Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pursuing God Through Others

Good evening friends (or morning, or afternoon)!

Thank you for giving me the chance to share what was on my heart on Sunday. I have to say I was completely humbled by the opportunity to share in this series. As I said during the lesson, God has been working in my heart over the past several weeks regarding community and how we relate with each other as believers. I hope you were able to walk away with the truth and discipline that I tried to hammer home throughout the lesson—we cannot fully understand and know God unless we live in community with other believers, pursuing Him through each other!

At the end of the lesson, I challenged you to make a connection this week with another believer with the intent of community—to share and pursue God through that person. Well, what kind of leader would I be if I did not accept my own challenge? So I wanted to give you a follow up to my story of community that began on Thursday of last week.

For those who were not present for the lesson, let me give you a bit of background:

I manage an outpatient rehab clinic in Burleson, and last week was probably the most difficult week of employment I have had to face. Not only did our A/C break down multiple times in the beginning of the week with employees griping and complaining about every small problem that arose, but on Wednesday afternoon I received a call from our Human Resources department. Those unexpected calls are rarely a good thing, and this time was no exception. It turned out that the “powers that be” decided we needed to work more with less. I’ve been through downsizes before working for this hospital, but it never affected my department personally—you see, being an offsite (and out of town) satellite of the hospital’s outpatient department kept us isolated and somewhat protected from the politics of the hospital. Unfortunately this time was different.

I learned Wednesday afternoon that I was to lose one of my best employees, simply because she was the last hired in the office/admissions role in my clinic. To make things worse, she was a calming, happy fixture in our front office that brightened the attitudes of all those that worked with her. I have never had a more honorable, loyal, hardworking employee. And now I had to tell her she lost her job. This affected me deeply—I was saddened and angry at the same time. I agonized over this decision to the point I lost sleep and appetite.

Fortunately, in God’s divine plan, Ted had asked the Shepherding Team earlier in the week to meet for lunch near my clinic to share our lives and what was going on in our hearts. As I shared on Sunday, I went to that lunch and opened my heart and poured out my burdens to these great men. God touched me personally simply because I was willing to lay my burdens at his feet, using the men before me. I walked away from that lunch feeling rather bloated but spiritually lighter than I had felt all week, because I knew that my burden was no longer carried alone. I had four other men praying and sharing that burden with me.

Now for the follow-up to that story:

On Monday morning, less than 24 hours after sharing my lesson, I sat down with the employee and had to explain to her that, even though she was one of my best employees, I had no choice but to let her go. Fortunately she understood the situation and graciously did not hold me responsible for her job loss. Tears were shed on both side, but she left with no animosity towards me. As tragic and difficult as this event was, God created a beautiful opportunity for community shortly thereafter.

What I didn’t mention earlier was that not only was she one of my best employees, but she shared the small office with another equally great employee who happens to be her sister-in-law. This is where community happened.

After my former employee left the clinic, I sat down with her coworker who was for obvious reasons distraught and angry. Because we were in a confined space and it was just the two of us, she poured out her burdens and grief. In the midst of the conversation that ensued, she, a believer, asked me a powerful question that I will never forget, “Why do I care so much about this?” My only thought and answer was simply, “Because you love.” It was during this conversation that she realized that I shared her burden and grief, and she was not alone. Community had just occurred, and I knew she was going to be alright, despite the grieving process that would continue to take place. I knew I could trust God to heal both of our hearts.

My prayer is that this week you can find community with someone as you seek to pursue God through others. I also pray that your community is not centered on heartache and grief. However, if it is, know this: God did not intend for His children to carry their burdens alone. We were designed to commune with others. And when we share Christ with other believers, we will come to know Him more fully.

God Bless,
Jeff Bryan

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pursuing the Truth of God | Psalm 1 & Matt. 6:16-21

Sorry this blog post is a little later in the week than it's supposed to be; I truly apologize! But the reason it's so late actually ties in well to what we talked about Sunday, regarding pursuing God's truth and the study/meditation on Scripture. See, I'm honored to be currently working through the process of being ordained as a pastor, and one of the requirements for the process is to develop a "personal doctrinal statement" covering what I believe about every area of Christian faith, life, and theology... and that's no small task!

So after preaching Sunday, followed by the 20's+ Lunch and a college leaders' meeting, I packed up and headed out to hide myself away with a Bible, books, some good music, and my laptop, devoting the last few days to writing out my views on God, the Bible, salvation, the church, end times, and so forth. After 22 typed pages and three 12-hour days of too much caffeine, no phone calls (except for my wonderful Jess who's in CA!), very few emails, and not much sleep, I'm just about ready to wrap it up.

I bored you with that story (thanks for reading!) for only one purpose: you see, in developing my doctrinal statement, in covering all those topics, in hitting on as many points within each "area" of theology as I can, and especially in substantiating my beliefs as true, I only had one authority to which to turn. I couldn't rely on my own intelligence, because first, God's truth exceeds what I can comprehend and second, let's be honest, there's not much there worth relying on! I couldn't rely on my own emotions or logic because they're faulty and lead me to my perceived truth, which likely isn't truth at all. I couldn't rely on... (fill in the blank - anything within myself!).

Instead, I'm only able to base my theology on what God reveals to us in Scripture. Because if I'm developing a theology of God, I can't start anywhere but with himself and his word, in which he has spoken his truth - the truth! So for literally 36+ hours this week, I have been flipping pages in my Bible, trying to remember "where that verse comes from," seeing how "this verse connects with that one," dwelling on different words and concepts, questioning the order of terms and phrases, and in every sense of the word, studying and meditating on Scripture.

And let me be, just for this moment, an affirmation to you: there's stuff in there that is deep; there's stuff that's frustrating; there's stuff that's confusing. But even just in these last few days my view of God has become wider; my knowledge of him has become deeper; and my awe and reverence of him, because of the many-faceted sovereign goodness he has revealed, has become far richer. I think I'm figuring out a glimpse of what it means to "love the Lord your God with all your mind..." What would it look like if we all spent a little time in this great pursuit?

It's been a long few days. But let me assure you and encourage you, it's totally worth it!


Monday, July 14, 2008

Pursuing the God Who Pursues (Matthew 6:5-21)

A few folks approached me after Sunday's services and asked me where they could find more about prayer in the Bible. I figured that's a pretty darn good request, so rather than give you more of my own ramblings, I've posted some of God's own words on prayer throughout Scripture. I'd love to know what jumps out at you; what impacts you; what makes you think differently about God and about prayer! This is definitely not ALL the Bible has to say on prayer - by far! - but it's several of the major teachings. Enjoy!

Also, in preparation for next week, I humbly ask you to set aside some time this week and fast from something. I'm going to ask our staff and church leadership to do the same thing, but I think that since we're approaching such an "unknown" topic, it might be good for us if we, as a body, gave it a whirl. What do you fast from? Anything! A meal, a day's worth of meals, sweets, your favorite Starbucks beverage or TV show... whatever you feel God leading you to give up. What do you do? Spend that time focusing on God: journal, read Scripture, pray, dwell, or just "be." The point of fasting is to realize what controls you, and to let God become your provision and sufficiency. There are a couple of links to resources at the bottom of this post.

Thanks all; see you Sunday!

Psalm 4:3
"But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;
The LORD hears when I call to him."

Psalm 37:7
"Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
Fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
Over the man who carries out evil devices!"

Psalm 65:2
"You who hear prayer,
To you shall all flesh come."

Psalm 66:18-19
"If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
The Lord would not have listened.
But truly God has listened;
He has attended to the voice of my prayer."

Proverbs 28:9
"If one turns away his ear from hearing the law,
Even his prayer is an abomination."

Isaiah 65:24
"Before they call I will answer;
while they are yet speaking I will hear."

Matthew 6:5-13
"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
"‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil'"

Matthew 7:7-11
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"

Mark 11:24
"Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

John 14:13-14
"Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it."

Romans 8:26-28
"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."

2 Corinthians 12:8-9
"Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

Ephesians 3:20-21
"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."

Ephesians 6:18
"...praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints..."

Philippians 4:6
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."

Philippians 4:19
"And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.'

1 Thessalonians 5:17
"Pray without ceasing..."

Hebrews 4:16
"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

James 1:5-8
"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."

1 John 5:14-15
"And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him."


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The God Who Pursues (1 John 4:7-19)

God pursues us. The pages of scripture make the point over and over that He does so many times in order that even those slow on the uptake (like me) can attest to the fact. What I sometimes have difficulty understanding is not so much THAT God pursues us, but that God would pursue ME. It seems as though God has his choice of the best and the brightest, and yet he chooses again and again to pursue a reprobate (me, yet again), one who at his best is wavering in his commitment to love and serve Him fully. The great writer/thinker/theologian C.S. Lewis made this point when he wrote the following as he recounted his experience with the “Hound of Heaven”:

“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?”

While I will in no way pretend to be on par in any aspect of my life with C.S. Lewis (I think I’m taller than he was; there may be some other minor differences, too…), the story above is my story. Substitute “Trinity” with “Baylor”, “1929” with “1991”, and “Magdelen” (which I assume is a college dormitory at the school he attended) with “some non-descript, shabby Waco apartment complex”, and you have the story of my conversion. And while I might not be able to reconcile why God decided to draw me to Himself, I am overwhelmed with humility and gratitude that He did.

It becomes, then, my great honor and privilege to return to Him the whole of myself in the outright pursuit of the One who decided to rescue me from death and grant me the life I now have the opportunity to live. And like the Prodigal (Lk 15), the Father has granted me much more than I deserved. I, too, have been given a robe (the Incarnation), a ring for my finger (He saved me “while (I) was still a sinner”), the fattened calf (the Holy Spirit), and He has prepared a feast to celebrate (intimate friendships with believers). He never asked me to pursue him empty-handed.

I don’t think I will ever fully understand WHY God did what He did, and I guess I don’t need to understand. And that’s probably a good thing. Because now I can spend more time trying to figure out why He gave me a wife who is so much smarter than I am…

Timm Sasser

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Pursuit Series

For eight weeks, we are going to walk through a study of pursuing God. If the center of life is relating to God in meaningful ways (and it is!), then growing and exploring ways to experience him is a huge value. We will begin our study by looking at the God who pursues us and then we'll study things like prayer, study, rest, community, silence, and service as vehicles for enjoying him.

After each sermon in this series, there will be a blog post about whatever topic was covered on Sunday. You are more than welcome to read it, contemplate on it, and respond.  Feel free to be honest, but we ask that you remember to be respectful and appropriate in your responses.