Cover to Cover: The Church

30
May

The Church Is Freedom

By Dawson Huss, Teaching Team
The Church Is Freedom

What would you call an arrangement where Person A agrees to perform a series of actions for Person B in exchange for some form of reward? You’d call it “work,” right? Isn’t that what it means to have a job? You tell me what you expect of me, and if I get it right, then I experience some form of positive reinforcement.

What if this was how I treated my daughter? What if my daughter had to check an item off a list or do something specific in order to receive a kind word, a hug, or a gift from me? Would you envy our relationship or vote for me as “Dad of the Year”?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a performance-based relationship in the right context. Can you imagine expecting unconditional love from your employer? And yet, many of our marriages function more like a workplace than like a family. Some of us must avoid certain topics of conversation, avoid criticism, tell each other what we want to hear, and flawlessly fulfill our expectations of our spouses. If we fulfill these obligations then we are pleased with each other. Under these conditions we give each other our attention and affection. Is this true love?

All of us bring a measure of this performance-based relationship to our marriages and friendships. It is part of sin and self-interest alive and well in our hearts. But can you imagine for a moment what it would feel like to be free from the need to perform for the people around us? Can you imagine what it would feel like to have more acceptance and joy and love and value and relationship than we can handle - all with no expectation or strings attached?

This unconditional, “free” love is what God offers to you through Jesus Christ. So, why do we treat him like an employer? Why do we watch our steps so carefully, afraid of making a mistake that might cost us our raise at our next review? Why do we live like the boss is looking over our shoulder, about to pop around the corner and scold us for not sweating hard enough? Jesus fulfilled all of God’s expectations on the cross and made a way for us to be adopted as God’s sons and daughters - not with a checklist to keep, but with open arms that delight in giving us the best of His vast resources. And this, for no other reason, than the joy that lights his face when He hears us call His name.

20
May

The Church Is One

By John Heflick, Missions Pastor
The Church Is One

God loves everyone and wants all people to know him. That’s not exactly a controversial statement today, but it has been for most of the history of our planet. Throughout history, gods conquered. They didn’t love humans and they certainly didn’t care about folks who were ethnically different than them.
The Jews were no different. Even they would have challenged the idea that God loved everyone. They knew that God loved them, but they were pretty sure He wanted to destroy most everyone else. That’s not to say God didn’t try to tell them differently. They just missed it.
The genesis of God’s love for all people began in Genesis. (ironic, huh?) When God called Abraham to leave his home and go to Palestine, God told him, “’I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’”
Apparently, this was a little too vague for Abraham’s offspring. They always seemed to miss God’s call that “all peoples will be blessed through you.” So, God upped the specificity of his calling:
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days. Joel 2:28-29
Joel wrote this around 850 B.C.E. For 880 years, Joel’s prophesy continued to fall on deaf ears.
When Jesus entered the picture, he modeled a life of open handed love for everyone around him. He constantly spoke about God’s love and reached out to folks his people viewed as inferior and dangerous. Yet even his closest followers didn’t understand that God’s command to Abraham and his prophesy through Joel still had relevance to them.
Peter was shocked when he saw Joel’s prophesy partially come true during the Jewish feast of Pentecost. In Acts 2, Jesus’ followers were juiced with the Holy Spirit. Mini-fires were dancing above their heads and they were speaking in languages they didn’t know. Then, Peter went out on a balcony and started preaching to whoever would listen. Peter spoke in Hebrew. The Jewish folks in his makeshift audience were from all over the Middle East. Each of them understood him in their native language. God’s blessing to all people was breaking out of their boxes.
Yet, even after all this, Peter still didn’t believe God really wanted to spread his love to everyone. Joel’s word didn’t sway him. The experiences of Pentecost stayed in his Jewish box.
God finally broke through after a really odd dream and a knock at his door. He opened it to find soldiers requesting that he come with them. But this much different than how these encounters normally went down. No beatings. No false imprisonments. These soldiers begged him to come to the home of their commander and share with them about God’s love for all people.
Peter finally got it. He went with them and shared about God’s love. The crowd in Cornelius’ home believed Peter that Jesus loved them and came to earth to save them. Boom. Dancing fire heads. Speaking in languages none of them knew. God’s Spirit was breaking out again. The world has never been the same since. It only took a couple thousand years to happen.
Before we pass judgement on Peter and his Jewish ancestors, let’s ask ourselves the same question, “Do we really believe that God’s love is for everyone?”
Are there people in your life who are hard to love? As you look around your community, are there groups of people you intuitively pull away from? When you see certain issues in your newsfeed, do you feel yourself getting angry with the people involved?
From cover to cover, the Bible is clear: God’s love is for EVERYONE.
What’s one step you can take to be a blessing to someone outside your normal circles of relationships?

To learn more, check out the message, "The Church Is One" by Steve Musto.

18
May

The Church Is Expanded

By Dawson Huss, Teaching Team
The Church Is Expanded

Our culture worships celebrity status. Often it doesn’t even seem to matter how someone gets there. Before I got married, I had the opportunity to spend a few months with the members of some big name bands. I found they were as ridiculously normal as I was. In a similar way, I used to admire preachers on stage until I was given an opportunity to begin preaching. I discovered that pastors are not the “spiritual celebrities” I thought they were. They are simply men and women with a certain set of skills and talents called by God to use those talents. I am the same, normal Christian that I was before I preached a single message.

Churches worship celebrity status, but not in the way you might think. The “spiritual celebrity” is the one we imagine has the deeper, more special, more powerful relationship with God. It is the person who worships the best, preaches the most eloquently, or accomplishes the greatest feats of ministry. We believe that these are the “heroes of the faith.” We flock to them and know that the mighty power of the Spirit at work in them is what we need to grow the church.

But what about Cliff White? Cliff White was my high school algebra teacher. Cliff is short, skinny, single, and was living in a suite down in the international boarding houses of my high school. But I will forever remember Cliff as being the human being most resembling Jesus Christ I have ever met. In a celebrity-obsessed culture, Cliff is a loser. But in the kingdom of Heaven I am convinced that Cliff will be a celebrity. He never preached a revival to a crowd of thousands. He never advised a President or doubled church attendance or started a movement of any kind. Cliff discipled students one and two at a time. Cliff put a bass guitar in my hand and gave me a chance to learn how to play Christian rock and roll. Cliff put every single other person he met ahead of himself, including stubborn, know-it-all, immature, punk teenagers. Cliff spent his spare time researching and writing his own paraphrase of The Gospels that few will ever read - just because he loved Jesus.

The Church doesn't need another celebrity. The Church needs an army of Cliff Whites. The Church does not need a new age of miracles. The Church needs one man being and speaking the righteousness of God into the lives of one or two of his buddies. The Church needs families inviting their neighbors over for dinner, ready for the afternoon play date when one mom asks the other how she can be so joyful all the time. The Church needs your coworkers to see you saying “no” or saying “yes” because it is the righteous, obedient thing to do. Jesus said, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” The Church doesn’t need a bunch of first-place celebrities; the Church needs a bunch of last place, obedient, faithful followers.

To learn more, check out the message, "The Church Is Expanded" by Steve Musto.

08
May

The Church Is Persecuted

By April Heflick, Counseling Pastor
The Church Is Persecuted

The church left the building and brought it with 48 Sites and 481 volunteers! We cleaned, tore down, and rebuilt. We sang, laughed, listened, and played! Together, we were the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus. My heart remains full by the service and generosity of East Lake! You all put the gospel on display and in action! Now, we return to "normal." Our routines continue as they were, and we settle back into our (mostly) comfortable lives. Meanwhile, the shelters remain full, the widows are lonely, the children go without, and the "poor will always be with you." Some of the projects are incomplete and some, we know, will not see full restoration this side of heaven. At times, this tension of undone and incomplete, moves me to aggressive action or avoidance. Control or hiding. Yet, it is in this tension the Spirit invites us to the work of the cross-- the intersection of death and life. The established and the becoming. The revealed and the unknown. It was at Transitions homeless shelter that I became acutely reminded of my personal discomfort with incomplete restoration and unclear meaning. As we entered the shelter, we wove in and out of the sleeping bodies on the cold sidewalks. The air was thick with humidity and smoke. The building was bustling with activity and noise, full of men and women, black and white. I adverted my eyes as I passed by those waiting in line for a hot meal. I felt guilty: guilty for having. I felt afraid; afraid of what I might see...suffering-- long, ongoing suffering.

There is a deep part of our soul's, often uncharted territory, that is stirred in the presence of suffering. Our fears of powerlessness are exposed, and they bring us face to face with our own poverty of heart and soul. Suffering is unpredictable, uncontrollable and messy; and on this side of heaven it stirs up far more questions than answers. Often, we are tempted to have an answer for each of these questions so that we might ease pain, wipe away tears, and most of all nudge the discomfort of the unknowing ("Why?") onward. Making sense of suffering is our human nature, yet just as Job encountered, the meaning isn't always clear. In the unclear, rest in and grip onto what is clear.

"You are God. You are Good. You love him, her, them and me."

"Abba, I belong to you."

Although we await full restoration, the redemptive power of the cross is already at work and "what man intended for evil, God uses for good," (Genesis 50:20). In the tension, refuse to isolate and instead, move toward relationship. Risk bringing your questions to God and meet him in the unknown and unclear. Risk listening for his voice. Allow Christ followers to carry bits of your burden by simply being with you in your questions and suffering.

Church, dare to love deeply, enter suffering with one another, and may, "His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven" (I Peter 4:8; Matthew 6:10).

Additional Resources:
The Church Is Persecuted by Steve Musto
"The Problem of Pain" by C.S. Lewis
"Shattered Dreams" by Larry Crabb
"Disappointed with God" by Philip Yancey

24
Apr

The Church Is Generous

By Michelle Trayers, Connections Pastor
The Church Is Generous

Shortly after arriving in South Carolina and becoming a single parent, I was without a car. A person in my small group (who was practically a stranger at the time) loaned me their car FOR SIX MONTHS while I saved the money to repair mine. I knew my kids and I had found family at East Lake Community Church because they loved me.

One unique thing about the early Christian church is how generous they were with each other. Paul describes a particular church in Macedonia this way; “In the midst of a very sever trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” (2 Corinthians 8:2) At first glance, that seems backwards. It seems like the people who have it easy and live comfortably should “well up in rich generosity.” However, true heartfelt generosity has nothing to do with ease, it has to do with the heart.

We know the early church experienced persecution and there is nothing like difficulty to test your bond with friends. Challenges do one of two things in relationships, draw people together or them apart. Jesus was very clear with his expectation the disciples would care for one another in fact he said “…everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) The act of loving each other was to be so central to the lives of Christ followers, everyone would know they belonged to Jesus.

While we don’t live in the same culture as the early church, the principles of love and generosity working hand in hand should mark followers of Jesus in a unique way. To love well, we need to get to know people, understand their stories, and recognize their needs. To love well, is to listen well, to both God and man. We are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ deeply and care for them personally. When you love someone, you would never let them go without the necessities of life. In fact, you would sacrifice your own comfort to make sure they didn't do without. The outgrowth of love is generosity.

The Macedonian church should challenge us today. Are we experiencing overflowing joy and acting with rich generosity? We love because Christ loved us. We are generous because God is generous with us. There is nothing better for creating joy than to give to others. May it be said of us, “they were rich in generosity.”

Additional Bible Passages to Study
2 Corinthians 8-9
James
Go to www.biblestudytools.com and search “money” in the gospels to see what Jesus said.

For Your Small Group
Generosity: Responding to God’s Radical Grace In Community, by Timothy Keller

Personal Help for Those Struggling to Get By
The Total Money Makeover (Book), Dave Ramsey
Financial Peace University (class), www.daveramsey.com/fpu

16
Apr

The Church Is Powerful

By Dawson Huss, Teaching Team
The Church Is Missional

Are you trying to live your life under powered by your own steam? Are you attempting to make it through your week by pulling yourself up by your boot straps? When life drains you dry and empty, are you trying to fill yourself back up through the people and things that only sometimes make you feel good?

In Acts 1:4 Jesus tells the disciples, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” Later, in verse 8, He tells them about that gift, which is the Holy Spirit, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus tells his disciples that they have a mission to be His witnesses throughout the world, but in verse 4, He makes it extremely clear that they cannot simply rush out and start completing their mission. There is a critical piece missing without which they will not be able to do what Jesus called them to do: the power of the Holy Spirit.

The good news is that the rest of Acts and the New Testament that the Holy Spirit was not just a one-time, special gift to the disciples; the Holy Spirit comes permanently on every believer when they put their trust in Christ. The question to consider is whether or not we are putting the gift of the Holy Spirit to use. Jesus lets us know that the work that God has given us to do cannot be completed without the power, gifts, and presence of God that the Holy Spirit makes possible.

So let me ask you a question. In your present life, what do you need the Holy Spirit for? What can you not accomplish without Him? Do you feel Him supply you with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) as you face circumstances in your life that require them?

Jesus told the disciples to wait until the Holy Spirit came on them, but you don’t have to. The Holy Spirit is here. He came on you when you put your trust in Christ. Are you attempting supernatural ends by natural means? Or are you putting the Holy Spirit to good use?

To learn more, check out the message, "The Church Is Powerful" by Dawson Huss and download this document with resources and references on the Holy Spirit.

09
Apr

The Church Is Missional

By John Heflick, Missions Pastor
The Church Is Missional

One of the most confusing parts of entering any country is the paperwork. For instance, when you enter Belize, the customs form asks you to enter your port or “city of embarkation.” That sounds like a teen fantasy book, not travel instructions. When I asked the flight attendant what that word meant, she explained that it’s just another way of indicating what city you left from.

Embarkation is the first step in any journey. Jesus understood this simple word.

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 29:19-20

The focal point of this verse is making disciples, but the first action is embarkation. We tend to think that discipleship comes before going. That’s not the way it works. The verb tense is more literally translated, “as you’re going… make disciples.” It mandates action and assumes that the motion will never stop.

There’s no mention of becoming perfect before we embark. There’s not a hint of being fixed first. We’re not discipled first and then we reach out. This is not a linear, sequential process. Look at the verses preceding this one and you’ll quickly see that some of those who received this call still had their doubts that Jesus was who he said he was. God’s mission is most often a beautiful, jumbled mess of grace that only God can make sense of. He knew all this and told us to go anyway.

Why is this so important? I’ll let the Bible unpack itself.

“He gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So, we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us.” 2 Corinthians 5:20.

“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” Romans 10:14.

Our role is to embark, roll up our sleeves and open our mouths. The rest is up to God who promised he’d be with us no matter what. No need to worry about being ready for this. No one is ready. Just embark and represent Jesus wherever he takes you. The Church is missional. How else will the world around us meet Jesus?

To learn more, check out the message, "The Church Is Missional" by Steve Musto.