City of Refuge Fellowship

Building Bridges Through Prayer

  • Bible Study: I Peter 1:6-9 The Tools of Endurance

    November 17, 2017

    Our verses tonight begin to show us something of a pathway to endurance. Let’s recall that Peter is writing to the suffering, to the elect pilgrims, those chosen to be loved by God and chosen to be scattered for the gospel. His desire is to build endurance for and offer comfort in their suffering. The first words of verse 6 connect back to the theme of verse 5, Peter addresses the reality they are facing by putting their attention on their reason for rejoicing and reminding them that they also have something worth remembering. I believe these verses begin to show us that two of the tools of endurance are rejoicing and remembering, but the key is the focus of those tools, why do we rejoice and what should we remember?

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  • Bible Study: I Peter 1:3-5 “Inheritance”

    November 3, 2017

    Peter was writing to a people in an unstable world, they found themselves facing persecution, displacement and even death. His encouragement was not to tell them that things would be okay, that the trouble would pass or even to command them to make the world they lived in better. Peter, who had already established the identity of his friends as elected by God and strangers on earth, turned their attention from the temporary to the eternal, he pointed them to the “inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade”, he reminded them that they had experienced a “new birth” and so, God was their Father and He was currently and would always shield them with His power. Tonight we will focus on how to live securely in our inheritance in an increasingly insecure world.

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  • Bible Study: I Peter 1:1-2 “Pilgrims”

    October 20, 2017

    Peter opens his letter by describing his readers as “the elect sojourners of the dispersion”. This is a dual description of a singular people. In two words, “elect sojourners”, Peter establishes where they stand with God (chosen) and their place in the world (pilgrims). Tonight we will concentrate on what it means to be a pilgrim, sojourner, exile and stranger in the world we live in and the fact that those who are in Christ have not only been chosen for salvation, we have also been chosen to be pilgrims. God draws us close to Himself so that He can then scatter us to the world.

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  • Blog Post: Abie Kulynych “Useful or Valuable?”

    October 12, 2017

    Is there a difference between being useful and being valuable? Does one bleed into the other? If our value is tied to our use then do we stop being valuable when we cease being useful? I’ve been thinking about these questions a lot for the last few days because the comparison and contrast of the words “useful” and “valuable” keep coming up around me. It started Saturday, at the men’s group I’m part of, was mentioned again on Sunday at church, then in a conversation with a friend yesterday he mentioned how much it means to him to be/feel useful, and then today as I was praying for a different friend I found myself asking God that He would convince her of her value apart from her use. In our Christian culture that drives toward purpose and craves destiny, I fear that we have lost the fact that we are deeply desired even though we may be largely unnecessary.

    On at least two occasions Jesus went out of His way to express that humanity, each individual, has great value to God. In Mathew 6, when Jesus was teaching how to resist worry and anxiety, He said “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” In Matthew 10 (very similar statements are made in Luke 12), Jesus was preparing the apostles for the persecution they may face as He sent them out, in teaching them how to overcome fear He said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” There are not any passages that I’m familiar with in which Jesus tells anyone that they are needed or useful. He told the apostles they would be used, told Ananias that Saul of Tarsus had been chosen, but nowhere do we see Jesus saying that anyone’s worth is tied to their purpose. We are not valuable because of what we bring to the table, our value is found in the One who brought us to His table.

    What I find most interesting about the passages above is that Jesus combats two of our greatest enemies by declaring our value. Is there anything that we fight against more than fear or anxiety? We live in a culture that is afflicted by fear and anxiety in epidemic proportions. I don’t say that in judgment, I battle those afflictions as well, but I say it in hopes that we can see that we might be looking past the greatest medicine for our disease. Jesus said, “Do not worry . . . you are much more valuable . . .” and “Don’t be afraid . . . you are worth more . . .” Could it be that many of our struggles with fear and anxiety are magnified by our lack of understanding of our value? Is it possible that our effort to prove ourselves useful is keeping us bound rather than setting us free? Have purpose and destiny become our spiritual quicksand, the more we work to show our worth the more trapped we get in the need to be useful to God? What if our greatest use in the kingdom is not work we do or talent we display, but confidence we have, that God has chosen to love me, not because I’m lovable or useful but because He is loving and generous?

    In Matthew 3, when Jesus was baptized, before He began His ministry of miracles and redemption, the Father spoke from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” God’s love for and pleasure in Jesus was not found in performance, accomplishment, usefulness or even obedience, the Father’s love for the Son was found in His own character. What if all of Jesus’ obedience was forged in being loved? I know this is a difficult topic for us, Jesus was completely divine so we get nervous when we talk about His humanity. But Jesus had to choose obedience just as we must, Hebrews 5:8 says “He learned obedience from what He suffered”. If Jesus was truly tempted on all counts as we are, then, also being fully human, He was capable of sinning but overcame temptation, defeated fear and anxiety and was “without sin”. How did He do it? How did Jesus overcome temptation, not give in to worry and not protect Himself when He was afraid?

    In John 5, the first time Jesus faced persecution and the death threats of the religious leaders, He said, “the Father loves the Son”. As a teacher, I can tell you that it is a rare thing for me to be sharing something with others that I’m not also speaking to myself. Have we ever considered that when Jesus was announcing the love of the Father to the scribes and Pharisees that He was also reminding Himself? Jesus knew His value and the Father was carful and kind to remind Him. When Jesus appeared to be at His most weary during His life on earth, the Father led Him to take Peter, James and John and go to a mountain apart from everyone else. When they arrived, Matthew 17 and Mark 9 say that Jesus was transfigured, for a few moments, His divinity shown through His humanity, His face shined like the sun and His clothing became “dazzling” white. Elijah and Moses came from paradise to visit with and encourage Jesus and then again, the Father spoke from heaven, “This is My Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!” I contend that Jesus’ obedience can largely be attributed to His confidence in the love of the Father. He obeyed, followed and trusted not to be loved, but because He was already convinced of love.

    Usefulness is an effort to be needed, value is a confidence in being wanted. I do not want to speak lightly of the tragedy and treachery that our nation has both endured and perpetrated, but slaves are useful, sons are valuable. Slaves and servants do what they are told and when they stop doing what they have been told they are removed and replaced. Sons have use but their usefulness does not compare to their value. Jesus told us the parable of the man with two sons in Luke 15. One son lived with and worked for his father his entire life, the other son, asked for his inheritance, went away and wasted it on his selfish desires. When the wasteful son ran out of everything and “came to his senses”, Jesus said “he remembered his father’s house”. Sometimes we run through this story so quickly that we miss the fact that the young man remembering his father’s house means he remembered his father. He was not thinking of the furniture and comfort, the meals and the servants, he was thinking of his father’s character; the love that he had been given, the patience his father had showed, the generosity that he had abused. Yes, he was hungry, cold and poor, but what he was remembering was that he was loved, enjoyed and valued. This story is not about a young man that reaches the end of his rope, it’s about a father whose rope has no end. There was nothing useful about the young many any longer, he was less useful than a servant and yet when he got within eyesight, the father leaped from his home, ran to him, hugged him, kissed him, wept on his neck and told his useful servants, “my son has come home”. The last side note in this story, fathers determine the depth of relationships, not children. This son rejected his father, his request for inheritance was a declaration that his father was more useful to him dead than alive, he wasted their money, sullied their name and yet, when he returned, the father contended that this young man had always been and would always be his son, because his value was established by the father’s character, not the boy’s usefulness.

    I honestly am not sure how useful I am many days. I do not say that for sympathy but in honesty. We talk often about the fact that God loves us the same on our worst day as He does on our best day. What I’m praying I can come to live in is the truth that I’m as valuable on my useless days as I am on my useful days, that God is not a taskmaster or even a business owner, He is a Father and while there is work to be done and there are commands to obey, I do those because He values me, not to show Him that I’m valuable. The thing that must flow from knowing our value is seeing the value in others. Jesus was not only comforted by being loved by the Father; He was compelled to show and give that same love to others. I pray today that we know our value in God’s heart and that we will see the value He has placed in those around us. May the Body of Christ cease the celebration of the useful and begin to emulate the God who says to and of everyone, “you are more valuable than many sparrows”.

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  • Bible Study: I Peter 1:1 “Introduction”

    October 7, 2017

    This past Wednesday night we began our study of I Peter. This is a letter of encouragement, written to the suffering, to strengthen their hearts with constant reminders of Christ’s return. I Peter is different than most of the pastoral letters in that it was not written to address any misconduct or theological errors, it was solely for the purpose of strengthening the weary with reminders of Who they belonged to and where they belonged. Izaak Walton has described the letter as “affectionate, loving, lowly and humble”. These are not adjectives that we often associate with Peter, but in this letter, the influence of Jesus as His Shepherd shines through as he shepherds others.

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  • Bible Study: Philippians 4:14-23 “From Blessing to Blessing” 

    September 7, 2017

    Tonight, we will close out our study of the book of Philippians. This letter between friends began with a prayer for grace and peace and ends with a blessing of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul started and ended with prayer, thanksgiving and blessing, which shows us that everything in between flowed from and for his love for them and partnership with them. Paul had two great loves, the Lord Jesus and the gospel that turned sinners to saints and so all his love for others was from Jesus and for Jesus and all his friendships were about bringing glory to Jesus and leading others to Jesus. In John 13:35 Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” Discipleship is about following Jesus, about serving Him, proclaiming Him and becoming like Him but we cannot miss the fact that discipleship is also about friendship with the other disciples. Our greatest witness of Jesus to the world around us is our relationships with each other within the singular, universal Body of Christ. Christian friendship is always built on two things, bringing glory to Jesus so that He can lead men to redemption. Our friendships with each other are not about our needs, our desires, our preferences or our things in common, our friendships are from Jesus, they are through Jesus and they are for Jesus. As we finish our study of Philippians we read through Paul’s conclusion, his gratitude for his friends and their gifts to him and his gift to them, the blessing of placing God’s character over their lives. I pray that we will see tonight, as we close out, that when friendship is built on prayer, thanksgiving and blessing it creates refuge, safety and trust for rebuke, correction and instruction.

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  • Blog Post: Jonathan Cornelius “Dealing with Misconceptions Can Help Remedy Racial Tension”

    August 28, 2017

    This month Jonathan Cornelius, who is part of our City of Refuge family, shares his heart with us in his blog post titled “Dealing with Misconceptions Can Help Remedy Racial Tension”

    One of the main reasons I love my time at CORF is that many of the popular misconceptions that we take for granted about who God is, what the Word says, and who we are both without and in Christ are dispelled and replaced by what the Word of God actually says. It is honestly an answer to prayer that I have been praying for some time now; For God to remove all the misconceptions I have about who He is and what He has said in His word.

    One such major misconception that I know must be addressed is that of Christianity being a “white man’s religion”. In a time like this, the temptation to just skip the glorifying of Christ and go straight to those causes is ever so present. And I see a lot of friends and family members falling to that temptation. People who love God, who bypass the cross of Christ to address these issues in their own strength. Or worse, use God as a tool to achieve their own talking points. The cause becomes their “god”, their life, their all. Hence the pan-African, black conscious, or Hebrew Israelite movements. Now we know Jesus of Nazareth was not white. He and His disciples were first century Middle Eastern Jews. The vast majority of the events the Bible tells us about take place in the Middle East and North Africa. From the specific naming of the third and fourth rivers that surrounded the garden of Eden in Genesis 2:14, (the Tigris and Euphrates rivers) to building of city-states like Babel and Nineveh in Genesis 10:1. From the calling of Abraham and Sarah from the Ur of the Chaldees, which is in modern day Iraq, to the calling of Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt to claim the promise land. The multiple uses of the Babylonian and Assyrian empires to bring discipline to Israel, the rescuing of the Jews from extermination in Persia (Iran) by Queen Esther. On and on it goes, and those are just some examples from the Old Testament.

    What about in the New Testament? Well Jesus’ ministry, along with the birth of the church was in Israel. We already know this. But for some reason, when talking about church history, we tend to start from the time of the protestant reformation and move forward from there, which inadvertently ignores an enormous amount of church history and contributions from the 1st century Middle Eastern and North African churches. With all that history relatively unknown and ignored by the majority of even church goers, it easily becomes a tool for the adversary to use to create division and unnecessary stumbling blocks to those in the church. I hear from some of my fellow African Americans that it is hard to constantly believe in something they don’t see themselves in. Many, especially young blacks, are leaving the church and being caught up in the accusations that Christianity is just the white man’s religion, that Jesus is the white man’s God and there is no place for blacks in the white man’s church. Messengers of these lies point to the pasty white pictures of Jesus and the apostles as evidence of their slander. They point to the mistreatment of African Americans through the slave trade and the days of Jim Crow. They point to police brutality, systematic racism, the corrupt justice system and anything else to support the separation of blacks from Christianity. They even point to Scripture, completely out of context of course, to convey something as ludicrous as Jesus being a black Messiah for only black people.

    Any points of racial discord is used to divide and the enemy of our souls is creeping in with a false answer of black supremacy as a pseudo-salvation. All of this may be unknown to the majority of evangelical churches today, but it is happening and gaining steam; especially in the inner cities of our urban communities. It is a major stumbling block for some mainly because these issues that I listed are not normally spoken of in churches. Silence on these issues have allowed these misconceptions to fester. Young black men and women are being sucked up into this. There are many streams of it: Pan-Africanism, black consciousness, five-percenters, Black Hebrew Israelite movement, etc. There is much online content that is popular. They even have rap music dating back from the early 90’s exerting their ideologies.

    I write only to bring awareness that this is taking place, but also to encourage us to do better to point out the biblical historical credit to where it all started, the Middle East and North Africa. Christianity has Middle Eastern and North African roots. Blacks did not first become followers of Christ due to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Before America or classical western civilization even existed, Christianity was well established in those regions. A quick look at early church history would dispel any of those false notions. The Coptic Christians of Egypt trace their founding to John Mark, author of the Gospel of Mark. Ethiopian Orthodox Church traditions trace their initial exposure to the Gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch who was spoken of in Acts 8:26-40 along with other Ethiopians who were present at Pentecost. Augustine of Hippo who is known as one of the most influential Christian theologians and philosophers, famous for his writings such as “City of God” and “Confessions”, was a fourth century Algerian African bishop. That is just a handful of examples.

    So, for what it’s worth, here are some solutions I try to keep in mind when dealing with these issues. 1) Let’s be ahead of the game. Let’s have these tough conversations, we have to be intentional in listening and boldly pointing out that the evil of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was wrongly done in the name of Christ. This false narrative is a very popular tool used to persuade those who are not armed with the truth. And it is easily refutable. 2) We must point out that the Gospel heavily influenced the Abolitionist and Civil Rights movements, along with the heroes of those movements. Both movements were birthed in the church. 3) Most importantly, we must stress that the love of Christ has no boundaries. We need the type of change that only the Gospel of Christ can bring. It’s hard to deal with any external issue without the internal issues being addressed.

    The Gospel changes from the inside out. His grace is available to those of every nation, every tribe, every people, and every language. As it is written: “After this I looked and saw a multitude too large to count, from every nation and tribe and people and tongue, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” Rev 7:9-10 And yes, historic and grievous evil has been done inaccurately in the name of God. Against all instincts to exact punishment ourselves, vengeance is The Lord’s. They will have their reward in full for God is not mocked. Until then, we have souls to win and falsehoods to tear down. And fortunately for us, God has supplied us with the truth of the Gospel of Christ in His word which overwhelmingly does both! The gate of hell will not prevail!

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  • Bible Study: Philippians 4:10-13 “All Things”

    August 16, 2017

    Tonight, we begin to dive into Paul’s conclusion of his letter to his friends in Philippi. To do so we are going to have to look back at the beginning of the letter a few times so that we can really grab hold of the end. As Paul wraps the letter up he thanks his friends for the generous gifts that they had sent to him, but in the middle of thanking them he wants them to understand something, his joy is not over what they sent or how badly he needed it, his joy is squarely on the One he trusts when he has everything he needs and when it seems he has nothing at all. He doesn’t rejoice in his friends or in their gifts, Paul rejoices in the Lord. He is content because in Christ He is complete. 

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  • Bible Study: Philippians 4:8-9 “A New Way of Thinking”

    July 27, 2017

    I’m not sure how or why it happened, but for some reason, these two verses have largely been cut off from the context in which they were first written and have become some sort of personal roadmap to Christian positive thinking. Tonight, as we discuss this passage I want us to know from the beginning that Paul is absolutely not endorsing or teaching the power of positive thinking. Rather Paul is, making his final call to unity, humility and reconciliation within the church in Philippi. He is still speaking to Euodia and Syntyche, he’s still speaking to the “trusted companion” or “loyal yokefellow” that he has implored to “help these women” and he’s still speaking to the entire congregation. This is not simply the closing thoughts of his letter, they are the summation of his call to conflict resolution and unity. Paul is not unaware that we often have no control over the fleeting thoughts that come and go but he is teaching that we have the power to determine which thoughts we entertain, dwell on and act from. This decision, what we meditate and dwell on, largely determines the health of our relationships and our consistent awareness of God’s constant presence. We believe that God is always with us, Jesus said “I am with you always even to the end of the age.” Moses told Joshua that God “would never leave you nor forsake you” and then Hebrews 13:5 makes that promise to Joshua a promise that has been extended to all of us. God is always with us and yet we are often unaware or unsure of God’s presence, I believe that Paul is revealing that the disconnect between what God says is true and what we believe in the moment is found in which “things” we choose to “think on”. 

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  • Bible Study: Philippians 4:4-7 “The Path to Conflict Resolution: Rejoice, Be Gentle, Pray with Thanksgiving”

    July 13, 2017

    Our last time together we discussed the need for corporate conflict resolution. Paul called the entire church to help two women that were in conflict because within the Body of Christ conflict among us affects all of us, as I Corinthians 12:26 says “if one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it.” Tonight’s text, unfortunately is usually read stand alone, with no context of how it fits in the letter to the Philippian church. I want us to take the time tonight to see not just what it says but how it fits, how it would have been heard by the original readers and then we can hear and apply it to our context. I don’t believe Paul was done addressing the conflict in Philippi, I don’t believe that he simply called for the church to “help these women”, gave no instruction of what help would look like and then moved on to some closing bullet points. If we look closely and carefully I believe we will see that these verses we read tonight were Paul’s explanation of what “help” to those in conflict looks like. The call to rejoice, be gentle, pray and give thanks was not just Paul’s concluding thoughts that he threw in at the end, this is how conflict in the church can be ministered to when it appears and avoided before it arises. Tonight, I pray that we will see that when we choose joy, gentleness and prayer, that peace isn’t simply a feeling given to us by God, it flows from within us. I pray that we will see that the peace that passes understanding is as much chosen as it is given.

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