There is plenty that divides our country and the church these days. Polarization over politics, COVID measures, race, and more have become the norm. I believe Jesus wants us to ask questions like these in this current environment: 1) Which kingdom, party, or stance has the overriding influence in my life? 2) Am I evaluating my positions through the filter of faith rather than creating a version of faith that supports my positions? Jesus didn’t call everyone to agree on everything, but he did command his followers to put the kingdom first and be united by unconditional love.

Our culture worships individual rights. Our rights, protected by the Bill of Rights and other laws, are critical to our freedom. But as part of the kingdom of God, we voluntarily give up our rights and freedoms at times and surrender them to serve others and put others first. That’s love. The key characteristic of the kingdom is love, for God is love, and it is his nature and character that must infuse all who are a part of his kingdom. Living in the kingdom is not about our rights; it’s about seeing every opportunity as an opportunity to love.

There’s something bigger. It’s bigger than the Bible, salvation, the church, or just about anything you associate with spirituality. It’s what Jesus spoke about the most. It’s what he ushered into our world. It is what we are to live for. It’s the kingdom of God. In this message, we’ll be doing a deep dive into the kingdom of God. We are looking into how we daily live a kingdom first life.

All of us, whether we know it or not on the surface, long to be connected to an even bigger story. That’s because our lives are all actually part of a much, much larger story. And there’s one story that brings joy, completeness, and satisfaction to all of our stories… that’s God’s story. God’s story helps us make sense of all other stories. God’s story is also called the Gospel story. The word “Gospel” simply means good news – it’s the good news about Jesus and what he did to reunite us with God. As we tell this good news story, we invite others to enter into God’s story.

Everything and everyone is part of a story. When we read the Bible, we are reading true stories that were recorded because they have meaning and can help us understand God and life. Your very life is a collection of stories. God is writing a story in and through you. You are God’s story. And God wants you to tell your story. Your story can often open a door to share God’s bigger story. In this message, you’ll get some practical help in how to tell your story.

Every one of us has and will face the difficult and powerful emotions of grief, depression, sorrow, and despair. These disliked feelings come from hurt, pain, and loss. We’ve all been hurt by those we loved and trusted. We’ve all experienced pain – emotional pain that’s inside that touches our thoughts and feelings. We’ve all lost people we love or things we cherished. How do we pull through the depths of pain and loss? In Psalm 42, we find encouragement and ways to face our feelings and fight for hope.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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? 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? 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

In our struggle with the power of sin in our lives, we have to know what we are up against that makes it so hard. We continually struggle with how we react to our hurts, why we have bad habits and hang-ups that don’t seem to go away or addictions that trap us. The reason for the existence of sin and the power it has in us and over us is because there is evil in this world. The devil is real. He takes forms both personal and impersonal that can look respectable and safe. He uses lies and works through people and situations. But we can’t forget who our real enemy is. It isn’t the people or circumstances that hurt us. To overcome the power of sin, we have to have an attitude and hold to a belief:  we can resist the evil one. We are not victims of the power of sin. We are not powerless. God has intervened to help us.

What we all know is that self-help, self-esteem, and self-control all have the same problem – self. And the great deception we struggle with is that we think we can fix our problems. But, it was you who got you into your problems. Why do you think you can get out of the problem on your own? That’s what we call insanity. Real faith is about being real with God, reaching out to him, seeking his power and help. The most important first step to recovery is “I can’t.” Getting to the place of knowing we are desperate is a place where we make room for God. But not all desperate people ask for help! Here’s our hope of deliverance and freedom; We acknowledge that we need God the most. So start here: “I am not God. I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and my life is unmanageable.” Chose a power greater than yourself. His name is Jesus, the one whom God raised from the dead.

Jesus came to teach and invite us to be a part of the kingdom of God. To be a part of the kingdom, we must be willing to follow, obey and represent the king wherever we are. That kingdom first is being like Jesus which results in acting like Jesus. Our prayer and passion is to use our lives in this way – “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God loved us unconditionally when we didn’t deserve it. That’s grace. But God doesn’t stop there. He gives us grace and fills us with grace so we’ll be grace givers. Grace givers unapologetically accept people where they are at and give grace freely. When grace is given to someone, then anything is possible!

For God, it’s personal! God loves every single person alive. Everyone matters to God. So God wants us to get personal and he has sent us to love people to Jesus. If God is real in us, then he’ll move us to love others. Because everyone matters to God, then they matter to us.

Our regrets can be redeemed for something good. We can fall backward or we can step forward. God not only forgives us for what we did wrong or what we failed to do, but he wants to use that to propel us forward to start fresh. God takes the failures and mistakes to help lead us to new territory. God uses those regrets to build on to make something better – that’s upcycling or redeeming our past mistakes, sins, and failures. We learn from our regrets but refuse to live in the regret. We allow God to change us, the way we think and act, to become a better person with God, rather than apart from him.

Regret is a universal emotion. We are sorry about things we did, or opportunities we missed or about horrible things done to us and how we reacted. We can’t change the past. But we also don’t have to be stuck in the shame of regrets of the past. It is only as we own and recognize our regrets, we can move past them. God wants to redeem or use our regrets to upcycle us to something better that honors him and serves us well. We can change and that is the hope that propels us to get unstuck from our regrets to live with and for God. But until we believe in a hope of transformation, we’ll be stuck in the shame of our past regrets.

So many of us are living in bitterness and cynicism. Pessimism pervades our daily experience. We are often disappointed and dissatisfied. We’ve been disillusioned by people and their promises. Discouragement becomes an all too frequent visitor. We are constantly in danger of losing hope. How do you get a new start and new birth with a renewed optimism? Where do we find a living hope? A living hope is found only in Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, who is alive and with us and for us. In this Easter message we discover or rediscover that the living hope that overcomes is based on and anchored in the resurrection!

Jesus has sent us on mission to love people to himself. That requires that we develop a relationship of trust. Through that relationship, a person might show an interest in God, the Bible or spiritual things. If so, how do we help them discover faith? There is a simple and extremely effective way to facilitate that called Discovering Faith Bible study. We go to pre-selected scriptures and discover for ourselves what the text has to say, apply it personally. The “method” is so simple we have put it on one page. And no one has to be an expert as everyone in the study is on a journey to discover faith. This is a guided, non-pressured way that allows the Bible and the Holy Spirit to lead people to faith. As the Bible states – Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17).

We want those we know and love to know and love God. So today I want to share with you the greatest value we hold as a church. I want to describe how we live that value out with purpose on mission. And I want to give you some practical tools on how to do that. Our value is that everyone has value and matters to God and that moves us to live on purpose; seeking to love those in our lives to Jesus. I want you to be able to reach out to people already in your life, to intentionally engage in loving them to Jesus and help them find a faith that gives them hope and to experience God’s love. And there are three practical ways that we love people to Jesus – we reach UP, we reach OUT and we reach FURTHER. That’s what we’ll look at in today’s message.

We live in a world where it seems like everything is a deficit. There is never enough money, energy, time, patience, understanding, hope, help, kindness, etc. This observation of a world of deficit influences our faith. While we know in our heads that God is capable to provide, our faith struggles to trust that God will come through for us. There are times we wonder if God seems short on attention, care, answered prayers, help, healing and a bunch more. But real faith only thrives when we trust in a God who is more than enough. In him, we are more than enough spiritually to overcome any challenge.

Every honest, healthy follower of Jesus has experienced both faith and doubt. But faith and doubt are not the opposites or enemies as we often assume. Rather, they often co-exist. What if instead of fearing doubt, we anticipate how God can use the process of doubting to lead us to a deeper faith. Doubt, as Frederick Buechner once said, is the “ants in the pants of faith.” Let doubt make its case so we’ll address the questions it raises. Doubt can be like an unwelcome guest whose presence and questions actually drives us deeper into faith and transforms who we are. If you want to grow your faith, don’t run or hide from doubt, rather, engage it with God, scripture, and others.

The very idea of commitment means that our options are narrowed and well as eliminating the outs. Jesus knows that and makes it clear – we have two options about how we face life. There is a narrow way and a broad way. One has fewer options. The other has lots of options. We get to choose the way, but we don’t get to choose where each way ends, so we better choose well. Choose well by choosing the narrow and hardest way to end well.

For many faith is just the reluctant obedience to please God. While that’s not bad, that is not the life of faith Jesus calls us to. The moment we truly allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives everything is turned upside down. When we are sold out to Jesus, fully devoted to him and all in we can’t go on living as we did before. We have to be willing to lose our life as we know it and trust Jesus to direct us to live for something bigger, something eternal. When we are all in, everything changes.

Our world is volatile, uncertain, complex and so hard to figure out. Change occurs at hyper-speed. We live in a world we can’t control. And for sure, we have little to no control over the future. Tomorrow is uncertain and at times can be alarming. The fear of tomorrow and what’s next is very real. Yet, we can see how God was with us in the past and often we are able to sense God’s presence with us in the now. But, do we have faith that God is in our tomorrow as well? Do we really believe that God is a God of tomorrow? What we believe about God, or our faith, determines how we overcome our fears and trust God for the future. You see, we don’t know the troubles of tomorrow, but we know the God of our tomorrow.

We ALL have fears. And God knows that we face and struggle with fear. But we sometimes try to deny or bury our fears. Then, they surface in various ways – nightmares, addictions, choosing to not take risks, walking away from a dream or a relationship and so on. And, rarely do we talk about our greatest fears. A key to dealing with our fears is to face them, but not alone. That’s why we need God. That’s why we need others. There’s help. There’s hope. That’s why we are doing this series. While most of our fears are problems that do not exist and likely never will, we don’t have to stay trapped in our fears. In the end, we have a difficult but real choice – we can choose fear or we can choose faith. In this message, we’ll explore what it looks like to choose faith over fear.

God has given Pantano a vision to be a catalyst to bring God’s influence to transform our city. God created the church as the main way to bring his presence into our neighborhoods, to transform them from what they are to what they can become. God wants to launch his church (the people of God) into the world. That’s our mission and purpose as a church – Loving people to Jesus, launching passionate people to make a difference.  God wants to launch you into your workplace or school, your neighborhood, to other organizations and churches… to make a difference!

Do you want to change your life? Are you ready to allow God more access to change your life? God wants to transform you (Romans 12:1-2). And we have a part in tapping into the transforming power of God. God asks us to renew our mind. To be transformed, we need to think differently. There’s a wealth of scriptures that teach us that what we think about, what we focus on, what we believe shapes who we are. In this message, we’ll re-introduce a powerful way to change what we think about that enhances God’s power to change our lives. Instead of New Year’s Resolutions, we’ll focus on living the one word we get from God for the whole year.

At Christmas, God took the initiative and came to us. God came to us to show how much he loves us. Jesus is the Immanuel Difference – God with us to show that he’s for us. And the same Jesus, God in human form, came to serve us! That’s the heart of what Christmas is all about. There is no better way to remember and celebrate Christmas than to take the initiative and serve to bring the love of God to others. That’s what we are going to do as a church for Christmas – go to others, serve them, show them we are for them while bringing the love of Jesus to them.

There is a prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 that is highlighted in the Christmas story that Matthew records. It’s a favorite for the Christmas season. It is one of the great verses that declares a spiritual mystery called the incarnation. One of the names that the Messiah is given, besides Jesus, is “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” That’s the simple and clear meaning of the incarnation. God took on human form and chose to live in our world, in our neighborhood, so to speak. In this message, we’ll explore what it means that God is with us and how that changes everything.

From the very first time the very first church met, they met to partake of the Lord’s Supper or communion. This message will help us understand why we come together weekly and practice communion at what’s called “The Lord’s Table.” The very events of the night that Jesus instituted the first communion tell us why this experience is so important. Jesus invites us to his table and reminds us that we are not to leave the table the same way we came. We are not to take with us what we brought to the table, but we are to leave remembering how much we are loved, that we are forgiven and that we are in a covenant relationship with God through Jesus. You see, it’s not what you bring to the table, it’s what you leave the table with.

It is the lies that we believe that create what we call our spiritual cobwebs of sin and destructive behavior. To find freedom from the spider and its lie, we have to identify and reject the lie and replace it with God’s truth. God has made his truth known in Jesus but we are responsible to find and embrace God’s truth. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Will you embrace the teachings of Jesus? Will you grab onto the truth? The truth is the only way to be free from the cobwebs and spider-lies and the sin that will damage and destroy us.

Our struggle in our spiritual life to be like Jesus can be pictured as spiders and cobwebs. We try to get rid of our cobwebs which are habits, hang-ups and sins that we know are wrong and hurt us and others. So we clean out a cobweb but they keep coming back. Why? Because we didn’t kill the spider. But, to get rid of cobwebs you have to kill the spider. The spider is a spiritual lie that we buy into. The spider weaves our cobwebs. Our cobwebs are the things in our lives that feed the lie and keep it alive in us. The only way to clear out the cobwebs for good is to kill the spider or reject the spiritual lie. We have to replace the lie with the truth. Jesus says the truth is the only way to find freedom from cobwebs woven by the lies.

Life is hard, unfair and difficult. In those circumstances, it is hard to focus on anything but the bad situation. Grace is greater than any accident, sickness, setback or loss we might face. And, here’s the final key point we make about grace in this series: God’s grace works for our good in our difficulties. God doesn’t abandon us in our hardships; rather, because of grace…because he cares so much for us and wants the very best for us always, he works for good through our hardships. Our challenge is how we get grace and stay connected to grace when our circumstance is so powerfully difficult? The Bible urges us to do three things that help us get grace: We choose joy, we pray continually and we live in gratitude to keep grace from being interrupted by our situations.

Our sin is ugly, really ugly. Sin shows up every day in almost every situation. It is in the thoughts we have, the attitudes we carry, the words we speak and the actions we do or don’t do that we should do. We disappoint God, fall short of his ideals for us, we hurt others, we fail over and over. Then comes the guilt and shame. As we carry the guilt and shame the damage continues. But that is not the end of the story. The amazing news is that God’s grace is greater than the guilt of our past mistakes or regrets. It is greater than the powerful overwhelming brokenness that keeps showing up in our daily attitudes, words and actions. His grace is greater than our sin and guilt.

There is one thing that matters most to God. That one thing must matter to us. That one thing is to seek and save those who are spiritually lost, disconnected from God and not experiencing a life-giving relationship with Jesus. We must do all we can to reach those who are not connected to God or a church. We especially have to find a way to make room for the children and students of our emerging generations. Here at Pantano, we are out of room so it’s time to Make Room for More. We don’t want to hinder people coming to Jesus just because of a lack of space. Your help and participation will make a difference now and for eternity.

We live today in light of the end. No one knows when Jesus will come back and God will judge the world. None of us know when our lives will end, and this life is short in terms of eternity. So, we live today as if the end is very soon. We are to be ready now and live in a way that honors God both now and when we stand before him. Peter reminds us that when we let the end focus how we live today, it will affect the kinds of prayers we pray. Living ready now means that ultimately, we will love deeply. That kind of love allows us to more readily forgive the wrongs of others and open our lives to welcome all people. That kind of love drives us to use our gifts to serve others…to the glory of God.

Jesus saved us from this world to be different from this world. We are called to be holy. To be holy is to be different, set apart, and to stand out from our unholy culture. But we live in a world and culture that has incredible power to get us to conform to its ways. And so we live in this constant tension of choice – be different or conform. Peter reminds us as children of God to trust our heavenly Father and allow him to shape and lead us to be as he is – holy and different.

God created marriage to be this mystery of two separate different people coming together to become one. But how does this mystery of two become one happen? The Bible says that there are two keys – love and respect. Everyone needs and wants both love and respect. However, wives deeply value being loved while husbands deeply value being respected. And God knew that so he instructs us to love and respect our spouse. There’s lots of misunderstanding about both of those keys. In this message, we’ll unpack what love and respect are and how they create oneness.

The fact is if we are or will get married, we will marry the wrong person. What we mean is that we’ll never marry the perfect person. Every couple, to some extent, is a union of very different people. We are not compatible. Marriage is hard and it takes work. We are tempted to focus on why we married the wrong person and their hurts, hang-ups, habits, and issues that make them wrong. But if we are going to learn to love like Jesus and learn to stay in love, we need to start with ourselves. Part of the mystery of marriage isn’t about finding the right person. It’s about becoming the right person.

What makes it hard to trust God? It’s hard to trust when we are struggling and suffering. It is hard to trust when those we love are hurting. It’s hard to trust when expect God to fix something or get us out of trouble and it doesn’t happen or at least it doesn’t happen the way we think it should. So will we only trust God to give us what we want or is trust seeking God to help us through the challenge? We have to think of trust in a whole new way. It isn’t just getting what we want. It is seeking and depending on God right in the middle of the mess we can’t understand. That’s exactly what Jesus did the night he was arrested. This is what he did. Jesus told God what he wanted, but in the end he trusted God’s way.

Jesus and his disciples are in a boat, and as a furious storm hits, fear overwhelms the disciples. The disciples, some of them experienced fishermen, trusted themselves to navigate the boat. But when the storm hits, the disciples go from self-confidence to fear – and Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat. That contrast is a picture of Jesus’ complete trust in God while his disciples are living in fear. So the disciples wake Jesus and he calms the storm. Jesus then asked them and he asks us:  “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” This was recorded because you and I are in a proverbial boat navigating the waters of life. Unexpected storms will hit and swamp our confidence and overwhelm our skills, knowledge and experience. We can be swamped by fear or we can choose faith. The only way through our fear is by a faith that trusts God.

The Bible says that without faith or trust it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). What does it mean that trust is essential to please God? Does this mean we must do religious things for God to like us? No. Not at all. God is pleased when we seek him! God wants us to trust him to direct our lives. He wants us to experience that he is worthy of our trust. He wants us to have that kind of deep authentic relationship with him. Trust goes beyond believing that God exists, as many many people do, to actually saying “yes” to God in the normal and challenging aspects of life. Trust is the only path to experience a full relationship with God. We trust God that he is for us, he will guide in the right ways, and that he has our best interests in mind all the time. So in trust we say “yes” to God. The more we say “yes” to God the more we’ll experience the depth of a relationship with God.

The church has a reputation as being judgmental and hypocritical. We are viewed as seeing ourselves as “better than thou.” Forever, religious people have both judged and avoided the prostitutes, bums, addicts, homosexuals, the rude, the unclean, the drunk, the poor and the list goes on. It was these people that Jesus had a reputation for hanging out with! It is time to lose our religion that fosters hate, judgement and hypocrisy and replace it with the love of Jesus. It is time to admit that we have failed to love as Jesus loves. It’s time to declare that we have not been the church Jesus intended us to be. It’s time to reverse the curse of having pushed God aside and taking his role as judge. It is time repent of our sinful religious attitudes and approaches and replace them with love.

The story of Adam and Eve is our story. We too choose to buy the lies of the ancient serpent that God is not enough to provide enough of what we need. So in mistrust we push God out and take over. It is not a pretty picture. We rejected God’s primary control in our lives and we now live in a world of want. We are never satisfied. We seek to fill the emptiness with things that will never fill us. Sometimes we even try to find satisfaction in religion. In religion we are forever trying to be good and only come up short and the guilt and shame grows and we feel the condemnation. The curse is reversed only in Jesus. In Jesus, there is now no condemnation (Rom. 8:1). In Jesus we re-discover that God is enough to make us more than enough.

Adam and Eve sinned by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that was in the center of the Paradise. When they ate the forbidden fruit (as we still do today), they sought to take the place of God to judge good and evil and take the center position of acting like God. That is our problem today. We are tempted to take the place that only God can take. And we are terrible judges. The real tragedy occurs because as we take this position of judge it makes it nearly impossible to love God and love like God – the very purpose for which we were created.

God is love. And God gives love to all – the perfect, never ending, all forgiving kind of love. And that love came to us in Jesus. Jesus came to bring us into a deep connection with Love – to be loved, to be with Love and to be so filled with love that it pours out of us. In the end love is the core and center of everything. All of creation was designed to live in love and give and receive love. Outrageous love is what the church is to be about and known for.

Easter is our hope. You see, Jesus calls dead people from the grave to be alive. Jesus IS the resurrection and the life! When things go bad, when we make bad choices or when the bad choices of others hurt us it can feel like a death. The good often seems lost – like the period at the end of a sentence. But with Jesus, death and disappointment doesn’t have to be the period at the end of a sentence, but a comma. Jesus is our Lord of new life, new beginnings, new hope and second chances. When the world puts a period in our life, we put our faith in the living Jesus who changes periods to commas. Jesus is calling dead people to life, even today!

Jesus once responded to some news events of his day and brings us to a hard, but freeing spiritual conclusion and reality; No matter who we are or what we’ve done or what’s been done to us, we must repent of our bad choices and responses in order to experience real life now and one that will never end. Jesus knows we all have sinned and we have regrets for what we have done or not done. So the command of Jesus is to repent, which means we turn to go in a new direction while learning from our past sin or misfortune. But the time is now…now is the time to repent and allow God to redeem the bad ink of our lives.

When God wants to make a difference, he will use a person with an open heart. This openness to God allows God to work through them. God used a man named Cornelius who had an open heart to bring forgiveness, salvation and eternal life to to all the non-Jewish people. He used Cornelius to open the heart of a man named Peter! Cornelius was a devout and godly man who consistently was generous and prayed to God. These are keys to a life open to God. The open heart of Cornelius opened the door for God’s love to spread to the nations.

In Acts 20 we encounter Paul’s last words to a group of men he dearly loved. His carefully chosen words remind us of the path to a more blessed life. The best life possible begins with a relationship with Jesus. That relationship opens our heart from being greedy to being generous. A generous life is open, not constricted, and it flows from and helps us embrace God’s grace. A generous life protects us from greed which will rob us of all the good God wants for us. A generous life is discovered as we give to God and others. It is only through a generous life that we’ll discover how to be truly blessed.

Jesus tells a story that is intended to shock us. The gist of the parable is that it is not enough to say yes to God, but then not really show up! God is calling us to be all in. God doesn’t want us to just browse the aisles of faith, but he wants us to be buyer who puts our money and lives on the counter. Ideas and ideals of faith can be interesting to discuss, but Jesus wants us to actually sit at the table of God and engage with him. Jesus is saying that following him is an all in commitment. Jesus invites us to the table, but don’t say “yes” and then stand outside. Don’t make excuses. Don’t let other things fool you as being more urgent. Say “yes” and be all in.

Jesus is calling humble people who know grace and forgiveness to take risks to live out a life of faith. That is a high and hard calling. We see it in a woman described in Luke 7. It all starts with God’s grace. We are aware of how much we are forgiven. That creates a deep faith. That faith is what saves us. And real faith shows itself in the acts of love and service. May we let such a great love move us to love and action.

© 2021 Pantano Christian Church
All Rights Reserved.

© 2021 Pantano Christian Church | All Rights Reserved.

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