Thank God for artists!

Thank God for artists!

Talk about an unsung hero!  Bezalel, son of Uri, the spirit-filled artisan who beautified the temple as an act of worship as well as to inspire worship in the people of God.  

It is easy to chalk the act of worship as a spiritual discipline, as focusing your thoughts and life towards God and his purposes.  And while this is true and right, there is this more subjective aspect to worship that is about the stirrings in our spirit that tap into the depths of our being.

The question is who do we lean into a more holistic version of worship that places God on the highest thrown in our minds, and at the same time have our souls stirred to match this intellectual reality.  The way this happens is through gifted and called artists!

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I Should Have Made It a One-Point-Sermon!

 I Should Have Made It a One-Point-Sermon!

In thinking back on last Sunday’s message about some of the stops along the way on the road to joy, I now wish that, instead of offering two points, I’d have limited myself to one … the SECOND one. That, you might recall, was the idea that a busy, overly cluttered life is a roadblock to joy, thus, a more simple, focused life – one that does away with unnecessary complexities (and finds simple ways to manage the necessary ones) is a life more inclined to the joy we are all seeking.

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The joy of the Lord is your strength

The joy of the Lord is your strength

ENCOUNTER:  Read Nehemiah 8:1-17

“... for the joy of the Lord is your strength."

But NOBODY was feeling that joy.  That is the surprising thing about the context of this verse as we find it in Nehemiah.  People were weeping and mourning.  They weren’t feeling joy.  Nor strength.  What they were feeling was grief that life had not turned out the way that they now understood it was to be lived.  They mourned their brokenness.  They wept over their sin.  They grieved over that fact that their relationship with God had been so distant.  They regretted that their forefathers had not been faithful to God and had not passed down a legacy of spiritual health and vitality.  

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There are bunt cakes everywhere!! Enjoy

There are bunt cakes everywhere!!  Enjoy

Experiencing Joy is a strange discipline.  It is not something we can conjure up or try to make happen.  It is an emotion that resides deep within us and is a result of how well we are living into shalom, or at least the hope of shalom. 

It is the hope of shalom where this breaks down for many of us.  

We are situational in our emotional response to life and to faith.  When things go well, we love God, experience his goodness and grace, experience shalom, and therefore experience joy.  But what about when life throws you a few gutterballs.  When the bottom seems to fall out, we get frazzled and often spin out in fear and anxiety.  Here is where our faith in the God of hope is tested.  

We know that our faith is maturing when we can pray like the Psalmist in our lament.  We can cry out to God, we can wrestle with the challenges and even despair of life.  And in all of that, we can affirm that our trust alone is in God.

Our joy is completely linked to our hope, which is completely linked to our trust in God.  

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Fear not, Avoid not, Flee not

Fear not, Avoid not, Flee not

My title last Sunday was purposeful: “FEAR NOT” (And Other Unrealistic Biblical Mandates). Improperly understood, some of the Bible’s commands seem to be unreasonable. One such “mandate” (be not afraid) certainly makes my list. My point is that it’s no more possible to “never be afraid” than it is to “never be a normal, functioning human being.” My attending point, though, is that our word, “afraid” doesn’t quite capture the meaning of the Bible’s directive.

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Practicing the Presence of God

Practicing the Presence of God

In the 1600's there was a monk named Brother Lawerence.  He wrote a little devotional called, Practicing the Presence of God.  It is a simple book, based on a simple idea, that the day to day moments of our lives are not simply day to day interactions, but moment by moment encounters with the living God.  

This simple idea and change in mindset is a game changer in all of life, but even more so for those of us who struggle with fear and anxiety.  The best way to calm our fears is to recognize we are not alone.  Having someone with you in scary situations or times our trouble is a balm to our souls.  And the stronger, more powerful, and more loving towards us the more our fears subside.  So, when we can get our head around the idea that God, the all powerful, all knowing, creator of the Universe and lover of your soul is walking with you, resides inside of you, and longs to bring you comfort and peace, fear doesn't stand a chance!

Practicing the presence of God is a simple discipline that builds on the discipline of mindfulness.  It is becoming more and more popular in therapy circles to tap into this ancient practice where you get out of your head and get in touch with your body.  Our bodies give us all sorts of data and help us understand the world around us and give us clues to what is going on in our inner life as well.  It is simply a discipline of slowing down, paying attention to the details in and outside of your body.  This tiny step does wonders in grounding us and calming our anger, fear, and anxiety.

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We dine together

We dine together

In my sermon, I told the story of Denis Estimon from Boca Raton High School in Florida.  Denis was a Haitian immigrant who came to this country and found himself isolated and alone at school and spent years eating alone. 

As Denis grew up and grew in status among his peers, he never forgot his humble beginnings and the loneliness he experienced as a young child.  Because Denis came to understand that he was loved and had esteem, he found courage in the love he experienced from his peers and then extended that to others.  

This is exactly what the apostle John is talking about in 1 John 4:19 when he says that "We love because he first loved us." The love God has poured out on us is not to be collected and wrapped up in a cozy blanket to give us rest.  Rather, God's love has been poured out all over us so that we can live free from fear of others and be the actual body of Christ as we express God's love, grace, and mercy to others.  

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Mary Magdalene is, hands down, my favorite disciple!

Mary Magdalene is, hands down, my favorite disciple!

The more I study Mary Magdalene, the more I am blown away at what an incredible woman she must have been.  I love how much she served Jesus, I love that Jesus gave here the distinct privilege to be the very first herald of the resurrection.   And I love the irony of religious people who have often struggled with women and their roles in the church, have given such a high honor, not to Peter, or James, or John, but to Mary of Magdala.

For as much as I love these things about Mary.  What has impacted me the most this week as I have studied her life and reflected on her place in the life and ministry of Jesus, it is her presence at the crucifixion and in the preparation of the burial spices that caused me to do some additional reflection.  

You see, the crucifixion was the lowest part of Jesus' earthly ministry.  It was horrifying and heartbreaking.  It caused huge panic among the male disciples, to the point that they all scattered.  But for the women who followed Jesus, for Jesus' mother and the closest and dearest of friends, this was a time to share in their sorrow and grief.  

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Do I grieve my hurtful ways?

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This week's devotional is from Michael Hill, Director of Worship Experience

ENCOUNTER:  2 Corinthians 7:10

 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

The Apostle Paul took the time in his second letter to the Corinthian church to celebrate how their “Godly sorrow” over their hurtful ways had brought them to a place of repentance. In our sermon this past Sunday, we looked at the way God uses His loving rebuke to break our hearts over our sin. Sometimes we Jesus followers react to our own shortcomings with an attitude that says “oh well, good thing I’m forgiven, right?” But our God calls us to meet with Him in His holiness, weighing accurately the deeper implications of the ways in which we move opposite to His movement.

BE REFLECTIVE:

In your daily meeting time with the Lord, remember to incorporate a time of confession. Think upon the ways that your thought life or outward behavior has been in contrary to what you know is God’s “way everlasting” (Psalm 139:24). Then, before asking God to merely forgive you and then moving on to your prayer requests, ask God to help you weigh accurately what it is you’ve done. Allow yourself to dwell upon your sin for a moment or two. This may be an emotionally painful thing to do, but don’t skip this very important step! Ask God to reveal to you why this is a hurtful way, either to you, someone else, or to God himself. This will be uncomfortable, BUT the next time you’re tempted in the same way, you will recall the reasons why it’s not life-giving. This “Godly sorrow” is God’s gift to us, so that we may rewire our thoughts and actions! Lastly, remember that Jesus is happywhen we confess, because He can begin his transformational process of branding us with his righteousness. (Phil 3:9)

BE A BLESSING:

Ask god to reveal to you the ways you’ve been being hurtful toward those closest to you. Go to them and let them know that you can see how you’ve been making them feel, and that with God’s help, you’ll be trying to do better. You may be surprised at how this simple acknowledgment of your own hurtful ways will affect the dynamic of a challenging relationship, positioning both parties for the cultivation of a new beginning.

BE TOGETHER:

2 Corinthians 7:11 listed the things that Godly sorrow produces in those who are repentant: Intense conviction; eagerness to have a clear conscience; intolerance of unjust treatment; a state of alarm at what sin can do; and a longing to be the Godly people Christ calls us to be. Think of those you know from God’s family who exemplify these attributes and invite them to share a meal with you. What is it about the way they are doing life with Christ that you might be able to emulate? Find those whom you long to be like, and let some of their Godly sorrow mojo rub off on you!

Is it possible to give up spending money?

Is it possible to give up spending money?

Encounter:  Read Matthew 6:24

I have loved this series examining our inner life as we conduct a spiritual inventory of our souls.  For the most part, I long to move towards Christ.  But I want to do it on my timetable, at my pace.  Most of the questions we have been asking are pretty subjective and on a sliding scale.  But this week we have a real life, a daily test that confronts us at every turn.

When we allow how we spend money to be an indicator of spiritual health and growth we set ourselves up to examine our motives, to wrestle with our inner life, and evaluate the health of our souls every few hours throughout our day. 

Money, wealth, material possessions, for some reason, are deeply connected to our souls.  Scripture talks about these things over 800 times.  There is something to our relationship with mammon that is in total conflict with our relationship with God.  

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Getting quiet to get some time with God

Getting quiet to get some time with God

ENCOUNTER:  Read Psalm 46:10; Luke 5:15,16; Mark 6:31

Psalm 46:10 “He says, 'Be still, and know that I am God...'"

Having a "quiet time" is a very common phrase among Jesus' people.  Christians have been using that language in our culture for a very long time to describe the practice of getting alone with God each day in order to center one's life on the reality of the presence and truth of God.

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What satisfies our thirst?

What satisfies our thirst?

ENCOUNTER:  Read Psalm 63:1; Psalm 62:1,2; John 4:13,14, John 7:37,28

John 7:37 ... “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink...”

We all know what it is like to be thirsty.  And God uses that metaphor in scripture to help connect what is a very earthy visceral experience – “thirst” – to a spiritual reality, namely that we were built to long for God and be satisfied in him.

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Mercy as a wall hanging

Mercy as a wall hanging

Let’s do a bit of a different “encounter” exercise this week. You’ll need to open your search engine first. Once that’s done, go here and browse through the different renditions and studies of the return of the prodigal son until you land on the two that most stir your heart (you might also simply search by artist.  In addition to Rembrandt’s classic work, some of my favorites are by Batomi, Murillo, and Barbieri). Now print copies of those two or bring them up on your computer screen and leave them open there.

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Victory

Victory

ENCOUNTER:  Read Romans 8:23-39

v. 37 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us...”

History is full of epic stories of victory being realized, even after great cost and injury, often arriving when hope had all but evaporated.  The battles we experience in our personal stories, while not necessarily world wide events, can nonetheless be so earth-shattering and disorienting as to block our view to any hope of overcoming them.  So promises of the victory of God through his love and cared touch us in the deepest places.

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Running towards suffering

Running towards suffering

This last week's message was a challenging one.  If you are in the middle of the dark night of the soul and walking through the valley of the shadow of darkness, there are no trite words or even wise and insightful words that will comfort in this season.  Suffering and heartbreak are devastating and groaning is really all we can do. 

But for those who are not currently in that season, we have been invited into a high calling, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and run towards the suffering.  We are called to selflessly give more and more of our heart, time, resources to those who are struggling and suffering and even to those who may be the cause of some of our suffering.  (Remeber Jesus even washed Judas' feet.)

As our world seems to be experiencing more and more suffering, the church has an incredible opportunity.  Not to stand on the sidelines and point our finger at those who do wrong, but to roll up our sleeves and walk towards those who suffer and bear with them.  

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Free to dive deeply into the abyss

Free to dive deeply into the abyss

This passage of scripture might be one of the least memorized passages of scripture for all time.  I mean, who really wants to come to terms with the depth of their sin, dysfunction, and brokenness.  Who wants to own that their own choices and rebellion have crushed and ruined things, people, and our intimacy with God.  Who is willing to grieve, mourn and wail their own depravity?

Do you want to know who?  You do!

Because the larger story of the gospel is that because of the work that Jesus has done on the cross, the punishment for our sin has been paid for and according to Romans 8:1 there is now no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  THIS IS GOOD NEWS!

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The peace He promises

The peace He promises

ENCOUNTER:  Read Philippians 4:6-9

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus...”

As you read this text, can you feel your heart quickening in hope that there is a peace from God (Shalom!) that can cover you to such a degree that all your fears, anxieties, and worries fade away?  Is it really possible? 

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Time to bring back some joy!

Time to bring back some joy!

Remember when you were fun?  That was the question I opened my sermon up with.  And the more I have been thinking about it, I think fun, and more specifically joy is a good barometer of what is going on in our souls.

Joy comes when we have found internal peace with who we are, what we are and how we are.  And when we are at peace and content, joy naturally follows.  Think of the times when you experienced the most joy, chances are it was a time when everything seemed to be coming together.  

What is challenging is whether or not something is "coming together" or not is really an internal state of being.  And the biggest hindrance of not being content so you can experience joy usually has to do with some hidden and not so hidden brokenness between you and someone else, and even between you and God. Once sin and brokenness enters the equation, all bets are off.

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