Thriving as We Work

Saturday evening I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the Precious Life Gala, a fundraiser for Precious Life Shelter in Los Alamitos. It’s a wonderful organization that helps mothers who are in difficult situations have their babies and get back on their feet by giving them job skills and life skills. They had one mother share her story. It went from heartbreaking to heart-filling. It wasn’t saccharine sentimentality; this young woman worked hard to get back on her feet by the grace of God and with the help of the many wonderful volunteers at Precious Life Shelter.

It was a wonderful lead-in to Pastor Brett’s message last Sunday. We’re saved by grace, but God has blessed us with talents that we are to use for His glory. There is work to be done as God’s servants. And, as we remember what Jesus has done for us and enjoy the life He has given us in the Holy Spirit, this work isn’t a burden, but a joy. It’s an expression of who God has created us to be. When we’re working in God’s power doing what He’s created us to be, we understand what it means to “thrive.”

As we turn our attention from “The Dust of the Rabbi” series, we are now looking at “The Passion of the Rabbi.” Easter Week begins Sunday – it’s often called Passion Week (passion referring to suffering). This is the week of Jesus’ most significant work on earth. We will hit the highs and lows of Jesus’ last week beginning this Sunday. Our hearts will be broken and they will soar as we travel from the Triumphal Entry to Maundy Thursday to the darkness of Good Friday and, finally, to the greatest triumph of Easter morning. I hope you can make each of the services, but I also pray you’ll take time to personally walk this week with Jesus.

Keep working through that Lent devotional. But I also received a helpful resource from one of my seminary professors from years ago. It shows what Jesus was doing each day of Passion Week. Use it as a guide to spend a little time looking into Jesus’ world over 2000 years ago where He changed everything by ultimately conquering death so that we could thrive in a new life with Him.

Modern

Calendar Days

Event

 

·    Arrival in Bethany (John 12:1)
Saturday ·    Evening celebration, Mary anoints Jesus

(Matthew 26:6-13; John 12:2-8)

Sunday ·  Triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1-9;

John 12:12-18

·  Jesus surveys the temple area (Mark 11:11)

·  Return to Bethany (Mark 11:11)

Monday ·  Cursing the fig tree on the way to Jerusalem (Mark 11:12-14; cf. Matt. 21:18-22)

·  Cleansing the temple (Matt. 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17)

·  Return to Bethany (Mark 11:19)

Tuesday ·  Debates with religious leaders in Jerusalem and teaching in the temple (Matt. 21:23-23:39; Mark 11:27-12:44)

·  Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:1-25:46; Mark 13:1-37)

Wednesday ·  “Silent Wednesday” – Jesus and his disciples remain in Bethany

·  Judas makes arrangements for the betrayal

(Matt. 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11)

Thursday ·  Preparations for Passover (Matt. 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16)

·  Passover meal and Last Supper (Matt. 26:20-25;

Mark 12:17-25)

·  Upper Room discourses (John 13-17)

·  Prayers in Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36-46;

Mark 14:32-42

Friday ·  Betrayal and arrest (Matt. 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-50)

·  Jewish trial

Annas – John 18:13-24

Caiaphas – Matt. 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65

Sanhedrin – Matt. 27:1-2; Mark 15:1

·  Roman trial (three phases)

Pilate – Matt. 27:2-14; Mark 15:2-5

·  Crucifixion (approx 9:00am to 3:00pm; Matt. 27:27-54;

Mark 15:16-39)

Sunday ·  Resurrection witnesses (Matt. 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-8;

Luke 24:1-12)

·  Jesus’ resurrection appearances (Matt. 28:9-20;

Luke 24:13-53; John 20-21

 

I know it’s still five days away, but begin preparing your heart for the most important week in human history.

It’s a privilege serving the Branch and I look forward to how God is going to work this Easter Season. May God bless you this week!

Pastor Justin

 

Reminders

  • We have regular service times at the regular service place for Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, but we’ll be joining the Cypress Campus for Maundy Thursday (6:30pm) and Good Friday (7:00 pm). The Cypress Campus is located at 6143 Ball Road, Cypress.
  • Speaking of working and Easter Week … Not only will we attend these services, but since we’re one church on multiple campuses, we’re responsible for setting up and decorating for the Maundy Thursday service. We’ll do most of it on the Wednesday evening before. Please let me know if you’re interested in joining us.
  • That’s not all the work to be done. We need to do the work of inviting our friends and family to join us for Easter services as well as getting the word out. If you’d like to take some fliers to neighborhoods in Los Alamitos and Rossmoor, let me know and I’ll get you the fliers and a map that will take you about 60-90 minutes to cover.

Praying with St. Patrick

The family just left for school. We made sure we were all wearing our green to avoid getting pinched. This one day when we’re all Irish has become a fun cultural moment. That said, St. Patrick was a real missionary. I wrote a little about him in the OC Breeze, a local online newspaper. He was extraordinary.

One of St. Patrick’s gifts was his prayer, also called St. Patrick’s Breastplate. I ran across it several years ago and it’s a beautiful prayer that speaks to Jesus being involved in every aspect of our lives. Feel free to use it in your own prayer life this week. (Read to the end for some Reminders on what’s coming our way at the Branch soon.)

Enjoy!

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

Reminders

  • Easter Week is coming. Invite your friends to our Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday services at 10:00 at the Los Al Community Center.
  • We also have Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services at the Cypress Campus (6143 Ball Road, Cypress).
  • It’s our birthday! We’ll be celebrating the Sunday after Easter (April 12). We’ll have a special service before heading over to Rossmoor Park and enjoying our afternoon together with a picnic/potluck. Details coming soon, but be sure to set aside the time.

An Ordinary Man (and Woman!)

As the Branch has been rolling for about a year now, we have had some wonderful moments and seen some new families get connected, but as I’m praying about how God would have us move forward, it’s clear we need to grow in our commitment to reaching out to others to point them to Jesus. I know I have a tendency to rely on gifted evangelists and support missionaries who are particularly gifted at this. Others think it’s the pastor’s job. But it’s really the responsibility of all of us.

Michael Green wrote Evangelism in the Early Church and he writes,

“… this must not lead us to suppose that the ‘professional’ played and an unduly large part in the spread of Christianity. The very fact that we are so imperfectly aware of how evangelism was carried out and by whom, should make us sensitive to the possibility that the little man, the unknown ordinary man, the man who left no literary remains was the  prime agent in mission” – p. 172.

I love that. The unknown ordinary man – and woman! It isn’t the huge, historic figures that create a movement toward Jesus (though God certainly uses them!), it’s the accumulated faithfulness of ordinary people pointing others toward the God who has changed their lives. I realize I’m a pastor, but I count myself among the ordinary and this brings me great encouragement (God can use me!) as well as great trepidation (the sidelines are not an option!).

As I think of my personal story, Green’s quote rings true. I came to know Jesus as a senior in high school long ago. It wasn’t the stunning preaching of an evangelist or the keen reasoning of a professional apologist. It was a few friends and their families who showed me what Jesus looked like in a life. It was praying parents and little brother. It was God working in lives around me, saving classmates who I would never have imagined getting saved. All of these factors – small by many standards – joined forces and I was finally forced to submit to the inevitable. Jesus loved me and demanded my allegiance for life.

He got it.

And now I’m thinking about how I can share this with others. It starts with friendship. Living to bless others inevitably means you’re going to make some friends. But part of blessing is also pointing people to Jesus, the ultimate source of blessing. Sometimes it’s more comfortable to leave this part out, but Michael Green again directs us toward some good balance:

“They did not obtrude themselves, but neither did they shrink from bearing personal testimony out of their own experience to the truth of what they proclaimed to others.” – p. 206-207

This proclamation can happen at any time, in any place, but Easter can be a particularly fruitful time. If you’ve been thinking about inviting that friend to church, now’s a great time to invite them. It’s one of those days where people feel like they should go to church, even if just for a week. Why not ask them, if they don’t have previous commitments, to join us at the Branch Church for a message of hope based on Jesus’ amazing goodness and grace.

May God bless you mightily this week!

Crying Out to God

My extended family was plunged into tragedy earlier this week. One of my cousins released her four month old son into the arms of Jesus. It’s truly heartbreaking. Being so far away, there’s not much we can do except pray and send our love to the family.

One of the great privileges we have as a pastoral staff is praying for the Branch Church. Because we are one church in two locations, we also pray for the needs of the Cypress campus. And honestly, the list of needs can be overwhelming. I’ve been stunned by the sheer number of those currently afflicted with cancer. It’s shocking. It’s frustrating.

When the pain is so real and so raw and so urgent, it’s hard to muster the time or the mental energy to come up with flowery wording or being polite in prayer. Sometimes we just need to spill our guts and vent our heartache and frustration that we aren’t seeing God move in the way we’d like. Some of us might feel bad for this. We think we should put our best foot forward when we’re talking with God.

I want to challenge that assumption today. David is called “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13.14) who, in addition to being king, was an extraordinary poet. He wrote several psalms, which are great models of prayer for us. One of his most famous is Psalm 22 (see below). As the psalm begins – and through more than the first half of it – we see David’s desperation, particularly with the blunt question: “why have you forsaken me?!” (v. 1)

It feels like that sometimes, but as the psalm continues, we see hope emerge (starting in v. 22). God is going to show up and, ultimately, the psalm ends on a note of triumph. There’s so much hope in this psalm because it begins in such authentic pain and then it awaits the triumph of God, ultimately.

As we are in the midst of Lent, this psalm takes on some special significance. Psalm 22.1 was on the lips of Jesus when He was enduring God’s wrath on the cross in our place. Jesus knows our pain. Don’t be afraid to cry out to Him.

But Jesus also knows triumph. He died, was buried, and rose again, which we will celebrate on Easter.

So, in your praying, give Him all you’ve got. He can take it, and you’ll see that He’ll see you through the valley you’re in, if you’ll let Him.

That reminds me, as Easter approaches, it’s a great time to pray for those God may want to join you for Easter services to hear the message of hope through which we can thrive in our life with Christ. Spend some time praying for those God is putting on your heart – and let me know who they are. I’ll pray alongside you.

 

Psalm 22 (English Standard Version)

TO THE CHOIRMASTER: ACCORDING TO THE DOE OF THE DAWN. A PSALM OF DAVID.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

4 In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.

5 To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.

7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;

8 “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.

10 On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.

12 Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; 13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet-

17 I can count all my bones- they stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!

20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog!

21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: 23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

24 For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him.

26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.

28 For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive.

30 Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; 31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.

Defining Moments

This last Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at Cypress Church. Just like at the Branch, my passage was Matthew 17.1-13, which focuses on God’s glory at the Transfiguration. If you missed it, check online at Cypress Church (for my message) or the Branch for Pastor Mike’s.

At the Cypress campus, we unpacked how the Transfiguration was a defining moment for the disciples. They had opportunity to look behind the curtain and see who Jesus really was to steel them for the challenges that were headed their direction – Jesus being crucified, the call for them to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him. We, too, have these defining moments where we see Jesus for who He truly is. It won’t likely be a vision of the transfigured and glorified Jesus. It’s going to be that camp event or that missions trip or that prayer with you grandparent or friend. Dramatic or not, there’s a moment for most of us when we met Jesus in a personal way. And if you haven’t, or can’t quite put your finger on it, we need to talk because God wants to begin a very personal relationship with you. (I mean this, by the way. If you want to start a friendship with Jesus, contact me.)

This Sunday we’re going to look at a compelling biblical character who was confronted with a defining moment. I won’t give too much away, but it’s going to be challenging because this young man reveals the human condition. As CS Lewis said, “We are half-hearted creatures.” But to have a defining moment with Jesus means we make a choice. We can keep on our current path, following our current plans, with arms filled with our current stuff, or we can take a posture of receptivity. We let Him lead us on His path for us and guide our plans and, if we’re willing to drop those things we’re so hungrily grasping for, our hands will be open to receive the blessing God has for us.

I hope you’ll join us on Sunday for our family service at 10:00 at the Los Alamitos Community Center!

Two Roads, One Destination

Awhile back I received The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I can honestly say it wasn’t of much interest, initially, but it has been a delightful read. The rise of Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft as politicians and friends was a story I was largely unfamiliar with and Goodwin tells a great story (be sure to check out Team of Rivals). Roosevelt was a political force of nature. Taft was plodding relational leader. And yet, they were united by a vision and an agenda for reforming America. They were a triumphant team that accomplished much.

Despite the triumphs, their story has plenty of tragedy. Through a variety of factors – none seemingly worthy of rupturing a friendship or fruitful political alliance over – they became bitter political enemies late in their political careers. I want to touch on just one of the issues today.

Roosevelt was a crusader. He was always looking for a fight – and he pushed through some important legislation, even though it ruffled some feathers in his own party. He also wasn’t afraid to take what some (including Taft) considered constitutional liberties as our nation’s chief executive. Taft was far more collegial and more of a team builder. He had the same enemies within the party, but Taft tried to fluff those feathers rather than ruffle them. He also, judicious by nature, restricted his executive actions more than Roosevelt.

All of these differences aside, they had the same vision – and yielded similar results. And yet, one of the reasons their relationship fell apart was how Taft implemented the vision. He had one of the most successful legislative years ever when it comes to reforming and fulfilling the vision that he and Roosevelt shared. But because Taft didn’t do it Roosevelt’s way (like a steamroller!) and with some of Roosevelt’s most beloved lieutenants, a cold war soon became hot, figuratively speaking, between the once bosom friends.

As I’m reading this book, I’m amazed and frustrated. It’s crazy that two men who were so in sync ended up splitting – in an ugly way. And yet, how often do we “shoot our own” when it comes to our mission as a church. We, too, can lack a generosity with our brothers and sisters in Christ who do things differently – even if we share the same ends.

This is important for us as The Branch Church. We’re called to help others find a thriving relationship with Jesus. If you’re part of the Branch (or Cypress or Khmer Family Ministry), this is our vision. It’s what unifies us under Christ as this particular body of Christ.

But we need to recognize – and value – that we’re a diverse group who is going to do this in a variety of ways. Some may invite people to church or Life Group to hear the good news of Jesus. Others are bold evangelists who love mixing it up in debate with their friends and families. Still others cultivate long term friendships where they love and serve people, showing them Jesus’ love. And I’m sure there are other options as well.

Wherever you are on this spectrum, embrace how God has made you and equipped you and placed you to love others and show them what a thriving relationship with Jesus looks like – and don’t forget to give some space to others who are doing it differently. May we not make the Roosevelt/Taft mistake of thinking we can’t get to the same destination by different routes.

If we’re helping people thrive, we’re all on the same team. Let’s celebrate and pray for those who are helping others experience this new life in Jesus – even if they do it a little differently than we do!

The Dregs

I loved hearing from our Global Outreach Panel last Sunday, including hearing the stories of those who are considered the least in their societies and yet are still committed to reaching people for Jesus. While this is outside the experience of most of us in a historically Christian nation, it’s actually nothing new. Consider this quote, for instance:

“Christianity … the dregs of society.” – Michael Green

No, that’s not a headline from the new atheist du jour.

It’s actually the cultural climate in which our faith first took root. I’ve just started Evangelism in the Early Church by Michael Green. Amazon considers it a “modern classic.” I’ve just started so the jury’s still out for me, but it definitely has my attention.  Let me give you the full quote: “Christianity was a superstitio that belonged to the dregs of society.” The dregs. I guess we’re not mincing words.

I’ll spare you the details, but earliest Greco-Roman and Hebrew society didn’t care much for this new sect following Jesus the Messiah. They weren’t impressed for a variety of reasons, including the fact that only the biggest fools would worship a crucified criminal as Messiah. And yet, the philosophies of the time, the conventional wisdom of 2000 years ago, have largely faded into obscurity (or re-named themselves) while the church continues to flourish – even if it started with the dregs.

While we don’t like to think of our earliest spiritual ancestors as the dregs, there’s plenty of hope in this – and a challenge, too. We find hope in the fact that God took the dregs and changed the world with them. They “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17.6).

I’m sure Dr. Green will get into the nuts and bolts of how they did it, but the part I want to focus on today is that they were willing to be different. The church father Tertullian had to write to convince people that Christians were of the same flesh and blood as the non-Christian. The church had such a clear and distinct worship and lifestyle that they stood in stark contrast to the broader culture. And even if that culture didn’t think much of this contrast – and sometimes they came to despise it – it gave birth to a global movement.

I just deleted a couple paragraphs grappling with the nuances of being “in the world, but not of it” (John 17.14-18) from my first draft of this post. That’s important, but not what I want to leave us with. I want to leave us with the question I’m grappling with. It’s something we all need to grapple with as we seek to reach a new community through the Branch Church. It’s simply this: “Am I so busy trying to be culturally respectable and ‘fit in’ that I’m unwilling to risk being considered as one of “the dregs” because I commit myself to those things God would have me do to bless others in Him?”

Sometimes it means I don’t take stands on things others think are essential; it may mean taking stands on things others think unimportant. It may mean associating with the weak or marginalized of society. It may mean I spend money a different way, seeking to give and bless rather than accumulating and/or spending. The tensions are endless, but the question is the same. Are we willing to take up our mission in this world – and to start that mission by living differently? Are we willing to live a life that is thriving God’s way so that we can point others to this kind of life?

I know what I want the answer to be. God give me the grace and strength to live it out.

New Sermon – A Beacon of Hope in Troubled Waters

New Sermon – A Beacon of Hope in Troubled Waters

Pastor Justin continues our series, “Hope: The Light of Christmas“. Listen to A Beacon of Hope in Troubled Waters online if you missed it!

The unfortunate reality of life is it is like the dark side of winter; cold, dangerous, dark, deadly…and like the Narnia prior to Aslan there was winter and never the joy of Christmas…Jesus, like Asland can bring love, peace, joy, and hope to a cold world, for Christ is Born – Respond to God’s Provision, A Savior is Given so Avoid the Evil Within, Immanuel is Present – Follow God’s Leading, and Redeemer is Offered – Choose to be Different.