Giving Up Enemies

When it comes to books and movies, we love our enemies! Lord of the Rings gave us Sauron and the Orcs. Harry Potter gave us Voldemort. The Avengers gave us Thanos. And Star Wars gave us Darth Vader! When the new Spiderman movie was being advertised, I was very excited to see the hints that Dr. Octopus was going to be the villain again. He was always one of my favorite bad guys in the Spiderman universe.

A well-developed bad guy will make a movie successful. Think of the Batman movies. The Joker, Riddler, Penguin, Bane, all were worthy adversaries.

We love the stories in the Bible that give us a strong antagonist to our beloved protagonist. Moses vs. Pharoah. Jacob vs. Esau. Joseph vs. his brothers. Elijah vs. the prophets of Baal. Paul vs. the Pharisees. And we can not forget the ultimate clash of good vs. evil that runs right through all these stories.

As Americans we like to pride ourselves on being the good guys to whatever antagonist that might challenge us. When I was young it was the Russians who were our antagonists. You saw this played out in popular movies such as Rocky 4, Rambo 3, Red Dawn and several of the James Bond movies. Over the years it has become others that have represented Communist dictatorships and Al-Qaeda as well as renewed tensions with Russia right now over the invasion of Ukraine.   

When we look to the Gospels there is no doubt that Jesus had his enemies. There were people he enraged and upset by his teachings and his actions. Some of the Pharisees were always quick to question him and try and trick him.

But what we want to look at today is how Jesus reacted to his enemies. The passage we are looking at is traditionally the passage we look to for Palm Sunday. We will revisit this passage on that weekend, but we want to look at it from the point of view on how Jesus reacted to his enemies. Many of us who grew up on John Wayne, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone or James Bond movies would find Jesus’ approach to his enemies very disturbing. We want the good guys to sweep in and obliterate the bad guys with new gadgets, weapons, and cool cars! The American way and the Jesus way are very different.

Let’s take a look at Luke 19:37-40

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

This is known as the Triumphal Entry. Jesus has finally arrived at Jerusalem and he is riding in on a colt. The people are praising him and shouting out “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” The Pharisees get upset at this and ask him to rebuke the people, but Jesus lets the Pharisees know that the people’s excitement is justified and can not be held back.

But then we get some insight into what is going on inside of Jesus. Instead of riding in with bravado and machismo relishing the praises of his followers, swearing to punch back at his enemies, he does something very unexpected. It says in verse 41 that:

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 

He wept. His heart was actually broken. He showed tears. Why? He goes on to say that:

42 “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

Jesus sees into the hearts of the people praising him and knows that their actions are hiding a deeper issue. He knows that these people are praising him thinking that he will be a political leader that they want to overthrow the Roman occupation and establish a Jewish nation. Jesus knows that those who praise him now will just in days be yelling “Crucify him!” Their lust for power and nationalism has caused them to be blind to the way of Jesus. What Jesus had to do was definitely not what the people wanted him to do. They wanted a good guy to defeat their political enemies once and for all and establish them as their own people. Jesus knew in their hearts that they would not understand what he had to do and through their own stubbornness and hate, they would eventually face the destruction of their people which was fulfilled in AD 70. Jesus didn’t want this for the Jewish people, but he knew that they would reject his way.

We see a glimpse into Jesus’ heart for the people in Jerusalem when we go back a couple of chapters and look at Luke 13:34-35. He expresses his sorrow over the people of Jerusalem in say that:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

We peer into the heart of God in this passage. God wants to bring together the people of Jerusalem like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings, but he realizes they are not willing. He knows the pain and destruction that is coming because of the choice they made with a bravado “Jerusalem first” kind of attitude. He knew that they would miss the whole point of his mission. And this broke his heart. Jesus had genuine feelings for his people and wanted them to see and understand the salvation he was bringing to them.

And these are the feelings and thoughts he had for his people as he was entering into Jerusalem on a colt. Instead of riding in on a war horse with armor, shield and sword, showing off masculine power to kill and destroy his enemies, he rode in on a colt, knowing that his weapon was going to be the sacrifice of his own body that would once and for all destroy sin and death. He wept, not for what he had to endure, but for the people who were all missing the point of his true salvation. He was riding into Jerusalem knowing that he would face his political enemies, his religious enemies, and all these people who would turn on him, people who would fall to all the fake news of their day and flip on Jesus, not seeing the news of all the prophets that came before them pronouncing the coming of the king who would defeat sin and death at the cross for the salvation of all those who believe. And this is what broke Jesus’ heart.

In fact, Jesus tried to teach about his approach to his enemies in the Sermon on the Mount. He said to his listeners:

Matthew 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

We see in this passage that God’s grace and mercy falls on everybody alike. The sun rises for the evil and the good. The rain falls for the righteous and unrighteous. His love is expressed through his creation lavishly to all. We are to give up that hatred, that bitterness, that anger towards our enemies and learn how to love them the way Jesus loved his enemies. Jesus knows that the only way to defeat hatred is not with more hate but with love. Instead of escalating hate for hate, pouring gasoline on the fire, we put it out with water through our love for our enemies. This is one of the defining marks of true Christ-followers. It is easy to love those who think like us, act like us, vote like us, and look like us. It is easy to take cheap shots at those who think differently than you. It is easy to look at a whole group of people that are in some ways different than you and, because of that, consider them your enemy. I have had to caution people I love to be careful of what news source they watch or podcasts they listen to because there are some that are very toxic always trying to define other people, other Americans, as our enemy. This can not be representative of the body of Christ. We are a kingdom people who ought to really mean it when we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In God’s economy we are to live into being one people defined by our love for each other, and even love for those who may consider themselves our enemies. Jesus did not mark out who his enemies were. It was them that claimed to be his enemy. Instead, Jesus, at his most excruciating moments on the cross, looked out at those who considered themselves his enemies and he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” He took their hate and rage and anger and bloodlust and nailed all of that to the cross. His one act of sacrifice opened up a path to forgiveness and salvation from the constant turmoil of pain and death brought on by our hate.

And Jesus also tells us that not only are we to love our enemies, but we are to pray for them. When we do so it says that we are moving towards perfection just as our heavenly Father is perfect. Imagine that! The goal of Christian perfection is not church attendance, having the right theology or political views, or reading the Bible, or being a Sunday School teacher or youth leader. Jesus says it comes down to our attitude towards our enemies. Loving those who love us is easy. Everybody does it. But can we give up our hatred for our enemies and learn to love them in the same way that Jesus loved them as he rode into Jerusalem? Can we let go of the angry rhetoric, the hateful attitudes, the fear and loathing of those who aren’t like us? Can we look at the other as a person created in the image of God whom God loves just as much as he loves us? For when we do so, we come close to perfection in our spiritual life in this lifetime.

Love is what compelled Jesus toward his journey to the cross.

So where do we go from here? How do we respond? I know for me just recently I had to give up a podcast because it was so enemy-driven; defining “those people” as the enemies we must defeat with our ideas about politics and reform. I listened to 3 episodes, and I noticed that at the end of each episode I was mad, distressed and angry. This was not helping my blood pressure. Instead, I try to concentrate on listening to podcasts and news sources that uplift, inspire, encourage and try to show either an objective view of what is going on in the world or a kingdom perspective of how we should look at the world. Some of you need to detox from what you are putting in front of your eyes if you think that you have enemies because some guy or girl on a podcast or opinion news show tells you to think that way. You need to immerse yourself in the words of Christ and how he viewed the world, how he views his people, and how he viewed those who considered themselves his enemies. He wept for them.

When was the last time you were moved to tears because you were made aware of how lost people are in their sins? Believe me, this is a constant angst that every pastor of every church has been feeling especially through the pandemic. Many of us need to rid ourselves of the fake conspiracy theories and fake news sights and stop giving into fear and hate.

According to a recent Barna study done about the state of the church and clergy in America:

about 38 percent of Protestant senior pastors surveyed have considered leaving ministry over the past year. Among pastors under age 45, that number rose to 46 percent.

In personal phone calls, emails to congregations, and announcements on video, my colleagues have explained why they are leaving. An intractable conflict. Embedded sexism. Shifting congregational commitments. Unclear paths for ministry following the pandemic. Exhaustion, low pay, and lack of appreciation. After 18 months of live-streamed worship services, tele-pastoral care, and online funerals, my exhausted friends are leaving their churches one by one. Each week, I learn of another pastor transitioning not only out of their current job but out of ministry altogether.

… what we gain as pastors is the opportunity to help forge communities held by common commitments to the gospel. We get to nurture generosity, redistribute our money, and create forms of mutual aid and care. We learn to get along with people with whom we disagree. We carve out new ways for conflict, repair, and restoration.

But in the wreckage of Trumpian politics and a never-ending-pandemic, our jobs have been reduced to negotiating skirmishes over mask-wearing and vaccination status. Former and current pastors have shared with me that their denominations and powerful congregants have pushed for a false unity that tolerates homophobia, racism, and conspiracy theories. My friend Ryan, a seasoned pastor, finally gave up. He felt that he could no longer follow the work of the Holy Spirit when he was expected to make room for people who actively thwarted God’s movement.

Now, I read this to you to help you see what is going on from a clergy perspective overall in America. For these past two years, many in the American church did not rise to the occasion and let our faith shine. Instead, we gave into an “us vs. them” mentality on multiple fronts. We created enemies with those we disagree with. While I cannot speak for unbelievers, this ought not to be for Christ-followers.

Looking at more recent events, I know for me that not only was the pandemic years hard, but now seeing the unfolding conflict in Ukraine is painful to watch. Seeing people in a war that they did not ask for by a person who wants to occupy their land. Are the people of Ukraine worthy of our prayers and support? I certainly hope so. We should be doing everything possible to help them in their suffering. But how do we show love to the aggressor? Do we pray for Putin and the soldiers that are involved in this war? Do we pray for President Zalinsky and the people he is trying to protect and defend? Absolutely. We need to be in prayer for this conflict and for God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness to bring a resolution to all of it. We need to pray for God’s grace to break through the hearts of those who started this. We need to pray for God’s justice and righteousness to triumph through it all. Any type of war ought to break our hearts.

And finally, I want to end with some lyrics by a favorite worship band of mine, Hillsong. They sing in a song entitled “Hosanna”:

Heal my heart and make it clean

Open my eyes to things unseen

Show me how to love like You have loved me

Break my heart for what breaks Yours

Everything I am for your Kingdom’s cause

As I walk from Earth into eternity

Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the Highest.

So, with all this in mind, let’s choose to be a people that are known for our tears rather than our hate, anger, and fears. Lent is a considered a time where we reflect on our sin and mortality; the reason of why we need a Savior, because of our own failings. This is why we look forward to Resurrection Sunday! Jesus rose again to usher in a new Kingdom that we are invite into. Are we living into the fullness of this or are we getting distracted by the divisiveness of this world? Are we like the people with Jesus, as he went into Jerusalem, ready to sing his praises, but when things get tough, we deny him with our actions?

May God open our eyes to the things that break his heart and may they penetrate our hard hearts.

May God create in each of us a tenderness and concern for others in just the same way that Jesus wanted to care for his people like a hen taking care of her chicks under her wings.

And may we learn to show love and compassion towards all people as image-bearers of God Himself.

Humble us Lord and help us to see things from a Kingdom perspective instead of our myopic, selfish, conspiracy-laden views of “us vs. them”. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Getting Ready for the Big Game!

Isn’t today exciting! The Bengals are in the Superbowl! Many thought they would not get by the Titans, and then they did. Many thought they would not get by the Chiefs, and then they found a way! And now we have to face the Rams! Some Browns fans do not want to see the Bengals win simply because they are division rivals. But I took it personally when OBJ left the Browns and got picked up by the Rams. As a Browns and Bengals fan, I have a double motivation to see the Rams get beat and beat badly! Plus, how can you not love Joe Burrow? A solid Ohio boy from Athens. It is an exciting day for Cincinnati and the state of Ohio.

On top of all the excitement about the Bengals, we are also in the middle of the Winter Olympics. I watched the opening ceremonies and felt a wave of excitement when Team USA entered the arena representing our country’s best athletes. Now, I’ll have to admit, when it comes to watching the Olympics live, I have a hard time doing it, especially any type of skating. To know in the back of my mind that these athletes have trained their whole lives to get to this point and then have something go wrong, like a slip or fall on the ice, makes me feel horrible. I’d rather watch curling, hockey, or snowboarding than wince through figure skating competitions.

Since we are talking about sports, I am also a huge Cleveland Cavaliers fan, and I just got to say that they are killing it right now! They are playing some exciting basketball.

With all that said, I want to give you a little background on our passage today. Paul was a church planter and went on several trips to plant churches throughout the ancient world. You can read about his journeys in the book of Acts. In fact, in Acts 18, we can see Paul’s work in the city of Corinth establishing a church and empowering them to grow. He most likely wrote this letter from Ephesus on his third missionary journey sometime between A.D. 54-56. Paul received some bad news on how the church was doing, which inspired this letter.

Now, some interesting things about Corinth are that they loved their athletes. They sponsored the biannual Isthmian Games, which were second in importance only to the Olympic Games. They held these games only 10 miles from Corinth so that most people would be very familiar with athletic training for the games. Many would also be audience members of the games. Paul was in Corinth in A.D. 50-52, so he would have been around for the Isthmian Games held in the Spring of A.D. 51.

The games would include six events: wrestling, jumping, javelin and discus throwing, and racing and boxing, which Paul alludes to in our passage. Athletes for the Olympic games went into strict training for at least ten months to qualify. It is most likely that requirements like this also existed for the Isthmian Games, which would explain Paul’s reference to strict training and disqualifications. Winners would receive a crown made out of pine or celery, which would be perishable.

Now let’s talk about the Corinthian church! Paul begins his letter in a typical fashion with some encouragement. Paul says that the church does “not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” Once he encourages them, he launches into some of the problems he hears about: the divisions being created by who is following who: Paul, Apollos, or Peter. Paul resisted the desire of those to make celebrity pastors out of them and take their focus off of Jesus. Instead, he wanted to refocus their attention on Christ alone, with everyone serving the same person. Paul then launches into addressing issues related to sexual immorality, lawsuits being thrown at each other among believers, questions about singleness and marriage, and food sacrificed to idols. The church was couched in one of the largest cities within the Roman province. It was also one of the most wicked cities of ancient times, and the lines between the church and the culture were getting blurred. While many heathen religions practiced in Corinth, the most well-known was the worship of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. The temple of Aphrodite stood on the most prominent point of the city and housed one thousand temple prostitutes. So, you can see why it was important for Paul to make a massive distinction between how the culture defined love and how God defined it. Finally, we get one of the most famous chapters in the Bible of 1 Corinthians 13, which lays out the case for what Christ-like love looks like in contrast to the pagan culture’s abuse of it. This is a great letter to read all the way through as it has so much to say that was relevant to the church in Corinth and our modern-day church.

I want us to focus on one passage in this letter found in chapter 9, verses 24-27. As we begin to pick apart this passage, we need to understand that the church in Corinth was getting very lazy with their faith. They allowed all these sins, encouraged by the culture, to impact the church community. And it was having a very negative effect on them. It was causing a lot of division, selfishness, and immorality. What is interesting about Paul is he takes something very popular within the Corinthian culture, athletics, and he relates it to the spiritual development of the believers.

He begins this chapter by talking about our freedom and rights as believers. As Americans, we like those topics! We subscribe to the freedoms we have outlined in the Constitution and our rights as explained in the Bill of Rights. But Paul gets down to the fact that just because we may have the freedom and rights to behave a certain way, it does not necessarily mean we should. We need to consider what is best for everybody in the body of Christ. We need to have a team mentality. We need to consider the greater good in light of the church, not just my freedom and rights. The way I live my life in the context of the community will speak volumes more about what I believe than just by what I say.

Paul explains in the first part of chapter 9 that he is willing to give up any rights he has not to let anything hinder the gospel, which is the good news of Jesus Christ. In fact, he says that he is willing to make himself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible to Jesus. Unfortunately, now we live in a time where there is a rise in the worship of Nationalism within our country. People who say they claim the name of Christ, but are more interested in worshiping the idea of America instead of living into the fullness of the kingdom of God. This is very dangerous and must be avoided. Our loyalty needs to be Christ and Christ alone.

Now we come to v. 24, where Paul reflects on their love of sport and how this can help us understand our motivation to develop our spiritual lives. He says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?” We are seeing this play out today with our beloved Bengals and Team USA at the Olympics! Many athletes train for their particular sport, and many compete. But only one person or team will get the ultimate prize: The Gold Metal or the Vince Lombardi trophy. While Paul is getting his audience to think of all those who like to run, whether competitively or casually, he then tells his Corinthian church to “Run in such a way as to get the prize.”

Believe it or not, I have run the Flying Pig Half-Marathon 3 times. Did I run to win the prize? To be the first to cross the finish line? No way. That would have involved extremely strict and disciplined training. My goal was just to cross the finish line in one piece. The first year was scary because it was my first time doing it and because it started in the middle of a storm. So, I started the race soaking wet! The second time was a little easier because it was a beautiful morning, and I was familiar with the race now. The third time I did not train as well, and my time showed. Thousands of people run in the Flying Pig just to say they did it. Everyone wins a medal and gets awesome gifts and food at the end of the race, but only one person can claim 1st place. Paul tells us to look at our spiritual lives with that kind of attitude. Don’t be sub-par, average, mediocre, or even halfway decent. Run in such a way as to win the prize!

Paul says that “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” Now I have helped raise four wonderful kids of mine. And as they grew up, I watched their rooms pile up with trophies, awards, certificates and pictures, and posters of all the things they were involved in throughout their school years. All of that had meaning and significance for them during that time of their lives. Now, most of that stuff has either been boxed up and put on a shelf or thrown out. We have even seen star athletes who at one time won a ring or medal or trophy take their award and try and sell it to make ends meet when they fell on tough times. So, the accolades or awards we may receive at the moment may lose their significance over time. But Paul here talks about a crown that we will receive from Christ that will last forever! This is the motivation we need to put in the forefront of our minds to live a Christian life!

Paul finishes out this passage by saying, “Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” He makes several points here:

1) STAY FOCUSED! Don’t run aimlessly or beat the air. Be focused on who you are in Christ and why we are here. Jesus gave us the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. We are to love God and love others. We are to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations. We are to live into what it means to be the people of God. What rights we may think we have because of our national citizenship or because of our freedom in Christ are rubbish if we are using those freedoms to cause any hindrance to the way of Christ. Remember! Paul also wrote to the church in Philippi saying that “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” Jesus gave up all his rights as God and allowed himself to be born human. He lived the perfect life we were unable to. And then he went to the cross to deal with our sins once and for all. Jesus was focused on what he had to do. We are invited out of our laziness, where we tend to blur the lines between the world and the church. We are invited to take the faith seriously and strive to live fully into it as if we were training for gold in the Olympics.

2) BE DISCIPLINED! Paul uses the idea of the physical discipline of an elite athlete in relation to our spiritual development. We need to be disciplined so that we are not disqualified from the prize. If you are paying attention to what is going on in the American church, there are so many religious leaders who have disqualified themselves by being unfocused and undisciplined. Their ministries may have appeared to do good at first but are now leaving a path of destruction with people leaving the church and abandoning the faith. This has led to a wave of people deconstructing what they have been taught as they are left being disillusioned about the faith. This is not good.

So how do we stay focused and disciplined like an elite athlete? I watched videos of what basketball G.O.A.T. Lebron James and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps would do to train for their sports. Needless to say, that in our day and age, they are on a level that only a few will ever achieve. I did not want us to leave here discouraged that we could not achieve that level of spiritual training. But, what can we do to get started?

Have you ever noticed the video that runs at the beginning of the service? It highlights all five purposes of our church. All five commitments that each member commits to when they join the church. If you were not here at the beginning of the service, let’s run it right now!

Let’s talk about what things we can commit to in order to “run to win the prize.” The most basic thing some of you need to do for your first step is to simply become a MEMBER. With membership, you enter into a community of faith that will inspire, encourage and uplift you to grow spiritually. Also, you would take on some “basic training” commitments.

The first is to be here in attendance as a WORSHIPPING member. Our online presence will not go away. It is a new reality for most churches now. It has become a necessary part of what a church needs to offer. But here is my beef! I believe that there are people who have gotten comfortable watching their church service online because of the pandemic we have gone through. In reality, they are healthy and capable of attending church. However, there is something to be said about being present as a body of believers, worshiping and praying together that online ministries will not fully achieve.

The next commitment is towards making sure you are GROWING spiritually. This is primarily done by getting connected to a small group. We practice spiritual accountability and spiritual practices such as prayer, Bible study, and dialogue in small groups. I am starting a small group this week which you are all welcome to join. The study will be on a book called “A Pray in the Night” by Tish Harrison Warren. If you are going through a tough time, this book is definitely for you as we will explore themes of doubt, insecurity, suffering, and vulnerability. We also will have Lenten small group studies starting at the end of the month. If you want to get plugged into a small group right away, please see Pastor Tracy. She will take care of you.

The next commitment is to be SERVING in a ministry. We have multiple ministries every month, serving people in downtown Cincinnati, Goshen, and Milford. In addition, we have ministries that we are connected to within Loveland that offer opportunities all the time. Also, we have three mission trips this Summer to Chicago, Puerto Rico, and Alaska. Chicago is primarily for our Junior High teens, Puerto Rico is for our Senior High teens, and Alaska is for our college and 20 to 30-something people. We need adults for all three trips. These are excellent opportunities to put your faith into practice as a community of faith.

The next commitment is to be a GIVING member. If one thing is true about Epiphany, you are generous when needed. But everybody should be giving regularly. This helps support the church and all the missions we can connect with locally, nationally, and internationally. If you are not a regular giver, there are ways to help you begin to give a tithe and be faithful stewards of your finances. Please call the church, and we will connect you with Mitch, who can help you become a regular giver.

The final commitment is to be an INVITING member. We are all challenged to bring in at least one new person each year. Now, I don’t usually like to brag about worship leaders because I have always felt it was important to keep everyone’s egos in check as a pastor. But let’s consider Corbin for a second. He came on as the Contemporary worship leader. But look at what he has done in the area of inviting. He has invited Tori, Bobby, Audra, Ian and Ivory, and others to become connected to our church. We have been blessed by all of them as well as those on the team who have been long-time faithful band members. But imagine if we were so excited about what is going on here that we were inviting in new people all the time to plug into all the opportunities available here. Many of you have done an incredible job inviting others to celebrate the big game tonight as many gather to watch the Bengals disappoint the Rams, hopefully. What if we had that same enthusiasm about bringing people into our community of faith here at Epiphany?

So, this is basic training, folks. Let’s get on board and practice our faith in such a way as to win the prize. Let’s stop wandering aimlessly or beating the air and instead focus our attention on Jesus, the author, and perfecter of our faith. Let’s rally together as a faith community to practice our spiritual disciplines of worshipping, growing, serving, giving, and inviting. And this is basic training people. There is so much more we can all be doing to expand the Kingdom of God in our context. So, get excited about your faith. Get motivated towards growth. And get committed as a member to help make a difference.