Worship Gathering and Retreat

Quite honestly, I’m having a hard time preparing for this Sunday.  That’s because I’m really excited about the retreat the following weekend.  At the retreat, we’ll be focusing on clarifying God’s calling, both for ourselves and others.  But there is something so vitally important that must precede responding to God’s call – and that’s what will be looking at this Sunday.
We were created for life in God’s Kingdom, and God graciously works through us to invite others into that life.  But what will life in God’s Kingdom like?  Following Jesus means we get a taste of it here and now, but it is not yet fully realized.  And it’s mixed with the often bitter reality of life here.  But what helps us to fix our hope on Christ?  That’s what we’ll be working on.
This Sunday, we will gather for worship in the St. Johns Room at Faith Community Church at 6:45 pm.  Come and be encouraged and equipped for life on mission.
Now, about the retreat…
We’ll be heading back up to the ECO Lodge in (fabulous) Fargo, Georgia Feb 15-17.  The retreat is already payed for, but most of the slots are filled.  We all pitch in to bring food and everyone is involved in food prep and clean up.  (Think extended family.)  Let me know soon if you’d like to join us.
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Where To From Here?

Our next worship gathering is Sunday February 10 at 6:45pm in the St. Johns Room at FCC (3450 CR210, 32259).

Five years.

When we started LoveFirst Coast five years ago, none of us knew how things would unfold.  But we all agreed that it was worth trying.  If nothing else, our understanding of what it means to follow Jesus has grown wonderfully in that time.  Thank you for being on this journey!

Over this time, I think we’ve learned something of the heart of Christ, of his sorrow and his joy.  We know something of the sorrow of Christ, because we have gained some insight about God’s Kingdom, and how things would be different if it was more fully realized here now – and yet we live in the reality that God’s Kingdom is not yet here.  Our hearts break for people we love who are struggling. Our hope is strained when missional efforts are frustrated.  And our faith is tested when people we’ve prayed for and reached out to walk away.

We’ve experienced that.  So did Jesus.

But we also know something of the joy of Christ.  We’ve had the privilege of seeing God’s Kingdom advance.  Through prayer, through giving encouragement, through acts of generosity, through hands on service, we have seen it and had the privilege of being a part of what God is doing, too.  God has provided hope for the hurting, encouragement for the discouraged, comfort for the grieving, community for the lonely, healing for the sick, deliverance of the captives, relief for the distressed, concern for the orphan, the widow, the alien.  I can say that because you have told me so. And some of these things, God has done through us.   It has been very good.

So how are things at LoveFirst Coast?  The size and scope of our community hasn’t changed much.  The core has stuck together.  And thanks again!  But there isn’t much to report in terms of a movement of mission and discipleship on the First Coast beyond hints and teasers that God is involving us in something bigger than ourselves.  That’s one of the things we’ve been praying for over the last five years.  But where is it? And what do we do now?

In times like this, I like to turn to the scripture.  We are not the first people who’ve wondered what God was up to and when God was going to break through.  We have something in common with the Colossian church, and perhaps every church.  They were a relatively young church and things were going well.  They also had a sense of God’s Kingdom breaking in.  But things were not going as they had expected.  As Isaiah says, God’s ways are not our ways.  What do we do when our reality doesn’t match expectations?  Maybe, in humility, we should just relax a bit.  It’s great to make plans, but God’s plans for us are different, and better.  Still, the tension and the waiting can be a bit of a challenge.

In Colossians 1, the Apostle Paul prays for the people to “be strengthened with all power according to God’s glorious might” in order that they would “have great endurance and patience.”  The Greek word for “great endurance” can also be translated “persevere.”   Paul prayed that they would hang in there.  That they would keep on keeping on.  That they would stick with it.  And I think this is our time to stick with it, too, to persevere with patience.

So what is God calling us to do while we “persevere with patience”?  Speaking for myself, I have sensed the Lord inviting me out of my role at Sawgrass Chapel to better focus on LoveFirst Coast.  (My last Sunday there is March 31.)  If you are engaged in mission or trying to start one, I will try to connect with you regularly in the year ahead to encourage and pray for you.  How you respond to God’s call is so important to me.  I want to do whatever I can to help you.  Additionally, Heather and I will begin serving our immediate neighbors, working at building community here.  We believe God wants our neighborhood to be more like heaven.

How is the Lord leading you?

We will keep gathering for worship – usually on 2nd Sundays.  That gathering will be focused on encouraging and equipping those who are living life on mission.  I hope we’ll be gathering at other times, too.  And I look forward to our times ahead, worshiping the Lord, bearing one another’s burdens, encouraging one another, stirring up one another to love and good deeds, praying for God’s will to be done and for God’s Kingdom to come until Christ comes or until God’s Kingdom is revealed in every square inch of our city.

You go nowhere by accident!

God is good!

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Cheer Leader – Rose’s Story, Part 1

God is at work through many people on the first coast.  Tonight’s blog entry is a part of Rose’s Story.  Rose has been living missionally on the First Coast for several years and God is stirring up something new in her heart again.  This is the first of a series.  What insights and encouragement do you find from her words?

We all need a cheer leader, someone who sees the best in you at all times. They know your short comings and failures but they are there to uplift you. A reminder that you are worth it, they see your potential more than your failures. They understand understand what it took for you to get to where you are, as well as what it takes every day for you to stay, keep up keeping it up. They are ready to encourage you, remind you that your best outshines your failures daily. With them cheering you on, reminding you of the best you there is. There is no failure, just a bump in the road, a rough day that will soon change, that tomorrow will be so much better than today. They never give up on you.

For me my best cheer leading team has always been my family. However there are times even they get tired and need help. In those moments they need their own cheer leader, reminding them who they are.

The last 19 years I have had a great cheer leader. He has never given up on me. He knows my faults better than I know them. However, what is best about Him is that He sees the best in me and always reminds me that He will never leave me nor forsake me. He reminds me to be courageous, taking away the fear.  Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (Deut: 31:6)

             He always wants the best for me, never gets tired of me, never lets me down. What is even better than that is I can never let Him down or disappoint Him. He is the best friend I could ever have, the best parent, the best everything. Yes He is that good.  You have searched me, Lord,  and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise;  you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down;  you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before,  and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. (Psalms 139:1-6)

Yes He is that good. So in the next few weeks I will share with you how much He has taught me. He knocked on my door and invited me to a dance. A dance that is unlike any other. Once I answered the knock and let Him in, He invited me asked me to ‘come dance with Him’. So I have been on a dance like no other. Welcome to my dance with Jesus, who has promised to love me, who reminds me that each day is a new beginning. Each day I learn a new dance routine.

What is your dance with Jesus look like. Mine is a continues searching, learning and changing for the better with His help.  Search me, God, and know my heart;  test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me,  and lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps 139:23-24)

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Worship Gathering Sunday Night

The greatest privilege, I believe, is to experience and express the heart of God.  Both of these are intended to come together in prayer.  When we pray, especially when we pray in agreement and in community, we experience the heart of God as we are pulled into the perfect community of love found in the Trinity, a love that has existed from eternity past.  Through our prayers, especially our prayers together, we express God’s heart to the world.  The Kingdom of God is revealed as heaven’s grace and power are unleashed on earth.  Doors are opened.  Bonds are broken.  Relationships are healed.  Love grows.
This Sunday night, we’ll be looking at Colossians 1 and 2 in order to gain insight and motivation to pray.  I hope you can be with us.  Come and be equipped and encouraged for life on mission.  Sunday, 6:45pm, in the St. Johns Room at FCC, 3450 CR210, 32259.
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Identity, Work, and Worship

Ah… Breathe deep one more time!

At LoveFirst Coast, we cut back our ministry activities for the holidays.  It gives a little space and time to rest, reflect, and remember who we are.  When we have been busy for a long stretch, it is tempting to believe we are what we do, that our work defines us, that our significance is based on the roles we play and accomplishments we can claim.  But in fact, our identity as God’s child is far greater than any of those other things.  We are God’s children.  By the power of the Holy Spirit we are made new.  We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  (Philippians 1:1-10)

Our identity in Christ is the greatest gift.  It cannot be added to.  God loves us no less when we rest and He doesn’t love us more when we are productive. Taking a break and really celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas creates margin in our lives for remembering who we are in Christ, for worshiping God for who he is, giving thanks for all he has done.

And the holidays are ending.  The work that flows from who we are in Christ begins again.  Recalling that we are greatly loved, once again it is time to love the First Coast.  Discipleship gatherings and missional engagement are returning.  Our next worship gathering is January 13 at 6:30pm in the St. Johns Room at Faith Community Church.

Come and be equipped and encouraged for life on mission!

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Missional Living at Christmas

Christmas time is a time when we remember that God became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ.  It’s called “the incarnation.”  As Eugene Peterson put it in the message, “The Word” (Jesus) “became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”  But why?  Why did Jesus come?  The simple, answer, of course, is that God loves us.

But couldn’t God have loved us from a distance?

Another simple answer, Jesus came “to save us from our sins so we could go to heaven.”   Of course!  Jesus Christ died on the cross to save us from our sins, to take our place.  But again, couldn’t God have done that in a simpler way?  I mean, to play with the idea, couldn’t he have saved us if he had died in an obscure way?  Did he have to die on a cross as a public figure surrounded by drama?  If Jesus had died quietly by falling off a mule when he was eight years old, would that have paid for our sins?  Why didn’t God do it like that?

I can hear the the objections coming.  “But if we didn’t know about how Jesus died, we wouldn’t have faith.  And God wanted us to have faith in Jesus.”  (Warning, if you are new to this sort of thing, know that I’m playing with ideas and questions that flirt with heresy in order to take us a little deeper.  Hang in there.)  Does God need our faith to save us?  Couldn’t he just write off all our sin like a bank writing off a bad debt and let us into heaven. That would be a lot less trouble.

But when I read the story of Jesus, it seems to me that God wanted to go through a lot of trouble.  According to the Bible, in Jesus, the Word who is fully God – who made all things and for who all things were made – becomes fully human.  God the Creator becomes a part of the Creation.  That was a lot of trouble.  Why?

God had more in mind at that first Christmas than getting us into heaven when we die.  Theologians talk about the Missio Dei – the Mission of God.   God’s mission is rescuing, redeeming, healing, and restoring all that was his.  If we think God’s purpose is only for you and me to believe in Jesus in order to get to heaven, we may miss the larger point.  God’s intention for our world was for a thriving humanity to lead purpose-filled, satisfying lives in this creation enjoying open, joyful relationships with other human beings and in partnership with himself.  That got messed up in Genesis 3.  And God’s doing something about it.  God has a mission.

God’s mission includes our salvation, but that we go to heaven when we die, as wonderful as that will be, is a stop gap solution.  According to the Bible, the end of the story happens when creation (all things) are being made new.  Implication: the end of this story is the beginning of a better one.  Revelation 21-22 talk about the holy city, the new Jerusalem, being remade and coming down out of heaven to the earth.  Get that.  It doesn’t end with us all going to heaven.  It ends with heaven coming to earth.  And in that city on earth, God will live with the people, face to face, marking each as his own.  The people will enjoy open, joyful relationships with one another.   The curse which seems to touch everything will end.

In that made-new earth there will be healing, abundance, worship, music, feasting, and life.  No illness.  No war.  No injustice.  No death. No regret. No un-wiped tears.  No more curse.

God has a mission and here it is.  What God created rightly belongs to God, and God is at work reclaiming it all and making it as it should be and even better.

In Jesus Christ, God entered into his creation.  All of history before that point set it up.  And all of history since that point is the unfolding – hard as it may seem – of finishing the work.  It was the strategic invasion and everything in this great mission turns on it.

When God became one of us in Jesus Christ, he showed us what God himself is truly like.  No more trying to figure it out.  Just look at Jesus.  In the Old Testament, we learn that God, “The Lord is the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin, yet not leaving the guilty unpunished…”  By looking at the life of Jesus, by walking with him, we grow and learn what this means.  But also, by looking at Jesus, we see what a human being’s life can be like.   And it’s clear from the life of Jesus that he lived like a man on a mission for the last three years of his life.

Now, that raises questions, doesn’t it?

We know that Jesus grew up.  He was part of a family.  Jewish kids were educated with some formality.  We don’t have stories from the Bible, but we can be sure Jesus went to school.  We know he worked.  The Bible says he was a builder/carpenter.  But we can gather that he also went to markets.  His parables show he was very familiar with the agricultural life that dominated 1st century Palestinian life.  His best friends were fisherman.   God, who became a human being, participated in those everyday little things that make up life.  In Jesus, God was doing more than just living so we could be forgiven.  He was redeeming the everyday things.  He was redeeming family life, childhood, education, work, commerce, and culture.  And at Christmas, Jesus became a baby.  Weak, helpless, vulnerable.  Yes.  Jesus was on mission – at work redeeming human life from beginning.  He lived every moment for the glory of God.

And the Resurrection shows that it wasn’t just wishful thinking.  The resurrected body of Jesus, free from the curse, life so vibrant that wrappings, tombs, and doors could not keep it out or keep it down.  Jesus redeems humanity even through death!   In his resurrection, God was showing us what “all things made new” looks like.  And that is our future, too.

God had a mission.  God’s mission was Jesus’ mission.

And into that work, Jesus was sent.  And into this work, into the work of making all things new, Jesus has invited us.

Jesus mission is our mission, too.   When we accept that God has a mission and God’s mission includes us – that’s when we are ready to live missionally.

Do you want to know how to have a missional Christmas?  Know and accept that in Jesus Christ, God became one of us for his own glory and our deep joy.  Out of the overflow of who he was, he created you in love and loves you still.  Know and accept that God, in Jesus Christ, died on the cross to take away your sins, and rose again, giving all who belong to him and eternal place in his family, an eternal home in heaven, and an eternal life worth living.  Know and accept that in Jesus Christ, the maker of heaven and earth has come to earth, reclaiming, redeeming, and re-newing what rightly belongs to him.  God has claimed you as his own and given you a new identity as his child.   Know that God invites you into his work of making all things new.  You are invited to join in a great work that leads toward a thriving humanity leading purpose-filled, satisfying lives in a redeemed creation enjoying open, joyful relationships with other human beings and in partnership with God.  Missional living.  It’s the family business of the family of God!

Merry Christmas!

Scriptures: Genesis 1-3, Exodus 34-45, the Gospels, especially John 1:1-17 and Matthew 28:16-20,  Acts, I John 1:1-4, Revelation 21-22.

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Worship Gathering Sunday Night

Jesus, full of love, entered into the mess of this world and that has changed everything.  The theological term for what Jesus has done is the incarnation.  Jesus, who is fully God, puts on flesh and becomes a human being.  He is God incarnate, God who is one of us.
But what does that imply for us?  What has he done for us?  Here are a few things to think about.  If God put on our flesh, what does that say about our flesh?  If God became human, what can we learn about the potential of human life?  And if Jesus, a human being, was fully God, what does this reveal about what God is like?  And how do we see him changing the mess of this world?
Two more thoughts.  Jesus invites us to follow him.  And Jesus sends us, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”  (John 20:21)  And as we think about following Jesus, going where he leads us, how does the example of his incarnational life help?
At LoveFirst Coast, we remind one another that “Christ lives in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus is with us wherever we go.  We encourage one another to engage in “incarnational ministry.”  This means that we encourage each other to go where people are with a willingness to enter into their mess in the same way Jesus entered into ours.  And Jesus is with us.  So, it is still about Jesus arriving and entering into people’s messes, making them different.
This Sunday night, we’ll look at this more closely.  We meet at 6:45 in the St. Johns Room at Faith Community Church (3450 CR210, 32259).  Come and be encouraged and equipped for life in community and life on mission!
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