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Archive for the month “July, 2014”

A Practical Gratitude Challenge (Chris Francis)

This past week we finished a series called “The Glory of God in Jersey Shore Life.” We basically talked about living for God’s glory in the small moments of life. And the last thing we talked about was Joyful Gratitude — expressing it and pursuing it in every moment of the day. I don’t want to re-hash the main points from the sermon (you can listen to it here), but I do want to challenge everyone to try something. 

 
It’s a little exercise / spiritual discipline / experiment. 
 
Something to do every morning for the next 7 days. 
 
Something that only takes 10 minutes. 
 
Every morning, as soon as you wake up, do 100 crunches and 50 push-ups. 
 
Just kidding. That’s not the exercise. You can do those if you want to, but here’s the deal:
 
Sometime in the early part of the day, before you start asking God for things, take 10 minutes to give thanks to Him. For specific things. 
 
Paul said in Philippians 4:6-7: do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 
What’s he saying? He’s saying that before you go asking God for things, give thanks. Enter his presence with thanksgiving. 
 
In addition – studies show that making lists of what we are thankful for actually lead to us “feeling” more thankful and joyful. It sort of kick-starts our brains to focus on that which makes us happy. 
 
So every morning, for the next 7 days, get out a piece of paper or your computer or ipad or whatever you can write with.
 
Then start making a list of what God has done for you and given you. Here are some questions to get you thinking (I’m not suggesting you try to “answer them all each day.” Maybe use a few each day.)
 
 
What Has God Done for You in Your Life? 
*if you have trouble with this one, read this passage: Colossians 1:1-23. Or this one:  Ephesians 1:3-14
 
What Has God Done for you this past week? 
 
What Has God Done for you yesterday? 
 
Where is God at work in the lives of those around you? 
 
What prayers has he answered this past year? 
 
What is God teaching you / showing you? 
 
What are some areas of needed growth that he has graciously revealed to  you? 
 
What Do you have to look forward to this week? This year? 
 
What wrong or injustice or pain in your life will God do away with some day? 
 
What are some unique blessings about where you live? And what you own? 
 
What are some unique blessings about the season of life you are in? 
 
 
Hopefully that can get you thinking. And writing. And giving thanks.

Courageous People Resolve Conflict (by Rick Warren)

The below is a good reminder for us from Rick Warren.

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“God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and self discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NLT)

 

Why does God want us to live at peace with everyone? Because unresolved conflict has three devastating effects in your life.

First, it blocks your fellowship with God. When you’re out of whack with others, you can’t be in harmony with God. When you’re distracted, when you’re in conflict with other people, you cannot have a clear connection with God. 1 John4:20 says, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar” (NLT).

Second, unresolved conflict hinders your prayers. Over and over again the Bible says that where there is conflict and sin and disharmony in your life, your prayers are blocked.

Third, unsolved conflict hinders your happiness. You cannot be happy and in conflict at the same time. When conflict comes in the front door, happiness goes out the back.

So, don’t you want to get rid of the conflict in your life? The starting point of resolving any conflict is to take the initiative. Don’t wait for others to come to you; go to them. You be the peacemaker.

Don’t ignore the conflict. Don’t deny the conflict. Don’t push the conflict under the carpet.

Have you heard the expression, “Time heals everything?” That’s a bunch of bologna. Time heals nothing! If time heals everything, you wouldn’t ever need to see the doctor.

Actually, time makes things worse. When you’ve got an open wound and you don’t deal with it, it festers. Anger turns to resentment, and resentment turns to bitterness.

The conflict is not going to resolve itself. You’ve got to intentionally deal with it.

Only courageous people resolve conflict. Maybe the most courageous thing you can do is face an issue that you’ve been ignoring for a long time in your marriage, or with your kids, or with your employees, or your boss, or whoever.

Where do you find the courage to face it? You get it from God.

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 1:7, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and self discipline.” That means if you let God’s Spirit fill your life, you’re going to be filled with power, love, and self-discipline. And God’s love overcomes fear.

When your love is greater than your fear, you’ll do things you’re afraid to do. That’s called courage. When you’re filled with God’s love, you’ll also be filled with love for that person who is irritating you or that person you’re in conflict with.

Talk About It

  • What are you pretending is not a problem in your relationships? Money? Trust? In-laws? Family? Children? Communication? Values? Work schedule?
  • What will you do today to take the initiative to resolve those conflicts?

 

The Toddler Phase: True Life Chronicles – Part 8 (Chris Francis, based off a joke by Rigo & Mandy Mercado)

The apostle Paul likened the church to a human body (1 Corinthians 12), and as such the church is a living organism. It’s not just an organization, it’s not just a gathering, it’s a living organism that is given life by Jesus Christ.

Well, last night week Rigo and Mandy Mercado made some jokes about our church being in its toddler years, and they were pretty insightful jokes.

Let’s go back to the beginning.

In the spring of 2012, Relevant Church became “pregnant” with another church plant. A group of us began to form, meet, plan, pray, and raise money together. Relevant Church supported us in many ways, nurturing us while we were in the womb. We were all excited about what was to come in the life of this church that didn’t even have a name yet.

Then 10 months later we were “born” – having  our official launch on March 2, 2013.

For the first year it was really exciting as we explored the world as a new baby church. We were excited to get to know each other, excited about every new person who walked through through the door, excited about every new thing we tried.

Well, it’s been almost a year-and-a-half, and now we’re in the toddler phase.

And what do toddlers do? They learn to crawl, talk, walk, share, throw tantrums, and learn to use  the potty.

Rigo & Mandy & I were talking about the structures of our church and how they need to change as our church grows, but it’s sometimes hard to figure out how or when that needs to happen. And that’s when they made the insightful jokes about how we’re toddlers and it’s gonna’ be awkward.

It’s still exciting as we try new things, but now we’re getting more bumps and bruises and stumbling around as we grow. And that’s okay.

I love the phase that my 2-year old daughter Kayla is in. The occasional tantrums and pee-pee in the pants don’t bother me too much because I know it’s part of the package.

Well, I want to enjoy this bumbling and stumbling phase of our young church, too.

And remembering what toddlers do helps me do that.

 

 

The Thorn In Your Marriage (Chris Francis)

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 1 Corinthians 12:7-9

God did many miracles through the apostle Paul, so Paul saw first-hand the healing and delivering power of God. But there was one area of his own life where he didn’t get to see God’s deliverance. Not in the way he wanted to, at least.

He had a thorn in his flesh, a “messenger of Satan.” Scholars have debated through the centuries on what this thorn was – maybe a physical ailment, maybe a specific temptation that wouldn’t go away, maybe the persecution from his colleagues who were now against him.

We don’t know specifically what Paul’s affliction was, but we know he asked God to take it away. The phrase “three times” was probably not literal. It was a phrase that referred to a multitude of times, a constant pleading and asking of the Lord.

And yet the Lord did not answer his prayers the way he wanted him to.

The Lord only said – “My grace is sufficient. My power is made perfect in your weakness.”

In other words – this will keep you humble, dependent, prayerful, compassionate, and it will showcase my glory even more when people see me work through your weakness.

It’s an awesome and sobering passage.

And based on this passage and its meaning, I have a theory about marriage.

Ready for it?

I believe each marriage has a thorn in its flesh.

At least one thorn in any given season.

The bible doesn’t say it does, but let me explain my theory.

I don’t know anyone who could read the above passage and say, “I don’t know what Paul is talking about. All my prayers get answered the way I want them to. All my afflictions and suffering cease when I ask God to intervene.”

All of us have experienced – or are experiencing – certain types of problems that just won’t go away. Some of us watch others get healed of physical illnesses and ailments while we are still dealing with ours.

Some of us watch others seem to be delivered from addictions overnight, while we are still tempted every day with ours.

Some of us seem to constantly fall into money problems, as if our jobs and cars and real estate were conspiring against us.

Some of us battle depression on a regular basis.

Some of us are still dealing with the wounds from childhood abuse.

So I think all of us could say, “yeah, I’ve had a thorn or two in my life.” Some thorns lasted a few years. Others a few decades. Others are still lingering.

Well, what happens when one person with a “thorn in the flesh” marries another person with a “thorn in the flesh”?

You get two people who become one flesh dealing with two thorns in that flesh.

See what I mean?

Don’t like my theory?

Think I went out on a limb a little too far?

Well, think about your own marriage – are there things that you guys have dealt with as a couple that seem to constantly rear their ugly heads on a regular basis?

An addiction that affects your marriage? A physical illness or ailment that affects your marriage? A child who is always getting into trouble? Are you that couple that seems to always be dealing with one financial set-back after another?  Are you that couple that seems to always be at the hospital? The funeral home? The rehab clinic? The county jail?

Well, whether you can agree with my theory or not, at least read the rest. It’s the most important.

The temptation is to look at our marital problems think, “If only we could conquer this thing once and for all, then we’d have a great marriage. If only we had as much money as the Robertsons, then we’d have a solid marriage like they do. If only our kid would get his act together, then we’d have time to be in love again.”

But nobody likes the couple that has it all together. Nobody is inspired from the couple that has it all together. And God’s strength is not made perfect in the couple that has it all together.

When I look at a couple who have been through the ringer, and still love each other, it’s a testament to God’s grace. When I see a husband or wife who chooses on a daily basis to carry the extra-heavy burden of their spouse’s weakness, I am reminded of how strong God is.

So if your marriage has a thorn – ask God to take it away. But each day that he doesn’t, trust that his grace is sufficient. Trust that his strength is being displayed in your weakness. Trust that God is doing something in your marriage that is bigger than your marriage.

Trust that through your marriage’s weakness, God is displaying his mighty power to the world.

Whether you like my theory or not.

The Importance of Church Tension: True Life Chronicles – Part 7 (by Chris Francis)

For whatever reason, the summer feels like a good time to think about and take another look at all the things we’re doing as a church and to consider if it is truly the best way to fulfill the mission that Jesus gave us in our unique context here on the Jersey Shore.

I’m doing it, and many people in our church seem to be doing it as well. I have a good-sized list of changes that folks have proposed — new ideas, new ministries, transitions of roles, improvements, etc.

I think it’s a great list.

The funny thing is, though, some of those ideas seem to oppose each other, which causes tension.

And that made me think about how tension is important in some cases. There are healthy tensions that our church should have in order to fulfill our vision. They are healthy tensions that should not be resolved or fixed.

A tension is when two desires or goals are pulling against each other. When both those desires are healthy, then it’s a healthy tension. Like if one spouse is a spender and the other spouse is a saver, it’s a healthy tension. It should not be resolved. Spending and saving are both important.

So at True Life, there are a bunch of healthy tensions that must be embraced rather than solved because….well, Jesus embraced tension and he calls his church to represent him.

Here are three that are on my radar right now:

1. We want to be a church where mature Christians (or Christians who think they are mature) are challenged in deep ways, while at the same time being a place where non-Christians and non-church people can feel welcome and included unconditionally.

In theory, I think most churches agree this is a healthy tension. But the natural tendency is to drift toward one and neglect the other.

So not only must we embrace this tension, but we must be intentional about keeping “the rope taut,” so to speak.

Jesus was great at attracting large crowds, and then calling those large crowds to follow him at all costs, which only a few did. He was hard on his disciples but seemed weak on prostitutes. He flipped over tables in the temple, but then hung out with tax collectors and drunks. People far from God loved him, and people who sincerely wanted to follow God sometimes found his teachings offensive.

So when it comes to our life groups, our Sunday morning gathering, our outreaches, and even the individual conversations that we have with each other, we must keep this tension in mind. Are we gearing all these things toward church people at the neglect of those new to the whole Jesus thing? Are we only comfortable with people who are at the exact same place in their spiritual journey as we are? Do people who don’t believe in Jesus even feel comfortable coming to our gatherings? Or are they weirded out?

Or on the flip side do we focus too much on making everyone feel welcome and get too passive about confronting issues that need to be confronted? Do we try too hard to keep things light rather than dig in and challenge each other in deep ways?

It’s an important tension. We can’t lose it.

2. We Need to develop structures to make things run smoothly, but at the same time allow things to be messy because messy situations help us grow in grace.

One of our policies is that we always have two adults scheduled for each of our kids classrooms on Sunday mornings. Our insurance company sort of forces us to have this policy, but we also think it’s a good one.

And we always background check those volunteers.

However, we do not have a policy about what to do when one of those volunteers has a felony on their background checks. Of course there are some felonies that are somewhat obvious (especially since there are laws about them), but there are other felonies that people might disagree about when it comes to serving in our kids ministry.

So the question came up recently — do we need a policy on this? Something along the lines of, “If someone has a these types of felony charges within the last ten years they can’t work with the kids.” That would probably keep it simple and safe and fair.

But we’re not going for simple and safe and fair.

Because the early church didn’t go for simple and safe and fair.

When Gentiles started placing their faith in Jesus, the Jewish Christians were a bit up-in-arms about it. And after much debate over whether or not a Gentile can even be a Jesus-follower, the apostles had a meeting that is known as the Jerusalem Council to determine which parts of the Jewish law those Gentiles should be expected to adhere to. At this meeting, it was decided that Gentiles who trust in Jesus should be expected to essentially do two things: be careful what they eat (that it’s not food sacrificed to idols or from a strangled animal)  and abstain from sexual immorality.

Just those two things. There was nothing about Sabbath days, festivals, pork and circumcision.

The result? Things got messy. As churches were established that contained both Jews and Gentiles, disputes arose. Expectations collided. Guys who were circumcised didn’t like the idea of Jesus loving the guy who wasn’t circumcised. It didn’t seem fair.

And what did the apostles instruct them to do in response to those conflicts? Altar the structures? Sometimes. But most of the time, they were told to do things like, “love each other, honor each other, be patient with each other, forgive each other as Christ forgave you.” Crazy stuff like that.

We decided not to have a policy for what to do with the kids worker felony deal. We’re going to have a lot of discussions instead.

We also don’t have a policy on what to do when a kid pulls down their pants in class (which has happened).

We also don’t have a policy for parents who bring noisy babies into the service. Many churches do. New moms like that we don’t have a policy. Including my wife. Other folks wish we had one. Like me.  That’s okay.

We’re gonna’ make policies from time to time. But we’re also gonna’ allow things to get a little messy becauses Jesus does some of his best work in our hearts through messes.

So this is another important tension that we must embrace.

3. We Need to Try to empower people to serve where they are passionate and gifted, while at the same time encourage people to fill needs in the church that they are not passionate and gifted in.

God has wired each of us with specific talents and gifts and passions so that we would, collectively, be the body of Christ. None of us can fully represent Jesus on our own. There are ideas that some people will come up with that I would never think of. There are people in our church who have unique experiences that need to be tapped into for the sake of others. We need to be faithful with all those things.

But at the same time, there are needs in our church that simply need to be met, regardless of whether people feel passionate or gifted in them. And we can’t always resort to over-spiritualizing everything by saying, “I just don’t feel called to do that.”

In my home, I take out the garbage, change diapers, and pick up dog poop. Am I passionate about any of them? Nope. Do I have a special talent for any of them? Just ask Jess. But I do them. Because I’m part of a family.

If our church community is really a family, then we will be willing to do things that feel a lot like taking out the garbage and picking up dog poop.

And we will put our calling to be part of this family over and above our calling to certain tasks.

So that’s another important tension that is on my mind right now.

Perhaps you can even think of other tensions that we should embrace. Share them. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

But more importantly, if you are part of True Life Church, will you join me in praying for our church in this regard? Will you consider the importance of certain tensions the next time someone disagrees with you about something?

Because tension can be good.

In the gym, tension stimulates growth.

In the church, well…..it’s the same thing.

 

– Chris

chris@truelifenj.com

 

 

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