Prayer

Dustin Harper - August 7, 2017

We are people created to worship, but we are not people who are prone to pray. The Bible says that we are "Slaves to sin or freedom." We draw from this that we will most certainly be worshipping someone, or something, at all times, but this is not true about prayer. Prayer is not an involuntary action. We must pursue it fervently. However, as much as we wish it weren't, prayer can be very difficult.  If we can be honest with ourselves, it is not always fun to pray.  It is hard and can even seem messy.  Why is it this way? Didn't Jesus himself say "come unto me for my yoke is easy and my burden is light?" Maybe it's not the act of talking to God that is difficult in of itself - maybe it's where we think we stand with Him that makes it hard. For example, (and from experience) if we believe God is angry with us, (or even we are angry with God) we are going to have a very hard time praying to him to "restore all things" when in our hearts, we believe He's the one who took "all things" from us. Maybe I am alone in this thought, but let's not forget we are imperfect people praying to a perfect God. When our neediness for something greater than ourselves outweighs our pride to "do it ourselves," we will find ourselves prostrate before God the Father surrendering our will to His will. 

One of the most liberating phrases in scripture is the preposition "but" because we know something better lies ahead. So here is our "but moment," the good news. As messy as prayer can be, it can also be that much more rewarding. It's an honor and privilege that we have been given to commune with God, our Father. One of the most encouraging things about prayer is we do not have to know "the perfect prayer" for every season of life. In fact, we find favor with God in our quietness.  Listening to God is more valuable than anything we bring to the table. However, when we do speak we've been given a guide. Romans 8:26 says that:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."

If you're reading this and genuinely have never been taught to pray, do not feel ashamed. I want to encourage you that we all have been given the greatest example by Jesus himself on how to pray. Refer to Matthew 6:9-13. I don't want to attempt to exegete this passage of scripture via this blog, but I do want to point out the praise that Jesus repetitively gives to the Father in His prayer. 

I'll leave you with this thought. The Bible says we are to pray without ceasing and it's less of a "bow your head and close your eyes moment."  It is a state of mind, of an all-encompassing surrendering of ourselves, to an all-powerful God. 

Pray more this week. Praise more this week. Listen more this week. 
 

 
 

Imperfection and a healthy Church

Danielle Jordan - August 1, 2017

A healthy church. What does it look like? How does it work? Many of you reading this probably have so many thoughts coming to your mind. The living word of Jesus should flow through every corner, breathing life in to all who call it their home. It should bring joy and pour love onto everything it surrounds. In the books of Acts, we see the beginning of the early church and dive into how it is mapped out.

When I was given this topic to write about, I will admit, I was very nervous. When asked the question, what does a healthy church look like, so many different ideas came to my mind with a rush. How could I possibly sum up what a healthy church looks like and adequately capture all it stands for? The longer I thought about it, the Holy Spirit began to weigh heavily on my mind. It then dawned on me that a healthy church is just that. A church that lets the Holy Spirit guide us to the path where we are supposed to be and lay out our every move throughout life.

In my time at New Heights, I have always held dear the fact that they absolutely lead with the gospel first. By spending time in prayer and repentance, we honor the very reason we are able to worship each Sunday and carry that love throughout our week. It’s members who know how much they owe the Lord and will fully admit their flaws. You see, a healthy church does not shy away from something just because it is not perfect.

One of my favorite terms I hear is, “we are a bunch of jacked up sinners.” This could not be truer, but each day I see members constantly pursuing the Lord in ways that can only be attributed to Him. I see men, women and children shining His light so bright across multiple locations and cities. When you break it down in its simplest form, a healthy church is a bunch of “jacked up sinners” who love Jesus and others more than themselves.

With the hurt and destruction going on in this world, a healthy church should be helping those missing and in pain. A pain that only the word of God is able to cure. Looking into our own communities and the streets we live on, we see how broken things can become. We tend to fix our gaze inwardly instead of on the world around us. Being in a healthy, thriving church is the exact opposite. A healthy church fixes their eyes on the One who has the ability to help people overcome that grief and outwardly pour that love on to others.

In the Book of James, we are told to mourn with each other, pray with each other, rejoice, sing praise, and confess our sins to each other so that we may be healed. James also clearly lays out that we are to seek those who wander away from the truth and bring them back. This picture of how we are to interact with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is how a healthy church thrives and grows. We wrap our arms around each other in affliction and fervently pray for the well-being of our church and God’s children. It is not always an easy task when we have pain and chaos thrown at us, but to maintain the health of a church, we must be diligent in pursuing the Lord and loving the people who need Him.

There are so many different characteristics that I could list out as to how and why a church is healthy and remains impactful. At the heart of everything, a healthy church encompasses Jesus. His word, His love and His guidance all carry the church that is pursuant after Him. In a healthy church, you are never going to find perfection. You are not going to find people who claim to have it all together. However, you will find children of Christ who constantly stand in awe of the Creator of the universe. You will find though members, volunteers, elders and deacons who humble themselves and lead with the Bible first. In short, you will find a bunch of sinners who know where their hearts are and know who deserves the glory for the many blessings in their lives.

 
 

facing the impossilbe

Melissa foley - July 20, 2017

Life is hard sometimes. It doesn’t matter who you are, the hard times will come calling. I dread those moments. No one wants to deal with challenges and heartache. I, for one, have had my fair share of tough times. I will warn you; you may change your opinion of me with the next few paragraphs. I should tell you that the way this played out was raw and I’m ashamed of my behavior.

As a young married couple, we dealt with money issues and relational things on the regular. It’s a familiar story, I’m sure. When we started having children it became even harder for us to keep the peace in our home. And then there was Jack. On September 9, 2005, I got a call from my doctor telling us that my baby would be born with Down Syndrome. To say that I was devastated would be an understatement. I had never been angry with God before. I couldn’t understand why He would do this to me. What had I done to make my baby this way? I had all these emotions and questions even before I hung up the phone. I was ready to end it all. I was going to end the suffering as soon as possible. “How long do I have before it is too late to terminate,” I asked. When I told my husband what I planned to do, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. He wanted to keep the thing! (I warned you…raw!) That was all it took. I was having the abortion and leaving my husband. God could shove it and I wasn’t playing His game anymore.

My father is probably the only person in the world who can make me see reason. After a phone call to his pastor we sat down for a chat. I was a Christian woman, he had told me. God wants you to have this baby. We are all in this together…now go back to your husband. You get the picture. I reluctantly agreed to go through with it all. As stubborn as I am I made sure everyone knew I wasn’t happy about it. What a spoiled brat I was.

As the weeks and months went on I retreated more and more. I stopped going to church regularly. I didn’t take phone calls from friends. Honestly, much of my pregnancy went by in a haze. I blocked so much out. And the hits kept on coming. The endless doctor’s appointments, tests, and bad news just seemed to never end. The medical bills were astronomical. My husband was working two jobs while I stayed home with a one year old. I can’t imagine that I was a good mother in that first year. My poor child had half a mother!

About halfway through my pregnancy we received more bad news. Baby had a heart condition. He’d have to have surgery soon after his birth to correct a hole in his heart. And I broke. God and I had it out once and for all. I screamed, I pleaded, and in the end I fell on my knees. There was no other course for me than to give it back to Him. And this is what He had to say to me:

Matthew 19:26 says, "But Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'"

Jeremiah 32:17 says, "Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything to hard for me?"

Ephesians 3:20 says, "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us."

I will never understand the depths of God’s grace. I will never understand how He could love a sinner like me or how patient He is when I stumble. I am so thankful that God forgives and that He offers redemption and restoration. Praise be to God!

As my husband and I slowly came back to a place of love and acceptance, we could clearly see what God was doing. When you stand on the other side of things, you can’t help but shake your head. He sharpens us and He challenges us to come to the cross. He wants our obedience but He also wants to have a relationship with us. There is nothing greater than a closer walk with your Savior.

If you happen to grace the doors of our church you can bet Jack will be there to give you a hug as you walk through the door. Today, Jack is a healthy and happy eleven year old.  His heroes are Sponge Bob, his grandpas, and our worship leader, TK. He loves hot dogs with mustard and is so flexible he can lift his legs behind his head. I have seen him struggle. I’ve also seen him with a smile so big, praise hands up, and worshipping with reckless abandon. God continues to teach me through my son. Now, I am thankful for the lesson. Sometimes the journey to the other side of things leads to the greatest of joys.

When faced with the impossible it is hard to see the forest for the trees. God is faithful. Turn to Him in times of trouble. He promises to never leave us or forsake us.

 
 

Redemptive Emotions

Jeremy Berry - July 10, 2017

This evening, my family and I got to watch a fantastic play at Ritter Park: Beauty and the Beast. It is one my favorites and I was so excited for my daughter to see the show. At one point she turned to me and asked, “Why is the Beast so angry?” For the audience, it is both his anger and lack of self-control that make him into the frightening, semi-villain, in the first act. As you most likely know, as the story progresses, he becomes less angry. In fact, by the end of the plot, his anger is all but gone. All that exists is a vapid beast who cannot muster up the slightest bit of anger as the villagers pillage his home, hurt his life-long servants, and threaten his own life. Now this blog post is not about a play (though a movie review may be needed in the future). Rather, this post is about emotions. The story of Belle and Beast sums up what we think about emotions. There are positive emotions and negative emotions. We assume love is good and anger is bad. But is that true? Is that biblical?

I believe emotions are like coins; there are sides. As complex as emotions can be, it may be more like a 20 sided die but you get the point. Think of it this way: we are image bearers, made in the likeness of God. Our emotions are not unique to us, the creation. They are but a shadow of our Creator’s perfect, balanced emotions. It is interesting to think that God has emotions, but He does. He loves, He hates, He experiences jealousy, He has desires, He knows joy, and happiness. God is emotional. Now if you are like me the term “emotional” carries with it some negative baggage. For me, that's only because I categorize emotions as negative/positive rather than misplaced.

So when we assign emotions as only positive or negative, what are we actually doing? We are missing the point of why we are given particular emotions. It's easy to do. For instance, when we think of anger, we may think of an unhealthy manifestation of wrath. Anger can certainly be negative. Scripture tells us our God is and has been angry. There are two questions I'd like to ask: first, what makes God angry? Second, what does unrighteous anger look like?

Not to go too deep here, but to get my point across, I want to ask another question: Why does God get so angry at sin? You may be thinking, "Because He’s holy!" Now take a second and think about that response. Out of His holiness, comes anger. Anger does not have to be unhealthy. God’s anger is not a sign that He needs counseling. There is no evil that dwells in God. The Lord’s anger burns towards sin because it both separates us from Him and denies His authority in our life. Sin denies Jesus what is, at a minimum, due to Him. So, righteous anger reflects the heart of God. It is out of holiness and from a position of love that we are to experience anger. That is how we can be exhorted by scripture to be angry and not sin. However, if we're honest, our anger is often neither loving or holy. 

Unrighteous anger is focused on what I think I deserve. It has no root in any biblical mandate. It is out of selfishness rather than love. Personally, I believe that unrighteous anger will manifest an ungodly wrath and vengeance that belongs to God alone. We see God in scripture pour out wrath on those who deny His authority, but we are called to love our enemies. God can choose to love His enemies, bringing us to Himself, or He can pour out His vengeance. He’s just to do so. Given my position, my past, my sin, and my failures, it would be unjust for me to condemn anyone at my hand.

Lets take anxiety! This is definitely a negative emotion, right? I have heard pastors talk about how anxiety is caused by unrepentant sin. For me, this is highly frustrating, as it is for anyone who experiences anxiety. Let me be clear, all emotions can be unhealthy, but is anxiety always wrong or caused by sin? I think of when Jesus was praying at the Mount of Olives. Jesus is about to experience the wrath of the Father. He will be beaten, mocked, and tortured to death. Knowing what is to come, Jesus asks, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” The cup spoken of here is God’s wrath. After Jesus prays, scripture tells us that he was in “agony” or “anguish.” In Matthew it is recorded that he says, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Given His future, Jesus seems a bit anxious! Understandably so. Jesus was going to become sin for us.

So if God can experience anxiety, is there a righteous anxiety? Well, if Jesus is sinless, then yes!

I had a roomate who was the most apathetic human being I’ve ever met. I do not mean to be insulting...it is just an observation. He never cared about anything. There was no anxiety in him at all. Given that he hadn't paid rent, lost his job, watched his car get towed due to overdue tags, and kicked out of school…he had reason to experience some distress. Some of us, being good friends and all, tried to encourage him, shame him, make fun of him…anything to get him to see the circumstance he was in, but nothing would work. He had absolutely no anxiety.

Some things should cause us distress. If my daughter or son were terminally ill and I felt no distress, I wouldn't appear loving or holy. If a loved one is suffering from an addiction, to not feel distress is inhuman. Our distress in these circumstances actually mirrors our Creator. God is not indifferent to our pain or sin. In fact, scripture says that our sinful actions grieve God. Too many times we view holiness as transcending human emotion. I should grieve, care, cry, and have distress over people I love. Healthy anxiety does two things: first, it drives you to action. Second, it drives you to prayer. The latter is most important. Healthy anxiety shows you that you cannot do it alone or by yourself. It proves that the source of our strength has to be our God.

Before I talk about unhealthy anxiety, let me give a disclaimer. Some have medical issues that cause us to feel anxious, depressed, etc. Just as diabetes is a physical issue, not a spiritual one, the source of anxiety and depression can be a physical issue. Though for most, it is primarily a spiritual fight.

Many times, anxiety can swell when our level of comfort is challenged. It may be finances or social situations, but whatever the circumstance, our unhealthy anxiety does not draw us to our knees. Instead, it causes us to retreat. The unhealthy anxiety isolates us from being challenged and pits us against growth. In the end, it seeks the idol of comfort as its refuge rather than the Lord. 

Finally I want to discuss the most misunderstood emotion, the one we mistakenly assign as good: love. It's all you need! Love has become the catch-all term to solve the problems within ourselves and around the world. There are two ways we misappropriate love. We either love others or ourselves supremely, making either one an idol.

When we love others supremely, they are doomed to fail. We place expectations on them and when they crash, not only is unjust anger poured on them, but we are crushed because our god (idol) has failed. Another way this rears its ugly head is when our idolatry of others causes us to excuse evident sin and sometimes even defend it.  

When we love ourselves supremely, people become tools...merely a means to our end, which is self glorification. Our “love” is a commodity that is traded for their usefulness and once that has dried up, these people are sent away.

In Beauty and the Beast, Gaston has many "fan-girls." Probably my favorite character is an exaggerated version of unrighteous love. Gaston is selfish and in the words of Belle, “positively prime evil.” His roadies are an exaggerated version of idol worship. Their idolatry is evident (because they are cartoon characters). The problem is our own idolatry is not alway so easy to identify.

Do you manipulate others, using “love” to make your spouse or children dependent or guilt ridden? Do you forsake truth within your relationships because another's soul is not worth the price of a hard stand or a seemingly awkward conversation? 

My favorite magician is Penn Jillette, an outspoken Atheist. He once said, “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” An unrighteous love forsakes the good of God’s creation and more importantly God’s glory. My prayer for myself is that I stop masking or justifying unrighteous love. I pray that my love will not be used to further my brand but rather the gospel of Jesus. I want our love to be pure and point others to who Jesus is. I want to love like Jesus loved.   

Scripture says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” For His glory and our good, let us love our Lord supremely so that we may love all others appropriately. 

If you struggle with abnormally strong emotions or urges, first let me tell you that there is no shame in your struggle. Get help. Talk to someone, whether it is one of your pastors or professional counseling. Do not be ashamed. Isolation only increases the difficulty.

 
 

Salt & light

Dustin Harper - July 2, 2017

We find ourselves in Matthew's narrative of the Sermon on the Mount. So let's set the scene. Jesus was preaching arguably the most transformational series of sermons that superseded class, ethnicity, age, and cultural boundaries. He had just taught all in attendance on the 8 beatitudes of the Christian life (Matthew 5:3-10). (These are really solid teachings and if you aren't familiar with this, please stop and read the text above before continuing.) He is leading up to a crescendo moment and then he tell us to be "salt" and "light." (Matthew 5:13-16) Reading this as mostly Western minded 21st century Christians this may seem minuscule to us, but what we have to do is look at the context and the occasion to which Jesus was speaking. We have seen time and time again that Jesus had a keen ability to contextualize the message of the gospel according to the group he was speaking to without comprising the focus of his message. The words salt and light were not chosen at random.

Amongst this group were the sojourners who would travel for days upon days at a time, who understood the value of salt. There were Romans present who would exchange work for salt. Despite the differences of the spectators they all could agree on one thing, salt was valuable. They knew the value of salt and cherished it far more than we ever could understand. As we all can imagine by this point Jesus is talking about much more than the physical particles and the practicality of salt. So is Jesus telling us through this teaching just as salt was to preserve and add flavor to their food we as Christians are to do the same in the context of our community? I want to expand our minds further than a quick historical lesson of salt and its purpose merely pertaining to food and the 1st Century. So before we get excited and hashtag "#saltandlight," let's ask what this means and how we obtain it. 

So again, Jesus had just taught the beatitudes of the Christian life, but the power is not just in the knowledge of these eight things. Power is in the application, which leads to transformation. We see that theological knowledge without spiritual transformation leads to dead orthodoxy.

Theological knowledge without spiritual transformation leads to dead orthodoxy.
 

What I mean by that is we will not impress the world by our knowledge of how Christ lived, if we ourselves are not being transformed into His image (daily). For a modern day perspective - it would be the equivalent of inviting guests over for dinner, taking the time to marinate, season, and prepare a steak for the meal, placing it on the grill, but never igniting the grill. What is the response when you present this raw, well-seasoned steak to your guest for them to eat? The steak, until cooked, has no purpose or benefit to these friends. To the guest, the amount of preparation will not matter if you do not perform the last step and grill the steak. So pragmatically, theological knowledge is a good thing, but when the "salt" truly regains and sustains its savor is when transformation occurs in the heart of a believer.  

For us as the Church what does it mean to become the "salt of the earth and the light of the world?" It is when we as believers respond in a manner that is pleasing to God in all circumstances. In other words, the way we lose our saltiness is when we are not applying what we say we believe. When we are not renewing our mind and becoming more like Christ, the light that we emit from our lives becomes unappealing, dim, and bland to the watching world. 

Becoming salt is not a trendy process and it does not occur overnight; it is a long enduring day to day renewing of our mind to shift our focus to Christ. Fellow Christians, I urge you, let's not just learn with our heads the teachings of Jesus, but let's allow it to transform our hearts. 

 
 

Humility

Dwight Adkins - June 27, 2017

You may not feel like reading this blog...that’s okay. It’s certainly not going to be the best thing you’ve ever read; probably not the best thing you’ll read today. The truth is that this blog didn’t really want to be written at all. The blog is about humility. Humility is, however, worthy of being blogged about. It is admirable. It is Christian when we are not.

It would certainly not be happy about having all of this attention and thus, we rarely discuss its significance, power, and importance in our lives. Think of the famous quotes on the many other virtues. There are multiple profound and witty sayings on “patience." There are beautiful poems and songs on “love” and “kindness." But, just as humility would have it, there’s not much in the way of song, rhyme, or prose devoted to it. The real reason is likely the same as why it's so difficult to write about it at this time. That is because if other potential writers are like this blogger, then it is a quality that has been largely absent from their lives.

Please don’t misunderstand, I’ve been exposed to humility many, many times in my life: mostly through embarrassing situations. To write about those instances, although somewhat amusing now, would hardly do justice to the essence of true humility. I would be drawing attention to a story about myself and ultimately undermining the point of humility which is to diminish self...to refrain from making it all about me. The other problem with my humiliating stories would be that the embarrassment doesn’t come from humility. It comes from a lack of it. Pride is the sin that brings embarrassment along with a host of other pain.

Yet strangely, you will see that word in various forms throughout various areas of our lives, celebrated as a thing for which we should seek and revel. That is exactly what “pride” would insist that it deserves too. No, if this blog were about pride, it would demand its name be in the title accompanied with a selfie.

But this blog is about the perfect humility exemplified in the Savior, Jesus Christ, that crushed the head of the serpent under his blood-soaked heel as he humbly accepted that which we were entitled. We were entitled to hell and Christ alone took that immeasurable burden upon Himself and gave us an escape from death. Jesus, in perfect love and divine grace, freely gave his life and accepted our punishment as the ultimate example of humility. He bore our shame as he was stripped, mocked, beaten, and crucified.

The imagery and magnitude of those events that we know to be true should be all of the humble pie we need to push pride from surfacing in our lives. We don’t. We refuse. We are addicted to sin. We are slaves to the acceptance of our peers rather than accepting the freedom we receive through humbly surrendering to Christ.

I admit it: I’m guilty. I’m as guilty as anyone on this and it is uncomfortable to admit. It’s nothing for which I am happy to confess but confess it I must, otherwise this blog could not have been written (at least not honestly anyway). More importantly, I could not repent for my prideful ways without the grace-filled blessing of God’s gift of humility to this world and for that I am thankful to my savior.

I’m starting to see why people don’t enjoy writing about this subject. It forces one to look straight into the mirror, but it does so before the teeth are brushed, hair combed, face washed, and makeup applied. When we investigate the truth in humility, we will shamefully see how much more time we’ve spent loving ourselves instead of loving others and loving Jesus.

Even though it hasn’t been “fun” to write this blog, and as I warned you earlier that it may not have been something you’d feel like reading, it was an honor and privilege to write about humility as only Christ could display. To practice humility as Christ instructs, we must read his word and follow his example. We must increase Him and decrease ourselves. We must allow Him to sanctify us through prayer, study, and then practice Christian humility in the midst of the temptation to promote ourselves.

Let’s take the steps to turn our backs to the lie of pride and begin to humbly walk in the light of Jesus’ love.

 
 

Gospel Men

Danielle Jordan - June 21, 2017

There is not anything more infinitely beautiful than God's design and plan in our lives. We can struggle and falter at many points, but nothing will stop this plan. I have personally seen this played out in my life and relationships.

I am a single mother and this can carry a certain stigma. When you're a woman who has never been married, you will always get question after question in regards to your relationships. When God created Adam, He gave him Eve. We were meant to be wonderfully entwined from the moment man and woman were formed on this earth.

We can get caught up in the Hollywood image of romance and if we are not careful, these relationships can drive us far from the God that yearns for our hearts. As women, we should desire a godly man: a man who fiercely and passionately loves the gospel and will help lead in that every day. 

Throughout scripture you will find many attributes of godly men, and you will certainly find some examples of men who are not so godly. It is vitally important that the men in your life lead you with a firm hold of the gospel and that they keep pointing you toward God everyday. If God is not the center of your relationship then things can go badly. 

A family unit is only cohesive if you have the best glue you can find holding it together. We have the answer to that glue wrapped up in a wonderful book that screams His nameA godly man will understand what that glue is and boldly proclaim it everyday. I think it is easy for a man to say he is godly. But, sooner or later, that will be put to the test, and one can find out just how godly he is.

When turmoil arises, a relationship can be put to the test, but when it is built on a firm foundation, it will only sway so far. A man who knows this truth will lead and allow room for growth in their relationship with God. They will see their relationships flourish in the gospel. 

A godly man will lead well and instill so much trust in their significant other that submitting will be perfectly natural. Godly men point their families to the gospel in ever way. Ladies, it is okay to wait for your true godly man. It may not be today and it could be years from now. I encourage you to seek God first; consequently the relationship you want will find you. Gentlemen, leading a Biblical household isn't something to be taken lightly. A godly man will understand and trust the Lord with all his heart and guide his family to that beautiful portrait of what God wants our relationships to be. 

 
 

Hospitality

Matt Carr - June 14, 2017

Hospitality is defined by Dictionary.com as "the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers" and "the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests or strangers in a warm, generous way." Examples abound the world over. For example,  in American culture we often speak of "Southern hospitality," traditionally the invitation of strangers to one's church followed by the sharing of highly calorific food. But what about examples outside of our own culture, including those who may inspire us to deepen our relationship with God as we understand Him, but may not even share our faith? Such folks do exist.

 

A couple of Arab descent from Dearborn, Michigan has opened their home (now in Seattle) to complete strangers for conversation, fellowship, and food. Interactions are often lively, and Amanda and Hussein attempt to foster among their guests an understanding of their culture and religion, but not with a goal of gaining new Muslim converts. And the Saab’s happen to be Muslim.

 

Scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths (these include Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are littered with examples of hospitality, inviting us to glimpse God’s love toward humanity, and inviting us to reflect His love to our fellow humans, however imperfectly. Hospitality is best practiced when exhibited toward strangers or perhaps even those our culture and religious convictions deem undesirable.  Middle Eastern culture, including that of Bible times, exemplifies hospitality like no other. For example, look at Jesus. The Pharisees of His day faulted him for his fellowship and outreach toward tax collectors and prostitutes, the "undesirables" of His day. But Jesus even called many of these folks "friends." He received them with love and respect, inviting them to become their best selves. For Christians, a beautiful illustration of hospitality is provided by the words of Jesus to the church at Laodicea, as He beckons: “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20, ESV).  I don’t know about you, but this kind of love tells me that no matter who we are or where we come from, God truly wants to call us friends. In turn, I believe he expects us to welcome all into our midst, even those who do no share our faith.

 

Amanda and Hussein are still hosting dinners at their Seattle home, welcoming strangers into their midst, sharing experiences, and answering questions about their faith. Through this, they are not attempting to convert anyone, but also dispelling myths about the culture and faith of Islam.  What if Christians reached beyond our church communities, inviting strangers and friends to church, with no ulterior motive but what we are told is the pure love of Christ? I don't know about anyone else, but this excited me. As a gay man (one who attempts to be celibate for spiritual reasons), I know what it's like to be vilified and misunderstood, even by followers of Christ. But as my heart has healed, I have chosen to reach out to what I perceive are the less-loved by our culture, including some different types of Christians with whom we may not associate; the LGBT (and especially the transgender) community; a colorful array of diverse racial and ethnic humans; and those of different religions or no faith at all. May we never be a part of placing upon someone the title of "other." We have all been this at one point. If we choose to love sacrificially, Jesus will be seen in us as we meet people where they are, and love them as they are.  Everyone has an experience, and that experience needs to be acknowledged.  In concluding this entry, I'm reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King when he wrote: "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." Indeed it is. I believe the Saabs have realized this. I encourage each of us to do the same. Amen.    

 

            If hospitality is practiced by welcoming strangers into our midst, how do we do this on a practical level? The church has many effective ways of doing so to make visitors feel at home, such as our tent team and hospitality workers. However, I believe the ultimate goal in our expression of hospitality should be to further the gospel. It means there are no more strangers---we love and appreciate people, even those who don't embrace Christianity, regardless of superficial categories like race, nationality, orientation, or even religion. Let's get to know our visitors in an appropriate way. Learn about someone's background without being invasive. Appreciate their background and experience. Share a meal together. Send that text or email. Have coffee. Everyone is unworthy to sit at God’s table yet we invite all because God has graciously allowed us in His presence. The gospel reconciles the unreconcilable. So the person you're hesitant to be hospitable to…he or she is a image image-bearer of God. EVERYONE was given the breath of life by our Creator. This we all share in common. And everyone is deserving of our love,  respect and the good news of Jesus. Indeed, our creator expects no less.

 

 

 
 

Devoted Disciples

Travis Edwards - June 5, 2017

I'm watching you. Yes, you. I see when you surround those who are hurting. I see when you set up for church on Sunday, only to have to tear it down a few hours later. I see when you raise your hands and I hear when you say, "amen!" From my point of view, we as a church are doing a lot of things well. However, my subjectivity can't be enough to determine if our church pleases Jesus. We must look at things objectively. 

Take caution. The success of New Heights Church can't be measured by how many people show up on Sunday. We can't allow the number of members or amount of conversions be indicators that "we're doing it right". While these things are objective, they're measuring the wrong things. We shouldn't allow our egos to inflate when we see big numbers. To make sure that our church is going in the right direction, we look for a few things that allow us to measure how well the vision of New Heights is being carried out:

•Devoted Disciples

•Sacrificial Stewards

•Practical Proclaimers

Our church wants to stop the cycle of churches existing for the purpose of existing. We have a reason for coming together. In this article, we'll be discussing what it means to be a devoted disciple of Christ. To whom should our attention be given? To what should we be devoted? What actions mark a disciple? 

We end up being devoted to THINGS, right? The Voice, online gaming accounts, our kids, our jobs, and our significant others take a lot of our attention. Some things are worthy of our focus, but others aren't. I don't have to tell you that God should be our #1 focus (Matthew 6:33) but He requires us to focus on certain other things that honor Him. For instance, if you're married, you're honoring God by paying some attention to your spouse (1st Corinthians 7). If you're a parent, pay some attention to your kids (Psalms 127:4). 

Be intentional with your attention. 

We can biblically tell the difference between things that are worthy of our attention and things that are not. The Litmus test question is this: "will my focus on _______ ultimately make God famous?" If the answer is "yes", carry on. If the answer is "maybe" or "no", it's probably wise to re-evaluate your time spent on that activity. After all, what do we call something that takes our attention away from our Master's fame? We call it an idol! I know that you're thinking of your most time-consuming hobby and trying to justify it in the name of Jesus. "Oh, I know! I can witness to people while playing Xbox live!" Don't deceive yourself. 

If you have time to play but no time to pray, you have an idol. 

While there is nothing wrong with doing things that help you manage your stress, those things can quickly become idols. Have you genuinely tried praying or reading the Bible when you are at your breaking point (or even before that)? Have you tried meeting with your mentor or the person you're mentoring when you're feeling stressed? Speaking of which...

Who is your Paul? Who is your Timothy?

What am I talking about? I'm referring to disciple-making disciples. Paul considered Timothy his "son in the faith". Do you have someone so near to your heart whom you genuinely want to see grow in the ways of Christ? Do you have a Timothy? Timothy viewed Paul as a spiritual father, hanging on his every word. Do you respect and look up to someone to this extent? Do you have a Paul? 

A devoted disciple first desires to be discipled. He or she is faithful, attentive, teachable, humble, and submissive. If you're a devoted disciple, you'll value community and accountability. You'll also gravitate toward a reverent relationship. Find a role model whose role model is Christ. Let this person direct you through prayer and scripture reading. They should always be pointing you toward Jesus, His mission, and how you're equipped to work for Him. 

Next, a devoted disciple should seek to make more devoted disciples. Our goal should never be to grow New Heights Church, or even The Church. Jesus promised to do that (Matthew 16), so let's have enough faith to trust Him with that responsibility. He gave His disciples a completely different job description. It's called the Great Commission:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭28:19-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Are you actively making a disciple? I'm not talking about teaching someone how to cook or play an instrument. However, these could be avenues to help someone grow in wisdom through the scriptures! 

Let's take a look back at all the action words in that passage:

•Go

•Make disciples

•Baptize

•Teach

These are the tasks that Jesus expects His disciples to carry out! We need not be concerned with the other things that weigh us down. Let's cast them off and do what Jesus has commissioned us to do! But let us not neglect those things which Jesus has commanded us. What were those commands exactly?

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭22:36-40‬ ‭ESV‬‬

These are the things that we must continue to be taught, and continue to teach others. Devoted disciples will always be learning to deny themselves, pick up their crosses, and follow Jesus. They'll also sacrifice their own wants and needs for the needs of others. Finally, they'll teach others to do the same, and teach others to teach others to do the same. There are many marks of a devoted disciple, and it's obvious if you are one. But I'm not the only one watching you, looking for those marks. 

If you feel the need to deceive others, you've already deceived yourself. 

Jesus reminds us that He is always with us. You can't hide behind lies to deceive Christ. That might work for your fellow church members, and even your pastors, but God is your ultimate accountability partner. He knows your heart, even when others may not. Eventually, your heart will be revealed by your actions (or lack of actions). 

Appearing to be a good disciple isn't the same as being a good disciple. 

One reason people avoid community and accountability is because they're trying to hide something. If you want to take a step toward becoming a devoted disciple, build relationships with people by committing to a small group (newheightswv.com/groups)In the great commission passage, Jesus tells us to go together and make disciples (go YE therefore, in KJV). You aren't meant to disciple alone, and you certainly can't be discipled alone. Get plugged into a small group, and learn by experience what it means to be a devoted disciple of Christ!

 

Distribute your attention properly. Devote to the right things. Don't just act like a disciple. 

 

Glorify. Grow. Go.