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

IMG_0630.jpg

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.  

Screen Shot 2019-02-07 at 8.20.49 AM.png

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

unnamed-2.png

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

unnamed.jpg

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. 
_______________________

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

unnamed.png

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

advent_8.jpg

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

phil 2.jpg

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. 

1543947549970.jpeg

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!

Phil 1.jpg

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

MONDAY3.jpg

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

S8I3pFkQ.jpeg

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.

hyQFbDBg.jpeg

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.

sgQv1q4Q.jpeg

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. 

28167875_1964543426892507_535293027090458600_n.jpg

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!

GuyEQGOA.jpeg

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.” 

fxd-Wd9Q.jpeg

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!

DMRfhvFA.jpeg

 

 

 

 

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

IMG_0027.JPG

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.

6 Reasons You Might Not Attend the Normandy Women's Retreat

becca-tapert-357541-unsplash.jpg

The fall season approaches! And with it, the Normandy Women’s Retreat! 

I know what you're thinking-- “Where do I sign up?!” (Or, if you're like me, maybe not...)

Can I confess a little bit of crazy? Part of me loves being on the retreat planning team and another tiny part of me doesn’t even want to attend. But, if we can slide right past the conflicting nature of that statement maybe we can talk through some of the reasons we hesitate. So in no particular order...

6 Reasons You Might Not Attend the Normandy Women’s Retreat:

1. Chill time with your family is rare and personal time away from the family is even rarer.

This is the most exhausting phase of my life. Sleep is the most valued currency I possess, second only to alone time. So if you are asking me to spend my precious resources... it better dang well be worth it! And just so you know, we are working to make that so, but more that that, we are banking on God’s word that says when we gather together and ask Him to come, He does. 

  

2. You are not in a great place spiritually and you worry someone will see that, judge that, or even worse... want to pray for that.

That’s ok. Really. Welcome to humanity. There is no pressure to have it all together.  There is no need to pretend to be in a place you are not. Come sit by me. I’ve usually just fallen off the good Christian horse and am in a corner picking sand out of my teeth. And guess what, we may pray for you, and not because we are superheroes of the faith but because we cannot shake loose the belief that the Kingdom of God is among us and it’s worth sharing.

 

3. You are frustrated with the Church at large or even the church you attend personally. 

I have wondered many times why God thought it best to establish the church as His means of redeeming a broken world. But He did. And maybe here together is the best place to practice the gracious and hospitable posture that God miraculously approaches us with every second of every day. Is the church perfect? Nope, but is it beautiful, God-established and worth the pursuit? Yes. Every time. One thousand times. 

 

4. You've envisioned a room full of happy people talking about how wonderful life is and you can’t imagine how you would ever fit in in a room like that. 

Let’s be honest. There will be a room and it very well may have lots of happy people in it. But maybe that’s ok? Maybe this is where we stop and recognize the wide spectrum of places in the life of a believer? Mountains, valleys, concrete jungles. What if we decided to yield to a spacious God who creatively and purposefully has us in unique landscapes and invites us to approach each other as learners and siblings, all made in God’s image and worth interacting with?

 

5. What is the point of a retreat in light of a broken world?

It surely is a broken world. On every level imaginable, we are broken -- physically, spiritually, emotionally, sexually, intellectually, economically, politically, locally, universally. Every cell and molecule is groaning and waiting. We don't gather to avoid the world, we gather to bring our broken selves to a Savior that feeds us, heals us, and even empowers us to make more of a difference than we ever could without Him.

 

6.  I’ve got 99 things to spend $60 on & this retreat ain't one. 

No sweat. If funds are the only thing keeping you away, we’ve got scholarships we would love to spend on you! 


Written by Lauren Williams


We hope to see you at the Women’s Retreat this year! If you haven’t signed up yet, you can do so by clicking HERE.

How the Church Becomes a Community of Holiness

Paul Sloan is a new (old) friend of mine. He is Eraina Larson's brother and we've been able to connect over some similar theological views. I wanted our body to read [this article by him] because Paul masterfully ties holiness, community, God's presence and God's mission together. I wanted our body to read about seeing the implications of God's space invading our space. Enjoy! 

Pastor John 

This article was originally posted on Christianity Today



Imitating Christ is not just an individual concern but a corporate affair.

PAUL T. SLOAN| SEPTEMBER 10, 2018

Image: Ocamproductions / Lightstock

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you,” says Paul to the young church in Corinth. “And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning … ? Your boasting is not good,” he continues. “Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. … ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’”

One thing consistently strikes me whenever I read this passage from 1 Corinthians 5: While Paul is certainly concerned for the unrepentant man, he seems equally concerned for the sanctity of the community. “Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?” he asks. The basis for Paul’s concern seems to be his understanding that God dwells not simply in the redeemed individual but among the whole community. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” he asks (1 Cor. 3:16).

Throughout his letters, Paul teaches that the church currently enjoys the presence of the Spirit of God in anticipation of the day when God will flood the whole earth with his glory. Similarly, John’s closing vision in Revelation makes plain the hope of a renewed heaven and earth in which “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev. 21:3). Consequently, these passages should remind us that holiness—the quality that makes creatures capable of inhabiting the same space as their Creator—is not just an individual concern but is also a corporate affair.

Certainly, individual sanctification matters greatly, but it gains its significance within the broader biblical vision of the Triune God making his dwelling among his rescued people. In other words, holiness should be a characteristic of the community, and an individual grows in his or her personal holiness by submitting to God’s Spirit who sanctifies the whole.

In this time between the times, recalling the biblical vision of the whole community as the restored, sanctified dwelling place of God will greatly empower our Spirit-led efforts toward communal and personal holiness, equip our churches to respond rightly to communal and individual shortcomings, and serve God’s mission in the world by reminding us that the corporate church should shine like lights in a watching world full of alternative portraits of what it means to be human (Phil. 2:15).

The Numinous Presence

God’s Spirit among us is the basis for the apostles’ exhortations to holiness: “Be holy because I am holy.” (Lev. 11:44–45, 19:2, 20:7; 1 Pet. 1:16) The often-unstated premise in this well-known refrain is “Because the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp.” (Deut. 23:14, ESV). God’s presence is likened to a “consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29; Lev. 9:24), but here an interesting phenomenon occurs. Though his presence is like fire—a terrible good—we are not thereby warned to avoid him, as one would toddlers near an open flame. Rather, we are required to become pure steel rather than dry wood, capable of enduring the intense heat. Like the Pevensie children upon learning that Aslan is not a tame lion, our right response is not to run in the other direction but to approach him with awe. In other words, we are to be holy as he is holy.

Thus, the fact of God’s spiritual presence among us now, and the promise of his unveiled presence in the future, is what grounds New Testament exhortations to both individual and communal holiness. But it’s important to remember that holiness isn’t just a lack of impurity any more than fire is a lack of darkness. To be sure, holiness entails the avoidance of impurity, but it is more aptly described by its positive characteristics, by the fruit the Spirit bears: love, joy, peace, and the rest. While we easily comprehend exhortations to personal holiness, communal holiness can be an odd concept given the Western penchant for individualizing sanctification. So what would it look like for a whole community to be characterized by holiness?

The early church provides numerous examples. One such is the distinctive practice of adopting orphans. Ancient societies widely practiced “infant exposure,” the abandonment of unwanted children to the fate of death or slavery. Not only did Christians condemn the practice (see Epistle of Barnabas 19:5, 20:2; Epistle to Diognetus5:6), but they were even known to rescue exposed infants and raise them as their own (see Augustine, Epistle to Boniface §6). Thus, in a culture that valued or defined a person by virtue of their perceived benefit to society, Christians exhibited their communal holiness by disregarding such cultural norms and consequently caring for unwanted children as a community at great cost to themselves.

Similarly, in imitation of Jesus’ vision that God’s dwelling place is a place of transformation for the sick and needy (inferred from Matt. 21:14) my church in Houston, Seven Mile Road, raised and dedicated over $60,000 to Houston’s Child Protective Services and the church’s own Adoption and Foster Care Fund, financially aiding folks in our community who foster and adopt. Time with these children and their caretakers continually awakens our church to the reality of Houston’s need, and as a result, numerous couples within the church have become foster parents and adopted children into their care. Thus the Spirit that indwells us as God’s people led the church to pursue love and goodness toward those around us, in and out of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10), such that in a city with staggering need, Seven Mile Road is known for its service to the least of these.

To be sure, at an observable level, holy endeavors like the ones described above are often initiated and completed by individuals. But it’s important to remember the basis for such individual acts. Members of the community are able to act accordingly not because of their personal holiness but because they belong to the sanctified body, whose head is Christ (Col. 1:18; 1 Cor. 12).

Even the term member implies a proper functioning only by virtue of one’s belonging to the whole. Members act rightly as “hands” and “feet” precisely because they belong to the holy “body.” Personal holiness, therefore, is a consequence, not a component, of communal holiness. Thus individuals pursue and express their sanctification only by submitting to the Spirit that already sanctifies the corporate church.

In the two examples above, from the early church and Seven Mile Road, members of the church were empowered and encouraged toward radical acts of love and faithfulness because their churches, as corporate bodies, committed to embodying the love of Christ in their communities.

Equipping the People of God

Importantly, this same Spirit who leads us into holiness also equips us to react rightly when faced with individual and communal failures. Indeed, in the example from 1 Corinthians 5 above, Paul is concerned for the immorality of the individual because of his conviction that the Spirit sanctifies the whole people. “Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?” he asks (1 Cor. 5:6). “Are you not to judge those inside [the church]?” (1 Cor. 5:12).

The logic of Paul’s understanding is well-grounded both in Israel’s priestly literature and in our everyday experience. Basically, sin acts like a contagion; when left undealt with, it spreads and contaminates those who come into contact with it yet do nothing to set things right. Like a single pebble thrown into a pond, the ripple is much wider than the single point of impact.

We recognize this reality in the many #MeToo and #ChurchToo examples that have recently made news. What often began as a bent desire in the mind of say, a male leader in a church—a private moment indeed—spiraled out of control, sprouting tentacles that dragged others down into a dark, dark place. It is thus incumbent upon the church to right such wrongs, to work on behalf of the victims, and to protect the vulnerable from such abuses.

But thankfully not all examples have such sinister outcomes. Indeed, my hope is that this biblical vision of corporate holiness spurs our Christian communities to seek both the vindication of the harmed and the restoration of the one who falls short. A church from my childhood—one that focused on aiding recovering drug addicts—modeled this well.

Early one morning my pastor received a call. “We can’t find him,” said the voice on the other end. “And he hasn’t showed up for work in a while.”

Dale was a faithful member of the church, and he had come to know the Lord and attend services through the church’s outreach programs. The church had funded Dale’s rehabilitation, helped him attain a job, and provided accountability systems to help sustain his substance-free life. However, one week Dale didn’t check in and he was unreachable by phone. The pastor and some members eventually visited his home but could find no trace of him. Finally, he turned up at a friend’s house, and it was clear he had fallen back into some old, destructive habits.

But our church didn’t blink. Marked with gentleness and humility, the community sat with Dale and talked through what prompted his recent actions, reminding him of the church’s love for him. And Dale wept.

He was received by the community with open arms and prayed for publicly, and he continues to this day in joyful fellowship with the church. In this case, not only was Dale himself restored through repentance, but the potential negative communal effects of his momentary shortcoming, namely the temptation of the church’s many other addicts, were minimized from the beginning.

And this is the beauty of God in his temple, among his people: The Spirit who indwells us is also the Spirit who sanctifies us, empowering us to obey God’s commands and leading us to repentance when we do not. It is the only place that requires we become like Jesus, enables us to do so, and forgives us when we don’t. For God alone demands such holiness for those in his presence, and he alone provides the means of doing so.

Finally, this Spirit who indwells us also molds us into the people we were created to be, shaping our communities into Christ-like bodies and serving God’s mission by showing a watching world that there is another way to be human.

The Mission of God

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Love of one another is to be an unmistakable mark of our Christian communities, and though it is a good in itself, such love also beckons the rest of creation to be reconciled to God and join the community indwelt by the Spirit. For God’s Spirit shapes us into “little Christs,” to use C. S. Lewis’s phrase, sending us into the world as Christ was sent to us.

“‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21–22).

This Spirit among us—the fire that burns away our impurities—also casts needed light on a world over which shadow spreads. Thus in an onlooking world rightly concerned for justice, the community functioning as God’s temple serves as a signpost of the new creation in which love, empowered by the Holy Spirit and expressed by sacrifice, patience, and forgiveness, marks the lives of our communities and invites the watching world to participate.

Our communities, then, should be characterized, however imperfectly in the present, by the kind of holiness that will pervade the new creation in which God will be all in all. To be God’s temple in the present is a terrifying good, certainly, but it is one that promises to transform us into Christ’s image until he finally makes all things new, when the tabernacle of God will be among humans, and he will be their God, and they will be his people, and God himself will be among them.

Paul Sloan is assistant professor of theology at Houston Baptist University. His most recent book is Mark 13 and the Return of the Shepherd: The Narrative Logic of Zechariah in Mark (T&T Clark: LNTS, forthcoming).

Tongues

title.jpg

“Teaching moment!” - Mark Heger

A few months back I was at the Heger’s group and was leading them through some of our CRC/Wired training. During the training Mark interjected a few “teaching moments”. These were specific times that Mark used real life examples for “teaching… and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

This Sunday during the 1st service we had a great teaching moment. During ministry time we had a corporate tongue which is the first time we’ve had that in an actual church service. I wanted to take the opportunity to share a few points on tongues and the gifts in general.

 

A note on the Gifts

We are a Continuationist or Charismatic church. It means we believe that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit found in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 are given to every generation. They should be practice and sought (as is appropriate) in accordance with Scripture. Two of the gifts listed are tongues and interpretation of tongues.

Tongues

I must say that tongues has a terrible PR. I’ve discipled some guys and taught them about the gifts and the general feeling I got from there was “the gifts are great… but I don’t want tongues.” When people think about this gift often times they picture themselves losing control and babeling on like a crazy person. The other image that comes to mind is a TV preacher, asking for money and *gently* pushing people over.

Poor tongues! They didn’t ask to be so misconstrued. So… teaching moment...  this gift was God’s idea!  Let’s resolve, not ridicule, something precious in God’s sight. Remember, He is a good father and He gives good gifts to His children.

What we believe about Tongues

It is helpful to have a working definition. Here is ours (thank you Sam Storms):

We don’t think that everyone will get the gift of tongues. The Holy Spirit gives the gift as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:4-7:11).

We encourage our people to pursue all of the gifts (even the gift of tongues!).

Three Types:

There are, in my opinion, three types of tongues in scripture. Many people will disagree (you can disagree too!), yet this is where I have landed. Remember I am learning to follow Christ. I am learning how to use the gifts and I am learning to lead the body with the gifts. So while I am learning, I am also free to change my mind on this as I learn more along the way. This is where I am at today:

Tongue #1 – Tongues as an evangelistic tool

Acts 2:6: And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language...

After God poured out His spirit in Acts 2, the church spoke in tongues and they declared “the mighty deeds of God,” (Acts 2:11, Acts 10:46; Acts 19:17). Then other people came to hear what all the commotion was about. When they got there, they heard the worship of God in their own language. It would seem that the gift of tongues  was used to declare the mighty deeds of God and that was a part of leading people to salvation. There isn’t a ton of evidence that tongues was uniquely and solely designed to evangelize unbelievers (they didn’t give the plan of salvation in tongues). It would seem that the primary purpose of the gift was to thank, praise and worship God. While there was some evangelistic use in Acts 2, it didn’t happen elsewhere in Acts, nor did the apostles exhort the church to use it as such. It seems to me God has used tongues as a tool in evangelism.  

Tongue #2 & #3 - Private & Public Tongue

I think (emphasis on humility here… this is just where I am at today) that these are not two different gifts but rather two different ways one might use the same gift.

Private Tongue (prayer language)

1 Corinthians 14:2: For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 14:4-5:  The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.  Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy…

It seems to me one way this gift is used is in a private manner (verse 2) for edification and building up of our individual souls (verse 5). The idea of edification (building up our souls) is one of primary reasons for the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Corinthians 14:3).

Public Tongue

Again I think this is the same private gift now on public display. Now that this gift has “gone public,” Paul gives us some boundaries to ensure the gift is (a) lead by the Holy Spirit, (b) gives praise to God, (c) done with consideration of others and (d) done for the common good.

1 Corinthians 14:13-19 [13] Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. [14] For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. [15] What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. [16] Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? [17] For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. [18] I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. [19] Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Y'all this church was a mess. And they were messing up the use of the gifts. Yet Paul did not ban the gift because sin does not negate a divine gift. He corrected them. He exhorted them. Here is a brief picture of how to do it corporately:

  • Come to church gatherings with the expectation the Holy Spirit might manifest Himself that way (1 Corinthians 14:26).

  • Set the boundaries: The gift of tongues is simply the Spirit-energized ability to pray, worship, give thanks or speak in a language other than your own. It is not being overcome in the Spirit and then you just “gotta let it out.”

  • At our church you can pray in your private prayer language every Sunday. Do it in a way that is not distracting to others.

  • If you have the gift, and think it is for the church, pray that you can interpret it (1 Corinthians 14:13) and pray with your mind also (1 Corinthians 14:15).

  • Submit it to the Elders in an orderly manner all the while consider the environment and the people there (1 Corinthians 14:26).  

  • Apparently there should only be two to three per gathering and there should be people to interpret (1 Corinthians 14:26-28)

  • Interpretation: (by the way, I have yet to meet a person that says, “Interpretation of tongues… that is my #1 gift!”) What is the Spirit saying? Is it a message directed at God? Is it thanksgiving, praise and worship? Or is it for the body at large? For edification?

  • Humility - Tongues isn’t the end all be all. Paul actually wants people to prophecy (in love) more than pray in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:5).  And you can control it because the Holy Spirit won’t violate the order He set for church gatherings (1 Corinthians 14:26-27).

  • Grow in maturity (1 Corinthians 13:4-7; 11). Know the context. Know the people. Consider the situation and what God is doing. That is why this Sunday’s demonstration was so great. It was an intimate setting. We had some time to test what was said and process it.

 

Final Thought

I will leave you with a thought I’ve had years back. I am not sure who put it there or where I picked it up. Yet I found it useful to help me understand the beauty of this gift and its purpose. This gift doesn’t make sense to a lot of people and as I mentioned before comes with a lot of weird baggage. Let us remember Acts 2. The Holy Spirit was poured out and people that came up to the disciples heard people “declaring the deeds of God in their own language.” They were learning about the greatness of God. Let us also remember our definition:

The gift of tongues is simply the Spirit-Energized ability to pray, worship, give thanks or speak in a language other than your own.

So it is a God given gift. It is God’s idea. He came up with it! Apparently it is God the Holy Spirit helping us to pray, worship and give thanks (gracious knows we need that from time to time). Now let’s look at the Psalms. It would seem David both wanted people to know about his God and thought that it can be hard to actually declare all the good things He has done:

Psalm 66:5 – Come and see the works of God: he is awesome in all His deeds toward the children of men

Psalm 106:2 – Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord, or declare all his praises?

Can you see this gift being given by God to fulfill the psalms? God used this gifts to help his people describe His character and to describe “the works of God'“? Can you see God giving this gift to help us declare all his praise because without His help, “who can utter the mighty deeds of God?”

It is as if God new we’d need some help praising Him and therefore the Holy Spirit manifests this gift to help us to worship Him. Thank you Lord for this gift. Help us even now to rightly praise your great name.

Additional Resources:

John Bower - Tongues

Michael Miller - Language of the Spirit

Sam Storms - Tongues I

Sam Storms - Tongues II

IMG_0864.jpg

- John Bower

Lead Pastor

Lost Parables Trilogy

Kingdom+Parables+banner.jpg

This week Mark Heger spoke on the “Lost Parables Trilogy” in Luke 15 as the final week of our Kingdom Parables series.  Mark walked through The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Lost Son to remind our body about the radical love of God for both the sinner and the saint. Read the transcript below, or listen to the podcast version by clicking here.


You cannot understand Luke 15 without understanding verse 1. If you miss verse 1, you cannot fully understand anything that is said after it. The whole key to this chapter hinges on who is in the crowd to hear these three parables. So let’s look at it:

 “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.”

I hate to start things off like this, but I want you to know that your childhood Sunday school has failed you.  Most of us were told that a tax collector was a man who was supposed to get $25 from you but instead he takes $30 from you because he wanted to get rich. Now that’s a good story, but it isn’t true. Let me try to explain:

At this point in history, the world is ruled by Rome. From India to England, Rome ruled the world, and they were a ruthless, horrific government. In fact, there are historical accounts of Rome conquering a city and then taking 20,000 men, women and children, stripping them naked and crucifying them on the road leading up to that city for up to 40 miles. So that going into the city for supplies, going into the city to see family, going into the city to get work done, you would have to pass by 20,000 suffering, dying or dead men, women and children who have been stripped of their clothes as an act of shame just to burn in your heart, “Don’t mess with Rome.”

They were a brutal regime. Now if you rule from India to England and you don’t have an air force or you don’t have the ability to press a button and launch weapons, the only way you can govern a landmass that size is with a massive army. Now Rome did not have enough men for the size of army they needed. Therefore as they conquered a land, they would hire mercenaries and they would give them food, weapons and training, and they became part of the legions of Rome, despite the fact that they were not Romans. But how do you fund, supply, feed and train a massive army? Taxes. Tax Collectors were men who would purchase the right from Rome to raise funds for an oppressive occupying army that was responsible for the brutal death of hundreds of thousands of people. It would be like you living next door to a man who had single-handedly funded the attack on 911 and it was totally legal to do so. But here’s the thing…these tax collectors are drawing near to Jesus.

 

They’re not the only ones. Sinners are there too. And for us to understand “sinners,” we have to get out of the American mindset. Because here you’re a sinner, I’m a sinner, everyone’s a sinner. That’s not the case here in the text. Here “sinner” is marked as a class of people that are deformed, diseased or whose job is one that the Jews would have considered a life of sin. So they were prostitutes, strippers, slave traders, drunkards, addicts, lepers, the sick and disabled, etc.  And we read here that the tax collectors and the sinners are drawing near to Jesus. 

 

It was common knowledge that these people were not allowed in the synagogue, they’re not allowed to make sacrifices, they’re not allowed to hear the Torah read. They are absolutely exiled from the religious life of Israel.  And yet here they are gathering near to hear Jesus.  Got it?

 

But the tax collectors and sinners aren’t the only ones at this party. Look at verse 2. “And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.'” Pharisees and Scribes are there too!  They’re the other end of the spectrum. So on one side of the scene, you’ve got your tax collectors and sinners and on the other side you’ve got your Pharisees and scribes. And the Pharisees and scribes live in such a way that is so morally upright that they believe that their moral uprightness has provided them favor with God that God will not extend to anyone else who is not as morally upright as they are…does that make sense?

So Jesus begins to do what He does and speak through Parables about the way things work in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Look at Verse 3, 

“So he told them this parable: 'What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’” 

Lets look at both sides of the crowd that Jesus is speaking to.  If you’re one of the sinners or tax collectors over here then you probably think you’ve strayed too far from God and there’s no way He could forgive you for who you are or what you’ve done.  But Jesus says, “No, no, no. You’re not coming to me. I’m coming to get you.  And when I find you, it’s not going to be, ‘You stupid dumb sheep.’ I am going to throw you on my back, and I am going to rejoice. And when I get you home with the other ninety-nine, I’m calling everyone over to celebrate with me.  That’s what Jesus is saying to the sinners and tax collectors.  You following me?  And if you’re one of the Pharisees or scribes then Jesus is saying, “the ninety-nine sheep aren’t good enough by themselves…you can't forget about the one. EVERYONE has value in the Kingdom and the obedient majority are not better-off without the ones that have gone astray.  We should care for them, fight for them, seek them out. Jesus is saying that there’s more celebration in you coming home than you staying in your seat where you think Godly people should be seated. You see, this side over here believed there’s more celebration over their goodness than the repentance of those who are wicked, and they just found out that’s not true. Do you see how Jesus tore down both belief systems while simultaneously encouraging them with love?  Isn’t that awesome?!?!  Then He blows them both up. 

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

And then He just goes right into the next story:

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’”

A silver coin is a day’s wage. She has ten day’s wages. She’s not hurting. Keep in mind that this in in a day and age where you don't have a bank account and a check card and you get paid every two weeks. She has ten days of wages saved up. She’s a pretty wealthy woman for this time period. She loses one day’s wage, but that’s not that big of a deal. She still has nine day’s wages left. Most people live day to day. It is not that big of a deal that she lost a coin, and it certainly isn’t worth ripping your house apart trying to find it. But that’s exactly what she does. 

So in this story Jesus reassures the tax collectors and sinners who feel useless and probably think to themselves, “I mean, I’m just a measly silver coin. I really don’t carry much value.” And Jesus goes, “I’ll tear the house to pieces looking for the one coin, even though I have nine coins.  I see value in the one coin!”  But then the Pharisees are all like, “We’ve got nine coins, who needs one more? We can buy anything we want. It’s not worth the effort to search for one measly coin.” And Jesus is going, “We need every coin…every single coin is valuable because it increase the value of the whole lot.”  Then again, He blows them both up. 

“Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Now the third story’s the big one. It’s probably the most well known, and many of you are familiar with this story of the Prodigal Son.

Verse 11, “And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.” 

So Jesus starts telling this story of a Father and two sons.  One son comes to his dad and says give me all my inheritance, which is pretty much the same as saying “Hey dad, I wish you were dead.”  And because he is the younger brother, he would have been entitled to one-third of the estate…which is half of what the older brother would have received.  Older brother gets 2/3s…younger brother gets 1/3.  Got it?  Then you’ll notice that the text says, “not many days later, the son gathered all he had…” which means that the son actually took the time to sell all the tangible items like cattle, land, family heirlooms, and turn them into cash before he left on his journey.  So keep in mind that the Father didn't just lose cash in this exchange…he likely lost one-third of his land, one-third of his cattle and crops, one-third of his valuables.  That’s a big deal, right?  Let’s keep reading…

“And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.”

Keep in mind that these are Jews, and this man’s eating with the pigs, which is the unclean animal. So not only has he turned his back on his father, his family, and his country, but he has also left behind his morals with his wild living, and he has also turned his back on his beliefs. 

Then Verse 17, “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.'” 

Now remember what I said at the very beginning…we have to keep in mind WHO Jesus is speaking to.  We have the tax collectors and the sinners on one side, and the Pharisees and Scribes on the other.  And right now as Jesus is telling this story, you know both sides have to be going, “Here we go.” Because if you are a tax collector and a sinner, you see that the son is going to go back to the father now and will have to be a slave to the father.  So they’re thinking, “Ah, there’s the catch, there is a mountain of service, apologies, works, and humility that are going to have to happen in order to enter the house of The Father.” And the other side is thinking, “Ah, there’s the catch, because they’re going to try to come back to the Father and He’s really going to let him have it!  He is going to get roasted and raked over the coals as soon as he returns, right?  He is going to feel the wrath of his father!” Let’s keep reading, because both are so wrong.

Verse 20, “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” 

Isn’t that awesome?  I know that we’ve heard this story about a thousand times, but it’s still super cool right?  Especially when you realize the cultural ideologies that Jesus is breaking down on both sides of the table!  Because right here, when we watch the father receive his son back into the family, Jesus is showing one side of the table that they do not have to work their way into right-standing with God.  No, they can be accepted, forgiven, loved, and even celebrated just as they are!  We even see the Father RUN…which was never something someone of wealth and status would have done.  But Jesus says that the Father RAN…he left his own status and reputation behind in order to go and greet his repentant son!  Isn’t that beautiful?

The younger son in this story is such a clear picture of sinners and tax collectors in the crowd, who were feeling dejected, depressed, and disposed of by the religious leaders of society.  The younger son left his family, left his people, left his friends, left his country, left his morals, and left his faith in order to pursue life on his own.  The tax collectors left their allegiance to their people and gave it all to Rome, in order to further their own wealth and prosperity, which you better believe severed plenty of relationships along the way.  The prostitutes probably didn’t grow up dreaming of being a prostitute, but instead through whatever circumstances led them there, found themselves leaving their family, their morals, and any dignity they might have had left in order to earn some cash.  The lame, the diseased, and disfigured, might not have chosen to leave all those things, but instead found themselves discarded and pushed away by society…but he result for them was the same.  And now Jesus tells them that there is a father in heaven who is waiting for them to appear on the horizon so that He can RUN to them…showing them that He values people over perfection.  That no matter what they have done, where they have gone, what they have squandered and left behind, there is a God who will welcome them back with open arms!  Isn’t that awesome?  We love this story because it is such a clear picture of the restoration and redemption that God provides for people who are lost and wandering.  Right?  We love the story of the younger son, because he had the correct response of returning to his father. But like we have already discussed, there are two sides to this crowd…and the story of the younger son only represents half of the crowd.  

 Let’s take a look:

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’"

We all know how the story goes, the younger son comes back, the older son hears the music and the partying, he gets so mad that the Father has to come outside…leave the party…in order to find out what is wrong.  And then the older son goes O-F-F…he goes off on the Father…saying “You never gave me this and that…I was nothing but loyal to you…I have worked hard and stayed pure and kept my good reputation…I was way better than the sinner!”  He even goes as far to say, “Your Son”…and not “my brother”…distancing himself from the family and doing a little running away of his own.  And then the Father, who is rightfully p.o.’d at this point, rebuked him and put him in his place, right?  Isn’t that what the text says.  Isn’t that what WE the sinners and tax collectors expect to happen to The Other Side…to the enemies of Jesus?  But no…

Verse 31. And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

First and foremost, He calls him Son!  The greek word actually further emphasizes the love and affection that a father has for his own child.  He assures the older son that his place in the family has not been forgotten or replaced or revoked.  The father leaves the party, and takes the time to love and care for and comfort his eldest…reminding him that all he has to do is ask and it shall be granted…everything is his, nothing is being withheld.  You don’t have to work hard and be perfect, you just have to be my son and you will have access to all my wealth.  And that is the message that Jesus is speaking directly to the Pharisees!  Did you catch that?  Jesus uses this parable to tell not only the sinners and tax collectors that they have a place in heaven as sons of God, but He also uses it to remind the Pharisees that He loves them just as they are and they no longer need to live in any kind of moral uprightness or holier-than-thou attitude.  They just need to come to Him and He will give them access to the same thrown room as the redeemed sinners!  Isn't that wild?  

You see the problem with our society is that we love choosing sides.  We love to choose a side and then point and laugh at the other side and tell them that they are SO WRONG.  When we focus on the relationship rather than the religion, we are doing the right thing and Jesus HATES anyone who is overly fundamental and hyper-religious.  But that’s not what Jesus says.  He looks at all of us and says, you are all piles of trash and I love you all equally!  You are all lost sheep, you are all lost coins, you are all lost sons and daughters…and I am willing to leave the herd, tear apart the house, and run into the field in order to be reunited with you.  I will sacrifice EVERYTHING for you!  I will leave my place in heaven at the right hand of the Father, I will face every temptation for you, I will shed tears over you, I will sweat blood for you, I will face physical punishment for you, I would rather be humiliated, tortured, and crucified rather than live without you!  No matter where you’ve gone, what you’ve done, or what you once said to me…I love you like crazy and I will run to you!  And even when you think you have everything together and you don’t realize that you are the sheep, the coin, or the son…and you feel that I have treated to you unfairly, you can still approach me with boldness, confidence, and assurance because you are a part of my family!  And when you are a part of my family, that means you have a voice!  And although we might not always see eye-to-eye, you need to know that whether you are a tax collector or a Pharisee, a sinner or a scribe, you are loved by me to the fullest extent.  You cannot earn more love and you cannot lose my love…if you are willing to love me, then you. are. my. son….you. are. my. daughter.  Period.  End of discussion.

 

This story isn’t really about the sons at all…this story is ALL about the Father.  A Father who loves.

IMG_5952.jpg

- Mark Heger

Groups Director // Pastor

Chaos

After this Sunday’s message on facing chaos, conflict and pain, I got soooooo many requests (one) for the slide I created (actually L. Duggins created it). Not only did I get many requests (still only one request), I saw several people taking pictures of the slide during the sermon which was kind of flattering (pretty sure my dad was the only person taking pictures of the slide. He probably posted it on his Linkedin account).

So. Here it is.

Screen Shot 2018-08-23 at 1.03.05 PM.png

The basic idea is that our world is filled with weeds (conflict, chaos, pain) and will be until Jesus returns with such power the material universe will be purged from all death and decay. Until that time we are to face reality at all costs. The reality of our world is that it is often filled with chaos, conflict and pain. We must choose to face chaos. Eugene Peterson said this in As the Kingfish Catches Fire regarding church and reality:

 

Church is not a place in which we cut ourselves off from reality. It is a place where we face the world as we find it with courage and the whole armor of God.

 

Learning how to face the chaos, as is appropriate, is precisely the place we are going to find all that we are made for:

  • Deep relationship with God

  • Satisfying relationship in community

  • Life sustaining purpose and passion

 

We all say we want these things and yet we are unwilling to do the work necessary for deep and meaningful relationships with God and others. We lament how our job is undeserving of our time and talent, yet we won’t deal with the difficult reality that it takes deep work to discover and walk in a purpose that is life sustaining.

 

Recently I have been watching Batman Begins for the 1,000th time. Bruce Wayne, our lovable billionaire orphan, goes on a journey that takes him around the world. To me it seems that Bruce is looking for a way to understand the tragic loss of his parents and make sense of the injustice that took them away from him. He is looking for meaning.

NYOdqr3hSATyXAuhSohwGnHLVHOSXEMHJF13ynjMFMeA158-hAZV8MsiIkv3p-p8aOEPd9UQN5vZbDTMRmyZ0J4tCxDpy2eViXcQOj-v34iJeoSFIFjWvuryvZoimQgjiz0qiQ64.jpg

Before Bruce

becomes Batman (am I really referencing this? Is it cheesy? I don’t care. It is a great movie), he has to face his fears and confront the darkness. In that place of facing chaos, fear and pain, you see him changed.

God is inviting us into a deeper place with Himself and with others. I believe God is working in our church to clarify our individual passions and purposes. Yet we have work to do -  the deep work of caring and cultivating our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). We are called to face the chaos, as is appropriate, with God and others. When we deal with the reality of our hearts we might find the occasional dragon, snake, or bat. That is scary. That is uncomfortable! And that is precisely where God desires to meet us. Not just that He has to because He is God and has to save us. God actually desires to walk with you in those places we try to avoid or hide. When we meet God in that place we will come to find out that what Brennan Manning said is gloriously true, “God loves you as you are and not as you should be, because you’re never going to be as you should be.”

 

The good news is, as we learn to face the chaos that is close at hand, we will get the very thing we want - deep relationship with God and others. Not only that, as we embrace the world as it is, I believe the life we’ve always wanted will be on the other side. Not a life void of pain or conflict, but a life filled with meaning and passion.

Forgive me a little MuteMath to play you out with their song “Chaos”

Special thanks to CBMC Houston for the original version of the chaos slide. Thanks to Dr. Michael Godfrey who gave me some insight he gathered from Thomas-Kilmann on Conflict Mode Instrument.

IMG_0864.jpg

        - John Bower

                                                 Lead Pastor // Elder

Staff Sunday

Normandy’s vision is that we would love people and carry His presence and purposes into our homes, communities, nation, and the world. We believe it is not only possible, but that it is happening. We want to partner with God to bring people into His presence.

In order to live out our vision, we must have healthy leaders and staff. The behind-the-scenes work, preparation, organization, planning, and implementation of all the moving parts that make Sundays and ministries and pastoral care happen take a sacrificial amount of effort, energy, and focus from the people on our staff. On July 1st, Normandy will implement Staff Sunday. It will be one Sunday per year where the staff and the leadership enjoy a Sunday to rest from the sunday tasks, reflect on all that God has done, and recharge to pursue the vision.

On this day, we envision that our staff will take time to breathe, spend time with family, rest, relax, maybe be filled spiritually at another church, or otherwise be poured into so that they may continue to lead Normandy well. Having a time for staff to rest, reflect, and recharge is critical to maintaining healthy leadership.

In order to effectively lead and support the people of Normandy, the staff and leadership must be healthy and well. Supporting their health in this way will ultimately lead to stronger, better leadership.

Please feel free to contact any of the leadership should you have any questions.