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Thankful for God’s Word

“12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:12 & 13

The Word of God is living….

The Word of God is active…

The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword…

The Word of God discerns the thoughts and intentions of our heart…

The Word of God exposes us, naked, to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account…

This is what this season has been for our community and I. We have allowed the intensity of James to lay us bare in front of God to examine our lives. If you didn’t jump on board that train, it’s not too late…all aboard! This last weekend we were able to hear from multiple voices that call New City home. Every person who shared had a word that pierced my heart in different ways. Our brother Chavo shared that “Competency kills! Familiarity breeds laziness.”  Noah shared how the Lord challenged him with the image from James 3:11-12 that fresh water and salt water can never come from the same spout.  Soccer in Noah’s life has brought some of the greatest fruit (“fresh water”) but also has brought about intense frustrations, which at times lead to “colorful” metaphors (“salt water”). We heard a sweet word from Thomas inviting us to receive the promise that when we draw near to God, He will draw near to us every time.

Many voices declared and demonstrated the reality of Hebrews 4:12 and 13. James had served their spirituality through acting as a double edged sword and exposing them bare in front of the Lord. I don’t know about you but in my flesh, the reality that Hebrews 4:12 and 13 invites us into does not always breed thankfulness. But what if we leaned in and allowed the Word of God to do its job? I am so grateful for the power of God’s Word and my prayer is that in this season our community would grow deeper in our thankfulness for it.

What would this gratitude for Scripture do for your intimacy with Jesus? How would this impact your walk with the Lord? How could a deep gratitude for God’s Word transform your journey with Him? When I am deeply grateful for something, I treat it differently. My desire is that through thankfulness for His Word (not for a great podcast, sermon off YouTube, or book) we would see a deeper sense of intimacy and allowance for the Spirit to move in our lives. I believe deeply that His Word will bear fruit in our lives if we receive it fully. Isaiah 55 declares a promise about His Word…

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55 and Hebrews 4 teach us that we can anticipate transformation, not only from a sermon series through James at church but anytime we open, address, and allow the Word of God to interact with us. I believe as we grow in thankfulness for His Word we will be more postured to receive It’s ministry. As we continue as a community diving into Scripture together, lets pray for a greater appreciation for it.=

As you meditate on this during your week, here are some questions….

  • How have you experienced the Word of God in the ways Hebrews 4 describes?
  • How could you position yourself to experience God’s Word in a deeper, more intimate way?
  • Do you see Scripture as a a means of our Spirituality or as a generous gift from God?
    • How would our life look different if we saw it as a gift and not just a “means to an end”?

What promises or stories in Scripture are you thankful for?

 

Zach Meerkreebs, Head Planter and New City Stories Contributor

Diving into the Easter Story: Resurrection Sunday

Resurrection Sunday 

The central axiom of the Christian faith is this: Jesus Christ died, was buried, and three days later rose again in a final defeat of sin and death.  If this is true, then the entire weight of existence hinges upon it. If it isn’t true, the Apostle Paul himself says that our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” (1 Cor 15:14 NRSV).

Explore the resurrection.  Enter into the story and search out Christ.  Peek into the tomb to see if he is still there.  If you do, you will find, along with Mary, Peter, and the rest of the disciples that it is indeed empty.  Because of this empty tomb, we can, along with Paul, claim with boldness: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” and because of that we live.  Hallelujah!

Isaiah 51:9-11 NRSV 

Awake, awake, put on strength,
    O arm of the Lord!
Awake, as in days of old,
    the generations of long ago!
Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces,
    who pierced the dragon10 Was it not you who dried up the sea,
the waters of the great deep;

who made the depths of the sea a way
    for the redeemed to cross over?
11 So the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain joy and gladness,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.  

 

Luke 24:13-26 NRSV 

“Emmaus’ Door” (1992) by Janet Brooks-Gerloff.

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 

Job 19:23:27a

23 “O that my words were written down!
    O that they were inscribed in a book!
24 O that with an iron pen and with lead
    they were engraved on a rock forever!
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    then in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see on my side,
    and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

  • Questions:
    • How does the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ impact your daily life?  Does it change the way you view yourself? Does it change the way you treat others? Does it change your outlook on the world and the opportunities that are presented to you each day?  Is your life marked by gratitude, hope, and joy?
  • Challenge:
    • Those are challenging and convicting questions.  If you feel convicted, you are in good company! We live in a broken world and often are separated from the joy and hope that is offered to us because of sin, busyness, and the daily stress of life.  Our challenge to you is that you strive each day this week to read these passages and think about and pray through the reality of the resurrection and how it should transform your life and the life of the world.  Jesus lives and is doing a great work among his people! Let’s celebrate!

 

New City Writing Team

Called to Perfection?

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Growing up, my father taught me the extreme importance of knowing words’ true definitions. He would often say, “Melody, definition is SO important. Never say ‘jealous’ when you really mean ‘envious.’ They are two completely different ideas”. There were times when I rolled my eyes and thought that he was simply playing a game of semantics. I didn’t quite understand why these seemingly small and insignificant nuances were of such great relevance until I heard an interview many years later with talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

In this interview, Oprah described an experience she had in a church where the pastor was preaching on God being a jealous God. She spoke about her thoughts that day, saying, “I was caught up in the rapture of that moment until he said ‘jealous,’ and something struck me. I was like 27 or 28 and I’m thinking, ‘God is all. God is omnipresent. And God is also jealous? God is jealous of me?’ And something about that didn’t feel right in my spirit… and that is where the search for something more than doctrine started to stir within me.” That was a solidifying moment for me. I remember hearing that and finally realizing fully what my Dad had meant all those times.

To put it simply, Oprah’s misunderstanding of the definition of “jealousy” ultimately caused her to walk away from Scripture and, consequently, from the Gospel.

Now, why am I telling you this? I believe this principle applies when we read this extremely bold statement that Jesus makes in the Sermon on the Mount: “You therefore must be perfect, as Your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). At first glance, it seems like Jesus is calling us to lead perfect lives – sinless lives – just like our Heavenly Father. But why would He say this? Hasn’t Jesus called us, and specifically New City Church, to the idea of rest? How are we supposed to lead sinless lives with a fallen nature? Doesn’t this idea seem to contradict the Scriptures?

In many instances Scripture addresses this idea. Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Once again, in Isaiah 64, it states, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”

So the question begs to be asked: What did Jesus mean by “perfect,” and how can we reconcile all these things?

If we look at the definition of the word “perfect” in the Greek (“τέλειος” or “telos”) it is defined as follows: “Brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness; of mind and character; one who has reached the proper height of virtue and integrity.” This seems to suggest that this idea of “perfection” has less to do with a lack of sin and more to do with a level of maturity that Christ is calling us to. When we look at how this Greek word is used in other places in the New Testament, it seems that this latter definition proves more fitting. Here are some examples:

  • 1 Corinthians 14:20: Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
  • Colossians 1:28: Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
  • Hebrews 5:14: But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
  • 1 John 4:18: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

Furthermore, in order for us to understand what Jesus meant by “perfect,” we must look at the context in which this phrase is placed.  Matthew 5:43-48 says

Jesus teaching the crowds in his Sermon on the Mount:

Jesus teaching the crowds in his Sermon on the Mount

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus is not merely calling us to a general maturity in this instance, but is requiring of us that we learn how to love in a way that goes beyond selfishness. In the same way that the Father gives rain and sunshine both to the righteous AND the wicked, we are asked to pray for, serve, love, and acknowledge not only those who we enjoy being around, but in fact our enemies! I believe this is a call to love not only those who directly oppose us, but also the guy at work who drives us crazy, the coach who said hurtful things in the past, and the neighbor who has a different political opinion. If we are only capable of loving those who are convenient to love, we must ask ourselves if our love has been matured and completed, or if we are lacking. This perfected love that Jesus speaks of is a love that is unselfish, uncompromised, and unbiased.  It does not love out of reaction, and it is not contingent upon how others treat us.

When we remember that while we were still enemies of Jesus, He was bruised, beaten, and crucified for us (Rom 5:10), we will be persuaded by the Holy Spirit to seek out our own enemies and to show them the mercy which we have been shown. My prayer for us is that by the grace of God we therefore will learn how to be perfected and matured in our love just as our Heavenly Father is perfected and matured in love.

 

Questions for us to wrestle with:

1) How can I go out of my way to love someone whom I normally would not this week?

2) When, in my own life, have I been shown love when I didn’t deserve it?

3) How is the Lord calling me to seek out and serve my enemies?

 

Melody Hickey, New City Stories Contributor 

Waiting in the Spirit

“Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 (NRSV)

Have you ever been forced to sit in silence? Most people today fall somewhere on a spectrum between being aware that they hate every excruciating second of silence and simply being unaware how much the quiet bothers them because they have never had to experience it.

If you have been in the church for any length of time, you have probably sat through some youth group or leadership training that uses this fact about people as a sort of parlor trick. It usually starts with the leader asking, “Have you ever noticed how we can’t sit in silence anymore?” and then proceeds to make everyone sit in uncomfortable silence for minutes while pretending they’re immune or very spiritual.

My first experience with this of silence idea was in college. I was taking a class on Christian spirituality—a crazy, fun, and sometimes boring dive into some of the ancient practices of the Christian faith. Our professor wanted to expose us to various means of interacting and communing with God. We dove into fasting, scripture reading and memorization, study (duh), and even celebration. However, far and above anything else, our professor wanted us to experience silent, contemplative prayer. We would begin every class with 5-10 minutes of unmoving, penetrating silence. He claimed being able to sit in this would lead us to a quieter inner-self through which we could commune with God.

I could not imagine a worse, more boring fate.

I became a Christian in a charismatic church, and, at the risk of generalizing, if there is one thing we are not especially good at, it is silence. It might be hard to understand if you haven’t experienced it. It’s not that we think silence is bad, it’s just that, in a church movement that places special emphasis on things like speaking in tongues, giving words, prophetic speaking, full praise bands, 24/7 prayer rooms, and extemporaneous worship, there isn’t a lot of room for us to sit in silence. We’re busy! The buzz words for us are “activity,” “manifestation,” “works,” “power,” and, perhaps most of all, “expectation.” These aren’t words that often coexist with words like “silence,” “waiting,” and “stillness.”

So now it’s 2018 and I’m reading a book on contemplative prayer, having traumatic flashbacks of what seemed like endless silence I was forced to sit through in college (thankfully, I had my smartphone to entertain me), and wondering how the author could claim that this type of prayer, prayer that calls us to simply listen and focus on a phrase or two, could possibly help us hear from the Lord when we have good worship music, books, and sermons that help us do that. Despite my skepticism, I decided to give it a try.

My first go at contemplative prayer started like most. I found a quiet place to sit comfortably for 20 minutes and started breathing deeply, focusing on the oxygen going in and out of my body. I meditated on these words:

 (Breathe in) Be Still and Know that I am God

(Breathe out) Be Still and Know

(Breathe in) Be Still

(Breathe out) Be

(Start over)

For the first 5-10 minutes, my thoughts flew to a million places. The conversation my wife and I had yesterday. The stuff on my to-do list. The homework that was literally piling up as I sat being “unproductive.” Boredom. Anxiety. Fear. Self-doubt. Pride.

And then, out of nowhere, I felt God’s presence. I refocused on the words I was meditating on.

Be Still and Know that I am God

Be Still and Know

Be Still

Be

It was so different from what I had experienced before. I had received words for people that proved accurate, spoken in tongues in joy and mourning, and been brought to tears in loud worship rooms, but never had I felt so in tune with the Holy Spirit than in that moment.

Some of you will read that as a critique of the charismatic or supernatural gifts and either be disappointed or satisfied. It’s not that. Some stopped reading the moment I started talking about contemplative prayer because you think it’s mystical nonsense. That’s fine.

What I’m learning is that we need the charismatic and the prophetic in its robust pneumatology that brings heaven to earth in profound and mysterious ways as the Holy Spirit moves. We need to look for the Spirit’s very real guidance in our lives and be expectant so that we may fill the world with praise for His glory.

However, at times we also need to stop, sit down, and acknowledge the Spirit’s smaller, more intimate voice. We need to give ourselves permission to stop moving and producing and know that He accepts us without all of that. We can quit filling our minds with movies and TV shows and music and noise and take a moment to hear that He loves us in the loud and in the quiet.

Glory to God. Amen.

 

 

 

Jordan McCain, New City Stories Contributor

We are Not Asking You to be Lazy

 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NRSV)

I have a confession to make…I lived for Homecoming court, Student Council elections, and senior superlatives. I hated tryouts, but loved making the team and wearing the coveted gear. I was a pro at being “impressive” and if I wasn’t looking put together, I tried to woo people with my vulnerability and authenticity.  In Christian college I loved sharing stories of my unique experiences and sounding edgy in my Bible classes. When I graduated college I landed a cool job at a mega-church in an “only God can” way. Nothing besides my deep love for naps communicated that I was a man marked by rest…

Now, I am not saying everyone who wins homecoming king or student council is striving too much, BUT I do know that I had a whole lot of identity caught up in it all. Through a long and difficult season, the Lord absolutely blindsided me with this concept of rest.  Not only did He personally wreck my life (in a great way) by this Truth, but He asked me to plant a church marked by it. The difficulty in this is that church planters have a great number of temptations and concerns that come against this conviction of REST. Here are just a few:

  • We need to do more for the community
  • We need more impressive gatherings so we can grow
  • We are too Spirit-led and not organized or structured enough
  • We are too organized and structured, we need to be more Spirit-led
  • We need a better social media presence
  • We are trying too hard on social media
  • I need to do more so we see growth faster

Now rest is a funny thing—really any core value is—because you can’t just say it, put it on your website and printed materials, and then put it on the shelf. When you’ve discerned a part of your church’s God-given DNA, you have to live it out. Not only as a leader do you have to live it out but you’ll be tested on it. Bill Hybels, planter and pastor, says, “if you want your people to bleed something, you must hemorrhage it.” As our church has begun to bleed this conviction of rest, we have received lots of questions and even heard serious concerns.  This post will dive into some of these, but first, I want to offer us a working definition of rest in this context. Rest is security in God’s finished work, and living in rest means being marked by divine expectation and engagement. Christ is satisfied so we rest, and we do so with expectation that the Spirit will move, create, and invite. In this way we stay ready to engage in what He is stirring up.

Now that we’ve established the definition of rest, here are some common questions and concerns:

So, you’re against work? No, we are not asking you to be lazy. We just desire to be faithful. Being faithful sometimes requires waiting and listening and sometimes requires working our butts off.  This ultimately has to do with our motive. People who are pursuing a life marked by rest do not get out of showing up, working hard, and sacrificing. Their main aim is to prioritize listening to God’s voice and being faithful to what He says, even when it’s unpopular.

How do I know if I’m marked by rest, or just being lazy? I’ve heard this from many people in our church family but I particularly remember asking this question myself to my mentor. His answer was simple: “Are you being faithful to what God is asking of you?” I believe if we have a ready “yes,” if we are continually engaged in listening for the voice of God, and if we are expectant for the invitation to participate in what God is creating, we won’t be lazy or miss out. Those around us, in and out of the church, might think we are being lazy; however, if we are being attentive to the Spirit and always willing to follow, we won’t be. In all actuality just the act of being attentive to the Spirit requires action and sometimes that’s all God wants…our attentiveness and eagerness to say, “Yes.”

People are dying and going to hell, how can we rest!? I live in a pretty consistent state of heartbreak for those around me that are not yet living in intimacy with Jesus. Early in my life as a Christ follower, I had to accept the reality that there are people so near and dear to my heart that the Holy Spirit is pursuing continually, and His act of drawing them in is so much more compelling than anything I can or will ever be able to do. In that, I have received freedom to really trust God. He is in control—all of those people, those close to me and those I do not know, are so much more on God’s radar than mine (He is omniscient, omnipresent, all-loving, and way better at all of this than me). I believe that this question is very valid BUT my response is usually one that goes directly to or quickly towards intercession EXCEPT if God prompts me to go. If He tells me to go, I desire to be faithful, to speak up, to share, to do anything He asks. My prayer is that those who live aware of this reality and want to live marked by rest let that broken heart, urgency, and love for the lost drive them to be passionate intercessors for the world. When God says go for it, then you go for it. Rest in the fact that the Holy Spirit is REALLY good at His job and won’t leave us out.

Why does this matter so much right now? I remember when I realized Matthew 11:28-30 was so much more of an evangelistic passage than I understood. I believe we live in an exhausted world full of striving, competing, and comparing. Whether through job reviews, Facebook posts, high school reunions, or the number of likes or followers we have, we live in a culture that combats security and rest. I believe that we can look into someone’s eyes and tell them they can rest because of what Christ did for them. We will see people come to know the Lord and live under His freedom and Kingship.

If you wanted to wrestle with this concept more, I (Zach at zach@newcitylex.com) would love to chat with you. What’s even better than coffee with me is some of these scriptures that have touched me during this journey of rest. Here are some of those passages…

  • Exodus 16- I have seen through this that God is not against effort but He doesn’t want us trying to earn. In Exodus 16 God provides the manna and the people harvest because He asked so. Harvesting is out of obedience and faithfulness but the manna, His provision, comes from Him.
  • John 14 and 15- This passage speaks of our comforter and advocate and it invites us to be vine-focused instead of fruit-focused. I believe that these two chapters are key for rest. We are called to be relying on the Spirit and abiding and remaining well.
  • Matthew 11:28-30- His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Are we experiencing that? Are we living out the Gospel in a way that communicates that? The yoke does indicate work but it’s what we are yoked to that impacts our rest or striving.
  • Hebrews 4:1-11- This passage wrestles with Sabbath and not missing out on real REST.
  • Hebrews 10- Christ is satisfied and our standing is set…take a deep breath.

My prayer is that this encourages you and you learn from me, a recovering competitive striver.

 

Zach Meerkreebs, New City Church Head Planter