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Easter 2012 is in the rear view mirror.  Sunday was an incredible day in the state of New Hampshire.  The reports of places of worship being overflowing has caused all of us to be happy.  In our church, twice as many people attended and most of those people came as invited guests.  It was a grassroots explosion that can only be explained by God’s Spirit softening hearts and giving us all a passion for our friends and family.  I say all of this on the heals of the new Gallup poll that says we are among the least religious state in the country.

While it may be true that going to church on Sunday is not a normal activity here in the Northeast compared to the South or Midwest,  I’ve got to believe that something is changing in people’s hearts.  If this Easter is any indication, we are seeing something of an awakening take place.  Take, for instance, a church in Manchester, NH  that held their Easter service in the Verizon Arena.  Take, for instance, the many churches that added multiple services throughout the state.  And take our own situation where just one year ago we launched a new campus of Grace Capital Church in Laconia…and this Easter over 450 people attended.  In challenging people at our church that One Invite Can Change a Life, over 2200 people gathered in one of five different services.  This is not normal for NH.

But here’s the main thing…what happens to everyone now that Resurrection Sunday is over and it won’t come again for another 12 months?  This is the true test- the power of the gospel and the influence of our story upon others.   I’m hoping that no one will be like the two who walked with Jesus on the road and didn’t even recognize Him…that people won’t remain oblivious to Him working and calling and loving them.  Instead, like the two at the end of the story, their hearts will burn with His grace and they will respond. Because it’s not enough for Jesus to be alive…He wants to be alive inside of us.

God burns in hearts causing eyes to be open.  Everyday.

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I’m so used to being up early on Sunday that I don’t think anything of it.  Rain, snow, sunshine, daylight savings-time I’m up and out the door because I’m a pastor and that’s what we do.  Early Sundays are no-brainers for me…and so are long Sundays.  But perhaps I’m so desensitized to what I do every week that I forget that this is not “normal” in our culture, and certainly not here in New Hampshire.

Most people take advantage of Sunday as a day off to rest, sleep in a little extra, go to the kid’s soccer games, or take advantage of the nice weather and make a trip to the mountains or beach.  They may even wake up early just like me, but have different plans and no intention to sit in a building for a couple of hours.  Yet…that’s what we try very hard to get people to do.  And I think it’s a good thing to try.  But as we are trying, let’s also remember that this is cross grain to what non-churchgoers and even many pro-churchgoers are thinking.  A church service is not very high on the priority list for a great majority of people.

Once I heard about a guy who just didn’t want to wake up for church.  His kids came in the bedroom all dressed and ready to go, but he just covered his head with a pillow.  His wife kept yelling for him to get ready, but he acted like he didn’t hear her.  Finally, she came in and said, “you’ve got to wake up and get ready for church.  People are expecting you to be there.  After all, you are the pastor!”  Okay, maybe I’ve felt like that once or twice, but honestly I look forward to Sundays to be with the people who are a part of my life and my community.  I enjoy being part of the church and for me that includes leading as a pastor and waking up on Sunday morning and serving.

As Easter approaches, churches across the nation will see their numbers swell.  Some will make annual pilgrimages, others will be doing what they do religiously each week.  For me and for our church, I pray it will be a day to connect people to a God who never slumber or sleeps.  He’s the one who created the ocean, the mountains, and time itself…even Sunday mornings.

What do you do on Sunday mornings?  If you wake up and go to a church building, why do you do that?

-Peter

 

I can’t help but to think how helpless I am.  Even with all the willpower I muster up I still know that unless the Lord Himself works in my life, my efforts are really, really weak.  Yet, the fact that God uses ordinary human beings: jars of clay filled with something we cannot earn- His presence and glory, is a greater thought than how broken I am.

That’s why we have to do something with our healing other than bask in it.  I’ve known many who have been so blessed by their experience with God but then see them do very little with it other than flaunt their new found life as a trophy.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t praise and rejoice…but that it’s got to get beyond us and flow to others.  Grace found, grace given!

I was recently reading in the gospels and saw how many times Jesus healed the broken and immediately sent them back to their hometown or out to others.  The woman at the well, the invalid man on the mat, the guy filled with so many demons that he said his name was “Legion.”  All of these were wounded healers, not fully complete, but on the journey toward healing.  What I mean is that instead of going with Jesus and becoming part of the entourage, they took what they had been given and brought it to others.

I think all of us are called to be wounded healers.  Whether we have had a tough upbringing and God brought us through that…or if we had some physical challenges and God is working through that…or if we are seeing God in the midst of questions and challenges.  C.S. Lewis once said,  “Think of me as a fellow patient in the same hospital who, having been admitted a little earlier could give some advice.”

A lot of times we think that we just need more of Jesus, and I agree, we do.  But, I wonder if our next encounter with Jesus is in our encounters with others who need the Jesus that we have, who need the healing we are experiencing.  Could it be that as we confess our life and show our brokenness being healed that we are further healed.  Maybe it’s not only our sin that we confess to one another, but our forgiven sin, our healing, our woundedness.

The man set free from demons begged Jesus to go with him, and I can understand why.  Who wouldn’t want the nurture of the Savior, the touch of the master again and again. Jesus wouldn’t let him though.  He said, “Go home to your own people. Tell them your story—what the Master did, how he had mercy on you.” Go…and become a wounded healer.

-Peter

Are we so concerned about actions that we have forgotten about our attitudes?  I am amazed how we can be so focused on right and wrong and yet call evil good and good evil in the way that we think.

As I have been preparing and studying for a series of messages focusing on money, power, sex and God…I’ve been struck with the idea that in the things that we really don’t want to deal with personally we make excuses for our actions.  For instance:

Money- we give what we want, not what God wants us to give.  We are okay with being selfish and just call it “need” instead.  Generosity is not something we think we are capable of because we feel so “poor” when we go to the mall or look at what others around us have. Whatever…

Power- we politicize and posture ourselves in opposition to people instead of positions.  We get angry at those who aren’t part of the same party, who have made decisions that we don’t agree with, and whose policies hurt us personally (though they may be caring for the broader population).  Do we actually believe that the Kingdom of God will come with worldly power?  Is it all about our pursuit of happiness?  Whatever….

Sex- the church is really facing some issues here especially when you consider that we have minimized the enormity and effect of sexual sin.  The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 6 that sexual sin is in a category all by itself, that all others sins are different.  I know it’s not common to teach this, but all we have do is look around and see the effect of adultery, of sleeping together outside of marriage and of lust and pornography.  Whatever…

Considering that followers of Christ are supposed to actually reflect Christ and be different from the world (while still being in the world), I think that a relative attitude has hampered the effectiveness of our witness.  We have become really effective and finding the flaws in sinners and really poor at examining the logs in our own eyes.  I want to be the kind of person that shows forth grace and obedience…and that stops treating God’s word as one big whatever.

If you want to hear more, log onto http://www.gccnh.com

-Peter

I have been struck with the idea that God’s entire kingdom is built around Second Chances.  He gives us breaks, forgives our sins, moves us into a different future…and this to people who have blown it again and again.  We are second chance citizens once we come to Christ!

There’s a place in the Bible where it talks about how we cannot please God on our own.  It actually says that the law was given so that we could see that we cannot keep it- we are prone to fail.  It’s not that God needed to be reminded of this, but that we need to be reminded.  Otherwise I continue on my own strength, but only end up peeling myself off the ground after falling so hard.

First was Adam, Second was Christ.  The old man and the new man.  The law and grace. Death and Resurrection.  Forgiveness. These are the things that show us that we are people of the Second chance, that although we cannot rise to a level of perfection on our own, we can become complete in Christ.

But to truly be second chance citizens, we have to extend the chances beyond ourselves.  This can be the most difficult part.  For although we like to have our faults overlooked, we’re not so good at overlooking (or forgiving) the faults of others.  Why is it that we think everyone else should get what they really deserve, but we should be given a break?  Why is it that it’s okay for us to take a mulligan, but we get irritated with others who do?

Giving second chances was the thing that set Jesus apart from the other religious leaders of the day.  And it really irritated them.  They tried to trap him by pulling out the law.  Jesus just kept on doing it though- eating with sinners, calling tax collectors, forgiving adulterers, and healing people who may or may not come back to thank Him.  He was setting up a Second Chance Community that would extend to us today.

So, live as a citizen of this Kingdom- receive and give second chances every opportunity you get.

You can find some great resources on http://www.potsc.com

Okay…so we’re only 10 days away from what is considered one of the most important days on the Christian calendar- Easter.  It’s a day when restaurants have huge reservation lists for Sunday brunch and when kids get baskets full of candy and even the White House hosts an annual “easter egg” hunt.  But perhaps the most interesting thing is that lots of people go to church.  Many of these people go to church even if they aren’t “churchgoers”.  In fact, for some this is their once (or twice) a year pilgrimage.

I heard  a pastor once talk about how “American” it is to go to church on Easter; like apple pie and Chevrolet.  He used that as a way to invite a friend of his to attend the service.  I’m not sure if it’s really an American thing as much as it is a traditional thing, but I can see how there can be more of an open door of invitation around this time.

So, what’s the deal about Easter anyway?  Why do so many people find themselves in church that Sunday who ordinarily wouldn’t?  Here in New England it even happens.  Here in New Hampshire where the church attendance rate is a dismal 4-5%.

Maybe it has to do with the message of hope that Easter brings. Unlike just going to church when the preacher is delivering messages to the comfortable congregation throughout the year, Easter messages are geared specifically for those who aren’t usually there.  It’s as if we finally get it as pastors that the church does not just exist for those of us who are there…but for those yet to come.  And now, on Easter Sunday, as our attendance swells…there are so many people there who hopefully we’ve been praying for to come.

My Easter messages are really geared for to remind people of the promise and hope and future we have in a relationship with the Risen Christ.  This year, we are talking about how we are all People of The Second Chance.  You can see a tidbit of where we are going here: People of The Second Chance GCC The idea is that we all want another chance, that none of us are lost causes and that the thing we really long for is to be loved, accepted and forgiven regardless of where we are at.  And God is happy to oblige.  That’s what the cross and the resurrection and Easter are all about!  We just need to come to him as we are and then, as the author Max Lucado says, He loves us too much to leave us there.

If Easter is only about religion or tradition or going to church just to go to church I think that many will be disappointed and disillusioned.  To me, Easter is only the beginning…the actual beginning of walking with God who came for us and died for us and rose again.  One writer of Scripture said it like this; “if only in this life we have hope, we are to be pitied more than all men.”  So, if Easter is just a temporary good feeling that comes once a year and than wanes for another 12 months, what’s the point.

So, if you are reading this and considering going to church on Easter, go for it.  Go expecting hope that is much more than that one hour experience.  Or, if you are one who is a part of a church on a regular basis, use this season as an opportunity to bring hope to someone else.  Maybe even invite them and help them understand the deal about Easter!

In the ongoing conversation about the dichotomy between grace and works, I’m going to add my two cents.  It seems that for ages, the church has had to figure out the balance between these two very Biblical focuses.  Is it “by grace alone” that we are saved or must we also “work out our salvation?”  This is the big both/and in the Christian walk.

Recently I was reading in the book of Acts where the early church experienced some of the most exhilarating moments filled with healings and then followed by persecution.  The religious élite hated the idea that God was performing miracles through the name of Jesus and they commanded them to stop it.  Instead of stopping, the church gathered to pray and received more power than they started with.  Then comes this statement:  “God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them.  (Acts 4:33)  Grace and work…both coming from the Lord.

I think that unless we are willing to work, all of the grace in the world doesn’t cut it.  In other words, grace is the beginning and grace is the fulfillment.  Grace works.

Let me give you an example.  As a pastor, I often come into contact with those who know that there is something in their life that is pulling them away from their walk with the Lord.  It could be an obvious sin, or it may be something that is just too much for them to carry.  So, this is a good time to receive more of God’s grace.  He woos us back to Him even when we are entangled.  However, I’ve seen these same people sense God’s grace drawing them but end up wandering over and over.

The Prodigal Son did more than “come to his senses.”  It was an act of God’s grace to help him see his value and his potential; to see that he didn’t belong in the mess that he had gotten himself into.  But, he had to do something with that.  He had to literally get up, go home with a heart of repentance and be willing to work.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to disavow works and relinquish it to a “works mentality.”  I know…we can slip down the slippery slope of legalism if works comes before grace or if we think we need to earn God’s favor by working harder to become better.  But, when grace works right, grace becomes the very fuel that propels us to take the path back home and be willing to do what is right.

Get all the grace you can so that you can work toward all that God desires you to become!