Deep in our souls there is a longing for home. It shows up in our books, our movies and our songs. Our “homesickness” shows up everywhere, but it seems that few know the way back. Home has become this theme, this larger-than-life magnet that powerfully draws the iron shavings of our soul. But, underneath it all, home is not about a building, an address or a room. Neither is it about the comforts of familiarity. Those things matter, but it’s deeper. All of us have an innate desire to get back to that place where we are safe, where we are known, and where we are loved. Simply put, we all long for God. In Luke 15, Jesus tells a triad of parables about lost things: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. Known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, this story is about a man who has two sons: one older and one younger. As we come to find out, both of them leave home. One son goes to a faraway land. One son leaves home by staying home. And both are invited to experience a Father who navigates the world of lost children. Both brothers are lost. Both brothers need help. Both brothers are at a distance. And both are invited home to experience the father’s heart, the father’s joy and the father’s love. God wants people “home”- including you and the ones you may think are too far away.
For far too many, God is “the Big Man Upstairs;” a cold, detached, remote deity in the sky. As a result, our lifeless devotion often follows a similar trajectory. Cold. Detached. Uninterested. Lukewarm love satisfies no one. But, what if rather than being a distant, dispassionate Clockmaker, God is actually the most passionate Being in the universe. In the words of author Tim Chester, “People often talk about what they feel about God. Hosea tells us what God feels about us.” Through the words of the ancient Hebrew prophet Hosea, we get the full range of God’s heartbeat on display. Relying on images of marriage and family, God leverages the real life story of Hosea and his unfaithful spouse, Gomer, to reveal His jealousy, commitment, heartbreak, enthusiasm and compassionate pursuing love that gets the final word. After all, it's the revelation of His white hot consuming passion that stirs our passion in reply: our jealousy for God, our commitment to Him, our heartbreak over sin, our enthusiasm to serve, and our love for the lost. God’s heart sets our tepid hearts on fire. In this new year, let’s feast on the all-consuming passion of God for us and His world.
In the story of the birth of Jesus, the main point is the incarnation. John tell us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus, the eternal son of God- called the Word- moved into the neighborhood.
But when the Word sounds forth, when the Word comes to earth, He echoes off His people. Meaning, every single character in Luke’s gospel, when they catch a glimpse of God’s saving work in Jesus, all respond in poetry. They sing. They prophesy. They poetically can’t contain themselves. And it just come out… over and over and over again. First, with Mary. She sings what’s called “The Magnificat.” Then old man Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. When his lips are finally re-opened, he sings his prophecy. Next the angels are singing, “Glory to God in the highest.” And then finally, the holy man Simeon in the temple. He blesses God verbally too. In our Bibles, all their echoes are marked with indented italics. Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. Mary, Zechariah, the angels, and Simeon. The Word becomes flesh, and they reply. And now, the Word becomes flesh and we reply. Borrowing the words of the carol, we “echo back our joyous strains.” So that in looking at these echoes, we discover more about the heart of Advent and the preparation work we get to do this season. This is the echo of Advent.
Author AW Tozer captured it well when he said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. … We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.” Theology is not just for dry, boring banter among stuffy scholars in ivory towers. Rather, every human being is a theologian with distinct beliefs about God that drive our everyday decisions of life. Regardless of religion or creed, everyone is a theologian and everyone worships. Everyone has doctrine that feeds personal devotion- and so does a local church.
At the beginning of each new year, we typically go back to the basics and re-center ourselves on the root of life and faith. This year, the elders are excited to commit the bulk of our 2018 preaching schedule to clarifying how what we believe shapes the way we live our everyday lives. We stand convinced that what has been handed down to us (2 Timothy 1:13-14) is worth preserving, prizing, and passing on to the next generation. This includes discussion on Scripture, the nature of God, the Gospel, Gender, Sexuality, the Church, and more. Our aim is to think more deeply so that we may worship more fully.
Typically, the Christmas season is portrayed as a time of boundless celebration, wonder, and joy. There is a steady stream of parties, presents, and tables that overflow with the finest of food and seasonal drink. The lights are hung with precision. The presents are wrapped with sparkle and flair. And the desires of countless children are etched onto physical and digital wish lists. With so much singing and festivity, it is easy to overlook what lies beneath the thin veneer. Even during the Advent season, there is enormous brokenness and pain. Even at Christmas, our world hurts. More than another kitchen gadget or gift card, what we need most is a message that addresses our real stories and our real lives. Drawing from the Christmas carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, what we need are “tidings of comfort and joy.”
For the Advent season this year, we are turning to an unconventional source of wisdom: the Old Testament book of Lamentations. This short, five-chapter book tucked away in often unread places, is poetic lament. It is a creative yet devastating declaration of honesty about the destruction of Jerusalem during the Babylonian invasion of 586 BC. In its historic sense, it captures the essence of the Jewish condition before the coming of Jesus in a poem. They were a people of exile who were crying out in their pain for help. And their cries, like our own, are only fully answered by the coming of the baby born in Bethlehem. During this Advent season, we are looking to reclaim the lost art of lament that prepares us more deeply to see the comfort and joy of Jesus, the incarnated expression of God’s steadfast love. Honest, unbridled lament is a perfect backdrop to discover the true wonder of Christmas.
After almost a full year in the Gospel of Matthew, our journey through this narrative is coming to an end. And as the story reaches its pinnacle, Matthew intentionally slows down the story to cover the last week of Jesus' life. Out of all 28 chapters, 1/3 of the book is devoted to Jesus' final days that include His betrayal, arrest, death, and resurrection. Matthew wants us to know Jesus, not just as Good Teacher, not just as Miracle Worker, not just as Master Storyteller… but Matthew is devoted to introducing us to Jesus as crucified Messiah and sacrificial Savior.
Without this part- without the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus… all the rest of the story falls flat. All of it loses its punch. Matthew wants you to know that Jesus came to die, and that Jesus rose again on the 3rd day. Without the “last days” of Jesus, you have no Jesus at all. In this last week of His earthly ministry, we will see like never before, the power of the King.
Author Klyne Snodgrass once noted, “Stories are inherently interesting. Discourse we tolerate; to story we attend. Story entertains, informs, involves, motivates, authenticates, and mirrors existence.” Therefore it should come as no surprise that when the Son of God came in human flesh to reveal God to humanity, He came sharing stories. He came telling tales. But not just any stories… So much of the ministry of Jesus is marked by His infamous use of parables.
Following an intentional collection of healing ministry stories, Matthew's gospel account moves on to include several chapters of Jesus' parables. With great diversity in length, formatting, characters, and imagery, Jesus uses the familiar to explain the unfamiliar ways of God. Weaving together different tales, these stories all share a common theme: insight into the Kingdom of God. Over the next few summer months, we will dive into these stories of Jesus with an ear to hear. Parables are Kingdom stories with the intent: to puzzle, provoke, and make plain a person’s response to Jesus.
After delivering the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus comes down the mountain and engages a variety of people in Kingdom ministry. These 9 stories from Matthew 8 and 9 are intentionally compiled and arranged by Matthew in order to paint a picture of Jesus and the people He pursues. The "People of the King" reveal the purpose and personality of the King. Watch as Jesus touches, heals, and speaks His powerful word to those who desperately need His merciful grace. Matthew invites us all to discover a Jesus far greater than many presume. For in these people and their stories, we find the gospel in flesh and blood.
From the beginning, God has always desired to have a distinctive people among creation to properly reflect His rule and reign. His heart has relentlessly been for a “treasured possession,” a “kingdom of priests,” and a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6, 1 Peter 2:9). Years ago, God’s great deliverer, Moses, led the people of Israel out of Egypt and up to a mountain where a covenant was established and God’s will for a Kingdom people was revealed. Unfortunately, due to human sin and brokenness, that community resulted in disobedience and a marred image of God. Many years later, God’s Greater Deliverer, Jesus, also went up a mountain to reveal a new covenant and a new Kingdom manifesto. Known as the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7 is the first of the five major narrative sections of Matthew’s gospel and consists of arguably the greatest single collection of the teachings of Jesus. Using powerful words and evocative images, Jesus describes what life looks like for those gathered by and around the King. As the new covenant people of God, the disciples of Jesus are called to be a community of contrast – reflecting a lifestyle and a Savior that is both markedly different and gloriously distinct from the rest of the world. This sermon, and more importantly, this kind of life, illuminates Jesus and His Kingdom Come for the church and, by His grace, for the world.
At the beginning of each year, we have historically used our Sundays in the month of January to re-focus, share vision, and ground ourselves in the Gospel for the coming year. In 2017, we plan to do the same. However, because there are some very specific things we want to discuss, celebrate, and explain in detail for the future, the elders have decided that it would be best to bring everyone together for one gathering each week in January. The elders are excited about the fresh things that the Spirit has been showing us and the new season that lies ahead. Please plan on joining us to worship, discuss, and celebrate the ways we get to experience Jesus and His Kingdom come in new ways for 2017.
Written by a tax collector turned follower of Jesus, the Gospel of Matthew stands as one of the earliest accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. Those seeking to more fully understand Jesus and His ways throughout the centuries have found in Matthew a faithful guide.
Over the course of the next twelve months, we have committed to exploring the depth of Jesus and His Kingdom Come by spending “A Year with Jesus” in the following five episodes of Matthew’s Gospel: (1) The Presentation of the King, (2) The Preaching of the King – Sermon on the Mount, (3) The People of the King, (4) The Parables of the King, and (5) The Power of the King. Not only does this journey lie at the core of our church’s vision, but it provides a chance for both seekers and saints to reevaluate their assumptions of faith and encounter Christ firsthand. Join us as we walk with Jesus, listen to His teaching, and discover what it looks like for Jesus to rule over our lives and this world.
This Advent, we begin with the birth of the King.
Long before Jesus arrives on the scene with a message or in ministry, a baby is born. Swirling around this most miraculous birth are all sorts of questions that ring from Bethlehem and beyond. Who is this Child? Why is He here? Where does He come from? What story does He fulfill? In the first two chapters of this Gospel account, Matthew answers all these questions and more as he introduces us to Jesus and frames His birth as a continuation of Israel’s story. Come behold the birth of the King!
This Sunday, November 13th, is Orphan Sunday, a day that pastors across the United States have dedicated to raising people's awareness about God's heart for the orphan among us. Over the past few months, roughly a dozen churches in Thurston County have chosen to proactively come together to address one of the major issues impacting our local community: the children and families in the Foster Care system. The statistics are staggering related to these modern orphans, and we believe that God is leading His people in Thurston County to do something about it.
For centuries, the Psalms have served as the hymnbook for the people of God. This collection of 150 songs has been read and sung through the years allowing the vast array of human emotions to be expressed. For, as John Calvin once noted, this book is “an anatomy of all parts of the soul.” As we look into the Psalms like a mirror, we better understand all the features of our soul and the God who made us.
For the past 3 months of my sabbatical, God has faithfully used the Psalms to speak to me, shape me, and revive me – teaching me valuable lessons about life, faith and my soul. It’s my hope and prayer that over the next few months in the Psalms, we will discover what our souls are actually craving, singing, and saying. And, that the things that God has awakened in me would be firstfruits for us all.
More than just simple sayings, Proverbs orients us on how to live wisely, with God’s intended flow for the universe. As Eugene Peterson says, wisdom is the “art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves in.” But what is wisdom? Where do you get it?
For the rest of the summer we’ll be seeking to understand what Proverbs has to say about how living a wise life informs our character, our finances, our work, rest, friendship, sexuality, and how we use our words. Proverbs aids us in pressing the big truths we believe about God into the day to day lives we live.
For much of the past century, America has lived under the banner of Christendom among a culture in which Christianity prevailed. From politics to morality to the public square, the Christian story was known and exceedingly influential. However, following the path of our European forefathers, we are living in an increasingly post-Christian age. Rather than finding ourselves as followers of Jesus at the center of culture, in the places of power, or at the center of society, we find ourselves trying to figure out how to live life in the margins. In a world where the Bible is not known, Jesus is not believed, and our status is far from privileged, our reality has changed and so should our questions. How do you live in the margins, not at the center? As minority, not majority? As a sojourner, not a settler? Among plurality, not privilege? As a movement, not an institution?
Thankfully, this is not new territory for the church. In fact, it’s an ancient environment that served as fertile ground for the rapid expansion of the early church. And, letters like 1 Peter, written to the elect exiles of Asia Minor, strike a new chord with refreshing relevance. Learning from the saints who have gone before, we are reminded that life in the margins is not a curse but a blessing filled with new Kingdom opportunity. As we take the posture of pilgrims and sojourners in exile, the gospel can not only survive but thrive for God’s glory and the good of our city. Life in the margins can be a beautiful thing.
Amidst New Year's resolutions and new beginnings, we crave something more. Therefore, at the beginning of each new year, here at Reality we typically go back to the basics and re-center ourselves on the root of true and lasting change. For 2016, that pursuit remains the same. In a word, we have committed to go back to the Gospel and never allow ourselves to leave that foundation. Not because it’s elementary. But because it’s revolutionary. During the month of January, we will be exploring the Gospel against the foil of religion to expose our hearts to the real promises of God.
Central to the message of Christmas is an announcement of joy- great joy for all the people. However, in a season when joy should be known and celebrated, so many people experience just the opposite: Christmas stress, depression, and the heavy weight of life. Any ounce of joy can quickly get squashed in the harsh reality of the everyday. Humanity needs a lasting joy that comes from an untainted, outside source.
Amidst the darkness of the human story, the Christ child is born in Bethlehem but definitely not as any ordinary Jewish baby. Hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to reveal the true identity of the Coming Child, the Messiah. Through his names, we learn his true identity, and we uncover the source of indestructible joy. He is the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. After spending much of 2015 talking about our name and identity, we come this Advent to re-discover His names which stand as bedrock to the eternal and indestructible joy that Jesus has come to bring. This Advent, may our joy be full.
In much of the ancient world, a person’s name and their identity have been inextricably bound together. What you are called (your name) and who you are (your identity) have historically shaped a person’s life and story. To talk name is to talk identity.
This fall we are starting a new series titled with this question- “What is your name?” That question, taken from 2 moments in the life of Jacob from the book of Genesis, will drive us over the next few months as we wrestle with issues of identity and the challenge of knowing exactly who we are. We are going to follow Jacob- from his birth in Genesis 25 to the end of his days. And if there ever was a person on planet earth who struggled with his identity- it was Jacob. His story is marked with turmoil in this area, every step along the way. But it ends in beauty that hopefully will guide us deeper into the truth of knowing God and knowing ourselves.
Throughout the summer of 2015 we explored our life in the Gospel as the people of God- together. The intent of the series was to learn about where community comes from and the beauty of what it is meant to be. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his book Life Together, “It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us.
Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom on his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but God’s grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren." Each week, is an exploration into a different aspect of this privileged life that we are allowed to share with others.