Advent Challenge

It is that time of year again, and Christmas is the best right? Until we start getting caught up in the busyness of the season with parties and shopping and family and everything else. In the Christian calendar we are not yet to Christmas but are in the season of Advent. Advent simply means coming, where we anticipate the coming of Christ into our lives every year. JB Phillips wrote, “We should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost a sense of fright, at what God has done. We must never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago.” I think we need to take a bold step so that we can focus on the amazing gift of God becoming human and dwelling among us! Here is my challenge: in order to turn down the noise, commit to spending no more that 30 minutes a day on social media. Why? A recent study showed that people who spent less than 30 minutes a day on social media feel less isolated. So lets spend less time on social media and more time with those who care and love us, with our church family and focusing on Jesus and his gift of life to the world.

Faithful. 2019 Pledge Campaign

God is doing amazing work in and through Rockbridge Church! We have our mission: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our vision is to bridge people to the rock, Jesus, through relationships with deeply committed disciples who love learn and launch. The thing is we need you! Check out my sermon from this week and then fill out your pledge card on how you will share your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness so that we can fulfill our mission.

Why We Gather Before Worship

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On my first Sunday to participate in worship at Rockbridge, it was actually the week before my appointment began, I noticed something remarkable about this church: people were so warm and friendly that when the music started, the sanctuary was empty. Everyone was still gathering in the living room (that’s what we call our entry way) eating donuts and chatting. This is a wonderful thing! When we gather, we do so as a family of faith and to have that family experience we need to have time to share our lives together. I always say, “Come early and stay late!” This is the time where we prepare our hearts and mind to encounter and worship the Holy God. Before worship is a wonderful time to prepare your heart and mind for entering into a holy time. As we make our way to the sanctuary, we begin with and opening prayer and praise. It is important to remember that we are here to praise God and while we should expect the music and everything else to be of quality that should not matter on whether or not we can give God the glory that God deserves. It is more about the state of our hearts. How should we sing? I love the statements in the UMC hymnal from John Wesley in the picture!

What wonderful advice! I am not sure how we sing both lustily and modestly but I get the point he is making to sing with passion but don’t be a distraction! I’ll leave you with the last quote, “Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself or any other creature.”

What Is Worship?

Gathering with my friends, family, brothers and sisters in Christ on Sunday is one of my favorite parts of my week. I was reflecting that there is probably a lot about worship that we do on a regular basis that you might not know why we do it. Everything we do is with a purpose that is based on scripture and the tradition of the Christian Church. Over the next few weeks I will be blogging about each aspect of the service to answer any question you might have. If you have questions, feel free to comment below and I will happily answer them.

This week we are going to start at the beginning with: What is worship? Often people say the word worship when they are talking about the praise music that we sing. That is part of worship, but it is not worship. Worship is not the offering, the sermon, or any other one act that we do together. When we talk about corporate worship (we are also called to worship God through our devotion and our actions daily!), it is the wonderful act of gathering as God’s people and give our love and devotion to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit!

We often act like we are the center and focus of worship. Someone related a joke to me one time, “A man walks up to the pastor after the service and says, ‘Reverend, I didn’t get much out of that service, maybe think about how you can make it better next week.’ The next week the man approached the pastor once again and asked, ‘Did you think about what I said, I still didn’t get anything out of the service.’ The pastor replied, ‘Yes, and God told me that he didn’t get anything from you either.’” It is the responsibility for the leaders of the church to provide a quality, impact worship experience, however, it is up to each of us to make sure we turn our hearts to God and give God the praise that God deserves. Hebrews 12:28-29 says it like this, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” Do you worship God with reverence and awe? Next time you come to worship, spend some time, maybe on the way to worship, preparing your mind and heart so that you are ready to worship with reverence and awe. And you know what? I bet you will get more out of it too, because our God is awesome.

5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations - Extravagant Generosity

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And now we get to everyone’s favorite topic: Extravagant Generosity! It seems like when the pastor is ready to talk about giving all of a sudden the congregation seems to find themselves somewhere else. I will let you in on a little secret - pastors don’t love talking about it either. So why do we do it, why do we talk about it? Well first off, thriving congregations are generous. They use their funds to help others. On top of that, thriving disciples of Jesus are generous! How we spend our money is important to God, 1 in 10 verses in the gospels are about money and possessions! God knows that were we spend our money, that our heart is there as well. I want to encourage you to be generous. Give to God first, the first fruits of your labors. I know its difficult, I know it cost you something, but you will be filled with more joy and more happiness and more connected to God and others. We talk about giving a tithe, literally a tenth of what we earn to God. I think this is a great practice to keep us centered on God. Definitely give to the church, but also give to organizations that are helping others in a way that you are passionate about. Let God show you were you are called to spend your funds, and see how you end up incredibly blessed by that generosity. My hope for you is that you fall in love with giving and that it becomes a part of who you are as you help us make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations - Risk-Taking Mission and Service

We are called to make a difference in our community because that is what Christians do. Where there is pain, where there is suffering, where there is hurting, that is where we are called to be. Why? Because that is what Jesus did and tells us to do the same thing. this is what Jesus says:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.  All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives (Matthew 16:24-26)?”

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This is what Bishop Schnase says about risk-taking mission, “Mission and Service refers to the projects, efforts, and work people do to make a positive difference in the lives of others for the purposes of Christ, whether or not they will ever become part of the community of faith.  Risk-taking pushes us out of our comfort zone, stretching us beyond service to people we already know, exposing us to people, situations, and needs that we would never ordinarily encounter apart from our deliberate intention to serve Christ.   Congregations who practice Risk-taking Mission and Service offer endless opportunities for people to make a difference in lives of others through service projects, volunteer opportunities, and mission initiatives.” Our mission committee has numerous groups that you serve with both inside and outside of the church! Email missions@rockbridgelife.com for more information

5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations - Intentional Faith Development

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Discipleship is something that I am passionate about because the Church has so much potential and yet seems not to meet that potential enough. In my opinion, I believe that is because we have worked really hard to make Christians rather than disciples or followers of Jesus. You might be thinking that those two terms are the same, and they should be, but they are not. The focus has been on the mission of making new Christians, however, Jesus' mission is for us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). When a person accepts Jesus as lord and savior, that is simply the beginning of life long growth to imitate Christ. Dietrich Boenhoffer, Christian martyr, theologian and hero, said, "Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ."

Schnase has this to say about intentional discipleship: "Intentional Faith Development refers to all the ministries that help us grow in faith outside of weekly worship, such as bible studies, Sunday School classes, support groups, and prayer teams.  Congregations who practice Intentional Faith Development offer opportunities for people to learn in community for people at all stages of faith.  They offer ministries that help people grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of God.  Intentional refers to deliberate effort, purposeful action, and high priority." At Rockbridge one of our three key values is to LEARN how to follow Jesus: helping people go from meeting Jesus to centering our lives around him. Check out our fall grow classes to help you take the next step in your faith! 

I would also like to announce that we are bringing on Randy Bell as our associate pastor of adult spiritual formation! Faith development is so important that we are finally filling this position so that Randy can put all his energy and effort into helping you grow in your faith. Make sure that you congratulate him on his new position!

5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations - Radical Hospitality

There was a time in my life as a young teenager when I did not feel welcome anywhere - at school, at home, at church. I can remember the moment that all changed - it was on a mission trip to San Marcos. A guy named Patrick Gaither, a person I looked up to, randomly spoke up and said, "David, I think you are pretty cool." Those words changed my life! Patrick didn't stop with that, he always made sure I was included and felt welcome. I am not sure that I would be in ministry today had it not been for him. That is Radical Hospitality!

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Radical means to affect the fundamental nature of something, so radical hospitality is fundamently changing our mindset of why and how we welcome people to our church. Bishop Schnase says, "Congregations that practice Radical Hospitality demonstrate an active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ. Radical describes that which is drastically different from ordinary practices, outside the normal, that which exceeds expectations and goes the second mile."

I think Rockbridge is good at Hospitality, but not yet RADICAL! How do you think we become agents of Radical Hospitality at Rockbridge?

5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations - Passionate Worship

I am going to blog on something that I am passionate about - passionate worship! Bishop Schnase wrote a book on the 5 practices of fruitful congregations, I will be blogging on it the next few weeks, starting with worship. The five practices are radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional discipleship, risk-taking mission, and extravagant generosity. When we discuss these five practices, the adjective is as important as the word itself!

To be a radical, world changing church, we must have radical worship. So what is worship? A lot of people think that its about a feeling or emotion that we receive when we sing the songs we like, or hear a sermon that we enjoy. Others say it is where they connect with others on Sundays (or other days of the week). DA Carson says “Worship is the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to their Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so.” So we will feel powerful emotion, and we will enjoy seeing people, and we will feel filled up - however it about giving God the honor that God deserves.  Then, out of God graciousness, God gives us awesome gifts in return!

So how do we have passionate corporate worship, and how do we have passionate individual worship. Schnase says, "God uses worship to transform lives, heal wounded souls, renew hope, shape decisions, provoke change, inspire compassion, and bind people to one another. The word passionate expresses an intense desire, an ardent spirit, strong feelings, and the sense of heightened importance.  Congregations who practice Passionate Worship offer their utmost and highest; they expect worship to be the most important hour of the week."

Is worship the most important hour of the week for you? Maybe you need to change your priorities. 

Do you prepare your heart and mind for worship? The best way to passionately worship our Creator is by asking the Holy Spirit to ready our lives for this most important hour of the week. I want to invite you to come to worship full of excitement, joy, love, AND expecting to encounter the Divine, the Holy and for your life to be changed!

We also need to be passionate about our daily worship! Schnase says, "Through the personal practice of Passionate Worship, we learn to love God in return. Followers of Christ develop patterns of listening to God, allowing God to shape our hearts and minds through prayer, personal devotion, and community worship. We love God."

It amazes me that we have an all-powerful God who wants to spend time with us, and yet we are too 'busy' to do so. This needs to change for the church to be a movement again! It is only through our relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit that we will be empowered to change the world. 

Notice that I did not talk about style of worship? That is because any worship that we give ourselves completely to God can be passionate. It can be 'traditional,' it can be 'contemporary,' it can have incense, it can have a rock concert feel. As long as the scriptures are read, the people have gathered, the sacraments administered and praises are sung - we can worship our God.

Ruining Your Favorite Song, Part 2: Reckless Love

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I love the song "Reckless Love" by Corey Asbury, you can listen to it here if you want. The idea that God has this incredible, reckless love for us that seeks us out relentlessly absolutely captures the idea of how God's grace is at work in our lives long before we even know it! Each week in our communion liturgy we are reminded, "Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, that proves God's love toward us (Romans 5:8)!" If you do not yet follow Jesus, know that God is pursuing you. In my life, God was with me through the hardest period of my life, from 3 - 5 years old.  I had just been put in a home, the Pythion Home in Weatherford, and I was broken because my biological parents would give me up for adoption. And yet...God was with me, comforting me! It was only much later that I understood that God was the rock that saved me from despair. 

There is a problem with this song, something that I think teaches an unhealthy idea about God's relationship to us, the line that says,

"And oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights 'til I'm found, leaves the ninety-nine
And I couldn't earn it, and I don't deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, yeah"

This song tells us that we don't deserve God love! It is true that we can't earn it, but I truly believe that we deserve God's love and that we need to be careful teaching this theology through our worship music. I think the issue is the Corey Asbury is confusing grace and love. Grace is the idea that we are sought, saved, and perfected by God! It is God's unmerited favor on us. Ephesians 2:8 says, "You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed." Grace is getting what we don't deserve: forgiveness and reconciliation so that we can be the new creation and fulfill our purpose as image bearers of the divine.

Love is something different, especially agape love which is what we are talking about here. Agape is Godly love, which is different from eros (romantic love) and philia (brotherly love), is the divine love that comes from our Father in heaven, the love that God has for all of creation! Remember this agape love is given to us while we are yet sinners! In 1 Corinthians 13:5 we are told that agape love does not keep a record of wrongs. That means that God loves us even when we don't live the life we are called to. Like a good parent, God will discipline us but still loves us. So do we deserve God's love? I believe the answer is clear: of course we do! If God is our Father, our holy parent, then the answer is clear. I know that as a father, that there is nothing my kids could do that I would stop loving them. The fact is that when we talk about agape love, it is not even about whether or not we deserve it. God is love, God loves us - and that fact changes our reality. As humans, all of our love is predicated on the actions of others. Sometimes this is needed, such as in a relationship where you should receive as much love as you give. But agape love is different. It throws our human calculator out of the window because in God's economy all are deserving of God's love. In God's eyes, we are still that creation that is made in God's image that God saw as very good.

Yes, we are fallen, but God's deepest desire is to reconcile us back to the Triune God, through Christ! My history teacher used to say, "God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it." And you know what, you deserve it. Even when you feel you don't, even when your favorite worship song tells you that you don't! 

Vision 2030 A Church Focused on Loving Our Community

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Bob Goff, popular Christian author says, "Simply put, love does." We are people of the Great Commandment of Love God, Love others and the Great Commission of making disciple's of Jesus Christ. This is why our mission statement is to make disciple's of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world! 

Our vision is to love our community by helping it heal both spiritually and physically: practicing invitational evangelism and love focused service! By 2030 we believe that God is calling us to spend as much on people outside of the church (through mission and evangelism) as we do on our own church. We also believe that every person should be living out their call by God to serve others. Each and every follower is uniquely gifted and called by God to loving service. We will equip our partners to serve, imagine a community of believers, empowered by God to change the world! We sense a specific calling to help families heal whatever brokenness that they have: fortifying marriage, healing from divorce, financial health, parenting, and more. 

God has incredible plans for Rockbridge! I hope that you catch fire with the vision through the Holy Spirit and find your place to serve.

Vision 2030 A Leader-Making Church

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It is great to be back from all of my travels, after going with our youth on mission trip and then a short journey to Ohio for the Central Texas Conference. It is time to continue to share about our 2030 Vision. Another pillar of the vision is that we will be a leader-making church. I have been impressed with the number and quality of leaders at Rockbridge! God is doing something special with this community. We want to continue that trend and even enhance it! Every follower of Christ is given spiritual gifts, and I believe one of the five spiritual callings from Ephesians 4:11: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, and Teacher. Our goal as the leadership at Rockbridge is to enable each partner and regular attender to find their gifts and to empower our people to lead new ministries and, when the time is right, to even start new campuses and churches. God wants us to make an impact on our community and our world and by empowering every person at Rockbridge to serve in their gifts, their callings, and to find powerful leaders, we will truly collaborate with God to transform the world!

Vision 2030 A Disciple-Making Church June 05, 2018

Disciple-making is what we are called to do as followers of Jesus. In his earthly mission, Jesus took a unique group of men and women (the twelve disciples plus the other people who followed him) and allowed them to sit at his feet so that they could learn what it meant to be his followers. We are called to be disciples who make more disciples! Throughout my life, I have had person after person share their life with me so that I could learn what it means to follow Jesus. In college, it was a man named Gary who mentored me in my relationship with God. I would not be the man, the pastor, the leader I am today without his guidance in my life at that important stage. That is what we need to do for each other. The first part of our vision is that we will be a Disciple-Making Church. We derive that from Matthew 28:16-20 where Jesus gives the mission of the church to make disciples of all nations! Here is what that looks like

  • Rockbridge will be a disciple-making factory. Our definition of a disciple is from Matthew 4:19 – "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people."
    • Follow me – Committed to know and LOVE Jesus.
    • And I will make – Committed to being transformed by Christ, to GROW.
    • Fishers of People – Committed to God’s mission to transform the world, to GO.
    • We want to make disciples who LOVE, GROW, and GO!
  • Rockbridge will have a well-developed disciple-making process. We are in the business of making followers of Jesus, not simply converts.
    • We need to allow for people to 'catch' what it means to follow through relationships with others. There will be an intentional mentoring program
    • We will have opportunities for people to learn what it means to follow Jesus through GROW classes
    • Rockbridge will GROW together by helping every person find a life group

For Rockbridge to be a movement that will catch fire by the Holy Spirit we need to commit to being disciples who make disciples!

What are you thoughts on how Rockbridge can be a disciple-making church?

 

Vision 2030: Our Mission

This is my second blog on Vision 2030: the vision that God is giving us to fulfill our mission at Rockbridge Church! Before we get into that I wanted to take a moment and look at that mission:

Boom, That's IT! It is simple, to the point, and poignant. This mission statement is one we share with our tribe, the United Methodist Church, the question is where is it's origin and what does it mean? This mission statement is derived from Jesus himself when he addressed the disciples at the end of the Gospel of Matthew before his ascension: "Therefore go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20)." 

 

The disciples' mission given by Jesus is the same one we have today: to be disciples who make more disciples. We are not looking simply to make non-believers into believers but rather our goal is to make people who follow Jesus. We will talk more about that during the next blog post, however, if we make disciples we believe that we will transform the world. The goal is to work with God through the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish God's will on earth as it is in heaven! If we do that, world-wide transformation is possible. I had a high school student receive a call to build a school in Malawi. His goal was for the school to raise $30,000 dollars and provide an education for hundreds! He did this because as a disciple of Jesus, God gave him a heart for those in need. The problem was not the young man's vision or the call but rather the adults at the school who did not believe it could happen. Rather than supporting this vision ($30,000 is a lot of money but a school with several thousand students could raise it with enough effort) they put up roadblocks. Still, even without their support, he raised $12,000! Imagine what it would be like if all the adults, many of them were followers of Jesus, had helped him find his path. We need to get on board with what God is doing in our world.

How does that affect you, today? Each follower of Jesus needs to commit to making Christ the center of our lives so that every action we do goes toward that goal. Every event, every moment, every opportunity for the church needs to fulfill that mission! May we be a church that makes disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

Why Vision?

Hello all! Sorry for the brief hiatus on the blog, but life has been crazy lately. Over the next few weeks, I am going share about the visioning journey we are on at Rockbridge church. 

Why a vision? Proverbs 29:18 says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Simply put: to succeed in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, we need a good, clear, concise vision that sets us on the path. 

We have seen countless organizations fail to survive when the world changed for one reason or another because they were not able to adjust their vision to a changing landscape. Our landscape is changing, has been for a while. Here are some facts:

1. Fewer and fewer people feel like they should be in worship on a Sunday morning. In the Austin area, 18 percent of people choose to worship each week. We need to be a church that lets people know that the best life lived is one following Jesus.

2. Most churches are in decline because they have not made the mindset switch that we have to do more than open our doors for people to show up. Many churches are in decline because they are unwilling to change.

3. We don't change who we are, but we change how we do things and how we share our message.

4. We need to face the future with courage and faith!

The reality is that our job has gotten a lot more difficult and its even more important that we have vision from God, empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead us. Jesus tells the disciples in Acts 1:8, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit Comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Our goal is to share God's love with all we meet and help others follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is difficult, but it is worth it! To succeed, we need God's vision for Rockbridge. Check back next week as I share God's vision for our church.

Harvey - How You Can Help

"Little children, let's not love with words or speech but with action and truth." 1 John 3:18.

As followers of Christ, we are called into action when there are people in need, and there are many people in need right here in Texas. We also need to remember that there will be plenty of work to do over the next few months. If you want to help, here are a few ways to do that:

Give food and supplies to help folks who need it right now

and

Supplies and money to help in the coming days.

David

You Want to Grow

 

Jesus tells us he will MAKE us fishers of people...

It seems like people, when faced with what Jesus is calling them to do, treat it like a chore. The basic requirements of following Christ are to Love (God and neighbor), Grow (become like Jesus), and Go (go out and make disciples). You may look at that list and think, "I am so busy, I will have to give up so much to follow Jesus." Have you ever thought, however, that the most important thing of all that you do is to imitate Jesus and to be a disciple? Truly that is the life best lived (shout out to Donnie Cook who shared this idea with me). In Dallas Williard's wonderful treatise on the sermon on the mount, The Divine Conspiracy, Willard addresses this very issue. In it, he discusses two parables (among others): "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which someone else found and covered up. Full of joy, the finder sold everything and bought that field." And "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one very precious pearl, he went and sold all that he owned and bought it (Matthew 13:44-45 CEB)." Think about what Jesus is saying. The kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God (think of that as the life of Christ that we are individually and communally living into) is like a treasure or a fine pearl. In both cases, when found, the people sold everything and with great joy bought the pearl or the field. Of course, we would do that! If we found something of worth we would do everything possible to get that thing. What Jesus is saying is that following him is more valuable than one of those items. The other side of it is that following Jesus does take sacrifice, selling out to get the pearl/treasure. It means getting up early in the morning and devoting time with God in prayer and scripture. It means committing to worshiping God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each week in worship. It means finding a life group to be a part of and do life together. It means committing to be financially generous and share the blessings that we have been given to those in need and with the church so it can fulfill its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It means finding your gift and serving in some way, making a difference. And it means that we must go into the world and be a witness to this incredible God. That means following Jesus and becoming like him will require sacrifice from us. There are things we are going to have to give up. This idea pervades all aspects of our life! Today I want to focus on growing in our faith because just like the pearl and the treasure we must crave it with the greatest desire in our hearts. The big sacrifice will be time. You will have to give up time and other aspects of your life to commit to spending time with God and others in the community so that you can grow. You will miss out on some stuff that others who follow Jesus get to do. But you know what? That is ok. Remember that Jesus says, "I came that they might have life and live it to the fullest (John 10:10)." The goal is to progress until Jesus is the center of our lives, we do that through daily scripture and prayer and by being in a life group that we can do life with and hold us accountable to the life we are called to live. This is what Williard says, "What this passage in Luke is about is clarity. It is not about misery or about some incredibly dreadful price that one must pay to be Jesus' apprentice. There is no such thing as a dreadful price for the 'pearl' in question. Suffering for him is actually something we rejoice to be counted worthy of (Acts 5:41; Phil 1:29). The point is simply that unless we clearly see the superiority of what we receive as his students over every other thing that might be valued, we cannot succeed in our discipleship to him. We will not be able to do the things required to learn his lessons and move ever deeper into a life that is his kingdom."

 

If you want the best life you can possibly live then it is time to seek Christ as a precious pearl or treasure. Then the life that comes from that relationship will so change all of your other relationships and existence that you will receive life to the fullest. 

 

At Rockbridge, this is a great week to recommit yourself to a life of growing in your faith, of becoming a disciple of Jesus. On Sunday each of our life groups will have a table for you to sign up. Check them out! If you don't know where you need to be, then join the Disciple's Path class which will be a great place to get your discipleship jump-started!

 

May you find the treasure of following Jesus Christ and, full of joy, seek it out with all that you have.

On Charlottesville and Listening

James 1:19 tells us, "Know this, my dear brothers and sisters:  everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry."

In Philippians, Paul tells the church to 'adopt the mindset that is in Christ Jesus' when we are dealing with conflict with one another. That means that we are called to serve one another and put the needs of the person we are talking to before our own. It does not mean to pretend we do not have a different opinion.

I have thought a lot about what to do in our current situation with the increased racial tensions. Here is my first step in being a community of Jesus whose first commandment is to love:

It is time to listen. To listen to people who disagree with you, with me. It is time to listen to people who are of a different race and culture than mine. It is time to seek out and listen to those who are the victims of racism on a regular basis and still feel their life does not matter to the rest of the nation. It is time to listen to republicans and democrats and what they think about the world. It is time to listen even to white supremacist and hear why they are so angry and what we can do to love them as well (if you question the importance of this listen to Megan Phelps-Roper's TED talk). It is time to listen to conservatives and liberals and everything in between. What does listening cost you? Little and less, and it might be the key to healing our nation, or at least the first step. Listen to other's stories and share your own.

Scripture says it: quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.  Let us put that into practice. To me, it is self-evident statistically and personally that racism is still real, especially toward our minority brothers and sisters. If you disagree, let us start a conversation!  I want to be a part of the solution and I hope you do too. Comment on this blog, send me an email, let's start communicating with one another.

I invite you, as I will as well, to start diversifying your relationships. If every one of your friend group, church group, and family looks, thinks, talks, acts and believes like you, then its time to meet some people of different backgrounds and different viewpoints and be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.

Bombs, Coffee and Cobalt

I was going to blog this week about drinking coffee; I just decided to be a coffee drinker because I am spending a ton of time in coffee shops because I don't have an office. I decided that I should drink coffee and so I am! I had a blog prepared to discuss how being empowered by the Holy Spirit relates to coffee. I will have to save that for another day because there is something else I feel like we should discuss.

On social media I witnessed a lot of anxiety about the world around us, there seems to be a very real concern about nuclear war. So I feel compelled to talk about something political, but first I am going to share my views on faith and politics (very briefly). As Christians, we have a strange balance with the government in that we are to both engage the government without indulging the temptation of trying to be the government. Quite simply, Jesus was tempted to take control of everything, yet his kingdom is not (yet) of this world (John 18:36). Yet we are called to act subversively to help build that kingdom while waiting on Jesus to fulfill it. Much of Mark is about Jesus warning the Jews that if they continue on their path of warfare with Rome, they would be destroyed. He was right, and they were destroyed.  We also respect the political authority as we are told to do in Romans 13, but we can't be afraid to critique it (or even oppose it if necessary) and we can't take it over and we can't run away from it. Whew! Another way to put it is that we are called to be political without being partisan, to focus on serving Jesus the King. This is not about being a Republican or a Democrat, but about being a follower of Jesus.

My political statement for the day:  I believe we are called to have a consistent pro-life ethic. This is incredibly important because much of what I see in the world and in the news is death and destruction. We are called to protect the unborn, we are called to protect children, we are called to oppose war except in extreme cases (although there has always been a non-violent stream of Christianity), we are called to not use the death penalty (United Methodist stand against the death penalty), we are called to help young pregnant women who are considering abortion and help them spiritually and financially so they will choose another path. If we are pro-life we also have to care about the stuff we buy and how it is made. For example (thank you Tambra for posting an article about this) search cobalt mines. Cobalt is used in lithium batteries and is mined in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo. This should be a boon to their economy and help people rise out of poverty. Unfortunately, the mines are using children as laborers and cobalt is very detrimental to people's health. We must send a message to the companies that we buy from that that is not ok! A pro-life ethic means we stand up to those who abuse children.

We also need to send a message that, as Christians, it is unacceptable to use or threaten to use our nuclear weapons. This article tells us that even a small nuclear war would make the world uninhabitable. So why does the US have 6800? Russia 7000? Nuclear war isn't even the last resort, it would be the last choice we ever make. Add to that the millions of innocent men, women, and children who would be killed in even a limited nuclear engagement. We need to stand up and let our politicians know that nuclear weapons are not even a negotiation tool. They are way too dangerous for that.

I believe that Christ is calling us to a clear, complete, pro-life ethic. Jesus tells us "I came so that they could have life, and have it to the fullest (John 10:10)." We need to stand on the side of life, because this life, every life, is precious to our Lord. And talking about that is much more important than talking about drinking coffee for the first time.

This world IS our home and it DOES matter when we lose the battle...

You might be wondering what this blog is about today, or you might have already connected with the title with two popular Christian songs on the radio: Home by Chris Tomlin and Greater by Mercy Me. Both songs represent a theology that is an epidemic among popular Christianity today.

Many Christians believe that this world is not really our home, that it is just a temporary place that we are passing through and (hopefully if we found Christ!) we go TO heaven and not experience eternal conscious torment in hell. That allows us to say (as it says in the song Greater by Mercy Me) that if we lose the battle with doubt or sin, it doesn't matter because we have the grace of God and so we still get to go to heaven (side note: this isn't exactly what the song means, but it is what it says. The song seems to be saying that because we are redeemed we don't have to earn grace. That is true but it overstates the point).

The Christian world has focused on eternal salvation, however following Jesus is about so much more than simply getting saved so we can escape hell and end up in heaven. When we have that as our theology, we believe that our choices don't matter because ultimately all that matters is going to heaven! That is an awful way to live. I am going to unpack this a bit using an email that a friend forwarded me from Kurt Willems. Feel free to check him out at theologycurator.com. I would link the blog but I can't find it online and it may be emailed content.

The lyrics of Home say this, "This world is not what it was meant to be..." This statement is absolutely true. We believe that God designed and ordered, sin-free world but humans chose to walk away from God, causing sin to flood into our existence. The song loses me when it starts talking about wanting to go home to heaven to run away from the problems right here. Thankfully God did not run away from the problems in our world but rather sent Jesus, the son of God, to become flesh and dwell among us (John 1)! God's plan isn't to provide an escape ladder but rather to be a part of this world and show us how to live. Yes, Jesus died for our sins! Yes, Jesus saves us so that we can be with God! No, that isn't the sum total of what God is about. God wants nothing less than all of the creation to be reconciled to God through Jesus. Romans 8:18-23 tells us that creation itself is groaning in anticipation of the coming glory from God.

What we believe about death is a two stage event: when people die they get to be with God, we call that Heaven. That is temporary! We believe in a bodily resurrection of the dead (Paul says this is such an important belief that if there is not a resurrection of the dead, then don't bother believing Jesus was resurrected from the dead 1 Corinthians 15:12-13. You can find Paul discussing this in Acts 24:15, Philippians 3:10, and all of chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians. That is not all the discussion but it is everywhere). We expect to be resurrected as Jesus was because he is the first fruits of the resurrection and then we will come later. Revelation 21 describes a new heaven and a new earth where God is coming to live with the people here! Ancients did not see heaven as another location but rather an invisible interlocking sphere with our own. Yes, we go to heaven but that is also temporary. The goal is a reinvigorated creation with humans fulfilling their God given vocation as stewards and rulers, being ruled by Jesus.

What we do now matters because it matters to God. To say that because of graces our mistakes don't matter is simply cheap grace as described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ. (Cost of Discipleship)." If we make mistakes, we will be forgiven, but those choices still have consequences. I am sure the guys at Mercy Me agree with this, we just have to be careful with what we say, especially when it will be sung in church. Bonhoeffer says, "Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is because Jesus says, 'My yoke is easy and my burden is light.'" Bonhoeffer knows about cheap verses costly grace. He chose to go back to Germany to oppose Hitler and it led to his death. As a follower of Christ, he could not choose another path.

Escapism leads to cheap grace where we don't actually care about being a light into the darkness. That is simply not the good news that Jesus preached. Willems has an interesting point on our role as partners with God in what God is doing to restore all of creation. He discusses Tim Gedderts translation of Romans 8:28 where the Greek word sunergei denotes two parties working together rather than just God doing the work. God doesn't need us, but God chooses to partner with us. So perhaps 8:28 should be translated as "In all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good..." What we do now matters. What we do has an eternal impact on us, our neighbors and the world around us!  Rather than saying "This world is bad, I can't wait to get to my condo in the sky!" We should say, this world is my home and I have a responsibility to partner with God through the power of the Holy Spirit to clean up the sin, the death, the destruction, the exploitation. What we do matters because we say the Lord's prayer "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on EARTH as it is in Heaven..." As Christ followers, we have a choice. We can choose to act in God's will and we make earth more like heaven; or when we choose to sin, we can make hell on earth.

If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, are you ready to stop trying to run away from a broken world and be a part of the solution to reconcile it? If so, the church is the place for you. We don't always get it right, and eventually, it will take the act of God to fulfill the promise. Until then, I choose to serve God and work to shine the light of the Father into this world!