Seek Week, Tuesday – Enlarged Stability

We find the songs that David wrote primarily in the Psalms.  The exceptions to this pattern need to be given some attention.  In the historical book of Second Samuel, chapter 22, the account of David’s life is augmented with the inclusion of a Psalm he wrote after God had delivered him from the deadly pursuit of King Saul.  This beautiful song is also powerful in the truth concerning God’s strength and help for those who will look to Him with trust and expectation.

Read slowly through this chapter on this day of Seek Week.  I’d like to draw your attention particularly to verses 20 and 37.  In verse 20 David sings of the strength of the Lord to bring him out into a spacious place.  This idea runs counter to typical religious ideas that the ways of God are limiting and restricting and become even more so as you follow Him into deeper levels of faith and spirituality.  No, God’s ways lead us into broad and open places to live.  The difference is found in the kind of freedom we seek.  If you want the freedom to do whatever your external self (your flesh) desires, you will find a wide open path that leads to the gates of Hell (Matt. 7:13).  If you seek freedom from the confinements and uneven path of being chased down by death, you will find a wide open path that leads to life and peace.  We use terms like being “hemmed in” or “in dire straits” to describe places where options are limited.  God’s promise is to bring you out into spacious places.  What would you imagine that to look like in your life right now?

David goes on to describe how the Lord taught him to fight.  One of the most important elements of hand to hand combat is maintaining your footing.  If your enemy can get you off balance, they have the advantage over you.  David refers to two types of stability in verse 34 and 37.  In verse 34, he says that his feet were made like the feet of deer so that he could remain stable on the high and rocky terrain of mountain passes.  In verse 37 he describes the way that God enlarged the path under his feet, ensuring his stability.  These two verses address the work that God does in us and around us.  What is He doing today to make your feet stronger and more agile?  Be assured that He is doing that because He knows that you will find yourself on highly unstable ground.  What is God doing today to level the ground out under your feet?  Be assured that He is also doing that.  We often don’t notice it because we fail to pay attention to the works of God or give Him glory for the path-flattening work He has done in a particular day.

The enemy of your soul is seeking the opportunities when you are in threat of stumbling.  It would be good to reflect today on the fact that Satan is not the architect of our failures.  He is an opportunist.  You can minimize the opportunities Hell has to push you to the ground by receiving the grace that God is bringing to you to strengthen your feet and enlarging your path.

-Pastor Jack

“Togethering” Tomorrow:  Join with others for an early morning prayer time from 6:00 to 7:30am in the Café.

Seek Week, Monday – Enlarged Horizons

Bird on a wire

Myopia is a condition of the eyes that indicates nearsightedness.  In common language we have adapted the word myopic to describe an attitude or limitation of perspective where we cannot see the larger picture.  The proverbial, “Can’t see the forest for the trees” is a myopic condition.  There are large barriers that impose themselves into our lives that tend to confine or shut down our vision.  I love visiting Manhattan Island in New York because of the architecture and the immense size and scale of the buildings there, but you really need to be outside the city to gain any sense of the skyline and placement of structures in relationship to each other.  Even in the widest of streets in that city your sight is limited to a narrow concrete canyon.  Our understanding of where we are and how our current circumstances fit into the larger landscape of our past and future can easily get crowded down into a very small patch of ground just around our feet.  There is hope from God in these closed in spaces.  The image that is projected from David’s words in Psalm 119, “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light to my path” indicates a ring of light that does not shine 25 feet down the pathway; it illuminates a circle around us exposing more of the path with each step that we take into that immediate light.

In His goodness and care for us, however, God does provide a way for us to make our way to higher ground and catch much-needed glimpses of the horizon.  The promise in Psalm 40:1-4 lets us know that God not only inclines His ear to us, He pulls us up from the pit and sets us up on a rock.  David was faithful in his writing to identify the source of his troubles, and being that he mentions neither a sickness in his body or the assault of an enemy against his life, we are left to conclude that David was in a pit of some inward unsettledness.  We all know what those pits are about.  Pits are “horrible,” as David describes his, because of the confinement of movement and the lack of ability to see anything around you besides the pit.  The solution God offers to us is not just to get our feet unstuck from the mud in the bottom of the pit; He lifts us out of the limitations of vision, clears the skies and sets us on a rock from which we can see, orient ourselves and move confidently forward.  The key to this kind of help is found in the first line of the Psalm: “I waited patiently for the Lord…”  That is the primary posture of our time in Seek Week.

Waiting is not a strong suit for most of us.  If we ask for help or answers, we typically go straight from asking to acting on what we think will help us out of the pit.  Waiting in this passage implies that David was looking with expectation of God’s help for some time before the answers came his way.  This is what we are setting ourselves to do through this week.  Waiting on God’s answers is not a passive process.  We lean into that expectation by asking, reading Scripture and listening for the voice, impressions, affirmations and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Set yourself to pursue that kind of waiting this week.  Spend some time today asking specific questions and meditating on this Psalm 40 passage.  Getting yourself started off on the right spiritual foot will serve you well in getting unstuck from a dark and muddy pit.  Expect that you will be lifted up and set on a better vantage point from which you will be able to see an enlarged horizon.  We need to see where we have been, where we are, and gain perspective on where we are headed.  Trust me, it’s worth the wait.

-Pastor Jack

“Togethering” Tomorrow:  Join us for a collective time of prayer and seeking from 12:00 to 1:00pm in the Café.     

Seek Week 2015 – “Enlarged”

In late November, I was reading the passage in Isaiah 9 that predicted the coming Messiah with the words we used for the child dedication and blessing in our Christmas service, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.”  In the verses that begin that chapter, Isaiah declares: “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder” Isaiah 9:3 (NIV).  This word “enlarged” has been coming up in my spirit regularly since that time.  Every year that we have been calling this church to a concentrated time of fasting and seeking, I have provided a framework or guide for that process.  This is not to restrict you from praying or seeking along a different path or in ways that best suit your life and needs right now.  The guide is offered as a way to go about something that many of us don’t regularly do, and in my experience with irregular things, some guidance and encouragement is usually helpful to get us started and moving along.  So I want you to be free to use Bible passages or even some devotional guide that may be helpful to you personally if you so desire.

I do believe that the theme that we follow from year to year is significant to the way in which the Holy Spirit speaks specific things into the life of the whole church as we begin another year, so please at least read through the material I’ve provided.  As much as a Seek Week is beneficial to you as an individual, I believe that this is a process that is significant to City Church as a whole and the common theme, focus and times of common prayer during Seek Week are important to all that the Holy Spirit intends to do in us through this special week.

We are providing this Seek Week guide the day before Seek Week actually begins for a reason.  A concentrated time of prayer, fasting and listening is something that will require a bit of preparation to do.  In the same way that you would plan a trip to go out of town for a few days, I would advise that you take a few minutes and put some preparations in place so that you don’t forget your toothbrush or end up without a place to stay along this spiritual journey.  As I’ve already said, this guide is intended to provide a general theme or roadmap for the week.  In addition to familiarizing yourself with the guide, I would offer a couple additional travel-preparation suggestions:

  1. Plan your stops.
    Our lives regularly fill with activities and responsibilities without much effort on our part, so if you want to create space for stopping, reflecting and seeking, you will have to plan for those times and defend what you have planned. Consider creating a seeking calendar that allows the intervals of seeking like rest stops along a major highway.  You may want to try mixing it up using an early morning on Tuesday, a lunch time on Wednesday and perhaps the last hour of the day before you go to bed on Thursday.  The important thing is that you plan these stops. Otherwise the week will fill up and the sacrifices you have made in fasting and culling out other distractions will be wasted.   Also keep in mind that there are gathering times planned for prayer throughout the week, and breaking fast together with a time of worship and prayer on Friday:
    Tuesday, noon-1:00pm & Wednesday, 6:00am-7:30am in the Café
    Friday, 6:00-Light potluck and prayer and worship service in the Fellowship Hall

 

  1. Decide now what and how you will fast if you choose to do so.

These decisions are never made very well in the moment.  If you find yourself standing at the refrigerator on Monday morning considering what to eat for breakfast and then remember that you were supposed to be fasting, the choice to forego food at that moment will not be as effective as a decision about what and how you will fast through the week that is made on Sunday afternoon.

Some Fasting Guidelines

Fasting is a spiritual discipline designed to remove the comfort that our bodies receive from food and raise the sensitivity of our spirit to the presence and voice of God.  This is accomplished through substituting our regular food intake with Bible reading, praying and journaling.  The overall goal is to experience a genuine hunger for spending time with God.

There are numerous ways to go about fasting.  Some people will fast all five days drinking only water.  Others modify that by the inclusion of fruit or vegetable juices.  Some people will participate in a sunrise to sunset fast each day eating a light meal in the evening.  Still others fast by removing anything but simple or bland foods in the style of a Daniel fast.

We have found great benefits by fasting certain activities and entertainment.  Media not only consumes time, it provides a significant distraction from the matters of soul and spirit.  Often we cannot hear God’s voice as a simple result of having some noise or visual stimulant constantly drawing away our attention.  Please consider replacing time in front of a computer, smartphone or television screen with quiet reading, prayer or worship.  You will be bored at the beginning of the week, but as your spiritual sensitivities grow stronger, you will gain far more than you give up in this area.

A food fast is not suited to everyone.  Pray about your participation and use wisdom in selecting how you will fast.  Those who work in jobs that require the expenditure of significant physical energy will need to provide something for their body to use for that energy, so some food intake may be required to keep up with these demands.  Those who follow rigorous workout routines may need to modify the elements of the fast or adjust their routines in order to do without food.  Also, if you have any known medical conditions or suspect such conditions that may be impacted by fasting, consult your doctor before beginning the fast.

Keep the purpose in mind!

Religious activity that is done for the sake of religious activity has never really helped anyone.  Spiritual disciplines must be pursued with specific purposes in mind so that you don’t end up suffering with a growling stomach for a few days and end the week with an unfed soul.  Think about this in terms of replacement.  Turn off the TV for an hour each evening and replace that activity with some time spent in focused reading of Scripture, praying or worshipping.  Skip lunch a couple of days and replace the time spent eating with meditating on a Bible passage or finding some solitude and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit.  Here are some specific suggestions on making your seeking purposeful:

  • Purposeful Fasting – This may mean fasting food or television, coffee, sweets, etc…  The point is that you select a behavior that most comforts your flesh or distracts your soul and you give that up for a specific period of time.  Then, in the absence of that comfort or distraction, set your heart to seek God by prayer and listening.  Some of you do the single-day sunrise to sunset fasting which is great.  During Seek Week I would encourage you to try to step that up a bit, perhaps fasting food for three or four days.  At the very least, please consider fasting some part of your routine that would free-up time that you would in turn devote to actively seeking God.
  • Purposeful Prayer – Most of us are good at “prayer on the fly.”  Quick prayers that you pray walking from your car headed into a meeting muttering “Oh God help me with this…” as some new or challenging situation is thrown into your day.  What we have lost some capacity to do in our busy modern lives is waiting and lingering in prayer.  I am calling this congregation to a season of seeking.  Each day of Seek Week will carry a specific emphasis in prayer.  Some of these days will include a gathering to pray with or for others.
  • Purposeful Listening – While listening is (or should be) included in any time of prayer, I have separated it for the purpose of emphasis.  The reward of seeking God is that we find Him!  I want to develop the anticipation in our hearts through this week that we will hear from the Lord; biblically, intuitively, conversationally, meditatively, and prophetically hear from Him.

Check in daily next week, Monday through Friday, for directions in prayer and scripture reading.  Let’s Seek the Lord together!

Come to the Manger… by Pastor Dora Clarkson

nativitywoodcarving

Shepherds came.  The Bible says they came “with haste.”  They wanted to see what had happened.  And after they saw the newborn Babe, they began telling everyone they could find what they had seen and heard.  What did it do in them?  They returned to the fields glorifying and praising God.  They experienced wonder, hope, joy, and excitement.  I believe their worship was transformed.

Wise Men came.  They came “from the east,” guided by a star.  And when they came into the house, they worshiped Him and opened their treasures for Him.  What did it do in them?  They experienced joy like no other time.  It was not only joy, but it was exceeding, and great joy!  The Bible says they greatly rejoiced.  I believe their worship was transformed.

To come to the manger, we have to go to Bethlehem–to the city of David–to the city of Kings–to the “House of Bread” (which is the meaning of the word Bethlehem.)  What will we see when we come to the manger?  Why, a feeding trough, of course.  And isn’t that appropriate, for Jesus later said of Himself, “I am the Bread of Life.”  When you come to this manger, you will experience a silent amazement, a moment of awesome wonder, and fall to your knees in speechless humility.  I believe your worship will be transformed.

During this season, I like to bake Cranberry Nut Bread with orange zest.  This bread has red berries it it, crimson, like our sins, and also like the blood which was shed to cover and pay for those sins.  There are nuts in this bread, which were first roasted in the oven, and then crushed.  Our Savior went “through the fire” on our behalf.  He was beaten, whipped, tortured, and crushed for our welfare and healing.  There is a little essence of orange in this bread, which gives it a sweet aroma.  And this makes me think of the great, sweet, wonderful love of the Father and the sweet smell of the humility and obedience of Jesus, as He made the ultimate sacrifice for our redemption.  When I give this bread to friends, or serve it to my family, I like to think they are receiving a gift from the House of Bread, a taste of the Bread of Life.  I want their worship to be transformed.

So, hear the invitation:  Come often to the House of Bread, to the humble manger, the eating place of cattle, and be filled with the Bread of Life–the only One who can satisfy your deepest longings, hunger, desires and dreams.  Don’t fill up on the world’s junk food.  Don’t be satisfied with crumbs from the world’s table. Your worship will be transformed.

Pastor Dora Clarkson

December Letter from Pastor Jack…. Merry Christmas!

Christmas-Cat-58

Merry Christmas!

I trust you are doing well and growing in your faith in Jesus.  I wanted to get out a quick note to let you know about the opportunities that are right in front of us and occurring around the Christmas season.  There are three events approaching quickly that I wanted to highlight.

  • This Saturday at 10:00am there is a Women’s Ministry brunch that apparently includes wearing an ugly Christmas sweater.  To be honest, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a non-ugly Christmas sweater, so that category for me is wide open.   You ladies will have a great time together.
  • This coming Sunday morning at the conclusion of our 11:00 AM service, we will be baptizing people in water. If you want to participate in this spiritually important step of following Jesus, bring a towel, a swimsuit, and a T-shirt that you can wear for the baptism.  It is going to be awesome!
  • That night, at 6:00 we will be celebrating the graduation of students from our leadership institute here in Redding and the first class from the satellite program in Red Bluff. Everyone is welcome to attend, so if you have been curious about what Qadash is and does, this is an excellent way to find that out and support some amazing students as well.
  • On 12/11 Encore will be hosting their Christmas party and white elephant gift exchange. If you are over 45 and have not attended one of these parties, you are missing something pretty fun.

Lastly, I wanted to give you a bit more information on our December 21st Christmas service.  The theme of that 11:00am service is “Unto us… Unto me.”  In addition to some usual components to that service we will be focusing on the gift of children that God has given into families.  God’s gift of His Son presents us with the opportunity of salvation as we receive that gift by faith.  God’s gift of children presents us with certain responsibilities that we accept and dedicate ourselves to do by the power of the Holy Spirit and with the support of the church.  Our plans are to provide a large scale child dedication that includes newborns and children up to age 11.  I know many parents who came to Christ well after having children and did not have the opportunity to make this commitment and offer their children in dedication to God.  We have put something together for parents that will help describe the purpose and process of child dedication.  You can find this by following this web-link https://cc4square.org/child-dedications/ or hard copies will be available in the welcome center beginning this Sunday.  We do need to have an idea of how many children will be included in this dedication ahead of time, so please call the church office to let us know or sign up at the welcome center.

Additionally, in that same service we will be praying over and offering words of blessing over each child in attendance.  This will include all children up to age 18.  Families will stand together and bless each child speaking prepared blessings and spontaneous words over them.  Groups of elder-leaders will be ready to stand in surrogate roles speaking blessing over youth who are in attendance without their parents or other family.  We have put together a simple guide for parents to use in preparing and writing out these blessings over their children.  You can find this by following this web-link https://cc4square.org/blessing-your-children/ or hard copies of this guide will also be available in the welcome center beginning this Sunday.

I believe that is it for now.  Look for another letter from me in the last week of this month that will outline our Seek Week dates and theme for 2015, and information on what I think are exciting changes and developments that we will experience early in the New Year.

Grace and peace to you,

Pastor Jack

That Sounded Way Different in My Head…

cupI’ve been told I can “carry a tune” as the expression goes.  When I try to match a note with my voice that someone is singing or playing around me, I think I do an okay job of doing that.  There are some notes I would really like to sing, that I just can’t quite pull off.  The pure, clear tone that I hear in my head sounds very different when I try to create it with my voice.  It comes out of my mouth strained, cracking, and not quite there in pitch; unpleasant was not my intent but it is the result nonetheless.  Some people are what we call tone-deaf.  The way they hear the note they are singing is not any different to their ear than the note that is being sung or played around them, and what they hear in their head is exactly what they hear when they belt it out loud.  The tryout rounds of American Idol provide enough evidence of this.  There are people who are convinced that they sing exceptionally well and they boldly stand in front of a panel of music professionals and tell them so.  I figure one of three things is happening in their lives.  One, they have no true friends who are willing to tell them, “Hey, that business management degree that you gave up so you could pursue a singing career… yeah, you might want to consider reenrolling in that.”  Two, they have friends and family who would like to tell them that they really can’t sing, but they don’t want to hurt their feelings or crush their dream.  Three, all of their friends and family members suffer from the same condition; they too are tone-deaf.

Last Sunday I ventured into some waters in the message that had some people a bit surprised and others perhaps concerned about what I said.  I talked about how too much of a good thing is not necessarily good for us and the one good thing that I feel has gone out of balance is our focus on personal and private devotions.  I wanted to follow that up with some additional affirmations on both sides of this matter, and to add back in some of the thoughts that wound up not being communicated because the clock and I are in a weekly, unhappy street brawl.

First let me affirm the practice of daily private devotions.  Yes, do that.  My encouragement on Sunday was for you to focus this time on prayer and seeking and meditation.  All three of those practices are helped and indeed dependent on the inclusion of Scripture, so don’t leave Bible reading out.  What I was contending for was a counterweight to the excessive emphasis that is placed on the learning and understanding side of private devotions.  This ideal has been reinforced by the personal testimony of spiritual people and an entire division of Christian publications.  You can log onto Amazon, Christian Book Distributors or any other number of websites today and purchase a topically themed book, a companion devotional guide, a small group workbook and in some cases a music CD that is provided to aid in your time of reading and meditation.

I identified that the accessibility of personal Bible study materials falls into a not-so-beneficial agreement with a strong cultural bent among American Christians.  We are people who passionately crave independence and fight for our rights of individualism.  The pursuit of Scriptural learning and understanding primarily in this private, individual fashion disallows the vital practice of getting what we think out into the open.  Just like an attempt to sing a particular note that you “hear” in your head, but when it comes out of your mouth it sounds very different, the spiritual ideas and conclusions we reach in private devotions also sound very different when shared outside of the realm of thought and imagination.  And for those of us who are a bit truth-deaf; making even the things we say out loud always seem “right on pitch,” the solo pursuit of learning and understanding will leave us without the necessary dissenting voices that can help us evaluate what we cannot discern for ourselves.   Some of us just need Keith Urban to say, “Yeah baby, that was not really good at all, sorry.”

The message last week identified three benefits of learning in community that I won’t use this space to restate.  Please check out the podcast on the media tab of the City Church website to catch those points or refresh your memory.  One important item that I left unsaid on Sunday has to do with thinking about this in terms of a sliding scale.  The newer or perhaps a better way to say it would be the more underdeveloped your Biblical understanding is, the more time you should spend learning and wrestling with the implications of the Gospel in community with other believers.  In that group you will likely have people who have read more of the Old Testament than you have, or understand the context of things that Paul or James wrote in the New Testament that will really help your reading and understanding of those passages.  The more developed and mature your understanding of the Bible is, allows for more private times of reading and study and more benefit from such times.  Just be honest in this assessment of your development.  Most of us know far less than we imagine and understand even less than we imagine we know.

One of the Apostle Paul’s instructions to the young pastor Timothy was to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13).  Some might assume that the need to read Scripture in public expired with the common availability of printed Bibles.  I believe that this is a wrong assumption to make, especially when taking the Bible “private” disallows for so many of the community-provided benefits that keep our understanding balanced, our “hearing” accurate and our personal application of truth from becoming, well… just weird.

Thanks for reading the thoughts I needed to get out of my head.  Perhaps now I can get back to sleep.

Pastor Jack Witt

Blessing Your Children…

handsOne of the most tender moments recorded in the life of Jesus is when the disciples were apparently forbidding little children from coming near Jesus.

Matthew 19:13-15 (NLT)
Some children were brought to Jesus so He could lay His hands on them and pray for them. The disciples told them not to bother Him. 14  But Jesus said, “Let the children come to Me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” 15  And He put His hands on their heads and blessed them before He left.

We see the concept of blessing spread through the pages of the Bible.  The spoken or pronounced blessing over people is a form of prayer.  Instead of asking God to do something on someone’s behalf, we are given the privilege of affirming what we perceive that God already is or intends to do in or for them.  So a blessing may be as simple as saying “God’s grace and peace be upon you” as the Apostle Paul frequently said in the opening or closing of his letters to churches or individuals.  How do we know that this blessing applies to others?  Because it is a part of God’s promise to all people.

In the culture of ancient Israel, parents would perceive God’s unique gifts and work in their children and typically as the child entered adulthood they would pronounce the blessings that the Holy Spirit had allowed them to “see” over them.  That insight contributed even to the meanings in the names that they gave to their children.  The blessing often included the division of an inheritance if the blessing was given near the end of the parent’s life.

As contemporary believers we have taken the example of Jesus blessing the children as cited above in conjunction with other recorded blessings even for infants and recognized the value of parents blessing their children especially around significant points in the life of the child.  Both John the Baptist and Jesus received blessings that were prophetically inspired and spoken or prayed over them as infants.  A significant part of our practice of child dedication involves prayed and spoken blessings over the children.

What this guide is intended to do is encourage both your thinking and practice of writing, recording and speaking blessing over your own children.

Writing a blessing
It is amazing how soon the personality of a child begins to emerge from the squirms and squeals of infancy.  I believe that believing parents are given Holy Spirit provided insight into the kinds of things that God intends to bring out of these little ones as they mature and grow.  I would encourage you to pay attention to these insights and combine them with general promises from Scripture that you believe to have particular meaning to your child, and then write them down.  This written blessing can then be used at a dedication ceremony or other occasions like birthdays or graduations.  Writing them down can also serve as an important reminder to parents of God’s intention toward their children when they are moving through times of rebellion or making poor choices.

It doesn’t have to be 12 pages long; just a few sentences are fine.   In fact the shorter it is the more focused you have to be on the important essentials of what you perceive for them and the easier it will be for you to remember sections of it without having to find and read it.

The end of this guide provides some scriptural suggestions, a sample blessing and a couple of websites that may help you in this process.  For now I’d like to touch on the two other components to blessing that I referred to earlier:  Recording and Speaking.

Recording
At one particularly impactful time in our lives as parents we had a visiting speaker to our church who had a very strong and unique prophetic gift.  As he prayed and prophesied over a number of other leaders he came to Pamela and me and immediately asked about our children.  He described in Scripture and specific images our three children and the kinds of things God had in mind for them.  We recorded those words at that time and they became very important to us in the way that we thought about our children and the way that we blessed them.

My recommendation would be to pay attention to the way that spiritually minded people talk about your children, things they point out that they see in them and specific ways that they pray for them.  Record these things and revisit them in your own praying life and find opportunities to talk with your children and point at those things that have been recognized and spoken over them by others.

Speaking
Blessings or recorded words are only nice thoughts if they never make it from your journal or a folded page in your Bible and onto your lips.  You voice in the life of your child is significant for hearing instruction, wisdom, guidance and correction.  However, your voice in speaking blessing over is immeasurably important in its contribution to the way that their Heavenly Father sees them and the spiritual frame through which they see themselves and their world.  We have used significant birthdays celebrating a Christianized Bar-Mitzvah for our son when he turned 13 and Bat-Mitzvahs for our two girls when they turned 12.  There in front of their friends and family we prayed blessings and reminded them of the promises of God that overshadowed their lives.  These moments were not only significant for them, they were very impacting on their 12 and 13 year old friends, inspiring other families to do for their children what we were seeking to do for ours.

Find occasions of celebration and moments of decision in the life of your child to bless them and remind them of God’s provisions and promises.  The spiritual returns for this kind of investment are beyond measurement.

 

Here are a few Bible verses that you may want to consider using in writing this blessing:

  • Romans 15:13 – “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” OR – God of Hope, may You fill my son/daughter, __________, with all joy and peace as he/she trusts in You, so that he/she may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Ephesians 1:16-19 – “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that…the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe…”
  • Ephesians 3:14-19 – “I kneel before the Father…I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
  • Philippians 1:3-6 – “I thank God every time I remember you. In all my prayers…I always pray with joy…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
  • Philippians 1:9-10 – “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”
  • Colossians 4:2, 5-6 – “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful… Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 – “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 – “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 – “We constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:5, 16 – “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance…Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.”
  • 2 Timothy 2:1 – “You then, my son (daughter), be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
  • Philemon 6 – “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”
  • Hebrews 13:20-21 – “May the God of peace…equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
  • 1 Peter 5:10

Here is a sample of a blessing for you to get an idea on how to approach writing one for your child:

(Example Blessing)

Father, I receive, welcome and acknowledge each of my children as a delightful blessing from You.  I speak your blessings upon them and over them.
Children, I bless you in the name of Jesus, proclaiming the blessings of God, my Redeemer, upon you. May He give you wisdom, a reverential fear of God, and a heart of love.  May He create in you the desire to attend to His words; a willing and obedient heart that you may consent and submit to His ways. May your eyes look straight ahead with purpose for the future. May your tongue be as the pen of a ready writer, writing mercy and kindness upon the tablets of your heart. May you speak the truth in love.  May your hands do the works of the Father, may your feet walk the paths which He has foreordained for you.

These websites are also really helpful in this process:

https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/spiritual-growth-for-kids/blessing-your-child/blessing-your-child

https://www.thrivingfamily.com/Features/Magazine/2011/blessing-your-children.aspx

Child Dedications…

hands

Why do we dedicate instead of baptize?
Some faith traditions baptize children as a way of affirming their security in God’s salvation.  We believe that God does not hold children responsible for things that they cannot understand so they are covered by God’s grace and live in that security until they reach the age at which they can understand the concepts of sin, faith, repentance and salvation.  We also believe that the Scriptures present the model of child dedication originally in the dedication of Samuel by his mother Hannah in the Old Testament  (1 Samuel 1:9-28).  Also, Jesus parents presented Him at the temple in dedication  (Luke 2:21-24).

What are we actually doing in bring children to be dedicated to God?
A number of people have rightly asked why we present children to God in dedication when He has given them to parents as gifts (Psalm 127:3).  What parents are actually doing is identifying their children as holy, or set apart for the Lord.  In dedication they thank God, recognizing that the child is a gift from His hand, and they also acknowledge God’s claim on the child’s life that they would live in a way that honors Him and that follows His purposes.  The dedication element to this ceremony is more about the parents than it is about the child.  Parents present themselves to the Lord with their children committing themselves to the responsibility of raising that child to know God and honor Him so that they may at some point choose to love and serve Him for themselves.

What happens in the dedication ceremony?
The parent or parents of the child along with supportive friends and family members stand before the attending pastor and the gathered congregation.  They will be reminded of the responsibility they have been given and asked to enter into two specific promises as they dedicate themselves to this important work.  The promises are:

  • Do you pledge as parents that, with God’s fatherly help, you will bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, making every reasonable effort, with patience and love, to build the Word of God, the character of Christ and the joy of the Lord into their lives?
  • Do you promise to provide, through God’s blessing, for the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs of your children, looking to your own heavenly Father for the wisdom, love and strength to serve them and not use them?

After making these promises, prayers are offered over the parent or parents asking for God’s wisdom, strength and provisions to fulfill this vow and raise their child as they have promised.

The end of the dedication involves prayers of blessing that are prayed over the child.  These are affirmations of God’s promises and prophetic glimpses into the kind of person that they will grow up to be.

Does this dedication only apply to infants?
No.  We encourage parents to dedicate children up to the age of 10.  Some parents have been separated from their children for various reasons, or they have only come to know Christ themselves after their child turned 4 or 5 years old.  This dedication applies to these circumstances as well.

Do both parents have to be present for this dedication?
If both parents are believers and are together, they both should be present and involved in the dedication.  In the case of divorce or one parent being removed from day to day responsibility of raising the child, these single moms or dads are welcome to present their child in dedication.

How do I go about arranging to have my child dedicated?
We try to provide regular opportunities for child dedications, so watch for announcements about these dates.  Otherwise, just contact the church office and make this request.  Arrangements will be made within a reasonable time frame to schedule your dedication into one of our services.

Conviction or Condemnation???

oceantide

I attended a budgeting Community Group this summer.  It was a great class with a great group of people who were willing to be honest about their budgets and all of their emotions around their budgeting, or lack thereof.  There’s a lot of emotion around money, isn’t there?  Many people feel shame, or at least a nagging sense that they aren’t doing enough.  We discussed one of Satan’s most common tricks that he uses on Christians… guilt.

Guilt is a tough one, isn’t it?  I mean, I really did whatever it is that I feel bad about, so it feels very legit to feel guilty about it.  It even feels like we should feel guilty about it.  The Bible talks about godly sorrow, and surely I am supposed to feel it for a good long while, right?  In our last budgeting class we look at two well-known sinners in the Bible who committed some pretty serious sins, and how they each responded.

Judas and Peter were both intimate companions with Jesus.  They walked with him for 3 years.  They were both there at the famous Last Super, where Jesus spent His last meal with his friends.  And that night, in very different ways, they both betrayed their Messiah.  Judas turned Him in to the people that wanted Him dead, and Peter, though swearing he would die defending Him, denied ever having known Him, three times.  They both felt tremendous guilt.  But they handled their guilt very differently.

We know that Judas hung himself, unable to live with the shame of his actions.  Peter, on the other hand, responded by going fishing, going back to what he knew.  You can read the account of how Jesus interacts with Peter in John 21 (see the link below).  But I’ll give you the gist of it right here.  Peter, John, Thomas, and Nathanael went fishing and caught nothing all night.  At dawn, Jesus calls out to them from the shore “Hey kids, have ya caught any fish?”  They answer that they have not and He tells them something similar to what they have heard from Him before, the first time they met Him (see Luke 5).  He says to them from the shore, “Cast your net on the other side.  That’s where the fish are.”  And as before, they obeyed and caught so many fish that they could not even pull in the net!  John recognizes this miracle and shouts out, “It’s the Lord!”  And what does Peter do?  He immediately does the very opposite of what Judas did… He throws on his clothes, jumps into the cold water, and swims straight to Jesus!  The rest of the guys are stuck hauling this heavy load in on their own.  He doesn’t care… Jesus is here, and he finally gets a chance to talk to Him.  He trusts the Lord and knows that his sin has not separated him from God forever.

When they all reach the shore, Jesus has some fish cooking already, but asks them to bring some of their fish over as well.  Peter immediately jumps into action and grabs some fish for Jesus.  Jesus makes them breakfast.  How awkward is that moment for Peter?  “We’re just eatin’ breakfast, not talking about the fact that I recently denied ever having known the Savior of the world… who just made me breakfast.”  Awkward for sure.

After breakfast comes the famous conversation between Peter and Jesus where Jesus asked Peter three times if he loves Him.

“Peter, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord.  You know I love you!”

“Feed my lambs.  Peter, son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord.  You know I love you!”

“Tend my sheep.  Peter, do you love me?”

Peter is now grieved that Jesus is asking him again.

“Lord, you know everything, and you know that I love you.”

If it was me, I would be weeping by now.

Peter, in all his shame, gets to Jesus as quickly as he can, and faces a very emotional conversation with Jesus.  And Jesus gives Peter a job to do.  Something to obey.

The difference between the shame that Judas felt and the conviction that Peter felt is that Judas felt that there was nothing that could be done about his sin, and so he hung himself in a hopeless state.  Peter knew that he could run to Jesus, and Jesus gave him work to do!

Here’s how you know if what you are feeling is from Satan or from God.  Satan will give you a sinking feeling of guilt over what you’ve done, and that is all.  There will be no steps to take, no way out, nothing you can do to change those feelings.  Jesus, on the other hand, will offer forgiveness, give you steps to take to move forward, and give you the power you’ll need to take those steps!  Peter received his power on the day of Pentacost.  In Acts chapter 2 he preaches a heck of a sermon, sharing the gospel, and 3,000 people were saved!  I’d say he successfully fed Jesus’ sheep!

Do not let shame cripple you, my dear friends.  Take that shame to Jesus, confess your sin openly, weep and wail with Him if you must, and then listen.  I assure you that He will have something to say to you.  He will not stop at offering you forgiveness, but he will give you a task and then empower you to do it by his Holy Spirit.  Obeying those instructions will not bring you redemption.  That is the work of the Cross.  But it will restore you and your emotions, and move you along in growth and in the kingdom of God.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+21&version=ESV

Dreams & Fears… and Fears of Dreams

Tour-de-France-banner

I was speaking to a room full of adults about dreams recently. Now in a room full of elementary students that conversation topic is splendid; joyous even. But in a room full of adults with 25 plus years of life experience, the topic is devastating. In that room people brought up dreams like they were old relics, hardly recognizable because of the rust and decay that they were found in. Others expressed their dreams but with a faint laugh in their voice, as if they were talking about riding a unicorn one day or having tea with Big Foot. Sometimes, the chasm that exists between where we are and where we want to be is found too daunting and therefore the start of those dreams fades in our rear view mirror in our haste to leave the unattainable desires as promptly as possible.

Starting things is rough on anything. Think about your car in the morning; cold and collecting dew. Motionless and solid like a monument. But in one moment a key is turned and an electrical current sparks a highly flammable liquid that leads to an explosion; the most violent of reactions freeing up frozen gears. Solid frigid steel that was locked into place is forced to jar upwards and then a second explosion forces another reaction, hurling hundreds of once lifeless parts into a bustle of commotion and movement. Extreme temperature changes begin in a flash and friction radiates out only to be suppressed by a coolant that regulates the once rocketing heat. And your car goes through this hundreds, if not thousands of times in one year. The start is not the easiest thing in the world but it is the only way to begin. And who doesn’t want to benefit from something that is running, forcefully advancing even.

There are lots of people who only speak of a dream…only to dream about that dream beginning. Many people who, under the sleep of fear, do not start because it might be painful. Yes, it will be painful. It is guaranteed in life. Sons and daughters never arrive without pain, payday never comes without work and the car never starts without friction and an explosion. Is there a noble dream that has ever been tried and found to be wanting? Never! Only dreams untried because they were found to be too difficult. Do you want to move forward? Do you wish for the flowing of air against your face as you cut through to progress?

As we go through the beginning of anything like getting your financial world put back together, resolving conflict, or maybe even getting plugged into a community group, remember that the beginning will be rough. Don’t be surprised by it. Embrace it and push through it. There are no benefits of moving without the start. And here is some really good news. Everyone else has to start too. So join arms, take a deep breath and START today.

Pastor Jarred