We continue our Church Everywhere season with Josh's message centered on Ezekiel 37. The current situation may beg the question, "when will things return to normal?" This week's passage from Ezekiel reminds us of the Israelites who shortly after escaping Egypt cried out for their old lives. Ezekiel later faces these dry bones which are a metaphor for where the Israelites were as a community and with God -- lifeless, doubtful and fearful. And God reminds Ezekiel -- and us -- that He desires to breathe new life into us by the power and creativity of His Spirit. Ephesians 3:14-21; Ezekiel 37:1-14
As we face the challenges of not being able to meet in person on Sunday morning, we continue in the spirit of "Church Everywhere" with Josh's message centering around Psalm 23 this week. Psalm 23 offers a number of helpful reminders for us as we try to establish a new normal in this season. We see a Shepherd who is leading us in the midst of trouble. He leads us in it and through it when we might prefer to simply avoid it or run in the other direction. We see a Host who invites us in and sets a table for our enemies. In moments like these, we can experience the overflowing love of God whose goodness and mercy chases and pursues us in this moment and all the days of our lives. Psalm 23; Psalm 139:11-12.
Josh shared a prayer from Robby Waddell that he prays before teaching his Greek class:
"Creator of language and first speaker, though you are infinite, we are finite. You have granted us the capacity to interpret and to misinterpret. You have given us the ability to create and to destroy with words. Help us to use this gift of language faithfully to know and love you and each other. With humility, we seek to understand your loving and holy words recorded in our scriptures. As we study Greek, may you fill us with gratitude, love, curiosity, and awe."
Josh also shared a poem from Brother Richard Hendrick inspired by the current moment:
LOCKDOWN - Brother Richard Hendrick
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
March 13th 2020
This week, to love others well, RCC streamed service from Josh's home instead of meeting as a congregation in light of the CDC guidance on social distance to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. In this moment, we have an opportunity to stand as a non-anxious presence in the world. Josh shared about the idea of "Church Everywhere" which is more than simply viewing a streaming service but also provides opportunities to serve those most vulnerable to the virus, to find ways to connect wisely with others, and to sabbath from many of the things that hinder us. In this time, we are faced with two questions: (1) How can we step into the unforced rhythms of grace? and (2) How can we be good neighbors? Look for updates from RCC this week as we gather more information and make plans for proceeding amidst the challenges we are facing. If you have a prayer request, please email email@example.com, and if you have a need, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to partner with you during this time. Psalm 95; Matthew 11:25-30; Luke 10:25-37.
In today's service, Josh provides several updates on staff transitions and shares the new prayers of the season (P.O.T.S.) with which we are partnering. Additionally, Josh preaches about the story of Nicodemus who is confronted with the impossible thought of being born again, and we see that, in many ways, Nicodemus represents many of us as we walk our apprenticeship with Jesus. He invites us into things that seem impossible. And the good news is that Jesus is eager to walk with us every step of the way as we mature in our faith. The worship journey this week: "What is the invitation of Jesus today?" John 3:1-17; Philippians 3:10-21.
Josh shared this quote from Deborah J. Kapp: "God works hard for us and our faith. God conceives us as Christians and nurtures us in the wombs of our faith, safe and warm and secret. At some point, like any pregnant woman who is close to full term, God gets impatient with gestation and wants to get on with it; God wants to push that baby through the birth canal into greater maturity, into fullness of life, into a faith lived wholly in the world. That is what Jesus talks about in this text. Jesus thinks it is time Nicodemus came through that spiritual birth canal. Perhaps he thinks it is time for many others to be reborn too. God is ready to give us birth by water and Spirit. How many of our church members (or preachers) might be Nicodemuses in twenty-first-century garb? How many of our congregations might be organizational versions of him -- people and institutions with compartmentalized faiths that flourish behind the scenes, out of sight, away from the fray, essentially in private? How many of us are gestating Christians? Who among us has room to grow in our faith? The good news of this text is that God is prepared -- even eager -- to do the hard, messy, sweating labor that will bring us to maturity and new life."
Looking at the story in Matthew 4 about the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, Josh walks us through the three tests that Jesus faced and how He responded. We see that Jesus is faced with temptations that continue to challenge us: self-sufficiency; how to walk in our identity; seeking notoriety; compromising a little; obtaining power to dominate; and the mindset that the ends justify the means. The apprenticeship of Jesus invites us into handling those tests the way Jesus did -- by trusting the Father -- instead of yielding to the empty promises attached to those temptations. The worship journey for this week: "Temptation and Trust." Matthew 4:1-11; Romans 8:31-39; 2 Kings 6:15-17.
Dr. Cheryl Bridges Johns visits and shares a message inspiring us to seek and anticipate the glory of God and the presence of God. We can get enticed by other forms of glory and miss the heavy radiance of the glory of God. We are ministers of this glory. The same light that God called out of the darkness at creation lives in us through Jesus. We taste the glory of God, bear it, and bear witness to it. And we journey to deepen our awareness and experience of the glory of God. The worship journey this week: "Come up! Journey into the mountain of God's Presence." 2 Corinthians 3:14-4:7; Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17:1-9.
Today, Josh and Jessica shared about the variety of groups that are available for the spring groups season. Josh also applied the "apprenticeship to Jesus" discussion to our invitation to enter into a group this season. We see, in Jesus, someone who is living in community and not just focused on his individual ministry or the ideals He espouses, and He is not intimidated by the many who do not accept His invitation to follow Him or who adamantly oppose what He offers. In community, we have the opportunity to share mutual loves, to live generously, to honor and celebrate with those around us, and to be vulnerable about the obstacles in our lives. Psalm 68:6; Matthew 4:18-20.
Josh shared a couple of quotes today: (1) "Face-to-face conversation is the most human -- and humanizing -- thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy. It’s where we experience the joy of being heard, of being understood." -- From Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle, Ph.D.
(2) "The sooner this shock of disillusionment (that it will be easy and people will be perfect) comes to an individual and into a community, the better for both. Every human wish or dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves the dream of community more than the community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter even though his intentions may be honest and sacrificial. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own laws and judges the brethren and God and himself accordingly." -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Josh shares from Isaiah 58 to press into our need for Sabbath to combat the culture of busyness that infiltrates our lives. Busyness narrows our focus to "work" or "family." Busyness narrows our focus to "worship" or "mission." Busyness prevents us from pausing long enough to see the need to focus on work "and" family or worship "and" mission. Sabbath is a practice that invites us to create space to be with God regularly and long enough to see the "both/ands" in our lives -- to see, for example, how worshiping together and mission go hand in hand to form us into people that look like Jesus. Isaiah 58.
Josh shared a few quotes in his message as well:
(1) "Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life." -- Dallas Willard
(2) "How would our congregation respond to this call to worship? 'We hope you are not planning to go through the motions in worship today, singing the songs but never engaging your hearts, hearing the scripture but not listening for God, or giving an offering but not giving of yourselves, because if so, you are not doing God any favors. You do not get points for attendance today. If you really worship God, then you will share with the poor, listen to the lonely, and stop avoiding those in need.' The preacher who dares to preach as Isaiah preached will tell those who come to church that if they are not there to give themselves to God, then they should have stayed home.” -- Brett Younger
(3) "Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone's face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions." -- Henri Nouwen
Josh also shared Ten Symptoms of "Hurry Sickness" from John Mark Comer's new book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry:
1. Irritability—You get mad, frustrated, or just annoyed way too easily.
2. Hypersensitivity—All it takes is a minor comment to hurt your feelings, a grumpy email to set you off, or a little turn of events to throw you into an emotional funk and ruin your day.
3. Restlessness—When you actually do try to slow down and rest, you can’t relax.
4. Workaholism (or just non-stop activity)—You just don’t know when to stop. Or worse, you can’t stop.
5. Emotional numbness—You just don’t have the capacity to feel another’s pain.
6. Out-of-order priorities—You feel disconnected from your identity and calling.
7. Lack of care for your body—You don’t have time for the basics:
8. Escapist behaviors—When we’re too tired to do what’s actually life-giving for our souls, we each turn to our distraction of choice: overeating, overdrinking, binge-watching Netflix, browsing social media, surfing the web, looking at porn — name your preferred cultural narcotic.
9. Slippage of spiritual disciplines—If you’re anything like me, when you get overbusy, the things that are truly life-giving for your soul are the first to go rather than your first go to — such as a quiet time in the morning, Scripture, prayer, Sabbath, worship on Sunday, a meal with your community, and so on.
10. Isolation—You feel disconnected from God, others, and your own soul.
Josh shared a message that challenges us to embrace a lifestyle of repentance. It is easy for us to see the flaws in others -- to see how they need to change. As we continue our apprenticeship to Jesus, we have to practice true repentance which requires us to engage in self-examination and confession of our own sin and intentionally seek to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. The worship journey this week: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalm 139:23-24; Psalm 32:1-2; Psalm 106:1-7; John 6:44; Romans 2:4; John 20:23; James 5:16; 1 John 1:9.
Josh shared a few quotes today:
1) Dr. Cheryl Bridges Johns: "My movement talks about prayer. We are a praying people. But, we aren't inclined toward penitent prayer or the life of ongoing repentance. Lack of teaching on this subject has made us people who love to praise God, while at the same time, compromised by personal and corporate sin. I firmly believe 2020 should be our 'penitent year.' We don't need to get America to 'cry out to God.' We, the church, need to cry out in fervent, penitent prayer. Both we and our ancestors have sinned. There is a whole generation who have never experienced the heavy, convicting cloud of God's Presence. They've seen smoke machines, and even danced before the Lord. But, they've never been overwhelmed by the Glory or trembled under the weight of the 'Holy hush.' The only way there is through the door marked 'penitence.' "
2) Richard Foster: "The discipline of confession brings an end to pretense. God is calling us into being a Church that can openly confess its frail humanity and know the forgiving and empowering graces of Christ. Honesty leads to confession and confession leads to change. May God give grace to the Church once again to recover the discipline of confession."
3) Adele Ahlberg Calhoun from Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: "Self-examination is a process whereby the Holy Spirit opens my heart to what is true about me. This is not the same as a neurotic shame-inducing inventory. Instead, it's a way of opening myself to God within the safety of divine love, so I can authentically seek transformation. Confession embraces Christ's gift of forgiveness and restoration while setting us on the path to renewal and change."
In today's message, Jordan illustrates that the tension between lives of faith and the world we live in is not a new tension. The Israelites faced the difficulty of living their faith as they discovered new technology and when they were in exile in Babylon. Rather than silo ourselves off in safe faith spaces, the challenge lies in navigating the opportunities to invite Jesus into our lives in the world. The worship journey this week: "Be with Jesus; be with the world." Genesis 11:1-9; Jeremiah 29:4-14; John 16:33.
Jordan shared a couple of quotes during his message: "How much of our modern life can be summarized in that arresting dictum of the poet Thoreau, ‘Improved means to an unimproved end’? … We have allowed our technology to outdistance our theology and for this reason, we find ourselves caught up with many problems." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
"We try to keep [our young disciples] insulated. We helicopter-parent them. We imagine that safety and security are kingdom values. We want them to change the world around them, but only at a reasonable distance. We like the idea of counter-cultural mission, but in practice, here in exile, it’s kind of terrifying. Living faithfully in Jerusalem, when everything is neat and predictable, is a different animal from faithfulness in Babylon. Too many of our ministry efforts prepare people for a world that doesn’t exist, undercutting our witness and passing flimsy faith to the next generation. Because, honestly, we are scared." -- From Faith for Exiles by David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock