Thursday, August 18, 2016

It's Life Group Time!

It’s that time of the year when I’m get excited about meeting with my Life Group friends. It’s so hard to coordinate regular meetings in the summer, so I haven’t seen my Life Group friends for a couple of months. I miss them. I love the accountability we provide for each other in the group. I love the spiritual direction that is discovered when we meet. I love the laughter and fun the group shares in together. I love the prayer support we give to each other. Doing life together is truly a blessed endeavor.
When Jesus was talking to his disciples on one occasion he told them ‘I have come that you might have life, and have life to the fullest.’ (John 10:10) If that was one of Jesus’ goal while he was on earth, I think that should be a goal for the church.
Most people aren’t necessarily living life to the fullest. Oh, they have full lives. They’re traveling from one place to another, one event to another, one accomplishment to another, and even one relationship to another. Most people schedules are full, but that is a far cry from living life to the fullest.
Living life to the fullest starts with Jesus. You cannot have a full life without him. Salvation is the starting point to a life fulfilled but it’s not the end. May I suggest to you, even challenge you to discover that being in a Life Group helps you experience the ‘fullness of life’ Jesus was talking about.
I believe this because everyone wants to know they’re not alone. We were created for relationship. But our world has created so many factors that are causing us to be more alone. Pastor Rick Warren mentions four major causes in his blog:
  • Urbanization- the majority of us live in the city and we don’t even know our neighbor’s name.
  • Specialization- we increasingly separate people into different boxes- further isolating ourselves.
  • Family Breakdown- in just a few generations, we’ve gone from the extended family, to the nuclear family, to the single parent family.
  • Materialism- things have become more important than people.
A Life Group can provide the support you and I need. I want to be with a group of people who encourage me, support me, love me, challenge me spiritually, are devoted to me, lovingly correct me when I get off course, laugh at my silly jokes, pray for me, and honestly accept me for who I am.
Do you have that kind of support in your life? Do you have someone who spurs you on spiritually? God designed the church to be a family. (Ephesians 2:19) Don’t go through another season in your life without the support you need and can find in a Life Group.
The next Life Group session begins September 11th. Make an effort today to be an active participant in one. Register online at http://firstfreelincoln.org/introductory-life-group/

Blessings,
Pastor Mark 
"The  Bru"


P.S. Understanding today’s culture is challenging. Knowing what God would have us do in today’s culture it the goal. Join me this week at 9:15 and 11:00 as we explore understanding the culture today and living life in light of that understanding.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Peace

I’m back. What a vacation! It was relaxing, refreshing, and replenishing. There were times when I would go out on my pontoon and see eagles in abundance, loons, deer on the shore, pelicans, seagulls, ducks, Canadian geese. Sometimes I would turn off the motor of the boat and sit in the calm water and read, reflect and experience peace.

I want to thank the church for allowing my family and me this privilege of getting away. A special thanks to the staff team who didn’t miss a beat in my absence. A special thanks to Nat Crawford for using his preaching gift.
I thought a lot about peace in my serene setting in Northern Minnesota. Many people long for peace, and even though a few minutes of silence may sooth our minds, the Bible teaches that real lasting peace comes from Jesus. Jesus said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
These verses remind me that Jesus brings peace with our Heavenly Father: ‘Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1). Without Christ, we are enemies of God because of our sin. Jesus’ sacrifice reconciled us to God and ends hostility that existed between us.
Not only does Jesus bring peace with God but He brings peace in our relationships. For He Himself is our peace, just as He made both Jews and Gentiles one (Ephesians 2:13-14), Jesus is able to remove the barriers, the walls that exist in our relationships.
Not only does Jesus bring peace with God and peace in relationships, He brings peace in anxious moments. The Bible says ‘Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:6-7).
Having peace with God does not ensure problem-free living. However it does steady us during difficult times. Anxious about going to school, the political scene, finances, your job, your health, the future? Jesus told His followers ‘In the world you will have tribulations. But He also said, ‘In me you will have peace.’ Christ, the true peace of God, can fill our hearts (Colossians 3:15).
Do you have peace with God? Have you placed your trust in His death and resurrection? How are you in your relationships? Do you need to confess a wrong you have committed to a friend, neighbor, or coworker? What are you anxious about? Place the worry, fear and anxious thoughts into His strong and powerful arms.
   

P.S. Do you understand today’s culture? What makes people think and act the way they do? How do we communicate in today’s culture which has become so secular it gives very little, if any, thought about God and His truth? Join us this Sunday at 9:15 and 11:00 as we begin to know our times and what God would have us do.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Let's talk about worship

When we talk about worship, we are talking about something only believers can do. Worship is from believers to God. We magnify God’s name in worship by expressing our love and commitment to Him.
Worship is expressing our love to God for who He is, what He’s said, and what He’s doing. We express our love to God by praying, obeying, trusting, singing, giving, testifying, listening, responding to His word, and thanking. God, not us, is the focus of our worship. Unbelievers simply cannot do this.
God’s presence must be sensed in the worship experience. When unbelievers watch genuine worship, it becomes a powerful witness (Read Acts 2). There is an intimate connection between worship and evangelism. The goal of evangelism is to produce worshipers of God (John 4:23). Worship should provide the motivation for evangelism (Isaiah 6:1-8).
We must be willing to adjust our worship practices when unbelievers are present. Making a service ‘comfortable’ for the unchurched doesn’t mean changing your theology. It means changing the environment: how you greet, style of music, what Bible translation you preach from, and the kind of announcements you make.
The message must be understandable to unbelievers, but not watered down (Acts 2:11). A clear message, coupled with genuine worship, will not only welcome the unchurched people, it will open their hearts to the power of the gospel.
As we worship, let’s worship with heart, soul, mind, and emotion, so that we may show others the presence of the living God.

Blessings,  
Mark

P.S. Are you worried about something? Do you fret about the economy, terrorism, job, health, family, relationship, presidential election, or the question: What happens to you after you die? If so, you will not want to miss this week’s worship experience at 9:15 and 11:00. Bring a friend with you and discover hope instead of worry.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Can We Learn From Each Other?

In an article I read this week, blogger, author, speaker, and pastor Kurt Bubna shares observations for the young (under 30) and the not so young (over 50) and what we can learn from each other.
The advice he gives to the young is…
  • Live in the present. Months turn into decades before you know it. ‘Bucket Lists’ are common among the elderly primarily because they wait too long to take risks and make every moment count.
  • Plan for the future. Don’t live your life without a view to the future. Be present today, but live prepared for the future because it will be here sooner than you think.
  • Stop throwing boomers (51-69 year olds) under the bus. The seniors in your life have learned a lot of lessons, some the hard way, so glean from their knowledge. Listen more and ask for their wisdom.
The advice he gives to the older is…
  • Stop living in the past. Engage in life now. Take some new risks. Be active. You aren’t dead yet.
  • Accept your limitations. You will never run a four minute mile, your memory may be fuzzy at times, and your body begins to sag. So what? Little stays the same over the years so don’t waste precious time worrying about the inevitable.
  • Stop throwing millennials (18-34) under the bus. They may seem cocky to you, but can teach you a thing or two about compassion and selfless service to those in need. Listen to them and ask for their advice about compassion, selfless service, and causes to live for.
The bottom line is we need each other. That is one of the intents of the church: to be multi-generational, working, and serving together to reach our world with the Gospel Message. Proverbs 20:29 says ‘The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old.’

Blessings,  
Mark


P.S. Do I need to turn in someone who is in the States illegally? Who is responsible to secure our country’s borders? Is this protection Biblical? Has my view on immigration been shaped by the Bible?
You won’t want to miss this Sunday, July 10th at 9:15 and 11:00 as we explore these questions! Bring a friend and join us!

 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Are You Stuck in the Past?

Are you stuck in the past?  Do you feel guilty over something you did and just can’t get past it? Do you carry resentment towards someone who wronged you? You want to move on, but the resentment keeps raising its ugly head in your thoughts.
If we are honest with ourselves, we all have hurts, habits, and hang-ups that trap us and keep us looking back to the past instead of looking forward.
Guilt, resentment, and hurt keeps us stuck in the past. These things also keep us from growing and from becoming all God wants us to be.  If you want to enjoy your life, if you really want to experience the abundant life of Christ (John 10:10), you’ve got to learn how to let go of these kinds of things that keep us stuck in the past.
There are three things you can do to help you overcome the guilt, hurt, and resentment of the past.

1. Take a moral inventory of your life.  Lamentation 3:40 says ‘Let us examine our ways and test them.’
To take full advantage of this inventory you must get away alone and take a large chunk of time.  Make sure you have a pen and a piece of paper and write down what you’re feeling guilty about and why you feel you can’t forgive what someone did to you.  Express these things honestly and write them down.  Writing it down helps you be specific and avoid denying problems.
2. Accept responsibility for your faults.  Proverbs 20:27 says ‘The Lord gave us a mind and a conscience.  We cannot hide from ourselves.’ 
Your honesty may lead you to see that healing begins with you.  Don’t rationalize, don’t minimize and don’t blame others.  Maybe you have been deceiving yourself of why you are feeling guilty, or why you feel hurt so deeply.  Look at your list and admit your own faults. 
3. Admit your faults to God.  1 John 1:9 says ‘If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Confession means ‘saying the same thing about.’ 
It means you are saying to God the same thing about your faults – it is sin.
Go through your inventory and say to God ‘You’re right, God, it’s wrong, cleanse me.  This will free you from the guilt, the hurt, the hang up, and the un-forgiveness of others. When we confess our faults to God, we can claim His grace and forgiveness.  He wants to give you freedom, and He invites you to be honest, trusting that He will be gracious.

Blessings,  


P.S. Do you ever feel the tension of submitting to the government in things you don’t agree with?  Is it ever okay to be disobedient to the governing authorities?  What is the government’s responsibility to me as a citizen?  You won’t want to miss Independence Sunday at 9:15 and 11:00 as we answer these questions.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Be Our Guest

Two days ago I read a blog that captured my heart because it speaks to what I want First Free to become as a church. The blog was written by James Emery White, the pastor of Meckenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.  White begins with the question ‘Have you been to Disney World?’

Some 20 million people attended Magic Kingdom alone in 2015.  That is only one out of four theme parks, so around 80 million people have been to Disney World.  What captured my interest more than how many people have been to Disney World, was the key to Disney World’s success.  It isn’t money, technology or the wow-factor of the rides.  The most frequently stated reason for guests returning is the cast – the employees.

Jeff James, vice president of the Disney Institute says, “200 million attractions won’t be fun if the cast member at the front is less than pleasant.”

The people at the Disney Institute spell out their entire approach to quality customer service in the book Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service.  They claim, “Quality service means exceeding your guests’ expectations by paying attention to every detail of the delivery of your products and services.” They have a saying, ‘Everything Speaks’.  Every detail from doorknobs to the dining room sends a message to our guests.

White then adds this thought: If only the church could be more like Disney World.  Not in terms of existing for mere entertainment and not in terms of a vision or providing ‘happiness.’ No, the church is much more than that.

We should ‘be like Disney World’ in the sense that our efforts to reach others is done with excellence so that it makes them want to return.

Where our ‘cast members,’ our regular attenders, are marked by friendliness and courtesy. Where ‘everything speaks’ from easy access to all floors to well-groomed facilities (inside and out.) That is what we are working for with The Church Appeal campaign.

God deserves our very best and we honor Him when we give Him our best. We do not want outdated carpet, dirty unpainted walls, smelly bathrooms, or any doorknob to speak against the message we are trying to convey. We want everything to communicate ‘be our guest.’

When it comes to serving guests, opening the front door and our interactions with guests should mirror our message and purpose. We should not only be like Disney, but put Disney to shame.

Let’s adapt the motto ‘Be Our Guest’ and let’s say it as well as Disney does. What can you do to make our guests want to return?

Blessings, 


P.S. If you were God, would you have a ‘Hell’ in your plan? Would you send someone there? If God is a God of love, why is there a Hell? Join me this Sunday at 9:15 and 11:00 AM as we look to the Bible for answers.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Summertime Challenge

Summertime presents challenges for every church. People are very busy and mobile in the summer, and sadly, some families will disengage from their local church from Memorial Day Sunday until the beginning of school, or even after Labor Day.

May I make a suggestion to you for this summer? Don’t disengage from the church! Use the summer as the time to renew your mind spiritually, refresh your spiritual walk, and rededicate your commitment to Christ and His Church. These things are harder to attend to in our lives during the rest of the year because of the normal routines of life. Yes, take a vacation. You need a couple of weeks to relax, have a complete break from routines, just don’t take the entire summer as a vacation from church.

Study after study reveals that people who engage in a faith community on a regular basis are rewarded significantly by reduced likelihood of life problems and risky behaviors, and stand to significantly improve the odds of a happier, healthier, and longer life.

But here’s the thing… being engaged in the church needs to start immediately. For those families with children, studies show that if a child is not regularly active in church by the age of 12, the odds of them getting active drops dramatically in teen years and beyond. In other words, parents who truly want the best for their children should get their children involved at church now and regularly.

The Proverb was right on: “Raise up a child in the way they should go and they won’t depart from it.”

Supervised activities such as baseball teams, dance classes, and club teams, while helpful, are poor substitutes for parents and family and the development of the spiritual self. Though the influence of these kinds of activities are important, the long-term nurturing qualities and faith values that families provide to children are what lead to spiritual development and church participation.

Another saying is: “It takes a village to raise a child.” The church can come alongside the parent(s) and help stimulate the intellectual, social, and spiritual development of children through lasting and caring relationships and the teaching of selfless values found at the core of faith.

That’s why I want everyone engaged with the church this summer. Even though the programmatic expression during the summer is different, church life challenges us to become more like Christ. Church life transforms us inside out.

Blessings, 


P.S. Do you ever feel trapped in your faith because there are too many rules? Why does the Bible contain so many do’s and don’ts? How can I be free if I’m bogged down with so many rules? These questions create a tension for us concerning our view of God. Sunday at 9:15 and 11:00, we will look at the Bible’s answer to this tension. See you soon!