Sustaining Joy and Hope

Whenever I start to struggle to sustain hope and joy in this life on mission, I find that reflecting on two questions gives me insight on the source of the problem:
1) Where am I seeking significance?
2) Where am I seeking security?
Of course, the best answer to both questions is God.  By the work of the Spirit, through faith in Jesus Christ, we are adopted into God’s family. We are God’s children!  Nothing offers greater significance than that!   Nothing could be more secure!
But still, many messages about that suggest I need to pursue security and significance elsewhere.  And quite a few of those messages are coming from my own fears and pride.
We’ll be taking a look at the last chapter of Philippians for insight.  I hope you can join us, but regardless, may the Lord lead you to sustained joy and hope!
We’ll meet at the St. Johns Room at Faith Community Church, 3450 CR210, 6:45pm, July 14.  I hope to see you there.
For your calendar:
July 28 – 6:00 – 8:30  Listen Love Pray and Eat.
August 11 – 6:45 – 8:00  Worship Gathering
August 25 – 5:00 -8:30 Neighborhood Ministry Summit Listen Love Pray and Eat
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Demonstrating Hope

Wherever you go, God is sending you!
1) June 2019 is just about to slip into history… I want to offer a brief word of encouragement.  This morning, I was thinking about how tempting it is to use all our energies trying to shape the culture: we can throw ourselves into politics or activism.   We can raise money, support causes, and start an issues related blog.  I’m not opposed to such things.  Followers of Jesus should seek to influence the world and promote justice and social righteousness.  However, our hope needs to rest elsewhere – and we need to use our energies to follow Jesus faithfully in the culture we live in and encourage others to do the same.  No matter how successful we may be in our efforts to change the world, we will have trouble in it.  So, as the author or Hebrews put it, let us encourage one another and stir one another up to love and good deeds – even if our world remains troubling.
And what if the times are not good?  Unsettling times offer great opportunities to bear witness to Christ and share the hope found in the Gospel.  By trusting in the Lord, as we pray for God’s kingdom to come, as we experience Gods love and let it overflow to loving  our neighbors, as serve our city, and as we do the work of being disciples who make disciples, we can demonstrate to the world what hope looks like!   So keep your eyes on Jesus.  Read the word.  Sing hymns and anthems of praise.  Share meals.  Listen for the voice of the Lord.  Respond in faith.  Choose joy.  And if you do, the Lord may just lead some people to ask you to give an reason for the hope you possess.
2) Our next worship gathering is Sunday, July 14 at 6:45pm at Faith Community Church – 3450 CR210, 32259.
3) Put the evening of July 28 on your calendar.   We want to gather to eat, pray, and encourage one another.
4)  We have three huddles meeting – but they’ll be off and on through July.  If you are interested in discipleship, let me know and we’ll get you connected.
Prayer Requests:
For God to open up new discipling relationships for those in our Huddles.
Again…
God is good.
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Happy Father’s Day

You know I’d like to come to the First Coast on Father’s Day weekend?

How about John the Baptist?

Here’s something prophesied about him in Luke 1:17  “And he will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Lord, we could use some of that around here!

One sign of the Kingdom of God being ushered into a place is that fathers will have hearts stirred up with love for their kids!  There are some great dads here on the First Coast who love their kids really well  – but too many dads are absent, distant, or distracted – and many kids don’t even know their dads.  That is at the heart of many of our challenges.

Some of us are going to gather to pray for fathers (among other things) tomorrow night.    Would you do me a favor?  Wherever you are – whenever you are reading this – would you mind taking a few minutes, thinking of the dads you know, and asking God to stir up their hearts to love their kids.

May the Lord bless you and keep you and give you shalom!

 

 

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One Thing to Change Everything

Worship Gathering this Sunday (June 2)  at 6:45pm in the St. Johns Room at Faith Community Church (3450 CR210, 32259).

What if there was this one thing, and if you were intentional about this one thing, you would have more passion for mission, greater love for your neighbors, a richer walk with God, a deeper connection with the people you live with, and greater strength to resist temptation?

It’s just one thing.

Jesus operated with a steady awareness of it.  And it wasn’t actually something he had to do, but it was something he was intentional about eliminating from his life.  And we can, too.  But it is very much contrary to the American way of life.

We would be more at peace with one another if we learned it.  Facebook would be a much different place.  People would be less tempted to pass on fake news, less tempted to write people off, less threatened by contrary arguments, and frankly, kinder.

American Christians are often much less attentive to this one thing, but our churches would be different, too.

Back in 2002, John Ortberg called his mentor, Dallas Willard, who was the head of the philosophy department at the University of Southern California to ask for some spiritual direction.  (Wouldn’t it be cool to have a mentor like that?)  Here’s what it their conversation looked like:

I described the pace of life in my current ministry. The church where I serve tends to move at a fast clip. I also told him about our rhythms of family life: we are in the van-driving, soccer-league, piano-lesson, school-orientation-night years. I told him about the present condition of my heart, as best I could discern it. What did I need to do, I asked him, to be spiritually healthy?

Long pause.

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life,” he said at last.

Another long pause.

“Okay, I’ve written that one down,” I told him, a little impatiently. “That’s a good one. Now what else is there?” I had many things to do, and this was a long-distance call, so I was anxious to cram as many units of spiritual wisdom into the least amount of time possible.

Another long pause.

“There is nothing else,” he said. “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.

I’ve concluded that my life and the well-being of the people I serve depends on following his prescription, for hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry destroys souls. As Carl Jung wrote, “Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil.”

For most of us, the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.

“Settling for a mediocre version of our faith.”  That challenges me.  Anyone who has felt the call to live life on mission is probably repelled by the notion of settling for mediocrity.  And I know he’s right.  Whenever I have had to hurry, my effectiveness in mission and ministry has been diminished.  I bet mediocrity is not acceptable to you.

I also know it’s hard.  I’ve tried to eliminate hurry from my life.  Everything seems to push against it.  And so much is at stake.

I can’t remember when I heard it, but you can’t love people in a hurry very well.   The scriptures teach us that love is patient: patience, by definition, takes time.

I see it very clearly as I try to live life on mission.  The more I have to do, the less time I have for relationship.  We’ve lived in the same neighborhood for twelve years now.  Over those twelve years, I’ve had greater and lesser connection to my neighbors, greater and lesser effectiveness in mission here.   The effectiveness correlates very closely with how much hurry I had in my life.  Not long ago, I stopped serving as the associate pastor at Sawgrass Chapel.  A driving motivation behind that decision was to create margin to have more time for ministry and mission in my neighborhood.  Sawgrass Chapel wasn’t a demanding place to serve.  But I’ve felt called to my neighbors.  After some time of discernment, I knew that if I was to answer this call to my neighborhood, I would need to say no to Sawgrass Chapel.   it was the one thing on my plate that seemed to crowd out space for other things.   And doors are starting to open!

Through the scriptures, the voice of God both commands and invites us to, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  So much is at stake.  So much is available to us.   A little more from Ortberg:  “If you want to follow someone, you can’t go faster than the one who is leading; following Jesus cannot be done at a sprint. Jesus was often busy but he was never hurried. Being busy is an outer condition; being hurried is a sickness of the soul.”

What are you doing Sunday night?  Slow down.  Come join us for worship.  Let us consider together how to might encourage one another to follow Jesus.  We are gathering for worship at 6:45 at Faith Community Church.  I hope you can be with us.  Come and be equipped and encouraged for life on mission.

Excerpts from “Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry,” Leadership Jornal, 2002 and available at ChristianityToday.com

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For Life on Mission – Eat Together!

Jesus loved dinner time!  He was always sharing meals – with friends, family, disciples, strangers, tax-gathers, sinners, and even enemies.  He loved eating with people!
This coming Sunday night (May 19) at 6pm at the Alexander house you are invited to a cookout so that we can “…consider how to stir one another up to love and good deeds.”  (Heb 10:24)
We’ll do more than eat. We’ll talk.  We’ll sing.  We’ll share.  We’ll pray for one another.  We’ll have dessert!  I bet there will be laughter.  Tears are a good possibility, too, though.  We’ll do what we can to listen with love and then to pray for one another.
If you cannot make it – please pray for us!
If you CAN make it – please let us know you are coming and we’ll include you in the
communication about food coordination.  (You can send an email pastorjessealexander@gmail.com or text 904-599-2889.)
Hope to see you there.  If you don’t have a community that gathers to eat and encourage one another, I pray that you find one.  Because the mission God has called you to matters, and it’s hard to stay on course without a supportive community!
May the Lord bless you on the journey!
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Productive Suffering?

  • May 5 – Worship Gathering (6:45pm @ Faith Community Church 3450 CR210, 32259)

In 53 years of weekly church attendance, I’ve heard a lot of sermons on how to have a happy life, but not too many on the certainty of suffering. Maybe I wasn’t listening carefully enough – because Jesus promised his disciples that we would have trouble (John 16:33). Suffering is a given for a follower of Jesus. To borrow from Princes Bride, “Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.”

But for the Christ follower, persevering down the path of suffering leads to some really fantastic gifts, like wisdom, compassion, character, and hope.  Few things clarify our understanding of the love of Jesus, the faithfulness of God, and the coming Kingdom of God like persevering through suffering.  Though suffering may be inevitable, the other gifts and clarity about the Kingdom are invaluable. No one lasts on long on mission without hope.  No one truly blesses the world without compassion.  No one loves another sinner without knowing the love of Jesus.  What suffering produces are essential resources for life on mission.  In the face of trouble and difficulty, where does your hope come from?

Let’s work on that together.  This Sunday night, we’ll gather for worship at 6:45 in the St. Johns Room at Faith Community Church (3450 CR210, 32259).  May the Lord bless you as you follow him!

  • May 19 – Dinner Together (6:00pm at the Alexanders 320 S. Buck Board Dr, 32259)  Place TBD)
  • June 2 – Worship Gathering
  • June 23 – Dinner Together
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Missional Easter Morning

  • May 5 – Worship Gathering (6:45pm @ Faith Community Church 3450 CR210, 32259)
  • May 19 – Dinner Together (6:00pm.  Place TBD)
  • June 4 – Worship Gathering
  • June 23 – Dinner Together

Today is Easter Sunday, 2019.

I love Easter Weekend.     Many churches are very busy over Holy Week.  Traditions vary, but many churches hold services Thursday night (Maundy Thursday), Friday night (Tenebrae), and of course Easter Sunrise services and Easter Sunday services.  Because we have a value for blessing churches and with our focus on missional living, we encourage one another to invite friends and neighbors to a worship service somewhere, or to do something missional, (or if needed, just rest.)  We do hold a gathering at sunrise on Good Friday.  As far as I know, we’ve got that time slot pretty much to ourselves.

This year, Heather and I did something missional in our neighborhood with our family on Easter morning.  Also, I want to offer a few photos provided by Bob Davenport from our Good Friday Gathering.  First, Easter…

Easter: Recently, Heather and I have begun being more intentional about living missionally in our neighborhood.  The goal is simple.  We want to see our neighborhood become more like heaven.  Period.  So as part of that mission, we decided to host an Easter breakfast and have a short family-friendly worship service in our home.  To prepare Heather and I prayed for our neighbors – specifically for open doors.  Then we walked around and knocked on doors, handing out an invitation saying, “if you don’t have plans for Easter, we’d love to have with us.”

It was great to connect with neighbors that way.  Most doors did open.  We caught up with some neighbors we’d not seen in a while, met one for the first time, and of course, some doors didn’t open.  Once the invitations were out, I didn’t know if anyone would come or not.  That’s the hard part for me.  Sometimes, ministry feels like the ongoing experience of inviting people to a party and wondering if they will come.

Well, we asked for RSVPs to get an idea ahead of time.  And here I sit on Easter afternoon, after a delightful morning with three families from our neighborhood.  Two families we knew well and a third family we are just getting to know.  And they brought extended family.  So thank you, Lord!  The food was great.  The conversation lively.  We had young kids in our house!  We sang Amazing Grace.  I shared the Easter Story from the Rhyme Bible (fun!) and then talked about shalom, God’s plan, and the importance of the resurrection (Which frankly, I don’t think I did well, but the Spirit was present.)

Then the younger kids went out to find the hidden Easter Eggs in joy.   

And here’s the thing.  I think our neighborhood is a little more like heaven as a result.  I know some people and know a little better how to pray for them.  I really love our neighbors, especially the ones who joined us today.

Reflecting Good Friday Morning:  Every Good Friday since 2009, a group of us have gathered at Mickler’s Landing to worship, to remember what Jesus has done for us, and prepare our hearts for Easter. This tradition pre-dates LoveFirst Coast, but the core of this group is still the same.  Kent and Kris Wehmeier came up with the idea way back when, and what we do is simple.  We bring food for breakfast.  We sing.  And I offer a brief message inviting us to prepare our hearts for Easter.  Good Friday, of course, is the day Jesus was tried, condemned, rejected by his people, and crucified.

Personally, my week had put me in a gloomy Good Friday mood.  Death and unanswered prayer came near this week.  People who had been making progress stumbled and suffered setbacks.  Then, through ministry, work, and friendship, I was a part of the story of five people passing away – this week.   

Disappointment was real, and death seemed to be coming close, looming large. As one story after another came near, things seemed to grow a little darker. I was okay, but hope started feeling like wishful thinking. Joy seemed to be leaking away. I felt myself growing numb.  It felt like Good Friday. I could relate a little to well to the phrase put together by S.M. Lockridge. “It’s Friday. Hope is lost. Death has won. Sin has conquered. and Satan’s just laughing.”

But you can’t forget the next line… “It was Friday. But Sunday’s comin!”  Thinking about his words, I was reminded of the hope that is found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ! And at sunrise on Good Friday, I got to share that news with good friends at the beach. We were not expecting to see the sunrise that morning – but the sky grew bright and then the sun broke through the clouds on the word, “Alleluia!”

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” “Thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”   

May your seasons that connect to Good Friday be marked by the hope that Sunday is indeed Coming!  May your life be characterized by the hope we celebrate every Easter!

At our gathering, we met “Bucket Bob” Davenport.  He has a great appreciation for the beauty of Mickler’s Landing and works to keep it free of trash for others to enjoy.  He noticed our worship gathering and took these pictures.  Thanks the photos, Bob.  Your gift will help us remember a beautiful morning.  And thanks for loving the First Coast!

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