On the Journey

December 2017 Entries

December 27, 2017

A prayer at this time of year . . .

 

Lord, in our world where worry often prevails, we desperately need your peace.  We ask that you stir in our hearts anew the good news of the coming of the Christ-child into our lives.  We thank You for the gift of your son Jesus, our Emmanuel, your Word made flesh.  Forgive us when we forget that and when we forget that your love never changes and never fails.

 

Lord, may we never abandon the purpose for which your son came—to save us from our sin and selfishness and to give us eternal life in the world to come and joy and meaning in this life in this world right now.

 

Lord, for those whose hearts are shattered by sorrow or battered by broken relationships, for those whose lives know continuing conflict and confusion, for those whose bodies are tired and tested seemingly beyond their ability to endure—may they be assured of your comforting presence.  May they know with confidence that you are still the same Savior who was born of a virgin, not in a hospital but an animal barn, and laid in a manger of hay, and that you are still the One sent by your heavenly Father who offered not condemnation for our sins, but love and forgiveness and daily, divine fellowship which can sustain us, whatever the circumstances of our lives.

 

Lord, enable us to know rest when we are weary, peace when we are anxious, and acceptance when we feel rejected and uncared for—not just at Christmas, but every day of every year.  Restore the joy in us that’s been crushed by pride, wrong priorities, world events.  Set us free from the self-destructive attitudes and actions that have held us captive far too long.  Grant to us calm, quiet spirits in the midst of the clamoring of this world.

 

Lord, as your children, we yearn for a deeper awareness of who you are.  Help us to choose by faith to make the “good news of great joy” a reality in our lives.  Help us to understand that peace on earth for us will only come when our hearts find peace with you.

 

Lord, may we embrace you as our joy and our peace, not only at Christmas and not only in the new year, but always.  Amen.

 


December 18, 2017

The New York Times recently published the article:  “Is Christmas a Religious Holiday?  A Growing Number of Americans Say No.”  It cited a study that found 45 percent of Americans said they did not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday.

 

For many people, Christmas has been culturally co-opted so as to not only separate its observance from the core commitments of the Christian Church but also from its connection to personal faith.  But in its essence, Christmas is a celebration of faith about the coming of the Son of God as a baby into the world.  The incarnation of Jesus Christ is the reason for faith and the object of our faith.  Simply put, Christmas is all about Jesus.

 

Hebrews 11:1 says:  “Faith is the assurance of things you have hoped for, the absolute conviction that there are realities you’ve never seen.”  Scripture defines hope as a confident expectation—a recognition that in Christ is found the fulfillment of God’s promises.

 

When many people in today’s world struggle with a sense of isolation and hopelessness, Christmas reminds us of the absolute conviction that God is at work in ways beyond our human comprehension to rescue the world, including us, from brokenness.  Despite the lack of material evidence, those of us who are followers of Jesus believe in the invisible God and his promises of a heavenly future.

 

Our steadfast hope motivates us to live in ways that radically express our faith in a Savior who entered the world that first Christmas.  We are called to live lives of hope.  Even when the circumstances of our lives feel impossible to endure, we are to hold fast to God’s promises.  No matter what we encounter, we believe with assurance that God’s light will shine through.  Emmanuel is with us.

 

When we or when our loved ones experience difficult circumstances, may we set our hope on Christ.  May we experience God’s light penetrating our darkness.  May we open our eyes afresh to the Lord’s glory and experience God’s indescribable joy.  Merry Christmas!

 


December 11, 2017

The Christmas season is upon us, so I will be brief.  I simply invite you to take a few moments to ponder how this quote from Phillips Brooks applies to your life:  “Do not pray for easy lives.  Pray to be stronger men.  Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers.  Pray for powers equal to your tasks.  Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.”

 


December 4, 2017

C. M. Joyner has written an article called “5 Questions to Ask Before Posting to Social Media.”

 

1. Am I seeking approval?

When I seek validation through something I post and that little red flag starts popping up to notify me of each person giving me attention, it’s an addictive reward.  And it works.  I feel better, so I keep coming back for more.  What are the bigger needs asking to be met here?  Maybe it’s a desire for community.  Perhaps it stems from unresolved conflict with someone I love.  Or maybe I just thrive on pleasing people and hearing their praise.  If your interaction with the internet is driven by a need for approval, consider healthier ways to address this issue and choose to stop reinforcing the unhealthy ones.

 

2. Am I boasting?

There’s sharing excitement and then there’s bragging.  Truthfully, we each know which camp we fall in.  When the Apostle Paul described what it meant to love others, he specifically mentioned that love does not boast.  That post isn’t “just a picture” or “just a tweet,” it’s an opportunity to love others in a way that reflects Jesus.  Or it’s an opportunity to show them something quite different, something that looks nothing like Christ.  Examine your motivations and walk away before using social media as the adult version of show-and-tell.

 

3. Am I discontent?

Are you looking for something “better”?  Nothing you will read, write or see is going to solve this one.  Instead, ask yourself why you are discontent and address those needs.  When we view social media from a lens of discontentment, whatever we find will be colored with bitterness and ungratefulness.  Their lives will begin to look brighter than ours, while our lives will take on a sense of lacking.  Let us not forget—their world is as ordinary as ours and our life is as exciting as theirs.  Stop asking the virtual world to solve dissatisfaction with the physical one.

 

4. Is this a moment to protect?

When we interrupt lunch with a friend in order to quote her on Twitter, we invite hundreds of people into a conversation that could have been sacred; and we miss the sweet memories that may have formed had her words remained simply between the two of us.  Not every great moment needs to be shared.  In fact, some of the best times are most enjoyed privately. If we suspend the present in an attempt to capture its beauty in 140 characters or less, we sacrifice our experience of the moment itself.

 

5. Is it kind?

Let’s return to Paul and his call to love.  “Love is patient.  Love is kind.”  Our culture tells us it’s our right to comment on everything, regardless of whether it was addressed to us and without consideration for how it might affect others.  We’ve replaced face-to-face confrontation with sharp comments and mocking memes.  Jesus said the world would recognize us by our love.  What messages are we sending?

 

It’s worth noting that these are questions we ask of ourselves, not criteria for interpreting and evaluating others.  We cannot know their hearts anymore than they can know ours.  Let us pause and give ourselves an honest moment to reflect—bringing discernment, love and wisdom to each picture and word we share.

on the journey

November 2017 entries

November 27, 2017

 

My mom has Alzheimer’s.  It’s progressing.  I was with her on Thanksgiving Day.  During the evening meal, she repeatedly asked me where she was going to spend the night.  Over and over I told her it would be in her room in the care facility where she lives and where we were eating.  I rolled her in a wheelchair to her room (she presently is not walking because she recently had surgery to remove a cancerous lesion on her leg.)  She did not recognize her room.  I showed her the pictures of Debbie’s and my wedding and of our family on her chest of drawers, but that did not register with her.  She could not understand that she would be putting on her pajamas even though I showed them to her in a drawer.  I watched as she opened the drawer, looked in it, touched the pajamas, closed it, opened it, looked in it.

 

On Thanksgiving Day sixteen years ago my dad died.  It just happened that Thanksgiving Day this year was the same date as their wedding anniversary fifty-nine years ago. 

 

I asked mom what my name was, and she answered “Michael” and gave me a look as if questioning why in the world I would ask her that.  I know that the day is likely going to come when she will no longer know my name.

 

I realize I am experiencing anticipatory grief with my mom.  There is a sadness I feel.  Many of you feel this also during the holiday season.  I pray you will grieve well with an abiding hope in Christ.

 

Some of you will remember the actor, David Cassidy, the heart throb in the old TV show “The Partridge Family.”  He died last week.  These were his final words:  “So much wasted time.”

 

As I think of my mom and dad, I wish that would not be true of me.  But honestly, in some ways it is.   With that in mind, I want to share with you a Scripture that I have been pondering the last several days.  Perhaps you would do well to think on it too.  Make the most of every living and breathing moment because these are evil times.  (Ephesians 5:16).  How are we all doing with that?

 

November 20, 2017

 

I want to share with you the story of someone who was baptized in Journey Church’s service Sunday evening:

 

“I think we strive to be the best person we can every day.  We all fall short, but the important part is to always get back up and try.  As we follow the life and teachings of Jesus, we move toward what I consider a very caring, considerate, supportive and helpful existence. 

 

I cannot go back in my life and identify a significant transformational event or experience.  I don’t have a story of trials and suffering where I experienced the life changing impact of finding Jesus.  I realize I fall short of the person I should be every day, but I always strive to treat others with care and compassion.  I have supported my family and am always willing to offer support to friends and even strangers.  I had the benefit of parents and grandparents who put this expectation in the forefront of my childhood and not only talked the talk but also demonstrated what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)  I feel my childhood and early church experience introduced me to what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.”

 

I now, much later in life, want to share that I do follow the teaching of Jesus by being baptized.  By following the example set by Christ, I choose to start a new life in Christ.”

 

November 13, 2017

 

One of the greatest Christian thinkers in recent history was C. S. Lewis.  Below are some quotes of his.  I invite you to contemplate them.  God may use them to inspire you or challenge you.

 

It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.

 

There are only two kinds of people:  those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way.”

 

There is but one good; that is God.  Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him.

 

If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.

 

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.  There is no such thing.

 

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

 

When we Christians behave badly, or fail to behave well, we are making Christianity unbelievable to the outside world.

 

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another:  “What!  You too?  I thought I was the only one.”

 

Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.

 

To love at all is to be vulnerable.

 

Forgiveness does not mean excusing.

 

Nothing you have not given away will ever really be yours.

 

Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different.

 

The truth is, of course, that what one regards as interruptions are precisely one's life.

 

November 6, 2017

 

Yesterday a shooter walked into a Texas church service and opened fire.  At least twenty-six people were killed, and twenty more were injured.  The New York Times describes the horrific scene:  “Families gathered in pews, clutching Bibles and praying to the Lord, were murdered in cold blood on the spot.”  The victims ranged in age from five to seventy-two.  Among the dead were several children, a pregnant woman, and the pastor’s teenage daughter. 

 

In an article titled, “Why Are Americans Killing Each Other?” Ted Anthony writes we now live in a society where the term “mass shooting” has lost its status as an unthinkable aberration and become mere fodder for a fresh news cycle.”  But then he asks the pivotal question:  “Why are we killing each other?”

 

For those of us who are followers of Jesus for whom the Bible is the source of authority in our lives, how are we to answer that question?   Here’s the answer:  evil.

 

In his book “Explaining Hitler”, Ron Rosenbaum surveys theory after theory regarding the Nazi leader’s atrocities.  In the end, all of his explanations fail to confront the “laughing” Hitler—the bloodthirsty dictator who was fully conscious of his malignancy.  He didn’t have to kill the Jews; he wasn’t compelled by abstract forces.  In truth, he chose to, he wanted to.  He simply embraced evil.

 

Freely chosen evil.  That is the answer.  That is how Christians are to explain the mass shootings that are repeatedly occurring.  The spiritual reality is that many in our culture have trouble even using that word.  But we need to own it as a part of our theological vocabulary, otherwise, we have no framework to speak about these attacks.

 

I am heartbroken for the grief and suffering of those who experienced this terrible tragedy.  And I am more resolved than ever to give my life to Christ’s mission, which, by the way, is the war against . . . evil.

 

On the journey

October 2017 Entries

October 31, 2017

 

Language matters.  Words have power.  They can hurt.  They can heal.

 

The apostle Paul had something to say about the words we use.  Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he doesn’t focus on a list of banned words.  He was more concerned about the tone, the message, the emotion, and the spirit behind the words we use in conversation with one another.

 

He said in Ephesians 4:29-30:  Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.  And do not make God’s Holy Spirit sad; for the Spirit is God’s mark of ownership on you, a guarantee that the Day will come when God will set you free.

 

For those who claim to follow Christ, we are called to civil discourse.  We are instructed not to use words that are destructive, divisive, critical, inflammatory, obnoxious, and impede the work of the Holy Spirit.

 

Paul said in Philippians 4:8:  Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

 

Before we speak (either in person or online), we should think and ask ourselves:

Is this true?

Is this honorable?

Is this just?

Is this pure?

Is this pleasing?

Is this commendable?

Is this excellent?

Is this praiseworthy?

 

Imagine if we all vetted our language in these ways before we spoke!  How many of us would have a lot less to say if we were to use these criteria?  Just think of what a difference it would make to those we know if we were to model this kind of Christ-like communication.  Will we commit to do this face to face and on social media?

 

October 23, 2017

 

Brett McCracken has written about 8 Signs Your Christianity Is Too Comfortable.  He suggests that the Christian faith is inherently uncomfortable.  To be a disciple of Jesus is to deny oneself (Matt. 16:24), to be subject to persecution (John 15:20), to be willing to give up all material possessions (Luke 14:33), to be crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20).

 

C. S. Lewis once said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy.  I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.  If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

 

Comfort-seeking is the default mode in our consumerist society.  McCracken identifies these indicators that our Christianity has become too comfortable:

 

1. There’s absolutely no friction between our Christianity and our partisan politics.

If we’re all-in with one political party and never feel any tension whatsoever with our Christian faith, it probably means your faith is too comfortable.  Whether a lifelong Democrat or a diehard Republican, a robust Christian faith should create dissonance with politics at various points.  A faith that aligns perfectly with one political party is suspiciously convenient and lacks prophetic witness.

 

2. There are no paradoxes, tensions, or unresolved questions.

If we never wrestle with the mind-boggling tenets of Christian theology (for example, the Trinity or the incarnation), our faith is probably too comfortable.  A healthy, uncomfortable faith leaves us restless to want to know more and is not satisfied that we’ve grasped all there is to grasp about God.

 

3. Our friends and coworkers would be surprised to learn we’re a church-going Christian.

A sure sign our faith is too comfortable is if nothing in our lives sets us apart as a Jesus follower, to the point that even those who know us well can’t tell we’re a Christian.

 

4. We never think about or even remember the Sunday message on Monday.

Biblical preaching shouldn’t leave us apathetic or unchallenged.  The Word of God is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

 

5. No one at church ever annoys us.

If we go to church with people who are always easy to talk to, always fun to be around, and always closely aligned with our opinions, tastes, and preferences, our Christianity is too comfortable.  One of the glorious things about the gospel is that it creates a new community out of disparate types of people who, in many cases, wouldn’t otherwise choose to spend time together.

 

6. We never feel challenged, only affirmed.

If our Christian faith never confronts our idols and challenges our sinful habits—but only affirms us as we are—this is a sure sign of a too comfortable faith.  Healthy faith doesn’t just celebrate us as we are, but relentlessly molds and refines us into the likeness of Christ.

 

7. We’ve never had to have a “truth-in-love” conversation with a fellow Christian.

It’s always more comfortable to just “live and let live” when there’s an offense or sin that needs to be called out.  It’s more comfortable to just shrug when we see others in our community making unhealthy decisions.  But this isn’t true Christian love.

 

8. No one in our church could comment on any area of growth they’ve seen in us.

To believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ is to believe in change.  Though not always linear, the Christian life should be marked by growth, forward momentum, and change for the better.

 

Why is it important that we avoid falling into comfortable Christianity?  Because comfortable Christianity is far from the costly, inconvenient, idol-crushing, cross-shaped path for disciples of Jesus.  Comfortable Christianity has little prophetic to say to a comfortable, consumerist world.  Comfortable Christianity has little urgency in mission and little aptitude for growth.

 

Uncomfortable Christianity, however, leads to life and transformation.  It leads us to rely on God and not on ourselves; to serve rather than be served; to live lives marked by sacrifice.  It leads us to do hard things, to embrace hard truths, to do life with hard people for the sake and glory of the One who did the hardest thing.  It may be uncomfortable, but it will be worth it.

 

 

October 17, 2017

 

Someone in the DuVal house really likes watching the television phenomenon “Fixer Upper” (no, it’s not me.)  This show has attracted as many as twenty-five million viewers.  Chip and Joanna Gaines were a little-known contractor and decorator flipping houses in Waco, TX, before their show made them overnight celebrities.  

 

They’ve announced that Season 5 will be their last.  They assure that nothing is wrong.  They say:  “Our family is healthy and our marriage has honestly never been stronger.  This is just us recognizing that we need to catch our breath for a moment.  Our plan is to take this time to shore up and strengthen the spots that are weak, rest the places that are tired, and give lots of love and attention to both our family and our businesses.”

 

Ending Fixer Upper at the height of its popularity is a surprising decision.  But Chip and Joanna Gaines are led by Christ, not by the culture.  As they have told the world, they follow Jesus.  He is Lord of their lives, their marriage, their family, and their future.

 

How many of us right now are in need of a “Fixer Upper”, a soul-restoration project?  As I’ve had conversations with folks recently, person after person has talked about how tired, even exhausted they are.  Maybe a lot of us have allowed our lives to be led more by culture than Christ, and we’re majorly stressed, wearied, drained, and we need to rest the places that are tired.  We need to re-focus our priorities and give lots more love to the Lord and to our families.  We need to strengthen those aspects of our lives that are weak and might lead us to give in to temptation.

 

God is in the restoration business.  Psalm 51:10 says:  “Create in me a clean heart, O God; restore within me a sense of being brand new.”  I hope we’ll all seek the Lord in ways that will restore our souls and will give us a brand new start in living a more Jesus-like life.

 

October 9, 2017

 

Journey’s EPIC (Experienced Persons In Christ) group is going out for breakfast this week.  You won’t find them in rocking chairs in their retirement!

 

One person who was on the verge of retirement was asked what he was going to do.  He answered:  “The first year I’m just going to sit on the front porch in a rocking chair.”  He was asked:  “Then what?”  He responded:  “The second year I’m going to start rocking.” 

 

If that’s anyone’s concept of retirement, that person is going to be miserable.  There’s a direct correlation between a sense of purpose and self-worth.  If you have nothing significant to do, your lack of purpose will drag you into a pit of despair.

 

Some people think that persons of an older age have nothing much to offer to the work of God’s Kingdom.  Wrong!

 

Bob Russell says that retirement should be regarded as a period of service, not indulgence.  The Bible is full of examples of people who made their most significant contribution when they were older.  Moses was 80 when he led the Israelites out of slavery.  The apostle John was over 80 when he wrote Revelation.  Anna was 84 when she identified the baby Jesus as the Messiah.  Caleb was 85 when he led the army of Israel into battle.  Sarah was 90 when she gave birth to Isaac.

 

History is full of examples also.  Colonel Sanders was nearly broke when he used his first Social Security check at age 65 to start Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Billy Graham preached to national television audiences at age 90.

 

I have a friend who last week had a Medicare party as he turned 65 (he rides his bicycle on 100+ mile trips.)  All those who are breaking into Medicare need to make the most of their last lap.  They need to fix their eyes on Jesus’ face as they move toward the finish line.  There will be plenty of time for R and R in the resurrection.  For now, there’s work to be done.  Jesus put the challenge this way:  “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

On the journey

September 2017 entries

September 25, 2017

 

Josh Squires has blogged about 5 Ways to Murder Your Marriage

 

1.  Expect Perfection

Dwell on perfection:  physical perfection, emotional perfection, spiritual perfection—think on all of it—and be deeply offended at your spouse’s shortcomings.  When hope begins to raise its head, shame it with memories of how your spouse has failed in the same way multiple times.  Downplay any progress.  On those occasions when they meet your expectations, do not under any circumstances celebrate with them.  Assume the only reason they’re doing it is to get something from you. You know there must be ulterior motives somewhere; hunt them down.

 

2.  Emote, Don’t Communicate

The roll-eyes emoji has nothing on you.  Listening is for suckers, and speaking softly is for the weak.  Your emotions are the arbiter of truth, and they should be given full voice at all times.  Though the tongue can set fires hot enough to rival hell, don’t restrain it.  Communication that is full of grace (Col 4:6), love (1 Pet. 3:10) and truth (Eph. 4:15)?  These commands were obviously written for the super-spiritual, or at least for someone whose spouse is more capable than yours is.  Being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (Jas. 1:19) requires time and energy that frankly you don’t have, and they don’t deserve.  It’s easier, quicker, and more satisfying to yell, stomp, pout, or freak out.  And while you may not have time to listen to your spouse, they should always stop and pay attention to you right away.

 

3.  Keep Your Options Open

You never know when something better is going to come along.  True, you made vows in front of witnesses and the Lord, but everyone knows such commitments are naïve at best.  After all, if you’d known all of your spouse’s failings, would you have made such a promise?  There are a lot of fish in the sea, and one of them may be the key to your real long-term satisfaction.  If you could do it all over, you would make sure to get someone more attractive or more communicative or more artistic or more athletic or more organized or more . . . whatever.  So, whether you’re at the gym or the grocery store or at work or even at worship, be on the prowl for an upgrade.

 

4.  Look Out for Number One

Nothing is more important than your momentary individual happiness.  Your marriage, as with all things in life, has one ultimate purpose: to serve you.  Only in the context of being constantly, effectively, efficiently, and immediately served should your spouse ever expect anything in return. And then only when it’s convenient for you.

 

5. Don’t Seek Help

Who needs an abundance of counselors (Prov. 15:22)?  You’ve got this!  Getting others involved would take work.  It would mean giving up the appearance of having it all together and the illusion of control.  Counselors and mentors may speak hard truths into your life (Eph. 4:15).  They may even hold you accountable for living up to your call as a spouse.  You shouldn’t seek advice from older couples with happy and healthy marriages, because they were just plain lucky.  Besides, no amount of real-world advice could stand up to the repository of dating and marital blogs you’ve skimmed over the years.  All of which point to one inescapable conclusion: You’re miserable, and it’s all your spouse’s fault.  How can anyone help that?

 

With a whole lot of pride, you too can destroy your marriage. Sadly, the world will be happy to let you get away with this murder.

 

 

September 18, 2017

 

Our church’s students were on a retreat this past weekend, and our children will be going on a retreat this coming weekend.  Retreats can be spiritually transformative for persons of any age, but I think particularly they can be so meaningful for younger people.  I think that’s true for both boys and girls, as they struggle in their own way.

 

After reading an article by Ed Stetzer, I am particularly concerned for girls.  He writes that by age 13, 53% of American girls are “unhappy with their bodies;” by 17, that number has climbed to 78%.  Furthermore, 7 in 10 girls, if asked, would tell you that they “are not good enough or don’t measure up in some way.” Given this, it is no wonder that 1 in 4 of them suffer from clinically diagnosed depression, eating disorders, cutting, as well as other mental or emotional disorders.  These figures should break our hearts!

 

According to an article in The Atlantic, there exists a stark “confidence gap” between women and men.  While men tend to overestimate their ability to perform well, women are quick to underestimate their performance. They are generally less confident about their abilities and seem to prefer to criticize rather than complement their own skill levels.  Women, as authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman put it, “feel confident only when they are perfect.  Or practically perfect.”

 

During key developmental stages, girls are more vulnerable than ever to the pressures of subtle societal messaging.  In today’s media-driven age, they are bombarded daily by hundreds of photo-shopped images, each conveying the same message: you’re not good enough.  Girls who take these implied criticisms to heart are left struggling possibly for the rest of their lives with feelings of inadequacy haunted by the perfection they just can’t quite seem to attain.

 

How can we help girls to know their worth and to value their strengths, instead of dwelling on their perceived weaknesses?  We must be committed to disciple them so that they may see themselves as God sees them.  This can take place on retreats, on Sunday morning or Sunday evening activities, through one-on-one mentoring.  I believe that as a church, ministry with students and children is crucial.  Will you pray for those who lead in this?  And if you would be willing to help serve in some way in these ministries, please contact me or Jill Simmons or Jackie Taylor.

 


September 11, 2017

 

Jim Denison has written a blog post:  “Trusting God in Hard Times: A 9/11 Reflection” on this the sixteenth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history.  Since 9/11, there have been at least sixty Islamist-inspired terrorist plots against our country.  Just this year, Americans have suffered from wildfires, tornadoes, floods, and Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  Christians have prayed for Americans to be spared from these unprecedented storms. 

 

Denison says that when God does not do what Christians ask him to do, we usually decide (1) he will yet answer us, or (2) we did not pray according to his will.  In the latter case, we trust that he will give us whatever is best.  And we remember his word: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD” (Isaiah 55:8).

 

Then Denison asks—but what if unanswered prayer is evidence that there is no God to answer it?  Many of us have wrestled with this problem.  We believe that the Bible is true and that we may have a personal relationship with the God who inspired it.  But when he doesn’t answer our prayers as we wish, we can become frustrated or worse.  In our dark days, we can question whether he even exists.

 

British philosopher Antony Flew was a famous atheist.  He stated that religious faith claims are based merely on subjective opinion rather than objective truth.  He would tell us that unanswered prayer should show us that the God to whom we pray is either uncaring, impotent, or nonexistent.

 

But nowhere does the Bible promise that we will avoid suffering.  To the contrary, Jesus warned us, “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).  Nor does the Bible promise that God will always give us what we ask.  Paul prayed three times for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” but the Lord refused (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).

 

What the Bible does promise is that we serve a risen Lord.  We serve a living God whose ways we do not always understand but whose love we can trust.  (By the way, Flew later turned from his own atheism, writing There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.)

 

What does this mean for those of us praying for God’s protection in hard times?  It means that we can continue trusting what we don’t understand to the God we do.  In Acts 12, King Herod murdered James, one of Jesus’ leading apostles.  He then arrested Peter, intending to execute him as well.  The church did not reject the God who allowed such attacks on his people.  To the contrary: when Peter was imprisoned, “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church”.

 

During these hard times, may we continue to pray and may we take action to be the love of Christ in our broken world.

 


September 5, 2017

 

Here’s the life change story of someone who was baptized during our church’s recent baptism and communion worship experience at a lake:

 

“I grew up in an abusive, alcoholic household.  There was always anxiety and chaos.  Even though my mother believed in God with her whole heart, she had not been healed enough to be loving to others.  I was always running.  Running from her addiction, from my pain, from my loneliness.

 

I got involved with the wrong people and drugs at a very young age.  By the time I was 17, I dropped out of high school, and all I worried about was getting high, to forget, to not feel pain, to not hate myself, to be numb.

 

On my 18th birthday I overdosed on drugs and ended up in the hospital.  I was praying out loud to God to save me.  I knew I had been messing up and begged for a second chance.  He blessed me with that chance.

 

I know it is because of God that I am here today.  He saw a future for me.  He forgave me and loved me, even though I had been making horrible, hurtful choices for myself.  I will never doubt he was with me those days in the hospital. 

 

It has been a hard road to get where I am, but I could not have done it without our merciful God.  I am a sober adult with a wonderful family and children now, which I can honestly say I would not have had if God hadn’t saved me.”

On the Journey

August 2017 Entries

August 28, 2017

 

I want to share with you the story of someone who was baptized in Journey Church’s service Sunday evening:

 

“I lost my son, Dustin, July 2015.  He died of a heroine over dose, just hours after I left him.  He said he would be OK and told me he loved me.  I called him back that night, and we laughed.  I called the next morning, but he didn’t answer.  That was unusual, so I drove by to check on him.  He was gone.  The worst thing I feared had happened.  In my grief, I questioned God.  In my search, I consulted mediums.  I researched death.  I felt Dustin was in the grave, and there was nothing else.  That day I found him I replayed in my head.  I blamed myself for not arriving sooner.  I blamed God for not helping me help Dustin.  I was frozen in time unable to move forward. 

 

I began to pray and ask God for understanding and strength.  Over time I realized that God gave me the sweetest gift he could have given a mother.  The five days before Dustin died, circumstances would have me and Dustin together night and day.  We talked about everything, we contemplated the future.  We cried about the past.  He lay on the end of my bed at night, and we talked until four in the morning.  He told me of his faith in God, his love for me and his family, and how he wanted to be a great dad for his son.  My son of 29 was given to me for the last time to help me heal and for me to tell his loved ones that he loved God and his family.  I cannot imagine if I had not had this time with him.  God tried to shield me just as a Father would do. 

 

I’m being baptized to show that I will never question my faith again, that I do not blame myself or anyone else for his death, and that God lives in me.  Sometimes we don’t understand why, but eventually there are blessings in unanswered prayers.  I also want to show my family and friends where my heart is and encourage them likewise to reach out to God and his blessings.”

 

August 21, 2017

 

Jim White has written about how to explore Christianity authentically.  He offers five suggestions to help people in their faith journey.

 

1. Maintain an Open Mind

Sometimes we say we’re going to explore something when we know we’re not really open to what we might find.  Having an open mind doesn’t mean blind acceptance of whatever we find.  It’s important to evaluate differing views, have some healthy skepticism, and check out the facts.  But if we start off by saying:  “I’ll check it out, but I know it isn’t true,” we’re not exploring with an open mind.

 

2. Determine What You’re Looking For

Make sure you have appropriate expectations.  Most people would say they’re after spiritual truth.  People want answers to life’s ultimate questions.  They’re looking for God and a relationship with God so they can order their lives accordingly.  That’s appropriate.  But expecting:  “I want whatever I find to solve all of my problems instantly,” that isn’t going to happen.  The Christian faith never promises it will deliver a life free of difficulty.  The Bible teaches that when you commit your life to Christ, you experience a radical reorientation of your priorities, you find a new purpose in life, and you encounter the power and work of God in your life.  But these experiences are far different from the instant removal of every problem, every struggle, or every issue of pain.  God’s power and presence, which come from being in relationship with Christ, give us the ability to go through the difficulties of life with strength and hope.  It’s off target to expect whatever it is you find to complement your lifestyle rather than change it.  Few religions, and Christianity in particular, allow for a mindset that sees spiritual faith as an accessory item that does little more than enhance one’s existing quality of life.  Since your deepest needs and issues are spiritual in nature, you should expect your search to lead you to the deepest corners of your life, and you should expect what you find to change you from the inside out.

 

3. Check Out the Source Documents

Once you’ve determined that you’re going to search with an open mind, and you’ve got a handle on what is fair to expect from your search, it’s time to begin the actual work of this process.  Begin by checking out the source documents of the Christian faith.  The Bible is a collection of 66 books written by more than 40 authors over a period of several hundred years.  Christians call it “God’s Word” or “God’s revelation” to us.  In the Bible, God reveals himself and truth about himself that we could not otherwise know.  So start by reading the Bible, and here are two suggestions for you to keep in mind when you do:  first, make sure you begin with a modern translation and, second, remember that it really is a library of books.  The Bible was written in two languages:  Hebrew and Greek.  Hebrew was the language of the day when the Old Testament was written, and Greek was the language of the writers of the New Testament.  As a result, all our Bibles today are translations of those original languages.  So get a good, modern translation that is easy for you to read and understand.  And then when reading the Bible remember it is a library of books, so you possess some freedom as to where to begin reading.  Start with one of the four biographies of the life of Jesus found in the books Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  These books will lay a good foundation of the central message of the Bible:  Jesus.

 

4. Come to Terms with Jesus

In your search, focus on Jesus.  He is the heart of the Christian faith.  Come to terms with his identity.  Here is a man who walked the earth and claimed to be equal to God.  No other major religious figure ever made that claim—not Buddha, not Mohammed, not Confucius.  Only Jesus Christ claimed to be God in human form.  Was he or wasn’t he?  This is the ultimate question someone who is exploring must answer when it comes to the Christian faith.

 

5. Find a Church That Encourages You to Explore

Why attend a Christian church to explore Christianity?  So that you can talk firsthand with people who are Christians, listen to their stories, raise your questions, enter into a dialogue with them about their faith.  This exploration process is the most important one you’ll take for your life.  In truth, there’s no such thing as a “spiritual life”—there’s just life, and your spirituality is a crucial element of it.  Finding the door to spiritual truth, opening it, and walking through it make up the most significant journey you can ever undertake.  For on the other side is not simply spiritual life—but life itself.


August 14, 2017

 

In our culture there’s so much divisiveness and disrespect, so much incivility—which is the opposite of what’s expected of followers of Jesus who are to “show proper respect to everyone.”  (1 Peter 2:17)  Here are some essential rules of respect from Bill Hybels:

 

1. Set the example on how to differ with others without demonizing them.

 

2. Set the example of how to have spirited conversations without drawing blood.

 

3.  Do not interrupt others who are talking and do not dominate the conversation.

 

4.  Set the example of limiting volume levels and refusing to use incendiary or belittling words that guarantee to derail a discussion.

 

5.  Set the example of being courteous in word and deed to everyone at every level.

 

6.  Never stereotype.

 

7.  Apologize immediately when wrong, instead of denying or doubling down.

 

8.  Form opinions carefully and stay open-minded if better information comes along.

 

9.  Set the example doing what you say you are going to do.

 

 

August 7, 2017

 

I’m excited about leading the Foundations class this fall!  If you’d like to dive deeper into understanding the central beliefs of the Christian faith, I hope you’ll consider being a part of this weekly class!  You will find info about the class in the announcement below.  For even more info and recommendations for the class, click here.

 

Here is what one person who previously attended the class had to say about it:

“As someone who has been an attender of several churches across multiple states, I can honestly say that Foundations is one of the best environments I have ever participated in.  It’s the perfect setting for those investigating the claims of Christianity to better understand the basic tenets of the faith, the genuine principles set forth in the Bible, as opposed to the politicized agenda so common in our culture today.  It’s also a great opportunity for those who have claimed the Christian faith for a long time to revisit and possibly challenge the “what’s and why’s” of their beliefs.  Foundations is an unprecedented opportunity where one can ask Pastor Michael any question(s) they might have.  At the same time, it’s also a great environment to meet others at Journey—people who have similar questions across a wide variety of topics.  Foundations is the ultimate setting to investigate, stretch and strengthen your understanding of the Christian faith.  It really is an incredible opportunity that I wish everyone could experience.”

On The Journey

July 2017 Entries

July 31, 2017

 

Last week I visited in the cemetery of Ware Episcopal Church, established in 1652 in Gloucester County, Virginia.  Why would I do that?  Because in the graveyard there is a plaque recognizing my too many “greats” to remember grandfather, Daniel DuVal, who came to this country from France and was one of a small group of people who were a part of that church at its start.  As I walked around the old church building, I was struck by its history and all that has taken place in the 365 years since its founding.

 

It was 17 years ago this week that a handful of people on the Launch Team met for the first time to pray and prepare to start our church.  I try to imagine what Journey will be like 350 years from now.  How will our church be remembered?  Will we reach our full redemptive potential?  Will we minister, serve, and give so as to show the world that the church, the body of Christ, is the hope of the world?  In this time when more and more people have no connection with a church (among young adults it’s almost 1/3), will we as a church be the love of Jesus in ways that people will want desperately to be a part of what God is doing to change lives and the world through Journey Church?

 

I acknowledge to you that I have trouble imagining what our church will be like over 350 years from now.  But I am certain of this:  “With God’s power working in us, God can do much, much more than anything we can ask or imagine.  To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever.”  Ephesians 3:20-21

 


July 25, 2017

 

I recently read what a young mom wrote about her experience when she started skipping church.  I want to share it with you:

 

“When I skip Sunday morning . . .

 

1. I Miss Uninterrupted Time To Listen For God’s Wisdom

Sunday’s practical teaching translates into Godly wisdom that I can apply in daily life—it is so valuable.  Sure, you can hear great teaching in a variety of ways.  But listening online is different than listening in the service.  I don’t know about you, but when I listen at home, I have a long to-do list.  A child that loves attention.  A phone that rings.  Laundry to fold.  I almost never absorb the message in the same way as I do when physically present on Sunday.  When I’m in the service, I have uninterrupted time.  Time to focus on what God is teaching me and reflect on how He wants me to grow.  My child is being cared for, my phone is on silent, and there are no chores.  I can focus.  I can engage my heart and mind.

 

2. I Miss The Value Of Worshiping God Through Music With Others

There’s something intangible that happens when we worship God—out loud—with people who share faith in Jesus.  Sundays are an irreplaceable opportunity to take a step back from the busy day-to-day and directly praise the God that loves me and is incredibly worthy of my worship.  Music roots my heart and mind in the truth of who God is.  It remembers and celebrates powerful scripture.  It leads me to humble myself before God’s majesty in a way that doesn’t always happen when music is playing in the car or in the background while I do the dishes.  Worshiping God through music on Sunday’s—with other people—grounds and fuels my faith.  It inspires me to keep worshiping, keep believing, keep serving, keep loving.

 

3. I Miss The Power And Movement Of The Church

The Church has a mission and purpose.  And every believer is part of it.  We get to spread the amazing news that Jesus Christ loves you, died to forgive you, and he is alive, bringing new life to all who believe in him.  

 

Imagine this.  Your life is a babbling brook.  It twists and turns and bubbles and splashes.  It’s beautiful.  But has little strength.  But, what happens when you cross paths with another brook.  And another.  And another?  Something bigger starts to happen.  Something one babbling brook can’t do on its own.  Momentum happens.  Then power happens.  Then Niagara Falls happens!  (Did you know Niagara Falls generates enough energy to power almost 4 million homes?  No babbling brook does that.)  Moving in the same God-given direction is POWERFUL.  It doesn’t happen when we are disengaged.

 

I don’t want to miss being part of the power and movement of God’s Church.  Plus, if I’m not there, then how can I bring anyone with me?  So—I do everything I can to attend a Sunday morning service.  Because when I miss a Sunday, I miss way more than I ever thought.”

 

 

July 17, 2017

 

Katy Callahan authored a blog post about how to put love into action that caught my attention.  When Jesus was about to be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter didn’t sling ugly tweets or post angry rants on facebook, but he did draw his sword.  What can we learn from Jesus about how we are to respond when we or others are treated unjustly?

 

1. We react in anger; Jesus responds in self-sacrifice

Here is the Lord about to be arrested and probably killed, despite being innocent of any wrongdoing.  It’s no wonder that in that moment of anger and desperation, Peter’s first instinct is to draw his sword.  But Jesus tells Peter, “Put your sword back in its place!  Do you think that I will not drink the cup of suffering which my Father has given me?” (John 18:11).  Jesus chooses to submit to a brutal death he does not deserve.  He tells his disciples beforehand, and they refuse to believe it.  It’s confounding, but Jesus knows his purpose and is willing to pour out his life for others.

 

2. Love is not passive

We must show love and resist lashing out in anger towards those who disagree with us—or even oppress us.  Didn’t Jesus teach throughout his ministry to love our enemies, do good to those who persecute us, to turn the other cheek? (Matthew 5:39)  When Jesus says, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too,” he isn’t telling them to give into wrongdoing.  He is teaching his followers not to take revenge on those who have wronged them, and to not become bitter.  This is a tremendous act of love—to defend the defenselessness, to stand firmly in justice, without retaliating in violence or harboring resentment.

 

3. Love is beyond our emotions

Getting emotional about injustice is human. But Jesus, while bold, doesn’t indulge his emotions.  Everything he does is lined up with God’s will and is meant to honor his Father—to build up others.  His ultimate act of justice is also his meekest moment.  In surrendering himself to crucifixion, he allows the relationship between God and people to be restored.  Jesus’s words and actions were always motivated by his love for others.  When we choose love and pursue God’s justice, we look beyond our emotions, speaking truth to others without condemnation.  Rather than demonizing our opponents we extend kindness.  We consider how to care for those who are hurting, putting our love into action.  Instead of destroying bonds, we leave judgment up to God, and participate in God’s work of restoration.

 

What will it take for us to put love into action like Jesus—even when we’re tempted to let our anger get the better of us?

 


July 3, 2017

 

A study about the role of faith in everyday life by Pew Research asked self-identified American Christians:  “Which of the following are essential parts of what being a Christian means to you?  What do you think of the responses?

 

Believing in God                                                86%

Being grateful for what you have                      71%

Forgiving those who have wronged you            69%

Being honest at all times                                   67%

Praying regularly                                                63%

Working to help the poor and needy                 52%

Committing to spend time with family              48%

Reading Bible/religious material                       42%

Attending religious services                              35%

Not losing temper                                             32%

Helping out in your congregation                     28%

Dressing modestly                                            26%

Working to protect the environment                22%

Living a healthy lifestyle                                  18%

Resting on the Sabbath                                    18%

Buying from companies that pay fair wages    14%

On the Journey

June 2017 Entries

June 27, 2017

 

Summer camp!  Almost 40 youth, children, and chaperones from Journey (along with about 1100 other youth (grades 6-12) and 500 other children (grades 3-5.)  In the mountains of North Carolina at the continental divide (cool enough the last morning that we could see our breath outside.)  Averaged 6 hours of sleep per night and 6 miles of walking per day (again, in the mountains!)

 

You could say it was an eventful week.  The first evening a Journey chaperone fell and injured her foot and was taken to urgent care.  The next evening a Journey child was taken to urgent care—same nurse, same room.  The child’s hand had gotten caught in an elevator door (don’t ask how.)  Two fire companies and a medic unit responded.  When his sister (also at camp) heard her little brother’s hand was stuck in an elevator, she fainted, but was caught before she hit the ground.

 

At supper the next evening one Journey child started choking.  Another child (the one who almost fainted) moved quickly behind her and did the Heimlich maneuver on her.  The child who was choking spit out the food.  And the child who did the maneuver said in a nonchalant, matter of fact way:  “I saved her life.”

 

The child who saved the life of her friend publicly in worship let it be known that she was saved, that she had become a Christian.  Another child also declared her faith in Jesus (and excitedly called various family members to tell them because she could not wait until she got home to share it with them.)  One of Journey’s youth also said that he wants to be baptized.  When asked what they liked most about camp, over and over our young people said—worship.  Before camp started, we prayed for spiritual transformation, and God moved in the lives of our youth and children in significant ways at camp.

 

One evening in the cafeteria some of Journey’s kids started beating their hands on their table and chanting:  “Journey Church is awesome, Journey Church is awesome.”  Even more importantly, God is awesome! It was an awesome week!

 

Guess what?  We’ve already registered for camp next year!  June 26-30.  Same place (except hopefully no urgent care will be needed again!)  Pray that our wonderful, dedicated, awesome youth and children’s volunteers will continue to love and disciple all our kids throughout the year (if you’d like to volunteer in some way to serve in these life-changing ministries of our church, just let us know.)

 


June 19, 2017


Journey is committed to life transformation through the power of Christ’s love.  Here’s a story of that from someone who was recently baptized in our church:

 

“Before trusting Christ with my life, at age 17 I was in a physically abusive and controlling relationship.  On any given day, I’d show up to my job hung over or still drunk or high on pills.  Often times, my “friends” would give me pills at work, and I’d take them without even knowing what they were, because frankly, I didn’t care most days.  I spent my lunch break crying in my car and trying to talk myself into going back inside. 

 

It was at this job that God placed a wonderful, Godly role model in my life.  She invited me to church.  I attended many times, and I considered myself a believer in Christ, but I still felt so empty and lost. 

 

One Sunday morning I remember sitting there feeling so exposed, like everyone knew about the drugs I had been doing even that morning.  I felt embarrassed and shameful.  I questioned how Jesus could possibly care about me.  I told myself that I could never be forgiven for all the things I had done.  Then the band sang a song, and I felt as if I was the only one in the auditorium, and every word was meant just for me.  ‘Come home running, his arms are open wide.  His name is Jesus, and he understands.  He is the answer you are looking for, so come home running, just as you are.’  For the first time, I felt like I could be saved from the path I was going down.  That morning I committed to living my life for Christ.

 

After trusting Christ, I was able to overcome my addiction.  I feel at peace and full of life and love.  I am blessed to be married to my middle school sweetheart and best friend.  I have a family with Journey Church where I feel as though I really belong.  I get to serve with the kids’ ministry and tell them how much Jesus loves them.  Though I still make mistakes, my life is meaningful.  I have purpose.  I am blessed.  I know I am loved.”


 

June 12, 2017

 

Here’s another life change story from Journey’s recent lake baptism service:

 

“Before I trusted Christ, I tried to control my own life.  I worried about the future.  I let my past regrets haunt my thoughts.  I was unsure of who I was and what life was all about.  I used alcohol to try and cope with the stresses of life.  I let alcohol control my life gradually over time.

 

I found out through the Bible that Christ doesn’t want me to worry about the future or live in regret of the past.  I decided all I had to do was to trust that everything would work out in his way, which the Bible says is good, because God is good.  I decided that I could live a more peaceful, fulfilling life through Christ.  Any wrongs done in my life were forgiven by Christ.  I am one of God’s children, and he loves me.  I will be with him in heaven when I die.

 

Since I decided to follow Christ, my life is new because I have let old habits and addictions go.  I’ve realized that the only way to recover from alcoholism is through Christ.  God is forever by my side, in my corner, rooting for me, guiding my direction, loving me. 

 

I now have the grace of God even though I do not deserve it.  Now my life is peaceful, absent of anxiety and worry and full of hope because God is ultimately in control.  I know that even on the hard, rough, difficult days, I can be grateful for the small things God has given me.  God will give me just what I need to be happy.  I can now share this new found love with others.  I know that we are children of God who are always loved and graced by him.”

 


June 5, 2017

 

Our lake baptism service was so very meaningful.  Here is one of the powerful life change stories that was shared:

 

“Before I trusted Christ, I felt punished by God.  My parents were alcoholics, and I was never good enough for their attention—and I felt I wasn’t good enough for God’s attention either because I thought he wouldn’t help me.  I was neglected and abused and thought God ignored my cries for help, my demands to make my mommy and daddy stop drinking, stop yelling, stop being violent, stop ignoring me.  When my brother died, I was 14, and he was 16.  I thought I had reached my end point with God.  I was ANGRY.  Why would God put me through such a horrific childhood and then rip my brother from my life?

 

As I got into my late teens, I moved away from my parents with an older man, and I developed a toxic, co-dependent relationship.  Every time he failed to show me love or make me happy, I thought it was God again, punishing me.  Every time I would lose a job, a friend, a pet, a family member—I thought I was being punished, and I would ask WHY?  Why are you doing this to me?

 

No matter how much I prayed, cried, begged, I thought God just wouldn’t answer me.  I was in toxic relationship after toxic relationship.  I would attach myself to people with addictive personalities, people hooked on drugs, alcohol, you name it.  I wasn’t comfortable around “normal” people.  It wasn’t until my mom went into recovery that I heard her version of my childhood and I received the most genuine apology that I forgave her—and I forgave God.  I realized my elaborate expectations of God to erase every negative situation in my life were unreasonable.

 

We attended Journey’s Christmas Eve service in 2012, and I had an epiphany.  God didn’t PUT me through my childhood, God GOT me through my childhood.  Without the love and grace of Christ, I could very well be in the same shoes my parents were.  I suffered; I cried; I experienced abuse—but God did not cause it.  He was there with me as I was going through it.  At that very first Journey Church service, my realizations led me to trust Christ fully.  With each passing year, my trust and love for Christ have grown ever stronger.

 

Since I decided to follow Christ, I am no longer a victim.  In Christ, I am strong.  I am a survivor.  I am God’s child.  I now see that my life is made whole in Christ.  I think back on some of the worst times, and I realize he was there the whole time!  I was blinded by anger, disappointment, resentment.  I couldn’t see him.  I want to help others see him in each and every moment when they thought they were alone.  I want to be the love of Christ to others.”

On the Journey

May 2017 Entries

May 30, 2017

 

There’s a young woman who struggled with the church.  She went for a while, exploring different church options, but she found most of the churches to be unwelcoming and unfriendly.  She’d sit alone, with no one ever taking the time to speak with her beyond greeting her at the door.  Now she’s walked away from the church.  This is an experience all too common among many new church-goers.  The perspective that churches are unwelcoming is extremely widespread, especially among younger generations, even Christians.

 

What’s the solution?  Tony Morgan has suggested the practice of becoming a “there you are” person instead of a “here I am” person and of becoming a “there you are” church instead of a “here I am” church.

 

A “there you are” person walks into a room and, with their actions, says: “There you are.  You’re important.  I’d like to get to know you.”  Jesus did this again and again.  Jesus pursued people.  He noticed them.  He sought them out.  He called people by name.  When Jesus walked into a room, he actively reached out to those who were alone, those who were hurting.

 

It’s sad when the church is mostly a collection of “here I am” people who walk into a room and, with their actions (or lack of), say: “Here I am.  Come talk to me.”  It’s sad in the church when we don’t make the first effort with people who are new, when we fail to notice them or to seek them out.

 

My prayer for Journey is that we will be a “there you are” church.  I hope we will caringly connect with other people, especially newcomers, and not expect them to come to us first.  I hope we’ll take the initiative to introduce ourselves and sensitively ask meaningful questions, attempting to really get to know people.  I hope everyone will feel truly welcome and accepted and important in our church.  Let’s all commit to do our best in embracing that, even if it means getting out of our comfort zones.  Let’s make it happen!

 


May 15, 2017

 

This morning I received a call from a woman.  She told me that she and her young adult daughter were interested in visiting Journey after her daughter had spent time looking over our church’s website.  But before they came, the mom wanted to know the answer to a question.  She asked:  “My son committed suicide.  Does your church teach that he’s in hell because of that?”  How would you answer her?

 

I told her about the first client assigned to me when I was a chaplain in a psychiatric hospital.  He was a young man named Calvin.  Sadly, Calvin had “fried his brain” on LSD.  He had been in the hospital multiple times before.  After a couple of weeks, the treatment team decided that Calvin should be allowed to go home for the weekend and return the next week for outpatient therapy.  Calvin went home, and Calvin killed himself.

 

I acknowledge that I struggled with this, particularly since he was the first patient ever assigned to me.  I came to understand how chemical imbalances in the brain can lead people to act in destructive ways.  And I came to firmly believe that what’s important is not how you die, but how you live.  I told the mother who called me today that’s what I believe, and I told her I was so sorry for the death of her son.  When she told me her son had committed his life to Christ, but he too had taken drugs that had led to a chemical imbalance, I assured her that I was confident that he was in heaven, not hell, because God’s love never fails.  I also assured her that she and her daughter would, of course, be welcome at Journey (and I didn’t say it, but I hope it’s true, that the love of our church will never fail.)  I told her that at Journey we all are broken—just in different ways.  So, we really try to be a place of grace and love and caring to one another.

 

After I hung up the phone, I was so thankful for our community of faith called Journey Church.  And I am grateful for you.

 


May 8, 2017

 

In my morning devotion I prayed specifically that I might sense God’s leading because I want so much to know the Lord’s guidance concerning several decisions I’ve been pondering.  And, I acknowledge, I wanted God to be very clear and unmistakable and easily understood.

 

Well, here’s the prompting I got.  “God doesn’t always do things that make sense, especially in terms of how I think God ought to do things.”  Now, how helpful is that?

 

As I’ve reflected, it is indeed helpful, but in a way that’s different than I might expect.  I want to know exactly what God wants, I want to completely figure out God, and I want God to be reasonable about it all.  But, here’s the deal.  When I say I want God to be “reasonable,” the reality is that I want God to do what I deem reasonable.  Which is another way of saying, that I want God to do what I think makes sense to me and is in my best interest as I perceive it.

 

What has struck me is that when I think that way, what I really want is for God to conform to my way of thinking, to lead in the way that I think is “right,” and, of course, that will be easiest and best for me as I define that.

 

There’s a problem with all this.  It’s idolatry.  It’s putting myself first and expecting God to “get in line” and simply confirm what I’m already thinking.  But in those times when I really, genuinely try and listen to God’s promptings, over and over God turns the tables on me.  God acts in ways that are not the what I expected, and God tends to do what I think is “unreasonable” (from my perspective.)

 

I just want God to be clear and direct and do things the way I consider best, and God instead calls me to trust in the Lord.  It can seem like foolishness to me, but whenever I try and restrict God to doing things the way that seems wise to me, that makes sense to me, I almost inevitably find after a while that things don’t go as I’d hoped.

 

So, what am I supposed to learn from all this?  I’m not exactly sure.  But, I’m trying to practice patience.  And I’m working on trusting.  And I’m committed to follow however God leads.  And I’ve decided that’s enough for me.  How about you?