Letters from Prison – Week 2 // Paul & Mandela // Pastor Kate Murphy

The Apostle Paul wrote most of the material we find in our New Testament. But not while sitting at a desk drinking coffee. He wrote letters to his friends while he was imprisoned for treason, inciting riots, and leading an insurrection. Paul knew eventually he would be executed by his jailors (and he was). But he did not pray for freedom or ask God to rescue. His only plea was to have ‘sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.’  Paul was not desperately begging for God to restore him to his old life–‘for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain…I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is better for you that I remain in the body.’  Paul was ready to die and be with Christ (which he considered ‘better by far) but he was also eager to ‘go on living in the body, which will mean more fruitful labor for me.’  Wherever he was, he was going to serve Jesus.

Sitting in his prison cell, Paul had a foot in both worlds–the life on earth and his life with Christ in the Kingdom of God.

This week, along with Paul’s prison letters, I’ve been reading the letters Nelson Mandela wrote while in prison.  Like Paul, Mandela was convicted of treason and inciting riots.  He was sentenced to life in a hard labor prison camp.  Though he had grounds for appeal and powerful friends, he refused to appeal his sentence.  He wanted his imprisonment to bear witness to the evil brutal injustice of the apartheid regime.  He fully expected to die on Robbins Island.  And yet—he completed multiple degrees while he was imprisoned.  His letters are full of requests for textbooks and examination registration forms.  He also mentored other activists in non-violent philosophy, wrote tender letters of encouragement to his wife and children and continually badgered prison officials and politicians. 

Sitting in his prison cell, Mandela also had a foot in both worlds.

How were these brothers able to live with such courage and hope while enduring the dehumanizing trauma or prison?  Where did they find so much wisdom and love to pour into others?  How were they able to live so passionately and yet hold their lives so lightly?  I hope you’ll join us as we learn from these two great saints how to live with hope and power in the midst of great suffering.

Letters from Prison – Week 1 // Paul & Martin // Pastor Kate Murphy

This Sunday we dive into a new worship series called Letters from Prison, because that’s exactly where some of the most profound and beautiful witnesses to life in Christ are born.

Each week we’ll pair part of a letter the apostle Paul wrote while he was in prison with portions of letters written by other Christian saints.  We’ll begin by reading Paul’s vision of what unity in Christ looks like and then we’ll see how Rev. Dr. King’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail puts Paul’s theories into practice.  I know you won’t be sorry if you read through both of them before worship on Sunday.  But if you don’t have time–here’s the bottom line.  In healthy Christian communities–unity doesn’t mean pretending to be the same or swallowing pain or making false peace with injustice.  Unity in Christ requires gentleness, humility, patience and putting up with people in love.  And it is the only soil capable of growing the fruits of redemption and transformation.

As we move into the longest and hottest days of the year, may we find the wisdom and courage we need from the witness of the saints who have come before us–especially those like our brothers Paul & Martin who laid down their whole lives in faith so that we might find freedom and living hope in Jesus.

First Loves – Week 4 // Nothing but the Cross // Pastor Kate Murphy

I resolved to know nothing among you except Christ, and Him crucified.

If I’m honest with you, I’m still learning to love the cross.  I understand that it is the holy center and the whole hope of life in Jesus–but I struggle to see it as beautiful.  Resurrection, I love.  Jesus feeding the hungry, blessing the children, casting out demons, forgiving sinners, walking on water, healing the sick, raising the dead: love, love, love, love, love, love, love.

But the cross is not easy to love–and yet scripture says what is on display on the cross is not the sinfulness of people or the wrath of God or the ruthless inevitability of suffering and death.  The witness of scripture is that on the cross (and only on the cross) we see the glory of God.  How can this be?

Even in the earliest days, there was a great danger that the church would be infiltrated by the values and lies of the culture.  That people who claim to be worshipping Jesus, when really they were worshipping the false gods of violence, wealth, nation and power.  From the very beginning, there was the danger that people would misunderstand who Jesus was and the nature of his kingdom.  Which is why Paul, earliest and most prolific church planter, had to begin reforming his churches even as he formed them.  He knew the best way to make sure that people put their hope and faith in Jesus was not simply to focus on Jesus–but to focus on ‘him crucified.’

The cross is the key to everything.  Until we learn to see it truly (and unlearn some of the horrific blasphemous popular theologies), we will not know Jesus.

That first love we are chasing in this season–we first see it on the cross.

I hope you will join me as we consider the cross and the beauty of God’s love it reveals to us.

First Loves – Week 3 // But Even If Not // Pastor Kate Murphy

The Bible is full of beautiful prayers.  Glorious metaphors, poetic imagery, mind expanding allegories and symbols describing the way people love God.  But those four ordinary little words might be the boldest and most beautiful declaration of human love for God in all of scripture.

In this season, when we’ve finally been able to return to in-person worship, we are trying to focus on a less visible but more life-giving journey–one we can all make together no matter where we worship on Sunday mornings–a return to our first love for the Lord.  Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego have a lot to teach us about what that looks like.  These three friends are remembered for the way God rescued them from the fiery furnace, but their absolute devotion to God is the hidden treasure in their story.  I’m excited to share their story with you.

First Loves – Week 2 // The Holiness of Party Crashers // Pastor Kate Murphy

This Sunday we move deeper into our worship series ‘First Loves,’ remembering the time a righteous Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to dinner but went out of his way not to welcome him, because the invitation was not about friendship or hospitality. It was Simon’s opportunity to size Jesus up and put him in his place. Nobody said anything, but everybody knew what was going on.

I’ve been to parties that felt like that, I’ve even been to churches like that.  Where everyone says the right words, and everything looks beautiful, and no one dares to tell the truth about anything.

But then a sinful woman broke into that righteous man’s party.  Everyone knew who she was and none of them wanted her there.  Except Jesus.  She broke in–because she knew that anyplace Jesus was, was a place she belonged–and she brought love and generosity and freedom with her.

In this season we return to the Lord, not our building or our righteous routines.  And this story reminds us that the people we most want to shut out are the very people who teach us how to belong.

First Loves – Week 1 // Rediscovering Our Love for the Lord // Pastor Kate Murphy

This Sunday we launch a new worship series called ‘First Loves.’ We’ll explore what binds us and grows us in Christ. Hint: it’s not fear or obligation or doctrine. Hint, hint: it’s also not favor, blessing or even salvation. A healthy relationship with God can’t be motivated by desire for what we might gain or fear of what we might lose.

The only thing strong enough and holy enough to secure us to God is love. Our love for God–which grows out of God’s love for us.

That’s why, in this season, we’re not encouraging people to come back to church. We’re calling people to come back to Jesus.

Please join us as we look at the letter Jesus wrote to the church in Ephesus and pray for a revival and rekindling of our love for God.

Pentecost // An Origin Story // Kate Murphy

This Sunday, we are able to gather together physically for worship for the first time in more than a year. We have survived an absence that has turned out to be longer than we ever could have imagined. I thank God that, last March, we had no idea how long we would be forced to stay apart. I don’t think my heart could have handled the truth. Like many of you, I have been praying for and dreaming of this day for months and months.

But this Sunday, we will NOT be celebrating our return to the sanctuary. We will be celebrating Pentecost. We will not be celebrating our return to the church building, but the miraculous and improbable gift of the Holy Spirit that makes us the church.  

I hope you will listen-in as we experience together the life-changing story of Pentecost and discover our spiritual origin story.

Nehemiah: Rebuild & Restore // Fallen Hero // Kate Murphy

Nehemiah, our “hero” says and does some unsavory things. What are we supposed to do with that? We Christians like to put people into categories. Hero/villain. Good guy/bad guy. Positive example/negative example. But, these last chapters of Nehemiah’s autobiography really complicate things.

The truth is—Nehemiah isn’t a good guy or a bad guy. He’s a typical human mixture of both. Church—only comic books have heroes. The Bible, however, has saints and a savior. And, Nehemiah might be the former, but he’s certainly not the latter. 

And he doesn’t need to be.

Jesus is our savior—the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. When we look to him, we see how to have right expectations of other people, even the ones we meet in scripture.

Nehemiah: Rebuild & Restore // After Rebuilding // Kate Murphy

This Sunday, we continue the wisdom-soaked story of Nehemiah rebuilding the city of Jerusalem.  Surprisingly, the construction work is completed in chapter 6, but the process of rebuilding and restoring the city isn’t. 

Nehemiah leads the people in a time of celebration and rejoicing, which makes perfect sense to us. But, what he does next is shocking. It’s the last thing we ever want to do—but this part we would avoid is the most crucial part of the rebuild. 

Nehemiah: Rebuild & Restore // Facing Resistance // Cedric Lundy

This Sunday we welcome Pastor Cedric Lundy to the pulpit. Cedric is a StreetLeader Director at UrbanPromise Charlotte, and a Teaching Pastor at Watershed Church. Previously, he has served Charlotte churches in roles such as Pastor of Mission and Justice, and Pastor of Middle School Ministry. Cedric’s faith is characterized by his passion for justice, his heart for young people, and his zeal for the Lord. He and his wife, Emma (a native of Scotland), share a daughter, Isla. In his free time, he co-hosts a wonderful the podcast, Token Confessions, runs a small coffee-roasting business, and enjoys making pasta and bread from scratch.

Preaching from the first half of Nehemiah 4, Cedric will be sharing Nehemiah’s strategic response to the opposition and resistance that he encountered as he fulfilled his call to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. As believers, we, too, are called to join God in the work of renewal and redemption. And, since we have a call like Nehemiah’s, we should not be surprised if and when we experience the same painful backlash and hostility that Nehemiah faced. But, also like Nehemiah, we can learn how to remain steadfast in this work.