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This Sunday was both a baptism Sunday and Resurrection Sunday. Jon started the message by sharing how the bottom of the river or wherever you are baptized represents death. The journey back up represents resurrection in Jesus the Christ. The story of Passover, where the Israelites put a lamb’s blood on their door so they wouldn’t suffer the judgment coming to Egypt, parallels how the blood of Jesus covers our sin and protects us from judgment. This can be difficult to relate to so Jon shared about a time in his youth when he would hang out with his friends the “river rats” growing up. They would often play sports and get into fights about a certain play and have to call a “do-over”, getting to redo the entire play. Jon related how Jesus’ death and resurrection is a sacred do-over. Jesus takes our jersey and makes the play that we never could and gives us his jersey. He bore our sins on the cross and gave us his righteousness and freed us from sin and death. The truth is we could never do what Jesus can. If we tried to make the play and save ourselves we would fall short. Only Jesus is able to save us and make the perfect play, saving us.

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Joel Ruddy introduced his message entitled “Work and Worship” by reading Genesis 2:7-8: “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man He had formed.” The importance of this verse is that God doesn’t give us gifts to hoard for ourselves; He gives us gifts to take to other places, just like he did with Adam in Genesis. The original word for “work” in Hebrews (Avodah) is to work and worship God while doing the same thing. As we work, we can worship God and we can serve God as we work.  God has uniquely designed us for work. His intent for us in work is to serve Him. It’s easy to feel God’s delight in a worship setting, but it’s often difficult for us to see that in a corporate workplace. Joel mentioned that we have something inside of us that is completely unique to ourselves. God equips us to handle the issues that we face, even as it takes others to partner with us. Joel concluded his message by explaining that there are two main things in our work that our holding us back: the fear of man, and the desire for worldly possessions. The reality is that we spend more time with our coworkers than most anyone else in our lives. These relationships all matter and God has uniquely designed us for relationships, including those in the workplace.

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The kingdom Jesus launched by his life, death and resurrection revealed the rival kingdoms to be what they really were. They were false kingdoms with a false joy. While Rome – a kingdom of Jesus’ day – has long since been gone, there continues to remain rival kingdoms that call our allegiance to something other than Jesus and promise a joy that only Jesus can give. If one were to conduct a “poll on the street” and ask what brought a person joy, most would probably say “money” and “fame.” But do these really bring joy? Pastor Jon cited a few surveys that concluded that of those who won millions of dollars in the lottery, 44% were broke after 5 years, 70% were broke after 7 years and the majority considered their lives sadder after winning the lottery than before. Among the fame of NFL stardom, 78% of NFL players were in financial ruin 12 years after leaving the sport. The kingdoms of the world that call our allegiance to money and fame produces a false joy. In Jesus’ kingdom, there is a true joy that, whether you’re rich or poor, goes beyond our circumstances. Paul exemplifies the joy of the kingdom in Acts 16 when, while in prison after having been beaten, he and Silas are giving themselves to prayer and to singing hymns to God. After God sends an earthquake that shakes the prison doors open and shakes off their chains, Paul and Silas remain in prison with the jailer who was about to end his life and lead him to Jesus. The jailer comes to faith in Jesus and is “filled with joy” (Acts 16:34). At another time in prison, Paul writes to the church of Philippi, “rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Anywhere you go and in whatever circumstance you find yourself, you can bring the joy of the kingdom with you. God, the good Father, wants you to have genuine joy and to experience the gifts of human pleasure and of the Holy Spirit, who brings transformation and wholeness that leads to flourishing. 

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Have you ever wondered, “What is the greatest thing that could happen right now?” Roy has asked this question many times. Although his answer has changed over the years it always comes back to one thing – to experience the presence of God. What a privilege and gift that we sometimes lose track of, to be able to experience God at all. The fact that God is not only willing, but wants to meet with us is something that should blow our minds every time we think about it. If we believe that God is available, accessible, it should move the deepest parts of us. It’s with this attitude and heart posture that we should enter into worship. Instead of going to church with the attitude of receiving, Roy encouraged us all to enter into worship with a posture of giving. As David says in the Psalms bless the Lord oh my soul. In other words, we don’t always feel like worshipping God. It is up to us to lead ourselves into “blessing the Lord”. This is simply all God is after; for people to turn their hearts towards His, to seek him above all else. Roy took us to John 4 where Jesus says he is looking for worshippers. Roy points out that he wasn’t looking for worship, but for worshippers. He concluded his message by encouraging all of us to worship God, to give him glory in praise, to turn our attention toward our friend and king simply because we love Him as opposed to what He can give us.

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In John 15, Jesus compares our relationship with Him to branches on the grapevine. Jesus begins by telling us “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” We are called to abide in Jesus, the vine – it is the source of nutrients and life for our growth (John 15:4-5). The Father is the one who tenderly cares for the vine, cuts it and prunes it. However, for a plant to produce maximum fruit yields, it must be both cut and pruned. “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit…” (John 15:2). In the analogy of the grapevine, branches that produce no fruit (often due to disease or damage) in the previous season are cut so nutrients are not diverted to support these non-fruit bearing branches. “…while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:2). Pruning differs from cutting in the sense that branches that did produce fruit in the previous season must be trimmed back. Pruning stimulates further growth, protects against mold, and allows the branches to receive sunlight so they are not blocked by the overgrown foliage of the branch. In the following verse, Jesus states, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3). God cuts and prunes with His voice. Chris outlines 5 means by which God prunes with His voice: (1) nature (2) scripture (3) Jesus (4) the Church (people) and (5) the Spirit.