We all want successful relationships with our spouse, kids, parents, co-workers, and friends. So why does it feel like the odds are stacked against us? Don't be a statistic. Find out how to beat the odds in this series beginning April 23.
In the days and weeks preceding the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, three groups of characters found their way into the story. Each had problems, but mostly around his unwillingness to surrender control to the Savior of the world. Initially, it might be easy to dismiss them as fools. However, there is a little bit of them in all of us. Join us in the weeks leading up to Easter Sunday to learn how we can avoid the mistakes they made.
A huge potential problem for churches & Christians throughout history is that we would fail to follow the example of the father in the story of the Prodigal Son.
That we would become content with who is here and lose concern for those who are absent, have wandered away or perhaps have never been introduced to a Father who loves them.
This is a familiar story, but we hope it’s a story that would re-align our hearts with the heart of:
- a Father who was willing to leave the 99 to find the 1.
- a Father who refuses to stop searching until what is lost is restored.
- a Father who throws a party for a son who has done nothing to deserve it.
- a Father who always has His Eyes on the Road.
Does prayer really work?
Many, if not all of us, have asked this question at some point, in spite of our religious background. We have almost all prayed either because we acknowledged we needed help, we prayed for a sick loved one, we were lonely, or maybe we were just pondering the meaning and source of life. Because we have all prayed, we have also asked questions like:
- Why does it seem like some people's prayers "work" more ofter or "better" than others?
- What does a prayer "working" even mean?
- Is anyone even listening?
- What is the purpose anyhow?
In Matthew 6:5-13, Jesus is teaching those around Him how to pray. What is very interesting is the structure, order, and purpose of His prayers, and how these areas contrast with how we pray. He also gives us some helpful tips on how not to pray.
The structure we are going to use is:
- Declare God's greatness (verse 9) - This part of praying that we normally quickly go through, Jesus emphasizes that when we pray we should pause to think about who we're talking to. We should think about the INTIMATE connection God wants us to have, how BIG God is, and that God is DIFFERENT than us.
- Surrender your will (verse 10) - This is the part that most of us skip over completely because we all have our will & kingdom - finances, relationships, health, family, career, goals. But before we get to our kingdoms & wills, Jesus wants us to STOP & understand that we are more committed to God's will & kingdom than our own. We are not coming to God to convince Him to bend in our direction, rather we are coming to God to make sure we are bent in His direction. It has been said that the length of your prayers will be determined by how long it takes you to surrender to "God's will be done".
- Acknowledge your dependence (verse 11-13) - This involves acknowledging, usually rather than requesting, all we have comes from God providing for us. It is also acknowledging that God has pardoned us, therefore we are to pardon others who wrong us. It also includes acknowledging we need God's protection from temptation and the desire to do evil.
Even if your requests don't get answered the way you want, this kind of prayer works everytime because the purpose of prayer is to surrender our will, not impose it.
Most of us would say we know how to pray at least a little. It's just talking to God...right? Maybe prayer is more than us just talking to God. Maybe it is more than us convincing God to give us what we want. Maybe it is more than just changing the people & circumstances around us. Maybe its greatest power is the change that happens inside of us. Join us starting February 26 as we look to Jesus' prayers for guidance on how we should pray and what prayer is really all about.
While the Jesus Model is less complicated than all the Temple approaches to God. The Jesus Model is more demanding. Because of things Jesus said like John 13:34-35 (NLT)
Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.
Jesus also redefined 4 terms that are very important to our understanding of this Brand New movement.
#1 Structure: The church is a body, not an earthly Kingdom. While Jesus and Paul both referenced God's Kingdom coming, it is not of this world. Paul talked directly about the church being a Body. While each of us has been gifted to play a specific part. However, if we aren't engaged, something is missing. And if we aren't engaged we are missing something. While the Temple Model is about consuming, the Jesus Model is about engaging. We could stay home and worship God alone, but why would we want to do that when we can engage with the rest of the Body and change our community and change our world? Why would we cheat ourselves & the Body?
#2 Authority: Exercised for the benefit of the followers, not the leaders. Jesus completely turned the leadership paradigm upside down. In Matthew 20:25-28, Jesus explains to his disciples that authority is about leveraging our power to serve those under our authority. Then Jesus said in John 13:15-16, the more authority we gain, the more feet we need to wash.
#3 Marriage: A caring partnership not ownership or domination. Jesus elevated the status of women in a world where they were property, their voices didn't count, and they were treated as 2nd rate. Jesus replaced the idea of marriage as ownership with marriage as a partnership. Then in Ephesians 5:21, Paul came along and re-emphasized that marriage should be a level playing field.
#4 Holiness: Being "a part of" rather than setting one's self "apart from". Jesus coming to Earth showed that holiness was no longer about withdrawing from, but rather engaging with. Holiness wasn't about disengaging from the world. It wasn't about the Christians huddling up together. It wasn't just about making a "Christian" everything. In John 1:14, we see that the perfect, holy God would choose to come down to our dirty planet and not just become a human, but also make his home among other humans. Then Jesus, the Messiah, would go around touching, healing & interacting with unclean, unholy people. He redefined holiness to being "a part of" rather than setting one's self "apart from".
- Do you define these 4 terms the same way Jesus did?
- What if we all individually engaged as a part of the Body?
- What if every Christian in authority decided to use authority for the sake of the people under them?
- What if every husband & wife laid down their rights & reasons and learned to treat each other the way that God through Christ has treated them?
- What if we looked for ways to engage our community rather than retreat and huddling together?
What if we began to ask at every point when selfishness rises up or those moments when we want our way...What does love require of me?
That brand of Christianity changed the world once. That brand of Christianity can change the world again. That brand of Christianity will be almost irresistible.
When Jesus arrived, He signaled an end to the old way of approaching God through the Temple Model and the beginning of something brand new. In the previous messages of this series, we have been discussing the differences and importance of the new way of relating to God.
Part of the reason blending the Temple Model with the new Jesus Model is a problem is because the Temple Model is centered on you. At the heart of the Temple Model is a good question initially, but not a very good question eventually, "What must I do or believe to make things and keep things right between God and me?" At the end of the day, my religion is all about ME! This impacts how we pray, why we attend church, why some of us give & obey. Eventually this gravitates to rules & rituals. Eventually as followers of Jesus, we have to move beyond what's in it for me.
In Matthew 12:1-14, Jesus uses the Jewish observation of the Sabbath as an illustration of how the focus on rules & rituals can reveal our motivations that point back to us. That is where the Jesus Model is different. The Jesus Model is centered on the person beside you. Throughout the New Testament, we are invited to love people the way that our Heavenly Father through Jesus has loved us. God's love for us and for those around us must inform our consciences & shape our behaviors.
While the Jesus Model might be less complicated, it is far more demanding. Central to our faith is a man, who would willingly walk into a city knowing He would be killed there because He loved us. While it can be very easy to find loopholes & hiding places in the Temple, it is hard to find a loophole around John 15:12, Luke 6:27-28, and Galatians 5:6.
What does love require of me?
The arrival of Jesus signaled the end to the Temple Model and the beginning of something entirely brand new. Gentiles flocked to this new message & approach to God. Many Jews did as well, but they had some mixed feeling about abandoning the old way. It was their history, their heritage, and their customs. So they attempted to do the natural thing - assimilate Jesus into the old Temple Model.
However, Paul comes along and makes the case that they can't blend & mix the old way with the new Jesus way. As Paul planted churches, he encountered a group of Jewish Christians, Judaizers, who would come behind him teaching these churches an assimilation approach. While many might think it's not a big deal to blend & assimilate Jesus with the Jewish Temple system, Paul would argue that it is a big deal.
In Galatians 5, Paul argued specifically against the need or importance of circumcision as it relates to following Jesus. These Judaizers instructed the Galatian Christians that they needed to become Jewish first, which would include being circumcised. Paul emphatically argued that circumcision is of no value anymore, while it is also foolish to think it is beneficial to obey just some of the Old Covenant.
Then in Galatians 5:6, Paul reminds all of us that...The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. It is not just about vertically asking God if you are good. It is about horizontally making sure you are good with other people.
Paul knew that if we blend or mix in even a small bit of the old way eventually...
- Leaders would become self-righteous.
- Followers would become hypocrites.
- Texts would be manipulated.
- People would be mistreated.
Paul knew that if we blend or mix in any part of the old way, we will eventually miss the main thing...love.
What does love require of you?
Brand new anything can be good, even great, but sometimes it can still be hard to completely leave the old behind. While this applies to homes, schools, pets & clothes, it also applies to religion, particularly Christianity.
While there has been quite a bit of progress & change in the church, we are still holding onto things that are holding us back. Unfortunately for many people, most of the things that they resist about the church are things the Church should resist. If we look at the basics of Jesus intended the church to be, there should be nothing that would make people want to resist the Church.
For the first 300 years of the Church, the primary thing that people resisted about the church was their loyalty to Jesus. They were great neighbors. They were great workers. They cared for the marginalized in society. They weren't judgmental or exclusive. The Church should be irresistible except for the fact we believe Jesus is our ultimate authority. So how did we become so resistible?
The resistible factor did not come from new things being added, but rather old things that got added back in. The Church has allowed another model to blend with the Jesus Model. This Temple Model represents many ancient & modern religions and includes:
- Sacred places - a piece of real estate that is more valuable than the others.
- Sacred texts - oracles, inscriptions or scriptures interpreted by...
- Sacred men - it is almost always men who tell the followers how to live & sometimes threaten "god's" judgment.
- Sincere followers - maybe superstitious as well but it is important what the follower does
However, the arrival of Jesus signaled the end of the temple model and the beginning of something entirely new. The new Jesus Model includes:
- Jesus predicted a new movement - When Jesus started the "church", he did not predict a location, but rather a movement or gathering of people.
- Jesus instituted a new covenant - A new arrangement between God & ALL people.
- Jesus gave new meaning to the sacred text - Jesus claimed the Law & all of Old Testament pointed to Him.
- Jesus instituted a new movement defining ethic - Rather than 600+ laws, Jesus summarized it to "Love"!
How are you relating to God? More like the Temple Model or more like the Jesus model?
Jesus' arrival signaled an end to one way of relating to God and began something entirely new. Unfortunately, many of the negative things we associate with the church brand were never intended for the new way. Join us January 15, as we begin to explore Jesus' brand new way to relate to God.
All of us drift. If we aren't careful, we naturally drift away from almost everything that is good for us. Then on top of that, as Christians we believe that this drifting principle also intersects our relationship with God, which takes intentionality, time, discipline, and some delayed gratification. In every area of life that is important, the current of life rarely takes us in the right direction.
One of the coolest things about Christianity is that while we may be called to swim upstream, we have not been called to swim alone. We have been called to swim together. It is so much easier when you are in community with, in friendship with, in a "circle" with people who share your values & the same destination in life.
However, many of us are still tempted to attempt to swim alone. This isn't a new thing however. Back in the 1st century, the early church leaders wrote about the need for community, particularly about not swimming upstream alone.
In Hebrews 3:12-14, the writer talks about the drift that happens within - in our hearts. In Hebrews 3:12, the writer gives the solution to the drift we all experience at some point. It comes through the plural nouns in the verse. This verse is not an individual/personal command; it is a group imperative. Not only should you keep track of your own heart, but also the hearts of those around you. Unfortunately these types of relationships won't fully develop just on Sunday mornings.
Because a row doesn't know what is happening on the inside - mostly because we are so good at walking into church looking good even we might not be. The only way anybody is going to know about your sinful, unbelieving, drifting heart is if you are in a circle/group with them where they have access to you.
Following this message, we encouraged everyone to consider connecting to a group. If you are interested or would like more information, go to the link above or to nlnc.org/groups.
As we 2017 is upon us, there is a sense of a fresh start even a new start. However, the list of resolutions that can seem like a helpful thing can easily become burdensome & overwhelming.
- What if instead of trying to accomplish a long list of things, we focused on just 1 thing?
- What if at the end of 2017 we could look back knowing that we added 1 new positive character trait that we didn't have previously?
In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul actually gives us the long list of resolutions - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. What if instead of trying to add all of them to our lives, we just tried to work on 1 in 2017?
Here are 3 ways, we would love to help you do that!
This app can give you a reading plan to better understand the fruit you are working on, read about Jesus' comments on the subject, and how to produce this fruit in your life. Go to the app, select "Plans", and search for your fruit reading plan.
We created some phone & desktop wallpapers to remind us each time we open our phones or laptops of the one new fruit God is growing in us in 2017.
We all need someone to help encourage us & keep us accountable. Someone to ask us the tough questions and cheer for us when we are struggling. We believe Life Groups are a great place for this to happen! Click the button above for more info or to sign-up. New groups are forming starting January 15.
*A few times a year, we combined with our Chinese Congregation. This was one of those times.
Christmas can be complicated. Several factors make Christmas complicated:
- the older we get
- the more kids we have
- a divorce somewhere in our families
- "interesting" family dynamics
- the loss of a loved one who we miss dearly
- shopping & schedules
There is no magic potion or formula to uncomplicate that part of Christmas. However, if there is anything that should never be complicated about Christmas, it should be the simple message & story of Christmas.
The angel who announced the Savior's birth to the shepherd described it as "good news" that will bring great joy to all people." At the heart of the story of Christmas & Christianity is the simple idea that Jesus is Good News for all people. Even if you aren't a Christian, or have doubts about Christianity, it is hard to proclaim the message of Christmas as bad news. If you think of Christians or Jesus as anything but Good News, it is probably because someone either misrepresented Him or distorted the Good News of Jesus. That is our fault, not your Heavenly Father's.
One of Jesus' closest followers, John, who knew Jesus, ate with Jesus, watched Him live, watched Him die, saw Him after the resurrection, and cared for his mother, wrote His account of the life of Jesus. In John chapter 3, he is recounting a conversation between a religious leader & Jesus, when he gets too excited and bursts into the conversation an incredible statement.
For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. - John 3:16-17 (NLT)
God loved - Which for Greeks & Romans was contrary to how they viewed the gods. They thought, "The gods played. The people paid." Yet this God loved the whole world, not just the Jews and not just people in this time period.
God gave - He so loved the world that He did what in love people do - He gave...His Son! Then His Son, Jesus, continued that trend and gave His life for the world.
We believe - Our response to this love & gift is to believe or place our trust in Him. Not to trust completely or partially in ourselves, but to put our energy, weight, and trust in Him.
We receive - In exchange for our belief, God gives us eternal life. Eternal life is not just life in Heaven, but Jesus defined it as a relationship, or intimate knowledge of God.
He came to give us a gift. If you believe, you can receive it.