In John 10, Jesus is speaking to his disciples and makes some bold an audacious claims. He takes them outside to the sheepfold to teach them lessons about the Kingdom of God. In doing so, he reveals that the Good Shepherd is deeply committed to a search and rescue mission to round up the sheep that belong to Him so that they may know Him, hear His voice and follow His lead. This, according to Jesus, seems to be normal discipleship: sheep that know the Shepherd in deep and intimate ways, hear His voice and are called by name. A life of discipleship and relational renewal is built on the idea of a God who speaks and a life that listens. This week, we will explore the various ways that God speaks to His people and how we might best know what He is saying.
Relational renewal begins a vision for the God for which you have been created. God the Father did not send the Son, Jesus, into the world to obtain right behavior, right thinkers or to obtain an effective workforce alone. The Christian God- Father, Son and Spirit- is a relational community of love that seeks to be with us for His glory. This theme- God with us- is the vision God has for humanity. God loves to be with His people. This week, as we explore Exodus 33, we are given a snapshot of God's heart for us as a New Testament, Jesus-loving, Holy-Spirit filled new covenant people. God's interaction with Moses and the people of Israel as they prepare to move from the wilderness into the Promised Land reveals the priority of the presence of God and a picture of what it can be like- "face to face as a man speaks with a friend." We are a people of the presence of God and everything else finds its place underneath that pursuit. This gift is ours to prize because of Christ.
As we continue to paint the picture of "Relational Renewal" at Reality Church, this week we will focus on the environments of transformation. Radical Gospel transformation doesn't happen in a vacuum, not does it happen without some structures. In John 15, Jesus uses the life of the vineyard as an analogy for life in the Kingdom of God. He talks in detail about the "life of the vine" - the vine, branches, the Vinedresser, pruning and fruit. However, the hidden and assumed element in HIs teaching is the trellis upon which the life of the vine flourishes. From Jesus' life and ministry, we discover that there has to be structures in place (invitation, community, time, intentionality, and expectation of obedience) to uphold the flourishing life that abiding in Christ brings. The trellis is not the focus or the point. But it is a necessary element to see relational renewal with God, self and others.
Stepping into the first week of this new series, we will spend some time refreshing our vision and mission along with understanding of renewal. As a church community, there are some distinctive ideas that we are committed to contending for among the push and pull of life and culture. Kingdom. Discipleship. Transformation. Jesus invites us to live a different way in a different story. May the Spirit bring renewal among us in every sense of the word.
There are a lot of things in the Bible that God declares to be good: creation, a spouse, and relationships of various kinds. However, something that often fails to make the list is the "goodness" of unity. Psalm 133 begin with the declaration of how good and pleasant it is "when brothers and sisters dwell in unity." Rather than being tacked on as a "nice bonus," the Scriptures speak of the essential nature of unity for the people of God in the world. The psalmist offers us poetic images about the role of unity, the essential nature of unity and insight as to why Jesus would make it the center of his High Priestly prayer for the church (John 17). This week we will explore just how we can pursue this calling that lies directly in the heart of our God.
In a world that calls for us to "grow up," Jesus teaches that the way we mature in the kingdom of God is by becoming more childlike. As we spend another week learning from the Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 131 offers a short and sweet reminder about the wisdom of childlikeness for our journey of faith. Filled with beautiful imagery, the psalmist calls us to follow his example of embracing our limitations and cultivating the weaned life. Life as a child of God points us down a different path than the voices of culture. And it is a more beautiful way.
Without a doubt, Psalm 129 is one of the most awkward, counter-intuitive songs in the whole Psalm of Ascent collection. Not only does it recall Israel's long history of affliction, it ends with a brutally honest cry for shame and cursing on her enemies. It's the "un-blessing" song toward those who have inflicted injustice against Israel. While it may make us uncomfortable to read or sing, these kinds of songs are gifts to the people of God. How do you deal with a history of wrongdoing? What do you do with ugly emotions of anger and bitterness toward injustice? This song reminds us that God is big enough to handle it all. And His invitation, rather than stuffing it, is to bring it all into the light to Him.
Psalm 126 raises the issue of joy for the journey of following God. We live in a world starving for joy, and yet is confused about its meaning and source. As a result, even though we search, shop, consume and escape, the joy that we seek can feel fleeting or elusive. What is joy and where does it come from? As part of the Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 126 reminds us that joy comes from God and, as one scholar wrote, "Joy is the verified, repeated experience of those involved in what God is doing." We are invited to renew our joy through participation in these truths: (1) God has done it before and (2) God will do it again. These two sides of the same coin can produce in us an experience of joy in spite of our current circumstances. Come discover (or discover again) the good news of great joy in the gospel.
The next song in our collection the Psalms of Ascent is Psalm 125. Drawing heavily upon the imagery of Mt. Zion, the psalmist reveals that journey of faith is not a wobbly tightrope walk in the sky. Rather, those who trust in the Lord have mountain-like stability, security and shalom. We will not be moved. We are surrounded. And we will be made whole. This song calls us out of teetering insecurity and helps us renew our confidence in the Lord for our deepest needs.
As we continue our series in the Psalms of Ascent, we discover that Psalm 123 is a song about our posture for the journey. Rather than focusing on the questions of "where we are going," this song offers a snapshot of "how we are to go." And the psalmist's primary answer to that question is this: by being a servant. In a world that bristles at the idea of being a servant to anyone, every follower of Jesus must discover the secret of freedom that is found in having the right Master. Psalm 123 anticipates the Jesus-style life that offers our eyes, requests and concerns to the Father, the Master of all.
If Psalm 120 gets us going in our journey through dissatisfaction, Psalm 121 offers a realistic exploration of the journey that we are walking toward God. It's a song that reminds us how life works: that once we set out on this God-ward journey in the Kingdom of God, it will never be without problems. Just because you follow Jesus, doesn't guarantee a "get out of problems free" card. In fact, it might even get worse. This thing called life is a long, hard journey of faith that takes numerous twists and turns and leaves everyone looking somewhere for help. The question of Psalm 121 is this: on the journey of life, where are you looking for help? If we listen well to this song, we will be reminded just how much God longs for us all to move our gaze heavenward- to the LORD, the Watchman, the Protector and the Preserver of His people.
Although it is neither catchy or cool, Psalm 120 is a perfect song to start a series on the Psalms of Ascent. At its core, this is a song of dissatisfaction. It's all about what is "not right" with the world. And the reason this is so essential is that, without dissatisfaction, a person will remain content and never leave in the first place. The natural pull of life calls for us to stay put, not move and never change. So, as with every good journey, the starting spot is the place of recognition of what you don't want, where you don't belong, and a desperate cry to God for change. Without dissatisfaction, there is no repentance and there is no change. Our journey closer to God and the full life of His Kingdom begins here.
This was a special Sunday gathering for Pentecost — a sweet and beautiful time of worship and celebration.
As the Apostle Paul continues his "spiritual" discussion into 1 Corinthians 14, he unpacks what biblical love looks like among a gathered church community. After giving lots of theology, Paul moves to practice. While he does offer more details about the role of tongues and prophecy, he explains that there are greater Holy Spirit principles at play. What should a person expect to experience when showing up for church? Entertainment? Excellence? A spiritual gift free-for-all? 1 Corinthians 14 offers a corrective voice to the Corinthian community and provides some practical rails for us today. A Spirit-led gathering should come with expectations around (1) Edification, (2) Intelligibility (3) Effective Witness and (4) Order. The movement of the Spirit among the people of God will always build up, stir up and clear up one's heart for Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
Before we dive further into specific gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, this basic question must be answered: What is needed for a person to experience the fullness of the Spirit? We all have heard stories and carry with us our own personal experiences, but what does the Bible say? This week we will take a quick tour of the Spirit's work- in the Old Testament, in Jesus, in the early church- to see what remains true for us today. How does the Holy Spirit operate within and upon the people of God? And, using Luke 11:5-13 as our guide, we will unpack how a person seeks more.
While podcasts are amazing reservoirs of information, inspiration and instruction, they potentially have two dangers. First, they can feed our tendency to have our information outpace our obedience. And secondly, they can put us in a passive consumer position. Where this intersects the church, we can settle for "podcast Christianity"- a life of passive consumption where we gather information with no active participation. Such a reality is incompatible with a biblical vision of life in the Spirit. This week, as we move further into 1 Corinthians 12, we find Paul's underlying presupposition for the Corinthian church: that God is eager to manifest His personal presence in the world through all of His people. We will unpack four main phrases in this passage that serve as helpful guideposts for this kind of spiritual life. Full and active life in the Spirit is so much better than a podcast.
Before diving into the specifics of Paul, Corinth and the letter of 1 Corinthians, we stand in need of a more foundational and big picture conversation about the Spirit. In the same way that Paul did not want the Corinthian believers to be uninformed about "spirituals," we don't want to be ignorant or uninformed too. This week, we will be talking about two roadblocks to any conversation about the Spirit of His gifts- the possibility of the Spirit and the person of the Spirit. Our western, materialistic worldview shapes our engagement of things in the spiritual realm and our inherent mislabeling of the Spirit as a "force" or an "it" also gets in the way. Our hope is to pave a path that allows us to step into life in the "radical middle."
After spending a few weeks exploring the younger son and his time away from home, this week our attention turns to the father and his response to his runaway son. If it is true that "Every baby is born into the world looking for someone looking for them," then our understanding of the father's posture toward wayward sinners is critical for how we make sense of ourselves and the world. In spite of being hurt, disrespected and insulted, the father in the parable of the prodigal son demonstrates the pursuit of our Heavenly Father toward us. In all respects, Luke 15 urges us to behold the Father! Behold the Father's eyes, the Father's heart, the Father's feet, the Father's arms, the Father's lips, the Father's gifts, and the Father's joy. For those who are tempted to believe that their sin has made God the Father turn away in contempt and disgust, this parable tells a different story. The Father is delighted to bring "home" to us in unparalleled grace.