Rest for the Weary

The year is drawing to an end. 2017 is racing headlong into the New Year with an unrelenting thirst for speed. Or, so it seems. Just yesterday was Thanksgiving, but tomorrow is Christmas. Last week we sent the kids back to school! I have no idea where the year has gone, but gone it has. And you know what? I need a break from this crazy year.

I'm tired. I need, to put it in a Christmassy context, a "long winter's nap." I was speaking with a gentleman earlier today that wanted to know something that would help him get over this hump he was struggling with, but the best advice I had to give him was to press on. "Don't give up," I said. "Don't quit doing the right thing just because something easier comes along." And for those of us that are tired here at the end of the year, I still say, don't give up. The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 3:13, "As for you brothers, do not grow weary in doing good."

So, for those of you who are tired of the way this year has gone, don't give up. For someone who has been working on developing their good habits, working on living life with a kingdom mindset, don't give up. Do not grow weary in the things of the Lord. Whatever frustration you may be having with your situation, whatever work has done, or life has thrown at you, continue to follow after our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus is so good to us, faithful to forgive us when we falter. He has told us to give Him our burdens. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

There is rest for the weary, in Jesus Christ. Don't give up, and don't despair. Place your burdens on Jesus, and continue to walk the walk.

Blessings to you, and Merry Christmas.

Pastor Josh

Give Thanks

American Thanksgiving might just be my favorite holiday. There's a tradition in my mother's family to get together every year and rotate who hosts. We've been doing it since 1984, so I literally cannot remember a Thanksgiving where my mom's side of the family hasn't gathered for laughter, joy, and giving thanks.

Turkey and dressing is my personal favorite meal, so adding Grandma Powell's teacakes and some pumpkin pie totals out to the best food day of the year. But while that's good, I honestly find myself looking forward to my uncle's corny jokes and the annual Scrabble game more than the food. Being together is the highlight of the holiday.

Humans in general are not good at being alone. We're designed to live in community. Psalm 133 is a very short psalm, but it hits the nail on the head. "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore."

If you don't have a family tradition, or circumstances have dictated that you aren't able to be with your family and friends this holiday, I hope that you'll reach out to someone. Call a local friend, get with someone else's family, and be part of what they do. Don't miss this opportunity to rejuvenate your soul in fellowship with others. Take a chance to declare what God has done for you, and to praise Him for the change in your life. Psalm 75:1 is my theme verse for this holiday. "We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds."

Be blessed, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Pastor Josh

Us and Them

Southerland Springs, TX. Not a town I had heard of before this week. And yet, here I sit with a heavy heart, and a burden. I need to say something, to say anything.

An evil man took a weapon into a worship service and slaughtered innocents. Looking at the list of victims genuinely breaks my heart.

I’m not here to say anything in the typical political discourse. All of the easy statements have already been made. Gun rights / Gun Control. Domestic Violence. Mental Health. In the theater of public reaction to tragedy, all of those things have been thrown out and argued over ad nauseam with every new report. I don’t have anything to add on that front. I do, however, want to address something that is rampant in 2017: Division and bunker mentalities are more pervasive than they have ever been. Every single situation has turned into “Us vs Them.”

Partisan politics have eliminated a middle ground. Look on any social media platform and you can see stark lines being drawn in the sand where if you hint at sympathy for the opposing view, you’re a traitor. No longer is it possible to be a centrist who decides independently where they stand on each individual issue, but instead we have a political climate of completely toeing the line on a party’s stance or being completely shunned. In today’s climate, we would never have a Democratic president like John F Kennedy whose Catholic beliefs decried abortion. It is a political environment where a Republican president like Theodore Roosevelt could never be a conservationist that championed preserving public lands.

This really isn’t limited to politics. We divide ourselves so neatly into groups by team preference, coffee choice, skin color, location of living, language, background, music preferences, and petty things like who’s friends with who first. Even inside the body of Christ we divide and segregate over all kinds of petty things. A church breaking apart over hard hearts and hurt feelings is so antithetical to the mindset of the earliest church. Acts 2:44 describes a group that had all things in common, regardless of personality or status.

We have reached a point where we cannot even have empathy for others in a time of tragedy, but instead we turn the thoughts inward to ourselves. “What if it happened to us? What if it happened here?” It did happen to us.

It happened to us, Americans. It happened to us, Texans. It happened to us, Christians. It happened to us: brothers and fathers, sisters and mothers. It happened to us: young and old, healthy and frail.

There is a Latin phrase that formed the core of America’s identity in the early days. “E Pluribus Unum” - Out of Many, one. This idea of many independent people and ideas coming together as one is imbedded deeper still in the concept of the church. The Body of Christ is one. The Bride of Christ, all of us together, with one purpose and goal. Robert Webber wrote in his book Worship Is A Verb, “… the primary work of the church is worship.” Our primary response to being the church is to worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Because we are drawn together in Christ, we are to mourn with those who mourn.

Paul wrote in Romans how we should relate to each other in the Body. We are to rejoice when there are times of rejoicing, and mourn in times of mourning. Whatever happens to one of the Body, happens to all of us (Romans 12:5).

Why do we need to segregate? Why do we give in to the basest urge to only surround ourselves with people that are exactly like us? Division is the work of the enemy, and is the opposite of fellowship. The Trinity exists in perpetual, continual, eternal fellowship. We as Christians are bound together through the Blood of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Fellowship should be the easiest thing for us.

My prayer for all of us is the same as Paul for the church at Colossae: "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful." Colossians 3:12-15

God bless you, and may we find unity in Christ.

-Pastor Josh

Preparing for Worship

This Sunday, September 3, Pastor Tommy is going to be preaching on worship. Worship is a core part of the Christian experience, but so often we conflate it with our personal music preferences or favorite style. In preparation for Sunday's message, here are 10 Questions I Must Ask Myself in Preparing for True Worship:

1. Am I coming before God to worship Him with a sincere heart (Hebrews 10:22)?

2. Am I focused on the Lord alone (Exodus 20:4-6)?

3. Do I have a firm grip on the confession of our hope in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16)?

4. Are my sights fixed on the Lord of Glory so that my desire is to draw near to Him (Hebrews 7:25, James 4:8)?

5. Do I have full assurance that faith provides sufficient entrance into His presence and before the Throne of Grace (Hebrews 11:6)?

6. Do I come as a true child of God, knowing my sings are cleansed through personal faith in Christ (Romans 10:9-13)?

7. Do I come with the knowledge that the only reason allowing for the privilege of worship is what Christ did for me at Calvary (Matthew 27:51, 1 Timothy 2:5)?

8. Do I come in purity, cleansed from the daily sin in my life (1 John 1:9)?

9. Do I come to render honor, glory, praise, and thanksgiving to God rather than to receive anything for myself (1 Corinthians 10:31)?

10. Is my desire and commitment, that, having entered the presence of God through worship, He will break me, mold me, and make me a pure vessel, useful for the Master's service (2 Timothy 2:21)?

We want to encourage you to read these scriptures and think on these questions as we gather for corporate worship Sunday morning.