Building Meeting Recap

Below is an overview of the materials that we covered at our Building Meeting.  The full audio is also below including vision from the Elders, commentary from the Building Team, and questions from the audience. 

We would love to hear your feedback!  Please send all questions and comments to questions@normandychurch.com.

The Tabernacle as a Template

Hey Church,

This Sunday was so much fun. I've relished the collective sense of anticipation to see God move in our family each week. Yesterday I answered Lauren William's question, "what am I supposed to do during worship?" We looked at the Tabernacle of Moses to give us a template for how to worship the Lord (Exodus 25-27; Exodus 35-40). 

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So, what does this have to do with our worship? It shows us what to do on Sunday. 

Thanksgiving - The Gate - Psalm 100:4 says we "enter into His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise". It ain't easy to worship each week. Sometimes we flat out don't feel like it. One of the ways we combat this tension is through thanksgiving. Gratitude marks a believer (Colossians 2:7) and it helps us guard the atmosphere of our minds. When you are thankful, you don't have time to complain. Practically this means when we start worship, start thanking the Lord for specific things in your life. You can say it out loud, write it down or meditate on it. 

During the week thankfulness looks like keeping a journal about what you are grateful for. When I get in a rut I keep a thanksgiving journal, listing 20 things each day I am grateful for. Not only that, I bring friends and family into it. At dinner, my family will often share with one another one thing we are thankful for and why. Then we rejoice with what the other shared. Joy and gratitude go hand in hand. 

Praise - The Altar - The altar is where the priests would make atonement for sin in order to inter into the Holy Place. Jesus became our lamb, our atonement for sin (John 1:29; Hebrews 10:10; 1 John 2:2). At the altar, we praise the Lord. We give Him a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15). Praise means to confess Jesus is Lord out loud. So, we sing! We shout. He is enthroned on the out loud praise of His people (Psalm 22:4).  When we begin to praise out loud His rule becomes apparent. Praise is usually high and lifted up, more upbeat, more joyful and it leads us to the next part of worship: 

Worship - The Holy Place - After the priests made atonement, they entered into the Holy Place. Using the tabernacle as a template, after the altar (and praise) we move into worship. Worship is much more intimate than praise. Worship means "bow down". When Moses met with God in Exodus 34:8 he bowed his head before the Lord. This is something that requires vulnerability and humility. This week whether in group, with your spouse or with your friends, you can bow the knee as an act of worship to Jesus. Having practiced gratitude and praise, worship becomes more natural. And your physical posture proceeds presence. Sometimes we don't *feel* anything because we are not giving out loud praise and humble worship to God. Therefore, we position our body in a place to receive from the Lord. 

I found this quote from Andrew Murray in Humility very helpful. 

When God created the universe, it was with the one object of making the creature partaker of His perfection and blessedness... The life God bestows is imparted not once for all, but each moment continuously, by the unceasing operation of His mighty power. Humility, the place of entire dependence on God, is, from the very nature of things, the first duty and the highest virtue of (a person). 

Worship puts our hearts in position to receive the very life of God. 

Thanksgiving, praise and worship - this is template to help us worship the Lord. Next week we will learn about what happens in the most holy place (the hot spot of God's presence). 

Pastor John 

 

Why Worship

Hey Church,
Since coming back from my sabbatical (or medical leave of absence), the past few Monday's I have been writing a blog as a follow up to the sermon. It has been rather cathartic for me offering a space to collect my thoughts about all I am learning and what I feel God is doing in our midst. 

This past Sunday I tried to hammer home the why of worship. Like in general, why do we worship? The goal of worship is to see Christ manifest (make apparent) His kingdom (His will, presence and power) on earth as it is in heaven. Sometimes that hope and belief is not enough to rule the day of our hearts. We need a why. 

In Revelation 4-5, we get part of John's kaleidoscope vision of heaven that pulls in many the most apocalyptic books of the Old Testament (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel). And it is in these chapters we get our why. 
1. God is Holy (Revelation 4:1-8). We often think of holy as being morally pure - which it means. But it also carries a sense of otherness. God is utterly transcendent, utterly unique. For some additional help on holiness, check out this video from the Bible Project

2. God is Creator (Revelation 4:9-11). He created everything! He made you, me, atoms, subatomic particles, black holes, lions and food. We see these four living creatures (representing created, earthly creatures), naturally respond to their creator with praise and worship. 
3. God is Redeemer (Revelation 5). In Revelation 5 we have this dramatic picture of someone in heaven kinda upset at what I think is the state of affairs on earth. No one is found who is worthy to open this scroll (which represents the fulfillment of God's purposes). John hears that it is going to be the Lion of the tribe of Judah and he sees a slain lamb. Picture a white lamb walking up with its neck cut and bleeding. It is Jesus! The hero all of creation is groaning to see! 

So there is your why. So why am I writing this? I see praise and worship, what we do on Sunday's, being a huge part of how God wants to work in and through our church. These three profound truths can become an anchor for our Sundays as we expectantly look for God to manifest His domain, His freedom in our midst. 

Hey God!

JSB

Worship and the Kingdom

Hey Church: 

It was a joy to preach about worship this past Sunday. As I have been thinking and studying and preparing, something became clear - I need to teach and preach on worship. Our church family is made up of a wonderful mix of Baptists, Charismatics, Anglicans and others with all sorts of ideas on what worship should look like. 

Lauren Williams reached out to me several months ago with some great questions about worship: 
- What am I supposed to do during worship?
- How do I love the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul and strength during worship?
- Is worship for me? For God? For others?
- Is worship an outpouring or and in-pouring? 
- How do I recognize the presence of God? Is it like someone turned on the AC and I get cooler? Or is it like when I have too much coffee?
- What does "minister to the Lord" mean?

I hope to address several of these questions over the next few weeks. 

And on top of all that, what in the world does this have to do with the kingdom of the heavens?

I am glad you asked. 

The story of the Bible is about the union of heaven and earth. From Genesis to Revelation, we see heaven and earth overlap, separate and finally unified permanently in Revelation 21-22. 

The goal of worship is to see Christ manifest (make apparent) His kingdom (His will, presence and power) on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-13; Matthew 28:18-20). God is looking for worshipers (John 4:23), He inhabits their praises (Psalm 22:3) and wherever He is there is freedom, righteousness, joy and healing (Isaiah 9:6-7; Romans 14:17; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Revelation 21:4). 

Picture our times together - what would it look like if we all walked with belief, hope and expectation that God was going to manifest (make apparent) His kingdom when we gathered? The atmosphere of unity and praise would be contagious! There are times where we've all sensed this and times we've had to fight for it. 

So here is a reminder for us - worship is something that the people of God have done together throughout history and will do into eternity (that whole every tribe and tongue worshiping before the throne deal). We are made to worship and worship together. We bear the image of a relational God. There is a grace upon God's people when we worship together - it is easier! It clears the airways and sharpens our hearts to go about our lives. 

And we need to be reminded of this - you will worship - it is just a matter of who or what you are worshiping. Do not forsake the assembling together as is the habit of some (Hebrews 10:24-25). Instead let our worship be a cry together - "thy kingdom come, thy will be done!"

As He manifests His presence, we will be changed. 

See you next Sunday. 

JSB

The Atmosphere of Our Minds

Hey Church, 

As you all know, we are going through a sermon series about "The Kingdom of the Heavens." Over weeks of study I have found my heart stirred and my mind blown at the nature of God and of His kingdom's availability. Two Sundays back we focused on hope. This Sunday I communicated a desire that the atmosphere of our hearts and minds would reflect that of heaven. 

Before I share more on that, I wanted to share a resource with you all. The Bible Project is an organization I was introduced to recently. They have a video on Heaven & Earth that shared everything I have been trying to say this year in 6 minutes (!?) with pictures and video! 

The question is - what does this have to do with me? What does this have to do with the atmosphere of our minds or of our church? Well, since Jesus taught us to pray "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven", we play a role of setting the atmosphere in our minds, our homes, in our lives and in our church. 

As Jesus announced God's kingdom, His purposes began to become known - salvation, mercy, righteousness, justice, kindness and forgiveness. Sounds wonderful! The atmosphere we breathe in the kingdom is just that - mercy, kindness, goodness, salvation! Part of the way that we experience that here in now is by guarding the atmosphere of our minds - what we think about. The mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, but the mind set on the flesh is death (Romans 8:6-8). We have a choice - what are we going to do when faced with judgement, commendation and shameful thoughts?

Take them captive! 

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Part of seeing the kingdom on earth starts with the atmosphere of our minds. As we spend time in the word, listen to the voice of our King, Jesus will set us free from wrong thinking and strongholds that promote death rather than life and peace. And as we become more like Him we will reflect that back into the world. 

Pastor John

Hope in the already, not yet

This weekend, we looked at hope in the Christian life. As believers, our hope isn't that we escape this world and go on to the next one. Our hope is that Jesus' prayer of "thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven" comes true. The kingdom of the heavens is about God's sovereign rule coming down on earth as it is in heaven. This is what Jesus went about announcing and this is what Revelation 21-22 describes happening in the end. 

CS Lewis details this for us in The Great Divorce. 

[Some mortals] say of some temporal suffering, "No future bliss can make up for it," not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.

This is a wonderful hope (a feeling of expectation for something to happen). 

What about now? How do we hope in this life? If hope keeps going unmet then our hearts will become sick (Proverbs 13:12). 

Saint Paul shares how hope is given to us - through suffering, a perseverance that produces character and, finally, hope - a hope that doesn't disappoint or put to shame (Romans 5:1-5). 

This sounds great, but if my hope is in me to persevere, I am going to be disappointed. I know how fickle my heart can be. The thing that gave me hope in the middle of NICU and all the ups and downs of life is that Christ has a hold of me and He will not relax that hold. He is faithful. He called me. He will do it. He is at work to will and do His good pleasure in me. He will never fail me. No one can snatch me out of my Fathers' hands. His seed of righteousness will produce the fruit of righteousness (a heart that is whole, just and correct).  

Charles Spurgeon says this beautifully in Morning and Evening: 

Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee—it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee—it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument—it is Christ's blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith.

Additionally, my hope is that my trials, suffering and trials are not trite, trivial or meaningless. It is not simply a test to pass, or a carrot that He dangles before me until I can "arrive". Rather it is the groaning of the Spirit within me, it is Christ moving in me in the midst of suffering so that my internal heart can receive more of His heart. Christ is working through the suffering to prepare me to receive more of Him and walk in greater measure of His kingdom project here and now. He will not waste one tear or trial. Therefore, rejoice!  

To my beloved church family, you have reason to hope today! Your Christ will not leave you. He is with you in the midst of suffering and trials. He is readying your heart to move "further up and further in" to His kingdom then and there and here and now. 

There will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

Pastor John

Son, Soil, Water

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Yesterday was a wonderful time with our friend, Peter Louis. He preached and gave some very straightforward practicals on walking in the design of God - how to become what He has made us to be. 
Romans 5:17

...much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Peter pointed out that God has planted, through the Holy Spirit, grace and righteousness. The only thing we need to do is receive the gift and we will become what He planted. Much like a apple seed produces apple trees, the seed of grace and righteousness will make us become grace and righteousness. 

His encouragement was to partner with the design of God. Like all seeds, we need three things: 
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Soil
Water

Son (get it?) - in order for a seed to grow it needs time in the sun. Or in our case, time in the presence of the Son. Here are three simple ways to do that: 

1. Stillness (Psalm 46:10) - As we sit still in His presence (literally being still, no phone, resting) God will shine the light of His Son on our hearts. 

2. Worship (all of the Psalms) - Worship is a declaration that Jesus is the Lord. Typically, the places where Jesus is not yet the Lord of our hearts indicates an idol, a part of our flesh that doesn't want Jesus to rule. 

3. Word (John 5:39) - Daily time in the word. Whether reading, meditating, or listening to the word - He promises to nourish our souls and bodies with His word (Duet. 8:3; Matthew 6:11)

Alright now pause - this isn't about striving. Before we all start striving and performing a wonderful religious duty, remember the air that we breathe is grace and mercy. This is the air of the kingdom. 

Soil - Community - a seed needs to be rooted in soil, in the case of a Christian, believers are to be rooted in community. Our tendency is to put things, programs, events and goals before relationships. However, when we walk in God's design, the more attached we are to one another, the more fruit we will bear. 

1. Confession (James 5:16) - Confession is part of how we are known. It is a regular practice of believers. And as we do this, God will heal us (confess your sins and pray for one another so that you will be healed). 

2. Fellowship - (1 John 1:7) - be with one another! This is the joy part - the glad to be with you. Have fun and enjoy the grace of each other's presence. 

3. Encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25) - Encouragement is one of our top ten needs. Encouragement calls out the gold in another. Each time we meet we can look for someone to encourage. 

Water - The Holy Spirit - You can have all the soil and all the sun you want, but no seed is going to grow without water. The same is true of the Holy Spirit. Remember this is God's design - to send the rain of the Holy Spirit to wash and refresh you. The Holy Spirit can wash over you in a few ways: 

1. Fall on you like rain (Acts 10:44-48) - Sometimes God just decides to pour His presence on His people. It can happen during the preaching of the word or perhaps during worship. This is something to be desired! 

2. Manifest through the laying on of hands (Acts 19:1-7) - Throughout the Bible gifts, callings, and blessing are passed through the laying on of hands. It is not some is magical formal, but simply our Father's heart to bless. 

3. We can drink and be filled with the Holy Spirit (John 7:37; Ephesians 5:18) - Think about it. You can drink your 8 ounces of water in your trendy Yeti, but you are going to need a refill from time to time. Ask God to give you drink of the Spirit today! 

Remember Christ desires for you to reign, to make it, to overcome and He is doing His part. He longs to cherish and nourish you (Ephesians 5:29). Be encouraged to put some of these things into practice this week!

Pastor John


Peter Louis has a passion to see the nations of the earth liberated from the bondage of sin, sickness and death through the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Church Update

Church Family:

This past Sunday I gave the church an update on a few business items going on at Normandy. Over the last few weeks we had our quarterly finance team  meeting and our annual board of advisors meeting. Here are a few updates.

Finance Team Meeting:

The elders along with our finance team (Jackson Thomas & Patrick Tam) met to discuss how we are doing financially. The good news is that we are doing very well! Our church is generous and has continued to grow in giving. Also if you are interested in serving, we would love one more person on the finance team. Here are the year to date numbers:

2017 Budget $300,000

YTD Giving June - $188,736

YTD Building Fund - $347,084

Building:

We currently in the analysis stage of our building process for the space at 9090 Skillman Street. Michael Gooden, along with several other friends are helping put together some pricing so we can make the best decision possible for our church. At our BOA meeting, we were advised to hire a church building consultant to make sure we are thinking through this space. John Kaserman is taking the lead on that portion. Not only that, but we have two gracious attorneys giving us advice on the actual lease.

The next steps for us will come once we get a final cost estimate for the build out. I (John) will be out of town during this time and John Kaserman will take the lead on the building process to coordinate between all the parties involved.

House in Order - Kids Ministry:

One of the highlights of the board of advisors meeting was discussing how we've grown in kids ministry. It has gotten so much better! Justus Murimi and Sam Harvey did a wonderful job of getting our house in order. Our kids ministry has vision and structure and the volunteers have done a great job of giving time and effort to what we are doing. We are thankful!

Part of the pain of getting our kids ministry in order means that at times we have to turn kids away because we simply don't have enough space. That part flat out stinks. However with a limited number of rooms, we are maxing out. Which begs the question...

What is Next?

I joked on Sunday that I have "vision for days". I love to dream and think about all the things that could be. However I couldn't strategize my way out of a wet paper bag. When it comes to planning how to get people plugged in to the church or how to get more space for kids, I would rather dream than plan. The good news is that many of the strategic, tactical and detail orientated people in our church are rising to the occasion.

Moving Forward:

Next we are going come up with a strategic plan to move forward. Zach Garza has graciously come up with a plan that we've begun to implement. Rather than frantically try to figure out how to put out whatever "fire" is raging at the moment, we are walking through a systematic process as elders. Here is a brief overview of what we are going to do:

1) Get unified on vision and mission (done!)

2) Prioritize what is most important for the health of the church (next)

3) Figure out the "how" of our priorities

4) Implement!

That is rather simplistic but it is all the details I could bear to write (ha). We will be communicating as we get these priorities up and running.

Thank You:

There is probably more I could say, but I think this is enough for now. And there are so many people who are helping behind the scenes, I wish I could list them all here! Thank you for you generosity, your patience, you grace and your heart.  We left the board and the finance team meeting very pleased with where we are as a church.

If you have any questions feel free to ask the elders.

Grace!

Isaac's Freedom

Hey Family:

This weekend one of our old friends, Matthew Williams, was in town. Matthew and his wife Bethany lead Exile International. Exile exists to empower children of war to become leaders for peace.
Matthew pointed us to a recent testimony from Issac and his journey to freedom. Exile is one of the mission organizations Normandy supports and Issac's testimony is a great example of why!

Issac's Freedom:

“I was told killing with a gun is nothing. It’s like you haven’t killed. For my initiation, they handed me a machete and told me to kill a man.  They said if I refused, they would kill me.”

Isaac was 14 when the Lord’s Resistance Army came to his village in Uganda.

“I told my mom to run,” he says. “I was going to lock the house and catch up, but they came too fast.”

Isaac hid inside.  When they torched his house, he ran out and was captured. Forced to become child soldiers, he and many others were given uniforms.

“My friend refused to put on the uniform,” he remembers, “They made me watch as they stabbed him to death with bayonets.”

Isaac put on the uniform.  He and two other boys were told to kill a man with machetes.

“The man cried, ‘I’m innocent.’ But the commanders screamed, ‘Kill him, kill him.’ If we didn’t, we would take his place. It was the worst moment of my life.”

He tried to run away many times, but was caught and beaten nearly to death.  During one battle, he was shot in the leg, and later forced to keep marching.

“I prayed all the time, ‘God get me out of here.  Please get me home.’”

Knowing he would be killed if he got caught again, Isaac planned another escape. He went to fetch water, but didn’t return.

“When they came after me, I hid in a banana plantation,” he says. “I heard one of them say, ‘If we catch him, we’ll cut him into pieces and take him back for meat.  We will show everyone this is what happens when you try to escape.’”

Eventually the soldiers gave up their search and left. Isaac could finally go home.

“When I arrived home people were afraid, and told their children to stay away from me. I felt so guilty. At night I dreamt of everything I was forced to do, and I woke up screaming and shouting.”

Then Isaac went to a gathering in his village held by Exile International, which is supported by CBN’s Orphan’s Promise. Through one on one therapy, singing, dancing, and drama, we’ve helped many former child soldiers and war orphans heal from terrible trauma.

“You have brought so much joy back into my life. You helped me know God.  Ilearned not to focus on the past, but to look at what is new,” he says.

We helped pay Isaac’s tuition and fees, and enrolled him in a Christian boarding school, where he’s made lots of friends.

“It makes me so happy to be here,” he says. “My school uniform is always clean and fresh, and it smells so nice.  The LRA uniform was for doing bad things, and it was always dirty.  When I put on my school uniform, my thoughts are good, and I am so proud to wear it.”

We also gave Isaac a Bible, which he reads as often as he can.

He says, “Reading my Bible brings me so much peace. I know that God is the reason I survived.  Without Him I would be dead.  He knows the plans He has for me, and I know that I am completely free and forgiven. I appreciate all your help.  You will be blessed for it.  My future is bright because of you.”

---

You can donate to Exile here.

Resources on Poverty

Hey Church!

After Zach Garza’s sermon yesterday, we wanted to get you some resources on poverty and some places to support organizations that care for those affected by poverty in our city. As the Apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:10, the apostles asked Paul, “to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do”. Here are some ways we can consider the poor.

Framework for Understanding Poverty - Dr. Ruby Payne:

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Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D. is the founder of aha! Process and an author, speaker, publisher, and career educator. Recognized internationally for A Framework for Understanding Poverty, her foundational book and workshop, Dr. Ruby Payne has helped students and adults of all economic backgrounds achieve academic, professional, and personal success.

As an expert on the mindsets of economic classes and overcoming the hurdles of poverty, she has trained hundreds of thousands of professionals, from educators and school administrators to community, church, and business leaders.

You can purchase Dr. Payne's book here and learn more about her work here.

Forerunner Mentoring

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We would be remiss if we did not mention Zach Garza’s organization, Forerunner Mentoring. The heart is to break the cycle of fatherlessness one boy at a time. The mission is to invest and to love in hopes of transforming the young men that come to Forerunner. They actively serve through after school programs, mentoring, and serving the single mother. You can see a video and get more information here.

Austin Street Center

Another friend of ours, Daniel Roby, is the executive director of Austin Street Center. For over 30 years, Austin Street Center has specialized in caring for the most vulnerable homeless men and women in Dallas. Beyond meeting basic needs, Austin Street is committed to individualized care for each person who comes to us for help. You can see a video for more info here.

Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America - Linda Tirado

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In this article on Slate.com, taken from Tirado’s book Hand to Mouth, explores what is often hard for us to understand, why poor people seem to make such bad choices that keep them in poverty. You can read more about her book here.

Seek the Peace

One of the most vulnerable group of people in our society is the refugee. Seek the Peace, run by Jason and Tess Clarke, is a community peacemakers, working to restore what conflict has undone and prevent future violence by equipping refugees to become leaders for peace at home and abroad. They do this through advocacy and relationships. You can support Seek by purchasing either a shirt or candle here or by volunteering here.

Resources on Racial Reconciliation

Hey Church:

In light of Justus' sermon Sunday, we wanted to give you some resources on race and the gospel.

How to talk about race - Thabiti Anyabwile

A friend sent me an email following the Twin Lakes Fellowship. Because my talk there was basically an exhortation to unity in the church, he asked if I might do a post to help “all those white guys out there that feel so incompetent when it comes to talking about race.”

Actually, it’s a request I get often in one form or another. And that’s sorta ironic… because folks who know me well know that “race” is the last thing I want to talk about with people. Literally, it’s the last thing… right after a number of topics I’ll label as “women’s issues.” (Don’t ask me to elaborate, these are my next-to-the-least-favorite topics to talk about in public or private).

But if you have to talk about race… here are some things to keep in mind that keep you from getting Imus-ed out of a job or a friendship.

You can read more of Pastor Anyabwile's blog here.

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Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition. He wrote on how to talk about race.

 

Is Black Lives Matter the new civil rights? - Mika Edmondson

Mika Edmondson delivered this powerful talk in May 2016 to Council members of The Gospel Coalition. It was an empassioned plea regarind race and the gospel and addressed many contemporary issues. TGC’s Council meets every year to challenge and encourage one another in a private setting by sharing prayer requests and engaging with especially sensitive and urgent issues facing the church. In that spirit the Council invited Dr. Edmondson to help them consider how God is working for justice and mercy in our racially charged and polarized society.

 

Pastor Edmondson is native of Nashville, TN, is the pastor of New City Fellowship. You can listen to his powerful message here.

 

Blood Lines - John Piper

Sharing from his own experiences growing up in the segregated South, author John Piper thoughtfully exposes the unremitting problem of racism. Instead of turning finally to organizations, education, famous personalities, or government programs to address racial strife, Piper reveals the definitive source of hope: teaching how the good news about Jesus Christ actively undermines the sins that feed racial strife, and leads to a many-colored and many-cultured kingdom of God.

You can download the eBook here for free. John Piper is the founder of desiringGod.

 

13TH

13th is a 2016 American documentary by director Ava DuVernay. The film explores the "intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States;” it is titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which freed the slaves and prohibited slavery (unless as punishment for a crime).

The documentary is intense and should be watched with humility and with the help of the Holy Spirit. You will need humility in that it is humbling to listen to another's opinion. And like always, we need our Helper, the Holy Spirit, to discern the times and the heart of the Father in what is going on in our nation. You can preview the trailer here.

Bower Family Sabbatical

Church Family:

Yesterday, John Kaserman shared with everyone that Kasey and I will be taking a sabbatical in August. For those who were here 3 years ago, our vision for 2014 was “Rhythm.” For those who know me and Normandy, getting vision is easy, implementing it is like pulling teeth! Here we are three years later and we are going to practice it in a fairly major way.

During the first part of the year, I began to think about a sabbatical as something I should consider. Then some dear ones close to us confirmed that I, in fact, I do need one. Soon thereafter, I began talking to the elders about it and they gave me the go ahead to start planning.

I am both excited and nervous. Apparently, there is a measure of rest involved (rest is not something I am very good at). Just taking a simple day off has been a learned experience for me. Eugene Peterson said, “If we do not regularly quit work for one day a week, we take ourselves far too seriously.”  I guess I am guilty of taking myself and my work far too serious.

The word “sabbatical” comes from “Sabbath”, the day of rest on the seventh day of the week. In the Old Testament, every seven years there was a Sabbath year -- a year of rest for the soil -- and every 50th year was to be a year of Jubilee, also a year of rest for soil. The idea of a pastoral sabbatical goes back to the Middle Ages when the university professors and the doctors of the church were one in the same. The sabbatical, granted every seven years, was an opportunity for these teachers and leaders to simply become students and worshipers for a season.

Ironically enough, it was 7 years ago that we all gathered together at Bryan Street Tavern to announce that we would be starting a church. I began doing specific work in my free time to get the church up and running by January 2012.

Years ago, when thinking about starting Normandy, a friend told me, "church planting will take a chunk of your soul." I have felt the reality of that in the last two years. The transitions in leadership, our journey in foster care, our desire to shepherd people, and our experience seeing people leave the church have all been taxing. However, the good things have been taxing too! The dreaming, the preaching, asking my favorite question: "How does that make you feel?" all have a way of wearing you down emotionally and spiritually.

So, we are going take a sabbatical.  We will be out of town trying to be refreshed, to think, to rest, and to play. I am going turn off my phone (at least, I think I am) and leave the church to trustworthy men and women. I imagine in my absence, all of the problems will be solved and the church will enter into a season of unprecedented glory and growth. I am only moderately joking.

Justus Murimi and Mark Heger will be handling the preaching and teaching while I am gone, while Jesse Benavides will be helping with our community groups. And if you have any problems with your life, you can ask Rachel Clarke to solve them!

I am grateful for the opportunity.

Grace and peace,

John & Kasey

God’s Pleasure to Do You Good

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

(Luke 12:32)

This is a repost from Desiring God by John Piper


Jesus will not sit by and let us disbelieve without a fight. He takes up the weapon of the word and speaks it with power for all who struggle to believe.

His aim is to defeat the fear that God is not the kind of God who really wants to be good to us — that he is not really generous and helpful and kind and tender, but is basically irked with us — ill-disposed and angry.

Sometimes, even if we believe in our heads that God is good to us, we may feel in our hearts that his goodness is somehow forced or constrained, perhaps like a judge who has been maneuvered by a clever attorney into a corner on some technicality of court proceeding, so he has to dismiss the charges against the prisoner whom he really would rather send to jail.

But Jesus is at pains to help us not feel that way about God. He is striving in this verse to describe for us the indescribable worth and excellency of God’s soul by showing the unbridled pleasure he takes in giving us the kingdom.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Every little word of this stunning sentence is intended to help take away the fear that Jesus knows we struggle with: that God begrudges his benefits; that he is constrained and out of character when he does nice things; that at bottom he is angry and loves to vent his anger.

This is a sentence about the nature of God. It’s about the kind of heart God has. It’s a verse about what makes God glad — not merely about what God will do or what he has to do, but what he delights to do, what he loves to do and takes pleasure in doing. Every word counts.

Devotional excerpted from The Pleasures of God by John Piper, page 251

Normandy Splash Pad Sunday!

Thanks to all who came out this past Sunday. A special thanks to Matt & Josh for grilling the food!

Good News: God Is Happy

. . . the gospel of the glory of the blessed God . . .

(1 Timothy 1:11)

This is a repost from Desiring God by John Piper


This is a beautiful phrase in 1 Timothy, buried beneath the too-familiar surface of Bible buzzwords. But after you dig it up, it sounds like this: “the good news of the glory of the happy God.”

A great part of God’s glory is his happiness.

It was inconceivable to the apostle Paul that God could be denied infinite joy and still be all-glorious. To be infinitely glorious was to be infinitely happy. He used the phrase, “the glory of the happy God,” because it is a glorious thing for God to be as happy as he is.

God’s glory consists much in the fact that he is happy beyond our wildest imagination. As the great eighteenth-century preacher, Jonathan Edwards, said, “Part of God’s fullness which he communicates is his happiness. This happiness consists in enjoying and rejoicing in himself; so does also the creature’s happiness.”

And this is the gospel: “the gospel of the glory of the happy God.” It is good news that God is gloriously happy. No one would want to spend eternity with an unhappy God.

If God is unhappy, then the goal of the gospel is not a happy goal, and that means it would be no gospel at all. But, in fact, Jesus invites us to spend eternity with a happy God when he says, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).

Jesus lived and died that his joy — God’s joy — might be in us and our joy might be full (John 15:11; 17:13). Therefore the gospel is “the gospel of the glory of the happy God.”

Devotional excerpted from The Pleasures of God by John Piper, pages 11-12

Love the One You’re With

This is a repost from Desiring God by Jon Bloom.


It can be really hard to love the church. Every Christian, who’s been one for very long, knows this.

The earthly church has always been a motley crew. It’s never been ideal. The New Testament exists because churches, to differing degrees, have always been a mess — a glorious mess of saints still polluted by remaining sin, affected by defective genes, brains, and bodies, and influenced by life-shaping pasts.

This mess rarely looks glorious to us up close. It looks like a lot of sin and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears invested into a lot of futility. It often looks like something we’d rather escape than join.

But this is the way it’s supposed to be. Because the mess is what draws out the one thing that advances the church’s mission more than anything else. And this one thing is why we must not, for selfish reasons, leave the church.


The Church We Didn’t Choose

Jesus’s very first disciples didn’t get to choose each other. Jesus chose them (John 15:16). They just found themselves thrown together.

The very next generation of early Christians didn’t get to choose each other either. They too were thrown together with others they likely wouldn’t have chosen: Palestinian and Hellenistic Jews, Jews and Gentiles, educated and uneducated, slaves and slave owners, impoverished and aristocrats, former zealots and former tax collectors, former prostitutes and former Pharisees.

And Jesus gave these early disciples, and all disciples afterward, an impossible command: love one another (John 15:17). It had to be impossible to obey in mere human power because this love was meant to bear witness of Jesus in the world (John 13:35), and to give visible evidence of the invisible God (1 John 4:12). It had to demonstrate that “what is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).

And Jesus gave his disciples an impossible context in which to carry out this impossible command: the church (Matthew 16:18) — a community of diverse, sin-polluted, defective individuals from all sorts of life-shaping pasts living life together in an impossible love.

Then Jesus gave his church an impossible mission: preach the gospel throughout the whole, God-rejecting, Christ-hating world (Luke 21:17John 15:18), and plant impossible communities among every people where diverse, sin-polluted, defective individuals from all sorts of life-shaping pasts would live out Jesus’s impossible command to love one another (Matthew 28:19–20).

Impossible love, impossible community, and impossible mission: this is a plan doomed to fail. There’s no way this works, unless a God exists who makes possible the humanly impossible.

And here we are, two thousand years later. The impossible mission has produced impossible communities carrying out this impossible command throughout much of the world. For all the church’s problems, and they are legion, something miraculous is at work here.


Miraculous, Struggling Community

But the church rarely looks miraculous at any given moment. “The church,” as we most directly experience it, looks like the less-than-ideal local church we belong to, made up of ordinary people struggling to get along, struggling to figure out how to “do church” in a world of constant change, and struggling to do its part to fulfill the Great Commission.

Struggling doesn’t look or feel miraculous. It’s fatiguing, frustrating, and at times exasperating. Struggling can make us want to give up.

But we must not give up on the church. Because it’s the messy things — those extraordinarily difficult and painful things that can drive us crazy — that provide the very opportunities for the humanly impossible love of Christ to be exercised, giving visibility to the existence of the invisible God.

According to the New Testament, a church’s success is not measured by the number of its attenders, the size of its budget, the excellence of its event production, or the scope of its public influence. Its success is measured by the quality of its love. A church that most effectively witnesses Jesus in the world pursues love through:

And what calls such love out? Read each line again and ask what situations prompt such opportunities to love. The short answer is: lots of various kinds of struggling. It’s the messy struggles that call out love.

Churches are designed to be communities of impossible love that only work if God is real, and Christ’s sacrifice is real, and heaven is real. In void of love, the community falls apart or degrades into consumer event products, empty formalism, formless “spirituality,” social advocacy groups, or essentially civic gatherings — all dying or dead remains of a past vitality.


Graciously Disappointing Community

Jesus did not design the church to be a place where our dreams come true. Actually, it’s where many of our dreams are disappointed and die. And this is more of a grace to us than we likely realize, because our dreams are often much more selfish than we discern.

Our personal expectations easily become tyrants to everyone else, because everyone else fails to meet them. When we are more focused on how others’ failings and foibles obstruct the ideal community we want to pursue than we are on serving those others and pursuing their good and joy, our expectations can kill love, which impedes the real mission.

Jesus designed the church to be a place where love comes true, where we lay our preferences aside out of deference to others. It is meant to be a living laboratory of love, a place where there are so many opportunities, big and small, to lay down our lives for each other that the love of Christ becomes a public spectacle.

That’s why when it comes to church in this age, the picture of community we should have in our minds is not some utopian harmony, but Golgotha. In living life together, we die every day (1 Corinthians 15:31). We lay down our lives for each other (1 John 3:16).


Love the One You’re With

Over forty years ago, Stephen Stills sang, “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.” Though he certainly didn’t write this with the church in mind, we can draw a redemptive application.

There are numerous legitimate reasons to leave a church, and departures are one more messy opportunity to extend gracious love. But we must have a healthy suspicion of our motives if disillusionment, restlessness, boredom, discontentment, burnout, relational conflict, and disappointed expectations are fueling our impulse to leave. Often these fruits have roots in selfish soil. We must not love the church we can’t be with — that idealized community of our imagination. We must love the one we’re with.

We don’t get to choose the disciples we live with; Jesus does. We get thrown into a motley group of sin-polluted, defective saints, among whom, in our own ways, we are the polluted, defective foremost (1 Timothy 1:15).

What we get is the incredible privilege of and plethora of opportunities for loving these fellow disciples like Jesus loved us. We get to love them, warts and all. Because it is through the mutually self-dying, forbearing, forgiving love warty disciples have for one another that Jesus is most clearly shown to the world and his mission is most powerfully advanced.


Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by SightThings Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife live in the Twin Cities with their five children.

Family & Wired

By Matt Clarke

In today’s culture, it is easy to lose our identities in the shuffle of being busy. The culture in and around Dallas pushes us to be more, do more, get more, earn more, spend more, and go more. As a result, many people feel like they are failing, they are flailing, they are driven too hard, and are drowning under the pressure of performance, unmet and unrealistic expectations, and making lists for our to-do lists. In Psalm 127 though, we are reminded that “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who work labor in vain.” It is far too familiar and easy to become burdened and burned out, even by worthy causes, if we are not pursuing a deeper relationship with the One who sustains us. Eating the bread of anxious toil (Psalm 127) characterizes far too many of us instead of being nourished by the Bread of Life (John 6:48).

As believers in and followers of Christ, we know that being drawn into the alluring practice of higher performance and goal attainment can often push us further from God, our families, relationships, and purposes. It will happen without our permission if we lack discipline, direction, and intention. We are not made to burn out, and yet so many of us are running on fumes through the week and trying frantically and unsuccessfully to pull it together by the next Sunday. Chasing significance from both the world and Christian activities will remove our focus from the purpose of the cross, which is meant to invite us into meaningful, significant, and transformational relationships, first with God, then with others.

We are made to receive from God and in the overflow of our connection to Christ, pour ourselves out into the lives of others so they might experience comfort, healing, joy, grace, mercy, and love that surpasses understanding.

One of my favorite characteristics of our body is that we seek to operate as a family. We desire to build each other up, outdo one another in honor (Romans 12:10), encourage one another, push each other into deeper relationship with our Creator, mourn with those who mourn, rejoice with those who rejoice, and expand our family through discipleship and lengthening the cords of our tent (Isaiah 54:2) in our communities.

Many of us may come from families who struggled to care for us well, to meet our emotional needs, to support us, build us up, and make sure that we knew who we were. At Normandy, we want to be marked by the Holy Spirit who guides us as we connect as a family and have the Lord, as our Heavenly Father, meet our needs so that we might meet those of others in the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 1:23).

Our annual conference, Wired, helps us do exactly that.

Because we are biologically, emotionally, and spiritually wired for connection to God and others, we believe that the best way to understand who God is, who we are as a family, and the mission he has entrusted to us is to learn more about Him, together. As we understand more, we are able to practice applying the knowledge so that as a family we can care well for those inside and outside our church body.

In the latter part of the Psalms, the Israelites are beaten down. The culture in which they exist doesn’t favor them. Life, in general, was both disappointing and difficult for them. However, they were not defeated. There was One who favored them. The Lord. They were his chosen and so He promised in Psalm 125 to “surround his people, now and forevermore.” Their flesh wanted to despair, but their hope would not allow it. In Psalm 130, they were promised “plentiful redemption” because the Lord was for them. He saw their struggle, had compassion on them, and had a plan to provide for His children physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Much like the Israelites, we find ourselves beaten down by our to-do lists, our commitments, our work, and our responsibilities. We often sacrifice so much of ourselves on behalf of our busyness and schedules that we lose sight of the One who gives us rest, restores our spirits, and lifts our burdens (Matthew 11:30).

You have enough on your list. We are not inviting you to add one more thing.

Wired is an invitation into life, into connection, into family, into comfort, into healing, into peace, and into knowing God and our purposes more deeply and more clearly.  

Good Friday

Jesus tells His followers in John 13:32 that when He is lifted up, all people will be drawn to Him. Today is the day we remember Him lifted up and crucified on the cross (Matthew 27:32-57). 

And Christ was right! All men are drawn to Him! To this day no other person has been more revered, more vilified, or appeared on more magazines two thousand years later. His name is used to bless and to curse. All peoples are drawn to Him. Allow your heart to be drawn to Him today. See our Christ, the crucified Lamb of God:

Matthew 27:37: 

And over his head they put a charge against him, which read, 'This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.'

Matthew 27:45-46; 50:  

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

 Today remember His death. Give time to picture Him there on the cross – the sinless Son of God hung between two thieves. And let your heart be stirred to worship Him! 

Before the Throne of God  

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me
My name is graven on His hands
My name is written on His heart
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
No tongue can bid me thence depart

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me

Behold Him there the risen Lamb
My perfect spotless righteousness
The great unchangeable I am
The King of glory and of grace
One with Himself I cannot die
My soul is purchased by His blood
My life is hid with Christ on high
With Christ my Savior and my God!
With Christ my Savior and my God!

One with Himself I cannot die
My soul is purchased by His blood
My life is hid with Christ on high
With Christ my Savior and my God!
With Christ my Savior and my God!

Maundy Thursday

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This week we celebrate Easter. Together with millions of faithful followers of Christ, we will celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death. During this week, which is known as Holy Week, it is good to reflect on what happened over 2,000 years ago.

Today is Maundy Thursday – the day Christians commemorate the Last Super (Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-39). In the Gospel of John we are given an intimate picture of Christ’s last moments with His disciples before He is betrayed and arrested. From John 13-16 Jesus both demonstrates His love for His disciples and pours out His heart to His friends. The climax of the Last Supper is John 17 and Jesus’ high priestly prayer:

17 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Drink from the words of Christ! Delight in the joyous relationship He has with His Father and Holy Spirit. Glorify His name! Christ alone has been given authority over every human creature. And the Father gave Christ the task of bringing eternal life here and now to those who know and love Him. To know Christ is to experience His very life – His joy, His peace, His love, and His comfort here and now.