Reunion Values: We Want People to Belong Before They Believe | 3-13-2022

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 9/3/2022

Sermon Prep

This of the 3 sermons I taught on Reunion Church‘s values, was the most difficult to pen. I really didn’t like that I couldn’t match theme and text. Meaning, I just couldn’t for some reason or another connect the two when the other sermons were so seamless. The pieces were present, but it still puzzled me.

Usually when a disconnect like that happens, it throws me off in the performance of preaching. If I don’t quite get it, neither will the audience. The orator has to understand first and I just didn’t give my self enough time. Preaching back-to-back weeks is tough, especially when you’re unsure of what the layout needs to look like. Either way, here’s the notes of what I ultimately shared:

Sermon Notes

Opening

  • Reunion Values -> the why behind the what
  • Tonight, we’ll end our series w/ Value 7

Intro

  • Where did you belong in high school?
  • Kyle Story
  1. Alone and sat by himself.
  2. Befriended him at lunch.
  3. Created belonging with his own group.
  4. Developed trust to share my faith.

Transition To Main Point

  • Like Kyle and I, Jesus created belonging before people believed.
  • Belonging changes hearts, belief cements the change.
  • Belonging is the group assurance that you can be your authentic self.

From that city many of the Samaritans believed in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all things that I have done.” So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Many more believed because of his word; and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this one is indeed the savior of the world.”

John 4:39-42

Main Point

  • Jesus invites us to belong before we believe.
  • Here at Reunion Church, we do the same.
  • We want all people to belong here, even before they believe in what we do here.

Why It Matters

  • A lot of church world is believe, then belong.
  • This is just putting the cart before the horse.

Information and choice doesn’t transform a person. People transform based on where they find their identity.

Jessie Cruickshank

Where you find your identity is where you belong. Where do you belong? Let’s pray.

Final Thoughts

I can be very critical of myself and my own work. In my heart, I know this isn’t the worst sermon in the world. It gets the job done. But I do obsess over how to craft the best message when I’m preparing and speaking.

When it’s not up to my high bar, I’m a little disappointed. Yet my performance isn’t why people tune in and hear the message in the first place. They need and desire God. I just need to step aside and allow that to happen. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/

Reunion Values: We Train and Send Out Excellent Leaders | 3-6-2022

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 9/3/2022

Sermon Prep

In early March, I was flying on a kite. I just had my first date on the 4th with my future wife. I had been recently promoted at work. I’ve never felt more fit in the gym training for USS Nationals, which was a Strongman show in June. Nothing could be better.

That positivity and sense of peace really poured into everything I did. Especially here with this sermon. It was a less personal teaching and more knowledgeable about the discipleship process we do at Reunion Church. Not necessarily the most invigorating, pulse-pounding message yet one that’s needed to balance those ones out too.

I can’t recall the prep all that much given I was feeling so good. All I could think about was my girlfriend. So this prep felt like a breeze and went well. Anyways, here’s my notes from that message:

Sermon Notes

Opening

  • Reunion Values -> the why behind the what
  • Tonight, we’ll continue w/ Value 6.

Intro

  • What is an excellent leader?
  • Like who? Any examples?
  • Cory teaching creative content role:
  1. He selected me based on potential
  2. He schooled me in his own process
  3. He sent me out to make it on my own

Transition To Main Point

  • Jesus trains and sends out excellent leaders. To create legacy is to build leaders.
  • His Leadership Process:
  1. Chose Peter (Luke 5:1-11)
  2. Chose the 12 (Luke 6:12-16)
  3. Sent the 12 (Luke 9:1-6)
  4. Sent the 70 (Luke 10:1-3)

[Jesus] had started his ministry by exposing some curious converts to the nature of ministry. This was the four-month come and see period. It was followed by the ten-month come and follow me training period, when those curious converts became established disciples. The third phase of training, come and be with me, was a twenty-month segment when those established disciples were transformed into equipped laborers.

Bill Hull,  Jesus Christ, Disciplemaker (P. 198-199)

Main Point

  • Like Jesus exemplified, we too must train and send out excellent leaders.
  • Why? Because life with God is a shared experience, not selfish enlightenment.
  • Jesus led his disciples, so that they could eventually lead their own.
  • How? Be led by a personal teacher and then lead a teachable person. That’s it.

Why It Matters

  • Jesus led personally and leads us to persons who need his care.
  • He could do everything himself, but he invites us into the process (i.e. Adam, Moses; Jonah).
  • Don’t just call for change, be the change.

Final Thoughts

For some reason, I remember more about the success of the small group that followed this sermon than the actual sermon. I loved learning under Hannah Morrison and how she navigates the small group setting. I hope she knows just how good she is at small groups and being a leader who can teach us.

As far as my preaching performance, it was good. Nothing extraordinary, yet that’s alright. Sometimes after the last one being deeply touching, the next doesn’t need to be that way.

We’re not here to play heartstrings, but submit to God’s word for us today. I’m just the translator in that process. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/

Reunion Values: We Befriend and Uplift Those the Rest of the World Has Given Up On | 1-30-2022

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 9/3/2022

Sermon Prep

Re-reading old journal entries of mine during this month, I was going through a lot. I was tired and exhausted from the pace of life. My mind was bogged down and muddled.

I had a well-earned promotion coming up at work. The end of the fiscal year was within 30 days, so I had my best month-to-date in January. Producing 3x my average sales performance, which was astounding but grueling.

I was trying the dating scene going back-and-forth on the various apps trying to find connection. It didn’t really work. A couple conversations, but nothing beyond that. I was also mustering the courage to ask out my now wife on a date, but wasn’t ready yet.

Ministry was tiring too. We had survived the holidays and were moving into the slow season of church. My body ached too from training for USS Nationals, which is one of the biggest Strongman shows of the year. All-in-all, I was worn out.

I remember that David Margosian was almost too sick to teach the first value in our sermon series (2), so I began prep for it. I think he had a cold or something. At the last second, he said he was good to go and taught but I had already worked some things out. I took those ideas and scattered them throughout this message and other messages in the series.

Ideas like “Church isn’t just 4 walls per se, but is with those we walk with day-to-day.” or even the simpler “Jesus always went after the willing, not the worthy.” There were a lot of interesting, but untapped concepts from those notes. I especially liked this one:

The Kingdom of God is a people, not a place… Artificial growth is committees, but organic growth is communities… Too many of us are focused on ministries and not the mission of Jesus. We would rather have a comfortable life, instead of a life that crafts godly character.

That was all from that incomplete sermon and more, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Focusing on this though, I really enjoyed the prep because it was similar to our first value as a church. So I took those previous concepts and tweaked them for our second church value, which is the one I taught on this night (3). Here’s what I actually taught and my notes for this sermon:

Sermon Notes

Opening

  • Reunion Values -> the why behind what we do
  • Tonight, we’ll continue w/ Value 2

Intro

  • Therapy day is the one time a month I engage with my feelings because I’m a robot.
  • Therapy -> First Memories
  • Jack (One-ear, Transformers, etc.)

Transition To Main Point

  • Everyone is an outsider somewhere, but not when we’re with God.
  • For every group that excludes, God’s always including you.
  • No matter where you go, you will always be a child of God.

We are children, perhaps, at the very moment when we know that it is as children that God loves us- not because we have deserved his love and not in spite of our undeserving; not because we try and not because we recognize the futility of our trying; but simply because he has chosen to love us. We are children because he is our father… before we loved him, he loved us.

Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat (P. 135)

Matthew 9:36-38 (ESV) + Mark 10:13-16 [small groups]

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Matthew 9:36-38

Main Point

  • 2nd Value = We befriend and uplift those the rest of the world has given up on.
  • Jesus befriends and uplifts outsiders that the world gave up. We dare to care for those outsiders.
  • Find the people that don’t belong anywhere and include them in your life somewhere.

Why It Matters

  • If Jesus in his greatest loving act brought you in when no one would, then the least you can do is befriend the lonely and uplift the unloved.
  • Jesus saw everyone and we need to see them too.

Transition Out

  • I’m thinking about a lot of friends who used to be alone, but I could go on-and-on about that.
  • Who can you befriend and uplift?
  • Find them and friend them.
  • This is what Jesus did and does.
  • Do likewise.

Final Thoughts

This was personal for me. I really believe in this value whether or not I’m apart of this local church. It means something. To be there for the destitute. The downtrodden. The outcast.

I think that conviction was conveyed in the delivery of this sermon. I recall the emotions I felt from the audience in the room. They had a visceral connection to the message I believe because of God’s great love for them. Shining through every letter of this sermon.

I hope they still know they’re loved. I know I need the reminder every now and again. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/
  2. https://youtu.be/H-wNCQScPws
  3. https://youtu.be/bdcNl6JfLEk

Don’t Find The One, Be The One

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/4/2022

I’ve never really had anything to add to the purity culture conversation until now. For the uninitiated, this was a Christian subculture movement in the late 1990s, which influenced how parents raised their kids in the 2000s to roughly the early 2010s. This was in response to a lot of cultural artifacts of that time: celebrity sex tapes, normalization of hook-up culture, online pornography, the AIDS epidemic, and even the internet boom of the 1990s.

Purity Culture Defined

Now were there other factors during this period of time? Of course, but this helps set the stage for why the purity culture movement began and what was the root of parents’ fears. The introduction of the new always brings the reversion back to the old for some. This happens with everything.

In this case, it was the reversion back to old ideas about dating. Like arranged marriages by a church congregation or even the Christian concept of courtship. This time, it just had a new spin. That spin is what spun an entire generation into sexual shame.

Under immense pressure to balance the natural inclinations of adolescence with the fear-mongering led by thought leaders at the time, people were stuck in a state of never knowing if they handled their dating life right. Doubts on if they were even good enough to be with someone because they weren’t virgins or “pure” enough. It was a movement that had good intentions at first, but with awful execution ended in disastrous results.

When a movement is rooted in fear and not grace, it always ends poorly. The purity culture movement was rooted in the fears of its time, not in the grace of God. Given it was grounded in the former and not the latter, Christians recoiled from what they thought was God’s hate. Instead of emulating God’s love in their relationships and enjoying the grace that’s supposed to be found within them.

From side hugs and purity rings to parents having to meet each other to decide if this was a “good” relationship, it was the norm for a lot of kids at this time. Even the perversion of modesty to the point of being a tool to elicit the young to be ashamed of their own bodily desires was standard malpractice. Then again, these repulsive symptoms were more of a theological problem than anything. At least, that’s where I think it starts.

The Modern Myth Of The One

What bothered me the most about this whole thing was the prevalent concept of the one and how that framework warped everything going into this movement. Which then bled into our current relationship climate of the #MeToo era. How all modern dating is based on the lie of the one. A theological misconception that has ties to determinism, God’s sovereignty, and a blatant misunderstanding of what it means to become one in marriage.

How is this the root? Well, it starts with some believing that everything is determined by God. A sort of manifest destiny, but instead of land promised by God it’s people in this case. Those people are the one.

The person you were destined to marry no matter what. It’s this idea I believe laid dormant in the subconscious of Christians until the purity culture movement awakened this aged-out concept. A framework that gave rise to a lot of these conventions we mock now.

Then again, what does the Bible actually say about this? What is God’s design for relationships really? Put simply, the Bible doesn’t promote the one. Rather it does promote becoming the one for someone else. Let me explain.

Becoming The One vs. Finding The One

We could go in a lot of different directions, but for now I just want to zero in on the book of Ruth. Why? Well, it dispels this lie of the one quickly with a simple question. Who was the one for Ruth? Was it Mahlon or Boaz?

Her first husband Mahlon was married to her for 10 years, provided in the famine-infested land of Moab, and married Ruth when she was fairly young. Her second husband was Boaz, grafted her into the family of Jesus, and married Ruth when she was middle aged. The first husband gave away his health to provide, while the second gave away his wealth to provide.

The former was equivalent to a blue-collar worker if he worked in our time. The latter was a man of valor whose military service allowed him to benefit from the spoils of war. When you think about it, neither of them were the one but rather became the one she needed.

Mahlon became the one in that he sacrificed everything to care for Ruth. Boaz then became the one in that he shared everything to care for Ruth. Both men became the one over time.

A good, godly relationship isn’t about finding the one. It’s about becoming the one for the sake of someone else. That you love someone so much you change to become better for them and to them. Not to say you shouldn’t choose wisely who you end up with, but you’re not agreeing to a completed person. You’re agreeing to being there as they are made complete in Christ.

Like God commands, they fully committed themselves to Ruth. Loving sacrificially and being there. At the time, Mahlon was the best possible choice for Ruth and later on Boaz was the same. Of course it’s conjecture since we only know snippets of their life, but their character bleeds through the page. Where we progress, God perfects. Marriages thrive when God guides them. Grace is our guide, not fear. Becoming the one is a grace-guided process.

Although, this could be distorted into a work-mentality where you have to do all of these self-help hacks to appear to be better. That’s not what becoming the one means. Becoming the one isn’t about performance, but patience and persistence.

The humble heart in asking God to better you so that you can be the best possible spouse in your marriage. An acknowledgement that your starting point is bad and only God can restore your soul to its best. The idea of the one is an attractive cultural myth, while becoming the one is simply self-actualizing into who God designed us to be in him. One is chasing after the winds of the world, yet the other is weathering the storms of a holy covenant and promise.

Final Thoughts

Having been in the most serious relationship of my life currently that’s heading towards marriage now, I just see this flaw so much more clearly. Our culture taught our brains to go after plastic-bound porn stars and the powerful with influence, instead of ordinary people that look and act just like us.

What makes the person you end up with special isn’t status or a lack of stretch marks, but the extraordinary fact that God made them and you get to be with them. Modernity has killed the mundane. Public image defines us more so than being imagers of God. We need to change that toxic perspective that has hurt a lot of people.

Don’t look for the perfect person because you’ll never find anyone close to that sinful standard. Rather, become someone who is by God’s sanctification transforming you into the one for someone in your life. Don’t find the one, be the one. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/

How To Sabbath | 1-2-2022

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 3/22/2022

It’s peculiar how when I’m supposed to teach on a certain topic, the topic is more relevant for me than for anyone else. Like I need to teach this, so that I learn it even more. God tends to do that a lot.

Sermon Prep

Learn sabbath on my own? Maybe. Teach sabbath to someone else? Now I’m listening. That’s how this one went. Learning to sabbath as I was preparing and then taught this message.

But things were different this time. It had been almost 2 months since my last message, which bombed and I went with an older technique I learned way back in the day mixed with some of the new.

The style here was largely inspired by one of my mentors, Shannon Popp, who showed the power of listening. How what you say doesn’t nearly matter as much as what is said by others in a small group setting. I did that along with some other small group skills that I picked up on when I was running my high school’s First Priority essentially on my own.

Regardless, the format here is largely bordered by quotes from Scripture and less so by concepts found in Scripture. By singling in on a single idea for the night, the conversation we had discovered the truth mutually. Then again, I didn’t actually teach a “sermon” per se on this night.

Only a handful of regulars showed up and it wasn’t enough to justify the typical format of sermon, then small groups. We just jumped into an elongated time of small groups, which led to very thoughtful dialogue on the idea of sabbath.

This happened because nobody wants to go to church the weekend of New Year’s, so I planned accordingly. I figured it was a small crowd and appreciated the change in pace from the rush of the holidays. It was the sermon we needed for the season we found ourselves in together. With that in mind, here were my brief notes from that lowkey night:

Sermon Notes

Intro

  • Recap 2021
  • Pitch “Values” Series
  • Tonight, will be a one-off, topical discussion on sabbath.

Define Sabbath

  • In Hebrew, the word sabbath means to cease or to rest.
  • Originally, sabbath started when God finished creation and marveled at his handiwork.
  • Then, sabbath became a strictly enforced holiday that was observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening.
  • Nowadays, sabbath differs drastically depending on which Christians celebrate it. Here’s some Scriptures on why that is the case:

“Jesus said to them “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath.””

Mark 2:27-28

“One person values one day over another, another values every day the same. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and the one who eats, does so with regard to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and the one who does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat, and he gives thanks to God.”

Romans 14:5-6

“Therefore, no one is to act as your judge in regard to food and drink, or in respect to a festival or a new moon, or a sabbath day-things which are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”

Colossians 2:16-17
  • Read Hebrews 4:1-11 as a group.

Sabbath Takeaways

  • To sabbath means to remember collectively and to reflect individually on the power of God.
  • Our rest is rooted in the reality of God’s grace and the work that he has done.

Final Thoughts

This was a nice message and a good one in my mind. Had time to breathe and really sink our teeth into the meat of sabbath. I enjoyed it.

It’s funny. After I had already taught this message, I found my favorite longform explanation of sabbath in a book I was also reading at the time. My therapist recommended it and in there the author describes sabbath in such an excellent way. For instance, I loved this quote:

“The Sabbath was a solemn recognition that God had sovereign rights, a public act of appropriation wherein the believing community acknowledged that they owed their life and being to Another. As the memorial day of creation, the Sabbath meant a worship of adoration and thanksgiving for all God’s goodness, for all the Jews were and had. The rest from work was secondary.”

Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child (P. 60)

Like a lot of things, our greatest days are marked by a genuine gratitude for God’s goodness. As the days go on, so too do the platitudes of gratitude for our great God. With that Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/

Grace Talk: Grace In Relationships | 11-14-2021

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 3/20/2022

Going from a heavily knowledge based message on the Holy Spirit to then go on to teach a heavily heart based message on relationships was quite the jump in sermon prep approaches. In week 8 of the Grace Talk series from Reunion Church, this message was aimed at explaining how God’s grace impacts relationships. In retrospect, I didn’t jump far enough and through insecurity made a sermon from the wrong angle.

Sermon Prep

It was the right time to share this message, but not the right way. I took a head-knowledge approach to something that should’ve come from the heart. But at this time, I didn’t have it in me to do that so this was the ultimate result.

Whereas in the previous message in week 5 of Grace Talk, I spent a lot of time really trying to figure things out. This time, I waited until Saturday night to start preparing this one. Was it pride that I could just wing it? Was it compensating for the fact that I just started therapy and was resisting the topic of emotional intimacy? Laziness as I made other things keep me busy? I think it was all of those and more.

The bottom line: I just didn’t want to talk about this topic. I was avoiding it like Jonah avoiding God. But when duty calls, you can’t just not prepare a sermon you’re teaching the next day. So I did some research and found some semi-interesting ideas from a collection of articles and smashed them together like a Frankenstein mishmash of uncooked concepts.

If you couldn’t tell by now, I’m not a fan of how this turned out. Some good stuff here and there, but not my best and that bothers me today. When I’m not obedient to God in sharing his message, the people of God suffer because of it. That’s on me. This wasn’t a good sermon, yet there’s something to be learned from every message. Either way, here’s what I had in my sermon journal the night of the message:

Sermon Notes

Intro

  • 3 married pastors joke
  • Most of us navigate the faith-space a lot like romantic relationships.

Relationship Research

  • If you Google relationship studies, there’s tons about people having difficulty with commitment.
  • For instance, one study showed

“that cellphone snooping partially mediates the significant relationship between emotional instability, intention to break up, and conflicts.”

Influence of Lack of Trust on Romantic Relationship Problems by Abdulgaffar O. Arikewuyo, Kayode K. Eluwole; Bahire Özad
  • They also concluded that “lack of trust is a significant predictor of romantic relationship problems.”
  • Then again, other studies may have a solution for us.
  • In the study called “Who are “We?”,” they introduced a construct named couple identity clarity.
  • Basically, “an individual… believes that the two of them know who they are as a couple.”
  • The study concluded that this construct is directly associated with:
    • higher commitment above and beyond agreement
    • reduced likelihood of relationship dissolution
    • successful conflict resolution
  • Bottom-line: when people trust they know where things are at and that leads to relationships persisting.

Relating To God

  • Do we have couple identity clarity in our relationship with God?
  • Let’s see what Scripture says.

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself to me.”

Galatians 2:20 (NLT)
  • Paul shows how relating to God is like a romantic relationship in that there is this desire to give as a sign of love.
  • Again, in reference to Adam and Eve (i.e. marriage), Paul writes

“man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way of Christ and the church are one.”

Ephesians 5:31-32 (NLT)
  • For us as believers, this couple identity clarity construct can help us in our own relationships with God.
  • A few takeaways: be one, be open, and be optimistic.

Outro

  • To be one is to remain with God.
  • To be open is to communicate with God.
  • To be optimistic is to have joy with God.
  • The grace process all boils down to trust.
    • How do we trust God?
  • In faith and humility, we can trust God in the grace process.

Final Thoughts

This wasn’t even close to my best messages. It’s odd how I see my own arrogance now that I’m dating someone (who’s amazing) and how even just a matter of months ago I wrestled with relational intimacy, which slanted my view of relationships. How bent my perspective was and off I was sharing this message.

There’s nuggets of good here, but this was a great example of what not to do. For my next sermon, I took a more subdued approach and that eventually led to me adopting the standard Reunion Church method of preaching. Here I learned 2 main things: I needed a heart check and my sermon structure sucked.

In the coming months, I have worked on those things with what I think has been very successful. I mean, I’ve got a girlfriend now and my sermons don’t suck. What more could an up and coming pastor want? With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/

Old Age

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 2/17/2022

Here is a poem that I wrote on February 15th, 2022. It was inspired by my fear of growing old.

All the world’s a stage.

Old age is its own birdcage.

Actors ready for their part to play.

Speaking lines, but nothing to say.

The show starts with the casting call.

Not you sir, but someone big and tall.

Not you mam, but someone we can catcall.

They’re staged like pretty dolls in a dance hall.

From here the rehearsals begin for this cast.

Practicing until emotion is first and thought is last.

Knowing only caricatures of humans long since past.

Continuing practice for their unending live broadcast.

In the hustle for youth we neglect the long trek to truth.

We’re perverted like the family in that one film Dogtooth.

Our chase for dried-out fountains of youth causes God’s ruth.

Caving to pressure like Lincoln’s skull meeting John Wilkes Booth.

But isn’t pretending not to age avoiding ultimate assuage?

That this farce of unblemished deity deprives souls of sage?

For so long I thought becoming old was itself sin’s final rage.

Now I see that it’s a return to form before we turn the last page.

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels

Grace Talk: Who is the Holy Spirit? | 10-17-2021

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 12/23/2021

For a guy like me who is wired to love those heady knowledge-based sermons, this was a tough one to crack and figure out. As a part of the Grace Talk series from Reunion Church, this message was geared towards the role of the Holy Spirit in the grace process itself. How is the Holy Spirit himself involved in how we access grace? What does that relationship look like? This sermon was meant to answer those sorts of questions before we went into our hour of small groups.

Although from that premise, it should’ve been straight forward and yet when it comes to the topic of the Holy Spirit it’s never straight forward. In hindsight, it was good that I taught this one because I’ve done a lot of digging into this subject several times on this blog. Like one of my more popular posts on the Christian Essentials from a while back. Either way, over the years I’ve chipped away at the mystery that is God and all encompasses that reality.

Sermon Prep

For this sermon and for the sake of my audience, I had to take the most complicated idea in Christian thought which is the nature of God and break it down into a 15min message. Ha, no pressure. It’s not like making a mistake mid-message could lead the congregation to believing in blasphemy or heresy if I messed up. No big deal, right?

So how did I pull this off? Well, I flipped and paged through several super useful resources. A few of those being multiple key books:

  1. Forgotten God by Francis Chan
  2. Systematic Theology 2nd Edition by Wayne Grudem
  3. Know What You Believe by Paul E. Little
  4. Biblical Doctrine by John MacArthur & Richard Mayhue
  5. Christian Theology 6th Edition by Alistair McGrath
  6. The Mystery of the Trinity by Vern S. Poythress
  7. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by R. C. Sproul
  8. The Forgotten Trinity by James White

Now that’s not even mentioning my online research either, but we don’t have time to discuss every footnote in my sermon. The point is I binged on understanding the Holy Spirit, so that my audience could get some key soundbites about him for the Sunday night discussion. My aim was to condense hours of prayer and study into key truths that could be shared in seconds.

I think I did fairly well, but the outcome is always up to God and his audience. I’m just the temporary bridge between both when I’m up there. Regardless of all of that background, here’s what I eventually came up with that night jotted down in my sermon journal:

Sermon Notes

Intro

  • Recap last week
  • Focus on who is the Holy Spirit and how he initiates grace.

Fax Machine Story

  • New job at Staples
  • Fax bank info to boss
  • Sandy prints floor plans for Texas Longhorns
  • Jake faxes info for me.
  • No matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t get it.

The Trinity Explained

  • God’s nature is similar to a fax machine.
    • If you think you know everything about God, then you probably don’t know much.
  • Here’s what we know (2):

1) God is three persons.

2) Each person is fully God.

3) There is one God.

  • God is greater than us in every way.
    • Here’s a quote of God describing himself:

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (3).”

  • Even though God is beyond us in scope, the Spirit of God is the soul of the church.

“The fact that the Spirit indwells all believers, and provides the ground of our supernatural unity, results in true Christian fellowship-a sharing that knows no bounds (4).” – James White

  • God’s triune nature is the mystery of unity. Likewise, the church is the same.

Car Story

  • When it comes to money, I’m a hard-core saver and hate spending money.
  • Ben knows how to do the work, so that the car runs smoothly.
  • Like Ben when it comes to cars, God the Spirit does the work because he knows best and we just enjoy the benefits of grace.

The Holy Spirit Powers Grace

  • To understand the Holy Spirit, it’s best to know what he does.
  • In the grace process God the Father compels us to fascination (i.e. Head + Wonder), God the Son compels us to compassion (i.e. Heart + Will), and God the Spirit compels us to action (i.e. Hands + Works).
  • Grace is powered by the Spirit of God and leads to spiritual formation in our lives.

“Through the Holy Spirit we come to know Christ, and by the Holy Spirit’s power we live and grow in Christ, in the service of the king and in the fellowship of his church (5).” – Paul E. Little

  • Unlike the law where people hide behind veils of shame, God the Spirit gives us all of his grace all the time.
  • Because God does the work, he cares more about who we are and where we are in relation to his grace.

“We focus on what God wants us to do and forget the kind of people he wants us to be (6).” – Francis Chan

  • For Christians, where we are in relation to God’s grace matters most.
  • For Non-Christians, who you are matters most to God because he doesn’t know you yet.

Outro

  • All it takes is faith and humility to access all of the Spirit of God’s grace.
  • All it takes is humility and faith to know God and be known by him.

Final Thoughts

Given what had to be covered and the extensive work put into this one, I’m quite proud of the results. For more of my thoughts on this message, make sure to check out the Reunion Church Podcast on YouTube. With that said, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/
  2. Systematic Theology 2nd Edition, P. 273
  3. Isaiah 55:9 (ESV)
  4. The Forgotten Trinity, P. 151
  5. Know What You Believe, P. 128
  6. Forgotten God, P. 148

An Ordinary Life: Physicality | 8-22-2021

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 11/25/2021

So this sermon was a part of a series called An Ordinary Life based on the book Sensing Jesus by Zack Eswine for Reunion Church during the summer of 2021. This was a series focused on how to live simply within the mundane and enjoy the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life. I think this was a great first series for our church and it really resonated with the community.

I recall during this time I was feeling fairly burned out and tired from the church planting process, but wanted to still deliver a great sermon. What added to my nerves was the fact that I hadn’t preached a sermon in a church in almost 2 years given the pandemic. I was meant to give this message on the 8th of August, but Pastor Andrew and Pastor David had returned from a retreat so they shared on the 15th of August.

Also only 3 other leaders showed up on the 8th, so I didn’t share the message on that night. I honestly felt pretty down that no one showed up and that hurt, especially when you’ve invested so much time to give a valuable message. If I’m being really honest, I cried on the way home. For some reason, when I’m attuned to God’s will I find myself very emotional.

Sermon Prep

Then again, this message was difficult to get a grasp on what to share exactly. The chapter I was sharing and recapping was about 35 pages of dense material. The author writes with a very poetic power that hits all the keys of the heart. Trying to faithfully adapt his work in a 90min small group discussion is incredibly strenuous.

Either way, I prepped ahead of time and with the extra 2 week gap had even more time to tweak the message for the people of God to hear exactly what they needed. If you feel immense pressure to deliver, then I’d say you’re in the right place because you can only rely on God. In your own strength, your sermon is shit. Without the power of the Holy Spirit himself guiding every word, point, and pause the message will not be what they need in that moment. The fear of God fuels great sermons and this one was no different.

We had a good group that night and I think this was one of my better sermons. I got to lean into my strengths as a teacher, which is simplifying complicated concepts. I love expositing complicated ideas in a way that clicks with your average person. It’s challenging, but rewarding in the same respect.

Going back through my notes, I had so many for this message. Explaining how we’re made for a period of time among physical things is a hard idea to get across since it’s so abstract. It’s one of those ideas that needs a lot of padding and stories to pass onto others. Here’s what I had in my sermon journal:

Sermon Notes

Intro

  • Recap last week
  • To live an ordinary life is to know that we are made for a period of time among physical things.
  • As Zack Eswine writes,

“Faith, hope, and love-the matters of our souls-are tried, learned, and lived in close physical proximity to created persons and things within the limits of certain times and places (P. 173).”

  • Read Acts 17:24-26
  1. Limited doesn’t mean less than

“The ministry with its leaders and neighbors is boundaried and limited… But boundaried does not mean inferior (P. 174).”

  • Jerry McFarland’s Monday Night Study.
  • Read 3 John 2
  • How has a physical limitation led to an unlikely opportunity?
  1. A place is a people
  • Read 1 John 1:1-3

“We sensibly minister the gospel of Jesus to ordinary persons in their particular places (P. 177).”

  • How is a place a part of a person’s identity? Why does that matter?
  1. All matter affects the mind
  • Read 2 Timothy 1:3-5

“Bodily senses accompany our interior lives. At times, they can adorn our souls with treasures and at times litter them with trash (P. 177).”

  • What physical thing reminds you of a good memory? What makes you remember? A sound? A vibe?
  1. The boundaries of physical touch
  • Jesus touched everyone in ministry to heal, not to harm.
  • Read Mark 10:14-16
  • What are your physical touch boundaries? 
    • i.e. children, friends, relationships, etc.
  1. Should Christians cuss or swear?
  • Necessary + True
  • Context + Culture (Where + Who)

Outro

  • Final thoughts

Categories to Cuss

  1. Emoting through tragedy or great pain
  2. To shock or surprise
  3. Ordinary communication

“We religious must learn to recognize our own kind of cussing. Religious cussing often does not involve foul four-letter words (P. 204).”

“Language… always comes in the form of resistance or repentance or mixtures of the two (P. 205).”

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, this was a good one. A long message, absolutely and yet a really good discussion from everyone involved. To get more insight into my thoughts on this message, watch this sermon recap I do every week for my church. Also, for more insights into my thoughts on cussing and swearing as Christians, watch this topical podcast episode. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/
  2. https://reunionchurchcc.com/
  3. https://youtu.be/-yrOkwSAyOk
  4. https://youtu.be/lKzzXLYRjd4

Dawn + Joe’s Wedding | 7-24-2021

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 11/25/2021

This was a first for me. As a young pastor in the making, to officiate my first wedding was a huge deal. There was a lot of deliberation on my part in deciding to even commit to such a large responsibility in the first place. Never thought I’d be the guy to run one of these.

I distinctly remember being asked by Dawn if I would like to officiate their wedding. She texted me on January 23rd, 2021 and I took a whole day to text back. For one, I was shocked that they would want me to do it in the first place. I knew they were going to get married one day, but to seal the deal as their friend was such an honor after all these years.

Wedding Theology

The other roadblock I had to overcome was can I as a Christian pastor marry two people who may not be Christians? To be honest, I wasn’t sure about their faith and didn’t know the answer. To the surprise of many, there are very few people that I know are Christians. For most people, I have no idea and neither do you. Only God knows who is his and who isn’t.

So in the single day where I deliberated and asked advice from several people, I also studied this out for myself. I needed to know what I believed before I made a decision. So I did what I usually do and went back to Scripture itself.

From there I came to a new conclusion: marriage was a universal good that preceded the fall of mankind and this was critical in a lot of ways. One of those ways is that it’s one of a few, universal goods we find before mankind fell out of God’s grace and into sin. Here we see that taking care of Earth and its inhabitants or work and handling responsibilities is good, along with marriage itself. Therefore, these things must be better than the lack of them.

It’s better to be taking care of Earth than destroying it. It’s better to work hard than to be lazy. It’s better to be together than to be alone. Adam and Eve were alone, but God united them.

Premarital Prep

But should everyone be married? No and that led to my next question. Should they be married? They were dating for years, lived together raising teenagers, and were in their 40s as a couple after previous long-term relationships. From first glance, this was a very stable relationship already. So why did they get married?

Well, for them it was about telling their world and the world that they were together forever. Similar to how Protestants look at baptism, it was an outward expression of an inward decision. A pledge from the heart to be one with the one they love. For them, this was a permanent promise and I could discern that in prayer. The intent was there and obvious.

So over a period of 4 months, we did about 8 sessions of premarital counseling leading up to the wedding on July 24th, 2021. We began with Larry Crabb’s book, The Marriage Builder, but realised that book is dated and not that good. So I developed my own material for them to finish the rest of the sessions of premarital counseling. Using a framework I made from a previous blogpost of mine, each week we focused on 1 of the 5 core pillars of any good marriage: worldview, social status, intimacy, finances, and communication. This was what they needed and it worked well.

When the premarital counseling ended in early June, it gave them almost 2 months to prepare the rest of the wedding and myself time to think through what the hell I was going to say during the ceremony. As a preacher, sharing a message at a wedding is drastically different from your typical Sunday sermon. The atmosphere, the audience, and even the actual flow of this type of public speaking is far different than a normal church service.

Believe it or not, for the life of me I couldn’t get myself to write the message until it was the day before the wedding. Usually I write out my messages on Google Drive a few days earlier in the week word-for-word, wait a day or two, and then hand-write the key ideas into bullet points in my sermon journal the day before sharing it. This time, I buckled down with a glass of my reliable Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban whisky neat and got to work in the afternoon. I eventually stopped writing after hours around 1:00 am and then picked up again later that morning of the wedding. Quick advice: don’t do that.

Wedding Day

Regardless, I finished the message right in the knick of time and headed to the Historic Rapids Lodge & Restaurant in Grand Lake. During the end of my over 2 hour trek there, I prayed for their future as husband and wife. After typical set up and small talk, along with teaching Dawn’s son how to play chess it was time to start the ceremony.

Now I can’t recall everything I said because a good half of it was improvised in-the-moment, which is my style of preaching. Mostly the examples and jokes were on the fly, while the main ideas and structure was relatively intact. Either way, here’s most of the basic outline I had written in my sermon journal:

  • All rise.
  • On behalf of Dawn and Joe, I want to thank you for being here today. Not as observers only, but as active participants of the first day of the rest of their lives.
  • Marriage is a covenant, not a contract.
    • Contract = the desire to gain
    • Covenant = the desire to give
  • Marriage is the personal promise to be someone’s always and forever.
  • Let’s pray for the bride and groom.

Their Marriage Story

  • Dawn, you look beautiful and lovely on this wonderful day.
  • Joe, you look… present.
  • After all these years as your friend, it’s my honor and privilege to be here officiating your special day.
  • Before we share their marriage story, I’d like to share a personal promise from the book of Ruth.

Ruth 1:16-17 (NLT)

“But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to seperate us!”

  • When I met Dawn
    • I was 18 and aimless
    • AvidMax highlights
  • When I met Joe
    • I was the investigative instigator
    • The moment I knew you were the guy for Dawn
  • Rules to Remember
    • Life is a garden.
      • Explain inosculation
      • Marriage is when two gardens become one.
    • Head, Heart; Hands
      • Actively listen and empathetically act.
    • Life is a pain, but God is our joy.
      • You get to be married, so live like it and embrace the adventure.
      • There will be trials and triumph, yet God will always be your constant.
  • Be one, be open, and be optimistic.

Outro

  • Vows
  • Rings
  • I pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss the bride.
  • Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Mr. and Mrs. Quinn!

Final Thoughts

Overall, I think it went ok for my first time officiating a wedding. They loved it and the crowd thought it was hilarious. Most of the audience didn’t know me, so I used that as my comedic edge to catch them by surprise with shocking zingers and also to balance the more serious stuff. There were definitely minor things I would do differently, but I wouldn’t have known those things anyway unless I had already officiated a wedding before. You don’t know until you know those sorts of things.

My only major regret was skipping over the vows section of the wedding on accident because of my nervousness. Not nervous from the public speaking per se, but more so the pressure of just trying to give them the wedding they wanted. Total amateur move, but learned my lesson there. Don’t veer from audience expectations and tradition too much or else some key moments could be missed that people want to see.

Either way, this is one of the highlights of the year for me and I’m glad I got to be a part of it with them. Cheers to the mighty Quinns! With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels