From Sermon Notes

Church Without Walls: PostSecret Reflection Questions

This past Sunday, July 7th, we gathered for Church Without Walls at the PostSecret Exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Man

This week, as you’re reflecting on this experience, review the following questions. Part of holding out the hope of Christ as the anchor for our souls to our neighbors around the city is moving toward understanding for the struggles they endure.

Also, if you weren’t able to join us on Sunday but would like to visit the PostSecret Exhibit on your own, you can use these reflection questions as a guide.

  • Take note of the thoughts and emotions that are evoked as you read through these confessions:
    humor? Sadness? Anger? Empathy? Judgment? Shock?
  • Were there secrets — particularly about faith / God / doubt / church — that you could relate to?
  • What’s one that stuck out to you or was particularly memorable?

 

  • What’s uncomfortable about sharing secrets? Why don’t we do it more often?
  • Why do secrets hold power over people?
  • What’s the power of sharing a secret? (Confession) What does sharing a secret offer you?

 

  • While the PostSecret project is a good start towards healing, connecting and being heard, why is it not enough?
  • How could a community change by being a space where secrets can be shared?
  • What would it take for a community to be a safe and brave space for confessing? Can we be a community that holds people’s fears, joys, pain and hopes?
  • If a church were to receive secrets like this, what should it do with them?

 

Part of the power in sharing our secrets is knowing that someone hears it, that someone is listening.

As Psalm 66:19 reminds us, “God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.” We can trust that God hears us.

Quotes for the Lenten Journey

Here are the longer quotes from today’s sermon (Sunday, April 7, 2019):

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Life Together: 

Certainly, serious Christians who are put in a community for the first time will often bring with them a very definite image of what Christian communal life should be, and they will be anxious to realize it. But God’s grace quickly frustrates all such dreams… By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live in a dream world…

Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial…

Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.

Ruth Haley Barton, from The Transforming Center blog:

We want God as long as we can still have our successes. We like the idea of being on a journey of faith as long as it doesn’t require too much…well, faith. We long for the Promised Land as long as we don’t have to leave anything behind. We want space for God as long as it doesn’t intrude too radically on our packed schedules and conflicting priorities. We want self-knowledge as long as it doesn’t cut too close to the ego bone. We want God’s will as long as it doesn’t make us look too foolish. We want love as long as it’s not too inconvenient. We’d like to buy the pearl of great price as long as we don’t have to sell everything we have. We’re willing to wax eloquent about the Paschal Mystery one weekend a year as long as we’re not the one doing the dying!

Dream: God Is In This Place

Genesis 28:10-22

In our journey through Scripture over the last several weeks, we’ve seen that God often gives dreams to His people not when things are going well, but in the midst of suffering, struggle, and pain.

Jacob was far from a “hero” for much of his life. Before his vision of a staircase connecting heaven and earth, he spent much of his life climbing and striving for the wrong goals. Because of his greed, enough was never enough. He deceived his older brother, stealing his birthright and his blessing. And, eventually, this life of deception caused him to flee for his life, leaving behind his father’s household and ending up alone in the desert.

But it is right there — in the middle of a lonely desert, on the run, with only a rock for a pillow — that God begins to speak to Jacob through a dream.

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In his dream, Jacob is taken to a thin place, where heaven meets earth. And, unlike Wayne’s World, this stairway to heaven is open and God begins to speak.

Even more miraculous than a vision of angels commuting back and forth between heaven and earth is the voice of God speaking. As God begins to speak, He first reminds Jacob of who He is:

It is in light of who God is that Jacob can understand who he is. Jacob is more than the sum of his mistakes and screw-ups, greater than his greed, created for more than the mess he’s made. God renews the promise He made to Abraham — for the blessing of innumerable descendants and that all peoples of the earth will be blessed through them.

To Jacob, to all the undeserving, God makes this promise:

You will never walk alone.

In all of our heartache and pain, in the darkness and grief of our broken world, God is with you.

We serve a God of grace, faithfulness, compassion, and unending love.

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This holy encounter changes Jacob’s life forever. His perspective is transformed. Jacob was given eyes to see what is real.

The episode entitled More or Less Human from the excellent podcast RadioLab contains a wonderful story about the power of changing your perspective. The work of neuroscientist Mavi Sanchez-Vives helps Josh Rothman, writer for the New Yorker, discover a new way of seeing himself (this segment begins around the 41:30 mark of the episode). He also wrote about the experience here.

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Is God meeting you in the midst of your hardship and pain? How is God opening your eyes to see from a new perspective?

The words from the art curator in this clip about Van Gogh are so powerful: “He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, (but it’s difficult) to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world.”

Is God meeting you in a thin place in order to transform your pain into joy and magnificence for the life of the world around you? How can we speak and embody the faithful presence of God to our broken world?

 

The Story of God: Pentecost

Acts 2

This Sunday, we wrapped up our series, The Story of God, by seeing how the Holy Spirit is empowering us to join the mission of Christ here in San Diego and around the world.

Throughout Scripture, the people of God are called to remember and celebrate the faithfulness of God. But it’s not about dwelling in the past or getting stuck in bygone “glory days” like Uncle Rico.

As we learned together through the For the Life of the World series, this kind of remembrance is called anamnesis — the lived memory of the people of God. These kinds of moments bring together remembrance of the past as we seek to live out God’s calling in the present moment, eagerly anticipating and pointing toward the future renewal of all things.

The church’s celebration of Pentecost every year, then, is an invitation to join the movement of the Holy Spirit and to participate in the Story of God.

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Acts 2:2 describes the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as a multisensory experience — “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” The recent viral phenomenon of the audio clip where people either heard “Yanny” or “Laurel” highlights how different people can listen to the same thing and hear different things (just as many people misunderstood or missed out on the movement of the Holy Spirit on that Pentecost day). Some audiologists point to differences in equipment, recording quality, and expectations giving this audio clip a sort of “optical illusion for the ears” effect.

This quote, in particular, jumped out: ““What you hear depends on which frequencies your brain emphasizes.”

[If you’d like to read more about this viral hit, Wired magazine has this article, The True History of Yanny and Laurel.]

There are similarities to how we hear the voice of God in our lives. What frequencies are we emphasizing? If God spoke or the Holy Spirit moved in power, would we recognize Him? How are we training ourselves to listen for (and expect to hear) the voice of God in our everyday lives?

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The Holy Spirit chose to empower God’s people to speak in languages that others around could understand. The real miracle, perhaps, was not the “tongues of fire” coming to rest over each disciple but that God’s love for people is so great that He wants to speak their language.

Words have incredible power — they can speak life or death, build up or destroy a person’s life. In our homes, can we create new ways of speaking (especially to our children) that will create room for the Holy Spirit to move in their lives? Although it might be awkward at first, how would praying this kind of blessing over your kids each night change the way they see their relationship with you and with God?

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit reminds us of the Tower of Babel, but with several important differences.

At Babel, people wanted to build a tower to climb their way to heaven.
At Pentecost, we see the God of heaven reaching down to God’s people .

At Babel, the people clustered together in one place.
At Pentecost, God sends out His people to the ends of the earth.

At Babel, the people wanted to make themselves great.
At Pentecost, God’s people revealed the wonders of God to all.

It’s important to remember that the curse of Babel was not the diversity of languages but their confusion about communicating with each other. In a moment of beautiful redemption at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit affirms the gift of language and culture and overcomes the curse of our confusion by empowering God’s people to speak to people gathered from all corners of the earth.

What do we learn about God? God’s heart is to reach people of all cultures, languages, and ethnicities (this will be our future, after all). God embraces our differences and, instead of expecting others to change for us, empowers the people of God to adapt and learn to speak in ways that touch others’ hearts. God speaks your language, no matter who you are!

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Here is another question to consider this week: What words could someone you love say to you that would change your life? What words could you speak to someone you love that would change their lives? How is the Holy Spirit sending you into the world with words of life, grace, love, and hope?

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Peter, who was such a coward that he had rained down curses upon himself denying that he even knew Jesus, had been transformed by his encounter with the risen Lord. When the Holy Spirit moved in power at Pentecost, Peter was able to stand and proclaim the truth of Scripture to all who were gathered. His understanding was opened.

As the prophet Joel had prophesied, the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all of God’s people — young and old, women and men — to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to all people. While people may be more interested in building walls and limiting others, God loves diversity and calls all of His people to join His mission of redemption. Everyone is invited to participate in the Story of God.

Anchor City is blessed with many multicultural families and kids. As San Diego, our country, and our world become more and more diverse, theirs is the beautiful face of the future! And all of our kids (and each of us along with them) are learning to navigate multiple cultures in our rapidly-changing world. Our Third Culture identity is a gift of God to a broken world — we are given the privilege to be ambassadors of this life-changing Good News: God speaks your language!

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The Story of God: Luke

Luke 24:1-35

As we continue through the Easter season, a week of Sundays, we have been journeying together through the resurrection of Jesus in the Story of God. Luke tells us a story of surprises, remembrance, and the Table that changes the world.

Jesus could have revealed His resurrection to whomever He chose. The fact that the first witnesses of the resurrection were women tells us something powerful about the Story of God and the Gospel.  The culture of the time did not validate the testimony of women in court — and yet God gives them this Story to steward (and, as rings all too familiar today, the male disciples refused to believe them at first). From the outset, Jesus affirms the dignity and worth of all people, He raises up the oppressed, and reveals the upside-down power structure of the Kingdom of God. It was a tremendous act of “faith” on Jesus’ part: He believes in these women and their ability to carry out His mission.

As we consider what it means to be witnesses of the resurrection in our broken world, we’re called to follow in Jesus’ footsteps as people who listen, believe, and stand alongside those who suffer. Instead of immediately trying to explain things away or “wait to hear both sides,” how powerful would our witness be if we offered gifts of trust, friendship, and a willingness to stand by the side of those who are oppressed?

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Luke’s story of the resurrection is filled with surprises (plus the humor of the reader knowing Jesus is walking with the disciples along the path to Emmaus, but the disciples not realizing it at first). Some surprises change our lives forever. In fact, the surprise revealed at the table — as Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to these disciples — would change the course of these disciples’ lives (and the world).

The story of Gustavo Alvarez is powerfully told in the episode titled “Prison Ramen Saved My Life” on the Sporkful podcast. In prison, two tables changed the course of his life.

The first table is described this way:

When Gustavo Alvarez was 18, he was sent to prison for the first time. When he arrived, a group of guys from Gustavo’s old LA neighborhood took him to a common area and sat him down at a table.

“My heart was pounding through my chest,” he recalls. “I was just a kid and these guys were grown men — killers.”

They offered Gustavo (above left, in 2009) a plate of cheesy tacos — made by another prisoner. They wanted to get to know him — to figure out if they could trust him or not. And that shared meal was the way they did it.

How much more does the Table of Jesus offer hope and healing, as well as clear insight into who we are and what we’re called to do?

This week, consider the following questions:

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This encounter with Jesus on the Emmaus road not only turned these disciples’ lives upside-down, but it sets their hearts on fire with passion for God.

As described in the book Amazing Faith: The Authorized Biography of Bill Bright, Founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, Bill Bright’s life was changed when he committed to becoming part of the Fellowship of the Burning Heart.

Becky Tirabassi writes about this Fellowship:

(This developed) during a weekend teacher training conference led by Henrietta Mears, Sunday school teacher and mentor to hundreds of students at First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood.

One night during the retreat, Mears delivered a powerful message on being fully committed and “expendable” for Christ. Later in the evening, Bill felt compelled to go to Henrietta’s study room to talk and pray. Two other men, Richard C. Halverson and Louis H. Evans, Jr. felt similarly compelled, each on his own accord.

Without a plan or agenda, the informally assembled group of four was driven to their knees in prayer. They were overcome by God’s presence calling them to reach the world, especially college students, with the love of God.

Anointed through a vibrant encounter with the Holy Spirit, their prayer time produced untamed enthusiasm for the gospel and a plan for reaching students for Christ. Before they went their separate ways that night, they initiated the Fellowship of the Burning Heart. And they recorded on paper the lifetime commitments they made for the purpose of giving themselves entirely over to the God they loved.

The significance of the signed contract represented a powerful turning point in each of their lives, yet oddly, it has received little public attention beyond the pages of Bright’s biography.

The written contract read:

I am committed to the principle that Christian discipleship is sustained solely by God alone through His Spirit; that the abiding life of John 15 is His way of sustaining me. Therefore, I pledge myself to a disciplined devotional life in which I promise through prayer, Bible study, and devotional reading to give God not less that one continuous hour per day (Psalm 1).

I am committed to the principle that Christian Discipleship begins with Christian character. Therefore, I pledge myself to holy living that by a life of self-denial and self-discipline, I may emulate those Christ-like qualities of chastity and virtue which will magnify the Lord (Phil. 1:20-21).

I am committed to the principle that Discipleship exercises itself principally in the winning for the lost to Christ. Therefore, I pledge myself to seek every possible opportunity to witness, and to witness at every possible opportunity, to the end that I may be responsible for bringing at least one to Christ every 12 months (Matt. 28:19; Acts 1:8).

I am committed to the principle that Christian Discipleship demands nothing less than absolute consecration to Christ. Therefore, I present my body a living sacrifice, utterly abandoned to God. By this commitment, I will that God’s perfect will shall find complete expression in my life; and I offer myself in all sobriety to be expendable for Christ (Rom. 12:1-2; Phil 3:7-14)… 

Consider how God was able to use the expendable lives of those who put their commitment to Him in writing that night:

Bill Bright went on to found Campus Crusade for Christ, which is estimated to have led well over fifty million people to Christ around the world.

Richard C. Halverson wrote twenty-six books and eventually became the chaplain of the United States Senate.

Louis H. Evans, Jr. authored a number of books and pastored churches around the country, including Bel Air Presbyterian Church and National Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C.

Henrietta Mears was the director of Christian education at First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood for thirty-five years, founder of Gospel Light Publishers and Forest Home Conference Center, and co-founder of Gospel Literature International.

While these were certainly extraordinary people, Scripture tells us that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive in us as well (Ephesians 1:19-20). Amazing Faith described their lives in this way: “In the Fellowship of the Burning Heart they recognized their calling to a life of expendability — saying no to self and yes to Christ, wherever that might lead.” What can God do with our open-ended “yes” to Jesus?

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Bonus! If you’re amazed or surprised by such things, enjoy these GIFs of skateboarding innovator Daewon Song

The Story of God: Moses

The difference between information and formation is story.
— Pastor Jeya

Psalm 34:18 reminds us, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” As a church, we continue to pray for those suffering the sorrow of lost loved ones in the mass school shooting in Florida as well as seek ways to embody and demonstrate a better way forward through Jesus — that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The statistics on school shootings in our country are staggering, heartbreaking, and confounding. Reading the stories of those who lost their lives, however, reminds us of the difference between numbers on a page and real, human lives. Peter Wang, 15 years old, “was a member of the JROTC program at Douglas. His cousin, Aaron Chen, told the Miami Herald that Peter was last seen wearing his uniform and holding the door open so that people could escape.” Aaron Feis, assistant football coach, “died while using his body to shield students from bullets as the gunman opened fire.” Artist Pia Guerra’s editorial cartoon, “Hero’s Welcome,” captures poignantly his sacrifice:

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We might not naturally imagine the Ten Commandments as part of a story — a set of rules hardly inspires the imagination. However, when we read Exodus 20:1-17 in the context of The Story of God, we see a compelling picture emerge.

By way of (very brief) review:

  • The Story begins with God, and the first word of His creation is that it is good. We are reminded that every person has inherent dignity and worth because of the Imago Dei — each of us are made “very good” in the image of God.
  • The narrative of Noah and the flood reminds us that sin, evil, and brokenness are real, but they do not have the final word. The Story of God unfolds as a circle, with beginnings and new beginnings — promise, hope, and redemption, even in our darkest hour.
  • The story of Abraham and Isaac reminds us that God is the center of the story. This is not about a petty “god” who demands we destroy the thing we love most — in fact, God acknowledges horror of custom of child sacrifice false pagan gods demanded, and makes a spectacle of it by dismantling it. God doesn’t ask of us anything He isn’t willing to do Himself. If there is sacrifice to be made, it is ultimately made by Him.

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How does God rebuild, restore, renew the world? Through a people, set apart for Himself.

Hundreds of years passed between Abraham’s call to bless the world and the Israelites finding themselves in slavery in Egypt, but God remained faithful. God worked to preserve Moses’ life — shielding him from the bloodthirsty madness of a Pharaoh and using him as a leader despite his own sin & brokenness.

God rescued His people from slavery to become a holy nation, set apart for the purposes of God. 

God gave His people the Law to protect people from behaviors that have the potential for destroying relationships w God & others and to move toward beauty, order, dream of God rather than chaos & disorder. Seen in this light, the Ten Commandments could be viewed as a starting point for how to demonstrate the Kingdom of God in reality.

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This call to obedience is set in the context of relationship — by reminding us that we belong to God, we have confidence to live in the freedom we have in Him.

Forgive the silliness of this illustration, but Tommy Boy can help us understand what it means to be free to take risks when we have assurance and confidence in our lives (and forgive the irony of the taking of the Lord’s name in vain in this clip):

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We must resist the temptation to put ourselves in the center of the story. Otherwise, it would be easy to distort our understanding of the command to keep Sabbath as a day of “me time” first and foremost:

Rather, Sabbath is holy, set apart unto the Lord. The commandment makes it clear that it is a reflection of the rhythm of creation. In fact, it is an act of surrender more than luxury or comfort.

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True freedom is not a license to sin, but the freedom to become everything God has created you to be.

 

The Story of God: Noah

“The difference between information and formation is story.” — Pastor Jeya

Stories have power to engage our brains and cause ideas to “click.” Puppy Love was recently voted as the best Super Bowl ad of all-time, not because of its use of sex or humor (or whatever we typically imagine with over-the-top Super Bowl commercials) but because of its compelling story (although having a cute puppy doesn’t hurt!):

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The Bible is the Story of God. We find meaning & purpose when we place our little stories inside the Big Story of God — this story unfolds not so much a linear narrative, but as a full circle of redemption with beginnings & new beginnings.

Genesis 6:5-22

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There is danger in starting with “the second chapter.” As Pastor Jeya preached last week, the first word of God’s creation is that it is good. God’s story starts with creative love, not “you’re a rotten sinner.”

Understanding how humanity violated & rebelled against God’s good dreams for the world sets the proper context for the flood: the flood is not about rage but, rather, sorrow.

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And, yet, even in the midst of this brokenness and sorrow, there is a glimmer of hope.

This turning point in the story creates the opportunity for Noah (and us) to respond to God’s call: will we obey and say yes?

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The Story comes full circle: God reaffirms the dignity and worth of humanity, created in the image of God.

It’s no mistake that God uses the rainbow as a symbol of the promise of His mercy. Rainbows, if you can see them from a higher perspective, are actually full circles:

The grace of God, even in the face of the world’s sin & brokenness, is never-ending!

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As you consider Noah’s story this week, ask yourself these questions again for deeper reflection:

  • How is God at work?
  • What is God saying?
  • How does God act?
  • What have I learned about God?
  • What have I learned about myself?
  • In light of these questions, what is my response to God?

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The Story of God: Creation

From Pastor Jeya’s sermon on Sunday, January 28th

Scripture passage: Genesis 1:1-2:2

The difference between information and formation is story.

For example, it’s one thing to hear facts and data about the refugee crisis, but it’s another to learn the heartbreaking stories of children and their families who are forced to flee violence.

Stories move us into action. More parts of our brains are engaged when we hear stories — they bond us to other people and help us to engage/empathize with them (oxytocin).

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Here are the questions we will be asking each week, and which can be helpful in your own personal Bible reading:

  • How is God at work?
  • What is God saying?
  • How does God act?
  • What have I learned about God?
  • What have I learned about myself?
  • In light of these questions, what is my response to God?

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Zulu greeting: “I see you” — response: “I’m here”

  • Consider children learning about object permanence
  • When something disappears from their view, it no longer exists — “I can’t see it, so it’s not real”
  • God sees you

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Life-changing theological truth: Imago dei

Each of us is made in the image of God, imprinted with His dignity, worth, value, and creativity

“You are very good”

God touches, creates, and forms us with His own hands — God still wants to create in us.

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Reflection question: What does being loved and knowing that you are God’s good creation allow you to do? Courage to try? Courage to love? Courage to do?