We all pray the prayer of help. We face a situation that feels hopeless, overwhelming, and or even more than we can handle and say, “God, help!” Psalm 121 reminds us of where our help comes from and the help that God brings to us.

When we live on the other side of disruption, we don’t know what the future holds or how our risks and choices (or lack of risks) will affect our future, but our steps don’t stop with us. Whether or not we take that step, take that risk; is felt for generations to come. Ruth had no way of knowing that her acts of faith and courage would lead to King David and Jesus being a part of her family tree.

To live on the other side of disruption will always come with a risk. A risk to have the conversation, to press into our hurt or pain, to let go of something, to accept God’s grace. Many times, we miss what God has for us because we give up before our breakthrough happens.

Every one of us experiences disruption in our lives, and we often wonder where God is, what He is doing, and how we should respond.  This week we will look at how Ruth responded to her disruption and how God worked in her response. We cannot get stuck in disruption. We need to get up and do the right thing and then watch as God works out His big picture.

Disruption hits all of us at some point. It is not a matter of if, but when. For Ruth and Naomi, disruption hit first with famine and then the death of Naomi’s husband and her sons, one of them being Ruth’s husband. How do you find your foot in the midst of disruption and difficulty? Moving forward from disruption always begins with a choice, and that choice determines everything.

We put expectations on ourselves and others. We also put expectations on God. At one time or another, we think God should act or respond in a certain way. When we suffer, hurt, are abused, betrayed, or face a crisis, we are tempted to make a quiet contract or bargain with God and expect God “should” come through for us. When God doesn’t operate by our “shoulds,” we get angry, blame him, or even walk away from him because he did not do what he should! Our challenge is to trust who God is and what he can do rather than what we think he should do.

There’s a huge pressure to do the shoulds others put on us. Sometimes those expectations form or influence the shoulds we put on ourselves. The expectations of others often cause us to feel like we are being evaluated, judged, rated, or ranked. The should of others implies we have failed or fallen short. Our natural reaction is to be angry, resentful, defensive, or pull away. Worse, when we try to live in the expectations of others, we end up living someone else’s version of our life rather than the version God desires. Whose story will we live? The one God has for us or the ones others have for us? We have to learn to be bold and say “no” to the shoulds of others that distract us from the story God wants to write in our lives.

We have job descriptions for those who matter to us and those that are merely acquaintances. Often they are never made public as these expectations of others reside inside us. Out of those expectations or “shoulds,” we often try to manipulate others or make them feel guilty. We get frustrated, angry, or react in less Christlike ways when others “should” be doing what we want but aren’t. Our “shoulds” of others often go unmet, which tempts us to judge them or be suspicious that they are lazy, underperforming, uncommitted, unqualified, or even ungodly. How do we move out of this trap of having shoulds for others? We stop putting our shoulds on others when IN humility we place more value on others rather than on our agenda.

Internally, we are often hard on ourselves. What happens is that we allow a sort of court or trial to take place in our minds. This courtroom has a prosecuting attorney, judge, and jury that we allow to convene. And we are charged as guilty numerous times a day for the things we “should” or “should not” have done. Sometimes the shoulds come from others, or a religion, or our culture. How do we identify the wise “shoulds” and get free from the shoulds that are not shoulds from God?

There are two kinds of deaths we all face. One is always present, and one will eventually catch up to all of us. To ignore either will be one of the most costly mistakes we’ll ever make. To ignore either will cost us life itself – now and forever. The first death is when we are physically alive but dead or dying inside. We’ve sinned, and we’ve let things die in us like hope, passion, dreams, and faith itself. Jesus is inviting us to really live and come alive to God. The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead can help us discover what it means to really live both now and for eternity. When we trust Jesus and follow him, we have forgiveness of sins and cross over from death to life. When our bodies quit, we will be resurrected to life that never ends. The moment we believe and commit ourselves to follow Jesus, we begin the journey of really living.

The perfect Jesus died for imperfect people. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that “God put the wrong on him [Christ] who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.” What would drive God to offer us a deal that cost him so much? It’s a crazy deal. On the surface, it seems like a bad deal for God. Actually, it’s a great exchange. Yes, God paid a high price, but he got what he dearly wanted. The price he paid is an expression of how much he loves us, how much he values us, how crazy he is about us. Can you fathom the price God paid? Can you fathom how important you are to God? God is so crazy over you that he did a crazy deal. You are worth the price of his only Son. God has a crazy love deal that we would be crazy not to take.

We know from experience and research that Americans are not open to having spiritual conversations. So how do we create space for God in our conversations? Space for God, or God space, is when the seeds of faith are planted, watered, and nurtured. Space for God allows for the topic of God and spiritual things to be freely explored in a safe way. When we create space for God, anyone can raise their honest questions, doubts, concerns, and even their anger toward God or the church. Folks feel safe enough to be real and vulnerable to explore the spiritual world that they have previously feared or misunderstood or not understood. When we make space for God in a relationship, spiritual curiosity is awakened, and folks are open to hearing the story of Jesus and faith. The Bible tells us how to make space for God, and we’ll look at practical ways to facilitate spiritual conversations.

We are challenging our people to be on a mission to reach one person for Jesus, but the truth is that this whole concept can be very intimidating for most people. So many questions arise. Where do we even start? Do I know the right thing to say? The bible often illustrates farming and cultivation to teach us about spiritual truths, and what if these illustrations helped us change the way we think about evangelism. When seeds are planted and cultivated, they are in a process of growth and transformation, and it is the same with us as we engage our one. We are working with God to plant spiritual seeds in our one’s life, but it is God who makes things grow.

God wants to use you in your family, workplace, or wherever to help others know and experience Jesus. It’s time to stop making excuses that you are not able. God doesn’t need your ability; he only requires your willingness and availability. As has been said, Jesus doesn’t call the equipped; he equips the called. Have you made yourself available? As his disciples, we follow Jesus. Jesus’ mission becomes our mission and purpose. His mission was to “seek and save the lost.” Our purpose on earth is to follow Jesus and to seek and save the lost. The way of Jesus is all about finding the one. In this message, we’ll help you get started on identifying and engaging your one so you can love your one.

To be fully present with ourselves, God and others, we must pull away to be alone with God. One of our greatest needs and most difficult tasks as a follower of Jesus is silence and solitude with Jesus – to be alone, give our cares and worries to God, and listen to Him so that we can be fully alive in Him.

The way Jesus lived was simple (not necessarily easy). However, today, we live a full, complex life of worry with busy schedules and a need to acquire and own stuff. That complex life of consumption consumes our time, energy, money, and peace. The alternative Jesus offers is a simple life about having one clear focus that guides all our decisions and values. The simple life is a single focus life with a focus on God first.

Lent is a time of repentance, refocusing so that we can experience intimacy with God at a deeper level. One of the ways we do that is through the practice of fasting, Setting something aside to focus more on God, and in fasting, we set the stage for God to appear.

One of the practices we don’t often talk about is feasting, partying, and enjoying God and his gifts to us. Practices help us to be present to ourselves, God, and others, and feasting is a perfect place to experience all of these. It also gives us what we most need in our lives: Presence. There is power in presence, and for many of us, the best place to experience that is around a table. Jesus spent much of his time at a meal with people, and when he did, he was fully there.

We don’t just read the Bible to gain information. We read to know and experience God through reading his Word. As we read, the Holy Spirit shapes and changes us and makes the written Word to become the living Word in us. The Bible transforms how we live and who we become. But how do you read the Bible in a way that you actually hear the words God wanted you to hear? How do you stay on track? We’ll have four speakers who will help us see that there isn’t one way to read the Bible, but multiple ways God can speak to us.

When we look at the life of Jesus, we see that he wasn’t in a hurry. He got to where he wanted to go when he wanted to get there. He lived at a sustainable pace so that he could thrive in all relationships. In Matthew 11, Jesus invites us to give our burdens to him so that we can rest and experience life.

When God shows up, everyone nearby is touched and affected. When God is present, his influence can’t be ignored. God is the author of a God vision. God is the one who works in us and changes us. He is the one who works through us. He is the one who is at work in those around us. Good things happen because of God. Ask God to give you a clear vision for the purpose and mission he has for you to make a difference. Pray and develop plans to begin living out the purpose and mission God has for us. Be ‘all in’ with God to experience all that God wants to accomplish through you.

All dreams, visions, and change projects face challenges. We have to face them to move through them. Moral authority (influence) is what gives us the ability to confront the challenges in our lives. When we live a life that can’t be argued with, that people can’t turn away from, we will have influence that lasts.

To accomplish what God puts on our hearts, we will need to pray and plan. Often, we lean towards one end of the spectrum: we pray and wait and do nothing, or we plan and plan and take God out of the equation. But God’s hand was on Nehemiah as he prayed and planned.

We need to discover God’s vision for our lives and the way that we do that is by seeing what breaks God’s heart; praying through that so that we can move forward with our one word for the year that fits into the vision for our lives. That word or vision doesn’t have to be grandiose, it can be very simple like grandkids, work, etc.

Christmas is one of the biggest celebrations we have at Pantano, and we couldn’t wait to have it this year, with both our in-person and online experiences. The Church is a people, not a place—it’s every one of us—and as the Church, we’re looking forward to the hope that we’ll experience through God’s love.

When we think of joy, we often think of happiness, but joy is actually deeper than happiness and is not connected to our circumstances. As we are in the season of Advent, the season of waiting, we wait with anticipation, but we wait knowing what God has done in the past. These past works are not only what we hope for in the future, but also how we experience joy in the incomplete places of our lives today. We know God is at work and that He gives good gifts to his children. In Advent, we need to learn to enjoy the good gifts God has given to us.

In our relationships, our world, and in our hearts, we long for peace. No matter how difficult our circumstances, we can have peace right now. But peace is not the absence of conflict or trouble, rather it’s based on a real, active, and trusting relationship with God through Jesus. Jesus creates an open relationship with God that results in a powerful deep inner peace. So when peace eludes us, we refocus on the one who gives peace – the Prince of Peace.

Advent/Christmas is about hope, the hope that Jesus came and will one day come again, but we often lose that hope. 2020 has taken hope away for many of us, and a lot of us have become jaded. Yet, we are invited to hope in Jesus, because He hears us. Even as we wait, we can still have hope. Because the night does end, and the sun rises again.

We won’t, and we can’t grow on our own. We all have spiritual blind spots, and we need others to help us see them. God brings others into our lives and uses others to grow our faith. The Bible encourages us to choose wisely who we invite into our lives and who we allow to influence us. We need to be proactive in allowing others to help us become more like Jesus.

Our world operates on the principle of fairness and justice. Many people practically live by the belief of karma, even if they are not Hindu or Buddhist. It’s the law of “you get what you deserve.” However, Jesus turns that all upside down. He offers grace. He gives us what we don’t deserve and could never earn. And the grace he gives allows us to be unapologetic grace givers.

So many connect the church with a building. During the seven plus months of COVID, we did not have physical services, but we were still the church. The church in China is exploding and can’t have buildings. The church is bigger than a building. Church is who we are wherever we are. That’s because the church is part of something bigger – the kingdom! So we put the kingdom first in our lives and as a church body. We look to join God wherever he’s at work and help expand God’s influence in our lives and spheres of influence.

Jesus tells a story about a shepherd leaving the flock of ninety-nine sheep to go find the one. He tells the story in the context of his own example. He welcomed and connected with those who were considered lost and needing to repent. Everyone has value and matters to God. So we go looking for the one who needs Jesus. There’s nothing that matters more.

At some point, we look up in life and think, “I expected life to turn out differently.” We expected to be married by a certain age or that our marriage would go a certain way. That we would have kids by now, or they would play out differently. The same goes for our health, our careers, house, etc. What do you do when your expectations in life aren’t met? If we aren’t careful, we end up disappointed and cynical, which leads us to a place of bitterness.

Life can be a series of ungrieved losses. Loss is incredibly difficult to navigate in life, and if we don’t deal with it, we will become angry, bitter, or depressed. Grief and loss are a part of life and a place that Jesus meets us in. God’s invitation is to bring our grief to him through lament. In lament, we bring the full range of human experience and emotion, the depth of our pain, the reality of our loss, our brokenness, our questions, our doubts to God. As we do that, we also remember his character, we recommit our trust in Him, and we rediscover our hope.

One of the biggest places we experience bitterness is when God doesn’t do what we hope or expect. Why does God allow certain things to happen? Why does He stop some things but not others? We must learn how to reconcile our bitterness towards God so that we can handle the other places bitterness creeps in. When we do this, God changes our perspective to begin to see what He is doing behind the scenes of our lives that we can’t see.

For many of us, bitterness can be traced to a relationship that didn’t go as we hoped or we experienced some deep hurt from. Often, we will hold onto things that the other person isn’t even dealing with, allowing them to take up real estate in our hearts. We must learn how to confront what we can address, then forgive. Forgiveness is the path to freedom from the bitterness and the power the hurt has over us.

The heart of a peacemaker is one who “walks across the street” when God calls them to do so. This will often cause us to interact with people who are different than us, who believe differently than we do and have a different story from our own. Yet, this is the heart of a peacemaker. One who strives to live at peace with all because, as Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers…”

We live in a time where we love to put labels on things. Once we label someone or something, it becomes easy not to see the individual. Removing labels allows us to see individuals with inherent worth and will enable us to become peacemakers. Jesus does not look at us with labels but desires to reconcile us to Himself and each other because of His work on the cross.

We all have opinions about different things and there are certain things that we probably have very strong opinions about. Strong opinions can often result in strong judgments towards others. Strong judgments towards others usually don’t facilitate unity. Let’s walk through Romans chapter 14 and learn how we can navigate our judgments, make peace, and find unity.

In order to have peace in our world, and to become the peacemakers we are called to be, we must have peace within and peace with God.

What would Jesus undo? He would undo greed. It’s a silent spiritual killer that we fail to recognize in our lives. The dissatisfaction of never having enough fuels this destructive sin in our lives. Jesus warns us to watch out for this killer and that we need to be on guard against the many forms of greed. The antidote for greed is generosity which frees us from greed.

What would Jesus undo? He would undo pride! Jesus wants to remove our “me first,” “I know better” or “I can manage this” attitude. Pride leaves no room for God. Pride moves God from being the Master to a consultant where we allow him to give us advice, but we’ll decide if we’ll follow it. Pride is built or hurt by our accomplishments, gifts or abilities, following the rules, comparisons, recognition, etc. Pride defines everyone and everything based on me. If things are not going well, pride blames God for not taking care of “ME.” The antidote for pride is humility We empty ourselves to let God fill us. We allow God’s grace to fill us. We allow God to use us how he desires.

What would Jesus undo? In his ministry, he viciously called out and attacked all forms of hypocrisy. He has zero-tolerance for it. Hypocrisy is when we hide behind a mask of being religious and Christian while our life is played out in a way that contradicts the way of Jesus. We act like we are bringing honor to God while what we do, in fact, does not glorify God. Only as we give Jesus full control of our heart can we close the gap between who we show ourselves to be and who we really are.

What would Jesus undo? One thing Jesus tried to undo was move people from dead, hollow, empty, and meaningless worship and praise to actually engaging God with an authentic heart, soul, and spirit. God doesn’t want our words, he wants our hearts. He wants us to give him honor and glory every day in the way we live and use our lives.

What would Jesus undo? He would have us replace apathy with a diligent trust. But spiritual indifference doesn’t seem like a biggie when it comes to sin. Who does it hurt? Apathy isn’t fun, but it’s not a big deal, right? But in fact, spiritual indifference makes God sick! It is one of the biggest issues in our spiritual life today. It’s one of the things Jesus wants to undo. At its core, apathy allows us to live self-sufficient lives without having to trust God. Yet, trust or faith is key to what it takes to please God. Jesus urges us to be diligent and turn from our indifference.

Trusting God, trusting in His goodness and power is incredibly difficult, especially in the midst of the storm. But in a storm, God wants to bring us to a place where our trust is in Him. Trusting God comes through remembering how God provided in our past so that we can know He will be with us in our present and future.

The fear of the unknown, tomorrow, the things we can’t see or control is one of the most paralyzing fears. It keeps us stuck, from moving forward because of all the “what if’s.” If left unchecked, it will lead us to look back with a list of should’ve, could’ve, would’ve, and missing what God has for us today. Worry robs us of living life to the fullest. Jesus speaks directly to our worry. He reminds us that God will be in our tomorrow, whatever tomorrow brings. And that’s all we need to know! That’s faith that helps us overcome our worry.

In a storm, as our fears, worries and anxieties rise in us, so does our desire to control things. Often this can lead to a bigger storm, or keep us stuck in one. Releasing control is one of the scariest, but most freeing aspects of faith and when we find ourselves in the storm, many of us rise up to control more when we need to control less.

All of us are afraid of something and those things create the boundaries of our freedom. They keep us from living, taking chances, moving into new directions, keep us from experiencing life and often keep us from obeying God. We gain power over our fears when we name them and face them. We give power to the fears we don’t identify and expose. In this message, we’ll see three ways to face our fears from Joshua as he faced the huge challenge of moving into the promised land.

We are going to experience storms in our lives but how should we respond to them. It is so easy to let fear overwhelm us but in the middle of a storm but God has provided us with a way out. We are to respond to the storms of life with faith that Jesus is with us in the storm, he has authority over the storm, and will bring us through the storms of life.

The goal of this message is to focus on how trust is the key to connecting with God. Not the father’s trust in his children, but the child’s trust in the father. God, as a good father, wants to lavish his love on his children. Children, who desire to experience the love of a father, learn to trust that their father really is for them, and acts in a way that is most beneficial for them.  God offers to adopt us, not because he trusts us, but because he loves us despite our choices. We, the adopted, choose to receive the love as a child of the father because we trust him. Without trust in our father, we are tempted to run and live a self-centered life.

Life can be a bully sometimes and we don’t always feel we have a protector but God is our protector. We will find God as our Protector when we seek his leadership and wait for his deliverance. We can respond in worship as we realize that God is our Protector.

God is love. When God is in us, his nature changes us to be like his own. According to the Bible, the test of whether he’s in us and we know him and allow him to influence us is in how we love others. It all begins with God’s love for us. God is love, so we are to be his love in our world. So the question we are left to answer is this – What does love require of me?

Discipline is not a word we enjoy. We naturally want to indulge in sweets instead of having discipline around food. We don’t like the idea of discipline as a child or even as a parent. When we are disciplined, we often think of it as punishment, but godly discipline is different. Discipline always has a goal; it is always moving us towards something better. God’s discipline is designed to help us become more like Jesus. So, God’s discipline is the most loving thing he can do for us and in us.

One of the questions we have about God is how much he cares for us, how close he is in our lives. One of the most beautiful and well-known Psalms tells us that because God is close, we are never alone, we have what we need.

Some relationships are hard. There are people in our lives that have hurt, abused, harmed, or taken advantage of us. Yet Jesus is clear that we are to love those who are difficult or even seem impossible to love. Loving the difficult often requires that we forgive them for the wrong done to us. Forgiveness is the key that unlocks love.

If you want to be a true friend or the best husband or wife or co-worker, then be a person who will challenge them to help them use their life to make a difference for others. You see, encouragement is your best gift to someone as you help them get better at loving and doing good for others. Encouragement means helping people get unstuck so they can love and do good.

Loneliness is at an all-time high. Especially in this season of sheltering in place. There is a crucial truth that we miss: Being alone is different from being lonely. God meets us in our loneliness. He has something for us as we are alone. Throughout Scripture, God spoke the clearest and the loudest to those who were alone with Him. We have this unique opportunity for silence and solitude so that we re-enter a post-Covid world closer to Jesus than when we entered it.

We long for fulfilling relationships, ones that give us life. But often we find ourselves in relationships that are empty, draining, and unfulfilling. Why? For many of us, we are afraid of relationships and getting close to others. We are afraid of intimacy and being known. For others, we don’t know what that would even look like. This message will help us to get a vision for what relationships could be and willingness to open ourselves up to dealing with unhealthy relationships in our lives and move towards healthy ones.

What in the world is going on? What’s happening? Is it the end of the world or a sign that the end is near? Is this punishment from God? Is this the work of the devil? Or is it just bad luck? We want to know the cause of the bad things to happen to us. But God is far more interested in how we respond to the difficulties and disruptions. We can respond in fear, worry, anger or anxiety. Or we can look to God for the response that is best for us, others and that honors him. God doesn’t stop all the bad in the world, but he shows up powerfully in the midst of chaos and change. The Bible speaks clearly to how we are to respond to the world we find ourselves in today.

When all the odds are stacked against us, we question if God is for us. When we’re abandoned, betrayed or abused, we question God’s love. When we face a crisis like we are in now, we wonder where God is. When we fail God, ourselves and others over and over, we have a hard time believing that God even likes us. But the great chapter of Romans 8 reminds us in the most powerful way that since God is for us we can withstand the people and situations that stand against us. His love is so deep, that nothing can separate us from the love of God. In God’s love, we can have victory over all things, even death itself.

Hope is so elusive. Life gets dark, difficult and dangerous. And it’s only gotten worse as we face the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. We deal with cancer, pain, betrayal, abuse, unemployment, failure and a ton of things we can’t control. How can we have hope? Where do we find hope? One of the most quoted verses in the Bible tells us “Because in all things God works for the good of those who love him… (Romans 8:28). Hope is found in trusting the One working on our behalf.

We’ve all had to face the feelings of the disapproval of God and others. We spend most of our lives running from regrets, making ourselves pay for things we’ve done or things done to us. Right in the middle of the book of Romans Paul says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Yet, most of us condemn ourselves for things we’ve been set free from and forgiven for. Those who are in Christ, are made new. This message lays out how to live in that freedom in the Spirit instead of in the flesh.

After Jesus was killed and what seemed like a mysterious disappearance of his body, the disciples were hiding in fear that their lives were also in danger. Then the resurrected Jesus appeared in their midst. He reminded them of their mission – to be Jesus in their world. And he gave them the Holy Spirit, God who would come alongside them to give them peace and boldness. Today, more than ever, we need the Holy Spirit to give us peace and remove our fear so we can stay on mission.

One of the great spiritual tragedies today is that so many folks have not sought to follow Jesus. But an equal tragedy is that many have tried to follow Jesus in their own power and ability. People have tried to believe, trust, obey and live like Jesus totally on their own. They believed if they try harder, they’ll be able to be more like Jesus. They’ve tried to forgive on their own. They’ve tried to faithfully obey on their own. The Apostle Paul prayed this prayer for the church – “Out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. That’s what we need and really want. On our own we are powerless. With the Holy Spirit living in us, we have the possibility of Jesus being so rooted in us that we are transformed to be more and more like him.

Jesus made an astounding statement and promise. He said that when he physically departed to return to his Father he would send someone who would make his departure better. How could that be? What could be better for us than having Jesus beside us? How about Jesus in us! Jesus sent back the Holy Spirit, God in us, which is so much better than God beside us. God in us teaches us, guides us, convicts us, assures us and transforms us – from the inside out.

We are never alone! However, too often, we try to live like a Christian on our own power and that is futile as well as exhausting. God gave us a life coach to help us, guide us, teach us to live the life he’s calling us to live. He gave us the Spirit to empower us to do things that are beyond the ability of a mere human. The Spirit is the very person of God that lives inside us so that we experience a living and freeing relationship with him. The Spirit is God is your forever Friend. Get to know your forever friend in the most personal way possible. He’s a friend that will always be with you, support you, protect you and enable you to do what is humanly impossible.

In John 12:23-26 Jesus states that if we love our life here we will miss true life, but if we hate our life here we will have eternal life. Jesus calls us to “die to ourselves” and we do this by a lifestyle of surrender to living for ourselves. You must die to our desire to live for ourselves and surrender our lives to live for God so we can experience His life. This message will set us up for embracing the disciplines of Lent.

One of the major themes of the New Testament is that followers of Jesus have union with Christ, they are “In Christ.” In fact, this phrase appears 165 times in the New Testament, but what does it mean to be “In Christ” and how does that change our lives? In Colossians 2, Paul tells us that we need to have strong roots in Jesus so that we’re not tossed around in the midst of a world trying to get us to pull away from Christ.

When we talk about becoming a Christian or what it means to follow Jesus, we often focus on what we do. This is good. But there is more to us than what we do. To change our heart, our attitudes, values and, ultimately our actions, we have to change our thinking first. As we follow Jesus, we have to look at the thoughts we believe and hold as well as what our minds focus on. God is inviting us to renew our thinking to grow our faith.

We all have experiences with guilt, regret, and shame. No matter how long we follow Jesus, we are confronted with things in our lives that do not match who Jesus is and the person He has called us to be. They might be things from our past or even our present. These things can become a part of our stories and who we are. In fact, it is hard for us to imagine our lives without these things because of the roles they have played and the impact they have made. But Jesus invites us to be free from the guilt, shame, and regrets of our past. That doesn’t mean these things magically disappear, but they are forgiven and reconciled so we can live in the freedom Jesus offers.

Many of us long to encounter God. We often want to encounter God on our terms, in our way, and in our timeline. We want to control the encounter. But we can’t. God is always at work to prepare us to encounter him. But we have to desire that and be intentional to seek him. When we truly encounter God, we are awakened to who he truly is and who he has created us to be. And in this encounter, we see what is true about ourselves and the world around us. But most importantly, every encounter with God will lead us to a deeper awareness of how good God is, how deeply he loves us and where he wants to lead us next.

Jesus invited four fishermen to follow him. He asked them to leave behind their trade, business, security, and homes. He invited them to continue to do what they knew to do, just with a different focus. They were not to focus on fish in the lake, but people. He redirected their purpose. This is the same invitation he is giving us. The invitation to follow Jesus redirects our purpose. When Jesus invites us to follow Him, he’s inviting us into a new and bigger purpose. The invitation is to bring Jesus into our regular daily activities and events.

The needs around us are so great and feel overwhelming. It’s easy to give up. It’s easy to focus on the issues of our time, whether it’s racism, abortion rights or poverty and then miss the people affected by those issues. God doesn’t just want us to stop at seeing an “issue” He wants us to see the people impacted by those issues. He wants us, his church, to really see them for we cannot help people we don’t really see. God wants to remind us that it is not our job to save anyone. That is all Him. Our job is to love the one person He put in front of us.

The needs of our community are huge. There are enormous physical, economic and social challenges in our city. But even greater are the spiritual needs because we live in a vast spiritual darkness. God has called us, Pantano, to make a difference both right where we live now and for eternity in heaven. That will require us to be a life-giving church and launch as many life-giving campuses as possible to make a difference in every neighborhood. As a people who are committed, sold out, fully devoted and all in; we will together, and only together, make a difference that honors God and is dependent on God. As one church that is united and focused, we have the power to make a real difference. In this message, we are asking that each of us who are part of Pantano be an “All In Partner” who loves people to Jesus and who are launched to make a difference in our world.

New Year’s resolutions are good, but not as effective as focusing on one thing for a whole year. As we begin 2020, ask this question: What does God want you to focus on in 2020? Then prayerfully pick one word that represents the change God wants you to experience. It should be more than a good change. It should be a God change. When we focus on one word, our mind and heart are more open to how God is at work in ways we might have missed. Once we choose one word and intentionally focus on it, then we see more of the ways God wants us to embrace that word or the idea that word carries. One word is a powerful way to focus our thinking. Focused thinking and praying rewires our brain as we cooperate with God to experience real transformation. A better 2020 is possible…with God and with a focus.

Most times, it’s easier to move forward, especially in a season such as New Years when hope for what is to come is high. However, it’s important for us not to forget and celebrate that the Lord is good during our joyful moments but also difficult times. Using the story of the man healed at Bethesda, the mat that Jesus tells him to carry with him not only was his testimony of where he came from but the indicator for others of the time he spent with the savior.

What’s our mat for 2019? How far has God brought us? How was God with us in the midst of life? Let’s remember and give power to the testimony of the mat as we prepare to move forward.

In Luke 2:27 we’re told that Simeon was guided by the Spirit into the temple to see Jesus. Simeon hoped but waited. Many are in that place of waiting, but waiting time is not wasted time. The Christmas story in the New Testament is the answer to waiting. The people of God lived for 400 years waiting on God, in God’s silence and God’s answer to their waiting was Jesus. Simeon is also an important part of this series because he is the least known of the Christmas story and a reminder of how God sees each of us, the ones that are well known and less known.

Mary was an unlikely, unknown, poor, uneducated teenage girl. It was so unexpected for God to show up and ask her to be a part of changing the world. Mary wondered how it could be that he would use her. We wonder the same thing. How is it possible for God to use an ordinary person like me to make a difference? Our problem is that we don’t expect God to show up in us and through us. But if we were expectant and even sought God to use us to bring his influence to others, we would see that he still works miracles.

Much of following Jesus is asking, “What is the next best move?” Every day we are faced with decisions. Some are mundane and seemingly ordinary and others are difficult that can change the course of our lives. The problem for many of us is not that we don’t know what to do or what God is calling us to do, but an unwillingness to step into that place, into that unknown because of what it will cost us. Our fear keeps us from doing the best next thing. For Joseph, living in the fear of God, he risked his reputation, standing in the community and financial stability to marry Mary and be a father to Jesus because that’s what God asked of him. Following Jesus means working through our fear and saying “yes” to taking the next step.

Christmas is a time of hope, but that hope that we are supposed to have or the hope that we want to feel, leaves many of us feeling sad and wanting. For many of us, Christmas is a reminder of what could’ve been, hopes and dreams we wished for but don’t have. Elizabeth can sympathize with the person who wants to hope, who is longing for hope, looking for hope. She has hoped to have a child, but she has waited. Elizabeth is Zechariah’s wife and she has not been able to have a child, but after years of waiting in hope, her prayer is answered. Verse 25 is her prayer of hope, “The Lord has done this for me.”

Do you know what one of the most common google searches regarding the themes in Christmas movies and specials reveals? A miracle. If a miracle were to happen, it seems like the magic of Christmas could make it happen. The story of Christmas found in the gospels is a story of miracles as well. God shows up to unexpecting people in unexpected ways to do the unexpected. In the story of Zechariah, we see how the Lord remembers us and shows up in a big way. The question is this – are we expecting God to show up?

Generosity begins with God. He is so good and generous to us! His generosity births and grows our gratitude. But gratitude is not neutral. It is powerful. Gratitude opens our eyes and helps us see and experience the even greater generosity of God that can heal our soul. Gratitude helps us seek and engage God more and he’s the only one that can heal the bitterness, fear, hopelessness, and dissatisfaction that tries to live in our soul and rob us of life. Our challenge is simply to choose gratitude.

There is no act of generosity more comprehensive and powerful than the gift of service. Service is the one act where we are generous with everything – our time, our resources, our abilities, our very person. In service we give ourself! Jesus says of himself that his very reason for coming to our world was to serve and to sacrifice his life for us. Jesus was all in and gave his all. When we generously serve, we give our all and are all in for those we serve.

Living in America, we are more than blessed. In comparison to the whole world, we are rich. But we forget that our wealth is not for our benefit alone. As we follow Jesus, we get to use this wealth, which belongs to God, to make a difference by sharing and giving and doing good. The more generous we are, the more we discover true wealth and richness. The more generous we are, the more we discover the heart of God and better understand and live out the way of Jesus. The more generous we are, the greater impact for good we have on this world now and for eternity.

“Catherine’s Car” video provided courtesy of Generosity Path.

We all have a gift we can give any time to anyone and it’s totally free to give – words of encouragement. The Bible commands us to encourage one another and build each other up. Being generous with words that encourage and build up not only gives life to the person receiving the words but gives life to the one sharing those words.

We typically think of prayer as asking. That’s what most of our prayer is most of the time. And it’s fine. The Bible invites us to ask. We know how to pray that kind of prayer. But we need to add to our prayer habit a greater emphasis on giving thanks. Before we can be thankful, we have to start giving thanks to God, “for He is good.” Giving thanks changes us and allows us to praise God in even the most difficult of circumstances. Thankfulness opens our heart to the heart of God.

We need to learn to focus on our great God who is all-powerful and intimately involved in the details of our lives. If we understand just how great God is, our prayers will reflect that.

Maybe the most powerful of all prayer is the prayer when we offer to give our will over to the will of God. We think we know what we want and what’s best and we are free to ask for those things for sure. But more often, what’s best is not what we think we want or need but it’s what God wants. The prayer of surrender is more than just a willingness to obey God, it is a search for who God is and what he wants. Yielding in prayer is based on a profound trust in the goodness and rightness of God to allow him to guide and direct us.

The best, most satisfying and healthy relationships have the ability to communicate clearly, openly, and consistently. The more we talk in good ways, the deeper the relationship. This is absolutely true of our relationship with God as well. Prayer is an essential aspect of a truly deep and satisfying relationship with God that results in God having a greater influence in and through us. In this message, we’ll look at the why and how of being in continual conversation with God.

We believe that Jesus is the hope of the world and that the local church is the main way God wants to bring that hope to our world. He wants to use the church to bring life-giving transformation to neighborhoods through the church. So for real change to happen in people and communities in our city, it will take lots of healthy life-giving churches to make a difference. God has given us a strategy to plant these places of faith, hope, and love all around our city and region. As we begin these campuses, we want to launch people of Pantano to go and make a difference now and for eternity.

After we work through all the questions of the skeptics and doubters, we come to his final matter. Jesus claimed to be God. There is verifiable evidence that Jesus rose from the dead and is alive. So either Jesus is a liar and an incredible trickster, or just plain crazy, or he is who he said he is.

His life, his teaching, and the evidence most powerfully lead to the fact that Jesus is who he says he is – God who came in human flesh. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is our living hope.

Historically, this has been the biggest challenge to the Christian faith. How could a good and loving God allow such evil and suffering to plague humans? This is both a personal question and one the Bible raises as well. The fact is that God can exist, be all-powerful and all-knowing, and be completely good while evil exists. The presence of evil and suffering is not evidence against God. The truth is that God is good and our loving all-powerful God helps bring meaning, purpose and good out of the evil and suffering that is in the world. And it is that good God who offers a way to eventually escape the evil and suffering in our present world.

Christians believe that Jesus is the only way to the one true God and to salvation. Our culture is offended by this kind of belief as being religiously exclusive. Christians who hold this view are seen as arrogant, narrow-minded bigots because of this belief. From Gandhi to Winfrey, a common belief today is that all religions are valid and contain some truth and essentially want the same good. Tolerance is valued above the search for exclusive truth in our current culture. In this message, we’ll look at why the claims of Jesus are not only true but rational and life-changing.

Many question faith because they question the Bible. Many wonder if it is accurate, reliable and trustworthy because they sense it is outdated, irrelevant, and a man-made book of tales and myths. Some are concerned the Bible was mishandled and changed by people with questionable motives who manipulated the text. Others believe the Bible is full of contradictions and mistakes while also being historically inaccurate. And others suggest it is even immoral in how it addresses violence, slavery, gender equality and things like polygamy. But there is evidence that the Bible is not only reliable and trustworthy, but the Bible is powerful to change the human heart.

We are celebrating a milestone at Pantano. Today we officially open the new Student Union. This building allows us to fulfill our goal of making room for more… more middle school and high school students as well as for our elementary age children. In this service, we’ll celebrate the great opportunities this gives us to serve our students and children, as well as many other groups who will benefit from this room, such as our seniors, women’s groups, and those who will join various classes.

It is a common assumption in our culture that science and faith are opposites and incompatible. A common view among skeptics is that science is truth based on objective evidence whereas faith is naive, simplistic, anti-reason, irrational and some even declare is a form of mental illness. But must this really be an either/or matter? All truth is God’s truth and scientific discoveries actually underscore faith, not undermine it. In fact, the Bible reminds us that scientific observations point us to God. But here’s the undeniable truth – we all have faith. The question is this – what do we have faith in? The question we have to honestly answer for ourselves is this – Is my faith position the most valid?

We were never made to be alone. God intervened in our world through Jesus who came to connect us to our Father in a real relationship. God promises us that he will never abandon us, he will never leave us alone, he will always be with us. Being rooted in God is our only hope of overcoming our selfish tendencies and producing fruit that honors him. God made us for connection. He made us to be connected to him and to each other. We were never meant to be alone so we must find ways to remain in Jesus and stay connected to each other. Connection is the key to finding freedom and staying free.

The parable of the prodigal son. Our freedom is dependent on our willingness to receive the love and the forgiveness God is offering.

There is a path that will lead us to finding freedom from our hurts, hang ups, bad habits, and addictions that keep messing us up. It requires a true humility that allows us to admit things are not good in us and a humility that allows us to seek God and give him power and control in our life. When we go low (humility), God will respond to that kind of humility and help us to resist the temptations that seek to hurt us. The more we draw near to God and trust him and his ways, the more we are able to not only resist new temptations, but also be able to remove or cleanse the old bad actions, attitudes and behaviors from our lives. God wants to offer us grace and forgiveness and he wants to help us remove the stuff from our lives that keeps tripping us up.

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© 2021 Pantano Christian Church | All Rights Reserved.

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