Tates Creek Christian Church

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Archive for the tag “Brad Haggard”

One Nation, United

“For we are God’s creation, founded in Christ upon good works which God preordained, so that we might walk in them.”
Ephesians 2:10

The biggest question that middle and high school students face is finding out where they fit in. The pull to find one’s identity drives students to seek out community in a number of communities before they can finally settle and be comfortable in their own skin. The amazing part of it all is that students, in finding their identity, typically aren’t comfortable with themselves until their peer group can define it for them.
So each group vies for popularity and relevance within the school. Cliques justify why they are the real “good” people over and above other cliques. Peer pressure, that is the pressure to find one’s identity in a clique, is what drives students to bad decisions, gossip, dissension, and even violence. We accept this as “the way things are” because this isn’t an isolated force. This is a force that dominates our society as a whole.
But Paul’s voice breaks in to our broken family and tells us that it is not to be so with us. God declared before creation that Christ would suffer, die, and be resurrected so that “the two would be formed into one humanity, making peace” (Ephesians 2:15b). Peace is attained in Christ through his work. None of us can claim moral superiority because none of us completed the works that Christ did on our behalf.
So when our students are walking through the halls of their schools, their call is to walk in peace! Christ showed us the way of peace and unity by suffering, dying, and being resurrected by God’s hand. Christ’s work is bigger than the insecurities we harbor. Christ’s work is bigger than the divisions we create. Christ’s work is bigger than racism, prejudice, stereotypes, dissension, and violence.
As our students return to school, please pray for God to strengthen them through his Spirit. Specifically, pray for them to have wisdom as they live out the peace and unity God offers us in Christ. If we harbor any division or prejudice in ourselves, let us ask God for mercy and lay those prejudices at the foot of the Cross!

Brad Haggard

Perfect Love

“In this we have seen love, that Jesus laid down his life for us, so we owe it to lay down our lives for our brothers.”  – 1 John 3:16

John makes a very simple comparison between the love Jesus showed for us and the type of love we are called to show for others.  It is simple to understand yet agonizing in its all encompassing call on our lives.  Jesus gave up his desires, his comforts, his reputation, his family, and ultimately his life.  Perhaps the simplicity of the call is what chafes us as disciples, because we struggle to find loopholes and avenues around the call to lay down our lives.
Anticipating this, John clarifies his meaning in the following verses.  In verse 17 he talks about our obligation to help other Christians we see in need.  If we consistently close our heart to other Christians who are in need, then how can we say in any meaningful sense that we have the love of God in us?  Our love, in verse 18, should not be mere lip service, but should be consist of “sincere deeds”.  Jesus’ love for us was an active love, so if we practice a passive love toward others, then there is no real comparison between our love and Jesus’.
There is no room in this command for qualifications or stipulations.  Jesus’ entire focus here on Earth was to seek the good of those around him, even if it meant that he would suffer and die as a sacrifice to reconcile Earth with Heaven.  In like manner, John calls us to consistently regard other Christians’ needs before we consider our own.  We don’t increase our love by being fed, but rather by feeding others.
If this is the manner in which we are to love, Jesus places a further call on us that stretches us to our limits.  In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus takes clear aim at the addition to the command to love your neighbor in Leviticus 19:18.  It was said at the time that love for your neighbor was good but also that hate for enemies was permitted.  Now this is an easy out for someone wanting to restrict the scope of their love.  They are only required to show love to their “neighbors”, those who show them love first.
In contrast, Jesus commands us to love like the Father, showing love for both neighbor and enemy.  He then returns to Leviticus 19:2 to counter the teaching by reminding us that we are to be “perfect” just like the Father.  Upon hearing these words we push back, “How can anyone be perfect like God?”
To illustrate this, our middle school group was challenged to draw a
perfect circle.  Their immediate reaction was to remind me, forcefully, that it was impossible. But after drawing their imperfect circles, they were asked to imagine all the people in their life that were represented in the circle. Each student drew a line through the circle to illustrate the proportion of “neighbors” versus “enemies” in their lives.  No one had a majority of enemies, but everyone had a set of enemies.
So how could they make the circle perfect?  By loving not only their neighbors, but their enemies as well.  The word translated “perfect” carries with it the idea of completion, and that makes good sense of the scope of the Father’s love for us.  It is complete.  It is universal.
Isn’t imperfect love what ultimately ails us?  How easy is it to exclude people from our love through any number of categories?  Can we show love for people across the political spectrum?  Can we show love for people of different races or ethnicities?  Can we show love for people with whom we disagree?  Can we show love for people that have hurt us or taken advantage of us?  If we can’t, then we are not showing love like the Father practiced with us.
So ultimately, the concept is not beyond us.  Love is active and comprehensive.  But in order to practice this kind of love we must resolve everyday to do right by the others around us.  Perfect love has no room for selfishness, envy, or callous disregard of others.  And all praise goes to Jesus because He chose to lay down his life so that we wouldn’t perish, but have eternal life!

Brad Haggard

Summer Camps

Summer is here and that means it is camp season! It’s not an understatement to say that weeks of camp are one of the most important weeks of the year for a student’s spiritual growth. Life changing decisions occur in these weeks. In fact, if it weren’t for weeks of camp, I likely wouldn’t be in the ministry!
The middle school is going to MIX, a program provided by Christ In Youth, for the first time this year. The camp is held on the campus of Johnson University, June 20-23, and involves lots of big group games, worship, teaching, and plenty of small group time to disciple students. There isn’t a better way to place middle school students on the path to discipleship.
The high school will be returning to MOVE, also a Christ in Youth program, in Panama City June 27th-July 2nd. Last year, the week was highlighted by baptisms and commitments to ministry from our group! We have a record group going with us this year and I’m anxious to see how the Spirit raises up leaders within our group and calls more students to Kingdom Work.
Please be in prayer for our students as we travel to these events. Pray for safety and for the Spirit to challenge each of them to a closer walk with Jesus!

Brad Haggard

The Power of Faith

“Just stay positive!” Students today are bombarded with this message as they struggle through life to find meaning and significance. In a time when typical supports have been lifted, such as family, community, and even faith, many students do not know where to turn to find the emotional strength to excel. Positive thinking, merely imagining success in life, is the only resource many students have left. Most students see this as the false hope that it is, however.
But we, in the Church, are guilty of this as well. It is too easy to comfort someone hurting by telling them to “just believe” and things will work out for the best. Popular Christian thought seems to treat belief as some sort of magic that has the power to make our fantasies of health and wealth reality.
My faith crashes into reality almost immediately upon visiting someone sick in the hospital. How can you pray for someone when there is so much uncertainty, even from doctors trying to diagnose the problem? This is the situation that the father of the demon-possessed boy encountered in Mark 9:14-29. Jesus’ own disciples couldn’t help him, and the father knew it was only a matter of time before the boy’s fits would eventually take his life.
When Jesus comes down from the mountain into the scrum between his disciples and official scribes, the father had seen all of his options fail. Neither side had a ritual to perform, an incantation to chant, or even an answer. His petition to Jesus comes from his despair, “If you are able, have compassion on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22) Jesus is frustrated by the lack of trust that the entire crowd has in him and corrects the father “What do you mean, ‘If you are able’? Everything is possible for the one who believes.”
(Mark 9:23)
Jesus claims this for good reason. Just before this He had revealed his glory to Peter, James, and John on the mountaintop (9:2-8). Jesus knew that He had the power to heal, so the only barrier to action was the trust that the father put in him. When the father cried out in distress for mercy, Jesus showed it and healed the boy, even in the face of lingering doubts.
It isn’t that our faith has any power in itself to change, which would be worse than magic. Rather, in the face of all our difficulties we put our faith in Jesus, who suffered death (9:30-32), and is now glorified. We don’t have powerful faith, we have a powerful Savior and Lord!

Brad Haggard

The Turning Point

How eager are you to try new food? Last month, as we continued to work through the Book of Acts in our middle school Sunday School class, we came across the story of Peter’s vision of unclean animals that God had now declared clean in chapter 10. I had some sushi ready for the students to try, and many of them had the reaction I expected, shock and fear. Even though I had picked this up at the local grocery, the unfamiliarity with the food caused students to run for the trash can as soon as I opened the box.
But Peter’s revulsion to unclean food wasn’t hindering the spread of the Gospel, it was his aversion to meet with people who weren’t from his “tribe”. It took three direct commands from God in the vision in order for Peter to begin to open up his heart and consider other people worthy of the Gospel message. When Peter arrived at the home of Cornelius, a foreign soldier sent to occupy Judea and maintain tax revenues, he let go of all of his prejudice and let the Spirit lead the way.
What happens next is the major turning point in the book of Acts. For the first time, Gentiles hear the message of the Gospel and the Spirit falls upon them just like when the Church was inaugurated at Pentecost. Peter commanded that they be baptized and accepted into the assembly as full members. Even when the Church in Jerusalem whispered that Peter had met with Gentiles, they met his story of the Spirit’s move with joy. From there on out in Acts the Gospel spreads like wildfire throughout the wider world.
We should receive the Spirit’s lead with the same joy because there would be no Tates Creek Christian Church if it wasn’t in God’s heart to connect people from every tribe, tongue, and nation to Jesus. Peter’s example calls us to joyfully swallow our prejudices and cultural fears as we witness to every person about Jesus. How could we not take this call up in light of the salvation God has offered to us?

Brad Haggard

Middle School and High School Update

With the new worship schedule at the first of the year, we are now offering Sunday school for High school and Middle school during both the 9:30 and 11 am worship hours. This is a great time to have your student dive into scripture for themselves. Both groups are working through the book of Acts, and by the end of the school year we will have studied through the entire book. It is always inspiring to see how the Holy Spirit worked with the early Church to spread the message of Jesus.
Our High school group meets every Sunday night from 6-8 pm in the high school room. We have food, games, worship, and high school specific teaching. Our Middle school group meets Wednesday evenings from 6:30-8 pm. We also have food, games, and teaching directed at middle school students. These are times for your student to make friends with other peers in church, which is the most important factor in keeping students involved as they grow up.
Don’t miss the camp weeks this summer! Middle school will go to C.I.Y. MIX June 20-24 at Johnson University. The High school will go to Panama City for C.I.Y. MOVE June 26-July 1. These are very important weeks for your student’s spiritual growth, so keep them set aside!

Brad Haggard

Trusting in God’s Promises

“Just trust me! This will be quick, it won’t hurt, and if you’re brave I’ll take you out for a treat afterward. I promise!”

After weeks of staring at a loose front tooth I pleaded with my daughter to let me take it out. No one likes the thought of someone else messing with their teeth or mouth, and a painful loose tooth experience the last time had put my daughter on edge. But, by this time I was genuinely frustrated with her. That tooth mocked me every time she smiled, and I was determined to get it out. I remembered having my tooth tied to a doorknob as a kid and thought that my daughter had it much easier than I ever did. Would she trust me enough to pluck it out?
Abraham was in a similar situation in Genesis 15. The one blessing that everyone coveted above any other was the ability to pass on their name to the next generation, to know that even after they died their memory would not be lost. For Abraham and Sarah, though, it looked like time had long since passed for them. Abraham was old now and Sarah was past childbearing age. So when God came to Abraham and told him that, contrary to what he expected, he would instead be the father of as many descendants as there are stars in the sky (verse 5), there was only one person who could make that a reality. When Abraham “believed”, in verse 6, he placed his trust in God to realize the promise.
God saw that trust and counted it as “righteousness”. Normally, someone could get to be in right relationship with God by treating others well. Taking care of the orphan and widow, dealing fairly in business, and participating in the community, were the methods to show God that you were a “good” person and that He should pay special attention to you. God is righteous because He treats everyone fairly and cares for the oppressed. Look at Psalm 146, for example. If you want to be on God’s good side, then you need to act like He does.
But God did something different with Abraham. He was able to get on God’s good side because he trusted God enough to follow Him, even when experience went against the promise. When God further promised Abraham that he would receive the land of Canaan as an inheritance, Abraham trusted, even though there was no way that he could verify this.
The rest of chapter 15 shows just how serious God was. The elaborate sacrifice ritual and appearance of a smoking pot and torch mirrored the standard treaty ceremony that formalized relations between two nations. Usually the larger nation would force the weaker to walk through the midst of the sacrificed animals as a warning of what would happen if they broke the terms of the treaty. The relations were dependant on the weaker party following the terms set out by the stronger. So we would expect Abraham to be the one walking through the midst of the animals, but instead God passes through himself.
The promise to Abraham depended on one condition: God’s favor! That’s what grace is. God’s promises extend to everyone who trusts in Him. This is Paul’s point in reflecting on the cross-cultural and multi-ethnic power of the Gospel:
“That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” Romans 4:16 (ESV)
We don’t have to fulfill any conditions in order to participate in this promise: not money, not influence, not race or ethnicity, not even following the terms of the Mosaic Law. It is God that guarantees the promise to us. And when we broke the terms of the treaty, it was Jesus who walked through death in order to restore a new treaty, a new covenant, between God and humankind.
When my daughter composed herself just long enough for me to get my fingers on that tooth it popped right out. Just being close enough was all it took, and we went out to get a treat to celebrate afterward. It was a joy to fulfill my promise to her, and I think God takes his greatest joy in fulfilling His promises to us!

Brad Haggard

No Greater Joy

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
3 John 1:4

I have learned that one of the great joys of parenting happens when one of my daughters does the right thing without any prompting. When they show kindness to each other, reach out to friends, give their best effort in school, or lift up their heart in worship, it wells up a pride in me that I didn’t know I had. It makes it easier to sacrifice and discipline when you are able to see it take root. I suspect that pride will only grow as they grow in Christ.

As a youth minister, I get to see this all the time. When students who have considered baptism for years finally make the decision on their own to commit to Jesus and walk through the waters, it not only encourages their parents, but it lifts up all the students in the group. Further on, it’s amazing to see students grow into leaders throughout their time in the ministry. When seniors graduate and you can be confident they will be Christian leaders for the rest of their lives, there isn’t much that could bring more joy to a youth minister.

So, let’s make that our commitment as a church, to see that our children will walk in the truth. It is not a small sacrifice, nor is it a steady road, but my prayer for us as a church this year would be that we would find our joy in leading people to the truth. No matter what trials and uncertainty the next year brings, we can know, as a church, that we will find no greater joy as a family than to welcome in new children.

Brad Haggard

Home for Christmas

Our high school fall retreat this year was a joint retreat with three other churches.  Typically we only go with our group, but I have become convicted that unity means we need to share space and energy with other people and churches.  So, we went along with Southside Church of Christ, Southern Acres Christian Church, and Centerpointe Christian Church.  The most amazing thing was that, rather than being a time where groups clashed and competed with each other for territory, the students quickly gelled.  In fact, our students on the trip said that it was the best retreat they had attended precisely because they got to meet students from other groups!
One of the main draws for Christmas is the time we get to spend with family.  Going home, settling in, and feeling whole with the people that have formed us, is the joy that we have during the Christmas season.  This is what is offered to the world in Jesus’ birth.  Through Jesus we all have a brother who is not ashamed to call us family (Hebrews 2:11-12).  So in a real sense, every church service is a homecoming for us, and we await the ultimate fulfillment of the present offered to us.
This family also extends across racial and ethnic lines (Galatians 3:26-29).  One of the other great joys our students get, is working with Russell Cave Church of Christ to put together Thanksgiving boxes for families in need in the Winburn community.  The feeling that comes with encountering someone who is different, and then finding joy in that difference is what really changes our hearts.
So this Christmas, let’s not just find “home” and “comfort” with those who are close to us, but let’s extend that hospitality to someone who isn’t like us.  That is precisely what God did for us in giving us Jesus.

~ Brad Haggard

It’s Personal

The most difficult truth to accept about sin is that sin isn’t some alien force that works against our true selves, but it is part of who we are. It may seem comforting to think that “sin” separates us from God, but sin has no substance of its own. Rather, each one of us has chosen to offend God and hide away rather than face the consequences.

The story of the Fall in Genesis 3 is sometimes too familiar to us and we skip over important details. We typically think that something mysterious and metaphysical happened the moment that Adam and Eve ate from the Tree, but it’s actually something mundane that changed in their relationship to God. In verse 8 the couple hears God from afar as He was enjoying an evening stroll through the garden. Rather than an abstract notion of “sin” causing the separation between humanity and God, it was Adam and Eve who hid themselves and separated themselves from God!

In teaching calls this is an important point to make for teenagers, because their first response, when they have disobeyed their parents, is to try to hide the offense. It’s nothing that the parent has done or anything inherent in the disobedience. The children themselves choose to hide parts of their lives away from the very people who are protecting them and providing.

It isn’t “sin” that separates us from God. We separate ourselves from our Creator because we want it that way. I don’t think we can ever comprehend the depth of our offense until we acknowledge that truth.

But if the offense is personal, then the solution is personal as well!
There are two words used to talk of forgiveness in the New Testament.
1 John 1:9 gives one of those words, and the idea is a “release” of offense. God will not hold a grudge against us if we confess our sins to Him. The other idea is found in Colossians 2:13. In this verse, God graciously grants us pardon, merely because we are united with his Son. It is purely God’s prerogative, and He takes it personally.

God forgives our sin because He wants to!

Brad Haggard

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