Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Purpose of Tuesday Night and Necessity of Eighteen22 Small Groups/Bible Study

Hey Eighteen22,

First off, thank you so much for being a part of God's ministry to the college-aged at WEAG. I am so blessed by your participation in our community and am even more blessed by your graciousness in allowing Jeremy and I to lead you in it. Secondly, thanks for taking the time to check out this blog post! This post is kind of a prep for the sermon that I'm going to preach this Tuesday in our "Spiritual Unrest" series. I want to present some ideas for y'all to be tossing around in your mind before you get there on Tuesday and also I'd love for you to respond and talk in the FB and Blogger comments. Let's talk about this stuff! Ok, soooo here goes the blog, haha.

Like I said above and Jeremy said last week, our new series on Tuesdays is "Spiritual Unrest". Jeremy and I decided to do this series because it sounded like everyone we were meeting up with during the week for lunch or coffee were experiencing a "spiritual funk" of some sort. We all struggle with that to some degree, but it sounded very widespread. Luckily, God has given us 4 main tools in Scripture to combat that and to give rest to our souls. Those 4 things are His Word, His Church, His Son and His Spirit. This Tuesday I'm preaching on His Church.

The first question my sermon raises is how do you define "church"? Take a second to think about before reading on, what is your primary definition of that word? Of course it has many definitions, especially depending on how literal or contextual you wanna be. But I believe the most important definition of "church" is simply "the meeting up of believers to intentionally live out the Christian life together." If that's your definition of church, than church no longer is just on Tuesday or Sunday mornings. It's Monday afternoons when two Christians meet up for lunch and talk and you can imagine all the other scenarios.

To add to that definition, I believe intentionally living out the Christian life demands authenticity and time. So the next question becomes: Are we (you and me) authentically and intentionally meeting up with other Christians to live our our faith?

Something that I've realized over the past year at Eighteen22 is that Tuesday nights only partially serves  that definition of church. We have come to determine that the purpose of Tuesday nights for us is the celebration of the Gospel together with our peers. This does not replace the celebration of the Gospel with our multi-generational church body, it supplements it. So with that goal in mind we structure and plan Eighteen22.

So honestly, that means there isn't as much time for "church" in the definition I've given above. Yes, "church" as I've defined above does happen on Tuesday nights and we do set aside time for  it. That's what our dinner time and hang out time after the worship service is for...but not everybody comes/stays for that.

For this reason is why we've found a new passion for small groups and Bible studies at Eighteen22. We NEED to set specific time aside to do the authentic meet up part of church. Because that's where Gospel-inspired change can be discipled and shaped. But there are problems with that. A lot of us Eighteen22ers are honestly busy. We have school schedules, work schedules, serious relationships, family situations that make it difficult to make time for anything else. Is it really worth it re-arrange my life for another kind of "church"?

On Tuesday, we'll have several testimonies in addition to my own on why we believe it is. The main text I'll be preaching from will be Hebrews 10:24-25. Take a look at it sometime before Tuesday night. And PLEASE feel free to comment on this blog or if you can't, back on FB. Let's wrestle with this together. To all my Eighteen22 homies, I love y'all, pray for y'all everyday, and am SO thankful for you.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

When the Lights Went Out...

   This post is specifically for our Eighteen22 community. I felt the Spirit leading me to say a few words based on the powerful moment we had last Tuesday night when the power went out. I'm sorry if you weren't there, i'm not gonna give much background to the specifics. I want to give an insight, and encouragement, and a challenge to our community after such a moving night.

   First, the insight: The reason why the majority of us were so moved by the Spirit that night as opposed to other nights was because there were no distractions keeping us from Him, let me explain myself. Anthony and the crew work pretty diligently to make worship an experience; the lights, the music, the lyrics, the lyric graphics, the transitions, the keys. And in it's best form, the experience we create by worship invites and prepares us to receive the Holy Spirit and experience God in a unique way. But at it's worst, all of the same things that enable worship to do that, can sometimes be a distraction. This normally comes as individual fault or struggle of the worshiper. There are countless times i've found myself not really listening or watching for God, but just being a spectator to the band. This normally also comes out of just things becoming negatively habitual, that's why we switch up the order of service every now and again, to keep it fresh enough to keep us from routine.

   But last week, our routine was utterly and unexpectedly altered. The best part about it was, we all knew that it was a "God moment". None of us could control the power going out, heck, we didn't even know what caused it! (a snake apparently bit into the power lines...random I know). All that we knew was God did it, and that he wanted something for us through it.

   Now to my encouragement: Eighteen22s persistence in worship and obedience to the Spirit's leading is remarkable. There was barely a pause in worship (kudos to our worship team last week) and yall barely stopped singing. You continued in the attitude of worship even when confusion came into the picture. Not only that, the prayer time that followed after those couple acapella songs moved my soul. Unfortunately, I wasn't as in the moment as most of you, because I was gettin info from the higher ups on official protocol and such, but I was in and out and was soooooooooo encouraged by the prayers being shouted to our God. It's funny, I've always felt like our group didn't enjoy or respond well to "open prayer" in that style, but that night proved me so wrong. People who i've never heard pray, prayed that night. It was an incredible blessing to my soul and the places you are at with God. Also, props to Jeremy for doing it sermon by candlelight! Such a priceless moment, and thanks to everyone who instagramed it for our picture archive, haha.

   Now, my challenge: We should not dwell on this moment, but appreciate it for what it was and move forward. This might sound harsh, but the temptation to say things like "man, why can't every week be like that night..." or "we need to try to recreate the feeling we had that night again..." aren't the kind of language that "spurs one another on towards love and good deeds" as the Apostle Paul encourages us to do.  What we need to do is to simply remember that night, and cherish it as a moment God moved in our midst. Maybe, at the most, we refer back to it as a sign of encouragement. If you're feeling down about God or Eighteen22 as a whole, you can say to yourself: "I know God is real and is working in my life, because this one night at church the lights went out and..." or "I know God is doing something in this community, that night when the lights went out showed it". These kind of words encourage us, and build each other up in my opinion.

   For Biblical evidence of this, look to the moment in Matthew to Jesus' transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13). Jesus does this miraculous sign, brought freakin Moses and Elijah back to life! Peter, like any good Jew wanted to make a moment to remember and commemorate the moment. And what did Jesus say? "Don't tell anyone what you've seen until the Son of Man is raised from the dead". Basically, here's what Jesus was saying: Yes, you've seen a miracle, another bit of evidence for you to use to prove that I am who I've said I am. Be hype on it, but don't let that distract you, keep moving and keep following me. I believe that's what the Holy Spirit is saying to us in this moment.

   So we move onward. Strengthened, encouraged, astonished, blessed, and amazed by the power of our God. Will we have a more stripped down service again in the near future, yes. Will we try to repeat verbatim what happened last week? No. If you look closely to Jesus' miracles, he never does two miracles exactly the same. If we remain hungry for God the way we are now, The Spirit will move among us again, just as powerfully and just as evidently.

   Eighteen22, I am so blessed and proud to be among your leadership. God has taught me so much through yalls witness, more than maybe any of us will ever know. Thank you, let's keep chasing after God together. Amen?


Saturday, March 31, 2012

Self-Awareness #1: Selfishness

So i'm about to graduate from VCU this spring (yesssss), and about 2 semesters ago, a classmate I had told me I might enjoy taking a Social Work class based on my career goals. So I did, and now I wish somebody had told me that earlier so I could of gotten a Social Work degree instead of the Psychology degree I will be graduating with, oh well. The VCU Social Work program has several emphases, and this idea called "self-awareness" is one of them. Self-awareness basically says that until you really know yourself (positives, negatives, biases, heritage, etc.) you won't be able to counsel or help others to the best of your ability. And that idea really makes sense to me, if you become a pastor or Social Worker and aren't willing to acknowledge and deal with your prejudice against "dead beat dads" because yours was, then when one walks into your office asking for help how are you going to be able to fully extend grace and help to them?

So I've taken two social work classes (sooo wish I could take more) and self-awareness has been pounded into my head. The more and more I thought about it, the more I got kinda uncomfortable. The saying "ignorance is bliss" really applies here. I don't really want to look myself in the eye and pull out all the darkness inside my heart to confront it. That's really messy, and difficult. But I understand also how humbling and freeing it will i'm gonna try to take at least the rest of this year (if I actually follow through with it, haha) to become "self-aware". Scripture I believe also calls us to become self-aware. The Psalmists often pray for God to make them self-aware: "Search my heart Oh Lord, and show me the sins that plague me". Paul encourages (or maybe commands) in 1st Corinthians to "evaluate ourselves" before we take communion, and to confess whatever sins we need to before we accept the bread and wine. The Apostle John in 1st John encourages us to "confess our sins to each other" and James the brother of Jesus says a similar sentiment throughout his epistle. Sooooo, without further ado I guess here I go.

I struggle with selfishness. It really sucks, but I do. And what's even worse is that I thought for a long time that I was a selfless kinda person, and then the blessed union of marriage showed me otherwise, haha. With friends, I was able to let my wishes be overlooked a lot of the time because it was all about things that I didn't really care about. "Yo, what movie are we gonna watch? No, whatever you wanna watch is great with me!" Or "Oh, you wanna play video games instead of skate today?" Stupid little situations like that, I always could put the wants of the other person before my own. On top of being insignificant topics to me, it also was only a couple times a day I had to do so. Then, when Maria and I got married I saw in other little situation, I was being a total jerk about stuff like that. Maria and I have different tastes in bread, she likes the healthy wheat stuff I like the chemically saturated white bread. At first, I refused to eat anything that wasn't white. Maria rightfully won that argument in the end, wheat doesn't taste as bad as I thought and it's sooo much healthier, she's totally saving me from a pre-mature clogged artery. But in little things like that and more, I refused to put Maria's cares and wishes first. Obviously, I've had to with a mix of will power, schema changing, and the power of the Holy Spirit learn to be more selfless with her.

It goes further back and bigger on this topic also. I'm always that guy at parties who takes the rudely big plate of everything before everyone has gotten some, and the list could go on. I especially remember being soooo selfish with things when I was living with my parents. I always thought the things I was doing or wanted to do were the most important in the house, so I would wail, complain, and justify until my parents couldn't take it anymore and would let me do whatever I "needed" or was asking. I now see how all that is just so wrong.

It's even worse because Scripture calls us to express "agape" love to everyone we come into contact with. Agape is the defined as " a self-sacrificing act of the will, to put the thoughts and needs of another above your own". Philippians 2 calls us to "have an attitude like that of Christ's"...which was one of humility and selflessness, it's that attitude that brought him down from heaven to become a lowly (to Him) human and redeem us by the cross. Dang, how the mess can I do that? I can barely hold off from eating all the pizza at Eighteen22. Becoming anything more like Christ is called sanctification, and sanctification I believe starts with us and is finished by the Holy Spirit. I can try my hardest to be selfless, but eventually my carnal desires will win, unless the Holy Spirit is giving me fruit of the spirit to combat them. That's what I pray for, and acknowledging and confessing these aspects of myself I hope as they say is "half the battle".


Saturday, March 24, 2012

"The Image of the Invisible God"

I've been really fortunate as of late, because God has been giving me more and more opportunities to spend time with people outside my "Christian bubble" of relationships, which has been a really good thing for me. If you don't have friends who believe differently than you do, I highly advise you to get some, it'll hopefully encourage you to better understand what you really believe yourself. That's definitely what it's been doing for me.
So, in the conversations I've been able to have with people who aren't involved in the Church, I kept hearing similar reasons why they weren't. One conversation I had with a regular at my job really struck me. He was saying that he grew up his whole life as a Christian, and still would consider himself one even though he doesn't go to church often. He said the thing that really inadvertently turned him away was the relationship he had with his girlfriend. She was "more religious" than he was, and he got the impression that she looked down on him for that. As time went on, he said that Christianity ended up being the thing that broke them up. Because of the judgmental and down-putting nature of their relationship, he got a bad taste in him mouth about Church. He still believes Jesus is his Savior, just he's not really trying to get burnt again by church people.

That story breaks my heart, mostly because at one point I was just like his judgmental girlfriend. I remember having relationships in high school where I looked down upon and really mistreated people because they weren't as "religious" as me, and I know almost for a fact that I've ruined those people's view of Christ because of it. What was wrong with me? Did I really think that looking down on someone because they aren't as spiritually mature as me is actually spiritually mature? Do we actually think that abruptly and bitterly ending relationships with non-Christians is the best way to interact?

I've been reading through Colossians recently (thinking about preaching through it actually), and Paul says in chapter 1 verse 15 that "Christ is the visible image of the invisible God". I know i'm taking that verse out of the context of Paul's intended message, but I can't help but relate that verse to Christians as a whole. We are now "the image of the invisible God". For a lot of our non-Christian friends, we might be the closest thing to Jesus they'll ever see. So later in Colossians (chapter 4, verse 5) Paul says "live wisely among those who are not believers...let your conversations be gracious and attractive...". Are we being gracious and attractive when we interact with our non-believing friends, co-workers, and family members? You should definitely strive to be, because believe it or not in everything we do we are supposed to model to them what Jesus is like.

Yes, we all mess up, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. But I think with the power of the Holy Spirit in us, some individual awareness, and some accountability between us we can actually show people what Jesus is truly "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciple." (John 13:35). Amen?


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Birthday Bloggin (turning 22!)

I have this habit of always getting reflective in or around the month of March, for obvious reasons. Even though my most recent blog post behind this one shows, I'm not a consistent blogger, I do consistently journal. I have stacks and stacks of notebooks filled with journal entries, and it's always fun (and a little embarrassing) to look back at them around my birthday time. As I have been doing that this year, I saw a couple interesting facts.

It was about two years ago in the month of March that the former Ms. Maria Claire Moore popped up into the pages of my personal and prayer journals (yes, in my prayer journal, she was so special I knew I couldn't get her by sheer good looks and whit alone). It was about one year ago in the month of March where God was doing an intense round of character breakdown on me, he was softening my heart and opening up my eyes to people and places who I never cared for or thought much about before, i.e. his Great Commission and the "least of these". Also, I can remember that in March 2011 my then fiancee Maria had just moved into our future first apartment together, a place and moment of time that will always be special to me.

Now to look at the present, Ms. Maria Claire Moore has become Mrs. Maria Claire Jones, God's Great Commission is at the forefront of my mind "as I go", and God is definitely doing another character breakdown in my life (maybe those are more frequent than I thought...). Being a husband is the most fulfilling role I've ever played in my life, but it's also the hardest at times. I have a lot of sins to confess and walls to let God break down, but God is always faithful in those situations. Plus, I have the greatest wife to work with me through all that. I'm graduating college this May, and God is leading me to a new phase of preparation for His calling for me into life-long ministry. I don't know where that's going yet, i'm just praying and waiting to see what he brings.
So, the future is unknown, the present is moving one step at a time, and the past has more or less shaped it all. God is overall doing a good thing in me, and I hope i'm letting Him do a good thing also through me. I totally back journaling, blogging, and reflection of any kind. Because it's so amazing to look back over your writings and to see God's provision. Times could of have been bad for a season, but you can see how God brought you through it and redeemed you in it. You get to look back at unique moments (like falling in love!) and remember every corny sappy thing you were saying and the songs you were listening to. I love that mess, haha.

Anyway, thanks be to God for being here 22 years, and I pray that every year following is again filled with stories and memories of how good He is. Amen


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rob Bell's "Love Wins" review

first, let's get a couple things straight

To dispel some rumors about the book/Rob Bell
1. "Love Wins" DOES NOT claim that everyone goes to heaven in the end.
2. Rob Bell's books are FULL of Scripture
-somebody told me that they "heard" Bell doesn't Scripturally back up his claims in his books. That's 100% untrue, stop spreading lies people! Haha. This will be the second Bell book I've read. They've both had Scripture references and expounding on every single page.
3. Rob Bell is definitely a Christian, and nothing else

Now to let you know a little more about my stance in this blog
1. This review is slightly bias, I admit it. I like Rob Bell
2. I read this book like I thought he was a heretic
3. Don't take my word for it. Read the book for yourself

So, to start the review I wanna try to summarize Bell's take on Heaven from the Scriptures. The key passage Bell expounds on about heaven is Jesus' words to the Young Rich Man (Matthew 19:16-28 NIV). The man asks Jesus how to reach eternal life, but Jesus doesn't give the answer that most modern day evangelicals would of think he should give. In fact, Jesus tells him how to "enter life". Jesus and the man weren't talking about heaven as we think of it when we die, they were talking about the "age to come". So the man's question of "eternal" doesn't mean exactly the same as we often think it does. Jesus talks about this "age to come" in Luke 20, Mark 9, Luke 21, and Matthew 28 as well. The greek word for it is "aion", which refers to a period of time with a definite beginning and end. So there is the age Jesus was in, and there will be an "age to come" after it.

This age to come is spoken about by the prophet Isaiah as "The Day of the Lord" where everything will be restored, and there will finally be peace on earth. You can find the beginning of his words on it in Isaiah 2:12-18. those verses real quick...don't they sound like perfection? Paul also briefly talks about this time in 1 Thes. 5. I know things always get a little fishy in interpreting the OT, but i think it's obvious at least in that passage that Isaiah is talking about the future, a time of perfection on earth through God. So heaven at that point won't be "up there", it's gonna be down here (according to Scripture). Heaven is gonna be God cutting away the divisions and merging with earth and bringing it into his perfection. It checks out pretty well.

Now, the attempt to summarize Bell's thoughts from the Scriptures on hell. In his book, he references and deals with every mentioning of the word "hell" in the Bible, and even some of the words/passages people think are referring to "hell" (kudos to him, that's good persuasive writing right there). Scripture clearly states that hell is suffering, because you are choosing to be separated from God's incredible love, but how long you will be separated seems to be the question.

An important thing about hell Bell notes,The greek word we call "hell" is really the English word "Gehenna". Gehenna is a real place, that basically was the Israelite trash dump. They stuck their trash there and burnt it, dogs fought over scraps and their teeth made horrible gnashing sounds while fighting (sounds familiar?). I can see where we got our image of Hell from, but it's not necessarily underground and reigned by Satan. Jesus related to torment of separation from God to a horrible place nearby of people he was talking to.So it feels to me that the image most of us get of hell isn't from the Bible, it's from Dante's Inferno (gosh I hated that book, i read the whole thing in high school).

One of verses that kinda makes that idea real is Ezekiel 16:53-58, God through Ezekiel says "I will restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters...return them to what they were before...". Wait, what?!?!? God is gonna restore Sodom and Gomorrah? We all remember how bad they were, but God in the future is gonna give them a second chance? So....maybe even God's judgement of separation isn't forever...

Still on hell here, but look up these verses please
-Zephaniah 2:6
-Micah 7:19
Bell lists a whole page full of verse just like these. Those probably a several dozen more continue to talk about God's redemptive desires and extreme love for all his people. That's God's desire, to bring EVERYONE back to him. Don't get me wrong, Bell asserts that the ONLY way to get back to God is through Jesus (pg. 155 of Love Wins), but do you think even after "The Day of the Lord" and all is renewed, God is gonna lock the door on his love to those who honestly come in repentance for it? The Day of the Lord idea leaves out where people go who aren't with God, i can't remember if Bell addresses that, i'll re-read to look, but they are somewhere having a miserable time probably. But if they run to the limits of God's area and scream and cry in repentance, do you really think God is gonna say "sorry, if you had come maybe like....5 minutes earlier I could do something for you, but you're late. So you can no longer have my love". That doesn't sound like the God of those verses above and the rest of the NT, does it? I've kinda been convinced it doesn't.

So now you're probably kinda pissed or confused at this point. When I was talking to Maria about this she then brought up the question, "Well then what's the point of living for God now if you can get another shot at it after you die?" When she asked it we both stopped and came to the next point Bell makes. If being a "Christian" for you is mostly about a "ticket to heaven", then odds are you probably aren't going...rough isn't it? Well, I struggle with that to. In fact, the majority of the time when Jesus was talking about "hell" he was talking about it to the very people everyone for sure thought weren't going there! If i remember correctly, Matthew 25 (Sheep and Goats parable) fits that description. Being a Christian is about taking the invitation God gives us through Christ to be apart of his restoring of all things. Yes, heaven is a benefit of it, but it's not the main point. God wants us to be a part of his stuff, and to take joy in it. Yes, there is suffering involved (Paul tells us about it the best in 2 Timothy), but in the end there is JOY! There should be some deep rooted joy! That convicted me hard, because often i'm bogged down by how "hard" my life is. All of this "Jesus work" I gotta do. I gotta feed the poor, i gotta mentor youth, i gotta preach. Poor poor me. If you're like me in that, we're missing out. We need to revamp our feelings for God. He's not a slave-driver, he's a love and joy giver.

The best example of this idea is found in the Prodigal Son parable. We all know the story. The younger son comes back thinking the dad is gonna punish him, but he gets love instead. The older son is pissed about the party for his jerk of a brother, but he's always had love, dad tells him to celebrate. Both boys thought their fathers love was dependent on something or another, how good or bad they were. But it doesn't, their dad's love just.....IS! Isn't that great?!?!?!?! God's love for us just is. It's UNFAIR, it's UNDESERVED. IT. IS. GRACE! So yes, the fact that anybody can possibly just come to God at anytime in this age or next and get love is extremely unfair, but I really feel like i'm ok with that. And that's basically the book. In the end, LOVE WINS.

There are of course downsides to this book, but they aren't really even worth talking about I feel. The general message overshadows them.

The key phrase for his thoughts in the book are on pg. 115. Bell says:
" Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? These are tensions we are free to leave still as tensions. We don't need to resolve them or answer because we can't, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires"

Thanks for reading this, it's waaaaay too long i know. But i left out a lot of stuff that would be really helpful in explaining his view. Bell totally expounds the "Lazarus and Rich Man" story, his full explanation of the Prodigal Son story is brilliant, and so so much more. But for time and practicality I stop here. I might blog about those other pieces later. Please feel free to leave comments below and we can discuss more there.

My advise is to please read the book, I think it'll be something special for ya. Amen? Amen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Virtuous Life

this quote from an early church leader I feel like sums up reason and aim for why Christians do their best to live "good" and "clean" lives.

This is true perfection: not to avoid a wicked life because like slaves we servilely fear punishment, nor to do good because we hope for rewards, as if cashing in on the virtuous life by some business- like arrangement. On the contrary, disregarding all those things for which we hope and which have been reserved by promise, we regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful and consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthy of honor and desire. This, as I have said, is the perfection of life.

- Gregory of Nyssa