Assurance

Am I saved?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

There is a moment in every Christian’s mind that doubts whether or not they are “saved”.  Did I pray the right prayer or say the right words?  Did I take the sacraments in the right order or do the right things?  What if I did it wrong?  How can I be sure?  Should I go out and baptize myself just to be on the safe side?

Take a deep breath.

Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world and rose from the grave three days later to give us new life.

Plain and simple.  The cross and the empty grave are our “blessed assurance”.

Walking into a Small Church

In a classic Seinfeld episode, Jerry visits his Pakistani immigrant friend, Babu’s restaurant.  Jerry walks into the empty eatery and is immediately struck by the lack of people.  You can feel the tension as Babu tries his hardest to convince Jerry that his restaurant is a great place to eat and hang out.  Babu’s excitement for his guest seems at once genuine and desperate.

I empathize with Babu as the pastor of a small church.   When visitors come on a day when a good portion of our congregation is out, it can feel empty.  It can give the appearance that something is wrong.  “Here is the church and here is the steeple, open it up and….ummmm, where are all the people?”  Appearances are often wrong though.

For me, Harvest is not just a place to attend on Sundays but an open family of believers who long to be known by God and each other.  We have plenty of seats at the table and there is never a wait to get in.

Come enjoy God’s grace with us.

 

Is Christianity only about sin-management?

Are you stuck in spinning the religious obedience plates?  Afraid to let one drop for fear?

Many who reject or have left Christianity have criticized the, some times pervasive, culture of sin-management within our faith.  Do this, don’t do that, keep the rules or you’ll die or become a democrat. I am kidding of course…about the death part ;-).

Is obedience to Christ then only about following the spirit and letter of the law?    Is our faith only about being rescued out of one set of rules into another?  These are questions worth answering.

Deep breath.

Is it possible that obedience to Jesus’ commandments can be born out of love for His sacrifice for us rather than through forced compliance? Could it be that obedience is not so much about keeping every law but about becoming the kind of person who will naturally live the kingdom life?  What would our lives look like if we let the life God has put in use manifest in obedient, kingdom-centered ways?

Food for thought.  Which is a far better use for plates than spinning them.

Deeply Flawed and Divinely Loved

I have found that the pastor’s life is a context-specific life, rather than a model or blue print. – Eugene Peterson

Just as Harvest is not your typical church, I am not a typical pastor.  I don’t fit the American model of what a pastor is “supposed” to be.  I am a deeply flawed follower of Jesus, wholly dedicated to the One who gave everything for me.  Yet at any given point in the day, I act in ways that do not appear “pastoral” or “Christian”.  I lose my temper, I curse in my car, I dwell too much in my head and run head first into the wall of self-righteousness.

Yet, in spite of all my senseless behavior, I continually find myself at the feet of God, speaking as the prodigal son, “I am not worthy to be called your son, make me as one of your servants.”  And God, faithful and just, picks me up off the ground, embraces me in His overcoming love and welcomes me back into his Home.

Resurrection Benefit: Bacon

Warning: this post may offend those with a bacon or ham prohibition.

As we wrapped up our worship team practice last night, the person in charge of our church socials asked me if anyone in our church has an issue with ham.  I chuckled because for me, the resurrection makes both those heavenly foods accessible.  Look, I know that for some of my brethren in the faith, the pig is still off-limits and in grace I will not force it on them.  I will gladly take their portion as my own and eat it sacrificially on their behalf.  As an old friend once told me, “any part of the pig…”

I am grateful for our social coordinator’s sensitivity around this subject.  It showed her graceful heart towards those who have a personal prohibition.  I am also grateful for the freedom to indulge in the tasty and glorious ways in which a pig can be consumed.  Thank you Father for bacon, ham, ribs, carnitas, riblets, italian sausage, chorizo, Jimmy Dean anything and fried pork skins.

BTW, you are all invited to our ham lunch after church.

Exceeding the Law-Keepers

I’ve been reading Dallas Willard’s book, “The Divine Conspiracy”, in which he unpacks the radical life Jesus lays out in the Sermon on the Mount.  Willard quotes Jesus’ words that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and scribes you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  He goes on to suggest that this is not meant to be another law to for us to keep better than the religious experts and lawyers rather it is to point out that God’s life in us makes us the kind of people who love God with all their being and love their neighbor as themselves.    Letting God’s life in us reorder our lives will bring about behavior that surpasses the religious-elites and strict law-abiders.  Get close to Jesus and you will become the kind of person who reflects the Kingdom.

“The Pharisee takes as his aim keeping the law rather than becoming the kind of person whose deeds naturally conform to the law” -Willard

Communion in the Age of the Consumer

I confess I am always on the lookout for a new technique or method for attracting people to our church.  It is, admittedly, a fault of mine; a knee-jerk reaction to my own inadequacies.  In that spirit I found myself listening to a podcast this afternoon about a “church secret shopper” who diagnoses how well your church is or is not doing in greeting, worship, children’s, etc.  A report is then churned out detailing all the things to do in order to make your church as attractive and polished as possible for guests.  As I listened, I, at once, began to consider all of the suggestions the well-intentioned speaker gave.  I suddenly felt overwhelmed and woefully inadequate.  I turned it off in frustration and sat in silence.

It then dawned on me that church is not meant to be a well oiled ministry machine, churning out perfect worship services and gourmet coffee to visitors in the hopes they come back.  The church is not meant to be a mall or a Walmart or a religious Disneyland.   We are meant to be a place of communion, a place of God’s presence, a refuge for the weary and a place of rest for the sojourner.   Let’s do that first.  Let our church be a refuge for the lost and a safe haven for the burnt out.   We may not have gourmet coffee but we have open arms.

So I am going to put away the “50 things to make your church great again” podcast, put down the “if you do these things…” book and give thanks to God for the beautifully unique church I am privileged to pastor.  I am going to thank the LORD for the opportunity to worship, preach and eat together at the communion table with my fellow grace-changed travelers.

Doors open at 10:30 on Sundays.  Come have some generic coffee and donuts and let’s enjoy the presence of God together.

Praying Together

When you come to worship at Harvest, you will quickly notice that we pray for each other.  We want to know how you are doing, where God is blessing you and what struggles are you facing.  In our church, you are known and you will be prayed for.  We conclude our service by praying as Jesus taught.

Eugene Peterson is quoted as saying, “In the long history of Christian spirituality, community prayer is more important, then individual prayer.”

I agree with him wholeheartedly.