Faith in the Framework

Photo taken Wednesday, July 30

Photo taken Wednesday, July 30

As I look out at the construction of the new children’s wing and chapel, the steel framework is beginning to take shape – becoming more and more like the vision of the master plan. It’s far from finished, but one by one as the steel beams are placed, it looks more and more like a building and less like a dirt clearing. The workers spend countless hours in the hot sun. While it may not always be enjoyable, they know it is worth it for the completion of the end goal.

Our journey as Christ followers looks a little bit like this building project. God holds the master plans for our lives. We have a picture in our minds of what we think our life should look like, but our idea of a perfect life may be far from God’s plan. In the same way that we want to see fast results with building projects coming to completion, we want to see fast results in our lives. We want our prayers answered now and we don’t want to wait for God’s timing. But there will be a day down the road when God’s master plan for our lives will be made complete – when our imperfections will no longer be visible and we will be clothed in God’s grace.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” –Romans 8:18-21

While our bodies won’t be fully redeemed until we are with Christ, there is beauty in the process. Beams are not as beautiful as the finished product, but their construction lays the foundation toward a completed structure. The same is true for us, that God works in us through our struggles, trials, and pain in order to shape us into righteous beings.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. –Romans 8:22-25

While we live in this fallen world, we don’t always see the beauty of what God is doing. However, we have hope because we know that His work is not yet done in our lives. That brings me to one of my favorite passages: Philippians 1.

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:4-6

Completion. Just as any building project begins with the end in mind, if we are in Christ, we will be made complete when we are reunited with Him. We are not on this earth to aimlessly wander around for ages, but to seek Christ, share Christ, and one day be reunited with him – knowing that every obstacle is but a speck compared to the glory that will one day be revealed in us when God’s master plan for us is finally complete. 

Posted on July 31, 2014 .

4 Resources for Daily Devotionals

With an on-the-go lifestyle, we often have a habit of putting our devotional time on the back burner. Here are some apps (some from classic books) that will help you stay on track and grow in your walk with the Lord, wherever life takes you.

 

1) Streams in the Desert – L. B. Cowman

Written by a woman who watched her husband slowly decline in health until his death, this devotional is especially geared towards those who are dealing with difficulties. It helps those who struggle with relating their difficulties to the purposes of a wise and loving God. Each day includes a Bible passage and a quote from another author. 

$3.99 | This app is available on the Apple App Store and Android App Store.

 

2) My Utmost Classic (RBC Ministries) – Oswald Chambers

This devotional is based on teachings given by Oswald Chambers during his lifetime that were compiled by his wife after his death in 1917. It is full of rich teachings. He was not famous during his lifetime, but My Utmost For His Highest has since become a Christian classic leading millions into closer walks with the Lord. 

If you want to try out the devotional before buying the app, the daily devotionals are posted at utmost.org for free.

$4.99 | This app is available on the Apple App Store and Android App Store

 

3) Jesus Calling (Nelson Media) – Sarah Young

After years of writing in her prayer journal, Missionary Sarah Young began to be more attentive to what God was saying to her. The words and scriptures Jesus laid on her heart are now compiled in the book Jesus Calling – a year’s worth of devotions. These devotions are written from Jesus’ point of view as if Jesus is speaking to you. While her words themselves are not scripture, it is still a very valuable tool that accompanies scripture. 

$9.99 | This app is available on the Apple App Store

 

4) The Bible App (YouVersion)

This app includes devotionals (some for a limited time period and others that are year long) that are all free! It includes a 30-day selection from My Utmost for His Highest, a Billy Graham devotional, and various devotionals written by Christian music artists. This app also includes Bible reading plans.

Just go to "Plans", "Browse Plans" and click on "Devotional." You will then see the full list of devotionals. 

FREE | This app is available on the Apple App Store and the Android App Store

Posted on July 2, 2014 .

Breaking Bread: Hospitality and the Gospel

My wife and I love to host people at our home, not because we are anything special or have a really nice house but because we love making people feel at home. And what we have found is that by helping people feel at home they open up, they talk, they laugh, and they cry… they become a friend.

Yet, it seems to me the art of hospitality has become a lost art. Our ability to simply welcome, serve, and bless people appears to be diminishing.

Maybe it’s the challenge of trying to manage our over-booked schedules and the pressing demands for our time, or the never ending social media distractions, or the tireless paces of our careers and family that is affecting our ability to personally relate to others. Whatever the cause, one thing is certain: it is directly impacting our ability to be hospitable, and that has spiritual implications. Let me explain.

Hospitality holds much more significance than simply entertaining people. Hospitality has gospel roots. It carries with it the idea of helping someone who is on the outside become someone who is on the inside, a stranger to a friend. Hospitality is the act of service that creates the space for that transition to occur. I love how Henri Nouwen puts it:

Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.

In other words, there is something that occurs when we are hospitable to the outsider that changes them.

We can learn about hospitality through God’s grace and Jesus’s example. Because of our sin, we were all once strangers to God. Through Jesus welcoming us and receiving us in our fallen state, we can be changed from being enemies to friends. The apostle Paul confirms this in his letter to the Ephesians,

"Remember that you were at one time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in this world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near" (Ephesians 2:11-13).

Paul simplifies this point later on in Ephesians when he says,

"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 4:32-5:2).

In short, hospitality can be summed up in these three words: welcoming, serving, and blessing.

  1. WELCOMING - receiving the outsider, a fellow sojourner if you will, with dignity, honor, and joy. How are you at greeting the outsider and bringing them in?
  2. SERVING - sacrifice is the foundation for service. It is considering others first, taking the towel and basin and serving the outsider with grace and love. What ways can you better sacrifice to serve the outsider?
  3. BLESSING - the act of being a conduit of grace that is received as blessing. It is the result of welcoming and serving like Jesus did for us. Is the result of your serving being received as a blessing to the other?

Let’s not let the art of hospitality fall away because of our lifestyle. Instead, let’s follow in our Savior's footsteps and remain open to the outsider. Commit today to take some time, invite a friend or neighbor into your home, welcome them with joy, serve them sacrificially, and bless them in ways that helps them ‘feel at home’. Perhaps this may lead them to Jesus and their eternal home. Peace.

Posted on June 19, 2014 .

3 Lies that Keep us from Getting Invovled

Whether you are new to Bay Area or have been attending regularly for some time, it can be easy to make excuses when it comes to getting involved. However, Christ calls us to serve and to be in community. Here are 3 lies we tell ourselves that keep us from getting involved.

 

1. “I don’t have enough time.”

Between dropping the kids off at soccer practice, working five days a week at a stressful job, going to school, or changing diapers, we all lead busy lives. However, getting involved in church can be a great outlet — a place where stress doesn’t have to rule our lives and we can enjoy being in fellowship or serving. Don’t think of it as another entry on your calendar, but a time to give back and to love on others that may be new or have been coming for years. Even if your busy schedule doesn’t allow you to volunteer every week, don’t let that stop you from getting involved when you are around.

 

2. “I don’t know anyone.”

If we used this excuse our whole lives, we wouldn’t have any friends. In order to make friends, we often need to be willing to put ourselves in new situations. Whether it be through serving or simply fellowship with other believers, getting involved in church is a great way to make new friends. Who knows? You might find someone else is in the same boat. If you don’t want to take this initial first step alone, invite a friend or family member to come along with you.

 

3. “I’m not gifted enough.”

As stated in Romans 12 and 1 Peter 4, each of us has unique gifts. Not all of us have to volunteer in the children’s ministry or be on stage; there are plenty of opportunities for everyone to get involved whether in front of or behind the scenes. Here at Bay Area, we appreciate the unique gifts everyone brings to the table and encourage those who call Bay Area their church home to find out which serving opportunity is a good fit for them.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.              [1 Peter 4: 8-11]

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.             [Romans 12:6-8]

 

Ready to check out the serving opportunities at Bay Area? Visit our Serve page to take the first step.

Posted on June 5, 2014 .

5 Ways to be Missional this Summer

A note from Brian Hopper, our Missional Community Pastor.

Winter is finally behind us and summer is practically here - which means that people are outside! The warmer weather offers great opportunities to naturally be around people. And being around people makes it easier to share Jesus, especially when it happen naturally and is rooted in relationship. So, how will you use the summer to start or deepen relationships with people who are close to you but far from Jesus? Let me share with you a few ways that my wife and I are going to be missional this summer. Perhaps these ideas will fuel your own creative ways to be missional.

 

1. Host a neighborhood block party/cookout.

Most of us don't know our neighbors, so whether you have lived in the same house for years or recently moved in, why not make a concerted effort to (re)introduce yourself to your neighbors and help them get to know one another. In our neighborhood, we have found that we know of our neighbors but they don't know each other. So Suz and I are going to host an afternoon cookout this summer and invite the neighborhood (houses on our street) to come out and meet each other.

2. Reconnect with acquaintances that you've made over the last 6 months.

As Suz and I have been working on our house, we have connected with a lot of people who are not believers, some of which we have wanted to follow up with personally. We are planning on getting back in touch with those folks to either have dinner with them or invite them to our house. If you have kids, perhaps you may have met parents of kids who have played on your own kids' sports teams. Why not reconnect with some of them and reunite your kids with their former teammates while you connect with their parents. Or, maybe extend your relationships with coworkers outside the office.

3. Take advantage of your common interests. 

I am a runner and love running outside. I plan on using some of my runs to connect with others who also enjoy running. There are a number of running clubs that promote team training that I am going to participate in - all of which puts me with people who I have something in common with. If you play sports or have a hobby, how can you use the summer and warm weather to connect with those who share your interest? These are great ways to build relationships.

4. Do a prayer walk around your neighborhood.

After you've had dinner, when the heat begins to cool off, why not take a walk with your spouse or a friend and pray for your neighborhood as you walk. Pray that the Lord's will would be done and His kingdom would come in your neighborhood as it is in heaven. And that He would show you ways you can serve your neighborhood and bring the gospel to those around you.

5. Serve the children and/or the elderly.

With school out and so many kids available during the day, consider how you might serve kids or families with kids. If it isn't already, try to make your house the place in the neighborhood that all the kids want to come to. And with the heat increasing as we go, consider how you might be able to serve and check on those who are elderly. This could include everything from cutting their grass to sharing a meal to inviting them to your home. We plan on doing this with our 80 year old neighbors.

 

In all of these ideas, our goal is to start and/or deepen the relationships of those around us. Through relationships, we are asking the Lord for what Paul exhorted the Colossian church to do - pray for open doors for the Gospel.

"... pray for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ...and pray that I may proclaim it clearly as I should." (Colossians 4:3,4) 

Praying you have a missional summer. Feel free to email me (Brian Hopper) with your own ideas or things that you have done to connect with those relationally, missionally, and spiritually. Peace.

Posted on May 22, 2014 .

Are you living large for Jesus?

Since Sunday, how have you been living large for Jesus?

Retake the diagnostic quiz and rate yourself on a scale of 1 (never) to 5 (always).

• I frequently burst out into song from joy. 

• I don’t dwell on or define myself by the sins of my past. 

• I regularly attempt great things for Jesus. 

• I regularly expect great things from Jesus. 

• I know Jesus can’t love me any more than he already does today. 

• I am not afraid of Jesus providing for my needs in the future.

Which statement did you score the lowest on? Ask God to reveal to you how to get better in that area. Create an action item for yourself to start making progress.

Posted on April 30, 2014 .

Nonsense | Easter 2014

Is Easter a celebration of nonsense or the celebration of the Son of God who literally rose from the dead? If you missed Easter at Bay Area, below are some thoughts from lead Pastor Greg St. Cyr. You can also watch the webcast here


Easter. If you grew up in a traditional church, you are probably familiar with the Easter story. You might also be familiar with flannel graphs (check out the image above) as a way for Sunday School teachers to teach the stories of Jesus. At the same time some were learning from a flannel-graph, most of us were being introduced to the world of fairy tale.  Some of our favorites include Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. For many, the stories told on the flannel-graph about Jesus are nothing more than great fairy tales, full of legend and lore. But at Easter, we must ask ourselves an important question.

Is Easter a story like a fairy tale that just makes us feel good or is it the celebration of the real life story of the Son of God who rose from the dead?  Is it nonsense or the greatest event in history?

In contrast to a fairy tale, here is Luke’s account of the resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus has been crucified and buried in a tomb.  Early Sunday morning several women return to the tomb to complete his embalming.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.”  And they remembered His words, and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles.  Luke 24:1-10 

But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. Luke 24:11 

Nonsense. It means little or no sense or meaning. The word in Greek was used by medical doctors to denote the babbling of an insane mind. 

The followers of Jesus have been with him for three years, heard his teaching, observed his life, saw his miracles, and yet respond to the women: That’s crazy, insane, nonsense. No one was expecting to see Jesus ever again. 

It didn’t matter that Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God.  It didn’t matter that Jesus had said, “I must suffer many things and be rejected and be killed, and after three days rise again.”  It didn’t matter that their ears heard teaching like never before.  It didn’t matter that they were there when He calmed the storm, healed the sick, turned water into wine, and raised the dead.

For the disciples, everything the women were saying was nonsense. For many of us, even though no event in history has been so carefully researched as the resurrection, it is still nonsense.  Maybe we believe that a man named Jesus lived, taught, had a following and died by Roman crucifixion, but angels appearing to a group of women saying “He’s not here. He’s risen from the dead”? - that’s nonsense.

So what happened that changed the minds of the disciples? The natural thing would have been for them to disband, return home, and get on with life. But, as two of his disciples were walking home to do just that... 

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”  And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.”  Luke 24:31-34 

What changed the minds of the two in Emmaus? What changed Simon Peter’s mind? Answer:  They saw the resurrected Christ. 

Is the resurrection of Jesus nonsense? Or is it the greatest event in history? If it is nonsense, it has no more significance then the Easter bunny. But if it is true, then the only nonsense is the nonsense of unbelief.

Posted on April 23, 2014 .

Waiting on the Lord

I... Love... Traveling. I’ve been blessed to do a fair amount of it, too, in my 23 young years of life. Through all the planes, trains, and automobiles that have taken me from point A to point Z, there is one resounding truth: traveling means waiting. 

Earlier today, I sat at gate D7 at BWI, eating my foot-long from Subway, waiting until the all-knowing voice overhead told me what to do next. I don’t know much about that voice, but I do know that it has always eventually told me what to do.  After an excruciating (slight exaggeration) 15 minute wait, we all filed in line, boarded the plane, and waited.

Waiting while traveling is very similar to waiting on the Lord. We show up at a stage in life, knowing there is something next. Often we even know what that something is - but God wants us to wait.

In practice, waiting at the airport is MUCH easier than waiting on the Lord. But shouldn’t it be the opposite? A right and just God gets less trust from me than the “voice overhead” at the airport terminal?

We’re impatient; we want things to happen on our time in our way. So… let’s look at three key steps to waiting on the Lord, given to us by the prophet Isaiah.

  1. Define who you’re waiting for. We’re waiting for a word from our Creator, our all-powerful, eternal Lord. Let’s first remind ourselves of who He is so we can be diligent in waiting. See Isaiah 40:12, 15, 17-20, 24-29
  2. Surrender to Him. As Greg put it on Sunday, “every day is another day to show up and die to self.” The less we make it about us, the more we will be patient in waiting.
  3. Trust in God. And trust in God’s promise in Isaiah 40:31. Do you find yourself losing that trust or getting impatient? Start back at #1 and remind yourself of who you are waiting for.

Now my plane is about to land and I will have to wait at baggage claim, then wait in the taxi on the way to the hotel, and wait in line to check in. I don’t know how long the ride will be or how long the line will be, but I do know the next step is there, and I must set aside my impatience (surrender) and know I’ll make it eventually (trust).

Join me in waiting, won’t you?

Posted on March 27, 2014 .