One of the biggest challenges of modern adulthood is bridging the gap from saying, "hello" to building real friendships with new people.
At Big Life C.C. we receive LOTS of feedback about how welcoming the church is. And we love that.
But there is a huge gap between a first impression of welcome ... and the warmth of honest and supportive relationships.
It takes many small deposits of courage, of intentional reaching out to others, connecting personally, following up, and remembering names and stories. You will have to choose to walk up to someone over and over and start the conversation, make the time to get the coffee or tea, and expend the energy to get to know someone's story and to share yours with someone new. The journey from meeting and greeting to real friendship is a process of courage and extension and repetition and time.
As Geoff described in the message Sunday, these choices are really habits of the heart that create community - and they must be cultivated and put to use each week if we are to be the Body of Christ as Jesus intended. Jesus intended the church to be a community of love. How can we love each other without getting to know one another?
Sundays are a great time to connect - worship is THE gathering for the church.
But we are also offering some new opportunities for you to continue the process outside of worship in safe and relaxed settings. Check out the website and see if one of the Connection Opportunities listed can help you take a next step to connect with someone soon!
Remember this: we create our habits, and then our habits create us.
Habits and repeated patterns create our interior life and shape how we relate to the world. This was the closing thought to the end of our series "It's (Not) Personal)." Two of the habits you were encouraged to cultivate where consistent solitude and reflective living. Withdrawing from the volume of the world for five or ten minute each day allows us to hear God's voice more clearly. In doing that we will have greater awareness of what we do and why we do it.
This Sunday we start a new series called "Outsourced." Outsourcing is the business practice of having someone else do for you what you once did for yourself. It is great for lawn care and taxes. It is terrible for faith. When we outsource our faith- to the church, to the pastor, to the government or grandma- we miss the big life God has for us.
To bridge the gap between last week's call to new habits and the launch of a new series, I wanted to share some resources for you to put into practice. Below you will find some accessible books and links that will allow you grow the habits of solitude and reflection while preparing you to take charge of your personal faith. I encourage you to use these tools to develop a few more habits of the heart.
The Life You've Always Wanted - John Ortberg. A creative and humorous writer, Ortberg outlines simple pathways to God's presence each day. I have referenced this book many times in my messages. If you do not like to read, you will still love this book.
Celebration of Discipline- Richard Foster. Consistently listed as one of the most important books of faith in the 20th century, The Celebration of Discipline is both an easy read and a strong challenge. Foster uses 13 chapters to layout the why and how of 12 different habits that Christians have always practiced to draw closer to God. If you love good writing and challenging teaching, this is the book for you.
The Circles Maker- Mark Batterson. Batterson founded a church in Washington DC that is overflowing with young adults. This book is an invitation to bold prayers and dependence on God like few I have read. If you have ever wondered "How big and bold should I pray" this book is for you.
Day One Journal- This is a smartphone app available in Apple and Android, the simple format allows you to write, file, and tag your thought and prayers. I find myself opening this a few times each day to write the most random observations that I later see as God-sightings throughout my daily life.
These are just a few tools for you to utilize as you take ownership of your faith, your habits and your future as we set aside time as a church to look into the risks and realities of Outsourcing our faith. I look forward to seeing you this Sunday at 9:30 or 11. Invite someone in your life to join you at worship this week! You never know how much it will impact them.
Have a great week!
Each year Outreach Magazine lists the 100 largest congregations in America. I hate to be the one to break you the news, but we at Big Life C.C. did not make the list. Maybe next year. For those of you wondering, Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, with Pastor Joel Osteen, topped the list with 43,000 people attending each weekend. So add the entire population of Oswego and Yorkville together, and you are almost there. And get me some nicely coifed hair while you are at it.
Large congregations, often called mega churches, are a relatively new American phenomenon. Yet, in the scope of Christian history, they have existed since the early church launched 2000 years ago. The book of Acts, the fifth book of the New Testament, chronicles the early days of the Church after Jesus rose from the dead. It describes multiple situations where thousands of people responded at a time by putting their faith in Christ. In Acts 2 we are told 3,000 people joined the church in one day. In fact, if you read the New Testament descriptions of Church, there seems to be an embedded expectation that God desires to see people choose faith. God wants the Church to reach new people and grow.
What is remarkable about these examples of growth in the early church is that they lacked so much of what we now deem essential to 'church'. They did not have a building, let alone a great band with creative worship. They did not have billboards that blasted to passer-byes when and where to show up. There was no google, no google reviews, and no google maps. They didn't even have Facebook. Pile on top of that the fact that it was illegal to be a Christian for the first three hundred years of the church with grave physical harm hanging in the balance. Yet this period of time is documented as the fastest period of growth and faith sharing in the history of Christianity. So how did they do it?
People lived in a such a way that other people asked "WHY?" And when the early Christians were asked why, they told them WHO. They loved so boldly, gave so freely, welcomed so indiscriminately, and worshipped so passionately that people asked WHY and were told WHO. Their very lives stirred questions and when asked they told of the difference faith in Jesus made in their lives. See, a life changed by God makes all the difference.
At Big Life C.C. we try to get the word out organizationally. We has a sharp website, a savvy social media presence, as well as a visible brand that we intentionally position into the community. But that is simply not enough - not now, and it won't ever be enough to grow this church. It fact it all means nothing unless your life is being changed by God. You, in fact, are the only living advertisement for the Gospel. And all the marketing in the world is no substitute for the kind of lives that people around us are driven to ask about.
Make your life beg the questions, WHY? and WHO?
Reading my weather app this morning I almost dropped my phone. A week from today it is projected to be 51 degrees! That's a near 80 degree swing when you count windchill. Just the sight of that number, 51, in print was enough to brighten my day. With the simple scroll of the thumb I saw two digits that provided the endurance to plow through yet another ridiculously cold day. Spring will be here soon. Never early but always on time.
The Christian belief of hope functions much the same way.
Life is hard. There is no way around it. And for many people it feels darker than it has ever been. Employment insecurity, family issues, financial stress, and destructive habits seems to block out the promises of God in our day-to-day lives. Pile on top of that the fact that this weather (cold) and this time of year (dark at 5:15) produce greater amounts of depression, and you have a formula for a hopeless outlook. Our future feels like it is shrinking. Every conversation becomes a turf war, and we see no options to increase our optimism. Anyone been there lately? If so, you are running low on hope.
Hope is the intentional habit of believing God's promises to endure when we would rather mail it in. Hope is not a trite Hallmark card. The hope of the world is Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is waiting to take full responsibility for your life, bringing courage and optimism even we have had enough. If you feel you have had enough, it is time for Jesus.
Jesus Christ offers hope through the forgiveness of our sin. Through his death on the cross, any shame and guilt we carry is a self imposed prison from which he is ready to stage a jail break. Jesus Christ is our hope forever. In him we have the confidence that even death cannot keep us down - if we trust in him. Jesus Christ is our hope in the cold and dark moments we each might be facing this very moment. He is the promise that no matter what we face, we do not have to face it alone. God is with us, and God is for us.
This week I hope you actively seek opportunities to stretch your trust in God. Weekly worship is a minimal threshold. Even the week we had to cancel worship, I could feel my temper and frustration grow. This was not an accident. Habits like prayer, reflection, Bible reading, service to others, or inviting others to worship is a good place to begin. But whatever you do, do not allow yourself to remain in that cold, dark, dead place that our soul will always leans towards. Lean towards Jesus. Spring, and the promise of his resurrection are on the way!
See you Sunday at 9:30 or 11. Extend some hope to someone in your life with an invite to join you at worship this week!
Do you keep a journal?
I started a diary last week, though it's more of a 21st century journal. Basically, I use an app on my iPad that amounts to a Word document. It is nothing revolutionary, but I have found myself writing at least five entries a day. It is easy for me to pop open my iPad and begin writing after a meeting, after worship, to express a prayer, or remember a relevant thought for the newsletter. But this simple habit that is only a week old has opened my eyes in a new way. Looking back over one week of entries I see how often I acknowledged where God was working - working in me, in others, through conflict, and even in the mundane matters of youth sports and snow removal. When I cultivated the habit of reflection, I was much more aware of what was already going on. I will admit I often lack in this area, at a cost to my faith.
Over this past year people have expressed to me in a variety of ways their desire to know God. In matters of family, finances, personal conflict, and work load, you and others want God's wisdom and direction. These are righteous desires. Yet, what I find myself often saying to folks is, 'God is not the problem'. You are. I am. We all are. We all feel like we lack God's wisdom and direction if we do not cultivate the habits of listening, reflection, prayer, and worship. We cannot speed date our way to knowing God. We ought not be shocked that we feel as if God is distant when the habits of the heart that belong to him are not lived.
But as I was reminded this week, and I know it from my own failure, a personal relationship with God is a cumulative experience. The more we listen, worship, and study His word, the more we begin to see his work all around us. It's not as if God withdrew himself from us - ever. We are the ones who withdraw, wanting God on our terms, then blaming Him when we aren't trained to see Him. Yet there is good news. REALLY good news. It doesn't have to stay that way.
Today is the perfect day to begin to see God at work all around you. In prayer and worship, reflection and scripture, journaling and talking to a friend- these habits of the heart wake us up inside and give us eyes to see what God is already doing all around us. You do not need to wait on an iPad app to draw closer to God. You simply need to give God a willing heart that is seeking him in intentional ways.
One of the intentional ways we open ourselves to God is weekly worship. This Sunday we continue in our series "It's (Not) Personal." We will build off the powerful message we heard from Roger Jenks last Sunday and explore what it means to be our created-in-the-image-of-God self when we could potentially meltdown. I look forward to seeing you this Sunday at 9:30 or 11 AM.
Since there is actually no snow forecasted (at the moment) for Sunday, why not invite a friend to come with you?