The weeks before Christmas can seem to last so long for children! I want to encourage those of you who are parents or grandparents to celebrate Advent with your kids in the month of December. It can help keep the focus of Christmas on Jesus rather than Santa Claus, presents, and commercialism. Advent is a Latin word that means “coming.” In the Christian church, Advent is time of preparation and waiting for the birth of Jesus.
How can you celebrate Advent? One way is to buy or make an Advent wreath. It typically consists of greenery with four candles, three purple and one pink. Each candle on the Advent wreath has a specific meaning:
Candle one (purple) represents hope. It is often called the prophets’ candle.
Candle two (purple) represents peace. It is often called the angels’ candle.
Candle three (pink) represents joy. It is often called the shepherds’ candle.
Candle four (purple) represents love. It is often called the Bethlehem candle.
Many advent wreaths also include a (white) Christ candle in the middle of the wreath.
To celebrate with an Advent wreath, you light a candle on each Sunday of Advent (if you forget to do it on a Sunday, you can do it on another day—we did this with our kids!). The first Sunday, you light candle one; the second Sunday you light candles one and two, etc. You can find readings to go along with the candle lightings on the internet or at bookstores.
After lighting the candles and doing the readings, sing Christmas songs (we did this with recordings as I am musically challenged!) You may want to make cookies and take them to people who serve your community, like life-saving crews or fire-fighters. You might visit in homes for the elderly, sing Christmas carols, and leave pictures drawn by your children with them.
One more suggestion. Before any presents are opened on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, read the story of Jesus’ birth from the Bible.
Hope this holy season is meaningful to you!
Christmas really is a wonderful time of the year as we focus on the incredible truth that God entered into human history through the incarnation of Jesus and actually dwelt among us to rescue us from our sin and brokenness. That is certain. That we know. But there are things about Christmas that we do not know.
We know that Jesus was born in human flesh, but we do not know it was on December 25. Two things are certain—Jesus was born of a virgin, and the Bible doesn’t give us an exact date.
We know that magi or wise men brought the Christ child gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but we do not know the number of wise men (it could have been three or four or seven—we don’t know.)
We know that Jesus was laid in a manger, but though we think we know that a star hovered over at the time of his birth, there is no reference to this in the Gospels. The wise men followed a star to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem, with the inference that Jesus had been in Bethlehem for some time when the wise men arrived. Also, it may have been that the manger was in a stable, but this feeding trough was commonly inside houses at that time (along with animals), and the family would sleep upstairs. We don’t know if the manger was inside a separate stable or inside a house that was acting as a stable.
Many people assume that Jesus was born in 0 A.D. (which stands for a Latin phrase anno domini which means “in the year of the Lord”.) However, Jesus entered into history during the days of Herod the king who died in 4 B.C. So, it seems Jesus birth would have been sometime between 4 and 6 B. C.
Some Christians have come to think that the phrase, “Merry Xmas”, is an attempt to remove Christ from Christmas. Some people may have had that as their goal, but the first letter in the Greek word for “Christ” is Chi, which in the Roman alphabet is represented by the symbol “X”. So, “Xians” don’t have to be flustered by hearing or seeing” “Merry Xmas!” Some people think that saying “Happy Holidays” is an attempt to take Christ out of Christmas. However, “holiday” comes from “holy day”. Celebrating the birth of Jesus definitely makes it a holy day!
So, this Christmas (Xmas) have a happy holiday (holy day)! And even more, know that Christmas shouldn’t be a one-day celebration, but rather, a lifestyle of celebrating the truth that Jesus is Emmanuel (“God with us”) all year round.
It’s the week after Christmas—so if anybody is reading this, I’m amazed! I want you to read something else—the Gospel of Mark. Not now, in the new year. Here’s the challenge. Read through the Gospel of Mark in January. That equals out to about half a chapter per day. Start the new year getting to know Jesus. You can do this!
Rick Bass writes to all who are caught up in our impatient, conflicted culture. He says that a glacier is one of the most powerful forces in the world. A glacier is formed by the falling of snow that collects over a period of time. As the snow deepens, the weight compresses, ice forms, then more snow, then more ice, year after year—and nothing happens. Nothing happens until the glacier is 64-feet thick. Then it starts to move, and it becomes almost unstoppable.
One theory about the origin of glaciers is that they are “the result of a wobble, a hitch, in the earth’s rotation . . . . Glaciers get built or not built, simply, miraculously, because the earth is canting a single one-trillionth of a degree in this direction for a long period of time, rather than in that direction.”
Bass says that when he struggles with things that seem insignificant or futile, he reminds himself that little things matter. He writes that if your heart leans just a few degrees to the left or the right, that with enough resolve, and enough time, a wobble one day may begin and become an unstoppable force.
You may think that what you do for Jesus may seem insignificant or futile. It seems like you’re not making any difference at all. But if your heart is committed to Christ, and you are resolved to be faithful, you can become a part of God’s moving that, though it may seem slow, is ultimately unstoppable.
Though we may be unsure and doubt, given the current climate of our culture, God will ultimately win out. God’s movement in the world, through the church, the body of Christ, will ultimately triumph over selfishness and sin and pride and divisiveness and destructive anger.
Take hope in that, dear friends, take hope in that.
How might the holidays not just whiz by again this year, but instead be genuinely meaningful? Here are possibilities.
1) Embark on An Advent Journey by making your way through a four-week devotional guide. Click here to download it.
2) Be the love of Jesus by participating in the Drumstick Dash or some other way of caring for people who are hungry or homeless or hopeless.
3) Follow the example of Jesus in giving generously by enthusiastically embracing the JourneyCares Holiday Challenge (it’s described below.)
4) Nurture your soul by carving out time each week for solitude and silence to be thankful and to ponder the wonder and mystery of God.
5) Celebrate in worship on Christmas Eve with our Journey Church family.
6) _____________ (fill in the blank yourself!)
Our church recently celebrated the baptism of eight persons who have committed their lives to Jesus. Here is the life-change story of one of them:
“Before I trusted Christ, I was in a very bad place. I wasn’t happy about anything in my life. I was working in an office that was very degrading, for a boss who daily told me I was stupid and talked down to me like I wasn’t worth the air she breathed. As far as friendships and personal relationships were concerned, I was looking for answers and solutions to fill voids and emptiness in all the wrong places. I got involved with the wrong people and tried desperately to fit in or just feel like someone loved me. My head and heart were so full of darkness that I was often very deeply depressed, and many times had suicidal thoughts. I knew I couldn’t take my life into my own hands, though I wanted to, so I would scream and beg God to just kill me in a car crash. I didn’t want to live anymore. I hated everything about myself and couldn’t stand looking at my own reflection. Every day was a struggle to just get out of bed. I completely stopped taking care of myself because I just didn’t care, and I didn’t believe I was worth fighting for.
I was raised in a Christian home, not perfect by any means, but my mother always had faith and taught us well. I knew Christ was there and the answer, but I was stubborn and kept it at arm’s length. This spring I struggled a great deal financially. It gave me the opportunity to realize that I needed to let things go and give my worries and issues to God and that helped me to start praying. I got a New Believer’s New Testament with study guides. In my daily struggles I learned that I was not in control and that I needed to relinquish my stranglehold on my life to the One who is in control. I gave my life over to Christ. I knew everything was going to be different than it had been in the past.
I have found a new peace and happiness in my life. I no longer totally hate myself. I may not like certain things here and there, but I am a work in progress and part of that is continuing to work on how I see myself. But knowing that I am made without mistake and that no matter who on Earth does or doesn’t love me, I know God always will. No matter what I’ve done in the past, it is all forgiven and He is helping me to learn how to forgive even myself. I stopped turning to vices to fill emptiness and picked up new habits that bring me closer to God.
I find myself drifting away from the people in my life who kept me in a downward spiral. Though I still love them, I know that sometimes you have to love people from a distance to help restore your own soul and to not be dragged back down into those dark, scary places anymore. I am much happier now and I know that though I still struggle with relationships, God has a plan, and I trust His plan for my life. I am much more at peace to let go, trust the process. I have seen God, first hand, put me in places I needed to be in the “right time” and learning to listen to his guidance and direction and to pray. I know that this is only the beginning to a long and beautiful journey as I continue to grow and let the light of Christ shine in and through me.”
Here is the life-change story of one of the persons who recently was baptized by our church:
“Before I trusted Christ, I was very lost and distrusting that anything or anyone could help reshape me into the person I was meant to be. I felt alone in life, as if I had no one to turn to that could accept me for who I am and guide me in a way that could bring positive change to my life and those around me. My life before Christ was filled with chaos and destruction. I faced hardship, and looking back on that hardship, now it is clear that I had no intention of trusting God or handing any part of my life over to him. Everywhere I turned there seemed to be another thing that went wrong, or I did wrong, another relationship I destroyed or that destroyed me, another regretful decision I made. I stayed ashamed and consumed by guilt for those I had hurt. I lived in my own selfish desires. I turned into a person I didn't like and a person who was filled with so much hate and resentment and fear. I turned dark and numb. I treated people poorly because I was hurting and decided to drag everyone around me down so that they could feel the pain too. I considered taking my life on multiple occasions, thinking there is no purpose for me here—I bring nothing to the table and offer no one anything except for disappointment, resentment and sadness. I felt empty as if I had already died, just going through the motions to make it another day.
I was deceitful, manipulative and untrusting. I gave up. I just threw up my hands and said, “I quit!” I felt like everyone had given up on me because of all the pain I had caused them. I lived with constant anxiety and fear of the unknown. The toll my actions had taken on my relationships, on my mind and my body, was unbearable, and the possibility of ever restoring any of that seemed so far-fetched. I wore a mask. I learned to hide my pain because I was too prideful to let my guard down. I didn't feel like anyone or anything could actually help me. I placed myself in dangerous situations with no regard as to what would happen to others or myself when doing so. There were more days than not when I felt as though my life would never get better. I was alone. I needed to loosen my need for control. It's something I wanted to do, but distrust and pride stepped in my way.
I decided to trust Christ because I have seen how he has worked in the lives of many around me. I decided that the only way to successfully release myself from that burden of control was to trust in Christ. I feel God is the only being who can ease my worries and guide me into becoming a better person. I have someone to turn to who will always have by back and will never pass judgment or be angry for coming to him. I have prayed and have been overwhelmed with warmth and comfort, and for that very reason I owe him my trust. I know he has forgiven me, and I can trust he will help me forgive myself. I know that my relationship with my husband, kids, family and friends will become stronger.
Trusting in Christ has given me hope. More hope than I have ever felt. I finally feel excited about life and how I can make it better not only for myself but for others. I am enthusiastic about finding self-worth and my purpose for being here. I don't feel I need to be so selfish because when trusting Christ, I can put my life in his hands.”
October 1, 2018
What does the term “growing spiritually” mean to you? The biblical story illustrates that the litmus test for spiritual growth is Jesus Christ. In other words, Jesus is the one after whom we model our lives. Once we decide to follow Jesus, we commit to developing in our maturity and obedience to God’s will. Growing spiritually then means that we look more and more like Jesus each day.
Journey Church has quite a focus on spiritual growth. In fact, Journey’s mission is to lead people into life-transforming relationships with Jesus and to experience authentic Christian community. I would definitely encourage you to take seriously your spiritual growth today. For instance, you may be interested in coming to the Journey 201 class on October 7 from 1:00-3:30pm at the Journey Office Complex. We will talk about specific biblical steps and practices to utilize in order to grow in your faith and look more like Jesus.
But what if you feel “stuck,” or feel that it is impossible for you to grow in your faith? As we have shared in the “Life’s Healing Choices” Series, freedom from hurts, habits, and hang-ups is possible with God! It’s not too late to follow Jesus and grow. In fact, in Luke 18, we read a story of a blind man who screamed out for Jesus to help him. The crowds tried to get the man to be quiet, but he yelled even louder! Jesus heard the man’s cries and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41). Jesus is always available and will lead you to have spiritual sight. The good news is that you can start your journey today!
October 8, 2018
I have to share a great, true story with you. I received a text late Sunday evening from one of my best friends about his son, Parker. Parker is one of the coolest kids you will ever meet, but he has significant disabilities that keep him mostly confined to a special motorized chair.
Parker’s disabilities do not stop him from being a great kid. Parker is also quite smart and bright. In fact, he loves people and will give you the sweetest smiles when you greet him. I just love hanging out with him when we get time. Our families played together last summer in a special playground where Parker even got to go down slides and enjoy things that most of the other kids with better mobility can do.
Parker’s parents, however, had a rough road of finding a church home until last year. They finally found a church family that had an openness to them, and this has made all the difference in Parker’s life and family. In fact, his father—who is incredibly gifted musically—is now singing with the church’s band, and I am so thrilled to hear about how God is working in their lives.
So, let’s get back to the text message. The message let me know that Parker had prayed to become a Jesus-follower! The church will even be outfitting him with special gear for baptism in about a month.
In a time like this, when we are constantly bombarded with bad news from the world, remember that God is still at work, and God’s people are doing some incredible things. May God continue to use Journey, as well, for all the Parkers and their families who are right around us.
October 17, 2018
Last week I spent several days with my mom. Her Alzheimer’s is progressing. We moved her from one floor in the facility where she lives to another floor where she may receive more care. As her memory fails, on the walls of her new living space we put signs that repeatedly reminded her that this was her room, this was her closet, this was her bathroom. When the nurse came in, she asked how many children she had and what were their names. My mom paused, trying to count in her mind. After a while, she said she had 1 daughter and 3 sons, then slowly she called the names of my siblings and me 1 by 1. Small victories.
Numbers are important when they represent people. Here are some numbers I am grateful for.
12 students and sponsors who participated in last weekend’s middle school retreat
30 people who participated in last weekend’s Celebrate Recovery ministry
90 people who served in last weekend’s JourneyCares initiative, seeking to show the love of Christ in our community
198 people who have so far this year been entered into Journey’s database as new attenders
309 people who have so far this year participated in a Journey Group, seeking to deepen in their faith
320 people who have so far this year participated on a Serving Team, seeking to make a difference as they minister
Time and again recently there have been “God” moments in our church as the Holy Spirit moves. Please pray and be actively engaged as the Lord is at work in our midst to transform the lives of more and more numbers of people. It is our calling and our privilege.
October 24, 2018
“Hope.” It’s a word with so much potential. But what is hope, in the biblical sense? Bible writers used the word “hope” in ways that seem to be much different from our contemporary usage. Our current culture usually defines hope in vague ways in order to help people find some sort of optimistic feeling. For example, if someone is hungry then he may say, “I hope I get to eat a steak for dinner!” If someone is lonely then she may say, “I hope to find a good friend.” Hope today, in cultural terms, is more of a shot in the dark at the moving target of happiness more than it is anything else.
Hope is neither vague nor pointless in the Bible. In fact, biblical hope has two main characteristics.
Characteristic One: Biblical hope is rooted in a Person, not a thing. God desires for our hope to be in be placed in him rather than in our trying to secure an intangible happiness. So, when we are in a bad spot, why not reach out to connect personally with God rather than getting in a pattern of hoping that something better comes along?
When Jesus was on the cross, one of the men being crucified nearby put his hope in Jesus to rescue him from the sting of death. The other crucified man put his hope in the game of chance, ridiculing both the other man and Jesus for their seemingly pointless naiveté. Yet, it was to the truly hopeful man that Jesus said, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
Characteristic Two: Biblical hope anticipates God’s victory and peace, regardless of circumstances. So many people today base their hope on circumstances. It is a grave miscalculation to think that if we get circumstances to line up just right then we will truly be happy and have an unbreakable hope and optimism. Jesus taught, “It rains on the just and the unjust.” This is a saying which means that everybody, no matter how good or bad they are, will deal with all sorts of ups and downs in life. It is impossible to get all the right circumstances lined up to achieve happiness. We must have an unbending, unshakable anticipation that Jesus will bring us through the storms and celebrate with us on the mountaintops.
In our next series of messages, Pastor Michael and I will be talking much about hope! The times in which we live may be causing you some anxiety and fear. Some of you may even be feeling hopeless. But there is good news! God has a word for us in times of anxiety and fear. The word is HOPE.
October 31, 2018
Does God Really Win?
I sat speechless in front of my television last weekend watching news about yet another act of evil-fueled violence against peaceful Jewish worshippers. This shooting seemed to cap off a week of crime and came on the heels of at least twelve attempted mail bombings across the country. I have also noticed that some of our friends and neighbors seem very anxious about the upcoming elections. So, my mind began spinning again on Psalm 73, where the writer looks at how evil people seem to prosper and never come to justice. Why would God allow that to happen? Will God really win over evil?
It is difficult to make sense out of the senseless. Nonetheless, I have heard numerous explanations of the recent uptick in violence. Some politicize the crimes and say that political ideologies are the root cause of modern violence. Others blame a perceived decline in moral values in American culture and offer that “if we could just get back to the way it used to be, then all will be good again.” Still others just throw their hands up and say, “It is what it is.” My personal feeling is that the violence may have something to do with politics or a decline in moral values, but it ultimately comes down to our thinking and behavior concerning God.
I have a friend who says, “Every problem is a spiritual one.” I tend to agree with her. For instance, Jesus said that violence towards our neighbors begins in the heart. Even things like adultery begin with a lustful look. The apostle James said that our desires are what brings forth sin. God seems to be very concerned about how we think and then ultimately how we act regarding him. Our thinking and actions are connected.
During the month of November, Pastor Michael and I will be teaching on this very important topic. We’ve named our series “Spoiler Alert: God Wins.” We’re going to talk about how to make sense of the senseless and develop in both your thinking about and your relationship with God in order to have freedom from bondage to the anxiety that desires to grip us in uncertain times.
September 4, 2018
In the last eleven years Journey Church has had 20 persons serve as pastoral interns, worship interns, youth interns, children’s interns. Where in the world are they? Literally, they have been around the world. They have served as missionaries in other countries, have led one of the largest university Christian campus ministries in Virginia, worked in the administration of Christian colleges, ministered on church staffs and the staff of a Rescue Mission, served on Christian youth camp staffs, started their own businesses (and almost half of them are still in college.)
Why does Journey pour into young leaders? As our strategic plan says: “We prioritize leadership development as crucial to the effective accomplishment of Christ’s mission to which we have committed our lives. We celebrate that God has gifted and called every person on this planet to make a positive difference in our world. We affirm all people have leadership abilities.”
Journey is expanding our church’s partnership with the Roanoke Rescue Mission to work cooperatively to enable people to become the leaders God created them to be. We are starting a new initiative called “Unleash Leadership”. On the fourth Wednesday of each month at 7:00 p.m. people in our community are invited to come to the Rescue Mission where we will watch a video presentation by a world-class leader and then get into small groups and discuss how we may develop our own leadership abilities.
Whatever your age, would you be interested in coming to a gathering of Unleash Leadership? If so, email me here. I hope you’ll want to be a part of this effort to equip and unleash servant leaders!
September 11, 2018
God is absolutely at work among us! Last Friday, Celebrate Recovery launched with thirty-five participants. What a blessing to hear feedback from people about how God’s Spirit is already transforming their lives through CR. Then on Sunday, we launched the much-anticipated series called “Life’s Healing Choices.” This series will run through October 28. Also, many of our Journey Groups are resuming after summer breaks. I get the sense that God is giving our church a push of momentum! Now is certainly an opportune time not only to get involved but also to invite others to experience CR, our weekly worship, and Journey Groups.
The recent surge of momentum has reminded me recently of the biblical truth that discipleship is not just an event or a program. Discipleship, simply put, is the daily action of following and becoming like Jesus. Being a disciple is essentially being a student of Jesus and walking as Jesus walked. So, discipleship is not something you do. Discipleship is a pathway, or journey. Notice how many times in the Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that Jesus says, “Come, follow me.” This is God’s invitation to the discipleship journey.
Consider then that the momentum in our church is another one of God’s wonderful ways of calling us to the great journey of being a student of Jesus. Are you up for the adventure of your life? Let’s follow God on the journey!
September 25, 2018
Recently several persons have asked me questions about church membership. Why would anyone want to be a church member anyway? The essential answer is—it’s God’s will for all people who belong to Christ. It’s really that simple.
Romans 12:5 says: “So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” (NRSV) So, if indeed we are in Christ, we are members of His body, the church. That’s pretty straightforward.
Ephesians 2:19 says: “And so you are no longer called outcasts and wanderers but citizens with God’s people, members of God’s holy family, and residents of His household. (VOICE) If you are one of God’s people, you are a member of God’s holy family, the church. Again, pretty clear.
Bottom line—being a church member identifies you as a genuine follower of Christ.
Well, what if you think of yourself as a Christ-follower, but the fact that it’s God’s will that all believers in Jesus be church members isn’t enough for you? Your thinking is—what do you get out of the deal? Well, if you care about Journey Church, and you want to have a say in key decisions of the church, then you would want to be a member because only members get a vote on those things.
Suppose you think that becoming a member is too much like signing a formal contract. In Journey’s 101 Class this past Sunday, someone asked if they needed to sign their signature on their membership information form (the answer was “no”). Becoming a church member is not a legal contract; it’s a spiritual covenant. Biblically, a covenant is a commitment, a pledge, a promise to seek daily to live more and more God’s way. No contract could ever control that. It’s a matter of the heart.
Well, what if you don’t feel as if you’re good enough to become a church member? Welcome to the club! None of us is good enough to be a part of the body of Christ. It’s simply God’s gift of grace to us.
If you’d like to take the step of faith and become a member of Journey Church, you may participate in our next 101 Class on either November 3 or 4. What are you waiting for? Become a part of God’s family and Journey’s family!
August 6, 2018
Here is a brief snapshot of my family and me. I was born and raised in Texas and have twelve years of experience in pastoral leadership, and I have been in ministry full time for eighteen years. I received my doctorate in ministry in 2012 from Truett Seminary at Baylor University, with a special focus track called Christ and Culture. My passions and spiritual gifts are preaching and teaching, and I am especially passionate about unity in the church and racial reconciliation.
Shannon was born in Georgia and has lived in Louisiana and Texas. She's my college sweetheart, and we married in 2002. Shannon also has the gift of teaching and certainly shares a calling to ministry. I adore her sweet spirit and ability both to empathize with and encourage people. Shannon is also a musician and educator. She's taught in both public schools and in a private voice studio. She is also a fantastic mom!
We have two kids, Emma and Jackson. Emma is a wonderfully gifted fifth grader, and Jack is a rambunctious but very loving three-year-old. They both love music and sing and dance all day long.
In the next weeks and months, we basically have one goal: get to know you! We are so encouraged about your small group model and want to visit as many as we can. We also want to know what's important to you and how we can best minister both to and alongside you. Please feel more than free to contact me for a get together at email@example.com.
August 13, 2018
Terrific! Awesome! Amazing! What a week in the life of Journey! Our church family generously gave thousands of dollars worth of school supplies to students in need and gave continental breakfasts to over 250 teachers and staff at Cloverdale Elementary and Read Mountain Middle and Northside High Schools.
Our volunteers served a couple of hundred students and family members at an outreach event at Cloverdale Elementary and served several hundred people at an outreach event for National Night Out in conjunction with the Vinton Police Department.
Our church co-sponsored a leadership summit for over 100 church and community leaders in seeking to fulfill one of the goals in our strategic plan: “to enhance the servant leadership ethos of the Blue Ridge region.” Also, conversations were initiated with local business and non-profit and government leaders in seeking to fulfill another goal in our strategic plan “to empower people through educational and economic development”.
Then our church celebrated the baptism of seven persons who have committed their lives to Christ. It had been pouring rain, and just as we made our way down to the lake, a rainbow appeared in the sky! Incredible!
All that happened in a week! Now, how will we all seek to cooperate with God in doing amazing things through us next week and the week after that and the week after that?
August 20, 2018
As our strategic plan says: “Journey Church exists to lead people into life-transforming relationships with Jesus and to experience authentic Christian community.” Here are two life-change stories from our recent lake baptism:
“When I first came to Journey, I was lost and searching to find some kind of direction. I grew up bouncing from place to place without any purpose. I served myself and was very selfish. I was consumed with anger and rage. I refused to trust anyone, so I was completely alone in life and unhappy. I came to the point in my life where I had enough pain. I was in and out of jail and prison. I finally surrendered to God. Now I am happy, joyous, and free. There has been a weight lifted off my shoulders since I’ve let God run my life. I feel important and loved in God’s house. I feel amazing that Jesus gave his life for me, the ultimate act of love, so now I practice love to the people around me. I try to draw them closer to God and to find what I found through Christ.”
“When I was a young girl, I was introduced to Jesus. My great-grandmother and my uncle who was a pastor brought him into my life. I had an alcoholic mother, and my father was not a part of my life. I was happy to have found a father in the Lord. As I got older, I drifted apart from God. I had a failed abusive marriage and then another failed relationship. I battled depression and alcohol. Despite all this, I was blessed with a wonderful husband and children. I have become sober and am living a much better life. I decided to bring Jesus back into my life when my children started going to Journey, seeing them so happy to have the Lord made me remember how good it feels to have him in my life. They made me realize how much I had missed him being in my life. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I am now closer to God and closer to my family. In all of this I realized God has always been with me, even when I felt angry with him and drifted away. I realized that when I thought he left me, it was I who left him. I am truly happy and have once again found love in my Lord Jesus.”
August 27, 2018
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! You have helped my family feel so much at home over the past few weeks. We are certainly grateful for your encouraging words, provision of food, acceptance, and even directions on how to get from point A to point B around town. We now look forward to visiting various discipleship groups and sharing life with you.
My wife, Shannon, and I had many serious times of conversation with the Lord in the process of deciding to move from Texas to Virginia. We desired clear indications of God’s will, and God provided those directions. Yet, there are times in all of our lives when it seems as though God’s will is unclear or perhaps even vague. Do you ever question God’s plans for your life and how to know for sure concerning your decisions? In those times when God’s direction does not seem as clear as other occasions, let me encourage you to ponder three questions. These questions may assist you in finding a better sense of clarity.
First, what is the effect of my decision on me? It’s often most helpful to have an internal conversation with yourself concerning a challenge or decision about God’s direction. If your decision would help you to become a stronger, more caring follower of Jesus, then you are headed in the right direction.
Second, what is the effect of my decision on others? We must take care of how we represent Jesus to other people. For instance, Paul talked at length in 1 Corinthians 8 about his refusal to eat meat sacrificed to idols. He did not have a problem with eating such meat, but he refused since it might have caused other believers to stumble.
Third, what is the effect of my decision on the cause of Christ? In other words, is God leading you to do something “outside the box” that will foster greater love and service to your neighbor? Even if God is calling you to do something difficult, God will encourage and equip you with the courage to accomplish what God has called you to do!
July 2, 2018
I want to share with you a Bible story—and then the story in reverse, sort of!
Mark 2:1-5 says: Jesus went back to Capernaum, and a few days later people heard that he was at home. Then so many of them came to the house that there wasn’t even standing room left in front of the door. Jesus was still teaching when four people came up, carrying a crippled man on a mat. But because of the crowd, they could not get him to Jesus. So they made a hole in the roof above him and let the man down in front of everyone. When Jesus saw how much faith they had, he said to the crippled man, “My friend, your sins are forgiven.”
Awesome, right? Caring so much for your friends that you’d do whatever it takes for them to experience Jesus.
Now the reverse, sort of. A man who started coming to Journey when he was at the Roanoke Rescue Mission drove two healthy guys who currently are at the Rescue Mission to Journey last Sunday. He wanted to do all he could to assure that they could experience Jesus.
Here’s the twist. The guy who drove them was so weak from his cancer treatments that he did not think he could make it inside the auditorium, so he sat in his car during the service (so you know, I visited him in the hospital last week and communicated directly that I appreciated him so much, but I did not want him sitting out in his car in the parking lot on Sunday mornings alone—he needed to let us know so we could help him come in to worship Jesus with our church family—and, yes, if needed, we would carry him in!)
Now, will we love our unchurched family and friends enough to do whatever it takes to bring them to Jesus so that there is standing room only? Who will we invite? What are their names? Will we write down their names and pray daily for them? Will Jesus see how much faith we have?
July 9, 2018
Jim Denison writes that the political rancor of our day is the most divisive and demeaning he’s ever seen. And it seems to be getting worse. As the animosity of our culture escalates, the opportunity for Christians to demonstrate forgiving grace becomes even more compelling.
But responding to hatred with kindness requires a level of humility that cares more about what the other person needs than what I want. This is a depth of humility many of us find challenging.
Humility means I do not think too highly of myself or too lowly of others. But humility also does not mean the opposite—that I think too lowly of myself or too highly of others.
If we know that our Father loves us as much as he loves his Son (John 17:23, 26), we know that we are secure in the hand of his unconditional grace (John 10:29). We then discover that it is impossible for us to value ourselves or others more than he does. We are free to love other people without requiring that they love us. They don't have to meet our expectations or earn our grace. And we are free to love ourselves in the same way.
Never believe that you earned God's gifts (by definition, gifts cannot be earned, only received). And never believe that his gifts make you more valuable than anyone else. The God who loves you loves them just as much. This understanding of humility enables us to respond to hatred and sin with love and grace. It empowers us to shine the light of compassion into a culture dominated by bitterness. It offers others what their souls long for—someone who will love them as they are.
Won't You Be My Neighbor? is the surprise hit of the summer box office. This documentary on the life of Fred Rogers is captivating millions. Variety says that it turns the Presbyterian minister "into a rock star for our time."
In his 1995 book, You Are Special: Words of Wisdom for All Ages from a Beloved Neighbor, Fred Rogers observed: "When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong along with the fearful, the true mixed in with the façade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way."
July 16, 2018
Former Harvard Chaplain George Buttrick had students who would come into his office and say: “I don’t believe in God.” His standard reply was: “Let’s sit down and you tell me what kind of God you don’t believe in. I probably don’t believe in that God either.”
I’ve also attempted to use this approach because it seems to me that more and more people have a misinformed or distorted view of God, and they start rejecting that idea of God, even though it’s not a true, biblical view of God at all.
The Pew Research Center has found that 80% of Americans say they believe in God. But for many of the people who do believe in God, again, it’s often a misinformed, distorted view of God. For many people, the God they say they believe in is not the God of the Bible. In fact, of the 80% who say they believe in God, only 56% would say it’s the God of the Bible. Even those who say the God they believe in is the God of the Bible can have the God of the Bible wrong. Many who say they believe in God describe this “god” only as a higher power or spiritual force (think Star Wars).
One of the reasons our church is engaged in a series this summer called “Journey through the Old Testament” is so people can begin to discover that God is not limited to how we often think God should be. God doesn’t always easily fit into our conception of God. God is not always what we envision, what we idealize, what we desire.
It can be easy for us to try and make God into what we wish—God is not above our values or judge of our values—God is the reflection of our values. This is not God at all. When God becomes a projection of ourselves, God ceases to be God, and we re-commit the sin of the Garden of Eden and try and make ourselves God.
I think all of us who are genuine Christ-followers are called to know the one true God of the Bible. We should continually be seeking to come to grips with who the Creator God of this universe truly is and see beyond the God who only does what we want and makes us “feel” comfortable.
If you’re interested in having “God conversations”, please let me know. I really think we all need to engage in them more if we’re going to become more fully devoted followers of Jesus.
July 23, 2018
Numbers. Numbers. Numbers. What do you think of these numbers by the Pew Research Center?
In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population to two-thirds in 2050.
The number of religiously unaffiliated people, also known as religious “nones,” is increasing in the United States and Europe, and we project continued growth. Globally, however, the opposite is true: the unaffiliated are expected to decrease as a share of the world’s population from 16% to 13%.
Currently, 61% of the worldwide church is in the global south.
The projected growth in Christianity world-wide is +34.6% by 2050.
The projected growth in Christianity in Europe is -17.9% by 2050.
The projected growth in Christianity in North America is +7.5% by 2050.
The projected growth in Christianity in the Caribbean and Latin America is +25.3% by 2050.
The projected growth in Christianity in Asia-Pacific is +32.8% by 2050.
The projected growth in Christianity the Middle East and North Africa is +43% by 2050.
The projected growth in Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa is +115% by 2050.
Nearly four-in-ten Christians (38%) are projected to live in sub-Saharan Africa in 2050.
July 30, 2018
Empty promises. How many times do we make them? We say we’re going to follow through on something, but we don’t. We say we’re committed, but we aren’t. We say we’re going to stop, but we don’t.
Jesus says: “And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.” Matthew 5:33-37 (MSG)
Why is it that we again and again say things we don’t really mean? When we’re asked to do something, and we know we aren’t going to do it, why do we say “yes” but then we don’t actually do it? Why not just say “no” to begin with? Not being forthright, honest and candid damages our credibility, reputation, witness.
Those of us who are followers of Christ are called to live by a higher standard. What we say should always be true. We should not pretend to be pious when we are not.
I’ve been pondering why it is that people increasingly seem to be distancing themselves from the Christian faith. I think hypocrisy, saying one thing but not really meaning it (particularly as revealed by our actions), turns lots of folks away from the Lord. And lots of times, it’s not because they would absolutely refuse to believe in Jesus, it’s because those of us who say we believe in Jesus do not represent him well.
I’m so grateful for the many dedicated followers of Jesus in our Journey Church community of faith. Let’s all every day live fully committed lives for Christ as we genuinely “walk the talk.”
June 4, 2018
Veronica Podbury has written about five keys from the Bible for sound decision-making. She says that the dangers and long-term consequences of making the wrong choice can be huge. Fear of being wrong can force us into not making a decision at all, while desperation can lead us into decisions we’ll live to regret.
The apostle Peter had to make a quick decision one dark night when he saw Jesus walking on water towards the fishing boat he was in. Full of faith, he called out, “Lord, if it is really you, order me to come out on the water to you” (Matthew 14:28). When Jesus did, Peter stepped out of the boat. We look to this as a great example of courage even though “when he noticed the strong wind, he was afraid and started to sink down in the water” (Matthew 14:30-32). The great thing is that, for a while, Peter’s bold decision to trust Jesus enabled him to walk on water! How many of us would love to do that! Peter had Jesus there right in front of him, calling him to come. For us, deciding what to do generally is not so clear-cut. We can, however, draw out five key principles to guide us.
1. Keep God involved.
It sounds almost too obvious, but when we are in frightening circumstances it’s tempting to fall back on purely rational thinking to solve our problem and inform our decision-making. God has given us our minds to think things through sensibly, but there’s a danger that, at the time we most need to rely on God for guidance, we can behave like nonbelievers.
2. Seek guidance from Scripture.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living” (2 Timothy 3:16). God will speak to us through his Word, often leading us to a particular Scripture that will bring fresh light to our situation.
3. Be open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Jesus promised us he wouldn’t leave us without guidance, but that the Holy Spirit would come and guide us into the truth (John 16:13).
4. Seek the advice of wise and experienced believers.
People around us may give useful advice in their areas of expertise, and friends may try to tell you what to do, but the “counsel of the saints” has a different level of advice and shouldn’t be neglected.
June 19, 2018
Carey Nieuwhof says that the most effective churches change constantly. He goes on to say there are certain signs of churches that are resistant to change. Here they are:
1. They keep having the same conversation over and over (and over) again. Talking about an issue—even talking passionately about an issue—and doing nothing about it is a complete waste of time. Awareness doesn’t solve problems. Discussion doesn’t solve problems. Insight doesn’t solve problems. Action does.
2. Every time someone raises a new idea, someone lists 3 reasons it won’t work. In 1876, cash-strapped Alexander Bell offered to sell his new invention, the telephone, to Western Union for $100,000. They rejected it. This was their report: “We do not see that this device will be ever capable of sending recognizable speech over a distance of several miles. The idea is idiotic on the face of it. Furthermore, why would any person want to use this ungainly and impractical device when he can send a messenger to the telegraph office and have a clear written message sent to any large city in the United States? This device is inherently of no use to us.”
3. Small things always become things. You never reach any big things because the small things always become big things. The debate on whether you should have carpet or hardwood lasted six months. And then they decided on carpet. Which itself then became the two-month discussion on what color the carpet should be. Which then became the four-month debate on who should install it. Break in one night and install it yourself!
4. “We’ve Never Done It That Way Before” has become a theme song. It’s easy to get smug and think “only super traditional churches fall into traps like this.” Successful, growing churches struggle with this tension too. You become so afraid of breaking what’s working that you resist change. The greatest enemy of your future success is your current success. When your church becomes about your personal preferences, you’ve lost the mission.
What to do? Start by personally owning your resistance to change. We all resist it, and our resistance might be born out of fear. Realize that change IS possible because not everyone is actually opposed to change. Don’t let the 10% of people who are opposed to change determine the future of the 90% who aren’t.
June 23, 2018
“Amazing.” “Awesome.” Incredible.” I’m having difficulty finding the words to describe the Christ-like hearts of the 193 people who served in our JourneyCares Week!
It was a tremendous week of spiritual development and of experiencing meaningful community within our church family, and, of course, we hope we helped our partners accomplish their mission! Here are the community organizations with whom we served (besides construction projects on individual homes.)
Angels of Assisi
Boys & Girls Club
Child Health Investment Partnership
Habitat for Humanity ReStore
Meals on Wheels
Rescue Mission of Roanoke
Roanoke Valley Greenways
Ronald McDonald House
Virginia Veterans Care Center
Collectively, there were 717 hours of community service volunteered by our Journey family last week! According to independentsector.org, the value of an hour of volunteer service is $24.69. That means our JourneyCares week of serving our community had a value of $17,702.73!
I’m so grateful for the servant hearts of all those who were a part of this outreach initiative!
If you served, but you were not able to get your t-shirt, please see a Journey staff member on a Sunday morning.
We’ve already begun planning for a JourneyCares weekend in the fall!
May 7, 2018
Having a relationship with Jesus makes life richer and more joyful and more peaceful than anything else available to us. There’s a tenacity and fierceness to God’s love through Jesus that strengthens people in the face of life’s struggles more than anyone can imagine. I believe it’s important for everyone to know this. Everyone.
Carey Nieuwhof has written of 5 Keys to Having Meaningful, Life-Giving Conversations with Non-Christians. Here they are:
1. Move Past Assumptions.
Often we have already pre-decided what someone thinks about God. We may know that a person doesn’t attend church regularly, so we assume that they think spiritual things are irrelevant. Really? We haven’t even asked the person yet. Yes, there’s a risk in asking, but make sure your preconceived hunch is not cheating you out of a conversation you are both interested in having. Statistically, we know that more people are interested in faith conversations than not. Odds are people likely wish we would bring it up.
2. Express Genuine Interest.
Ask people how they’re doing—really doing. Then listen. The first several conversations may never even mention faith. Ask about life and ideas and plans and achievements and concerns and anxieties. Be intentionally respectful. Empathize. Be motivated by a real desire to engage. If you don’t truly care about the person, don’t nudge the conversation into the faith arena. Don’t invite them to church. Don’t share your spiritual opinions. First comes caring and then comes sharing.
3. Know Truth.
Billy Graham stands out as one of the most influential Christian leaders of all time. He knew truth. He studied the scriptures to the point that he could not keep this life-saving message of unconditional and supernatural love and acceptance to himself. Out of this conviction, he shared his faith. Engage daily with scripture and apply the words of Jesus to your life. You will nurture and ground your soul, and God will use you.
4. Share Your Stuff.
Everybody has stuff. No one has it all together. Life is hard for everybody at some time. Be appropriately but profoundly honest. Talk about how you are dissatisfied, how you struggle, how you worry. If you share your thoughts on God in the absolutely false context that your life is perfect, your words will fly-fly-away into nothingness because what you have to say about God doesn’t really matter anyway. You obviously don’t need Him. You’ve got life figured out on your own. That will be a shame, when all the while you want to communicate that God’s redeeming love bolsters you and grounds you. The truth is that you believe that Jesus died for all the bad, unexplainable anguish and garbage going on in the world and going on in your life. Tell your friend that. They will listen.
5. Let Go.
You invest in people by sharing your spiritual world-view and, undeniably, the truth of what you share has the power to transform. When people lean into God-conversations, the possibilities for life-change is incredible. You will be offering a peek inside of a heart and mind sold out for God, and that is wonderful. This extension of yourself will be a gift that could truly transform your friend’s experience of living. Or maybe it won’t. Maybe someone will grow to like you but at the same time, will turn you down every time you invite them to church. This person who now trusts you and cares about you will possibly always let you talk about your Christianity but never be influenced to take on those views for themselves. That’s not your responsibility. That’s not your job. Let that go. God has got this.
May 14, 2018
We’ve all made our fair share of relational mistakes. Here are 10 principles for better relationships from the teaching of John Maxwell.
1. Recognize that you see people through who you are.
Self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-perception establish the foundation of all relationships. The way you view yourself and the way you see life shapes how you see and relate to others.
2. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
You can decide to care. You can ask God to help you become more caring. It isn’t enough to be great at what you do. If you don’t sincerely care about people and live in such a way that you demonstrate it, your relationships will suffer.
3. Authentic listening is a game changer.
One of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone is to truly listen to them. When you slow down and truly listen, you communicate that you value the person. It can be life-changing for them.
4. Believing the best in people usually brings out the best of people.
What you look for you will find. We are all flawed and imperfect, but when someone calls out the best in us, we often rise to that higher standard.
5. Hurting people hurt people.
People who are hurting don’t necessarily want to hurt other people, but it’s like a lion with a thorn in his paw, he can’t seem to help it. If we can help people take the thorn out, we can help them live better.
6. Admit wrongs and forgive quickly.
Taking responsibility for your actions is crucial to healthy and productive relationships. If you make a mistake, own it. If you treat someone poorly, ask forgiveness. Getting defensive never makes a relationship better. You might be right, but if you need to win, you’ll lose in the long run. When you are wronged, forgive quickly. You’ll live with less stress and enjoy life more fully.
7. Always give more than you take.
Be purposefully generous. It’s a heart thing. It’s a way of living, and when your motives are pure, it will bring you great joy.
8. Add value to people.
Add value to people in small ways and big ways. Contribute to their life so their life is better. It can be as simple as a kind and encouraging word, and it can be as involved as a lifetime of mentoring. Sometimes it involves enough love and courage to have a tough and honest conversation. The greatest value you can add to anyone is the message of Jesus Christ.
9. You can never encourage anyone too much.
Encouragement is the emotional fuel that enables people to hold on longer, reach farther, and dig deeper than they previously believed possible.
10. Trust is the lifeblood of all relationships.
People are counting on you to keep your promises. This reflects your character and ultimately who you are. No reasonable person expects perfection, but they do expect honesty, kindness and doing what you say you’ll do.
May 21, 2018
Proverbs 29:18 says: “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.” It’s exciting to me to see what God is doing in the life of Journey! After over a year of prayer and research and conversations, there has been a clear sense of discernment of the direction God has revealed for our church! And if our church attends to it faithfully, I’m certain we will most certainly be blessed!
The 2025 Strategic Plan for our church was presented in worship on Sunday. It’s both inspiring and challenging! It lays out Journey’s vision and priorities and goals for the next six years. Click here to download a copy of the strategic plan.
Every person who is a part of our Journey family is urged to commit to the fulfillment of what God is leading us to accomplish as we seek boldly and with genuine commitment to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to transform lives by the power of Christ’s love! As we dream big and live generously, God is calling us to a faith life of adventure and creativity that is much bigger than we often imagine!
Already people have started to “step up” and say they want to help in leading some of the new ministry initiatives envisioned in the strategic plan—for example, Celebrate Recovery and DivorceCare and GriefShare!
Adopting a strategic plan is a vital step for our church. The next step is developing teams of people who will champion and guide the accomplishment of the plan!
I ask that you read over the entire strategic plan. Pray over it. Ask God to show you how you are to actively participate in the fulfillment of this vision God has given to Journey. Then call or email or write on a Connection Card that you’d like to be contacted about your involvement.
I look forward to each of us saying “Yes, God, I want to: Connect People, Strengthen Families, Develop Leaders, Empower People, Leverage Resources!”
May 29, 2018
A crucial component of our church’s recently adopted strategic plan is the unleashing of servant leaders. At Journey we believe that all people have leadership abilities. We want to enable people to become the leaders God created them to be in passionately serving our community and world, trusting it’s never too late to become who we were meant to be.
One of our priorities as a church is raising up servant leaders. This includes the equipping of a new generation of church leaders. This summer Journey will be employing on a part-time basis Taylor Mitchell as a pastoral intern and Haley Dantzler as a worship intern. Pray for them as they engage in their new ministries and encourage them whenever you have the chance.
On a monthly basis Journey provides leadership mentoring, groups, and workshops for persons in our church. If you’d like to learn more about these opportunities, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you consider your leadership calling, reflect on these quotes from John Maxwell:
“If you want to be the best leader you can possibly be, no matter how much or how little natural leadership talent you possess, you need to become a serving leader.”
“To lead any way other than by example, we send a fuzzy picture of leadership to others. If we work on improving ourselves first and make that our primary mission, then others are more likely to follow.”
“Everything rises and falls on leadership.”
April 1, 2018
Yale University’s most popular class in its 316-year history is PSYC 157: Psychology and the Good Life. Nearly one-fourth of Yale undergraduates registered for it. The course “tries to teach students how to lead a happier, more satisfying life.” Interestingly, a 2013 report by the Yale College Council found that “more than half of undergraduates sought mental health care from the university” while enrolled because they are “anxious, stressed, unhappy, numb.” The professor teaches that the things undergraduates most associate with achieving happiness—a high grade, a prestigious internship, a good-paying job—do not increase happiness at all.
A recent Gallup survey examined how “people feel in their day-to-day lives across key dimensions of well-being, including physical health and wellness; having supportive personal and family relationships; financial and economic security; having a sense of purpose; and connection to one’s community.” The overall results “show a nation where well-being is in sharp decline.” Translation: people are not happy.
Jesus made many promises to His followers, but a happy life was not one of them. Those who convey a “health and wealth” or “prosperity” gospel do not convey the gospel of Jesus at all. But that does not mean that the “anxious, stressed, unhappy” undergrads—not to mention the sweeping lack of well-being across our nation—isn’t a Jesus issue. It is.
Jim White writes that those of us who are followers of Jesus are to embrace the conviction that every life on this planet, no matter what the circumstances of their life might be, would be better if it had Christ at the center of it. Every life would be better if it could experience real liberation from guilt and shame that comes from the grace Christ offers and, through that, experience the forgiveness of sin. Every life would be better with a deep and clear sense of Godly purpose in navigating what’s right and wrong, true and false, good and bad. Every life would be better with the Holy Spirit transforming them from the inside out into someone who is more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, more patient, more kind, more good, more faithful, more gentle and more self-controlled. Every life would be better experiencing the new community Christ came to establish where you can love and be loved, know and be known, serve and be served, celebrate and be celebrated.
JESUS 101 is a course worth taking that would move improve the well-being of all of our lives.
April 17, 2018
How might you learn to read the Bible in a way that would be more meaningful and help you understand on a deeper level? Here are ten steps.
1. Begin with prayer. Take a moment to clear your mind and focus your attention. Ask God to guide you.
2. Read the passage several times. Try reading it in different translations.
3. Determine who is speaking in the passage and to whom they are speaking. (You may have to go back several verses or chapters to find this if you are not making your way through an entire book of the Bible.)
4. Identify the characters in the passage. Do they appear anywhere else in Scripture? What is their backstory?
5. Be aware of the genre of literature. Biblical genres include narrative, law, prophecy, letters, wisdom, and apocalyptic literature. Identifying the genre helps you know how to read the passage—is it meant to be understood literally or figuratively?
6. Explore what the original language says. This may sound daunting, but online tools make studying the Greek and Hebrew accessible to any reader. Try Blue Letter Bible. Type in the Bible reference, then click on a specific verse to see it expanded in the original language. From that view, you can select a word and connect to its entry in Strong’s Concordance. You can see where else in the Bible this word has been used and the ways other translators have translated it, giving you a more nuanced understanding of its meaning.
7. Be aware of what comes before and after the passage. This helps understand the passage in context.
8. Identify what are the characteristics of the whole book. You may want to consult a commentary, online Bible resource, or notes included with your Bible.
9. Determine what is the passage’s message to its intended audience. Consider who is listening to the message, who the book was written to, who this writing spoke to on a wider scale.
10. Reflect on the passage’s significance for you. Take time to contemplate and listen to the moving of the Holy Spirit in your life. Let the words and observations take root inside you. Let the passage’s meaning mature in you over time.
April 24, 2018
Carey Nieuwhof has written about insights he’s gained after making it to 25 years in marriage. What do you think?
1. Love is a decision, not an emotion.
2. Don’t make tomorrow’s decisions based on today’s emotions.
3. Live your story, not someone else’s.
4. Instagram, Pinterest, and facebook lie.
5. Don’t put pressure on your spouse that only God can bear.
6. You probably married your opposite.
7. Counselors are worth it.
8. Progress starts when you see that you’re the problem.
9. Your unspoken assumptions can sink you.
10. When you agree on values, you’ll agree a lot more.
11. Remember that if you leave, you take all your unresolved problems to your next relationship.
12. Pray together.
14. Go on dates.
15. Don’t make your kids the center of your family.
16. Take vacations without your kids.
17. Figure out how to be a couple again before your kids grow up.
April 30, 2018
Journey’s mission is to turn people into fully devoted followers of Christ. It’s based on the Great Commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28:18–20. Recently, the Barna Group released the results of a survey indicating that over half of churchgoers are not familiar with the Great Commission. So, here are five things every church-goer should know about it:
1. The commission is to make disciples.
A “disciple” is a student who learns from a mentor or a master teacher—Jesus. Becoming a disciple refers to a deep, ongoing learning process.
2. The directive is “as you go.”
We are to be engaged in the enterprise of disciple-making “wherever we go” and in “whatever we do.”
3. The mandate is communal.
This assignment is given to the group, not just to a single individual. Great Commission work is teamwork with significant individual contribution and overarching group cooperation. No one person fulfills the Great Commission alone, but rather by investing their best gifts in kingdom service. There are no insignificant tasks in working toward this mission.
4. The scope of the mission is world-wide.
Jesus charged the disciples to take the mission of making other disciples to all nations and ethnicities. (see Acts 1:8)
5. Jesus promised to be with the disciples in this work.
Jesus assured his disciples that he would be with them as they engaged in their mission. Jesus told the disciples that even when his physical presence had departed, he would send his Spirit to comfort, teach and strengthen them. And, the Spirit continues to empower and embolden those of us who engage in this mission today.
At its core, Christianity is not the affirmation of a doctrinal formula. Rather, the Christian faith is rooted and grounded in a relational commitment to learn and follow the way of Jesus. Christians believe that the Jesus way of life is the best, most effective, most fulfilling way to live, and we seek to share that.
Eugene Peterson translates the Great Commission simply and succinctly: “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age” (The Message).
March 6, 2018
Grateful for so many things in the last week or so!
Grateful for the Work As Worship simulcast Journey hosted on the third floor of the City Market Building in downtown Roanoke for about 50 leaders in our church and community to enhance servant leader skills.
Grateful for the “God Moment” that led to the sharing of faith after Journey provided muffins and chocolate and trail mix and the promise of prayers to 80 persons at Roanoke County Schools Central Office and 135 persons at Northside High School.
Grateful for the 40 people who came out on Saturday in the cold and wind to cut down trees and do landscaping work and fill up two dumpsters with junk on our newly purchased property.
Grateful to spend time with about 20 middle schoolers and high schoolers from our church and try and answer some of their tough questions for about an hour during which they were amazingly attentive.
Grateful for the 20 people who came to Journey’s Newcomers Lunch and their genuineness and openness.
Grateful for the great work that’s being done on Journey’s 2025 Strategic Plan that will be presented to our church in the spring.
Grateful for the wonderful, wonderful volunteers at Journey who humble me Sunday after Sunday.
What are you grateful for?
March 12, 2018
I worked as a janitor in a dorm when I was in college to help pay my tuition. So, I read with interest when Matt Steen wrote “The Parable of the Janitor.” Matt went to visit a neighbor of his in the hospital. The neighbor wanted to walk in the hallways, so Matt walked with him.
They came up to a janitor who was lugging cleaning supplies, so they stopped to let him pass. Instead of walking past, the janitor stopped and declared to the neighbor: “No, sir, after you! You need to keep walking so that you can get healthy.”
The mission of the hospital is to make people well. Within the hospital, people have many different jobs: doctors, nurses, accountants, chefs, receptionists, janitors, and so on. While each of these jobs is important to the overall operation of the hospital, none of these jobs is more important than the mission: making people well. The janitor understood that it didn’t really matter how well he cleaned the hallway floors if people weren’t getting healthy. He understood his real job was helping people get well.
In the church, our real job is helping people to get well spiritually, emotionally, physically. Whatever our job is in the body of Christ—leading worship, caring for children, guiding youth, teaching classes, greeting people, setting up and taking down equipment, operating technology—we’re to do it to make people well. We do this by making disciples—disciples who make disciples.
No matter how insignificant it may seem to us, every follower of Jesus has a tremendous job to do—to make people well. How are we doing at it?
March 19, 2018
I want to share with you two life change stories from Sunday’s baptism service.
Before I trusted Christ, I did a lot of questioning. I had a lot of disappointment and discouragement. I was angry. I was in a very low place. I had been attending Journey. I was trying to start over. I gave it all to Jesus. I remember walking across the parking lot at work. I said out loud: “God, I don’t know how, but I am going to trust you know best.” It was like a huge weight lifted. I could breathe.
Since I decided to follow Jesus, things are still crazy at times. There are still struggles, but I have a peace that I have never felt before. I feel his presence. I know he is there. I feel like I am calmer. I have more patience, and I try to think about what would God say when I struggle and have a bad day. I know I am not alone. I have peace and contentment.
Before I decided to trust Christ, my heart was filled with fear, anger, pain, shame and guilt. My life was disorganized, and depression had taken over. I felt very lonely. I felt a real emptiness inside. I searched for ways to develop a relationship with Jesus.
The decision to follow Christ is the best decision I ever made, even with my baggage of sin. I was filled with a peace which I had never known was possible, a peace of and from Jesus. I’m so thankful and grateful for this beautiful gift from God. My personality was changed. I now experience every day a feeling of happiness, gratefulness, joy and contentment. I feel stronger as a child of God who loves me unconditionally forever. I’m excited to grow more each day with Jesus. I have many Christian friends to share faith with. I want to serve the Lord.
March 26, 2018
Here’s another life change story from Journey’s baptism service.
My grandmother played a big part in the church she attended. When she passed away, I was angry at Christ. I did not understand how Christ could take someone that I loved and admired away from me. I stopped attending church. I believed that my soul was lost due to me being angry at Christ and taking life for granted. One day I was driving to work on Route 419 and fell asleep behind the wheel of my vehicle. I woke up just in time to swerve and avoid a cement intersection. I walked away from the car accident without injury.
When I was college, I became friends with my roommate who later I would consider my brother. While on spring break, I received a phone call with the news that he had passed away eight days before his 21st birthday. After returning to college, I attended a party where I made a poor choice of consuming an abundance of alcohol by myself. I woke up in my apartment with friends and EMS surrounding me. I passed out due to alcohol poisoning.
Prior to Christ, I lived a life in sin. I took my life for granted and did not appreciate things in life. I began attending church and felt in my heart that I needed Christ. I have realized that Christ placed me on this earth for a purpose. You hear about people being given a second chance. I truly believe that I have been given a third chance. I walked away from a car accident without a scratch, and my roommate was at the right place at the right time when I had alcohol poisoning.
Prior to making my decision to follow Christ, I would only speak to him for things that I desired in life. Since becoming a follower of Christ, I thank him each morning for allowing me to wake up and have another day on this earth. I have now learned that when I speak to Christ that I need to thank him for the hardships in life. Without the hardships in life I would not be able to appreciate the greater times in life. I believe that everything happens for a reason in life, and now that I am a follower of Christ I can fulfill that purpose in life.
February 5, 2018
Here are some excerpts from the writing of Jared Wilson. How do they challenge you?
1. Our modern self-orientation holds out the promise of needlessness but ironically only enhances our sense of need. This is a modern tragedy that has effects on nearly all aspects of our lives, overflowing into every compartment of ourselves.
2. The worst thing that can happen to you is to get everything you want and be extremely comfortable for a long time yet be relationally disconnected from God. Separation from God is tragic, and it is tragic how little people feel that separation.
3. Contentment trusts God to be God. Discontentment, on the other hand, reveals our fear of everything but God—fears of lack of safety, of financial insolvency, of what others might think of us, even of “spiritual immaturity.”
4. When we relegate our intentionality with God to a minute fraction of our time, it’s no wonder we feel distant from him during the times we happen to be thinking about him and lack power during all the other times. Whatever we focus most of our conscious time on will invariably dominate the way we think and feel.
5. Too many of us spend our Christian lives waiting on something big to happen, completely oblivious to the fact that the biggest thing that could ever happen to us already did, and it’s more than enough.
6. Craving more and more extravagant evidences of the Spirit is an easy way to demonstrate our lack of satisfaction with the gospel of Jesus.
7. Receiving the glory of Jesus changes us. This is why the gospel cannot be boring. It declares and imparts the glory of Christ. If you find the gospel less interesting than miraculous signs, it is only because you do not see how surpassingly wonderful the gospel is! The gospel cannot get boring any more than Jesus can get boring.
8. Hearing from God through the Bible is bigger than simply discovering some religious guidance or personal pick-me-ups for the week. It involves hearing the secret workings of heaven set loose in the everyday stuff of earth.
9. The church is where God’s Spirit is doing the grand rebuilding of humanity and human relationships. To consider the church optional is to miss out on the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
10. The Holy Spirit comforts us in our afflictions. He reminds us of what Christ has done for us. He’s not like our well-meaning friends who like to spout cheap inspirational clichés and lame pick-me-ups, mainly out of their own discomfort at our pain. He knows the biggest help we could ever get is from the power of the gospel.
11. Nothing the Spirit gives us or does for us is meant to culminate in our own glory. Even when he is comforting us, strengthening us, guiding us, and enlightening us, he is doing so that we might better magnify Christ.
February 19, 2018
Journey is committed to the spiritual transformation of people. I’m convinced that a crucial way for this to happen is for us to immerse ourselves in the teaching of Scripture and to pattern our lives in accordance with it. For that to take place, we need to actually read the Bible and reflect repeatedly on the meaning of the text. A helpful way to incorporate Biblical teaching into our lives is by journaling about it. I want to challenge you to do this. Here is what I journaled as I read Romans 12. Now, if I will only integrate them into the way I live.
Offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God that brings Him pleasure and is worship.
Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind, so as a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.
Do not live wrapped up in the world and its bankrupt values, but live in constant renewal and transformation of your mind.
Do not think of yourselves as being more important than you are.
Each one of us is joined with one another, and we become together what we could not be alone.
It is important that we exercise the spiritual gifts we have been given.
Love others well.
Don’t hide behind a mask.
Despise evil; pursue what is good as if your life depends on it. It does.
Live in true devotion to one another.
Be first to honor others by putting them first.
Do not slack in your faithfulness and hard work.
Let your spirit be on fire as you serve the Lord.
Do not forget to rejoice, for hope is always just around the corner.
Hold up through the hard times that are coming and devote yourselves to prayer.
Share what you have.
Take every opportunity to open your life and home to others.
If people mistreat or malign you, bless them.
If some have cause to celebrate, join in the celebration. And if others are weeping, join in that as well.
Work toward unity and live in harmony with one another.
Avoid thinking you are better or wiser than others.
Embrace common people and ordinary tasks.
If it is within your power, make peace with all people.
Do not seek revenge
Never let evil get the best of you; instead, overpower evil with the good.
February 27, 2018
Recently I’ve had several conversations with people who have family members in declining health. I’ve talked with them about how very important I think it is for families to have open and honest and loving conversations about their wishes for—whom they want to make care decisions for them when they can’t, the kind of medical treatment they want or don’t want, how comfortable they want to be, how they want people to treat them, and what they want their loved ones to know.
I’ve been asked by several members of my own family to be responsible for their care if the time comes that they cannot be responsible for this themselves. I have asked them to complete the 5 Wishes document to help me know what they want. You can Google this to find it or go here. You may also want to go to: http://www.caringinfo.org/files/public/ad/Virginia.pdf. You may want to consult an attorney.
Have you had “The Conversation” yet about end of life wishes? 82% of people say it’s important to put their wishes in writing, but only 23% have actually done it. Not sure how to get started? You may go here: https://theconversationproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/ConversationProject-ConvoStarterKit-English.pdf
It’s a loving thing to do.
January 3, 2018
People tend to make New Year’s resolutions because they want to change. They want to improve themselves and their quality of life. The top resolutions, for most people, tend to revolve around three things: money, health, and family. They’re going to lose weight, exercise more, get out of debt, stick to a budget, stop smoking, save for the future, spend more time with family. Jim White suggests the following resolutions for people who want to live a life of strategic Kingdom investment.
1. Pray more.
So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord… ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’” says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6, NIV)
2. Invest in your spiritual gift(s).
Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. (1 Timothy 4:14-15, NIV)
3. Get more intentional about evangelism.
I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:22, NIV)
4. Care for yourself spiritually.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12, NIV)
5. Make the tough decisions you know are best.
And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:22-24, NIV)
6. Confront debilitating patterns of sin.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
7. Do the hard work needed to build community.
If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. (Matthew 18:15, NIV)
8. Quit comparing yourself to other Christians.
Turning his head, Peter noticed the disciple Jesus loved following right behind. When Peter noticed him, he asked Jesus, “Master, what’s going to happen to him?” Jesus said, “If I want him to live until I come again, what’s that to you? You—follow me.” That is how the rumor got out among the brothers that this disciple wouldn’t die. But that is not what Jesus said. He simply said, “If I want him to live until I come again, what’s that to you?” (John 21:20-23, Msg)
9. Read more.
Timothy, please come as soon as you can… When you come, be sure to… bring my books. (2 Timothy 4:9, 13, NLT)
10. Prioritize your family.
A leader must be well-thought-of, committed to his wife… attentive to his own children and having their respect. For if someone is unable to handle his own affairs, how can he take care of God’s church? (1 Timothy 3:2-5, Msg)
11. Love people.
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. (I Corinthians 13:1-3, Msg)
12. Be more open to change.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19, NIV)
January 8, 2018
In the article Five Habits That Sabotage Joy, Debra Fileta writes that no matter what life may bring, there are a few things happy people don’t ever do.
Looking at what others have is a recipe for disaster. Because no matter what, someone will always be smarter, better-looking, richer, more successful or better-liked than you. Living your life always looking out will prevent you from seeing what God is doing in your life.
No matter what is going on in their lives, happy people don’t complain. They have a realistic awareness of hardships, but they never fixate on those things. They can be honest when they are struggling, but they don’t allow their mouths to utter words of negativity about the world around them, because they know that what comes out of their mouths is always a reflection of what is going on inside their hearts. Your mouth is a powerful instrument, so be sure to use it to speak good things. When the enemy tempts you to dwell on all that you don’t have, defeat him by praising God for all that He’s given.
Happy people don’t live their life with others as their measuring stick. They don’t compete in an effort to get ahead or be the best, because their value is not rooted in how others are doing, but rather on what God says. Those who are in constant competition with others find themselves on an emotional roller-coaster, sometimes getting ahead, sometimes falling behind. Happy people root their value in Christ. And that is a value unchanging.
I have a prayer hanging above my sink that reads: “Lord, grant me the peace to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Happy people understand that some things in life cannot be controlled, and they learn to let go of those things.
It’s true that the people who put others down the most are the ones who are struggling the most within themselves. Happy people can easily find the good in others and can just as easily find it in themselves.
How do you need to stop sabotaging yourself in this new year?
January 16, 2018
At this time of year, I tend to think about goals. Why would I bother? These folks communicate it clearly:
“Goals. There’s no telling what you can do when you get inspired by them. There’s no telling what you can do when you believe in them. And there’s no telling what will happen when you act upon them.” (Jim Rohn)
“All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.” (Orison Swett Marden)
“You have to set goals that are almost out of reach. If you set a goal that is attainable without much work or thought, you are stuck with something below your true talent and potential.” (Steve Garvey)
“I think goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.” (Michael Phelps)
In 2017, we set high goals for Journey Church. We did not actually reach them. Our goal for baptisms was 25; we baptized 18 people. Our goal for Journey Group participants was 375; we had 320 participate. Our goal for Serving Teams was 325; we had 281 people serve.
Should we lower our goals for 2018? Absolutely not. I’m certain God wants to do so much more in and through us! I hope we all will allow the Holy Spirit to inspire us in this new year to believe in and act upon Godly goals to make a huge difference for Jesus in our community!
January 22, 2018
I seek to read at least one chapter in the Bible every day. I find that the spiritual discipline of writing out/journaling what I sense God is saying to me as I attempt to immerse myself in scripture is really important to my faith development. If you do not already engage in this spiritual practice, I want to urge you to give it a try. Here is what I journaled as I sought to listen to God as I read through Acts 20:
Encourage people wherever you find them.
Take advantage of every moment.
Serve the Lord with humility and tears, patiently enduring trials.
Hold nothing back.
Meet with people in their homes.
Allow the Holy Spirt to take you captive.
Accept that the future is uncertain.
Be prepared for persecution and hardships.
Don’t cling to life for life’s own sake.
Fulfill the ministry Jesus has given you.
Share the purposes of God in all their dimensions.
Diligently guard those over whom you have oversight.
Don’t be envious of what others have.
Help the weak.
Give rather than receive.