This week is the beginning of The Welcome Initiative. But... before we can talk about our church's "welcome," we need to talk about whether we as individuals are prepared to see and rejoice over the grace of God no matter what it looks like.
Discussion Guide Below.
This week we talked about where we find our worth and this idea that it is in Christ we find our ultimate value. We talked about David, and in the text we read (Psalm 16), we hear David gushing about God’s goodness—about his overflowing cup despite his circumstances—about the remarkable joy that he has because of God's presence.
I agree that our hope, trust, identity and worth should be fully rooted in His love for us. Often His presence doesn’t feel like enough though, does it? When we’re in the depths of grief and sorrow. When we’ve grown disenchanted with our circumstances. When we see other people blessed with what we’ve longed for. When our cries to God for help grow increasingly faint and we feel forgotten. When we’re lonely. When we’re misunderstood. When we’re burned out. When we feel raw, exposed and soaked through with fear. Maybe we don’t feel Him at all…
The things of God are just so different than the way of the world. We’re so used to worldly labels and definitions and categorizations. In our social constructs, our value isn’t automatic. We must constantly prove to the system that we are worthy. The world is constantly demanding us to declare our identities--to pick this side or that side and to be known by those things. There is sometimes even an air of casual karma—the subtly communicated belief that the things that we’re going through are a direct cause and effect of our failure. Sometimes these constructs spill over into our churches, and our place of worship starts to feel less like a holy, redemptive community, and more like everywhere else—void of rest, always demanding us to preform to get ahead, feeling like we might be rejected if our lives don’t seem perfect, or our circumstances don’t allow us to fit into pre-constructed, easy to identify boxes.
Sometimes these experiences hinder our ability to see ourselves the way Christ sees us, and to rest in the fullness of His love. We often project our insecurities, and the crude social currency system we experience here, onto a God who is far divorced from our worldly methods. We just accept that if we are dealing with painful life situations, that God must be far away. That we must not be in His presence. That our blessings, or seemingly lack thereof, is God punishing us from afar. That His affection for us is based on our performance, and our status with him is always in limbo.
My friends, that is just not true.
Because He created us, we were born with value, purpose and identity. He knows us to the depths of our hearts, every secret, every failure, and everything we hide, and still He loves us and considers us worthy of His love. He is with us in the shallows. He wants us to rest in knowing that He sees our pain and does not ignore our cries. He us sees beyond our messes. He meets us where we are. We can stop searching for significance—we already have it.
When we don’t “feel” His presence, it’s hard to believe He is actually here with us, and hard to feel joy. Thankfully not feeling Him doesn’t mean he is far away. It doesn’t mean you’re broken. Sometimes it just means we need a bit of a reboot. A few things that I’ve tried to do in my own “dry spells” is seek reminders of His promises. I have and old list from a Bible study I did in college that I keep in my nightstand, and pull out when I need to be reminded of His love. I also try to make prayer a habit. When I can’t find the words, I often pray Psalm 139:23-24
“Search me O God and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there is any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.”
I’d say the most helpful thing I’ve learned is not to isolate myself from community with other Christians. While the church isn’t a perfect place, you’d be hard pressed to find a person that says they’ve never felt far from God’s presence, have never been in a season of pain, or haven’t struggled with feeling valuable to Him. Don’t be afraid to be honest. God has given us the gift of community and often uses others to speak His love and truth to us, walk with us through hard stuff, and rejoice with us when the fog starts to lift.
May He lead us in everlasting ways--in ways different than what we've grown to know.
May we breathe Him in deeply. May we find rest in His love. May we too experience cups that run over with joy—regardless of our circumstances. He is God with us. You are not alone. You are His.
This past weekend, we had the opportunity to see some pretty cool things happen in the life of our church. The natural question we ask after experiences like this is, "what's next?" This week we explore what happened to the disciples after Jesus rose again, and how much meaning there was in those events.
Discussion guide for community groups below.
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For those who missed it this past week, This is Pastor Glen Barnes' lecture on the Trinity for our FBC University Class, Theology 101. Also included are the notes for the class.
In scripture, the word "dead" is used not only to describe literal physical death, but relational death, spiritual death and death in sin. Death as state of being as opposed to a state of finality. These biblical deaths are never portrayed as hopeless, but as a condition that can be reversed through God's power and our repentance
In John Chapter 5, we read a story about a lame man that Jesus heals. This man has been afflicted with a paralytic condition for 38 years. He told Jesus that he had been waiting by this healing pool known to occasionally be “stirred up” by an angel, and provide healing to the first sick person that makes it in. The man tells Jesus that other people keep beating him into the pool. Instead of just healing this poor man, first Jesus asks the man a question.
“Do you want to get well?”
Seriously Jesus, do you have to ask? Of course this man wants to be healed. He’s been afflicted for 38 long, painful years. Jesus does have a point though--how is it after 38 years, this man could never make it down to the pool in time? Why weren’t his feet positioned so close to the water that he wouldn’t be able to miss the “stir?” Are we sure he really wants it, and if he doesn’t, why not? Maybe the man had become comfortable in his poolside prison. Maybe he realized that his healing would mean he would no longer have a literal and figurative “crutch.” Was is that he knew after he was healed, he would need to find a skill or trade to support himself? Maybe he was afraid of change. Could it have even been that his identity was so wrapped up in his affliction, that the thought of healing meant losing himself? Scripture doesn’t say.
Healing requires something from us. Maybe we expect that once we become Christians, the work is done. The dead in us automatically becomes life. Our “dry bones” begin regenerating. Our afflictions are just magically healed. One of my “afflictions” has been a dysfunctional and abusive family. Through God’s provision I came to know Christ as a teenager. That didn’t change my family. The abuse and dysfunction continued, and when I was old enough to leave the situation, I carried my own learned dysfunction into every other relationship. Healing would require me to dig up all the pain I had shoved down for years, every unhealthy coping mechanism and vice, and surrender it all to God. It would require me to behave in a way that God was asking me to behave, which was contradictory to my emotions. Healing would require me to forgive people I didn't view as worthy of my forgiveness. Most of all, it would require me to give up my excuses to be angry and bitter, and take ownership of my own sickness. I wouldn't just need to tell God that I wanted to be healed, I'd have to actually allow Him to do something in me, and not just for me.
It’s not until we lay out the welcome mats on the porches of our hearts, and invite Him into every room—no holds barred—that that our lives can be transformed. Jesus wants us to be continually tapped into His healing power. A power that previous to Jesus' death on the cross, was barred from us in the form of a veil. That long Saturday between Jesus' death and resurrection, was the first full day that the greatness of His healing power became available to us-- not just in heaven, but on earth. He wants our lives to be free of our sicknesses and to dwell in the joy of healthy, obedient living. He doesn’t just want to give us the gift of Heaven, but the gift of a good life right now.
Do we want it? Do we want to be healed? Do we want our relationships to be healthy? Do we want to be free of harmful habits? Do we want to be able to let go of the past? Do we want new life in Him to renew us to the very core? Into our very bones?
He is here. He is waiting for us to grab ahold of him, admit that we need His guidance, and walk hand-in-hand with Him through the healing process. In Christ, death has lost its sting. The same power that rose Him from the dead can breathe new life into all of the "death" we possess now. We are a new creation. Isn't it time we lived like it?
What would it feel like to be healed after 38 years? What are the first three things you’d want to do?
Read Ephesians 2:1-8
In this passage, Paul Talks about the idea of being physically alive but spiritually dead. What would you say it looks like to be spiritually dead? Is it always obvious?
In verse 8 it says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Do you think this contradicts the narrative that we have some control over our healing? Why or why not?
If you’re comfortable, share a time that something in your life seemed dead, but was “resurrected” by a combination of the power of Christ and obedience to Him.
What do you think it means for God to have done something for you but not in you?
Go around the room and take prayer requests. Spend some time praying for one another and thanking God for his ability to heal every part of our lives.
A few weeks ago, I was reading the story of the Prodigal Son. I must admit, this is a parable I’ve always kind of wrestled with. Like many of you, I’m perfectionistic. Justice is important to me. I can be a bit too black and white. Hearing a story about a spoiled kid that demands his inheritance, blows it, and returns to his father throwing him a party? That makes me uncomfortable. My heart immediately empathizes with the brother. I can feel his anger and resentment into my bones. He has been faithful. He was obedient to his father. “Why doesn’t he get a party?” I silently pout. “It’s not fair!”
Every time I read that story, it reminds me of how even after 23 years of knowing Christ, I still have so far to go when it comes to both knowing and accepting God’s grace in my own life. I’ve all too often experienced the side-effects of being a slave to religious perfection instead of functioning as the daughter of a God that relentlessly loves me, and pursues my heart passionately—even when I’m not perfect. Shame is an incredibly manipulative, seductive, adulterer of grace--corrupting what we know about God by convincing us that our worth is directly connected to our behavior. Constantly whispering “you’re not good enough” in our ear.
Shame requires us to carry around the empty suitcases that once held the weight of our failures. It requires us to promote ourselves as the judge and jury of our own lives, and if we’re really honest, it’s that same shame that encourages us to take delight in the failings of others, because misery loves company. When you haven’t let the unfairness of grace infiltrate your own heart, you can’t extend that grace to the imperfect people around you.
Psalm 103:10-12 says, "He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear him.”
His steadfast love.
His love is a love doesn’t run away when things get messy. His love is a love that knows every secret you hold, but still calls you His “child.” His love is a love that persistently asks you to let go of the things you’ve done because in his eyes, none of that defines you. You are His.
Shame is slavery to a system that, as of that “good” Friday, ceased to exist. When shame tells us we're unworthy, Christ is there telling us that all we have to do is ask Him to take it all, and asking us to trust that He has made us new. He's asking us to find our identity in Him. He is asking us to hand Him our self-made prisons and dwell in His freedom.
It’s not fair, its uncomfortable, and that’s the point.
Why is it so hard for us to understand God's grace, and God's love? We explore those questions this week, both in the sermon and here on the video. Discussion sheet below.
Yesterday we talked about the disaster of the Titanic. The “Unsinkable” ship met her match just 4 days into that historic voyage. We talked about the foundations on which we build our lives, and the inevitability of tragedy in our own lives.
Then we took communion.
I haven’t always valued the practice of communion. Like many religious things, it just became something I did the first Sunday of each month. Only over the last few years I have grown to appreciate the power of the table. The reminder of the gift of mercy and grace from a good God that loves me. The scheduled medium to “get right” by confessing my sin, and asking for God’s power to overcome it. His body broken for me and His blood shed to cover my multitude of inequities. There is something beautiful about the way we approach the table in brokenness.
I know talking about disaster and then communion seems like a sharp segue, but there is something disaster and communion have in common--they are the great equalizers.
Disaster doesn’t discriminate. No one is immune. The day the Titanic sunk, there was no median demographic—the rich and poor, man, woman, child, religious, "bad person" and "good person" all faced death in the frigid Atlantic.
When we come to the table together, we come as men, women and children. The rich, the poor, the faithful and the struggling--all in need of a Savior. There is no one who has an edge on morality. No one is immune to sin. There are no inherited advantages. We may not be “equal” by societal standards, but our need for Christ makes us identical. The pastor and the death row inmate both need the hope of Jesus and promise of eternal life in Him.
A life founded on Christ won’t protect us from disaster, but life without Christ is the ultimate tragedy. In Christ, we have the promise that regardless of what we face on earth, it will all be set right in heaven.
“…In this world, there will be trouble” Jesus said “but take heart, I have overcome the world.”
I know this makes it all sound so easy. Having walked through the grief of unexpected disaster with a close friend over the past few weeks, I’ve seen the gut-wrenching, hard to breathe, unrelenting pain of tragedy. God’s expectation isn’t that we push down our pain, but that we would try to seek Him even in the depths. We are never expected to fake joy in disaster, but to pursue it, and try to allow Him to walk through it with us. The gift of Jesus isn’t just salvation, but a relationship where our brokenness and vulnerability are welcome.
Thats a relationship worthy of pursuing.
Steve Steele, Pastor of Community Life