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Being Useful.

Being Useful.

The Swiss Army Knife was the iPhone of its day. So many uses with so many applications. If you’re like most, actually talking on your phone is likely not even a Top 5 useful activity on your iPhone (behind texting, social media, news, emails, maps &/or your favorite game).

Speaking of useful-ness, have you ever sorted out how one’s faith is useful in everyday life?  Faith has direct applications for going to church, praying, reading the bible, serving, giving, worship, et al. But, beyond that, It’s just not always clear nor does even feel ‘spiritual’. Yet, if we believe God is All-Present, then it stands to reason faith intersects with our time, or as parents, our spending, and in marriage. It affects us in groups and by ourselves, with our health and toward our environment. Faith has so many applications...but only as it’s applied.

Ever need to mend a relationship? Long for deeper community? Struggle with injustice or wrestle with influence? Well, at the intersection of common sense, effort & opportunity is the Extra-Ordinary value of faith. In the Book of Philemon, we’re introduced to a runaway slave who finds Paul and a New Life…only to risk everything to realize how Use-Full faith can be in Me, with Us, for Others, & by God.  If you’ve ever wondered or been challenged to explain the role or value of faith in changing lives, experiencing God, or leveraging it for other’s benefit…this study will be useful in so many ways!

Raising expectations.

Raising expectations.

If you come to church this Sunday, there’s one thing guaranteed…It. Won’t. Change. Your. Life.  Sorry, but no matter how creative, inspiring, or even prayerful…the chances of you going from caterpillar to butterfly won’t happen.  I think many might acknowledge this as their experience, which is also why its so easy to miss until missing becomes normal. So why go to church at all? What’s more, why be committed to a local church?  These are actually really important questions to consider if faith is to grow, be a priority, or passed on.  

Have you ever had a ‘cheat meal’ - something really yum but way too many calories?? Yes!  And did you all of the sudden become overweight? Nope.  Have you ever skipped a workout? Of course!  Did you turn flabby in a day? No.  Similarly, faith is always nurtured over time. It requires both attention and intention.  Good habits are hard to form and easier to lose. If you’re out of the habit of being part of a faith community, don’t just come this Sunday. Instead, try committing to coming for 6 months – at least three times a month – and see if it doesn’t make a difference with friendships, in marriage, with questions, your family, toward temptation, with sadness, and making sense of the chaos of this world. 

Faith needs effort like trees need roots. There’s something about life that feels too big to manage alone and without a plan. There are lots of challenges and responsibility but also tons of beauty and joy. We shouldn’t experience any of these alone. Here’s to digging in to faith, community, and mission that transforms! Our world could use some transformation!

In Austin as it is in Heaven

Daily Bread.

When God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and they got on the other side of the parted Red Sea. They pretty quickly looked around and said, “now what are we gonna eat?” Their salvation from slavery felt as short lived as their appetite. So God provided Manna (along with some quail protein), their literal daily bread. It was given with one instruction – gather only enough for today. There would be no stockpiling or hoarding. In His infinite wisdom, God says to take enough for today.

Manna was new. It wasn’t traditional Jewish bread they were accustomed to eating. It wasn’t part of Egyptian diet they experienced. It was God providing something that was entirely new. Interestingly, the Hebrew for ‘manna’ literally translates into a question, “what is it?” In essence, God provides them – and us – with a daily question to digest as we learn to orient our lives around him. The Israelites didn’t always have an appetite for God. Despite living with constant provision, the Israelites lived with a constant complaint.

As we encounter undeserved gifts, oversized obstacles, instances of pure joy, and daily challenges – God promises a daily provision and invites us to ask the question, What is it? Eventually, Jesus answers the question when he identifies himself as the manna, saying he’s “the Bread of Life”.  If you missed Sunday, here’s a few highlights we saw from the healing of 10 lepers (Lk.17) yet only one of which returned to offer thanks.

Gratitude reminds us that God is the Source…that even my effort is a gift!
Gratitude is a choice unrelated to circumstances. Gratitude doesn’t alleviate pain. Rather, it fills the cup that is our life so – in the midst of the pain – we’re able to be people of hope.
Gratitude is a choice, like a muscle that needs exercise. So how about experimenting with empathy?

Over the next few weeks, try to capture moments on your camera phone when you end up either on the giving or receiving end of one of the Rhythms. Do this by taking a picture of a persons shoes/feet SO THAT…we might learn these seven Rhythms and “walk a mile in their shoes”. Post it Mission Hills Facebook album with the hashtag #WalkAMileInTheirShoes & citing which Rhythm.

A New Normal: A human(e) Response to the Resurrection.

Now that Easter’s been properly celebrated, what does the promise of new life mean for our daily lives? Easter reminded us that we can begin again. Being spiritually "born again" isn’t supposed to happen once, but regularly and often. It’s a continual process of renewal.  II Corinthians 4:16 in The Message says, “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace."

Our world is so full of needs, injustice, and abuse that it appears as if our only hope is to survive. Certainly, not thrive. Honestly, it’s hard to let ourselves be too affected by the plight of others YET – at the same time – we’re mindful of God’s unfolding grace in our own lives. Because of the resurrection, new life is promised but it's not automatic either. 

We often look around at our lives and this world wondering, “where’s God…?” or “how could he let that happen?”  We feel like God should be more active.  But, I'm suspicious that a large part of what we feel about injustice, greed, scarcity, abuse, wealth, accomplishment is supposed to help us see what God sees?  I think our emotions are supposed to help us experience something, something that God already sees and wants to remedy.  Perhaps what we see and feel is God’s invitation is to be a part of a solution.

So, what if — as a part of God’s plan for us — is to use the need and brokenness in this world to keep us spiritually alive? 

New life means re-sensitizing our hearts. With a little effort and encouragement, I want to suggest a “faith experiment” to help us see needs, opportunities, and our own resources differently. It's a chance to recondition our hearts.

For most of us, in order to experience New Life we need to create a New Normal? What if we experiment with small sacrificial acts and gestures of compassion believing that God can use us AND wants to give us New Life? 

Over the next month, we’re going to explore the Rhythm of Compassion. And we’ll do it together so we’re not alone in our effort. The idea is simple: One week where each of us sees what we can do without — We trade Starbucks for office brew. We plan a menu and forgo the Drive-thru. We pack a lunch in lieu of eating out. We pass on going to the movies and rent at home. There’s lots of normal activities we choose to bypass for a week. And, with the money saved, we pool it together. The money saved then becomes a way for us to practice compassion – meeting simple needs as they arise in your neighborhood, at the gas pump, the grocery store, at your kids school, downtown, in the park, or on the news. We’re not trying to solve any one issue. We’re simply trying to be part of God’s response AND allow our hearts to be re-sensitized as part of our everyday lives. That feels like the makings of a New Normal.

Hospitality: Making Room in our Home and our Heart.

Have you ever been overwhelmed, humbled by the mercy of another’s hospitality? Hospitality has a taste. It has a touch. It has a scent, a form, and can help us experience God’s presence in the most tangible way.

Sometimes, hospitality is our ability to make room for another – a friend, a stranger, a neighbor, and the least of these.

Other times, hospitality is also our ability to receive kindness, favor, and generosity from another (often an unexpected source). So what’s behind that? Probably, God.

The tangible expression of God is the willingness of his creation to express care.

However, we’re so quick to say, “no thanks”, “I’m fine”, and “I’m okay” that we miss out on those whom God is drawing near. If we can begin to see God as the Source of our lives (Jas.1:17, John 15) then receiving favors, kindness, and care reveals the presence of God and it reminds me that ultimately He provides.

If you struggle with doubt or believing God’s present or that He cares, try learning to be less self-sufficient. If we begin to see God as the Source of our lives, then acts of kindness, receiving favor, and gracious hospitality actually reveals God’s presence. If I never receive hospitality, I can easily be lulled into the belief that I don’t need Him.

Practicing a Rhythm of Hospitality.  In Luke 10:1-20, a new phase of Jesus’ ministry began when he sent out the apostles to do the type of preaching, teaching and healing that they had observed him doing. This was the third tour of Galilee by Jesus and his disciples. On the first tour Jesus traveled with the four fishermen; on the second all twelve were with him. On the third, Jesus traveled alone after sending out the seventy-two, two by two.

He’s previewing the Great Commission, which would come after his resurrection. He wants to teach his disciples about evangelism and the way he does is by teaching them about hospitality. 

He’s painting a new picture of what it meant to follow. No longer would they simply gather in the Temple or stay within the comfort of their small group. Now they were to go out. He gave them his power and authority and marching orders to find ‘People of peace”.

When Jesus sends them out, they’re told to take nothing with them for the journey. Instead, they were to rely on the hospitality and favor of strangers. When it comes to using our faith for good, often times the best thing we can do is let someone new, someone unexpected to care for us in unexpected ways.

Two things happen: God provides for us. God draws people together. 

Think about it, when we feel most alive, we’re able to contribute. We feel most connected when we’re able to help, give, or serve. So a person who refuses to let anyone help is actually turning away the ability to be closer. This is why Jesus said, “it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a need than the rich man to go to heaven.” (Lk.18:25). He’s not saying that God doesn’t want you wealthy, he’s reminding us that abundance has a way of making us self sufficient and seeing what are needs actually are.

The spiritual Rhythm of Hospitality means learning to discern who God has been preparing in advance of my life. Our job isn’t to have all the right answers, the perfect approach, or to even be convincing. Our job is simply to let the Spirit lead to whom the Spirit has prepared. This means that we have to be willing to seek, wait, and receive God’s provision as much as we have the ability to offer it. 

According to scripture, all of us appear to have “People of Peace” in our lives. These are the ones who have already shown us inexplicable favor, kindness, patience, or grace. Yet, it’s also safe to assume, each of us are also someone else’s person of peace. And it’s how we give AND receive that reveal God most. 

The Power of Good. Works. An intro to our Rhythms

In 1966, after drawing “only” 50,000 fans for show at Shea Stadium, the Beatles were fed up w touring. In an interview years later with Paul, George and Ringo seated around a table, McCartney said, “We were getting worse and worse as a band while all those people were screaming. It was lovely that they liked us but we couldn’t hear to play.” They could no longer hear the music. When that happened, they lost their meaning. They had to go back to the studio to find their sound again. 

If our faith is the melody and God’s presence is the harmony, how can we hear God’s redemption song despite the insufferable distractions? I like to say that we need to find our spiritual rhythm, if you will—a way to tangibly express our faith and represent the belief we profess. And we need each other so we don’t lose it. 

We all have a desire to grow. Some of us have a plan for it. We have ideas about how to grow a career, our business, net worth, improve our health or relationships…but do we know how to grow our faith? I want to introduce a way of thinking about faith as a way of living.

Jesus said, ‘My mother & brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.’  (Lk.8:19-21). Ancient Israel shared a common understanding of the concept of good deeds. In causal Jewish English, “doing a mitzvot” means doing a good deed, something nice, something helpful to someone, a favor; but these meanings derive from the original sense, “a commandment” from God. It is somewhat shocking to learn that the Torah contains a whopping 613 mitzvot for the Jewish people to obey! 

Central to Jewish people was to live the way of Torah. These ‘commands’ from the first five books of the Bible were God’s design to help us live in harmony with God, with one another, and with the environment. Torah contains all kinds of laws that about the minutia of daily living (Lev.19; 25; Dt.24). Torah speaks to issues about food, possession, neighbors, sexuality, family, business, and clothing – in order to live the way of God. It’s about how to work, treat employees, treat customers, take of others because prosperity was thought of as communal not individual, that if one prospered others should too. And if the community prospered, no one would go hungry. Jesus embraces this inspired Jewish idea when he says, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your (mitzvot) good deeds and praise your father in Heaven” (Mt. 5:16)  

Many discussions in Jesus’ day centered around which were the most important commands. The better the rabbi, the fewer amount of words and letters he’d use to summarize the commands in the shortest way possible. Daily discussions were held in temple courts around these interpretations and which ones were most important. Debates among rabbis and religious leaders were won with someone’s ability to best summarize God’s intent behind the Laws. In a drop-the-mic, stun-the-crowd kind of moment, Jesus summarizes 613 commands saying, Love God and love others as much as self (Matt.22:24).

Different rabbis would have different interpretations of Torah. For instance, some might emphasize how much a person could lift or how far one could walk on Sabbath and still keep the day as holy. Others might emphasize personal hygiene or acceptable eating habits. And still others might scrutinize care for the most vulnerable in society. Many interpretations were so strict, legalistic, and became a source of pride. What’s interesting is that a rabbi’s interpretation was known as his ‘yoke’. Jesus, a master rabbi himself, comes along and declares, “my yoke is easy (or, useful) and my burden (or, load) is light” (Matt.11:30). Jesus wants to show what it looks like to put these commands on display. He wants to restore harmony with God and creates a tangible, guided way for people to follow. 

At Mission Hills Church, we’ve compiled a rather simple “yoke” for people to follow. We refer to them as our Rhythms. We believe that faith is supposed to be both shared and practiced beyond simply attending a worship service. We’re not trying to be spiritually comprehensive with these values. Rather, we trying to outline a tangible way for people to follow Christ, express faith, and experience the Spirit’s impact. Our belief is that if we practice these Rhythms, it can form Christ in us. And if we practice these Rhythms, it will benefit people where we live and work. 

  • Hospitality – because faith and community need to remain accessible.
  • Generosity – it’s in giving that we’re reminded of God’s gracious provision in our own lives. 
  • Gratitude simply requires discipline and thanksgiving is a valuable expression of worship.
  • Compassion – it’s in serving that our hearts are re-sensitized and needs are met.
  • Community – faith is supposed to be shared and practiced with others. 
  • Renewal - because margins are a good thing and we need to live more sustainably 
  • Apprenticing – because experience is both a need to gain and a gift to steward for all of us.