Interim Kids Director

As we mentioned last Sunday, my mother, Laura Bower will be taking over as our Interim Kids Director. I wanted you to know I am genuinely excited about her taking hold of our Kids Ministry. She has been through the fire of parenting and has been involved with children education for years. The thing I am most excited about with her coming on board is her heart for our kids. She is undeniably for them and she wants them to thrive. On top of that, she wants to see the Moms in our church come to be loved and supported. So, it is with great joy I share that she is on board!

- Pastor John

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A note from Laura:
As the child of a Southern Baptist Preacher my whole life was church. With my mother as the church pianist and organist, I wasn’t just in church a lot, I was raised by the church. A member of 7 churches as a child, and 7 as an adult my church experience and exposure is vast. I know the importance of the children’s ministry.

Naturally, I answered the “call” to full-time missions while in Girl’s Auxiliary. My husband, Stan and I have served in full-time ministry with Christian Businessmen’s Connection for almost 25 yrs. CBMC is a ministry which evangelizes and disciples men in the marketplace and being within CBMC has equipped me to understand the needs of men.

Raising 4 children within the challenges of life, marriage and ministry has given me a profound understanding of the needs of women. My book and Bible study, WordSpeak: His Word, Your Voice came out of my need to share the stories of how God taught me to pray within a sinking ship.

Much of my father’s experience and wisdom was passed down through the conversations over the years concerning the difficulties and challenges of running a church. My father used to say that the most important ministry in the church was the children’s ministry. It’s our greatest mission field, and entrè for reaching families for Christ. If a church doesn’t do kids ministry well, the church won’t grow. That was his motto.

Normandy’s commitment to building into healthy individuals and becoming healthy families starts with the heart of a child. My desire is to come alongside moms and dads to support and equip them to do the most important work - raising little ones to become kingdom kids. I’m excited about the new opportunities for our kids this year. More on that later.

We are excited for what Laura is going to bring to our kids and their families. Please be sure to reach out to Laura (kids@normandychurch.com) if you are interested in helping with the kids ministry or have any questions.

Take a chance on me

TAKE A CHANCE ON ME 

By JENNY AYERS

When I hear the word family, big concepts come to mind -- covenant, trust, loyalty, and commitment. When you add the word church --church family...the  concept can be like puke in your mouth if you've experienced betrayal, rejection and failure in relationships within the Body of Christ. Hearing church family in a sentence can evoke feelings of anger, rage, fear, and anxiety. 

In 1995, my family was in a terrible car accident in San Antonio coming home from my Uncle’s funeral. My sister almost died and the church my sister and mom were a part of came to San Antonio and prayed day and night for her. In ten days she went from a coma and a 50/50 chance of survival to fully awake and headed home to rehab. I re-dedicated my life to the Lord after that accident and my Dad and I started going with my mom and sister to this new church. I was a part of this church for 18 years. All of my formative spiritual upbringing was at that church. Significant memories of being baptized in the Holy Spirit, learning to lead worship, meeting my husband Anthony, getting married, even our children being dedicated, all happened in this church family. I saw myself growing old with these people. I did not foresee the end. 

We left in 2013. So much was lost from that era and it took five years to recover. Leaving was the right thing to do. It was not a healthy place anymore but man, it hurt. There was a chunk of time when I retired from worship teams and closed the door on committing to another church body. I didn't see the importance of it anymore. I made inner vows like, “I will never do that again” or “I'll never let anyone treat me that way again.” Inner vows are a visceral response to legitimate emotional pain, but when we make them, we are taking matters into our own hands to protect ourselves from feeling that kind of pain ever again. They cause the wrestling matches that ensue when we hear the Lord calling us into a new season and we lock up and start projecting. Inner vows can be an entry point for the enemy. We can’t have love on our own terms. Fear and insecurity are love killers. Jesus is calling us higher.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

John 13:34-35 ESV

It is time to take the word church and family and put them in their proper context which is IN Christ. As believers we have made a covenant with Jesus who died for us when we were complete wretches, whose raised us to life everlasting and intercedes on our behalf at the Father’s right hand! Our loyalty, our commitment, our trust is to Christ our King. Therefore, we love each other. 

Hopefully you’ve read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I think of this quote often when I hear the Holy Spirit reminding me of my covenant with Jesus and the call into something I know will cause me pain:

 “Aslan is a lion - the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion." "Safe?" said Mr Beaver. "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Love is not safe and can be downright scary. Our supreme example of Love hung on a cross bearing the sin and shame of all mankind for all time. Some of Jesus’ final words were “Lord forgive them for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 ESV 

How could He say this after all that they had done to Him?! My flesh response to being wronged and relationally injured is, “Burn it all DOWN!” Lord, thank you that I’m not in charge of the universe. 

The Way of Love 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…” 1 Cor. 13:1-8 ESV

My heart still aches sometimes from the memories of old friends and partners in ministry no more, but I promise you, if you let Jesus in and yield to wherever He wants to take you in the healing process, you will be healed. 

Peter asked Jesus in Matthew 18:21-22, "Lord, how many times do I forgive my brother who has sinned against me…seven times?" Jesus answered, "how about seventy times seven..." meaning countless times. Forgive and keep forgiving. Love and keep loving. This is the hallmark of church family.

“God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.”

Ephesians 2:19-22 The Message

Church family is God’s plan. Love is the bonding agent. Covenanted IN Christ we allow Him to establish us brick by brick. Our faith joined together is a powerful force in bringing His Kingdom to earth. In closing…


If you're all alone when the pretty birds have flown

Honey I'm still free

Take a chance on me

Gonna do my very best and it ain't no lie

If you put me to the test, if you let me try

Take a chance on me (that’s all I ask of you honey) take a chance on me 

~ ABBA


Ephesians & Slavery

Ephesians & Slavery

Church: 

You may have noticed I did not preach on Ephesians 6:5-9 and slavery yesterday. There are two primary reasons. First, as I am getting back into the saddle, there is much to put in order and I did not feel I had adequate time to prepare a sermon for it. Second, I believe our church (myself included, remember I am a member of the body), needed a refresher on devotion to the person of Christ. 

Because I believe this text is important and relevant for our time, in lieu of a sermon, I want to provide a blog post with notes and resources to help frame out this text. This text is profitable for us precisely because it is God’s word and He never leaves it alone. I hope these words serve your understanding of Ephesians! 

Ephesians 6:5-9

5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

Remember Ephesus (CONTEXT IS KEY!)

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We must get a good picture of what is happening in Ephesus (here I am indebted to Ray Mayhew). Paul, a Jewish Rabbi turned Apostle, is preaching and his words are having a tremendous impact on the city. There is deliverance from demons, confessions of sin, burning of occultic scrolls, and a massive riot results. Ephesus is beginning to feel the effect of the Good News of Jesus Christ. You can read the stories in Acts 19. The Bible Project has two overviews of Acts (Acts Part 1; Acts Part II) as well as a narrative of Acts (Chapter 19’s story can be found here: Acts 13-20). 

I have stated (along with many others) that Paul’s prison letters (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians & Philemon) play a massive role in bringing down the Roman Empire and beginning the  transformation of Western Europe. Paul did it by confronting an intimidating imperial power:Rome. Nero was in charge and his power (and the imperial power) which kept pax romana was peace with a great price: no dissent. He was bestial (he murdered his own mother and brother). He blamed Christians for the fire in Rome and had them crucified. 

In this context, Paul comes to Ephesus, where Caesar was lord of the world (greek: kurious) and announces the Good News -- that Christ is kurious, the supreme authority and rightful Lord of the world (Matthew 28:18-20). Caesar has a rival…

Transformation

So how did these letters transform the Roman Empire? Ephesians gives us some idea - apparently this new creation community of men and women, boys and girls, slaves and freemen were living out transformed lives in their homes and local communities. Living out this new life now (see Acts 5:20), not then and there, not when we’ve arrived on Heaven’s doorsteps, but here and now, is what changes the world. That is because Jesus didn’t die primarily to get you out of hell and into heaven, but Christ died to get God out of heaven and into YOU!

It is with this backdrop in mind we turn to the subject of slavery.

Slavery, Paul & The God of the Exodus

So a few questions the modern readers often wonder: 

Why doesn’t Paul attack slavery like William Wilberforce?

Why doesn’t he condemn it? Is he condoning it?

If God is good, why would He allow such a horrid institution like slavery? 

What about American slavery and its implications regarding this text? 

How do we apply this text today? Do we simply read it as employer/employee? 

I am no expert in slavery, or history, but here is what I know… 

The Bible is one unified story of God’s plan to rescue the world through His Son Jesus and unite heaven and earth together forever. It is the greatest story ever told. It is God’s plan to rescue both men and women and bring them ultimately to their intended position with Him as viceroyals, co-creators, and mature covenant partners. God in Christ is constantly pushing our fallen world towards greater redemption and salvation. 

From what I can tell, slavery is as old as the world. It has always been around. America was not the first nation to have slaves, nor to abuse them. That does not justify it, it is simply a statement of fact. Gordon Fee points out that slavery in Ephesus (and Rome) was not based on race, but on conquest in war and on economic need. My thought is that slavery is not God ordained, but sin and shadow induced. Remember what I’ve said about the “shadow,” it is that part of our humanity that, if we allow it, if we choose it, the shadow will build our own personal kingdom (Babylon) and build a literal hell on earth (Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, American slavery). God presents mankind with a choice: His way or ours. God is sovereign and our choices matter and have eternal implications (Genesis 2:15-17; Deuteronomy 30:11-20; Matthew 7:24-29). 

William J. Webb states, “scripture sides heavily with the plight of the slave, the poor and the oppressed”. This life-breathing Spirit is the very thing Christ opened His ministry with in Luke 4:19-20, quoting Isaiah 61:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

    because he has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

    and recovering of sight to the blind,

    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

A cursory Old Testament reading of the laws in Exodus and Deuteronomy can either leave one asleep, confused, or offended (let the reader understand). In Deuteronomy, God is pushing His people to increasing levels of justice for the slave and the foreigner (note the increase of freedom and justice between Exodus 21:1-11 and Deuteronomy 15:1-18 and Exodus 23:14-17 and Deuteronomy 16:1-17). 

The center of this evolving ethos is the “shema” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). If the people of God (whose nation was formed (and thus their identity began) as liberated slaves!) are to hear and obey Him, they must remember that their God is the God of the Exodus (Deuteronomy 16:17).  We see that the God of liberation can only accommodate slavery to a point. To identify as His people recognizes He sets slaves free and to image this God to the world means they too must liberate slaves

Back to Ephesians 6:5-9

Martin Luther called Ephesians 5:24-6:9 the household codes. Slaves/bondservants were considered an integral part of the family. So it makes sense for Paul to deal with them in these household codes. As for Ephesus, it is estimated that slaves/peasant laborers composed about one-third of the population of a city like Ephesus. The bondservants did all the household work and often tutored the children. In both Greek and Roman Culture, slaves had limited rights and were subject to abuse and exploitation. As with women, Paul elevates slaves to responsible moral agents. The Roman institution of being a bondservant was different from the institution of slavery in North America during the 17th - 19th centuries. Slaves generally were permitted to work for pay and to save enough to buy their freedom (see Matthew 25:15 - “servants” (same Greek word, doulos) were entrusted with immense amounts of money and responsibility. Paul does not condone slavery, but gives instructions regarding relationships to each other in the Lord. The result, as is often observed, is that slavery slowly died out in antiquity through the influence of Christianity. 


Stories > Context

Now all of that is helpful to shape our reading of the text, but more helpful is a story to unpack how this played out and actually transformed the culture. Paul’s prison letters were carried by Tychicus and a new convert, Onesimus is with him. His story is captured in Philemon (spoiler alert! My notes come from that video!). 

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Onesimus was a runaway slave. He’d run from Clossae to Rome and somehow connected providentially to Paul while he was in prison and became a follower of Christ. So Paul writes to appeal to Philemon, a leader in the early church, that Onesimus has now become his spiritual son, and as he sends him to Philemon, Paul is sending his very heart. Read 15-16:

15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

The Good News of the Kingdom has elevated Onesimus back to the Imago Dei. And Paul asks Philemon, which is so profound, to receive him as more than as a slave, but as a brother and one who shares in this New Life (Greek: koinonia). They are now more than owner/slave - they are partners. Philemon and Onesimus now have both received something together (The Good News) and have become partners in this new creation community. 

So why doesn’t Paul simply command Him in Christ to free Him (Phliemon 8-9)? I think it is because the Kingdom operates on requests (Matthew 7:7-11). Paul is giving Philemon the opportunity to choose and seems to expect the new life in Philemon will lead him to liberate Onesimus (Philemon 21). 

Application Today

I do not think this part of Ephesians was written for our context (nor for American slavery in the 17th - 19th centuries). I do think this text is a challenge to us to actually prove God’s word to be true. We don’t know what happened with Onesimus and Philemon. We do know that when a family and church live out Ephesians 5:1-22 and become a new creation community, becoming imitators of God, walking in holiness and moral purity, loving one another as Christ loved us, our lives will be changed. And then, by God’s good grace, how we treat our families and those around us will change too. And eventually our communities will be changed. And those changed lives are the very thing that confront the forces of darkness all around us (Ephesians 6:10-20). That is how we play a small part of seeing God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. 

I asked some questions I didn’t answer and I’ll leave you with some I hope you will seek to answer on your own:

Do I believe God’s word to be true? Can it really transform my life?

Do I believe God’s word can impact my family and my community? 

Am I living as a new creation? 

Am I imaging God’s liberating love? (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Am I walking in holiness and thankfulness? (Ephesians 5:3-8)

Am I walking in the Light? (Ephesians 5:9-15) 

Am I making the most of my opportunities? Am I being filled with the Spirit? (Ephesians 5:15-20)

Am I a submitted man or woman? (Ephesians 5:21)


Final Greetings from Ephesians 6:

23 Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible 


Pastor J. 

PS - Thanks to Anne Alley for editing this blog

My Fraudulent Marriage with the Bride of Christ

Church Family: 

During my time off, my friend Rachel Clarke sent me a piece she wrote about the “big C” church and her relationship with the local church throughout the years. She sent it to me during some of the more difficult days and it encouraged me to continue fighting for relationships within the context of the local body. So I asked her if she’d be willing to post it on our blog and graciously she said yes. Committing to a local body is a risk and requires faith. As you read this, I pray it increases your heart for the Bride of Christ - both the “big C” church and our local expression. 

Pastor J

My Fraudulent Marriage with the Bride of Christ

To say my relationship with the church has been tumultuous is an understatement. Disappointments, hurt, and not to mention, unmet expectations have all been apart of my time in church. I have taken my ball and gone home more times than I care to admit. 

We first met (the Bride of Christ and me) when I was in college and we had a fast and furious courtship. We married in a small ceremony in the side yard of a Methodist student center. There I was dunked (baptized that is) in a horse trough of ice cold water. I was raised to newness of life. I even had a Paul, a person to disciple me, and Paul played the djembe. My optimism and ideals were impossibly high. Little did I know I was setting Her (the church) up to fail from the very start. 

I pulled her along trying to make her who I wanted her to be. Buying her clothes that didn’t fit. Picking apart all her flaws and focusing on all she wasn't. Demanding she conform to my way of thinking, worshiping, serving. I was graceless. 

Storming off. Empty promises. Threats of divorce. Counseling. Vow renewals. Separation. 

Then during the time when I was most intertwined with her I had the mother of all conflicts. Everything from the last 15 years came spewing out a volcano of pain and anger. I’d had enough. I left screaming obscenities and slammed the door so hard the house shook. 

And it was valid. 

My anger and hurt. My offense and judgment. My reasons for leaving. My raging disappointment. 

Well, they would have been valid, save for Calvary. 

When we put Jesus in His proper place He sets all things right. 

I came to realize I was never married to the church because I am a part of the church. Her flaws are mine. Her faults mine. Her redemption mine. 

And the church is the Bride of Christ. The church never owed me anything. That is because we all married way up when we entered this thing. We owe all to Christ our Redeemer. I came out on the other side of this pseudo-divorce with clarity. And like when my husband Matt and I have been through tests and trials of all kinds after the smoke has cleared I have a greater measure of grace for him and for myself. A deeper affection that comes with understanding. The kind of commitment that comes through forgiveness, through repentance, and through humility. 

I could have started over rebuilt somewhere else but without the understanding of who the church is and who I am in the church I would end up in a vicious cycle of repeating the whole process over and over again until I enter heaven only to learn I missed the point. I missed the abundance and peace that comes from being part of the body of Christ. 

I would have missed gathering on Sunday with the body lifting our battered and homesick hearts unified around the one thing we can all agree on. Jesus is good. He is God. He sustains us. Heals us. He applies the balm of grace on the wounds we inflict on ourselves and others. 

It's not a perfect body. It probably doesn't always eat clean. It probably has its fair share of scars and marks. But it is redeemed and made holy and washed clean by the blood. It is an honor to inhabit for the rest of my days. Until we are on the shores together made perfect in glory and we will look around and knowingly smile because we ran the race together. Flawed, limping at points, and wanting to give up at times, but we are still together. Because of His goodness. 

Ephesians 5:14-21: 

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Amen, indeed. 

Rachel Clarke


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Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs

Church Fam!

It has been so fun to be back, specifically on Sundays when we gather together. During my time off I spent a lot of time understanding my God-given strengths and personality. Over the past few weeks I've *tried* to exhort (encourage) people to sing.. you know actually sing. I am talking about how you sing in the car and suddenly look over and see a fellow driver noticing that you are really going and then wait for them to drive off so you can keep belting it out. Sometimes when I share that it comes across rather... um... blunt. I am working on it ("Jesus put your arm on my shoulder and your hand over my mouth")! I wanted to write a blog and tell you WHY I believe it is so important for our church to practice signing out loud, together, each Sunday (whether or not we feel like it).

Better Man

A few years ago I referenced Better Man in church. Watch the video (and get a picture of my junior high favorite band). The fans are going all out, signing along with Eddie Vedder (in heaven my voice will sound like his), responding to his leadership and everyone is participating. My hope is that we would learn how to sing like that: wholeheartedly as a body.

Ephesians 5:18-21

The reason why I want us to consider singing out loud and with our whole heart is because it is a mandate in Ephesians (the Swiss Alps of the New Testament). Check it out:

18 And do not be drunk with wine (in which is dissipation), but be filled by the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and singing praise in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to the God and Father

(Lexham English Bible)

First off - the thrust of the verse and thus the section is to "be filled" by the Spirit. Instead of getting drunk we are to become intoxicated in the Holy Spirit by drinking "huge draughts of him." The problem, according to Charles Spurgeon, is that we have a tendency to leak. That is why it is so important to "not forsake our own assembling together, as is the habit of some (Hebrews 10:24-25)," because when we gather we are reminding ourselves of who God is, who we are and what we are to be about.

Now the church is filled with the Spirit and we are to go on being filled with the Spirit. The first question is how? Ray Mayhew points out that God is "filling us by being in environments where the Holy Spirit is active." That doesn't mean that the only place the Spirit is active is at church, yet Ephesians gives a charge to go on being filled together.

Psalms, Hymns, And Spiritual Songs

Paul clues us in on how we are to "be being filled" as an ongoing process. We are to speak to one another in psalms (the literary temple of praise, the Torah for how the people of God are to shema The Lord). The book of Psalms is so important! It helps us love God and others. I would encourage you to check out The Bible Project on the Psalms and what they have to say about the Psalms as poetry. Then dive into it! I spent the better part of 6 months in Psalm 23 and 62. Or perhaps start in Psalm 40 - my (future) friend Bono has a great take on that hymn. We can't simply show up on Sunday and expect to be ready to worship. We must feed our souls with good food and drink during the week. As we do that, our mouths will have a better time speaking blessing to one another and to God.

Like Bethel, minus the spontaneous stuff...

If you've noticed sometimes our Jenny or Kristen will go off of the lyrics and start signing something out of their own heart or mind. This is what I would define as "spiritual songs." The word can mean breath or supernatural. If you are like John Crist, you like worship from places like Bethel (minus the spontaneous stuff). When worship leaders attempt to sing spiritual songs, in effect they are making room to help lead us in signing songs out of our spirit; something given to us by God for God and for us. It might be strange to be a part of if you've never been in churches or environments that attempt to sing in spiritual songs, however for us, this is something we want make room for: space for God to breathe on His body and us respond with songs that overflow out of our heart. John Wimber and the Vineyard movement was known for this as well. This clip can be a little strange to, but gives you an example of what happens with the Holy Spirit and the Body of Christ join in greater union through singing.

My hope is not that we mimic Vineyard or Bethel or Upper Room. My hope is that as we learn to sing together, our own songs, and form our own fresh expression to God. I don't care what we look like or that we model some other church. God called us to be a family and to express His image as He intended. Ray Mayhew points out during his teaching on Ephesians, during times of revival (when a church family is attached an on fire), new songs, new hymns are always released. During the great awakinging, Charles Wesley, wrote close to 500(!) new songs. That is what we’ve seen with Bethel, Vineyard and even the Upper Room here in Dallas. How cool would that be if our church family contributed new songs to the body of Christ at large?

Singing and Signing Praise in your Heart to the Lord

"Ah-ha," you think, "we don't have to sing out loud. We simply need to sing in our own hearts. Well yes, that is correct, we should sing in our hearts and make a melody to the Lord (which can be hard if you spend all your time on Instagram looking for the "new-new" or simply judging and being jealous of everyone else's life). Jesus says in Matthew 12:34 that, "out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (or in the case of Sunday worship, sings). Like pregaming before a Pearl Jam concert, feeding your soul the word of God throughout the week will help you sing out of the depths of your being on Sundays.

PS - Seeds Family Worship did a great job putting Matthew 12:34 to music

Giving Thanks to the Lord

Remember the new creation community (the church) is to be completely different than the culture around it. Thankfulness is one of the most counterculture things we can do and it is the will of the Lord for your life (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The Spirit is active when we give thanks. We, as leaky humans, are present tense being filled as we give thanks to the Lord. I spend time each day writing and thinking of things to be thankful to the Lord for and it has revolutionized my mind and emotions. This is a great way to fill your heart and even prepare for gathering together.

In Romans 1:21 Paul offers as strong a rebuke as he can - men and women are turned over to their own desires (to sin, the shadow and their own personal Babylon), in part, because they did not give thanks to God! Oh let us enter His gates (our church gathering) with thanksgiving (Psalm 100:4)!

Demons Out!

Part of why these verses are important, is because after we leave Sunday and go to work and enter into our local community, the enemy is at work (Ephesians 2:2; John 10:10). Men and women, systems and businesses and governments, not under the Lordship of Christ are empowered by the enemy (again the Bible Project is helpful here). As we live out these verses, we come into the presence of the Lord (even if we don't feel like it and even if all hell is breaking loose). This is why Sundays are important (not for my sermons, although some are magnificent), but for the presence of God! As we sing to the Lord together, the Spirit is active, filling us with His goodness, joy and courage to face a new day.

So would you join me in trying to live out these verses? Let's pregame a little over the next few weeks and see what happens.

Pastor J.

A note from John and Kasey

Hey Fam: 

This is a note from John & Kasey. 

John: 

Kasey brought this to my attention this morning. World Relief, an organization that works to empower churches to serve the vulnerable, is inviting the church to call local representatives and encourage them to advocate for immigrant families to be reunited and keep further separation of families and children from happening. 

A few years back, Kasey and I were heavily involved in foster care. One instance in particular was very traumatic for our entire family. We had two beautiful girls who came to stay with us. Unfortunately, they’d been removed from their home and from a temporary foster care home without cause. In front of our entire neighborhood, the CPS worker (bless her heart, it was rough) put them in the car and they drove off. The older sister was screaming her heart out. The trauma of three separations in three days was taking a deep toll on her. 

With that in mind, we wanted to encourage each of you to call our representatives to advocate for the families to stay together. It is hard enough to leave everything you know, let alone be separated indefinitely without hope of seeing your parents again.  

In the Old Testament, The God of the Exodus (one who frees slaves and the oppressed) leads and pushes the people of Israel to greater levels of justice for those living among them (slaves, widows, orphans, the needy, and the poor, as well as strangers) (Leviticus 19:33-34; 24:22; Deuteronomy 1:16; Deuteronomy 24:17-18; Psalm 146:9; Jeremiah 7:5-7; Zechariah 7:8-10). In Deuteronomy 10:18-19, the people of Israel are reminded of who their God is and what they are to do:

18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.


Later, the Prophet Amos (Amos 2) goes off on Israel for their misuse of wealth, immorality and mistreatment of the poor. Israel had become the oppressor forgetting their God had delivered them from oppression. 

Finally, In Matthew 24, Christ calls for action: 

35 “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

And then goes on to remind us: 

40 “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

Regardless of your view of immigration and what is to be done, our call as Christians is to advocate for the least of these. When we take these actions, we are doing it unto and for our Christ. And you don’t even have to go to the border to do it… 


Kasey

I called and spoke directly to a representative at (202) 225-3484. If you live in Dallas, all you have to do is state your name, where you live and these words:

"Please stand up for immigrant children, ensuring that those being brought to the border recently are neither detained nor separated from their parents."

"Please also make sure that our immigration policies respect the unity of the family, both by immediately reuniting those who have been divided as a result of the recent ‘zero tolerance’ policy and by insisting that we do not restrict family reunification visas."

It took less than 2 minutes and he told me he would relay the message to Lance Gooden when he gets in the office.

Congress has the power to act, but Members of Congress are much more likely to do so if they are convinced that their constituents see a solution for vulnerable immigrant children and families as a priority.

Would you consider calling your representative today?

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Family Meeting with the Bower Family

Church Family:

I am sure you’ve all been wondering, “where in the world are all the blog posts these past 6 months?!!” Well, have no fear… they are back.

Coming Back

While no one was worried about our lack of blog posts, I wanted to use it as a way to write a letter to our church to follow up to the announcement and the family meeting that we (the Bower family) are coming back to Normandy. After 6 months, I am coming back as a full time pastor.

Over these months I’ve learned a lot; the price of wisdom was high and it was through facing pain with God and others that I learned these lessons. And the first is this - Christ alone is the leader of His church and our local expression of His body here in Dallas (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:6-7; 1 Peter 5:4). I am a member of the body; one who happens to give leadership and vision, but Christ is the primary leader, shepherd and pastor. And He was so committed to my health, my family’s health and the health of our church He was willing to lead us all through the “valley of the shadow of death.” There was a real death and burial for my family and our church family.

Why we came back

I wanted you all to know a few things. The first is I wanted to come back to our church family. There was a lot of pain and confusion in the first few months. I didn’t know which way was up or who I was. In the dark moments I found myself asking, “If I am not a pastor, if I am not the leader of Normandy, who am I?” However, through a long process (Meier Clinic, counseling, coaching, self-authoring) I found that my desire to both help lead and shepherd our church family was not gone, but actually still very much alive and burning in my heart. At one point I wrote, “get over it, you are a leader, you want to be a pastor.”

I also want you all to know that as I went through this process I did not sense the “call” of the Lord to leave. During this process I openly wondered, “what if the Lord is done with me in this church and in this vocation?” This question was not easily faced. I had to look at the shadow, that part of my heart that left unchecked leads to a literal hell on earth. I wondered if I was disqualified (or unqualified). It wasn’t pleasant. However, through the testing process, I still felt a profound sense of calling, both as a leader and shepherd and to you all as a family. I happened to see one of our parishioners at Target after this discovery, and I simply said, “I still want to be your pastor.” Many years ago (13?) a spiritual father, Joe Galindo, asked me if I was called to different churches in the area. This was well before Normandy. I responded to him by saying, “no I am called to the men and women with whom I’ve been walking.” At the family meeting, I looked around and saw some men that were there with me since the beginning of this ministry - Sean Parsons, Jeremy Duggins, and Jason Alley. Seeing their faces (and others), reminded me of a deep sense of calling I feel to this church family.

As for Kasey, during this process she felt as if I needed to figure what was next personally, what I wanted to do and what I felt called to do. During this time she often challenged me, spoke the truth in love (not easy to say or hear) and graciously accepted me as I was. As we neared the time to decide what was next, our sense of being a team was greatly heightened. I did not ultimately know what the Lord was going to do, but I knew I wanted Kasey to walk with me through the door towards Normandy as a unified whole. I did not want to force my way through the door and simply expect her to follow. I wanted her heart and mine to be one. And I know I want, and this is true most of the time, a life well lived with my family. I didn’t care what I did vocationally, but I cared deeply that my wife and sons had a sense of priority and relational security with me. And by God’s grace, Kasey and I have a deep sense of union and togetherness moving forward.

Unity & Peace

When I presented my desire to return to the Elders, I didn’t know what to expect. I did not want to impose my will on them or on God. I was attempting trust in Christ alone. I honestly felt vulnerable (and somehow quite free, light) as I shared my desire to return. As we processed, they articulated that this is exactly what they hoped for -  a return to health and a return to the church. I want you all to know we have a deep sense of unity and peace which we fought hard for. At times it was tough, but the four of us lived out our church’s stated value - unity and peace. We were more committed to our relationship than the result. I also want you to know we remain human. We will continue to learn how to maintain relational trust, unity and peace.

Also along the way I shared my story with others outside our body. At different points on my journey, they articulated a sense of peace. I think of Romans 8:16 - their spirits (since we are spiritual beings - that core that is directed by the Spirit of God) identified with my spirit (what God was doing in me). These were often the same men and women who challenged me, corrected me and listened to the darker parts of my heart. I am indebted to their ears and hearts. These are men and women like Jordan Sutton, Joe Galindo, Jeff & Mandy Fritche, Brett Franzen, Jeremy Pace, Jordan & Christy Ogden, Fred Henninghausen, my parents and siblings.

No Secrets

I also wanted you know there are no secrets. There is no “man behind the curtain” trying to pull one over on you all. There is no weird shadiness or power play at hand.  On November 12, when I was asked to step down, Jerry, John and Mo hit on something deep in me - my identity was off. I was so tied up in being the Lead Pastor and that the church became me and I became the church. So if the church did well, I was doing well. If the church staggered, I staggered. It was a great misappropriation of boundaries. I am not the church. I am more than a pastor. There is more to me than Normandy. I am a child of God, I am a husband and I am a father.

They made a tough call and in many ways it was friggin’ PR nightmare. Think about it! I was asked to step down in the midst of a building campaign and during the transition of Justus, Sam and Rachel (poor Jenny and Mark!). They loved me more than their reputation. These families paid a high price to see Kasey and I whole. And for that I am grateful.

At the second family meeting (and at other points) the elders owned their part. They were not perfect and openly acknowledge mistakes in how they handled it. We are all human. At first it wasn’t okay - it was necessary. However now a place of salvation for me. As Eugene Peterson states in Under the Unpredictable Plant, “Every congregation is a congregation of sinners. As if that weren’t bad enough, they all have sinners for pastors.”  So bless all our hearts… we need to live out Colossians 3:13 and “make allowance for each other's faults.” In order for us to be the body Christ is calling us to be, we will need to continue the practice of giving and receiving grace. I want to invite you into a radical trust in God alone, our source of expectation and hope, and to extending grace to each other as we walk forward.

And I want to invite you into telling yourself and others a different story; one that does not involve speculation, shame and deceit. We are a part of the greatest story ever written, God’s plan to rescue the world through His son Jesus, and we get a part to play in it! So instead of “John was messed up” or “the elders blew it”, start to say, “God is so committed to me and this church family, He is willing to allow death to bring new life and deeper union.”

What is next?

If you didn’t notice, there are a lot of felt needs in our church body. I need an office (trendy, modern, probably in hipster area), we need to clarity on roles on staff and elders, we need to equip the saints for works of ministry, our men need to start walking in deeper fellowship (way to go, Women’s Ministry!), we need to figure out women in ministry, community groups, and more space for our kids, etc, etc. All of them seem urgent, but “only one thing is needful” (Luke 10:42); to be with Christ (John 15:1-17).  As I return I hope to help lead us to Christ and regain a sense of love and affection for Him. As we seek His kingdom, as we abide in Him, He promised to take care of the rest (Proverbs 3:4-5; Matthew 6:33; 1 Thessalonians 4:24).

Secondarily I hope to regain trust within our leaders, our elders, our staff and our church family. This will come with time. We will move at the speed of trust. Trust will be reestablished as we walk in humility and vulnerability, accept one another as we are (and not as we should be). It will also come as we (staff and elders) put more healthy structures and support in our church.

Resurrection & Hope

These 6 months has been difficult on all of us. It has taken its toll on our body. Many of your friends and family and mine have left because pain, frustration, mistakes and others simply because it was time. I am sad to see some go and ultimately trust that Christ is both the shepherd and king of those who’ve left our family. He is more committed to them than we are and He is ultimately leading them onward (even if it is away from our church), which gives me peace and comfort.

It is actually in the midst of pain and sadness, not the absence of it, that we are called to hope. After death and burial comes life; new, full and joyful life. Remember to be a follower of Christ means to embrace the way of the cross. As a church family, we’ve been through a death and burial process. But God! Remember after death and burial comes resurrection. That is our ultimate hope (1 Corinthians 15:12-49; 1 Peter 1:13) and hope takes a lot of dadburn work (Romans 5:3-5).

And our God, who is love (1 John 4:7-12) and defines love, is a God who “believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). It may seem strange, but when God sees this church, He sees hope. He believes in us. He endures with and for us. And so I leave you with a song that has often brought me to tears during these past week, Opheilia, by Roo Panes (ps. You NEED to listen to his music).

Do you really need all of the things you want

I would take you back there, to where the river's from

To where the garden's green with a forever love

Singing you're somebody, Heaven's dreaming of


Take heart my love

'Cause when I see you I see hope

When I see you I see hope

There's a world that needs what you got to give

Take heart my love

'Cause when I see you I see hope

When I see you I see hope

There's a world that needs what you got to give

Community Fast, Day 5: Praise

Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory. 

Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory. 

RISE and SHINE and GIVE GOD THE GLORY, GLORY, Children of the Lord. 

Remember that one??

I went to discipleship school in Seattle, Washington when I was 21. The night before I signed up for this one year bootcamp I had my last nasty cigarette with a cheap vodka cocktail, deep in the woods of Wyoming at an obscure bar and grill. There were moose grazing outside under the stars. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into but I knew I was ready to leave my old decrepit life behind. Two weeks into the program I had an encounter with the Lord during our morning worship time. The Holy Spirit flooded the room, I wept in surrender, started praying in the spirit and singing at the top of my lungs. The Lord was engaging me on the deepest level, moving in, taking over the real estate of my heart. I have never been the same. That’s what I think about when I hear the word “Praise”. 


All that is within me... 

Praise took me off the throne of my heart as I surrendered to God. When I took the focus off myself, giving Him my full attention, my inward thoughts and fickle emotions, it was like prison doors wide open and emancipation. We know this in our heads but need to believe it more in our hearts - God is the reason for anything good in our lives. Praise is not for us, it’s for Him. It requires humility. It demands we give God the credit. 


Psalm 103:1-3 (Amplified)

“1 Bless (affectionately, gratefully praise) the Lord, O my soul; and all that is [deepest] within me, bless His holy name!

2 Bless (affectionately, gratefully praise) the Lord, O my soul, and forget not [one of] all His benefits—

3 Who forgives [every one of] all your iniquities, Who heals [each one of] all your diseases,

4 Who redeems your life from the pit and corruption, Who beautifies, dignifies, and crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercy;

5 Who satisfies your mouth [your necessity and desire at your personal age and situation] with good so that your youth, renewed, is like the eagle’s [strong, overcoming, soaring]!”


Praise is a highway to the throne of God...

When we choose to voice words communicating thankfulness, declaring our confidence and hope on Father God we are driving straight toward The Throne. When we read the bible and believe what it says, when we let His Word shape our identity as His children, we access those promised heavenly blessings given by Father God through Jesus. 



Ephesians 1:3-6 (Message)

3-6 How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.


Hebrews 4:16 (TPT)

16 So now we come freely and boldly to where love is enthroned,[r] to receive mercy’s kiss and discover the grace we urgently need to strengthen[s] us in our time of weakness.[t]


Praise is our weapon.... 

He is the bondage breaker and the way maker. When we align ourselves with Him and come into agreement through praise no matter how upside down the moment feels it brings our world right side up. 


Two of my favorite Praise stories in the bible... 

Israel at Jericho is wild - Joshua 6. God had the people of Israel follow the priests and the presence of God (The Ark of the Covenant) one time around the city of Jericho everyday for six days in total silence except for the constant sound of ram’s horn blown by the priests. “Israel, you’re not to say a word. No space to voice doubt or fear”. Then on the seventh day he had them walk around seven times in silence minus the mighty rams horn. And in those final steps on the seventh time around on that seventh day they released a battle cry, a roar of faith in the God of Angel Armies and the WALLS OF JERICHO came tumbling down. INSANE. 

Paul and Silas praise in prison - Acts 16:16-40. Paul and Silas were followed around for days by a girl with a spirit of divination who kept mocking them and Paul got annoyed. He said, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.” She brought her owners much gain by fortune telling and when they saw their hope of gain was gone they dragged Paul and Silas into the market square and got them arrested. Around midnight they were praying and praising God in jail and an earthquake began to shake the ground, the prison doors blew open and everyones bonds were unfastened. There was a revival in the jail and the jailer and his family got saved.

Max Lucado in his book Glory Days (so good, you should read it) says...“Create a trophy room in your heart. Each time you experience a victory, place a memory on the shelf. Before you face a challenge, take a quick tour of God’s accomplishments. Look at all the paychecks he has provided, all the blessings he has given, all the prayers he has answered. Imitate the shepherd boy David. Before he fought Goliath, the giant, he remembered how God had helped him kill a lion and a bear (1 Samuel 17:34-36). He faced his future by revisiting the past.”


It’s day 5 of our corporate fast. Let’s give Him all we’ve got. Let’s leave nothing on the table. Shout to the Lord with a voice of triumph. Sing and make music to the Lord. Let it rumble in your soul and wake your Spirit man. Let heaven and hell hear it. It is a powerful thing to hear the sound of a people whose confidence is the Lord. 


We are gathering to let the Lord seal this thing up tonight. Come worship with us!

-Jenny Ayers

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Jenny Ayers is the Worship Director for our church. She and her family became members in 2018. Since then, she has had to listen to Mark Heger audition for the worship team no less than 18 unsolicited times. We are thankful for Jenny's patience. 

Community Fast, Day 4: Vision & Purpose

“This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord…” Ephesians 3:11

Since the beginning of man, one common question dwells among us; What is our purpose? This question is further evidence that we were made in God’s image.  In the deepest corner of our human soul, we know that we have a purpose that is far greater than the immediate.  We desire to have an impact that lasts far beyond our own existence on this earth.  

The Bible confirms this question and gives us a purpose.  In Ephesians 5, Paul tells us the will of the Lord for us is to be “filled with the Spirit,” to “give thanks for all things,” and to be “subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Eph. 5:17-20).  1Thessalonians tells us to “be sanctified,” and Romans 12 say that we are to be “transformed by the renewing of our mind,” so that we can “prove what the will of the God is.” God’s will is that none shall perish, but for all to come to repentance. (2Peter 3: 9)  If we look closely, God has given us a purpose: draw near to Him so that we, in turn, can draw others near to Him as well.  This is the call for all believers.  It seems overly simple, but that’s it.  We can rest assured knowing that we do have a greater purpose than what our jobs, hobbies, and even families can offer.  And we know that this purpose will effect change that not only outlasts our lives, but the existence of our world.  This purpose that has been given to us shall effect eternity.  

But how do we obtain this purpose? How do we make sure that our lives are being lived in a manner that achieves the mandate explained above?  That requires vision.  Vision manifests itself in three steps: (1) an honest review of the past, (2) an inventory of the present, and (3) a plan for the future.  In order to avoid being carried downstream, taking time to do the above, in conjunction with prayer, mediation, and pouring over the scriptures, we can accomplish the purpose God has called us to.  

The irony, however, comes when the Lord tells us to wait.  We can actively be living out our purpose even in times of waiting.  Obedience to the Lord takes on many shapes and forms, and is uniquely tailored for each of us.  Often, our vision for our lives is different from the one the Lord has in store for us.  We must wait, pray and be obedient to the vision that God has cast for our lives in order to fulfill our purpose.  Only the arrogant believe that they can plan their own steps.  Those who wait on the Lord, who commit themselves to prayer, and are willing to be obedient to the Lord’s calling are given the most powerful of visions.  God has given us a purpose and He will reveal His vision to us when we wait, and when we are ready to be obedient.  

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Hunter Walton has been a member at Normandy since 2017.  Aptly named, he enjoys duck hunting, goose hunting, pheasant hunting, treasure hunting, and bargain hunting with his wife Rachel and their new dog, Moses.

Community Fast, Day 3: Unity

Binding our church body, our families, and ourselves together in unity with The Lord

Let’s set the scene: The Last Supper has just concluded, and Jesus is soon to depart from his beloved disciples. In His last moments with them, Jesus launches into what is now known as the Farewell Discourse (John 14-17). Jesus leverages these last moments to emphasize the very things He does not want His disciples to forget. He repeatedly comforts the disciples with the promise of the coming of the Helper (the Holy Spirit), He reminds them of the significance of abiding, and He stresses that they love one another. The greatest theme weaved throughout the discourse, however, is the unity of love between the Father and the Son.
 
In John 17, He prays:
 
“That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
 
As someone who deeply values individualism and autonomy, this concept of oneness and unity is incredibly challenging for me to grapple with. Any argument to me is worth arguing. For the sake of debate, if you’re on one side, I’ll take the other. 
 
A lot of that could be attributed to the era in which I’ve grown up. We are in a state of increasing polarization and division in our churches, our nation, our world; one in which the norm is, “If you are not with me, then you’re against me.” The idea of unity seems, at times, elusive and even utopian. 
 
And yet, in His eleventh hour, Jesus prayed on my behalf that I would become perfectly one with the body of Christ.
 
Unity, as Jesus is praying for, isn’t individuals “uniting”; unity is us, you and me, followers of Jesus, becoming one. This does not mean that we do not have differences or that we throw our individuality out the window. Unity happens when we die to self and in doing so prize togetherness over our individuality.
 
The crown of glory of the Father was the cross, the greatest act of love by His son. It is only the communion, the divine mystery of the Trinity, that was the very strength of Jesus to commit the ultimate act of love.
 
And that’s why Jesus wants us to experience communion. So that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
 
The body of Christ becoming one is nothing short of a miracle and solely dependent on us communing with God. We cannot do it without Him.
 
Take a moment to reflect: Are there any places where your preferences are taking precedence over unity? Alternatively, think of a time in which you felt at one the church.
 
Today, please join me in praying for deeper unity as a Church family, that the love of God would bind us to be perfectly one. Pray that unity would mark us and heal us, and that lives would be transformed.

Ashlea

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Ashlea Holt has been a member at Normandy since 2018. As a former Baylor Bear, she spends her free time sitting in Common Grounds while reading Chip and Joanna’s newest book. 

Community Fast, Day 2: Thankfulness

Remembering the great things the Lord has done

Hey Normandy! Hope Day 1 of our corporate fast yesterday was awesome for you… and if you’re reading this on Day 2 and realizing “Oh shoot, I forgot all about the fast”, today is the perfect day to start. Whether you’re doing an absolute fast (woah!), a juice fast, or even a social media fast, I pray that your time with the Lord this week is life-giving and that you’re connecting with him in new ways!

Our theme for Day 2 is Thankfulness – Remembering the great things the Lord has done. 
Starting at the most basic level, (thanks to Wikipedia) gratitude and thankfulness come out of the Latin word gratus and are defined as: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation; and to be conscious of the benefit received. 

As believers, I think we have a decent grasp on the concept of thankfulness, right? It’s constantly referenced throughout scripture starting with Israel in the Old Testament. Psalm 95:2 says “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song”. Jesus modeled giving thanks throughout his ministry, as seen when he fed the thousands or at the Last Supper, “Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it” (Matthew 26:26). And Paul continually encouraged the early church by beginning his letters with the theme of thankfulness, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world” (Romans 1:8).

 But if we’re being honest with ourselves, despite being thumped over the head with thankfulness as we read the Bible (in a good way), it’s not always something that’s top of mind for us. The world around us is tough, and when we’re dealing with the weight of job stress, marital problems, infertility, sickness… (insert your trial here), thankfulness doesn’t always come naturally or easily.
So, if you fall into this category, or even if you are thankful 9 times out of 10, there is good news that we can ask the Lord for a heart change and mind shift centered around thankfulness - and He actually desires for us to change! 1 Thessalonians 5: 16 – 18 says “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

 God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Let’s press pause here and take a few seconds to ponder that verse. We’re supposed to rejoice (i.e. be joyful) and give thanks no matter the hand of cards we’re dealt. Not because we’re trying to muster it up, but because the Lord willed it… he intended it. And he willed it so much that he sent Jesus to die on the cross and accomplish that for us. Thank you, God! After re-reading the definition of thankfulness, I think the last part ‘To be conscious of the benefit received’ really hit home for me. Once we accept Christ as our savior and fully realize that we actually have access to a relationship with the Father and eternal life with Him, we can’t help but be thankful for this incredible gift we don’t deserve.
 The reason I’m probably writing on thankfulness this week is because I had one of these deep realization ‘Thank You’ moments at church only a few weeks back. On January 20th, Mark was preaching on Ephesians 3 about the purpose of the Church and our individual purposes. Go listen to it once it’s up on our website or podcast – and yes, we have a Normandy podcast! Paraphrasing from my notes, he reminded us that “People need to know Jesus is better than they think… that people are worth it” and encouraged us to reflect on our own history during ministry time. As I sat and thought about my own story, I couldn’t help but be so thankful for how the Lord pursued me in college, how he surrounded me by a group of dudes who cared for me, encouraged me, and reintroduced me to Christ. How I was worth the time and effort to them and how I’m still worth it to Jesus… and I just started crying. I was so overwhelmed, and I was so thankful for the Lord’s influence in my life that my only response was to be brought to tears.

 So just like a few weeks ago, I encourage you to take those moments today where you’d normally be eating or checking your phone to be thankful and remember the things the Lord has done in your life. If it’s spending a few minutes worshiping God for how good He is, do that. Here’s a song about thankfulness by UPPERROOM to help you out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHhCZBarneQ. If you need to call up that person who discipled you for so many years when you needed it most and just thank them, come on! Or if it’s simply journaling things you’re thankful for on a list, I encourage you to do so.

 I truly believe being thankful can change the atmosphere around us. When you practice thankfulness, you’re becoming more of who God created you to be, and people around you can’t help but notice. Praying this over all of us today! 

Spencer Thames

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Spencer Thames, a.k.a “Sweet Spence”, has been a Normandy member since 2016 and currently helps lead a Normandy Group at The Happy Lane House.  He is a proud member of The Fightin’ Texas Aggie Class of ’15, graduating with a degree that primarily focused on Wakeboarding.  He is engaged to his soon-to-be wife, Ali.

Community Fast, Day 1: Repentance

Shifting our focus from ________ to the Lord

Hi Normandy fam, 

We are kicking off a church wide fast here soon. Very few things make church people more amped or crabby than fasting! What a fun dichotomy! 
I would guess most amped people have had an experience while fasting, solidifying their love for it. I would also bet money they didn't start that way, more on this later. 
For the other people group, we could chalk it up to "crabby people be crabby". Or as any former wait staff can attest, people lose their manners and their minds when they are hungry. 

When I was in college, I was a YoungLife leader with my best friends. We decided, as a group, to fast once a week together. And we were TERRIBLE. We complained up and down, everyone within a 20 foot radius knew what we were doing, and at the end of the fast, we would gorge ourselves. I don't know if we all had blood sugar disorders or something but it was not a fruitful time. We were immature, performing this legalistic ritual while moaning about it's necessity. Like being in boiling water, our true selves bubbled to the top. Fastforward to a few years after college, I was struggling to find my way, struggling to handle life and was in a desperate place. Two of my friends fasted and prayed with me every Wednesday. I would spend time reading my bible, journaling and sharing what I was learning with my friends. I was hungry for food but I was hungry for the Lord. I needed Him, His peace, His Word and His encouragement. I met with the Lord there and it changed my faith, it changed the way I viewed God's character and how I viewed myself. Now I'm an amped person, still trying to fast and pray every Wednesday, looping in coworkers to join me. 
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Use this time to discover in which ways are you desperate for the Lord. In what ways are you dependent on yourself? As we begin on our church wide fast, repent and turn away from 
+ worry
+ self-reliance
+ anger
+ complaining
+ blaming

Going without things you need or want, whether voluntary or involuntary, is a surefire way to discover your idols. If you find yourself spending more time in these spaces than seeking the Lord, be honest! God cares about your heart more than anything.

Fasting puts stress on the body and it shows us our delicacy. Being hungry is a vulnerable position, being in need is uncomfortable. And it is expected of us. Matthew 6:16 says "When you fast..." Notice, it doesn't say "should you decide to fast" or "if you decide to do God a solid". When you fast, do so with a humble heart. 

Spend time fasting and pay attention to where your mind and heart go. If you are like me in my college years, take heart! Be encouraged and keep pressing in to fasting. This can be a very meaningful time if you stay tuned into your heart and mind. If you are someone who has had great experiences fasting, please share with everyone at the various prayer sessions this week! Let's all grow in our faith and unity as a church family.

Rachel

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Rachel Benavides has been a Normandy member since 2015, back when she was known as Chester. She produces photoshoots, hangs out with Jesse, one dog she really likes and one she could do without. #behonest

Advent pt. 3

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This week we conclude our series of looking at Advent through the lens of the tabernacle.  Mark Heger tells us about the final part of the tabernacle, the Glory of the Lord, and links it together with the shepherds that came to manger at the birth of Jesus. To listen to the podcast version, click HERE.


Good morning everyone!  How are y'all doing on this lovely December day?  My name is Mark Heger and I am the Group Director here at Normandy, and for the last few weeks I have had the extreme pleasure of teaching and preaching to you guys during this Advent season!  And now, with Christmas only being like 36 hours away, we have come to our last sermon of 2018 (since we will NOT be meeting next week before New Years).  Hopefully you all have gotten your Christmas shopping done, your holiday travel planned out, and you are ready to go into this wonderful time of year with joyful hearts, low anxiety, and enjoy some good quality time. 


But regardless of what level of Christmas spirit you are currently at, we are going to have a fun time today.  Because today we are concluding our final sermon of this Advent series where we have been looking at the coming of Christ through the lens of the Old Testament Tabernacle.  Each week we have taken a closer look at one specific piece of the tabernacle and talked about how it relates to the Christmas season.  So if we could, let’s pull up that picture of the tabernacle again and give it a quick run through of all the parallels between Jesus and the tabernacle that we have mentioned.   

-Gate with Curtain: Jesus is the narrow gate

-Outer Courtyard

-Alter for Sacrifices: Jesus is the perfect sacrifice

-Basin for Washing: Not only does Jesus give us living water, but He also cleanses us and washes us clean.

-Tent of Meeting…The Holy Place

-Alter of Incense: Paul says that you are the aroma of Christ

-Table with Bread: Jesus is the bread of life.


The two weeks ago we looked at the Lampstand and talked about how Jesus is the true light that gives light to every man…and how Jesus calls US…you and me…the Light of the World.  And in the same way that we put lights on our houses and decorate our trees, we as believers should shine bright to the world around us in order for them to see our good works and glorify God because of them.  


Then last week, we looked at the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat…the lid over the Ark…and we talked about the great lengths that our Holy God had to go through in order to tabernacle and dwell among an unholy people.  Because this God who used to be separated from His people and who instructed them to build a sealed off room called the Holy of Holies…a God who gave them the system of blood and sacrifices and ceremonies in order for them to be able to approach the Most Holy Place in order to pay their debt for sin and forgiveness every year on the Day of Atonement…that same God decided to come down from heaven, to dwell among His people and to cancel the debt of sin and pay the price for forgiveness with His own blood in order to redeem His people and reconcile His relationship with His greatest creation…thus restoring the original intimacy that we had with Him in the beginning at the Garden of Eden.  Our God is the most loving, most amazing, most caring, most holy God that we could ever imagine.  And we are so lucky and fortunate to have a Father in heaven that loves us so dearly!


Now it’s easy to get caught up in a bunch of new information and get excited about all the cool new things your learning about the Tabernacle and think that this series is about the tabernacle.  But you have to remember that this series isn’t about the tabernacle, it’s about Advent…the coming, the drawing near of Christ…  And today we are going to finish this series with the most important part of the tabernacle.  

We are read about it together, so open your bibles to Exodus Chapter 40.  You guys remember Chapter 40?  We read it two weeks ago and it basically sums up everything that God asked Moses to do to build the tabernacle.  Remember that 8 times it says, “And Moses did everything as the Lord Commanded Him.”  And then look at verse 33


“Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work.” - (Exo 40:33)


So everything with the tabernacle is set-up and finished…just as the Lord commanded.  And then look at verses 34 and 35.  Because HERE is the entire point of the book of Exodus:


“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”


The Glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle and dwelt among the people.  Glory came down from heaven and filled the tabernacle like a cloud, and stayed in the tent, in the camp, in the desert with the people.  The point of the book of Exodus, isn’t just freedom from slavery, because even if you are a free man or woman, but you do not have the presence and glory of the Lord with you, then you are still enslaved.  But the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle and now, the people can meet with the Lord and bring Him sacrifices, and worship Him, and have The Day of Atonement.  Now that the Lord has made a way to be with His people, He can start dealing with the problem of sin that caused the separation in the first place!  You guys follow me?


And so last week we talked about the Day of Atonement and the sacrifices that would take place.  And how one day each year, the High Priest would enter into the Most Holy Place with fear and trembling to make sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins.  But the Day of Atonement wasn’t the only day that sacrifices were made…in fact, every morning and every evening, there were sacrifices being made for the daily sins of the people in the camp.  And so in order to accommodate for this many sacrifices, the Priests would have their own flock of sheep.  And these sheep would all be perfect, without any flaws or defects, the best of the herd were hand chosen to be a part of the Priest’s flock.  And in order to care for the many sheep that were necessary for the many sacrifices that had to be made, the Priests had their own shepherds that were employed to take extra special care of this valuable flock of sacrificial lamps, goats, and rams.


Now shepherds in general had a pretty tough life.  I’m sure many of you know or have heard that Shepherds were some of the lowest people in Jewish society.  Being a shepherd meant that you were not only financially impoverished, but also that you were relationally and spiritually impoverished.  Because in the Jewish society, shepherds handled and lived with sheep for extensive periods of time. This made them smelly and gross and dirty compared to the rest of the people. The shepherds often came into contact with blood and feces from the sheep, which made them unclean. Until they were ritually cleansed other Jews would be reluctant to touch them.  And because of the nature of the work, shepherds would not typically be near a place of worship. Instead, they would be on the outskirts of the camp, or far outside the camp taking care of the flock as it grazed and searched for water.  Therefore, shepherds rarely went to worship or to offer sacrifices, which placed them on the fringe of society.  


However, fortunately for most shepherds and farmers, at night they would return the flock into the stables for safety and rest.  Lots of predators come out at night which you want to protect your sheep from, and if a sheep gets lost in the dark you are going to have a heck of a time finding it, right?  So at night, the shepherds would bring the flock or the herd back into the stables near the camp and then they might have time of their own to go worship or offer sacrifices or join in the normal societal rituals and routines.  And then they would pick back up their job first thing early in the morning.  But you may have noticed that I said this was only the case for MOST shepherds…not all shepherds.  Because for the shepherds that were tasked with looking after the Priestly flock, they had to be on the job 24/7 and here’s why:


The “perfect/clean sheep” weren't allowed to be kept with the other sheep.  They had to be kept apart in order to keep them ceremonially clean and acceptable as a “perfect” sacrifice.  That also meant that they couldn't be pinned-up in a dirty poop and pee filled stable.  No, these sheep had to be free range, grass fed, perfectly kept animals.  And this meant that the shepherds over the Priestly flock were the only shepherds that NEVER got a break…they had to be on watch 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.  They would take shifts in order to make sure that nothing happened to the valuable sacrificial animals that were used to cover over everyone else’s sins…but never for their own.  You see the Priestly Shepherds were familiar with the passover story and the importance of the Day of Atonement, and so they know the pressure of their job to provide spotless lamps for the priests.  But how depressing must it have been for them to realize that the one thing that could have saved them and forgiven them was eating grass right in front of them…demanding their attention day and night.  Salvation and cleansing from their sins was literally at their feet, but it might as well have been a million miles aways because these guys cannot ever become clean!  There certainly was no hope for salvation among them because of the absolute spiritual poverty that they must have been experiencing.


Do you remember who said, “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, because their’s is the Kingdom of Heaven”.  Because that man was coming into world, and He had something special planned for His grand entrance…You can follow along in Luke 2.


[Luke 2:1-8]

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born…


Isn’t this amazing!  Can’t you just imagine the angels in heaven?  For hundreds of years they have sat and listened to their God whisper His plan to the Prophets:

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel [God with us]” - Isaiah 7:14


And the angels already the knew the result that would come of this:


“Your covenant with death will be annulled; your agreement with the grave will not stand.” - Isaiah 28:18


But the angels have spent their entire existence in the glory of the Lord…they are in full view of His glory 24/7…and it causes them to sing and rejoice and shout at all times!  But not right now.  Right now at this very moment, I imagine that all of Heaven is silent…sitting on the edge of their seat.  Watching, waiting, and wondering…whispering to each other in a hopeful disbelief, “It’s impossible…It’s not going to fit…How is ALL that Glory going to fit in something so small?”


But then, breaking the silence of that night, a baby’s first cry!  “…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:7 NIV)


And up in Heaven the angels are going CRAZY!!! They are whoopin’ and hollerin’…high fives and chest bumps are being thrown around.  Every single angel is stoked out of its mind…they are ECSTATIC…ELECTRIC!  They simply cannot control their excitement any longer, and so they go to the Lord and plead with Him, “Lord, this news is too good!  We have to tell someone about this!  Who can we share this incredible news with?  Should we tell the kings?  Should we alert the army generals? But what does God say?  Obviously we don’t have record of this conversation between God and the angels, but I imagine it went something like this:


“Yes, you can go tell some people.  You see those shepherds right there?  Those ones in the field right now…who are still watching over the flock of sheep at night…the sheep that Priests have been sacrificing to Me?  Those guys right there, they have no friends, no relationship, hope of salvation…so I want you to go tell them!”


“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”  Luke 2:8-16


Did you catch that?  Did you see what they did?


The shepherds, who many scholars believe were the same shepherds that were watching over the Priestly Flock…the sacrificial lambs…left the sacrifice in the field in order to go and see the PERFECT sacrifice lying in a manger.  They left their job with the high priests of Jerusalem to go and visit THE High Priest born in Bethlehem.  


God told the angels to go tell the shepherds…those who are on the margins, the people who are broken and seeking relational healing…the spiritually impoverished.  That is who God wanted to share in the first revelation of His full Glory!  The first time since the fall of man that God’s glory was fully on display for everyone to look at directly without any barrier, any rituals, any curtains or veils or mercy seat.  And God wanted to share this historical moment with the lowly shepherds.


Now church, here’s the thing.  There is no difference between you and the shepherd.  At one point or another, whether its years ago or still to this day…YOU were broken, outcast, seeking healing, feeling the weight of your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual depravity.  You were spiritually dead, being crushed and poisoned by the weight and the toxicity of your own sin.  “BUT GOD, [who] being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” - Eph 2:4-7 (ESV)


Through Him choosing to live among us, we received life…a life that no longer is inhibited by barriers or sacrifices or ceremonies.  “In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Eph. 3:12 NIV)  There is no longer any need for a courtyard.  There is no longer any need for the tent of meeting.  There is no longer any need for the Most Holy Place…because Jesus has fulfilled those things and now the Glory of the Lord dwells among us…inside us.  And the most Holy Place is right here, where two or more are gathered.  There is no longer any need for fear and trembling, because fear is only present when you don’t know the outcome.  Well Church, we know the outcome.  We know that our Jesus conquers death.  And because of that, we can now approach the throne with boldness and confidence, knowing that our God saves! 


In the same way that God’s Glory came down from heaven and rested on the tabernacle, over a thousand years later God’s glory would come down once again in dwell among His people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.   “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.  We have seen His GLORY, the GLORY of the One and Only, who came from the Father full of grace and truth.”


And the only appropriate response to seeing His Glory is to worship the Lord Jesus just as the angels did, singing “Glory to God in the Highest!!!…and Peace to His People on Earth.”


Let’s Pray

Advent pt. 1

Group’s Director Mark Heger kicked off our Advent series this week in a radical way - through the picture of the tabernacle. Exodus 40:16-33. To listen to the sermon, click HERE.


Hello everyone, how are you doing this morning?  My name is Mark Heger and I am the Groups Director here at Normandy, and for the next couple of weeks I have the pleasure of walking us through the Advent season as we approach Christmas.  So get ready, get set, cause the holidays are about to go down here at Normandy Community Church!  We are going to deck the halls, ring silver bells, dash through the snow and run over Grandma with a reindeer.  You guys smell what I’m stepping in?  Any Christmas fans out there?  Great.


Well this advent season, we are going to do something a little different than you might be used to.  For the last several months, we have been walking through the Book of Ephesians, and last week Jerry did a fantasic job of summarizing what we’ve talked about thus far in Chapters 1 and 2.  And for the last two weeks while wrapping up Chapter 2, Jerry talked about the temple and how Christ came to establish a  new beginning with a new temple both within His own body, and in the body of the church.  And so I thought, being an Old Testament fan myself, this year we would stay with the temple and study Advent through the lens of Old Testament tabernacle.  A little unorthodox, I know…and I know that some of you are thinking, “What does the tabernacle have to do with Christmas and Jesus?”  And it’s a valid question, but I believe that as we study this together, you will begin to see how the tabernacle and the coming of Jesus intertwine in a beautiful picture of redemption.  Because in the end what we are going to see is that just as God had Moses build the tabernacle as a way to save the people from their own sin for the purpose of being in relationship with them, God also sent his Son into the world to save the world through Him for the purpose of redeeming His relationship with His greatest creation.  We will watch the redemptive history play out all the way from Genesis and Exodus to the life of Jesus and even into Revelation!  It’s going to be awesome.  But before we jump in, lets take a second to pray and ask God to speak to us, and prepare our hearts and minds for today.

So for those that may not know, the word Advent simply means “the coming”…the anticipation of Christ coming to earth.  Advent is the season of excitement for God drawing near to His people.  But if you think about it, in order to draw near…in order to come close…that means that there must have been distance in between God and His people.  And there was.  Most of you are familiar with the story of Genesis and the garden of Eden.  God creates everything, everything is perfect, God creates Adam and Eve, everything is even more perfect!  But that only lasts for two Chapters before we blow-it…Adam and Eve eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,  and as a punishment God casts them both out of the garden.  You don’t have to turn there, but you can see in Genesis Chapter 3:23-24:

“So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”


So Adam and Eve got banished from the Garden, and they no longer got to walk in direct relationship with God.  They not only lost the Garden, they lost the intimacy of the presence of God when they got pushed into desert to live their own lives.  But even though they are outside the direct presence of God, in the desert we see God is continuing to move toward and chase after his people.  And in the book of Exodus we see God begin to give specific instructions to Moses so that He can set up residence among them.  He tells them “I am coming back near to you…I want to restore my presence with my people.”  And he does this through the tabernacle.


So today we are going to spend our time doing 3 things:

overview of tabernacle

look at one component of the tabernacle

how does that relate to christmas


So to begin diving in, let’s turn to the last Chapter in Exodus…Chapter 40.  And while you’re turning there, I’m sure many of you are familiar with stories from the book of Exodus…because Exodus is a VERY exciiting book…it’s got big miracles, crazy stories of plagues, people getting set free from slavery, and all sorts of wild stuff that happens in the desert.  But chances are, most of you probably started giving up on Exodus around Chaper 21 when God starts talking abot Laws and Rules, and measurements in cubits.  Right?  That stuff just doesn’t hold our attention as well as battles, and miracles, and burning bushes.  But when you realize that of the 40 Chapters in Exodus, 15 of them are all about the tabernacle, you begin to understand the importance of tabernacle and the extreme significance that it played in God’s story.  So after all these instructions that God gives to Moses about how to build the tabernacle, what to put in it, and who will be able to enter it,  we see Moses begin to set stuff up in Chapter 40.  Follow along with me starting in verse 16, and I want to you notice the repetition that happens.


“Moses did everything just as the Lord commanded him.  So the tabernacle was set up on the first day of the first month in the second year. When Moses set up the tabernacle, he put the bases in place, erected the frames, inserted the crossbars and set up the posts. Then he spread the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering over the tent, as the Lord commanded him.

He took the tablets of the covenant law and placed them in the ark, attached the poles to the ark and put the atonement cover over it. Then he brought the ark into the tabernacle and hung the shielding curtain and shielded the ark of the covenant law, as the Lord commanded him.

Moses placed the table in the tent of meeting on the north side of the tabernacle outside the curtain and set out the bread on it before the Lord, as the Lord commanded him.

He placed the lampstand in the tent of meeting opposite the table on the south side of the tabernacle and set up the lamps before the Lord, as the Lord commanded him.

Moses placed the gold altar in the tent of meeting in front of the curtain and burned fragrant incense on it, as the Lord commanded him.

Then he put up the curtain at the entrance to the tabernacle. He set the altar of burnt offering near the entrance to the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, and offered on it burnt offerings and grain offerings, as the Lord commanded him.

He placed the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar and put water in it for washing, and Moses and Aaron and his sons used it to wash their hands and feet. They washed whenever they entered the tent of meeting or approached the altar, as the Lord commanded Moses. Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work.”


Surely y’all caught that, right?  The phrase “as the Lord Commanded him” 7-8 times the phrase is repeated.  Moses is doing exactly what the Lord commanded, and as it turns out, God commanded that things be done in a very specific way.  You might notice that Moses is constructing the tabernacle from the inside out…from the most holy to the least holy.  And to help illustrate this point I have included a picture of the tabernacle to help us understand what is going on.


Gold box (ark of cov) - tablets of law are inside

Curtains with cherebim

Alter, lampstand, bread

Another Curtain

Courtyard

basin

Table of offering

Curtain at the entrance


This is symbolic of a reversal of the garden of Eden.  And let me tell you what I mean by that.  Remember the Garden, where everything was holy?   Adam and Eve had unfiltered access to God…to His holy presence. But they were kicked out of God’s presence when they sinned.  But here’s the amazing thing about the tabernacle…that now, in the middle of the desert, God is begining to foreshadow the Advent season by coming near to His people.  His presence is coming back to them…even though they were a disobedient and sinful and obstinate, God is choosing to come near to them and dwell among them.  They lived in tents in the middle of the desert, so God says “I am going to dwell among you…I am going to have you build me a tent…and I am going to come near to my people once again.  So don’t worry about your brokenness or your shame or your imperfections, because desite all that, I am coming near to you…I am going to bring my presence to you.”  You guys follow me?  But the presence is different now.  Now there are barriers and regulations…they still have the presence, but its not like it was before.  Now there are all these curtains and basins and sacrifices and blood in order to be in God’s presence.  So here is what is happening…


Here in the tabernacle, God is giving His people a forshadowing of the greater measure of His presence that is going to come to them hundreds of years later at the incarnation of Jesus.  Because if you study life of Jesus you will see that Jesus directly speaks to or becomes each element included in the tabernacle:

Jesus is the narrow gate…no one comes to the Father, into His presence, except through me.

Jesus is the perfect sacrifice

Jesus is the living water that cleanses and purifies us

Jesus is the Bread of Life

Jesus is the Light of world

Jesus is the High Priest and Holy of Holies


You see when you look at the elements of the tabernacle you notice that Jesus embodies each and every element here.  And if you really want your mind to get blown, then you’ll reference the books of Matthew and Mark because they mention at the death of Jesus the final curtain of the temple that guards the Holy of Holies, on which is a picture…an image of a Cheribim…the same Angel that was used to guard the Garden of Eden and separated man from the intimate presence of God…that curtain was split in two, from top to bottom…which means the Cheribim, the soldier that guards God’s presence from humnaity, has been removed and because of the death of Jesus there is now once again an unfiltered access to the presence of God!  That’s amazing right!!!


Understanding the tabernacle is a crucial element to understand the advent season because it was in the tabernacle that God once again began to draw near to His people.  So each Sunday for the next three weeks we are going to focus in and concentrate on one element of the tabernacle.  And today we are going to look at the Lampstand.  So let’s turn back a few chapters to Exodus 25 when God is describing how to make the lampstand.


“Make a lampstand of pure gold. Hammer out its base and shaft, and make its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms of one piece with them. Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand—three on one side and three on the other. Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand…


Now if you remember from the picture of the tabernacle, the lampstand is in the inner tent inside what was know as the Holy Place.  So as you enter the tabernacle from the outter courtyard and go through the curtain, the first thing you see is this large lampstand shining light and illuminating the entire tent.  Now you’d also notice that as you draw closer to the Most Holy Place that the value of each element increases.  Everything in the courtyard was made of wood or bronze, but this lampstand is made of pure gold…a precious metal that was hard to find and hard to work with.  Another thing you might notice is that the lampstand is made to look like a tree…its got leaves, flowers, petals, branches.  Why is it shaped like that?


Well you remember that this tabernacle is an attempt at reversing the Garden of Eden.  And what was in the middle of the Garden?  That’s right, the Tree.  And it was that tree that when humans interacted with it, darkness clouded their thoughts and minds, death entered the world, and it was the consequences of THAT tree that pushed man out of the presence of God.  But now, in this awesome reversal of Eden, God has instructed Moses to construct a new tree…a tree that draws people in, that illuminates the darkness, that gives light, and warmth, and life to the priests who are initiating the sacrifices for the Israelite people for the forgiveness of their sins. Did you hear that?  A tree that holds light, that leads toward the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin.  You see this lampstand, is God tipping His hat and alluding to the future tree, the wooden cross, that would hold the light of the world, nailed to it as the perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of the sins of man.  …  Are you guys tracking with me yet?  Are you starting to see why the tabernacle is such an important part of the Advent season.  This tent in the middle of the desert, that is filled with God’s presence and is illuminated by a golden tree, in which God came near to His people, is a foreshadowing of the way that God would eventually put on flesh and dwell among His people…coming into the world as a baby that would be born in a manger in the town of Bethlehem.  God is showing His cards and revealing His plan hundreds of years before Jesus would step on the scene.


The Gospel of John talks about it like this:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

[verse 9]

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.


Right there in verse 14, “made His dwelling among us.”  That word, in the greek is actually the verb form of tabernacle.  So it could literally read, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.”  Jesus put on flesh and blood and skin, and became a living tabernacle that not only lived out a perfect life in accordance to God’s law, but also put to death and detroyed all the barriers that existed between us and God when He died on the cross.  The light of the world…the light who shines in the darkest areas and in the darkest times in our lives…the living lamp that lights our path, the true light that gives light to every man…He was coming into world.


And the beautiful thing is that when He was in the world, not only did He refer to Himself as the light of the world, but He also told you, that YOU are the light of the world.  In Matthew 5:14 Jesus says:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”


Jesus came to the world for us to receive Him, but also to reflect Him.  By the way that you refuse gossip, love your neighbor, conduct yourself both in person and online.  You are a reflection of the light of the Lord.  You do not create your own light…you only reflect the light that the Lord has given to you.  And one of the truly beautiful things about Christmas, when we decorate our houses and our trees with lights…that it’s not one individual light that captures your attention or mesmerizes you.  No.  It’s the great multitude of lights that all shine together to create a beautiful holiday scene.  And in the same way, we…the body of Christ…should shine not only as individuals, but together as a great multitude shining bright as a testimony to the work that God has done in our lives and that everyone who see us living together, alongside each other, would glorify our Father in heaven.

  

The prophet Isaiah, promised “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” that a  Deliver would be a light overcoming darkness, and Preacher of Good News to the poor and One walking in the power and light of the Spirit.  Our world is full of evidence that something is wrong and needs to be made right.  The reason we celebrate advent is because the story of the Garden doesn’t end with man’s rebeliion…it doesn’t end with man wandering the desert…it doesn’t end with God living in a fancy tent, and it doesn’t end with Jesus.  No. The reason we celebrate Advent…the coming of Christ…is because not only did He come to earth, but that He will once again come to earth.  Our king not only lived…He lives.  Our king not only came…but He is coming.  And when He does, may our lights shine in the darkness.

Missions Highlight: The Sorrows & CHBC

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We are excited to bring you Normandy’s Missions Highlight for December! Our missions giving goes to like-minded organizations that are committed to seeing the Kingdom of God advanced through the preaching of the gospel and the care for the modern-day orphan and widow locally, across the US and internationally.

We want our body to know more about how we use their gifts. We believe that sharing what God is doing through the organizations we support financially will achieve that goal.

This month, we are excited to tell you more about what the Sorrows are up to!

Joshua and Sara Sorrows have a very special place in Normandy’s heart because they helped plant our church! They have since gone on to Crow Hill Bible Church, which exists to find the lost and restore the broken in Christ. They do that through reproducing churches, reproducing leaders, engaging their community, and sharing the gospel locally and globally. CHBC and the Sorrows are doing incredible things to further the Kingdom, and some of it is thanks to YOUR giving! Check out our interview with them below to learn more about all the incredible things God is doing through this ministry that we are partnered with financially and spiritually. 

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What is your favorite thing about your organization/mission? 

o   Ministry is hard. So, we have been intentional about having fun while doing ministry. My favorite thing about our organization is that we are intentional about having fun while doing God’s work.

 

What is something amazing you’ve seen God do through your work over the past 6 months? 

o   There are two things. The first, we recently baptized two kids (ages 15-17) who have struggled with abuse and sexual identity. They have accepted Christ and are growing in their faith. Second, over the past year we have baptized a man who had an affair and his marriage was on the brink of divorce. After accepting Christ, he is serving, his marriage is growing and we are beginning to train him in leadership because he and his family feels a call to church planting.

 

Can you quantify for us what our giving has gone to specifically? 

o   Your giving has provided Sara and I an opportunity to travel to the Philippines. During our trip, we trained 40 pastors and future church planters to plant churches in the jungles of Mindanao, the southern most island in the Philippines. Their vision is to raise up 800 more leaders this year and eventually plant 20,000 churches in the Philippines and reach 10 unreached people groups with the gospel. Because of Normandy’s generosity and support, Sara and I were able to be a part of that vision. Thank you!

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Is there a service, product, or mission you’ve been able to accomplish or provide because of external giving? If so, what was it? 

o   We were able to travel to the Philippines to train future church planters. Also, this opportunity has opened a door for CHBC to establish a long term relationship with the churches, pastors and people of the Philippines. We are now pursuing a return trip for 2019 to continue the work we began in September of 2018.

 

What is something your organization is wanting to accomplish over the next 6 months? 

o   We are wanting to begin a LEAD class which would train people in our congregation to make disciples using The Timothy Initiative model (we also used this model in the Philippines). We begin the LEAD class on January 15, 2019. From that initial group, we will identify future church planters and begin a more intensive training for them. 

 

How can people partner with you in this goal? 

o   The biggest way is through prayer. Prayer for the leadership and staff of CHBC and prayer for God to highlight those individuals that may plant churches. 

 

Do you have a fundraiser coming up over the next 6 months? Can you share details about that? 

o   In the process of all of this, we are currently raising funds to expand our campus. We hope to break ground on our new facility in January of 2019. Also, if we do return to the Philippines, we will begin raising money for our team to go. If anyone wants to give to CHBC, they can by going to www.chbc.online


Thank you for continuing to partner with us as we support these incredible missions!

Transitions

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Normandy Family, 

 

Yesterday we announced two changes coming up for our church family. Samantha Harvey and Justus Murimi will be transitioning off staff. Sam’s final Sunday as our Kids’ Director will be November 25th. Justus’ last day working with Normandy will be December 31st. 

 

For Sam, this is something she and Zach processed a lot. It was time for her and her family to take a step back and simply be a member of the church family again. We are proud of Sam and the work she has done. She faced chaos and helped bring order. As her pastor, I am very proud of the way she has matured. She is a faithful woman and a joy to work with. Both Sam and Zach will still be at Normandy, she just won’t be in charge of your kiddos - she will just be in charge of Zach and Grayson! 

As for Justus (the man, the myth and the legend), his transition is exciting… and sad. It is hard not to be excited with Justus. Any time he walks into a room it changes for the better. His excitement has been an encouragement to me these past 4 (holy cow) years. And I am sad to see my friend go. He has been for me. And for that I am thankful.


Justus and I have been processing this for a while (does it seem like we “process” a lot around here?). We wanted to let you know three reasons why this change is happening (position, desire, calling) and one reason why it is not happening.

 

Why Not:

Justus is not coming off staff because of relational conflict. In other words, he isn’t quitting because he is mad at me and I am not firing him because I am mad at him. Of course, like any meaningful relationship, we’ve fought! We’ve had issues! Through it all, we’ve fought harder for relational unity and peace. I personally have great peace about both the change and the timing of the change. Which leads me to the why. 

 

Why: 

Position - When Justus moved from Youth Pastor to Executive Director we knew he had about 1-2 years before we, Normandy, would need a positional change, before he would need a change. This assumption was primarily based off his personality, skill set and wiring. When his time comes to a close, it will have been 14 months. Recently, Justus & Joshua Flynt attended a church executive conference and while the executive pastors “oooohed” and “aaaahhed” about spreadsheets and HR alignment. In a moment of humor Justus said, “that ain’t me.” We knew this going into allowing him to be the Executive Director. He did a ton of work behind the scenes and he has helped me carry the vision (and me at times) with joy and passion. The elders and I have unity and peace about both the action (going) and the timing (now).

 

Desire - During this time of processing, Justus felt a desireto move into the business world. He even started a podcast! Justus and Stephanie also have a desire for an eventual return to vocational ministry. His heart is for the big “C” church to experience revival through joy in the Lord. 

 

Calling - One of the things I am very clear on as his pastor is Justus’ vocational calling to the ministry. I believe it looks like revival, evangelism and joy (duh). I wholeheartedly confirm this calling. This calling could very well take Justus and Stephanie away from Normandy. For the time being, after a break in January to help determine what is next, Justus and Steph will be around Normandy. I have assigned him to volunteer in kids, both services, into perpetuity.

 

What is next for Normandy?

Well my attentive readers, I am glad you asked! Like all transitions, there is a lot involved. I will be sad not to work with these two. And I am excited to see what God does next in their lives. I am hopeful that Normandy will move more fully into our unique calling as a church. 

 

Both transitions will have an effect on our church body. Justus’ transition will be felt a bit more fully primarily because, other than myself, he is the only other full time employee at Normandy. So here is what we are going to do: 

 

Embrace Limits: 

Thanks to reading Pete Scazzero’sbook, The Emotionally Healthy Church, I am learning how embracing God given limits leads to health. While we transition (which is a normalpart of church life), we will embrace limits. For a time, I won't be able to run as hard as I like. As a church, we will probably have some bumps and missteps and that is okay! We are learning to be a family together, one that embraces its God given limits. This transition is for our good and our joy. 

 

Evaluation: 

Transitions open us up to a time to evaluate what is going under the surface. Being evaluated is never the most pleasant event, however it will leads us into greater maturity. Testing allows us to come out the other side more complete and better able to fulfil God’s unique calling. Is it to this end we’ve employed Chris Whetzel, a church consultant to help Normandy determine our next steps. Chris helped our dear friend Joshua Sorrows do something similar at Crow Hill. Now before you start thinking of the Bob’s from Office Space, he is not here to help us make more money or fill the seats. He is here to help assess who can help us align with God’s call and move into greater health. In essence he is helping us understand who we are so we can make the right hire. We’ve already been working with Chris and he will be in town November 11-13 to continue helping.

 

What you can do: 

Pray. We want God’s help. We want to hire the right person at the right time for our church. We want the right mix of people on staff (think Executive Pastor / Associate Pastor). That is what Chris is helping us determine - what is the right mix of people for our body? What is the correct staff alignment we need? Not what other churches needs, what does Normandy need? Pray for wisdom and revelation!  

 

Recruit. Is there someone you think would be a good fit? Is there anyone you think would want to do this? Do you? You can find the job description and the application here: 

 

https://normandychurch.com/jobs/

 

Ask. If you have questions about anything that is going on, let us know! 

 

I am hopeful for our church family. Even as things change, the love of God remains. And that is precisely why I am hopeful. He is faithful. Amen. 

 

- Pastor J

 

 

Missions Highlight: WakeWell

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We are excited to bring you Normandy’s first Missions Highlight. Our missions giving goes to like-minded organizations that are committed to seeing the Kingdom of God advanced through the preaching of the gospel and the care for the modern-day orphan and widow locally, across the US and internationally.

We want our body to know more about how we use their gifts. We believe that sharing what God is doing through the organizations we support financially will achieve that goal.

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This month, we are excited for our first ever highlight to be of an organization whose founders are near and dear to our hearts and staff! Mark and Emily have been attending Normandy since our first church service back in 2012, and Mark is on staff as our Groups’ Director.

Mark and Emily’s organization, WakeWell, has the specific purpose to take “the living water of Jesus to the people of the wake culture.” WakeWell is the only ministry that exists to share the gospel with this specific group of people. It is on the frontlines of wake culture reaching people for Christ.

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In the past six months, the WakeWell team has baptized two new believers into the body of Christ at their local cable parks among friends and family. Normandy helps incredible moments like this become possible by supporting the WakeWell ministry financially, spiritually, and emotionally as they grow and expand. 

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Financially, Normandy’s giving goes directly to their annual operating budget. Specifically, in the past year, this giving has allowed WakeWell to hire its first full time staff member, Jacob Simmons, who also attends Normandy Church!

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Over the next six months, WakeWell will gear up to expand internationally. They desire to take the gospel of Jesus to wakeboarders all across the globe. Their team feels that God has finally positioned them to do that successfully. 

When we asked Mark how Normandy can continue to partner with WakeWell in this goal, he said, “Come ride, hang out, and build relationships alongside us at the local WakeWell chapters. Pray for our mission to continue to reach the lost people of wake culture. Give to help support us as God continues to expand our organization.” 

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Luckily, there is a very tangible way to do that coming up in just a few days! The 4thAnnual DFW WakeWell Banquet is being held November 10that 6:00 pm at Hydrous Allen (580 North Cedar Drive, Allen, TX). You can sign up for a seat or table at this event by clicking

HERE. 

 

We are extremely proud of the Heger’s and their relentless pursuit of the unreached. Thank you for giving so that we can help bless them on their mission!

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Ephesians - The Bible Project

We want to ask you to read, listen, and pray Ephesians as we take on this new series together. 


Read it

Read through it 1-2 times a week

Listen to it

Download the Bible App, and listen to several versions of Ephesians (ESV, NASB, NLT, The Message)


Watch it

Check out this video from The Bible Project above

Pray it

Include it in your prayers this week, and be on the lookout for our lead pastor, John Bower, on our Instagram story talking about different ways to do all of the above!

Community

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This Sunday Normandy Groups Director, Mark Heger, teaches about the importance of being devoted to one another through living in biblical community.  Using Acts 2 and John 17, Mark emphasizes that true community is devoted, unified, and expanding. Read the transcript below or listen to the sermon by clicking HERE.



Good morning Normandy.  As always it is a huge honor to be preaching to you today.  Teaching and preaching is always something that I enjoy doing, whether it’s with WakeWell, or at Conferences, or here at church…and I am always honored and humbled to share what God’s doing in my life and teaching me with you guys.

Now for those of you that don’t me or haven't heard me preach before, my name is Mark Heger and I am the Groups Director here at Normandy.  For the past 13 years I have led small groups and bible studies, and created relational communities all across the nation.  I have led some groups that have failed miserably, and I have led some groups that have flourished and expanded and multiplied.  I love leading groups of people and assisting them with their faith.  My heart for groups is that people would would not only grow closer to Christ, but also that people would grow closer to each other as they grow closer to Christ.  I believe that we were designed for community…that God’s statement of “It is not good for man to be alone.” doesn't just apply to the context of marriage or else He would have said, “It is not good for man to be unmarried.”  But God said that it is not good for us to be alone, because when we are alone we are more susceptible to the lies of Satan.  I know that there are people here today who are feeling lonely, isolated, divisive, defensive, too busy, to broken to live in close Community…and that breaks my heart and it breaks God heart.  Because I believe that everyone has two basic desires in life…two basic desires that drive most if not all of our decision making…and those two desires cannot be met outside of community.

I believe that everyone…regardless of your race, religion, gender, or economic status…everyone desires to be known, and to be loved despite being known.  Let me say that again, I believe that everyone on the planet…everyone who has ever existed from the beginning of time…desires to be known…they desire to have intimacy with other people who would know them for their strengths and weaknesses, their successes and the failures, their likes and their dislikes…they desire to be known.  And in addition, despite being fully known and being exposed not only for who they are, but also for who they are NOT…all people also desire to be loved.  Like REALLY loved.  Cared for, celebrated, and encouraged.  Loved for who they are and loved enough to call them up to something even higher.  

That’s why I believe in relational ministry.  Because it shows people that you desire to know them, and you love them even after you know them.  And here are Normandy Community Church, one of the best places to see this lived out is in our Normandy Groups.  Today I hope to encourage you to come and be both known and loved here at Normandy.  But before we dive in, I want to pray for us.  So join me as I pray over our time together and then we’ll get started. [Prayer]

So today we are going to be talking about the importance of Community.  And in order to do that, we are going to be spending the majority of our time in Acts chapter 2.  And the reason that we are going to be looking at Acts 2 is because it’s in that Chapter that we see the origins of the early church and we witness the first believers beginning to live out their faith together.  Now while you’re turning there, I want to share a little about my testimony with you.  As many of you know, I grew up right here in Lake Highlands, GO CATS, and my parents still live in our same house right around the corner from this church.  My father was raised in the Catholic tradition, and he did his best to raise my older sister and I in the Catholic church as well.  So when we were very young we attended Sunday school and occasionally went to Sunday mass, but it really never influenced either of us at all.  And by the time I was around 7 or 8 years old, we had stopped going to church altogether because we unanimously decided that church was super boring and we would rather go to the lake on the weekends instead of going to church.  So that’s exactly what we did.  Every weekend we went to the lake and waterskied, wakeboarded, kneeboarded, rode SeaDoos and had tons of fun instead of going to church.  And I as you might expect, after putting in a generous amount of time into these watersports, I became pretty good at them and decided that I wanted to pursue a life of wakeboarding!  So I began to take wakeboard lessons, and I joined a crew of young riders that were my age, and we began to travel around competing at contests and tournaments together.  We were all like-minded, having almost everything in common, and we helped coach each other and push each other and encourage one another…we helped each other as each one needed.  We ate meals together, we saw incredible tricks landed and we still to this day share miraculous stories together.  We worshiped the sport of wakeboarding together and we even added people into our crew.  In many ways we looked more like Acts 2 than most churches.  We knew each other and we loved each other.  And it was great.

Now keep in mind, that through all of this, I was relatively unchurched growing up.  As a kid growing up in Lake Highlands, I wasn’t attending church or youth group…I had no idea who Jesus was…and I certainly didn’t have any relationship with Him.  And then, my junior year of high school, I went to Younglife Camp at Frontier Ranch and that is where I met Jesus and for the first time decided that I wanted to follow Him.  But I didn't know how to follow Jesus on my own, because I had never done that before.  I was a lot like the people in Acts 2!  Look at verse 22.  Peter is speaking to the Jewish people on the day of Pentecost and giving this great speech, and he says, 

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” 

Then skip down to verse 32…

“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”

And then here is high school Mark after Younglife Camp in verse 37…

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

I didn’t know what to do with this new life that I had received. I was use to living a certain way within a certain community of wakeboarders, and now I was finding myself needing guidance, training, teaching on how to live within this new Christian Community.  I went to camp, I listened to the messages, and I wanted to take it seriously.  Look at verse 40:

“With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

You see me and many of my friends who went to Younglife Camp heard similar versions of Peter’s words that summer, and I believe that many of us were added to the number of new believers that day.  But as with many people who hear the gospel and are convinced that it’s a good message, many of my high school friends decided to stay and live their lives in verse 41 without ever crossing over to verse 42.

And I know that there is a large portion of us here today who desire to live in an Acts 2 Community…who would agree living in Community with other believers is not only a good idea, but is necessary to having and maintaining a healthy Christian walk.  However, I would also like to recognize that while many of us agree and support an Acts 2 community, there is a large portion of us that are currently stuck between verse 41 and 42.  Whether it is something that you have decided not to prioritize, or you have entered into a different stage of life that is less conducive, many of you believe and accepted the gospel, but are not currently living within verse 42.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” 

I don’t know what it is for you, but something is keeping many of us from being devoted to teaching, to fellowship, to entering into each other’s lives, and gathering for prayer and worship.  And again, I’m not here to belittle or demean you. I’m here to encourage you to take that step into verse 42…to be devoted to one another.  It’s a rare thing in today’s culture for someone to be devoted to a group of people, which is strange considering how we are more connected to each other now-a-days than ever before.  I’m sure you guys have heard the statistics…that as technology has continued to increase and has allowed us to be more connected with more people, people are feeling more lonely, more isolated, less understood, and less cared for than ever before.  In an age of constant connection, everyone feels less connected to the other people around them. 

And yet, as believers we are suppose to be fighting for unity between us.  Isn’t that what Peter Louis talked about last week?  Unifying the church through forgiveness and repentance.  But forgiveness and repentance is only the start of unification.  To be truly unified, we have to be devoted to one another.  And to be truly devoted to one another, we have to hang out with each other.  Right?

It’s the same thing that Jesus’ prayed for the disciples in John 17…you don’t have to turn there, just look at it on the screen.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Jesus first asks “that they may be one”…that they would be unified just as Jesus and the Father are unified.  Well if you think about it, Jesus and the Father didn't just hang out once a week in a room and listen to the Holy Spirit teach on a certain topic within a 4 week series.  No!  Jesus and the Father were one because they intimately knew each other and had spent time together since before time was created.  Jesus is echoing what Peter would eventually say in Acts 2.  Be devoted to one another!  It was the desire of Jesus that believers would identify more with fellow believers than you would with people of your same race, gender, economic status, political affiliation.  Did you catch that?  Jesus prayed to the Father, on behalf of you and me, that a man and a woman, someone who is white and someone who black, a liberal democrat and a conservative republican, who are believers would have MORE IN COMMON…would have more unity with each other…than with a non-believer of their same gender, same race, or same political leanings.  That’s crazy right?

Then Jesus asks that the same glory that God has given to him, would also be granted to the criminals, the tax collectors, the fisherman, the prostitutes, the shepherds, and anyone else that would believe in him.  You see, we have to remember that no matter the make-up of your community, you are all joined together in unity through your closeness in Christ.

And it’s important to remember that Acts 2 wasn’t a perfect community, but simply a devoted one.  If you keep reading in Acts you’ll learn about this husband and wife that were a part of the new Christian community who tried to withhold money and God ended up killing them!  That doesn't sound like perfect community.  Or you’ll read about a group of widows that were starving because of language barriers and possible theological discrepancies…certainly not reasons that people should be starved, right?  This community was far from perfect, especially as it grew and expanded, but what remained constant was their devotion to one another.  And whenever a problem would arise or a disagreement would happen, the community would come together to find a solution that would allow for everyone to be known and loved and ultimately for more people to be added who could be known and loved.

And that in itself seems pretty simple right?  Wouldn’t we all agree that we ultimately want our church, our friend groups, and our families to expand for the sake of the Kingdom.  Doesn’t that sounds like a statement that we should all be nodding our heads to?  But the funny thing is that so often we don't enjoy living out that reality.  Because many of us, IF we were able to reach the level of community seen in Acts 2, and I believe some of us have at certain points in our lives, we would naturally want to protect it.  So often I watch Christians try to live in closed communities that desire to benefit themselves and allow them to walk in comfort and security knowing that what they have built for themselves is safe from anyone that might try and wreck it. When we do have good, solid community, we often use it primarily for our own benefit…We guard it. And this is something I’ve been guilty of.  “Who here has ever been in a Group that you felt was so awesome that you didn’t want to tell anyone about it?

But according to Acts 2, the Christian community is about having NEW people into your home, at your dinner table, attending your parties. It’s about caring for needs of others.  It’s about bringing people out from the fringes and inviting them into an ever expanding family that God adds to daily.  Living in an Acts 2 community requires us to open up our lives. A true Acts 2 community is not inwardly focused, but outwardly focused.  The goal is not self preservation, the goal is kingdom expansion…to make more room for people who need to be known and loved.  There are thousands of people in this city that might never come to a Sunday service, but that will come to you or your friends house to have or discussions about faith with you.  We should be tirelessly working toward inviting other in, reaching out into people’s lives, invading their space with the presence of God, and showing them that they have a value and a worth that is able to benefit both the corporate church and them as individuals. 

But sharing the gospel with people is hard.  When a person hears about some God in heaven, who they can’t see, or this Holy Spirit who lives among us that is invisible, it’s not only hard for us to explain but it’s also hard for them to understand; especially in our culture where we want to see everything in order to believe in it. When you try to share the gospel it can often feel weird and intangible.  But when you are living in an Acts 2 community and you invite someone into your life, you can point to your community and show them what the gospel actually produces. You can show someone with physical proof that it is ok to be broken and messed up, and that everyone will still stay devoted to each other. You love one another and work through conflict with each other. Sharing your community gives weight and tangible proof to the gospel you talk about.

Jesus says that he desires for us to be devoted, to be in unity, ultimately SO THAT the world may know God’s love.  So that the WORLD MAY KNOW.  This is the bridge that connects our need for community and our mission of sharing the gospel.  It is necessary for us to be devoted to community so that they world may know.  But how do you get this kind of devotion?  Where can this type of devotion come from?  You have to be reminded of the devotion of Jesus.  You think about the fact that Jesus, who had been in perfect unity with the Father since eternity past, surrounded by worshipping angels and sitting on the throne at the right hand of God, decided to leave His place in heaven, take-on flesh and enter the world as a child in order to display his devotion.  Then staying devoted, he waited patiently for over 30 years before the time was right to start His ministry.  He devoted himself not only to his ministry, but to the temptations, the humiliations, and the persecutions that He would endure.  He was eventually betrayed and abandoned by his disciples, the very people that he was unceasingly devoted to throughout his ministry.  And showing the fullness of his devotion, he was tortured, crucified, and killed for the sake of bringing glory to the Father…the same glory that He prayed you and I might share.  And then three days later, Jesus would raise from the dead, not for His benefit, but for ours.  So that we might understand that not even death could stop Him from being devoted to us.  So that we might understand the fullness of His love for us. So that we can live in relationship with a God who’s devotion is bigger than the grave, and that we would be willing to share this good news, this gospel, with the people around us.

His devotion to us is the answer for why community is important. Maybe you’ve tried before.  Maybe it was too hard. Maybe you’ve gotten out of the rhythm of community and you don’t know how to get back in.  Maybe you haven’t wanted to commit in this current lifestage. There are always a number of hurdles to keep you from deeper intimacy. But when you can’t muster up the strength yourself to want to do these things, you must remember how Jesus did these things for you.  Because if community was Jesus’ plan for the world to know God’s love, then it is obvious that Satan is going to do everything he can to stop us from being unified in community.

We need to be a people devoted to community. We need to repent and receive forgiveness for all the ways we’ve stayed in verse Acts 2:41, not moving into verse 42 and into the lives of others. It’s messy there, but that is where we see the gospel play out in the most amazing ways!

I believe that it is the will of God for the family of God to be on God’s mission together.  All of us need to take one step toward community today…for our own faith and for the future faith of others.