicting work of the Spirit. Therefore, we repent (or turn away from) a former way of living and now embrace the holy ways of God.

John Wesley, an 18th Century Stud / Pastor for Jesus

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church and a hero of mine, understood the act of repentance as containing three principles:

  1. Conviction or self-knowledge
  2. Poverty of spirit
  3. Rejection of self-righteousness and self-justification.

It is my belief that repentance comes before faith because our heart needs to be prepared to understand the necessity of salvation and just how far we have erred through our sinful behavior. This is the first step in awakening the heart to the love of God and comes in response to the prevenient grace of the Spirit.

Having a heart transformed by repentance redefines our understanding of what it means to have faith.

Faith is then understood to go far beyond a mental assent to a list of facts that describe the character and work of Jesus Christ. Wesley describes faith as “not only an assent to the whole gospel of Christ, but also a full reliance on the blood of Christ; a trust in the merits of his life, death, and resurrection; a recumbency upon him as our atonement and our life, as given for us, and living in us.” Scripturally, Philippians 2:12 is a good example of the mixture of repentance converging with faith, in which Paul exhorts us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

We repent because we are struck with both the reality and gravity that all our human ways to do life have failed. We are lost on our own and need to turn from these old ways towards the pure, gracious ways of Jesus. The Holy Spirit calls to us to live differently, so in our submission to Jesus as Lord, we are consequently choosing to emulate and represent his way of life to the world.

The work of repentance is evident in our lives through our fruitfulness within God’s Kingdom. As Jesus told us in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” This lifestyle of repentance and fruit-bearing that Jesus calls us to will involve an entire shift in our focus. Things which we previously held tightly lose their importance in favor of the ways of the Kingdom of God. We must ask ourselves: Are we willing to switch our loyalties completely? Do we truly trust Jesus, and believe that his Kingdom is better than any kingdom of this world? 

Let us take this week and ask the Lord to produce a deep work of repentance for the ways we have failed to keep Jesus and his Kingdom at the center of our lives. May God mercifully expose the ways we have fallen short, and give us the strength and courage to live differently.

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

—————————————————————————————————————————

God has called his people to pray! Our families, communities, and world are in need of healing and God makes a conditional promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that we want to live out. God is calling us as his people to humble ourselves, pray, seek his face and turn from our wicked ways. Please join us by:

  • Praying daily at 7:14 a.m. & 7:14 p.m.
  • Fasting one time per week

#714 Prayer |Week 3 | Confession

We are now in the middle of week 3 of our 7:14 prayer initiative; this week our prayer focus is on confession. To help you focus your mind upon the concept of confession, we are going to learn from three other voices of wisdom on this topic. They have experienced the power of this discipline and their words are a light to us as we experience the grace found through confession.

Richard Foster from “Celebration of Discipline”

“The Bible views salvation as both an event and a process. To converted people Paul says, ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil. 2:12) … The Discipline of confession helps the believer to grow into ‘mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13).

“Confession is a difficult Discipline for us because we all too often view the believing community as a fellowship of saints before we see it as a fellowship of sinners. We feel that everyone else has advanced so far into holiness that we are isolated and alone in our sin. We cannot bear to reveal our failures and shortcomings to others. We imagine that we are the only ones who have not stepped on to the high road to heaven. Therefore, we hide ourselves from one another and live in veiled lies and hypocrisy.

“It is the will to be delivered from sin that we seek from God as we prepare to make confession. We must desire to be conquered and ruled by God, or if we do not desire it, to desire to desire it. Such a desire is a gracious gift from God. The seeking of this gift is one of the preliminaries for confessing to a brother or sister.”

Charles Finney’s Self Examination Process

“If you mean to break up the fallow ground of your hearts, you must begin by looking at your hearts: examine and note the state of your minds, and see where you are. . . . Do not be in a hurry. Examine thoroughly the state of your hearts . . . whether you are under the dominion of the prince of darkness, or of the Lord Jesus Christ. . . .”

“Self-examination consists in looking at your lives, in considering your actions, in calling up the past, and learning its true character. Look back over your past history. Take up your individual sins one by one, and look at them. I do not mean that you should just cast a glance at your past life, and see that it has been full of sins, and then go to God and make a sort of general confession, and ask for pardon. That is not the way. You must take them up one by one. . . .”

A Short Method Of Prayer — Jeanne Marie Bouvières

“Self-examination should always precede confession. Those who arrive at this degree should expose themselves to God, who will not fail to enlighten them, and to make known to them the nature of their faults. This examination must be conducted in peace and tranquillity, expecting more from God than from our own research the knowledge of our sins.

“When we examine ourselves with an effort, we easily make mistakes. We ‘call evil good, and good evil;’ and self-esteem easily deceives us. But when we remain exposed to the searching gaze of God, that Divine Sun brings to light even the smallest atoms. We must then, for self-examination, abandon ourselves utterly to God.

“When we are in this degree of prayer, God is not slow to reveal to us all the faults we commit. We have no sooner sinned than we feel a burning reproach.

“It is God Himself who conducts an examination which nothing escapes, and we have only to turn towards God, and suffer the pain and the correction which He gives. As this examination by God is continual, we can no longer examine ourselves; and if we are faithful to our abandonment to God, we shall soon be better examined by the divine light than we could be by all our own efforts. Experience will make this known. One thing which often causes astonishment to the soul is, that when it is conscious of a sin, and comes to confess it to God, instead of feeling regret and contrition, such as it formerly felt, a sweet and gentle love takes possession of it.

“Not having experienced this before, it supposes that it ought to draw itself out of this condition to make a definite act of contrition. But it does not see that, by doing this, it would lose true contrition, which is this intuitive love, infinitely greater than anything it could create for itself. It is a higher action, which includes the others, with greater perfection, though these are not possessed distinctly.

“We should not seek to do anything for ourselves when God acts more excellently in us and for us. It is hating sin as God hates it to hate it in this way. This love, which is the operation of God in the soul, is the purest of all love. All we have to do then is to remain as we are.

“Another remarkable thing is, that we often forget our faults, and find it difficult to remember them; but this must not trouble us, for two reasons: The first, that this very forgetfulness is a proof that the sin has been atoned for, and it is better to forget all that concerns ourselves, that we may remember God alone. The second reason is, that God does not fail, whenever confession is needful, to show to the soul its greatest faults, for then it is He Himself who examines it.”

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

—————————————————————————————————————————

God has called his people to pray! Our families, communities, and world are in need of healing and God makes a conditional promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that we want to live out. God is calling us as his people to humble ourselves, pray, seek his face and turn from our wicked ways. Please join us by:

  • Praying daily at 7:14 a.m. & 7:14 p.m.
  • Fasting one time per week

#714 | Week 2 | Brokenness

We are now in the middle of week 2 of our 7:14 prayer initiative; this week our prayer focus is on brokenness. Yikes! The concept of brokenness is something that many of us try to stay as far away from as possible. We have an uneasy relationship with truth, and therefore would rather pretty up the surface of our lives up so that we can at least appear that we are doing OK to others. We spend a lot of energy trying to project a false image of ourselves. We love to wear masks, ones that make us look better than we think we are, masks that make it look like we have it all together. Often the biggest liars are found in the lobbies of churches. We pass by one another wearing a fake smile, desperately trying to project an image of competence. You have seen the scene:

How are you doing?!

Great! You?

Couldn’t be better!

Wonderful, see you later!

All the while we’re dying inside, too scared to let anyone know it. On the one hand you are relieved that your mask is still intact but on the other hand, your soul is dying because it is desperate to actually be known.

We project these false selves both out of our pride and our shame. Pride because we would hate someone to think poorly about our lives; shame, because we are the ones who know the depths of our depravity. One of the books you read in The Journey is titled The Cure; it speaks to the lies that keep us from freedom. One quote that stands out from The Cure:

No one matures in bitterness. No one gets free in isolation. No one heals rehashing the testimonies of bad religion. No one gets to love or be loved well in self-protection. Self-protection is one of the great oxymorons. We’re the only person in the world we don’t have the potential to protect. And once we hide from trusting God and others, we become more enflamed, more self-justified, more calloused in repeating our blame.

We fear that if we are truly known, we could never be truly loved. So it seems that the only options we have are to either hide or build up so many walls in our heart that we will never truly be known. In reality there is another option that stands right before us, and it is one of the mysteries of the Kingdom. We find that when we humble ourselves and ask God to break us, we are released from the pride and shame that keeps us hidden.

I have family friends in Texas who live in the fancy part of town. Driving past their house you honestly wouldn’t think twice about them: Huge house, manicured lawn, fancy cars in the driveway. They seem to have it all together. But inside their home, the scene is far different. Stepping through their doorway, you see very clearly that they are hoarders. Piles and piles of unnecessary items line the hallways, and the rooms are filled with stacks upon more stacks of junk. It’s like a Hobby Lobby threw up all over itself. My first reaction was disgust and contempt, but that quickly shifted to compassion when I saw the restlessness to their souls that keeps them from feeling satisfied and always looking for more.

Many of us are not much different from this house. We are great at making ourselves look good on the outside, but on the inside, the junk is piling up and threatening to spill out. We need to be split open and allow the darkness of our souls be exposed to God’s glorious light. That’s not easy and it is often filled with fear. But we learn that when we are broken by God, he is the one to take the broken pieces of our lives and put them back together the way they were meant to be. It is in our brokenness that we can actually find restoration. 

Our brokenness should not be a source of shame. It is out of our brokenness that we are actually made whole. When Jesus talked about the broken, he called them blessed.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Matthew 5:3-6

Simply put, those who are broken by God are blessed. Not because he is out to hurt you for your sinfulness, rather because he wants to restore you from the ways your heart has been malformed. Its out of our brokenness that we can experience the truth of 1 Corinthians 13: 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. When we are thoroughly broken, God’s healing helps us to respond to the other brokenness of the world not with contempt, but compassion. It is in our brokenness that we are able to see him clearly and therefore reflect his image into our lives. Our lives are transformed and renewed, we therefore embrace the world with Christ’s compassion instead of wearing that old worn out mask. Henri Nouwen expresses how our newfound compassion brings healing to others when he says:

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” 

Brokenness breeds compassion, and Lord knows this world could use some more of that. So as you seek the face of God this week through 7:14 Prayer, ask him to break you, break you of your pride, shame, lust, greed, anger, contempt, ________  you name it! It’s not easy, it’s often scary, but it is the very thing our hearts need the most.

Broken beside you,

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

—————————————————————————————————————————

God has called his people to pray! Our families, communities, and world are in need of healing and God makes a conditional promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that we want to live out. God is calling us as his people to humble ourselves, pray, seek his face and turn from our wicked ways. Please join us by:

  • Praying daily at 7:14 a.m. & 7:14 p.m.
  • Fasting one time per week