NEW CROSS CONNECTION
June 23, 2017
“This Always Happens”
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
As I got ready to board the airplane yesterday morning, I watched as a lady approached the carry on sizing box and I know she was hopeful, but nonetheless she proclaimed, “this always happens.” Her bag, that one item of validation that is the litmus test for any seasoned traveler, had failed! It was too big and who would have known? With zippers ready to burst, the contents so compacted that they were making bulges where bulges should not be on luggage I thought why even try. Done, failed piece of junk, to the underbelly of the plane you go.
The thought occurred to me, isn’t that a wonderful word picture for all of us in our faith walk, if not always, most certainly from time to time? Might there be instances when we “over dress” as it applies to our faith, our servitude and obedience to God? Many good things happen on a very frequent basis that honor God and celebrate Jesus Christ, in sprit and love. But at the same time there are those times when we just have to let people know, I mean, why work if you don’t get credit for it? And that is just the opposite of what the Scriptures tell us to do. We don’t need kudos, back slaps and high fives each time we serve for Christ. What we are called to do is simply be the hands and feet of our Lord and Savior, not take a curtain call on His behalf. But then there are those times when we bring our travel bags, our “faith luggage” full of, well actually, full of ourselves. The bag then is too big, it won’t fit, no matter how many times we try. And each time we think, “this always happens!” We do not need to self promote all that we do for God, either individually or on behalf of our church, yet we do, and we do it often. The Scriptures remind us to be that person that exudes love, the believer who gives of themself before others and that Christian who works hard to be who we are called to be. The overflowing bag of accomplishments and self serving proclamations, cannot compare to the gift of presence, an act of kindness or the ability to forgive and extend grace.
Be encouraged, clothe yourselves with compassion, be happy in your humility and uplifted in gentleness doing the Lord’s work. Don’t pack so much that what you are carrying won’t be accepted. Your faith luggage should be neatly packed with selfless testimonies, not encumbered and bloated by selfish faith trophies.
June 5, 2017
We Are Not Out, So Don’t Quit
A wonderful source of encouragement comes from the words of Paul found in Hebrews 12:1-13. Again, I encourage you to visit that verse and feel emboldened by its content. Too often today, we are reminded time and again of how broken we are, sometimes to the point of making us wonder why we should even try to follow Christ. From the pastors pointy finger, to the stern glances from those who believe they already "walk on water" discouragement runs rampant in this world. Don't do that, you can't say this, you will never accomplish, it's enough to make one scream. Sadly it's also enough to make some give up, walk away and turn from the love and grace that is only found in God.
When you have listened to how fallen you are as one of God's children, be renewed by the words in this piece of scripture. Reach out, grab it and like a life ring floating in the ocean of life, hang on understanding only God's Word matters, nothing else.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sun that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us..."
Let your perceived failures go and let God.
We are not "out of the game, our Coach is saying, do not quit!
May 3, 2017
Do You Wipe Your Feet On The Mat, Or?
Luke 5:17-39 tells the beautiful story of Jesus, Pharisees, friends and the less fortunate, with ramifications as if it were written today. It is a lesson in strength, faith and perseverance, with word pictures so vibrant, we are forced to draw comparisons. Jesus is holding a “town hall meeting” with all invited, but all the good seats are taken by the Pharisees, the well to do and the powerful. A lone individual, resigned to life, his life, on a mat, can neither get into the gathering, nor would he be welcome by the very same people who had just walked by him to see Jesus.
And yet, we read of those, who stopped, who gathered the man up on his mat, who climbed on a roof and physically opened a hole, so they might lower this man into the very presence of Christ. It’s not just a hole, it’s not just finding ropes long enough, having the strength physically to lower the man and not drop him or the fear of repercussions. What we are reading about is the fact that because of the actions of a few faithful, selfless men, another received the benefits of an encounter with Jesus Christ. In that day, being resigned to life on a three by four piece of woven palm branches, was anything but pleasant. You lay in your own filth, you ate what was given, if anything and you hoped for a drink of water if someone would just take the time to deliver it. Your circumstances were often not your own and society at that time did nothing for you, “God must be punishing you.”
Many of us have gone to great lengths to help the less fortunate, some of us have even lived on a “mat” from time to time in our lives. But the lesson and question here is what have you done, to help someone see and know the person of Jesus Christ? That is our challenge and the lesson from four “friends” 2000 years ago, speaks clearly to all of us today. Given those we have been called to serve, are you more inclined to get a front seat at the next ‘town hall meeting” or will you and others you influence, set out in search of ropes and the means to bring someone on a “mat” to know the love of our Savior.
17 On one of the days while Jesus was teaching, some proud religious law-keepers and teachers of the Law were sitting by Him. They had come from every town in the countries of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. The power of the Lord was there to heal them. 18 Some men took a man who was not able to move his body to Jesus. He was carried on a bed. They looked for a way to take the man into the house where Jesus was. 19 But they could not find a way to take him in because of so many people. They made a hole in the roof over where Jesus stood. Then they let the bed with the sick man on it down before Jesus. 20 When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the man, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
21 The teachers of the Law and the proud religious law-keepers thought to themselves, “Who is this Man Who speaks as if He is God? Who can forgive sins but God only?” 22 Jesus knew what they were thinking. He said to them, “Why do you think this way in your hearts? 23 Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or, ‘Get up and walk’?
24 “So that you may know the Son of Man has the right and the power on earth to forgive sins,” He said to the man who could not move his body, “I say to you, get up. Take your bed and go to your home.” 25 At once the sick man got up in front of them. He took his bed and went to his home thanking God. 26 All those who were there were surprised and gave thanks to God, saying, “We have seen very special things today.”
April 15, 2017 Good Friday
On Ash Wednesday, the friends and fellowship of New Cross Connection opted for something different than ashes on our foreheads; instead we went to little black polished rocks. (Not in our head, just in case that is what you were thinking) Ashes are a wonderful traditional means of expressing repentance and humility in our Christian faith, but we wanted to do something that would last throughout the period of Lent. So we selected a rock and then wrote on it, the one thing we were aware of that was keeping us at a distance from God, the one thing that we might improve on over the course of 46 days. While we acknowledge that there are many “things” that separate us from God, our focus was to be on the one thing that stood out the most. So our rocks were a means of daily if not more frequent, prayer for release and forgiveness from whatever was written on the stone. Needless to say, I had to re-write mine several times as it wore off from constant rubbing and I hope that is true for many of you.
This Sunday, Easter Sunday, we invite you to bring your stone, in whatever capacity, to worship with us at NCC. We are going to lay these at the foot of the cross in our worship service, a means of turning it over to God after prayer and reflection. Our service begins at 9:30 and we look forward to a glorious morning of celebrating the risen Christ and acknowledging the positive impact of knowing we are all forgiven and loved.
Bring your stones, leave your burden at the cross and know that God is Good, All the Time.
March 10, 2017
During these first few weeks of Lent, I wonder how many of us have heard the voices of the naysayers, the dis-couragers who tend to remind us over and over, “forget about it, you can’t do that, you won’t do that!” That may be for any number of reasons, but to those who have been told, or encouraged to “give up” on anything, I want you to repeat, “says who?” Lent, for many is a time to bring some life habits into perspective, an opportunity to draw closer to a faithful walk with the Lord, by setting aside those things that might have been distractions or just bad choices. This is a time, even if for a short while, some stop drinking alcohol, others give up cursing, maybe several have sworn off technology addictions all for the greater good of leaving behind some of the things that hold us back in life.
But it occurred to me that there are many individuals we know, who because they were not encouraged, mentored, encouraged ( did I say that already) they felt defeated. Why would anyone want to attempt something that others, especially friends and family, seem to believe that we are incapable of attaining? This is similar to the Little League child that hears over and over, “oh, why did they hit the ball to him?” or “I knew she was going to strike out, what a loser!” We have all heard that, nobody is immune, especially if you have attended any youth sporting events. And those words and groans impact thousands each year, to the point, they just don’t play any more. Or maybe they don’t sing anymore, because of some overheard comments from the choir members. Each of us is sensitive to criticism and it is often on full display in our faith walk. Jesus spoke about it over and over again, as in the verse about the self-righteous Pharisee (Luke 18:11) who thanked God, he was not like all the other sinners. We sometimes accept that defeatist label when the odds are not in our favor, but we have to remember, as in Joshua 1:9, God is with us, He will not desert us and if God tells us to go, to trust, to make a difference, then we have all that we need. "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Be encouraged that in all you seek to accomplish for the Lord, you have the best mentor and coach possible. Sometimes the goal of being a better Christian seems overwhelming, unattainable and honestly not worth the effort. After all, even our close friends don’t believe we can be in a better place against all the odds of life. Let me close with the verse from Philippians 4:13, relevant to all of us, but especially to those seeking to make changes during Lent, “I can do all things, through Christ who gives me strength.” Stick to it, get through it and know Christ is smiling on each of your efforts, no matter what you or others might think. When someone (even you) says you can’t do something to grow closer to God, ask the question, “says who?"
February 24, 2017
Tents and Temples
I grabbed a sound bite this past week, when a new Christian brother mentioned the value of tents over temples. That caused me to consider not only his point of view, but in addition, other aspects of the faith walk that the comparison evokes. Tents are mobile, nomadic in nature, used to allow movement and intimacy with nature or the desired surroundings. The first mention of tents in the Bible, were references to the Tabernacle, that portable worship center Moses and his people carted around the desert for so many years. It maintained the ability to get up and go, pack up and move, so that is what the chosen people of God did.
David then conjured up the idea that a fixed worship place was better, set literally in stone in the growing city of Jerusalem. A permanent location, adorned with gold and jewels, a holy site people could “come to” or “attend” but that was it. The Temple was not going on the road, so to speak. And that, in and of itself, is what struck me; tents and temples. Jesus challenged us in Matt. 28:19 to, “go and make disciples.” That is one of many verses that spoke to the command to go, do, just the opposite of sit and wait. In my opinion, we do far too much of the latter, we sit and we wait. We hope and we pray, continuously scratching our heads and hiring consultants to figure out, “where is everyone?” In a world full of needs, poverty, sickness and such, why don’t these people come to church? Is it because we are operating out of a modern Temple, a fixed location, full of pomp and circumstance.
What we need to weigh the value of using a tent, large or small, but something that we can “take on the road.” As Christians the only way we can “go into the world” is to move, get out, get dirty and meet the children of God where they are. With a tent that is possible because it is mobile, but also because it is often more similar to the circumstances of those we have come to serve. Our large Temples are places people have to attend or come to, as opposed to our smaller tents, which allow us to serve in mission by going and doing. There is an appeal to the simple, the less ornate, with the word picture of a tent, we can go, we can travel, we can meet those in need in their place, not ours. Jesus traveled hundreds of miles to meet the people, He did not just sit and wait to see who would approach. We need to rethink this… will our large places of worship become meaningless like those ostentatious entities in Europe? Or will our smaller tents really make a difference and address the challenge of Jesus to “go and make disciples?”
The verse from Matthew 9:37-38 reminds us of the importance of tents,
“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
What better way than to abandon the Temple and make use of a tent.
God Is Love
Valentines Day Blog
Valentines Day always reminds me of those anxious days in elementary school, after an evening with my mom making a mail box out of a Kleenex box, “how many Valentines will I get today?” I always wanted to give one to everyone, so they would give one to me, but that didn’t always happen. My box would often be full enough, but now as an adult, I wonder how many might not have shared that experience? I think about the young boy or girl, who for whatever reason, with their decorated box in hand, had only a few, if any “love reminders?” We all know now, that was just a silly children’s thing, first making the box, then filling out all the little cards and then hoping you didn’t forget anyone. But for some, those childhood disappointments, might very well have grown into adult circumstances and sad reflections.
Now the good news is that as we have grown in our faith, as we have seen what a relationship with Christ can do, we tend to focus hopefully on real love, real caring and prayerful interactions that really show the love of Jesus. 1 John 4:16 says, “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them!” Let us remember though, as it was in elementary school, just because we know we are loved, or appreciated, everyone does not get the same messages dropped in their Valentines box. As Christians, let us encourage each other and remind ourselves, if God is love, and we are to love our neighbors, we have a lot of work to do. When we focus on that which is good, on that which is God, then we are able to see clearly that Valentines Day is a means of celebrating the love of Christ. We have that ability, because it is how He sees us, it is how Christ offers grace and how we know the love that comes with forgiveness and spiritual affirmation. Remember 1 John 4:19 as well and wear it on your heart, so that when you pass it on, it too will proclaim, “We love because He first loved us.”
Love you guys,
February 8, 2017
A friend asked me recently, based upon a life circumstance, “why does God allow this to happen?” I interpreted it to mean, if God was a kind and loving God, then why do so many suffer time and again? My answer was as it has always been, I do not believe that God “allows” or “causes” things to happen, as much as free will, nature and life itself often step in to wreck havoc.
But I do believe that God is with us in all circumstances and I am reminded of that in the verse from Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
I might list all the “stuff” that life throws at us, but that would be too depressing. And while there is no-one immune from that which disappoints or causes suffering, we are reassured over and over, that God will be there with us and for us in our time of need and uncertainty. Now, having said that, I spent a good portion of today focused on what was good in my life, in particular that which reminded me of God’s grace. It occurred to me, we live in a society that feeds off of the negative, as we are baited into believing we are worse off for any number of given reasons. If you don’t believe me, look at the magazines as you check out of the grocery store. Listen to the headlines as we are told to “stay tuned, news ALERT” only to find its more of the same ole same ole.
We know and agree that the bad supersedes the good, misery loves company, but let me just say this: God loves company as well!! He should not be the last resort when things seem to be upside down and I assure you, no matter when you call His name, He will answer. The Bible says do not worry, the Bible says to turn “stuff” over to God and I encourage each of us to do that. Once we remove the clutter, once we hand it off to the One who can heal, mend and right wrongs, then we will have a lot more time to count our blessings. Goodness and thankfulness are contagious; unfortunately so is bitterness and distancing ourselves from the One who loves us unconditionally.
James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Have a great week!
December 15, 2016
Focus, Focus, Focus
As Christians, we are all too familiar with the constant reminders that Satan goes out of his way to distract, distort and deflect, all with the intent of keeping our mind off of Jesus. Right now, it occurred to me, when we should be tuned in and locked down on celebrating the birth of our Savior, instead we are sidetracked by controversy, name calling, political spins and all manner of “stay tuned for more.” I will only speak for myself, but I said out loud last night, “what am I doing?” Have I become so addicted to the news (or non-news) that I cannot wait to turn on the TV or radio, to hear how hateful and disappointing the human race seems to have become? It is not about your political party or your favorite sports team, my thoughts are more about a seemingly ode to joy when we hear about how broken the world is. And, again, as a Christian, to what end?
I challenge you, as I have challenged myself, turn it off, put it down, those things which engulf us each day. Not often do we turn on the TV or radio and hear, “God news, peace on earth, good will toward man.” Rid yourself of the toxins of who is right, who is wrong, who is a winner, who is a loser and embrace what Jesus exemplified, LOVE. We are told and we want to believe that our anger, our hatred our depression, our hopelessness is all somebodies fault. “I feel this way, or I am in this hole because of someone else!” But often that is not the case, because we have the power to refocus and adjust, so that our eyes are on Jesus. And not just our eyes, but our hearts and our actions, that is what we are called to exemplify.
Negativity will always be out there because it sells newspapers and cable news shows. I promise each of you, if you are able to pull yourself away from the daily banter and pessimism, you will feel much better. Your family and friends will see that our trust and hope in Jesus Christ circumvents any and all that would temp us to wallow in negativity. Find the joy of Christmas in the love of Jesus and pass it on. Now, more than ever, you have the opportunity to walk the walk, because most are not. Think of the Baby Jesus, our celebration in another week, and show love, extend grace and make it about Him and only Him. “Love one another as I have loved you.”
MARK YOUR CALENDARS:
A New Cross Connection Family Christmas Celebration
December 22, 2016
The Visitor Center at Frying Pan Park
2739 West Ox Rd, Herndon, VA 20171
December 7, 2016
Have An Upside-down Christmas
“The Christmas tree was first used by Saint Boniface of Devonshire in the seventh century to explain the holy trinity to pagans. The Christmas tree was originally hung upside down so that pagans knew the tree was not simply a floral decoration but was instead a symbol of Christianity. By the 12th century, Christians across Europe were customarily hanging their tree upside down.”
The quote above is from Merriann Luke, discovered when I was looking at the history of the “upside down Christmas tree.” Currently these trees are being sold on line and it seems more and more are exploring this option, which is prevalent in Eastern Europe even now. Interestingly, the more I read, the more I reflect on how much this inverted tree represents many of us, as we come to know the person of Jesus Christ. Recall that Jesus flipped the long embraced theory of “an eye for an eye” when in Matthew 5:38-48 He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” That is upside down, in fact completely contrary to what the Old Testament had instructed and the opposite of a human response. But then again, isn’t that what happens when we come to know Jesus, would you agree that we are all re-adjusted and re-designed to fit His purpose as we seek to be more Christ-like?
What I really like about the upside down tree is that it appears more like the cross that reminds us of how much we are loved. It invokes the memory of someone who gave so much, in an effort to encourage us to do the same. Our Family Christmas Concert this year at Frying Pan Park, (see below) is going to focus on this theme as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, but at the same time, recall and remember that we too have a part to play. We have each been challenged to make a difference in this world and in order to accomplish that, we have to embrace the paradigm shift from what we know and expect, to what God would have us understand and practice. Embrace this image for Christmas, consider our role in self adjustment and then turning the world upside down for Jesus Christ!
2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!”
MARK YOUR CALENDARS:
A New Cross Connection Family Christmas Celebration
December 22, 2016
The Visitor Center at Frying Pan Park
2739 West Ox Rd, Herndon, VA 20171
November 16, 2016
For All You Have Done
2 Corinthians 4:15-18
We have all seen the decorations, the insinuations, the overabundance of “stuff” that is needed to really make Thanksgiving special for us this year. After all, it has been a great year for some, but for the rest of us, well, it’s a holiday, so we need to do something! I would like to challenge that thought and ask you all to reconsider, reevaluate and reinvest in Thanksgiving 2016 as a means of doing just that, giving thanks. It is easy, more often than not, to give pause to the idea that all things are not great and glorious. Divorce, death, the loss of a job, maybe even disappointment in our current culture of “give me, give me, give me.” But step back for a minute, reflect on just what is going well, claim those God things that He has set before you. Granted we don’t always act on those gifts, but nonetheless, God is good and when we distance ourselves from the negative, we are more likely to see the light of Jesus Christ in our lives.
The scripture listed above, better serves this blog by being juxtaposed. Verse 16 states;
“16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Admittedly, what each of us experiences may not cause us to jump for joy, or call all of our friends to exclaim how great our life is, that is not real. But what is real, what is true, is that with God, through God, we are and will be encouraged to proclaim His glory. Make this Thanksgiving just that, a time to gather with family and friends, to offer thanks and appreciation for what is being done in our lives, “so that” others may see Jesus in us. After such a turbulent year, sit at Thanksgiving dinner and listen to the laughter, share what is positive and uplifting and love each and every child of God in the room. We do not know who might not be at that table next year, so give thanks for what you do have, here and now. Thanksgiving is not a time for controversy, so leave that at the door. Instead, with a Christlike heart, embrace, encourage and engrave on your heart, a time well spent celebrating what God has done for us. Let me close now, with verse 15:
“15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”
November 7, 2016
The Prodigal Some
Well, that must be a misprint, auto-correct or something you say? But it occurred to me today, while sitting at a stop light (either too many lights or too much thinking) that this parable, told by Jesus might be even more relevant in a much larger context. We all know the “son” or daughter or loved one, who ran off, squandered all that they had, burned bridges and yet, were welcomed back into the family or community in question. Thinking in singular terms, there are those who really did anything and everything they wanted until they were out of money and energy, only to return to the ones they had left behind. But what I considered this morning was, might that prodigal adverb be each and every one of us? Is there a chance this story has more to offer and we have only heard it and considered it from a distance?
I do not wish to implicate “all of us” or “every believer” however; I would imagine the numbers are fairly substantial when we consider them. How many Christians have been blessed and showered with grace by the Father, God Almighty, upon their return from a hapless adventure or self-serving departure from Jesus Christ? I am one and fully admit to expending my resources, living my life on the edge and never looking back, until I had nothing else to cling to. As a young man, I thought I knew Jesus, but often I didn’t have time for Jesus, if that makes sense to you. I spent, I laughed, I took risks and kept the focus on my own happiness and my own success.
But like much in life, nothing lasts forever and only when I realized I had nothing left, did I make the journey back over the hill, to the One I left behind.
And as the parable says, He was there to meet me, to give me the fatted calf, to dress me in fine clothes, to say in short, “welcome home my son, I love you.” I know there are some who reminded me, as did the self-righteous brother in this story, that I was not worthy, that I had no right to come back; but Jesus apparently did not agree. How many of us have tried it on our own, have lost that connection to Christ, humanly hoping we can figure it out, only to realize its not about us. Some of us are prodigals and if we are honest, probably a lot more than some, but this is about much more that a wayward child, for that is certainly each of us. For we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23-24) yet He is there, with open arms when we finally return home.
October 26, 2016
People Over Policy, God’s Input
New Cross Connection had its first family gathering this past Sunday afternoon, on a beautiful day in the Virginia countryside. It was an amazing afternoon, with kids running around and playing, adults meeting and getting to know one another. And 50 West Vineyard was a perfect host, tucked up on a hill overlooking God’s glory near Middleburg. As I sat, taking all the fellowship in (and honestly being amazed), I overheard one of our Christ followers say, “I didn’t go to church this morning, because I knew I was coming to worship this afternoon!” It dawned on me then and there that Acts II is what the worship of God is really all about.
A verse from Isaiah speaks very clearly to that mindset and I wanted to share that with all of you; “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship
Isaiah 29:13, 13 The Lord says, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”
The worship that I witnessed at our family event was without rules, without ritual, without bells and whistles and all manner of “we never did that before.” In Acts 2:46-47 we read, 46 “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
What a joy and blessing to see families breaking bread together, we prayed, we ate, with glad and sincere hearts. And all I heard was people praising God and enjoying the company of one another. It was a glorious God day and I look forward to many, many more.
October 10, 2016
For I Was And You Cared
Suicide is often an indicator of someone who did not feel the love or receive the Christ-likeness that the Bible verse above
Requires. As always, I encourage you to look it up, read it in the context of your own Bible, for it will mean more than my simply doing a copy and paste. You will recognize a very famous teaching from Jesus and today, for my family and so many others it speaks to a true lack of concern by those who profess to really care.
My oldest son lost another US Marine this week, a combat veteran who took his own life after giving that life to our country. This verse is so relevant, as we argue among friends about all manner of things while missing the opportunity to make a difference. We can listen to talking heads (actually arguing clowns) every night, about who is more unqualified to be President. We might stir up conversation about some spotlight diva that had a $10,000,000 ring stolen while she was relaxing in Paris. Another option is to argue over the rights and privileges of our overpaid athletes to make a mockery of everything our men and women have done to keep us safe. At the end of the day, we missed the big picture; “for I was and you cared!”
Twenty-two men and women take their lives each and every day, because they have not been given the time, love, support and encouragement, that we offer in the three examples I listed above. Who cares about a second string quarterback, looking for attention? What does it matter, this election is an embarrassment to us all and the polls agree if you need proof. And we have to wonder what that stolen ring might have done for those with less, had it not been a source of artistic self-importance. When are we going to address and correct the idea that our veterans are so much more important, than all the others seeking attention and self-gratification? As Christians, we need to say enough and reach out to our military personnel who are choosing suicide over putting up with our infatuation over things that don’t matter! I pray we will begin to focus on what matters, because we are losing that battle every day, 22 at a time. And for each man and woman who commits suicide, countless loved ones are left to wonder why, wonder where our country and citizens were when they had a need? As I re-read the verse in Matthew, I am reminded it closes in verse 40, by stating, 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
September 29, 2016
There Must Have Been A Reason
As we have often read this Parable, dissected it, talked about it and wondered what Jesus intended, maybe we missed the point. Bible studies have taken all the characters and assigned them different ethnicities and values, based upon our current circumstances, good guy, bad guy, but there must have been a reason! For our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to tell the story of an individual who was robbed and beaten, certainly left for dead, only to be saved by the least likely man, a Samaritan no less, there must have been a reason. What is most obvious and interesting is that the victim and the hero had no reason to care for one another. One a Jew, while the other embodied all that the religious Jews hated, in fact they should never have been the catalysts in this story. Suffice it to say, they were and we are left to ponder the question posed by Jesus at the end, “who is your neighbor?”
But two very important characters, representative of a much larger body, are also a part of this Parable; the priest and the Levite. Why would Jesus choose these two, specifically noting by their identification, who they worked for and/or claimed to be? There must have been a reason, that 2000 years ago, Christ made it very plain and clear, the two we would have assumed would jump at the chance to help the bloody and helpless victim, did just the opposite, they crossed the street, they took flight from what God has called each of us to do time and again, to help those in need. Yet instead of doing just that, the priest and the Levite skirted the issue, one must imagine, with perfect “religious” excuses.
If we take a moment to focus on the two who avoided the victim, I would ask you to consider “people over policy.” Too often today, we become so loyal to who we are and what we are, especially as a church, that we forget, we are all called to serve. We are all reminded time and again, to go “do” and “be” the hands and feet of Christ. This story is relevant because two individuals recognized as temple (church) figureheads left the scene. Jesus taught us long ago, especially with the story of the Good Samaritan, to “do” and “be” and put the rules aside so we are able to act on the opportunity to spread the love Jesus has for all of us.
September 22, 2016
Humping Uphill, With a Pack of Rocks
Hebrews 12: 1-2
I was speaking with some new friends this week, about the difference between climbing a mountain with a light pack and the same experience with a heavy pack. Now we might sit back and go, “yes, go light, who needs all that weight”; that just seems like common sense. But it occurred to me that we read the very same opinion in the verse from Hebrews 12:1-2. Yet we might be justly accused of making our Christianity more difficult, because despite all the great advice, we love packing our weighty baggage.
“Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…….” found in Hebrews 12:1. I would invite you to look up the verse and read it on your own, but for now let us focus on what was being conveyed. Basically, “since everybody is watching you, get rid of all that is holding you down and causing you to fall behind, let it go!” Go light, go unencumbered and run this race, stay on course, because it was set before us by the Lord.”
Far too often, many of us try to make progress, we really do want to be better, to “shine the light” and let our actions speak louder than words. But we do this carrying our personal burdens of anger, sin and un-Christian behavior that just will not let us go as we should or could. Like the weighted backpack my friend’s spoke of, we cannot proceed effectively as directed by scripture, because we are taking along everything that God has already said, “leave behind!” God has assured us, He already has it under control, through forgiveness and grace, we are free, our burdens lifted forever. However, instead of heeding this message, often our faith walk becomes like the Bruce Springsteen song, “One Step Up” with the chorus resonating, “one step up and two steps back.” Like the song says and the Bible verse warns, we are in constant decline, despite our best intentions, because we just cannot let go of what is slowing our progress down. We seem to have a difficult time “laying aside every weight.” I am not sure about you, but this writer is going to take a hard look at what I have in my backpack, because there is constant Biblical assurance to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” by Jesus Christ Himself.
Love you guys,
September 11, 2016
Grace By Any Other Name, Is Love
I often wonder what it is, why is it so difficult to wrap the human brain around “grace?” The word that Jesus seemed to exemplify, even as He hung, dying on the cross, often seems to escape us. The reality is, as I look at others and wonder why they don’t get it, that condemnation always bounces back at me, with God asking me the very same question. Some of the issue might be that as humans we don’t do as well with the definition of the word grace, as we should. We know about the verse in the Old Testament, Exodus 21:24, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…” I am guilty of that sentiment and need to be constantly reminded of the example of Jesus in so many of His teachings. And even more importantly, the example of Jesus in my personal faith walk.
Grace, the ability not only to forgive, but to forget, seems to be so hard to achieve; we might consider it, but to bring it to fruition, well that is another story. I love the words of Ernest Hemingway, “Courage is grace under pressure,” and how true that is. The act of grace is what God expects from each of us, in all situations. But the courage to act on that grace, not to acquiesce because of fear or embarrassment, that courage is derived from our belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. The idea that we are all forgiven and loved, “so that” we might pass it on, should not be given a second thought. Because He has enabled us with grace, because He has promised to be with us always, we need to act on that and offer to others, what is given to each of us on a constant and daily basis. When we hesitate to offer grace, it is only by the courage of Christ, that we are able to say and act as a grace filled believer of Jesus Christ.
September 5, 2016
Faith on a Paper Plate
As I thought about New Cross Connection and other Acts II gatherings this week, the word simplify came to mind. Just an opinion, but I wonder if we have strayed too far from what was intended in the earliest churches, again, embodied by the portrayal in the Book of Acts. When I have conversations with those who have become disenchanted or walked away from the Christian church, often the words “too much” come into the conversation. Too much pomp and circumstance, too much policy over people, too much about everything except in their opinion, Jesus.
The very first churches met where they were able, when they were able (and often permitted) and it was not elaborate. The focus was on why they had gathered and for Whom they had gathered, not on anything else. When I reflect on all the ornate trappings of we have come to know as “church” it causes me to ask, what have we left behind? A word picture might be of the modern franchise restaurants, all competing to feed the same people in a very small demographic area. Fancy set-ups, exciting surroundings, wait staff all in neat attire, “welcome, what can I start you off with today?” I see those businesses as cash focused, because they have to be, that is how they grow and become even more of a place to be seen.
On the other hand, many of us remember the old “mom and pop” eateries, places where you were able to ask for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, without a smirk. Places where you walked in and the owner, or an employee might say, “hello, Mr. or Mrs. would you like to sit over here today?” Mom and Pop, where you were not a number, but a face, a family, a living body and example of everyday life. You would leave both the franchise store and small eatery full, there is no question. But with some simplicity, it would seem much more about the meal in the latter, than the setting in the former. Again, I hear it more and more, thus I am inclined to suggest, might the fulfillment of Jesus Christ be just as fulfilling on a paper plate, or do we really only get to experience the Risen Lord, if we are eating on fancy china?
Acts II was the beginning, early and raw, but as it says, because of how the new Christians were worshiping and gathering, “He added to their numbers daily.” It might be time for all of us to consider, have we missed the essence of Jesus, because we preferred the accouterments over the substance.
August 27, 2016
My neighbor stopped in today, just a casual conversation, but she said something that not only made me think, but also offered s slice of a life sandwich to my day. “Just because you have faith, does not mean your life is great, that you are doing cartwheels across the yard. Faith means that you trust in God no matter what you are dealing with, and you know, sometimes, our circumstances stink.” She made me think about our message for the last worship service, which was focused on Peter receiving a call from Jesus, to “come” step out of the boat.
Certainly in that verse from Matthew (14:29) we have to empathize with Peter, as in “who me, you want me to come, to leave this safe (sort of) boat with all my friends and do what?” Don’t we all hesitate, we all question and second guess, but at the end of it all, it is our faith in Jesus Christ that gives us the strength and hope to defeat that which might otherwise hold us back. Joni Parsley wrote in an article for Charisma, Life In The Spirit a about ‘The Puddle and the Quicksand.’ She writes, “Tough times can be an emotional roller coaster. One day we’re feeling up, declaring God’s promises over our life; the next we’re down in the dumps. The problem for many of us is that we don’t know how to handle those down times. We’ll sit in silence and process our feelings, trying to make sense of it all or attempting to talk ourselves out of being sad.” Guilty!!!!
Great friends and fellow believers help us all to remember that we have a choice, we can “think” we are in quicksand and going down, or we can proclaim, because of our faith in Jesus Christ, this is a puddle, a temporary pot-hole, that faith will get us through. We loose that vision of Jesus so quickly, as did Peter, the Lord is calling him and yet, he became distracted, he considered all of the things that might go wrong and he lost his focus. Keep your focus, lean heavily on your faith in Christ, reach out to the hands of your friends and fellow believers, who in the name of Jesus, are there when you need them most. We our attention is drawn to what we need to do to save ourselves, we have taken our proclaimed faith in God and made it about us, not Him.