Noisy Prayers

What a week!

Vacation Bible School (VBS) at the Cypress campus was amazing this week. It was a sight to behold as the Branch and Cypress campuses worked as one to pull off a great week of ministry. Sixteen kids made first time decisions to follow Jesus and many more were spurred on in their faith. Continue to pray for God to work in these young lives and to bless those workers with rest and satisfaction in a job well done for God’s glory.

Speaking of prayer, we’re continuing on our prayer series tomorrow and it’s going to be fun! We’re going to keep the VBS energy going. We’re talking about expressing ourselves in worship and prayer – clapping, shouting, and blowing trumpets! Did I mention it’s a family service? Don’t worry, we’ll have ear plugs available. Seriously.

The point of all this noise-making in prayer is that we are physical beings and God wants us to use these bodies He’s given us to glorify Him, including in how we pray. I’m going to share a few things that have helped my prayer life, but I want to encourage you to write in the blog comments what helps your personal prayer life. I had so much to share tomorrow I needed to cut a ton so I thought I’d share some great prayer helps for me … and I hope you share some as well.

  • Pray with people who know how to pray. Sometimes we don’t quite know how to approach God, but praying with people who know how to approach Him well is a valuable way to learn. Join the prayer team on Tuesday night at 7:00 at the Cypress campus for a good place to start (6143 Ball Road, Cypress).
  • Another way to learn from others is through prayer books. I found Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours to be immensely helpful. It actually gives you words to pray. It’s no substitute for your spontaneous prayer life, but it helped keep me praying throughout the day and served as a good jump-start to my prayer life.
  • Small rituals are also helpful. In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster describes praying with your palms up when you’re seeking to receive something from God. And turn them palms down when you are turning something over to God in your life. There’s nothing mystical to it, but it helps us focus.
  • Another ritual that I think great (though I don’t do it myself) is when people remove their shoes to pray. Sounds weird, but it’s a reminder that wherever they happen to be at the moment, if they are praying, they’re on holy ground (see Exodus 3.5).

There are tons of great ideas and I know you have some … so go ahead and share them!

Thanksgiving – and more! – in July

I hope you’ve had a great week to give thanks. Last week’s message has helped focus me on opportunities to give thanks. I’ve written a couple notes to thank people for how God has used them in my life and in the lives of others. Of course, just one week ago we were giving thanks for the wonderful nation we live in. As we learned last Sunday, a life of gratitude changes us and moves us to engaging in the mission God has for us that they might be grateful to God as well.

Tomorrow we’re going to look at what cultivating a sense of awe can do to our prayer lives. So we’re shifting from giving thanks to being awestruck. There’s a distinction many make – and it’s legitimate – between giving thanks and praising or worshiping God’s character. One is about what He has done and the other is praising Him for who He is. Both are vital and knowing the distinction is good, but not necessary.

CS Lewis, as he often does, gives some good insight into how thanks and adoration work together:

 I have tried to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration.  I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it.  One must of course give thanks, but I meant something different…  Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’  Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’  One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.”   –Reflections in a Toolshed, Letters to Malcolm

So, keep giving thanks, but tomorrow we’re going to follow the sunbeam up and ask, “What must be the quality of that Being!?” I hope you’ll be there. We have some fun changes afoot for tomorrow!

See you in the morning,

Pastor Justin

 

Reminders

  • We’d love to have a baptism later this summer some time. Let me know if you’re interested in baptism!

Celebrating Freedom!

I hope you’re enjoying your 4th of July festivities – whether that’s with friends or hitting some of the larger fireworks shows in the area. I pray amid all the revelry that we remember the reason for the holiday. We live in an amazing country. God has, indeed, blessed America.

As important as it is to celebrate our freedom as a nation, it should point us to something even deeper. Specifically, we should be reminded of our freedom in Christ. Galatians 5.1 tells us: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

This is something worth celebrating. Tomorrow’s going to be a great opportunity to do just that. As we continue on our series, “Wrestling with God in Prayer,” we’re going to look at offering prayers of thanksgiving to God. And be ready, we might even do it in church! It’ll be a family service so it’s going to be fun!

I hope to see you tomorrow – with all your fingers! – so be safe and sane tonight.

Measuring the Immeasurable

Do you ever get really excited about something and then, halfway through it, you wish you could back out? That’s how I visualize jumping out of an airplane with my brother. (He’s a skydive instructor.) I was thrilled with what we’re covering for this week’s message initially, but as I’m trying to craft this amazing passage into a message, I found myself stuck at every turn. I know, I know. I’m not exactly selling tomorrow’s message very well.

But that’s OK. I don’t need to sell it. It sells itself. Let me give you a peek at the passage.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith- that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 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, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3.14-21

My challenge is taking this wonderful prayer and trying to distill it into a coherent 30 minutes. The bulk of this is one sentence in Greek! It’s a beautiful passage that I leapt at the opportunity to teach upon, but halfway through I thought I wasn’t equal to the task.

I’ll give it my best shot, but if I’m really going to take this passage seriously, preaching isn’t the biggest issue anyways. It’s prayer; praying for God to strengthen you in your inner being and to help you grasp the amazing and endless love of God. Talk about praying big! I’m praying this for you – feel free to do the same for me!

And pray for those around you. There are discouraged believers in your life who need this strengthening in their hearts (inner being) and to be overwhelmed by God’s love. Pray that God would get through to them.

There are also those who don’t yet know Jesus in your life. Pray that His love would break through and they would come to know His amazing love. Pray that He would use us to share it!

See you in the morning,

Pastor Justin

 

Reminders

  • Father’s Day is next week. The Holy Grill is going to feed us a great breakfast at 9:00 and we’ll have a car show – we need entrants! – as well. We love classic cars, but we also like unique cars so, if you love your car, contact christine@cypresschurch.net and let her know you want in the show!

Party Time!

I’m hiding in a back room getting this out as guests arrive for my daughter’s birthday party so I’ll make this quick. I won’t bore you with details of my party. This is to remind you of the party we’ll all have tomorrow.

You won’t want to miss church tomorrow. It’s going to be great. Family services are always fun – maybe interesting is better – and tomorrow won’t be an exception. Each year around this time our one church on many campuses has our Annual Celebration and Business Meeting. Last year we closed the Branch doors and went over to Cypress. This year we’re doing something different.

We’ll have a celebration service of our own at our regular time. We’ll have testimonies, worship, and a family message. … And then the next party starts. After service we’ll head to Grace Christian School – it’s in Cypress, but I think it’s actually closer to us than the Cypress campus! We’ll have maps for you tomorrow morning.

Why would we go there? A few reasons.

  • Free taco truck.
  • For those who are members, that’s where we’ll hold the business meeting, which consists of voting on budget, new elders, and new trustees.
  • If you’re not a member, but still want to see what’s going on, you’re more than welcome to attend. And fill out a Connection Card letting us know you’d like to be a member and we’ll get you started on that process.
  • Free tacos.
  • Bounce houses, lots of green space, and playground equipment.
  • Did I mention the free tacos?

It’s going to be a great time. I hope you’ll join us. And invite friends and neighbors, too. Let’s make it an event!

One more thing …

  • If you can’t make church for whatever reason, but still want to join us at Grace Christian School, come on over! The address is 4545 Myra Ave, Cypress, CA 90630 and we should get started around noon!

Brace Yourself

It happens each year. As some of you know, I read through the Bible each year, interacting with Him prayerfully along the way (most of the time!). I do a psalm each day until I’ve gone through all 150. After a couple months in, I’ll see it looming: Psalm 119. If you’re not familiar with it, Psalm 119 is the longest “chapter” in the Bible – 176 verses. Usually a psalm will take me 1 minute to get through, maybe 5 for a long one, but Psalm 119 … settle in.

Settling in really is the key. If you’re in a hurry, it’s tortuous, but if you can give it some time, it’s incredibly rich. I made the right choice yesterday – and I was rewarded. Two verses were subjected to my pink highlighter yesterday.

I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart! – Psalm 119.32 (ESV)

We don’t have the capacity to live the life God wants us to live until He changes our hearts. When we learn to love Him with all that we are and others as ourselves (Matthew 22.37-39), running in the way of His commandments will be second nature. But this isn’t something that just happens. We don’t get zapped with this ability to love God and neighbor with a new power.

It starts when God gives us a new heart (2 Corinthians 5.17), but we also commit ourselves to a course of growing in this new life. Much of this journey is learning to deny ourselves (Matthew 16.24) and place ourselves before God to let Him shape us. There are many exercises we can commit to, but the most basic are prayer and engaging the Scriptures. Let’s look at Psalm 119 again

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. – Psalm 119.11 (ESV)

So how do we store up God’s Word in our hearts? Neither you or I have the time for that on a Saturday, but how about I give a few ideas to get us thinking in that direction, at least.

Obviously, we can have a personal devotional time in the Scriptures. I read awhile back that a daily, reflective time in the Bible is the single greatest indicator of someone growing spiritually. I want to encourage you to get in the Word each day. If you’re not sure how to do that, let’s talk. It would be my pleasure to walk you through a simple method of daily Bible study. Also, if you go through our next Rooted group in the fall, it will help you build some basic Bible reading skills. Incidentally, I was also listening to a podcast yesterday and they highlighted a daily audio devotional. They cover a chapter per day and they’re 5-10 minutes long. I shouldn’t recommend it until I’ve listened to it, but the founder sounded like a really solid guy. Check it out and let me know if it’s any good.

The next thing we can do to store the Bible up in our hearts is to memorize it. If you’re like me, you’re not disciplined enough to do this consistently on your own. That’s why it’s important to be in a Life Group. Most are taking a break for the summer, but resolve to get in one in the fall. Our fall campaign as well as Rooted each have a weekly Bible verse for memorization.

Finally, we proclaim God’s Word each Sunday morning. I can’t wait for tomorrow. We’re covering one of the most liberating and empowering passages in the Bible – Romans 8.31-39. If we can get the truths of this passage from our heads to our hearts, there will be no stopping us.

If you’re willing to take up this challenge to get in the Word, brace yourself. God’s going to do some amazing work in and through you.

See you in the morning,

Pastor Justin

 

Reminders

  • Annual Celebration is next Sunday! After our services next week we’ll be meeting with all the other campuses to celebrate what God has done over the last year with a wonderful carnival at Grace Christian School (4545 Myra Ave, Cypress, CA 90630).
  • Father’s Day is June 21. Come for breakfast at 9:00. We’ll also have a car show. If you have an antique, or even interesting car, let us know and we’ll keep a place for you.
  • We’d like to have a baptism soon. If you want to take this step of faith, please fill out a Connection Card indicating so on Sunday morning or email me.

Remembering

It’s Memorial Day Weekend. It’s a beautiful weekend. Monday’s off, the kids’ activities are winding to a close, resulting in a little margin for our lives, and the school load is starting to lighten as well. Advertisers use this weekend, too. Pandora’s trying to get me to upgrade to commercial-free so I can kick back on this lazy weekend. They won’t get me that easy!

But in the midst of all these wonderful things – and they are wonderful – it’s easy to forget about what Memorial Day is all about. I have a friend, a veteran of the Navy, mention on his facebook that there’s no need to thank him for his service on Sunday. While he appreciates the sentiment, the time for that is Veteran’s Day.

Memorial Day is the day to remember those who have died in the service of our country. We too often take our way of life for granted. But the cost was high. Thousands upon thousands have died for the freedom of our nation – and for the freedom of other nations. The cost could not have been higher. The reward is amazing – even if we do take it for granted at times.

But as wonderful as this gift is, it is not the greatest gift ever given. But, if we’re looking, it will point us to that greatest gift – Jesus who died and rose again that we could not just have freedom in this life, but eternal freedom and joy in Him. Last week we touched on this passage from Colossians:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. – Colossians 2.13-15

Our enemies have been defeated by Jesus on the cross. And not only are we given life in Him, but Jesus’ glory is so astounding that all creation will find its place under His Lordship.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Colossians 1.15-20

Pastor Brett’s going to lead us in delighting in His Lordship tomorrow morning. I hope to see you there!

And after church, thank God for those soldiers who have given their lives for our freedom and the freedom of others all around the world. And let that be a reminder that Jesus has died for your freedom and that of your brothers and sisters all over the world.

See you in the morning,

Pastor Justin

 

Reminders

  • Annual Celebration is coming. After our June 7 services we’ll be meeting with all the other campuses to celebrate what God has done over the last year with a wonderful carnival at Grace Christian School in Cypress.
  • Father’s Day is June 21. Come for breakfast at 9:00. We’ll also have a car show. If you have an antique, or even interesting car, let us know and we’ll keep a place for you.
  • We’d like to have a baptism soon. If you want to take this step of faith, please fill out a Connection Card indicating so on Sunday morning or email me.

Victory Awaits

You thought I forgot, didn’t you? I know you’ve been lost without the weekly email this week, but here it comes … and it’s purposely on Saturday. We’re trying something new this week to help prepare us for Sundays on Saturday evenings. We’ll see how it goes. Your input is appreciated.

I can’t believe it’s not yet been a week since Mother’s Day. I hope yours was a good one. As we transition to this Sunday, we’re continuing our series, Revived by Resurrection. Tomorrow our theme is “Victory.” We love winning. I just won a thrilling bocce ball game. Victory was sweet J. Perhaps a little sweeter even for Preakness Stakes winner, American Pharaoh. The stakes were a bit higher.

But victory takes even more significance when we’re talking about real life. And if we’re honest, we’re all dealt disappointments and heartbreak. It could be personal defeat, it could be the tragedy we see all around us. Sometimes the burden of life’s defeats are overwhelming.

Where do you need victory in your life now?

What difference does Jesus make in the trials of our life? What does the resurrection have to do with it?

Tomorrow we’ll look at Jesus’ Victory at the cross and resurrection and the difference it makes in our lives – in the present, and what it guarantees us for the future.

Victory Awaits!

See you in the morning,

Pastor Justin

Reminders

  • We’d like to have a baptism soon. If you want to take this step of faith, please fill out a Connection Card indicating so on Sunday morning or email me.

Love Your Neighbor

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Or should I say, “¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!” It’s quite a week. Some of you may have missed yesterday’s holiday as well – Star Wars Day.

[Disclaimer: Before I get into my story, let me confess something. God’s doing something in me and I need to share it because I think He wants to do it in our congregation. Some of us already have “it,” but others of us need to grow in what I’m talking about. I know I do. I’m miserable at it, but God’s been growing me in it lately and I feel like I should share my process with y’all. And if the Branch is going to flourish, we all need to grow in this. What is it?]

Loving our neighbors.

Our neighbors have a couple dogs named after Star Wars characters. I’ll let you guess which two. Anyways, we were having our regularly rushed evening last night. I’m trying to get my daughters home in time for dinner, but something I read today made me stop at the pet store, endure my girls’ appeals for a puppy, and pick up a treat for the neighbors’ pooches to celebrate this most important holiday – “May the Fourth be with you!” Get it? Punny, eh?

I’m always working on a book that I might help me move forward as a pastor and/or us as a congregation move forward in the mission God has given us. Next on my list was Life-Style Evangelism by Joe Aldrich. I’ve heard it’s a classic, but the world has changed since it was written. Ronald Regan had just started his first term. We’re talking about a different world. I wondered if it was worth the time or if I should get something a little more “cutting edge.” I’m sure I should, but I decided to give it a chance. It hooked me out of the gate.

I’ll have my antennae out to avoid those things that are out of date, but when he listed the barriers to evangelism in our world, it couldn’t be more timely. Specifically, the author notes that we are overwhelmed with people contact – there’s no way we can care for every need that crosses our path. We’re too busy to really invest in relationships, to care. There were a couple more, but these jumped off the page at me.

I don’t know about you, but these were direct hits on me. The images of suffering around the world have numbed me, I’m sad to say, to a certain degree. And my schedule is absurd at times. But Aldrich’s response isn’t to give up. I’m not sure what his response is yet, but I suppose his book’s title is a good indicator.

We have a hope worth sharing. Aldrich was discovering 35 years ago what is perhaps even more true today. People don’t want to be projects, they don’t want to be preached at, they don’t want to be some spiritual checklist. They want to be loved. They want to be cared for. They want to be genuine friends.

Friendship takes time. It doesn’t fit tidily into a schedule. It’s living life and caring for those God brings across our path – wherever they are, or end up, in life.

So we went to the pet store and delivered our Star Wars Day gift. It took a little bit of time, a little bit of effort, but maybe it will be the beginning of a wonderful friendship.

Forget the force, the Spirit is with us. Let’s love our neighbors.

Reminders

  • Mother’s Day is coming on Sunday! You’re welcome. Get to work.
  • We have a fun element in our service on Sunday. We’ll have flowers available to give to the ladies in our lives who have played a motherly role. So be thinking about which ladies of the Branch who have blessed you in some way. We’ll have a flower available for you to give them as an encouragement and a small toke of gratitude.
  • We’d like to do a baptism service soon. If you’re interested, please fill out a Connection Card on Sunday.

Centriptetal and Centrifugal … I know, read it anyways!

Good afternoon Branch Family!

I just received the best email. It turns out I’m not the only one having inconvenient encounters that are divine appointments (see last week’s post/email). I just received an email from a Branch family member. She was sharing how she was serving in the community recently and the conversations ensued that have opened the door to a great ministry opportunity. It’s not comfortable for her, but she’s walking through this open door.

This opportunity came as she was out in the world showing Jesus’ love. In some of the nerdy missiology books, they call this centrifugal mission. It’s ministry that happens outside of the church gathering and in the wider world. The church is sent out to make disciples in this context. The Great Commission is one example of this “going” style of mission:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28.19-20

This is why we started the Branch to begin with – to “go” to Los Alamitos so people would find their hope in Jesus above all else. This is the heart of God’s mission to the world – go out there and show and tell Jesus’ love.

But there’s also another trajectory to mission – centripetal. This is the idea that Jesus teaches about in the Sermon on the Mount and at the Last Supper:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” – Matthew 5.14

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. – John 13.35

This is more or less what the Jewish mission was. Live out God’s blessing and anticipate the nations being drawn to worship God as they see the wisdom of living His way through the life of His people. Unfortunately, this didn’t work out so God sent Jesus.

It’s easy to pit these two trajectories against each other. It’s hard not to. But while we should have a bias towards “being out there,” God has called us to be a community on mission that loves each other and builds into each other and that is attractive to those around us because we love God and love each other.

Each Sunday we gather at the Community Center and there are people at the park or going to play soccer. Sure, parking can be a hassle, but are we taking advantage of opportunities to love and bless people who are coming to our doorstep and even beyond (if they need to use the bathroom!) to show them Jesus’ love? May we grow and embrace this centripetal trajectory of ministry, to bless those who are coming to us.

And we also need to get out there (centrifugal) and point people to Jesus as we prayer walk and hand out fliers, or as we serve in the community. Our God is a missionary God. He’s on the move looking for people who want to be in His family. And He uses us to point them to Him.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited as God has opened doors for me to point others to Him, personally, and to hear how He’s opening great opportunities for dialogue and service among so many at the Branch as well.

Keep your eyes open. God’s at work all around us!

Pastor Justin

 

Reminders

  • We’ll be doing baby dedications on Mother’s Day this year – May 10. So if you want to dedicate your child (which is really a dedication of yourself as a parent to raise the child in the Lord), let me know by this Sunday!