The Community of Believers

There’s an old African proverb that says, “if you want to go fast go alone; if you want to go far go together.” If you’ve ever gone on a long trip you know this to be true. You could make it in a few hours if so-n-so didn’t have to pee every 20 minutes.

Every party where you’ve had fun, every trip you’ve ever taken, and every church service you’ve attended was better because you shared it with the people around you. How awkward would it be to come on a Sunday morning and have the sermon preached or the band play just for you. In the church, if you want to do it right, you don’t have a choice. If you believe in the saving work of Jesus Christ, you are a part of the COMMUNITY of believers.

The community of believers is more than just the people in your own church. The Christian community spans the globe. Where ever a person is in the world if that person is a Christian that person is your brother or sister. Being a Christian is not something we are ever asked to do alone. In God’s eyes we are all his children who he loves very very much. 

In 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul encourages us by saying:
12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

 25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters. 

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

As Christians we don’t have any secret power that eliminates the stress of daily life. What we do have is a community of people around us who want only the best for us. When you become a Christian, you join a family. We may not always get along, but when push comes to shove we should have each other’s backs.

How can you inspire others and be inspired by them?

We are in this together.

More Than Circumstance

Philippians 1:20 ESV - Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

This inspirational passage is from the Apostle Paul. He is writing from jail to the church at Philippi. Paul is awaiting trial and left facing the possibility of execution. But rather than feel sorry for himself, he is praying for boldness. 

Paul writes that it is his EAGER expectation and hope that he will not be ashamed. That word in the Greek that Paul uses is APOKARADOKIA(ap-ok-ar-ad-ok-ee'-ah). This is a word that scholars believe Paul himself coined. It is comprised of three different words and when combined, the definition is “to look into the distance with outstretched head.” To paraphrase, Paul is saying, “I can’t move my feet, I can’t move my body, but I’m stretching my head forward to the future and so I will rejoice.”

Talk about confidence! We wrapped up a series in Ecclesiastes a few weeks ago and what we learned was that life ‘under the sun’ is meaningless. If all we can see is our earthly circumstances in this broken world than we should just end it now. For unbelievers, life on earth is all there is. So naturally, society finds itself striving for worldly things. Paul is after the opposite!

Sometimes we are so consumed with our difficult circumstances that we lose hope. Paul reminds us to fix our gaze on what lies beyond this life. As believers, we know where we are going! This makes us free to serve and to focus on what counts without fear of death.

Think about that eager expectation that Paul had next time you feel stuck or trapped. You may not be able to move your feet, or your body, but lift your head up and stretch towards the future and rejoice. Remember that there is more in your life than your current circumstances. God is sovereign over all.

Say a Prayer today,

That Time John Fogarty Reminded Me About Prayer…

A long long time ago, there was a king named Ahab. Ahab, “did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him.” (1 Kings 16:30b) God sends the prophet Elijah to bring judgement in response to Ahab’s ways. Elijah declared that there would be no rain in the land until God gave him the word. No rain, not even dew. The drought that followed lasted three and a half years.

James references this event James 5:16-18, he says,“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” James reminds believers that Elijah was a man, a person, like you and me and he prayed that God stop the rain and He stopped the rain.

In January of 1970, Creedence Clearwater Revival released a song titled, ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain.’ If you have listened to any classic rock stations over the last 20 years, you have heard this song 1.6 million times and it has been stuck in your head just as often. Even as I write this, the chorus is on a loop in my head. Our prayers are powerful. Prayer is our communication to God. If Elijah had a nature just like us and God heard his prayer for the rain to stop, we can do just as much!

When we are able to learn and discern the will of God and align our will to His you will start to see incredible things happen. For that season of three and a half years, there was drought in the land. Everything dried up. Even the creek that God led Elijah to for survival dried up. When the Lord led Elijah out of that place by the brook, Elijah prayed, and God sent the rains. We may find ourselves in a dry place. It may seem that our path has hit a dead end. Be encouraged, when we come together and pray and seek the will of the Lord, He can bring life to that which seemed dead.

Be Careful Little Mouth What You Say

Jesus’ little brother sure has a penchant for convicting me of stuff. In keeping with last week, I want to share from the book of James. In chapter three the author writes about the tongue, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers [and sisters] these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:9-10)

How often have we heard unkind words come out of the mouths of other believers? How often do we hear it come out of our own mouths? Our words carry more weight than we even realize. Pastor and author Craig Groeschel calls it ‘Lethal Language.’ 

However, in the same way James tells us that our words can do damage to ‘people who are made in the likeness of God,’ our words can also be life giving. Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18 NIV) 

I can be quick with criticism, even quicker with sarcasm. It is easy to forget that each person I am speaking with, whether they believe it or not, is made in the image and likeness of God. If I were slower to speak and slower to become frustrated or angry, my words could bring more life. The only thing we are required to do as Christians is love God and love others. Everything else flows from that. All the laws and all the prophets boil down to those two things. Are we quick to encourage or impede? Are we as quick to compliment or cut down?

Being a native New Jerseyans (like myself) cynicism and criticalness comes naturally. What if we go out of our way to compliment when the thought runs across our mind? Early on in our relationship, my now wife would ask me if she looks nice when we went out. My response was always an emphatic yes, but the follow up was, “Why don’t you ever say it?” What I realized was that even though I thought to myself that she looked nice, I never said it out loud. I never shared those encouraging words. Whenever you think of something positive to say, SAY IT! Why rob someone of a blessing by keeping it to yourself?

It’s always the right time to be encouraging.

This Little Light of Mine

Here in America it’s easy to be comfortable, live in excess, and ignore people suffering around us. In James 2:15-17 we are warned against being all talk and no action: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” 

It seems as though we know just the right “Christian” thing to say don’t we? We can rattle off answers to difficult questions, thinking we’ve got this. Or we tell a friend who is going through a tough time, “Don’t worry. God will work it out.” How often have we said something like, “God won’t give you more than you can handle!” We are sure to pray very articulate prayers using the right vocal tone and utilizing dramatic pauses. We say all of these things, but often times our lives do not reflect them.

If we would examine Scripture, we would realize that we do not have all the answers. When a friend in need comes to us we offer them words or simply ‘thoughts and prayers’ or ‘good vibes’ instead of offering help. Our fancy prayers sometimes lack a humble heart. James writes to encourage us as believers to ensure that our words match our actions. He reminds us that a person who is not livingfor God is not alive at all. One of the four things we focus on at Restore is Mission. “We encourage one another to live our lives on mission for Christ.” We are His ambassadors and our singular purpose is to point others to Jesus.

In 2007 the Barna Group did a survey and found that roughly 85% of non-Christians viewed believers as hypocritical. How can we go and make disciples if we are not seen as genuine?  We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live lives that make a difference. What a revolution it would be if we all just walked the walk a little more? We can be the ones that change the world by first changing ourselves. We can live out our faith through our actions. 

Be encouraged, the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8 that the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. 

Remember that as you shine your light in your community.

Comparison, the Thief?

There was an article in Bloomberg Businessweek about recent research indicating that close neighbors of lottery winners were more likely to have financial distress due to overspending, bad investments, and bankruptcy. This real-life example of “keeping up with the Joneses” should cause us to pause and reflect on our own attitudes towards comparison—striving for what others have—and ultimately our well-being both physically and spiritually. 

Theodore Roosevelt is often quoted as saying “comparison is the thief of joy”. This cute little refrain now circulates the internet every so often. Well-meaning people (probably even myself at some point!) post this phrase with the hope that if we all do a little less comparing, we will all have a little more joy. In the social media age, the opportunities to compare are many, but is it just the comparison that is stealing our joy?

It’s pretty easy to break down this argument. Think of someone you love dearly, and for whom you genuinely want the best. Maybe it’s a parent, or a sibling, or even your own child. If you compare their talents, or their success, against your own, does it automatically steal your joy? No way. When I see the gifts and talents of others (especially my children) that far exceed my own, it actually increases my joy! 

It’s wonderful to see people use their God given talents for great things and be blessed in ways I am not. “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” Romans 12:15 says. The Bible also says that we all have gifts, and they are all different! Knowing the ways God has gifted us, or even the physical things we have, should not lead us straight to sadness or lack of joy when we see what others have. What is it then, that makes neighbors of lottery winners, or people looking at social media, strive to keep up with others in a way that strips them of joy and contentment?

The real joy thief is envy. We don’t like that word. No one wants to admit they are envious, but isn’t that the real culprit? It’s not simply comparing, it’s actually wantingor longingfor something that someone else possesses. The bible talks about this attitude often. James tells us it can lead to more sin, “For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16 NIV). Proverbs 14:30 tell us that it actually causes our body to deteriorate, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.”

What do we do? First, we must recognize it for what it is and repent of our envious ways. Name the sin and ask that God will work to rid it from your heart. Identify the culprits that lead to your envy. Is it scrolling through social media? Watching hours of royal wedding coverage? Choose activities that don’t stir up negative feelings. Then count your blessings. Literally, write them down on paper, put them on the fridge, and have them up to see. Even the simple ones - health, a home, family, meals on your table, flowers, waterfalls, and trees (some of my favorite things!).

Remember, it takes work to cultivate a spirit of contentment and joy. There will always be someone for us to envy. But if we recognize that envy is the thief and learn to “rejoice with those who rejoice,” the thief is stopped their tracks. We can live in the joy, purpose, and contentment that God designed uniquely for each of us. 

The Power of Perseverance

James 1:12
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Galatians 6:9
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  

We’ve been talking a lot in our house about sports lately, particularly softball as Jada is playing this year. It’s made me think about my own days playing softball and how incredibly difficult it was when I first started. My very first game, all I wanted to do was impress the older players and do really well. Instead every time I was up to bat I struck out. I choked back tears as my teammates gave me disapproving glares and promised myself to never play again. 

At times the temptation to quit can be overpowering. I think about all the times I’ve wanted to quit over the years, and all the times my kids want to quit now. It seems that it’s in our human nature to not be faithful. Things get tough, we get discouraged, the journey is too hard, and we want a way out.

God doesn’t call us to be quitters. He calls us to remain steadfast and not grow weary–and what’s more, he promises that by remaining faithful there will be a reward. Sometimes we get to see that reward quickly, and other times it may take years and years.

Are you growing weary of what God has called you to? If something is too much of a burden, our default tendency might be to think that it’s not what God has called us to do. Maybe we need to change our perspective, and continue to persevere through the hard times, to get to the fruit of our labor.

This weekend at a mother/daughter retreat I watched Jada get up in front of 100 people for a talent show, all alone, bright lights shining on her, and gracefully play a song on her violin. If I’m being honest, there were times during those first years, as she plucked out notes with her fingers, and her strings squeak throughout the house, when I wonder if she was wasting her time on the violin. Just a few years later, and she could confidently play an entire song. 

It can be hard to see the reward in persevering in things like parenting, or marriage, or jobs, or ministry. But we can be confident of this: when we remain steadfast and do good, we will reap a reward in due season. Take note that James has called this a promise, that in the end, there is a crown of life waiting for those who have persevered.

The Power of Perspective

The newest internet debate struck with a force yesterday as people everywhere debated whether they heard the word Yanny or Laurel in this audio clip (Listen Here).  This was likened to the 2015 Blue or Gold dress debate. This morning I had my whole family listen to the link, and while I heard Yanny clear as day, several of our kids only heard Laurel. How is that possible?!

These little phenomena bring to light a real-life truth, perspective matters. In the case of this audio clip, some simple modifications (type of speakers, frequency level) can change what you hear pretty miraculously. It’s not so different in real life. We may feel so strongly one way about something, but if we shift our perspective just slightly, we have a completely different view. 

The Israelites struggled with this repeatedly after Moses brought them out of Egypt. God did the miraculous through Moses, showing signs and wonders and sending plagues to Egypt and finally convincing Pharaoh to let the slaves go, parting the Red Sea, and even conquering Pharaohs army as they pursued them. Yet the people of Israel quickly changed their perspective as soon as they faced trouble in the wilderness. They began complaining to Moses, they’d rather be back in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh where they ate plenty, than the comfortless freedom they now had. Repeatedly, they grumbled and complained about their circumstances, instead of trusting that the God that led them out of Egypt, would continue to provide for them. Often this distrust led to more than just grumbling, and into blatant sin as they attempted to take matters into their own hands. For this, God kept his covenant to bring Israel into the promised land, but no one in that first generation (save Joshua and Caleb) would ever see that day.

I fall into this same trap of perspective in parenting. For years it was the greatest desire and prayer to become parents.  Everyone seemed to be getting accidentally pregnant around us and for almost 5 years we remained childless. Finally, through foster care and adoption we became parents for the first time. Now years later, those struggles sometimes seem so distant, and I take for granted the gift of parenthood, as I complain and grumble about the daily needs and demands of our children. If I shift my perspective, I can see the gift and joy of caring for little ones, even amidst the hardships. 

Whenever you are tempted to get frustrated about your circumstances, consider the perspective you are viewing them through. Are you trusting in the Lord or feeling defeated? Do you have a sense of hope or despair? Are you acting in faith or fear? Do you have a spirit of joy or discontent? Even small adjustments can lead to a real shift in perception. The bible gives us a perspective that offers joy, hope, and faith in light of our circumstances even when things are hard. When you sense a need for a shift in perspective, consider going to the Lord in prayer or to Scripture to see how you may view your circumstance through a different light.  

They’re Huge and They’ve Gone Sting Crazy!!!

Springtime, when the leaves come back to the trees, when people with allergies can’t breathe because the air seems to be 80% pollen, and all the bugs reveal that they have indeed survived the winter. It was around this time last year that I was attacked by a wasp. I was driving home with the music up and the windows down. I reach my destination turn off my car and reach to unbuckle my seatbelt. It is a motion I’ve probably done thousands of times, but this time it was different. Instead of push button, exit car it was feel something weird on the button then an intense pain in my finger.

I don’t like bugs of any kind, and for one to be in my personal sanctuary I react as anyone would in this situation and freak out! I jump out because, in my mind, the only way a wasp could be in the car is through a covert wasp nest that has gone unnoticed in my car for months. If there is one there must be a thousand more, right? It couldn’t be that she just flew into my car as I was driving around.

I am not being swarmed so I realize that it’s just a one-on-one battle: giant human me vs tiny mean stinger lady. I open all the doors hoping she’ll fly away but she doesn’t so I go on the offensive and defeat my opponent. I generally don’t like killing anything, but she drew first blood so that justifies it. Or does it?

From the wasp’s perspective she was just hanging out, minding her own business when this enormous thing almost crushes her, so she defends herself the only way she knows how by getting all bite-y and sting-y. There are times in our lives that we come across people like my wasp. We are going through life doing our normal everyday actions and someone lashes out. 

When this happens, our reaction is usually to respond in kind. We think, “They yelled at me, so I better yell louder,” or, “I don’t get even I WIN!” Neither of these attitudes do more than raise our blood pressure and cause division. We have been called to bring peace into the world.

Colossians 3 says, 12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

If you should come across someone that reacts like my wasp, take a breath and try to see what they are actually reacting to. Was it you? Or was it a situation in their life that you could help bring peace to with your compassion?

But I Liked The Old Way

Last night at, Theology at the Taproom, a group of guys started talking about how different the world is now than it was in the past—especially in the context of how we do our jobs. One of the more, um, experienced members of our conversation was telling us about how he learned to do basic computer programing using punch cards. You would punch the correct physical holes in dozens of cards, hand them off to someone else, they would physically load your cards in the computer, and it would run your program until it hit an error.

We laugh at how archaic the idea is now, but at the time this was cutting edge technology. It got me thinking about how difficult it can be to accept change. We hear about the laborious nature of this process and think that it would be easier to do your computing by hand rather than mess with this clunky machine’s punch cards, and I’m sure many people chose that option. Hindsight being 20/20 we realize it was the wrong choice; computers and the internet, with their slow and clumsy beginnings have grown to revolutionize how almost every area of our lives.

I’m sure if we think about it we can see a time in our lives when we’ve made the wrong choice. We want to stick with what we know rather than reach for something new. We think, “I’m used to the old way, I liked the old way, and I know how to make it work.” We see this all the time on the internet, your email provider or favorite social media changes their layout and people cry out, “YOU IDIOTS! IT WAS PERFECT THE WAY IT WAS! YOU’VE RUINED EVERYTHING!” Then we use it for a while, get used to it, and don’t even remember the old version.

This is how the Hebrew people felt when Jesus showed up. They thought, “we have Moses, we have the law, and the ‘real’ messiah would be supremely powerful over our oppressors.” To some Jesus was spitting in the face of the old way. They thought Jesus was disrespectful of the law and the prophets. But he told them in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Jesus interrupted their plans. They knew the law, how to behave, and to certain extent how to circumvent those laws. Often times Jesus presents us with opportunities that interrupt our plans. In times like this we must trust in Him even if it means taking a risk. God has called us to be bold followers of Jesus that are willing to do the things even if they scare us.

Who Should We Be?

In Matthew 5 Jesus starts His Sermon on the Mount. Over the next few chapters he gives insight into how we as believers should act, the things we should support, and the type of people we should strive to be. Jesus saw the crowd that had gathered and starts out his message with, what is called, the Beatitudes.

Matthew 5:3-12

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, 
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
4Blessed are those who mourn, 
   for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek, 
   for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 
   for they will be filled. 
7Blessed are the merciful, 
   for they will be shown mercy. 
8Blessed are the pure in heart, 
   for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, 
   for they will be called children of God. 
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, 
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

11“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

Each of these statements is packed to the brim with theology, weight, and meaning. Whole books have been written expanding on the content of these verses. However, many of those people miss the point of what Jesus was talking about. The Beatitudes are not “if-then” statements. 

The temptation in reading the Beatitudes is to treat it as a step-by-step guide in how to gain blessing. We want to look at verse 5 like it’s saying, “try your best to be meek then you will be blessed, and you will inherit the earth.” We get things twisted when we try and coerce God. We mistakenly think that by acting kind, or being pious, or appearing charitable that it puts God in our debt. I did something good so now God owes me something good in return. This is not how it works.

We have already been given the greatest gift of salvation. It is not through any actions we have performed, any good works we have done, or because any of us just turned out to be good enough. We are blessed beyond measure because of the love God has shown us. The Beatitudes are a great reminder of the blessings that come to us as the children of God, and they are all great ideals for us to chase. 

However, we all must remember that God loves us first, God loves us completely, and all we can do is share the love we have received with those around us.

Rest or Toil?

“What I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun...” - Ecclesiastes 5:18

I was cleaning out my garage the other day of all the mess winter gathers and I found an as-yet unused two-person travel hammock that I received at a Yankee Swap from a family Christmas party. It’s unlikely to ever be used by two people, but I’m thankful for the added security. I pulled it out and set it aside, hoping that the day would come when I could lay in it and take a rest.

Rest. That’s what the hammock symbolized for me.

It probably doesn’t strictly needto be warm outside to rest. But I feel like it does. I’m not going to hang the it out in the cold and bundle myself up in blankets. I’m going to rest by swinging from the maple branches, the leaves forming a canopy rustling ever so slightly in the warm breeze.

All of this came back to me as I was driving, and the sun came out from behind the clouds. It provided immediate warmth, reminding me, it’s April. Warmth is coming, it’s just a little late this year. With warmth comes rest, and the thought of it brought an almost immediate sense of comfort and contentment.

Why was that? I think because I felt an immediate sense that things were going to be okay.

I should note, it’s not like anything particularly stressful or difficult or out-of-the-ordinary was going on. There wasn’t some impending sense of doom. It was just normal, run-of-the-mill tiredness. It’s the tiredness that comes from feeling like we’ve just been at it too long, like everything depends on us, like we’re responsible for all of the things.

This past week in church we talked about contentment. God wants us to “find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun,” but that contentment and enjoyment is directly related to how much we trust God with our future. The teacher of Ecclesiastes was relating it to our finances: how much we enjoy the wealth God has given us will be in direct proportion to how much we trust that it came from Him. It’s true of other areas, as well, especially our daily toil: our contentment, enjoyment, and satisfaction in our daily toil will be in direct proportion to how much we trust him with our future.

That’s the thing about rest: it’s not just a future reality. It’s a present reality, and one that we can only experience when we believe that things really are going to be okay.

Every now and again we need a reminder. The warm sun was my reminder. What’s your reminder?

What makes you happy?

I’ve been pining for some warmer weather for a while. I bet you can relate. It’s been one of those winters where the cold just seems to drag on and on and on. I sort of remember what leaves look like, and I’m starting to remember that my yard has grass in it.

A couple of days ago at a diner, I overheard a patron tell her friend that last year at this time it was 83 degrees. Christi checked her Timehop and discovered that it was actually only 65 degrees. Close enough. It was warm.

Today, though, I can look out my window and see the forsythia starting to bloom (I insist on calling these plants “For-Cynthia’s”, which never gets a laugh, but I keep it going just in case). The yellow buds are coming in strong. If I look closely enough at the trees, I can see little buds that will eventually turn into leaves; the slightest bit of green is visible on the branches.

“Oh great”, I thought, “allergy season.”

That’s how long it took me to go from “I hope there is warmer weather afoot” to feeling discouraged about the allergies I haven’t even experienced yet, simply because I saw a bloom as I stood in the sunlight shining through my windows. All in all, it was about three seconds.

Isn’t it amazing how quickly our minds can move from one circumstance to another, from hope to despair, in a matter of seconds? It’s safe to say that our emotions at any given moment are directly tied to what we’re thinking about at the time–and if we’re not careful, our minds can direct us to some really unpleasant thoughts.

The verse from that old song kept running through my head, “This is the day that the LORD has made / let us rejoice and be glad in it / this is the day / this is the day that the Looooord haaaaas maaaaade”. That’s a direct quote from Scripture. The author of Psalm 118 includes it for the people to repeat regularly: Psalm 118:24This is the day that the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Take note that he doesn’t say, “this is the WARM day” or “this is the ALLERGY FREE day”. He says, “this is the day.” No qualifier. This day, the one that you woke up to, this is the day. God made it. We should rejoice and be happy about it. 

One reason (and it’s a big one) the author says that is because, in vs. 22, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. It’s a reference to our salvation, and how we attain it. Jesus was rejected, but has now become the basis for the rest of the church. The very fact that we are aware of our salvation on “this day” makes today worth being glad about!

What makes you happy today? God made today, and you woke up and got to live in his creation. That’s a pretty good reason to rejoice.

He is risen! Now what?

John 21:3 - Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.”

Wasn’t Easter Weekend awesome?

Good Friday service was a somber reminder of what Jesus did for us. Benny and Eric led us in a time of acoustic worship where we could reflect on how all we bring to the cross is a mockery compared to what Jesus accomplished. We closed considering Christ’s victory, while remembering that his body was still in the grave. Then, on Easter Sunday, we had the stark contrast of celebratory worship as we considered that Jesus Christ, on a defined day in history, actually got out of the grave!

One of the things that I love about Easter is that it’s the one Sunday of the year when everyone who considers Restore “home” shows up on the same day. As our staff reflected on the weekend, we were struck by the commotion that comes with the number of kids in our church. Did you know that there are 51 kids under the age of 11 at Restore? That’s about 25% of the people who were in church on Sunday! The energy in the room, especially when all of our kids are in there with us, is palpable and matches the significance of the message of Christ’s resurrection.

The church calendar builds to a crescendo at Easter. It’s Holy Week. The most important week. Easter Sunday, the day when victory is declared. And then, if I’m being honest, Easter Sunday is awesome, and then I get a feeling of, “now what?”

I think the disciples felt like that, too. Imagine following Jesus around for three years, seeing him work miracles, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, listening to him teach and preach as if he was literally speaking for God himself(because he was). They watched as the number of people who followed Jesus continued to grow. Then, in a few days’ time, he was arrested, condemned, crucified, dead, buried, RISEN! “Now what?”

Each of the Gospel writers includes a couple of post-resurrection stories to make a point and show that the disciples really did see Jesus, but none of them cover it extensively. Our tendency is to think that the appearances occurred in very quick succession, but in reality, there was a reasonable amount of time between some of them. The disciples suddenly had a lot of time on their hands wondering what they were going to do now.

Peter thought, I guess I’ll go fishing.The disciples with him thought it was a pretty good idea. Might as well do something.

I think that’s how we’re supposed to feel after Easter weekend. I think we should look at the cross, see what Jesus accomplished, look into the empty tomb, embrace the risen Savior, and think, now what? That’s exactly the point. Now what? Now nothing. It’s been done. Completed. Finished. Victory. You’re free.

Go and tell someone. And then maybe go fishing.

Where is the Body?

At the beginning of his twenty-eighth chapter, Matthew records the events of Resurrection morning when “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (v.28:1) went to see the tomb. The Bible says there was an earthquake and an Angel of the Lord came to roll back the stone at the opening of the tomb. The Roman guards who were charged with guarding the tomb were terrified and fainted, or “became like dead men.” (v.28:4) This is when the Angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” (v.28:5-7)

What strikes me is something I read in a footnote of this passage. I honestly don’t think I ever thought about: The stone was not rolled away, so Jesus could get out. The stone was rolled away, so others could get in and see that Jesus was not there. I just thought that the Angel rolled it back, Jesus gave a nod and a fist-bump as he strolled out. Jesus just defeated death, did I think he couldn’t roll a heavy stone?

This whole story, the whole of Christianity, hinges on one thing, and that is the empty tomb. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then all of this is foolishness. But where is the body? If the Religious and political leaders wanted to make sure that this movement was quenched and dispersed, wouldn’t they want nothing more than to produce Jesus’s body? The Roman attachment stationed at the tomb was charged with guarding the tomb with their lives. The Roman government had a zero-tolerance policy for abandonment of post or failure of mission.

It seems clear to me that if the Resurrection was a hoax, Christianity as a whole would not exist. Surely the message of the Gospel would not have spread from the backwoods town of Galilee around the world and back again. The burden of proof fell on those who denied Christ’s deity. The tomb was empty.

Death has been defeated.

Resolving Conflicts

How do you resolve conflicts? Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” I don’t know about you, but I am tired of Facebook. Facebook has become a place to throw ideological grenades with no thought as to what may happen. Friends and family will post inflammatory statements and not want to engage afterwards. Over the last year we have seen it get so much worse and often it’s our Christian friends who are the worst offenders. What can we do?

When Jesus gives his most famous sermons (Matthew 5-7) you have to understand something. What He was sharing was revolutionary and at times downright scandalous! This was the beginning of his earthly ministry and Jesus was definitely becoming known. Jesus had been traveling throughout Galilee teaching and healing. Word of this spread throughout the area, to Syria, and beyond the Jordan and crowds have gathered.

Jesus went through the foundations of Hebraic Law, contrasting the people’s mistaken ideas with His Godly truth. Many of the topics Jesus would teach on would begin with, “you have heard it said …” and the he would correct it with, “But I tell you…”

I want to focus on this idea of peacemaking and dispel some myths. First, let’s define a term. Blessed is the experience of hope and joy, independent of outward circumstances. Peacemaking is NOT the avoidance of conflict. Peace in the Bible is never to be confused with pacifism. Peace is not avoiding strife. Peace is not appeasing parties. We must remember that just glossing over problems, acting as if everything is alright when it is not, is not being a peacemaker.

Peacemaking can be messy work. It takes time and emotional energy. Jesus, our best example of a peacemaker, established healing relationships of peace the people around Him. It’s harder for us. We will fail, and we will get bruised, but we are called to love one another.

Next time you are checking your newsfeed and find yourself confronted with a post that bothers or upsets you think of the acronym ENATA. ENATA will help us to respond rather than just react. Before you respond, ask yourself is what you want to say Effective, Necessary, Accurate, Timely, and Appropriate? If you cannot answer yes to these, perhaps you should just listen and not add to the noise and vitriol. Remember, God is the God of Peace (Heb.13:20) and Christ is the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6), when we are peacemakers, we are partaking of God’s nature.

The Significance of the Real Gospel

If you are a Christian and someone were to ask you why, what would you say?

I have had some difficult conversations with non-believing friends. These become even more difficult in the aftermath of tragedy. Over the last week I’ve seen so much calamity in the lives of friends and family: family members have passed, tree limbs have fallen on cars, houses burned down. Looking at times like this my nonbelieving friends would ask, “why does a loving God allow that?”

Too often I hear preachers talk about how God wants us to be rich or simple steps you need to take to accomplish x, y, or z, and I get bothered. If you are trying to talk people in to faith by saying that they will always be happy, or wealthy, or that it’s easy, I think you have it wrong. We can get so caught up in this idea that as believers we are somehow immune to tragedy.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus plainly states to his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33) Anyone who tells you the Christian life is easy or always happy is either living in a bubble or is blissfully ignorant. There are people starving, dying, and being oppressed all over the world and even right in our backyard. There is injustice everywhere. Where is God? It is easy to look around and feel like God stepped out for minute and I don’t blame non-believers for their skepticism. But there is something that they miss.

The verse I referenced above reads, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” As Christians we can take solace because we know how the story ends. We know that Jesus conquers sin and death.

In our lifetime, we may not see all the ills of the world eradicated. But we as Christians have hope for a better tomorrow and are charged with being Christ to those around us. We are to show the love of Jesus to those around us. When communities come together to feed and clothe those in need, when we speak out for those without a voice, when we provide for the least of these, we are living out the true gospel. As Christians we are, unfortunately, not immune to tragedy, but when bad things do happen we know that we don’t have to face them alone. We have the hope of the world. 

Who Set Your Foundation?

I’ve been involved in church for as long as I can remember. I used to joke that I was born on a Friday and was in church the next Sunday. It has always been a big part of my life. I can’t remember a time in my life where I missed more than two Sundays in a row. One of the greatest areas of impact on my faith journey was made by the men and women that gave their Sunday mornings to teach me about the Bible. As far as I know, none of them were Bible scholars or highly trained teachers; they were just people who knew how important it was for young kids to be introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, Jim and Lisa, Tim and Dawn, Sheri and Terry, a man called Tater, and every other great children’s ministry leader, though you may never read this, thank you. Thank you for spending time with us on a Sunday morning. Thank you for not just babysitting us but for truly investing in us. Thank you for helping to lay a strong foundation for my faith. Thank you for pointing me towards Jesus on a weekly basis. And thank you for helping me hide God’s word in my heart.

By investing a trivial amount of their time each week in me these people have ministered to countless others through me. However, they were never worried about some far off future legacy. They just wanted to make sure I and my classmates knew that we were deeply and truly loved by God. That God was there for us and that no matter what we’ve done or think we’ve done we can be forgiven. And I’m sure many people reading this have similar stories of people they could thank.

At Restore we have a lot of children. According to our records about 20% of Restore is under the age of 11, and a third of that is kids under the age of 3. This is wonderful. We love having kids being active members of our church. They bring an energy and a creativity most of us lose once we realize the fridge doesn’t get filled by magic and our laundry doesn’t wash itself.

As any parent can tell you having kids changes things. Kids adjust your priorities, they can change your goals, and most obviously kids change for whom you are now the most responsible. We as a church need to step up and accept the words of Jesus found in Luke 9:48, “Then he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.’”

We believe children are important. We believe that it is our duty to introduce them to the faith. Christi, our Children’s Ministry Director, does an amazing job preparing and equipping our teachers: preparing rooms, selecting and preparing curriculum, and so much more behind the scenes. But she can’t do it alone. If you know someone who would do an awesome job pouring into the lives of Restore’s children would you please let her know. (Christi@restoreworship.org)

We all think these kids are special and important. Let’s get together and show them.

From a Culture of Busy to a Culture of Rest

There’s an epidemic of busyness. From oldest to youngest, we all suffer from a society that reinforces the idea that busy is better. We don’t take the long holidays in summers, and instead of a time of leisure or renewal weekends become packed with errands, engagements, and chores.

The strange paradox of all this busyness is that there is some pretty convincing evidence that we aren’t actually that busy. What we call “busy” is more often wasted time that wasn’t set aside to NOT be busy. On average, Americans have more time than previous generations, according to an article in Johns Hopkins Health Review. Yet we feel as though we are always busy. But are we really? If you need a quick check, ask yourself these questions: How full is your DVR? Have you recently binge-watched shows on Netflix and seen that little “Are you still watching” screen pop up? What does your social media or internet use look like? What you may realize, is that you do have access to free time, but you fill it in ways that don’t resemble rest.

So the question we must ask is, what does real rest look like?

From the very beginning of his relationship with the Israelites, God calls His people to a Sabbath rest. It is a theme throughout all of Scripture, from God resting on the Seventh Day of Creation, to the Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and continued throughout scripture even to Jesus observing the Sabbath.

If we look to scripture, there are a few key ingredients to rest that we must implement if we ever hope to be rested and refreshed (Exodus 31:7) the way God intended. First, it is a scheduled an appointed time. After creation, it was the seventh day. This is the same day God instituted for his people in Leviticus (Lev. 23:3). It is to be a specific time set apart to not labor or work. If we WAIT for a time of rest, or for our work to have an end, it won’t happen. We need to plan for it, to make it happen. If you want to meet someone for coffee, you don’t just hope to run into them at Starbucks one day. You schedule it. You set reminders. You block off the time and don’t plan anything else during that time. We need to approach the Sabbath the same way.

The next piece is how we spend our Sabbath. God calls his people to be a holy people, set apart (Lev. 23:2). This means we will look different that the rest of the world. He doesn’t just tell you to rest. He tells you HOW to rest, and that typically means a time set apart for the Lord, for feasting, remembering his good works, and worship. Jesus was found teaching at the temple on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16), healing occurred on the Sabbath (John 5:8), and people feasted on the Sabbath (Acts 20:7). It’s not just a call away from our regular busyness to catch up on our chores or favorite shows, but a time set apart for renewal and rest in the LORD.

More than thoughts and prayers

This past week our country experienced another national tragedy. I won’t recount the details and events, because we know this is not the first tragedy, and will also not be the last. As the impact reverberated through the nation, many people offered up “thoughts and prayers” as has happened before, but instead of the welcome it usually receives, the thoughts and prayers came up so empty. Many memes were created to tell people that it wasn’t enough.

As Jesus gave the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) he said among the beatitudes “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God.” Personally, this resonates on many levels. I want peace in my home, in my town, in my relationships, and certainly in my country. When people are yelling we often ask them to “calm down” or not get so angry. When a fight breaks out, we want it to be stopped. This is peacemaking, right?

Recently I read an article that made me reconsider whether as Christians we are actually pursuing real lasting peace or not. It argued that often what we mistake as peace MAKING actually resembles more of peace KEEPING. A peace maker is defined as “a person who brings about peace, especially by reconciling adversaries”. This term involves a conflict of some sort that needs to be brought to resolution. Yet as Christians often we just try to keep the peace, rather than actually get into the real business of entering the conflict and MAKING peace.

In peace keeping, things are already peaceful, and we just work to keep it that way. In peace making, there is a conflict that needs to be resolved in a manner that results in peace. The process of peace making involves getting to know the issue, not being afraid to enter the conflict, and working to disrupt the status quo to bring about a solution that doesn’t KEEP peace but MAKES peace.

Any honest look at the news should inform the Christian that there is conflict, and tragedy in the world. And in fact, this should not surprise us! “Nothing is new under the sun!” the author of Ecclesiastes says. Until Jesus returns sin will be a part of living on this Earth. OUR task, as Christians, is to enter into this conflict and tragedy with open eyes and awareness, not shrinking away in shock, or feigning support from afar, but offering tangible ways to help usher in the peace that Christ offers us. Maybe you can do this on a global scale, through legislation or involvement. Maybe you can take measures in your own community. Or maybe, it means being an advocate for peace in your own home. We each have a role to play as peace MAKERS. This is an action and a call, and while we continue to offer our prayers because we believe that God can and WILL intercede in miraculous ways, we can also take action to pursue peace in whatever context God has placed us in.