Starlight Ministries, a program of Emmanuel Gospel Center (Boston), is running low on socks in their drop-in center. Would you consider donating a few new pairs of socks? Starlight is also accepting hats and gloves for those in need. There is a drop-off bin underneath the main stairwell and we’ll be accepting donations until December 30th. We are excited to partner with Cynthia Bell, Starlight Director, and this amazing ministry.
Last Sunday featured some hearty singing (it must have been the hearty meals we ate on Thursday!) as we celebrated Christ the King Sunday. This Sunday closes out the liturgical year and is the last Sunday before we say “happy new year!” with the beginning of the new Christian year in Advent. As we enter into the “holiday season”, last Sunday reminds us of the fact that Christmas is much more than a baby in a manger. As we look towards Advent, the season reminds us that that baby is Lord of the universe, King of all creation, and King of our lives. Some good hymns we sang last week were Rejoice the Lord is King, and ended with the foot tapping hand clapping version of Getty’s Lift High the Name of Jesus. We dedicated baby Greyson and welcomed him into the church (photo above).No sermons found.
Near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he returned to Nazareth. He was the hometown boy, son of a carpenter, whose unexpected teaching ministry was thriving. And on the Sabbath went to the synagogue. With the community gathered on floor mats and benches, they sang and read scripture. The room was saturated with the word of God and the anticipation of young teacher’s sermon.
Luke 4:17-19 says, “And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”
When Isaiah first spoke those words 700 years before, he was speaking to the enslaved people of God. They had lost their freedom and their land. Their debts were burdensome. They were in desperate need of “good news” (v.18). They yearned for “liberty” (v. 18).
Then, with the eyes of everyone fixated on him, Jesus began his message by saying in verse 21, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Do you like puzzles? There is an undeniably satisfying feeling when a once disorganized pile of puzzle pieces finally comes together in a beautiful picture. When Jesus speaks the 700-year-old words of the prophet Isaiah, the redemptive story of the Bible crystallizes a little bit more. Seemingly scattered Old Testament promises and predictions are being fulfilled in Jesus, the Messiah—the anointed one. Jesus came to speak the hope of the Gospel into the lives of the oppressed and burdened. And the hope of their deliverance was realized in his death and resurrection, which freed them not just from shame, but from their sin. He freed them from both the punishment and power of sin. He proclaimed a “liberty” (v.18) unlike any other person in the history of the world.
This Advent season we are exploring the prophecies of Isaiah, “Signs of the Savior.” Our reflection on the story of Jesus’ birth will be grounded in the rich promises and predictions that Isaiah delivered to hopeless people.
Will we take time to marvel at the piecing together of God’s redemptive plan?
Will we feel satisfying joy as the unique purpose of Jesus’ mission becomes clearer?
How might we be spurred on to more vulnerably trust God and his plan for our lives?
We hope that you will join us as we begin our journey at our Lessons and Carols service next Sunday, 9:30 & 11a, as well as the following Sundays leading up to Christmas. In addition our Sunday morning services, “Evensong” returns on Wednesday, December 5th and 12th at 6:45-7:15p. This seasonal service is a beautiful midweek opportunity to re-connect with God and worship him. See you soon!
We have now completed the Fall Series in Philippians this past Sunday, which coincides with Stewardship Sunday and brings us to Thanksgiving Weekend. We had a wonderful service jam packed with songs of praise (Hillsong’s You Crown the Year is a good one to meditate on this Thanksgiving weekend) and a missions moment from Kevin Rideout talking about sharing the Gospel with translations of the bible on SD cards in West Africa. You can join us in praying that the Gospel would flourish in Niger here. Joanne Bleuer led our time of prayer and helped us remember to pray for Pastor Tom as he leads our church. Our choir sang Brahms’s “Geistliches Lied”, a serene exhortation to all of us not to be anxious about anything. God is in control (see the text and translation here). At the end of the service we welcomed Adam and Annie Combs, and their children Jesse, Grayson, and Noah as members of TCC. As the beginning of our Stewardship season, there are so many things to be grateful for and we are excited of the good things God is doing in our community.
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Paul remains consistent through the Epistle that we need to gain the right mindset,* which is the mindset of Jesus: “have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5): self-emptying, humbling oneself and self sacrifice (Phil 2:6). Tied to this mindset is authentic fellowship with one another: koinonia in the Greek pops up regularly in this letter and is conveyed by the words partnership, partaking, participation and sharing together. What is it that we are sharing? The “gospel,” the “grace” of God, community and, and not surprisingly considering Paul is in prison, the partnership is also forged through suffering, self-sacrifice, and trouble/tribulation (Phil 4:14). It is a fact that our community of faith has experienced each and every one of these elements of koinonia at some point or another, but with some deep sufferings this past year with the loss of so many loved ones, TCC is truly living out the deep sense of partnership together.
As he draws his message to a close in chapter 4, Paul has left the practical dimension of this partnership in the Gospel for last: supplying for the operational needs of the ministry. In these well known verses “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” Paul makes some pretty strong statements of assurance. He reveals his secret to financial giving and receiving God’s way. It all boils down to contentment (a word that comes from Stoic philosophy: self-sufficiency, 4:11). In fact, even as he receives monetary gifts with gratitude (sacrifices “pleasing to God” 4:18; See Romans 12:1), he actually says that he doesn’t really need their money! He is content regardless, which leads to the main point: you can’t really be that “cheerful giver” Paul talks about elsewhere (2 Cor 9) unless you have learned the secret of contentment in your own life. In fact you will give out of guilt (and this goes nowhere), compulsion (same dead end because you will end up not giving at all), or you can give out of heart filled with contentment and then God is truly able to manifest His power. At the end of the day, financial giving in God’s Kingdom is a supernatural thing in the same way God provided food in the wilderness and Jesus multiplied the baskets when he fed the multitudes.
This contentment is not something that comes naturally. Paul had to “learn” this “secret” the old fashioned way. This state of contentment has come to him by experiencing (“I know”) two polar opposite realities: “I know how to be brought low” and “I know how to abound” (4:12a). The language of being brought low is the precise language applied to Jesus on the cross: “He humbled himself by becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross ” Phil 2:8. But this state of complete abasing is also matched by the other experience of abounding. Here the language matches the extraordinary overflow of 7 and even 12 baskets of bread when Jesus fed the crowds! Paul can live in both world but he had to learn how to do this just as Jesus had to “learn obedience” through His suffering (Heb 5:8).
When he says “I have learned the secret” of contentment, he’s not keeping it secret and lets us in on it. In verse 12b he breaks it down real slow for us:
‘I have learned to have extra helpings buffet style (Mark 8:8 “They ate and were satisfied”)’
‘But I have also experienced real hunger (Jesus was “hungry after not eating for 40 days”)’
Then he repeats himself (just so we really get it; like the idea of rejoicing, Phil 3:1; Phil 4:4; Phil 4:10):
I have learned to “abound” (with a large surplus) but I have also experienced want at times.
This last one about being in need/want is very tough because it’s the same language used in Psalm 23, “I shall not want.” But here lies the secret: Paul has come to a place of acceptance that sometimes God’s promise of provision doesn’t look like provision at all! Sometimes God allows us to go with times of want/need (and who has NOT experienced those times?!!) and He is teaching us to accept them and to come to that place of saying in our hearts, “I’m ok with that.” Remember, Paul is actually in prison at the time of writing this. He’s totally practicing what he’s preaching. If we’re honest with ourselves, our own reaction to times of want is that we quickly go into misery and despair. But Paul rejoices in the Lord!!!
Digging deeper into Paul’s secret, he’s actually already told us how he runs his life in Phil 3:8. Put in a different way, Paul considers all that he has accumulated in terms of life’s accomplishment is actually pure garbage in contrast to the surpassing value of knowing Jesus. It’s all about Jesus! Fellowship with Him, intimacy with Him, and being in His presence! It’s about surrendering it all to Jesus. This is why he does something seemingly so counter intuitive as a fundraiser: ‘I don’t really need your money; I have everything I need.”
But he is not done schooling us on financial giving….
Because even as he says, I don’t need your check and your contribution, he also says to the Philippians, you still need to give, but not for me, for yourselves! Verse 17 holds the key to financial giving God’s way, but you can’t get there until you have come to this place of contentment he’s been talking about: “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” In other words, by depleting your account, you actually end up filling it. Another really strange to approach fundraising since the math is clear: if you taking 1000 dollars from your account, the balance will show a deficit that reflects this reality. Your balance will be shy of one Grand (or 10 dollars, or 10,000 or whatever number).
However, the lesson in contentment is now that giving and depleting your account will turn out to your profit. You will financially profit from it. How is that possible?! Because the power of God is now injected into Paul’s equation of contentment: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And because the power of God becomes part of the actual transaction, He will see to it that our needs (material needs in this context) are taken care of: “my God will provide all your needs” is in the inevitable conclusion. This is why Paul sees the giving and receiving of their partnership as a total win-win proposition. The receiver wins because he/she receives what is materially needed and the giver wins because they also receive what they need. It’s in the contentment in whatever circumstances and in the communion/koinonia of both giving and receiving that the power of God is unleashed.
This masterful lesson from Paul on money is pushing us to ask some serious questions…
In the end, we remember the Gospel. It’s not what we do for God but it’s what he has done for us. We rest in him. Some of us are on a vertical learning curve when it comes to faith and finances. So hear the promise: “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:14).
*a total of 10 times in the original Greek text of Philippians and variously translated in our English bibles: 1:7; 2:2 (twice); 3:15 (twice); 3:19; 4:2; 4:10 (twice). This all points to a mindset that is ‘heavenly’ focused on the mindset Jesus adopted when He died for us on a Roman Cross: A mindset of self-sacrificial giving of our lives to God.
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During this election season, it just so happens that our study of partnership in the Gospel takes us right to the passage that talks about the idea of citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20). As one Greek New Testament dictionary defines it this way: “our home is in heaven and here on earth, we are a colony of heavenly citizens.” Does it mean, the ‘commonwealth’ of heaven just checks out and takes on a passive-aggressive posture on earth until we actually get there? Paul answers that quite clearly. Anyone who puts their faith in Jesus belongs to heaven and has already received this inheritance (“Christ has made me his own”), but we also “press on to make it our own.” In fact the image is one of an athlete overextending themselves to obtain the prize: “forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” In fact it’s more like we are slugging through 18 innings of Game 3 of the World Series to win 2-1 (to eventually win the entire thing). The only difference to the reality of the 2018 World Series, in Paul’s idea of ‘Game 3’, we already know that we’ve won the World Series. But the slugging through still needs to take place. This is the paradox of this heavenly citizenship. Earlier in the epistle (Philippians 2:15) Paul addresses that too. He says to us as “citizens of heaven” that we “shine like lights in the world” and strongly reminds us of the words of Jesus: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:15). We reflect the radiance of heaven on earth because we are citizens of heaven.
What does it mean to radiate this light of heaven on earth? We lead lives on earth as people of the Cross (I’m tempted to say the ‘party of the Cross’): emptying ourselves, humbling ourselves so that we might serve others (following in the footsteps of Jesus, Phil. 2:5-8 and of Paul, Phil 3:17) blameless, innocent, and without blemish (Phil 2:15). It means that before any political affiliation we might have, we remind ourselves that God always is on the side of holiness (see Joshua 5:13-15). We remind ourselves the Gospel is always about God reconciling sinners (aka opponents or enemies) to himself, rather than scoring political points.
This year we as a leadership team are reading this little book, Evangelism by Mack Stiles (available at the TCC office) which plainly says that evangelism cannot be reduced to programs but is something that happens in the context of personal relationships. Maybe it’s time to invite your neighbor to church! Or if church is a step too far for them, have an initial conversation about the Gospel over a cup of coffee, invite them to your LIFE group, Mom-to-Mom or into your home for a meal. Let’s be the party of the cross in our neighborhoods. Let’s also take the side of holiness in our personal lives and in the way we conduct our professional and personal lives, knowing that God himself who is “at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).