Saturday, December 6, 2014

Advent Reflections

Advent is the beginning of the Church Year for most churches in the Western tradition; and the purpose of having church seasons, such as Advent and Lent, are to create meditative rhythms in our life together. These corporate and communal rhythms are all based upon the true and sure foundation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord and King of all!

Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is always the Sunday nearest November 30, and ends on Christmas Eve, December 24th. It's a season marked by expectation and anticipation in preparing to celebrate the coming of Jesus.  Christmas begins with Christmas Day December 25 and lasts for 12 days (The Twelve Days of Christmas) until The Day of Epiphany, January 6, which looks ahead to the mission of the church to the world in light of the Nativity and/or Jesus’ Baptism (depending on your Christian denominational traditions.

The word Advent means "coming" or "arrival." The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation will one day be put to rights. That is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate.

Some Advent Reflections:
This Advent, 2014, we are meditating on the ancient and simple Advent prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). This week, on your own and/or with your Community Group, spend some time reflecting on the following questions:
  • What are you waiting for?  What’s the next “big thing” you want to see happen in your life? 
  • What is it that you think will complete you and make you happy? In other words, what are you hoping and longing for? 
  • Does the way you answer these questions match the way you live? If not, what needs to change?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Christmas Shalom

The True Meaning of Christmas Peace

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! ~ Luke 2:14

There's a lot of talk this time of the year about peace. We sing songs about peace, hear Scripture passages about peace, see signs and Christmas decorations with the word "peace" in seems like peace is being referenced everywhere!

But what's the deal with peace? What did the angel refer to when he said, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests" to the shepherds Luke 2:14? When you begin to look into the meaning ,and implications, of biblical peace, namby-pamby Christmas decorations and greeting cards do very little in capturing the true essence of peace.

The Old Testament word for peace is shalom - שָׁלֹום (in Hebrew) and εἰρήνη (in Greek). Shalom is much more than a simple greeting, kind audible jester or even the opposite of conflict; it’s an all-encompassing biblical concept. Shalom refers to harmony, syncretism, wholeness, and every kind of good. It refers to an experience of well-being, wholeness, harmony, reconciliation, and security through a proper relationship with God and each other. So the basic meaning of shalom is not absence from war or trouble, but one of well-being and every kind of good.

For the Hebrew people, Shalom, was/is one of the underlying principle of the Torah - "Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are shalom (peace)” (Proverbs 3:17. The Talmud explains, "The whole of the law (i.e.,Torah) is to promote shalom” (Talmud, Gittin 59b). The biblical concept of shalom takes us to the heart of the Gospel and unfolds the mysteries of God's redemptive plan for the entire cosmos expressed in passages such as Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-9; 65:17-19; Amos 9:11-15; and Acts 3:18-21. In fact, one of God’s covenant names is Jehovah-shalom, “The Lord is peace” or “The Lord is our peace” (Judges 6:24). The Apostle Paul links this Old Testament reference of God to the cosmic redemptive agenda of utterly crushing evil in Romans 16:20 – The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

Many authors and scholars have commented on how we should understand shalom; but I have found none better than Cornelius Plantinga in his book, Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin.   Here's a great quote taken from his book:
"[The prophets] dreamed of a new age in which human crookedness would be straightened out, rough places made plain. The foolish would be made wise and the wise, humble. They dreamed of a time when the deserts would flower, the mountains would run with wine, weeping would cease and people could go to sleep without weapons on their laps. People would work in peace and work to fruitful effect. Lambs could lie down with lions. All nature would be fruitful, benign, and filled with wonder upon wonder; all humans would be knit together in brotherhood and sisterhood; and all nature and all humans would look to God, walk with God, lean toward God and delight in God. Shouts of joy and recognition would well up from valleys and seas, from women in streets and from men on ships."

"The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be."

May peace of God be within you, upon you, and flow through you this Christmas season. Shalom.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Practice of Gratitude - We Have Much to Be Grateful For

We have so much to be grateful for. 

Everywhere we look, in every conversation, in every dollar earned, spent and given, in every moment lived, and in every emotion experienced, we have much to be grateful for. Oh sure, there are always things not going well in everyone’s life; but in spite of and even in the midst of those inevitable troubles and pains, God has been and is very good to us.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17).

Take a look around.  Try to count all the “good” things in your life. You’ll lose count!

Thanksgiving reminds us of the importance of the practice of gratitude and appreciation, something we neglect far too often.  Sometimes, the source of our angst and underpinning frustration (with just about everything!) is due to our lack of perspective. We have much to be grateful for.  May we learn to see, acknowledge, and be grateful.

We have so much to be grateful for!

May we give God the praise of thanksgiving that he is so worthy of receiving.  May we look at our loved ones, acknowledge the blessing they are to us, and be grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving Grace Church.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Great eBook Resource Sale!

Awesome sale on Zondervan eBooks. Get them 
while they're available!

Zondervan's Counterpoints Series eBook  ($2.99 each)
With dozens of contributing authors from varying theological backgrounds, the Zondervan Counterpoints Collection is an invaluable set of resources for Christians today, focusing on wide array of theological, biblical, and ethical hot topic issues. Many of the volumes in this unique collection lay out four or five separate views on a theological matter, giving the reader the chance to weigh the many sides that can arise on a particular issue.

The advantage of this collection is huge: the thought-provoking and varying points of view presented offer great soil with which one can cultivate a sound biblical foundation. Whether you are a student, pastor, teacher, or layperson, these volumes are a fantastic tool for understanding contemporary Christian issues you may face today in the light of solid scriptural truth. 

These are great! Pick one up today!


Zondervan's NIV Application Commentaries eBook  ($4.99 or less each)
How can you apply what you learned about Jerusalem, Ephesus, or Corinth to our present day needs in Dunedin, Clearwater, or Tampa? How can you take a message originally spoken in Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic and communicate it clearly in our own language? How can you take the eternal truths originally spoken in a different time and culture and apply them to the similar-yet-different needs of our culture? The NIV Application Commentary shows readers how to bring an ancient message into our postmodern context. It explains not only what the Bible meant, but also how it speaks powerfully today.

These are also great! It's one of my (P. Heath's) favorite commentary series. Pick up one of these award winning resources today!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Survey Says...The State of Theology

Some interesting and alarming discoveries found in a recent survey -- The State of Theology --conducted by Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research indicate a wide array of theological belief. That's nothing new, we've know we live in an increasingly pluralistic society, but I was mainly interested in what the professing or confessing Evangelicals had to say about their beliefs in God. Personally, I would have reworded many of the questions, some where a bit too general or vague; and some of the questions are covering issues that orthodox Christianity has debated since the beginning. But what was underscored and confirmed for me was something I run into often. More and more professing Christians are forming their theological convictions on gut feelings and popular opinion.

The state of theology is more important than we realize. RC Sproul has said often, “Everyone’s a theologian” because everyone thinks something about God. The real question needing to be asked is, "Are we a good theologian?" This study/survey demonstrates a sigificant gap in theological awareness throughout our nation, in our neighborhoods, and even in the seat next to us at church. The Scriptures and the simple and fortified truths found in our historic and orthodox creeds, confessions, and catechisms are increasingly taking the back seat.

Speaking of creeds, catechisms, theological training, and our culture's and present church goer's lack in theological conviction and depth, check out Beyond Sexy: The Simple, Yet Fortifying, Truths of Catechisms.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Martin Luther + Reformation Sunday

Martin Luther by Daryn Kinney

This coming Sunday, the last Sunday in October, is known as Reformation Sunday, the day noted and remembered as the start of the Protestant Reformation.

It was October 31st, 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany. Martin, a young Christian scholar, grasped a hammer and a long piece of paper covered with his writing. He walked out into the street and straight over to the church door. It was here that community messages were often posted. Martin nailed his 95 points of discussion on the door. He only wanted to lay out his newly discovered views of the Bible to other church leaders in the Medieval Catholic church. He thought he was free to do so, after all, he was an Augustinian monk and a professor of theology.

Martin Luther called himself a “stinking bag of maggots” and “a beggar;” he certainly did not dream of being a leader in a revolution of theological thinking in Germany and across Europe that would ultimately shape the rest of history. But God had determined something far bigger than the monk Martin Luther expected when he penned those 95 Theses.

Without his knowledge someone printed his words on the newly invented Gutenberg Press, distributing it all over Germany. Within a very few days, Martin found that he was the subject of everyone’s thoughts. In cathedrals and castles, in pubs and cottages—virtually everyone in Germany was talking about the views of Luther. The Protestant Reformation had begun!

Just what was the Protestant Reformation all about? What did Luther, and other Reformers, protest?

The protesters were seeing something new (i.e., new to them) about how a person is accepted by God and included into the plan of redemption. They protested that the church had been teaching the wrong view about the most important issue of life. They discovered that the Bible says we are not accepted on the basis of our religious deeds, or even our good deeds along with our faith, but that we are accepted before a holy God only through faith in Christ.

“Through faith alone in Christ alone” began to be heard all over Europe. The people must transfer their confidence for salvation in the church’s religious traditions to Christ alone. The reformers wanted the people to return to the Bible’s plain teaching on how to be a true Christian. Many of the Reformers would be persecuted because of their views and some even killed. But through it all, tens of thousands of people were converted to Christ and were assured of their gracious inclusion into the family of God through faith alone, in Christ alone, and it was all by God’s grace alone.

We have been feeling the effects of the Protestant Reformation ever since.

Some Great Quotes from the Writings and Lectures of Martin Luther:

All who call on God in true faith, earnestly from the heart, will certainly be heard, and will receive what they have asked and desired.” 
“Be thou comforted, little dog, thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail.” 

"Faith is a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God's grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace." ~ Luther's An Introduction to St. Paul's Letter to the Romans 
"We are all ministers of the Gospel. Some of us just happen to be the clergymen."
“God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” 
“... Besides, the Word is the principal part of baptism. If in an emergency there’s no water at hand, it doesn’t matter whether water or beer is used.” ~ "Prenatal Baptisms Are Ridiculed," Table Talk No. 394 
“You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.” 

"We are all beggars. This is true." ~ "The Last Written Words of Luther," Table Talk No. 5468

Some Martin Luther  and Reformation Day Resources:

Martin Luther 
    Like Martin Luther, we too may come by faith alone into the forgiveness and renewal found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

    Happy Reformation Day!

    Friday, October 17, 2014

    First-Century Study Bible

    Place the Scriptures into the context of it's original authorships and recipients is vital to understanding the text. There's a new resource available to you to do just that and we highly recommend checking out the NIV First-Centuray Study Bible. Experience the Bible through Eastern eyes by exploring the cultural, religious, and historical background of the Bible. This hardcover study Bible allows you to understand God’s Word in its original cultural context, bringing Scripture to life by providing fresh understanding to familiar passages, beloved stories and all the Scripture in between.

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

    Book of Genesis - A Clip from "From the Dust"

    In From the Dust, a feature-length documentary film from Highway Media and The BioLogos Foundation, renowned theologians, educators, and scientists reexamine this perennial debate, and infuse it with fresh theories, new theological insights, and an open desire for truth and dialogue. You can order the film here, and learn more about the project here.
    Here's a very helpful clip explaining how to read and understand the Book of Genesis:

    Thursday, October 2, 2014

    Tim Keller on The Jealousy of God

    This is a really great talk from Pastor Tim Keller on the Jealousy of God. God's law, his creation of man and woman and the sending of his Son all reveal a God who is passionately in love with his people. He doesn't just want us to serve him out of obligation, he declares to us, "Love me with all you are as I love you."

    Jealousy of God

    Wednesday, September 24, 2014

    A Plea for Hospitality + A New Study Bible

    Welcoming Strangers in Our Midst

    “The foreigner [or stranger, Hebrew ger] residing among you must be treated as your native–born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”
    —Lev. 19:34

    In the ancient world, hospitality was a high moral ideal, a kind of “law of the desert.” All nomads or seminomadic people needed hospitality from time to time. Welcoming a foreigner/stranger into your own tent ensured the same treatment when the tables were turned. Expectations developed in the ancient world that hosts would provide food, shelter and protection for the foreigner. This is well attested to in extra–Biblical sources as well as in the Bible itself (see Dt 16:13–15;Jdg 19). Abraham and Lot were seen as righteous, in part because they extended hospitality to travelers. Their behavior toward strangers is juxtaposed against the lack of hospitality shown to the same men by the people of Sodom.

    The Bible has its own internal commentary on Sodom and Gomorrah:
    • “This was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy" (Eze 16:49).
    • “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah!…Stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (Isa 1:10, 16–17).
    • Jesus said that on the day of judgment, it will be worse for cities that refused hospitality to his disciples than for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Mt 10:1–15).
    • Jesus said that on the day of judgment, when the Son of Man separates the sheep from goats, it will be a person's treatment of the less fortunate – the stranger, the sick, those in prison, those who needed food, water and clothing—that will be taken into account (see Mt 25:31–46).
    The Bible seems to expect all people to treat the stranger and the vulnerable members of society with respect. Apparently, God does not tolerate abuse of people by even those outside the covenant and the law. The Bible reveals a moral map that needs no list of commandments. To state this universal law in poetic terms: “Do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 7:12). Who then are the most vulnerable members of our society? Who are the strangers? How should they be treated?

    ** Excerpted from an Article in the NIV First–Century Study Bible.

    Place the Scriptures into the context of it's original authorships and recipients is vital to understanding the text. There's a new resource available to you to do just that and we highly recommend checking out the NIV First-Centuray Study Bible. Experience the Bible through Eastern eyes by exploring the cultural, religious, and historical background of the Bible. This hardcover study Bible allows you to understand God’s Word in its original cultural context, bringing Scripture to life by providing fresh understanding to familiar passages, beloved stories and all the Scripture in between.

    Sunday, September 7, 2014

    A Great Book on Church Unity + Mission

    Something we forgot to mention in today's Gathering (on 9.07.14). John Armstrong wrote a great book, Your Church is Too Small, that deals with the issues we pondered as we read through Romans 14 + 15.  We highly recommend it and we some copies on the back table! Here's the scoop on John Armstrong and the book...

    We’ve been friends and supporters of John H. Armstrong for a long time now. His current ministry, ACT 3 in Carol Stream, Illinois, serves “to advance the missional mandate of the Lord Jesus Christ in the third millennium.” Armstrong founded ACT 3, formerly Reformation & Revival Ministries, in 1991 for the purpose of encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening. Read here about it’s mission and purpose. He has a new book coming out soon entitled Your Church is Too Small.

    In Your Church Is Too Small, John Armstrong presents a vision of the unity possible for Christians across social, cultural, racial, and denominational lines. When Jesus’ followers seek unity through participation in the kingdom of God and031032114x the mission of Christ, they demonstrate God’s character to a watching world…
    Book Description: Your Church Is Too Small gives voice to a gnawing sense many believers share: the contentious nature of differences among Christians cannot be pleasing to God. Jesus’ prayer in John 17, “May they be one as we are one,” seems like a dream possible only occasionally at best. Minister and teacher John Armstrong tells the story of how his own passion for Christian unity was ignited, shares his vision of individuals and churches united in the mission of God, and gives direction for how this vision can become a reality for God’s people. However, such unity will not happen by sheer willpower or denying the real differences among believing communities. Armstrong encourages Christians to rely on God—Father, Son, and Spirit—to build the worldwide church. Such reliance entails both a deeper experience in the triune life of God and a connection to the church’s past. More specifically, the history, belief, and practice of early Christians form the roots that today’s church requires to chart a unified path for the future.
    Some other resources by John Armstrong:
    John H. Armstrong’s Blog - ACT 3: Equipping Leaders for Unity in Christ's Mission
    You can sign up to receive free podcasts, download lectures and sermons here at ACT 3. 
    Watch and listen to this recent YouTube clip from Kiononia on Lesslie Newbigin’s life and influence.

    Monday, August 18, 2014

    Dan Allender on Relationships, Connectedness, + Shalom

    In A Relationship?
    Single? Engaged? Married?
    Parent? Child?
    Neighbor? Co-Worker? Friend?

    We all crave intimacy—with God and with others. So what does God’s design for intimate relationships look like? Watch as Dan Allender gives us a fresh take on friendship, dating, and marriage relationships and how we can pursue wholeness in those areas of our lives.

    Wednesday, August 13, 2014

    Romans 1-8 + Living Missionally

    The Word of God and finding our life's purpose and meaning in mission go hand in hand. Listen to David Platt recite (from memory!) Romans chapters 1 through 8 and connect it to living missionally.

    May we know God's truth; and may we live as his sent people.

    Thursday, July 17, 2014

    Superabounding Grace

    Hello friends, as we study through the tremendous text of Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome, we are continually reminded of the grace of God. He seems to mention it at almost every turn as he writes about God's good news for all of humanity.

    In our text from this past Sunday, Romans ch. 5, Paul mentions grace 5 different times. My favorite mentioning of grace in chapter 5 is verse 20, "The law was brought in so that the trespass (offense or sin) might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased (or superabounded) all the more!"

    What it would it look like if grace was superabounding in our lives?

    Grace is often misunderstood, misapplied, and, therefore, MISSED! And it's so unfortunate because to miss part or all of grace is to miss part or all of God. 

    Grace can often be misunderstood as something scandalous and sinfully permissive; and it can also be misapplied by thinking of grace only terms of pardoning sin and not about enabling us to live rightly.

    Dallard Willard once said, "grace is God acting in our lives to bring about what we do not deserve and cannot accomplish on our own." I love that definition of grace; but I equally love what he said next: "but we are not passive in this process. We are commanded to put off the old person and put on the new. We are told to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)." 

    In essence, grace is about pardoning guilt and about inviting/empowering us into right living.

    As followers of Jesus, there are many wonderful things for us to do, and, though we cannot do it ourselves, they will not be done for us. We must do them. As recipients of grace we are empowered to do whatever it is we need to do to increasingly take on Christ's character and live, in his power, as one of his followers.

    May the grace of God abound in our lives. Instead of sin and death, may the grace of God reign in our lives leading to true life in the here and now (Romans 5:21). 

    May trust and belief replace our cynicism and disbelief. 

    May gentleness and encouragement replace our anger and hurtfulness. 

    May fidelity and love replace our selfishness and greed. 

    May understanding and tolerance replace our impatience. 

    May hope replace our fear. 

    May thoughtfulness replace our disregard. 

    And may true joy replace our wallowing in shallowness.

    Wow. Imagine how resting in and relying upon the superabounding grace found in Christ would reshape our everyday lives.

    May we courageously go into the way of grace; may we encourage as many others to follow as we possible can.

    Friday, June 20, 2014

    Digging Deeper into Romans

    Romans is known to some as the Apostle Paul's "masterpiece" and it is dense with deep theological truths; but that doesn't mean that it cannot be understood. As we make our way through Romans this summer we really hope you will spend some time reading and studying the book on your own.  So, we want to provide you with some resources to help you in your studies.

    Study Guides:
    ROMANS - New Revised Standard Version with Outline, Notes + Reflection Questions  (Free PDF; some are printed and available at our Sunday morning Gathering)
    ROMANS - (NT Wright for Everyone Bible Study Guides)

    Paul for Everyone: Romans, Chapters 1-8 by Tom Wright
    Paul for Everyone: Romans, Chapters 9-16 by Tom Wright

    Study Bible:
    ESV Study Bible

    Enjoy digging deeper into the text of Romans!

    Wednesday, June 4, 2014

    Our Summer Journey Through Romans

    Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome is his masterpiece. It covers all the major biblical themes bringing them together into a fast-moving and compelling line of thought. Romans, one the most influential writings in Christian history, is about the promise-keeping God who unveils his power and grace through the Good News of Jesus Christ. And this power and grace is available to anyone who believes. 

    Sunday Morning Gathering Teaching Schedule for Summer, 2014:

    June 1st 
    Paul in Romans (Romans 1-16)

    June 8th 
    The Gospel in Romans (Romans 1:16-17)

    June 15th 
    Sin in Romans (Romans 1-3)

    June 22nd 
    Faith in Romans (Romans 3-4)

    June 29th
    Serve + Renew Weekend (no Sunday Morning Gathering)

    July 6th
    Special Guest Speaker Chuch Trujillo

    July 13th 
    Christ in Romans (Romans 5)

    July 20th 
    Law in Romans (Romans 6-7)

    July 27th
    Spirit in Romans (Romans 8:1-17)

    August 3rd 
    Renewal in Romans (Romans 8:18-39)

    August 10th 
    Faithfulness in Romans (Romans 9-11)

    August 17th
    Special Guest Randy Evans 

    August 24th 
    Love in Romans (Romans 12-13)

    August 31st
    The Church in Romans (Romans 14-16)