Thursday, March 15, 2018

Does the "when" matter?

I was reading from the Gospel of Mark this week and came across this verse, ‘In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place and was praying.’ (Mark 1:35)

Is the point of the verse when we pray? I don’t think so. I’m not a morning person. In fact, I loathe early mornings. And of course, there are those in the church who love them. And when you serve with them on a committee they love to meet at 6:30 A.M.

That means I have to get up at 5:30 A.M. For me, that’s the middle of the night. Maybe it’s because I have a sleeping disorder that makes it doubly hard for me to wake up so early. Who knows the reasons?

But I don’t think the verse is emphasizing the ‘when’ as much as it is the regularity. Jesus spent a lot of time alone with God. Why? Jesus needed to stay connected to the Father in order to be refreshed and recharged after the pressures of his life and ministry.

Knowing His ultimate purpose on earth was to go to the cross for our sins, Jesus also needed strength to continue walking in God’s will.

Even though our most intense pressures and stress pale in comparison to what Jesus faced at the cross, we too need God’s refreshment, strength, and encouragement in the face of life’s demands and anxiety.

For Jesus, it was early in the morning. For me, it’s later in the day. The issue isn’t the ‘when’ but the ‘are you.’ Are you regularly spending time alone with God to get recharged? Let me give you a couple tips that have helped me.
1.        Remove distractions. Jesus went to a secluded place. Silence your cell phone, close your laptop, turn off the T.V., get away from others, and ask God for a desire to know Him.
2.       Be vulnerable. As Jesus prayed I’m sure he poured out His heart to God. And so should you. Christ teaches us in other places that prayer should consist of praising, thanking, and confessing sin, as well as meeting our needs and praying for His will in our lives. It’s about 100% vulnerability with God.
3.       Read God’s Word. God speaks, teaches, encourages, and directs us through His Word. We need to listen to Him because we love Him. It’s His way of revealing Himself to each of us.
4.       Have a regular habit. I believe this verse emphasizes that this was a habit of Jesus. We should make it a habit of ours.
The more time you spend with God, the more you will understand the power of God’s love that brings joy, fulfillment, and purpose to life. Ask God to help you prioritize time with Him today. Just do it. And remember, it’s not the ‘when’ but the fact that you want to be with Him.
Pastor Mark "The Bru" Brunott

P.S. As a Christian, do you feel that science and faith are constantly in tension? Is God anti-science? Are there reasons to believe in God?  Join us this Sunday at 9:00 and 10:30 A.M. as we begin answering these questions and looking at the evidence for God’s existence.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Who owns your money?

Years ago Cindy and I began to operate from two principles that we have tried to honor. These two principles have transformed us, sometimes painfully, but for the better financially.

The first principle was the fact that God is the owner of everything we possess. By “everything,” we mean EVERYTHING (Clothes, house, cars, body, guitars, toys, computers, food, basic essentials to live, things we have to enjoy, etc.). And He doesn’t own a portion of it, He owns all of it (Read 2 Chronicles).

The second principle is: He calls us to be faithful stewards (2 Corinthians 4:2). This, of course, includes money. It’s all His. Not just what we determine to give to Him- it’s all His. He gives us the opportunities to make money.

I state these two principles because it is easy for money to become an idol for us. An idol is anything in our lives that comes before God. This can be a person or a thing, a job or career- but very often it’s money. These two principles call us back to true Biblical stewardship so money doesn’t become an idol.

Tim Keller, author and pastor, describes our culture’s obsession with money as a ‘surface idol.’ What does he mean? People can become enslaved to money when their real concern is finding security. They build a big wall of protection around their lives with bank accounts and investments in hopes of protecting themselves from all the dangers of this world, yet ultimately this desperate search for security can lead to a heart of greed and stinginess.

For others, money is the surface idol for acceptance- using money and wealth to impress others, desperately seeking approval. Obsession with money can also hide a deeper desire for power and influence.

Take a look at how you view money. Do you fall into one of the above categories? Jesus knew that we would be tempted to put money before God (Read Matthew 6:24). That’s why it is so important to remember that all we are and all we have comes from God. We’re simply a steward, a manager, of all that He has entrusted to us.

The easiest way to be sure that you have a healthy relationship with money is to give it away. It demonstrates our faith and gratitude for all that we have. It puts God first.

Does your money own you or does your money reveal that God owns you? The litmus test is to look at your giving.
Pastor Mark "The Bru" Brunott

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Compassionate Living

In 2012, an online accommodation and hospitality platform began known as Air BnB, with one section known as Open Homes. Open Homes has helped thousands of people with safe places to stay while rebuilding their lives after devastating natural disasters, wars, and other kinds of displacing events. The amazing thing is: homes listed in Open Homes are totally free.

Everyday people with hearts of compassion voluntarily open their homes to strangers, even those with incredibly different backgrounds and beliefs from their own. Why would compassion lead to this kind of hospitality and care? I believe the answer is simple: Compassion has the power to transform lives.

When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. His compassion for them is the example we, as His followers, are to demonstrate to those in our neighborhoods, schools, churches, clubs, and workplaces.

One of the ways we can demonstrate compassion and see that it has the power to transform lives is to get involved in the Day of Service on April 28th. Through acts of kindness, we want to show people (especially those who are beaten and broken down by this world) that we care- that we love them.

Why? Because Jesus loved us first. Jesus loved us when we were beaten down and broken. He went out of His way to show love and kindness to us. He chose to save us by dying on the cross for our sins. It is out of this love that we are to love others.

Think for a moment of how you can better love your neighbors, family, colleagues, classmates, strangers, and community today. May your love and compassion for others demonstrate what it means to follow Jesus as well as we serve Lincoln to make it an even better place to live.

There are a couple of things I want to encourage you to do as we get ready for our Day of Service on April 28th.
1.        Pray that First Free would be a blessing to the city of Lincoln and those we serve in our community.
2.       Sign up to serve and become a part of the Day of Service Volunteer Team (beginning March 18 online or in the foyer).
3.       If you know an individual or organization in need of help, visit our website to recommend a project until March 7.
Day of Service t-shirts are available for purchase beginning this Sunday, March 4 for $7 each (cash only).
Pastor Mark "The Bru" Brunott

P.S. When you hear the word “evangelism,” what comes to your mind? Do you feel fear? Do you think: ‘that’s what professionals do?' Do you believe it means memorizing scriptures or using specific methods? Do you automatically conclude ‘that’s not for me?’ None of these responses are even close. Join me Sunday as we discover what it really means to be a witness concerning your faith. See you at 9:00 or 10:30!

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Sure Bet

I am not a betting man. I have never played a betting game or put any money in a slot machine. The closest I have come to betting is scratching off or peeling off some sticker at the local McDonalds to see if I won a free Big Mac or Coke with my next meal.

However, if I were a gambling man, one thing in life that is a sure bet is if you haven’t been in a really difficult situation and you’re not currently in one, then there is probably one waiting for you right around the corner.

When a crisis hits, your first response is usually to scream something like, ‘why me?’ Even Jesus asked that question when He was on the cross. Remember what He shouted? “My God, my God WHY hast thou forsaken me?”

It’s true that some storms of life are caused by our own sin. However, many storms occur even when we’re not doing anything wrong. We can be in the middle of God’s will and doing exactly what He asked us to do!

That was the case for Daniel. He was obeying God and trying to be a devout, obedient Jew in Jerusalem. Then King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army marched from Babylon to Jerusalem, tore down the walls protecting the city, destroyed the temple, and took the cream-of-the-crop young Jews (including Daniel) back to Babylon where they were exiled for 70 years. Even though Daniel was following God, he found himself in a captivity so violent there were times he wondered if he might not survive.

Another example comes when Jesus told His disciples to get in a boat and cross the Sea of Galilee. Even though they were obeying Jesus, they still found themselves in a storm that was so violent they didn’t know if they would even survive.

But here is the important message from these events: with the help of Jesus, they survived. We must accept the fact that life is not a perfectly smooth ride. The road will sometimes have bumps, potholes, and sharp turns.

Look upon these difficulties and tragedies as part of life. Turn to Jesus for guidance and the Holy Spirit for comfort. Trust in God’s Word and His promises. He will be beside you as you get through the triumphs and tragedies of life.

Take a moment to read Matthew 14:22-27. Let your mind focus on the words of Jesus, ‘Take courage, it is I. Do not be afraid.’
Pastor Mark "The Bru" Brunott

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Our Ultimate Destination

Some of you may recognize the name Adrian Rogers. For those of you who don’t, he was a great preacher, cut from the fabric of what I like to call ‘the great Southern Baptist tradition.’ I was listening to one of his sermons where he was telling a story about one predecessor who was known as the ‘Prince of Preachers.’

He was a man of such oratorical skills and anointing of God that people were awestruck when they heard him preach. As the preacher grew older he was hospitalized and was in and out of a coma constantly. On his last day, while lying there in bed, he suddenly looked up and his eyes grew wide. He said to his daughter, “It is greater than I imagined; I never did it justice!” Then he closed his eyes and died in peace.

Now think about it: He was a great man of God, an incredibly gifted communicator of the Bible, but as he was finally at the point of stepping over to the other side of life and catching that glimpse of Heaven, all he could say was, “It’s greater than I imagined. I never did it justice!”

In our journey of faith with Jesus, we go through some tough times; difficult days, dry moments, hard circumstances, and "I do not understand" seasons. When those days happen, and they will, I want you to remember your ultimate destination- Heaven. Words can’t explain it; it’s greater than you can imagine. You will see Jesus face to face. He is greater than you imagined.

Surely there are no words that can adequately describe how incredible it will be to come face-to-face with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Until that day, take a moment today to quiet yourself and read out loud Revelation 21:1-4. Then, try to imagine what Heaven will be like.
Pastor Mark "The Bru" Brunott

P.S. How is your attitude at work? Are you the same when nobody at work is watching you? Are you a complainer at your job? Are you satisfied with your employment? Why or why not? This Sunday, at 9:00 and 10:30 AM, we will allow God to give us a work makeover.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Can Good come from Bad?

George Barna, the well-known public-opinion pollster, conducted a national survey: ‘If you could ask God one question what would it be?’ the number one answer was, ‘Why is there so much pain and suffering?’

1 billion people suffer from hunger and every second someone dies of hunger. The earthquake in Taiwan left thousands without water, 170 missing, and several dead. There is terrorism unrest. The list goes on and on. Some follow-up thoughts on pain and suffering are raised: If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, yet doesn’t stop evil, why should I believe in Him? If He can’t do anything about all of this, He isn’t much of a God, is He?

Questions like these can shake our faith and grip us with fear, anger, and bewilderment. If God is all-powerful and all-good, then how can He allow so much pain and suffering? As Christians, we know that God is powerful and loving, but sometimes it feels like He doesn’t care, or that we’re all alone. I try to keep a few things in mind when I feel that God doesn’t care.

There are at least four Biblical reasons why a bad thing may be a good thing. First, we live in a fallen world. God gets blamed for a lot of man’s evil. Ironically the more victimized people are by man’s evil, the more they tend to blame God. Second, we do not heed God’s warnings (read Deuteronomy 28:1, 15). Third, we make foolish decisions. We are not computers programmed to do good or evil; like God, we can make choices. Fourth, we experience the backwash of life itself. Sometimes we are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Daniel was minding his own business when King Nebuchadnezzar’s troops marched into Jerusalem, destroyed it, and took him to Babylon as a captive. Things like that happen.

So, the question remains: Why does an all-loving and all-powerful God allow suffering and evil? No answer is adequate, but God’s main concern is that we trust Him to bring good out of the bad (see Romans 8:28). If He did it when humankind murdered His innocent son, then He can do it with all of the pain and unrest in 2018. Let’s live by God’s promises, not man’s expectations.
Pastor Mark "The Bru" Brunott
P.S. Have you ever read articles titled '5 steps to being a better parent' or '7 tricks to getting a new kid by Monday?' They always sound so good and simple but are never as easy to implement. What does God have to say about being a godly parent or child? Join us this Sunday at 9:00 or 10:30 AM to find out.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Outreach Discoveries

Pastor Nat, our Pastor of Local Outreach, has the ministry team reading a book entitled Organic Outreach for Ordinary People.  Written by Pastor Kevin G. Harney, the emphasis is on sharing the Good News naturally.

I’d like to pass on a couple of the principles I’ve been learning lately about personal outreach and evangelism. First, the roadblocks we all face in sharing our faith with non-believing friends is nothing in comparison with the joy of seeing Jesus change a friend’s heart from the inside out. Whatever risk you took to share your faith was well worth it.

The second thing I’m learning is that there really is no set program for evangelism and outreach. Perhaps the best approach is simply to invite people to join you in the regular activities of your life. If your faith is real, it will shine through in the way you live. What might this look like practically? If you’re going to an event, ask them to join you. Think of all the things you do that you could invite someone to join you! Going to lunch, going shopping, going to work out at the gym, or going to a concert.

When you get there, be yourself. You don’t have to force a conversation. Let people see the real you. If the subject of faith comes up, don’t be embarrassed. Let people see how Jesus is a normal part of who you are.

The key to outreach is casting the seed wherever we go, knowing it’s God who brings the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). I love the way Kevin Harney describes outreach, “It’s like trying on clothes. Before making a clothing purchase, most people will try on a shirt, a pair of pants, or some piece of clothing to see how it fits. If the clothing is too tight or too loose, they’ll try another size. If the color or style really does not work for them, they may put it back on the rack. When buying clothes, we often try several options to see what works” (Organic Outreach for Ordinary People, p. 148).

He goes on to say outreach is often like that. We try something to see how it goes. If it feels natural or organic, we wear it. If it just doesn’t fit well, we try something else.

Would you be willing to try inviting your unbelieving friends to join you in the regular activities of your life? Go ahead, give it a try! To borrow the well-known phrase of Dirty Harry, “Go ahead, make my day.”

Thursday, January 25, 2018

How to say "YES"

Are you feeling overwhelmed; like there is so much to do, but you don’t have enough time to get it all done? Are you always late for appointments? Are you so busy with activities that you find yourself double-booked too often?

If you answered ‘yes’ to these, you probably are suffering from a time management problem. Fortunately, there is a simple solution to the problem: Manage your time better. Duh!

Let me give a tip that may help you manage your time better. It’s really a simple principle: Every time you say ‘yes’ to something, say ‘no’ to something else. The principle reminds us that we can’t do everything. We can’t afford everything. We can’t attend, sign up our children, or be involved in everything (even though many of us try.)

You can’t say ‘yes’ to everything. The choice is yours as to what you will say ‘yes’ to and what you will say ‘no’ to. Let me give you some examples. If you say ‘yes’ to exercise, you have to say ‘no’ to sleeping in later in the morning. If you say ‘yes’ to eating healthy, you have to say ‘no’ to chips, candy bars, andsnacking. If you say ‘yes’ to eating together as a family, you have to say ‘no’ to running your kids everywhere. If you say ‘yes’ to being in a Life Group, you will have to say ‘no’ to something else when your Life Group meets. If you say ‘yes’ to the golf course every Saturday, you will have to say ‘no’ to some other activity.

By the way, this principle is true of church ministries too. No church can say ‘yes’ to every kind of music, dress, style, and service time. Churches say ‘yes’ to the one they believe fits them the best with what God wants to accomplish through them.

The point of the principle is we need to understand the implications. When you say ‘yes’ to something, you say ‘no’ to something else, maybe multiple things, but it happens every time. Most of us want to do everything, be liked by everybody, and never want to miss out, so we say ‘yes’ too much. Remember this: It’s okay to say ‘no.’ In fact, take a deep breath right now and say ‘no’ out loud.

It is also necessary that when you say ‘yes,’ you do so strategically. When we say ‘yes’ strategically, we live more strategically. Is it more strategic to exercise or sleep in? Is it more strategic to eathealthy or snack? Is it more strategic to have family meals together or run the kids everywhere? Only you can answer these questions for you.

However, if you find yourself hectically busy, overwhelmed, and feeling like there isn’t enough time in the day, try this time management principle of “every time you say ‘yes’ to something, say ‘no’ to something else” and see if it makes a positive difference in your life.
Pastor Mark "The Bru" Brunott
P.S. Do you know that what you wear matters? We may not like it, but people judge the inside by the outside. Who I identify with is revealed by what I wear. What does this mean for us as Christ followers? Join me this week at 9:00 AM or 10:30 AM to discover the meaning.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Expectations. Should the Church have some?

Last week someone asked me, “What do you expect from those who attend First Free?” I first responded with, “What a great question.” Most of the time I get asked about programs, ministries, views about certain doctrines, but rarely an expectation question.

My answer comes from our partnership covenant that we ask every partnering attender to sign. It really challenges if you have made two commitments based on 2 Corinthians 8:5. First, a commitment to Christ personally. In other words, you have trusted in Him as your Savior. Second, you have made a commitment to one another in the context of a local church.

We expect people (yes, expect) to protect the unity of the church by acting in love (Romans 14:19) towards other partners, refusing to gossip (Ephesians 4:29), and following the leaders (Hebrews 13:17).

Second, we expect them to share the responsibility of the church by praying for its growth (1 Thessalonians 1:2), inviting their unchurched friends to attend (Luke 14:23-24), and warmly welcoming anyone who visits.

Third, we expect people to serve the ministry of the church by discovering their gifts and talents (1 Peter 4:10), being equipped to serve- with the help of our pastors (Ephesians 4:11-12), and developing a servant's heart (Philippians 2:3-4, 7).

A fourth expectation we have is to support the church by attending faithfully (Hebrews 10:25), living a godly life (Philippians 11:27), and giving regularly to the church (1 Corinthians 16:2).

All of these expectations are based on the Bible and are the desires of Jesus for the church He is building. If you would like to learn more about this expectation and commitment and become a partnering member, contact Brian Abbott or Julie Florom, or call the church office at 402.483.7635.

Together as partners, I know we can accomplish our mission: to introduce people to Jesus Christ, develop them into full, devoted followers, and equip them to reach their neighborhoods.

Pastor Mark "The Bru" Brunott

P.S. Do you ever feel a weight is on your back because you keep holding on to something you know God wants you to let go of? You tried to master it, but it seems to keep mastering you. What do you do? Join us this week at 9:00 AM or 10:30 AM as we discover some answers to your questions.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Throw a Party in 2018

One of the things I love most about Jesus is His love for all people, even those people many of us as Christ followers don’t want to be around. One of those people was Jesus’ disciple Matthew. He later became one of Jesus’ biographers.

Matthew was one of the last guys you’d want on your team if you were trying to impress good religious folks. He was a crook. He ran with a bad crowd. He was a party animal and participated in those things that party animal implies.

But in spite of all that, or maybe I should say especially in light of those things, Jesus reached out to him and asked him to join His team. As a result, Matthew followed Him (Matthew 9:9).

Matthew was so excited, he threw a party for all his wild and notorious friends, just so they could meet Jesus. And they all had a great time.

But of course, the Pharisees (the religious crowd) were appalled. They asked the disciples ‘Why does your teacher eat with such scum?’ (Matthew 9:11 NLT) They thought, ‘If Jesus is supposed to be so holy, why would he run with such a rough crowd?

Jesus’ answer is masterfully stated, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor- sick people do. For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners’ (Matthew 9:12-13).

I love this story for two reasons. First, if you are a Matthew or like Matthew, never forget that Jesus loves you. He demonstrated that love for you by dying on a cross, the substitute for your sin and was raised from the dead. Anyone who believes in Him has eternal life.

Second, Matthew threw a party for his friends, not caring what the religious crowd thought. I wish we, as Christ followers, would be more like Matthew. Hang out with people who are far from God, yes people whose lifestyles we would not approve of or participate in. Love them and invite them into our homes to have fun- wholesome, clean fun.

Who are you hanging out with that is far from God; a neighbor, classmate, or coworker? Why not throw a party for them and some of their other friends who are far from God?

Pray that God would use that party to begin a relationship, a connection with them that would lead to other times of connection. Throw a party! This year, let’s intentionally invest in people who are far from God and ask God to open doors for us to influence them and point them to the cross of Jesus. Remember our mission: inviting people to trust in Jesus, developing them into fully devoted followers, and equipping them (and us) to reach our city.

Pastor Mark "The Bru" Brunott

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Getting Off to a Fresh Start

How are your New Year’s resolutions working? Researchers tell us about 1/3 of Americans make them each year. It’s human nature to want to do better. But, it’s also human nature to fail. Research tells us most resolutions last about three days to three weeks and by February we are back in the old patterns we had promised ourselves we’d leave behind. Only 10% of us succeed in our resolutions. We often fail because we underestimate how difficult it is to change.

Did you know the month January was named after the Roman god Janus? Janus is depicted as having two faces- one looking back at the old year with regret and the other face looking forward to the New Year with hope. The Romans understood that at the start of a New Year, we can’t help but be hopeful of improvement.

Are you looking back on 2017 with sadness or see failure in the old year? As you start 2018, do you have a desire to do things differently? May I suggest three things you should do when you get a fresh start this New Year? This comes from the Apostle Paul, writing to the Philippians in chapter 3, verses 8-14.

First, if you want a new start, you must forget the things which are behind (read Philippians 3:13). Forget about your failures. Don’t obsess over them, confess them (1 John 1:9), and learn from them. Don’t let past failures define you, let God’s grace define you.

But past failures are not all we need to forget. We need to forget past successes, too. Sometimes success leads to being content, lazy, and becoming useless rather than useful. Give God your very best in 2018. Learn from your past; don’t yearn for the past.

Second, if you want a new start, you’ve got to focus on the things before you (read Philippians 3:13b-14). You run the race at hand. Not last year’s race. That one is over. The race demands your whole self. The race demands your very best. Never be satisfied with less than your best.

You run the race with the goal in mind. What is the goal? To receive the crown. In this case, it’s living my life becoming more Christ-like so when the race is over, I will hear the words, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’

To be like Jesus. That’s the goal. That’s the prize. For me, that means I’m going to pray and study the word of God more. I’m going to be more intentional about reaching my neighbors with the gospel. I’m going to confront debilitating patterns of sin. I’m going to work hard to build community at First Free. I’m going to make sure my grandkids are in church on a regular basis. I’m going to quit comparing myself to others. My list could go on and on.

Third, if you want a new start for a New Year, you need to fulfill those things that are beyond us (Philippians 3:12). No one would have found fault with Paul had he reached this place in his life and said, ‘You know, I think I’m gonna retire… I’ve worked hard. I’ve served the Lord faithfully all these years. I’ve put myself out there. It’s time to do a little something for me.’

But he didn’t say that- instead, he said, ‘I haven’t attained what I want to attain. I have not reached the place I want to be. I’m not finished yet. Paul would not be satisfied until he took his last breath giving his all to Jesus. He did a work beyond him, paying a price few would be willing to pay- to serve the Lord.

Are you sold out, utterly committed to Jesus? It’s a great time to start. It’s a New Year, choose to make it a great one.

Pastor Mark "The Bru" Brunott

P.S. Have you ever been left out of a secret? Have you ever been the focus of a secret? How did it make you feel? This Sunday at 9:00 and 10:30, we will discover God’s most important secret which He has revealed.