The Stubborn Gospel

Author: Craig Hardinger

For I delivered to you as of first importance…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures… -1 Corinthians 15:3,4

Christians are a stubborn people.  Not exactly fake news to pretty much everyone.   There is a dogmatic quality to the Christian faith that makes us look unfriendly, maybe even conceited to the non-Christian world.  This is due in large part to our uncompromising conviction that Jesus is physically alive after physically dying.  Feel bad as we may for how we are perceived, there are just some things that are non-negotiable in the Christian faith. And as we all know, we live in a culture where certainty about anything is deemed the unforgivable sin.

For example:  The Christians I know (myself included) refuse to be lumped in with the other religious belief systems in the world.  In fact, most of us would go so far as to say that Christianity isn’t a religion at all.  Such isolated conviction no doubt feeds the perception mentioned above.  

So why is that? Why the claims of exclusivity?   

The reason that Christianity is so distinct from other belief systems doesn’t really have anything to do with the teachings of Jesus – or even the death of Jesus.  That may be a shocker to you, but it’s true.  The founders of the major world religions, Buddha, Mohammed, and Moses, all emphasized moralistic teaching, bid their followers to adhere to that teaching, and then died.    Nothing out of the ordinary there. The followers of those religions have no problem with their founders dying. What makes Christianity so different has to do with a very simple moment in time  – whether that moment was a minute or a nanosecond – what happened had never happened before and has never happened since. Someone rose from the dead, never to die again.

Yep!  There it is!

Because of that moment in time - the moment when Jesus rose from the grave - everything changed.  Everything!  History changed.  Lives changed.  The world changed.  Governments changed.  Sunday changed.  Faith changed.  Satan changed.  Guilt and shame changed.  Homes changed. Relationships changed.  The look of sin changed - all because of a single moment when someone dead suddenly wasn’t anymore.

That is why being a Christian is so different from other belief systems.  To be a Christian means placing faith and trust, not in the teachings of Jesus – but in the actions of Jesus – his death and resurrection.   It is the stubborn conviction that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave that then compels us to follow his teaching.

Can that kind of conviction make Christians look off-putting and a tad overly confident?  I suppose.  Like all people who are sure about the truth of something, we can, no doubt, look overbearing and arrogant.  

Maybe, just maybe, that’s not it at all.  Maybe we’re just stubborn.

Like our good friend Paul said:

But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.  -2 Timothy 1:12

                                                                                                        

Why Community Groups Are Vital to The Church

web_banner.png

Author: John Cassidy

There was a time when I used to be skeptical about Community Group or a Small Group settings. I thought it was a bit too touchy-feely, and it provided more fuel for the rumor mill instead of fostering true discipleship. Perhaps you have had these feelings too. In this post, I hope to share a little of what I have been learning about Community Groups over the last 6 years and why they are so valuable at Arcade Church.

Here’s why Community groups are important:

Community Groups foster close relationships. 
The Community Group atmosphere is ready-made for building friendships. We cannot promise deep relationships, but we can create atmospheres to meet new people. As a rule, people talk more in small groups. People are quick to recognize needs and help to meet them. The relationships started within Community Groups construct a strong fabric within Arcade. The relationships that are formed outside the walls of the church building are relationships that tend to endure and strengthen over time.

Community Groups provide a comfortable introduction for nonbelievers to the Christian faith. 
I’m skeptical that “inviting people to church” is the best means of evangelism. Don’t get me wrong it is great to invite others to church, but inviting someone to Community Group might be better. Most of us tend to fear forming relationships too quickly, especially when it involves sharing our faith with someone. That is a natural and understandable fear. Inviting someone to a Community Group provides a way to involve a nonbeliever directly into a community of believers—watching them live out their faith, listening to them pray, hearing them share God’s work in their life, and learning more about the Bible. The nonbeliever is more likely to ask questions, get answers, and form relationships with the believers. Community Groups are a powerful missional tool. They allow for the greater spread of the gospel among nonbelievers in Sacramento.

Community Groups provide an ideal way to care for the needs of people within the church. 
When one believer in a Community Group is struggling financially, emotionally, spiritually, socially, etc., it is much easier for the members of the group to notice and provide help. The structure of a Community Group is essentially a community of believing friends. Friends should help one another, especially Christian friends.

Community Groups provide a way for Christians to live out their faith instead of merely hearing more preaching or teaching. 
If Sunday morning is for listening, then the rest of the week is for living. Whether it’s discussing the Sunday sermon, talking about a spiritual battle, or simply praying for one another, Community Groups create a context for Christians to live out their faith in real life.

Community Groups participate in focused prayer for one another. 
Prayer cannot be overrated, but it is often under-practiced. Community Groups offer an environment for members to pray with and for one another. I am grateful to know that my group prays for me during the week. Community Groups at Arcade can make for great prayer meetings.

Community Groups allow for mutual edification among believers. 
It’s easy to depend on the professionals to give us our spiritual food. According to the Bible, God gives spiritual gifts to all believers. The gifts God has given you are for the benefit of the whole church. Every Christian should minister to other Christians with his or her gifts. This happens most naturally, effectively, and purposefully in Community Groups. Plus, we start to realize that other believers face the same problems we do. Edification is at work.

Community Groups encourage better learning. 
Listening to a sermon is a great way to learn the Word, but it is easy to become detached or daydream during a sermon. We become passive listeners. Not so in a Community Group. When a few people are together, every individual is expected to be involved and to participate. This active involvement is an effective way to learn Scripture.

Community Groups help to cultivate leadership within the church. 
Someone has to lead a Community Group or facilitate the discussion. Arcade needs leaders other than the pastors and elders. Thus, Community Groups give opportunities for leadership development at Arcade.

Are you in a Community Group? If not, I want to encourage you to talk to someone at Connection Point Central this Sunday to help you find the best group for you or you can sign up online today!

Shepherds!  Your Lambs Are Dying!

Author: Craig Hardinger

4a766dccf6594445cb46249938898e1e.jpg

[An open letter to Christian leaders]

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more
  -Revelation 21:4

I love that line.

Wiping away tears is the ultimate result of Jesus making all things new (Revelation 21:5).

It was also the basic action of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Think about it.  Every miracle he performed was with the intent to show he had the power to wipe away tears.

It seems to me that his church should be engaged in the same kind of ministry – wiping tears.

One of the joys I have as a pastor is to partner with Arcade brothers and sisters in Christ who aggressively seek viable solutions to issues that fall under the umbrella of social justice. Racism, poverty, sex-trafficking and any form of marginalization or social evil work as tear-creators.  It is our mission as followers of Jesus to be his tear-wipers.  

The ministry of tear-wiping is seen more and more in the church today as Christians are, in Jesus-like manner, rolling up their sleeves and engaging in many forms of social justice.  The smile of our heavenly Father is upon such people as they wade knee deep in the muck and mire of poverty, hunger, racial reconciliation, immigration and the like.

However, there is a glaring omission in the short list above - abortion.

Just as there is an increase of pastors and leaders engaged in the social justice of the living, there appears to be a corresponding decrease of leaders who are engaged in the social justice of the dying.

It begs the question, “Why?”

Why is it that pastors/leaders, in one sense, have placed themselves on the front lines of many social justice battles only to go AWOL in others?

I’ve asked around and below are a few responses on why leaders have abandoned or softened their stance in regards to abortion.
 

  • Lightning rod president.

As of today, the president has positioned himself as being pro-life. Because his popularity has drastically diminished, many wish to distance themselves from anything that he endorses. I get it, but here’s the thing:  the president didn’t launch the pro-life movement nor should he be the sole voice in support of it.  At the risk of sounding snippy – get over it.

 Americans! Your lambs are dying!
 

  • It’s not pro-life. It’s pro-birth.

This is usually stated in the form of an accusation and is based on the assumption that pro-life advocates are only concerned with the birth of the baby and not the life of the child after birth.  The accusation further asserts that many aborted babies would have lived in abject poverty and oppression.  It is, therefore, a “kindness” to abort them in order to avoid certain suffering in life.   I find it hard to believe that a societal problem can ever be solved by killing members of that society.   Crazy idea:  Let the babies live!

 Leaders! Your lambs are dying!
 

  • Bigger issues.  More attention.

Existing issues like racism, poverty or immigration are seen as more immediate and therefore more crucial. At the risk of unintentionally minimizing the above issues, are you kidding me?  Leader!  Lead!  I am not asking you to neglect the causes that face our society.  Speak loudly and often about the injustices facing the people in your community.  People are crying and you have been placed strategically by a sovereign God to wipe away tears.  I am asking you to stand for social justice involving all citizens – especially the weak and powerless.  You can’t get any more weak and powerless than the unborn.

Community leaders! Your lambs are dying!
 

  • The pro-life cause is not trending.

I don’t even know what to say about this one.  Moving on.

Millennials! Your lambs are dying!
 

  • The pain of guilt.

It is so true – talking about the evils of abortion can pile burden upon burden of guilt on any woman who has had an abortion and the connected families affected.  Insensitive preaching/teaching can add tears, not wipe them away.  No pastor who loves his flock wants to do that.  In such moments when the tears of guilt flow, the gospel of mercy, grace and forgiveness must shine.

Preachers! Your lambs are dying!
 

  • The sanctity of ALL human life.

This is a subtle way for leaders to exit the conversation/debate about abortion. A typical statement might be, “Rather than focus on one group of marginalized people, every life  matters.”  Great!  Bully for you!  Should we not start with those in our community who have zero voice and are, while alive, being dismembered, scalded or left to expire - alone on a table? Seriously?

Christ followers! Your lambs are dying!
 

  • Pro-choice and in the closet.

I think we would all be surprised at how many pastors and Christian leaders are silent advocates of the pro-choice movement.  If that’s you – do us all a favor – quit.  Sell insurance.  Sell cars.  Shoot! Sell essential oils.  Don’t preach.

Shepherds! Your lambs are dying!
 

Fellow followers of Christ, we’re not picking out carpet color here nor debating the sequence of events surrounding the end times.  If our ministry on this planet is one of tear-wiping,  the issue of abortion and the many lives affected by each abortion (60 million and counting) must be at the front of nearly every discussion regarding social justice.  And yet the steam of the movement has been lost to the point where there is barely a mention from many Christian leaders.

Is not our mission to provide a taste of what heaven will be?  Is it not to engage in those issues that drew Jesus’ attention? We must identify all of them, call them what they are, shine a light in the darkness – all the while wiping tears. The tears of the unborn.  The tears of young women who believed the lie that somehow their life would be better because of an abortion. The tears of entire communities/neighborhoods decimated by strategically-placed abortion clinics.[1]  The tears of would-be grandparents. The tears of couples waiting to adopt, longing for that child.

What am I suggesting we do?  To be honest – I don’t think I do enough.  But in truth, anything is better than nothing. 

HERE ARE SOME SUGGESTIONS

  • Preach the gospel of life often
  • Encourage and embrace foster care and adoption
  • Church leaders: train and prepare teachers, child-care workers, ushers and greeters to specifically welcome children with disabilities whose parents chose life.
  • Strategically mention the pro-life cause throughout the year
  • Support Alternatives Pregnancy Center or other pro-life ministries
  • Social Media carries weight.  Post!
He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
  -Isaiah 40:11
 

[1] http://studentsforlife.org/planned-parenthood-and-racism/

 

Racial Reconciliation and the Gospel

Author: Craig Hardinger

From now on…we regard no one according to the flesh.

                        -2 Corinthians 5:16

“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a mass effort to re-educate themselves out of their racial ignorance…It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”                                       
  -Martin Luther King Jr. - Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?
MLKJR

She was an unassuming seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama, and frankly, she had had enough. Little did she know on that brisk December day in 1955 that her seemingly obscure action would be the tipping point to a movement that continues to this day.  Rosa Parks, like she did most days, boarded the public bus.  The rule/law was that because she was black, she would have to yield her seat to a white person if they demanded.   It was merely the way things were.  It was expected that black people would acquiesce to the wishes of white people when white and black occupied the same space – like restaurants, drinking fountains, public pools and, yes, buses.  It was a way for the races to “get along” – provided everyone knew their place.  It was a great system – if you were white. But on that particular day (December 1st), Rosa would not yield her seat to a white person. Like I said, she’d had enough.

At what cost?  

Truthfully, I’ve never had to muster the kind of courage that that young African American woman required to not do what people of her race had been forced to do ever since public buses were invented – move.  Did she not know that the whites made the rules?  Did she not know of the thousands of lynchings? The beatings? The burning crosses? The bricks thrown through front windows? The bombings? The public ridicule?  Was she ignorant of those in her community who stood up against the powers only to mysteriously disappear - never to be heard from again?  

More than 50 years have passed since that day on the bus, and I am simply in awe of that kind of courage and faith.  I’m also humbled and ignited by the reality that even though much ground has been gained in the area of racial reconciliation – we have so much further to go.  I think one of the reasons why the movement at times has progressed at near glacial pace is because the (predominately white) church of Jesus Christ has chosen to stay out of the fray.  

Why has the church at large not led the way in something that is precious to God’s heart – reconciliation?  Why is it that we champion the beauty of the vertical gospel of God paying the cost for reconciliation with us and yet we see the reconciliation with others as unimportant or too costly?  Racial reconciliation is not the gospel, but it is an expression of the gospel that we cannot ignore.

Consider the Apostle Paul’s words:  
From now on…we regard no one according to the flesh.  Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation...we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:16-18, 20

  Reconciliation is something we have received through Christ, but it is also something we do by the power of his Spirit.  Whatever false divisions may occur in society (like race relations) we as the church must lead the way in seeking reconciliation between those who are divided.  Here’s the rub – it will cost us.  Reconciliation is always costly and often bloody because it requires that we die to ourselves, our perspectives, our opinions, the rhetoric that seems plausible and yes, the overtones and undertones of racism that we all share.

I guess that’s my beef.  It’s not with society.  It’s with the church.  We are the recipients of reconciliation.  We are the ones who have received it and therefore must be the ones who pursue it and stubbornly demand it among ourselves.  We cannot ignore Paul’s words, “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”

Will such endeavors require Rosa Parks-like courage?  Probably.

This should come as no surprise if you’ve been around Arcade for any amount of time. We are continually in the process of learning to take whatever is current in the culture and view it through the lens of the gospel. Feel free to email me responding to this question: What are some ways we can pursue racial reconciliation at Arcade and in our community through the lens of the gospel?

craigh@arcadechurch.com

 

 

Aw + Us = Joy

Author: Beth Whitney

Let me tell you a little about the Grand Canyon:

It’s big.

Not just big, it’s enormous. Gigantic. HUGE.

If you’ve been there, you’re nodding your head in agreement. If you’ve never seen it, you probably just rolled your eyes.

But really, it is JUST SO BIG.

When I was 15, our family drove across country, which included a stop at the Grand Canyon. My mom warned us to not take pictures: they just wouldn’t do the canyon justice. But being kids, we took pictures anyway. When those photos came back, we were so disappointed. I will say it: Mom was right.

I could spend the next five paragraphs attempting to explain the enormity of the Grand Canyon to you, but that would be a waste of time. You really have to see it for yourself.

Is that what it’s like to describe God? I could tell you about him, use my limited vocabulary to attempt to explain him. But would that do him justice?  

Words alone don’t have the capacity to contain who God is.

Maybe that’s why we gather on Sundays, to experience God together. Yes, during the week I have moments of personal worship. You probably do too. But when we come together there is something special about being in a room full of my brothers and sisters, standing, clapping, praising. Together we are singing for joy to the Lord.

But let’s go back to the Grand Canyon. As I was standing on the edge of the most impressive thing I had ever seen, I looked from the canyon to my sister and brother, and then back again. We were all exclaiming our awe. The joy contained in those shared moments made the experience that much better. Awe expressed together creates joy. The wonder of the Grand Canyon was more wonderfull because we delighted in it together.

This Sunday, like every Sunday, we’re going to stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon of God’s greatness. If we see together who God is and what he’s done, the awe we share with each other will overflow into joy!

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation....in his hand are the depths of the earth...

Psalm 95:1, 4

See you there?