Another productive Kinship Sunday! We enjoyed some solid worship, talked about the importance of prayer for ONE ANOTHER and how prayer and Spiderman are related. (You had to be there!) We spent some time doing just that - prayer for one another (shooting those spidey-webs all over the place!). We celebrated Communion, thanking God that, because of Jesus, we can come boldly into his presence. Afterward, we shared a common meal of great chili (Thanks, LT!). A very good day.
If you're on the trail, you're on a mission.
Before he returned to heaven, Jesus met with his followers after his resurrection. They were still in the throws and upheaval of all that had happened; some of them still couldn't believe what was going on. But even though they were still working it out, Jesus gave them their marching orders: proclaim the good news.
Here's Mark's version: "Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, 'Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.' " (Mark 16:14-15).
There's an interesting thing going on with that word, "go." It's not strictly a command, but more an urging inside a statement of truth. My rough paraphrase would be "Go on with you, then, and as you go . . ."
Because Jesus assumes the whole "going" thing. He knows they'll go. And he knows that they will ask him for directions. And eventually - maybe not right away - they will head on out. But the "go" part isn't the command.
The command is in the proclamation. Jesus is saying, "Look. It's time for this party to end. You'll be heading out soon. As you go, let the amazement and the thrill and the excitement and the seriousness of all you have experienced pour out of you along the way."
That's what happened to the shepherds after they visited Baby Jesus in Bethlehem. They were so excited about what they had experienced that they could not contain the good news. That's what happens whenever people wake up and realize who Jesus is and what he's all about. Because Good News (the GOSPEL) is meant to be shared.
This journey we're on - this hike along this trail of faith - is not a scenic walk. Sure, it's lovely sometimes. But it can also be scary and treacherous. You may know exactly where you're headed and what you're doing, or you may be scratching your head about the whole thing. But know this: AS YOU GO, YOU HAVE A MISSION. TELL THE NEWS. TELL THE GOOD NEWS. SPREAD IT AROUND LIKE PEANUT BUTTER. SHARE IT LIKE A GOOD FACEBOOK MEME. SHOUT IT OUT LIKE YOU'RE CHEERING FOR THE LIONS. NO - BETTER - SHOUT IT OUT LIKE YOUR SINS ARE FORGIVEN, YOU'RE A CHILD OF GOD, YOU'RE HEADED FOR HEAVEN AND LIVING A LIFE FOREVER STARTING NOW.
Go on with you, now. And as you go . . .
In the latest election, literally ALL of the candidates for any office in Michigan guaranteed that they would fix the roads!
The problem with Michigan's roads, and the problem with our own life-trails, is that having perfect roads is just not in the plans. It's not going to happen - at least not this side of heaven.
Over and over and over again, Jesus, Paul, and other New Testament figures teach us just the opposite about this life: they tell us that we can expect hardships; we can count on roads that are bumpy and scary.
Which begs the question: Why doesn't God make all our roads smooth and lovely and easy? It's because he has a plan for rough roads - a plan to use those roads to make us who he wants us to be.
Is your road rough? God wants to use that. Trust him and let him show you what he has in mind.
Because if the trail belongs to Him, and if the destination is determined by Him, and if you're on the road because of Him, and if He lives inside of you along the way, then there is nothing on this road that catches Him by surprise, and nothing on this road is wasted.
This is a trail you cannot hike alone.
Over my years as a pastor, I've seen some try. They decide that they can handle walking with Jesus without close friends who travel the same path. The isolation that's created by going it alone often ends up twisting and bending their walking ability, and they become frustrated with the journey, give up on faith, or end up with very independent and very wrong ideas about following Jesus.
You need a buddy - someone to help you when you fall, encourage you when it gets tough, and challenge you along the way.
That's what Paul is getting at in Galatians 6:1-3. He understands that falling down is a very real concern. But he also knows that having someone with you on the road means that you don't have to face off with the hazards of the travel alone.
Because "alone" is not a good place to be.
Who is your traveling companion? Who do you have close to you who will pick you up and restore you gently back on the trail? Ask God to give you that person, and be prepared to BE that person for someone else.
We had a great Kinship service yesterday! Worship with music, good time of sharing, and an interview with another Grace hero - Karra Landon! We observed Communion and shared a faith-family meal. If you've not joined us on Kinship Sunday, plan on it on December 2.
When you're on a trail, you need stability.
When I carried a heavy backpack on our family camping adventures, it needed to be balanced so that one side of the pack was not heavier than the other. Otherwise, my stability was compromised and I could twist an ankle or fall down.
We all want trails that are smooth and crisis-free. And we sometimes get the idea that that kind of trail is what God has for us - that he promises us a smooth and easy trail. But that's not accurate.
In fact, just the opposite is true. Jesus GUARANTEES that the trail will be challenging. That means that if you're expecting to find stability from the trail, you're going to be frustrated and angry.
Rough trails are the norm, not "happy trails." So that's why stability - what the Bible calls "steadfastness" - is critical. And the Bible talks about stability quite a bit.
In Sunday's message, we took a look at several parts of the Bible that speak about the issue. I'll let you listen to the message here if you'd like to know about each point: Listen Here.
But here's a brief summary:
1. We can find our stability in him. God is our ROCK.
2. We can undermine our stability. Our choice to trust him brings stability.
3. Stability comes by hearing and doing what Jesus asks. His yoke (backpack) is easy, and his burden (the contents of the backpack) is light.
4. Wisdom is freely available. Here's your guarantee: God promises that if we ask for wisdom, he will give it to us. But we have to ask in faith, with no "Plan B" in our back pocket just in case we don't like what God's wisdom really is.
5. Stability ultimately comes from God, who will give us what we need to complete the hike.
So, how's the hike? Hitting some rough spots? If not, are you prepared for when they come (because they will). Trust him for your stability.
It's wonderful to have Google Maps on my phone! I can punch in where I'm at and where I want to go and that Google Gal offers me help to get to where I'm going!
That's great for physical location help. What about spiritual help? What about the choices and decisions we make every day? How do I know I'm headed the right direction? Where can I get help to navigate this trail as I go? And where is the destination?
Where this trail leads is important. If this trail leads to heaven, that's great, but we've still got decisions to make in the here and now. If that trail leads to success and wealth and power and prestige (IT DOESN'T!), then bumps in the road seem to be unnecessarily painful.
According to Ephesians 4, Paul says our goal is to grow up "to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." With that as the goal, our choices and decisions can be made with more clarity.
Is God willing to help? OF COURSE! Any good father wants to help guide his children to the goal. So, how does God do that? And where do we turn for help in mapping out our trail?
First, the Bible. "Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us." The Bible helps us as we move through life in the same way a map can direct our paths. We need to be reading and meditating on the Bible. But the Bible isn't the best way.
Also, prayer. Prayer is vital in accessing God's assistance in trail navigating. Think of prayer as your GPS, helping you to know where you are on the path and which way to go. We should "pray without ceasing," and God is always willing to help. But prayer isn't the best way to know where we're going and how to get there.
The Bible and prayer should never be neglected as ways to help determine the will of God for us. When we face a crossroads, we should seek out the Lord's direction in scripture and in prayer. But they're not the best way.
When Jesus' disciples were gathered with him in the Upper Room on that fateful night before his arrest, he knew he needed to give them something that would help them when neither scripture nor prayer would suffice. So he promised each of them their own trail guide - a real person who would be with them all the time.
Read the words of Jesus on that night from John 14:6-7: "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you."
WOW! Isn't that amazing! Jesus gives his disciples (and you and me) a "helper." That word can also be translated "comforter" or "guide." This isn't just a back-seat navigator for the journey. This is a trail guide that is INSIDE OF YOU! If you're on the trail - a follower of Jesus Christ - then you have this trail guide installed inside of your very being!
When Jesus left his disciples days later, he promised that he would "never leave or forsake" them. How? Through the power and indwelling of his own Trail Guide - the Holy Spirit of God.
And that's the best way to follow on down this trail with confidence.
When you're on the trail, the pack can get heavy. What can you lose?
This hike is hard enough sometimes without extra weight. As you go, you need to travel light. The Bible has some suggestions for what you could ditch: (Be sure and look up these parts of the Bible to read what I'm talking about)
Ditch the sin. (Hebrews 12:1) Sin in our lives can entangle us and keep us from forward progress.
Ditch the worry. (I Peter 5:6-7) Worry can seize us up like a muscle cramp and it can immobilize our walk.
Ditch the drama. (Ephesians 4:31) Drama distracts us and makes us believe that interpersonal conflict is the business we're in. It's not.
Ditch the burden. (Psalm 55:22) If the first three don't cover the weight and excess baggage that keeps us from moving along, this one will. What other things in your life keep you from pursuing Christ? Pain? Abuse? Fear? Discouragement?
All of these things need to be put away from us. All of these problems can be turned over to our Lord who is working in us. All of this can be overwhelming, too. If your load is heavy, there's a reason. And it's at least partly because it's hard to get rid of these things. Jesus wants your load lighter, and he will help.
In fact, the good news of the gospel of Jesus is that HE WILL CARRY YOU! It's true that ditching all these things will help, but in the end, God carries us. His grace and mercy, extended to those he has called, will pick up your load and he will handle it. (Isaiah 46:3-4)
What a good Kinship service! The Grace Band facilitated our worship in song. We shared some important prayer needs and tracked His answers. We heard from Mariah Wallace about her calling and how Jesus makes a difference in her work. Communion and fellowship followed and we got to know people better. Thanks, everyone!
Drawing near to God is the goal of Hebrews. This is why God prompted the author to write this letter to the Jews in Jerusalem. But before he finalizes the communique, he needs to point out one necessary truth: drawing near to God means living a life of faith.
The author has drawn a beautiful picture of Jesus as our sacrificial lamb, our great high priest, as the one who has shed his blood to redeem us from sin.
That picture, however, is not one that should be hung on a wall, or dangled from the rear-view mirror, or put on our fridge. The picture demands something more than saying, "Jesus was a great man," or "Jesus is someone we should revere," or even, "Jesus was the Son of God and he died and rose again."
Of course, all these things are true. But the picture of Jesus demands more. None of the beliefs above, in and of themselves, draw us close to God.
One thing is needed: Faith.
Hebrews 11 is the critical chapter in the book, because without it, it's still just a nice picture of Jesus. Hebrews 11 lets us know that faith - trusting in and moving forward on the truth - is how "drawing near" gets done from our side of the issue. Hebrews has shown us the extremes that God has done to to allow us to draw near. Now it's up to us. All is ready. There's no reason to fear. God is waiting and ready to welcome you. Jesus is at his right hand, praying for you. Now it's time to draw near.
How? By faith.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
I had a crush on Mrs. Hopper, my second grade teacher. She was beautiful and kind and smart. But she never knew of my interest. Because, well, I was in second grade and she was an adult and I was afraid to let her know that I was taken with her. That was an insurmountable dilemma.
Because we're humans, created to be in an intimate relationship with God, we are naturally attracted to him and, deep down, we want to know him and be close to him. But, because we're humans, with a large ugly sin problem, we are naturally ashamed and know down deep that we cannot get close to him because we are disqualified to draw near.
Both of these things are true, which puts us in an insurmountable dilemma - what can we do to draw near?
Hebrews uses that phrase several times. It is a major theme in the book. God desires that we draw near, and we know that's what we really want. But - sin.
Which is why Jesus came. According to Hebrews 10, it's OK to draw near because . . .
We have confidence because his own blood opened the door. God welcomes us! We do not need to hang out on the outside looking in, thinking that we don't belong.
We have a great high priest. He represents us before the Father and has paved the way for us to have intimacy with God.
We have been cleaned up completely. Because of Jesus' sacrifice, our sin - ALL OF IT: PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE - our sin does not disqualify us from being in the presence of Almighty God.
And that is why we can draw near. And now it's up to us. God doesn't force us to draw near. Drawing near is a choice - an act of the will.
What will you do?
The Jews who are reading this letter - the letter to the Hebrews - are struggling with the implications of the Jesus Way. For many reasons, the pressure to bail on Christianity was great. They were not sure they could completely trust this new arrangement.
But they're not unlike all of us. Because we all assume that God operates one way -
A merit system - like getting good grades in school. The higher the grade, the better our eternal situation will be.
Badges and stickers and trophies - like Girl Scouts or Awana. The more badges we gather the more likely it is that God can love us.
Karma - as long as the good we do outweighs the bad we do we will be able to claim heaven and feel good about God's favor toward us.
But then Jesus shows up and everything changes.
Here's what Hebrews 9:11-14 says about Jesus:
But now Christ has come as the high priest of the good things to come. He passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, and he entered once for all into the most holy place not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, and so he himself secured eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.
Here's an amazing statement: "the blood of Christ" will "purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God." Didn't see that coming! You would expect that sin would be the primary issue. But no! Dead works is the problem. Because doing good deeds will never be sufficient to persuade God to open the doors. Because good works don't remove bad behavior. Ever.
Why do we need our consciences purified from dead works? Because we have to stop living within that system of rewards and punishments!
Jesus offers a new way of handling things - a better arrangement - a NEW COVENANT.
What makes this new covenant better?
It is internal, not external. It's not law that's on the outside; it's God living on the inside.
It is based on relationship, not performance. It's who you know (Jesus), not what you do.
It means an end of the hierarchy. There's no group of people who have an inside track. We all come to God with an All-Access Pass because of Jesus.
It’s all because mercy reigns and sin is forgotten. God does not deny our bad stuff - how could he? But he forgets!
That's why this new way - the Jesus Way - is so very good. Time to make a choice. Want to live on under the old ways? Or do you want to trust Jesus with your life and base your future in a relationship with him?
"Promises are made to be broken."
That's the way it feels sometimes, isn't it? We've all been promised things only to have those promises broken.
How do you know what promises you can trust?
When you're looking to get some home repairs done, how do you know you can trust the people doing the work? You ask questions that will give you assurance in the promises made.
There's a lot going on in Hebrews 6 and 7. When you read it, you're likely to scratch your head and wonder what God had in mind with this scripture.
To boil it down to the simple message: God can be trusted completely because of Jesus.
Here are the questions you need to ask from anyone making any promises. These are questions you can ask of God's promise:
- What do you do to guarantee? Hebrews 6 says that God swore by himself through Jesus. God takes an oath to himself to secure this promise.
- How do I know you are dependable? Hebrews 7:16 says that Jesus "has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life."
- How do I know this will last? Hebrews 7:24 says Jesus "holds his priesthood permanently because he continues forever."
In the end, Jesus can be trusted completely, with all you are, with all your life. He can be trusted to save. In fact, according to Hebrews 7:25, "he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him." Saved to the uttermost! Wow!
If a person is in Lake Michigan during one of those infamous storms, and he's being pulled out to sea, and he's losing energy and the waves are strong and pushing him under, and a lifeguard swims out and pulls him into shore, he has been saved, and that's a good thing. But that poor person could leave the beach and get in a car and pull into an intersection and get hit by a semi-truck and die moments later. He was saved, but he was not saved "to the uttermost."
If a person is pulled out of the water of Lake Michigan and lives, he is saved. But because of the water he sucked into his lungs during the ordeal, he is sent to the hospital, gets and infection that takes months to resolve and ends up having breathing trouble the rest of his life. He was saved, but he was not saved "to the uttermost."
That person who was drowning and was rescued could go on with his life. But he is deathly afraid of water. He never swims again. He won't go near a lake or a river or the ocean for the fear that grips his life. It's true - he was saved. But he was not saved "to the uttermost."
Jesus can be trusted because he saves. But it's not just any everyday rescue. It's not just a moment in time salvation. Jesus saves - TO THE UTTERMOST!
At our Kinship Service, we engaged in inspired worship and shared some pressing needs for prayer. We learned more about Lynette Weidner - especially her vocation as a dental hygienist. We learned from Lynette how she helps patients feel at ease, and how God figures into her work. We talked about how church can be like a dentist's office, and how we can make people feel safe and at ease. We celebrated Jesus' gift to us in Communion and shared some pizza for Grace Grub. Great day at Grace!
Warning signs are designed to get our attention and keep us out of trouble. When we ignore warnings, we set ourselves up for a fall.
In Hebrews 5-6, the author gives us a warning. Without a doubt, this is one of the most difficult passages in all of scripture to interpret. For over two thousand years, great scholars and worthy Christians have attempted to figure it out. Much of these explanations try to fit this passage into a preconceived box of doctrine - a predetermined theology. That's not a bad approach. It's important to wrestle with how this passage fits into our doctrinal boxes. I'm not going to attempt to clear it all up here.
Let's just agree on this: a warning is a warning do matter what box you try to fit it in.
However you choose to look at his passage, we can't avoid the warning. And the message is clear: It's time to grow up. God wants us to progress in our walk with Christ. When we don't, we regress and lose momentum.
Read the passage and just listen. Then respond with a YES to take a step toward growth in Christ Jesus.
When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, our future in heaven is sealed. That's an amazing thing! That's a very good reason to consider making a decision to become a follower of Jesus Christ.
But wait . . . there's more!
Jesus' redemptive plan is not just a roadmap of your afterlife. It's a plan for your here-and-now
As our Ultimate High Priest, Jesus has offered the final and perfect sacrifice for sin. That means we can have fellowship with God. But Jesus' role as our High Priest is not done - it continues.
Jesus continues to stand before the Father on our behalf. He represents us to God Almighty, and he intercedes for us before the Throne. That means that your name is being mentioned to the Father, and Jesus is the one who it advocating for you.
This quote has stuck with me the last few weeks: "If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.” - Robert Murray McCheyne
He is praying for you right now. This very minute. And he's not going to stop. Can you hear him? What difference does that make in how you approach your day?
Because of sin, we are forever separated from God. Unless . . .
The "unless" in the Old Testament took the form of the High Priest, who "stood in between" God and mankind as the mediator of that relationship. But the High Priests of Israel were only temporary and shaky substitutes for the real deal.
Jesus Christ is our High Priest, and he alone has the strength and authority and power to fulfill the role of the "one who stands between." He offers us the chance to come boldly, with confidence, into the very throne room of God Almighty. We don't have to fear. We don't have to be intimidated. Why?
Because Jesus is who he is, he can do the true work of the mediator. Not only that, but he has experienced every trial and temptation possible, and stayed true to holiness. Because of that, THERE IS NOT ONE STRUGGLE, NOT ONE SIN, NOT ONE TEMPTATION, NOT ONE BURDEN OR TRIAL THAT JESUS DOES NOT COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY UNDERSTAND! He knows exactly how we feel. That's why you can trust him as your High Priest.
So, if he's all that for you, come close. Draw near. Step into the presence of God. The mercy and grace of Jesus has made a way.
What a great Kinship Service! Becca and the Grace Band lead us in worship with our voices. Jim Roller told us about his life, and especially his experience after retirement. He shared with us a life-changing lesson: serve one another with love! Jim told us about the ways he is personally engaged in the community - worshiping God with service. We talked about worship under the "Jesus" brand, and not just a church or ministry or organization. Taking Communion reminded us of the loving service of Jesus. And we capped off the morning with a great grub. Special thanks to Jerry and Amanda and their team for putting the lunch together!
Where do you go to get some rest?
I don't mean just any rest; I'm talking about THAT rest - the one that allows you to take a big deep breath and relax down to the core of your bones and find relief from stress and worries and conflict and busyness and the knock-down-drag-out hours and minutes of life. THAT rest.
Rest is a critical theme in the book of Hebrews, especially in chapters 3-4. In chapter 3, the author compares Jesus to Moses. God used Moses to liberate the people of Israel from Egypt, but he failed to get them to the rest God had for them.
The people of Israel, along with Moses, failed to "enter into that rest" because they didn't believe God would really come through on this promise.
Unbelief - our unwillingness to trust God completely - is the enemy of rest. As long as we're saying, "I'll handle this myself," we're letting God know that we don't fully believe he can take care of us sufficiently. And when we do that, we own our stress, worry, busyness, and can't find THAT rest.
The author of Hebrews says that THAT rest is still available. Today. Right now. You don't need to prove to God you deserve it; Jesus has already provided the access. What is needed is only your complete trust and surrender to him.
Who do you listen to?
There are a lot of voices in our lives, all of them vying for our attention. Our radios, TVs, and computer devices are constantly competing. How do you know you can trust the voices? Who do you pick out to listen to?
Without going into details, the people reading the book of Hebrews for the first time considered angels to be the primary conduits for God's communications to men. They probably believed that angels should be listened to, since God spoke through them. The author of Hebrews doesn't deny that angels are often God's mouthpieces; he simply points to something better. (You might want to read Hebrews 1 to see the argument.)
In Hebrews 2:1-4, he comes to the core of the problem: drift. Some of the readers were drifting away from Jesus. It's no wonder, since the pressure on them was being cranked up by two opposite sides - the occupying Romans and the disgruntled Jewish authorities. Both of these groups were not happy with Jews who were becoming Christians. So Mr. Hebrews warns them about drifting.
Are you drifting? Are you moving away rather than moving closer to Jesus? Do you sense that the passion is gone and you find it difficult to think about God-stuff? That's drift.
The answer to drift, according to Mr. Hebrews, is simple: Pay attention to Jesus. Listen to him. Open your ears and your brain and your heart and give him your attention.