As Jesus followers we are called into the Kingdom Life. This blog will help us converse and learn what that means. It will contain thoughts on Scripture, Sermon Reflection, Leadership Training and interesting reads. -Pastor Jeff

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Fallacy of Grace

There are two errors about grace.  Both are errors about how vast, wide, and all-consuming the grace of God is.

The first error is the unfortunate belief that grace is for everyone...EXCEPT ME.  This error seems to suggest that the unwarranted favor and boundless love of God, a love that meets us in spite of ourselves, is good for everyone, works for everyone, is given to everyone...but ME.

"I am too far outside the scope of grace."

"I've done too much, failed too much, let down too many, struggled too often, slipped up too many times, and am too insignificant, and I ALONE fall outside that vast grace of God.

The second error is similar to the first.  It seems to suggest that grace is for ME or for US (any randomly, narrowly or arbitrarily defined crowd) but not for THEM.  For ME/US grace is a delight.  For THEM grace is leniency, clemency, or softness.

"I know I need grace and I'm thankful for that grace, but THEY need to be held accountable, dealt with, treated in a way that constantly reminds THEM of the magnitude of their actions."

Even when grace happens for THEM, THEY are on grace probation, the terms of which can be withdrawn at any time.

Grace is only grace if it is grace for ALL, for ME and for THEM.  Grace left in our hands has boundaries and limitations, divyed out according to our fickle categories.  It goes "this far" and no further.  Grace left in the hands of God transcends all boundaries.  That's what makes it grace.  Grace is the posture of God towards ALL.  It is His loving, forgiving, patient, compelling, sustaining disposition to all people at all times.  Grace is the limitless reserve of God's favor and good will toward us.

Grace doesn't begin with stipulations and regulations, but with the hopefulness that ALL will embrace it as gift.  Grace is God's arms flung wide open in expectant embrace.  It is His readiness to call ALL, to love ALL, to forgive ALL, to rescue ALL.  Grace is by nature God's inclusive design.  Grace makes space for ALL.  Grace is God's "yes" to us.  It is God's, "You've been invited in."

But with any gift lay the invitation.  "Will you accept it?"  Will you embrace grace, for YOU, but not only for YOU, but for ALL?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Awake Dreamers

What this world needs now is more young dreamers, artists, and poets, creators and collaborators, risk-takers and status quo questioners. This world needs young hearts and minds not constrained by the artificial limits of power, prestige, and prejudice handed down to them by previous generations of defenders of hard-line agendas.
We need Wing-Spreaders.
Those that will swoop down into the depths of human brokenness, tasting its bitter drink, only to soar to the heights of hope, painting the skies with the vivid colors of love and peace, healing and compassion.
What this world needs desperately now are young women and men who refuse to be lulled asleep by the endless monotony of entertainment and earning potential, but who are awakened to their purposes of beauty-making, bridge-building, peace-nurturing, world-healing possibilities. The hope of our future is not found in the posturing, power-asserting diatribes of today's politicians but in the hearts of our young people. Young people, that if we would encourage them to color outside the lines, might just conceive of a world incomprehensible to those of us limited by decades of cynicism and collusion with imagination-stealing powers of money, military might, and the molds of success and social status.
Awake Dreamers! Awake Poets! Awake Artists! Awake Creators! You, by the grace of God, are the hope of a world whose elders are too busy protecting and defending party lines to imagine the alternatives that God has already placed in your hearts.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Celebrating God's Faithfulness

Greetings and Happy New Year!!
                Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in the life of Bridgeway.   At the outset of every New Year, we begin to ask the question, “What might God have in store for Bridgeway and the communities that God has given us the privilege to impact in 2016?”  But…before we ask that question, it’s important that we pause and give glory to God for what He has done!
                Without a doubt this has been an intense year of ministry.  We’ve grown in some extremely exciting ways and felt the shifts and strains of that growth.  We’ve been pushed in some areas.  We’ve watched as some of our systems have broken down or needed tweaked in response to our growth.  We’ve developed new systems to meet the challenges of growth in some areas.  However, in all areas God has been faithful and you’ve weathered the changes with grace and perseverance.  I thank God for that and for you.
                Has it been a bit disorienting at times?  Has it been stressful at times?  Have there been moments when we’ve wanted to cry out, “Ummm, God I’m just getting used to the last change could you give me a moment before you change something else?”  Sure on all accounts.  There are seasons of ministry when staying in step with God’s Spirit and dependence on His sufficient Grace is a day by day, moment by moment necessity.  God is leading us through that kind of season! 

Think about what’s taken place in this last year…By the grace of God…
1.       We’ve added staff and move part-time staff to full-time status.
2.       We’ve changed our scheduling process church-wide to Planning Center.
3.       God has blessed us with nearly 50 baptisms.
4.       We’ve added a Saturday Night Service that weekly reaches about 100 people.
5.       We’ve added another campus in Marquette Heights, as a team of people gave countless hours to renovation at the same time sending dozens from the Pekin Campus to M.H.
6.       Watched as God has enabled an increase in giving.
7.       We’ve started a Backpack Program that now reaches over 200 kids weekly at Wilson School.
8.       We’ve set the foundation for Celebrate Recovery which will launch in 1 month.
9.       God’s empowered and raised up new leaders in every area of ministry.
10.   Witnessed many saved and lives changed.
11.   Changed our formatting in both Youth and Children’s ministry.
12.   Validated the call to ministry of nearly a dozen people.
13.   Celebrated a number of people gathering at the Pekin Campus every morning at 5:30am for prayer since October.
14.   Launched a Church-wide App. 
15.   And…(I’m sure you could add a few there.)

                To God be all the glory!  There are churches that would love to see any 1 or 2 of these in a given year.   For some reason, according to God’s wisdom and grace, He has entrusted us with this and for that I am both overwhelmed and thankful.  You’ve been a huge part of all that God has done in this place!
                With all that has taken place, there are some key elements that we must be attentive to.
1.       Unity – We must guard against anything that could creep in and challenge the unity of Bridgeway.  The Devil loves to look for any fissures or cracks that he can slide in and disrupt things.  We won’t always agree on every detail of change, however, if the Kingdom of God is driving our changes then, in prayer, we can learn to respect one another in the process and maintain the unity of Spirit, mission and vision of Bridgeway.
2.       Communicate, Communicate, Overcommunicate – Anytime we are on the kind of journey that BW is on, we much be intentional in communication.  We can’t assume that everyone knows what we are doing or why we are doing it.  This requires work from all of us.  Don’t allow any unvoiced or unexpressed concerns to become issues that create bitterness or doubt in your Spirit.  Communicate, ask, reach out to leaders and staff in your area of ministry.
3.       Prayer is Priority!! – People have asked me how long we will keep up this prayer at 5:30 in the morning.  Honestly, I have no idea, but I know we are nowhere close to it being over.  We regularly have 5 to 10 people each morning and I believe more will come. Prayer is the way in which we continually reorient ourselves to God’s direction and timing for all of life and ministry.
4.       People are the Priority – The programs, the campuses, the ministries we start are never the priority.  People are!  We must ensure that in our busyness and excitement about “doing new stuff” we don’t miss the people that we can affect with the gospel, people that need encouragement, people that need a friend. 
5.       Selflessness is a Priority – We must remember this is bigger than any one of us and requires all of us to come under the authority of God and the Scriptures, ensuring our hearts represent the humble call of servanthood. 
6.       Spiritual Growth is a Priority – We mustn’t ever become a 100 miles wide as a congregation and a half inch deep.  We will work to deepen our commitment to Christ, understand the call of God to be the Holy people of God, and strengthen our commitment to those practices that deepen our relationship with God. 
7.       Hugs and Laughter are a Priority – Huh?  This is huge.  We mustn’t ever take ourselves so seriously that we forget to laugh together, hug one another, and just enjoy sharing life with those we minister alongside.

                I am truly amazed to think about all that God might have in store for those communities that BW finds itself.  You are an integral part of that!  Please know that you are loved and appreciated.  As a staff we ask that you bear with us at times.  Much of this is new terrain for all of us.  We are seeking God, learning what we can from who we can, and trying to ensure our hearts are always in the right place.  If we mess up, please forgive us.  If you see us struggling, be a problem solver and not a problem spotter.  Love us as we love you in this journey. 
                On February 6th and 7th, I will again (one year from the last time we did this) stand before Bridgeway and not only celebrate what God has done but dream about what God is yet to do.  As I do that I want you to know that I am celebrating the faithfulness of God, your faithfulness, and renewing my commitment to you as your Pastor.
·         I renew my commitment to seeking the Kingdom of God first.  I ask God daily to orient me to things that concern Him and not my own agendas.
·         I renew my commitment to be your shepherd.  I am not a CEO.  I’m a pastor.  I love you and consider it a privilege and honor to walk alongside of you through the joys and struggles of your daily lives.
·         I renew my commitment to growing and learning.  I definitely don’t have all the answers.  I am trying to learn what I don’t know from people who know far more than I do. 
·         I renew my commitment to guard my heart.  I want nothing more than to be a faithful witness to God’s Kingdom.  I ask God to protect me from temptations and evil, lest I get lazy and stumble.  I ask you to pray for me as well.

God is up to something amazing here at Bridgeway.  I can’t believe I get to be a part of this.  I celebrate that each and every day.   Know that Angie and I love you.  We care about you and look forward to more years of God’s faithfulness still ahead. 

Your Pastor,

Jeff Stark