In 1841, Dr. Livingstone arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, a staunch abolitionist, this Scottish medical missionary headed north through the continent of Africa exploring and and sharing his faith. He wrote and spoke about the horrors of the slave trade and shared of the beauty of the African people and country on his return trips to Great Britain. His explorations became legendary and his voice proved influential. In 1866 – on another trip to Africa, his voice was silent. No letters, no communication of any kind made its way back to Europe or America from the famous missionary and many supposed he was lost or dead. In 1871, Henry Morton Stanley a journalist with the New York Herald and London Telegraph was commissioned to search for the famous doctor. In 1871, it is said Stanley found Livingstone in the Zanzibar region suffering from illness. Upon locating the good doctor, Stanley introduced himself, saying, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” These lines echoed across Europe and America, gaining a fame to be all their own that would far outlive both the doctor and Stanley.
Have you ever travelled to a different country? I’ve lived for some periods of time overseas and have had wonderful experiences. But on every trip, without fail, there is a time for adjusting to everything. For the first couple weeks, I wake up in the morning and am a bit surprised I am there. I have an extremely uncomfortable feeling in my stomach; it’s like I’m on another planet. Nothing is familiar and I feel like I don’t belong. As the days and weeks pass though, I get into a routine and get adjusted to the time; I make new friends, and I start to feel like myself again. This process is longer than I want, and it takes multiple experiences to gain normalcy.
We're excited to add a new voice to the Radius Writing team. Here's the first Rad blog from Angela Schuck. -
The theme for this past service was ‘Overcomers: Speaking our Testimony as we overcome the World and Help People Meet Jesus.’ After I saw this theme, God impressed upon my heart the words of Revelation , which Pastor Blake also mentioned during his sermon :
Revelation (KJV) – And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.’
Wow. This is a powerful passage that sums up how we should be as Christians right now.
As I write this I am on day 3 of a juice and water fast. My roommate is also cooking something that smells so delicious for her and her daughter. To say that I am leaning on God right now would be an understatement. This is my first real fast.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m in the car by myself, it’s like a concert up in there. There’s none of this quiet, background music….we’re talking full volume music blasting, and there’s definitely singing and dancing involved. (Consider yourself warned if you ever find yourself next to me at a red light.) Several times God has used music to speak very clearly to me. One such instance was during a very low and difficult time of my life and the song He used was one most of us probably know,
Happy New Year! It’s 2018!
There’s so many exciting things that happen in our lives when we feel like we get that fresh start in January each year. Some will quit bad habits; some will begin good habits. Some of us will shift and adjust priorities as we reflect back on the things we’d like to change from the past year.
It can be a fresh start in your soul health and in the life of your church family as well. At Radius, where our gatherings are to hear from and speak to God, we like to mix that idea up on the First Sunday of the year and start the year in fresh exciting ways. Though we meet corporately, we individually move throughout our gathering space to the stations set up to aid us in interacting with God. It’s a great way to carve out time for personal reflection and response to what we hear Him saying to us.
Last Sunday, we finished with the story of Mary in our Expectant series.
It was back in November when Joel made the graphic for our December Expectant series. When we saw his idea, there was something so perfect and intriguing about an open door to represent “Expectant.” An open door as in a place to go maybe you haven’t been before. An intrigue about what is next. As we close the year on the threshold of Christmas, we look to the future like that open door. There are things yet to come that only God knows is in our future. Our friend, Tim, often says-“ The best is yet to come”; and with God, that statement really is always true. What a tenet to hold onto so that you CAN stand Expectantly looking toward 2018.
I was asked to write this week’s blog post, and I’ll be honest, I wanted to say no. Not because I don’t enjoy writing; I very much do. And not because I don’t have anything to say about our current series, Expectant; actually, quite the opposite. I wanted to say no, because God has been using this series to speak to and stir some places in me that I’ve pushed far down and have not wanted to deal with or talk about.
I wrote a couple different versions of this post, but hit a wall every time because it didn’t feel authentic or genuine. Sometimes in life, our reality looks so vastly different than our expectations, and the pain and disappointment of that can be crushing. I think when we find ourselves in these inevitable situations, it can reveal so clearly who we believe God to be, and the position we give Him in our heart. I’ve found myself in just such a place, living in that tension of unmet expectations and a reality I never thought I’d live.
We took family pictures on Monday. Last year, I remember looking at the family pics taken at the Shuffleboard Club and Mirror Lake and thinking it may be the last year we would be at that gathering location as a church.
Because it was around that same time that a specific building came into the sights of our church as a possible next step. So, we began the inquiries and sought information. It seemed like so many things were going to fall seamlessly into place. It was ideal—in multiple ways. For instance, we had been told that we were losing our office space as the new office building owners had different plans for the space. No problem. It’s perfect. We could move right into this new space as the office space closed down. Maybe we’d have to do a month in storage and then voila---our next location. Look at God’s timing!
Not to mention our family pics would be like a little memorial to the time there at the Shuffleboard Club.
Isn’t it perfect?
Isn’t it a neat little package with a red bow on top?
We've talked a lot about the Harvest over the past few weeks. By all accounts, the harvest has been something to look forward to, something to hope for, and something to work towards. But what about the harvests we don't want in our lives?
Every week, we close out this blog by inviting the reader to gather with us the following Sunday. I'd like to tell you why that invitation is so important.
At Radius, we talk a lot about changing the world. We have to, it's the mission we've ben given, and it is our responsibility to communicate that mission. It's also our responsibility to live out that mission. But sometimes, we need a model. Changing the world is a big job, and it is one that none of us have ever really done before. We need something we can't point to and say, "Ohhh, that's how you do it."
In a city like St. Pete, everyone matters.
The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit. These were his instructions to them: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.
I love how Jesus spoke to people during his 3 years of ministry. He understood who the people were he was trying to reach. He spoke to them in terms they could understand. Though he had the wisdom of eternity, Jesus made sure that anyone, young or old, educated or not, could comprehend the message he was sharing. For the people of his day, agriculture was most widely understood. People worked the land, lived off the land, and depended on the land. So when Jesus spoke about the idea of sowing and reaping, of laying down seed on rocky or fertile soil, and of times of harvest, they got it. It was a part of who they were, and it helped connect the dots for thousands during that time, and billions of people since.
When we board an airplane, we put a lot of trust into people and technology that we really don't get to see. There's the pilot in the cockpit doing pre-flight checks. We usually don't see him until we are getting off the plane, yet we trust that he is there, that he has all his mental faculties in order, and that he know what he is doing. There's the airplane itself, tens of thousands of functions and calculations being done to make sure this giant hunk of metal stays airborne. None of us stop to check any mechanical parts of the plane or question why there is duct tape over a section of rivets. There's the navigation system and communications devices that connect us to the people and technology that not only know where we are going, but knows where every other plane in the sky is so we don't hit them. We trust that all these people and systems are working together. After all, we can't even see out the front window!
When we choose to follow Christ, we are filled with a confident hope of spending eternity with our creator in Heaven. Heaven, we believe, is a perfect place where there is neither pain nor sickness nor death. It is a place filled with the light of the Lord. It is a place full of love where we want for nothing.
Relationships! They seem almost impossible to avoid these days. They find their way into our work and leisure activities. They follow us into our hobbies. They even get in the way of our spiritual life. You just can't seem to avoid relationships no matter how hard you try.
I've thought a lot about family this year. I think that's inevitable when you lose a close family member.
At my dad's funeral, I got to see a lot of family I hadn't seen since I was a teenager. They shared stories of their past, stories about my dad, and stories about relationships. I felt a closeness to that side of my family that I hadn't before felt; a yearning to connect with them, to not let those stories die, and to make new stories with them.
We are a people on mission, moving out in ever-widening circles to change our world.
We talk a lot about the people at radius, and being on mission. We talk a lot about ever-widening circles and how we can reach more people. But let's not forget about what the people who are on mission, moving out in ever-widening circles are trying to do. We are trying to change our world.
What does that mean?
Food. It's a wonderful thing. Over the course of our lives, we develop quite an interesting relationship with food. We associate food with childhood memories, comfort, happiness, depression, and boredom. Sometimes, we even associate food with nourishment; giving our bodies that fuel it needs to function properly.
At my first communion celebration, my grandfather presented me with a piggy bank. All the kids in my family received a piggy bank at this Roman Catholic milestone of their life, however mine was different. Everyone else got a homemade piggy bank. My grandfather was a woodworker and made several piggy banks for my cousins and my brother. However, after completing mine, it was dropped and broke. So I got a store-bought piggy bank. It came filled with $2 bills, bicentennial quarters, and Kennedy half-dollars. There were also some fives, tens, and twenties in there. Over the years I added and subtracted money and today it sits in my son's room, collecting change and the occasional dollar bill.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
You MUST have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had??? Take the position of a slave???
Sometimes choosing to follow Christ seems like more trouble than it is worth. Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to just do life my way.
I've done life my way before. I've made decisions solely based on my wants and desires and things never seem to go quite as planned. Instead, things tend to take a turn for the worse and I end up down in some valley wondering how God let me get there.
We as people tend to wait until we are in absolute need of a savior before looking up to God and asking for help. Look at the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Over and over, God bailed them out and they would devote themselves fully to him -- for a little while. They would forget, or overlook, all that he had done for them and after a while they would end up in trouble again, and either mad at God for letting bad things happen to them, or begging God to save them.
We aren't so different than those Israelites. When we first met God, we wanted to follow him with all our hearts, minds, and body. We gave up our old life, made massive changes in how we lived and all was good. But slowly, temptation crept back in and turned into sin, the snowball started rolling down the hill, and before we knew it, our lives looked very similar to where we were before.
How does that happen? When do we lose the joy and the comfort that comes from having a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior?
Integrating our faith into our everyday life is not an easy task. It takes work to move our faith beyond Sunday. We have to navigate how we deal with our friends and co-workers. We have to navigate our families and our old habits. We have to make choices around who we continue to hang out with and what activities we allow to stay a part of our life. These are decisions that we have to make on our own through prayer and council. These aren't hard and fast rules that the church can hand you.
The more we can put ourselves in a position to serve God, the better our chances of navigating this world. The more we focus on serving others without any expectations of getting something in return, the greater amounts of joy we will feel. The more we get into fellowship with other people who are serving God, the less alone we will feel.
When we begin to understand the magnitude of what Jesus did for us on the cross -- when we really stop and think about how he made the ultimate sacrifice and gave up his life so that we have the ability to live our lives in victory, we have no other choice than to spread that love to the rest of this world. When we recognize that the same power that brought Jesus back from the dead lives within us, it should propel us to action.
So can we have the same attitude as Christ Jesus had? Can we take the position of slave?
We can do this because we are filled with love.
1 John 3:18-19
Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God.
I've never liked labels.
Growing up, it seemed like everyone tried to label each other. I practiced Tae Kwon Do for most of my childhood and adolescence so that was my label. I was quiet and well-behaved in school so people assumed I was smart and a bit of a nerd so I carried those labels, too. I tucked in my polo shirts and wore clothes that actually fit me, and I hung out with kids that dressed kind of the same way so I was labeled as preppy.
I have been going through a lot lately. I know, everyone has their struggles, but I like to often deny my stress and worry. I hate asking for help. But as I saw in the last couple of weeks, I was working myself too thin and realized I am extremely blessed to have people in my life who lift me back up when I fall down.
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
and don’t take your Holy Spirit rom me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.
When David saw Bathsheba from the roof of his palace, he was presented with a choice. He could knowingly pursue a married woman, or he could continue on with his life and duties as king. How many times have each of us been in a similar situation?
Having recently returned from our mission trip to Ecuador, my head and my heart are still full of the things we discussed there. We spent time each day talking about and studying God’s word. Each morning, a different person would lead a discussion. It could be around a particular scripture that’s been speaking to them, something that’s been happening in their life, or a question that’s been on their heart.
It’s easy to think that the universe revolves around you. I mean, look around…literally everything is happening around you. People are walking in and out of your life, cars are passing by you. The clouds in the sky are moving by, and the stars at night seem to revolve around you. Your email is full of messages sent to you, and your Facebook feed is filled with pictures, posts, and funny cat videos from your connections.
There I was, sitting in church, listening. It was the Sunday before Independence Day. Let freedom ring! And so it did- my phone rang in the middle of the sermon and I immediately lost focus on what Pastor Blake was saying. A tidal wave of emotions came over me. “I still feel like the new girl at this new church, I want to impress everyone but now I look like the ditzy millennial who’s preoccupied with her phone.” Those fearful lies ran through my mind. Stereotypes and labels played ping pong in my brain. I was so focused on myself. I tried to reengage in the message. As I continued to take notes, I realized what just happened and how it was so applicable to the sermon. This Sunday’s message was all about focus and freedom. To me, this was so convicting.
When I was 18 years old I was sitting in a room in a little brown house on the edge of the land where my childhood summer camp was. I was enjoying getting to know the new counselors that summer. At some point, a 15-year-old girl walked in and sat down in a recliner across from the couch where I sat. She was wearing shorts and a tank top and had long hair. We may or may not have been introduced in that moment.
Little did I know that would be a defining moment in my life. That was the first time i laid eyes on the girl that would one day become my wife and the mother of my child.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.
“I cry to you, O God, but you don’t answer.
I stand before you, but you don’t even look."
I can't imagine what was happening in Job's mind, body, heart, and soul when he made this statement. This was a guy that was so in love with God. He was the example of what it meant to be a good follower of the Lord at that time...someone after God's own heart. But Job was put through a test, and through his experience, we can learn what we should do in those times when God seems silent.
We are a people, on mission, moving out in ever-widening circles to change our world.
I say those words every week at the open of our 11AM gathering. It's the mission of Radius. It's our goal for every person that walks through the doors of the Shuffleboard Club each Sunday; we want you to join the mission of Radius Church and make an impact on the people in your world; your workplace, your social circles, and your family.
I do not like to write. However this is my fifth… actually my six time writing for Radius (I had to go back and look).
When people compliment my blogs I quickly tell them, “God wrote it, I actually don’t write.”
2 Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.
Right. I get it. Why would I want to read something that's going to tell me what is wrong in my life?
Right about 3 years ago, Blake and Amanda had just made the decision to move back to St. Petersburg and start Radius. Stephanie and I were on board 100% from the beginning. We knew it would be a lot of work, but really had no idea what we were about to get into. We were just excited that our friends were coming home and we felt that we were about to be part of something big.
How did I know Radius would have a heavy impact on the lives of people in St. Petersburg?
"Our father who art in heaven..."
"Hail Mary, full of grace..."
I can't tell you how many times I said prayers that started this way growing up. Sometimes they were said sitting in a pew during mass, sometimes at a desk in a classroom, sometimes in song during chapel, and on rare occasions they were said at home, alone.
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
I wonder if the disciples even understood the weight of this command when Jesus told them during those last moments before He returned to heaven.
Matthew 5:13-16 (NLT)
“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.
“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
I've been traveling for work a lot lately. I've been on airplanes more in the last 2 years than I had in the decade before that.
He is risen.
Those who believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and is one with God, just celebrated the greatest act of "I love you" in all of human history—the day that we were given the ability to have a relationship with our creator. We celebrated the day that Jesus wiped away our sins so that we no longer have to live in bondage and fear, but can move forward in freedom and hope. We celebrated Easter.
I don't know about you, but I have a hard time identifying with being part of a kingdom. After all, wasn't this country founded by people who were trying to disassociate themselves from a kingdom? When I think of a kingdom, I think of big, thick walls and lots of guys with bows and arrows. I think of oppressive kings who seek only to exert their power over their subjects, conquer new lands, and seek to serve their own self interests.
My dad died. After an 18 month battle with cancer, my dad passed away in January of 2017.
Nineteen years ago my dad and I sat at has father's funeral and I saw my father cry for the first time in my life.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Israel’s journey of miles began with accepting the freedom God gave them and learning to trust and obey God in the wilderness. This past week at Radius we saw Israel finally step into their promised land.
Together as followers, we too stand at the precipice of many promises; promises of peace that passes understanding, unspeakable joy, and mountain-moving faith. Wherever we find ourselves in this journey, we all need to take more steps forward into these promises. As God’s own children, these promises are our inheritance.
And how do we claim that inheritance?
It's too hard.
I can't do it.
Have you been in situations when you've heard these words? Did it shock you to hear them coming form your own mouth?
You made it out the door. You're on the road. The windows are down. The music is loud. Everyone in the car is talking about how awesome the road trip is going to be.
What a time to be alive. It's like some cool movie from the 1970's. Anything could happen, and no matter what, it was going to be an awesome adventure.
No matter how much preparation you put into a road trip, something is bound to go wrong.
In every good road trip there is an element of adventure.
Most of the time when we get into a car, we are about getting to a destination. We are about avoiding traffic, getting as many green lights as possible, and making good time. For a task focused person such as I am, the destination trumps everything else. But on a road trip, the perspective changes. On a road trip, a good road trip, the destination becomes secondary to the adventure of the road. On the road, you could end up anywhere. There are thousands of miles of highway criss-crossing the United States. Just by pulling out of the driveway, you can connect to any of them.
Every good road trip begins with a map.
Back when I was a kid that was a large piece of paper that was impossible to fold. I picture it laid out on the kitchen table with eyeballs studying it, trying to find the best possible route from point A to point G with stops at point B, C, D, E, and F.
These days, you just plug the information into a mobile device and let your virtual navigator tell you the best route while also providing information about interesting places to stop, speed traps, and potential delays. I happen to love technology, but there's something about pouring over that paper map that I miss.
I have had the incredibly good fortune of being a part of two amazing church families. HighPoint, the church I attended for many years prior to moving to St. Pete, was also a church plant, and over the years I saw many shifts take place.
We shifted from housing our children’s ministry in one tiny room to an entire “town” for kids taking up half of the building.
1 John 4:11-12
Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.
People want to see God. They want to reach out and touch him to know that he is real. I confess, being a follower would be much easier if I could schedule an hour in the physical presence of God every day. It was difficult to believe that God was real for a good portion of my life. God was an Our Father and three Hail Mary's. God was a B in Religion class. God was an old Irish woman who taught math and who could make you feel as small as an ant if she was angry with you. God was having to sit through a boring Mass every Thursday morning.
And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.
Remember the first day of just about every year you were in school? You show up wearing your new outfit, hoping that people think you look good, only to find out that fashion changed over the summer and you were the only one that did not get the memo (pre-Facebook). The next thing you realize is that everyone else grew 4 inches over the summer and you didn't budge. Before you even made it to your first class, all the self-esteem you thought you'd built up coming into a new school year was lost.
Picture being a teenager and finding out you are pregnant. Now imagine you are engaged, but the guy are are supposed to marry isn't the father of the child you are carrying.
There was once a woman who had a great life. She had a loving husband whom she moved to a great new town with. They had two awesome sons, and a great place to live. Then one day her husband died and she was left with two awesome sons and some uncertainty about the great place she had to live. She pressed on. Her sons grew into men and found women to marry.
Though she missed her husband, she found hope in the prospect of being a grandmother. She and her sons, and their wives formed a happy little family. But suddenly, and without warning, both of her sons died. She was left with two daughters-in-law and no hope.
Recently, I was challenged to find my “five kernels” in life; you know, those times when perhaps we felt lost or broken and God provided, or a time the phrase “when it rains it pours” felt like an understatement.
Today we’re gonna talk about talents.
I know, I know…you probably think you don’t have any, or at least any that are very useful, but humor me.
That's the question some of us are faced with on a constant basis.
Just to get this out of the way early on, Jesus was REALLY serious about forgiveness.
Forgiveness is essential.
Forgiveness is love.
Forgiveness is the trademark of a believer.
Do I really need to say more?
In the Summer of 1999, Stephanie and I were camp counselors. Once every two weeks the camp took a field trip to a theme park. One particular trip was to Disney World. We were excited to get to hang out together all day as we were a young dating couple. So, after we got our campers to lead around the park all day, we combined our groups and went on our way. These were long days. Not only were we in the hot summer sun, but we were also responsible for the lives of 10-12 campers. We were pretty good at what we did and fairly responsible for our age, but the long hours of the summer had definitely caught up to us.
What do you fear?
The election? A little bit.
Rough seas while on some cheap "all natural" Dramamine? Oh yeah!
Rejection? Ridicule? Confrontation? Yes x 3 = Me
Hello, my name is Sarah, and I like stories.
I can’t help it. I mean, what’s not to love? And they’re everywhere! It’s totally true that art imitates life and life imitates art (I’m not sure which is more true). Everywhere I look I see a story being played out; walking down the street, talking with a stranger, hearing beautiful music or even a pastor speaking… *ahem* You see where I’m going with this?
Sitting at Radius on Sunday, I promise I really was carefully listening to the things Blake was saying. I didn’t intend to get lost in a story. But hey, if my mind keeps heading in a persistent direction whilst I’m actively asking God what he has to say, I’m gonna go there!
To set the stage, I’m going to have to allow you to track just how easily I can end up in a storyline, so step into my mind won’t you?
Thinking about fear I am reminded of something I read in the book Praying God’s Word, by Beth Moore about breaking free from spiritual strongholds, "Satan is many things, but he is not very creative. He uses the same thing over and over as long as he is getting results."
How true is this when it comes to fear. The enemy not only knows your fears he put them there!
Debt - ✔
Late fees - ✔
Electricity shut off for non-payment - ✔
Cell phone shut off for non-payment - ✔
Car insurance cancelled for non-payment (and license suspended) - ✔
Car repossessed - ✔
Living paycheck to paycheck - ✔
Savings account - What’s that?
Tithe - Occasionally, when I am “able”
What is wrong with that list?
Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.
I've been reading Leviticus lately. We talk a lot about "the law" and so I felt it was necessary to understand what some of the laws, regulations, and requirements that the "Israelites and the foreigners living among them" actually were, beyond the top ten list we all heard about as kids.
To be honest, it's a tough read. There are a lot of details and processes to trudge through. Sometimes it's hard to believe that this is the same God that we know today; a God of love and acceptance, a God who meets us right where we are and who cares more about our future than he does our past.
What I realized was that he set the Israelites apart from the rest of the world. They were his chosen people. They had to be different. They had to look different. They had to act different. God held them to a higher standard because they were meant to change the world.
We live in a world that looks similar to the world of the Old Testament. People care more about themselves than they do others and look to be moving further away from God. Church's are closing their doors every Sunday. Sin runs rampant.
But we also live in a much different world than before. Jesus died on the cross, paid the full price for our sins, and rose from the dead so that we could have a personal and direct relationship with our creator.
We no longer have to follow the laws, regulations, and requirements. The rules don't dictate how we act. We dictate how we act.
What we do makes us who we are.
I don't know if the sentence hurts you or helps you, but I know it was hard to write because it means what I've done defines who I am and I know what I've done. Not all of the things I've done are good. Some of them are down right bad. Some of them I don't want to remember. But does it really mean that?
Let's look at that sentence again.
What we do makes us who we are.
That's not a past tense sentence. I didn't say the things you did in the past have to define who you are today. I didn't say that the things you did in the past are bound to be repeated again. I said the things that you do right now, today, and tomorrow are what matter.
Just like God cares more about our future than he does our past, what you do today is more important than what you did yesterday. Every day, we have the opportunity to be better than we were the day before, not because we have to be, but because God gave us the choice and the ability to be. Every day, we have the opportunity to love.
What we do, or rather what we are called to do, is love. At Radius, we've made it our mission to love. When we say we are a people on mission, moving out in ever-widening circles to change our world, we mean we are moving outside the walls of our gathering and into our community to show tangible love to those around us, not because they deserve it, but because it is the right thing to do. We've all done things that make us undeserving of love. We all fall short of perfection (by a long shot), but we all carry in us the ability to give love; good, pure love that lifts people up, helps them out, and invites them in to have a real experience with their creator.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
These were the last words Jesus spoke on Earth.
They must be important.
Jesus could have said anything before ascending into heaven, but he chose these words. We are all called to tell people about Jesus. We are all called to take action, and use words to do God's will.
Words are powerful -- that's a statement I hear my wife say over and over to our son. He's grown up knowing that words are important, and they contain power. Perhaps that's why he enjoys spending time reading and writing.
The words that we use in our daily lives are powerful too. They carry weight and we get to choose what words we use. We can spread words of judgement. We can spread words of hate. Or we can spread words of love and hope. Our words can lift people up or put people down. They can be used to belittle or strengthen those around us.
So when the idea of Radius came into reality it was important that we used words to describe who we are. The words that make up our core values were not idly chosen. They aren't church-y sayings that you've heard all your life. They are meant to convey the the DNA that make up the core of Radius.
Here are some examples of our core values:
We are not an obligation or a destination, but a mission and a movement.
We believe the Holy Spirit is always at work; and God’s presence is promised when we meet.
When we gather, God’s love is tangible, God’s power is evident, and God’s presence is regular.
We want people to feel comfortable to come as they are; but leave inspired and equipped to be more.
We are children of the Light; we do not fear the darkness.
We act on the belief that God’s house will be a house of prayer.
These look great on paper, but that's not enough. We as a church have to live out these values everyday of our lives. If you are a part of the Radius family, you represent these values to our community every day. That's not an easy thing to do, but that's why we offer so many opportunities to be around the Radius family; to stay encouraged, to be strengthened, and to have a group of people that are willing to speak life and hope and love into your life regularly. We want to fill you up so that you can pour out life, hope, and love to those around you; whether it's at school or at work, at home or out in the community.
If you've never been to Radius, then I invite you to come see what these value look like in action. We take them very seriously, and although we are far from perfect, our goal is to continue to strive to live out these values in everything we do.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
Do you cringe when you read truth like that in the Bible. Hebrews 12:1 is one of those verses that gets me every time. It's inspiring and convicting all at once.
I love the idea that we are all in this race together. We are all here to support each other. That's a comforting feeling, and I am proud to run this race with my Radius family.
But then there's that thing about sin. Paul tells us to strip off the weight; to get rid of the sin. Something in that always hits me in the gut. Perhaps it's the reminder that I still have sin in my life. Perhaps it's the memories it conjures when I hear the word sin and I flash back to those times in my life when I have completely and utterly failed.
Or, maybe it's the simplicity of the statement.
When Paul says to let it all go, it makes so much sense. Yes, if I am going to run a race, why would I want to carry a backpack full of rocks and bricks? Why would I want to carry with my all my fears, guilt and shame? Wouldn't life be easier - couldn't I run a better race - if I just threw it all to the side and left it in the dust?
So I resolve to do just that. I let it go. I free myself from the burdens of my past.
But then it comes back. Somewhere along the line I pick up my back pack and put it back on without even thinking about it.
The cycle continues.
Why does that happen?
I get to where I am feeling like I am running the race the right way, and then I see a butterfly or a little shiny object. That little distraction leads to a bigger distraction, and then a bigger one and if I'm not careful, I can run right off the track and out of the stadium like a lost sheep.
So for me, I have to stay on guard and ignore the butterflies. I have to recognize that shiny objects are just that, nothing more.
I have to keep my focus on Jesus.
I can't tell you how to do that, but I can tell you what I do.
Pray: It's not always the easiest things to do, and there are times that I dread it, but it's the best way to keep your focus on God and see the reality of a situation.
Read: I'm referring to the Bible, not Buzzfeed or Facebook. Getting in the Word and filling your head with truth keeps the bad stuff out. It allows you to see the world through a clear lens and opens the door to God speaking into you.
Listen: Find some podcasts of messages or conversations about positive things. Figure out who is saying the stuff that you need to hear. If you're not sure, ask your pastor.
Attend: Show up to Radius, or whatever church you go to. Get around the people running the race with you. Listen to them. Share with them. Encourage and be encouraged. Join a Radius Home or small group and start building real relationships with people who genuinely care about you and want to see you succeed.
Serve: One of the biggest things sin does is keeps us selfish. We worry about what others think of us. We start to think the world revolves around us and everything everyone does is done to hurt us or otherwise affect us in some way. Serving forces your eyes onto others and allows you to see the truth.
Doing these things has certainly helped me stay on course, or not veer too far off course. They also help me recognize when I have picked up my backpack full of sin and reminds me to cast it off again.
The secret to winning the race is to keep your eyes on Jesus.
Ignore that temptation to focus solely on your self. If you're too busy looking down at your shoes, you're eventually going to end up on the ground.
Don't compare yourself to others. They've got their own race to run and you don't know their whole story. Just because they look like they are ahead of you (or behind you) that doesn't mean they are. It just means God is working things out with them the same way he is with you.
Lastly, ignore those obstacles in front of you. Worrying about them right now is only going to slow you down. You'll have plenty of time to deal with the obstacles when you get to them; if they are even still an obstacle at that point.
Stay focused on the goal. Keep your eyes planted on Jesus and run faster than you've ever run before.
We are here with you. We want to see you win. We want to celebrate your victory.
You are a legend.
So let's go!
We are very fortunate to live less than 2 hours from some of the greatest theme parks in the world. People save up for years so that they can visit Orlando and go to Disney World, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios. And though Universal has always been almost as popular, the introduction of Harry Potter to the theme park world has changed the game. Visit either Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure and you will be treated to some of the most amazing sets and rides you've ever seen. If you want to be immersed in a movie, that's the place to go.
But as awesome as it is, I find myself dreading those trips.
We'll give Universal the benefit of the doubt and choose to believe that there isn't some evil mastermind behind the curtain thinking up new ways to take my money.
Why, then would anyone dislike such an amazing place?
I consider myself a pretty patient person, but when I go to the theme park and have to stand in line for 2 hours to ride a 30-second ride, I get a little frustrated.
A couple years ago when the second Harry Potter area opened at Universal, I was really looking forward to seeing what they built. We'd been watching them build it little by little and were so excited to check out the new shops, the details in the set design, and all the little fun things that make it an unreal experience. When we talked into the area though, all I saw was a sea of people. I saw selfie sticks, umbrellas, Brazilian flags, strollers, and plenty of sunscreen smeared on nameless faces. There was no magic in the reveal because there were so many people. You spent more time trying to navigate your way through the crowd than you did looking around.
And then it happened.
We got in line for the great new ride...3 and a half hours. A third of our day at the park was going to be spent standing in one line for one ride.
Waiting. It's not fun.
You know who never had to wait in line at a theme park?
I don't know if they had theme parks in Old Testament times, but I'm going to guess that they did not.
Even if they did, Joseph's family sure didn't have the money to go, not with all those brothers.
What Joseph did have was a dream. And he held onto that dream tighter than my 10-year old son holds on to his season pass when we are approaching the turn-style.
One night Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever. “Listen to this dream,” he said. “We were out in the field, tying up bundles of grain. Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine!”
His brothers responded, “So you think you will be our king, do you? Do you actually think you will reign over us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dreams and the way he talked about them.
Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!”
This time he told the dream to his father as well as to his brothers, but his father scolded him. “What kind of dream is that?” he asked. “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?” But while his brothers were jealous of Joseph, his father wondered what the dreams meant.
If I were writing the Bible, it wouldn't be but a few more paragraphs until Joseph's dream came true. But, God is a much better story teller than I am and I could have never come up with the idea for such an amazing turn of events. Thankfully, I'm not Joseph, because I surely don't have the kind of patience that saw him almost killed by his brother, sold off into slavery, seduced by a queen, and jailed before seeing his dream come to fruition.
If you're looking for a good story to read, check out Genesis 37-50. It will blow your mind. Genesis and chill.
So why would one person have to endure so much? I mean, this wasn't just a few rough months in the life of Joseph. This was years and years of trials before realizing a dream.
Surely Joseph had to have given up on his dream at some point.
Surely it would have been much easier to just accept his circumstances and settle into the life that he had been dealt.
Surely Joseph could not overcome the obstacles in his life.
Surely God had forgotten about the dream that he had placed in Joseph's heart.
But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden.
Read that again.
God was with Joseph the whole time. God had Joseph right where he needed him. God was setting Joseph up for greatness. God was using these events to build Joseph's character.
The more 'stuff' that Joseph went through, the more experience he had, the more insights he had, and the more wisdom, strength, and courage he gained.
Do you have a dream? Are you going through 'stuff'? Does it ever feel like the 'stuff' you are going through is preventing you from achieving your dreams?
Get excited. God is with you and he is setting you up for something great. Hold on tight to that dream. You have it within you to be a legend. And, as Blake said,
The greatest dream killer in our life is the journey itself; the things we don't see coming that derail us...never let your situation or your circumstances speak louder than God's promises.
Looking back, I had some great moments with my family and friends while standing in lines for rides at Universal. We've played games, met new people, planned out church events, brainstormed on ideas for youth camps and messages series, and planned vacations. In the end, the new Harry Potter ride was worth the wait, and the journey to get there was just part of the experience.
Sometimes I think about what it would be like to be super rich or super powerful (or both). I wonder how my life would be different; I wonder how much good I could do for my family, friends, and people in need, or how much good I could do for St. Pete. But then I start wondering if my beliefs would change, if I would become a different person, or if my struggles would either be amplified or put out on display for all to see.
I don't want to be super rich or super powerful. I just want to be me.
I don't know if Esther ever had fantasies of being a queen. Regardless, that's where she ended up. Her position in society gave her very little choice when King Xerxes was looking for his new queen. She was young and pretty which pretty much fit the criteria for the search. I would tell you to Google "young and pretty" but that's probably not a good idea. I'm not going to do it and I think you shouldn't either. But, I imagine, if King Xerxes were around now, that's what he would have done. Whoever showed up in the search results would have been considered for the queen spot.
So Esther finds herself in this powerful position - living in a kind of luxury that she could never imagine. Anything she wanted was hers. She got the finest clothes and jewelry and was considered the hottest women in Persia (don't Google that either).
She was put on a big stage, and the only real expectation put on her was that she be available to the king whenever he called upon her.
She must have wondered why someone so insignificant was put in such a great position. What was her purpose? What was the reason for all this?
The book of Esther in the Old Testament describes what's going on in Persia at the time. Esther's people, God's chosen people, the Jews were being persecuted and there was going to be mass genocide if someone didn't step in to do something.
But God is bigger than the boogie man (that's a Veggie Tales reference and I apologize...you can Google that).
God had a plan.
What people didn't know about Esther, and maybe Esther didn't even know about herself, was that she was placed as queen for a specific purpose. She was placed there because her inner beauty surpassed her outer beauty.
Esther was put into the position of queen because of her outer beauty, but she found favor with the king because of her inner beauty. She was given prominence and King Xerxes respected her which is why he would listen to her and ignore all the other women in his harem.
So when Esther came to the king with a problem, he listened.
In the end, Esther saved her people. Maybe you didn't win the lotto or get elected president. But, God has put you where you are for a specific purpose. If you are reading this, you have been given more than most people in the world. What are you supposed to do?
With our second birthday as Radius just around the corner, I can't help but wonder what you and I are supposed to be doing right now for Radius, or with Radius, or because of Radius. How can you use the prominence you've been given in your life to influence those around you that will effect positive change?
Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”
Let me translate.
Don't think for a moment that because you live in St. Pete you will escape when the enemy comes to attack. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief will arise from some other place and you'll miss out on the chance to be part of something great. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?
Big changes are coming to this city. God's love will be spread all over this place. It's up to you whether you want to be a part of it, or just sit on the sidelines and watch it happen.
Check out this week's post from our very own guest blogger, Brennan.
Moses, a man whose story is rich with danger, suspense, and victory. His story is also a pivotal point in the overarching storyline of God’s relationship with humanity.
In Exodus chapter 2, Moses was born into a slave family during a time when all newborn Hebrew males were to be put to death by order of pharaoh. Right off the bat God reveals to us a beautiful truth; in the places where we think there is the least likelihood of success and victory, God makes those the center of His masterpieces. With all the turmoil that was being visited upon the Hebrew people, it’s a wonder Moses made it past his second birthday.
Moses not only survived as an infant, but was put in a tar covered homemade basket, and placed into a river on the long-shot gamble that someone might pick him up and not end his life as the law commanded. Again God steps into the desperate times and creates plenty. It just so happens pharaoh’s daughter finds the basket and Moses is raised in the palace, with his mother and sister taking care of him.
Moses grows up in the palace, but never forgets where he comes from. His mother and sister educated him on the history of his people, the Hebrews, and helped him to see things differently than others in the palace. As he grew into a man, and kept that piece of who he was close to his heart, it would lead to an event that changes the whole of history.
One day he sees a soldier savagely beating a Hebrew slave. In the slave’s defense, Moses kills the soldier. It’s easy to see how this could be a crime of passion, seeing someone in whom he may have seen himself, being beaten so badly. Word gets out and the pharaoh tries to have Moses killed, but he escapes into the desert. We can see here that Moses is obviously not a holier-than-thou, dressed in white, floating above the ground person. He murders someone, runs from the law, and hides out in the desert for years. God still sees potential and pursues this person, even though we would easily write him off as a completely lost cause.
Stick with me, it’s about to get good.
Moses spends his time in the desert shepherding livestock. He now lives in the rough country of the mountains and rocky hills, and he’s had plenty of time to ponder that question we’ve asked ourselves so many times, “Why me?”
Moses has heard from people, and been taught by people, and been mentored and brought up by people in what seems like the absence of God. Moses is hungry and thirsty for answers and purpose.
Here comes God.
A bush that is consumed with fire, but not burning draws Moses’ in and he moves closer to investigate. This is where God directly addresses Moses, knowing what he’s been through, where he’s been and what he’s done. God doesn’t send him a notarized letter saying Moses has to get cleaned up, put on his best clothes, go and get closure from all the people he’s wronged, and say 100 prayers before he comes to God. God steps into Moses life, claims Moses as he is, and invites him to be the leader of a nation. Even as Moses whines about how he literally can’t even, God continues to tell Moses that his weaknesses will not stop God from accomplishing His will. Finally, after promises and prophecies, Moses chooses to step into his real role in life’s story and play his part.
Your role in life’s story has only just begun, and God is offering you a chance to be a legend every day. So remember that God takes weakness and turns it to strength. Remember that God can do His best work in our worst places. Remember God chooses real life people with real life problems, and plants in them real power when they partner with Him. God doesn’t wait for you to be good, because He’s all the good you’ll ever need and more.
Such a time is this to be a legend.
"Rob has such great potential. If he would just apply himself, he could do so much."
I've personalized this, but I think many of us saw something like this on a report card, progress report, or note home at some point in our lives.
For me, it was a problem with consistency. I was very consistent at being inconsistent. I would try for a little while and the get bored or lazy and my grades would suffer. I was smart enough to get average grades without trying very hard, but not motivated to give it much more effort than what was expected of me.
Fortunately for me, not a lot was expected of me. Unlike Samson, I was just a regular kid in a upper middle-class suburban family.
Samson, on the other hand was bound for greatness from before he was born.
An angel of the Lord told Samson's mom,
You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and his hair must never be cut. For he will be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. He will begin to rescue Israel from the Philistines.
That's a lot of weight to put on a kid, and his parents. How would you parent your child differently if you knew he was going to rescue Israel from the Philistines. That's like saying, "your kid is going to rescue the Jews from the Nazi's."
So if that's the expectation, then the kid must also have the potential to fulfill the expectation.
"If Samson would just apply himself, he could save Israel from the Philistines."
So when Samson started showing signs of greatness, his parents and everyone around him must have gotten really excited. When he grew bigger than the other kids his age, or when he started displaying unnatural strength, people must have really started to watch him closely to see what he would do. They all wanted to follow his Snapchat story.
But like a lot of great men, Samson had a weakness. All the attention and the expectations of him reaching his full potential; all the likes on his Instagram posts must have made him feel pretty important. While he understood his potential, he let temptation get the best of him.
Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!
The truth is we all have great potential. Any one of us could rise up an do something as monumental as saving Israel from the Philistines. We all have greatness living with in us.
1 Corinthians 2:9
...No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.
So what's stopping us?
Probably the same things that held Samson back from being truly great.
Focus. Where do you put your focus? Samson set his focus on the things he wanted; women, power, and winning. These distractions kept him from doing what he was called to do.
Source. Where does the source of your potential come from? Samson assumed it was in his great physical strength. He thought he could do it on his own. He thought he could handle it. This fueled his pride, and led to his fall.
When we set our focus on what is true, what is right, what is pleasing, and what is good, then our lens changes. We stop looking at the world through broken glass and see the reality of our situation. We stop looking in the mirror and seeing our flaws, our failures, and our fears and start seeing our beauty, our victories, and our potential.
When we recognize that the source of our power does not come from our own strength or will-power, but from the creator of the universe; the one who defeated sin, then we put ourselves on the path out of the valley of the shadow of death. We have access to a power and a hope that is greater than any on earth so that even when we are stuck in the chaos of the world we can find peace.
Samson claimed victory in the end.
Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me just one more time. With one blow let me pay back the Philistines for the loss of my two eyes.” Then Samson put his hands on the two center pillars that held up the temple. Pushing against them with both hands, he prayed, “Let me die with the Philistines.” And the temple crashed down on the Philistine rulers and all the people. So he killed more people when he died than he had during his entire lifetime.
He recognized the source of his strength and cried out to the Lord. And God, being as amazing and as awesome as he is, remembered Samson and used him to save Israel from the Philistines.
Samson lived up to his potential. But did he have to go through the dark times to get there?
Can we learn from Samson's story? Can we cut out the hitting rock bottom part and begin to rise up as a community now? Does it take total defeat before we realize that our focus should be on the Lord and our source of strength comes from Him?
Or can we live in victory now?
I believe we can.
We have an extra special blog post today from Sarina. You won't want to miss a single word of this post.
Rahab. Why was it so important that her story share that she was a prostitute? The story could’ve been just a woman named Rahab, instead it is the prostitute Rahab. I realize that we will never know if Rahab wanted her story to be shared including that part of her life. Maybe that is how God wanted her story to be told. God saw the importance of every detail in Rahab’s life and wanted it to be shared.
For a while now God has been tugging at my heart to share my story. Perhaps he has been tugging a lot longer and I am just now noticing. However, as much as God has been whispering I feel the devil shouting. Every time I think about the details of my testimony I feel fear, guilt, ashamed, unworthy.
“If my family knew what I’ve done they would be ashamed.”
“If my friends knew the details they would judge me.”
“If the man I am dating knew my past he would definitely not be interested."
Well no more. Here is my testimony – May my story bring you glory.
I grew up in church, was baptized at two, went to a Lutheran school through 7th grade and was extremely active with my youth group all through high school. As some may remember from my last blog a lot changed in my early 20s. I went through a terrible divorce that challenged my relationship with God. As God was waiting with outstretched arms to comfort me, in my time of need, I went the opposite direction. Let’s just say I ran the opposite direction.
For the next 8 years I spiraled from one bad relationship to the next. Trying desperately to please any man that gave me attention. I’ve been verbally abused, emotionally broken, cheated on and lied too. I also fought spitefully with anger, was jealous, lied and cheated. I constantly felt heart broken. I am pretty sure I spent more time crying in my relationships than when I was single.
About halfway through this spiral I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I had lost my job, car, boyfriend of almost 3 years and had to move back in with my parents. I quickly turned to a new man, partying and heavy drinking. Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse….. I found out I was pregnant. There I was alone in my parent’s bathroom staring at this stick crying and terrified. I called two friends and both gave advice one said keep, the other said abort. My heart is heavy as I type that I chose the latter. I hid everything from my family, had that friend drive me to the clinic and tried to pretend like it never happened.
Fast forward another year I was 25 years old and back with my ex-boyfriend. This time around he started doing drugs… at first I was devastated but the sad part is I was more devastated at the idea of losing him than the fact he was sneaking behind my back doing drugs! So naturally I thought ‘if you can’t stop him, join him’. Two years of drinking, drugs, fighting and lots more crying. How had I fallen so far?
I know right now, as you read this, you are waiting for the climax of my story, some life changing event where I decided to turn it all around. Nothing just “turns around” after the things I have been through…. But God knew that and was still at work in my life.
At 27 years old that relationship ended for good and with it the drugs. Around the same time God placed me in a new position at work that moved my desk next to a woman who was on fire for Him. Her tattered bible sat on her desk as she spoke freely of his love and compassion. I never felt judged and openly shared much of my life with her. She gave me the book Captivating and challenged me to pray and read my bible. I could feel Gods presence in our conversations and soaked it all up! He was there still, he loved me and he wasn’t done with my story yet. My story was just beginning.
As I share my testimony I feel that fear rise up, however I will no longer let fear rule my life. I will no longer fear the darkness. God was not ashamed of Rahab and he is not ashamed of me nor you. No matter what your past, what mistakes you have made, what failures you have, He is right there with loving arms open ready to forgive and help you heal.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace
2 Corinthians 12:9
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
In one of Amanda’s previous messages she said “May our story bring him glory”. I have felt God pulling me to take the first step forward, and that by sharing my story it will help others. I am not sure how yet but I have finally taken the first step in faith. I have thrown my red cord out and can’t wait to see what God brings next.
Thy Will Be Done.
Elijah was a man of God. He spoke to the Lord and delivered messages to the people. He was really good at it too. When God said 'jump,' Elijah didn't need to ask 'how high?' - he just did it.
So when God told Elijah (the casting is difficult on this one, maybe Christopher Lee, Harrison Ford, or Viggo Mortensen) to let the king know there was going to be a drought, Elijah marched up to the king and told him what was coming. When the drought Elijah predicted came to fruition, Ahab (the king, perhaps played by Ben Kingsley) and Jezebel (the lunatic queen who wouldn't hesitate to kill anyone she felt wronged her, played by Halle Berry) were pretty ticked off and they wanted to kill Elijah. Elijah knew this, but was still obedient when God told him to tell Ahab that the drought would be coming to an end soon (after 3 years). Elijah was a bit ticked off too. He'd been warning Israel that they needed to turn away from false gods and back towards the one true God, Jehovah. So he challenged the king.
1 Kings 18: 16-21
So Obadiah went to tell Ahab that Elijah had come, and Ahab went out to meet Elijah. When Ahab saw him, he exclaimed, “So, is it really you, you troublemaker of Israel?”
“I have made no trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “You and your family are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the Lord and have worshiped the images of Baal instead. Now summon all Israel to join me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who are supported by Jezebel.”
So Ahab summoned all the people of Israel and the prophets to Mount Carmel. Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent.
The showdown begins!
Now there were 450 prophets (standard dim-witted extras) who follow Baal (no casting necessary). Elijah has them set up an alter, sacrifice a bull, and call out to Baal.
From morning until noon...silence.
1 Kings 18: 27-29
About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”
So they shouted louder, and following their normal custom, they cut themselves with knives and swords until the blood gushed out. They raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice, but still there was no sound, no reply, no response.
Queue the rave scene (re: The Matrix - loud techno music, dancing, and debauchery).
Now it's Elijah's turn (close-up on his face as he looks towards the sky, a confident smirk forms on his mouth).
1 Kings 18: 30-39
Then Elijah called to the people, “Come over here!” They all crowded around him as he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been torn down. He took twelve stones, one to represent each of the tribes of Israel, and he used the stones to rebuild the altar in the name of the Lord. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons. He piled wood on the altar, cut the bull into pieces, and laid the pieces on the wood.
Then he said, “Fill four large jars with water, and pour the water over the offering and the wood.”
After they had done this, he said, “Do the same thing again!” And when they were finished, he said, “Now do it a third time!” So they did as he said, and the water ran around the altar and even filled the trench.
At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”
Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench! And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!”
God showed up in a big way. It's easy to see this as just a story (or an epic movie) and say that it is either a work of fiction, or that it was long time ago and things were different. It's true, things were different. God used prophets back then. Most people didn't have direct access to God. Now, because of what Jesus did on the cross for us, we have access to the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11).
Just like in the story of Elijah, the world wants proof of God. They want something tangible. Today, that's us. We are called to be the visible tangible evidence of Jesus in St. Petersburg. We are called to be the fire, raining down from heaven. We are the hands and feet of Jesus.
How do we do that?
Relationship. We go out into our community and we build relationships with people. We love on them. We forgive them. We remind them it's OK to not be perfect. We love them like God loves us.
So let's be a Radius of grace in our community and watch God work.
“Follow your heart.”
This has to be one of my least favorite phrases. Far from being just an expression, this lie has so permeated our culture that on any given day, you can buy t-shirts, journals, or phone cases emblazoned with these words. As socially accepted as this advice is, the Bible, as usual, stands in stark contrast to accepted societal norms. Not only does it not recommend following your heart, it goes so far as to say that your heart is wicked and will flat out lie to you.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
It’s easy to look at the story of Jonah and judge his disobedience. It’s easy to scoff at his seeming cowardice in running in the opposite direction of what God called him to do. The truth of the matter is that our hearts, if left unchecked, will always lead us into a dark, lonely place much like the one Jonah ultimately found himself in. When our obedience to and communication with God is dependent on our current feelings, moods, or circumstances, we’ll spend most of our life running or being tossed about like a ship in rough waters.
If you are a follower of Christ, you have a great call on your life. To love God, to show others His love, to extend His grace, to assist the poor and needy, to make disciples...yet we have all been guilty of letting our hearts lead us astray from fulfilling these beautiful, God-given purposes. How many times have people quit jobs or given up on relationships simply because they weren’t “happy”? And how can we avoid falling into this very common and very human pitfall? The answer can be found in one simple word from a verse found in the book of wisdom.
“Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path.”
Not be at the mercy of.
The Message translation says to “point your life in the right direction”. I’ve recently struggled with letting life circumstances, hurts, and unanswered prayers deter me from actively pointing my heart towards communion with God. If you find yourself in a similar place, I’ve got good news. You’re actually in a great position to encounter the relentless mercy of your Heavenly Father.
“I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble, and he answered me. I called to you from the land of the dead, and Lord, you heard me!”
When we cry out to Him, He hears us. When we align our hearts with His wisdom, we step more fully into the calling of our life. When we adjust our compasses to the one true north, He directs our steps and leads us beside still waters.
“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”
That would be my answer if I was asked to sacrifice my only son. I've dis-obeyed God on much smaller tasks. I don't think I could ever have the trust that Abraham displayed.
...and perhaps that's why God didn't build the nation of Israel through my family line.
When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”
“Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”
Even if by some crazy chance I decided that I would trust God enough to take my son up the mountain, build an altar, and tie my son to it (who I imagine would not lie there and just let me tie him up), I think I would have a REALLY tough time picking up that knife. I might have just decided at the last minute to call it, untie him and head home with a big apology to God and the satisfaction of knowing that my son was still alive.
So this story would have gone a lot differently if it were me. It's likely it wouldn't have been Bible worthy and no one would ever know my name. The only record of it might be a blog post about how I thought God once told me to kill my son, but then I realized I was wrong because he never intervened and stopped me even though I got so far as tying my kid to an altar.
But Abraham trusted God.
Perhaps it was because of the wisdom that comes with age, and if that is true, Abraham was VERY wise. When you're like a 100 years old, you know things. Maybe it was because of the promises that God had fulfilled in Abraham's life. God had already provided a son to Abraham and Sarah when they thought it was impossible.
God promised Abraham that he was going to work through Isaac to build a great nation. Abraham had the courage and confidence to believe God. And, if Abraham believed that promise, then he must have known that there was no way they God would allow him to kill Isaac, right??
As the story tells us, that's exactly what happened. At the last minute, Abraham was stopped. You might say this showed God that Abraham was faithful, but let's face it, God already knew. Instead, this showed Abraham that God was faithful, it further solidified Abraham's confidence in his willingness to follow God, and it showed Isaac what it meant to be a man of God.
How might our lives be different if we put our complete trust and obedience in God?
No job is too small for a father. A father sees the needs of the people around him, whether those people are family or not, and moves to serve and act in order to accomplish what must be done.
Though David was just a boy when he met Goliath on the battlefield, he already displayed the traits of a good father (and future king).
David enters the story as the youngest brother, holding the least standing not only in their family, but also because of his job; he was a shepherd turned delivery boy.
David continues by getting involved in the situation at hand, where a giant has been insulting the men, the king, and the God of the Jewish people for 40 days. He doesn’t shy away, uncertain of whether his contribution will be appreciated, but steps bravely into the midst of other men and begins pursuing the truth of the situation. Here we see that a father does not shy away from the unknown, but pursues knowledge and wisdom of what he does not know in order to prepare himself to act in the best way.
1 Samuel 17: 26-32
David asked the soldiers standing nearby, “What will a man get for killing this Philistine and ending his defiance of Israel? Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?”
And these men gave David the same reply. They said, “Yes, that is the reward for killing him.”
But when David’s oldest brother, Eliab, heard David talking to the men, he was angry. “What are you doing around here anyway?” he demanded. “What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know about your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle!”
“What have I done now?” David replied. “I was only asking a question!” He walked over to some others and asked them the same thing and received the same answer. Then David’s question was reported to King Saul, and the king sent for him.
“Don’t worry about this Philistine,” David told Saul. “I’ll go fight him!”
He then volunteers to take on this giant that has intimidated and embarrassed the entire army day after day. Not only does he volunteer, he declines armor and weapons. He then prepares himself for the conflict.
1 Samuel 17:40
He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them into his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across the valley to fight the Philistine.
Here we see how a father, and all of us, can prepare for the giants in life. He gathers stones, knowing they are solid and useful like the truths and promises God has given us.
David moves out into the battlefield, issues a blistering challenge, and speaks truth over that place and over his opponent. He draws power from God and it is boldly established regardless of his physical size or the amount of his experience with combat. Like our Father, he acts to defend his family from the giant that stands before them.
David’s victory over the giant who was thought to be undefeatable, saved both armies from enormous loss of life and revealed God’s power to be true and real. Each father’s life can be a testament to God’s love, truth, and power being real in the world.
Now whether you are a biological father, step-father, adopted father, foster father, or you’ve been a father to someone by guiding and loving and caring for them, there’s something you can take away from this. In fact, everyone reading this can take this truth from this story:
David was only able to do these things because when faced with the giant, and when the people around him said, “Have you seen the giant?!”
He turned to them and said “Yes, but have you seen our God?”
His heart, his mind, his spirit and his strength were all completely focused and dedicated to God.
In our lives when we face the giants, we can turn our eyes to our Father and see that he is with us.
Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”
God continues to fulfill this promise even when the giants of our lives seem to block out the sun.
I call on each of us to challenge ourselves. Let each of us recognize the fathers in our lives, and recognize all they do to serve and love others. Let us each live like David in that moment, completely dedicated to showing the world God’s power and truth in the love He shows us.
I glanced in my rear view mirror at the fuzzy blonde head in the backseat. At less than two years old, he was too little to understand that the world and family he knew had been forever changed. Sin had entered the picture and did the only thing that sin does; destroy. Although this little one didn’t belong to me, his mother is like a sister to me, and I loved and cared for him and his family deeply.
As I rounded the corner to this little boy’s broken house, I looked up and saw a beautiful rainbow in the sky. Where moments before questions, frustrations, and anger had swirled in my mind, in an instant one word cut through them all: promise.
His promises still stand.
His promises are always true.
His promises do not return void.
I can’t imagine what Noah and his family must have been feeling. 40 days of rain and flooding? They had to start wondering if it was ever going to end. They had to doubt whether God really knew what He was doing, and if they would ever see dry land and sunshine again. Their temporary circumstances had to start feeling like they were going to be pretty permanent. The same is true for us when the storms of life come and grief, sorrow, and pain seem as though they will be our constant companions. Will this ever end? Where is God? How could anything good ever come out of this?
In any given situation in life, we all have choices. We choose how we react and how our circumstances grow and shape us. It’s human nature when things happen to us, to lose focus of the fact that we can allow those same things to do something through us.
So, what does that look like, practically? Well, if we take a page from Noah’s story, I think it looks a little like three not-so-simple steps.
People surely thought Noah was crazy. Noah himself may have even questioned his sanity at times as he built a massive ark following God’s incredibly specific instructions. The Bible says Noah was a righteous man who found favor with the Lord. Because Noah walked with God, because he invested in his relationship with his heavenly father, he talked to Him regularly. We all know that with any relationship, you only get out what you put in. God was no stranger to him, so when He spoke, Noah recognized His voice. Then he did what seems like the most obvious next step; he obeyed. And yet, how often do we miss out on this?
We have a dream God planted in our hearts. We feel God leading us in a certain direction in our lives. We feel prompted to speak to someone. We feel God putting His finger on a sin habit in our life that we know needs to be dealt with….
But we let fear, uncertainty, self –doubt, or pride get in the way of our obedience. I write this to myself as much as to anyone who may read it. I am currently going through the most difficult time of my life. There are days where I don’t know up from down, and holding onto God’s promises and walking in obedience to Him in the midst of intense heartache is difficult and at times seemingly impossible. But in a time of uncertainty, what I do know is this…I want it to be said of me that I found favor with God. I want to be seen as righteous in His eyes. I want to raise my son in such a way that the same will be said of him. The Bible says if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. Draw near and listen for His voice. He will speak. When he does, listen and obey.
After the waters receded, and Noah and his family safely stepped off of the ark, the first thing Noah did was worship God. He built an altar and offered burnt sacrifices, and the Bible says it was a sweet and pleasing aroma to the Lord.
The truth is, storms are a part of life, and in most cases, all of us are either in one, coming out of one, or one is looming ahead on the horizon. No matter where you find yourself today, build an altar. Worship the One who sets His sign in the sky as a reminder of His covenant to us.
He is faithful.
When nothing else in life is good, He is.
He is worthy of our worship.
But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house and found him praying and asking for God’s help. So they went straight to the king and reminded him about his law. “Did you not sign a law that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions?”
Busted. Daniel was sent to the lions' den as decreed by the law.
The story should have ended there. But it didn't.
A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed the stone with his own royal seal and the seals of his nobles, so that no one could rescue Daniel. Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night fasting. He refused his usual entertainment and couldn’t sleep at all that night.
Very early the next morning, the king got up and hurried out to the lions’ den. When he got there, he called out in anguish, “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able to rescue you from the lions?”
Daniel answered, “Long live the king! My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.”
The king was overjoyed and ordered that Daniel be lifted from the den. Not a scratch was found on him, for he had trusted in his God.
The lions never touched Daniel. And it was the guys that got him thrown down into the pit that ultimately were eaten by the lions, along with their wives and children (yikes!). After that, King Darius told everyone that they should pray to the same God as Daniel.
We're living in the pit.
We are Daniel in the lions' den. This world is filled with lions, and just like Daniel didn't belong in that pit, we don't belong in this world. We were created to live in a place without lions, but we chose to put ourselves in the pit when we turned away from God.
The punishment for our sins is the pit. We deserve the pit. We practically beg for the pit every time we follow our flesh and ignore God's call.
We wake up every morning in fear of what the lions will do to us that day.
What made Daniel a legend in this story was his faith that God would protect him even in certain danger.
What will make us a legend in this world filled with lions is our faith in God, and the belief that our sins have already been paid for; that even though we deserve the pit, we will receive the kingdom. It's not that the lions' mouths will be shut, it's that the lions won't even be able to devour us. Sure, they might try to take a swipe at us. They might gnash their teeth and roar their roar, but they can't touch us. When Jesus defeated death, he didn't rid the world of lions, but he took away their power over us.
One day our king will call to us to leave the pit and spend eternity in his kingdom. When he calls to you, will you be curled up in the corner frozen in fear? Or will you be standing in the pit with your head held high, confident that you are untouchable and crying out, "Long live the king!"?
That would be some legendary faith. How do we get there?
We band together. We remind each other that the lions have no power over us. We remember that this pit is temporary and the kingdom is eternal. When the lions try to attack, we rebuke them. When their roars pierce our ears, we recognize that it's just noise. When their nails get close to us, we look and see that they did not scratch us. When the lions try to separate us from one another, we lock arms even tighter.
Daniel may have been put in that pit alone, but we are in this pit together.
You are not alone. You were created by a God who loves you, who wants you, and who has made a way for you to escape the pit.
He's reaching down to pull you out. Will you take his hand?
Check out this video, circa 2011. See any familiar faces?
One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! TheLord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
If someone asked me to describe Radius in one sentence, I would say something like,
Radius seeks to love God and it's neighbors.
One thing that has become abundantly clear since the inception of Radius is love. I'm not talking about the, "we're so glad you're here" kind of love on Sunday morning. I'm talking about real, deep love that moves people to action.
I've seen so many examples of people going out of their way to love their neighbors.
Families are making and taking Love Lunches out to the community every Sunday in huge numbers; so much so that people who don't know Radius Church by name, still know of the 'peanut butter and jelly church.'
I've seen people taking time out of their busy schedules to sit down and eat lunches with their neighbors. I've seen families help get their neighbors off the street and into housing. I've seen people cooking meals for their neighbors who are sick.
Radius is visiting hospitals and volunteering at food pantries, shelters, and charity organizations.
And that's just what I have seen. There are so many unseen acts of love going on that we don't even know about.
Radius Church isn't a place. It's not a building. There is no physical address. Yes, we have a location where we gather, but that's just for Sunday. The church is the people, and it is the people that make Radius so great. It's the choices we make on a daily basis that define the successes and failures of Radius, not the number of people who show up on Sunday.
So what does it take to love your neighbor?
You have to be willing to be inconvenienced. For some of us, that's the hardest thing to do. We are all busy. We all have 'stuff' going on in our lives that we need to deal with. We have responsibilities that have to be taken care of. Loving your neighbor might mean being a few minutes late to work because you helped your next door neighbor get his car started so he could go to work that day.
You have to be willing to be involved. Loving your neighbor takes a commitment. It's not something we can check off our ToDo list and be ToDone. It's going to take effort to love. It might mean committing to a cause on a monthly or even weekly basis.
You have to be willing to be invested. Loving your neighbor might mean giving up watching a couple Rays games or dedicating your Saturday to volunteering instead of college football. It might mean getting your hands dirty. It might mean using your hard earned money for God's glory instead of your vacation.
If we are going to move out in ever-widening circles and change our world, we have to start with ourselves. We have to be willing to give our money and our time to something bigger than ourselves. If we want to truly live, we've got to commit to truly give.
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
It's easy to get caught up in the mission of the church; to get busy doing the holy tasks that we feel we are called to do. We feel good. We feel important. We feel useful. We feel productive when we are giving of our time and talents. But all too often, we put these feelings in front of the command God gave us to love our neighbors.
I am certainly guilty of this. I know the importance of the mission of Radius; to move out in ever-widening circles to change our world. But how can I change the world if I ignore the command to love my wife and to lead my family?
Add to that the difficulty I have in outwardly expressing how I feel and you have a potentially dangerous situation.
To be fair to myself, I do have a few good qualities as a husband and I do not completely ignore loving my wife and family. All I am saying is that I am not perfect. I am broken. We are broken. People are broken. And so it is important to recognize that we all have faults and failings.
Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.
Fortunately, my wife excels at forgiving faults through unconditional love. This is one of the biggest lessons she has taught me over the years and one that I strive to reciprocate.
So between her example and the example that Christ gives us as a result of his marriage to the church, I have a pretty good model of what love looks like in marriage. Thankfully, I know people are praying for us, and we are praying for others. But let's all take a moment to pray together as a church for marriages all across St. Petersburg. Couples are hurting and struggling. Couples are falling away from each other.
The stronger our marriages our, the stronger the church will be.
Will you pray this prayer?
2 Samuel 7:27-29
“O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, God of Israel, I have been bold enough to pray this prayer to you because you have revealed all this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you—a dynasty of kings!’ For you are God, O SovereignLord. Your words are truth, and you have promised these good things to your servant. And now, may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you have spoken, and when you grant a blessing to your servant, O Sovereign Lord, it is an eternal blessing!”
And let us continue the prayer,
God, we praise you for the example you've given us of how to love. We thank you for the free-will you give to us so that we can choose love every day. We ask that you work in marriages all across St. Pete to strengthen them. We pray that you will call husbands and wives back to you lord. You promised that you would always pursue any sheep that have left the flock. God, pursue those lost sheep. Bring them back to the flock so that we may love them. Father, give us the strength to love our spouses as you love us.
We pray these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
There I was, 21 and going through a divorce.
Leaving an abusive relationship; I was scared, angry, broken, ashamed and betrayed. How could God let this happen? What did I do wrong?
That was when I decided God wasn’t going to be a part of my relationships anymore. I mean, He was a part of my marriage. We prayed together, attended church, did bible study, and look how that turned out.
Going my own way, I started seeking approval, happiness and fulfillment in having a large group of “friends” and another very unhealthy relationship. Again I was hurt, betrayed by people I thought were my friends, by the person I thought loved me. In all honesty though, I was betraying myself! By not having God at the center of these relationships they were shallow, selfish and superficial.
It could be easy to look back at my failed relationships and friendships over the last decade and feel hopeless.
I could learn how to better navigate the buoys!
I am reminded of a scripture Paul wrote to us single ladies.
1 Corinthians 7:25-26, 32-34
25 Now regarding your question about the young women who are not yet married. I do not have a command from the Lord for them. But the Lord in his mercy has given me wisdom that can be trusted, and I will share it with you. 26 Because of the present crisis, I think it is best to remain as you are.
32 I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. 33 But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. 34 His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit.
This has become one of my favorite passages. It reminds me that being single can be a blessing. We live in a world so focused on dating, marriage, sex, and relationships. From the time we pop out of the womb it seems every movie, game and toy is about finding the person that “completes” you.
When a relationship ends it can feel like the world has ended also.
As Pastor Blake reminds us, “We’ve all had shipwrecked relationships, spouses, friends, parents…. What treasure can we take from that shipwreck?” Looking at my fleet of shipwrecks I have found there is hidden treasure in each one. My broken relationship with God was restored. I am reminded that God has never given up on me, he has never turned his back on me. It’s hard to even fathom a love that great.
How could he love me, in all my brokenness?
But he does…
John 15:12-13 (NLT)
12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
And that is what He did. Jesus came and died on the cross because he loved us so much and wanted to give us eternal life in heaven. Why wouldn’t I want to be best friends with him?! Only by leaning on God and putting that relationship first will I be able to love others the way he loves me.
John 13:35 (NLT)
35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.
Gather with us this Sunday as we continued our Shipwrecked series. You won’t want to miss it!
Growing up at a summer camp, my main goal was to become a counselor. From the camper's perspective, camp is the most fun when you are in charge; when you don't have to answer to anyone and no one is forcing you to go to your classes when all you want to do is hang out with girls.
So when I turned 16 and came to camp my first year as a non-camper, I was excited. I'd already won camper of the year, and C.I.T. of the year (counselor in training) so I was pretty sure I was going to be a rockstar counselor. My first assignment was day campers. My job was to sign them in each morning when they arrived, make sure they got to their first class, take them to lunch and hangout with them during rest hour, get them to their afternoon class, and then sign them out at the end of the day.
I had two boys around age 8.
This was a manageable level of responsibility, and I only let them get heat exhaustion one time during our two-weeks together.
I was then given my own cabin, which was more responsibility than I should have been given, but remember, I was a rockstar. All of the sudden I had a cabin full of 10 year olds.
You must know, I was kind of a big deal at my summer camp. People knew me. I wanted these boys to understand that I was cool. I was on their side. I wasn't like those mean counselors that yelled at their campers all the time.
The first few days were pretty good. They got the schedule down and although getting them to clean the cabin or make it anywhere on time was an issue, for the most part, we were doing OK. I was the cool counselor.
I had one boy who really didn't want to follow the rules. He obviously didn't know how big of a deal I was. Nor did he understand my rockstar status. If he had known those things, he probably would have listened to me. But he refused. He flat out refused. He refused right to my face.
After an incident in the cabin that left me yelling at the kids and demanding that boy get out, our relationship was wrecked. I had lost any control I had over them.
I had to swallow my pride and go to another counselor for help. Fortunately, he and I were able to sit down and discuss what had happened and he helped me realize that I couldn't be my campers' friend. I had to first be their counselor. I had to first lead them. Sometimes leading them meant I couldn't be the cool counselor.
It was a humbling experience and one that guided me through the rest of my years at camp.
Now I'm a dad. My son is about the age those boys were back then. I was reminded this past Sunday of that lesson and had to check myself. He's at an age now where we can talk and joke around. I catch myself making fun of him as if he were one of my friends. And maybe that's ok...sometimes. But my words, joking or not, can cut through him, stick with him, and can ultimately shape is self-image.
First and foremost, I am his dad. My responsibility is to raise him, to give him the best possible foundation, so that when the world offers him a choice, he has the ability to weigh his options and make a decision. Right or wrong, it is his decision. All we can do as parents is equip him and constantly remind him that God loves him no matter what, that God is there for him always, that God has a plan for him, and that he should put his full faith in God (not us). I think it's clear that those things are more important than being the cool parent, or being his friend.
Besides, no matter how hard I try, I'm just not that cool.
Gather with us this Sunday as we continued our Shipwrecked series. You won't want to miss it!
Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone.
Many times when we hear, “kingdom of God” we think of something beyond this world, high above us. The truth is that the kingdom of God is all around us, and every day we get to choose whether we invest in it or whether we withhold ourselves. Each of us has gifts that carry value, and the people we meet on mission as we move out in ever widening circles are hungry and thirsty to experience those gifts.
He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.
Here we see a glimpse of how God equips us, and where He places us in the world. God has had the deepest understanding of who we are since we were being woven together as a human being. He knows our abilities and what potential we hold. God gives to us in many different ways whether it’s spiritual gifts, material gifts, or physical gifts. He also understands that what He gives us is more than enough to accomplish His will when we partner with Him. Then he places us in the world, and gives us freedom to use those gifts as we see fit. In this we are allowed to explore the beauty God has created around us and in us with the talents we have been gifted. As we follow the story we see what can happen when we choose to fiercely pursue His will, or refuse to act and stand still.
The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.
At any point in our lives we can see ourselves in all three servants’ shoes. Sometimes we are given plenty and we use it to make great things, even if the risk is great. Sometimes we are given less than others, but we are still happy and willing to make due and increase what has been given to us. Other times we find ourselves terrified to lose what little we have, and we rob ourselves and the world of our gifts by sitting still and holding on to them out of fear.
“After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’
“The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
“The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’
“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
“Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’
“But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’
“Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Each of us is beyond lucky to be the son or daughter of a God that gives generously. We are given much, and our impact can be great in the world if we choose to act and utilize what we know we have. Even if it’s being able to make people laugh, make people feel comfortable where they are, or being able to really listen to someone when they speak. These are riches that we can invest, and the return on our investment can end up being priceless.
So this week go out with the gifts God has given you, and act boldly knowing that you carry the name of God on your heart, and that His Spirit fills you up. Invest in the people you do life with, and watch as God works and grows in them. Reflect God’s light into the world and see it reflected back, even if it’s just a glimmer from a person you never expected it from. The ultimate return on the investments you make for God is a warm embrace, a smile from the Father of Lights, and to hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
A wealthy woman showed kindness to a man of God, and in return...
2 Kings 4:11-16
One day Elisha returned to Shunem, and he went up to this upper room to rest. He said to his servant Gehazi, “Tell the woman from Shunem I want to speak to her.” When she appeared, Elisha said to Gehazi, “Tell her, ‘We appreciate the kind concern you have shown us. What can we do for you? Can we put in a good word for you to the king or to the commander of the army?’”
“No,” she replied, “my family takes good care of me.”
Later Elisha asked Gehazi, “What can we do for her?”
Gehazi replied, “She doesn’t have a son, and her husband is an old man.”
“Call her back again,” Elisha told him. When the woman returned, Elisha said to her as she stood in the doorway, “Next year at this time you will be holding a son in your arms!”
“No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.”
Since I was 7 years old, I've wanted to be a professional writer. I have images in my mind of sitting in a second floor room, overlooking a body of water, typing away on my next great writing project, or walking into a bookstore and seeing my book(s) on the shelf; my name in boldface font staring back at me.
Writing is the one dream that's stayed with me through my entire life. Different interests have come and gone, but the thread that's connected them all was writing.
God has answered so many of my prayers over the past few years. I realized recently that although I have had this life long dream, I don't know that I have actually taken it to God and specifically asked him for it.
I don't know. Maybe I'm afraid it won't happen. Maybe I don't believe God is big enough to put a book worth of words in my head. Maybe I don't believe I can actually put a book on a shelf. Maybe I'm scared of rejection from publishers or of the negative feedback from critiques and readers. Maybe I'm just too comfortable carrying this dream around in my back pocket.
Maybe all of those things.
So like the woman who dreamed of having a child and would never ask for such a miracle, I don't take it to God. And if anyone told me that by next year I would have a book on a shelf in a bookstore, I would think the same thing the woman did, "Don't deceive me and get my hopes up like that."
Maybe I'm scared my dream will come true, but then be taken away from me.
2 Kings 4:18-24
One day when her child was older, he went out to help his father, who was working with the harvesters. Suddenly he cried out, “My head hurts! My head hurts!”
His father said to one of the servants, “Carry him home to his mother.”
So the servant took him home, and his mother held him on her lap. But around noontime he died. She carried him up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and left him there. She sent a message to her husband: “Send one of the servants and a donkey so that I can hurry to the man of God and come right back.”
“Why go today?” he asked. “It is neither a new moon festival nor a Sabbath.”
But she said, “It will be all right.”
So she saddled the donkey and said to the servant, “Hurry! Don’t slow down unless I tell you to.”
God gave this woman something she never thought she would have, and then the world took it away from her.
It's interesting that one of the very things God told Adam he would have to do in order to survive when he was cast out of the Garden of Eden is what took the woman's son. I can't help but come to the conclusion that it wasn't God who caused this bad thing to happen, but the broken world in which we live.
Perhaps even more interesting is how the woman deals with this. She could have knelt down next to his death bed and given up. But instead she took action. She immediately went back to the man of God. Was she upset? Absolutely, but she knew she had to do something.
She reminds Elisha that she didn't ask for this dream to come true. She reminds him that she didn't want to get her hopes up. But Elisha ignores her comment and they head back to the woman's home where Elisha brings the boy back to life.
Our dreams are our dreams for a reason. God has placed those things on our hearts. He wants us to have them. They are worth pursuing. If you feel like your dream is too big for you, like it's something that you can't accomplish, then get excited. You have to partner with God, and when you partner with God (when you seek him first) miracles can happen and dreams come to life.
My dream has been lying dead in a bed for a while. Perhaps it's time to talk to God about bringing it back to life.
"When we engage with the word of God, we engage with God."
Those words rang out through the Shuffleboard Club on Sunday, from Blake's mouth to our ears. It's a simple statement, but the more I think about it, the more amazing it becomes.
I've been spending a lot more time with God these days. I've carved out time in my morning to read the word and spend time in prayer. It is in those times that I can go to God, thank him for all that he has done in my life and in the lives of the people around me, to confess my sins to him, to share my fears, doubts and worries with him, to praise him for all his goodness, and to listen to him.
Admittedly, I probably don't spend as much time just sitting and listening as I should, but I feel like I hear God most when I am reading his word.
In the pages of the Bible I can find answers to questions. I can find new insights and perspectives into the things that I face on a daily basis. I can find relatable examples that aid me in my work and personal relationships.
One of the lies that I tend to believe is that God is angry with me because of my win; that in those times that I feel myself moving away from him, I cannot go to him in prayer. I know that this is how the enemy isolates us from love so that I can tear us down, but I still believe it in those times. I still have this lingering idea in my head the my deeds dictate God's love for me. Recently, during my morning reading and prayer time, God reminded me of this truth,
God loves you regardless, no matter what you do, because of what Jesus did for us, God loves us unconditionally. The price has been paid for all of your sins; past, present, and future. No matter what you are going through, God is always there for you and wants you to come to him. Now, it is up to you to decide what to do with that love.
God reminded me that I have a choice, every day, to either take his love and do nothing with it, or to give his love to the people around me; to my neighbors. When I am giving love (real love) then there is no room for sin to interfere. It is only when I choose to not accept God's love that the enemy can get a foothold in my life.
Perhaps God would have revealed that truth to me in some other way had I not engaged with him through his word. Maybe I would have heard it on a Sunday, or in small group. But, it felt much more personal when it was just me and God sitting at my dinning room table in the early morning hours. It felt like it was just for me. It felt like God loved me.
If you want to experience God. If you really want to hear from and speak to God, then get in his word. Take time with God.
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
Here are some resources you can use to engage with God.
YouVersion - This website/app holds pretty much every available translation of the Bible, provides reading plans, and allows you to highlights, comment on, and share verses.
BibleGateway - This is pretty much my go-to website when I need to find a verse or lookup verses on a particular topic.
The Bible Project - This website provides free videos an d resources that explore the narrative of the Bible.
I have a friend who has the very unique and interesting job of being a rare book dealer. He was recently in town to exhibit at one of the oldest and largest antiquarian book fairs in the nation and we had an opportunity to talk about the nature of his career. It's multi faceted and while it certainly requires quite a bit of knowledge, experience, and savvy, one thing stood out above the rest as being a crucial element to his success: relationship. He spends time getting to know his customers, their interests, their collections, their likes and dislikes. In turn, his customers are more willing and comfortable spending the money associated with these rare, precious items because a trusting relationship has been established.
We have access to the most precious book ever written. A collection of 66 of the most precious books ever written, actually. People have died because of their belief in it. Men and women have given their lives so that others may have free access to it. It is a book filled with hope, truth, and promise, but most of all, it is a book about relationship. From the first page to the last, it is about God's constant pursuit of each one of us.
He knows us intimately.
He knit each of us together in our mother's womb.
He has counted every hair on your head and he collects every one of your tears in a bottle.
He loves you.
If you were the only person on this planet, He would have still gone to the cross just for YOU. That's how important you are to Him and that's how precious a relationship with you is to Him. He came to seek and save that which was lost. He wants you to know you can trust Him. Spend time getting more acquainted with His character by committing to being in the Word regularly. The Bible promises that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us.
Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.
When I was a kid in the Catholic Church, the Bible was a really nice book that sat on my shelf or in the pew pockets next to the Hymnals in mass. I thought the Old Testament was old and the New Testament was new. I made several attempts to read it, starting at the beginning, but never made it past Exodus.
When I was a young adult in college, I saw the Bible as a piece of literature that should be dissected like the novels I was reading. I allowed my teachers and fellow classmates to convince me that it was filled with inconsistencies and false teachings. I made several attempts to read it, starting at the beginning, but never made it past Exodus.
And then I made the decision to enter into a relationship with God and began calling myself a Christian.
It was then that the Bible started to scare me.
As a Christian, I thought I had to be a Bible expert. I thought I had to have all the answers. Even scarier, I thought I had to 100% believe everything the Bible said without question.
There were a couple problems with that:
- I didn't know what the Bible said.
- A lot of what I read, I didn't understand.
How was I to start talking to people about my faith if I didn't know what all I believed? What if they started asking me questions? What if I didn't have answers? What if they convinced me that I was wrong, that this was a sham, and that I was an idiot for believing in some god I'd never seen?
...I'd better not let anyone know I'm a Christian until I have all this stuff figured out, right?
And so I entered into this time of my life where I was a Closet Christian. I went to church. I prayed...a little. I started reading the Bible...a little. I was doing the minimum amount possible and avoiding talking about my faith as much as possible. There wasn't much about my external life that said I believed in what Jesus did for us.
Slowly, so slowly, my faith increased. I started talking about it more. I started writing about it. In so doing, I started to solidify in my mind what I believed. My curiosity to know what the Bible said, and what it meant, grew.
And then God lead me into youth ministry.
I had worked with teenagers for years as a camp councilor. I went to school to become a high school teacher. But I had never worked with teenagers from a spiritual perspective. When you work with people from a spiritual perspective, you really have to rely on God. You realize quickly how ill-equipped you are to understand people and how much you need God's wisdom and guidance.
So when I decided to go to the youth group's summer retreat, I knew I needed extra help. The group was going to cover the book of Acts. I had 30 days to read the book which equated to a chapter a day. I committed to reading every day until I completed the book. Once I did that, I realized that wasn't a crazy commitment. So I kept going, and over the course of the next year, I read the New Testament.
From then on, I developed the discipline of reading regularly. This gave me fuel to ask questions. These gave me content to pray about. This gave me insight into my beliefs. In the pages of the Bible I met God. He spoke to me, and sometimes I listened.
I learned more about the books, the authors, and the origin of the Bible. Those discrepancies and inconsistencies I once saw started to make sense and/or dissolve.
I am by no means a Bible scholar at this point, and I still have questions and things I don't understand. But what I have learned is that I don't have to believe blindly. I don't have to 'just believe' because it is what the Bible says. God wants us to question him. God wants us to go to him and seek answers because it is in the seeking that our faith will be revealed and increased. Any reason for us to go to God is a good reason because it gives us the opportunity to build our relationship with him.
Above all, God wants a relationship with us. Go to him. Seek out the answers to your questions.
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus.
Within these 3 sentences, everything changes. Before this, the people of the Earth were trying to reconcile their broken relationship with God through 'being good' and following the law. Religion ruled as men used God to control other men. Sacrifices were made to atone for sins. Their hope for redemption and forgiveness was placed in some future event.
For those that believed Jesus was the messiah; the one who would make a way for us to have a relationship with our creator. Their hope had been nailed to a cross, and had suffered through a slow, inhumane murder. They spent their Sabbath wondering what the death of Jesus meant, what had happened to their hope, and if the last 3 years of following this amazing man had all been for nothing.
But very early on Sunday morning everything changed. The tomb was empty. Hope had returned. And though they couldn't quite comprehend it at the moment, I'm sure they knew in their hearts that it was all true. The prophecy in the scriptures had been fulfilled. Death had been conquered. The connection with our creator had been reestablished. Mankind was saved.
But that's a pretty big idea to comprehend, so instead,
The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”
Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it.
Some confirmation. Now it's been stated. He is risen. What they felt in their hearts now starts to make sense in their minds. But it had to be a surreal feeling. I mean, it was a Sunday morning. It probably didn't feel like the day the world changed. What would that even feel like? Especially, when you were expecting horses and chariots and thunderous announcements from the heavens. This was three women discovering an empty tomb. It's no wonder that the men didn't believe them.
We men aren't that smart and we don't always listen very well. And we definitely don't listen very well when it comes to Jesus, which is why he always has to go to extra lengths to make his point with us.
Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!
Food always helps men see better.
From here on, the news starts spreading. Jesus shows himself to more and more people and the realization that the world has changed for eternity begins to set in with the believers of the time.
The ripple effects of those events can still be felt. That good news continues to spread today. There are still those who can't see what Jesus has done for them. There are those who have not heard that the connection to their creator has been reestablished and they now have the opportunity to spend eternity with him. There are still those that choose not to believe.
The fact remains. He is risen. The tomb is empty. Death was defeated. Hope has returned. There is something greater out there for you than this world.
Come be a part of our gathering next Sunday as we begin a new series looking at the importance of the Bible.
Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha). There they nailed him to the cross. Two others were crucified with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them. And Pilate posted a sign on the cross that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
It's hard to know what was going on in the mind of Jesus as he was carrying that cross to his death. I would imagine it was a mix of emotions.
On the one hand, he is a man and programed for self preservation. Did he imagine his friends coming to save him? Did he hope that Pilot would stop the guards and set him free? He had already endured being flogged and crowned with thorns. He knew that he was about to go through the torture of being nailed to a cross and hung for all to see until he suffocated, starved, or bled to death. His last moments on earth would be spent listening to people yell at him, ridicule him, and cheer his suffering. And then, the real pain would start as he took on the full punishment for our sins.
On the other hand, Jesus is God. He is the messiah. He is the savior. He is fulfilling the prophecy that's been passed down for thousands of years. He was about to mend the relationship that we broke. He was about to make a way for us to spend eternity in pure love. And so from that point of view, he must have been excited. He must have been eager to get the job done and usher in a new era where people could speak directly to their creator, where people could find the strength to overcome their sins. He was about to invite the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts of men and women all over the world.
The one thing that binds these two perspectives together is Love.
Jesus, as a man, continued forward to Golgotha, one painful step after another because he loves us. He endured the torture and the torment because he loves us so much that he was willing to take our place and pay our price.
Jesus, as God, could not wait to fulfill his purpose and reunite us with our creator because he loves us. He has loved us since the beginning of time. We, you and me, have been on his mind since before the creation of the universe and despite what you did yesterday, despite what you did today, and despite all the sins that you will commit between now and the time you leave this Earth, he has loved you. His love is unwavering. His love is not based on whether you are a good person or not. His love knows no bounds. His love is infinite, pure, and is given to you without stipulation. He loves you because he made you.
Resurrection is around the corner.
The day of victory is near.
Let go of the chains that are holding you back. Let go of the fears that are holding you down. Let go of the lies that convince you that God does not love you, or that you need to earn his love.
You have been seeking a way. You have been seeking an answer. You have been seeking substance. You have been seeking purpose.
Join us this Sunday and find the way. Invite a friend this Sunday and receive the answer. Be a part of something that will fill you up, give you direction, and make your life about something bigger than you. It's Easter! It's Resurrection Day. Jesus is alive and wants to have a relationship with you!
We hope you will celebrate with us. We want you there. Come check us out.
Nail wounds, the remnant of an event that changed the world for all eternity.
But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
We screw up every day. We turn away from God all the time, and at the beginning of every day, we wake up whole and healed. The nail wounds of our sins have been washed away.
How could Isaiah share his vision with such boldness and faith so long before it actually happened?
It doesn’t surprise me that the religious leaders of the time would dismiss the claims that the savior Isaiah spoke of had come.
It doesn’t surprise me that Thomas would doubt the authenticity of the claims made by his friends; that Jesus returned from the dead and was back, visiting people and being seen by thousands.
One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”
Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”
“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.
Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”
I can only imagine the mental explosion that happened in the head of Thomas the disciple. Was it necessary for him to touch the wounds in order to believe? I don’t know. Jesus seems to indicate that physical proof such as that is not required, only faith – faith like that of Isaiah. I’m sure as soon as Thomas saw Jesus, he believed. Regardless, Jesus invited Thomas to touch his wounds. In doing that, Thomas became a part of the story of the resurrection.
Can we offer Jesus’s physical wounds as proof to those around us? No.
But we can invite people to be a part of the story of the resurrection. We can show people how Jesus healed our wounds. We can share our stories of victory with those around and show them where the victory came from.
To you who believe — are you sharing Jesus’s victory over death with others? Are you inviting them into the story of the resurrection? Are you showing them that Jesus is alive, and that he can heal their wounds?
James doesn’t mess around. When he writes a letter, he doesn’t hold back. I can only assume that he was the same way in person, maybe even more bold.
The Book of James is a tough one to read, but it is filled with so much spiritual truth that you can’t ignore it, or even skim through it. James demands our attention.
Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him. And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.
Honestly, these aren’t even the most brutal verses in this chapter, let alone the book. But, I feel like they evenly distribute James’ harsh truths and his passion for expressing God’s love for us.
James wasn’t afraid to call people out. I’m sure, like today, many people of the time felt like the scriptures were old news. They were just words on paper that didn’t apply to modern day. Sound familiar? But James reminds us that these words have meaning. They are alive! These words are God speaking to us through the authors whom he chose ahead of time to teach using stories and written words.
We are reminded that the spirit of God lives within us, and that it is our responsibility to allow God to work through us, not block us. We aren’t a slave to our sins. We can overcome them. We can have victory in this life -- in this world.
So many times we let our sins drag us down. We let our guilt, shame, and failures pull us further away from God. But, by God’s grace, we can let go of all of that, and live the life God desperately wants us to live; a life of peace, joy, victory, and love.
Let us focus on God, not the world. Let us live in victory, not fear.
Join us this Sunday as we continue through the Book of James. Bring a friend. It’ll be worth it.
"To activate faith, we must articulate faith."
These words echoed in my head on Sunday morning. We are in the midst of our series on the Book of James. I've spent some time thinking about them, and trying to internalize them so that I might apply them to my life.
James talks a lot about words. He's pretty direct in his teaching that our tongue, or the words that we speak, are powerful. We've all experienced the harsh words of our adolescence. It is amazing how words could build us up, or tear us down so easily. I'm sure if you searched your memory now you could recall a few instances where words hurt you in ways that you still feel today. The ripple effect of words runs far and wide.
I've wanted to write since I was 7-8 years old. It's been the one constant dream in my life, and I am grateful that I get to flex my writing muscles every week in this blog. Words almost prevented me from pursuing my passion. Words also reignited my dream.
Near the end of my 11th grade year, I was floating through high school, barely aware of what was going on around me. I was trying to get though the school year, hangout with my friends, and waiting for summer camp to start so I could come alive again. I was in all honors classes and hoping to stay in the come senior year. I had to get permission from my teachers to continue my race towards high school mediocrity, maintaining a solid B average. When I went to my English teacher to see about going into Honors English my senior year, she told me, "Writing definitely isn't your strong suit, but I'll still sign this."
That sentence ripped through my self-esteem like Freddy Krueger ripping through a water bed. I went through all the stages; denial, anger, and acceptance. Those words stayed in my head for a long time. They made me question everything I thought to be true to myself. This was a professional teacher. She must have known what she was talking about.
Flash forward two years. I'm a freshman in college, taking my basic courses. My English Professor gave us a writing assignment based on a personal experience. I was determined to not float through college like I did high school. I was eager to finish assignments, read text books, and be a model student. College was my time to shine.
I turned in my assignment. I wrote a story about something that happened to me at camp that summer. She loved it. She told me I had a natural writing ability.
The credibility of my high school teacher flew out the window. I took that professor for as many classes as I could. She not only helped rekindle my love for writing, but helped me improve my writing skills as well.
One teacher spoke death into my life. One spoke life.
In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.
But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
Harsh words from James. But as I think back over my personal history, I see the places where my life took turns based on what people said. Likewise, I see where my words were like thorns digging into a skull.
Blake's words continue to echo in my head.
"To activate faith, we must articulate faith."
If we can hurt or help people with our words, then we can also hurt or help ourselves with our words. If I can look in the mirror and tear myself down, pointing out all my flaws and failures, then I can build myself up too. I can recognize God's goodness in me. I can recognize that the Holy Spirit, God himself, lives inside me.
God, who created the universe, lives in me.
God, who created time and space, lives in you.
How amazing is that? How sad is it that we bottle him up, and stop him from using us to our full potential because of words. What will people say about us if we lived our lives for God? What will people say if I change the choices I make in life and choose to live for him every day? What will people say... (fill in your excuse here)?
Let's start speaking words of life, love, and faith in our own lives. If we can do that it's only a matter of time before we start speaking life, love, and faith into others.
The key is to first change what we put in our hearts.
But enough of my words, checkout the song below.
Come join us, and invite a friend, as we continue in our series on the Book of James. See you Sunday, if not sooner.
I was the youngest of two boys. My brother out ranked me by 3 and a half years. That meant he talked first, walked first, played outside first, rode a bike, got a car, and went to college first.
I lived in his shadow for a while. He got better grades than I did, went on way more dates than me (even dated a girl I liked), and spent a lot of time figuring out ways to get me out of his room.
I was just starting high school when he was graduating, so I spent my sophomore year as "Joe's little brother" or "Little Joe."
Eventually, I made a name for myself, and realized that I wasn't my brother, and could never be my brother. That freed me to become an individual.
My brother and I are very different, and a little the same.
You know who I wouldn't want to grow up with as my brother?
Jesus, who probably didn't boast about it, but knew that he was the savior the Jews had been waiting for. He was the guy who was going to give his life to pay for our sins. He was the guy that was going to defeat death to fix the relationship with God that we broke.
Imagine if he was the kid sleeping on the bed next to you every night.
Could you ever win an argument? Could you ever get out of your brother's shadow? Think there was any question as to who the favorite was in the house?
These are the thoughts and questions one might enter the Book of James with.
James certainly didn't have an easy life, and just because he was the brother of Jesus, didn't mean he got a free pass. He was human, the son of Mary and Joseph, born into a world of sin. He had to navigate that world, and make choices just like the rest of us. He no doubt struggled with his faith and questioned the validity of his brother's claims, even though he couldn't deny that there was something different about the guy he called brother.
Like many of us, though, the path James chose led him straight to his brother. He accepted the gift of salvation Jesus offers all of us. And, in so doing, James became a man of strong, unshakeable faith.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
I wonder if James learned this the easy way or the hard way. Maybe being Jesus' brother allowed him to overlook the pressures of the world and instead, constantly found things to be grateful for, and in that found that his life was perfect, and he needed nothing.
Or maybe, when he was a kid, he accidentally hit his thumb with a hammer (which is likely considering the family profession) and let out some expletives. Then his brother turned to him and was like, "Chill out Jimmy, it's all good."
James might have responded with something like, "Shut up Jesus. And, stop calling me Jimmy!" Then Jesus would laugh and go back to studying scrolls.
Who knows? I like to think James learned the hard way because that's how I tend to learn life lessons. Plus, later in life, James would think back on that incident and be like, "What was I thinking?!?"
Regardless of how James' faith was shaped, his words are true.
It's true, we are going to face troubles in this world. They are unavoidable. It's true, we choose how we respond to those troubles. We can pretend the universe revolves around us and blame everyone else for our problems, or we can take ownership and find the lesson to be learned.
It's true, when we overcome an obstacle, temptation, or attack with our faith, we become stronger. We learn to put more trust in God. We find more comfort in his arms, and are more likely to listen to him when the next trial comes around.
And then there's that last little bit of the verse,
...for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
Maybe I'm closer to the start line than I am to the finish line when it comes to my faith, but this boggles my mind. Can I even begin to imagine being perfect and complete? Is there any possible way that there will be a day when I need nothing.
But here's the thing, James hasn't let me down. Everything else he's said is true. I may have learned it the hard way, but I learned it. So, I have to believe that James isn't just trying to write words that sound good. James lived this stuff. He was out there, fighting the battle every day. He's not the kind of guy that would say something just to win some new followers.
Let your imagination wonder with me. Let's choose to believe he's right. Let's choose to believe that we can be perfect and complete, needing nothing. What would that look like for our lives? What would it look like for this city if we lived our lives in joy? What would it look like if we made every day a day to develop our endurance?
I don't know about you, but imagining that now fills me with hope. I'm filled with hope for my life, the lives of my friends and family, my Radius family, and for St. Petersburg.
It's like when I see billboards for the Florida Lotto on the side of the road. I start thinking about what I would do with $120 Million. It would be life changing.
When we invited Jesus into our hearts, and chose to pursue a relationship with God, our faith account was filled to the max, and we can make withdrawals whenever we want. We just have to go to the source and ask.
You’re not good enough.
You’re not worthy.
You’ll never be as good as they are.
God doesn’t love you.
These are a few of the statements I’ve heard in my thoughts in the past. These are a few of the thoughts that have kept me from building a relationship with my creator.
It’s amazing how the enemy can separate us from the truth. Or, maybe it’s just me? Maybe I’m the only one that ever convinced myself that I couldn’t go to God. Am I? If so, this blog post is a big waste of time for you to read. If I’m not alone, if you’ve ever felt like you couldn’t talk to God, then keep reading.
I’ll even give away the big ending right now.
You are not disqualified from having a relationship with God.
That’s the statement I heard loud and clear this past Sunday when Michael Rockmore DeVore shared an incredible message about prayer.
So if we aren’t disqualified from having a relationship with God, then that means that we are qualified to have a relationship with God. Obvious, I know. But it needs to be stated.
You are qualified to have a relationship with God.
Regardless of what you’ve done in the past. Regardless of who you’ve hurt. Regardless of the choices you’ve made, you still have access to the same God that created the Universe, breathed life into man, and who conquered death and rose again from the grave after being crucified.
Think about how crazy it is that we can talk to Him. We can build a relationship with Him. We can praise Him. We can run to Him. We can spend time with Him as if He was our friend.
Because of the sacrifice Jesus made, we have complete access to Him. You don’t have to be a pastor or a priest. You don’t have to be the Pope or a monk. You can just be you, flawed you, and approach him like anyone else.
And that scares the crap out of the enemy. He will do anything to break that relationship. He will go to extremes to keep us from knowing the truth. Even worse, he will get us in the little things.
I’m too busy to pray.
I don’t know what to say.
I wouldn’t even know where to start reading the Bible.
God doesn’t have time for my problems.
I tried that God thing once, but it didn’t work.
It’s too late for me, I know I’m going to hell.
God could never forgive me.
I’ll pray later.
I’ll give you an example of how the enemy works. Sometimes it’s not a blatant attack, but a much more subtle nudge.
I’ve been focused on the idea of relationship this year. If you recall, a while back, we talked about the concept of My One Word. Well, mine is “Relationship” and so I’ve been working through what that means for me. There are so many different directions one can go with that word, but for the sake of brevity I will jump to the one that’s most relevant; relationship with God.
I’ve been working on carving out more time in my day to spend with God. I started a daily reading plan that takes me through the New Testament in a year. I’ve been using my early morning time at work to get this done each weekday. Recently, we brought in some new people to the department and now my morning quiet time has been erased. I’m no longer the first one there and since we sit in a collaborative space, conversation tends to just happen. There are no cubicle walls for privacy, which is great for working on projects, but not so great when you are trying to focus on digesting Biblical text, and then pray about it. I still get my reading done, but it just isn’t the same.
I’ve also been getting up super early to go run in the mornings. The heat of the day hasn’t quite set in yet, and the streets of St. Pete are quiet. This offers a great time to run without distraction. It occurred to me that I could totally use this as my prayer time. So, I set off to pray during all, or a portion of my 45-50 minute runs. It was great, until I hurt my back and wasn’t able to get out on the road as often. Consequently, that focused prayer time has been greatly reduced.
It’s easy to look at both these situations and say that these are just natural occurrences; un-connected, and not a big deal. But it is a big deal. These were times that I intentionally set aside for God and me, and now I’ve been challenged. I could give up and say it’s not worth it, or I can kick the enemy in the throat and refuse to allow circumstance to dictate whether or not I get my time with my creator.
If it’s that important, then you will stop making excuses, and find a way.
So is it that important?
“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
Not everyone who claims to be a believer will make it. Claiming you are something and actually believing you are something are two different things. I can claim to be the president and go around giving people orders, but that ain’t gonna get me into that chair in the Oval Office.
As Michael pointed out, if you don’t have a relationship with God, then you are breaking God’s law. After all, how can you love God with all your heart, soul, and mind if you don’t have a relationship with Him?
That last thing I’d ever want to hear Jesus say is, “Get away from me.” Ouch.
I would say pursuing a relationship with God is very important.
So what kind of relationship would you want to have with the God who spoke time and space into existence?
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.
I definitely want to be friends with Jesus. But, I don’t really dig that statement about having to follow his command. I can only be his friend if I follow his command? What’s that about?
Wait. Just one command? What is it?
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’
Let me get this straight. If I love God, then I can be friends with Jesus?
That sounds like a pretty good deal. Sign me up.
What’s cool is that Jesus doesn’t say that you have to act a certain way or follow a list of rules. He doesn’t put any exceptions on the deal. It’s available to anyone who wants it.
You are not disqualified from having a relationship with God.
This past Sunday, Blake did another Out of the Blue message. He basically stepped through Psalm 92 to show how worship can bring us closer to God. Praising the Lord can help us refocus on what is good, and right. It can take our focus away from what is wrong, and the things of the world that seek to distract us.
At the end of the message, we were all given a devotional that walks through Psalm 92. I thought it might be interesting for me to share my answers to the devotional questions.
But first, a refresher.
Read through Psalm 92 and check your answers against mine. I don’t expect us to all have the same answers, in fact, I hope there are differences. Feel free to share them in the comments below.
How have you felt God’s unfailing love?
I see God's unfailing love in Gatherings at Radius when new friends join us and experience church in a way they never have before. I see His unfailing love come through those closest to me who know my faults, and my failures and yet they love me anyway.
Give three things from your life that show God's faithfulness.
1. My job - In it I have found a vision of my future, and it was provided from an answered prayer. It didn't come about the way I would have chosen, but it came exactly the way I needed it to.
2. My friends - My core group of friends stretch my faith, and continually teach me/show me how to be a better version of me. There was a time in my life I questioned whether I would ever have such close friends, and I wasn't even sure that was something I wanted. God has made it abundantly clear that close friends are something I desperately need, and I am so thankful for them.
3. My finances - We may not be the richest kids on the block, but God has been continuously faithful in making sure we have the money we need when we need it.
Singing praises produces joy -- What do you think joy looks like?
Joy looks like lots of things to me. Laughing with friends. Sitting next to a river surrounded by trees and mountains. Walking along the water at Vinoy Park. Playing frisbee with my son. But, I also associate joy with peace. I think joy is being confident in my relationship with my creator, and knowing that he loves me. When I trust he loves me, then I can trust he will protect me, provide for me, and produce good fruit from within me.
God rights the wrongs. How does this help you to live differently?
It's freeing to know God rights wrongs. It doesn't mean I can go around doing wrong, and expect God to clean up my mess. No, in fact it's the opposite. Because God rights wrongs, I feel a strong sense of responsibility to do what it right, what is good, and what it pleasing to God. But, I don't have to be perfect. I don't have to beat myself up because I'm not good enough. God is good enough, and he is working through me. So, shouldn't that be good enough? Can I end an answer with a question?
Since you are enabled and anointed to be the change for good -- what might that look like in your life?
My first thought is to be careful with this one. When we, as believers, finally get to a point when we actually believe we are enabled and anointed, it comes with the temptation to think that we are somehow above other people, or better than them. I think we've all either known people who think this, or know people who think that's how Christians are.
It's amazing to think that God could enable me to be the change for good, but I have to remind myself that's it isn't me who is doing the good, it is the Holy Spirit working within me. The only thing I did was allow it to work. When I accepted God's forgiveness of the sins in my life, I also gave up ownership of my good deeds. Or, at least, that's what I try to tell myself. There is a part of me that desperately wants to own those, and be praised for them.
Bottom line, if God wants to use me to be the change for good, then I am all for it.
In what areas of your life do you feel like you are not thriving?
I've been wrestling with wondering if I am serving God or man. It's easy, in your relationships with people, to want to do good things for them, to support them, to help them, and to be there for them. But sometime I wonder if I have the same kind of zeal for God. Am I really serving Him? Or, am I serving my earthly relationships? If I was really seeking a closer, more personal, relationship with God, what could my life look like?
What action steps is God calling you to take to activate His promises and your growth?
Ohhh. Action steps! I don't like this question. If I write down action steps, then I'm going to actually have to do them.
I think God is calling me to spend more personal time with Him. I mean, if I am really seeking a closer personal relationship with Him, then I need to be carving out more time to spend with Him. Sure, I get time on Sunday, and I take bits of time to read a chapter in the Bible each day during the week, but sometimes I feel like that's just so I can put a checkmark in a box. I feel like He and I communicate each day, but I don't take that deep focused time to just dwell in His presence.
Side note: I've recently started using my morning runs for this, and it has helped.
Name someone that you can think of that finished strong their life for God.
I'm stumped on this one. I know people who are thriving late in life for God, but I can't think of anyone who has passed away recently that finished strong for God, at least not anyone I knew well enough to really explain why they finished strong.
How did their life look vital and green?
Those who I know who are in old age, and who are still producing fruit, seem to live stronger healthier days than those who simply retire and sit down in front of the TV while they wait for God to 'call them home.' I hope that when I leave this Earth, God is still working through me in some way, whether it is with people directly, or through my writing.
Look at verse 15's declaration -- which one do you struggle most to personally declare?
15 They will declare, "The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is no evil in Him!"
There is no doubt in my mind that the Lord is just, and that there is no evil in Him. I think I've become pretty confident in those two statement over the last 4-5 years. So that leaves just one.
He is my rock!
I think I still try to be my own rock a lot of the time. Sometimes, I lean on other people's rocks. Sometimes it feels like there is no rock (maybe that means we are in The Matrix). Other times, I think I make God my pebble. He's there, but I can kick Him to the side when it's not convenient for Him to be there.
Pray and tell God you know that this is true about Him and ask Him to help you to live in that belief.
Lord, thank you! Thank you for always being there, and for always being faithful. Even when I run from you -- even when I deny you, you still love me. You are an amazing God, and there are no others like you. God I ask you to help me see you as my rock. I ask you to help me feel your presence in my life. I ask you to be with me, and allow me to be with you. I want to serve you. I want to know you. I want to see you working through me so that I can give you the glory.
Strengthen me. Give me the courage to trust in you, and to know that I am good enough, because you are within me. I love you. In Jesus' name. Amen.
When I started 10th grade, I had just switch from private school to public school. I had no close friends who went to my high school, but I knew I didn’t want to spend the next 3 years at an all boys school. So, I made the switch. I must not have thought too much about how few people I would actually know on the first day of school, or maybe I just wanted out of that all boys school so badly that I didn’t care.
Regardless of the reason, my first day of school was kind of weird. Kind of scary. Kind of lonely. At some point during the morning I realized that I was going to have to go to lunch. Not only did I have to figure out how to maneuver the lunch line and order food, I also had to figure out where to sit. Fortunately, I found someone I knew and sat with them, but we weren’t close friends, and they weren’t exactly eager to have me back at their table everyday. Most days, I ate alone. I got really good at eating as if I had some place to be.
Part way into the school year I found a group to hangout with. They were kind of burnouts, too cool to have lunch in the cafeteria. They wore all black, had piercings, and probably did stuff on the weekends that I’d never considered. But, they seemed to want me around so I hung out with them for a while. After I got caught smoking at school it became clear that they probably weren’t the friends for me. To this day, I don’t recall seeing any of those kids again after we parted ways. I made new friends in my classes and found some people to sit with at lunch. By the end of 10th grade, I was doing OK friend-wise. I still spent most weekends alone, but that never bothered me too much.
Summer after 10th grade, I got a car. With a car, I had freedom. I could go wherever I wanted. I often would pick a road and drive until the road ended, or I was too far from home for comfort. No Google Maps. No GPS.
One Friday early on in 11th grade, I was invited to meet a couple friends from one of my classes at the football game that night. So I went. When I arrived, I was surprised to find all the different kids I had met in my honors classes knew each other and were hanging out together.
Instant group of friends.
From that night on, I had my group. We did everything together. Eleventh grade was a party. We were all perfectly content do nothing together, and stoked when we came up with an idea of something fun to do. Best Friends Forever wasn’t really a thing back then, but if it were, we all would have worn the t-shirt. Nothing could break us apart.
Twelfth grade broke us apart.
Group drama. Coupling. College. Our group fell to just 2-3 of us. All the girls were gone. They’d either gotten bored with us or found boyfriends. Most of the guys had found girlfriends and no longer had time for us. The group was done.
I was back in the pit. Maybe I wasn’t alone all the time, but because of my class schedule, I ended up with a lunch period that left me eating alone again. I spent most of my after school time hanging out with one guy. By the end of the year, we were sick of each other and looking forward to getting away and starting over in college.
I’m thinking something similar happened to Jesus’ disciples. For 3 years, they did everything together. They fed the poor. They healed the sick. They cast out demons. They found the lost. Jesus was speaking out against ‘the man.’ Life was a party. Every day brought a new adventure. I imagine them sitting around asking, “What do you think Jesus is going to do today?"
But then Jesus started getting weird. He started talking about dying and resurrection. The mood of the group must have shifted. They must have been clinging to the past, trying to hold on to the party, and ignore the pit. No one wanted the party to end.
Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”
“No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same.
Peter really wanted the party to continue. But, the pit was right around the corner. Everything was about to change and he couldn’t accept it. Fear gripped him. He clamored for understanding. He got lost in confusion. He did exactly what Jesus said he would do. He denied him, and then he ran. They all ran.
It might be easy to look at Peter and call him a coward. But, really, how many people would have likely done the same thing if they thought their life was on the line?
What if it wasn’t your life though? What if it was your reputation?
What if a group of people whom you respected and wanted acceptance from were to shoot down something you believed in strongly? What if your boss, or peers were calling you out on your ‘religion?' Would there be a temptation to deny what you believe? To temporarily set aside your faith so as not to lose the acceptance of those people?
Or maybe it’s not so blatant. What if you had the opportunity to minister to someone in your workplace, or your social group? What if you could see their life spinning out of control and you knew Jesus was the answer? Would you be willing to go out on a limb, and risk a relationship ending conversation so that they could hear how much God loves them?
Where is the line that you won’t cross for Jesus? Is it your front door? Are you a Christian at home and at church, but live firmly planted in the world outside those doors? Is it school or work? The bar? The gym? Where does following Jesus get so hard that you are tempted to deny him?
Most people have a line.
It’s easy to be a believer on Sunday. It’s fun to be a part of the party when life is good and God is dropping down favor like nobody’s business. But what about when you’re in the pit? What about when you’ve allowed your sins to accumulate and you feel trapped by your addictions, guilt, fear, worry, and doubt?
Once I graduated high school I went away to a mid-size college where I knew exactly two people. They were girls. They were twins. And, they were more interested in meeting new people than hanging out with old faces. My roommate was either working, studying or with his girlfriend all the time so I spent most of my time alone again. I was in the pit. But it was in that time that I discovered some of my passions in life. I remembered a childhood dream to write. I found a love for working with youth. My interest in Literature was sparked. I figured out I could live on my own. I became something closer to an adult. I made new friends, and found my way back to the party.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
No one ever said we’d always get to live in the party. God doesn’t promise that our life on Earth won’t be met with disappointment, loss, or problems. Jesus pretty clearly states that following him will most certainly bring about suffering. But, we were never meant to dwell in the pit. David reminds us that we walk through the darkest valleys. We don’t go down there and setup camp and live out the rest of our days. Every valley has an exit. And every pit will eventually lead back to the party.
What we need to take from this is that no matter where we are, pit or party, God is close by, waiting and hoping for us to turn to him. No matter how many times we’ve denied him. No matter how many times we run from him. No matter how many times we draw the line, He’s always there. He always loves us.
Come join the party this Sunday and hear Blake’s next Out of the Blue message.
But you are a chosen group of people. You are the King’s religious leaders. You are a holy nation. You belong to God. He has done this for you so you can tell others how God has called you out of darkness into His great light.
Those are some really fancy words, from a really old book. Do they really have any relevance in today's world? Do they really apply to me?
I don't live in a country with a King. I didn't grow up in a place where there was royalty. These are things of fairy tales to me.
It's certainly a nice thought. I mean, to think that I am chosen; that I belong to God. That's nice, but that's not talking about me. I'm just a regular guy. I've got a job, and bills to pay. I've got a kid that's going to want to go to college someday. I've got retirement to worry about, and taxes to deal with. I'm not royalty. No one bows down to me when I walk into the room. I'm a husband. I'm a dad. I'm a brother and a son.
I'm not chosen.
At least, that's what I used to think.
There was a time when I didn't think much of God. I figured he was there. I had no proof though because I hadn't experienced God in a way they I could understand. And then, about 12 years ago, I met God. At first, it was just a feeling. I dare not talk about that feeling to anyone except those who I absolutely knew believed. I couldn't bear the thought of someone asking me questions about my new beliefs. There was no way I could bring up God to any non-Christian friends. The idea of saying the name "Jesus" in conversation filled my stomach with butterflies and triggered a definite flight (not fight) response.
To avoid walking through the last 12 years of my life, let me summarize.
I started reading books. I started reading books in the Bible. I started listening to pastors and Christian speakers. I began a prayer life.
The more I learned, the more confident I was in my beliefs. The more confident I was in my beliefs, the less anxiety I felt about talking about God.
Eventually, I realized that it wasn't a knowledge issue I had, it was a faith issue. It wasn't knowledge I was seeking, it was God. It took me a long time to get to know God, and that process will continue, I'm sure, into eternity.
Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
I wish I could tell you that my faith tank was at full capacity. I wish I could tell you I never avoided faith-centric conversations. No matter how many times I see things actually happen that were once just a confident hope, I still find it difficult to completely surrender to God. I'm like one of Jesus' disciples. No matter how many times they saw him perform a miracle, or do something he told them he was going to do, they still looked at him in complete amazement and dis-belief. All he could say was, "why do you have so little faith?"
I wish I had the courage to be 100% sold out to God all the time, everywhere.
It's easy on Sunday. It becomes more of an issue on Monday.
That's where the adversary gets us. He tells us that if we aren't at 100%, then why make the effort? He'll try to convince us, until we know everything, we can't do anything. So we retreat. We tell ourselves we have to know more, have to memorize more, have to study more. Another day goes by when we could have shared the love of God with our neighbor, and we let it slip past us in favor of knowledge.
1 Corinthians 8:1
While knowledge may make us feel important, it is love that really builds up the church.
Doh! Why can't I just stay at home and gather more knowledge? Why do I have to go out and love people?!?
Because the enemy wants to isolate me and disassemble my faith. God wants to use me to glorify his name and build his kingdom.
When I go out and love, my faith is strengthened. When my faith is strengthened, I can go out and love. You might call that a catch-22, but I think it just takes a decision. When you decide to go out and love your neighbor, the seeds of faith begin to take root. When we decide to live our lives dangerously close to Jesus, as Blake said on Sunday, we get a super shot of faith. When we decide to have uncensored faith, God can do great things through us. The more we choose to live our lives this way, the more we get to know God. The more we get to know God, the stronger our faith becomes. The stronger our faith becomes, the more God can use us.
You see where this is going, right?!?
Let us truly believe that we are the sons and daughters of a king. We are a holy nation, and we belong to God. Let us not be afraid to tell people about how God has changed our lives. Let us strive to live a life of uncensored faith.
Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.
I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.
Leave a comment below. How has your faith been strengthened?
If you missed Blake's message on Uncensored Faith, you can check it out here. Come join us this Sunday, and bring a friend.
Jesus wasn't about tradition, ToDo lists, or check boxes. Jesus was about living a life on mission, everyday.
What's the mission?
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere - in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Read that a second time and look for where it says to hide inside our churches and follow a weekly checklist. Did you find it? Me either. Then how is it that we've slipped back into an Old Testament perspective on relating to God?
I recently finished reading a book, (which is a big deal because I am notorious for starting books and never finishing them ) Grace: The Power to Change, by James Richards. In one of the closing chapters he makes this statement,
"You are continually being changed into the image of the God you believe in."
That sentence hit me hard, so hard that I tweeted the sentence. I know, crazy right?!?
If people in the church are living a life filled with traditions, ToDo lists, and check boxes, then what does that say about the God they serve? Can we honestly say that the God who created time and space expects us to fill out a time sheet every week? Do we really think he is micromanaging us towards heaven? Do we expect a annual review and faith increase based on our work for the previous year?
We've turned the church into a corporation. We need to not to.
The God that I've committed to building a relationship with is a God of love. He's a God who understands that I am, by nature, far from perfect. He is a God that knows that I have screwed up royally, and likely will again in some way. He is a God who can see all my faults, but chooses not to focus on them. He is a God that loves me more than I can possibly imagine despite my propensity to screw things up.
I serve a God who has called me to move out, show love to my neighbors, and accept people for who they are, where they are. When I do that, God will use me. God knows I'm not equipped to take on the world. God knows the world would eat me alive if it could. But, God promises that when I move out on mission, he will give me the power of the Holy Spirit.
When you stop and think about it, is there anything you couldn't do if you had the power of the Holy Spirit. If the same spirit that shaped the universe lives inside you, couldn't you pretty much do whatever you wanted to? If the same spirit that defeated death so that we could have a relationship with God lives inside you, couldn't you love/forgive/heal/help/encourage anyone and everyone?
How awesome is it that the God we serve loves us so much that he is willing to dwell inside of us? To work through us? To encourage us? To let us make our own choices? To save us?
We serve a mighty God who will one day make his greatness known to the whole world, and yet we try to fit him into this little box so that we can try to understand him. I don't know about you, but I don't want to understand him completely. If God could be explained, then he isn't much of a God.
Here is what I do know.
As Blake said on Sunday, "You have access to the power of the Holy Spirit every day!"
How do we access it?
1. We stop trying harder.
I am so guilty of trying harder. I make a pretty good effort too. I'm good at creating little processes for myself to keep myself safe from my sins. I'm great at remembering little sayings that remind me why I am trying harder. But, personal effort can only go so far. Eventually, trying harder gets too hard.
2. Surrender more.
What if we surrendered to God's call on our life and let him work through us? What if we gave it all up to him? What if we completely sold out to God? The more we surrender our will to him, the more he can work through us. And if God is working through us, then we are filled with the Holy Spirit. And if we are filled with the Holy Spirit, then we are free.
Crazy how that works.
If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.
We, as believers, have the power of the Holy Spirit living inside of us. We just have to let it show itself. Sure, it might mean that what you want takes a back seat to what God wants. But, in the end, what God can do through us is so much bigger than what we can do on our own. We, like Blake said, need to stop going to church and start being the church.
Come out and join us this Sunday as we close out another series. Bring a friend. Experience God.
What must it have been like that morning? A new movement had begun, and its leader murdered. A small group of believers tries to make sense of it all. They wanted to believe he was the messiah. They wanted to believe that he would save them all from their sins. They wanted to believe he was the one they'd been waiting for for thousands of years. They'd felt his presence. They'd experienced his love. But, They saw him taken. They saw him beaten. They saw him crucified. They saw him die. I'm sure a great many of them questioned whether what they'd experienced was real. Did he really heal those people? Did he really speak out so boldly against the religious leaders? Was his message of love, forgiveness, and freedom for real? After all, how easy is it for any of us believers to experience God on Sunday, and throw it all away on Monday? There they stood though,
Luke 24:1-7 But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.
The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”
He is risen. He is risen, indeed. Speechless. I'd be totally speechless. I can actually see the expression on their faces as the look into the tomb and see it empty, and then come to the slow realization that everything Jesus had said was true. Even better, the few moments after that when they remember what exactly that means. They are free. We are free. In Christ's death, our sins were paid for. In his resurrection, we were freed from the bonds of sin and given the opportunity to live our lives in communion with our creator. Quickly the news spread among the believers. Immediately the enemy tried to censor the news.
Matthew 28:11-15 As the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and told the leading priests what had happened. A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you so you won’t get in trouble.” So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say. Their story spread widely among the Jews, and they still tell it today.
And so it began. From then until now, the truth of the message of Jesus has been censored; covered up, watered down, and/or merged with religion and philosophy. Mankind has even used the message to control other people. The seemingly endless lists of laws that Jesus sought to do away with, and replace with a simple message of, "love God and love your neighbor" have been replaced with a new list of rules and traditions. Religious leaders have taught that if you don't follow exactly what they say, then you are doomed to hell. If you don't act, dress, speak, behave, live a certain way, then you are doomed. If you don't sit, stand, kneel a certain way, then you are doomed.
Even though the current era has only made the message easier to access and spread, somehow, the damage was done long ago and many of us stepped away from the church of our childhood.
But despite the world's best attempts to smother the flames of truth, the message has ultimately survived. The message Jesus brought is more powerful than we can imagine. The message dwells within us and calls us back. Those of us who found no use for religion have found a renewed sense of meaning in faith. And, whenever the enemy tries to censor the message, he only strengthens the resolve of believers to push forward, speak louder, and love stronger.
Righteousness has nothing to do with the way we dress, or speak. Salvation is not dependent on where we spend our Sunday. We are made right by His death. We are promised eternity through His everlasting life.
As Blake taught on Sunday, "Without Jesus rising from the grave, our faith would be in vain." But Jesus did rise from the dead, and our faith is not in vain. "Because of His death, He has the authority to give life."
Join us this Sunday as we continue our Uncensored series, and learn how you can experience God's love. He is risen!
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
What an inspiring piece of truth we get from Paul's letter to the Hebrews. How is it possible that we could strip off every weight that slows us down, especially sin? I mean, sin! That thing we all carry around in our back pocket. That thing that we think is so much a part of who we are that we could never let it go, but are constantly trying to hide. How could we possibly ever strip that away from who we are and leave it behind, even if we wanted to?
The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hail to the King of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:
“Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.
Look, your King is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt.”
His disciples didn't understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.
One week before his death, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, like other triumphant kings before him.
He makes a statement.
The religious leaders were not amused, and if they weren't thinking about ways to kill Jesus before, they were certainly doing so after that stunt.
As hard as it is to know what it was like to be Jesus, you have to imagine that as a human, Jesus was freaking out a bit. He knew what was coming. He knew he was going to have to be tortured and die. He knew he had a week left with his disciples. Maybe it was a bit like how Neo felt in the 3rd installment of The Matrix when he knew he was going into the Matrix for the last time to face Agent Smith.
Maybe it was totally different.
On the other hand, Jesus also knew what was at stake. Of course he could have stopped it all. Of course he could have called down angels to carry him away to safety. There are an infinite number of things Jesus could have done, but he chose to do the one thing that meant death for him. He knew the pain and suffering he was about to endure was worse than anything any human would ever endure - ever.
I'm not just talking about the pain of the torture and crucifixion. I'm talking about the weight of taking the fall for all of mankind's sins.
As we walk through this week leading up to the crucifixion, we will no doubt take time to mourn the death of a friend. While we do that, let us also remember why our friend died. It was not because he was pretending to be something he's not. It was not because the Roman, or Jewish leaders wanted Jesus dead.
Jesus died to bridge the gap between man and God. Jesus died to reconnect us to our creator. Jesus died so that we could live a life free of every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.
But then something amazing happened.
The greatest story didn't end when Jesus died. The greatest story was just getting started.
I invite you to join us this Sunday and 9 am or 11 am to find out what that was.
There are many times in life when we are forced to look into our future and wonder how we will survive. Perhaps it's loss of income, or business failure. Maybe it's the end of a relationship, or the loss of a loved one. You know, one of those life altering events that takes your everyday life and throws it up into the air like fifty-two card pick-up.
Just when you think you've got your deck of cards put together, someone comes along and throws it on the ground, and you're left sitting on the kitchen floor picking up cards while your older brother is outside playing with all his friends (that may or may not be an actual childhood memory).
This past Sunday, Blake shared a story about a hot little trio who got themselves in a pretty heated game of fifty-two card pick-up.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three teenagers who loved the Lord. They were born into royalty, but taken from their homes and re-purposed by the Babylonians. Despite their path in life they maintained faith in God and did whatever they had to do to follow the laws of Moses.
We pick-up our story in the book of Daniel.
But some of the astrologers went to the king and informed on the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “Long live the king! You issued a decree requiring all the people to bow down and worship the gold statue when they hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments. That decree also states that those who refuse to obey must be thrown into a blazing furnace. But there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.”
Let's think about this. The whole kingdom bows down to this statue, as required by law, and these three teenagers stay standing. I can just imagine the people around them, wondering what might happen to the ones not standing. And then there are these jerk astrologers who can't wait to run to the king and tell him what's happened.
Nebuchadnezzar is not a happy king. He's furious, in fact, that these three boys would dare defy him. He has them brought in and confronts them. He gives them one last chance, standing there in the kings court, surrounded by armed guards and people who have vowed to kill, or die, for their king at any moment.
Surely, at this point, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would be like, "Sorry, our bad, we'll bow down now." And maybe in the back of their heads they are thinking, "Sorry God, we'll make it up to you. We're just trying not to get killed here."
But that's not what they say. Instead,
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
Cue the guy in the back of the room, "Oh snap!"
That's some rebellious language even for teenager standards. These three are so confident in their God that they flat out refuse an order from the king.
Obviously, this does not please the king. He probably could have had one of about fifty guards kill the boys right then. But, our power-loving king wanted a little more of a show. He wanted to make an example of these three and remind the Babylonians that you don't mess with Nebuchadnezzar.
Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.
Now, in most stories like this, something would happen just before they were thrown into the furnace. The king would go off monologue-ing and the three boys would somehow get free, or perhaps Superman would fly in and save the day.
But that didn't happen. And this isn't a comic book.
They get thrown into the fire. No one, however, could have predicted what happened next.
But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied.
“Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!”
Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!
Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!”
They defied their king, and were bound and thrown into a furnace. Yet they did not burn.
Can you imagine the peoples' faces when they walk out? Can you imagine the boys' faces? Everyone must have been in equal amazement that they survived and that the only thing that burned was what was binding them.
So that's the story. What's the lesson?
I see a story of faith. Tested and approved faith.
Perhaps there would be a day where I had to stand up for my savior when the result would be harmful. Honestly, I can't imagine living in a place where standing up for Jesus could cause physical harm or death. I can imagine ridicule or questioning, but certainly not death. But, let's just imagine we heard a really good sermon one Sunday and on Monday we were confronted with an opportunity to confirm our beliefs. My hope would be that God showed up in that moment and either gave me the words to say, or opened the hearts of those listening, causing them to at least understand my point of view.
But that didn't happen for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They stood up in a big way and showed their confidence in the Lord. They didn't let their present situation dictate how they felt about God. But they were still thrown in the fire.
I'd be seriously questioning God as I was thrown into that furnace.
But they didn't. Or, at least the text doesn't say they did. It was in the furnace though, where God literally showed up.
Sometimes we have to get thrown into the fire. We might not understand it. We might question it. But, that doesn't change the fact that sometimes it is necessary. Sometimes, as Blake taught us, we need a fiery furnace to burn off the things that bind us.
Life would be a lot easier if we didn't have to go through things like that. It would be better if we never had to pick up those cards off the ground.
But let's face it, we are sinful people. We've got issues. We've got baggage. We've got a big bag of rocks we lug with us into new news, new cities, and new relationships. That's why we always seem to end up in the same kind of situations wherever we go.
What's your fiery furnace? And what are the binds that need to be burned off in your life?
It's not a fun place to be, but it is in those moments where we see God at work. Just when we think the flames are going to take us, when we can't take the heat anymore, God shows up and whispers in our ear, "I am with you."
Those four words blanket us in comfort and safety and we watch the ties that bind us fall to the ground and burn away. From then on, or until the next furnace, we can move with the confidence that God is with us, protecting us, guiding us, and refining us into a better version of our self.
We've been on an amazing journey through stories from the Bible. But, this Sunday is the greatest story of them all. We hope you will join us as we celebrate Palm Sunday.
Last week we talked about Moses, an unlikely player in our history. He had everything it took to be a great leader, but needed that extra push to believe in himself, and stand up for what was right.
This past Sunday, Blake talked about a different kind of character in the Bible. While there are no shortage of unlikely men, there are also a plethora of mighty men. These are the strong guys, the ones who armies fear, and women, I imagine, swoon over. These are the guys who get their own comic books and end up on the cover of cereal boxes.
You've heard of some of them before; Samson, Elijah, and David.
But there are some lesser known names, too.
2 Samuel 23: 8-17
These are the names of David’s mightiest warriors. The first was Jashobeam the Hacmonite, who was leader of the Three—the three mightiest warriors among David’s men. He once used his spear to kill 800 enemy warriors in a single battle.
Next in rank among the Three was Eleazar son of Dodai, a descendant of Ahoah. Once Eleazar and David stood together against the Philistines when the entire Israelite army had fled. He killed Philistines until his hand was too tired to lift his sword, and the Lord gave him a great victory that day. The rest of the army did not return until it was time to collect the plunder!
Next in rank was Shammah son of Agee from Harar. One time the Philistines gathered at Lehi and attacked the Israelites in a field full of lentils. The Israelite army fled, but Shammah held his ground in the middle of the field and beat back the Philistines. So the Lord brought about a great victory.
Once during the harvest, when David was at the cave of Adullam, the Philistine army was camped in the valley of Rephaim. The Three (who were among the Thirty—an elite group among David’s fighting men) went down to meet him there. David was staying in the stronghold at the time, and a Philistine detachment had occupied the town of Bethlehem.
David remarked longingly to his men, “Oh, how I would love some of that good water from the well by the gate in Bethlehem.” So the Three broke through the Philistine lines, drew some water from the well by the gate in Bethlehem, and brought it back to David. But he refused to drink it. Instead, he poured it out as an offering to the Lord. “The Lord forbid that I should drink this!” he exclaimed. “This water is as precious as the blood of these men who risked their lives to bring it to me.” So David did not drink it. These are examples of the exploits of the Three.
The Three! If that's not a comic book with a movie trilogy to follow, then I don't know what is.
These three guys risked everything to get their king a drink of water. That's some loyalty right there. They must believe in their king 100%.
What can we learn from this?
When the king wants water, you'd better get it!
No. I think there is more to it than that.
David's men took a stand for him. Jesus took a stand for us. It's time for us to take a stand for Jesus.
Although David was a great king, he was still just a man; a flawed, sinful man. The king we serve is the king of the universe. He created time and space, and us. The universe calls out to him constantly. He is our king. He is our God. He loves us more than we can possibly imagine.
He's not asking for water. He's not asking for much. In the grand scheme of things, he doesn't need us. He could destroy the enemy whenever he wanted to.
I'm not going to pretend like I understand his ways. They are his, and his alone. But, what I do know is this,
He created us in his image. That image is the image of love - perfect love. We turned away from love, and separated ourselves from him. He came to earth, was born a baby, lived among us, and taught us what it meant to love each other. Then, died for us to pay the price for our sins. Three days later, he defeated death, and rose again so that we could once again live in his image.
God took a stand for us so that we could spend eternity with him.
It's time for us to take a stand for Jesus. It's time for us to practice love. It's time for us to realize that we are no longer slaves to sin. We, as believers, can begin to experience eternal freedom now, right now.
We can be mighty. We can take a stand. We carry a message from our king. We carry a message of love. We have the responsibility to speak that message. But more importantly, we have the responsibility to practice that message.
We are a people moving out in ever-widening circles to change our world.
How do we do that?
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.
What is that in your hand?
It's a simple question.
It gets complicated depending on who is asking.
When I was a kid, it usually meant trouble. Sure, I tried to hide the thing behind my back and pretend it didn't exist, but that never worked out very well. How about the time I got busted smoking a cigarette at school? "What is that in your hand? " meant suspension, a day of yard work, and a parental lecture.
As a parent, I find myself asking the question often, generally out of concern. How many times did you ask your child "What is that in your hand? " when they were a toddler? It was an important question because whatever was in their hand usually ended up in their mouth. So, for their own protection, the question was valid.
Perhaps it's a playful, flirtatious question you ask of a friend.
Maybe it's an emotionally driven question asked by a woman to man kneeling in front of her. "Is it a wedding ring?" She wonders. "Or, is he going to play that tying his shoe trick on me again?" (For the record, I never did that.)
What if God were to ask you that question? How would you respond? What would it mean?
God knows what's in your hand. He doesn't have to ask. So, he obviously wouldn't ask for his own knowledge, right? And if not, why would the creator of the universe ask this question?
Everyone loves a good comeback story. For me, the first thing that comes to mind is the Bad News Bears. Here is a baseball team that doesn't know their glove from their bat. They take on the big team in the beginning and get their, umm, their gloves handed to them (they lose really badly). But, they come together. They face adversity. And, they start building themselves up as a team. It's a great story. They come back better, stronger, with a new pitcher, and a sober coach. It's the American Way!
The Bible is full of stories about unlikely heroes who come back from major failures. It seems like the entire Old Testament is about a nation of people who fail and comeback, fail again, and comeback.
Let's focus in on one of those people.
Moses wasn't supposed to make it past birth. About the time he was born, Pharaoh put out an email saying the first born son of any Hebrew family had to be killed. Well, maybe they were still using snail mail back then, or AOL.
About this time, a man and woman from the tribe of Levi got married. The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She saw that he was a special baby and kept him hidden for three months. But when she could no longer hide him, she got a basket made of papyrus reeds and waterproofed it with tar and pitch. She put the baby in the basket and laid it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River. The baby’s sister then stood at a distance, watching to see what would happen to him.
Moses should have been tossed aside and left to die. But, that's not what happened. He ended up being raised by his birth mother in Pharaoh's own home.
Many years later, when Moses had grown up, he went out to visit his own people, the Hebrews, and he saw how hard they were forced to work. During his visit, he saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews. After looking in all directions to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand.
The next day, when Moses went out to visit his people again, he saw two Hebrew men fighting. “Why are you beating up your friend?” Moses said to the one who had started the fight.
The man replied, “Who appointed you to be our prince and judge? Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?”
Then Moses was afraid, thinking, “Everyone knows what I did.” And sure enough, Pharaoh heard what had happened, and he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in the land of Midian.
Moses never should have made it past birth, and now he is wanted for murder.
If anyone is an unlikely candidate to do God's work, it's Moses.
He has no power. He has no ambition to lead. He is filled with guilt. He is scared. He is on the run.
He spends the next 40 years in Midian as a shepherd. He got married, started a family. Life went on. He fell below the radar. And then,
One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”
When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
“Here I am!” Moses replied.
God introduces himself to Moses, and they enter into a dialogue. God explains he wants to help his chosen people, and he needs Moses to lead them. Moses explains why he's not the right person for the job. God explains to Moses all the amazing things he will do, and that Moses will basically be God's tool. But, Moses doesn't get it. They go back and forth for a while. Then, God, in all his wisdom, seems to take a 90 degree turn,
But Moses protested again, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The Lord never appeared to you’?”
Then the Lord asked him, “What is that in your hand?”
“A shepherd’s staff,” Moses replied.
“Throw it down on the ground,” the Lord told him. So Moses threw down the staff, and it turned into a snake! Moses jumped back.
Then the Lord told him, “Reach out and grab its tail.” So Moses reached out and grabbed it, and it turned back into a shepherd’s staff in his hand.
God didn't care about Moses' past. God saw Moses as he sees all of us, capable of so much more than we can possibly imagine. He diverted the attention of Moses from all his complaining about what he can't do, and refocused it on what he can do. Moses was a shepherd. He moved sheep from one place to another. God needed someone to move people from one place to another. God was basically saying there was no difference. But, Moses needed help seeing it.
We each have something in our hand. Maybe it's a laptop, or a paint brush. Maybe it's a briefcase, or a spatula. Maybe it's a hammer, or a cash register. It doesn't matter. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, God can use us. He doesn't care about our past. He doesn't care about how many times we've failed. God loves a good comeback story and he wants to be part of ours.
God told Moses over and over to not be afraid because I AM with you.
We can all do amazing things with God, because of God, through God, and for God.
What is that in your hand?
Join us again this week as we continue in our series on Stories, leading us to Easter. And don't forget to invite a friend.
This week we have a guest post from one of our Radius family members. Loni was inspired by Blake's message on Sunday, and wanted to share her thoughts. Take extra care to read Loni's words. Her words describe a success story, of sorts. Her success story is one of trust. She put her trust in a friend, and in so doing, realized she could apply the same principle in her relationship with her creator; our creator. Sometimes, we just have to step out on faith. And, like the success story of Joseph that Blake spoke about on Sunday, Loni's story requires her to partner with God.
Check it out.
I am in the midst of making travel plans with a good friend of mine. The travel is international and getting there is a bit of a process. Last night I was browsing the web and came across some awful reviews of a 13 hour train ride that I would need to take to get me to my final destination. I became frantic with worry and concern because this did not sound like a fun part of the vacation I had planned.
So this morning I sent my friend a message asking about this horrible train ride and telling him I had decided to make the final leg of my journey by plane instead. He immediately called me to say, “Loni, what are you so busy worrying about?” You do your part and leave the rest up to me. I’VE GOT THIS.” When he said that I felt an immediate sense of relief and I let go of the worry.
Now the reason that I was able to let go of the worry and fear is because I know WHO this friend is. He is my RELIABLE friend, my TRUSTWORTHY friend. We have years of history together, we have traveled many times together and I know in my heart that when he tells me HE’S GOT THIS that I can 100% count on him and the statement that has just been made.
You see unbeknownst to me he had already made plans for the last leg of my journey and no it did not involve a 13 hour train ride, but instead a short and comfortable 50 minute flight that he would be taking with me. So while I was busy worrying and trying to figure out things on my own my friend already had the plan and it was much better than the plans I was trying to make on my own.
Isn’t this who God wants to be in our lives? We can believe the promises that God has made to us and let go of the worry because we know WHO God is. God is RELIABLE, God is TRUSTWORTHY, God’s love NEVER FAILS and His GRACE IS UNENDING.
So many times we hear these things spoken to us or over us but it sometimes it takes real world moments to help the message sink in. I CAN LET GO OF THE WORRY AND THE DOUBTS AND THE ANXIETY, because God is right there saying, “Loni, Why are you so busy worrying? I’VE GOT THIS.” Just like the situation with my friend, unbeknownst to me God has already made plans for me and I KNOW that they are WAY better than any plans I could have made on my own. All I have to do is do my part and GOD will take care of the rest.
So today my prayer for myself and for all of my church family is that we would take a step back and KNOW, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the creator of the Universe, the God who PASSIONATELY pursued me and FERVENTLY loves me is behind the scenes in my life and HE’S GOT THIS.
Wow! What a great message. How about we take some time this week to look at God as our "reliable" and "trustworthy" friend?
Joseph trusted God even when it seemed God wasn't there because Joseph truly believed that God's love was endless, and God's plan was much bigger than Joseph could possibly imagine. As a result, great things happened in Joseph's life.
Come join us this Sunday as we wrap up our Stories series.
See you Sunday!
Our stories are the signature of our life.
They are unique to each of us. They are how we explain to people who we are, what we've done, and why we see the world the way we do. We can group our stories into chapters, and those chapters make up the book of our life. Sometimes, we can even recognize when we are entering a new chapter (i.e. baptism, adulthood, marriage, a new job, or parenthood - but not necessarily in that order).
We use our stories over and over when we meet new people. My wife and I have been together long enough that in any given conversation with new friends, we know what story the other is about to share.
She'll think to herself, "Oh, here we go - here comes Rob's story about when his cat killed the neighbor's cat."
Yeah, that happened.
Over time, they get repetitive. But, each time we tell our story, we get to share a piece of ourselves with someone else.
Our stories are sacred.
So, when we look at the Bible, what we see are a series of stories that describe how people relate to God, why they perceive God the way they do, and how our creator related/relates to us.
Last week we talked about the story of Adam and Eve. We talked about how they may have not had a perfect relationship with each other or with God, but they had a good relationship, and we can all seek to cultivate good relationships in our lives.
This week, Blake talked about the story of Abraham and Lot.
Like Adam and Eve, Abraham and Lot were given a choice to make. Both of them had the opportunity to partner with God and make a positive impact on their world. One of them made a decision based on selfish ambitions. One of them chose to partner with God and try to save a lost people.
Abraham offered Lot the pick of the land. They had both become very successful and their shared land could not sustain both of their flocks. So Lot chose this beautiful area in the Jordan Valley, right near Sodom. Sodom was generally known as a wicked place. The people there had turned away from God and did anything their minds could conceive.
Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram.
Lot saw the land near Sodom as fertile ground from which he could continue to build his wealth. There's nothing wrong with that, right? That's just a good business decision.
But the scripture says that Lot chose for himself. He made a selfish decision based solely on personal interest. Later, in Genesis 19, we find Lot sitting at the city gates of Sodom. The temptations and lure of selfish desire pulled him in.
Abraham, on the other hand, made decisions based on the will of God. Abraham repeatedly proved his faith and obedience to God. In return, God gave Abraham more land than he could see, and more descendants than he could count.
Even after this, we still find Abraham pleading with God to give the people of Sodom a chance.
Abraham approached him and said, “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?”
And the Lord replied, “If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I will spare the entire city for their sake.”
Abraham had no reason to plead with God to save these people. In fact, he continued to negotiate with God down to just 10 people. If 10 righteous people could be found in Sodom, then God would have let them be. But, God knew the hearts of the people. He knew there were none that could be counted as righteous. What's interesting is that Abraham's nephew Lot was living in Sodom with his family and servants (probably somewhere around 10 people). Not even they could be counted as righteous. How painful that must have been for Abraham.
So what can we take from this story? What's the lesson?
We live in a city filled with darkness. As beautiful and amazing as St. Petersburg is, there are people all over this city in pain. They might live on Beach Dr. or in Williams Park. Regardless of their financial standing, their hearts are hardened and they have turned away from God, or maybe they've never heard about the amazing sacrifice their creator has made for them.
I'm not saying St. Pete is as bad as Sodom, although some might want to debate that idea, but I am saying that St. Pete needs people like Abraham. St. Pete needs people who will plead with God on their behalf, who will be the light in the darkness, who will stand up for what is right, who will choose God over themselves. It could be as simple as smiling at people when you walk down the street, extending a helping hand to your neighbor, feeding someone in need, or praying on behalf of the people in St. Pete.
Radius loves this city. If you've spent any time with us you know that we are a people who are for St. Pete. We believe God can do, and is doing, great things here. We also believe it's going to take more than just a few people who are willing to make changes in their own lives in order for real change to take place here.
It's going to take a movement. The movement starts with each of us, individually making a choice, and then moving out in ever widening circles to change the world.
Will you move with us?
Everyone loves a good love story. There is nothing to warm the heart more than watching two people fall madly in love and finding their 'happily ever after' life. What's better than hearing those three magical words, "You complete me"?
Then the reality sets in and we realize that those are just fairy-tales, books, and poorly scripted movies.
Real love stories are messy. Real love stories take work. Real love stories come with scars.
This past Sunday at Radius, Blake talked about the first Love Story; Adam and Eve. We walked through Genesis 2 and 3, and talked about their story.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” So the Lord God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one. He gave names to all the livestock, all the birds of the sky, and all the wild animals. But still there was no helper just right for him.
So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the Lord God took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the opening. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man.
“At last!” the man exclaimed.
“This one is bone from my bone,
and flesh from my flesh!
She will be called ‘woman,’
because she was taken from ‘man.’”
If ever there was a perfect relationship, theirs would have been it. They were literally made for each other. Neither one of them came with emotional baggage. Neither one came into the relationship with an ex-spouse or ex-significant-other. They didn't have any financial debt, and they had a place to sleep every night. They were both equally important in society's eyes because, well, they were society. They didn't have to worry about paying bills, or medical insurance, or cell phone bills.
Hanging out with God was a normal part of their everyday life. He was their relationship counselor. It doesn't get more perfect than that.
The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”
“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”
“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”
The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.
Even Adam and Eve found a way to mess it up. Together, they went to the tree. Together, they ate the fruit. Together, they brought sin into the world. Together, they hid from God.
It's easy to point fingers and try to blame the other. It might even be easy to say that if God had never created Eve, then Adam would still be chillin' in the garden. But, the fact remains; they made their choice, despite God's great love, and despite his warning.
God knew what he was doing.
It wasn't good for Adam to be alone. In the same way, we are all meant to be in relationship. Like Eve to Adam, relationships are a gift from God. I'm not just talking about marriage, or dating. I'm talking about any relationship in your life. Through every relationship we learn a little more about our selves. Through every relationship we learn a little more about God. And if relationships are a gift from God, then how should we treat those gifts?
Each one is unique. Each one has meaning. Each relationship was intentionally put there for a reason.
Because of this, relationships are one way the enemy can take us down. Satan knows that the better our relationships are with each other, the better relationship we will have with our creator. The serpent saw how awesome Adam and Eve had it. Satan saw how much God loved his greatest creation, and he felt he had to destroy it. If the enemy can convince us that we suck at relationships, then he can build a wall between us and God. If he can convince us that opening ourselves up to another human is wrong, then the wall gets taller. If he can convince us that being transparent or vulnerable will push people away, then the wall gets thicker.
The more we fight against those urges to close ourselves off from relationships, the more chance we have at finding real, meaningful connections with other people and with God.
Adam and Eve made a choice, because God gave them a choice to make. If God gave them a choice, then he must have known there was a chance they would choose sin. If he knew there was a chance Adam and Eve would choose sin, then he must have had a way to atone for that sin.
When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
God walked into the mess to find Adam and Eve. Though there was a consequence for their actions, God was right there with them. Likewise, every minute of every day, despite the choices we make, God is right there with us, waiting for us to call on him, in the good times and the bad, so that he can be a part of our lives. Forever.
Adam and Eve showed us that the perfect relationship is unattainable, but good relationships are all around us if we make an effort.
God showed us that despite our choices, he's always there, and that the greatest love story ever told is between God and man.
Click the link below to view/download the Love Story Devotional from our February 15th, 2015 gathering.
Matthew 22:34-40 (NLT)
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Over the past few weeks, we've been talking about Radius. We've covered our mission and talked about why we gather. The final component is really the meat of our mission; to move out in ever widening circles to change our world.
We can't do that from sitting inside a church building. We can't do that if we are only a church on Sundays. We have to be Radius everyday.
Jesus gave us all our mission,
Acts 1:8 (NLT)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
And in Matthew, he gave us the rules to follow while seeking to accomplish that mission. You may have thought, as I once did, that we had to follow some long list of rules. But really, it's quite a short, common sense, list.
- Love God
- Love your neighbor
Somewhere along the line, we got in our heads that in order to be a Christian you had to follow a list of Dos and Don'ts. We had to judge others, and think ourselves better than everyone else. That doesn't sound like anything people want to be a part of. But from what I've been learning over the past 10 years is that isn't true at all.
So what does it look like to love God and love your neighbor?
It means getting outside the church and meeting people where they are. It means praising our creator for all he's done for us. It means seeking his will for our lives. If you've been paying attention to social media this week, you've probably seen pictures of people from Radius loving their neighbors.
We love St. Pete. We think this is an awesome town, filled with amazing people, and we want to be out serving our community however we can. So, whether we are feeding people, paying for their parking or laundry, blessing businesses in some small way, providing for peoples' basic needs, or just taking the time to hand-write a thank you note, we want to be out, loving our neighbors. We want to be a tangible, visible evidence of Jesus in our community.
If you're looking to experience God's love, and share that love with others, come check us out this Sunday.
Why do we gather?
Back when I was in college, I spent a lot of time driving on the weekends to visit my future bride. There were a lot of hours spent on the road and I found a number of ways to keep myself entertained. One way, was to listen to Christian talk radio. Even though I was far from a believer at the time, I was still drawn to it. I found it interesting how much time people could spend talking about Jesus. One of the major topics, at least in the late 90's, was the idea that Christians didn't need to go to church. There was a big push to remove the act of going to church from the church (if that makes sense).
Even as a non-believer with a Roman Catholic upbringing, I didn't feel like that was right. I didn't know why until I started attending church again, and allowed God into my heart.
The idea of community, or a gathering, isn't meant to be another Christian Must-Do kind of thing. And, though some might say otherwise, you aren't going to hell because you missed a few Sundays in a church building.
Let's make it easy. Let's not focus on the whole church. Let's just talk about Radius.
Why do we have Radius Gatherings?
To be a bit transparent, one of the reasons is because we know people have had a lot of negative experiences at church buildings, and we seek to create an environment where people can come as they are, and I don't just mean in how they dress, but as they are in life. It's time we allow people to enter church without having to put on a mask. If everyone in St. Pete who had a negative experience inside a church building found a place where they could go without being judged, churches would fill up all over town.
We want to create a place where people can be themselves, have some fun, meet some great people, and hear about how much God loves them, not about the rules they have to follow, or how guilty they should feel because they made a mistake in life.
Let's be clear though, there is a thing called conviction. Sometimes when we hear the truth, we feel a desire to change. That's different than guilt. Guilt holds us down and distances us from God. Conviction gives is the knowledge, vision, and motivation to become a better version of ourselves, and move closer to God.
The main focus of our gathering is to speak to and hear from God. We want to provide people the opportunity to have a real relationship with God, to experience his love. When you have a real experience with God, you can't help but want to tell people about it. So, we also want to equip people to go out and love their neighbor so that they too can experience God's love, like a big ole' set of Holy Dominoes.
We also have Radius Gatherings because they are fun. Flat-out, we have a good time at Radius. Blake and Amanda, and everyone involved in making Sunday morning happen, go to extra lengths to make sure people have a good time. Whether it's getting a high five from one of our volunteers out in the parking lot, singing along with the band, or watching Michael and I makes fools of ourselves with our Welcome Sketches, you are bound to laugh on Sunday morning.
Last week I wrote about being On Mission. There are 3 components to that; groups, gatherings, and community. If we are going to be out in our community, pouring out love to our neighbors, we need a place where we can come and recharge. Getting around other believers is one way to do that. We come together, share stories, celebrate wins, and get ready for another week.
As Blake said on Sunday, when we gather, we experience God's presence. Isn't that worth getting out of bed for on Sunday morning?
Blake has a vision of Radius being like the early church, like we read about in Acts. It was a group of normal people, Jews and Gentiles, coming together to experience God, and be a part of something bigger than themselves. And in doing so, their numbers grew exponentially. They couldn't stop new people from showing up. They were selling their stuff to help the poor. They were giving of their time to help the needy. They used their talents to find the lost. They were a people on mission, moving out in ever-widening circles to change their world.
Acts 1:8 (NLT)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
That's the mission we were tasked with, to tell people everywhere about Jesus. We can't do it alone. We were never meant to do it alone. So, let's be on mission together.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NLT)
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
See you Sunday!
It's been almost 5 months since we opened our doors, and still less than a year since we really began talking about what Radius Church might look like. In that short time, new relationships have been formed, babies have been born, weddings have been officiated, and lives have been eternally altered. Praise God.
Back in May/June of 2014, Blake visited several families and shared his vision of Radius Church. One by one, family by family, the idea grew into reality. A group of people came together under a common mission and went about the work of starting a church. We had no idea what we were doing, but we trusted Blake and Amanda and had faith God would provide a way. It took a lot of work, probably a few tears, and a ton of guidance from our friends at Momentum Church. But, eventually we did it.
On a Sunday in September 2014, we converted a couple rooms at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club into Radius Church. Then we prayed that someone would show up.
And they did.
We are a people on mission, moving out into ever-widening circles, to change our world.
If you've been to Radius, you've heard that statement over and over. We say it because we mean it. We say it to give it life. We say it because it is who we are. We say it so we don't ever forget why we do what we do.
It's not a Sunday, one and done kind of statement. It's not a check box on your spiritual ToDo list. Being On Mission is something we carry with us everyday. Sure, we aren't always great at it, and it certainly doesn't make us better than anyone else. It doesn't give us any special right, or privileges. What being On Mission does is keep us focused. It keeps our eyes open to opportunities to be used by God. It allows us to be a visible, tangible evidence of Jesus' love in St. Pete.
I could list out all the great things that have happened in peoples' lives as a result of the creation of Radius Church, but they are meaningless when listed out in writing. If you want to know what it is we do, what it is we believe, you'll have to come experience it.
There is nothing radical about our beliefs, but if we, as a group, live out what we believe, it will make a radical difference in this world.
We are a people on mission, moving out into ever-widening circles, to change our world. Will you help us?
We've reached the last week of our Navigate series. It's been an exciting time at Radius so far. New people are coming every week. We are literally moving out into ever-widening circles and changing the world around us. Lives have been changed. We've created memories, made new friends, and touched the heart of St. Petersburg. We still have much to do though. People are being fed, clothed, and loved on, but there is still so many people hurting in our great city. The beautiful facade of St. Pete hides a city filled with pain and darkness.
We fast to find the will of God for us. We fast to stand in intercession for those around us who don't want, or can't find, a relationship with their creator. We fast to learn more about who we are. We fast to make some small gesture to show our love for God.
There is a third piece to the puzzle. Like fasting, it's not the most popular concept in the Christian church. It's the idea of giving.
Now, before you click back to Facebook, give it a chance. It's not about forking over your money so that some church leader can buy a Rolex. If you've been to Radius at least one time, you know that's not what we are about. Giving has nothing to do with lining the pockets of Radius Church, and everything to do with trusting God.
Giving, like prayer and fasting, is an expression of love. Like Michael talked about when he was praying for the offering on Sunday, you may drop in some cash or a check, but when the bucket reaches the back of the room, it's filled with little pieces of the hearts of those who choose to give. But giving isn't just about money, right? Giving is about handing over your life to God.
When we pray, we give God that precious thing that we can never get back - time.
When we fast, we give God our attention, trusting that we will hear his voice, feel his presence, or watch him take action in our life.
When we serve, we give God our gifts and talents in the hopes that he will use us to expand his kingdom, and to do the work that he has prepared for us to do.
When we love, we give the love that God has given us to those around us.
Giving is not about money. Giving is about trusting God with our lives.
The cool thing is, we can never out give God. Give him your time, and you will get time in return. Give him your attention, and he will listen to you. Give him your gifts and talents, and you will find those gifts and talents increased. Give love and you will find so much love in your life that you won't be able to stand it. And yeah, give God money, and you will get money in return.
Try it. Just try it. Try to out give God and see what happens. Test him on this. On this one thing, giving, test God. I dare you.
Malachi 3:10 (NLT)
Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!
What can you give to God today? Look around. Look in the mirror. You have things that other people need. You have time that other people would cherish. You have money that could feed and clothe your neighbor. You have so much, give some of it to God and watch what he does with it.
Blake talked about the story in John 6, when Jesus fed 5,000 people with few fish and some loaves of bread that came from a small child. Can you imagine how that kid felt when asked to give up all the food he had? I picture his parents telling him to go pick up food for the family, giving him what little money they had, asking that he go straight there and come straight back. The text doesn't say it, but I'm inferring he was under strict orders. This was the food that was going to feed his family for the next week and now some guy and his followers ask the kid to give it up.
What happened next was a miracle. Most of the people there only saw Jesus and his disciples handing out food. They probably didn't find out until days later that they were recipients of a miracle. But that boy, that little boy who gave up all he had was given a front row seat to see God at work.
The same goes for us. When we give, we get a front row seat to the miraculous.
God has got big plans for St. Pete. Miracles are happening. Miracles are in the works. Do you want to be a recipient of the miraculous, or a participant in the miraculous?
Sunday, the second talk of this series taught us about a spiritual “discipline” that is rarely taught and even more rarely practiced - Fasting.
What is fasting?
In the Bible, people did without food to better devote themselves to hearing from and speaking to God. Sometimes it was a time to speak to God about their sins, and sometimes it was a time to hear from God about direction. Sometimes it was a time of preparation for what God had next for them. And every time it was a call for a breakthrough in their current circumstances.
Isn’t that what we crave in our lives? A breakthrough in some area. Maybe it is in finances, or in a relationship, or in knowing what decision to make. Maybe it is a breakthrough into greater intimacy with God.
The Truth is this-- we know that Jesus fasted. In Matthew 6 He assumed we would when He said, “When you fast” rather than “If you fast.” It seems that - Jesus Followers Fast.
Yet how many of His followers are really fasting on a regular basis?
At a prayer conference I attended recently, they used a statistic that only 5-10% of churchgoers say that they regularly pray. I do not like unknown stats so I can’t say if that’s an accurate number based upon a study. However, I can say that my own experiences with those in the church do not contradict that number. Whatever the number of those who regularly pray, I think we can all agree that there is an even smaller percentage who turn to fasting when they need any type of major breakthrough.
When our lives and our churches lack the strength and power that Acts spoke of, “setting the world upside down.” There’s no doubt that we are missing aspects in our spiritual walks.
So how do we set ourselves in the best position to receive all God has to give us?
Put fasting back on the table as part of what we do in relating to a holy God.
As I fast in a right spirit - not for health reasons but for heart reasons - these become my prayers that are confirmed in my actions,
“I recognize my need for You, God.”
“I need You more than I need anything else.”
“I crave Your favor and blessing.”
“May Your spirit be stronger than my flesh.”
We have a world, a country, and a city in need of breakthroughs. We are a people who need more of God. Perhaps by taking in less by fasting--- we actually can receive the MORE we so desperately need.
I'm sure I spoke to God at some point outside of those appointed times, however I likely didn't consider it prayer, because it was just talking.
When I was in my mid-twenties, and came to know the Lord, I had to forget everything I thought I knew about prayer. I learned that prayer is an open conversation with God. It's not a ritual. It isn't the formal recitation of word I previously thought. It is a way for me to speak to a friend, confess to a father, and worship my creator. It is also a way for me to listen to God, through the Holy Spirit.
When I first began developing some kind of prayer life, it was really uncomfortable. Did I talk out loud? Did I have to assign specific time as prayer time? Did I have to say certain words? Did I have to avoid certain words? Did I have to close my eyes? Look up to the sky? Fold my hands a certain way? Do the sign of the cross to start and finish the prayer? Say Amen when I was done?
God wants a relationship.
Everyday that I waited to understand prayer more was a day that I wasn't building a relationship with God. I signed on to this Christianity thing because a pastor told me it wasn't about following a list of rules, but rather a relationship between my creator and me. I said yes to the relationship.
Fortunately, I didn't wait for the rules of prayer. I began talking to God. It was weird at first. I had to picture him sitting in the passenger seat of my car. Sometimes I would talk out loud to him, and sometimes I would just talk to him in my head. Sometimes I would sit in silence with no clue what to say (that still happens). Since I communicate my thoughts better in writing, there are time I type out prayers.
Most importantly, I go to him, maybe not as often as I should, but I don't allow myself to get hung up on that because it will only stop me from going to him in the future.
He doesn't care about how often you pray.
I mean, yeah, he would love for you to talk to him all day long, but he's not going to be upset if you go a few days without checking in. He's going to be super excited whenever you do come to him. His arms are stretched wide open. He's got a big smile, hug, and an "I love you" every time you go to him.
Last Sunday, at Radius Church, Blake talked about prayer. He said, "In the moment I begin to pray, I step into the presence of God." Wow, think about it. You open your heart to God, and you are in the presence of God. Think about the power and potential in that. Every time you talk to him he's there. Every time you sit and silence and ask him to speak to you, he's there. Need proof God exists? Pray. Feeling disconnected from God? Pray. Having a bad day? Pray. Having a great day? Pray. Having a regular day? Pray.
As we navigate this thing called life, we need a guide. We can find that guide in prayer. I'm not going to make the God is the captain of our life analogy, but - well, I kind of just did. You get the idea. "Jesus, take the wheel" didn't become a cliche for no reason.
Through prayer, through the building a relationship with your creator, you will be changed. As you get to know God better, you will better understand his will for your life. He won't feel like some far off dictator trying to control your life, and start to feel more like what he is; a friend, a guide, a supporter, and a father - maybe more. The more you hangout with God, the more confident you will be in who he is.
So start your relationship with God. Let him know you are ready to get to know him better, and watch as he changes your life. We, however, were not left without some information from God and ways we can talk to him. Check out what Jesus taught us about prayer, and then ask Blake about what it means.
Luke 11:1-13 (NLT)
Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
Jesus said, “This is how you should pray:
“Father, may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
Give us each day the food we need,
and forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation.”
Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.
“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
Join us next week, and learn more about how we can navigate through 2015. Blake will discuss fasting. It should be pretty enlightening.
Why? Because, you know - Christmas.
We believe, as Christians, that our king is unrivaled. He has always been the king. He will always be the king. There is no predecessor and no successor.
Fortunately, he is a king of love. And just like his reign, his love is also unrivaled. He gives love freely, and it never runs out. He is not always fair, but he is always just. And his promises, well, they last forever as well.
So when the God who created the universe says not to worry, don't worry. When the God who created us says he will always provide what we need, guess what - he will always provide what we need. And when the God who is love says he loves you - he loves you - always.
We don't earn points with God by the good things we do. We don't lose points when we don't do good. Plain and simple, he loves you. He loves you just the way you are, and he loves you right where you are. If you are on top of the world, he's right there with you, cheering you on. If you've hit rock bottom, he's right next to you, hoping you will call out to him. If you are some where in between, God is there to - ready, and waiting.
That's the message today. Short and sweet. We choose to serve an unrivaled God who provides unrivaled love. As a man, he died for our sins, as God, he rose from the dead so that we could spend eternity with him.
2 Peter 1:3-4 (NLT)
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
Merry Christmas, from all of us a Radius Church. May you find the inner joy that comes from the knowledge that you are loved today, and everyday, for all eternity.
Let's open our Bibles to Matthew 2 and walk through an amazing story.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
As you might recall from last week, the importance of that first sentence becomes greater and greater the more you think about it.
King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
It's interesting to note here that both Mary and Herod had the same response to the news of the arrival of the king. Although, Mary responded out of love, while Herod responded out of fear.
“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
I'm guessing the wise men where, well --wise, and knew that Herod had no intention of worshiping the baby that he thought could one day dethrone him. I could only imagine their conversation when they left the king and started making their way towards Jesus. Did they talk about what they would do if/when they found this newborn king? Their curiosity must have drove them forward, but their fear of Herod's response had to have worried them. I guess when you seek truth, nothing can stop you.
After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Poor little baby Jesus. What could he do with gifts like that? No Baby Einstein or Veggie Tales DVDs? No XBOX? Not even a Nintendo DS? That's pretty weak for a first Christmas.
When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
I can imagine them waking up the morning it time to leave. "Did you guys have any crazy dreams last night? --Maybe we should take the long way back."
After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
So here is something I never thought about until Blake brought it up last Sunday. How did Joseph pay to get them to Egypt? It's not like Air Egypt had a special Holiday rate. And, we just saw Joseph and a very pregnant Mary taking the cheap route to Bethlehem. They couldn't even afford decent transportation to go visit Joseph's homeland. If you recall, they just received a pretty generous gift from some wise
guys men. Apparently, it was a good first Christmas because those gifts were probably enough to get them to Egypt and set them up with housing until Joseph could find work. I believe the term we use for that now is, "a God thing."
Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A cry was heard in Ramah— weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.”
You're too late Herod. You lose, again. I know a lot of this stuff had to happen to fulfill prophecies and all, but that really sucks for Bethlehem. I mean, they were a small town, just trying to survive. Now, all of the sudden, they lose so many babies. And who wants to be remembered as one of the soldiers that was part of that massacre in Bethlehem? Herod must have had some kind of grip on them to get them to go kill babies. I would have been like, "On second thought, I don't think I want to be a soldier. I'm just going to head off into the desert and hope for the best."
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.” So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.”
If this story were happening in modern times, do you think it Joseph would get text messages from angels rather than dreams? I like to think so. "...an angel of the Lord posted on Joseph's Facebook wall, 'All clear. Head towards Israel.'" Perhaps they'd be called Heavenly Notifications. It's incredible how God knits together these stories. The way he uses unlikely people always amazes me. It gives me hope, that despite my attempts to run from him, I can still be part of his story. Even the soldiers, those poor soldiers, who were forced to kill innocent children are now forever part of the story of God. That might make you question God's goodness, or it might reinforce that idea that God can use any of our worldly decisions for good. Either way, the truth is the truth. God entered our lives because we needed him to, and because he wanted to repair the relationship we broke. He did it in a way that we could relate to, and he did it despite our attempts to stop him. He is Love. He is Peace. He is Hope. Join us again as we continue out series on the King.
Isaiah 9: 2-7 (NLT)
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder. For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian. The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire. For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!
I could imagine being a young Jewish man, reading these words, imagining what it might look like when the savior arrives. As an Israelite, this must have provided so much hope in time of darkness. To know that one day, a king would arrive, and change everything. Israel, God's chosen people, would be justified, and lifted up above all other nations. How then, would the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace enter into the world? Surely, it would be in a way that would announce to the world that the creator of the universe had arrived, right? I suppose that depends on your understanding of God. At that time, the God that created the universe was a very distant, very harsh God. He was something to fear. His love was a tough love. He wasn't the loving father we now know. (Just to be clear, he is always the same God. He hasn't changed. What has changed is our relationship with him. The relationship we broke through our sin, he repaired through the death and resurrection of Jesus.) So how did this great King enter the world? As a baby, born to a young, inexperienced, and confused couple in a cave near a small town with no real significance. How un-king-like is that? How un-god-like is a baby, completely dependent on its human mother for survival? How scary that must have been for Mary and Joseph. Two teenagers tasked with nurturing, and raising God. There they were, away from their home, stuck in a cave. No medical staff. No support. Just the two of them and their brand new baby-God-boy. Think on that for a minute, but be careful, your brain might explode. The image of that is so - so - human. God entered into the world in the most human way possible. He humbled himself to the point where he was totally reliant on humans to keep him alive. And, in so doing, he formed the most personal relationship we know, parent and child. What does that say about God? He understands what it means to be human. He knows our pains, temptations, frustrations, and fragility. He is about relationship, not religion. Our greatest gifts on Earth are not the things we accumulate, but the relationships we cultivate throughout our lives. We were never meant to follow a list of rules, or to try to control other people by telling them they should. We are here because God loves us. We are here because the creator of the universe wants a relationship with us, and not just 'us' collectively. He wants a relationship with each of us, individually. Relationship is why he entered this world as a baby. Relationship is why he died on the cross. Relationship is why he rose from the dead. Join us next week as we continue our series on the King. And, if you missed Blake's message last week, you can check it out here.
Sitting in my seat at Radius last Sunday, holding the symbol of our savior in my hand, I took some time to just listen to God's voice. Sometimes it's hard to just sit and listen. The silence, even in our own heads, can be too much. So we try to talk and fill the void. In that moment, though, I felt I just needed to shut up and listen. Perhaps it was God's voice saying, "Shut up and listen!" So I listened. Between Blake's message, and God's words, I don't recall exactly what he said, but I remember the idea. I've lived too many days of my life living in fear, guilt or shame of my sins. God never intended that. God didn't die on the cross, and rise again three days later so that I could walk the same path over and over, burying myself in the rut of sin. We let our sins lead us to death because we are scared to live life a different way. We build prisons of guilt and shame and keep ourselves locked away even though the exit is wide open. If we truly believe that Jesus did for us what we say he did, then wouldn't we wake up every day thankful for that gift? Wouldn't we live our lives confident in our victory over sin? Wouldn't we live life above the rut? So how do we climb out of the rut? Relationship. When we build a relationship with God, we find the faith to believe in the gift he gave us. When our faith is strengthened, our thankfulness is increased. And when we are thankful, we are moved to action.
Psalm 7:17 (NLT) I will thank the Lord because he is just; I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.
How can we be thankful for God's gift without it moving us? How can we live in sin, fear, guilt, or shame of sin, when we are praising God? On Thursday, when you are sitting on the couch after gorging yourself, and you can barely think straight, take a minute to be thankful for the freedom to live above the rut. Take a minute to praise him, and let him continue the work of changing you into the person he meant for you to be. The door of your prison is open. Do you have the courage to walk through it?
Psalm 95:2-3 (NLT) Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods.
What is happiness? I'm sure there is a perfectly good definition I could quote here, but can a definition of a word that carries so much emotional imagery really do us any good? I don't think so. Perhaps a better question is, what makes us happy? To that question, again, there is no finite answer. Each of us have our own idea of what makes us happy. To some, it's money. To some, success. To others, it's travel or family, a car, knowledge, or quality time spent with friends. Maybe it's memories of a simpler time in life, or the anticipation of something that is to come. Unfortunately, none of these things are sustainable long term. If money or things bring happiness, then we will always chase after the next raise. If it's a car, then as soon as we get the 'perfect' car, we start thinking about our next 'perfect' car as soon as we have to make the first repair. Memories fade. Family and friends aren't always guaranteed to be there. Success is temporary. Knowledge will leave us. It would seem that there is nothing in this world that can provide sustainable joy. It all has an expiration date. That's not to say that many of these things aren't important, just that they cannot make us truly happy. In fact, it seems like the more effort we put into obtaining the stuff that we think makes us happy, the harder it gets to find. There is always someone who makes more money, has more success, has more friends, creates better memories, has a nicer car, and so on. We're chasing ideas of happiness, not real happiness. So what's real happiness? Picture an ocean in a storm. No matter how bad it gets on the surface, when you go deep down, the water is always calm. Real happiness comes from deep within us. Real happiness comes when we invite Jesus to be our Lord. When we make the decision and put the action into building a relationship with him, and building our trust in him, then we find the happiness and contentment during the storms of life. It doesn't mean all your problems disappear. It doesn't mean your life is all of the sudden perfect and you are better than everyone else. In many cases, when you give your life over to Jesus, things are going to get harder. Jesus tells us,
John 16:33 (NLT) 'I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.'
When we lean into him. When we commit to getting to know him better. When we truly choose to serve our creator instead of our world, then we are strengthened in the knowledge that we serve a loving God who will provide for our needs. We serve a God who has defeated the world; who took on our sins, and payed the ultimate price so that we could be happy. In God we find a purpose for our lives. In seeking to know God more we find a new perspective on life. And, in serving God we are put in a position where he can use us to do the good works he has prepared for us to do. So,
James 1:2-4 (NLT) Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
Needing nothing. That sounds like a good definition of happy to me. Come check us out at Radius Church next week when Blake discusses Thanksgiving.
Remember back to when you were a kid. Let's say you are the 10 year old version of you. You're walking through the store and you happen upon the toy aisle. For me it was at our neighborhood K-mart. You ask your parents if you can "just look" at the toys. They reluctantly agree. You begin to browse. All is going well until you see it. You see the toy you'e been dreaming about ever since you saw it on a commercial during Saturday morning cartoons. You'd watched the commercial about a million times. You memorized it. You knew everything about the toy except what it felt like in your hands. And now, there you are, holding it. It was exactly as you thought, though maybe slightly smaller than you were hoping, and what you thought was metal was really plastic, but it didn't matter. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. There were only five of them left on the shelf. If you didn't get this toy NOW, you were never going to get it. Waiting until Christmas or a birthday just wasn't an option. You began to strategize. How were you going to get mom to agree to buy this toy? After all, you're "just looking." You come up with a plan to reason with your parents. You'd explain to them all the features and benefits of the toy. You'd express your heart-felt appreciation for their generosity if they were to buy you this toy. You'd offer to do extra chores around the house, and have a portion of your allowance set aside for the next two months to pay them back for the toy. It was that important. Somehow, the execution of the strategy sounded more like, "Please can I have this toy? Please. Please. Please. I need it. Everyone at school has one and I want one sooooo bad. Please. Please. Please. I'll do anything!" Strategy executed. Now you wait for the answer. "No." Dream shattered. You throw everything you had at mom and dad, every possible trick you could think of to get them to change their mind. "No. And if you ask again..." You knew what that meant. You were going home empty handed. Every chance you got you'd drop a hint to remind them you still wanted the toy. The next time they even mentioned going back to that store, you volunteered to go with them, even if it meant enduring shoe shopping, or holding mom's purse while she tried on clothes. It was worth it. Eventually, when the time was right, one of two things happened. You either got the toy, or a new toy came out that was even better and you forgot all about the first toy. It seems things don't change when we get older. There is always stuff we want, or something that would make our lives infinitely better. There is a better pair of shoes out there. There is a cooler mobile phone. There are jewelry and tools out there that would surely complete us. There are job opportunities, new homes, new business ideas, new relationships, new this, better that, and on and on. We all have things we want. We all have things we need. So often we get so focused on the things that we want, and how we plan to get them, that we forget where all these things come from, and who is providing them. In our final week discussing the Source, Blake talked about the spiritual connection point of prayer. Prayer is our way of speaking to God. Prayer is that private time we can take to just be with God. There doesn't have to be a formal process you go through to pray. There doesn't have to be exact words you go to him with. Just talk. You don't have to be on your knees, hands folded, head down, and eyes closed. In all of our other relationship, the way we get to know someone better is to spend time with them; talk to them, build a life with them, and create memories with them. Prayer is a way to get to know God. God wants you to go to him. It doesn't matter how big or how small the request. God is saying, "Bug me." There is no want too great. There is no problem too big. There is no request too small. God wants you to go to him, always. Why? Because more than anything, God wants a relationship with us. He created us for relationship. He died on the cross and defeated death for relationship. He isn't some evil Lord waiting for us to screw up so he can punish us. Instead, he is a caring father who loves us more than anything else he has created. He wants to hear from us. He wants to provide for us. He wants to bless us. So it's on us. We have to go to him. We have to make the effort.
Luke 18:1-8 (NLT) One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’” Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”
Again, God is saying, "Bug me." You have something on your mind? Take it to God. You have a worry about finances? Take it to God. Are your kids not getting along? Take it to God. Are there health issues in your family? Take it to God. Did you have an awesome day? Take it to God. God wants us knocking on his door all the time. We get stuck thinking the he is too busy for us. We convince ourselves that our problems aren't big enough to bother God with. When we call on him, he will answer. God has the power to change anything in our lives. Ask, and you will be given exactly what you need. If you don't know what to say to God, that's OK. The Holy Spirit knows exactly what you need. Just take the time to sit and focus on God.
Romans 8:26 (NLT) And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.
We hope you will join us again next Sunday as we move into our Thanksgiving series. It's going to be a "happy" day at Radius Church.
Saul spent a lot of time threatening and killing early Christians. He was an intelligent religious leader who thought he was doing the right thing. On the road to Damascus, Saul saw a great light, came into contact with Jesus, and was transformed from a murderer to one of the most amazing men in history. The fact is, when we come into contact with the source, we are forever changed. We get caught up in our daily lives, doing what we think is right, working jobs we hate, chasing our neighbor's dreams, and hoping we can get to our next paycheck. I'm certainly guilty of this. But, when I encounter the source; when I reach out to God and invite him into my life, all the worries about tomorrow seem to fade away. When I dive into his word, the Word of God, I see truth. When I seek God, I find him. God gave us various ways to encounter him on a daily basis. Last week we talked about coming together. We learned how we encounter God when we are around a group of believers. This week we learned that the source is also revealed to us through reading God's Word, the Bible. In the Bible we find an invitation to experience God. We have the opportunity, whenever we want, to get to know God. When we go to that book, seeking him, we are bound to find him. And, when we encounter God, like
Saul Paul, we will be transformed. What would it look like if we removed the veil from our eyes, and saw the world for what it truly is, the way God sees it, everyday? What if we saw the potential in people, instead of their faults? What if we tried to love people, instead of try to be like them? What if we spent everyday trying to help people, instead of trying to help ourselves? The more time we spend with God, I believe, the more these things will become the desires of our heart. The more time we spend in the Word, the more opportunities God has to use us. The more we seek him, the more he will reveal to us.
Hebrews 4:12 (NLT) For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
When we encounter God, we will be transformed. As Blake said this past Sunday, a meaningful life is a life connected to the source. Do you want God to use you? Do you want to feel his peace and experience his love? Seek him, and allow yourself to be transformed. Come join us this Sunday as we wrap up our series on The Source.
Psalm 119:105 (NLT) Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.
Why do we come together on Sundays?
Many of us spend our lives isolated in our life bubbles. We sit in cubicles, hidden behind our computer screens endlessly tapping away at our keyboards. We work at home, trying to keep some semblance of organization in an otherwise chaotic house, managing schedules and meal times. We spend our lives behind the wheel of our cars, moving kids from one place to another.
Whatever your life bubble is, when you stop and look at the last 7 days of your life, you will likely see that although you have encountered a lot of people, you haven't had too many meaningful conversations.
That's what the enemy wants. He wants us to fail at our relationships. He wants us to be isolated from the rest of the world. In our isolation, he can whisper lies in our ear, and without friends, family, and loved ones to help guide us, we believe the lies. We look at ourselves in the mirror and we see sin, guilt, shame, and all the things that make us weak and worse than everyone else.
If we aren't in God's Word. If we aren't actively seeking God, and we aren't getting around people who can build us up, then we are doomed to believe the enemy's lies.
Hebrews 10:25 (NLT)
And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
We need relationship. We need each other. We need a place we can go to escape the isolation of the world and the lies of the enemy.
When we come together with other believers, we encounter Jesus with each other. We can hear from, and speak to him.
Our first connection point to the source is being together.
When we come together we are part of God's body. We encourage and equip each other.
As Blake said last Sunday,
When we are together, God's love is tangible, God's power is evident, God's presence is experienced.
When we come together, we experience truth. In that truth, we find the strength to carry on. We find the love we are seeking. We feel the power of God in our lives, and when that happens, there is no room for the lies of the enemy. We fill our lives, and our heart, with the light, and there is no room for the darkness.
Join again on Sunday when we further our understanding of how we connect to the source. Come be encouraged. Come out of your life bubble and join us. Come together.
I was one of those cautious kids. While my brother and his friends were out exploring the woods near our neighborhood, I played it safe at home. Granted, I was too young to go with him at the time, but even when I got older, I had a knack for seeing the danger in any given situation and taking the easier, safer route. Looking back, I can see that had a profound affect on my life. I preferred the low risk, low reward alternative. I had big dreams and big fears, and more often than not, I let the fear make the decision.
Fear of pain.
Fear of failure.
Fear of success.
Too often we assume that God wants us to live a good, safe life. We aim to be content. We settle for just enough. We strive for mediocre. We live our lives under the radar, doing just enough to get by, but not enough to really make a difference.
We made an attempt at our dreams once, but it didn't work.
We volunteer every now and then.
We help someone in need when it is convenient.
We donate on occasion.
We pray when we need to.
We experience God once in a while.
Why is that acceptable? Why is that the norm?
God didn't humble himself, and take on human form so that we could live a good, safe life. He came, he suffered, he died, and he conquered death so that we could have an abundant, full life. He has gifted us with vast amounts of potential, and purpose. God wants to use every ounce of our potential to accomplish His purpose.
We don't have to live a life governed by the law of mediocrity. We don't have to go through life keeping our head just above the surface, working hard enough to not drown, but scared to get up on top of the water.
We unconsciously make rules for our lives. We decide what we can succeed at, and at what we will likely fail.
wants us needs us to live a lawless life.
Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
There is no law against loving too much. There is no law against having too much joy in our lives. There is no law against peace. There is no law against showing patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness to our neighbors. There is no law against having too much self-control.
So how do we get more of these things? How do we live a lawless life?
We tap into the source; the Holy Spirit. We tap into the source, and from out of the source will flow love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Join us for the next 3 Sundays as Blake talks about tapping into the source, connecting with out Creator, and living a lawless, abundant life.
Mirror Lake was St. Petersburg's first reservoir and served as the source of the town's drinking water. Can you believe that? That little lake, the one you've driven past a thousand times, was once the sole source of fresh drinking water for all of St. Pete. Of course St. Pete was much smaller then, but without that fresh water source, the city never would have been able to thrive the way it did. St. Petersburg went to the source, and from the source, was able to grow and grow. Just like St. Petersburg had a source, we too have a source. The difference is, our source will never run out, will never go bad, and will always be abundant. So why do we only go to the source in times of need? Why do we only visit our source on Sunday mornings? We spend the majority of our time looking to ourselves to be the source. We say, "If I can just get <insert your desire>, then my life will be full." Maybe it's a car, or that next promotion. Maybe it's just getting all your bills paid this month. Maybe it's jewelry or electronics, shoes or tools. Whatever it may be, we focus our attention on ways to get what we want thinking that will make life better. And then when we get what we put so much time, focus, and money into, we realize life is pretty much the same. Nothing changed. We still have that empty feeling inside. So stuff isn't the source. Other times we think that if we could just get this one relationship right, then we'd be happy. If we can fix our marriages, or get that guy (or girl) to like us then we will be happy. If more people thought we were attractive, then we'd feel better about who we are. As time passes, it feels like we are running in place, hardly able to make progress at fixing our relationship, getting people to like us, or finding fulfillment in what other people think about us. That feeling of being un-loved remains. So other people aren't the source. Then what is it? Where does peace and abundant life come from?
John 14:6 (NLT) Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
Notice here that Jesus does not say that he has a map to show the way. He doesn't say he knows the truth. He doesn't say he knows a guy whose cousin's ex-girfriend's aunt's former boss's dad went to college with a guy who had life (once for breakfast). No, Jesus tells us he IS the way. He IS the truth. He IS the life. Jesus is the source. God put on a man suit and came down to Earth as one of us. He came to show us how to love one another. He came to give us the truth. He came to provide abundant life for us all. Through his teachings, his death, and resurrection, God provided the way, the truth, and the life for everyone who chooses to accept it. Can you see him? He's right there, reaching out to you. In every religion around the world, people have to rely on themselves as the source. It's up to them to climb the mountain towards something greater. But, the God who created the universe, the God in who Radius Church puts their faith, came down from the mountain to to meet us where we are, to lift us up, put us on his back, and carry us up to the top of the mountain to spend eternity with him. Wherever you are right now. Whatever is happening in your life. Look up to him, realize you need the source, and call out to him. Seek him. Talk to him. Experience his love in your life. He is more than just your insurance policy for eternity. He is more than just teachings in a book. He is the way, the truth, AND the life. Is it time you let him into your life?
Lies. Why do we believe them? When we are young, we believe we can do anything. When we are young, we don't care what the world thinks of us. When we are young, everything around us is new, and exciting. Somewhere along the way we start listening to other people, and believing them. They tell us we can't, and so we don't. They tell us we shouldn't, and so we stop. They tell us we are being unrealistic, and so we get real. The lies of the world borough their way into our minds until we convince ourselves they are true.
"Of course I can't be an astronaut."
"Of course I shouldn't tryout for that play."
"Of course it is unrealistic to think I could be a writer."
We forget the thousand good things people say about us and remember the one bad thing. We get so used to believing the lies that we start to make up our own.
"God doesn't love me."
"This is too small for God."
"God could never forgive me."
"God is not there."
And where does that leave us? Feeling worthless and alone. So what do we do? We look for other sources for happiness. Have you been there? Have you been in a place where you felt alone, and sought out something you knew was bad for you, but that you also knew would numb that feeling of loneliness, depression, or despair? That's called sin. It's more than likely that you know what you should do. You should seek out your Creator. You should get in the Word and find the truth and promises God has given us. You should get around a body of believers who will lift you up, speak truth into your life, and pray over you. You should recognize the lies you choose to believe are prompted by an enemy that wants nothing more than for you to have a broken, dead relationship with the one true God. The truth is God is big enough to love/bless/redeem/heal/save us all. Our job is to start filling our heads with so much truth that there is no more room for the lies. And from our heads, the truth will flow into our hearts, and we will become a visible, tangible evidence of Jesus in our communities. But where do we start? Where are God's promises in the Bible? We've created a resource for you. Click HERE to download verses of truth. God has already done the work to mend our broken relationship. He's already defeated the one who brought the lies into our world. God wants you to know His promises, and to declare them for your life. You can do it. You are capable. You have what it takes. He does love you. It's not too late.
Life can get pretty busy with responsibility. We go to work. We pay bills. We try to raise our kids the best we can. Most of the time we are so caught up in the day to day stuff that we just don't have time to deal with God stuff. So when our sins are revealed to us, what do we do? We take the dirt in our lives and we sweep it under the rug. It's just easier that way, right? It's easier to say that we will deal with it later. It's easier to hide it away where no one will see it. And maybe, just maybe, if we ignore it long enough it will disappear. Now of course we all know this isn't true. I mean, when we stop for two seconds to think about it, we see the idiocy in those thoughts, but in the moment, when the baby is crying, when the house is a mess, or when the boss is demanding work be done, we do what we think is right. On those rare occasions we might actually get some 'free time' we certainly don't want to spend it dealing with our sins. No, we want to spend it relaxing, laughing, or in some way distracted from the pain of life. Where does this lead? It certainly doesn't lead is towards God. It certainly isn't the way we can live out the rest of our days on this planet before spending eternity with out creator. And, it certainly isn't healthy for us (believers) to ignore our sins while simultaneously trying to spread God's love to the ends of the Earth. At some point we must take off the Sunday morning mask, stop pretending everything is alright, and take a look at who we are on the inside.
James 1:14-15 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.
The longer we ignore the sin in our life, the more we will give into it. If our thoughts are constantly fixed on pushing it back, and dealing with it 'later' then we will live in constant fear of the sin.
- How long can I hide this?
- Will people find out?
- Are they talking behind my back?
- Can I really be a leader?
- I'm such a hypocrite.
As Yoda so wisely put it, "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." And then, my friends, we are on the path to the dark side and before we know it we have robotic arms and have to wear a helmet and suit just to breath. I'm joking, obviously, but think on the visual of that for a moment. Anakin Skywalker's fear and hate led to a life that couldn't be fully lived. The Force may have been strong within Darth Vader, but he couldn't breathe on his own. He could move objects with his mind, but he couldn't lift his arms over his head. Likewise, our sin weighs us down. It puts us on life support. Our fear will lead us to hate ourselves. Our fear will lead us to pointing out the sin in other peoples' lives to distract people from seeing us for who we truly are. What started out as a little pile of dirt, has buried us alive, and if left unchecked, we will spend the rest of our lives fighting for every breath. Thankfully, we serve a God who is in the business of emptying graves. We serve a God who takes away the dirt, and makes us new. In Jesus we find a man who faced every temptation possible and was victorious. In His death, He took on the punishment of our sins so that we wouldn't have to carry the weight of our dirt. And in his resurrection, we were freed from sin, and made clean in the eyes of our Creator. God's grace is like a giant Dyson vacuum cleaner, sucking up the dirt in our lives, and leaving only the perfect and righteous being He created. When we accept His grace, pull the carpet back, and let Him clean up our mess, then we can begin to live life as God intended.
Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
When I was a kid, I loved to play in the dirt. Dirt was the one toy that was always available. No matter where, no matter when, you could always reach down, and stick your fingers into the earth. Usually, my timing was terrible. Those of you who have kids will probably agree. Children find dirt at the most in-opportune times.
- Just got your dress clothes on for Easter service? Dirt!
- Just put on that brand new outfit for the first day of school? Dirt!
- Parents tell you, “no matter what, stay out of the dirt!”? Double Dirt!
We may not realize it, but we have a dirt obsession.
- Starting a construction project? Got to have dirt.
- Planting a garden? Yep. Dirt.
- Want to eat food? You’re gonna need dirt for that.
Why is dirt so essential to our lives? Why do we have a dirt obsession? Perhaps it’s because dirt is where we come from.
Genesis 2:7 (NLT) Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.
In the second message in our series on DIRT, Blake pointed out the significance of this act. God formed man from dirt and then breathed life into him. Up until now, God created everything - the heavens, and the earth, the land and sea, the plants and all the animals - by speaking them into existence. And, everything God spoke into existence was good. But then, like a child, God reached down and stuck His fingers into the earth, and carefully molded the dirt into the form of a human being. When He was done, He breathed life into the form. Picture that, like a lifeguard giving CPR, God leaned over Adam, and forced air from His own lungs into Adam’s. With that very passionate, and very personal, act man came to life. Even more amazing, when God looked at what he had just created, He said that it was very good. Sure, it’s one little adjective, “very.” But when you think about it, God had just spent the last few days creating the universe; the stars in the sky, our sun, our planet, and everything that is on it. All of that was collectively “good.” But, Adam, the little fragile human who had never spoke a word, or done anything of significance, was “very good.” How amazing is that? At base, without saying or doing anything (good or bad), God thinks we are very good. I’ll wait while you pick up with pieces of your blown mind off the ground. God thinks you are very good, just the way you are. Yes, you. No matter what you’ve done, or thought about doing. No matter what you believe, or how you live your life, God thinks you are very good. So many of us define our value by the way we look, or what we’ve accomplished. We think we are important if we make enough money, or if we are friends with the right people. If we could just get this person to accept us, then we could feel validated. If we could get enough ‘likes’ or retweets. If we could get more people telling us we are very good, then maybe we would start to actually believe it ourselves. We want all of these things from the world, yet we will so easily ignore, or deny the approval of the one who made us. Yes, our bodies come from this world, and we are connected to it. But we are more than dirt. Our lives come from the one who created the universe. We seek significance from a tiny planet spinning around a tiny sun, traveling around the center of a tiny galaxy that is just one of perhaps a trillion other galaxies, and yet we forget that our significance really comes from the one who conceived all of that; the one who placed each of those stars in the sky, and who designed the very brain we use to observe that universe. We forget that God stitched us together in our mother’s womb.
Psalms 139:13-15 (NLT) You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
God has been there with us from the very start, and He thinks we (you and I) are very good. Regardless of whether it is money you seek, acceptance, achievements, relationships, or for someone to notice you, give it up to God. The money belongs to Him anyways. He's already accepted you just the way you are. You'll never achieve more than 'child of God.' He offers the best, most real, most intimate relationship you could ever imagine. He's already noticed you and said, "Hello good lookin'." I hope you will join as we continue our series on DIRT. See you Sunday, if not sooner.
I grew up in religion. A religion that would say they were more than that… but under the grace that was offered from God, I was given the impression that I better “be good.” In fact, I would say if my childhood “discipleship” had themes they would be- Ephesians 2:8-9 (King James Version, obviously) -----For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.--- followed quickly by the mantra- “Now, be good.” For years, I have lived under a burden of trying to be good. Here’s the thing- I am not good. I am horrible. Just like the classic experiment--- if you put me in a room with a plate of oreos and told me not to eat them and then left me alone for enough time… I’m gonna eat them. Probably devour them. I may even lie and tell you some alien beamed himself into the room and ate them and it wasn’t me. I’ve got a sin nature that just has no quit in it. So to tell me to “be good” was never going to cut it. I had tons of DIRT in my life. But I knew in my religious training- I wasn’t “allowed” to… What was I to do? Hide it! Cover it up! Lie about it. For all that is actually holy--- pretend you’ve got it together!!! Sunday’s message starting our DIRT series is so powerful because it lays open the TRUTH--- WE ALL HAVE DIRT! Not only that, but it’s no surprise to a holy God. That’s why He sent Jesus to the DIRT of this world. I love that Jesus was born right into our dirt--- from a human woman--- dirt--- into a manger--- seems dirty… When He started his ministry on earth--- He was always in the Dirt- the dirt of people’s lives. That’s the salvation. He came to the DIRT to get us out of it… Romans 8 starts--- “So NOW there is NO CONDEMNATION to those who belong to Christ Jesus…” I lived in condemnation in childhood… or if I thought I was doing okay--- I lived in pride and judgment and condemnation of others… either place is a no good place for those who belong to Christ Jesus. Check out later in Romans 8 where it says--- “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness [Dirt] of our sinful nature. So GOD did what the law could not do!” Hallelujah! I have DIRT! And I don’t have to figure out how to get rid of it! I don’t have to “be good” as I grew up attempting to be. As I continue to let Jesus into the mangers of my own life, He does the cleaning Himself. The work I do is called “surrender.” And that’s enough for me. Welcome to the DIRT series at radius! We’re able to get into the dirt of our lives and the mess in the lives of others because of what Jesus did on Calvary and is still doing for us.