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Archive for the tag “Jesus”

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.

Do Not Take Up Another’s Offense As Your Own (R. Kainosktisis)

When I was a boy, I had many family members who simply did not like each other.  My problem was that I liked them all, no matter how they felt about each other.  But when two warring relatives learned that I refused to take sides with one against the other, they both ended up not liking me.

Being a people pleaser, that turned me into a liar and a hypocrite.  When I was with one, I would agree with him when he became critical of the other.  Then when I was with the other, I would agree with him about the first one.  I didn’t like doing that, but it gave me the illusion of peace.  I didn’t realize that I was letting their conflict hold me hostage and keeping me from being at peace within myself.

That deceitful hypocrisy followed me well into adulthood.  Then I went to a Christian seminar where the speaker taught a lesson which basically said it was sinful to take up someone else’s offense against another person as if it were my own.  And I began to realize that anyone who tries to manipulate me into joining them in their conflict with another was abusing me and sinning against the Lord.

The proper way to handle conflicts which other people have against each other was modeled by our Lord and described in Luke 12:13-14.  “And someone in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’  But He (Jesus) said to him, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or arbiter over you?’”  In other words, Jesus refused to take up the offense of one brother against another.

That one person I care for doesn’t like another person I care for is not my problem.  My only concern is to do my best to remain at peace with all people, no matter whether they can get along well with each other or not.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”  I cannot fulfill that when I allow myself to be drawn into others’ squabbles with each other.

Christmas & The Newtown Tragedy (by Chris Francis)

There are two things that I see everywhere I look – signs of Christmas, and the latest reports about the Newtown tragedy. In between holiday songs and commercials about sales at Best Buy, the news and radio have been non-stop with coverage on the Connecticut community — from eyewitness accounts to interviews with psychologists and priests to politicians’ gun-control speeches.

I don’t know what to make of so much of it all. But there was one thing in particular that really stuck out to me in the news. I forget who it was and what station she said it on, but one reporter commented on Friday, “It’s especially sad for such a horrific thing to happen during the holiday season, because it’s a time when kids are off from school and families have extra time together.” I’ve been thinking about that comment a lot.

Because on one hand, I agree with her. It is especially sad during a time that we hope is especially happy. 

But on the other hand, what we celebrate on Christmas is directly related to and has everything to do with the evil of this world. What happened on Friday is a painful and devastating reminder that this world is broken. It’s messed up. It is filled with murder, greed, massacres, wars, and the kind of brutality that is not even allowed to be portrayed in R-rated movies. And it’s been like that for a very long time.

The father of Rachel Scott, the first victim killed at Columbine, once said this to Congress, “The first recorded act of violence was when Cain slew his brother Abel out in the field. The villain was not the club he used, neither was it the NCA – the National Club Association – the true killer was Cain, and the reason for the murder could only be found in his heart.” Christmas tells us the same sobering truth.

There was another massacre of little children early in the 1st century, when a King in the Roman Empire ordered the murder of all children under 2 years old who lived in and around a town called Bethlehem.

He did this because there were rumors of the promised Messiah being born, and this King wanted to wipe him out immediately.

In other words, this massacre happened because of what we celebrate on Christmas.

So to look at Christmas rightly is to look at it through the lens of horrific tragedies such as Columbine and Newtown and the many that happen around the world that don’t make it to the news. If things were right in the world, if the human heart was not so dark and confused, we would not be celebrating Christmas. There would be no need for a Savior.

The author John Eldridge describes the birth of Jesus as a spiritual D-Day, God’s Great Invasion into a dark and confused world. And the climax of that great rescue mission was the death of Jesus – the most agonizing and shameful death imaginable. It was a death that proved two things: how utterly dark & confused the human heart really is, since it was the religious and political leaders who had him killed…….and how unbelievably loving our God is toward us dark & confused people.

As a result, the closer we get to Christmas, the more I think about those poor families up in Newtown. And the more I think about those poor families, the more I think about Christmas.

The Newtown tragedy is a devastating reminder that this world and this life are unbelievably short and unpredictable. Christmas is a reminder that there is an untouchable hope beyond this world and beyond this life.

The Newtown tragedy reminds us that we are surrounded by people who are suffering extreme heartache and loss. Christmas is a reminder that if we call ourselves followers of Jesus, then we will step into the heartache and loss of others to love on them in real, tangible ways.

The Newtown tragedy shows us that something was very wrong in the heart of Adam Lanza. That is obvious. Christmas is a reminder that something has gone wrong in all our hearts, even if it’s not as obvious.

So I pray that all of us don’t get so caught up in Christmas that we forget how connected it is to dark times such as this.

“The light shines in the darkness,

    and the darkness can never extinguish it.” – John 1:5

The Funny Thing About Community (by Jessica Francis)

Growing up, my mom used to always say that God gave me good eye sight to make up for my poor sense of direction. Now, I’m not entirely sure that’s the way God was thinking about things, but that thought has always stuck with me. When I’m lost (which is very common for me) and frustrated with my (lack of) sense of direction, I am actually more grateful for my eyesight.

Just recently, I have begun to think about how this way of thinking applies to my understanding of community. The bible tells us that we are to live in community with one another.  Romans 12:5 says “… so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” If our community (or church) represents one body, then we are supposed to function in light of each others’ differences and flaws. And we are meant to function in a way that shows the love of Christ to the world, for it says in John 13:35 that “your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Now as selfish individuals, it can be extremely difficult to appreciate the differences, be they strengths or weaknesses, that exist between ourselves and our brothers and sisters in our church community. But I think that if we are grateful for our differences, then they actually strengthen our love for one another… thus exemplifying Christ’s love to the world.

Think of it this way. I am an introvert. I love people, but people wear me out. Because of that, I can become frustrated with extreme extroverts and my tendency might be to distance myself from people who are not introverts just like me. But if I‘m focused on being part of my community, rather than my own personal agenda, I am grateful for my brothers and sisters that are extroverts. I can see how our differences, when combined, form a strong body.

This shift in perspective is uncomfortable, especially in light of the individualism that is worshipped by our US society. But when I can embrace this new perspective, I am so grateful that God has chosen my brothers and sisters to fill the roles that I cannot fill. And because I am so grateful for their uniqueness from me, I am better able to love them the way that I am supposed to. I can see them as one body, of which I am just one part, and only by functioning together can we show the love of Christ to the world.

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