This year our church we hit several significant ministry milestones. In two months our family celebrates being back in New Orleans for 10 years! We returned to New Orleans in January of 2010 to plant Hope Church. In the spring we will celebrate the two year anniversary of our merger with Metairie Church; a merger that God has used to bring about increased health and impact. And this month we celebrate the four year anniversary of our non-profit ministry - First Hope Christian Ministries; a ministry that provides professional counseling and benevolence assistance to poor and hurting people in our city.
Honestly, the whole church planting journey has been really hard! We began with a high school student and a college student in the living room of our rent house.. along with two small children, we developed a small core team in our home over the first few years, we launched a worship gathering, we bounced from location to location, we struggled to multiply small groups, we struggled to learn how to be a diverse church, we struggled to engage with the Gospel, we struggled to grow and we struggled through a merger... like I said, it was hard!
But by God's grace, a thriving church exists that did not exist before and impactful ministry is happening all around us every day. Through lots of prayer, tears and struggle the Lord built His church. And all along friends, family and ministry partners have been with us investing, encouraging and praying with us. If you are one of those people:
Today I want to invite you to rejoice in our latest victories. For years we worked and toiled in the field; preparing the ground, planting and watering the seeds, fighting off the birds, praying life would spring fourth... and it did. And now suddenly we are reaping a harvest. Since August 1st we've had first time visitors every week in our service and a lot of weeks 5-10 of them. Right now we have four baptisms in the works, we have a large great of membership prospects coming to our Discover Metairie Church class this Sunday and we've recently established several new small groups and community ministry initiatives. Friends, God is moving and we're rejoicing and giving thanks!
Friends, family and ministry partners -- I want you to know that your investment, your encouragement and your prayers have had a HUGE impact and the fruit of your investment is being realized more and more every day. We give God all the glory but we also give thanks to Him for you and for your part in our story.
After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
I love this section of scripture! This story was also recorded in two other gospels: Matthew and Mark. The only significant difference in the accounts is the use of the name "Matthew" (great name by the way...) rather than "Levi" (same person).
This story is astounding! Jesus calls Matthew, the tax collector and all together bad dude, to give up everything and follow him. So he did! And where did they go first? Straight to Matthews house to eat and drink with his tax collector and sinner friends!
Rather than leading Matthew away from his sinful friends Jesus lead him right back to the unredeemed for a party. Then enter the religious leaders... "Jesus, Why do you eat with these sinners?" Jesus then shows his intent in partying with the sinner... "I did not come for the righteous but the sinner... I came to call them to repentance!"
Part of Jesus' mission strategy was to call people to follow him and to lead those people back to their neighborhoods, and friends to EAT & DRINK with them... all for the sake of their redemption!
Now that is a missional strategy our church can adopt! Church family, let's be busy continually calling people to follow Christ, lets step into the lives of those who need Christ by sharing meals with them... in our homes and in theirs. A shared meal is common and level ground. Sharing a meal says: "you matter to me." A shared meal offers opportunity for the community of faith to be a part of the broader community for the sake of their salvation. It gives opportunity for relationship, grace giving, prayer, care and more...
What better time of the year to share a meal and the love of Christ with friends, neighbors, coworkers and family than the coming holiday season. Church family, let's be busy the next few months intentionally sharing our table with friends, family, neighbors and co-workers for the sake of their salvation.
Many in our city scoff at the idea that a Christian would celebrate Mardi Gras. We think that is a screwed perspective on the missionary life of the believer. If every Christ-follower is truly called to live the missionary life then we must go where the people go, serve where the people are, make friends at the events people attend.
At our church we love and enjoy the tradition of celebration in our city! Everyone in our city knows that the vast majority of the Mardi Gras festivities can be enjoyed with family, friends, kids and with the Church! So grab your kids, meetup with other church friends and get in on the celebration... catch beads, scream "throw me somethin mister!," laugh, eat, drink and do so in a way that shows you belong to Jesus.
Be intentional during this time. We want to encourage our church to go to parades together, to enjoy our city together and to invite friends, co-workers, classmates, neighbors and family to come along for the fun. What a great time to build new friendships, to introduce people you know to others in the church and to invite people to worship with us or join you at your next small group meeting or fellowship. Invite everybody, including your new friends, back to your house afterward to hang out, for a cookout or just go out to eat!
Church, lets celebrate Mardi Gras together and redeem the experience as we work to show the joy of Jesus and connect with people who need Christ in this city we love so much.