A Blessed Sequence

A Blessed Sequence

It’s called the Google Effect.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time trolling the web, searching for the answer to a question, has experienced it, whether your search implement of choice happens to be named “Google” or “Siri” or perhaps even “Bing.”

It’s a fairly simple proposition. In the wake of such rapid advances in information technology, human beings who utilize search engines to obtain information actually retain less of it, while claiming to know more.

Don’t think you’re susceptible to it? Stop for a moment and ask yourself a question: How many phone numbers do you have memorized? Now, how many phone numbers did you know just a few years before you bought that phone that allowed you to call someone simply by pressing (or saying) their name? I’ll bet the difference is startling.

In short, we remember not the information *itself,* but rather where the information *is stored.* And our minds, as individuals and as a society, continue to be reshaped in ways we haven’t even begun to process.

Yet, we, as believers, are also allowing our minds to be shaped by forces we choose not to understand.

How? As Pastor Bryan shared Sunday, God has revealed to us his Fullness and his Truth in his Word.

Yet, we as Christians, approach the Word as we would any other subject of information. We read the Word, and perhaps we may remember a tidbit here or there – but often only enough to create a mental tab to recall – maybe- where we can find it later, perhaps when we feel we actually need it.

In the meantime, we allow waves and waves of other information and input from the world around us to flow into, around and through our minds and our hearts. And this information – even the kind we may consider innocuous or at least “not bad” – works to reshape our minds and our hearts in ways we don’t comprehend.

And that lack of comprehension continues even after the enemy of our souls has used that shaping to run us over, beat us down and leave us for dead, broken and defeated, often feeling as if there is no hope left, or even resigned to our fate.

Yet that is not what God has intended – not even close.

Forty days after he rose from the dead, Jesus ascended to Heaven. The angels told the apostles gaping in wonder at the sky that the same one they saw be taken up to Heaven will return in just the same way, and when Jesus comes, he will return in power.

But before he left, Jesus gave us a promise. He was not leaving his friends and his disciples – His Church – alone and defenseless. No! Exactly the opposite!

He promised when he took his seat in his rightful place at the right-hand of God the Father, he would send us a helper – The Holy Spirit!

This was confirmed on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection, when the Apostle Peter, preaching to the crowds, gaping in awe at the spectacle of Jesus’ disciples and friends speaking in other tongues, with tongues of flame upon their heads, said of Jesus: “God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in Heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, have him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today.” (Acts 2:32-33 NLT)

But this power and wonder, this Fullness of God, was not given only to those first believers. No! That power is there for us today, for all who believe and call upon His Name!

It is a blessed sequence, one we should all commit to memory, because therein we find the truth of Gospel and the Promise of God’s Power: Because Jesus died on the Cross, our sins are forgiven. Because He is risen, we have new life. And because He is exalted, seated at the Father’s side, He has poured out the Holy Spirit upon us.

Today, we encourage you to search the Scriptures for yourself, and ask God – not Google - to show you the truth of these words. He is risen! He is ascended! And because He is ascended, we have the Holy Spirit, to lead us and guide us into all truth, all knowledge, all wisdom, and into power, both for today and for eternity!

Today, taste and see, that the Lord is good. Choose to experience the Fullness.

 

Share the warmth

Share the warmth

Ask people their definition of “strength,” and you may get a variety of answers in reply.

Ask at a gym, and they may point to the guy who can deadlift not only his own weight, but possibly that of his wife and kids, too.

Ask at a school, and you may be directed to the teacher who somehow manages to maintain a rostrum of serenity amid a sea of children and the bureaucratic politics of education.

Ask in a business, and you may be pointed to the “closer,” who seems to be able to burn the candle at both ends and never seem to slack off the pace of amassing deals, clients and satisfied bosses and customers.

And the list goes on. (You get the idea.)

Throughout our culture, though, the notion of strength is embodied in certain characteristics. And most of them are wrapped up in the notion of the men (or women) who take on the world, come under the weight of destiny, and yet stand up under it, and ultimately triumph – or die trying.

But ask God about “strength” and you get a very different answer.

Right from the beginning, we see God make an observation about the human being he has created. Shortly after making Adam, the Bible tells us God looked and saw Adam was good, as was the rest of creation. But a little while later, we see God observes that “it is not good for man to be alone.”

While God satisfied Adam’s loneliness in Eve, today, so many of us, including many in believing churches, continue to struggle with the notion of attempting to somehow get around God’s observation, striving on to conquer life on our own (or perhaps trying the strategy of “Me+God vs the World”).

But that was never God’s plan.

Just as it was expressed first in Genesis, God repeated himself in technicolor in the Gospels and the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, describing in great detail how he established his church.

Why? To show us the truth. For us who believe, for us who call ourselves followers of Christ, for us who claim to have heard and obeyed the call of Jesus and the beckoning of the Holy Spirit, there is no way to live out that call, to find our destiny, and to find the strength we need to succeed in a Christian life outside the community of the church.

As Pastor Bryan shared Sunday, that community brings great benefits. In community we can find the power of God for our lives, as we grow together with our brothers and sisters in Christ, spurring each other on to good and better works.

In community, we are encouraged to take our eyes off of our own needs, our own problems, our own foibles, and turn our eyes to the needs of those around us, and together, to look to Jesus.

In community, we find the opportunity to forgive and be forgiven.

And in community, we find the strength that comes from having others around us to share our burdens, freeing us to run the race and surmount the obstacles life places in front of us, as we seek our Lord together.

As Pastor Bryan said: “When people love God and love each other, there’s nothing we can’t get through together.”

Today, be encouraged to accept the challenge of community.

Join a small group. Volunteer to serve on a ministry team. Break bread with your fellow church members. Make a commitment to attend Sunday worship services. And get to know those you are worshipping with.

But just stop trying to go it alone. Come in from the cold. Share the warmth and love, grace and hope that is found in a community of true believers, faulty humans just like you, willing to strengthen and encourage each other as together we press in, and seek God’s Fullness.

 

Paving the way

Paving the way

Every year at this time, the rituals are renewed.

People across America, and hopefully elsewhere in the world, slip on what was once known as their “Sunday best,” men tie those neckties (or clip them on – we don’t judge), and head on in to church.

They come for a variety of reasons. For some, Easter is something to be dreaded, a perfunctory item to check off their annual to-do list, perhaps to appease a mom or dad who insists on their family members darkening the door of a church at least once a year. For others, they may not even remember why they come; it’s just something they feel like they need to do to justify the moniker “Christian” they like to wear the other 364 days of the year.

For those who truly believe, however, Easter and the high holy days that precede it are a time of celebration, a time of remembering what our Jesus did for us. While Christmas lays claim, in the grand scope of God’s plan for humanity, it is Easter that ranks as the most wonderful time of the year.

We know the significance Easter is one of the easiest times of the year to persuade friends, family, neighbors, even the barista at the local coffee shop or the cashier at the local big box store, to join you for a Sunday morning in church.

Truly, the Easter season serves as the most well-paved pathway throughout the year to bring to Jesus those who may not know him, or who need to know him better.

But if that’s where it ends, we are sadly missing the point. For the story of Easter, of the final days of Christ’s first corporeal trip to Earth doesn’t actually involve anyone being brought to Jesus.

Rather, it involves Jesus being brought to everyone.

It begins outside the city of Jerusalem, as Jesus, mounted on a donkey, and accompanied by his disciples, makes his entry into the city chosen by God out of all the cities of the world to put His Name, and His temple.

Along the road, as word of his arrival spreads, people throng his path, the Bible tells us, throwing their cloaks and palm branches on the ground before the feet of his donkey, lining the road and singing and shouting praise to God and their coming Messiah.

Essentially, the Bible tells us, these worshippers created a highway for their king to enter into his kingdom.

We know what happened next. Jesus was betrayed, delivered up to his enemies, and ultimately beaten, tortured and crucified by Romans on a cross of wood. But the grave would not contain him, and he rose victorious three days later, offering us life and a path to redemption, back to the Father God who created us! Hallelujah! Praise His Name!

And in the years that followed, Jesus’ followers extended the highway that began on that first Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago, carrying Jesus to all people, everywhere, making disciples throughout the world, in a never-ending chain that stretches to the present day.

So, today, as we near the commemoration of those blessed events, the holiest and most joyous, wonderful days in all of history, let us continue that work.

God has called us to work, to pray and to invite, to lay ourselves down, as it were, on his path, to extend the highway and smooth the way for Jesus to enter our homes, our families, our schools, workplaces, and our communities, to bring life and light, restoration, healing and deliverance to all who need a touch from his hand.

This Easter, allow the life-giving power of the resurrection transform your heart and renew your mind, as we work together, one step, one soul at a time, to introduce everyone around us to this blessed hope we know, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hosanna! He is Risen, indeed!

Will you come?

Will you come?

If you spend enough time talking with people – anyone, really – about the things of God, you’ll eventually find them.

Maybe you’re one of them.

So long as the conversation remains planted in “the love of Jesus,” or “loving your neighbor,” or, as the case may be in today’s society, simply “love,” in general, they will loudly agree, and may even compliment you on your “genuine faith.”

Many also may agree with the statement: “Jesus is the answer.”
But the agreement can quickly end, and the conversation go sideway, when the topic changes to church.

While most people, for much of the history of modern America, have sought to avoid religion and politics in polite conversation, many of those who may quite loudly proclaim they love Jesus, can turn quickly to a darker place when discussing the topic of church.

For many, unfortunately, we know “church” was a place where they were hurt – sometimes deeply, and in horrific ways.

For others, we know “church” is simply uncomfortable, as it forces interaction with many people most of us would rather avoid, or forces us to confront ideas and concepts we may not like or which make us itchy.

And others may simply not like the feeling of being judged – rightly or wrongly – for choosing a kid’s sporting event, a round of golf or fishing, or just a late wake-up call and brunch, over gathering with other believers on Sunday morning.

For these, it is very easy to simply proclaim, their spiritual journey is a solo event, not a group activity.

But unfortunately for these, the Bible preaches something entirely different. As God reveals in his Scriptures, there is no way to follow Jesus apart from living in community with others who similarly seek to follow the Master.

When Jesus called his disciples from the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he did not merely call them one at a time. He began by calling them all together, and then had these men (and later, women) culled from different regions, backgrounds and even political persuasions, as the Gospels and church tradition tell us, learn to walk, eat and live together, with the one goal of following their Rabbi, their Teacher, their Master and ultimately, their Lord, wherever he would go – including, ultimately, as history records, to deaths for his Name.

But throughout their lives, after receiving the Call, these men and women lived to not only follow their Master, but to do as he did, making disciples of all people, everywhere, from all races, cultures, backgrounds, creeds and political loyalties, teaching them to live together in love and desire to still follow their Master, Teacher, Savior and Lord.

In the same way, God calls all of us to not only wish for this kind of community, but to actually live it.

And while there are a great many strategies and philosophies floating around Christianity today on how to achieve it, the Scriptures are quite clear where it begins – in the church, gathering together at least weekly, in worship and reverence for our Lord, and in love and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Most assuredly, this can and will get messy at times, just as all gatherings of human beings ever has. But for those seeking to grow in their walk with Christ, to advance and strengthen their spiritual formation, there is simply no substitute.

Today, please understand: Nothing here was meant as condemnation or an attack on anyone. Instead, please be encouraged to take the step to join with a fellowship of other believers and Christ followers. Come together with others, fallible humans, redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb, to inquire of God together, to humble ourselves and call on his Name, that The One may hear us from heaven, come to us, heal our lives, our relationships, our families, our communities and empower us to live lives worthy of The Call that still resounds throughout the centuries.

Beginning this Sunday, come, find love. Find grace. Find hope. Find renewal. Find strength.

Find community.

Will you come?   

Fall. Or stand, on the rock

Fall. Or stand, on the rock

It’s one of the most iconic scenes in all of the Bible, as God and the devil make a cosmic wager, of sorts.

The angels come before God, to present their reports on what they’ve witnessed on the Earth. And in the throne room, also comes the fallen angel we know as Satan, the Accuser.

And God has a question for him: Have you seen my servant Job? God then brags on Job a bit, noting his commitment to what is right and true.

But Satan essentially bets God that Job’s righteousness is all a front, a façade, much like a movie set – all hat and no cowboy, as the saying goes in Texas. Satan bets that if God allows him to take away everything Job has – and the Bible tells us Job was quite rich – then Job would buckle, curse God and become like any other man.

You’re on, God says.

So, from then on, just about the worst things imaginable happen to Job. Even all of his many children die, and he is, himself, infected with a horrible, flesh-eating disease.

Yet, the Bible says, while Job severely questions God, and says some foolish things, he ultimately manages to praise God, and repent of his foolishness. And God restores everything Job had, plus much more.

Troubling aspects of the story aside (and there are certainly more than enough for any serious student of Scripture to grapple with), the story reveals an important question for us all:

What will we do when we come under the pressure of “The Squeeze?”

For some of us, a bad day is enough to reduce us to a whimpering mess, questioning our very existence.

But life has a way of bringing truly horrible things our way. Even for those of us who truly love God, and know God, and do what He says, there will come a day when we stare death in the face, as we watch loved ones wither, or we receive the worst phone call imaginable, and we collapse, stunned, to the floor.

Maybe it could be something less than death, but still difficult: The loss of a job. A career. Or a home. The loss of your health, or a spouse’s, amid a sudden painful diagnosis.

You never know when The Squeeze will come, or in what form.

But the Bible tells us it is coming.

And in that day, and in that hour, what will be left of you? When the fire comes to devour all that you think you are, when the wind blows hard against what you have built, when it feels like everything is falling apart, and there is no relief in sight – what then?

Jesus tells us there are two possible outcomes in that moment: You will stand. Or you will fall.

And the only thing that makes a difference will be on your preparation, namely: To what did you choose to anchor your life?

Jesus tells the story this way: You can build your house on the sand, the things of this world, influenced by the world’s changing opinions, its ever-shifting priorities, its ever-changing morality, ever blown this way and that to make sure we are in line with what everyone else is doing, saying and thinking. Or we can build our houses on The Rock, the true confession, the never-changing, eternal reality of God’s Word.

As Jesus tells it, the wind will come. The waters will rise. The storms will rage. It’s only a matter of when.

In that moment, will you still praise, and lift your hands to bless the One who controls it all? Or will you, in anger and hurt, choose to lash out and curse the very One who gave you life?

For in that moment, the truth of your existence will be known, as all the trappings, accents and shiny baubles are stripped away, revealing what you’re really made of – or more precisely, what and Who dwells inside you.

Today, we encourage you: Do not let these words tear you down, or cause you to fear. Rather, commit today to begin anchoring your life to The Rock that is higher, and stronger, than anything else in this world. Daily, read the Word. Pray. Seek God.  

Give your pain and hurt over to the One who heals every wound, who will wipe every tear from our eyes.

Allow God’s ways to replace yours, allow His Words to replace yours, allow His thoughts to replace yours, as you submit yourself to such disciplines of Scripture as prayer, fasting and honoring of the Sabbath.

God loves you. He is ever near to those who seek Him, come what may.

 

 

 

 

Off the couch

Off the couch

The saying has been expressed many ways.

In the computing world, for instance, it has gone by the acronym GIGO – “Garbage In, Garbage Out” – meaning, if you get a nonsense response from your computer, it’s most likely because of faulty programming.

But as most people understand, it goes by the saying: “You are what you eat” (usually expressed in the inner voice of a mother or some other ever-present Jiminy Cricket-esque auxiliary conscience figure, while you are licking orange cheese dust from your fingers or wondering how that entire slice of chocolate cake found lodging within your belly.)

While obviously no one has ever literally turned into chocolate cake, a diet rich in junk food will eventually, given enough time, produce results your waistband will not be able to deny or rationalize away, not to mention your heaving lungs as you try to catch your breath from even moderate physical activity.

As Pastor Bryan shared with us this week, the same principle holds true with the less physical, more spiritual side of our existence.

So often, we find ourselves on the receiving end of some kind of seemingly insurmountable obstacle, or constantly failing a challenge or falling prey to temptation we can’t seem to shake. Spiritually, emotionally, mentally, we find ourselves out of breath, out of shape, out of commission, constantly under the gun, or worse, under the boot, squashed like bugs.

Why?

Just as you will find yourself eventually struggling for air when climbing even a small staircase if we spend our days planted on a couch, in front of the television, a bowl of salty, greasy, sugary snacks in our laps, so, too, we allow our spiritual selves to be shaped by harmful, toxic elements.

For so many of us, this could be our history and backgrounds, aspects of our family and our past that have long defined us as someone unworthy, or somehow less. For many others, these shaping elements come from the relationships we now embrace, with people, events, organizations, that weigh on us like anchors. And for many others, it comes from the things on which we choose to think: The media and information we take in, and allow to dominate our every waking moments.

The Bible tells us this was never God’s plan. As children of God, we were never intended to be weaklings, unable to accomplish even the simplest tasks or to surmount the easiest obstacles.

But, just as the first step to reclaiming physical fitness involves setting down the snacks and getting off the couch, so, too, God calls us to lay aside our current way of thinking, our current way of viewing the world, our current approach to relationships, and even our past – the things we have allowed to define us for so long – and instead allow Him to define us through His Word.

Today, we encourage you to accept the challenge. Exchange the spiritual junk food of this world, the intoxicating toxins you think you need, for the pure, nourishing bread of God’s Word and the rejuvenating living water that flows from time spent in prayer, worship and fellowship with the Creator Himself.

Today, choose to take your eyes off the people who will always disappoint and who will only hold you back and keep you down. Set your eyes and your thoughts on Jesus, and allow Him to begin to shape and mold you into the conqueror God has always intended for you to be.

Wait on the Lord, and get ready, because the day will come quickly when you will find yourself no longer lethargic and wheezing, but soaring like eagles, running and not growing weary, walking and not tiring.

Take the first step. Let’s run.

Born to go, together

Born to go, together

It’s a moment every parent lives for.

Sure, we all would love to see our kid sink that title-winning shot, claim the top role in the school play and then kill it on stage, take first chair in an orchestra, dream up the prize-winning science project, rock out on stage or give the valedictorian speech at graduation.

But most parents also understand their child may never be the one to get the ovation and recognition for such one-off, transient achievements.

Rather, the moment the parent is after – whether they know it or not – is to stand off to the side, in the background, and watch their child soar, as they realize how they fit.

Now, mind you, this has nothing at all to do with fitting in. That phenomenon could be a topic for an entirely different discussion, and often doesn’t end all that well.

This is about fit: The moment a child understands and embraces their role on a team, their part in the play or in a band or on a group project, and begins to comprehend that their differences don’t make them less, but rather help to enrich the whole.

We know this innately, whether we embrace it consciously. It’s what civilization is built upon. While a society may celebrate athletes, musicians, rock stars, actors, politicians, business leaders and academics, we also understand the need for those skilled in other areas, essential to the life we all live.

If you disagree, ask yourself: How appreciative are you when the light turns on in your refrigerator, as you reach for a cold drink? While we may treat it like magic or our birthright as modern Americans, it isn’t happenstance. A great number of people smarter than you in any number of fields related to electricity generation and distribution and home construction, not to mention manufacturing and engineering, assembled a system and products to convert some fuel into the electricity that chills those beverages.

It is also a foundational principle of the Kingdom of God.

God has given us all our own quirks, our own foibles, our own strengths, and, yes, our own weaknesses.

The Bible tells us some are called to preach and teach. But the Kingdom of God is not built by pastors in the pulpit.

As our sister, Alma Ybarra, shared with us this past Sunday, God needs all of us – each of us – to accomplish His work here on this Earth.

And what is His work? Jesus tells us He was called to seek and to save those who were lost. He told His followers, His friends, His disciples, go into all the world, and then make new disciples – not of their teachings or for their ministries, but to raise up and build up new and more followers of Jesus, people who will each contribute their own diverse contributions to the work.

In short, after calling the disciples to be with Him, Jesus instructed them and molded them to be like Him, and then, He sent them out to do what He did.

That cycle, that vision, did not die with the Twelve Apostles + Paul. It continues today, everyday, as the Holy Spirit works through each of us to go into our communities, in our worlds, to raise up Christ and draw people to Him – and then help them to discover the richness of all that God offers in discipleship.

As Alma shared, Jesus did great things to help people, heal people and save them – and He can use you to do the same things Jesus did. None of us can do everything. But all of us can do something.

Jesus is calling you to find your place in His Kingdom.

So today, we ask you to examine yourself and ponder: What is Christ calling you to do? Then, know He has prepared you and is equipping you for that task, whatever it may be.

Your selfless acts and devotion to the work of the Master can and will change lives.

Train, work and rest secure in the knowledge that God’s got you and He will never leave you. Through Christ, we can – and will – do all things, together.

Killing it

Killing it

As modern Americans, we love our individuality, those things that make us different, unique, special – or so we hope.

And we blanch at the mere thought that anyone – particularly those with some measure of authority – might come along and tell us such traits may be less than edifying (to put it nicely.)

Consider restaurants. Today, anyone can walk into just about any American eatery and custom order most anything on the menu. Don’t like the dressing? Just put it on the side, or substitute something else entirely. Don’t like an unusual sounding ingredient? Simply asked for it to be removed, even if it might ruin the entire dish.

Yet some menus include the dreaded phrase: “No substitutions.” While your experience may be different, we have witnessed some people absolutely, well, lose their lunch, so to speak, over a waitstaff’s refusal to let their lowbrow customer tinker with a dish.

And just consider what happens in the modern world if someone dares tell another human being something they are doing or some trait they declare to be immutable may be harmful or at least a bit less defining than they assert.

For many believers, this same behavior extends to our relationship with God.

While we call ourselves Christ followers, we so often refuse the simplest , yet most demanding, command ever given by the Son of God to any human being, anywhere:

The two word command, “Follow Me.”

Jesus first said those words to a handful of fishermen mending their nets on the shores of the Sea of Galilee more than 2,000 years ago. And those men got up, left behind everything and followed the man they would soon come to know as Teacher, Friend, Master, Messiah and, ultimately, Lord and God.

But through the following process, Jesus’ disciples, those who loved Him most dearly, who defended Him most vigorously, who stuck by Him most loyally, continuously ran into one near insurmountable obstacle over and over.

For while other teachers and masters of Jesus’ day may have called disciples to take up his mantle, Jesus called His disciples to take up their cross.

It is striking imagery, one which we in our convenient, sanitized First World environment struggle to understand. Certainly, all of Jesus’ disciples were familiar with the imagery of the cross – men nailed to a cross beam of wood, beaten and hung up to slowly suffocate to death over the course of hours, sometimes at the whim of a Roman governor, military commander or puppet potentate.

So, one can only imagine what went through their minds when Jesus said no one can truly follow Him unless they first take up their cross.

Yet their puzzlement over the command still trips us up today.

For Jesus is not commanding us all to suffer the same gruesome death He did on that blessed day at Calvary.

Rather, He commands us to put to figurative death those ideas, behaviors and, yes, traits and lifestyles we allow to interfere with our spiritual development as believers, which hold us back from fulfilling the ultimate desire of Christ, when He comes to us, in our current situation, our current environment, and beckons us with that simple command to “Follow Me.”

While He calls us to come just as we are, Jesus also tells us there is no going back. For those who follow Christ, there must be death:

Death to self. Death to pride. Death to lust. Death to greed. Death to selfishness. Death to ambition. Death to anything that would prevent us from becoming all that He has created us to be, the much more real version of ourselves that we can never become on our own, clinging to the broken promises, broken dreams and broken tokens offered by this world.

But here’s the rub: We can’t kill any of these things ourselves, for we are – all of us – sinners, and these things are part of our nature – immutable, unchangeable traits, if you will. But if we let Him, God can and will kill them, leading to something truly wonderful.

For Jesus promises that those who die in Him will also rise with Him. For all the so-called treasures we sacrifice to Him, He will give so much more, and so  much better.

For He promises that those who follow Him will become like Him.

Jesus conquered death. He conquered pride, lust, greed, selfishness, ambition, loss, pain.

And He promises, in the end, He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Today, we invite you to start that journey. Take the first steps toward your new, forever life. There’s no substitute. Find life. Find hope. Find purpose. Follow Jesus. And don’t look back.

 

 

With us. Everywhere. Always.

With us. Everywhere. Always.

In modern society, so many of us who believe tend to seek to compartmentalize our lives.

We like differing aspects of our lives packed, neatly, into separate boxes, more or less firmly walled off from each other.

This enables us to keep a degree of separation between those parts of ourselves and of our lives that we’d rather not touch. For instance, we believe our problems at work should not come home. Our family lives should not lap too much into our professional pursuits. And our personal pursuits are the business of no one else.

Our pursuit of God is similarly affected. Driven by a belief in a separation of God and culture, and of faith and the society at large, it’s a big reason why any public mention of Christianity, beyond the trite and mundane, is discouraged today, if not prohibited or threatened with persecution outright.

Just think what the fallout and damage to our careers and reputations could be if anybody ever connected the dots on us, and figured out who we really are!

But while this belief in keeping our faith neatly in its Sunday morning box can be detrimental to our culture, it also infects our thinking, causing even those of us who may be more diligent in what we believe to be pursuing God to miss out on the fullness of all that God wishes to do for us.

Ask any even nominally confessing Christian what the Bible means when it commands us to “seek God,” and you will get some combination of prayer, Bible study and attending church. Some might even throw in some ministry activity, like volunteering in kids church or nursery or even on the parking lot attendant team (Shameless plug: Please prayerfully consider volunteering for such rewarding ministry activities. We need you! And – bonus - you’ll love it.)

But while God certainly commands us to do all of these things, we must take care, lest we limit Him *only* to those moments and activities.

Last week, we discussed The Call – Jesus walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, calling His fisherman friends to lay down their nets and following Him. And they did, walking closely enough with their Teacher and Master, their Rabbi, to gradually become more and more like Him, and eventually being set loose upon an unsuspecting world, turning it upside down and changing the very course of history.

Similarly, Jesus walks along the shores of our life, walking to where we are, busily plugging away at our to-do lists, attending to whatever our functional equivalent of cleaning and mending commercial fishing nets may be. And he calls to us, asking us to lay them down and follow Him.

Yet, for us, this is no call to a monastery. We are to remain in the world, even as we separate ourselves from it, becoming less the people we were, and more and more like The One we profess to love and serve.

As Pastor Josh Nguyen share with us this Sunday, that means we can’t just limit God to the box we like to keep Him in: Sunday worship services, volunteer service and even daily quiet times of prayer, study and meditation.

All of those things are important, if not essential, to maintaining a close walk with the Lord. But God wants us to bring Him into all of our lives, into *every* situation. Yes, even into the chaos we know awaits us when our “quiet times” end and we open the door to our prayer closet and step back out into the world.

Today, don’t separate the chaos of your life from God. Don’t differentiate between “your time” and “God’s time.” Give it all over to Him. Invite Him into the chaos.

Rather than running from the storm, root yourself instead in the True Vine. Abide with Jesus. Let Jesus abide with you.

In the midst of the nonsense, stop. Silence the voices that seek to drown out God’s. You may not be able to control your environment, but call on the Holy Spirit, and watch as His power helps to redirect and reorient your mind and your eyes to the God who loves you more than you know, and who desires to be your all in all.

Today, enter God’s presence. And stay there.

He is with you. Everywhere. Always.

 

 

 

Simply. Follow.

Simply. Follow.

Everyone has their favorite childhood memories.

Whether it be great family vacations, trips to the ballpark with dad, lying out under the stars on a warm summer night with a sibling, tramping through the woods with a friend, baking cookies with grandma or any number of other heart-warming moments, most have several things in common.

First, they involve being with someone else – usually someone you care about deeply, and who loved you perhaps even more deeply in return.

They are also usually something relatively simple: No grand productions or vast sums of money spent; Just some time doing something you both enjoy and, in the process, learning something about the world, about your loved one and about yourself.

And, for many, it involves getting dirty.

For some, this can involve becoming completely covered in flour, as they toil for hours in the kitchen, preparing a holiday meal or baking those neverending tins of Christmas cookies. Or perhaps your warm and slightly grimy memories involve sawdust, motor oil or clay dust in your socks after hours on a ball diamond near your house.

And recalling these memories, years down the road, just may cause tears to well in your eyes. Feel free to blame the dust.

In much the same way, God calls us all to get dusty with Him.

While the other three Gospels tell us something of the origin of Jesus, either of His lineage, advent and birth, or His heavenly origins as the Living Word of God, the Gospel of Mark opens with the striking image of Jesus walking along the Sea of Galilee, calling out to some dirty fishermen to lay down their gear and take up a new occupation.

“Come, follow me,” He said. “And I will make you fishers of men.”

While obviously a clever turn of the phrase (from “fishermen” to “fishers of men” – get it?) Jesus meant much more than that. As Pastor Bryan shared with us, Jesus was also employing a well used phrase of that day, that time and that place, one used to describe influential Jewish religious teachers, known then and today as rabbis.

Jesus, who would quickly become known as a rabbi to people throughout Israel, was inviting the men to be His disciples, to leave behind their old lives and to follow Him so closely, they would themselves become like Him – great teachers, sent from God, to reel in people, and draw them to the God who made them and who then, just as much as He does now, desires to have such a close relationship with them, that it is as if His very dust is on them.

And the men answered His call. Today, thanks to their desire to be with the Master, we know these men by simple first names: Peter, Andrew, James, John. Years later, that same John would write striking words:

“There is no fear in love…” he would write in the passage we now know as 1 John 4:18.

And John would know. Following Jesus from that rocky shore, he would stay with Jesus for the next three years, traveling all over Judea, Galilee and Samaria, watching Jesus heal, deliver, save, raise the dead, cast out demons, preach and teach to tens of thousands, even walk on water and calm a storm with a command, and then, one day, staring up at the cross on which his friend and teacher suffered and died, only to run to his empty tomb three days later, and stare in amazement as his risen Lord ascended to Heaven, to take His seat at the right hand of God the Father.

This same John, who described himself as the disciple Jesus loved, knew what it was like to be so close to Jesus, His love would simply push away fear, leaving no room for any concern except for that which also concerns the Master, the teacher, the rabbi.

Today, Jesus is still calling us to cast down our nets, cast aside our fear and worry, leave it at the shore, and simply follow Him, joining together with countless billions of others around the world, as His disciples, His apprentices, filled with the power of His Holy Spirit, covered in His dust, in friendship and love for Him, tasked with continuing His work in this world.

And where will you go?
That’s the adventure.

Follow me, He says.  Won’t you come?

4.16.17 Easter at Church on the Rock

4.16.17 Easter at Church on the Rock

After a weekend of events, we ended it all with a wonderful service celebrating Christ's resurrection! Friday we reflected on the cross at our Tenebrae: Service of Shadows, then Saturday the kids had a blast at the Annual Easter Egg Hunt. It was definitely one of the best weekends of the year!

4.9.17 Palm Sunday Celebration

4.9.17 Palm Sunday Celebration

Palm Sunday, the beginning of our Holy Week events, was kicked off with our kids parading around with palm branches as we sang "Blessed be the Name of the Lord!"  Ps. Bryan gave an awesome message about Jesus' entry into our world and what that means for us. You'll find the audio for that message below.

3.26.17 The Truth About Words

3.26.17 The Truth About Words

What a Sunday it was yesterday! After a powerful time of worship (with our kids amongst us!), Allison Dominguez led us in a wonderful prayer over our lives, reminding us that God's love never fails. Then, we sang a reflective song titled "Prayers of the People" before Ps. Bryan gave us great insight into the way our words affect others. 

Sermon Highlight Tweets:

  • Are you a person giving life or death with your words? You choose.
  • No one speaks "freely." Words cost something.

  • Words hurt - even if we say: "Just kidding!"

  • The lie: Words just evaporate, and disappear. The truth: Words last.

The Vine Abides

The Vine Abides

In so many homes, few times eclipse the feeling of Christmas morning.
Children and parents, maybe other family members or close friends, a dog or two with tails wagging, gathered round a trimmed tree, lights and eyes aglow, surrounded by the waking aroma of coffee, amid a blur of squeals and giggles and shredded wrapping paper, reflecting in so many ways the spirit of the season of good news and great joy.
But in many circumstances, a keen observer may see something else reflected:
A desire for more.
It, of course, is on display in the weeks leading up to Christmas, as people hunt for "great deals."
But when the time finally arrives to open those gifts, many children (or adults, as well) will move from package to package, quickly tossing aside what they've been given, in search of something they think may be bigger, newer, better.
It's a trait endemic to humanity, with us from our very beginning.
We see it in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree, kicking aside their paradise for the chance to "be like God."
Lot leaves Abraham to acquire more in Sodom.
The Israelites whine at Moses because they had grown sick of the heavenly bread God provided them for food in the desert.
And on, and on, and on.
And through it all, God calls His people to stop it.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus compares our relationship with Him as the branches to a grapevine.
As branches, we are not able to survive on our own. We need a source of life. And, Jesus says, that sorce of life is Him.
He is the Vine; we are the branches.
He invites us to abide in Him, to stay connected.
Yet time and again, we choose to cut ourselves off, to leave the wonderful, vibrant life in which our Lord sustains us, to chase the "newer, better, bigger, shinier" thing over there.
Yet, just as Adam and Eve, we discover that in the day we do that, we spiritually begin to wither and die.
Today, God invites you to reconnect, to take a moment, as might an observant parent on Christmas morning, to appreciatethe lifegiving and sustaining love and joy our Father has for us, and simply choose to abide in Him.
Connect with our Creator, our Father, our Lord, and discover just how vibrant life can be, ina place and lifestyle wherewe are Better Together.

Bread, For Today

Bread, For Today

 An elderly business owner was once asked when he was going to retire.

His response was, “Why? What would I do?”

Why? You could travel, see the world, lounge by the poolside, golf, whatever you want to do, was the answer. Don’t you ever think about all the other things you can do?

The business owner paused for a moment, and smiled.

“When I was younger,” he said, “travel was great: Seeing new things, going new places, having new experiences, so much fun. But now?
“My wife and I went on vacation last year. All we did was spend our mornings thinking about what we should eat for lunch, and our afternoons, what we should eat for dinner. After a couple days, we couldn’t wait to get back home.

“I wouldn’t want to do that every day,” he laughed.

All of us have more in common with the old business owner than we may imagine.

Every day, from the moment our feet hit the floor, we are rarely, if ever, in the moment, where we are.

While we move from place to place, from task to task, engagement to engagement, and meeting to interminable meeting, our minds are almost constantly somewhere else – and usually, on either some future place, task, engagement or meeting on our calendar.

Or perhaps our mind is stuck on where we’ve been, contemplating what we’ve done – or more precisely, what we did wrong or should have done or said instead.

But regardless, even in moments that should stir our souls, inspire us or fill us with joy, our minds and spiritual energy are focused elsewhere, robbing us of the replenishment and refreshment we tell ourselves we are seeking.

This approach to life also spills over into our spiritual life, and our journey with God.

As our brother, Braden Larive, shared with us, God in His Word has promised to supply all our needs. He instructs us to not worry, and to trust Him in everything. And He even explicitly instructs us to ask Him, when we pray, to supply those things we need.

As Jesus put it in His instructions, we are to ask Our Father for our Daily Bread.

This means we’re to seek not tomorrow’s bread, or ask Him to re-bake yesterday’s bread, but to give us this day the bread we need today.

Jesus is asking us to live in the moment – to experience life in all its fullness, now.

That may mean we can enjoy a day of fun or recreation, lounging by the poolside, a leisurely walk in the woods or a new experience in an exotic locale. Or it could mean we encounter a day of elation, as we celebrate a significant life-changing event, such as a wedding, graduation or the birth of a child or grandchild. Or it could mean a dull, unremarkable day of hard work, with or without a real payoff at the end.

Or it could mean a day of legitimate suffering, in which we grapple with the unimaginable.

But no matter what this day may bring, we can rest secure in the knowledge that God will give us exactly what we need.

While we may like to think focusing on what has been will help us improve, and focusing on the future will help us prepare for what’s next, God invites us to let those things go, to simply trust Him and know that, when we are with Him, then are we truly Better Together.

Better than real

Better than real

 It doesn’t take much skill or insight to recognize how much America has changed in the past few decades.

If you don’t believe it, just think about the smartphone on which you may be reading this (or the smartphone in your pocket as you’re reading this on your laptop.) Ten years ago, the device wasn’t even available for consumer use. Now? It’s hard for many of us to even remember a time when smartphones and the instant connectivity and bottomless depth of knowledge – and cat videos and other nonsense – they provide.

But the changes are far deeper than technological. Consider television. While the technical quality of our TV sets have undeniably drastically improved in the last 40 years (no more rabbit ears! HD picture quality!), we have witnessed a more debatable course in the programming.

In television’s first few decades, many programs sought to project a certain image of American life – an ideal, you might say – particularly when depicting the family. But in more recent days, a larger and larger chunk of that programming has veered as far from the ideal as possible, seeking to depict the dysfunction present in many families – and then some.

For many of us, the dysfunction, unfortunately, is readily recognizable, mirrored in many ways in families we know, or perhaps even in our own households.

But, while sad, this is nothing new.

For proof, we need look no further than the Bible.

We know God’s Word is jam-packed with instruction for healthy family living. In Ephesians, for instance, as Pastor Bryan shared, the Apostle Paul offers guidance for wives, husbands, children and parents to find domestic harmony – God’s “ideal,” if you will, wherein wives leverage their domestic power for the good of their husbands and families, husbands lay down their lives for their wives and families and children choose to obey and honor their parents, not because they always deserve it, but to obey and honor God.

But a study of the Bible will also reveal that the pages are not only rife with stories of dysfunctional families, but tales from the lives of some of the Good Book’s central characters that would probably make your dysfunctional family look like it’s plucked from central casting for a classic TV show.

Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David – their lives and families were filled with adultery, murder, deception, betrayal, even rape,  or worse. Yet God in His Word calls them heroes, men after His own heart, whose faith was credited as righteousness and held up as examples for us to emulate.

And why? Because where their reality fell short, God’s grace abounded all the more to move them ever closer to God’s Ideal.

In the same way, God knows our reality will rarely, if ever, match the ideal He desires for us.

But we can know, that just as the heroes of faith whose lives displayed all the failings of fallen and sinful humanity, we, too, can find grace and power from the hand of our Lord, to deploy His Word in our lives and in our families, and dig deep to lay a strong foundation on which to build not only a better present, but a blessed future, in which all who loved the Lord can find healing and love in families, churches and communities that are Better Together.  

 

 

 

 

Reset. Required

Reset. Required

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we find ourselves in need of a fresh start.

We go through life, attending to the needs of the day, or of the hour, or even of this very second, doing the things that need to be done -  and, somehow, we find ourselves askew.

It starts small, at least at first.

But over time, it worsens, until, one day, amid our busyness and running to-and-fro, like those who too long have neglected tidying up and now find themselves living amid intractable clutter, or a parent who wakes up one morning to realize their children are strangers, we feel our shoulders slump at the realization we have wandered quite far from where we intended to be.

At that moment, we know we are in desperate need of a reset.

The principle applies in many areas of life: In our careers, families, friendships, even marriages.

And the principle holds true in our spiritual lives, and our faith walk with God.

For some of us, the misalignment can be severe, as we fill our lives with things we know the Bible and the Holy Spirit within us bear witness to as sin: Greed, lust, violence, hate, deception, cheating and the like.

Others may clutter their lives with things that are more innocuous and not inherently wrong, in and of themselves: School, work, sports, music, friends, even family and kids.

And others may not feel askew, as their lives are filled with “godly” things, like church and ministry.

But yet, all of these things can serve to clutter our lives and come between us and The One who should be the center of our attention, The One on whom our eyes should be.

All of these things will leave us feeling tired, stretched thin and worn out – what Jesus in the Gospel of John described as “old wineskins.”

But this is not what God intends for any of us. While He certainly wishes for all of us to be responsible people, He desires more for us to take a moment now and again (and again) to refresh ourselves and renew ourselves spiritually, to make our spirits as “new wineskins,” supple and elastic, made ready to receive the better things He has for us and to receive the better assignments He has destined for us.

As Pastor Bryan shared this past Sunday, God, in His Word, tells us how to do this.

Certainly, moments of refreshing can be found in worship and in studying the Word. But for a true systemwide reboot, a bit more effort is required.

And that is where a season of prayer and fasting comes in.

In fasting, we willingly lay down something that is otherwise important to us. Perhaps that can be a day or more of not eating, or simply giving up for an extended period a particular kind of food or drink we enjoy or consume too much of ordinarily. Or it could be unplugging for an extended period of time from activities we enjoy or believe are somehow “essential,” like social media, sports, monitoring the news, or reading or watching anything other than God’s Word.

And in fasting, we tell our physical being – our “flesh,” as the Bible calls it – that we are not slaves to these things, to these desires, cravings and needs. Rather, fasting reminds us who we are: Free children of God in Christ. And it reminds us where our eyes should be focused: On The One who gives us all these good things, and in whom we find not only new life, but freedom.

Now, through the end of January, we as a church, have committed to a season of prayer and fasting, seeking God for the better things He has for us in 2017 and beyond, in our church, in our communities, in our homes, our marriages, our families, our careers – in every aspect of our lives.

We ask you to prayerfully consider what God would have you lay down during this time, and invite you to join us as we ask God to send His Awakening.

 

Grace Came: Prince of Peace

Grace Came: Prince of Peace

Some people may just not be cut out to sail.

Usually, they’re pretty easy to spot:

They’re the people clinging to the rail, or finding a spot as far away from the water as they can get, squirming (or worse) at any quiver or pitch in the boat. And should the wind rise or the water become even the slightest bit choppy? They have not yet begun to yowl.

Even if the boat should be populated by seasoned sailors or a reassuring crew, they struggle to find solace until their feet are planted on firm ground again, forgetting the whole time to keep their eyes on those who know the water best. Until they start panicking, it may be best to simply relax and, well, go with the flow.

In the Bible, we read of a night when even some of these seasoned sailors, those we would look to as the most seaworthy of folk – in this case, Jesus’ disciples, whose numbers included several professional fishermen – were unnerved and undone by stormy waters.

That evening, Jesus and the disciples went to sail across the Sea of Galilee, the large inland lake – roughly the size of Washington, D.C. - at the north end of what we know as the nation of Israel.

As they sailed, a storm arose and the seas quickly moved beyond choppy, as sheets of rain and monstrous waves threatened to swamp the boat and kill them all.

As the disciples panicked and feared for their lives, however, the Bible tells us Jesus simply slept in the back of the boat.

Finally, angered by the disciples’ fear and doubt, Jesus stands up and, at a word, the storm, which had raged so intensely a moment before, had disappeared, and the sea, made as still as glass. The disciples, the Bible tells us, were amazed.

But perhaps they should not have been.

As we sail on our life voyages, we, too, can encounter storms. On some days, and in some seasons, we can easily move from where we are to where we want to be, as the waters of life are smooth or, at worst, a bit choppy, maybe offering a flat tire here, a rough week at work or a silly fight with a spouse, a friend or one of our children.

But at other times, we know if can get much, much worse, as waves rise up, coming one after the other: Severe illness. Eviction. Job layoffs. Unexpected major debt. Divorce. Estrangement. Addiction. Children who reject God and their family. Death of loved ones. And still other unspeakable horrors.

In such times, we may tempted, as were the disciples, to wonder where Jesus went, and how He could not seem to care a wit for our fate.

Knowing the story of how Jesus calmed the waves and the winds, we, too, may look for Him to instantly end our suffering and restore our life’s waters to tranquility.

Yet in the Biblical story, we too often miss the central point: The disciples, who had seen Jesus do great and miraculous things at other times, seem to have forgotten who that was in the boat with them that night! They began looking at the waves, and listening to the wind, rather than focusing on The One who knew the situation best – The One who was so at peace, He could snooze contentedly in the back of the boat, even as the storm threatened to swamp it and seasoned sailors wailed in fear.

So it must not be with us. Just as God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, promising a Son who would be our Everlasting Father, our Mighty God and our Wonderful Counselor, He also promised a Son who we would call our Prince of Peace.

Today, no matter what is happening – even if you, as Pastor Bryan shared, are facing the “mother lode of storms” – know who it is that is in the boat with you. While He can calm the storm with a word – and He may – He also may simply ride with you through the storm, using these circumstances to show His Power in your life.

His name is Jesus. He is Lord. And He is your Prince of Peace, both now and for all time, The One promised us thousands of years ago, and whose coming was proclaimed by angels on a silent night hundreds of years later, when Grace Came.

 

 

  

 

Grace Came: Everlasting Father

Grace Came: Everlasting Father

There are many things that can define us.

Our jobs – what we do for a living – undoubtedly spring to mind for many. The question: “Soooo… what do you do?” is often one of the first questions we ask and answer within 10-15 minutes of meeting someone for the first time at parties or other gatherings.

Our pursuits also can be defining. It’s the reason millions of people gathered in Grant Park in Chicago on a chilly November morning to celebrate the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs, or gather in stadiums and smaller halls to cheer on their favorite performers, or regularly gather on muggy summer mornings or rainy fall days to tackle muddy obstacle courses or run 26 miles through the streets of one of America’s major cities.

But often, for many, their true defining characteristics – for better or for worse – are handed down with their heritage, from their family.

From our earliest moments to the end of our days, the places we have come from and the people with whom we share traditions and our formative and most intimate moments - they imprint upon us in ways we often cannot begin to truly see and comprehend and shape us into the people we become. For some, that may be measured in innumerable blessings, contrasted against some glaring flaws. For others, it  may mean a lifetime spent trying to overcome old wounds or obstacles laid out, perhaps before they were even born.

But no matter what shape they may take, our family remains our family.

However, God, in His Word, shares with us a great mystery and an even greater promise. For just as we have been given human families, with all their flaws, so, too, does our Creator promise us a different heritage.

And this heritage is free of flaws. How? Because it is handed down to us from God Himself.

In His Word, God, through the prophet Isaiah, foretells the arrival of His Son, Jesus. And among the descriptors He chooses to use to tell us about Jesus is this phrase: “Everlasting Father.”

As Pastor Bryan shared, this phrase does not so much describe Jesus Himself, as it points to one of His great purposes: To point us to The Father, God the Creator, who so loved the world – who so loved us, though we hated Him – that He sent his One and Only Son to pay the ultimate sacrifice, to suffer and die in agony on a cross of wood, to shed His Blood, that we may be delivered from sin and the agonizing death we deserved, to be reunited with our Father in Heaven, and become co-heirs with Christ to the wonderful future He has predestined for us with Him, forever.

Forever!

Hallelujah! Amen!

For before the arrival of Jesus, we had no idea of the parental love God had for us, and of His desire for all humanity to be united to Him, not as slaves, nor even as mere servants, but as His children!

Yet through Jesus, not only did we learn of this love, not only were we told, but a way was made – The Way was made! – for us to join with our Father, in His Family and in His Kingdom for all eternity.

Today, as you ponder this great mystery, remember: Through Jesus, we – you, us, all of us – have been given a new name, a new family, a new definition of what it means to be human.

We are no longer slaves to this world, slaves to what which we believe defines us. Rather, through Jesus, we have been called children of God, children of His Promise!

Today, as we continue to worship our God during this season of promise, remember who you are, through the actions of the life and death of that little baby born in Bethlehem on that silent night thousands of years ago in the hill country of Judea, when Grace Came.

 

 

Grace Came: Mighty God

Grace Came: Mighty God

It’s a scene with which we’re all familiar.

After all, for many of us, it’s standing somewhere in our homes throughout the month of December.

No, we’re not talking about the Christmas tree. It’s rather the small wood and plastic (or ceramic) diorama reminding us of the true Reason for the Season.

We speak, of course, about the Nativity scene: A small wooden stable, often with a thatched roof. Outside, to one side, a shepherd waits with sheep, and maybe a dog; to the other side, three men, each one wise, and all bowing in some fashion, approach while bearing gifts. Their camels crouch behind them. Above, an angel flutters. Inside the stable, Joseph, a shepherd’s crook in his hand, and Mary, kneeling, gaze down lovingly on the animal feed trough between them.

And inside the trough – the “manger” – lies the object of everyone’s attention: The Christ Child. Baby Jesus.

It’s the enduring image of Christmas, this little baby sent from Heaven to save us all. Emmanuel. God With Us.

But while our minds during this season may dwell on the helplessness of this Little One, we must not allow this image to distract us from an important truth of who this Baby actually is.

For in Isaiah 9, God, through the prophet for whom that book of the Bible is named, gives us great promises about this Son of His. And among other descriptors for Jesus, we are told He is called “Mighty God.”

Now dwell on that imagery for a while. Instead of the helpless babe, lying in a manger, picture instead a mighty warrior, a great King, above all Kings, a Lord above all Lords, before whom, one day, every knee will bow and every tongue confess His Lordship, to the glory of God.

Picture a towering Son of Man, at whose name all can be set free, and at whose name the dark spirits of Hell tremble and flee.

For just as each of us (no matter how cute we may at one time have been) were not born to remain an adorable, giggling, cooing bundle of helplessness, so too was Jesus sent to Earth with a purpose. And in His own words, He has told us what His purpose was: To seek and to save those who are lost, to proclaim freedom to the captives, to set the oppressed free and to help the blind to see.

So today, as you hear those words repeated every December, remember precisely what those Good Tidings of Great Joy actually mean:

In Jesus, we have a Savior, a Great Champion, who has never been defeated and can never be defeated, who fights for us, and through whom we have victory.

As Pastor Bryan shared, no matter where you are or what you’re going through, if you feel like you can never win, Jesus can break through – and He will. He has already won. And through Him, we, too, have the victory!

Who is He? He is Christ. The Lord. His name is Jesus, Emmanuel, our Mighty God, through whom God’s Grace Came.