Monday, March 20, 2017

The Tip of the Iceberg

Did you know that 7/8ths of an iceberg is below the water line? In other words, the part that you see is the smallest amount of the total mass. We have the expression, ‘the tip of the iceberg’ used to refer to a situation in which you or someone else is seeing only a small part of what is really a much bigger condition. The phrase usually has a negative meaning to it- referring to a difficult situation. I’m using it positively in order to remind you of 20 things that are true about you and me as believers in Christ. These 20 things are just the tip of the iceberg. Read them and look up each scripture.
1.        All my sins are forgiven; past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13-14).
2.       I am a child of God (John 1:12; Romans 8:15).
3.       I have eternal life (John 5:24).
4.       I am delivered from darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13)
5.        Christ dwells in me (Colossians 1:27; Revelation 3:20).
6.       I am a new person (2 Corinthians 5:21).
7.        I was declared righteous (justified) by God (2 Corinthians 5:20).
8.       I have a relationship with God, and love is the foundation (1 John 4:9-11).
9.       I am accepted by God (Colossians 1:19-22).
10.     I am holy in God’s eyes (Colossians 3:12).
11.      I have a mission from God to do good works (Ephesians 2:10).
12.     I am a light in a dark world. (Matthew 5:14).
13.     I am part of an overwhelming victory (Romans 8:37).
14.     God makes me complete (Colossians 2:10).
15.     I am an heir to God’s glory (Romans 8:17).
16.     I am permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
17.     I am part of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).
18.     I have a special gift to employ in serving the Body of Christ (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4).
19.     I have an inheritance that cannot fade away (1 Peter 1:3-5).
20.    I am free, no longer a slave to sin (Galatians 5:1).
The most encouraging part about this list is that it goes on and on. When it comes to how God has completely transformed lives, this is only the ‘tip of the iceberg.’ The next time you are discouraged or overwhelmed, embrace who you are in Christ. Go back to the basics, the beginning of what happened to you when you came to trust in Christ. Understanding your true identity will bring you the encouragement you need.

Let's Be Engaging!

Would you be willing to be 100% honest with yourself and your answers to the following questions?
  • Do I love lost people and want them to enter a life-giving relationship with Jesus?
  • What evidence do I see that affirms or refutes my answer to the first question?
Did you answer honestly? Are you okay with your answers? Why or why not? A recent report from Pew Research Center concluded that Evangelical Christians do not seem to be in relationship with lost people. If our mission is to introduce people to Jesus, transform them through the truth of the Bible, the one thing that should not be taken for granted is engaging with them. Yet, that seems to be precisely what we are doing. Most of us are cloistered away in a ‘Holy Huddle’ or ‘Christian Clique’ that there is very little engagement with the lost.

I am praying and hoping that you and I, as Christians, will be heartbroken over people’s lost-ness. That we would have the courage to speak favorably about Jesus in public. That we would NOT be like those in John 7:13, ‘No one had the courage to speak favorable about Jesus in public.’ Rather, have the resolve of the Apostle Paul ‘one night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid, keep on speaking, do not be silent” (Acts 18:9).

There is a singular truth that must be championed again and again and again: lost people matter to God, therefore they should matter to us. The Bible makes it clear that the way someone far from God draws close to God is if someone close to God goes far to reach them (see Romans 10:14-15).

Let’s get engaged with the people who are lost. Let’s love them, engage them, and share Christ with them. The rewards of engagement, standing courageously for the truth, speaking boldly of your faith will last forever. Hebrews 10:35 says, ‘Do not lose your courage, then, because it brings with it great reward.’

Monday, March 6, 2017

Their Eyes, Not Our Eyes

As I think of First Free and reaching those who are exploring the claims of Christianity, I realize the one we need to reach have no church background or even any church memory. They don’t think about church in any form or fashion. Which means we need to change how we think about church and ministry.

Imagine a scale where one end is what we prefer and what we are used to and someone’s eternal destiny lies on the other end. With that perspective, “what we prefer” is really irrelevant. What price should you and I, as Christ followers, be willing to pay so those who don’t have a relationship with Jesus can have one?

The correct answer ought to be, ‘whatever price is required.’ In practical terms, what lost people need is more important than what you and I need. For us, what we do on a Sunday is just a matter of personal preference. For them, their eternal destiny hangs in the balance. So when I have to weigh the importance of issues like service times, musical styles, d├ęcor, how we greet, or sermon titles against someone’s eternal destiny on any given Sunday, it’s really not much of a debate. Love forces us to put others’ needs above our own personal preferences.

James Emery White’s Church & Culture blog this week said:
“not every guest who ventures to visit your church is created equal. On the broadest level, there are churched guests and unchurched guests. By churched, I mean they have a church background, are relatively comfortable and familiar with the church world, and are there as a consumer. The unchurched do not have a church background, are not comfortable or familiar with church world, and are there (at best) as an explorer.”

What I get from this is that we want anyone to feel welcomed, but we want to work harder at reaching explorers. What difference does this make? Quite a bit.

Consider one of the most commonly suggested steps to making a first time guest feel welcomed: designated parking. This can be done in a variety of ways. Using signage marked ‘guests’ or ‘VIPs’ or turning on lights that simply direct first-time guests toward a designated parking area where they find volunteers who greet them, offer first-time guest materials, and even escort them into the church and through any children ministry registration needs they might have.

It sounds impressive. It looks impressive. But who wants this kind of treatment? Only “churched” people love that kind of welcome, recognition, guest parking. The typical first-time unchurched guest wants anything but recognition. They don’t want to be singled-out, targeted, or asked to do anything. They don’t even want to take advantage of putting their child in our children’s ministry. At least, not at first.

What we are trying to do is design our guest experience through the lens of an explorer. We want to put ourselves in their shoes, or at least try to. This is hard to do because we are conditioned to see church through our eyes, not their eyes. Let’s strive to do what we can to reach those whose eternity hangs in the balance.
Mark "the Bru" Brunott

Monday, February 27, 2017

Some Thoughts on Relationships

Relationships: Messy, challenging, hard work, needed, outdated, helpful, hurtful, costly, and sacrificial. These are just a few of the adjectives I have heard over the years when it comes down to the relationships people have.

At First Free, we call our small groups Life Groups. This is purposeful. Implied in the title are the questions, ‘With whom are you doing life? With whom do you spend time hanging out and talking about the deepest things of life? Whom do you sharpen, and who sharpens you?’ Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”

When you look at the life of Jesus you discover he lived it with great intentionality. He lived toward the cross and the resurrection. He depended on God for constant guidance. He made choices strategically. For example, look at these verses from Luke 6:12-13: One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles.

I see in these two verses an intentionality of relationships.

We need to gather with our ‘thousands.’ I’m not talking about the number but the environment. We need to be a part of a weekly gathering with other followers of Jesus, some whom we might know personally, but many of whom simply share our common bond of being part of God’s forever family. A family where we can sing together, be taught together, serve together but we can’t go deep together.

We need to pour ourselves into others, and we need to be poured into ourselves by others. We need to have a network of dozens. This is when we get to know each other by name. You can go a little deeper with a network of people with whom you intentionally stay in touch. You may have a thousand friends via social media networks, but we probably only maintain actual friendships with a small percentage of those.

We need a Life Group. Jesus had thousands of followers. He had dozens of disciples. He picked twelve to train more deeply and send out. A small number helps us with prayer, caring, accountability, studying the Bible together and mutual encouragement.

And last of all we need a handful of close friends. Jesus had Peter, James, and John that were with him even more often than the other 9. He wasn’t showing favoritism. He just knew He needed to have a tightly knit core of friends in His life. To pour wisdom into them. For us we need them to pour it right back into us.

So let me ask you- who are your 3? Who are your 12? Who are your 70? Who are your thousands? If you can’t spit the names of your few or your dozen out pretty quickly, start working today on developing relationships. How? Well, not by passively waiting for friendship to happen. Reach out. Encourage. Invest. Give. Be a friend, mentor, and leader.

Blessings,
Mark "The Bru" Brunott

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Every Christian's Responsibility to our Leaders

Did you know that as Christians we are to pray for all those who are in civil authority (1 Timothy 2:2)? They might not be godly men or women, but still we are to pray for them. They might not be who we voted for, but still we are to pray for them. We may not like their policies, but still we are to pray for them.

Paul wrote these words to Timothy, a pastor in Ephesus when the Emperor was Nero. One of the cruelest Roman Emperors, Nero had already launched a bitter persecution against the Christians. Yet when Paul wrote to Timothy he said don’t forget to pray for the Emperor, for Nero.

This reminds us that all forms of government come from God’s hand. This is why rebellion against government itself is always wrong. We may need to use the powers that are given to us in politics to change governments, but government itself comes from God. So these men and women in public office need our prayers.

We need to be careful how we pray as well. Some can pray in a way that wants absolute success for officials we like and total defeat for those we oppose. That’s not the way Christians are to pray. Consistently, no matter who is in office, we are to pray for success. That he or she would carry out an agenda that leads to the flourishing of the rest of society.

Pastor Charles Stanley has stated several things we should pray for our leaders, especially the President.

1.            Realize their positions of authority were obtained either by God’s choice or His permissive will.
2.            Recognize their personal inadequacy for the task of governing our country and look to the Lord for wisdom, knowledge, and courage to succeed.
3.            Readily forsake their political careers and personal ambitions if it is necessary to do so for the best interest of the country.
4.            Restore dignity, honor, trustworthiness, and righteousness to the office of the Presidency, to the Senate, and to the House of Representatives.
5.            Respect, honor, and obey the Constitution of the United States, the protector of our freedoms.
6.            Reject all council that weakens our defenses against aggressors or endorses agreements that would do so in the future.
7.            Refuse to promote a way of life in which citizens of our nation become increasingly dependent on the government for their needs, thus surrendering their freedom to prosper.
8.            Reverse the destructive trends of humanism and atheism which attempt to dethrone God and deify humanity, because they ultimately result in an ungodly society.
9.            Remember their accountability to the almighty God for their attitudes, motives, behaviors, and decisions that affect our nation.

Let us pray for our leaders so we may live a peaceful and tranquil life (1 Timothy 2:2b).

Blessings,
Pastor Mark "the Bru" Brunott


P.S. Do you want to excel in your education? Are you still learning and growing even though you’re out of school? How do I thrive when I live in a secularized society? Join me this Sunday at 9:15 and 11:00 as we explore these questions. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

An Interesting Fact about the Bible

When it comes to the Bible today, we have the luxury of saying something like this: ‘Ok everybody, open your Bible to John 3:16.’ And everybody can find their way to that text. But did you know it wasn’t always this way? Can you imagine how we got along without these markers? We cite Psalm 23 and we know how to find it even if we have to use the table of contents. But it hasn’t always been so.

When John or Paul wrote their letters, when David wrote down scripture, when the prophets’ words were recorded, they wrote down those words without markers, without chapters, without numbering. Those markers were added centuries later. They are not inspired by God as the very words of Scripture are. They are not without error like the rest of scripture is without error in the original autographs.

To make a long story short, biblical scholars were making divisions of one sort or another in the centuries following the books’ original composition, but it was not until the early 1200’s that we got our current chapter set up, thanks to Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton.

As for the verses, Jewish scribes had already done work on the Old Testament around the year 900, and their work was wedded to Langton’s. But the church had to wait another 300 years for the New Testament’s breakdown, performed by a French-born printer, Robert Estienne.

Estienne was a protestant refugee in Geneva who constructed a Greek New Testament, but found his divisions A, B, C, D to be unwieldly. So, he inserted verse numbers and the product was an overnight success.

Can you imagine reading the Bible without chapter and verse numbering? When Jesus referred to Exodus 3:6 in Mark 12:26, he simply located it in ‘the passage about the burning bush.’ Neither the “12:26” nor the “3:6” were yet in place. Wow!

Though the Bible’s original writings were free from error, the same inerrancy did not extend to Langton and Estienne, as useful as their work has proven to be. Some of their chapter divisions and verse numberings have been criticized by scholars, but I’m glad we have it. It makes it easier to read and memorize.

Blessings,Pastor Mark "the Bru" Brunott
P.S. Have you ever felt the pressure to conform? Have you ever been asked to participate in something contrary to your convictions? Have you ever been tempted to compromise? If so, you will want to hear the message from the book of Daniel this week. Join me and bring an unchurched friend with you this Sunday at 9:15 or 11:00.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Living Life With No Regret

Have you ever looked back on some of the foolish things you have done? Have you ever thought, ‘I wasted so much time and energy on a wrong attitude or hurt I inflicted on others?’ Have you looked back on the good things you have left undone?

If you said ‘yes’ to any of those questions, then you know the pain of regret. Bronnie Ware was an Australian nurse who cared for patients in their last days. She wrote a book titled, ‘The Top Five Regrets of Dying.’ Here is her list:
1.        “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” This was the most common regret of all. When your life is almost over and you look back, it’s easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled due to choices they had made or not made.
2.       “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” Many missed their children’s youth and partner’s companionship because of their work existence.
3.       “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” Some developed illnesses from bitterness, resentment, keeping silent, or just trying to ‘keep the peace’ with others.
4.       “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” Many got so caught up in their own lives they let friendships slip by. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end- not money, things, or accomplishments.
5.        “I wish I had let myself be happier.” Ware says that many willingly remained in bondage of patterns and habits that were familiar rather than choosing happiness and contentment because they would have to ‘change.’
Take a moment and look at your life. Now imagine you are at the end of your life. Would you have regrets? Are there relationships you need to renew or reconcile? Are there patterns and habits that need to be changed? Are you working at the neglect of your family? Are you living towards your dream?

I’d like to add three more statements that I believe many Christians would list if they were at the end of their lives:
  • ‘I wish I had spent more time serving God and people and less time serving myself.’
  • ‘I wish I had told a lot more people about Jesus- and helped other believers to do so.’ Nothing else comes higher on Jesus’ priority list than this (Matthew 28:19-20).
  • ‘I wish I would have thought a lot more about heaven than I did about earth’ (Colossians 3:1-2).
What are your regrets? If you’re still alive and reading this, you can change the habits and patterns that caused them. We are all dying. Some of us have fewer days left than others. Let’s make every day count for Christ.

Blessings,

Pastor Mark "The Bru'" Brunott