50-AG 2 (Online)

“We Believe that God sent his son Jesus into the world to restore a broken relationship between us and Himself. We believe God offers a love so deep & so strong that we want everybody to know about it!”

April 26, 2020, 10:00 AM

This church is led by a husband/wife pastoral team, where he is the “lead” pastor and she’s the “executive” pastor. I like that they aren’t afraid to give her a “pastor” title. In their beliefs section, it only states the two sentences found above. So, my guess is that they are open to variations and interpretations of other core beliefs. I also like that they’ve chosen to sum up their faith in a succinct, yet pointed way. To me, it says, “Jesus is so compelling, we are compelled to tell you about Him.”

After a five minute countdown, the woman pastor greeted us and told us about the message discussion guide available on their website, how to connect and give. Then, she sang the worship songs along with a keyboardist and a guy sitting on a drum, while tapping it between his legs. I’m sure there’s a name for that kind of drummer. After fifteen minutes of singing, the husband pastor came on the screen. A big screen shot of an orange tree was set up behind him, which tied in well with his message series, Fresh Fruit. This was his second in the series, talking about the nine fruits of the spirit listed by Paul in Galatians 5: 22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Using his iPad as a guide, the young pastor deftly laid out the ways in which we might struggle to keep our joy as Christians. Especially in times like these, in a Pandemic, in a crisis, in uncertainty, in joblessness, in sickness and even in death. How do we, as followers of Christ, continually walk in joy when the situations we face are not joyful?

I feet like this was a particularly timely topic for me, as my daughter’s dear friend, a young man in his mid-twenties, died last week. It was a tragic, avoidable and accidental death, which has left his parents and two sisters devastated. My daughter, also, is struggling to comprehend such a loss. On top of that, I’m tele-praying daily with a friend who’s husband recently died too young. And another friend of mine is almost paralyzed with alcoholism and no one seems able to help her. How can we find joy in these times? How can I be joyful when I see so much suffering? How could I ever feel joy again if I lost a child or a husband or one of my dear friends?

The pastor showed a small clip of a baby laughing. You know the one, where the baby giggles like she’s gonna explode with joy. Those videos always put a smile on your face. This, he said, feels like joy. But he also said joy is not happiness. Happiness is based on circumstances, but joy is not. I’m going to sum up his message like this: Joy is a deeper understanding, an inner assurance that no matter what happens, God wins. Joy puts its hope in God, who has overcome the world, who has made life out of death, and who will make all things new again. Therefore, joy is not dependent on what happens to us, it is dependent on our faith in the Rock of Ages.

The pastor flashed several more scriptures onto the screen to emphasize his points. One was Isaiah 43:1-3 (MSG): “Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—Because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you…”

He also emphasized that joy comes from a long-term perspective. It is not for the hope of this life, but on the eternal life that is to come in Jesus Christ. It was this long-term perspective that enabled Jesus to endure the cross. For the joy of saving us, Jesus accepted his trials and suffering. For the eternal joy of being reunited with God in heaven, Jesus walked toward his own death.

The pastor also stated that our joy demonstrates and witnesses to our faith in Christ. “Our testimony is proven when it’s tested.” Then, he transitioned into a call for those who have not yet put their faith in Christ and led a prayer for unbelievers to accept Christ.

I felt he gave a solid sermon (although they call it a “message”) on the meaning of joy for the Christian. He outlined why joy is different than happiness, why we can have joy in suffering and how a long term perspective will fortify our joy. This church may be the kind that feels it must always ask for a commitment to believe in Christ. But I also wonder if he could have kept on topic, which was the JOY of those who already believe in Jesus. Could he have invited us to consider ways in which we have forgotten our joy or ways we need to remember our joy, in Christ? I don’t think every sermon has to be for the new recruit. Some need to be for the Body of Christ, which also requires feeding and tending, from time to time.

Overall, I was greeted, invited to join in, and told how to connect. The music was good and the sermon (message) was personable, insightful and timely. Therefore, this church PASSED the WELCOME TEST.

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