Missional Thankfulness

The phrase that stuck out to me the most from John’s message Sunday was this:

We ought to be a people known for our thankfulness.

John emphasized that the world looks at us, especially in those difficult times, to see what we’re made of. He challenged us, even in those difficult times, to be people who are thankful.

Now, I don’t think that means we have to be blindly optimistic and I know John didn’t mean that. Neither does it mean we’re going to ignore the real difficulties and challenges that humanity faces on a daily basis because we’re just so thankful. But I think John nailed it—part of being whole humans is learning to be thankful in every situation, and that thankfulness is part of our witness!

I came away from the sermon thinking that being more thankful could be part of my “living a questionable life.” If I’m a more thankful person, I think that will not only be true in my private prayers. It’ll also be true in my public conversations. In my friendships and relationships with Christians and with not-yet-Christians, I can naturally speak to what God is doing in my life in terms of thankfulness, even without mentioning God directly. And just maybe, by being thankful, the question will cross somebody’s mind: “Who are you thankful toward?” Or people might ask, “How can you be so thankful?”

The practice of thankfulness is part of becoming more fully human. It’s when we recognize our dependence on something greater than ourselves and on people beyond ourselves. That’s a quest for all humans. And those of us who follow Jesus believe that it is God on whom we depend, because in him we live and move and have our being.

Having listened to John’s message on Sunday, I’m challenged to be more openly thankful, not just in my prayer time, or my time praying with and for other Christians. I commit to be more thankful with not-yet-Christians, with friends with whom I’ve never had a spiritual conversation. I commit to looking for opportunities to be thankful, and to voicing my thankfulness out loud, with that person, because I know that it is part of my witness in the world.

The move toward being “missional” is always a double-edged sword. In this case, I see the narrative John read is openly emphasizing the other side. Which of the former lepers came back to Jesus to say thank you? Wasn’t it the despised Samaritan? The foreigner? The “mudblood”? Luke helps us see that we have to be people who listen to others’ thankfulness. Jesus is an example and a model of listening to foreigners, to listen to people who are different than we are, to ask them what they’re thankful for.

Let’s affirm those things. Let’s grow because we hear the thankfulness of other people. Let’s allow that to challenge us to be better people. And let’s invite others to participate in that life-giving act of giving thanks.

Jeremy Daggett

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Continual, Not Contingent

Those three words, “continual, not contingent,” struck me right between the eyes on Sunday morning as Brother John talked about thankfulness. My wife is always challenging me to change my perspective, to find something, anything, to be thankful for. She’s always on me about being thankful because I struggle with times of depression, and through those struggles, Lacey and I have realized how closely linked having joy and being thankful really are.

When things are going well in life it’s easy to be thankful, but we all know that life isn’t always perfect, and if our thankfulness, if our JOY, is linked to our circumstances we’ll undoubtedly end up with emotions that look like yo-yo’s, roller coasters, or sine waves. This has been the case for me; my feelings of joy are contingent on how I perceive my life to be going. And in times when I’m slung down into a dip in life’s roller coaster, it is REALLY HARD to have a spirit of thanksgiving.

God has already been working on my heart in this area, but on Sunday I was challenged to think about why my thankfulness and joy are not more continual rather than contingent. So I asked God, “Why am I not more joyful?” His answer hurt.

“Because my joy is not the joy you seek.”

Ouch. Okay, back to Thanksgiving. When I sit around the table at Thanksgiving or thank God for the “many blessings he has given to us” in a prayer, most of the things on my mind are things that I’m thankful for because they give me joy in this world, in the here and now. And it’s certainly right to be thankful for these things, but my primary thankfulness has to come from God and his presence in my life or I am bound for a perpetual ride on the roller coaster of life.

I truly believe that I do seek the joy of the Lord, but it’s the icing on the cake, the cherry on the sunday. God demands to be more than that. God deserves to be more than that.

My hope this week is to reverse the order, to realize in my heart that my thankfulness and joy are COMPLETE in Christ. God’s promise is that if we seek him and his presence above all else we will certainly find abundant joy, a joy and a thankfulness that is continual, not contingent.

Morgan Hines

Be thankful in everything

 

Over the holiday break, my wife and I had a long conversation or two with our youngest child about his brother and sister and the kids that we had come and go in our family.

We lost a child late in a pregnancy in ’94.

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We had a child in ’96 (about 3 months early, but doing great!)

We adopted a child around ’98 and had to give her back because of legal issues and a change of heart by the birth family.

We had another child in ’99.

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We adopted a child around 2005 and had to give him back because of problems he had as a special needs child/foster care kid – his psychiatrist recommended he “go back” for his safety and ours.

We lost another child about halfway into a pregnancy a few years later.

We had another child (big surprise!) in 2008.

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(See my wife for a more accurate accounting of all that.)

We had a few other miscarriages over the years as well, some we knew about ahead of time, some that were a surprise.

We added up how many kids we’d have now if most all of them were still with us and we figured up at least eight kids.

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The question our youngest asked was, “How would our life as a family be different if we still had all those kids?”

The more we talked, the more we realized that we likely wouldn’t have had our family today, as it is, if we’d not gone through some of those losses.

We wouldn’t have chosen to go through those losses, but we realize that God used many mysterious and painful circumstances to bring us to where we are today.

We are grateful for who God has made us, even if the way he did it wasn’t what we would have chosen.

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John’s message yesterday was a great reminder for me to be thankful, to be grateful in all situations.

Even when things aren’t going our way, it doesn’t mean God isn’t at work behind the scenes.

We can be grateful that he is with us and in the knowledge that, in all things, he is working for the good of those who love him.

And very often, the path that he has us walk down brings us even better things that we would have chosen for ourselves.

Be grateful.

Wade Poe

Devotion

“Devotion” implies commitment, fervor, and focus.

I engage in Bible study, fellowship, bread-breaking, and prayer multiple times each week. But I must admit that my dedication waxes and wanes. I remember well the energy and excitement I felt during the weeks following my baptism (20 years ago today, in fact). I imagine that Acts 2 reflects that same kind of response to the Gospel. I often wonder how I might recapture and sustain that same level of enthusiasm that I once experienced.

I would say that I am spiritually healthy today. But I recognize that there have been moments in the past when I was more intensely aware of God’s presence in my life. In many ways I have grown and matured, but in other ways my spiritual life has lost a bit of its luster.

I would guess that the way I described myself above is fairly common throughout the church. Life is full of peaks and valleys and everything in between. I am thankful for the message this week from Acts 2:42-47, because here I think we find a set of practices that will reinvigorate our zeal for the Lord.

So in response to this message from Acts, I will …

  • Devote 20 minutes each morning to Bible reading (an old habit of mine that I need to revive)
  • Find at least two opportunities each week, between Monday and Saturday, to fellowship with other disciples
  • At least one of those opportunities will involve food. (I think there is something special implied in sharing a meal together; it’s a heightened form of fellowship.)
  • Begin a prayer journal (another old habit that needs resuscitation) where I will maintain a list of specific reasons to praise God and specific requests that I entrust to Him.

I invite you to join me in my renewed commitment to these acts of devotion.

Robert Meyer

Takeaway 

What a fun word (I personally thought it should be hyphenated, but SpellCheck said otherwise). I like takeaways. I like it when you can go out to eat and they give you that extra takeaway drink to go. I like it when my wife doesn’t eat all of her meal and I get to take away the rest for lunch the next day. I’d say, most of the time, the idea of takeaways are typically positive.

And so it was this past Sunday. First of all, what a beautiful day! Our Life-Stage group had a good class talking about John chapter 2. The auditorium seemed to be filled up with praise and worship on Sunday morning, and Leon had a very encouraging message. I left our gathering on Sunday with a number of takeaways.

1. Be in the Word. Our class has talked about this recently as we’ve begun our series on John. If you’ve been a part of a church for a length of time, it might be easy to look past certain studies and consider them a “review”. In so doing, we treat the Bible as any other book, or head knowledge that need only be learned once instead of an overflowing well of wisdom, truth, and life. Our study of John is centered on, not just knowing “about” Jesus, but getting to know JESUS…who He is, and becoming more intimately aware of the things he said, the things he did, so that we can be better followers. Each week, as we look ahead at the next chapter in John we will be covering, I’m making a personal commitment to read the chapter multiple times in that week, to become connected, not just with what it says, but with what Jesus says. Are the words of Jesus a part of your week? Should they be?

2. Pray. Leon encouraged us all to consider our prayer lives. I took this to mean not just at the dinner table or in our gatherings together. Personally, I have needed more time in solitude and silence with my Father. Our lives are so loud, so busy, and my life reflects the world in that way. My life needs quiet, it longs for rest. Why is it that so often we make prayer something that God needs from us, when it is much more likely that prayer is something that God knows we need. In the coming weeks, I plan to carve out chunks of time when silence is valued. Could your life use some quiet-time? Will you get it without planning for it?

3. Fellowship with others. Whether this is synonymous with POTLUCKS or not, I appreciated what Leon had to say about our fellowship with one another. Fellowship isn’t always easy. Sometimes it can be really hard. But it’s so important. We are called to be in fellowship with one another. We are called to be connected, to encourage one another. When I think back on our “Surprise the World” study, I think about the first two letters of the B.E.L.L.S system and how much joy comes when I am seeking someone to “Bless”, and someone to “Eat” with. Even though our lives have become too busy, they have also become often too separate. In the coming weeks, as we join with our loved ones over Thanksgiving, and as we enter into the holiday season of Christmas, we will once again be reminded that it is better to give than to receive. We will encounter people who are in need of a blessing and may be able to share tables together of fellowship—both with people we now know, and perhaps people that we meet. As a takeaway, who will you bless? Who will you share a table with?

We have lessons to learn all around us, not just from sermons, not just from classes. What will you take away? How will you grow? What is making you become more like Jesus?

Chad Tappe

Everything in Common

This part of Acts 2 is my favorite picture of the church, of the fellowship of the people of God. It is something that we try to emulate in our lives and our ministry here at UALR. This fellowship has a wide variety of people from different places and backgrounds who love to break bread together, but there is an aspect of Leon’s sermon that I feel challenged to work on regarding this fellowship.

Leon talked about this fellowship as a partnership, even with people who are different from us. That is where it gets hard. Occasionally I avoid going too deep in conversation with some people because eventually we will find something we disagree on and things will get difficult. Leon challenged me to lean into this kind of a conversation rather than avoid it.

We are working to partner with other ministries here at Genesis, and many of our students come from different backgrounds, different denominations, and even different religions altogether. I have been challenged to study Scripture with these people, as well as leaders of other ministries on campus, to get together with them to pour over Scripture as partners in the Gospel. As we seek God together, the goal is not to change their minds so that they will think like me, but that the Holy Spirit would speak to us and enrich our view of Him as we study together, as we hear perspectives that are not our own.

I want to study with other ministers on campus, but with my students as well. We have Bible studies where I do most of the talking, of course, but I want to be more intentional about having small group studies where we fellowship and praise God together by studying his Word together. I want to hear their voices and their perspectives on the Word of God.

He also talked about the importance of time praying with one another. This is something we already do every week, but there are so many more opportunities for us to come together and pray for things. I want to encourage this as a part of our everyday lives together, not just a weekly event. And personally, I want to see more of this in my own home, that my wife and I would study together and pray together as partners in the Gospel as well as partners in raising our little boy together. I pray that God will help us all to see the many opportunities to participate with one another in the fullness and reality of the family of God through the Gospel.

Morgan Hines

DEVOTED ONESELF

ACTS 2:42-47

One of the greatest days in history was the day the kingdom of Christ was launched and the church began. Jesus had been crucified fifty days earlier on Passover. Three days later he was raised from the dead, triumphant over death and all of Satan’s powers. He remained on earth with the disciples for over a month before ascending back to the Father and starting his reign as king of kings and lord of lords at the right hand of the Father. As part of his plan and fulfillment of a major promise to the disciples he had commanded them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit in an overwhelming way. When the day of Pentecost arrived, God sent the Holy Spirit with a huge noise like a tornado had hit Jerusalem. The Spirit came upon the disciples and there were tongues of fire sitting upon each of then. The apostles began to speak in languages they had never learned so that people from all over the known world who were in Jerusalem for the feast could understand them speaking in their own languages. No wonder a huge crowd came together. Peter stood up with the other eleven apostles and pointed out that this was what Joel the prophet had foretold that God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh. Sons and daughters would prophesy. Old men would dream dreams and young men see visions. God would pour out his Spirit on servants, both male and female. And whoever called on the name of the Lord would be saved.

Peter explained to them that Jesus who had performed all kinds of signs and wonders among them was the Messiah that had been prophesied. He was delivered to be crucified by the very plan and purpose of God and they had taken and by wicked hands had executed him. Yet death couldn’t hold. God raised him up and had now seated him on David’s throne just as he had promised. When the people realized what they had done they were cut to the heart and cried out,

“What shall we do?”

Peter told them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise of the Spirit was for them, their children and all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call. 3,000 people believed what he preached, repented of their sins and were baptized that day.

But notice what happened then.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.”

Being forgiven and receiving the Spirit was vital. But it wasn’t the end for them. It was the beginning of a new life. Too many see being a Christian as an event. They were baptized and became part of the church. But did you devote yourself to the four big things that should be part of every Christian life?

Did you devote yourself to the apostles teaching? We all begin the Christian life as new babies in him. We are still feeding on milk and not meat. But if we are to grow and become strong as Christians we must become devoted students of the apostles teachings or the word of God especially the New Testament. We need a daily habit of reading and studying his word. But we need also to be part of study groups or classes so we can learn from others who have had more time to learn and know His will.

Have you devoted yourself to the fellowship or partnership of other followers of Jesus? Living for Christ isn’t an individual effort, but a team activity. He built the church as a body, a family and congregation so we can help each other grow in our faith and service to God. We need the encouragement of other Christians and the correction of mistakes and failures that hinder our growth for him. Build your fellowship. That was much of the reason the writer of Hebrews told them not to forsake the assembling of themselves together like some were doing.

Have you devoted yourself to the breaking of bread? This phrase is used both for sharing meals together and for taking of the Lord’s Supper together. Most likely here it is about the Lord’s Supper. In the early church the communion and the meal together were often done together so that the communion actually came about during the serving of a regular meal. It didn’t mean that every meal together was communion but that communion fit well as part of the table fellowship that was part of their normal life together.

Have you devoted yourself to the prayers? Certainly personal and private prayers are extremely important and ought to be a regular part of our life. But that isn’t what is being talked about in this text. He is instead referring to the people getting together to pray to God about matters of great importance to the whole group. Prayer services were once common in church and in small groups but seem to have become less and less a part of the normal life of the Christians and that is a shame. We need to get together to pray about matters that are important for our families, our friends and for the church as a whole. I believe there would be far less confusion and fussing in church if there were more times when we gathered to pray.

Will you today, make up your mind to become devoted to these four major aspects of godly living? It will set your whole life for God on a good course.

 

Leon Barnes

Tension in Worship

I would have been unsatisfied with Jesus’ answer to the question.

“The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father … true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”

What does “in spirit and truth” mean? Obviously change is coming. But what stays and what goes?

On the one hand, Jesus dismantled one of the Jews’ most important traditions – the centralization of the temple. Modern journalists would have called him an iconoclast. Jesus said the location of our worship is not important, because God is Spirit. This was a major blow to the Jewish institution.

On the other hand, Jesus emphasized the essentiality of truth. Our methods and traditions are still important to God. As Leon said, “We worship as God says to worship.” So the temple complex is out of the picture, but that doesn’t mean we throw out the whole playbook.

I think God intended us to feel some tension between “spirit” and “truth.” We need both, yet we tend to draw more heavily on one or the other.

I get caught up in the details. I rarely listen to a sermon without imagining the preacher’s outline and privately critiquing his style. I evaluate the song selection – were there too many fast songs, slow songs, old songs, new songs? As a teenager, I would count how many times one of our beloved elders said the word, “um” during his closing prayer. There is a great danger in this kind of thinking. Methods are important, but if we preoccupy ourselves with a formula, then the spirit suffers.

More recently, I feel as if I am fighting a frustrating battle against the spiritual heirs of the Jewish Temple Institution. We’ve launched a new church congregation in Huambo that meets in homes. We often hear this critique from outsiders: “How can you be a church, if you have no building? You’ll never grow.”

I want to prove them wrong. In fact, I usually respond by quoting Jesus, “Neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem!” I want our Angolan friends to question their cherished traditions, so I challenge their beliefs. One friend recently told me, “You like to stir up the dust too much.” He’s right. Tradition serves an important function and we ought to be careful curators of the traditions God gave us.

I struggle to balance spirit and truth. I feel as if I am always fighting one side or the other. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Perhaps God intended us to struggle so that we might grow and mature.

After hearing anew this message from John 4, I am resolved to take a deeper look inside my own thoughts and practices. With each worship experience I want to be sure that “spirit” and “truth” both receive equal importance. I want to be the kind of “true worshipper” that God seeks.

Robert Meyer

What is Worship

The sermon this past Sunday was entitled “What God Searches For” the preaching passage came from John 4:18-24 where among other things, the gospel writer records Jesus as saying, “The hour is coming and now is when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”

I’m sure we’ve probably all heard sermons that focus in on verse 24 – “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” It’s a great and important verse that I probably would have honed in on if I had been preaching but instead the sermon centered on verse 23 where Jesus said that the Father is seeking people to worship Him! We can and often do make the case that we must be careful to seek out the TRUTH and worship according to those things that God has authorized in his word. By the way, all of that is correct, important and true… but while we are looking for the right church and the right way to worship God, He is looking for the right heart and spirit to worship Him!
The question becomes what is God searching for in those who worship Him? The story of the woman at the well teaches us that God is not so much interested in the externals of worship, (ie., the right place, the right clothes, the right songs, the right people) instead, He is looking at the spirit and heart of those who come to worship. Are we coming before God in submission to His will and sacrificing our preferences to what His revealed word teaches about acceptable worship or are we imposing our likes, whims and preferences about what we think is good to us?

It’s a pretty deep question that we should all ask of ourselves because as human beings we all tend to want to have things our way, don’t we? We can even become pretty good at convincing ourselves that the way we like things after all, is the way God wants it to be. Yet, in the quiet solitude of the scriptures there it is staring us in the face; unmistakably verse 23 says – “…the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”

Our worship to God should not just be about singing the right songs, doing the prescribed things in the prescribed manner and checking off a list of items to be able to say we did it all right! True worship is that which comes from a heart and spirit, (attitude), that humbly comes before God yielded and broken, thankful for the grace and forgiveness that we find before the awesome throne of our heavenly Father.

Let’s never forget the importance of worshiping God in spirit and in TRUTH, but also remember that God is seeking the right spirit in us as we come before Him in worship. This Sunday, let me challenge you to lay aside everything else that can distract us from our true worship to God and be impacted by the fact that God is seeking us to truly worship Him! Now there’s something to think about for the rest of this week!

John Phillips

The most natural thing we do…

Leon’s message this past Sunday reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my kids recently.  They asked about what the “right” way to pray was – to bow your head, to lay face down on the ground, to hold or fold your hands face upward, or something else?

It led to a discussion about traditions that we receive from those who went before us and that those who went before us received traditions from those who went before them and so on.  Many of our ways of praying and worshipping, including our physical postures, songs we sing, ideas we share, are things we are repeating that others did or said long ago.

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For example, somewhere, long ago, someone had an encounter with God, a moment in which they felt the presence of the Lord in their life in some real way – maybe a healing, or a deliverance from a problem, or some deep insight – and they responded in a way that was natural to them – maybe they bowed their head and got on their knees to pray, or maybe they lifted their hands up toward heaven and spoke, wrote a song to sing to God or about God, etc…

For example, many of us are familiar with the song, “It is well with my soul” and how the writer, Horatio Spafford, had experienced great loss in his family (a son and four daughters all died).  On a ship headed to Europe, when they were close to the spot where his four daughters (seen below) had drowned in a shipwreck, he wrote the song as a cry, as a response to God in the midst of great pain and tragedy.  Though his heart was broken, he still trusted God and he expressed his worship in a song.

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That great song has served as a way for others to express their heart to God over the years.  Because Horatio Spafford worshipped the Lord and shared his experience with others, countless others have been able to worship the Lord and understand him at a greater depth.  People have been able to grieve and lament their pain and share their faith and their hope in the midst of pain because Spafford worshipped and shared his story.

It reminded me that we need always need fresh stories of experiences with God and to see how others responded to the Lord in worship, in faith, in frustration, in lament and sorrow, in victory, in boredom and excitement, and so on.

We need more Horatio Spaffords who will write songs we can relate to.  We need people to write songs and prayers and stories and to find other ways of expressing their experiences with God and life so that we can see God at work today, not just a few hundred years ago.

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It’s certainly not to say we should throw out the Psalms or songs written 100-300 years ago, but that we need to add our voices to their voices and see the continuation of faith over the centuries that will extend beyond us.

I need to worship God afresh today and not always depend on other’s worship response as the way that I worship the Lord.  In worshipping God today, I can reflect the work of the Lord and the leadership of the Spirit today and not simply on what God did in someone else’s life at some point in the past.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he talks about them coming together to “do church” and that each of them brought something – a song, a prophecy, a word, a prayer – all things to share what God had been doing or teaching them in their life.

In this context, Paul said that the outsider “visiting church” would be convicted that God was real – why?  Because they’d see evidence of God at work today, not only people singing songs or repeating words that someone else that none of them knew wrote decades or hundreds of years earlier – evidence of God and people interacting today.

We need to remember that worship wasn’t and isn’t simply a form or format to follow, but also a function – an expression of our connection with the Lord today.

May we allow God’s Spirit to spill over and outside out normal boundaries of worship and let him lead us to respond to the Lord personally and not only and always through other people’s words.

May we see a new generation of songs that express a range of emotions and experiences.

May we see people inspired to share stories of Jesus and experiences with God in ways that connect with people we might not yet connect with.

May we rediscover the old songs, the Psalms, the scriptures and other expressions of experiences with God and help re-articulate them to new generations who are thirsty for God, but who might not connect with cultural expressions that they aren’t familiar with. 

May we worship the Lord.

Wade