What is Love?

What is love?
Love is a word that we use all the time without really thinking about it.
 
We tell our loved ones, “I love you” but moments later we say things like:
“I love guacamole.”
“I’m in love with that dress.”
“My new mailman who always shuts the door on my mailbox—I love him.”
But just because we use the word all the time doesn’t mean we understand it.
 
Psychologists and biologists write endless papers on the complex neurochemical reactions that take place in our brains when we love another person.
Poets and songwriters take down countless verses to try and capture with words the feeling and experience of love.
We write about it, talk about, study it, sing about it….And yet, somehow we still aren’t quite sure. We have conflicting definitions and understandings.
 
For the early Christians, they didn’t define love by any philosophical, psychological or even biological definition. They began to define love itself by one person: Jesus.
They lifted up Jesus as love itself and his life as an example of what it looks like lived out.
 
Now, it would be great to take you to one story from the life of Jesus and say, “This is love in its entirety. It is all summed up here”, but I can’t. I can’t because in every story of Jesus is a love story. 
 
When we read of Jesus healing those who were sick, restoring sight to the blind, and making the lame walk again, we are reading stories of love.
When we read of Jesus spending much of his time with the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and lepers because they were the one’s excluded from the Temple and from society, we are reading stories of love.
When we read of Jesus telling people of the ways of God and the good news that there is going to come a day when God will bring true justice to those who have been neglected, abused, and forgotten, we are reading stories of love.
And when we read that Jesus willingly gave up his life—although he was innocent of any crime—giving it up for us, we are reading the greatest story of love.
 
Jesus himself told his disciples the night he was arrested “There is no greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for ones friends.” (see John 15)
 
The same Gospel writer, John, a follower of Jesus, looked back on that event and said in one of his letters to the early church, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16)
 
He went on to say, “…God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:8)
 
We live in a culture where more often than “God is love”, we live as though “love is god,” particularly romantic love.

It is worshipped. It is adored. It is given the highest place in our movies, in our music, and even in our phones. Look no further than Valentine’s Day. Last year, Americans spent $19.6 BILLION on Valentine’s Day, an average of $143.56 per person. That is a lot of candy, flowers, alcohol, and jewelry, isn’t it? That is enough that we could dig 1.5 million wells for the 800 million people around the world who lack access to clean drinking water. We sure love the idea of love.

 
But the definition of love the world gives has strings attached. It comes with “ifs”.
I’ll love you if you are pretty enough.
I’ll love you if you are rich enough. 
I’ll love you if you look like me, act like me, and vote like me. I’ll love you if you can do something for me, if you do something to earn my love—and you better not do something I don’t like or you’ll lose it in the snap of the fingers.
 
For our definition of love, it seems you must be or do something first before it is given to youIt is conditional.

 But God doesn’t work like that.

John went on to say, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (those being the things we’ve done wrong).” (1 John 4:10)
 
Paul, another early follower of Jesus who had first persecuted Christians before joining them said this in his letter to the church in Rome, “God proves his love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners (that is disobedient, messed up people) Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
 
God’s love comes before we are really worthy of his love, not after we’ve cleaned ourselves up, and he showed it by sending Jesus Christ to us and for us—to bring us freedom from the guilt of sin in our lives and it’s power over us (this cycle of sin and guilt and shame).

Love is about forgiveness. It is about freedom. You see, God is love, and love is sacrificial. Love is serving the other. Love is putting the needs of the other before your own. That is what God has done for us.

 
In perhaps the most famous Bible verse of all, that verse Tim Tebow famously put on his eyeblack during the NCAA National Champtionship game, John chapter 3, verse 16, John said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but receive everlasting life.”
 
God so loved the world. That means you, and that means me!
 
We have this Bible for our daughter called the Jesus Storybook Bible. We read it to her because it tells about how the Bible is one grand story of a God who lovingly created us, a God who–even when we turned from him–did all he could to bring us back to him.
 
It repeatedly says, “God loves you with a Never Stopping, Never Giving up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” I love that. I can’t get it out of my mind. It sticks with me and affects my heart in a wonderful way. I can’t help but think, “Isn’t that what the world needs? Isn’t that what I need?”
So do you know that God loves you? How much he loves you?
 
If you are hesitant to say, “yes”, what keeps you from believing that God loves you with a never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love?
 
– Seth

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A New Partnership for the Next Season

I was talking to a fellow Christian in our area back before Christmas, telling him about Rooted and about what I do as a church planter and he said, “It sounds like you are a missionary, but to America.” I said, “That is exactly what I am.”
 
This month marks 2 years since we began this missionary endeavor in Whitestown, IN. It has been a long and slow process, partly by design and partly by default.
 
As we’ve progressed, we’ve purposely taken the time to understand the context, how those in our area think, relate, and act, what their hopes, fears, needs are. We’ve spent time networking with community leaders in the area to show we’re here not for ourselves but others, connecting with fellow pastors and churches to show we’re about building for God’s Kingdom and aren’t interested in taking their people, and just generally doing the prep work we believe will aid us as we move forward.
 
It has also been slow because I’ve served Otterbein UMC while beginning, devoting just ¼ to ½ of my work hours to Rooted. Beginning in March this will change. I am sad to say my time with Otterbein is now over. I love the people of OUMC and will miss them, but God is calling us to turn our attention more fully to our own community, and for Otterbein to their own neighbors under the skilled leadership of Rev. Donna Ward. We continue to have the same mission, but lived out in separate contexts.
 
I am incredibly excited to announce that effective March 1st, I will assume a role as an associate pastor with Zionsville UMC, who is partnering with us to start a disciple making movement, and birthing a new community of faith in Whitestown in the process. This is not only logical, since there is a great deal of overlap between Zionsville and Whitestown, but is strategic.
 
We live just 4.5 miles from ZUMC’s building, and we know that within 20 minutes there are 241,129 people, almost 60% of which are not involved in any community of faith. That means there are 143,712 people within 20 minutes who do not know or are not following Jesus. There are 40 publicly listed churches in this area, but in order for them to reach those outside of church, they’d each have to grow by over 3,500 people (even the tiny little country churches).
 
As Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few, so pray to the Lord of the harvest to send workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2).
 
What we need isn’t just a new church (we need lots of churches), but even more importantly a movement of followers of Jesus Christ existing as everyday missionaries where they live, work and play, as people sent to their neighborhoods, their workplaces, their schools to pursue the Great Commission and to live out the Great Commandment, loving God and loving people. We believe partnering together will help accomplish this mission and increase the impact.
 
We’re incredibly excited to be partnering with a church that has a long history of faithful ministry in area, and a church that has consistently shown that they exist for more than themselves. While we’ll gain the help and involvement of some wonderfully talented leaders, we have the opportunity to share the missionary approach we take to church planting (and life in general) with the congregation so that together we can pursue the mission that God has given us to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
 
As we have at every step in the process, we want to invite you to be involved.
 
First, we want you to pray for us and for our greater community in which we live. We believe prayer changes things, and is vital to our success.
 
Second, we want to you to prayerfully consider partnering with us financially. My wife and I have found that when you can’t be personally involved, continuing financial support allows others to be. We support 4 different missionaries with Cru because we know the immense impact this makes.
 
Third and finally, if you are in our area, we’d love for you to be a part. We are looking for those willing to go through a discipleship process where we meet in small groups before beginning to then go and lead others. Maybe that sounds terrifying, but let me promise you this: It will change your life. If you live outside our area, do you know of those in the NW Indy area who might be interested in taking part? Friends, family, former neighbors or colleagues?
 
God is building his Kingdom here on earth, healing broken hearts and restoring broken lives. I am so excited to be a part of this amazing work right here in Whitestown, Indiana.
 
In Christ,
Seth

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Imaginary Jesus

Parables of Jesus Christ Church Website BannerHave you ever seen the movie Talladega nights? A comedy featuring Will Farrell and John C. Riley who portray two fictitious NASCAR drivers, Ricky Bobby and Cal Naughton, Jr.?
 
In one of the my favorite comedy scenes of all time, we come in on Ricky and Cal at the dinner table along with Ricky’s trophy wife, his two feral sons, and his elderly father in law, Chip. Before they begin their feast on fast food provided by his NASCAR sponsor, Ricky prays a prayer over the food in an effort to secure God’s blessing in the upcoming race.
 
During the prayer, he repeatedly prays to “Baby Jesus.” When his wife asks him why he keeps saying that, he exclaims that he like’s Christmas Jesus the best and proceeds to continue saying grace to “8lb. 6 oz. baby Jesus”. Chip then feels compelled to chime in that Jesus grew to be a man with a beard, Ricky says, “You can pray to whatever Jesus you want,” but that he likes Christmas Jesus the best. Cal then chips in that he likes to imagine Jesus wearing a tuxedo T-shirt because, in his words, “It says I want to be formal, but I’m here to party, and I like my Jesus to party.”
 
The two boys then join and say they like to imagine their Jesus as a samurai warrior fighting off evil ninjas. The added inspiration causes Cal to declare that he likes to imagine his Jesus singing lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd with an Angel Band while he’s in the front row, hammered drunk (I would have linked the clip but there is way too much profanity for me to do justify doing so).
 
As silly as the scene seems, most of us sort of do that with Jesus, although probably not to that extent. We haven’t met Jesus in the flesh, so we create in our minds an imaginary Jesus who may or may not be anything like the real Jesus. We do it with the way Jesus looks, since if you were to Google Jesus, you’d find dozens of different depictions, and around the world and throughout time, he’s been portrayed differently.
 
Cultures have often tended to create imagery of Jesus in their own image, like them. Swedish Jesus (blonde hair, blue eyes), generic European Jesus, black Jesus, even Chinese Jesus. Few seem to be a middle-eastern Jewish Jesus. Since we don’t know, we imagine he was like us, which in a way is a good thing, but also has its pitfalls. The challenge is that it doesn’t stop with how Jesus looks. It extends to how he acted.
 
I think we’d be surprised if we met him face to face. I think we’d probably be surprised with his actions as well, because in the same way our pictures of Jesus don’t really capture who he was, neither do many of the portrayals of Jesus that exist in our popular culture.
For some, there is the claim that Jesus never even existed, so our question doesn’t matter. This is the minority opinion though, held by fewer than 10% of American adults and even fewer serious scholars, since we know that there is more historical evidence even outside the Bible for Jesus life, ministry, death, and purported resurrection than for Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.
 
The other 90% of American adults agree that Jesus was an actual historical person, but still, they disagree on who he was. Some say he was a revolutionary who was seeking to bring reform to Palestine by a counter-cultural revolution of love and peace, which ended up getting him killed by the Roman Government. Still others claim that Jesus was simply a great moral and spiritual teacher, who like Buddha, Muhammed, and other religious leaders gave people a better way to live, showing how to live a good life and perhaps get to God—if they believe in such a person.
 
But for millions of Christians over the last 2000 years, there has been quite a different claim: That this man was in fact human like you and I, but was at the same time God, and that he didn’t come back to show the way to God, but to make a way, that he was “the way” Before they were called Christians they were called followers of “The Way.”
 
If you were around for December’s Dinner Church, you know that in the beginning of the New Testament book of John—an account of Jesus life, ministry, death and resurrection from one of Jesus’ followers named John—he makes this very claim. He then proceeded to recount 7 miraculous signs Jesus performed and 7 discourses he gave as signs so, as John wrote toward the end of the book, “you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
 
Throughout history, there have been many amazing people who lived extraordinary lives, but what you think about them won’t make too much difference in you day to day dealings. If you think Winston Churchill was a hero or a jerk doesn’t matter all that much. But we are told that what you believe about this man will. It will change every hour of every day of the rest of your life.
 
As we end, I’d like to invite you on a journey, a journey to replace the imaginary Jesus of our minds with a fuller picture of who Jesus really was by going to the accounts of those who knew him best. You can start with the Gospel of John. There are 21 chapters, so reading one chapter a day (about 10 minutes) you can finish the whole account in 3 weeks. As you read, ask yourself, “Who is Jesus?”  You’ll hear who John believed he was, who others who encountered him said he was, and especially who he said he was.
 
Will you join me?
 
-Seth

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What are you worshipping this Christmas?

In Matthew 2 we read this story of some “wise men” or magi, religious rulers/astrologers from the east, who came to worship an infant Jesus. It says they fell down at his feet and worshipped him.
 
Now, maybe that is normal to see in a nativity scene, but when you think about it, it is quite odd. Grown men (and rulers at that) worshipping an infant born in squalor as King?
 
It causes me to question, “Who am I worshipping this Christmas?” Really, It is a question I’ve had to ask myself at different times in my life.
 
You see, I loved being a kid at Christmas time. Like many kids, it was my favorite time of the year.
 
There was this sort of routine that developed in my life each year leading up to Christmas.
It actually started in October of each fall, when my family would have a “tag your Christmas tree” day at our Christmas tree farm. People from all over town would come out, ride a wagon hauled by a tractor up to the field, and then using orange markers tape pick their tree which my dad and grandpa would cut later on and bring into town.
 
As we got into November, the weather would start to change. Since I grew up in Western New York, an area with massive amounts of lake effect snow, most years wet early-season snow would come and blanket the land—giving a picturesque Christmas card worthy view (or frozen wasteland, depending on your perspective). It would even change the smell outside as the air grew more and more crisp. After Thanksgiving, we’d begin to add lights and decorations. We’d decorate at home, at my family’s general store, and at the church. My dad would pull out a big box of Christmas CD’s and we’d have them playing 24/7. While school was out and on the weekends, I’d ride along with my dad and grandpa to the tree farm to cut those tagged Christmas trees and bing them into town. When we’d bring them inside the whole house would smell with the beautiful aroma of pine…mixed with just a hint of chainsaw exhaust. You won’t find it in a Yankee candle, but to me that is what Christmas smells like.
 
In the evenings we’d watch our favorite Christmas movies like Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and A Muppet Christmas Carol. I’d take part in Christmas plays and Christmas caroling. Baking delicious cookies and then eating said cookies. My family from Indiana would come to town and there would be family get togethers, and at church we’d sing all the Christmas songs and have candlelight services.
 
All of these activities, all these items—the sites and smells—they prepared me for Christmas. They built this sense of anticipation and expectation, a longing for Christmas to come, because with every one we inched closer and closer to Christmas day itself.
 
Like every kid, I loved getting presents and feasting on all the great food. Christmas was awesome. But as I grew older, I began to feel like something was missing. I was probably about 14 at the time that I felt began to feel let down. I was still doing all the same things, but it just felt…sad. I felt kind of like Charlie Brown in a Charlie Brown Christmas, doing everything I should be but feeling more ho hum than ho ho ho. Or like Little Cindy Lou Who in the movie The Grinch, who sings a song which goes, “Where are you Christmas? Why can’t I find you. Why have you gone away?” It was like I couldn’t find Christmas.
 
Maybe you’ve felt the same at some point in your life. Maybe you feel that way now. Well, my solution was to just try harder to enjoy these things. I thought, “I’ll do more of them and do them better.” So I did all I had before and more.
With everything in me I tried to pour myself into Christmas to get all the love and joy and hope and peace it promises out of it… but it didn’t work.
 
I remember sitting with all my friends in the back row of our church on Christmas eve at a candlelight service, singing the carols I loved so much—some of which we’ve sung tonight—and feeling lonely and empty.
 
Realizing my efforts had all been in vain, really made me question and wrestle with Christmas. I was a Christian and for Christians, Christmas and Easter are supposed to be the greatest celebrations for us—the Super Bowls of the church year—but for me it seemed like a huge letdown.
 
Christmas is supposed to be about celebrating the fact that God himself came down as a man to be with us—we call him Emmanuel, which means God with us.

It is a celebration that out of love he came to walk among us, to experience what we have experienced first hand, the joys the pains, the struggle, the temptation all of it—to live, die, and resurrect for us—so that by having faith in him we might be forgiven of the ways we’ve gone wrong and freed from its hold on us, so we might experience all the love, joy, peace, and hope we see plastered everywhere at Christmas.

What I came to realize, though, was that really wasn’t what Christmas was about for me. When I was little it was about the presents. As I grew it became about the food and fun experiences. Then it became about the family gatherings and people. But it was never about Jesus.
 
I wasn’t worshipping Jesus, and that is what we were made for.
God created us to worship, originally to worship him and him alone, but now in the broken world we live in, we worship just about everything else.
 
We might think we don’t, but the American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will come out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives and our character.”
 
Everybody worships. We worship with out time, our talents, our money, and our attention.
And what or who we worship often comes out at Christmas.

If we find ourselves feeling empty at Christmas, it is probably because we’ve begun to worship something that can never actually satisfy us. That is what had happened to me.

 
I’d become so focused on the events, the activities, the presents, but all of it is meant to point us to the one thing that truly does offer hope, and joy, and peace, and love, and it isn’t a thing at all. It is person: Jesus.

In themselves, these things will never satisfy the deepest longing of our hearts. Only Jesus can do that. Maybe that sounds a little cliché, but all of these things were meant to be sign posts that point us back to God, that help prepare us to receive the gifts that God offers us. So let me ask, “What is Christmas about for you?” “Are you expecting your Christmas activities and preparations to fill you up, or are they sign posts that are leading you to the one who can?” I ask because I want nothing more than for you to have a truly merry Christmas.


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What is your favorite Christmas Story?

What is your favorite Christmas story?
Maybe it is one of those classic Christmas movies that most of us re-watch again and again this time of year: It’s a wonderful life, Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, Polar Express, Elf, or even Hallmark Christmas movies.
 
If for you it’s a Hallmark movie, you don’t need to tell us which one because there are really only about 5 total plots they recycle and mix for all their movies.

Just say what plot it is, like the one where the big city dweller travels to a small town to destroy it or some icon in it, only to fall in love with someone who lives there and the town itself and end up staying there. Of course, that is like 1/4 of them. Maybe your favorite Christmas story it is a personal story of a really special time for you or your family, a special gift or experience.

Do you want to know my favorite Christmas story?
It is recorded in the first chapter of the Gospel of John in the Bible (surprise, a preacher saying that). It is how John begins his story of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, the savior.

It reads:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:1-5, 10-14

Maybe as I was reading this, you thought to yourself, “That isn’t the Christmas story!”
“Where are the shepherds? Where are the angels? There are no wise men here.”
“Where are Mary and Joseph?”“Where is 8 lb. 9 oz. baby Jesus, all wrapped up in swaddling cloth and laying in a manger?”

You can find all that in Luke chapter 2, and it is a great story, but while Luke tells us the whole, “Who, what, when, where…”, John—in his account—cuts straight to the why. And what he tells us is that in Jesus coming—who he calls the Word—the creator was stepping into his creation. This is kind of a crazy thing to think about. It would be like an author stepping into the story they had written. The Oxford scholar and author, C.S. Lewis, noted that William Shakespeare knew more about Hamlet than anyone—his thoughts, his motivations, his actions, his hopes, his dreams, his struggles—nobody knew more, for he created him. And yet, he could not actually know him. He could not meet him and have a relationship with him.

The only way he could, would be to actually enter into the story. That is what we find right here.

John tells us that at Christmas, the author of it all was coming into the world he had created to be with those he created.It says he came and made his dwelling among us. The pastor Eugene Peterson said he “moved into our neighborhood.” Became one of us. In this way we know that he knows. He experienced all that we experience—all the good and all the bad. Especially the bad—for he was mocked, ridiculed, falsely accused, arrested, tortured, beaten and even died before rising again.

Why? To bring us light and life.
John said, “In him was life and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
 
I find this idea particularly enticing, because there is a lot of darkness in our world. I’m reminded of it every time I read the news and here of crimes that seem unfathomable.

I’m reminded of it when my family gathers and I think of those who should be there but aren’t—like my uncle, Eric, who lost his battle with cancer at only 54. And I’m reminded of it every time I personally screw up. Something within me says, “This is not the way the world should be. This isn’t the way you should be.”

The grand story told in the Bible traces the origin of all the pain and brokenness, all that darkness, back to what we call sin. God had created a good world filled with light and life, but humanity turned from that light and sought their own way, cutting themselves off from the goodness of God.

But the good news of Christmas is that God didn’t leave the world in that desperate situation. To the problems of this world, God sent a solution. Into the darkness he sent a great light, and that light was Jesus. We can look at the darkness in the world and think, “God, why don’t you do something?” The good news of Christmas is that he has. I am glad that Christmas comes at the darkest time of year, just three days after the winter solstice, when the length of daylight is at its lowest, because it is a reminder that even in the darkest of days, God is making a way. He sees the brokenness of the world, has heard our cries and has answered us. He has not forgotten us. He has not forsaken us.

The dawn of a new era has come. No, everything has not yet been made right, but the sun is rising. At the first Christmas we received in part what someday we’ll receive in full.

We celebrate not only what God has done, but what God will do. The day is coming when all the darkness will be dispelled: the crooked made straight, the wrong made right. But in the mean time, Christ invites us to bring our pain, to bring him our failures, to bring him our sin. He wants us to show him the wounds where we have been hurt by others. Jesus wants to bring joy where before there was only sorrow, love where hate had abounded, peace where before there was only turmoil, and hope where there was none. Later in John’s gospel, chapter 8, we read that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Christmas reminds us that Jesus wants us step into the darkness of our world and our lives, and bring light. There are many things we celebrate at Christmas, but this sticks with me, and that my friends, is why it is my favorite Christmas story. What is yours?


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We Have Been Sent

I have to say that I love the season we find ourselves in.
“What season is that?” you may be wondering.
 
Although I love my Penn State Nitanny Lions, and my hometown high school team just won states, I’m not talking about football season (as wonderful as it is).
Some of you might be thinking, “Christmas season!” The stores are full of Christmas decorations and things to buy, but I’m not talking Christmas either.
And while the brisk smell of fall is in the air and everything in me wants to be in the woods, I’m not referring to deer season.
 
The season I am talking about is the harvest season. Not a physical harvest but a spiritual one we read of in Matthew 9:35-10:8. This season began when Jesus came on the scene.
 
In chapter 4, as he began his public ministry, it says that Jesus began to preach, “Repent for the Kingdom of God has come near.” Then, just a few verse later in chapter 4, verse 23 we read, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” Pretty amazing stuff.
 
And if we continued to read, we’d find the next 5 chapters are story after story of Jesus doing just that, until we come to chapter 9, verse 35, which reads, “35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.”
 
Sounds familiar right? Deja vu. Probably because those are the same words we just read 5 chapters earlier. 

Now, whenever you see something repeated in a chapter or book of the Bible, it is there for emphasis—so we get it. Repetition indicates importance.

People who are married should know this already. If my wife says something to me again, and again, and again. She is sending a not-so-subtle sign that what she is saying is important to her. (That is my free marital advice for today) But the same goes for scripture. Repetition indicates significance and importance.
 
But this instance in particular tells us even more. Repeating that same description of Jesus’ ministry effectively brackets the material within the Gospel. Everything between 4:23 and 9:35—this whole section—is part of this theme, and now we are transitioning into something new.
 
If you were to continue to read on in Matthew’s gospel, you would find that the emphasis of Jesus’ ministry moved away from the crowds to pouring into the disciples, into preparing them for what was going to happen (his betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, death and resurrection), so that means this is a point of transition and tells us how what related before relates to what is to come.
 
Following verse 35, we read:
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” 10 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”
 
 
Here we read that Jesus saw the crowds—those crowds he had been doing ministry among—and had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.And we might expect at this point after 5 chapters of Jesus preaching and healing and doing ministry among them, that he’d double down and do even more amazing things.

Yet instead, we find him responding to this great need in an unexpected way: By telling his disciples to call for backup.He said the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few—or in other words, the need was very great, greater than one man could handle alone.Even though Jesus was God himself, he was fully human and was thus limited by space and time, so he told his disciples to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send workers into the harvest.

Then we read that Jesus called his disciples together and gave them the authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness before he sent them out to the people of Israel. Since Jesus’ earthly ministry was first to Israel, he told them to only go to Israelites at this time. It is only at the end of Matthew’s gospel, in chapter 28, after his death and resurrection that we find him expanding this mission to all people.
 
Matthew referred to the 12 disciples here for the first time as “apostles. ” The comedian Jim Gaffigan jokes in one of his routines that he imagines Peter coming up with the title, saying, “Hey Jesus, I’ve been thinking…we need a name for this group. How about, ‘The Apostles’. We could get leather jackets…”
Jesus responds, “You know you’re all going to die, right Peter?”
“But we can still get the jackets?”
 
In all seriousness, ‘apostle’ is a bit of Christianese: a word used in church we never define. It is actually means the same thing as “missionary.”Apostle and missionary both literally mean “a sent one,” (one is from Greek the other Latin) one who has been sent. So an apostle one who has been given a mission.
 
While the word is used interchangeably with “disciple” in John’s gospel, this is the only time that Matthew uses this word to describe the disciples.It is so important because it emphasizes that fact that these men were given a mission by Jesus and sent out.
 
Jesus said to them, “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” Sounds awfully familiar doesn’t it? A lot like 4:23 and 9:35.
 
Here we find that the mission that the disciples were given was the same mission that Jesus had. Out of compassion for the crowds, Jesus had the disciples pray that God would send help, and God then used the very ones praying. He had Jesus give them authority to do what he himself had done and sent them out on his own mission to proclaim the good news of God’s Kingdom and to do the restorative work of the Kingdom, healing, resurrecting, cleansing and freeing.
 
The emphasis on “going” comes up again in Matthew’s gospel after Jesus resurrected. Before he ascended into heaven, he told his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:18). If we were to read on we’d find they did just that. The whole book of Acts of the Apostles records them going, making disciples, and doing the same things as Jesus.
 
Friends, I know this all might seem a little “heady”, it might seem like we’re trudging through the Biblical text, but this is more than just history, more than just things that happened a long time ago in a land far away. This is our story and our call as well.
 
 Today, we are in the midst of the harvest season where the harvest is still great but the workers are few. It might not feel that way to you, but we know that nationwide over 60% of people have no community of faith in which they are a part. Where Chassity and I live on the edge of Indianapolis, there are 21,000 people in the SW corner of our county and over 121,000 more within 20 minutes who do not have a church.

People often ask me, “Why are you planting a church when there are already churches around?” Because the harvest is great, but the workers are few, and we have compassion on our neighbors who are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Every church in the area could grow by 1000 people overnight and there would still be thousands left out. We need to recognize this fact for ourselves and have compassion.

You see, in a hurting and weary world, this passage tells us our role as Jesus disciples, it tells us our mission, that God sees a problem, when he hears the prayers of the people, God sends people—he sends us—to share in his mission. 
 
When we see a problem and we pray, “God, you should really do something about this,” we should be prepared because God will likely respond by sending a person. He could send an angel, or he could do a spontaneous miracle, but most often he sends a person, and like the 12 apostles, that person might be the one praying.
 
This might seem counter intuitive to us. We think, “Well, why doesn’t God fix it himself? I mean, who am I compared to God?” First, God doesn’t have to use us but he blesses us by including us in his mission. Christianity is all about relationship: relationship first with God and then with others, so it should be so surprising that he connects us all in this way. Second, if you wonder why God would want to use you instead of doing it himself, you’ve drastically underestimated yourself and the tools that you bring to the table.

You see, Christian mission is “incarnational.” We remember this every Christmas that God came and dwelled among us, as one of us. He is not distant from the troubles of the world because he came and experienced them for himself, suffering along side us so we may suffer no more.In Jesus’ life we find that he experienced everything we experience. He knew our pain first hand and had compassion on us, which allows us to better relate to him since we know that he knows our pain.

So too, the very experiences we have allow us to relate to others and minister to them. We are each gifted in particular ways that allow us to better relate to others. We come to them on behalf of the Father and bring his grace with us. He gives us His Holy Spirit to dwell with us and empower us because he can do more through us than without us.
 
Just as the ones who Jesus had compassion on became the same people the disciples had compassion on, when we submit to Him and seek to walk in step with the Spirit, the very people that God loves become the same people that we love.

There are still many who are harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. They are waiting for someone to come to them to bring them hope.

They might be dirt poor or filthy rich. They might be in Somalia, India, or Venezuela, OR they might be your next door neighbor.They might be the person who sells you insurance, waits on you at Kroger, or maybe even lives in your own house.

When you look at people, particularly non-believers, do you see them has harassed and helpless? Has God given you his heart for people?

Are you praying for the needs that you see around you, for those who like the crowds of Jesus’ day are in great need?
 
And, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, are you prepared to “go”? 
Jesus Christ gave the church a mission, and it was the same mission that he had.
 
“Going” doesn’t mean you have to take a trip on to help flood relief efforts or to share the Gospel in Asia. It could be something big like that, but it could also be something simple and local. I used to think that missions were something that happened over there, that only certain people got to take part in, but somewhere along the way I discovered the fact that God has called every Christian to pursue his mission here on earth, and that missions are not just an event or activity but really involve our entire lives.
 
Friends, we need to recapture the Biblical understanding of what it means to be a Christian, because if you are a Christian than you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, and if you are Jesus’ disciple then you have been sent. He has given you a mission to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom AND to do the restorative work of the Kingdom.
 
If every Christian in America would do that, imagine the way it would change our nation, our communities, our schools, our neighborhoods. I imagine it would look a lot like the places Jesus went.
 
Remember, freely you have received. Freely give.
 
-Seth
 

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Want To Make a Difference? Know Your Neighbor

A few months back I was talking with a fellow pastor here in Boone County about the most powerful sermon he ever preached. He said it wasn’t actually his sermon that was powerful, but a story shared beforehand by a member of his congregation who was a powerful business executive in Indianapolis. He shared that the man read a letter to the congregation his daughter had written him, a letter telling him some hard truth.

In it, his daughter talked about how her father had always worked so hard to give his family everything he could, putting them in a great house in one of the best school districts in the state, ensuring every material need was not only met but exceeded, and provided his kids the opportunity to take part in amazing extracurricular activities.

But as he read the letter to the congregation, he began to cry. His daughter went on to say that the one thing she really wanted and needed her whole life was the one thing that he never gave her: Himself. The only thing she ever wanted growing up was her father, to be in relationship with him and to spend time together. She didn’t need him to give her everything in the world. She just needed him to be with her, talk with her, and actually know her and allow her to know him in return. She needed him to not just be her provider. She needed him to be her father. She said that the sad truth was she didn’t really even know him and that he didn’t know her.

The pastor said it was a sobering moment in the congregation as many realized they were doing the exact same thing and needed to change their ways. And for us, it should be a stern cautionary tale that causes us to examine our lives and ask, “Am I giving my family and/or my spouse things, or am I giving myself?” Another way we could put it would be, “Am I doing things for them, or am I doing things with them?” The difference in that one preposition makes all the difference in the world because that difference is relationship.

Relationship is what we were made for as human beings. We read in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 that in the beginning God created humanity to know him and be known by him, and to live in harmony with one another and all of creation. But sadly, each of those relationships is broken by sin and in need of restoration and reconciliation, which is what Jesus came to do.

The amazing truth that we celebrate each Christmas is that Christ came to us, as one of us. God came incarnate, which means “in the flesh” and dwelled with us. We call him Emmanuel, God with us. Yes, he came to die and resurrect for us (a Truth we will celebrate in the coming weeks) that we might be forgiven and set free from sin, but he did this so that God could be with his people again.

The challenge is, even though Christ has come to reverse sin’s tide, there is much in our world that is not yet healed. The brokenness of sin remains widespread and causes us to withhold relationship from others, failing to give of ourselves or to truly accept the other. It is when we withhold relationship that we fall into the trap of doing things for others instead of with them.

You might think I am talking about the executive and his daughter again, but this concept is actually much larger than just interpersonal relationships. It is incredibly widespread in how the American church relates to our neighbors. You see, it doesn’t matter whether we are talking about evangelism or efforts to help the poor, we love to do things for others, but often fear doing them with them.

We notice a problem and quickly try to provide a solution by throwing money and resources at it, then pat ourselves on the back for doing so. Later, we are surprised and confused when it seems our efforts haven’t made the impact we’d hoped for. The problem remains. We don’t realize the way we are relating to others is itself broken by sin and rendered ineffective. Even more concerning is the fact that such an approach reduces people to projects. They become objectives for us to check off rather than people to be known and loved.

Like the executive in our opening story, the problem isn’t that we don’t care. Every church I have encountered has had a sincere concern and desire for others in a way that surpasses anything I have seen in the rest of the world. The problem is we don’t recognize our own brokenness that leads us to keep others at an arm’s length. We can’t just give them material things when what they really need is relationship with us.

I sincerely believe that we as the Church are the hope of the world. We are told time and time again in scripture that the Church is the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus performing God’s redemptive activity in this world. The Apostle Paul said we are ambassadors of Christ, taking part in the ministry of reconciliation, helping people be reconciled with God through Jesus. We live into this identity not just by doing things for others, but by offering ourselves and receiving them. No one is reconciled to Christ without also being reconciled to the Church.This is why connection is one of our core values of Rooted.

So let me propose a thought: What if our non-Christian neighbors are like the business executive’s daughter? We know that in order for their lives to be restored they need to know Jesus. We also know that God doesn’t desire to see anyone struggling in poverty, addiction, homelessness etc. But what if what they truly need isn’t just for someone to do something for them? What if what would truly be transformational, bringing deep healing and restoration, is for them to be known and to know us, for us to be with them?

Seth

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I just want to tell people about Jesus

It’s a moment I remember well. I was bursting with effervescent joy – if I had to keep it in a moment longer I swore I’d pop, so after a fun workout with a friend as we exited the group exercise room I lit up as I blurted out, “I’m pregnant!”. I had just found out a week prior and to contain the joy in my soul that a new life was beginning inside me just didn’t seem right. It’s those good, life-changing things we can’t seem to keep inside.

And we shouldn’t keep these moments inside, because as I look around me and listen to the news each morning I realize that good news, the kind that fills our hearts with joy and peace, is what we need, now more than ever. Most recently, during the attack that claimed the lives of 59 concertgoers and left our nation in a state of despair, it was the stories of heroism and hope that kept us going. And y’all it’s hard. Some days after scrolling through my newsfeed and listening to NPR, I am filled with intense guilt and anguish that I am raising my daughter in a world full of spin and hate. That is not the world I want for her.

As I look back on this past year of parenthood, I realize that I want her to know joy, not pain; hope, over despair, and mostly, I want her to know Jesus! I want her to know Him because He turns “mourning into dancing”! (Psalm 30:11)

I don’t want her to know Jesus because I somehow think that as a result, her life will be perfect and pain-free. She will grieve in this world, and rightly so! I want her to know Jesus because He is the best news this world has. He is the best this world could ever offer! Guys, God loves me and He loves you regardless of what you’ve done or what I’ve done (and let me tell you, I’ve messed up more times than I could count!) and all He asks in return is me; my presence and time. That I would come to Him daily. We need to stop making it more complicated than that!

I pray that God would give her and me (oh, so much me!) His eyes to see this world around me, the world He has entrusted to me. That my heart would continue to break for this world and that I wouldn’t get caught up in the hustle of day-to-day life so much that I forget that people need Jesus. I need Jesus! He is the best news, better than a baby (and mine is still a pretty big deal!). At the end of the day, I just want to tell people about Jesus.
 
-Chassity 

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Tunnel Vision & Community

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was 6 a.m. during a seventh-grade basketball practice at Clymer Central School and our coach, Coach Mac, was shouting to us as we ran through our scrimmages, something he did often. Coach McMullin was our school’s high school football coach, but after the season ended he would coach 7th and 8th-grade boys basketball, bringing his tough approach from the field to the court as he sought to hammer into us the fundamentals of basketball.
 
That morning, fatigued as I was from the early wake-up and intense physical conditioning, I remember him shouting and stopping our play with his whistle to impart upon us another lesson (we had many teachable moments). This day, the lesson was to keep our heads up and our eyes open so we could see the full court.
 
He said, “Some of you get tunnel vision when the ball is in your hands. You begin to focus on the basket, put your head down and think only of yourselves. Whether you are trying to be a ball hog [read:selfish] or not, opponents swarm you because they know you aren’t going to pass it, overwhelming you and forcing a turnover. You have to see your teammates and play as a team.”
 
Even though he was just talking about basketball, like much of Coach Mac’s wisdom, I have carried it with me to this day.
 
I mention this story because a couple weeks ago, Chassity and I, along with our 11-month-old daughter, attended the New Room Conference in Franklin, TN. The conference, hosted by Asbury Theological Seminary’s publishing arm, Seedbed, is completely focused on gathering those who long to see another great awakening. The conference emphasizes prayer, creating new faith communities, and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through us so that our communities and countries might be revived and renewed by God.
 
Besides having world-renowned pastors and church leaders who speak and lead break-out sessions, it is also a tremendous opportunity to connect with others passionate about seeing the Gospel of Jesus Christ transform lives. Like-minded Methodists, Anglicans, Wesleyans and Salvationists (Salvation Army) in particular all meet and share together, encouraging one another and seeking to work together for God’s glory. Since Asbury is my alma mater, it is also a great time to reconnect with friends, professors, and classmates.
 
I need events like New Room because if I am honest I can get tunnel vision, not just in basketball but in life and ministry. I get so consumed by what I am doing that I put my head down, push hard toward the goal and stop seeing and hearing my teammates. I end up playing alone and inadvertently make myself an easier target for the enemy. And even if I am not actually defeated, there are times when I certainly feel like I am surrounded and overwhelmed.
 
What I need is the blow of a whistle to snap me out of it. Each year, God has used New Room to do just that, to help lift my eyes, to see my teammates and band together with them. Each year I have come away encouraged, refreshed and renewed, excited for what God is doing around the world and what I believe He will do in our community. It has helped me keep my head up and my eyes open, something I so desperately need in my walk with God and as Rooted Community Church begins to form and take shape here in Whitestown. The conference is a wonderful reminder that we are not in this alone and has encouraged me to maintain my connection with a core group of guys who I share prayer, encouragement, and accountability with weekly.
 
So let me ask, “Do you ever get tunnel vision? Do you find yourself playing alone?” Maybe you are like me and find that if you aren’t careful you naturally want to put your head down and just try to push through, but in doing so you begin to ignore those who matter most to you. It could be from your own selfishness or simply because you just get stressed from it all. You feel lonely and alone.
 
If that is you, I’d encourage you to reach out to a local group of Christ-followers who can blow the whistle in your life, helping to encourage and guide you through the turbulent times. Maybe you need something like New Room, but more importantly you need teammates in life.
 
And of course, if you are in our area, we’d like to invite you to be a part of Rooted. One of our core values is connection because we believe God created us for relationship, with himself and others. Even if you are just exploring and aren’t so sure about this whole church thing, we’d like to invite you to come and take part. We hope you’ll find that this fledgling community shows you love, respect, encouragement, and truth.
 
Even if you are far from Boone County, Indiana, we know that we still need you, so we ask for your prayer for this community, for the church plant, and for everyone involved. If you are interested in knowing more specific ways you can be in prayer for the plant, or how you can financially support the endeavor, you can get more information here.
 
Until next time, keep your eyes open and your head up.
 
Seth

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Ruined Castles

It had been a long day of travel as we toured the coast of Northern Ireland. We’d seen the famous Giant’s Causeway, walked the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and had even seen a half dozen filming locations from Game of Thrones, ironically a show we’ve never even seen. (Please reserve all judgement on that point) But the final stop of our day-long trip was to see Dunluce Castle, a famous medieval Irish castle on the Antrim Coast, situated on high cliffs overlooking the sea. As we came around a corner in the road, through the mist and the rain we could see the tall stone walls and remains towering in the distance, an amazing sight to see.
 
While a few castles in Ireland have been well preserved, the majority have fallen into disrepair, and Dunluce is one of the latter. Yet even in its ruinous state, it is still a sight to behold, a thing of beauty to take in. Its high walls and remaining tower still seem to command the green hills and the tall basalt cliffs upon which it is perched. Long gone are the roofs, the windows, and the gates, and a section which used to contain the galley has actually fallen into the sea. Its glory certainly is not what it once was, what it was created to be, but even in its broken state you can’t help but marvel at the sliver of beauty it still retains. It is still awe inspiring yet slightly melancholy. It is broken but beautiful.
 
In my life, I have come to realize that we are much like the Dunluce Castle: Broken but beautiful.
When I was in college, I spent a lot of time talking with classmates and other students about matters of faith and one of the common topics was whether humankind is by nature good or evil. Students were greatly divided in their answers, their responses often reflecting their own life experiences.
 
It is no stretch to imagine that those who have witnessed atrocities and abuse, who have been the victims of cruelty and malice would think humanity is generally evil at the core. Likewise, it isn’t surprising that even in spite of the darkness and the pain, many would point to goodness shining through and claim the opposite, that at our core we as humans are truly good.
And a person’s answer to this question is no small matter. It directly affects how we relate to others, whether we trust them, whether we feel we have moral obligations to uphold, and how we treat others in general. Things like generosity, charity, and kindness are expected as the norm by those who see humanity as essentially good, while selfishness, greed, and vanity all seem completely justifiable in a world where everyone is rotten at the core.
 
As a Christian and as someone who has experienced both the beauty and the misery people can bring to one another, I understand both viewpoints well.
But I propose a third option as an alternative: That humanity is broken.
 
If we look to the Bible, the big picture painted throughout the 66 books found there is that God created humanity, and everything in the cosmos, for good. But, both humanity and the world in which we dwell are what the Bible calls “fallen”, in a state of brokenness, out of line with God’s original intent. This explains why we see both the good in the world and the bad, and also why we recognize the bad as bad, for if the whole world was truly evil, how should we ever know it? It would seem completely normal to us. Yet, it is the offensive nature of evil that gets our attention and reminds us that this is not how the world was made to be. People frequently say their highest aspiration is “to change the world.” Why? Because we all know the world needs change, and for the better.
 
In sum, we as humans are much like the ruins of those castles, like Dunluce. We are but a shadow of who God truly intended us to be. Genesis 1:28 says God created humanity in his own image at the pinnacle of creation to bear his own glory and reflect it to the world. Yet, we are ravaged by the brokenness of sin. Sin has made a ruin of us and of our world.
 
We should all remember this.
We should remember the immense value God has placed on all of us, the innate value and beauty we each have because we are image bearers of the divine. We should also remember that image and beauty is marred. Who we are now is not who we were made to be. We shouldn’t pretend we are perfect as we are, in our inclinations or actions. To do so would be like a person living in the ruins of Dunluce Castle and pretending it is just as it was in 1648.
 
In an article written for Christianity Today on the topic of depression, Dan Blazer said it well when he wrote:
“Christian teaching about sin and its reverberating effects frees the church from surprise about the disordered state of human affairs. We can acknowledge the effects of sin both within and without. We can look at wrecked reality squarely in the eye and call it what it is. And thanks be to God, who raised the One who entered fully into our condition, breaking the power of sin, death, and hell, that we not only can name wrecked reality, but also lean into it on the promise that Christ is making all things new.”
 
We are ruins, but the wonderful news is that God loves us even as the ruins that we are and offers to restore us to our former glory, to a glory we haven’t ever actually known ourselves during our lifetimes. He offers to restore us to the state he intended when he created it all. This is why Jesus came. He came that we might be forgiven our sins, yes, but that is only the beginning. Forgiveness is followed by healing and new life, renewing us. The New Testament reminds us that God’s mission of restoring, renewing and redeeming includes us, his most prized creations, but ultimately includes everything.
 
Again, Blazer said it well as he closed his article, “This sin-riddled reality does not have the last word. Christ, as embodied in his church, is the last word.”
 
He will restore the ruins to their full beauty.
 
– Seth

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