Advent Week 3

The third week of advent is focused on Joy. Joy is not the same as happiness, although happiness can include joy. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), it has roots in gladness or peace of the heart (Luke 1:14), but it also should reflect our heart in moments of trials in life (James 1:2).

During Christmas we sing Joy to the World, God Rest You Merry Gentlemen, and others that reflect a sense of joy. But that joy can be mixed up with a sense of Christmas cheer where everyone is supposed to put on a smiling face and spread that cheer. But, joy is not about outward action but an inward gladness that comes from the heart. I think of joy as the part of me that sprang out of my heart when I first saw my son. I think of joy as the part of me that felt peace upon graduating with an education and a sense of accomplishment. And, joy is that part of me that feels peace in the midst of turmoil.

As you reflect on joy, what does joy look like in your life? And how, this advent season, can you enter into joy--not because it is expected of you, but because it springs from your heart?

Advent Week 2

Week 2, where's week 1?

Well, it was last week, and I forgot to write about week 1 (hooray Turkey and pie!) So, we're starting with week 2!

The second week of Advent is focused on hope. Jeremiah, the prophet from the Old Testament, spoke to God and said "Our hope is in you". Hope means to trust in, wait for or look for. And advent is all about preparing ourselves for celebrating the birth of Jesus. Which begs the question--what are you hoping for today? If you're having trouble answering that question, maybe try this one--what are you desiring today?

If you desire to have a different job, your hope is that you'll have a good job. If you desire a new TV, you're hoping for a new TV. If you desire your pastor to preach a 15 minute sermon, you're hoping to get out of church early.

As you prepare for this Sunday's message, examine your desires and hopes. Are they found in God? Do the things you strive after reflect Jesus? As you sit and think about Christmas, what are your desires and hopes, and where is your focus during this holiday time?

Small Group Primer

A primer is something that prepares. In a few weeks, we will start our small group ministry at CMF! I'm excited for this time because it is a ministry area where people will, hopefully, connect, grow, and share deeply. Small groups should give you what Sunday morning doesn't--a place of knowing and being known. You may have been a part of a small group before or you may not have, but in this post we will discuss some of the things that I'm hoping these small groups will accomplish.

Acts 2:42-47 depicts the basics of small groups:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Apostles' Teaching:
The Apostles' teaching is the handing down of Jesus' teachings from generation to generation. We find all their teachings to be in line with what the Bible tells us. Small groups will encourage you to be taught as well as teach others.

Humans are wired for connection with other humans. Fellowship is the biblical way of saying that we should be together. A small group should meet on a regular basis, share life together, and be connected. We should also hold one another accountable.

Breaking of Bread:
Who doesn't like to eat? But, even more than this, it is the sharing of resources. Notice in verse 45, they would use their Earthly possessions to help one another. Helping your fellow group members with whatever they may need.

It is good to gather together in prayer, and pray for our church, your group members, and for God's will to be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Opening yourself up for prayer is one way of letting go of our American ideology that we don't need help.

The Lord added to their number daily:
The goal of small groups is to grow more like Jesus. When we grow like Jesus, we ought to attract those in the world who are yearning for something else.

There's your primer, Church! The formula for small groups is simple--do what the early followers of Jesus did. Meet together, study the Apostles' teaching, have fellowship, break bread, pray, and invite others to join in the Kingdom with you.

If you haven't yet filled out a small group survey, please contact Andrew!

A time for war

Every once in awhile, it feels like something is afoot in ministry and not in a good way.
1 Peter 5:8-9 says "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings."

I'm not a demon behind every bush kind of person, but every once in awhile, I'll notice an uptick in bad things happening. A not a random uptick, but what is a strategic effort on the part of the devil to undermine a group of believers. It usually looks like a wave of negative: people feeling depression, sickness, anger, conflict among the congregation, marriages hitting a rough patch, burnout among volunteers, job losses or other financial burdens. Some of this is everyday living--but when it hits in waves, you know it's the enemy creating havoc, trying to devour those that are following Jesus. It has more effect to hit many people at the same time instead of one person at a time. This stretches the resources of the church and creates other problems.

We should not be ignorant church, we are fighting a war against the forces of the kingdom of darkness. Even though they've been defeated on the cross, they still have potent ways to hurt Jesus' Kingdom. I liken it to the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. Hitler's armies were defeated and couldn't win the war after that moment, but they were still able to inflict casualties and havoc. Our enemy is always looking for someone to devour. But we are able to resist.

First, church, pray for one another. Pray specifically that all demonic powers would be removed from our path so that we, as a church, will have the strength to be effective Kingdom workers. Pray that individuals experiencing sickness or suffering would be protected by the Holy Spirit. Pray for God to make our paths straight and keep us from harm. Pray God's will be done at CMF. Pray for your sisters and brothers, and pray for your leaders. And don't just pray when things go bad--pray in the good times as well so that people can remain vigilant and healthy.

Second, church, look at your own life and stand firm. The enemy wants to hit you where you are weak or blind. If there is unrepentant sin in your life, repent of it and seek accountability and help dealing with it. Unrepentant sin is like giving an invitation to the enemy to cause pain and suffering in your life and those around you. Also, open your life up to your brothers and sisters and have them reflect back to you what you can work on. You may not know in what ways you hurt others or yourself, and allowing others to speak into your life can open your eyes. Not every working of the enemy is due to our sin, but we can make it harder to attack us by removing sin in our lives.

Third, keep the faith. To follow Jesus is to become a target of the enemy of Jesus. And that enemy, the devil, is always looking for ways to discourage you, keep you from a life of transparency and accountability, and trapped in your old ways of sin. Resist him by embracing Jesus. Embrace your suffering as a sure sign that you're on the right path in following Jesus, and keep on that path. Help others keep the faith by using your resources and gifts to encourage them. To be the hands and feet of Jesus when it feels like Jesus is far away. It's the small things in life that remind us that God is bigger than the devil. Don't be ashamed or turn away from those who want to help--you were not meant to battle alone.

We won't be free from suffering in this life, but we can do something besides suffer. Set your frame of mind, not on earthly things, but on heavenly things. Give space and walk with those around you who are suffering. Don't be afraid to share your suffering with others, as we are all undergoing the same thing as believers. Prayerfully prepare yourself and be ready at any time to help others or to stand firm when you are attacked.

Two books for reference if you want to read more:
Sit, Walk, Stand by Watchman Nee
Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Skittles and Peacemaking

Hey all,

Woke up this morning to a story about Donald Trump's son (Donald Trump Jr.), a surrogate for Trump's candidacy, equating skittles to immigrants in a tweet. In case you haven't heard it yet, the analogy is this:
"'If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you three would kill you, would you take a handful?' the meme asks. 'That's our Syrian refugee problem.'"
I also read many people supporting this analogy, and if you are one of those, consider the following:

"Out of your potential dating pool, a few may kill you. Do you swear off dating?"
"Out of your potential police encounters, a few may kill you. Do you stop trusting the police?"
"If you love your enemies, a few may kill you. Do you stop loving your enemies?"

I, for one, would favor allowing a few immigrants in that would kill me if that meant letting in thousands of families to find peace from a war-torn country. Of course I wouldn't eat from a bowl of skittles if a few would kill me because the risk/reward of it is so small. Dying for candy is a terrible way to die. It's an absurd comparison to helping war-torn refugees. Dying to help children and families that are on the run--well, that might just be an admirable and noble death. People honor those who helped the Jews escape WWII while risking their lives, and then turn around and call our own humanitarian crisis a bowl of candy. I'm sure if Skittles were around in 1939, the Nazi's would have loved this analogy as well.

Jesus said to love your enemies. To do that, you must first humanize them, and to do that, you must first humanize yourself. You are no more worthy of safety and security than the people of Syria. And if you are no more worthy, then you cannot in good conscience keep your own at their expense. And if you can embrace them, you will find that you've embraced something bigger and more profound than a bowl of candy. You will have embraced Jesus as He was in need.

So, continue dating and meet people in public places until you get to know them.  Embrace the police and support them. Support also means holding them accountable so those that do wrong with their power are brought to justice. Embrace the immigrant and have a process that keeps casualties to a minimum but also doesn't stop the process of helping those in need (some may say we have that now). Humanize the other, and then you can see the path Jesus calls us to.

Wisdom is necessary in all walks of life. Protectionism, racism, and xenophobia are not. Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Jesus.