Remember – A Reflection on Deuteronomy 10:1-11

You are invited to our next worship gathering is Sunday, January 28 in the St. Johns Room at FCC (3450 CR210, 32259.) Our annual retreat is February 16-18.  Let us know if you’d like to come along.)  

Moses was a preacher with an especially important message.  He had something to say. He wanted to make sure his people knew who God was, who they were, and what that meant.

After generations of slavery and forty years in the wilderness, his people (God’s people) were about to go into the Promised Land.  A new leader and a military campaign were before them.  More significantly, freedom was in front of them.  How would they handle it? Would they have the courage to move forward?  Or would they continue the foolishly pining away for the presumed safety and security of slavery in Egypt at the first sign of difficulty?  But really, Egypt was no longer an option.  They were moving into the Promised Land.  Would they live into the new quality of life God was offering them?  Or would they try to find an easier way, something more secure?

A similar choice is before us each day.

Inviting them to make the better choice, Moses says (and I’m paraphrasing.) “Remember who God is.  Remember who you are.  Live your lives in response to that reality.”  They were in a covenant relationship with the God of all creation and that covenant carried a sacred responsibility.  They were God’s Chosen People. They were brought into the covenant of Abraham.  The relationship was a blessing, and it carried a beautiful responsibility.  They were blessed to be a blessing to others.  Indeed, they were uniquely positioned to bless the whole world.  Notice the rich language as Moses praises God for who God is, and reflects on what God has done!  (Those are great skills for prayer, by the way.)

Notice how Moses is strategic and specific about who to bless: the widows, the orphans, and the foreigners in the land.  As a nation, they were to be intentional in showing care and kindness to the most vulnerable of their day.  In the ancient world, those groups easy to ignore, easy to mistreat.  And God’s the love of God’s heard flowed toward the vulnerable.  And it still does.

It is cool to me whenever I meet people who have a heart for those who, in our day, might be easy to ignore or mistreat.  I know people who feed the hungry, serve the homeless, spend time with refugees locally and abroad, care for teen moms and their babies, foster kids, support orphanages, and care for the elderly.  In spending time with them, I have noticed they have a sense of purpose, vitality, and joy!  I believe there’s a reason for that.  Whenever we intentionally place ourselves with the weak or vulnerable, we are aligning our hearts with God’s own heart – and that aligns us with part of God’s great purpose for our lives: to learn to love the way God loves.

The Children of Israel had a mixed record going forward.  They found themselves oppressed and enslaved over and over again.  The prophets would often point out injustice against the vulnerable and remind the people, especially those in power that they had forgotten who God was, who they were, and who they were to bless.  That reminder is always needed, you know.  I need it regularly, for sure.  Too much is at stake should we forget.  Perhaps like me, you are also tempted to settle for something easier, more certain.  So I encourage you to accept this word.  Remember this: by the working of the Holy Spirit, through the blood of Jesus Christ, you are brought into a covenant relationship with the God.  You call God, “Father.”  The Father has given you a place at his table, adopted you into his family, and he calls you his precious child.  He is a good Father.  And he does not spoil us, his children.  Rather he gives you and me a responsibility fitting for family members.  You and I are to live into this new reality, reflecting the heart of God to love and bless others, especially those to whom God’s own heart is drawn.

May you remember who God is and who you are.  May you live your life faithfully in response. May you find courage to make the better choice when tempted to settle and find much joy in this journey!

(Adapted from a devotional I prepared for Mandarin Presbyterian Church – Jesse)

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Discipleship That Changes The World

What is your strategy for changing the world in the right direction for a long time to come?  Jesus’ strategy was discipleship.  Thinking about our part in that work is our focus for tomorrow night’s worship gathering. (6:45 pm in the St. Johns Room at FCC – 3450 CR210, 32259)   We’ll be talking about how discipleship impacts people.

Discipleship has been a part of the language of the church from the very beginning.  Like many common words, we forget what it means or develop a corporate confusion about it.  As social networks, churches may even reinforce confusion about our common words – but that’s another topic.

This week, I have been thinking about how discipleship is understood in the churches and Christian circles I’ve spent time in.  I believe its pretty common to have partial definitions of discipleship.  When our definitions are partial, the concepts don’t fly well.  Like birds with unbalanced wings, they fly funny and are prone to crash.

One partial definition of disciple is “learner”.  When that definition takes hold, the work of discipleship is confused with things like course work or programs of Christian education.   In the churches I served, the paradigm of western education operated strongly.  There were education-appropriate levels of curriculum developed for children, youth, and adults.  The associated tasks were sitting in a class, being quite, paying attention and doing your homework.  The student was there to be taught.  For those who were “serious”, advanced courses could be found.  Much “advanced discipleship” material requires a high level of education (or effort) and calls for a steady commitment to take all the classes and “do the homework.”  One course I led called for theological reading, inductive Bible study, prayer, answering questions for reflection, and a series of twenty-six 90 minute bi-weekly meetings.  A friend showed me a “discipleship program” he was invited to take.  It involved a two-year long course commitment, a weekly meeting, a pile of work-books, and thousands of pages of college-level reading, followed by a two-year commitment to teach the course.   There were breaks for Christmas and summer.   This partial definition is biased toward the well-educated and sends the message that a disciple is a student and discipleship is an academic education.

Jesus had no problem working with the well-educated of his day, but it is likely that some of his first disciples were illiterate.  In Acts 4, the disciples he invested in were recognized to have been “unschooled and ordinary men”.  Faithful discipleship, as modeled by Jesus, was accessible to and transformed people from lower education levels.  Some of them would teach priests and lawyers, who would also be transformed.    And while Jesus taught and gathered people to listen, his approach does not look much like a weekly scheduled meeting with reading assignments in between.  The way Jesus made disciples doesn’t match the Christian education paradigm.

Another partial definition for disciple is “believer,” more specifically “someone who believes in Jesus for salvation”.  This partially defined approach to discipleship emphasizes evangelism.  Sometime back, I had breakfast with a man who had a ministry at a local high-school.  He began telling me about his “disciples” who were on athletes at the school.  After a while, it became clear that he had led these young men to profess their faith, thus they were “his disciples.”  I heard a “discipleship sermon” recently by a well-known preacher and I could summarize his message like this: “Your job is to make disciples, and making disciples means getting someone to believe in Jesus, helping them stand up in the Lord, and then moving on to get someone else to believe.”  The partial definition plays out like this: if a disciple is a believer, discipleship is evangelism.

Faithful discipleship certainly includes coming to trust in Jesus Christ for eternal life and to know him as Lord and Savior.  Clearly, Jesus invited his disciples to know him in this way (and more!)  But in the stories of Jesus, his first encounters with those who would become his disciples did not begin with an invitation to believe.  They began with an invitation to follow him.  Based on what we see in the gospels, following Jesus looked going, physically, where Jesus went while spending time with Jesus.  Believing in Jesus for eternal life, for the forgiveness of sins, and as God’s Son came, but it came later.  It seems that some of his disciples struggled to believe in him right through to the end of his ministry.  (Seriously.  Check out John 16:30 or Matthew 28:17.) But that did not stop Jesus from calling them his disciples.

Plainly, Jesus taught the disciples.  Clearly, Jesus encouraged them to believe in him. Discipleship included education and evangelism.   But his understanding of discipleship was less about imparting knowledge and inspiring belief and more imparting his life and life-style with those who accepted his invitation.  He intentionally invested in a dozen disciples.  As a result, that dozen gained skills for imitating Jesus.  They learned to preach what he preached, to do what he did, and to invite and empower others to do the same. He brought them with him as he proclaimed the Kingdom of Heaven, healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, cast out demons, confronted injustice, and opened the eyes of the blind.  He taught them to do what they saw him doing.  (Had they been blind?) He didn’t move on until they were trained, and then he gave them his Spirit and sent them out to do the same. (John 20:21)  The disciples Jesus invested in invested in others.  They were disciples who made disciples just like Jesus had.  Knowing the truth and coming to believe in Jesus with confidence clearly mattered to Jesus, but his primary purpose as he walked with the twelve was so that they would learn from him how to live like him.

The way Jesus made disciples was not unlike what other 1st century Jewish rabbis did.  The difference was not his method of discipleship.   People of his day understood the relationship and what was involved.  The difference was Jesus himself.

Simply put, a disciple learns to imitate the master.  If we are disciples of Jesus, then we acknowledge, as the first disciples did, that Jesus is the master.  His life is the standard.  Our calling is to learn to imitate him.  Our commission is to invite and help others to do the same.

The pattern for making disciples in the New Testament is rooted in imitation. In I Corinthians 4:16-17, the Apostle Paul wrote, Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.  For this reason, I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.  Paul wasn’t asking them to imitate him out of ego.  He was asking them to imitate Jesus based on his example of imitating Jesus.

In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard says, we are to learn from Jesus “how to live our lives as he would live them if he were we.”   This is exactly what we see the twelve disciples doing in the gospels.  By being with Jesus, they learned from Jesus how to think, act, and live like he did.   The disciples watched Jesus and learned to imitate Jesus so well that when they went to new places, they would represent him well.  They would live out their lives as he would.  And they invited others to imitate Jesus by imitating them.  This simple pattern created a movement of discipleship.

And God worked and continues to work through people in this way to change the world in the right direction steadily and for a long time.  And the movement continues.

Have you found your place in this movement?

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Next Worship Gathering – Happy New Year!

The next worship gathering for LoveFirst Coast is scheduled for January 14 at 6:45pm.  We’ll be in the St. John’s Room at Faith Community Church – 3450 CR210, 32259!

May the Lord bless you wonderfully in the New Year!

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Help from Christmas

It is a mistake to think the church has a mission.  The church does not have a mission.  God has a mission.  God’s mission has a church.

God’s mission is most clearly evident in Jesus.  In Jesus, the God of creation became a part of the creation to restore an redeem what was lost and had fallen.  This was God’s mission in Jesus, to shine light into darkness, to rescue those caught in it’s power, to begin the work of making all things new.

That’s where we come in.  God invites those rescued from darkness into his mission.  God rescues us and empowers us for the work by giving us himself, by giving us the Holy Spirit.  God extends to us the opportunity to become involved in the work God is doing around us.  What God has done for us God delights to do through us.

But will we, will you, say yes and take the adventure set before us?

And this is why Christmas is such an important story for anyone who says “yes” to the adventure.  Because in the beautiful story of Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men, Zacheriah, Elizabeth, Anna, Simeon, and a baby named Jesus, we find examples to consider, inspiration to receive, wisdom to gain, grace to receive, and hope that sustains  as we live into our own part of God’s great mission.

In this season of Advent and Christmas, may you find all that and more!

We’ll gather for worship and to remember the story on Sunday, December 3 at 6:45pm in the St. Johns Room at Faith Community Church, 3450 CR210, 32259.

Hope to see you there!

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Hope and Gratitude

Disciples of Jesus are called to be hope-filled people.  If there’s one thing this missional approach to life has helped me with, it’s hope.  God has a mission and invites us into it.  How can that not bring hope?  And this is what happens as we respond to the invitation: we got involved in the places God is at work.  And where God is working, God’s Kingdom is unfolding and we get glimpses of it.  Emotional healing takes place.  Forgiveness happens.  Relationships are restored. People are valued, not for status or their ability to produce, but for simply because they are loved by God.  Work becomes more humanizing and satisfying.  Generosity unfolds.  People who are sick get better.  Adversity is less destructive.  Selfish agendas are released.  Reputations are protected.  Tears are shed, to be sure, but not without hope.  Sin still invades, but grace swallows it up. Darkness still tempts, but light shines brighter.  Bad old habits sneak in, but love undermines them.  There is fellowship and support in hardship, mercy and understanding in times of failure, support for the weak and the struggling.  Redemption unfolds.  What was meant for evil is transformed into something good.  And yes, the tasks are huge, but there’s a lightness in the room, joy, laughter, love, life, the presence of Jesus, and that means hope!


Last night, I got another glimpse.  For our gratitude service, I asked Andrew, Paul, Becca and Lee to share something specific.   Paul, for example, shared about finding gratitude through difficult season; Becca, through a difficult task; Andrew, through a difficult person.  Lee wrapped it up, and talked about developing a discipline of gratitude.  The stories were amazing and are theirs to tell, so I won’t attempt to recount.  I wouldn’t be able to do them justice, anyway.  And besides,  my point here isn’t about their stories, per se.  It’s about their willingness to speak up. That gives me hope.  They shared from their hearts, personal stories.  Emotional stories.  They encouraged everyone in the room.  They gave us an example to follow.  If they can find ways to be thankful in the circumstances they described, well, then how can I not find gratitude in my journey, too.

One message that came loud and clear – they had learned something about sustaining hope.  How?  Well, by giving thanks.

Those who follow Jesus are commanded to give thanks in all circumstance, for it is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus. (I Thes 5:18).  I looked this verse up up in the Greek.  “In everything give thanks.” That’s a 2nd person plural verb.  The Southern English Translation would be “In everything, y’all give thanks.”  We’re to give thanks “in everything.”  That means the good, bad, boring, thrilling, hard, easy, and mundane.  It keeps us humble when we acknowledge God provides.  It also teaches us to hunt for the less than obvious good things when we get discouraged.  We become good at finding silver linings in grey clouds.  We become good at discerning what really matters.  Also, it helps to be in a thankful community.  You may have noticed that cynicism (an enemy of hope) is contagious.  Gratitude, is too.  But unlike cynicism, gratitude is not the natural default.  It takes effort.  It takes work.  It is a burden best shared.  I find that being a part of a grateful community makes it easier.  I have friends who can me see good things on cloudy days.  (And for them, I am thankful.)  Finally, accept that it is “God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.”  In other words, we have an obligation to be thankful!  It is part of our identity.  It may not be unusual to encounter an ungrateful Christian, but lack of gratitude is out of character.


But how does a discipline of gratitude sustain hope?  I think gratitude teaches our hearts the truth about God’s kindness and faithfulness.  He kindly places goodness, grace, and redemption in everything and gratitude helps us to see it.  And gratitude reminds us God’s strength, love, and that faithfulness.  It reminds us we are loved and not forgotten.

Borrowing from Hebrews 11:1, thanksgiving allows us to see what we hoped for.  It teaches us the certainty of what, at one time, may have been unseen.  It helps us to see that our faith was not in vain.

This week, where ever you are, I hope you enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday.  I think it’s pretty cool that our government says, “Take a day off and try to be thankful.”  I am thankful for that.  And may you find many reasons to be thankful, too!

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The Power of Gratitude

This Sunday night, we gather for worship at 6:45pm in the St. Johns Room of Faith Community Church (3450 CR210, 32259) to be equipped to walk the journey before us with renewed joy and strength.  Come and discover the power of giving thanks to God!

A life God would celebrate?  What does that look like?  Let me say up front: that’s not a problem free.  In fact, it is full of challenges which are too big for us.  God celebrates the sort of life that is characterized by love and gratitude regardless of circumstance.  And while we love to hear and have reason to express spontaneous words of thanks and appreciation, God’s word invites us into a disciplined approach.  God wants us to show love and give thanks to him (and others) regardless of what’s happening to us or around us.  Based on  my own experiences and the stories of others, when we develop a discipline of gratitude, we find a steady joy, grace, and strength for our journey.  Moreover, the discipline of gratitude opens up new, unthought of reasons to give thanks spontaneously.

I hope you can be with us, but regardless: may you find grace and strength in your journey.  God has done great things!  Let us give thanks.

For more, read 1 Thessalonians 5:12-25, and especially 5:16-18.

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Praying for Your Fighters

This Saturday Night, we’ll be at Nicholl’s Barn – located on the Bernath Family Farm – (for Google Maps, enter this address: 3445 SR13, 32259.)  We’ll get started about 6:45.  And there will be dessert!

A few years back I was in a battle. I had people problems in my church. These were problems I couldn’t seem to solve and it was sapping my energy. Worse, I was losing my courage to preach God’s word fearing that if I did, the problems would get worse. I was pulling my punches, trying not to offend, watching what I said. As a result, my preaching ministry was suffering.
One Sunday during that season, my brother Joe was in town. Before the service, he took me aside, set me in a chair, and prayed over me. His words were straight forward but richly infused with God’s word. There was an authority and a power in his prayer that morning that I could feel washing over me. Tears began to role down my checks, and a fire was rekindled in my heart. I was loved. I was encouraged. I was in the presence of God. I got up a few minutes later with a renewed love for God and the people God loves. I went out and preached with power for the first time in weeks.
To be clear, my people problems did not go away, but I gained strength and hope to persevere through them. Prayer can do that. Prayer can release God’s power in the hearts and minds of people who need it!
Most people know and love someone who is struggling, fighting a battle, facing a challenge. But not everyone knows how to pray with love and authority to help. I wonder how many people give up the fight when all they needed was a good friend who could bring them to God in prayer. Good news: it is a skill that can be learned. Better news: it’s gift available to all who call on the Lord. If you want to learn somethings about prayer so that you are better equipped to help those you love, we’d like to pass on what we’ve been learning.
If you would like to grow in your ability to pray with the people you love, come and be with us this Saturday. We’d consider it an honor to help. We will gather for an evening of prayer and for equipping one another to pray on Saturday, Nov 11 at 6:45pm at Nicholl’s barn: 3445 SR13, 32259.
And by the way, if you are the one whose in the middle of a spiritual battle, we would be honored to pray with you!
Let us know if you’re coming and we will have some resources prepared for you. If you are bringing someone, let us know that, too, and we’ll do the same for them.
There is hope for every spiritual battle, for our God is mighty to save!
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