Road Trip

Photo by Nathalia Segato on Unsplash

By Debbie Cunningham, Four Oaks Women’s Ministry Director 

Several weeks ago my son and I were traveling to Orlando for a Lacrosse tournament and, at 17, he was taking on part of the driving responsibilities. What I wish I could tell you is that I was enjoying a good book or a nap while he drove; instead, I was freaking out, seeing an accident waiting to happen as he was too close to the car in front of us or not slowing down when he needed to or in general doing something I didn’t like.  My husband pointed out to me that I act very similarly when he is the driver, but instead of saying anything, I reached over and grabbed the armrest, bracing myself for the inevitable accident. As both of the men in my life are good drivers and prove that over and over again by arriving safely at their destinations with all passengers alive and well, the problem isn’t with them: it is with me.
 
My need to control the things around me is a faith problem. In the case of being a passenger in a car, it is a lack of faith in the driver. But in a much broader sense, it is a lack of faith in God and His provisions. One thing I discovered is that if I lift my eyes from the cars directly around me, looking to what is further along the road, I am more at peace as the passenger. The same holds true of my circumstances. If I raise my eyes above myself and focus instead on God and His goodness, I am at peace trusting in Him to deliver me safely along the highways of life.
 
To focus on God instead of ourselves takes time, discipline, and patience. It is a lifelong endeavor that requires us to read and study the Bible. Over the past several years, I have experienced so many “aha moments” and moments of blissful awe as I learned more and more about the God who reached down and broke my bonds of sin. Choosing to rework my life to make Bible study a priority has brought greater joy into my life.
 
Choose to enjoy the ride of this life, by focusing your eyes on Christ, instead of clinging to the armrest and bracing for the worst.

Chosen People

Photo by Kimson Doan on Unsplash

Photo by Kimson Doan on Unsplash

By Zach Simons

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” - 1 Peter 2:9-10

Of all the places in scripture that speak to the nature of the church, this is perhaps one of the most potent. Packed into these couple of verses is a treasure trove of phrases to help us understand our relationship to God and to one another as Christians. Because of this, we could spend hours talking through them, but today I’d like to highlight one that is particularly emphasized; and that is “a people.”

What does Peter mean when he calls the church “A” people? Is there any difference between a people and a collection of individuals? This may be a terrible analogy, but when I think about this question, flash mobs keep coming to mind. For those of you who spend little time on Facebook or on YouTube, a flash mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place like a mall or a busy courtyard, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless dance or choreographed act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, acting as if nothing just happened. They are usually planned in secret via social media and take a ton of coordination, all for the purpose of shocking and entertaining complete strangers. I’ll be honest, flash mobs do not appeal to me. But the difference between an otherwise normal afternoon at the mall, and an afternoon at the mall in which you encounter a flash mob is immense. On a normal day, the mall contains simply a collection of individuals. But at a flash mob, the mall contains a group of rehearsed and intentional people, all acting in sync with one another.

When Peter calls us “a people” for God’s own possession, he means much more than a collection of individuals. He is saying that we are a people who not only understand their identity in Christ, but who also have a corporate or communal understanding of that identity. This means that we are committed to one another and to our collective growth in Christ. We live in sync with one another, and for the great purpose of proclaiming the excellencies of God. It’s as if God is saying, “I’ve set you apart as my kids!” We are, by necessity, brothers and sisters; members of one family. We share a heritage, a reputation, a future, a bloodline. And the most prestigious and precious bloodline of all - that of Jesus Christ.

Peter’s picture of community is one in which people consider one another, prefer one another, and sacrifice for one another. This will require a paradigm shift from the thinking that one’s walk with Jesus is solely personal. It requires us to see ourselves as a people and not just a gathering of people.

In fostering this understanding of the Christian life at Four Oaks, we emphasize what are called Community Groups, or neighborhood gatherings of individuals and families throughout the week. Community Groups create space for study and application of God’s word, care through relationship, and missional living in local pockets of our city. While each typically has a night of the week where they meet as a routine, group members also seek to consciously consider one another in the every day moments of life. This means Community Groups are meant to be more of a lifestyle than an event. A simple way to live into our corporate and communal identity as “a people” for God’s own possession and for his glory.

Community Groups officially start back up for 2018 in February, and I’d love to personally connect you to one if you’ve not yet had that opportunity. Four Oaks has 14 groups that meet around the midtown area, all with trained lay-leaders and hosts who’d love to welcome you in. Please let us know if you have any questions or would like to try one out by following this link.

50 Weeks

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By Rob Pifer

We’ve already finished up the second week of 2018, so only 50 more to go! But even though things are just getting started with a new ministry season and family routine, I’m already looking at a 2018 calendar filled with ministry events, family plans, and all things in between. “The course has been set, time to get to work, let’s do this!” is what I keep telling myself, or at least that’s the face I’m putting on. If I were to be completely honest, I’m also asking myself, “How in the world can I get all of it done?” Proper time management, good leadership, perseverance, etc. are always going to be the good go-to answers, and definitely good things to be striving for, but all of those things will be worthless unless I am looking for my strength to come from the the very person who has called me to my tasks in the first place.

I was reminded of this truth this past week as I was preparing to teach Wednesday night’s youth lesson from the first chapter of Colossians. The Apostle Paul ends the chapter in verse 29 with the following statement: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works through me.” The energy Paul is referring to here is Christ’s energy. So basically what Paul is saying here is that in order to accomplish his task of preaching the Gospel, he’s relying on the very person who called him to accomplish the task! 

How are we to do this? Through humility, through acknowledging that the tasks before us is a grace to us, and through faith by trusting that God will accomplish His purposes through our work. 

Referring again to Colossians 1, Paul gives an example of this attitude in verse 25 when he says, “…of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given me for you, to make the word of God fully known.” As you look toward the year ahead and the many tasks before you, remember that no matter what the task is, big or small, it is a grace given to us by God to steward well for His purposes. So let’s get to work!

Busy vs. Intentional

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By Debbie Cunningham
 
Once again we find ourselves at the start of another year. For some of you there is excitement about the opportunity to make positive changes in your life, a clean slate, a fresh start, but for others it can be difficult as you see the suffering of 2017 continuing into 2018.
 
In February of this year I will turn half a century old, and while I have experienced many a New Year excited about the prospect of a fresh start, I have also dealt with deep sadness over situations that don’t resolve just because the year ends. As I look back, I am reminded that in both scenarios God was with me. He is the constant in my life and, because of that, I want God and His Word to be of utmost importance in 2018. Scripture tells us we will face hardships and God will use those difficult times to grow our faith (John 16:33). We are also told that God wants to pour out blessings on His people, because He loves and cares for us.
 
So how do we prepare to face the hardships in our lives, and how do we prepare to recognize, acknowledge, and accept the blessings God gives us?  In both cases we must be intentional. To accomplish this goal will take time, require change in our day-to-day lives, and demand sacrifice.
 
There are no short cuts. To be prepared for hardships and blessings we must know who we belong to, what we are promised, and what is expected of us, because some of the richest blessings can come during, and as a result of, the most difficult times in our lives—and we don’t want to miss them.
 
So instead of being busy, the buzzword of our day, plan to be intentional with your life in 2018. Decide this year to live the life God wants you to live, as an active part of the community of believers we call the church. In doing so, you will be able to endure the hardships and recognize, acknowledge, and accept the blessings.
 
May God grant us peace and perseverance as we seek to put Him first in our lives this year. 

The Advent Mood: Sorrowful but Always Rejoicing

Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

By Zach Simons
 
Christmastime is one of the most distinct and memorable times of year. Even if you grew up not attending church, it’s probable that you celebrated Christmas to some extent; maybe in the form of gifts and visits to “Santa” at the mall. Chances are also high that if you were to recall memories or look at pictures of your past, many would be of childhood Christmases. For most people Christmas almost serves as a marker of time each year. Celebrations, proposals, resolutions, family pictures, vacations, weddings … these markers in life often coincide with Christmastime.
 
While these are all good, Christmastime marks something even greater for the follower of Christ. It is meant to be an annual magnet that draws our heart back to a story that is larger than ourselves, but one that intimately shapes our personal stories as well. As Christians, we celebrate “Advent” which refers to the “coming” of Jesus Christ.
 
Advent is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for Christmas, the day of the Lord’s coming as a human baby. This waiting gives us space to reflect on a few things. Namely, that Christ entered into humanity. Why is this significant? It means he has already lived this human experience, bearing pain and sorrow and the sins of the world — which culminated in his death — for us. Because of his life, death, and resurrection, we have hope. It means that we don't have to do life alone. He knows your journey through this great wilderness (Duet. 2:7) and offers a life in relationship with the God of the Universe and in fellowship with other believers. It also means that our suffering in humanity is not eternal. Christ's work on the cross defeated the power of sin and death, and one day in glory with him, the presence of sin and death will also be removed. So we live in the tension between the temporary pain of a broken world and the hope of future glory, sorrowful yet always rejoicing.
 
“Sorrowful yet always rejoicing” — this phrase is a great way to describe the mood of Advent. As a yearly reminder of this tension, Advent provides us the space to get in touch with the longings of our hearts for the promised second coming of Jesus, and to be joyful that his first coming assures us this promise will not fail.