God is the Author

God is the author. It’s a simple enough concept. In fact I think most folks of faith find this idea incredibly soothing. We find great comfort knowing that as the story of life and “my life” in particular unfolds, someone is in control. God as author is a powerful and poetic idea. That is until we realize he’s writing a line or paragraph or chapter or section of our stories we don’t particularly like.

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In times like these we try our hand at writing. I know I do. I set the scene. I build the action. I attempt to develop the characters. I dictate the climax. And I chase down my own resolutions.

But it’s only a matter of time before I realize… I’m not a very good author. Or at the very least I get to the resolution and realize that nothing has really been resolved. Been there? Among a number of other reasons, we fail as the author of our lives because we fail to appropriately deal in the “fall in action” nor do we have a sufficient “turn” from fall in action to resolution. To put it another way, we don’t deal with the real issues and therefore we can’t possibly introduce a viable remedy.

All that being said I constantly try to take the pen (or keyboard, I guess) out of his hands. So… here are seven things I like to keep in mind when I’m tempted to become the author of my story or anyone else’s for that matter…

1. God is involved in every aspect of my story and the story. It’s his story.
2. God keeps the story going, just as he intends.
3. God develops his story with us and in us, always (even if we don’t want him to).
4. God weaves the story together in order to accomplish his good purposes.
5. God has written himself into the story.
6. God deals with the real issue–sin.
7. God–specifically his Son, Jesus and his atoning work and subsequent resurrection–is the sufficient resolution.

How to tell the story

You’ve got a story to tell! You may not have all the answers to questions about life and faith and God and spirituality … but you’ve got a story to tell. As follower of Christ our story is that when we tried to be the authors of our own lives God in Christ—the Author of all things—wrote himself into our story. Jesus has championed our broken stories and by grace introduced resolution to our stories. To be sure life doesn’t become easier, but it does become more purposeful and anchored in reality. You’ve got a story to tell.

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Yesterday at our Near North and Lincoln Park campuses we introduced a tool to help you know the story, think about your story, and help others frame their story and their need for Jesus to champion their cause. Below I want to give you more details about how we can use this tool.

ONE | Remind yourself daily of God’s story and the good news of Jesus. The good news or gospel is not an idea that we leave at the site of our conversion. The good news is something that animates our life story every day. And a great way to remind ourselves daily of this great good news is to consider and reflect on the big story God has been telling since the beginning of time. Because as we reflect on this we will be mindful of our own redeemed place and purpose within that story.

TWO | Remind yourself daily how God’s story and the good news of Jesus have ushered in forgiveness and pursue in your own story. The hard truth is you and I have tried to write our own story. Like Adam and Eve we rejected the authority and goodness of God and tried to take con story of our own narrative. This led to us being trapped in the “fall in action” or “loss” stage of the story. Left with question … tension … pain … separation from God we could not bring resolution. And that’s why God sent his Son, Jesus. Jesus is the sufficient “hinge” or hero who defeats the ailment of the loss and fall in action through his death and resurrection. Through faith and confession that Jesus is Lord we have been welcomed back into God’s story.

THREE | With these two things in mind, daily make friends by listening to their story, sharing your story, and telling God’s story. Personal mission is all about making friends and telling the story. Often this is a progressive and long conversation; this is what friendship is all about. Making friends is personal. Making friends takes time. And making friends avoids us many opportunities to graciously and clearly share our story.

Singles Retreat 2014 Recap

There’s nothing like a good retreat! And Lake Geneva provided a brilliant backdrop for our weekend. Not to mention some great music, delicious food, an epic slip-n-slide, tons of hash-tagging, lip-synching, and way too many selfies. Thanks so much to everyone who joined us and especially to all those who helped plan and volunteered. You can check out all of the pictures from the weekend here.

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We also took time to follow Jesus from a wedding to a well we discovered many things. We realized that Jesus’ mom was, well probably a lot like all of our mothers. We saw that Jesus gets fired up when people are hindered from worshiping God. We learned that moralism ultimately keeps us in the dark. And we witnessed what it’s like when shame is exchanged for grace and love. Jesus did many amazing things. And it would be easy to simply be impressed with what he did and can do. But there’s more. There’s always more. The main reason for this journey was not to show us what Jesus can do, but rather for us to discover who Jesus is … God in the flesh. We were beckoned to believe.

Should You Care About Theology?

Maybe it happened on Sunday. Perhaps you saw something on Twitter. Or maybe you read something in a book or article. Regardless of how or when it happened, I’m sure it has. At some point and time some pastor, teacher, or budding seminary students has dropped a big theological word. Something like hypostatic union or supralapsarianism or eschatology. (Whoops, now I did it.) When left undefined, theology in general and a word in particular leaves us confused, intimated, and annoyed by the concept entirely.

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Actually, theology is a fairly simple concept. Theology is the study of God. It is the investigation and organization of God’s nature, qualities, characteristics, identity, and mission.

It’s vital to think rightly about God. As followers of Christ we should care deeply about what we believe about God because what we believe about God informs everything else we believe. Knowledge of God is the basis for knowledge of ourselves, our neighbors, and the world around us. For instance if we believe that God is love (1 John 4:8), then we can also understand that we are loved and have an obligation to love others. In short, understanding who we are begins with understanding God. That’s theology.

Ordering Your Private World :: Book Review

Life is crazy. Between the traffic, deadlines, kids, and potholes, life is fast and full. Not to mention as a church our vision is to see lives transformed, a city renewed, and our world impacted. How can we possibly get it all done? Is it possible to thrive in all of these spheres of our existence—personal, vocational, and spiritual? How can we ever carve out space for ourselves and for rest? Is there any hope?

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In the midst of this common storm, Gordon MacDonald offers an incredible path toward peace. His book, Ordering Your Private World begins by comparing our inner world and our outer world. It’s a view of the private self and public self. Usually in the craziness of life these two are not friends, they’re out of alignment, and they’re chasing different goals. Ordering Your Private World seeks to balance these worlds practically and biblically.

MacDonald’s book has been a tremendous help to me, particularly when life is busiest. The reflection of this book has helped me to press meaning into my work and caused me to find stillness, even in the storms. Even when I moved, when I changed jobs, when we had children, when my inbox is flooded, or when my hard work seems to produce nothing … I have found hope.

So if you find yourself anxious to bring order to your soul and discover peace in the midst of a chaotic world, I highly recommend this book. It’s one I’ve gone back to over and over again, and I’m sure you will too.

Q&A with Jason

Each weekend we ask you to text questions to us throughout the sermon, and we try to answer them at the end of the service. Here are 3 questions that we received from some of you this past weekend, and the answers from our Teaching Pastor, Jason Helveston. If you ever have questions, feel free to let us know on Twitter or texting during a weekend service. They may end up getting answered here on the blog!

Q&A

Q: How can you be aware of false teachers without being critical?
A: I think this calls for a distinction between discernment and criticism. Criticism comes from a place of pride and self-aggrandizement. Discernment is about care and truth. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls us to take care (or beware) of false prophets because of the harm they might causes us or other followers of Christ. It’s all about motivation.

Q: How does one rectify science and faith in God (i.e. Evolution and the universe being billions of years old)?
A: God invented the universe and all the laws of nature therein. In other words God invented science. Science is not an enemy but an ally of Biblical spirituality. However we must be discerning when and where the claims of scientific advancement contradict the claims of Scripture. I’d recommend Tim Keller’s The Reason for God; chapter six in particular speaks to this conversation.

Q: How can we be sure of our salvation if these people called Jesus “Lord” in their lives, but yet weren’t really saved? Didn’t those people believe Jesus is Lord and have the right theology?
A: First of all doubting is perfectly normal. We all wrestle with doubt. But we can also experience certainty in our faith. The Apostle Paul writes that “if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Elsewhere he describes the evidence of our new nature is found in the fruit that comes from our lives; namely love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Ultimately our assurance rests in the work of Christ, not in our habits and intellect—as those who cried “Lord, Lord” seemed to believe.

Finding Satisfaction

A couple years ago I came to an alarming discovery. It was a busy time for our family. My daughter had just been born. It was a busy time in the life of our church. Many things stole my attention. A number of situations and various pressures in work and ministry kept me in the office longer than usual.

I had only been married a couple years. I was a new dad. I was still discovering my voice, strengths, weaknesses, goals, and obstacles as a pastor and leader. I wanted to be great. I wanted to be known as a good husband, dad, and pastor. And so I worked really hard. I was anxious. I was easily angered. I was tired. I wanted to achieve. But I felt like I was chasing a moving target.

Have you ever felt like that?

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I had a brand-new, beautiful baby girl… an incredible wife… and a job I loved. But I wanted more. That was my alarming discovery. I wasn’t satisfied.

In Psalm 90:14 the leader of leaders, Moses reflects on a difficult time. His reflection is actually a prayer. Some undisclosed disaster had recently devastated the people of God. And so Moses goes to God in that pressure, with questions. He is understandably anxious, and has a simple, yet powerful request … satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

That’s it.

That’s what I wanted.

That’s what I craved.

Satisfaction.

In some ways I think we all want satisfaction. I know the Rolling Stones do. But like the Stones, satisfaction is an elusive joy. Right? But it doesn’t seem elusive to Moses at all. He seems to know exactly where satisfaction can be found… and how. He knows exactly who can bring full and lasting contentment even in the middle of disaster and pressure. Moses asks God to bring satisfaction through his steadfast love.

The idea that the God of the universe possesses a steadfast love and a desire to bring gladness and joy to my life is incredibly hopeful. Can you see how powerful this reminder can be when reflected upon at the beginning of the day? Before work. Before traffic. Before interruptions. Before disappointments. Before good news. Before bad news. Before busyness. Before nap times. Before baseball practice. Before play dates. Before meetings. Before… well, anything and everything a day might bring.

Finding satisfaction in God’s love sets a tone. Grounding ourselves in his delight changes us. And finding it in the morning, at the start of a new day changes everything. It dismantles temptation before it even starts. It reminds us that nothing else can truly satisfy. [<-- Tweet That!]

What in your life promises satisfaction but never delivers?

What do you chase after everyday?

What do you look for during your day to bring you gladness and joy?

What satisfies you?

Our mornings give way to days. Our days to years. And years to all our daysSatisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love … Each misguided affection points us to this reality—God’s love uniquely satisfies.

So I’d encourage you to start everyday by asking this, “Am I truly satisfied in God’s love?”

This post was written by our Teaching & Singles Pastor, Jason Helveston.

Palm Sunday and Our Fickle Souls

It’s easy to love God at church. Surrounded by the fellowship of the saints, warm Intelligentsia coffee in hand, the familiar words of the worship songs flow over you, and suddenly you find yourself caught up in something transcendent. For just a moment, you feel your affections stirred. You glimpse the beauty of Jesus and of the work he performed on that old rugged cross.

Like I said, it’s easy to love God at church.

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But how about on Tuesday afternoon, when your supervisor just aggravated your pet-peeve yet again, and your fuse is especially short because you were up all night with your sick kid, and my goodness a deep conversation with that particularly attractive co-worker sure would provide a much needed emotional lift right now, followed by letting the rest of this afternoon pass with laziness and disengagement since these deadlines aren’t really as firm as people around here pretend they are…

It’s difficult to love God in the face of temptation. When you’re tired. And isolated. Nope, nobody around here loving Jesus. No worship songs. No sermons. Just a laptop overflowing with emails, a tired soul, and a city chalk full of opportunities to wander away from God.

When the moment arrives that you realize you disobeyed on Tuesday the very thing you felt convicted about on Sunday, think of Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday was the day that the masses threw a pep-rally for Jesus. They celebrated him as their long-awaited king, reverently threw garments on the floor to prepare a path for him, and shouted that he was the Savior.

By the end of the week, they would be shouting again. But this time, their refrain would be different. “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Fickle people, not so different from you and I. But praise be to God that Jesus died on the cross to forgive the betrayal of fickle people who worshipped him one day and crucified him the next; who sing so boldly to him on Sunday, but disobey him with just as much vigor on Tuesday.

As we move forward toward Easter, lets continue to be mindful of the many friends, co-workers, and loved ones we could invite to celebrate the resurrection with us. For some of them, perhaps it will be their first time encountering the risen Lord. Here is the link to an invitation.

This post was written by our Saturday Night Pastor, Erik Dunkin.

Who is Your Community?

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If you ever decided to leave Chicago, who would miss you? One of the things we talk about a bunch here at Park is being “known and connected in biblical community.” Last week I had a great dinner with a couple who’s moving out of state for a work transfer. Not only was the food delicious (Acts 2 tells us food is a key component of community!)…but the highlight of the night was after dinner, people around the table shared meaningful Scripture they had studied as a Small Group, and how it impacted their lives together. Then they prayed a prayer of blessing upon them as they transition to their next season of life.

There were lots of laughs, tears, and plenty of “We’re going to visit you next month’s!”and that’s exactly how it should be.

That’s probably the way Paul felt, too, when he wrote “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.” (Philemon 1:4). It shouldn’t be easy to leave…because our hearts are so tied together in deep community with one another and in mission with God.

Are you longing for that kind of authentic and genuine community? We want to help. Here are two chances to jump into a Small Group where you can be known, cared for, and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Alpha – for those investigating the claims of Christianity. Begins Tues, April 15th.
Starting Point Groups – for those ready to jump into biblical community. Begins Sun, April 15th.

This post was written by our Near North Campus Pastor, Brandon Sanchez.

Why Practice Lent?

Lent stands as one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar. Although it has changed a bit over the years, its purpose has remained the same: self-examination and repentance, demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter. We find this tradition beginning very early in the Church with the church father Irenaus of Lyons (130-200AD). At the Council of Nicea in 325AD, leaders discussed a 40-day Lenten season of fasting. While it’s a bit unclear whether its original intent was solely for new Christians preparing for Baptism, it soon encompassed the whole Church. And although the tradition has varied over the years in how exactly the 40 days are counted, the observance was both strict and serious.

Will you consider joining us as we journey through the gospels during the season of Lent? Get the readings delivered straight to your inbox each day by clicking here, and click here to learn more about how you can connect with others around Lent through our services, and as we visit the Art Institute.

 

Why Practice Lent?

A note from Jackson Crum:

Will you be celebrating Lent this year? Should you? I’d like to take a moment and share with you why I practice Lent and the significant role I think it can play in our lives.

Lent lasts for 40 days and begins on what is called Ash Wednesday. It continues to Maundy Thursday or the Saturday before Easter. Traditionally Lent calls for the observer to fast from something for those 40 days. This is what I have been doing the past few years. I choose to give something up that I enjoy, something I look forward to in daily life. I use this fasting as a way to remind me of what is coming – Good Friday and Easter. I don’t want to casually stroll into these days. I don’t want to allow these days to catch me off-guard because I have been too busy to prepare myself.

Whatever it is I am fasting from I use the craving for that desire to prompt me to pray. In the past I gave up diet soda one year and deserts another – NO EASY FEAT for me! I like to use that time to remind myself of what took place that bitter Friday and that glorious Sunday – what it means to me as a follower of Jesus – how my life is different because of the work of Jesus. I have found that the bitterness of Good Friday and victory in Easter have meant more to me when I have fasted. Those events taste all the more bitter and sweet through consistent reflection and prayer. I invite you to join me this year to fast together! The particular thing we’re fasting from isn’t as important as what we actually do with our cravings.

Lastly, we’d like to encourage you over the next several weeks to join us in reading through the gospels for this Lenten season – to pour over the gospel story of our Savior that it might stir all of us to deeper affection and devotion to him. I pray God will use these 40 days to point us to our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

Will you consider joining us as we journey through the gospels during the season of Lent? Have the readings delivered straight to your inbox each day by clicking here.

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