Party With A Purpose

 

   Have any of you ever heard the song, “Every party has a pooper that’s why we invited you, party pooper, party pooper.” I think someone wrote that song for me. To put it mildly, I am not a big fan of parties at all. I will do what I can to avoid them. As an introvert, parties are the exact opposite of what I like. For group settings, I appreciate one on one gatherings or getting together with a very small number of people. Maybe some of you are like me, total introverts who know what I’m talking about. Maybe some of you are the opposite, maybe you are an extrovert, a people person, or the life of the party. Maybe you are somewhere in between. I don’t know. So how can we, as introverts, extroverts, and middleverts, if you will,  think together about the RTCC habit “throw a party once a month”?

   Well, we have to remember that the point of the party is really spiritual in nature. We do it for God’s glory. We do it for the Gospel. The Gospel means everything. So many people need to hear the good news that Jesus died and rose again and with Him there is abundant forgiveness to those who place their faith in Him alone. Normally, we don’t have conversations like that off the bat or with people we don’t know well; you are most likely going to share the Gospel with people you know, people you have a relationship with. 

   That’s why building relationships is so important. That’s why we have “parties”. These “parties” provide a place for conversations. They create safe spaces that foster a relaxed environment where people can speak freely about their life, their triumphs and their hurts. So really, these “parties” can show people that you truly care about them. Once relationships are built, these “parties” give you opportunities to share about Jesus and the Gospel or to move up one conversational gear with unbelievers. Also, they create time to fellowship about spiritual things with other believers. 

   These parties can be large group gatherings or they can be as simple as you meeting with someone one on one. There is no fixed mold. Do something you love to do.  But, remember we need to be intentional about this. Put something on your calendar. Schedule a “party” before life pulls you a million different ways. Keep in mind one last thing: don’t lose sight of God in the process. Don’t have a party just to have a party. Have a party with a purpose. Have a party for His glory. 


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Why Parables?? (Devotional on Matthew 13:10-17)

Matthew 13 focuses primarily on Jesus teaching the people through the use of parables. A total of four parables are presented in this chapter. However, right in the middle of this section, there is a small excursus on why Jesus uses parables at all (vv.10-17). In simplest terms, Jesus says that he uses parables to fulfill the prophecy from Isaiah “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.”

 

This explanation, when taken in isolation, feels callous. It paints Jesus as someone intentionally trying to hide his message. As someone seemingly trying to mislead people. However, I do not believe this is the intent of this explanation or of Jesus’ fondness of parables in the first place. At the most basic level, what is a parable? It is a morality tale. It is a story told to impart a message of right and wrong or of good and evil. Perhaps, the best analogous modern example are fairy-tales and fables. What does the story of the tortoise and the hare tell us? That pride can be the downfall of the powerful. What about Hansel and Gretel? That greed and gluttony will harm you in the end.

 

Stories like these are how we take hard to understand and high concept ideas and make them more palatable for children. I believe that Jesus is doing the same thing with his use of parables. He is taking concepts that might be difficult to understand and putting them in terms and situations that virtually everyone around him could understand. He is making it as easy as possible for people to hear and understand his message.

 

With this idea in mind, then his explanation of why he uses parables shifts slightly. Now, his use of parables does not come off as an attempt to confuse people into ‘hearing but never understanding’ but rather as an earnest attempt to make his message easy to grasp. By using parables,  Jesus is trying to cast as wide a net as possible, to help as many people as possible understand his message of salvation. This understanding then puts the Isaiah quote in a different context. It becomes less a stance on Jesus gatekeeping and more a disheartened plea for people to just simply open up their hearts and hear the words that Jesus is saying.

 

Jesus uses parables to give us as much information as possible, in a way we can most easily understand. It is Jesus taking the theologically rich topics of salvation, faith, atonement, and divine judgment and framing them so that they make sense and are easy to remember. It is Jesus’ way of making sure that as few people as possible fall into the camp of those who ‘hear but never perceive.’ 


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Answering the Call

Luke 2 beautifully tells of what we call the Christmas story. I love this passage. And it doesn’t seem like Christmas until we have heard this passage recited by Linus on Charlie Brown’s Christmas.

But today, let’s zoom in on something specific within this passage. Take a look at verse 15. When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

The shepherds who maintained a humble posture and kept their hearts open regardless of their lowly circumstances, received the first birth announcement of the long-awaited Savior, the Messiah!

And when the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.

The Shepherds didn’t hesitate, and they immediately and obediently went. They heard a message from God. They received the message from God. And they acted on that message from God!

The supernatural angelic concert had concluded. The singers had disappeared in the deep silence from where they had come. The shepherds, gathering up their scattered thoughts, said one to another (as if their hearts were speaking all at once and all in unison), “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” The response was immediate! They do not shut out this heavenly truth by doubt and vain questioning. And neither do they keep it at a distance. No, they yield themselves up to it completely and entirely. And we have to wonder, as they immediately made their way to Bethlehem, in the quick step and in the rapid beating of their hearts, could one trace the vibrations of the angel-song? These shepherds are ready with such a perfect acceptance. Their hearts are practically leaping forward to meet and embrace this Gospel, and the Son of the God of the angels.

Do we have the same obedience to the extraordinary call that God calls us to? Do we expect to hear from God regularly? Even Frequently?  Do we have the courage to seek and expect the extraordinary?

May we find within us hearts like shepherds and voices like angels.  May we surrender to the beauty and glory of God born in a manger.  See how God loves us!


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Move up a Conversational Gear

At RiverTree, when we speak of conversational gears, we are speaking to 4 different dimensions of conversation. 1.) Casual, 2.) Meaningful, 3.) Spiritual, 4.) Salvation.

As we get to know people, moving up conversational gears happens naturally. When you meet someone for the first time, your conversation typically revolves around what you have in common. The place at which you are in attendance, or maybe the organization that you are involved with, the job, the school, the project, etc. As you see this person regularly, you get to know them. You talk about your personal lives. You ask them non intimidating questions about their family, or pets, or other interests. And once we have a personal relationship with someone, when they know that we are a safe person and that we genuinely care, we can ask them spiritual questions.

 This often happens as we get to know them personally; we can talk about how we managed through a crisis or a particularly difficult time by talking about how it was through prayer and God’s strength that we got through. We can ask if they have ever experienced anything like that.

We don’t have to go overboard with starting “Jesus conversations”. These conversations really do happen naturally. However, we do have to be intentional. And we can’t chicken out when that moment occurs. And guess what, you can still do this even if you feel uncomfortable having “spiritual conversations”.  It’s ok. Read the latter half of the New Testament, even Paul had some anxiety about sharing spiritual truths.

I invite you to pray about this. Ask God to bring about the people that you are to speak with. And ask God for strength and courage in the moment. We have the Holy Spirt to guide and direct us. Rely on that power!

So, my question for you is, who are you having conversations with? And how can you move it up a gear? What is your next step?

Consider these words from 2 Corinthians 5:11-21:

Because we stand in awe of the one true Lord, we make it our aim to convince all people of the truth of the gospel; God sees who we really are, and I hope in some way that you’ll look deeply into your consciences to see us as well. But we hope you understand that we are not trying to prove ourselves to you or pull together a résumé that will impress you. We are simply hoping that you will find a sense of joy in connecting with us. And when you are approached by others (who may value appearances more than the heart) asking questions about us, you will be able to offer an answer for them. If we seem out of control or act like fanatics, it is for God. But if we act in a coherent and reasonable way, it is for you. You see, the controlling force in our lives is the love of the Anointed One. And our confession is this: One died for all; therefore, all have died. He died for us so that we will all live, not for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose from the dead. Because of all that God has done, we now have a new perspective. We used to show regard for people based on worldly standards and interests. No longer. We used to think of the Anointed the same way. No longer. Therefore, if anyone is united with the Anointed One, that person is a new creation. The old life is gone—and see—a new life has begun! All of this is a gift from our Creator God, who has pursued us and brought us into a restored and healthy relationship with Him through the Anointed. And He has given us the same mission, the ministry of reconciliation, to bring others back to Him. It is central to our good news that God was in the Anointed making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other.

 So we are now representatives of the Anointed One, the Liberating King; God has given us a charge to carry through our lives—urging all people on behalf of the Anointed to become reconciled to the Creator God. He orchestrated this: the Anointed One, who had never experienced sin, became sin for us so that in Him we might embody the very righteousness of God

 


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Connecting with God through the Prayer of Examen

For the next few blog posts, we are going to be talking about and reflecting on the 7 habits of plugged-in people that we introduced a few weeks ago. The first one we are going to be going over is “seeking Jesus Daily.” This is our only challenge on the ‘UP’ avenue of relationship (the relationship between us and God). This goal is extremely vague. While some might find that to be frustrating, it is intentional on our part. We want to make sure that everyone can achieve this goal/challenge. Someone who has not really developed a pattern of spending time with Jesus daily will approach this very differently than someone who already prays and reads the Bible for 60 minutes a day.

One thing I have incorporated into my daily routine is something called the Prayer of Examen. The basic idea is that you set aside time to reflect on your day (examen it) and see how Jesus and the Holy Spirit worked in you that day. There are lots of ways you can do this. Some people run through their day like a movie and look for one thing that gave them life (a highlight) and something that did not give life (a low-light). Other people think about all of the interactions they had with people and try to see ways the Holy Spirit was nudging them and reflecting on if they responded to that nudge or not. There are larger and more expansive ways to do the Prayer of Examen. My Alma mater Fuller Theological Seminary has a video walking through a 20ish version. You can check it out HERE (https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/prayer-of-examen).

Personally, I do some combination of all of the above. I start with 3-4 minutes of reflecting on the day looking for highlights and low-lights, then I use those moments as springboards for seeing how I was responding the Holy Spirit and how I could be more responsive in the coming days. I find it a great way of growing in my relationship and closeness with the Holy Spirit.

If you are looking for something new to try and expand the way you ‘Seek Jesus Daily’, give the Prayer of Examen a try. It is simple and can be made to fit your personality or needs. But this is just one example of the endless ways you can connect with Jesus every day. Try something new, rediscover a forgotten spiritual habit, double down on something you are currently doing. The choice is yours! If you are looking for something to try, please reach out. We have lots of different resources (books, apps, techniques, disciplines) that we would love to share with you. In the end, the only thing that matters with this goal is that you grow in your relationship with Jesus and grow closer to your Savior!


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The Graveyard of Sin

 

  If a pastor preached in a graveyard, what would happen? What? What kind of a question is that, you may be thinking. But seriously think…what would happen if a pastor preached the Gospel in a graveyard? The obvious answer is nothing. Dead people cannot do anything, so they could not respond to a sermon. Again, you may be thinking, what does this have to do with anything. I merely want to use this common analogy to describe the state of our own souls before Christ comes in and rescues us from our spiritual deadness. Because when we understand the depth of our depravity can we explode in worship for the gift of salvation and regeneration.

   Throughout the Bible, we get a pretty clear picture of our total moral depravity. Psalm 51:5 reminds us that we are sinful at birth: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Paul, speaking to believers, illustrates in Titus 3:3 the Christian life before Christ: For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. Romans 3:11-12 describes our unrighteousness and our refusal to seek God: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. I believe Ephesians 2:1-3 sums all of this up well: And you were dead in the trepasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 

   Those Scripture passages provide a good summary of the picture the Bible paints of the unsaved soul. So we may be physically alive, breathing and moving, but in regards to spiritual things and the things of God, we are dead and unresponsive. In our natural state, we don’t seek God; in fact, we run away from Him and His perfection. Our unregenerate heart does not love God; it does not want God. The unsaved soul does not, indeed cannot, delight in God’s holiness; the mind is set on the flesh and does not submit to God and His ways. Theologians use the word total depravity to describe how this sinfulness and falleness affects every aspect of human life. Now, a person will not commit every wicked thing under the sun or sin as much as they possibly could. Total depravity rather means that ever since the fall in the garden our human nature is completely and totally against God. After Adam and Eve sinned against God in the garden, humans are incapable of not sinning. Our natural bent is to do that which does not please God.

   Wow, that’s a very hopeless picture. But understanding the seriousness of our spiritual disease should make us run to our great physician. Jesus’ death on the cross and his sovereign saving grace is our only hope of coming to God because we don’t want God…we don’t seek after Him…we are children of His wrath. How does God rescue us from this and change our desires? 

   It is God’s sovereign grace alone that saves us from our sinful state. He takes our unresponsive heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh that loves Him. He mercifully regenerates us and gives us faith in Jesus. So, our morally hard hearts, darkened by sin, through the grace of God, become alive in respect to the things of God. This is good news because we do not deserve it and can do absolutely nothing to earn this gift. It is by this sovereign grace that we are saved through faith. He regenerates our dead hearts. Regeneration is a monergistic work, which basically means it is all God’s doing; it’s all His initiative. His regenerative grace is given freely with no mixture of human merit. Isn’t that amazing! And that’s just skimming the surface of everything God gives us through salvation! He has eternally loved us and chosen us so that we are no longer children of wrath but rather his own children. 

   I hope we can see how amazing this transformation is! Our sin requires a Savior. And Jesus through His death on the cross serves as God’s life changing, saving instrument. He takes us from our graveyard of sin and gives us everlasting life. Doesn’t this cause your heart to explode in worship! When we hear sermons and hear the Gospel we can respond with rejoicing because we have been forever changed by our omnipotent God. 


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The King is on His Throne

 
 

“God is on the throne. No one is kicking Him off. And you can trust Him.” This is something I heard my theology professor say multiple times. And what an encouraging phrase it is! Jesus is in control and we can rest in His sovereignty. But, I know we live in a challenging time and it is hard to put that truth into practice. Sadly, we are tempted to seek encouragement and comfort from many sources. But, when we hear about God’s wonderful nature and His incredible power and immerse ourselves in Biblical truth, we find the encouragement we need. 

    Revelation 1:4-8 says: John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.  Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. Even so. Amen.“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

   In the Bible, John, through the Holy Spirit, begins his words in the book of Revelation by encouraging believers not to succumb to fear in the midst of the challenges and hardships they were facing. And what encourages the soul more than turning our gaze upon God and learning about His character. Who God is and what He has accomplished on our behalf helps to give us a redirected perspective from our problems to the Lamb who has overcome. 

     So, John starts out his letter by greeting his recipients, the seven churches of Asia. Mentioning seven churches is symbolic; the number seven is really a way to indicate completeness, wholeness, and perfection. So, all churches, all believers throughout history benefit from this encouraging message. Then, John turns His attention to God’s nature, and in doing so proclaims the saving work of the Trinity. He starts with God the Father, the God who is and who was and who is to come. This statement reminds us that God is eternal. He rules over all of time, past, present, and future. Nothing is outside His realm. He is not bound by time or history; He is sovereign over all of time and history and human activity. After mentioning the Father, John turns to mention the Holy Spirit. He mentions the seven spirits before God’s throne, which again is his symbolic way of referring to the Holy Spirit. Here, John emphasizes the Holy Spirit’s glorious perfection. 

   John’s words then point to the Son, Jesus. He places a great deal of emphasis on Jesus and what He has done for believers. As a faithful witness, He preached God’s message and proclaimed His truth faithfully throughout His earthly life, remaining faithful to death.  John also mentions Jesus’ preeminence. Jesus is preeminent over every being. He is the firstborn of the dead. He is the One who has the authority and power to save those who believe in Him. He is our mighty Savior. John continues this theme by reminding us of Jesus’ power and love demonstrated on the cross. He showed us His love by removing our sin and freeing us from sins’ bondage, giving the ultimate sacrifice of His life by dying on the cross. And notice the word order here. It starts with God’s love. God’s love, like His being, is eternal. He loved us before the creation of the world, before there was time and space and matter. This changes the trajectory of our lives forever and ensures our future with God in Heaven. And through His power and saving work, Jesus makes believers priests. Priests have access to God, which allows them to offer sacrifices in His presence and give God all worship and glory and dominion. 

   John then shifts his focus to Jesus’ second coming. This promise is so amazing! Jesus will come to earth again, completely vanquish evil, consummate salvation, bring about the fullness of His kingdom, and restore all of creation. This will be a joyous, happy reality of those all over the world who have believed in Jesus. But for all who rejected His name and hated Him now wail and cry in fear as they behold King Jesus. Nothing will stop his event. In verse 8, John closes by referring once again to God’ eternality: He is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega over all things. He is almighty: completely supreme in power over everything, which erases the need to be fearful.

   What encouragement can we take away from this? By remembering God’s nature, we are encouraged not to fear or worry about the unknown things in our life or the crazy things happening in the world. God knows all of our moments and will perfectly carry out His good and loving plan in our lives. Second, Jesus’ faithfulness serves as a good reminder to us today, to stay true to the Gospel in all situations. Also, God is holy and perfect, very much unlike us. So, we can be thankful for Jesus shedding His blood and atoning for our sins. We can be thankful that the all knowing, all powerful, triune God made a way to bring restoration to this broken world and to our fallen, sinful souls. Also, while it is very true that God deserves our worship because of the things He has done for us, God warrants worship simply because of who He is. He is the almighty, faithful, triune, loving, perfect, holy, eternal, glorious King of the universe. So, let us be encouraged that: God is outside of time. God is all powerful. And we have every reason to trust Him.


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