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The Wild Goose

By Pastor Chris Symes
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Twice in the last month or so the Holy Spirit has showed up in worship and interrupted my sermon.
 
The first time occurred in the Branch service some weeks ago. Brad, as he usually does at the beginning of the service being the worship leader, greeted us gathered there in his usual friendly and down-to-earth way. And he prayed as he usually does, inviting God to be present with us and to open our hearts to experience His power and glory. Only that morning, he confessed he felt a specific sense that there were those present who needed healing. This is interesting, because all week I had been thinking the same thing. I had felt a prompting to pray for healing in worship. In fact, I asked God that morning to show me some sign or confirmation that this was from Him and not just my idea. Well, I certainly got it! We continued on after Brad finished his prayer, singing a few songs. Then came the time of prayer. I shared my own discernment about the need to pray for healing, and so we prayed for one another. I began by asking if there were any who would like prayer. Hands immediately raised. We gathered around each of these people, laying our hands on them, interceding. Different people prayed at different times. Tears were shed. One person confessed that if we had not done this he would not have come forward for healing. We prayed for four people that morning. It was a simple thing, but there was a distinct sense among everyone that all of it was being orchestrated by the Spirit.
 
The second time came this past Sunday in our Classic service. I was preaching on Jesus’ parable commonly known as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” in Luke 15. At the beginning of the sermon, I noticed a woman sitting in the back who I had never seen before. Glad she was there, I continued. About three fourths the way through, as I was preaching about “the older brother” in us, this woman raises her hand and shares that she has a confession she would like to make. To make a long story short, she bravely comes forward and shares her story with the whole congregation, specifically how she is on her way to see her mom with whom she has a broken relationship. This might be extraordinary in its own right, but what was truly amazing to me were the parallels between her story and Jesus’ parable that I happened to be preaching from that morning: broken relationship with a parental figure, inheritance, gone for many years, an older sibling. This woman truly was a prodigal at this point in her life who just happened to stop in to our church to find some gas money to go see her mother. All of this had to be the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. We prayed for her, and I wrapped up my sermon quickly. We spent some time with her after the service, and we helped her. People were moved by the experience.
 
Now in both these situations things did not go according to plan. In both these services I had to let go of my sermon specifically in some way. In the first, I abbreviated my sermon because of our extended time of prayer. In the second, I was unable to land the sermon the way I had planned. Now I am not complaining. When God wants to change your plans, it’s always a good idea to let God rather than fight God. But it’s not an easy thing to do. It has been said before that the Holy Spirit does work from time to time outside of our plans. When I think of the Holy Spirit’s work I often think about what Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3:8: “The wind [same Greek word used for Spirit by the way] blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” The Spirit works in the ordinary, doing supernatural work that we often don’t see in our lives and in the world. We should never underestimate the Spirit’s presence in normal every day life. However, the Spirit does work in “wild” ways too. In fact the Celtic Christians called the Spirit “the Wild Goose” for this reason. He will always glorify Christ and move within the bounds of Scriptural truth of which He inspired the writing, but His means of doing so may surprise us. I believe the Spirit works outside of our plans from time to time, because we are often so hard pressed to push our own agendas. No matter how well-intentioned, we sometimes don’t leave room for God to work his plans. So, as uncomfortable as it is, it is a grace when the Spirit takes control in even wild ways.
I rejoice that we are seeing the Spirit move in our church, even disrupt in our church. He is forming us to be an ever more faithful community, obedient to God. Moving forward this leads us to a willingness to surrender our expectations, an openness to hear the voice of God through Scripture and prayer, and a willingness to obey the Spirit. I see him working in our various feeding ministries, among our kids, in our youth, in our bands, in our Sunday School classes, in the one-on-one discipleship relationships happening, and at our Dinner Church worship services. The Goose is on the loose!
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To Mortality…And Beyond! (Ash Wednesday Sermon)

Just A Toy
 
This summer the fourth Toy Story movie is coming out. I’m sure it will be great, but the first movie will always be my favorite. Toy Story, the first full-length Pixar film, tells the story of a group of toys belonging to a little boy named Andy, and Andy doesn’t know that the toys are actually alive. The movie traces the adventure and challenges these living toys face as Andy’s family packs up and moves into a new house. One of the subplots of the film involves a new toy called Buzz Lightyear, which Andy receives on his birthday. Buzz Lightyear is the new “it” toy, a futuristic action figure, with lights and wings, sounds, bells, and whistles – so much more cool than the long, awkward, sown together Woody the Cowboy who had been Andy’s favorite toy all his life. The strange thing about Andy’s new toy is that Buzz doesn’t believe he is actually a toy. He believes he is actually a space ranger, landed on a strange planet, fighting the emperor Zerg, and that he actually can fly “to infinity…and beyond” as Buzz claims, though Woody ties to convince him otherwise. As the movie reaches its climax, Buzz comes across a Buzz Lightyear television commercial and finally realizes the truth about himself. He is in fact not a space ranger. He is a simple toy. After a spell of disillusionment and stupor, he comes to grips with it and surprisingly discovers life as a toy is actually so much better than life as a space ranger.
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The Truth About Ourselves
 
The reason we have gathered here tonight on Ash Wednesday is something akin to Buzz Lightyear coming to recognize the truth about himself. This day we intentionally carve out time to recognize and remember the truth about ourselves. When we hear in a moment, “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return”, we are reminded not that we are toys but that we are just human beings, creatures created by God out of dirt and mud. Our lives are like “grass” that “withers” (Isaiah 40:6,7). We aren’t made of plastic like Buzz, but our bodies  decay and can be broken. We are mortal. No matter what we accomplish in this life, no matter what our successes, no matter our fame, it will all one day come to a close and much of it will be forgotten. And as Woody tries to explain to Buzz when he pulls off an elaborate stunt thinking he is flying: we are all just really “falling with style”.
 
But we will also hear something else tonight: “Repent and believe the gospel”. These were the words of Jesus’ first sermon. “Repent” means to change our mind about the way we have been living our life. We are pressed with a need to change, because there is something within us that is not right. We are still prone to and guilty of choosing to live in selfish love for ourselves and not live in the love of God. In other words, we are sinners. On Ash Wednesday we recognize we aren’t the “space rangers” we sometimes get tricked into thinking we are. We are not the heroes, and rather we have been the villains, opposed to God’s good purposes in this world and in our own lives.
 
Over two millennia ago this was the truth about us still: “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill,” the Lord cries through the prophet Joel to His people. “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” God calls us to come to grips with the truth about ourselves. We are invited to somberly admit our slander of others even our brothers and sisters in Christ, the angry word to our spouse, our glorifying television, entertainment, or food above God, our adulterous fantasies, our name-calling, our prejudicial thoughts about people with a different skin color than our own, our broken promises, our many failures to love, or anything else that we truly want God to change. The ashes on the forehead will mark us as spiritually bankrupt and in need of complete God-change.
 
A year ago on Ash Wednesday, my kiddo did not want ashes put on his forehead, even from me. There was something that was too frightening to him about it, too much strange or unknown about it. It was outside of his comfort zone. But being marked as broken and sinful before a holy God should make us all uncomfortable shouldn’t it? And would that all of us have the same reverent caution tonight as we receive these ashes.
 
The Good News
 
Here’s the good news. Jesus came to save us from our sins. Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18). According to Colossians 1:14, it is in Jesus we find redemption and forgiveness for sin, offered to us as a gift at the cost of Jesus’ life not our own. Praise God for His mercy on us!
But it is only through these ashes that we find this gift. The turning point came for Buzz Lightyear when Woody looks him in the eye and says, “Look, over in that house is a kid who thinks you are the greatest, and it’s not because you’re a space ranger, pal. It’s because you’re a toy! You are his toy!” Everything changes for Buzz. Purpose and hope fill his spirit. Suddenly Buzz comes to realize what he was made for and more importantly who he was made for, but only when he learned the truth about himself.
 
Remarkably, the same is true for us. When we come to recognize the truth about ourselves symbolized in these ashes, we find the life-transforming love of God. We begin to truly discover Who we were made for and what we were made for as we experience the unconditional love of God, a God Who’s love for us has not changed in our brokenness and sin. Pastor and writer, Tim Keller, says, “To be fully loved but not fully known is superficial. To be fully known and not loved is our greatest fear. To be fully known and fully loved is a lot like the love of God.” Unless we come to God humbly and repentant we never get a chance to receive the fullness of God’s mercy and love. According to his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul struggles and strives and sacrifices everything to bring us this message: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God”. It’s only on our knees in the posture of humility and repentance that we can see the love of the cross in all its wonder through which God forgives us our sin and the empty tomb in all its glory through which God frees us from the power of sin. As Jesus says about his parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee: “the humble will be exalted.” The journey to Easter begins now, not in bright and cheery celebration (though that will come) but in the gray ash that speaks the truth about ourselves. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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The Four -Minute Mile

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     Edwin Friedman, famous writer and sociologist, explains that for the longest time in the racing world no one could run the mile in four minutes or less. Many great runners had tried it. The great Swedish runners such as Gunder Haag and Arnie Anderson couldn’t break it. Many sports writers were beginning to think it wasn’t possible  for a human being to break that record.
      Then on May 6, 1954 at Oxford University, an Englishman named Robert Bannister broke the record. Two months later Bannister did it again. Over two decades later John Walker from New Zealand became the first man to run the mile under 3:50. American Steve Scott holds the record now with 136 sub-four-minute miles, and Hicham El Guerrouj from Morocco holds the record for the fastest mile run at 3:43.13.
     Friedman points out that something called “the emotional barrier” was broken with Bannister’s 1954 run. Once that happened more and more runners began to believe that the four-minute mile was possible, and consequently more people began to run it. In 1994, an African runner beat a world record. One of his running-mates was interviewed afterwards by eager reporters amazed by what his mate did, and of his friend the fellow African runner said, “He is not caught up in the mythology of Wester runners.” What’s possible is limited by what was imagined to be possible.
     Friedman’s point was not that anyone can break a running record if he or she just puts his or her mind to it. His point is that we are often shackled by our own limited imaginations, what he calls “an emotional barrier”. This barrier can lower our expectations and cause us to miss all that is truly possible. I believe that the Church is often limited by this emotional barrier: a limited view of what God is able to do in our lives, communities, cities, and world. We don’t expect much from God, and we don’t expect much to happen through us. So nothing much happens.
     Jesus expected much more for His Church. He sent the disciples out, commanding them without batting an eye to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, cleanse the lepers, and proclaim the Kingdom (Matthew 10:7-8). He was heard saying things like “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27) and “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greaterthings than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 12:12). God is after all the God of ninety-nine year-old Abraham, timid Moses, and young David all through which we see God do extraordinary things in seemingly impossible circumstances. God tends to be most active where people are more open and expectant to God’s supernatural work. These “greater things” Jesus speaks of may not make us look like world-beaters in the eyes of others, and these things may not happen instantly or perhaps even in our lifetime; but God will accomplish the vision and passions we let Him place deep within us.
     What if God intends to transform the schools around us in radical ways or the run-down apartment complex up the street or the lives of our homeless friends with cardboard signs or our own hurts and addictions? We know from the Scriptures that these are exactly the types of things God is in the business of doing, yet the problem might be our own limited and stunted expectation.
      Try praying this: “Lord, what do you want to do? Show me. Amen.”
By Chris Symes
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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

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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.

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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

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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?

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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

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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.

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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