Sermon Recap: Grace and Limits (Hebrews 12:1-11)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our series on parenting: Raising Humans. 

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When I asked my son, Jonas, what makes a good parent, one thing he said struck me: "Don't give the kids whatever they want. Because if they get whatever they want, they won't know what's right." Limits are good us—they give shape to our lives. Parents give children limits through consistent, loving discipline that reflects the discipline of God in Hebrews 12

God’s Fatherly Limits for Us

When we look at God's fatherly limits for us in Hebrews 12:7-11, we learn 6 things about our discipline for our children:

1. Discipline is an act of love (v.7)

What parent doesn’t love their children? When God brings us through suffering, we can see it as His love for us, teaching us, training us to know and follow Him. Parents who love their children discipline them. “God is treating you as sons.”

2. Failure to discipline is hatred. (v.8)

If your whole life were rainbows and roses, it would be a mark that God doesn’t love you! It takes discipline to grow up and become our best selves. Failure to discipline a child is a mark, not of love and compassion, but of hatred and contempt for their potential.

3. Discipline trains children to receive their limits. (v.9-10)

A parent’s discipline leads children to respect them. Discipline from God the Father, in turn, leads us to submit to Him. If our sinfulness leads us to try to transcend human limits, and that is an inherently bad thing, then discipline teaches us to trust, not self or sinful pride, but our loving Father. 

4. Discipline is unpleasant. (v.11)

These Christians are suffering persecution. They are being maligned, scoffed at, imprisoned, betrayed. And God is ALLOWING this. It isn’t because He is incapable of stopping it. It is because He has a gospel vision for their lives. It is because He is not satisfied with where we are, but has a greater goal for where we will end up. Discipline is unpleasant. But that unpleasantness is key to growth. 

5. Discipline bears fruit.

This is an essential component of gracious discipline. Bringing the unpleasant aspect of discipline into our children’s lives without the goal of bearing fruit is tantamount to punishment, if not plain cruelty. We have NO RIGHT to punish our children. We do not punish—by grace Christ was punished for us (see 1 Peter 2:24)! We correct and train—we discipline. We lead our children through unpleasant experiences so that it will bear the peaceful fruit of righteousness. 

6. Discipline is divine.

Earthly parents are an analogy of God’s loving care for us as His children. When we discipline our children, we are participating in God’s work in their lives. When we discipline our children in love, to instruct, and to bear fruit in their lives, we are imaging our Father in heaven. 

The Grace of Limits

 

Hebrews 12:3-7 teach that mom and dad get to reflect the Father and His loving discipline for their children. We discipline, in part, to teach our kids the way God created the universe to work, according to His law and the "if this, then that" principle that is a prerequisite to godly wisdom. 

How should parents do this? What discipline method should be used? Hebrews quotes Proverbs, which elsewhere discusses "the rod" (Proverbs 22:15; 13:24). This does NOT mean abuse, and parents must remember our authority in our children's lives is given by God for their good. Rather than prescribe method, as a church we want to encourage everyone to discipline in community. Talk with others, learn from each other, be accountable to one another. 

Most importantly, remember that you will make mistakes and need repentance throughout your parenting. Give grace to your kids, and receive the grace of Christ. 

Raising Humans Homework #3

If you are a parent, sit down on your own and/or with your spouse and answer the following 3 questions together:

  1. The life stage and appropriate limits for our child(ren) are _____________.
  2. Currently, we ensure those limits are upheld in our child(dren)’s life by ________________.
  3. We will live in community by honestly sharing our discipline practices and parenting struggles with these trusted brothers and sisters _____________. 
  4. Extra Credit: Ask a wise brother or sister who has spent time with your children this question: “Do you think my children understand their God-given limits? Do they understand them too well (not free to be themselves)? Or not enough (TOO free around others as to make them uncomfortable)? 

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. What kinds of limits has God given you in your life? How do you view them?
  2. What is one God-given limit that you seek to transcend? Why? 
  3. What does it look like to humbly submit to your God-given limits? 
  4. Do you believe that God's discipline for you (and yours for your kids) is an act of love? Why or why not?
  5. If you have kids, in what ways do you seek to reinforce the God-given law principle in their lives, "if this, then that"? How consistent are you in this?
  6. Is it easier to give your children the law or to give them the gospel? Why are both necessary to their development and knowledge of God? 
  7. Is the way you discipline your children honestly submitted to Christ? Are there things about your parenting that you don't want Him to touch? Why or why not?

Klay’s Kisses, Parenting by Grace, and Loving Orphans – Stuff We Like #12

It's hard to know when to stop. There's so much…

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Moments I Like - Klay's Kiss

Klay is the best Warrior on the internet. First #ChinaKlay. Now this.

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After hitting a three in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals Monday, the normally quiet, reserved, most-likeable-because-he-never-speaks-up Klay Thompson blew a kiss to the Houston crowd. It was this glorious moment of competitive greatness and snark. It made my night.

Books I Like

Give Them Grace, by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

If you're going to read a book on how the gospel applies to parenting, there's no better book than this one. Here is an article-length distillation of the book's message, and below is Elyse discussing the ineffectiveness of rules to change our kids. 

This Letter to a Young Parent, by Jamie Smith, is in the same vein and speaks to our children's participation in the Christian community. Like Mariellyn said Sunday, "if it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a church to raise a Christian!"

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald

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This book has one of the most brilliant illustrations of what it means to live by faith that I have ever read!!! I read it to my kids last month and they thoroughly enjoyed it. There is bravery, adventure, monsters, battlers, and a fairy grandmother. I highly recommend it!

Book SALES I Like - The Alameda Library Used Book Sale

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Three days, thousands of titles, every six months at the officer's club on Alameda Point. The last day, you fill up a bag of books and pay $4 for it no matter how many you've got! All proceeds support the library. Next one is in October!

Podcasts I Like

Revolutions Podcast

This is a nerdy/guilty pleasure that Nate Puckett turned me on to (thanks Nate!). Starting in the 17th century, it tells the detailed story of the many revolutions that have taken place in modern history. I'm hooked. 

Stories I Like - Moses from Mcheneke

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Moses lived with his mother. She died when he turned 7. He and his little sister then moved in with their grandmother. She was weak and elderly, and struggled to provide basics like blankets and soap. He longed to go to school, but they couldn’t afford the minimal enrollment fee.

This was his situation until a Hands at Work care worker, Fanny, visited his home

Grace Alameda partners with our sister churches, Christ Church and Wellspring, to support 200 orphans in Moses’s community, Mcheneke, Malawi. Participate with us! (Be sure to select "Grace Alameda - Mcheneke" in the dropdown menu.) $20/month provides food security, health care, and education to children like Moses. 

 

What stuff do you like? Share in the comments below!

Sermon Recap: God at the Center (Ephesians 6:1-4)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our series on parenting: Raising Humans. 

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We need a Copernican Revolution in our parenting. For 1500 years in the West, we thought the sun revolved around the earth. Copernicus—and others before and after him—helped flip that thinking on its head. The earth isn't the center of the solar system. The sun is. 

Likewise, we tend to think that the family revolves around the parents or the children. But we are wrong. We need a Copernican Revolution in our parenting. We need, not parents or children, but God at the center of our families.

Christ Is the Sun That the Family Should Orbit

In Ephesians 6:1-4, children are called to obey in the Lord, and parents are to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Christ is the sun that rises and sets on the household.

Subverting Patriarchy

Paul is subverting the conventional wisdom of his day. In the Roman world, the father was the center of the family. He owned the property, his word was law, he even had the power of life and death over his newborn children. But Paul elevates the mother to equal status in the home ("children obey your parents") and curbs the father's authority ("Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger"). Paul subverts patriarchy because the gospel does!

Acknowledging True Authority

This passage likewise subverts the conventional wisdom of our day that is more child-centered than father-centered. Our culture is understandably suspicious of authority—in the wake of two world wars and the systemic oppression of people of color and women, we ought to be. But as followers of Jesus, we can't simply react. We have to submit to His authority, and teach our children to do the same. Which is why Paul calls children to obey and honor their parents (Ephesians 6:1-2). When we teach them obedience, they learn to acknowledge Christ's authority.

Obedience in the Lord Brings Joy

But God doesn't demand obedience for its own sake. He gives promises in Ephesians 6:3. Parents who teach their children obedience give them an incredible gift. God promises joy to children who obey.

The Joy of Knowing God

Our children's relationship to us is a scaffold God uses to build their relationship with him. An essential way we teach our kids to know and love God is by showing them that it is good to submit to His authority, by requiring they submit to ours.

The Joy of Being Like Jesus

Jesus is the only child in human history who perfectly obeyed His Father (Philippians 2:8-11). He is proof that obedience brings joy! When we teach our kids obedience, we help them receive the joy of growing to become like Jesus.

Raising Humans Homework #2

If you are a parent, sit down on your own and/or with your spouse and answer the following 3 questions together:

  1. The tendency in our household is to give primary authority to _____________.
  2. The effect of putting authority in the wrong place in my household is__________.
  3. I want to work toward making Christ the center of my household by___________.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. When in your life have you observed authority being used rightly, for the good of others?
  2. When have you observed authority being abused? Have you suffered abuse at the hands of misused authority?
  3. In what ways is it difficult for you to exercise the authority God has given you in your life? Why?
  4. In what ways are you influenced by the misuse or misunderstanding of authority in our world? How can God's Word counter that influence?
  5. Do you believe the promises of Ephesians 6:2-3? What makes it difficult to believe that obedience brings joy?
  6. How consistent are you at requiring obedience of your children? How have you hurt their ability/desire to obey godly authority? How will you repent of this?
  7. What is one step you can take to grow in submission to God's authority in your life? If you have kids, how can you help them grow in this as well?

Sermon Recap: Gospel Vision (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our series on parenting: Raising Humans. 

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Raising humans begins with vision. If we want to raise humans who will flourish in God’s world, we need a better vision for our kids than a school or career or future lifestyle. We need to think bigger. We don’t need our vision for them. We need God’s vision for them.

God's Vision

In Deuteronomy 6:4-7, God tells His people what His will is for their whole lives. Not only did He want relationship with the grown-ups there that day. He tells them that they are to pass His vision on to the next generation. God’s vision for our children is this: that they would know and love God, and that WE would be the ones to teach them how

Our Fallen Vision

We may know God’s vision for us and our kids, but we can go astray, get distracted, be tempted. It's easy to fall into the patterns of life and behavior of the people around us that have nothing to do with God’s vision. Our vision for our kids and our parenting is fallen. We emphasize success, self-esteem, or self-sufficiency in our parenting, rather than knowing and loving the God who made us and loves us in Christ.

Gospel Vision

The gospel sets us free from the fear that we will mess up our kids. It tells us we are sometimes bad parents. But it also reminds us that God calls Himself Father! He is the first and perfect parent. And He loves us with a deeper, truer, freer and purer love than any parent has ever felt for their child.

This sets us free to infuse our lives and our parenting with the gospel as Deuteronomy 6:7 calls us to. As parents, the way we teach our kids to know and love God is by embodying the truth of the gospel. It means that when we feel helpless as a parent to console or care for our kids, we can bow ourselves down in prayer. It means that when we sin against our kids, we can repent to them and ask their forgiveness.

Raising Humans Homework #1

If you are a parent, sit down on your own and/or with your spouse and answer the following 3 questions together:

  1. Our vision for our family is _____________. (How will you restate God's vision for you and your family in light of the gospel?)
  2. We will live out this vision by__________. (How will you seek to embody the gospel in your family life?)
  3. The people outside our family who will help us do this are _________. (Who in your Christian community will walk this out with you?)

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Do you delight in God and the gospel? How can you grow in this? (Can we expect our kids to if we don't???)
  2. What side of the "fallen vision" spectrum do you fall on? Do you tend to have a vision for your kids that emphasizes success? Self-esteem? Self-sufficiency? Something else? 
  3. How can you repent of your fallen vision and begin to grow towards a gospel vision for you and your family?
  4. In what ways do you feel like a failure as a parent? How does God's love for you in the gospel meet you in that?
  5. How often do you pray with your kids? How can you infuse prayer throughout life in your household?
  6. Do you regularly practice repentance toward your kids? Why or why not? Is this something you feel free in the gospel to practice?

Sermon Recap: New Mission (Acts 16:14-34)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our new series: Grace Changes Everything. 

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God has called us into mission wherever He sends us. So long as the Bay Area is our home, it is our mission field. In His wisdom, we encounter people who are in all kinds of life circumstances. Our call is to persevere in loving and serving them with the gospel of Christ. 

For Every People

Most people think that religion divides rather than unites. The gospel creates unity because of the radical nature of grace. We see this in how Paul has no hesitation in interacting with three entirely different people. They differ in gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. All three are people who typically seen as lesser in the Jewish world. Nonetheless, these are three of the first converts to the Philippian church.

For Every Situation

The gospel applies to every situation of life. There are no set of circumstances where the good news of Christ does not apply. For Lydia, she sought a rational and beautiful connection between spiritual rules she admired and the longings of her soul. The slave girl experienced freedom in both the physical and spiritual realm. Lastly, the jailer who lived a life of lawful rigidity felt the full power of undeserved grace and mercy. Being on mission doesn’t mean waiting for certain situations to arise. It means speaking and living out the gospel at all times in all places.

Present Perseverance

Being on mission is not easy. The slave girl hounded Paul and Silas for days. These men were also humiliated, beaten, and imprisoned for the gospel. Yet even in jail, they praised and prayed to God, knowing that their lives were hidden in Christ. We live in a place of constant change, where everything new quickly becomes old and gets tossed out. What our communities need is a faith that perseveres, that is here to stay, that will not leave but will walk alongside others.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. What type of people do you find it easy to talk about Jesus with? What type of people are hard? Why shouldn’t it matter?
  2. How did the gospel “click” for you? What type of situation were you in or what kind of questions did you have when you finally came to faith?
  3. What are the different ways you’ve seen the gospel work in the lives of others? How has it been  different from your own personal experience?
  4. What does it mean to be present in a place where people are constantly coming and going?
  5. What does it look like to persevere with difficult people or difficult circumstances in your life? Why does this matter to a world that’s watching?

Sermon Recap: New Community (Acts 15:1-22)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our new series: Grace Changes Everything. 

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The church is a community of people called by Christ to reflect the heavenly reality that the gospel has initiated. It is where “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). Grace changes everything, and brings us into a new community. 

Deep Separation

When Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden, separation was introduced into the world—separation from God and each other. They hid, they blamed, and they dressed themselves so they wouldn’t be seen and fully known by each other. As their children, deep separation is a challenge the early church faced (Acts 15:1-5). So do we.

New Community

The church is the community ordained by God to bring the spiritual truth of the gospel into concrete reality. It is a new community that works through distinctions, that embraces difference, and brings individuals into a family that walks in unity, with confident humility, knowing the glory of our identity in Christ and the deep flaws that remain in all of us.

Messy Together

To follow Jesus, we have to walk toward each other. We have to lean into the mess. We have to put ourselves in situations with each other where we might have to ask for forgiveness, and where we might have to extend that same forgiveness to others. It wasn’t easy for the early church; it won’t be easy for us. But grace changes us and leads us to be messy together for the glory of Jesus. 

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Where do you see a tendency towards separation/withdrawal from others in your life?
  2. How would you describe yourself in each of the following categories: 1) culture, 2) church-background, 3) ethnicity, 4) economic status , and 5) social status? What differences make it difficult for you to be messy together with others?
  3. Why is togetherness a necessary implication of the gospel? How did this play out in Acts 15?
  4. Why is togetherness messy? What relationships in the church are messy for you?
  5. What is one concrete step you can take to pursue being messy together with others? How will you ensure that you take that step?

The Tyranny of Convenience - Stuff We Like #11

Link it up, link it up!

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As power and influence skews younger and younger, societies and cultures will have to reckon with their failure to care for those who are older. As we care more about building technological marvels, we will have to reckon with leaving behind human beings. This is not something unique to Western cultures but a worldwide problem. What happens when we stop caring for people as people?

The Tyranny of Convenience, by Tim Wu

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How we are the generation that comes closest to both having our cake and eating it too and how that's totally destroying us. Amazing how the more convenient life is, how much more difficult it ends up becoming.

Books I Like

Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance

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A glimpse into a world that is totally foreign to me in a lot of ways yet brings greater understanding on many different levels. An easy read that helped me see why it's so hard for the poor to get out of poverty, both because of pressure they place on their own as well as systemic oppression by others that keep them there. People in the Bay Area can often get myopic about America and this book reminds us there's a whole lotta country out there filled with very different people who are made in God's image.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

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From a book I could not possibly understand to one that could've been my biography were I a girl. I didn't have a tiger mom but a tiger dad and so many of the experiences of the author's daughters are similar to my own. Some made me laugh, some came uncomfortably close. A reminder that so much of who we are is a product of how we're raised and a challenge that there are no magic bullets for being parents. What was missing though in this book and is necessary for all parents and children? Grace.

Movies I Like

Ready Player One

If you love nostalgia and you're a child who devoured pop culture in the '90s, this is your movie. It's a movie set in the far future that happens to be a time machine to the past. Not particularly deep, not a ton to think about, but great for grabbing a tub of popcorn and enjoying the ride. Of particular fun is the tie in to a classic horror movie! So well done.

Sermon Recap: New Identity (Genesis 32:22-32)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our new series: Grace Changes Everything. 

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As a church, we believe that God’s grace changes everything. It changes who we are, where we belong, and why we’re here. Many people don’t go to church because, they say, religious people are too judgmental. But for Christians who have received the grace of God in Jesus Christ, we should be the least judgmental people in the world. In Genesis 32:22-32, we learn that our identity should be rooted in the underserved love of God in Christ. 

Broken Identity

Jacob’s background and history show his need for grace. He had been defined his whole life as a cheater and lacked a stable community in which he was loved and accepted without reservation (see Genesis 25:19-34). Jacob’s identity was broken by sin. He needed God to break in. 

New Identity

God meets Jacob in a mysterious wrestling match. Old identities die hard—they often have to be wrestled away (Genesis 32:25). Grace is costly (Genesis 32:26). Jacob has to come to the end of himself before he can receive a new name. God renames him Israel (Genesis 32:27-28).

Confident Humility

In his brokenness, Jacob’s identity has been characterized by insecure pride. But now he has received a new name. He has faced God and lived. And he walks with a limp (Genesis 32:30-31). With his new, God-given identity he can go through life with confident humility. 

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Jacob was named “cheater” before he had even come of age. How have others named you? How have you been negatively defined by the people in your life? 
  2. How have others judged you? How have you been made to feel unsafe by the people in your life? Are there ways in which you are insecure as a result?
  3. How has your broken identity emerged in sinful habits and behaviors? How have you hurt others? Judged others? Been jealous? Greedy? Arrogant? 
  4. God’s grace shows you you’re a sinner, and yet calls you a saint through the atoning work of Christ. Have you received His grace? Has that grace changed your identity? How?
  5. Having received a new identity, Jacob could walk in confidence, knowing that he was loved and accepted by the God of the universe. Does the gospel provide you deep security? How do you need to find security in Christ?
  6. Jacob emerged from his encounter with God walking with a limp. How has the gospel humbled you? How do you need to grow in gospel humility? 
  7. Walking in confident humility shows that you are living in your new identity in Christ. Did you walk in confident humility today? How will you tomorrow?

Ben Franklin’s Birthday Suit, Duffle Bag Boys, NYC & the Liturgy Letter - Stuff We Like #10

God has made this world good. Which is why there's so much stuff we like!

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Books I Like

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Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey

This book is sheer gold! Want to know what Sartre at for breakfast? Want to know what Jonathan Edwards did on his walks? Want to know what Agatha Christie's desk looked like? You'll find all that and more in this account of the mundane life of hundreds of brilliant people. 

A few tidbits:

  • Benjamin Franklin would rather sit naked in the cold than take a bath. 
  • The novelist Marcel Proust wrote the entirety of In Search of Lost Time while lying in bed. And he hardly ever ate more in a day than café au lait and two croissants. 
  • The philosopher Soren Kirkegaard liked his sugar with coffee.
  • Jane Austen didn't have a private space of her own, but wrote her novels in the sitting room of her family cottage. 

The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell

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World War I ended one hundred years ago this November 11. This book is a study of the effect of the war on the psyche of Western civilization through the lens of its literature. And it is BRILLIANT.  Originally touted as "The War to End All Wars", it quickly became the war that many believed would never end. Edmund Blunden, writing of the catastrophic attack on the Somme, said this:

By the end of the day both sides had seen, in a sad scrawl of broken earth and murdered men, the answer to the question. No road. No thoroughfare. Neither race had won, nor could win, the War. The War had won, and would go on winning.

The modern world is, in many ways, a product of WWI. And this book reveals it expertly. 

 

Sites I Like

The Liturgy Letter

This site is excellent. It publishes a weekly newsletter with resources for Christian worship and prayer from both ancient and modern sources. It includes art, poetry, hymns, Spotify playlists, and links to various other resources. For example, I learned last week that Van Gogh preached (!!!) a sermon on October 29, 1876. And today I learned that it is the feast of St. Antipas of Pergamum (see Revelation 2:13). 

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Cities I Like - NEW YORK!!!

I love just being in New York City. It's where I moved for my first job out of college. It's where Kathy and I met. It's where God called me into ministry. It's the greatest city in the… United States of America (Paris is the greatest city in the world, guys).  

Kathy and I had the chance to take a (NOT babymoon) trip there last week, and I was reminded of three things I especially like about NYC:

Book Stores

 The Strand is incredible. 18 miles of books!

The Strand is incredible. 18 miles of books!

Old Bars

 Old Town Bar was founded in 1892 and was a speakeasy during Prohibition. 

Old Town Bar was founded in 1892 and was a speakeasy during Prohibition. 

Museums!!! 

 The Met is the best!!! 

The Met is the best!!! 

These are a few of my favorite things. 

Podcasts I Like

One Shining Podcast

The Duffle Bag Boys are the best. They break down the NCAA basketball scene as no one else can. They are funny, self-effacing, and entertaining as all get out. March Madness is done for now, but come next season, if you want to keep up with college hoops, you should subscribe. 

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What stuff do you like? Share in the comments below!

Sermon Recap: The Wonder of Breakfast (John 21:1-14)

This is a recap of our Easter Sunday sermon

If you had all the power in the world, what would you do with it? Rule it with an iron fist? Make everyone enjoy the same things as you? Have as much fun as possible? When Jesus rose again from the dead, He had “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). What did He do with all that power in John 21:1-14? He cooked breakfast.

Disillusioned & Done

A large percentage of people in our area would call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Many people are disillusioned. Jesus’s disciples were disillusioned too. They had given up everything—especially their careers—to follow Jesus (Matthew 4:18-22). But now Peter and his friends are going fishing, going back to a life of depending, not on Jesus, but on themselves. 

Eventually, a disillusioned life of depending on self will end up putting me in the same boat as the disciples: “they caught nothing” (John 21:3). And that’s when Jesus shows up (John 21:5).

The Wonder of Breakfast

Jesus was a conquering hero, but He didn’t come with shining robes or golden crowns. He came cooking breakfast. Jesus isn’t like other Kings. He isn’t like others with power in our world. He doesn’t exalt Himself. He doesn’t lift Himself up. He doesn’t impose His will on others, force others to do His bidding, twist your arm until you cry uncle and do what He wants. Jesus brings Himself down to lift others up

That’s the wonder of breakfast. God Himself invites us to eat at His table. All we have to do is come.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. What would you do if you had all the money and power in the world? Be honest! How does this differ from Jesus in John 21?
  2. Think of a time when you have been judged by others? How did it feel? Why did it hurt? How did you respond? 
  3. When you become disillusioned—when your hopes go unrealized or your trust in others is broken—what do you do? How is your response similar to the disciples’? How is it different?
  4. Why does depending on ourselves fail to finally satisfy? What alternative does Easter offer?
  5. How does Jesus reveal Himself in this story (John 21:1)? What does his invitation to “come and have breakfast” reveal about Him?
  6. Jesus brings Himself down to lift others up. Where else in the Bible do we see this? 
  7. If this is the way the King of all things lives, what does it mean for us? How should we live?

Annihilation, Wild Wild Country, How God Messed Up My Atheist Life - Stuff We Like #9

It's amazing what you find if you allow yourself to get lost.

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As we think about what it means to "come alive" this week, read a testimony of how God doesn't just meet us in our intellect but in our emotions. Jesus came for every part of us and the gospel renews all of us, not just parts of us. It's why faith is not limited to what we know but how we live and experience it in everyday life. It's also why being on mission isn't limited to passing out tracts and apologetic standoffs but involves real relational engagement and compassion.

Body Work, by Barbara Ehrenreich

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The landscape of physical fitness options that are out there today call for cult-like devotion. They demand a certain level of intensity with a common language and context to foster their community, in essence pursuing justification by exercise. At what point does "beating/disciplining our bodies" to honor God becomes "beating/disciplining our bodies" to become like Him?

Shows I Like

Wild Wild Country (Netflix)

Usually, a documentary about a cult is grossly tragic because of a mass suicide or showdown with the FBI and/or disturbing because of perverse acts of worship or oppressive practices to recruit and retain members. What makes this six-part series interesting is how quickly this cult took over a whole city in Oregon and how quietly the whole thing went away. It has tons of firsthand footage as well as current-day interviews with people integrally involved with the cult, some of whom are still strong adherents to the belief. You come away with a realization that these are real people who genuinely believe what they do and an empathy and brokenness for where they are led because of it.

Movies I Like

Annihilation

A visually pleasing sci-fi film, it explores the question of how we deal with suffering and/or self-destruction and our desire to escape it. For some, it's a deeper trek into the "heart of darkness" while others simply will find the quickest way out. The last 30 minutes were entrancing, confusing, and immersive all at the same time. 

Isle of Dogs

I'm including this movie not because I necessarily liked it (I didn't) but because it provoked complicated feelings in my heart. Putting aside my general apathy toward Wes Anderson movies, watching a movie set in an Asian country with large portions in an Asian dialogue where the heroine who rescues the day happens to be a foreign exchange student who speaks non-accented English was unsettling. By no means do I believe this movie owes me a different ending or different characters but it just felt off. Does it have cute dogs and fun dialogue? Absolutely! Incredible stop-motion? The sushi-making scene is immaculate! Will Hollywood ever accurately portray or understand my cultural purview, even when it's going for light-hearted, animated/stop-motion movies? Not going to bet on it.

Sermon Recap: The Spirit & Mission (John 16:7-11)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our current series, Life in the Spirit

In John 16:7-11, Jesus promised He would send the disciples the Holy Spirit to give them the strength, the wisdom, and the love necessary to be about that mission of loving liberation. He sends His Spirit so He can send us on mission. 

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1. Sent Spirit, Sent Church

Jesus sent His Spirit so He could send His church on this mission: to tell the world the good news that there is hope. There is freedom from sin and self. There is a new, true, good life available to them if they believe in Him (John 16:9)

2. Just Spirit, Just Church

We live in a world that longs for true justice, but can’t find it. Jesus was crucified by the false justice of this world (John 16:10). Christ called us to be salt and light and sent His just Spirit so we could be a just church and point the way to Him.

3. Liberating Spirit, Liberated Church

The ruler of this world was judged at the cross and resurrection (John 16:11). By humbling Himself and willingly dying, He sets us free from sin and disarmed spiritual evil in this world. And Christ sends the Spirit to the church to set us free from the power and persuasion of spiritual evil in this world.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. How does sin stop us from being able to freely enter God’s love in Christ? 
  2. What are you tempted to be enslaved by? Ego? Approval-seeking? Fear? Self-doubt? Anger? Hatred? Selfishness? How can the Spirit set you free from these?
  3. What new purpose does Christ give to us as His people? Why is this a more fulfilling purpose than the ones we give ourselves?
  4. “Justice” and “righteousness” mean the same thing in Greek. What are the implications of this?
  5. Why do you think it’s important that the Spirit is just? Why is it important that the church walk in God’s justice? What are some ways that we fail to do this?
  6. What kind of freedom does Christ give us in the gospel? Why is it important for Christians to live in freedom? 
  7. How does gospel freedom fit together with gospel witness? Why is it important to keep the two of them together?

Marriage + Kids = Hard, Emotion & Spirituality, and the Madness of March! - Stuff We Like #8

So much things to say right now… It's Stuff We Like!

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Books I Like

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality - After preaching on the Spirit and Emotion a couple weeks ago, I spoke with many of you about how to pursue a healthy emotional and spiritual life. Pete Scazzero's book is fantastic on this topic. He identifies the following ten symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality:

  1. Using God to run from God
  2. Ignoring the emotions of anger, sadness, and fear 
  3. Dying to the wrong things 
  4. Denying the past’s impact on the present 
  5. Dividing our lives into “secular” and “sacred” compartments 
  6. Doing for God instead of being with God 
  7. Spiritualizing away conflict 
  8. Covering over brokenness, weakness, and failure 
  9. Living without limits 
  10. Judging other people’s spiritual journey
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It's convicting. I don't agree with everything he says (who agrees with everything anyone says???), but the truth in this book will help open you up to areas of growth you may not be aware of and help you give them more and more to Jesus. 

Sports I Like

The Madness of March!!! - This year's NCAA tournament has been CRAZY! My favorite moment so far (besides the historic upset of #16 UMBC defeating #1 overall UVA) was the Michigan buzzer beater to beat Houston, advancing them to the Sweet 16. Love it!

Articles I Like

Decolonized Discipleship, by Ekemini Uwan. Please proceed into this article with extreme caution. It is intense. It is written to people of color. It digs deep to apply the gospel to the challenges of the American church, particularly the theologically conservative, Reformed tribe from which many of us hail. White supremacy gets called out. It's serious, applied theology that is not for the faint of heart. 

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Key quote:

[W]e need to evaluate whether or not the theology we subscribe to in our churches derives from the Kingdom or the Empire. Here are a few questions to ask yourself: Does this theology call me to a deep love for God that causes me to pursue holiness and radical love for my neighbor? Does this theology benefit the privileged at the expense of the marginalized? Is this theology good news for everyone, regardless of their racial and socioeconomic status? Does this theology cause me to look in the mirror and marvel at God’s handiwork instead of despising my reflection…? Your answer to each of these questions will indicate whether or not you have been indoctrinated by Kingdom or Empire theology.

Satan colonizes the human race, enslaving us in sin. Jesus is the Liberator of peoples colonized by sin and systems of oppression. Needless to say, this article has prompted me to reflect a lot.

Esther Perel on Why Marriage After Kids is So Hard (and How to Fix It), by Haley Nahman - There is a lot of great, common grace wisdom in this article. I appreciate the way Perel wisely tells parents that they have the right to be human. And that, in fact, the more fully human we are as parents, the better parents we'll be for our kids. Also, she says one of the best things that mom and dad can do for our kids is to have more sex, which is something I am 100% in favor of. 

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Shows I Like

Atlanta - We're only 3 episodes in, but season 2 of Atlanta is just as funny, offbeat, and weird as the first one. It's Robbin' Season, and I love it.

What about you? What stuff do you like? Share in the comments below!

Sermon Recap: The Spirit & Suffering (John 15:18-16:2)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our current series, Life in the Spirit

In John 15:18-20, Jesus promised that those who follow Him would suffer. That does NOT sound like good news to many of us. But He promises that He would send His Spirit to work in us and through us in the midst of suffering.

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1. Suffering Is Inevitable

We live in a world that hates and fears suffering. But Christians serve a King who became King by suffering on a wooden cross. We worship a God who was unjustly tried and convicted and executed. Who was abandoned by His friends and hated by nearly everyone around Him on the day of His death. For the Christian, suffering is inevitable.

2. Suffering Incapacitates the Self-Reliant

In John 16:1-2, Jesus promises suffering to keep his disciples from falling away. He brings us through suffering to incapacitate us. To teach us that we can’t do it on our own. To show us our brokenness; our weakness; our deep need for others; our need for Him. Suffering leads us to humble dependence upon His Spirit.  

3. Suffering Is Invaluable to the Spirit's Purpose

In John 15:26-27, Jesus tells his disciples that they will suffer for Him. And suffering is invaluable to the Spirit’s purpose in our lives, because we wouldn’t rely on Him if we didn’t suffer. We’d get distracted by stock options or kids recitals or finding The One or the latest tech gadget. Suffering draws us out of ourselves into reliance on the Spirit. And it reminds us of the glorious, incredible truth that, by faith, Christ is in us by the Spirit! 

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. How do you respond to suffering? What's your first response to it? Why?
  2. Do you believe that suffering is inevitable for followers of Jesus? How does that make you feel about being His disciple?
  3. What are some examples of people who suffered for God in the Bible? How did God use suffering in their lives? How did their story end? 
  4. Who are you in community with that you can lean on in the midst of suffering? Who can lean on you?
  5. How much do you rely on the Holy Spirit in your daily life? How often do you see your deep need for Him? How might suffering affect that?
  6. Read Psalm 56. What does David say about God's heart toward him in his suffering? What does that teach you about God's heart for you in yours?
  7. How might the Spirit use suffering in your life to make you a greater witness to the gospel of Jesus? What are some ways that suffering makes us more effective witnesses to Christ?

Easter Week Bible Reading Plan

To help you trace what the Lord Jesus was doing during each day of Easter Week, we have created a Bible reading plan beginning Palm Sunday (3/25), and ending on Easter Sunday (4/1). You can find each day's reading below. May these readings draw us all deeper into the gospel story and lead us face to face with Christ Jesus by faith!

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Click here for a printable copy of our Easter Week Reading Plan

  • Palm Sunday, 3/25 – The Triumphal Entry: Luke 19:28-44 & John 12:23-28

  • Monday, 3/26 – Jesus Cleanses the Temple: Mark 11:15-19; Psalm 69:1-9

  • Tuesday, 3/27 – Jesus Teaches the Crowds: Mark 11:27-12:44 & John 12:44-50

  • Wednesday, 3/28 – The Plot Against Jesus: Luke 21:37-22:6

  • Maundy Thursday, 3/29 – The Last Supper: John 13:1-14:6

  • Good Friday, 3/30 – The Cross: John 19:1-42

  • Holy Saturday, 3/31 – The Grave: Psalm 13:1-6

  • Easter Sunday, 4/01 – The Resurrection: John 20:1-21:25

Easter Week 2018 (March 25-April 1)

Easter Week is when we remember the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the highest season of celebration for disciples of Jesus, when we see on full display the undeserved love of God for us on the cross and the victory He won over sin and death at the empty tomb. 

This week will also mark the 5th anniversary of Grace Alameda! Our church launched on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013. God has been at work among us in such generous, unforeseen, sometimes painful, but always gracious ways in the past 5 years. To give sufficient time to our anniversary celebration, we will be having a party on April 15 after church!

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Come Alive: Our Easter Theme and a Chance to Welcome Others

Easter is a unique opportunity to invite our friends and neighbors to church who wouldn’t come otherwise. Our theme on Easter Sunday will be “Come Alive.” The sermon will be from Romans 8:9-11, and everything we do on Easter will be geared towards worshiping Jesus and inviting newcomers to enjoy new life in Him. 

Our Design Team has put together an invitation for print and social media sharing. We are encouraging all of our members: invite your friends, family, neighbors and coworkers to worship Jesus with us on Easter Sunday! We are praying that the Spirit would pack out our sanctuary on Easter and that He would move powerfully in people’s lives!

Here’s How We Can Celebrate Together

  • Week of Prayer and Fasting
    • We are calling the church to a week of prayer and fasting. Each day of that week (beginning Monday, 3/25), we will send out a prayer topic for the church to keep in prayer. 
    • During that week of seeking the Lord together, we want to encourage you to fast. You may choose to fast from food, from technology, or from something else to help you focus more deeply on the meaning of the cross and resurrection. 
    • A major topic of prayer will be for Alameda and the East Bay, and for our neighbors who don’t know Jesus. May the Lord bring people to new life by faith in Christ this Easter!
  • Easter Week Bible Reading Plan
    • We have created a Bible reading plan to draw us all deeper into the gospel story beginning Palm Sunday (3/25) and ending on Easter Sunday (4/1). May it lead us face to face with Christ Jesus by faith!
  • Special Times of Prayer and Worship
    • We will hold special times of prayer and worship throughout the week to set our hearts on Christ together. Click the links below for more information on each event:
      • Morning Prayer Meeting, Wednesday, 3/28 & Friday 3/30 (6:30AM at the church office: 1516 Oak St. #227)
      • Good Friday Worship at 7PM on Friday, 3/30
      • Easter Sunday Worship! - 10:30AM at 2521 Santa Clara Ave.
  • Invite Your Neighbors!
    • Take a handful of invitations this Sunday and next to hand out to your neighbors and welcome them to worship with us! 

I am excited for Easter Week and the privilege of seeking together with you the Lord Jesus who suffered, died, and rose for us. I pray this is an opportunity for us to recalibrate our hearts in line with heaven’s agenda for our lives and our church. And I pray you are built up and Christ is glorified through it all!

James Cleveland, Ugly Delicious, Sanctification Through Song - Stuff We Like #7

It's what we do when we do what we do.

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Songs I Like

You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened, by James Cleveland

Gospel music gets into your soul a certain way that no other genre can. It's not necessarily one that comes natural to me but it sure does resonate in a way that other genres of music simply don't. Now make it a live recording and you've got pure Holy Spirit fire. Check out the 2:02 mark when people wild out at the chorus and tell me you don't get caught up in glory. It's amazing how saying "Jesus is the best thing" comes across so vastly different than when James Cleveland sings it. A further reminder that song and praise matters to our spiritual health.

Live at the Harlem Square Club, by Sam Cooke

Since we're on the live performance tip, this might be my favorite of all time. You can just feel the beads of sweat forming on your head as one of the greatest soul singers gets the club jumping. A good album will make you want to see the artist live in concert at any point in the future. This album makes me wish I was packed inside this Miami hotspot in January 1963 just this one time. It's one of the few reasons why I think we someone should build a time machine.

Shows I Like

Ugly Delicious (Netflix)

I love food television because I really love food. There is great appeal for me in watching an Asian-American chef work who wants to believe in the unifying power of food while navigating the complexities of race and class that are thoroughly intertwined with cuisine. David Chang can be abrasive but he has the courage to ask questions and at least explore and listen, even if he doesn't agree. There's an air of confession and therapy in this show that makes it vastly different from most food and travel shows out there. The "fried chicken" and "fried rice" episodes alone make for thought-provoking television.

Bojack Horseman (Netflix)

Animated shows are typically meant to tickle your funny bone and not do much else. What sets Bojack Horseman apart from the Simpsons and Bob's Burgers of television is that not only is it ridiculous (a pseudo-Mr.Ed in a world of anthropomorphic animals who dwell alongside humans) but it poignantly and thoughtfully explores issues of mental health, addiction, and self-destruction in ways you don't see in the entertainment industry. If anything, it's an advantage for this show to be animated as it allows viewers to enter into these worlds and thinking about these issues without being so visceral that they get lost in them. But even if that sounds heavy, it's also hilarious, fun, and worth watching.

Articles I Like

Sanctification Through Song, by Ann Lowrey Forster

We talked about this last week in Grace Academy, how singing aloud is part and parcel of worship that is incarnated and embodied. Our engagement in this singing praise with God's people on a day set aside for His worship is not because He needs us to do it but because we need to do it so we might know Him better. Our faith is strengthened, our countenance is changed, our hope is renewed not just by what we say but by what we sing. 

Sermon Recap: The Spirit & Emotion (John 16:20-24)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our current series, Life in the Spirit

There is an unavoidable connection between the Spirit’s work in us and our emotional lives. Jesus helps us understand in John 16:20-24 that, as God’s adopted children in Christ, we can humbly receive the gift of emotion. 

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1. Jesus Gives Us Permission to Feel

Emotion is something God in His love and wisdom has given us for our good. Emotion is a gift because it puts us in touch with the reality of the world around and inside us. And in John 16:20, Jesus gives His disciples—and us—permission to feel. 

2. The Spirit Redeems Emotion

Our emotional lives are enslaved to sin, to society, to the expectations of others and ourselves. We see our emotions as inconvenient, untrustworthy, or even dangerous. But in John 16:22, we see that the Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ to our hearts by faith and redeems our emotional lives. 

3. Faith Renews Our Emotional Lives

Pastor Pete Scazzero writes, “It is not possible for a Christian to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” Spiritual maturity—real faith in Christ—frees us to be who we are and renews our emotional lives.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Why does Jesus give His disciples permission to feel in John 16:20-24? How was that important for their present and future circumstances?
  2. In what ways is emotion a gift from God? What keeps us from seeing it that way?
  3. Our emotions help us see the reality of what’s going on around us and inside us. Think of some ways you have experienced this in your life.
  4. How do you typically respond to emotion? Do you tend to express it? Do you tend to suppress it? 
  5. Do you believe your emotional life is important to God? Do you believe He wants you to experience a rich and full emotional life? Why or why not?
  6. How does the Spirit set us free to feel? How do you need Him to set you free?
  7. How does faith renew our emotional lives? Do you agree that “It is not possible for a Christian to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.”

Finance Seminar Refresher

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At the end of January, we had the wonderful privilege of having Pastor Rod Miles from Grace Marin come and share godly wisdom about practical ways to manage personal finance in light of the gospel. There were a lot of helpful thoughts to consider as we discern how to be good stewards of what God has given to us. We know some of you were not able to make it and others would love to be refreshed and reminded. With that in mind, we've made the audio and the material from the slides available below!

Godly Financial Stewardship - Audio

Godly Financial Stewardship - Slides

 

Chris Rock, Disney's Dark Side, The Boss, & MJ > LeBron - Stuff We Like #6

The interwebs are full of things. Here are a few worth your time.

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Basketball Players I Like

Michael Jordan was the greatest player to ever lace up his sneakers. LeBron James is pretty good. In recent years, some people have been comparing them, wondering if LeBron is the greatest of all time. That is dumb. 

But The Ringer did a Jordan vs. LeBron week at the end of February that was chock full of great content. From a profile of Luc Longley, to Jordan's greatest plays, to imagining how LeBron could end his career on a better note than MJ, the content was top-notch in general. My favorite: 5 Jordans vs. 5 LeBrons on NBA 2K. 

Articles I Like

I have forgotten how to read, by Michael Harris - The ability to become immersed in text that demands our attention, imagination and focus is a quickly fading skill in our culture. The author worries that, "In a very real way, to lose old styles of reading is to lose a part of ourselves."

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By Day, a Sunny Smile for Disney Visitors. By Night, an Uneasy Sleep in a Car, by Jennifer Medina - In a sermon illustration a while back, I imagined what the life of a young woman who plays Cinderella at Disneyland would be like. In my imagination, it was pretty bleak.

As it turns out, my aunt and uncle are her next door neighbors! Her life isn't so bad. 

But this NYT article looks at the lives of many workers at the happiest place on earth and discovers that the happiness often doesn't translate to employees.

Music I Like

Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run

From the first beats of the record to the heights and depths of the title track, this is one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time. It gets me every time. 

Books I Like

Presence in the Modern World, by Jacques Ellul

This is the best book I've read this year so far. It is not an easy book. But it is full of truth that I desperately want to learn. Ellul was a 20th century scholar who wrote dozens of books and served as a lay leader in the Reformed church in France. Presence unveils realities about the modern world that otherwise remain hidden, and helps Christians to live faithfully in light of these realities.

He says that we have a tendency to "turn the living person of Jesus Christ into an abstraction." But, he writes, God became incarnate; it is not our job to disincarnate him." In much of the book, his goal is to show the way for Christians to live incarnate, fully human lives to the glory of God in a dehumanizing, materialistic world. Highly, highly recommended. 

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Shows I Like

Tambourine, Chris Rock [VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED]

Chris Rock is rich. Famous. Successful. And divorced. Following on his divorce, he gets intensely personal in this 1 hour Netflix special. If you can handle the often crass humor and foul language, there is deep truth about marriage and relationships that every married person should digest.