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Love in the Darkness
December 09, 2018 - Phil Schaefer
John 3: 16-17, Luke 10: 25-37, Romans 5: 6-8
The Advent season is when we are invited to live with our deeper, less comfortable selves. To sit uncomfortably with our angry self, our unbelieving self, our unloving self, our self that is not in control. It is meant to get us out of our own personal goals, our life lived on our terms, our life as we want to control it.We love to throw the word love around in our songs and movies and language. I love my car, house, dog, cat, boyfriend. I love my church. But for love to be love, it must cost us something. Love means we are giving ourselves away. Love takes big chunks out of you that you don’t get back. Love costs your life.What God has done for us has cost him everything – his reputation, his authority, his identity. And most personally – it cost the extreme suffering and death of His Son. The baby in the manger was sent on a mission - John 3:17Love - Agape love - is not a feeling; it is being for others. It is not an emotion; it is a costly serving. It is not passive; it is active. It seeks the good of others; it loses sight of itself. It always believes and has hope for the other. You may feel weak, but agape love gives you a strength beyond yourself; for it is a love that comes from another realm.Agape is victorious over all the forces arrayed against it.The parable of the Good Samaritan is about rightly identifying your neighbor. "Who is my neighbor?" the lawyer asks Jesus seeking to justify himself. Luke 10: 25-37Agape love is more than just saying God loves everybody. In fact, God does love everybody, but the everybody for us has to have a name, a face, an encounter attached to it or it lacks any depth of love.Romans 5: 6-8 Paul’s words – ‘Christ died for the ungodly’ has a bite in it. Who are the ungodly? I am, and you are.In verse 8 – ‘But God demonstrates His own love.’ - But God! To understand this agape love of God is to throw yourself on the mercy of God. O God, I cannot love like this, but you can through me. Agape is unattainable by human effort. It is the work of God in us.Someone this week told me: ‘Fear is a principality. It wants to control us, dominate us, disable us.' Then they said – ‘Fear is tempting us to partner with it. But we are not to partner with fear. We are to partner with faith.’ 'Fear will crush us, but faith will deliver us.’ Perfect love casts out all fear.Agape lovers are burden bearers. They are ‘enter-the-fray people’. They may feel weak, but they give strength.Jesus came to lead us into an altogether unknown way of loving. This love comes from another sphere, not of this world. It is the breaking in of God’s love that transforms the human heart.1 Peter 1 – "Grace and peace be multiplied to you…to you who are kept by the power of God for salvation…in this salvation you greatly rejoice though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved (distressed) by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested (purified) by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, who having not seen you love…and believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory."Beloved, we shall come through this time. God is deepening our love. He is purifying our faith. He is creating strength in us out of our weakness. We are not in control, but He is.Let us follow His leading.
Advent Biblically Understood
December 02, 2018 - Phil Schaefer
Malachi 4: 5-6, Matthew 1:1
Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent. Advent in the liturgical calendar of the church is the season of preparing for the coming of the Lord. But Advent, Biblically understood, is not about Christmas preparations, decorations, or parties. Advent, Biblically understood, is about absence, darkness, and silence. Advent, Biblically understood, is about having a sense of the wrath of God; about facing our sin and our judgment.Isaiah 64:5-7 – You are indeed angry, for we have sinned – in these ways we have continued; and we need to be saved, or -In our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our "righteousnesses" are like filthy rags…for you have hidden Your face from us and have consumed us because of our iniquities. The prophetic cry in Isaiah 64:1 is – ‘O, that you would rend the heavens and come down!Wrath is God’s absence. Wrath is God not intervening in man’s willfulness. Wrath is God leaving humanity on its own. Wrath is a sense of the absence of any goodness, righteousness, justice, love, mercy, compassion, or purpose. Wrath is to look into the heart of darkness of humanity left to itself.At Advent, we do not look away from wrath, we look directly at it.Christmas is diminished, stripped of its substance if we are not willing to take a fearless inventory of the darkness. Thus, Advent, Biblically understood, begins in darkness. For as long as mankind has had a sense of sin there has been a cry - ‘O come, O come, Immanuel!’Now you may say, ‘Phil, it’s Christmas. It’s a time to feel good and escape from reality, of decorations, and festivity.’But as Christians – especially because Christmas is Christian – we have to correctly engage the Biblical story that leads us into the deepest longing of the human heart. We cannot grasp what God has done for us until we have had a personal and honest sense of the hopelessness of our condition.Isaiah 9:2 – ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death upon them a light has shined.’ (death as a shadow always over them)Advent, Biblically understood, re-orders our perspective on this world. By this I mean darkness will always be darkness. Darkness does not get converted. We get converted. We see things differently.John 1:5 – ‘And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it - Could not grasp it - Could not overcome it - but we do. John 1: 7-8It doesn’t mean we spend the next 4 weeks all gloomy. It does mean we step above this world – see it in its pain and futility - understanding this is the reality of a world without hope if there is no savior.It is to be confronted by the ugliness and pain of what took place here yesterday. But these headlines are every day.Advent brings us into a story that says the Bible has the final word – the word that sums up all things in Christ.This story is the story that confronts and overcomes all the stories we get from our news feeds. This world cannot save itself.To make it very practical for us. - I get myself into this setting every Sunday because I need to orient myself to the world of Scripture. - I need to do it so that when an unbelieving person wants to know what orients my life I can say I gather with a people every week and we, together, orient ourselves to the God of the Bible.If someone without a hope asks me what is my hope, I will not only tell them my hope is Jesus Christ, I will tell them my hope is found in this Church – a place of people who know they are sinners but who have found forgiveness, and hope, and joy.Let me remind us, we still have Good News to proclaim. In this present darkness, we have seen a great light.The Bible that we read – this Advent, Christmas, Easter story that we tell – it must be told again and again and again. It must be told before an unbelieving and sin-filled world.Into this world, a Savior has come. It is Christ the Lord. ‘Fall on your knees, O hear the angels voices, O God-ordained night, when Christ comes.’We are called by the Lord to be Advent people preparing the way of the Lord.
Gratitude - 'Jesus, After Giving Thanks...'
November 25, 2018 - Mike Acock
John 6: 11
"Jesus, after giving thanks..."In today's sermon, Pastor Mike Acock teaches on gratitude. Jesus' lifestyle was thanksgiving. He gave thanks for what was. Jesus gave thanks before feeding the 5,000, and he gave thanks for hiding things from the wise. Jesus even thanked the Father BEFORE he raised raising Lazarus from the dead. There was a relationship between him and Father so that Jesus knew he was being heard. Jesus also thanked the Father at the Last Supper knowing he would soon suffer a horrendous death; he was thankful to do the Father's will. Giving thanks precedes the miracle.The anatomy of gratitude is about living wholeheartedly, and surprise or wonder teaches us that everything is a gift. Our intellect recognizes the gift. Our will acknowledges the gift. Our emotions appreciate the gift. Pastor Mike lists 7 barriers to gratitude:Your focus is on the lack of provision. Your focus is on the problem as a wall verse a hill. Your focus is on you as the source of the solution. Your focus is on the fear of making a mistake. Your focus is on the past being better than you can imagine the future. Your focus is on your pain and you are choosing to remain the victim. Your focus is on your comfort over compassion for others.These are things that can keep us from being grateful, but Mike also gives us examples of what thankfulness looks like. With prayers, scriptures, and statements focused on thanksgiving, we get a taste of what it looks like to practice gratitude. Pastor Mike encourages us to ask God for eyes to see a gift in every situation, and he also encourages us to journal unexpected gifts we find in everyday life.When you begin to see the provision no matter how small or large, you become the miracle. You begin to see relationship in lieu of problem-solving, and you begin to see God's Lordship over your obstacle and the gift you will receive in going through it. You begin to see open gates to the presence of the Lord (Psalm 100: 4-5).When you're living a life of gratitude, you being to see the future as possibility and destiny. You begin to see God can be trusted to order your steps, and you begin to see how your internal state of being in Christ is to be brought to bear on your circumstances.
Our Response to Impossible Situations
November 18, 2018 - Phil Schaefer
John 6: 1-13
This week, Pastor Phil Schaefer has been in multiple meetings and conversations where the realities of the needs seemed impossible. Where it appears like there is no way we can go forward, there is no way we can meet financial obligations, no way we can make this ministry or that ministry flourish, no way we can bring this person along, no way we can succeed. It was fascinatingly dire. He found himself asking: "When do we start reading Bible stories and placing ourselves into them? Why do we so often read them as good bedtime fairy tales situated back in history but having nothing to do with me today in my situation? What does it take to put ourselves into those Bible stories like it is today like we are living in those same challenges? Are the Bible stories there just to be good reading or are they there to show us just how profoundly Jesus means to change the way we live?" At the beginning of John 6, Jesus is gathering the masses. By the end of his discourse in Ch.7, Jesus says: "Eat my flesh and drink my blood." His numbers go down to just a few.QUESTIONS: Do we read these Bible stories and think they are about others but not us, or do we read them and ask: How are we living out this story today, in our lives, up close and personal? Do we have an eyes-wide-open understanding that –if we are going to follow Jesus it is – 100% guaranteed – He is going to bring us into impossible situations. If we are going to follow Jesus, it is 100% certain that He is going to wrestle control out of your hands and into his. If we are following Jesus, He will lead you not into greater comfort; He will lead you into greater acts of trusting Him. Do you really want to follow Jesus or are you one of those in the crowd that got fed by Him and then, when he starts to assert his place in your life you back away from him?Q. How can I know if I am still following Jesus? A. What has he placed you in that is an impossible situation?John 6: 1-6 All 4 gospels record the feeding of the multitude. Jesus asks his question to the disciples early in the day and then proceeds to speak to the crowd all day until dusk. By then everyone is hungry - approaching getting ‘hangry’. Jesus purposefully made it impossible for the disciples to have a workable solution. – other Gospels say it this way: ‘You feed them.’ There is no way any village nearby had enough to feed 5000+ people at once. Jesus specifically directs his question to Philip – to a person. ‘You can’t hear God speak to someone else, you can hear him only if you are being addressed.’ You have to put your name in there where Jesus turns to Philip and you have to come up with your answer. Where shall we get the resources to meet all these needs? John 6: 6 – Jesus is testing us. He is looking to see if after all the miracles, healings, water into wine – to see if Philip was going to give an answer that had faith in it, or if he was going to give an answer that could only see the natural. John 6: 7-9 – our response to impossible situations is most often like Philip’s or Andrew’s. We see the need, see if we have adequate resources, see that we don’t have adequate resources, then state the reality -'8 months wages couldn’t meet the need’ ‘Here are 2 fish and 5 loaves, but what are they among so many? It is all beyond us. The need cannot be met. We begin to despair. We resign into hopelessness. We want to give up.- "There are giants in the land. Oh, no!" - "Pharaoah is coming after us and our backs are against the Red Sea. We’re doomed!" - "We have no food in this wilderness. Moses, why did you lead us out here to die? We want to go back to Egypt." Where shall we buy bread that these may eat? Answer: ‘All we can see is we don’t have enough to feed them.’ Our situation is impossible, hopeless. Where is faith in Jesus? It isn’t there yet. So what do we do? Watch the rest of the sermon on how to respond to impossible situations.Subscribe to our channel to watch sermon live streamed every Sunday at approximately 9:50 and 11:50 am respectively. You can also learn more about us on our website at ChristianFellowship.com.
Grace in Communion
November 11, 2018 - Phil Schaefer
John 6: 33-57
It has been said - Man is what he eats. God created man as a hungry being. The question we ask today is - What are we hungry for?Jesus says in John 6:33 – ‘For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ John 6:34 – give us this bread always.Alexander Schmemman said, "Original sin is not that man disobeyed God. God created us to be hungry for Him and for Him alone. Original sin is that we ceased to be hungry for God."God gave mankind the raw materials of His creation and said be fruitful with it. Our task was to transform the raw material and fill it with meaning, spirit and the life of God.When mankind shifted his hunger from God, mankind went into exile. A wall of separation came between God and man. Man and all creation were here, and God was there.And from this original sin, instead of living generously, man lives selfishly. Instead of seeing the abundance of God, man can only see scarcity.Mankind never has enough. Man is never satisfied. Man has been hungering throughout time, but he knows not what for. Each of us has a hunger.When Christ came he was the promise of the Father to meet our hunger. John 6:35 – he who comes to me shall never hunger nor thirst.The Lord’s Supper, Communion, The Eucharist is a sacrament. What is a sacrament? - A sacrament is an outward sign of grace. It is not a sign of what we do for God. It is a sign and a seal of what God has done for us. Eat my flesh, drink my blood is a full-on, radical expression of grace:John 6:37 – the one who comes to me I will in no way cast out. John 6:40 – everyone who believes in [me] may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:51 – if anyone eats this bread he will live forever John 6:54 – whoever eats my flesh has eternal life John 6:56 – he who eats my flesh abides in me and I in him. John 6:57 – he who feeds on me will live because of me.All these words are grace unearned, unmerited, unlimited.A sacrament is a transformation into new life and new creation. It is a passage into the kingdom of God.Jesus is Life itself. – Life with a capital ‘L.' He is the Life of all life. All things animate or inanimate and all tasks have their life in Christ.Paul says – for the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. The whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. He makes it sound as though inanimate life has life in it.There is a humorous story of a woman who attended a Catholic Mass with her boyfriend. She did not understand the ritual. But after communion, she burst out: ‘Look, the priest is doing the dishes!’ He’s washing the plates and cups, rinsing them, and wiping them dry. This very symbolic and powerful expression of faith suddenly had a very domestic look. - Jesus is the Life of all life.One guy talked about when, as a kid, he would look at the parade of people who would come forward for communion – what a hodge-podge of people.Communion is to see the parade of the Body of Christ coming to Him. It is to see not a sameness, but to see how different we are. Men and women, young and old, wealthy and poor, educated and uneducated. There are no insiders in the line, none who are deserving. It is not the spiritual ones first or the mature ones first.The Lord’s Supper is a grace-filled community event. We come together not by our sameness. We come together not because we judge or condemn the same groups. We come together not because we are all conservative Republicans or liberal Democrats. We come together not because of common politics, or common class, or common skin color, or anything else that separates us or puts us above another in our own mind.We come together because Christ defines our life, gives life, makes us see life not from the lens of this world, but through the lens of His person.We are not a brother or sister because we agree about everything. We are brother and sister because Christ has brought us to Himself.The church looks distinctive from the institutions that man builds because it is what Christ is building. The church is not a group that is for itself and against the world. The church lays down its life for the life of the world. Unless we are doing that, we are just playing religion.When the church celebrates this sacrament of communion it becomes a sacrament itself. The church becomes the passage, the transformation, the outward sign into the Kingdom of God. The church becomes this picture of grace.When we eat we have eternal life, will be raised up on the last day, will not be cast out, have Christ abiding in us and us in Him.Man is what he eats. Let us eat his flesh and drink his blood, for it is true food and true drink.
Jesus Controls the Narrative of Your Life
November 04, 2018 - Phil Schaefer
John 7: 46
John tells us that "no man ever spoke like this Man." A man who was merely a man and said the sorts of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. Either this man was and is the Son of God, or he is a madman.We hear Jesus make incredible statements such as declaring himself sinless, saying "I am the Bread of Life," telling Nicodemus "You must be born again," and telling the lame man to "Take up your bed and walk." Jesus does not intend to frustrate us with statements like these. He intends to draw faith out of us, provoke faith in us; and get us out of ourselves.Our entire existence hangs in the balance of our relationship to Him. He uses discomforts to bring us out of ourselves into a relationship with Him. The only true security is in having no security in ourselves.Like it or not, agree with it or not, Jesus is drawing all people to Himself for He is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All things are consummated in Him.
The Religious Life vs Life in Christ
October 28, 2018 - Phil Schaefer
John 5
Christianity at its core is the end of all religion. In this sermon, Pastor Phil Schaefer teachers on the difference of religion and having life in Jesus. Religion is man making himself just in the eyes of God. But in Christ, God became a man. In Christ, God and man are united. There is no longer a need for religion because Jesus has made us just in God's eyes. Jesus has given us life! Thus, Christianity is a new life, not a new religion. Religion is this: any way that we are keeping record of our merits. Everyone starts this way. Every one of us is born religious. You want to get 'it' right. It's the only way we can understand in our early years. It is not Jesus who condemns us. It is religion that makes us feel condemned. But Jesus Christ is the end of all religion because He Himself was the ANSWER to all religion. Jesus is God's answer for making us not only right with God but also one with God. God calls us to do the same work that the Father and Son have been doing since the beginning: to be life, to be a light, to give our lives. Put simply, we are to be a blessing, to bring a blessing wherever we find ourselves. We do good not to gain eternal life but because we have eternal life. Our work or vocation is not to escape; it is to orient ourselves to new life even as we live in this world of sin. The very essence of Christianity is that man is incapable. There's the story of the lame man in John 5. Jesus asks the lame man if he wants to get well, and the man replies with an excuse. The lame man doesn't answer the question. Jesus responds with a command: "Get up!" This is not just a healing. This is an account of fallen mankind and our inability to heal ourselves. It is an account of the Gospel itself! Pastor Phil believes that this is a prophetic word for someone this morning. For someone who has wallowed in their crippledness for years, the Spirit is saying, "Get up!" Pick up what you've been lying upon these years. Stop letting it carry you. You roll it up. Start walking into the new life that Jesus has called you into. Jesus did not come to help us a little bit. He came to give us new life. His life. Life in Him. But we must be willing to come to Him to have this life. For through the cross, joy came into the whole world. This joy does not depend on anything to us. It is the joy of God's gift of Himself to us. It is the joy of forgiveness or being called a saint, of God's grace abundantly and freely given, of getting to be an instrument in God's hand, of God's seeking after us, of the Holy Spirit as a seal and promise of God. This is a joy given to us for the world. Christ dies for the world. He came for this world. He came not to give us an escape from it but to bring life and hope to it. All human achievement is leveled thru Jesus's death. Christianity is about the achievement of the cross. We worship a crucified man who is also the giver of life.
A Momentous Move - Part III
October 21, 2018 - Michael Acock
Ephesians 2: 8-10, Judges 3: 1-4, Matthew 9: 14-17
How to move forward as a church. Continuing the sermon series, A Momentous Move, from last week, Pastor Michael Acock teaches again this morning on what it looks like for our church to move forward, to grow.Pastor Mike starts out today by revisiting the 7 progressions he spoke about last week. There are 7 steps or progressions in moving forward:A deep internal sense that in this present moment the past will not and cannot define the future life. A dynamic vision of what the future could be. A single act of obedience to yes to what could be. A season of preparation in light of where you are and what you see as the future. An active step toward the future. A de-romanticized expectation of the journey. A relentless seizing of the opportunity to create a future that does not currently exist.What does this look like? Pastor Mike explains these points in more detail. In regard to the first progression Pastor Mike reminds us to honor the past, but stay loyal to the future. Then when talking about the second progression, Mike reminds us that who we are in God is not determined by what we do, but rather who we are in God determines what we do. Next, we look at what it means to say yes as an act of obedience and how saying yes acts as a guide in our journey. The next progression is a season preparation which is where it becomes the real thing, this is where we are right now in our church. Mike presents us with the analogy of preparing kids to move out and preparing to run a marathon. Then Mike goes into depth explaining the de-romanticized expectation of the journey. We are reminded that this journey will not be easy. We will have trouble, we will wrestle, we will have temptation, we will have trials, and we will suffer. These challenges are going to make us stronger when we reach the end of this journey. Then we will be ready for the seventh progression where we seize the next opportunity.Pastor Mike ends with the explanation of Matthew 9: 14-17. We need God to give us new wine and new wineskins. If we try to do something new with what we have now, it won't work, but we need God to give us new wineskins to expand where God would have us go.In closing, Mike exhorts us to fall in love with the mission God has given us and not the method. Systems and processes will change, but who God is will never change. Our fuel is God himself, not the vision.
A Momentous Move - Part II
October 14, 2018 - Michael Acock
Ephesians 2: 8-10, Matthew 9: 14-17
How do we move forward as a church? Continuing the sermon series, A Momentous Move, from last week, Pastor Michael Acock teaches this morning on what it looks like for our church to move forward, to grow. Pastor Mike starts the sermon with some history about Christian Fellowship, and then he moves to encourage us and inspire us in our building project. But first, it's important that we know who we are. We are not called to do church but to be the church. We are called out the world and given a new identity and then we follow Christ and go back in the world to change it. Who we are in God is not determined by what we do! Who we are in God determines what we do. We must know who God has called us to be. We will never step into the life God has for us trying to live out someone else's calling. As Jesus told Peter in John 21:20, we are to follow him. What is it to us what Jesus has called others to do. There are 7 steps or progressions in moving forward:A deep internal sense that in this present moment the past will not and cannot define the future life. A dynamic vision of what the future could be. A single act of obedience to yes to what could be. A season of preparation in light of where you are and what you see as the future. An active step toward the future. A de-romanticized expectation of the journey. A relentless seizing of the opportunity to create a future that does not currently exist.What does this look like? Pastor Mike explains some of these points in more detail, and he ends with the explanation of Matthew 9: 14-17. We need God to give us new wine and new wineskins. If we try to do something new with what we have now, it won't work, but we need God to give us new wineskins to expand where God would have us go. In closing, Mike exhorts us to fall in love with the mission God has given us and not the method. Systems and processes will change, but who God is will never change. Our fuel is God himself, not the vision.
A Momentous Move
October 07, 2018 - Phil Schaefer
Joshua 1:3
Bold Faith - When we look at the story of God's people, we see there are moments when God leads momentous moves, and we believe that our church is on the doorstep of our own move.In today's sermon, Pastor Phil Schaefer teaches on why we, our church are building a new church. Even Pastor Phil has asked himself if this is insane, and as others have asked him why we are doing this, the answer that he as to obey is this: God told us to make this move. At every stage of our history, God has put the next moves in front of us. It's been - "Here is your next move. Are you willing to take it? Here is a need. Are you willing to meet it?"Christian Fellowship, us as a group, hasn't been the driving force behind this; the Holy Spirit has been pushing this forward in his way, in his time, and he is who we are following. We are on a journey - a spiritual/physical/material journey following God. We have always been on a journey, and if we are to remain a thriving church, as a people known as Christian Fellowship, we must continue to be on a journey all our days. Your faith is not just about you; your faith is about the people of God.Phil was discussing this topic with people recently, and he blurted out: "We are doing this because it is a matter of life and death for us as a church." Phil didn't know where it came from, but he realized that we as a church cannot settle. If we do, our congregation will grow old and diminish. None of us can avoid growing old, but no church can afford to settle. This will not be Christian Fellowship's story.There are countless Momentous Moves in the Bible that changed the trajectory, the story of God's people in that time. They were bold and scary. Life and death are in the balance. How do they relate to our story?God is giving us a story that is about faith, boldness, risk - stepping into the unknown to see what God will do. God is not going to answer all our questions beforehand. Faith, by its nature, never has the answer ahead of time. This is why the Bible says, "Fear not" so often. These Momentous Moves are the kind of moves that shape your life on a larger scale. It can look irrational and dangerous, and yet, it changes the whole trajectory of a person's life - not just a person, but a people.We are the people of God in this day. We are a people being prepared for a Momentous Move.It is not just about a building. It is about building (a verb). It is about stepping into what God has put in front of us, stepping into needs and meeting them, being future directed so that we do not settle and die.