Practices // The Things We Do To Grow Our Faith // Kate Murphy

Christ is Risen! 

Now what?  

The days after Easter can be filled with glory and…disappointment.  That’s certainly what Thomas felt.  All of his friends were together in the upper room when Jesus appeared in his resurrection body, filled them with his Spirit and released them for a new era of ministry.  

And Thomas missed it.  He wasn’t there. 

So while his friends’ fear and grief was transformed into joy and hope, his heart was still full of pain.  If anything, his spiritual burden was even heavier because he bore it alone.  Whatever had happened to his friends, hadn’t happened to him.  Whatever Jesus had given to them, Thomas hadn’t received. 

There is no loneliness like the loneliness we experience inside our faith communities.  

This month we are beginning a new worship series called practices–about the habits, customs and traditions that can form us in healthy and holy ways.  On Wednesday of each week, you can look for a short video created by one of our church members about an individual spiritual practice that is giving them life and drawing them closer to the Lord.  On Sundays during the preaching moment, we are going to consider the actions we can participate in together to create a healthy and holy church culture.  We find the first communal practice modeled in Thomas’ story–in the way his community allowed him to tell the truth and belong before he believed.  His friends, who had themselves only recently learned how fully they could trust Jesus, had the courage to trust Jesus to meet Thomas in his doubts.  

As people who love and follow a savior who defeated sin and death for love’s sake, we can trust Jesus with our lives and with the lives of those we love. We aren’t called to believe for one another, resolve one another’s doubts or fill one another’s empty spaces.  We can trust God to be God in one another’s lives.  That’s what Thomas’ friends did–and the story of their faithfulness blesses us still.

Easter // A Story That Defines Us // Kate Murphy

We are formed by our stories; the stories we tell ourselves about the world; the stories the world tells us about ourselves.  We become the stories we believe.

This week is full of our most sacred stories.  The story of the Holy and Innocent one–betrayed, abandoned, denied, falsely accused, unjustly convicted, tortured, sentenced to death, and executed.  It is a story our flesh knows too well.  

But this tragically familiar story is interrupted.  God–author of all our stories–intervenes and creates a new ending, which becomes our new beginning.  Out of sin comes forgiveness; out of violence comes healing, out of death comes life. 

And if it only happened in the life of Jesus, this story would be worth remembering and celebrating.  But the extraordinary twist is that Jesus gives us his Spirit and it becomes our story too.  Our sin can also be forgiven, our lives can also be transformed, we too can live fearlessly–unafraid of suffering or death.

So the question is–what story will we allow to form us?  Will Easter just be a day we celebrate–or a story that defines us?

Grudge // Forgiveness Has a Fragrance // Kate Murphy

This Sunday we begin Holy Week–our second during this pandemic.  Things are beginning to shift and change (more on our timeline to return to on-campus worship below), but still–it will be another Holy Week without some of our most cherished traditions.  Instead of gathering around one long table in a beautiful room to live out the Maundy Thursday story together–we’ll be zoom-linked at separate tables.  Instead of gathering in a beautiful darkened sanctuary to bear witness to the death of Jesus together on Good Friday–we’ll gather wherever we are to share a video of testimonies of our members–linked by our faith, not our location.  We will be able to gather–separately but in person–on our beautiful campus to walk the stations of the cross set up in our labyrinth on Holy Saturday. We will be able to flower the cross separately and have that edited into a video we can share on Easter Sunday.  It will be closer–but still so far from where we want it to be.

It’s okay to be sad and sick of it and honest about those feelings.

And–it’s good to let the Spirit remind us that all of these cherished traditions we won’t have this year–as beautiful and meaning-filled as they are, they are not our faith. We enjoy them, but they are not our faith.  They are gifts from God, but they are not God.  They are the outward signs of what Jesus has done for us, but they are not the gift of grace. 

We don’t have new life and hope in Christ because we flower the cross or sharing a beautiful meal or have joyful engaging in-person worship services.  All these things are good and of God and the Holy Spirit uses them–but they are not the gift.  They are only the signs of the gift.  Just as when Jesus healed the blind or multiplied loaves or stilled the storms–those acts weren’t the gift–they were signs of the gift.  They were startling acts of beauty and goodness meant to point us to the power, tenderness, mercy, and abundance of the Kingdom of God we have access to through Jesus.  We don’t worship the signs–we worship the God they reveal to us.

Everything we’ll miss this year (and pray God, only this year) is good–but they were never the things we came to worship.  The Resurrection of Jesus–the power and love of God’s heart towards us, this is real.  This will not be missing or altered.  This is the reason we sing–even now.  especially now.

I hope you’ll listen in as we think about how to participate Holy Week together–even when we’re apart.  I know that if we come to this week asking, seeking, knocking–seeking abundant life in Christ and a fresh anointing–the Lord will be faithful to give it to us.

Grudge // Forgiveness Is the Only Way // Kate Murphy

On Monday afternoon a Christian man drove around the city of Atlanta hunting down and murdering Asian women. On Sunday we will gather to worship our Lord and Savior and continue to recommit our lives to the way of Jesus, which is the way of forgiveness and grace.  And honestly, I thought about canceling–not worship, but the forgiveness part. 

How can we talk about forgiveness in light of what has happened this week?
And yet…how can we not?

Because if the Jesus way of forgiveness and grace is inappropriate this week, then it is irrelevant every other week.  If it is not appropriate to worship and dedicate ourselves to the self-giving forgiving love of Jesus because of the murderous destructive rage of the shooter, then that means we believe that hate is more powerful than love.

And we don’t believe that.

Because Jesus didn’t believe that–and he laid down his life to show us we could trust him, even in the presence of violence, sin, and hate. And after he triumphed over sin and death, he filled us with his Spirit–and then he commanded us to forgive.
Forgiveness isn’t a part of the gospel–it IS the gospel.

I hope you’ll listen in to this message as we seek to understand and worship Jesus and the way of forgiveness, on this week of all weeks.

Grudge // Forgiveness Is A Choice // Kate Murphy

Do you want to be made well?

That’s the question that Jesus asked a man who had been laying by a pool waiting to be healed in it’s holy water for 38 years. For 38 years the man had been lying there sick, unable to get himself to the water. For 38 years, no one helped him take his turn.  And then Jesus showed up and asked him if he wanted to be made well. When the man said yes, Jesus helped him.

This month we are leaning into God’s heart for forgiveness and reconciliation by laying down our grudges. Last week, we saw how the righteousness of God is not expressed in the punishment and destruction of the unworthy. No–that’s human self-righteousness. The righteousness of God is revealed when undeserving people receive what they do not deserve from God–forgiveness, healing, and new life. And we are given the righteousness of Jesus. For those of us who have been born again in Christ, forgiveness is our birthright. It is a spiritual gift meant to be shared.

But many of us…can’t seem to do it. We feel unable to forgive those who have hurt us.  We’ve tried and tried and tried, maybe even longer than 38 years–but we seemingly cannot forgive. We cannot make ourselves well. We can not get to the place of healing.

And so Jesus asks us that same question. Do you want to be made well? Do you want to be able to forgive?

If the answer is “yes”–or even if it’s a struggled “no”–I hope you’ll listen in.  We’ll be learning a practical 3 step 21-day spiritual process to seek the healing of Jesus in our unforgiving hearts.  

Grudge // Forgiveness Is Our Grace // Kate Murphy

In her book Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts On Faith, Anne Lamott writes that she used to joke that she wasn’t very big on forgiveness.

 “I went around for a long time saying I was not one of those Christians who is heavily into forgiveness…I am one of the other kind. But even though it was funny, and actually true, it started to be too painful to stay this way. They say we are not punished for the sin but by the sin, and I began to feel punished by my unwillingness to forgive.”

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts On Faith (Anne Lamott)

Many of us are “the other kind”.

We have trauma, we have fear, we have boundaries, we have our principles — but more than anything else, we have excuses. And somehow along the way we picked up the idea that forgiveness was only required for super saints.  

But forgiveness isn’t a requirement for anyone. It’s a manifestation of grace. Lamott admits she suffered because of her own unforgiveness. Without understanding forgiveness we can’t really understand grace — or what it means to follow Jesus.

There’s only one kind of Christian–the forgiving kind.  

I hope you’ll listen in as we discover how that’s not a threat, but God’s promise to us fulfilled by Jesus.

Go Fish // News Worth Sharing // Kate Murphy

What is the gospel?

My great friend and fellow pastor Eulando Henton (shameless plug for our podcast, click here) has a custom of opening meetings at his church by inviting everyone to answer that question.

That makes it awkward–but he’s not wrong.

If we are committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ–
if we’re putting our wholehearted trust and faith in the good news,
then we need to know what that good news is.
And if we are going to invite others to believe the good news with us–
then we need to be able to tell people what the good news is.

If you are anything like me–you can easily say what the gospel isn’t, but struggle to say what it is. (If you are anything like me, you especially struggle to say what it is without preaching a sermon!) We can passionately talk about what the gospel isn’t
but can we speak with equal passion about what the gospel is?

When we can’t–it’s a problem.
Because the church isn’t called to announce what God is against–the church exists to share, live, and celebrate what God is doing in creation. And what God is doing is unexpected (which makes it news) and wonderful (which makes it good).

We aren’t building a community around what we hate, what we mourn, or what we’re against. The Holy Spirit is building us into a community grounded in our shared commitment to what we are FOR–and that is the good news of Jesus Christ.

Which brings us back to the first question
What–exactly–is this good news we believe?

Listen in and think about it with us.

Go Fish // Being Interruptible // Kate Murphy

Last week we heard one of Jesus’ most famous stories about a Father who loved his son–in spite of the ways the son used and exploited their relationship.  And when the Father gets the chance to show love toward the son again–he runs towards that chance, welcoming his long lost boy home and throwing a lavish party for everyone in the neighborhood.  

And if this were a movie script–that’s when the music would swell and the credits would roll.  But this isn’t a movie, it’s truth.  And that joyful unexpected celebration isn’t a feel-good ending.

Because–as Jesus told us from the beginning–the Father had two sons.  And just at the moment the Father was finally able to rejoice with the child he’d been missing for so long, his other son–the child who never left home–went into crisis.  

What the Father does next is so simple its easy to overlook–but until we learn to do it as well, our attempt to join Jesus in his Kingdom mission will be in vain.  

I hope you will listen in. Together we’ll discover what the Father did next and learn how essential, powerful and possible it is for us to do it as well!

Go Fish // Welcome Home // Kate Murphy

The parable we call the prodigal son is one of the most beloved parts of scripture.  We turn to it, again and again, to be reminded of how we will never wander too far to return home to God’s love.

And while that’s a natural way to read the story and certainly true, that’s not what the parable is about.  The parable isn’t about us.  The parable is about God.

As we move deeper into our worship series on Evangelism, it’s time to read this familiar story with new eyes.  Instead of focusing on how we are like the prodigal son–let’s wonder how we can be more like his extraordinarily loving Father.  Now that we know ourselves to be ever-welcome at home, let’s learn how we can be about our Father’s business of running to meet, embracing and welcoming others on their way home.

I hope you’ll join us by listening in.   May we who find ourselves, unexpectedly and undeservedly, in God’s embrace find there the wisdom to recognize, welcome and celebrate others who are far from home.

Go Fish // Knowing Your Story // Kate Murphy

“One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

The call to evangelism terrifies and confuses many of us because we don’t know our own stories. In John 9:9, Jesus heals a man who was born blind, and the miracle causes huge controversy. After his sight is restored, the man doesn’t understand everything about Jesus. When he is hauled before the authorities and questioned, he doesn’t know that Jesus is the son of God. He doesn’t know how he was healed, he doesn’t know whether Jesus broke the law by healing him on the sabbath. He does know one thing, though.

He knows his own story. 

He knows that he used to be blind and now he can see. He knows that Jesus gave him sight. He doesn’t understand it, but he knows that for sure.

We think we should say nothing until we can say everything. We think we shouldn’t open our mouths until we are confident we can answer every question and understand fully the mysteries of God. But, really, all we need to know is our own story. All we need is a willingness to be vulnerable and tell it.  

And, yet, many of us believe that we don’t have a story to tell. Many of us believe that our lives are too small, too ordinary, and too messy to become a worthy story.  

That’s not true. God is alive and at work in your life. Your life is full of Jesus stories—stories worthy of telling. People seeking the Lord aren’t looking for religious experts or sophisticated theologians or moral role models. People are hungry for God stories in the lives of people that are just like them.

I hope you’ll listen in. Together, we’ll discover how knowing our own Jesus stories is the first step to sharing our faith and growing in God’s love.