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.

 

 

 

 

Grace Came: Wonderful Counselor

Grace Came: Wonderful Counselor

Take a moment, and in your mind’s eye, picture Jesus.

What do you see? Most likely the beard, the hair, the robes, likely the eyes, as well.

But did you notice his arms? Maybe his hands? His feet?

If you had met him 2,000 years ago, those features would have definitely stood out.

Why? The Bible tells us a number of things about Jesus, and among them is this detail: He was considered “the son of a carpenter.” A woodworker. One who works with his hands.

And, of course, up until a few decades ago, with the advent of power tools, this was a craft accomplished almost entirely through the strength of one’s arms, hands, legs and back. Imagine chopping down trees, milling the lumber into boards, then cutting the wood to the proper dimensions with hand saws, chiseling it, hammering it together, and sanding it smooth, all without the use of a single modern tool. Yet that is what Jesus’ earthly stepfather, Joseph – and, by extension, Jesus and his brothers – likely did every day of their young lives.

Now, imagine what his arms would look like. How calloused and rough his hands and feet would be from years in the woods and in the shop.

And don’t stop there: Picture Jesus doing business. He would have. Taking orders from customers. Securing tools and other materials. Haggling over cost. Crunching numbers. Sweating as he sought to deliver the finished order on time, and under budget. Perhaps mollifying an unsatisfied or irate customer or two. Hiring help. Perhaps firing bad or lazy workers, or dealing with employees who may steal. As any businessman knows, this all comes with the territory.

Now, return to those eyes. Full of wisdom. Keen. Cutting. Quick to laugh. Yet, undoubtedly tinged with the same sadness, just behind the surface, that each person will know at some point in their life. How? Think again about Joseph. Where was he at the moment Jesus was crucified? Why was Mary alone at the foot of The Cross? While it is not stated, it is quite clear that Joseph had died at some point during the life of Jesus. And Jesus would have felt the same pain as anyone else who has ever had to bury a loved one, perhaps “before their time,” as it were.

And we haven’t begun to imagine how He suffered upon The Cross, feeling the sting of betrayal and mockery, the agony of the lashes and the crushing blows of the hammers, driving the nails into His hands and feet – and the torment of separation from God the Father, burdened with the sins of all humanity.

In the book of Isaiah, we are presented with one of the most beloved prophecies about the coming Messiah, about the coming of grace from the Throne of God. Among other descriptive terms, we are told that the Coming One will be known as the “Wonderful Counselor.”

And as we ponder the life of Jesus, we know how this can be true. While fully God, Jesus was undoubtedly also fully human. And that means He knows what it means to be human. He walked the streets. He worked until exhausted, collapsing in His bed at the end of a long day, perhaps disappointed and frustrated by a project or deal gone wrong. He dealt with the same kind of people, in the same kind of relationships, as has any other.

And he suffered pain – physical, emotional, spiritual pain.

So why, as Pastor Bryan asked, do we not trust Him to understand us, and what we are going through? Why is Jesus the last person we often think to share our problems with?

Rest assured: No matter what you may bring to Him, His response will most assuredly begin with: “I know.”

And Scripture assures us it will be followed at some point by: “I love you.”

For it is in the person of Jesus we know that, for us, A Child is Born, and to us, A Son is Given, that in Him, we will know that, to all who believe, Grace Came.

 

The Power in Discipleship

The Power in Discipleship

We in the church, just as those in the realms of business, government, athletics and many other fields, spend a lot of time talking about leadership.

This is particularly true of the amount of words, bytes and ink dedicated to the question of: What makes a good leader?

However, in the church, we read in the Bible that Jesus asks us to ponder a different question: What makes a good follower? Or, more to the point, what makes a good disciple?

While the world tells us we should strive to be No. 1, Jesus tells us that those who will be first in the Kingdom of God are actually those who those who put God’s desires first and those willing to be “the servant of all.”

God exalts the humble, the Bible tells us.

But while many claim to know and understand these godly concepts and Kingdom principles, when it comes time to actually execute, we – all of us – all too often fall short.

And this is a shame.

As Pastor Bryan has shared with us these past few weeks, God has equipped us – all of us – with great and powerful gifts. Through the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to achieve great feats and carry out great exploits.

And why has God so empowered us? Because He has given us – all of us – a great mission: To save the world.

While few of us will ever have the opportunity to actually reach an entire nation or even an entire city with the Good News of Jesus Christ - much less the entire world - each of us can make an impact in our own world, as we bring the light and love of Christ to our own network of family, friends, coworkers, classmates, acquaintances, clerks at the grocery store, baristas at our favorite coffee spots, and more.

But to actually achieve the objectives God has commissioned to us, we cannot rely on our own strength, intelligence and cunning. Rather, we must surrender those to our Lord and let His Holy Spirit work through us.

And that can only be achieved when we humble ourselves – when we recognize our real purpose in this life is not to build up ourselves and our lives, but to pursue love and build each other up.

Like elite soldiers on a mission, we must lay down our agendas and take up the agenda of our Great Commander, to save the world, marching together in perfect rhythm, as fully equipped and empowered members of God’s 300.

 

Using Spiritual Gifts

Using Spiritual Gifts

Everyone loves a good show.

Whether it be a moving concert, an illuminating art exhibit, an engrossing novel, a spectacular film, a thrilling athletic triumph or some other amazing achievement, such performances often inspire us to leap to our feet or step back in awe at the incredible spectacle of other human beings performing to the height of their abilities.

They also may leave us wondering, could we, too, attain something that great?

While natural ability, talent and proclivity can account for a good portion of such achievement, we also know that, in most cases, the seemingly spontaneous display of supposedly superhuman ability is also the result of incessant devotion to a craft, to a trade, to a technique.

The hands that seem to fly over the guitar strings or the piano keys, raising goosebumps in the listener? The words that seem to string effortlessly together, evoking empathy and connection to the characters on the page? The visual effects captured perfectly in the photograph, balancing shadow and light to perfectly expose the subject?

All those things did not come of themselves. While those who produced such achievements certainly began with gifts of talent, the work you now see, much as the tip of the iceberg bobbing on the ocean currents, is but the visible expression of often years, and perhaps decades, of practice, discipline and commitment.

In the same way, God, in His Word, tells us He gives gifts to His people. But unlike extraordinary physical or mental abilities, these gifts our Lord gives generously, and abundantly to all who follow Him and who ask or have need of them.

The Apostle Paul tells us these gifts include abilities that many would genuinely regard as “superhuman” – the ability to know specific things happening in the lives of others; the ability to know how to respond in pressure-packed or even impossible situations; the ability to stand firm when the world around us crumbles; and the ability to move in power, to bring healing and deliverance to the lives and souls of those around us.

And any who have seen it happen, or believe it can happen, can acknowledge how cool and awesome it can be when the Holy Spirit moves in such ways.

But, as Pastor Bryan shared with us this past Sunday, God does not want us to merely be spectators, marveling at the abilities others may use.

Our Lord desires each of us – Me. You. All. – to move in these gifts, to use them with power, to deploy them as spiritual weapons targeted for one purpose:

To draw all people to salvation through a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ.

But while the Holy Spirit can enable anyone at any time for this work, they are most effective – and we are most effective - when the gifts have been used and used, practiced and practiced, over and over, until deploying these gifts becomes second nature to us all.

This week, be encouraged to know that the gifts of the Spirit are given to you, for you, to use. Ask the Holy Spirit to prepare you for the tasks at hand, to empty you, so you may be filled with the Power of God. Then, get quiet. Listen for the Lord’s voice and His command. And be ready to step out, at a moment’s notice, in power, as one of God’s 300.  
 

You Can Change Your World

You Can Change Your World

In the fall, the thoughts of many Americans turn to certain things.

Yes, perhaps for some that may mean pumpkin spice-everything and falling leaves (and/or apple picking). But for a great many others, it means the heart of football season, the beginnings of the hockey and basketball seasons, and the arrival of October and the World Series, signaling the climax of the baseball season.

On those fields, courts and rinks, some of the greatest athletes in the world, boasting physical skills and abilities the majority of the world’s population can only dream of, take the stage in pursuit of a season capped off with a trophy.
For these gifted performers, however, the achievement only begins with the talents with which they have been blessed.

While those talents may have given them the opportunity to earn a spot on a roster, it is a demonstrated commitment to their craft – a willingness to work hard, to study, to practice, practice, practice, to sacrifice their bodies and their time, to do whatever it takes – that will get them to “the show” and, perhaps, ultimately, to a platform, hoisting a shiny trophy amid falling confetti and deafening cheers.

It is no coincidence that God would use such athletic achievement as an analogy, to tell us what He desires from us.


In his letter to his friend, Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote that he had “fought the good fight” and had “finished the race,” and at that moment, he awaited the “crown of righteousness” – a heavenly trophy in recognition of his work on this Earth. And what was his work? In writing to Timothy and in other of his letters, Paul tells us his life had been “poured out” like an offering; literally, that he had done whatever was necessary to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with as many people as he could, up to and including dying a martyr’s death.

But that achievement was not left to Paul. Each of us have a race that needs to be run, a fight that needs to be fought.
Each of us have been given tasks appointed by God in our own worlds, to reach our world and share with them the life-changing Gospel of Christ. Your world is different from those even of your neighbor. Each of us have families, friends, coworkers, classmates and others in our social networks who are different.

And as, COTR Creative Director Braden Larive, shared this past Sunday, God is calling each of us to do whatever it takes, which can include sacrificing our time, money and energy, to pour ourselves out as offerings, to ensure everyone around us not only knows, but sees the Love of Jesus that is for them.

God wants to change your world. What are you willing to do to make it happen?

This week, let’s resolve, like athletes striving for a championship, we will do whatever it takes. Let us be poured out as offerings, one for the other, and stand together in the breach for our families, our friends, and all around us, as members of God’s 300.

Do you have what it takes?

Do you have what it takes?

Anyone who has ever taken a test knows the feeling.

Maybe you’ve studied. Maybe you haven’t. Maybe you’re brimming with confidence. Maybe you are a little gunshy.

No matter where you’re at, the moment just before the exam lands on your desk or it loads onto your screen, a thought will grip you:

Am I really prepared for this?

It’s no different, either, when we head out to the “real world." That moment before we plunge headlong into a new job or prepare to head out against a tough opponent, we also may question just how ready we are to tackle this new position or take on this champion, staring us down.

And, the Lord knows we humans will most definitely have much the same thoughts run through our minds when the moment arrives for us to step out on the mission our Lord has given us – or, perhaps more appropriately stated, the moment that mission finds us.

Perhaps it will come as you are on the side of the road, and someone stops to help. Or maybe you are the person who lends the aid. Or perhaps it will come at work. Or at school. Or a family gathering. Or any number of other scenarios the randomness of life can bring our way, whether routine or seemingly out of the blue.

Consider this tale: In the book of Acts, we find the story of a crippled beggar, healed miraculously by God through the apostles Peter and John. In the tale, they were on their way to the temple to pray, when they saw this man, seated by the side of the road leading into one of the temple gates. They had seen this man before, no doubt, but this time it was different: Empowered by the Holy Spirit for the first time, the apostles, who the Bible did not record having done anything like this, told the man in the name of Jesus, to rise up and walk – and he did! The act caused a major ruckus, and resulted in the apostles being summoned before the religious high council to explain themselves. When they did, explaining the power of the name of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures record the religious leaders were “amazed” at the apostles’ boldness, because they noticed they were not highly educated men.

They also noted the apostles had been with Jesus.

After receiving the Holy Spirit, Peter and John and the rest of the apostles continued to study and learn and grow. But they did not wait. Their time of waiting had been accomplished the moment the Holy Spirit came upon them and filled them. With the power of God, and the full endorsement of Heaven, and the love of Christ compelling them, these men – who most would have said were not remotely ready to change the world – began to act, moving to begin changing their worlds, and from there, to the ends of the Earth.

Today, that same Holy Spirit who filled the apostles, imparting to them boldness, faith and power straight from God’s Hand, stands ready to fill you, and empower each of us for the tasks at hand. Rest content, knowing He will be there for you when it matters, as we step out, willing to take on the missions He has given us as members of God's 300.

He's Got Your Back

He's Got Your Back

When we take on a job, very often what can make it or break it can be the quality of the people to whom we report.

Whether you call them “supervisors,” “commanders,” “managers,” “bosses” or any other of an assortment of terms for the people who call the shots, anyone who has held a job can tell you stories of the good ones and bad ones.

But what makes the difference between a good boss and a bad one? Very often, the distinction comes down to questions of support and empowerment.

Consider the scenario: Your boss comes to your workstation, or calls a meeting, and informs you and the rest of the staff of the next big project or changes in the roster of duties and responsibilities. In that moment, the question runs through your mind, and perhaps bursts from your lips:

What does this mean for me, and us? How are we going to attain the new thing demanded of us?

And in that moment, a good boss has already not only planned how to answer that question, but to actually lay out a credible vision for how the team will be equipped, trained, supported and empowered to achieve the vision.

As believers, entrusted with the Great Commission, we have all been given a mission by our Commander, our Boss, our King. Each of us has been called to the work of bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world.
As our Lord instructed us, His servants, in the Great Commission, that mission begins close to home, in our own little world: Our circle of friends, family and others with whom we meet and mingle every day.

As Pastor Bryan has shared since the beginning of this new message series, God has a plan to save the world. You are that plan. And He has no Plan B.

But in taking on this mission, we know that our Great King and our Good Father will not leave us to face the work alone.

Just as God sent the Holy Spirit to fill and empower Jesus when He walked the Earth, so, too, has the Holy Spirit come to fill and empower each of us for the work He has placed us here to complete. When we go forth, God in His Word promises us that we go with the full endorsement and power of Heaven!

And just as a good human boss will give us the tools we need to get the job done, so too does our great King give His workers the spiritual gifts needed to know what is happening, why it is happening and the power and wisdom to know what needs to be done.

This week, we encourage you to step out in faith, trusting that our Lord will have your back when you walk in His ways and strive for His purposes, as a part of God’s 300.