Paul’s Joy Letter

8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! – Philippians 3:8-10 NLT

There are not very many people in history who have had the long-lasting influence that the apostle Paul has had. Perhaps no other human has been more effective in their part of the growth of the church of Christ since Jesus’ resurrection, then this man who lived 2,000 years ago. Paul is one of the more fascinating characters in all of scripture and his story is present all throughout the New Testament. Paul would go on multiple missionary journeys bringing the Gospel to new communities throughout the first century. He would also write letters to these communities and their leaders. These letters make up about half of the books included in the New Testament. But what makes Paul’s life so intriguing is that as Paul traveled to more and more communities taking the good news of Jesus Christ to new people, his trials and sufferings would continually get worse and worse. Paul would be persecuted everywhere he went. He would be thrown in jail countless times, beaten, dragged out of the city, flogged, attacked, and rejected time and time again. Paul went from a position of anger, persecution, and power prior to his conversion, to a place of service and suffering in ministry to the Lord Jesus. Why would Paul continue to preach this gospel message when it seemingly brought him such hardship? Because when compared to knowing Christ Jesus, everything else is garbage. This is what Paul says in Philippians 3: 8-10.

Philippians is one of the more extraordinary examples of faith you will find in all of the Bible. Paul wrote this letter from a Roman prison, a cell he spent multiple years in before eventually being beheaded. Yet this letter that Paul writes has been called Paul’s joy letter. The entire letter is about how he rejoices in Christ despite his sufferings. Despite his hardships, his joy is multiplied because of one thing, he knew Jesus. And because he knew Jesus, no earthly circumstance could stop him from expressing the joy he felt from his saving relationship with him.

I strongly encourage you to take the time to read through Paul’s letter to the Philippians during your time in quarantine. In these short four chapters you will find Paul’s graceful words encouraging you to rejoice in every aspect of your life You will find Paul’s excitement about Jesus infectious. You will find yourself growing in your joy about his love for you no matter what earthly circumstance you find yourself in. Paul’s letter may just be what God wants you to hear during this season of fear and uncertainty. Paul knew that the best way to persevere through trial and suffering, was to turn to the one whose suffering brought salvation. The one who went to the cross, endured the punishment we deserved, died the death we should have died, and rose from the grave conquering sin and death so that we might know him. Because when you know him, everything else in comparison, is worthless. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. (Philippians 4:23)

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Daniel’s Fear

Roughly 2,500 years ago one of my favorite characters in the Old Testament was nearing the end of his ministry in service to the Lord. Daniel had lived quite a life. For the majority of his life Daniel was in captivity, forced to serve the various foreign kings of Babylon, Medes and Persia. As a young man Daniel was removed from his place of security, unable to join in fellowship worship at the temple in his home of Jerusalem. Daniel was quarantined in a distant land for decades. Given his suffering it would seem justified for Daniel to despair. However, the book of Daniel gives a specific message; God is in control.

God was in control when he provided a way for Daniel to become an educated and highly talented student which led to him being an administrator to the king of Babylon. God was in control when Daniel refused to partake in the pagan practices of these foreign empires. God was in control when he provided Daniel the divine gift of explaining the disturbing dreams that King Nebuchadnezzar was experiencing. God was in control when he delivered Daniel’s three friends from the burning furnace without even a stich of their clothes being burned by the flames. God was in control when he had Daniel interpret the writing on the wall of the palace to the king who had defiled and disregarded the golden cups that had been stolen from the temple in Jerusalem. God was in control when Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den for praying to God when it was forbidden.

However, when we pick up the story in Daniel chapter 10, things have gotten beyond what Daniel can handle. Daniel is in his 80’s and while many of his people have been able to begin returning home to Jerusalem, Daniel is unable to make the trip due to his old age. He is considered as being at high-risk of being unable to survive the journey. Also, over the years Daniel has been having visions of the future which have included great suffering. The stress, anxiety, and fear that Daniel is feeling has causes him to faint. His body beginning to respond to the mental anguish Daniel was living with. Just then someone appears before him. it’s hard to know for sure the identity of this being but one thing that is known is this is a spiritual being sent from Heaven, and the first words he speaks to Daniel in his broken state is this; “Daniel, you are very precious to God” (Dan. 10:10 NLT)

Today my friends I think we need to hear those words more than ever. You are precious to God. And because you are so precious to the God, who created the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars, and the Earth. The God who created everything we see, hear, and feel. Because you are so precious to the God is in control, we have nothing to fear. In fact, those were the next words spoken to Daniel. “Don’t be afraid.” In his vision Daniel was uncertain of what they meant. He foresaw that four more kingdoms would rule over Israel, and although this is the knowledge that caused Daniel to fear, what he didn’t know is that God would use these kingdom to supply the cross where his perfect, blameless, sinless, only begotten son would die the death we deserved, in order to free us from our sin and bring eternal life to all who believe in him.

God was in control then, he is in control today, and he will be in control tomorrow and in the days to come. In uncertain times, take joy in a certain God. Find joy by placing your faith in Jesus who is trustworthy. Turn to the love of God which is perfect and casts out fear (1 Jn. 4:18). We may be uncertain about what the near future holds but we do know our eternal future will be spent with him because God is in control. Hallelujah and Amen!

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Skipping Allowed.

On my morning run, I came across a mother teaching her two young children the fine art of skipping. I watched as she instructed them to raise their hands high in the air and jump as they attempted to catapult themselves to the next crack in the sidewalk. They were thrilled, laughing and falling out. When I ran by they wildly waved and shouted, still laughing, “wave to the lady!” They all waved and I smiled and waved back. I couldn’t help but catch their enthusiasm. Nor could I help but notice in the midst of these chaotic days, God is teaching us, “skipping is still allowed.” In fact, it is our exercise of faith.

We adults might quip, “well, children don’t know better. They don’t carry our  responsibilities.” But perhaps they choose instead the sweet reality of faith that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 18:3. In the Passion Translation he says, “Learn this well: Unless you dramatically change your way of thinking and become teachable, and learn about heaven’s kingdom realm with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, you will never be able to enter in.” Everything in our Christian walk comes to us by humble faith – not by sight, not by personal procurement or manipulation, not by economic prosperity, not by the work of our hands, nor because we find tangible or reasonable answers in our own minds. It comes to us through simple belief backed by bold action…that God is who He says he is and that his work in us does not change based on personal circumstance. In fact, “without faith, it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6) He gives us permission to skip in the storms, to find joy in the face of suffering. We can trust him when everything around us is failing and falling apart. By faith we know he holds it all.

In the tension of this present day, God is inviting you skip, asking you to join him in the delightful discovery of a life of faith. Perhaps you need to raise your hands high and jump boldly, trusting God to catch you on the way down. Or skip through the house on the way to the laundry. Celebrate Him in unreasonably joyful ways. Bake a ‘faith cake’ and frost it with scriptures, or perhaps paper a bathroom wall with notecards of what you are “in faith” for in this season. Let his goodness become evident to all. And while we talk about “keeping our children busy,” perhaps let your children keep you busy. Watch how they do life. Let their joy lead you into a deeper trust.

In my household, I have decided to build an altar of stones (Joshua 4), each one commemorating a faithful act of God in this season. They are thoughtfully crafted along the rim of my fireplace mantle. This has become my place of worship and focus. On each, I have written a miracle, a breakthrough, or the hope that I have for this season. In fact, I have stacks of “blanks” waiting next to those already written for the miracles God is yet to bring. I am …IN FAITH. I invite you to join me in this amazing journey, where our tests are shaping testimonies and trials are taking us into new territories, where skipping is allowed and laughter the healing in our families. Selah. 

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Giving Up More Than We Expected

As we entered the Lenten season a few weeks ago, many of us may have prayerfully decided to give up something for Lent – perhaps chocolate, alcohol, coffee or perhaps even pizza or Diet Coke! If we choose to give up some important item from our lives for the 40 days of Lent, it is meant to be a part of a spiritual discipline to help us focus on what God truly gave up for us in His Son, Jesus Christ on the cross.

With the events of the past week or two, life as we have known it, for now, has changed in some profound ways. Schools and universities have closed their campuses and students, teachers and parents are wrestling with the new online learning reality. Many businesses have closed or have restricted services. A number of us are working from home and/or may be concerned for our jobs. People continue to hoard toilet paper. The record high stock market and booming economy are taking quite a tumble. We are being asked to practice something quite new and unnatural, “social distancing”. We have had to forego hugs and handshakes. We are worshipping our awesome God through virtual means. It can all seem rather isolating and unsettling.

Hence, for this Lenten season, it may seem like we have given up much more than we would have expected when we began our journey on February 26, Ash Wednesday. As we live with these temporary challenging times with a seemingly new reality forming each hour, we need to remember that one thing, one relationship will not change. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Our most important relationship in life, our Lord, is a constant that we can count on in unsettling and rapidly changing times. Two great Psalms that I encourage you to read today are Psalms 46 and 91. I believe you will find great comfort and application from these two sections of God’s Word.

The current turbulent storm that we are all trying to navigate will pass. No storm lasts forever. So many opportunities for mission and ministry exist toward individuals, our community and to a world that is hurting. Our God is bigger than the Coronavirus and the related challenges we face at this time. He has overcome bigger issues that these. God has conquered sin, death and the power of the devil through what His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ has done on the cross and the “good news” of the Empty Tomb. God has got this and us in His all-loving, providential and sovereign hands. Be encouraged!

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An Inconvenient Gift

In prison, there is a saying, “You can do time or let time do you.” If you let time do you, you give your days to whatever comes and move along the continuum of moral, physical and spiritual atrophy. It amounts to wasted days. But if you do time, you make time work for you. You define your days. Many of us feel imprisoned in this hour, unfamiliar with our lack of mobility, productivity, and connectivity. But what if this stationary stance were your new normal? What if this pause was intended for purpose? Rather than an inconvenient frustration, what if this is the gift of God to wake you up to something greater?

Time is a tremendous gift and once spent (or lost), we cannot reclaim it. There is no ‘do-over’ for March 3, 1973 if you didn’t spend it well. There is only ‘do now’. There may not be a ‘do tomorrow.’ Here are some ideas for your ‘do now’ time to make the most of what God has given in this inconvenient gift.

Four Ways to “Do Time” in this Season

  1. Practice gratitude. Each day, come together as a family and write down 3 things you are thankful for. Put them in a jar or a “God box” and bring them out on Thanksgiving and read the multitudes of blessings.
  2. Set a reasonable goal and be intentional. That book you bought last year? Read it, put it into practice. Three great reads to consider: The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg), Love Does (Bob Goff) and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (Peter Scazzero).
  3. Spend 5 minutes in prayer for someone else. Before you pray, pause and ask God, what does this person need from You? How can I be more effective in my friendship and my prayer?
  4. Refine a dream. If there is a constant nagging, a long lost idea that continues to press into your heart, spend time in prayer and fasting, quietly seeking God’s counsel. Ask specific questions, listen and record what you hear. Many times dreams don’t come to pass because we are not willing to listen long enough to glean specific strategies from God. This is a season of reflection. Take full advantage of asking, listening and recording specific revelation.

Don’t simply hold your breath and ‘get by’ until this virus has lifted. Embrace the change it brings and be intentional with your time, treating it as an offering to God. Commit to come out better, not bitter, more focused than frustrated. Let the greatest inconvenience become your greatest force for change.

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February 14th is Coming!

February 14 is just around the corner. Are you ready? Do you need a reminder about what day this is? In need of some shopping tips?

For most of us, February 14 means Valentine’s Day. It’s time to make plans regarding cards, candy, flowers, gifts, dinner reservations and the like for the one(s) we love. Once New Year’s Day passes, the stores are filled with red and pink merchandise and reminders of this much celebrated day in our culture. Red hearts and talk of “love” abound.

For 2018, both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday are on the same day. Yes, Ash Wednesday is February 14 and the Lenten season begins this year on this day of “love”. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season of preparation for Holy Week and Easter. It is a 40-day period where we as Christians are encouraged to examine ourselves, reflect upon our sinfulness and the forgiveness that we have in Christ Jesus. It is a time to reflect upon the greatest single act of love ever undertaken, the ultimate Valentine. It is the self-less, sacrificial agape love that God showed for us in sending His only Son, Jesus Christ to be our Savior.

On Valentine’s Day, we celebrate the love we share in those special relationships with spouses, family, and friends. These are indeed blessings from God. Ash Wednesday and Lent direct us to the greatest act of love, when Jesus willingly gave up His life on the cross and rose again so that we who have that saving faith relationship with Him will live with Him forever in heaven.

So, for this February 14, why not celebrate both the blessings and joys of earthly relationships and love on Valentine’s Day and join us here for our February 14, Ash Wednesday worship service at 7pm? I can’t imagine a better way to start our Lenten journey together, powered by the Spirit and the love of Christ. May we remember to give thanks to God this February 14, this Ash Wednesday, this Lenten season and every day of our life for the greatest gift of love the world has ever known, the gift of His love in His Son, Jesus Christ. Moved by the power of the Holy Spirit, may we love others as God has first loved us.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us; He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His only Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear Friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4: 7 – 11

In Jesus,
Pastor Tim

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Let’s Go Exploring

On December 31, 1995 Bill Waterson published the final “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip. It was a very simple three-cell layout of Calvin, an imaginative six year old, and his stuffed tiger/best friend Hobbes (of whom he saw as alive while others simply saw him as a stuffed tiger) exploring a world of freshly fallen snow. Everything in the strip was black and white with the exception of Calvin and Hobbes. Toting their toboggan through the winter wonderland, they marvel at the “fresh clean start” ahead of them, “a day full of possibilities!” Calvin exclaims. In the final cell, they climb onto the toboggan they had been carrying with Calvin turning to Hobbes saying “It’s a magical world Hobbes ol’ buddy…” and with a push they ride off into the vast whiteness; while Calvin finishes his thought and says “Let’s go exploring!”

I was in fifth grade when that comic strip was published and had only recently really begun to understand and appreciate Bill Waterson’s masterful work of art. As I grew up I continued to cherish Calvin and Hobbes, and to this day I can still be found thumbing through the pages of one of the many collection books I have; and I look forward to sharing them with my son as he grows older. Every time I approach the beginning of the New Year (especially when we are blessed with a new fall of snow), I think of this final strip of Calvin and Hobbes.

There is something almost magical about the beginning of a new year. To echo a line said by Hobbes in the final strip, “It’s like looking at a big piece of white paper ready to draw on.” It’s a year full of possibilities and dreams. We make resolutions, set new goals, and imagine how different we’ll be a year from now, “New year, new me!” But often by February most of those resolutions have fallen to the wayside, and as we progress through the year it can be easy to look back on that big white sheet of paper and see the drawing we’ve already done and think of “what could have been”.

For some of us we can look back at a lifetime worth of “big white sheets of paper” and be displeased with what we see, what could have been. But we serve a God who promises to make us new. Isaiah 1:18 states “‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’” And this isn’t just a one-time promise, or a time sensitive matter. Regardless of the time of year or what has taken place in our past God promises to make us new. To take whatever seemed permanent, and unchangeable and give us a fresh start.

The only one that can change us is God, we might have a good idea of where we want to go this year, but the only true source of real transformation is Jesus Christ. If you haven’t done so yet this month ask God where He is calling you this year. What are His resolutions for your life? Every day God, through His son gives us a fresh sheet of big white paper. It’s time to go exploring.

~Shawn Jennings

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Pressing On

Nerf Wars is one of our most popular youth fellowship events. One of my favorite parts of Nerf Wars isn’t actually participating, but watching the madness ensue. We start off the first games with capture the flag. Easy enough; prevent the other team from capturing your flag while attempting to capture their flag. From a third party perspective these first games are always funny to watch and very predictable. Over the radio the command to “Go”! rings out and kids sprint out of their respective bases. Each team usually makes it down a hallway before they begin to see signs of the opposite team, at which point players from both teams immediately stop and take cover; or usually retreat back to their own base. From an observer’s role it’s funny to see the kids sprint out of the base, hear some screams, and then see three-fourths of the team return. Not because they are out of the game, but because they didn’t want to risk being out. These first games usually are some of the longest because no one is really willing to risk it to go after the other team’s flag.

Eventually small skirmishes ensue from a safe distance, which evolves into people getting a little braver and riskier. At some point players start to throw caution to the wind and start rushing and making advances through the hallways. This is when the real fun begins. Soon a team captures a flag and is deemed victorious.

So it is like our faith. I know nothing screams a faith analogy like Nerf Wars! It did get me thinking, “What does this event, specifically designed for fellowship and fun, reveal about our faith walk? Paul writes in Philippians 3; “13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have laid hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.”

It takes a risk to press on into anything. The mystery of the unknown and the potential for failure can easily cause us to retreat back to our home base and protect what we already have. But when this is done the only thing assured is our goal will never be reached. We are called to set the things that distract and burden us aside and to press on to our goal of knowing Christ, to be like Christ; and to be all Christ has in mind for us.

Is there something or somewhere that Christ is calling you toward today? Maybe it’s starting a devotion, joining a bible study, serving a ministry, or asking a question. Whatever it may be, If we want to reach an objective we have to move. Whatever it is; it’s time to rush in, throw caution to the wind. It’s time to give it to Jesus and to press on.

 

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WHAT IS GOD DOING?

Recently I received several pieces of mail from members describing how God has been moving in their lives through this church. I greatly appreciated their stories and words of encouragement. These stories provide a gentle reminder that God is powerfully present among His people.

Time and again, God has demonstrated His provision. Time and again, God has done the improbable. Our job is to trust and follow His leading.

Being a follower is risky. It is often uncomfortable. It is Jesus-centered. And, it is highly rewarding. Abraham had the choice to leave Haran and follow the unseen God. He chose to step out in faith and follow. He was rewarded with the promise that all nations would be blessed through him. Today, we have inherited that promise. We   are to be the vehicle through which God will bless our families, community, nation, and world. That is exciting! But how will this happen? It is happening now. People are being blessed, lives are being changed, and families are drawn to Him. But, this is just the beginning of what God is doing.

We have been seeking and following God’s leading to hire a consultant, Fishhook, to help us improve our communications both internally and externally with the community around us. Imagine if we might welcome guests to our church more hospitably,  communicate with each other more effectively, and best of all to communicate the Good News to those in our community who do not know Jesus and draw them to Him and into this church. The effort alone says that we are serious about following Jesus as His church. Bathe the outcome in prayer and it could be transformative on our effectiveness for Him.

We are also in the process of searching for a new staff member, a pastor of “Invitation and Connection” who will be assigned to the front end of the membership and outreach process to reach people for Jesus and draw them into discipleship through the ministry of this congregation.

Finally, we are in the process of studying the restructuring of our leadership system in order to promote more effective ministry that better fulfills our  mission to connect people to the Living God. The new system would be subject to congregational vote and would maintain accountability to God and His word, this congregation and our constitution.

Please pray for all of this. Pray for our church. It is a great church. It is Jesus’ church. It is, with other branches of the Body of Christ, the hope of the world. You will continue to be updated on all of this through this newsletter, temple talks at worship, and discussion forums this fall. The goal is not to change St. Michael, but to make us as effective as we can be so that through us, God might change our world.

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Power Source

I always know when I’m getting overly stressed when I start having “Restaurant nightmares”. I worked in the restaurant industry for close to 9 years as a cook. Working a lunch and a dinner rush can be extremely stressful. Orders just keep piling in one after the other. The ticket counter becomes a sea of little white receipts hanging in front of the window between the wait staff and the cooks, often times forming a complete curtain where the other side can’t be seen. Everyone is yelling, and rushing about. It can be chaotic.

“Restaurant nightmares” are when I have a dream of simply working during one of these stressful moments. Nothing weird is going on, people don’t start flying or monsters don’t appear. I’m just working. These use to be very frustrating when I’d get off working a double all day, to then go home to bed only to dream about being at work again (and then wake up and go to work!)

It’s been 8 years since I last worked in a restaurant but I still have these dreams when I get stressed out. It sounds sort of odd, but I guess that’s where my mind goes when I’m stressed.

I handle stress pretty poorly, I just try and push through on my own strength. Which generally leads to more stress and makes everything worse. Simply put, I run out of power. God however did not make us to “go it alone”.

If we leave our phones or computers off the charger too long they soon will drain of all power and be unable to function. We too need to stop and plug into the power of God before we find ourselves in empty.

He has given us the power of the Holy Spirit, an unlimited and greater source of power than we could ever imagine.

As our Summers begin to wind down and we rush to squeeze in those last summer events, while we also begin prepping for our fall routines; remember to stay plugged into the one true power source.

~ Shawn Jennings

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