Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Reaching In

"So, how do I know if I am guilty of the sin of isolation or if I am just not a 'people person'?"

That was the most asked question after last week's message! As I urge us to greater connection and community with each other I don't want anyone to fall into condemnation because they don't glad-hand everyone in the room every time. Remember a few things:

1. It's not the quantity of your relationships, it's the quality. Who do you "go deep" with? With whom can you express the hopes, fears and struggles of your heart? With whom do you go from "friendship" to "fellowship"?

2. Who are you inviting into your "inner circle"? Are you reaching out to new people? Are you ingrown or outward focused? Are you a welcoming person, even to one person at a time?

3. Each person is in a different place on the relationship continuum: singular relational, small group relational, or multi-relational. But be careful of the extremes at both ends. "Singular" and "multi" can both be ways of avoiding the risk of relationship.

4. Is the gospel transforming your relationships? Consider this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

"He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners (emphasis added). The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. The fact is that we are sinners!"

"But it is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; He wants you alone."

The Bible tells us to "welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you" (Romans 15:7). The gospel tells us how Christ has welcomed us; unconditionally, grace-fully, completely, enthusiastically… (you get the point). Now, wading in the river of God's grace, welcome others the same way!

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Friday, August 21, 2009

Reaching Out

The results are in and the tribe has spoken: We need to do much more to get the word out about our church! We had some great ideas generated at our special congregational meeting last Sunday (check the last post for the slideshow.)

But here’s one you can put into practice today. We’ll call this the Outreach Idea of the Week. Each week we will post one practical way you can reach-out to those around you. Then the next Sunday we’ll share how our efforts went.

Outreach Idea of the Week: One way of showing someone you care while at the same time connecting with them spiritually is very simple: prayer. Commit to asking a friend neighbor or coworker how you can pray for them. You can simply say something like, “I try to pray for various people every day, is there any way I can pray for you?” It’s a way to show you care in a non-threatening way! But if you ask - make sure you do pray!

Why not ask a friend, neighbor, or co-worker how you can pray for them today? Next Sunday, I’ll ask how things went - so be ready to share!

The well wisher of your soul’s happiness,

Pastor Tom

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Building True Community

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." (19) My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, (20) let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins."

James 5:16, 19-20

Last Sunday we talked about what would happen is we actually started doing this: confessing our sins to one another, praying for one another, and rescuing one another. Do we want this? What would this look like?

Many of us have been burned with heavy-handed "discipleship" methods based on legalistic accountability without true community. The thought of confessing our sins sounds raw, uncomfortable, legalistic, and dangerous. But what if looked like something different?

What if we saw ourselves as "traveling-companions on a great spiritual adventure, not grim pilgrims on a death march to personal holiness"? We would be, as Nate Larkin says, "A fellowship of Christians who are serious about authenticity, community, humility and recovery - serious, but not grave.", A community of fellow travelers who, "…challenge each other daily to believe the incredible news that God actually knows us, loves us, and has restored us to himself. As we follow Christ together, we find our lives progressively interrupted by righteousness, peace and joy."

The gospel tells us that we are weaker and more sinful than we ever before believed, but, through Christ, we more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope. When we walk in the light of the gospel, we fight sin, not so that God won't scold us and rub our noses in it. No, Christ was immersed in "it", so that we would never have to bear guilt and shame again. In Christ we are restored to our true Father, who will never turn us away.

We fight sin because we desire greater intimacy with God. We fight sin because we desire authenticity. We fight sin because we don't want to walk in self-deception. We fight sin because God is (slowly!) restoring in us all that was lost in the Fall. And we fight together because we know our weaknesses.

So set confession, prayer, and rescue in "the friendly confines" of true gospel-centered community, a band of brothers/sorority of sisters with whom we can walk in honesty, authenticity, humility, and joy!

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Healing the Whole Person

"Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed." Isaiah 53:4-5

What I really want us to see in this essay is what an awesome Savor we have in Jesus. I truly want us to be overwhelmed at the what Jesus accomplished for us, in his life and on the cross. We are acquainted with the idea that "Jesus died for me". When we understand that at all, we sometimes think that Jesus' death is only to take away sins – the spiritual problem.

But sin's curse is a cancer that spreads beyond our judicial standing before a holy God. We also have brokenness spiritually, relationally, emotionally, and physically. We mostly focus the spiritual aspects (a huge part, no doubt!). But the work of Christ goes beyond that. We must apply the cross to all the effects of sin.

  • Emotional: "He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows" – Jesus cares about our emotional wounds and struggles. The cross is for our hearts too.
  • Spiritual: "He was wounded for transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities" The guilt and condemnation of our sins has been put away – now we can deal with the "idols of the heart" with transparent integrity.
  • Relational: "Upon him was he chastisement that brought us peace" Our relationship with God has been restored! Now we can be reconciled to others as well. Even the "hard people" in our lives, past and present.
  • Physical: "By his stripes we are healed". And yes, we pray for God to heal our bodies even as we await our resurrection bodies on the day of resurrection.

Who do you know that would care for you like that? Who do you know that would take up all our problems, issues, garbage, hang-ups, rebellion, and sins - love us all the way to the cross - take all our sin on his sinless self - and then turn in love to heal all our wounds? Only Jesus.

A healing community reflects the work of Christ when we care for the whole person, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and physically. My hope and prayer is that our church would become such a healing community – applying the whole gospel to the whole person.

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

if He Had Falterd Even Once...

"One sinful thought; one failure,
And Love would not succeed.
The ransomed souls of hist’ry
Must His perfection plead.

If He had faltered even once,
In flames of hell would men abide.
Then ponder Christ, and praise at length
The strength of Him there crucified.

-- K. Hartnett, May 2007"
(read entire poem here)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Screwtape on Pleasure

"Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy's ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which he has forbidden.... An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.... To get a man's soul and give him nothing in return—that's what really gladdens Our Father's heart."
The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
(For the uninitiated, "Screwtape" is a demon!)