Tread Marks

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The black mark lays in the middle of the parking lot at the church I had previously served as pastor, the remnant of a tire peeling out. It’s not very big, but it will certainly be there for a long time. I never heard one remark, complaint, or cry about it, but it is unavoidably seen. It obstructs no one from parking vehicles, but the mark does disrupt the sheen of the recently paved concrete.

The mark exists because of an outdoor basketball goal placed on the lot. The goal draws all sorts of folks from the community to play when the weather is warm. For a number of days in a row last summer we saw a dozen or so high school students gather to play, driving their big trucks on to the property. We often heard the sudden rumble of engines and the screech of tires late in the night when the games were done, and one night their excitement and competitiveness left its mark.

A deep mandate woven into the Bible and into the call of a believer in Jesus is the welcoming of our neighbors, showing hospitality. It is much more than simply having them over. It is a significant declaration that they are safe as they are in your presence, warts and all.

The reality is hospitality is going to leave a mark.

Like that church parking lot to truly practice hospitality one has to be willing to withstand tire tread, have coffee spilt on the carpet, hear language that violates your sensibilities, or even be criticized. It is an act of sacrifice to show this hospitality, but it is a redemptive sacrifice. Jesus shows us this. The truth is we have peeled out all over the Son of God Himself, marking Him when He had opened His life to us and shown the world divine and holy hospitality.“

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed,” Isaiah declares about Jesus. He goes on to say that Jesus remarkably did not show outrage against it, but He patiently endured it.

As Christ’s act of sacrificial hospitality brought peace and healing I trust that, by God’s grace and work, so too ultimately will ours. So when the family down the street comes over for dinner and one of their three kids breaks the leg of a patio chair while playing, patiently remember that it’s not broken in vain.

Pastor Chris

Be the Winner

By Pastor Chris Symes
I recently read an online article written by a woman (let’s call her Heather) who found herself in a fight with her husband one afternoon. The article was describing the way that she and her spouse sorted out quarrels. Rather than scream and cuss and throw things at each other, this couple ignores each other. The way Heather described it: they literally pretend the other is invisible. They walk through the room without acknowledging one another’s presence. They don’t bring the other a cup of coffee in the morning. They certainly don’t say a word to one another while the fight is on. They go about their day as independent agents as if the other person does not exist.
In this particular case, they went to bed in silence, pressing on in their ignoring of one another, and they woke up the same way. It was later that morning, when both had gone to work, that the quarrel was finally resolved. Heather received a text message from her husband that simply read, “I love you.” Heather replied the same, and the fight was over.
As to the wisdom of this way of fighting in relationships, I have my questions. There are certainly times when in a relationship, be it married or friendship or family, people need a break from each other. However, there is a trend in scripture toward calling the people of God to graciously and gently talk things out quickly. Paul, for example, writes, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:25-27).
That being said, what strikes me about this article is Heather’s declaration toward the end that her husband was “the winner” in this – the one who gave in, bit the bullet, broke the silence, reached out in concession. In a lot of relationships, he would have been considered “the loser”. Like in a staring contest, he blinked first. But not in this relationship and not in God’s kingdom. There is something profoundly of Christ in this definition of winners and losers. Jesus says the first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 20:16). He is capturing for us the notion that the values of God’s world often appear upside down compared to the values of the broken world we live in. It is the humble, the peace-making, the conceding, the giving, and forgiving that truly understand God’s reality and live as Jesus’ disciples. By contrast, it is the proud, stubborn stonewallers who are considered the winners in a broken world. Jesus invites his disciples to apply God’s values to their relationships. He expresses something of the inner attitude of a disciple in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:38-42):
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
 
Is there a fight in your life you need to win? Go win it.

Blink first. Be the winner.

Following Jesus with Ms. Buntin

Above the dry-erase board in Ms. Buntin’s eighth-grade classroom in Taft Middle School are posted four statements:

  1. I didn’t get it.
  2. I need more practice.
  3. I can do it.
  4. I can teach it.

Obviously, these are displayed to give students who struggle with learning a pathway to tackle their math assignments. I like these. We see something similar in our progression with Jesus as disciples.

Statement Number One: I didn’t get it.

This is where we all begin. We begin on the outside looking in when it comes to our faith in Jesus. Whether it’s not understanding most of the bible you read or struggling to love your neighbor or giving up that sin habit or your inability to ever get some practice of prayer going in your life, every disciple has started here. But the good news is this is exactly the right place to begin. We recognize right off the bat the important truth that being a disciple is profoundly dependent on God helping us out. Jesus said that “the poor in spirit” become a part of what God is doing in the world (Matthew 5:3) – the dependent not the independent, the needy not those who have it all together. Following Jesus is a partnership with Jesus. Don’t try to follow Him without asking for His help. If you find yourself here with Jesus, let Him know you don’t get it. Admit it to a fellow disciple, and watch God’s grace take it from there.

Statement Number Two: I need more practice.

At some point, however, God will invite you to take a step. You’ve probably heard something like this before: significant things take practice, mess-ups, and do-overs. This applies to our relationship with Jesus Christ as well. Like all good things worth doing, following Jesus will take some work (2 Corinthians 6:4-10), but it is the most rewarding work you will ever do (Mark 10:29-30). In faith we take a step to come closer to Jesus, whether it is carving out five minutes a day to read your bible, designating a time in the morning to pray, or serving someone intentionally once a week. Lately, Jesus has been leading me to embrace the practice of evangelism in my life. This is challenging for me for a few reasons, but I have taken the step of talking with someone outside of our church about Jesus at least once a month. Your step will most likely be different but take the step.

Statement Number Three: I can do it.

Then one day you find yourself following Jesus. The truth is you’re already being a disciple when you admit your need for God’s help (statement one) and when you take that first step (statement two). But sure enough, God will give you what you need to sustain disciple practices in your life, along with your own willingness. More importantly, your passion for following Jesus will grow. You will not only find yourself with the ability to do it, but you will desire to do it. Jesus has that effect on people who come closer to Him (Philippians 3:7-8).

Statement Number Four: I can teach others.

Here’s the sweet-spot. This is the great goal of following Jesus: to help others follow Jesus. Everything Jesus did with His disciples was designed to equip them to make and train disciples themselves with the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:15-17). How wonderful is it that we can help others come closer to Jesus, and that we’re called to do it! At this point, you pick a few people, or even one person, to take under your wing and teach them about how you pray, tips on reading your bible, or helping others share their faith. This is called “multiplication”: disciples multiplying themselves. This is Jesus’ method of changing lives and changing the world.

Where are you in this? Is faith in Jesus like a Ugaritic textbook or something? Are you taking those first few wobbly steps in a disciple practice? Are you coming into a nice stride, perhaps having a consistent time with God every day or walking confidently in obedience? Are you thinking about who you might help to be a disciple? Go make Ms. Buntin proud.

Pastor Chris Symes

Who’s On Your List?

By Pastor Chris Symes

So, who’s on your list?

The question is not “what” is on your list? So, I’m not talking about a to-do list or a grocery list.

Who is on your list?

The “who” I’m talking about are those people in your circles who have not yet become followers of Jesus, those who have yet to repent and believe in the saving work of Christ, those who have not yet come to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The “who” I’m talking about are those people you know who have not come to know the love of a Father in heaven, those who are not Christians, those who are lost and in need of a Savior, who might be a coworker, who might be a neighbor, who might be an uncle or sister.

And the “list” I’m talking about is a prayer list of these “who’s”. A short list of names (two or three), real people, you are bringing before the Father consistently each week or each day even. This is a list of persons, specific names, you are praying over for two things. First, pray that they would have an “awakening moment” in which they somehow have a profound encounter with the love of Christ or recognize their need to get their life right with God. Second, pray that those on this list would have a “believing moment” in which they are truly ready to turn from their old way of living life and center their whole life around Jesus and surrender to Him, beginning their journey of discipleship.

Who’s on your list?

We often underestimate the significance of prayer in evangelism, but prayer and evangelism are intimately tied together. I am becoming convinced that we have such a hard time sharing our faith evangelistically because we do not first pray. By prayer, we not only ask God to work and move in the lives of those we are praying for, but it
also prepares our hearts to be ready and open to sharing our faith with them. Many of us (including myself) often struggle with sharing our faith, even with those we know, because of fears of awkwardness or rejection. As we commit to praying for these people, God pours His love into our hearts and that love begins to overcome our fear. Beau Crosetto, on page 23 of his book Beyond Awkward, writes, “God is calling you to reach specific people he wants to be in relationship with. People you are perfectly designed or positioned to reach-even though you don’t know the Bible inside out, or your testimony isn’t smooth, or whatever you feel excludes you from being used by God in this way.” Are you praying for these people? Are these people on your list?

Who’s on your list?

A Love Story

By Pastor Chris Symes

A few weeks ago on St. Patrick’s Day, sitting on the porch of our large shed in the backyard I told my son the story of a young man named Patrick who had been kidnapped by raiders and taken to a large island called Ireland where he was forced
to work the rugged and hilly landscape as a shepherd for a number of years. I told him about how he met Christ on those cold nights, shivering and crying out to God for help. I shared about that providential opportunity that came before him after a long time away to board a boat that would take him back home to Britain. I also shared how it wasn’t long after arriving back home that he felt a divine urging to go back to Ireland and preach the gospel to the very people who were once his captors. I spoke of the bravery and faithfulness of Patrick that, as some have said, changed the heart of the whole nation.

When I finished the story, my son labeled it a “mean story” because of the villains in it, referring to the raiders who stole Patrick away. I think I would label the story a “love story”.

I am moved by the story of the man we simply refer to as Saint Patrick. He was tough as nails after being kidnapped and enslaved, yet going back to the very violent rabble of humanity that enslaved him in the first place. He goes down in history as one of the most effective and successful evangelists the Church has ever known. It’s a story of courage, a story of heroism, a story of survival, and, yes, a story with villains. But we cannot overlook the underlying theme throughout the whole story: love.

Patrick was able to speak the gospel so effectively to the Irish, not because of clever analogies and three-leaf clovers. The Irish were willing to listen to him, because of his authenticity and the fact that he wasn’t afraid of them. In fact, he was able to address their fears. What made him so effective was his ability to see and understand the deepest anxieties of the Irish folk, anxieties that had been haunting them for centuries. Seeing and understanding these things Patrick was able to speak directly to them and show how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus gave them a hope so they wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore.

There is no other explanation for the special connection Patrick fostered with the Irish than love. That’s what he possessed for them, and that’s what the Irish saw in Patrick.
I see love all over this story. It is love that made Patrick so effective and so able to reach the Irish. It was love that helped him speak about the gospel in ways no one had ever done. It was love that stimulated his creativity in profound ways. It was the love of God in him that enabled him to stand fearlessly before the Irish and proclaim Jesus. Love gives special sight.

Love enables awareness to the most important and significant things. Love gives that special insight that people may truly see and truly hear. Love truly convinces and truly convicts, because love comes from God (1 John 4:7). Patrick was a great evangelist because he was a great lover.

So how are we asking God to foster His love within us as we seek to make disciples and share the gospel with our neighbors?

Pastor Chris

On the Possibility of Following Jesus

On the Possibility of Following Jesus by Pastor Chris Symes

A few weeks ago in Sunday morning worship, I preached from Mark chapter eight, verses thirty one through thirty-eight, in which Jesus says this:

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (V. 34)

Jesus makes nothing easy here. There is no spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down. His call to a potential disciple is clear, concise, and challenging. I preached about my own struggle with the difficulty of this passage and the all-or-nothing surrender it calls me to. I explored how it is a calling modeled after Jesus’ own extravagant sacrifice on the cross and how such a gift to us demands nothing less than a willingness to give our own lives in response. I examined the first step, deny yourself, and how plain hard even this first part is. I ended the sermon by leaving us with a sense of urgency at responding to this, the very urgency Jesus has in this teaching to us.

But there is a single word here, that I think we often overlook, and it’s a word I failed to really take into account in my sermon. It’s a single word of Jesus that does not lighten the challenge of this calling or make it easier to hear. But I do believe it gives us a starting point for actually taking this teaching into our lives. It helps us begin somewhere. Do you know what that one word is?

That one word is “wants”. Let’s hear Jesus words again: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Before we can get to the difficulty of denying ourselves, before we come to the daunting calling to take up our cross, before we follow Jesus, there is a preliminary question: Do we want to follow Jesus? It sounds obvious, but I don’t think it always is. Many people believe intellectually in Jesus, but they don’t necessarily want Him. A person may recognize the importance of Jesus, but that does not mean the person desires Jesus. This is a problem, because as your desires go so goes you. Without our desires changing, we can never hope to grow and never hope to follow Jesus. Jesus implies, DESIRE PRECEDES DISCIPLESHIP. Therefore, we must take a very real and honest look at the preliminary question: Do I want to follow Jesus?

How do I know that I want to follow Jesus? And if I know that I don’t, how do I go about changing what I want when I really don’t want to? These are challenging questions, but there is great news! God intends to change your desires if you let Him; that’s part of the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives. This is how God makes us into new creations, and the place where this begins is in honest prayer. Honest and sincere prayer is the incubator of transformation, a tremendous means of grace by which you open your life up to God for Him to do His work within you. In other words, if you are honest enough to admit that you don’t want to follow Jesus, that’s a great first step! Declare that to God. Speak openly and honestly to Him one morning before you go to work or pick up your grandkids. Tell Him like it is. You won’t offend Him; He already knows your heart, and He will appreciate your honesty. There is something about honest prayer that breaks barriers preventing change from happening deep within us.

Wanting to follow Jesus won’t make the demands of Jesus’ call to a disciple easy, but it makes following Jesus possible. As a person’s desires go, so goes the person (James 1:14-15). What’s more, you are never alone in this calling. God through the Holy Spirit is right there with us constantly, and you are united in covenant with brothers and sisters who come alongside of you and encourage you as well.

My Favorite Word

 

My Favorite Word by Pastor Chris Symes

If you’ve been around me lately you know that I have a mild obsession with the word “abide”. In a conversation about faith or prayer, you are bound to hear me say it twice or maybe three times. It sort of reminds me of my younger days when a new word would seem to get stuck in my vocabulary, and I used it over and over again much to the irritation of my family and friends (“obvious” is one example). But this is more than just a glitch in my vocabulary; this is a conviction. I believe in this word, particularly for Cornerstone.

The key for me about the word comes from the fifteenth chapter of John’s gospel, among other places. “Abide in me,” Jesus says, “and I in you. As the branch cannot bear the fruit of abide-logo-typeitself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me” (V. 4 in the New American Standard Version of the Bible). The word “abide” used here in John is the translation of the Greek word meno. Meno means “remain”, “stay”, even “persist” or “to last” in some places in the New Testament. It might be used when a father tells his children to remain in a certain place. It could be used when describing the family dog as staying with someone. Jesus used it here to describe the task of his disciples over the long-haul. To put it simply he calls His disciples to stay with Him, connected to Him in a relationship. This happens in a number of ways: obedience, prayer, scripture reading, fellowship with other believers, witnessing to others about Christ, and worship all accompanied by the command to love one another. The big idea, however, is ABIDE. Stay with Jesus. Jesus promises something called “fruit” when his disciples faithfully abide in Him, which is the life change we see in our own lives, in our church, among our neighbors, in our city, and even in our world. With all the brokenness around us, it sometimes makes me wonder how faithfully we have been holding to this simple call.

I think what I so appreciate about Jesus’ call here is that the command to abide is adaptable to any season of life we may find ourselves in. It’s an extraordinary word. It’s an ordinary word. Abide can be a wonderful word, like when you’re with your friends having so much fun you wish you could stay with them longer and the night would never end. There are times in life when abiding comes easy and enjoyable to us, because we feel close to God. These are times when we find joy in prayer, hearing His word, and encouraging others in the faith. Abide can also be a challenging word, like when things in life seem to be falling apart making the stress and anxiety overwhelming. Often the first thing to go in these times is our relationship with God. There are times when abiding is difficult. At other times we find the word dull. There will be periods of time when we just don’t feel like doing it; the desire is not there. We might be tired, or we’ve been focused on other things so much that our passion for God has been replaced by other passions. The word “abide” may seem like a boring word to us. But Jesus’ command is clear. If you want to experience His life-transforming power and love in your life and community, abide in Him. Even when the gales of life are blowing so strongly that you feel you are holding on to Jesus by one finger, when it would be so easy to let go, abide. Even when you have zero emotion to give to God and you feel drained, abide.

Abiding is life, not simply one moment in the day or one day a week. However, I have found it helpful to commit myself every morning to intentional abiding time with the Lord through prayer and scripture reading. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. I don’t beat myself up about it when it doesn’t. Sometimes I am ready and willing; sometimes I am sluggish and unwilling. Sometimes I feel like God is right there with me. Sometimes the room feels empty. But I can say this: I am convinced that this word will not let us down. I am convinced that Jesus won’t let us down. Abid-ing has not let me down. There is much more that could be unpacked here about the word, but I haven’t shared yet the true greatness of this word as Jesus uses it. The true treasure of what Jesus says here about abiding is not our doing it, but His doing it in us. As we abide, the Word of Life, the Holy Creator of all things, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, God promises to stay connected with us and in us.

So, if you don’t mind Church, I think I’ll keep using it.

Blessings,
Pastor Chris

Who do you think Jesus is?

Who Do You Think Jesus Is? by Pastor Chris Symes

“Who do you think Jesus is?” I asked the man sitting next to me whose Chevy Silverado I was driving.

I met the man at our New Year’s Eve game night at Cornerstone Sunday night at around 10. He wandered in from the brutal and biting cold, a little inebriated after celebrating the turn of the year with co-workers. He was looking for someone who might be willing to drive him home to his nearby apartment. Preferably, he was wondering if someone might be able to drive to his truck, parked at a nearby lot, and also drive it to his home.

After mulling it over for a minute or two, I agreed to help him. It was, after all, unbelievably cold, and Jesus does call us to love our neighbors. I walked back into the party and asked someone to come with us. I am grateful for someone’s willingness.

I’m not sure when exactly I decided to ask him THE question. Was it on our way out to my car on the front lawn of the church? Was it on NW 23rd, as we approached his truck? Was it when he and I got into his truck? It was most likely when, just a few weeks earlier, a pastor friend of mine challenged me to ask that question of someone at least once a month. If we are serious as followers of Jesus in making disciples then that question, his reasoning went, is THE most important question we could possibly ask.

As we turned back on NW 23rd street I asked him if I could ask a question. It became clear to me this man had no real relationship with Jesus, was not a disciple, making this question all the more significant. So grateful he seemed willing to do just about anything, he said yes. Then I asked him THE question. There have been plenty of times when I’ve thought about asking this question of someone – times when, despite feeling the weight and potential life change of bringing this question to the fore, I got cold feet. There have been numerous times when I wish I had asked it, but I didn’t. So it was no small step of faith when I said:

“Who do you think Jesus is?”

He was taken aback by the question, I could tell, but he also sincerely wanted to answer. He stuttered and stammered for a moment and then responsed: “He is the Lord’s son.”

I agreed and affirmed his answer, also adding that I believe Jesus is alive. Later, I thought about all that I could have said in that moment to this man who no doubt was humbled and touched by the kindness he found at Cornerstone this night. There is a lot I could have said, but in the wake of THE question I shared a little word about Jesus changing my life and not knowing where I would be without what the Lord has done for me. He began to share about old memories of being at church growing up and even confessed a need to get back into a church community.

As we pulled into the parking lot of his apartment complex off Portland he showed interest of his own accord in coming to worship at Cornerstone and possibly becoming part of the church. After getting his phone number, I prayed for him. 

That’s the last I’ve seen him up to the point of writing this, and I hope to see him again. But I marvel at all that came about and all that could happen from asking one simple question, one single question that can change everything. In Mark 8:29, this is THE question Jesus asks his disciples: Who do you say that I am? This is THE question. In this season of resolutions, plans, goals, and aspirations for 2018, it really comes down for everyone to this question, THE question. How you truly answer this question, your heart’s honest answer, will determine the course of your year and your life. Don’t you think we should learn to lovingly and boldly ask this question of others? Don’t you think we need to ask it for ourselves? And so, friends, I ask you:

Who do you think Jesus is?