I wanted to share a bit of faith with you, but I'm not sure I am up to speaking in front of the congregation quite yet. So I hope you take a moment to read this and find something applicable for your life from it.
First - a huge thank you for being the church in prayer and support during our family's difficult time. Rhys thanks everyone who brought us brownies - he's still working on them out of the freezer, :) and I know Geoff was delighted to see so much delicious food brought in for us. And your prayers of healing are immeasurably valuable.
And now the harder stuff...
No one EVER desires for their child to die. No one signs up for this kind of path through life. And certainly no one would believe it if God offered it and suggested it would be a blessing... myself included.
That afternoon when I went to my appointment, we were in the final prep for Gryfn's arrival. I had felt really weird that morning, but was at church all day working on Christmas Eve. As soon as the ultrasound tech pulled up the screen, I saw it - there was no heartbeat registering. I couldn't wait to get out of that office. In fact, my doctor had to call me and ask me to come back because I bolted before we were finished. All I could think of was the simple prayer - "make this not be true, God." I honestly believe in a God of miracles, a God of power and life. So I asked Him, "make this a miracle, bring this baby back to me."
As you already know, baby Gryfn did not come back to life, and we delivered him overnight that night - born early the next morning. He was perfect. Beautiful... looked like his older brother, Rhys,... just not alive.
I had realized, of course, minutes after the prayer for a miracle was not delivered, that I had to make some serious decisions about how I was going to walk with the Lord through this. As we waited in the hospital, I prayed for God to reveal to me HIS purposes and HIS hope through this. As a former atheist, choosing unbelief and demanding my own way is an option I have taken off the table for myself, but this situation was truly the valley of the shadow... and I needed God to take me by the hand and show me how He was good and triumphant, and how He was providing in the midst of this dark place. I believe in the resurrection faith of Jesus, I believe in His word and promises... now I needed to see it.
And immediately He started to show me. For the last few weeks, I have spent many hours, many beautiful, peace-filled, often tear-filled moments leaning into something I don't understand and can't explain in the simple and rational terms I prefer to bring to you when I speak.
It has been the most beautiful time of my life with the Lord. The pain is raw, the loss is real, but pain is confined here to this flesh and this material earth, and this trapped in time existence. God has shown me glimpses beyond this flesh and matter and time, and I can tell you truly, I am at peace.. and feel even, dare I say it, privileged by what God has revealed. My heart is patched up with God's love and care and hope. My mind has been opened by revelations that I will hold gently and gratefully as sacred. And I am not in torment or struggle or despair.
But there is a discomfort by walking so close to that which lies beyond this earth. The things of this world seem impossibly hard to grab and value in contrast. As many of you know, I have spent my adult life very ambitious, even to the point of being a bit of a workaholic... and this church was founded on and has benefited from that drive. However, now I am like an egg cracked open, and the shell that let me pound away at the work of this is just not available to me right now. I don't really know how to reintegrate into the activities of the church in the world - so for now I am waiting for God to show me if it is still an open door for me. For those of you who have stepped forward to carry this load- thank you, I am so grateful. The church is infinitely stronger because of you.
And here is what I hope you take away from this for you, we ALL will arrive at the valley of the shadow of death. Some of you are already there, you have walked through the death of a loved one, you have received the terminal diagnosis, or you have held the weapon to end it all yourself. My hope for you is that you will reckon this faith we pursue as worthy of your ENTIRE trust. I can't think of anything on earth to lean into in a situation like this that will not shatter under the pressure. And I now know without any doubt, and hope you find out as well, that God is worthy of our trust and our hope! Jesus did not walk his suffering path for naught. He did not overcome death to life for a trivial punchline. This is not the stuff of nonsense, this faith in what we cannot physically see, is the thing that is most true of anything we have every known.
But like all things, it is up to us to each to pursue or reject. I am so grateful that the last decade of my life has included intense study of scripture, prayer, worship, and leaning into Jesus - not because I am somehow "so good" to have done it, but because I was truly and totally lost without it, and because I know that this story would be a very different situation without my Lord and my Love as the center and the punchline. Arriving in the valley often is totally unexpected...
All glory and honor and praise to Him. Holy, holy, holy is He!
Amen & love in Christ,
Last Sunday we talked about the importance of being able to give an account of the hope that it is within us (...Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect 1 Peter 3:15.) At Big Life C.C. we believe sharing Jesus is our high calling as Jesus followers. Bringing together the clarity of our own personal faith story with respect and gentleness towards those who do not believe yet is a pathway forward for Christianity in our culture just as it was thousands of years ago when those words were written.
But that is a lot easier said than done. Reflecting on Sunday's Message, we realized a practical application could be of great help to many of you. Below are three simple questions that I would encourage you to sit down and respond to. Your answers to these questions about your faith are the foundation of being able to speak about the the hope that is within you to those who do not yet follow Jesus.
1. When I have attempted to live without faith, I have felt ...
2. When I have trusted God it has made a difference by ...
3. When I decided to take steps to grow my faith, I have ...
I hope this helps create a simple template you can use to speak about the importance of God in YOUR life. If you DO complete this little exercise, please send me a copy. I'd love to hear about what God has meant to you!
See you Sunday as we wrap up Psummer in the Psalms. Invite a friend - you may never know the difference it will mean in their life!
The converted aim of every Christ-follower is "spiritual maturity." But what is it and how do we live it?
Hebrews 12:1-3New International Version (NIV)
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews offers the perfect motivation, and directive for growing in spiritual maturity.
1. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.
Other people see our faith. Our lives impact THEIR faith. And we are impacted by other's faith. Maturity grows as we grow faith relationships.
Q: How have you inspired and encouraged other's faith? How has other's faith inspired and encouraged you? Who is watching your faith?
2. Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
Just like we often choose sin, we also have the capacity to reject sin. We have the capacity to CHOOSE to aim for God instead of aiming for our own next desire. Maturity grows as we deny sin. Maturity also grows as we grow in humility acknowledging our struggle with sin.
Q: What is entangling you? What do you do that is self-indulgent?
3. Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
We each have a faith-race with God. Ours will not exactly mirror other's. Ours requires perseverance - the ability to keep going through difficulty. Maturity grows as we struggle and still keep choosing faith.
Q: What is a struggle in faith for you? How is your faith challenged? How can you step INTO the struggle and lean on God?
4. Fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus holds the keys to joy, godliness, and maturity. He is the one we attempt to model. His peace and joy is our desire because it is so much greater than anything the world can offer -imagine that! Maturity believes God's plan is better in every way than the world's. Maturity leans into following God with every step.
Q: Where have you seen God improve your life? Give thanks! Do you believe God wants your best life? Where do you believe your life can be more full of joy, adventure, and peace? How can you listen and obediently follow God's authorship to get there?
5. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
You will deal with opposition. Immaturity allows spiritual opposition to steal joy and cause spiritual weariness and faltering. (Immaturity also CREATES opposition for others!) Maturity can endure opposition and stay focused on Jesus to keep growing in faith. Maturity can also distinguish between faithful challenges to raise the bar (to grow more like Jesus), and sinful (not scriptural, not Jesus based/ Holy Spirit-led) spiritual opposition.
Q: How are you experiencing opposition (taking it and giving it to others)? How is it stealing your joy and peace? Pray for God to protect your heart. Pray for those who discouraged you. Pray for forgiveness for any discouragement you may have given to others.
Hebrews 12:1-3, describes and empowers us in our journey towards increasing spiritual maturity. As Joyce Meyer says, "we may not be where we want to be, but thank God we aren't where we used to be!"
What a great Easter! I hope you were blessed by the time with God you invested. I hope your faith was encouraged. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the center of our faith and the center of our celebration each year. We saw more people than we ever have before in the history of our congregation. It took each and everyone of us being willing to pray, serve, invite, and worship to make this happen!
This week we are starting a new series that I hope will take your faith to the next level. We are going to be diving into some of the richest scriptures in the Bible, challenging one another to learn them, commit them to memory, and apply them to our daily lives. If you have ever wanted to know how to take simple truth from the Bible and put them into action in your life you will not want to miss these next several weeks.
I am fully aware of the Bible can be confusing, seemingly contradictory, as well as downright off-putting at times. What we plan to do in the next few weeks is focus on rich nuggets of scripture and teach them in a way that you will have God's goodness in your mind and your heart when you go to work and get home the other six days of the week.
We believe God has every intention to build on the momentum of this past weekend. The resurrection is not simply a day but a way of life. Will you join us this Sunday to live in the power of the resurrection?
We look forward to seeing you Sunday and want to encourage you to continue to be people of the invitation. Almost everyone who came to worship for the first time on Easter came because a friend invited. Why don't you be that friend this week? Follow up and offer to save them a seat Sunday.
Late winter malaise is tough. Of course we know that any minute spring is going to come soon. We know we are about to store our winter jackets and enjoy warm weather. But it is easy for us to turn our anticipation into frustration in these long in- between times.
Living a life of faith is the same. Sometimes faith moves quicker - when growth is evident, and we are able to see signs and works of God's power in our lives. But other times our faith seems to slow to a crawl through dry seasons of suffering or frustration. We move slow, dry out, and we wonder if we are still moving in the right direction.
Both of those spiritual seasons are found in the Scriptures. But the temptation when life and faith begins to slow down is to stop. And coming to a stop is maybe the worst thing we can do in our faith. Because once we stop we lose all momentum even momentum we didn't realize we had. Getting started again become so difficult. And we end up working in forces of darkness that we didn't even know were trying to bring us away from God's trajectory.
Paul says the life of faith is like a long run that requires training and discipline. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 1 Cor 9:24-25
The faith practices that move you forward are just as important - or more - in dry seasons as they are in deep moments of faith. Worship matters as much whether you are in a season of joy and celebration or one of personal pain. Generosity matters whether you just got a pay raise, or if you are worried your check will bounce. Faith sharing can still change someone's eternity whether you are in the mood to offer an invitation or not. Your presence and connection is a gift you give to others whether you realize that extending a smile and welcome and conversation is Kingdom building work.
So whether you feel like your faith is full of joy like the warmth of a spring day that showed up early, or tired and cold like a winter that won't end... regardless, God is God, and God deserves better.
1. Have you ever run a long race? What did you do when you got tired?
2. How is your faith right now? Are you feeling slow and tired? Or are you in a season of great progress?
3. What have you let slip that God deserves to have you invest in? Worship? Generosity? Invitation? Community?
God, thank you for blessing me with such care and guidance. Lead me forward in Your ways. Help me to choose Your path and teach me what is next ... for You... today in ways small and large. Forgive me for my neglect and fatigue. I love you.
"Jesus stands as a towering figure in history because all across time, he has forced history’s view of true character to bend to his own character rather than vice versa. He showed how love could be far more just, true, sacrificial, and by the way more interesting and complex than mere approval. It took a God-man to be able to do that." -Tom Gilson
Here is a story we look at frequently at Big Life C.C.:
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
It is no surprise that we find our own ideas and thoughts and beliefs to be good... we have spent our lives building our ideas through experience, trials, and errors. We believe our own understanding of truth... and we might even justify our decisions, positions and politics as being "good".
However, Jesus cautions us strongly about living in confidence of our own sense of what is good. Here in Luke, the religious man describes making some admirable life choices, and feels entitled to declare himself 'good' about his life as a result. However, he fails to acknowledge his deepest nature as broken, lost, and blind. He fails to fall on his dependence on God and instead lists his own "good behaviors."
There is a truth deeper than what we think, or what we do... it is what we are in our very being. It is shown only in relationship to Truth in the form of Jesus. We are created as children of God, in God's own image, like Jesus... yet we bend and twist from that towards greed, selfishness, vanity, and disdain towards others.
The tax collector reveals this self-knowledge and takes a posture towards God and self that Jesus says is "just." He is not concerned with what the other guy got right OR wrong. He is only consumed with his own knowledge of self, and his shortcomings, as well as deep reverence for God's righteousness.
The ONLY posture of TRUTH, the deepest truth, is one of absolute reverent, dependence on God. Over and over the Bible calls us to humility first... and over and over humans come up with a different answer to elevate ourselves. The only posture that is righteous is that of humility. And in humility we find ourselves in a common posture as all humankind... on our knees before God in worship, heartfelt acknowledgement of our need for God's mercy, and grateful love.
Grace offers redemption, but grace is only found in the fullness of Truth.
"For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” - Jesus
1. How do you elevate your own ideas? How do you contrast yourself to others?
2. If we live out this Jesus teaching, what is our righteous posture / attitude towards God? Towards other people?
I bet you have known someone pretty incredible.
Maybe they were humble in a way that was inspiring. Maybe they were brilliant. Maybe they came to your defense, or made you a supper when you were feeling low. Maybe they just have the kind of sense of humor that makes you chuckle regardless of your mood.
We have all felt the extraordinary experience of knowing someone awesome. Well that warmth and care you saw is just the tip of the iceberg of knowing God and being known by God. Those good traits we see in someone extraordinary are God traits! Care, counsel, warmth, love, even joy... those are God descriptions! When we are around them on earth, they light us up... now imagine how much more it is with the One who is the source of those things!
Sometimes God's own character gets put down by (sometimes even) well-intended folks. When we endure hardship, we can get hardened towards life... and transfer that to God. When we experience the ways of the world, we can feel lost and uncertain... and apply our personal wavering and wandering to God.
That is why Christianity is a faith that requires conversion. It requires work and intention to get to know who God REALLY is. Our hearts are hardened. We have to choose to soften them and seek friendship with God.
Nobody falls in love without effort. Nobody has a deep friendship without investing time and attention. But everyone who seeks God will find God. And what an incredible, good, and loving God to spend time and effort getting to know!
Loneliness hits hard. It is the plague of our times. Drifting away from people who care can come easily, while social effort is sometimes hard. Our technology can be a poisonous surrogate for real interaction and connection.
But no one is an island. Humans are wired for caring and receiving care. God made us into community, refusing to leave Adam alone in His creation. Without others, we are only partially created... we cannot live out God's mandate of love alone.
But the flip side is that vulnerability can feel impossible. We grow up protecting our hurts, managing our personalities to limit exposure to bad feelings. What we end up doing is learning to be on guard against others who might be threats. And we pull those who appear similar close to feel safe. We learn about bad feelings, about hurt, about gossip... and we try to avoid it all as we grow up.
But God designed up to be a collective Body. The Church is one, with many unique people working together. We are each different parts, pressing towards the same goal of love.
Healthy body parts contribute. Healthy parts work together in different ways. Healthy humans share care and compassion for one another. Sameness is never needed, but the basics are shared. Our leader is Jesus. Our Life is Serving. Our goal is Love.
You might be uniquely gifted to make food. You might be uniquely gifted to be handy. You might be uniquely gifted to thoughtful conversation. You might be uniquely gifted as a studious learner. Come and be a part of God's Body on earth. Give of yourself, and receive benefits of the gifts of others serving around you. Come alongside those who also are created and serve similarly to you. Be appreciated for who God created you to be, and offer appreciation for others who are similar AND different. And in doing so know you are already a part of the most important mission on earth.
We are agents on a mission from God. We can't succeed alone. We need one another. And God has beautiful plans for us each... together.
The God We Serve is BIG
It is so easy to slip into bad habits - even as believers. I have recently found myself tied up with worry and really struggling to live IN faith.
Faith is slippery for us mortals. Faith is confident, certain hope in what we CAN'T see. (Hebrews 11:1) I don't know about you, but I am often FAR more confident in what I CAN see. And that is not faith.
But the Lord is bigger. The Lord is bigger than my lack of faith, or yours. The Lord is patiently waiting for us to trust Him with our sources of concern. The Lord is always inviting us into a life that is built on asking, receiving, believing, trust, and hope.
It takes some doing to retrain our skeptical minds. It takes flexibility and humility to repent... a lot ... for all the ways that we miss the mark. It takes open hearts to center our lives on gratitude, gathering all the pieces of beauty and even correction we receive and identifying it as holy and good. It takes active minds that seek God's person, promises, and teachings - to start to live on them as much as we live on food. And it takes a soul that recognizes it is starving without God's holy goodness and care-filled leadership.
This life built on Jesus faith is described as ABUNDANT... we call it BIG. When yours starts to feel cramped with worry and fear and lack of beauty, get on your knees. Make a list of gratitude. Pick up your Bible... or your Bible App on your phone. Worship. And give.
Believing is a choice, a cultivated life of trust that no one inherits and each must choose. Faith is confidence in what we hope for, assurance in what is not seen. (Heb 11:1) Invest in your faith in God.
The beauty and burden of Christian faith is that every believer shares the same responsibilities. There is no hierarchy of who does and does not live the Gospel. In our lives, during the week, as well as on a Sunday morning, each one of us are commissioned by Jesus Christ to welcome, serve, worship, and give. Through simple acts of intentional warmth, we make Love real whether it is at the office park, or the parking lot at church. And the paradox of Christian faith, is that we fill up by pouring out. So when our faith begins to run dry, the first thing we must turn to is what I can do to share and show the love of Jesus to the people around me whether is at worship on Sunday or walking the dog on Tuesday.
My prayer for you over the next few days is that you will have found some closer connection to God in your everyday chaos, and that your life can be lived victoriously even if the size of the storms in your life is not reduced. Not to be totally cliche, but it really ISN'T the size of the storm that matters - it's the size of our faith in God that changes everything. See you Sunday at 9:15 or 10:45 AM as we come together to remind ourselves, refill ourselves, and pour out God's goodness to one another!