June 2021

6/7/2021

My husband Wayne and I are celebrating our 24th wedding anniversary today, June 7.  Every year since we’ve been living in our home, a mama bird has made her nest on a lamp affixed to the brick side of our house just outside our back door.  You could almost set your “spring forward” clock by it.

 

Last summer we decided to enclose that part of our house and were so excited by the outcome of the new sunroom.  With the unpredictable pandemic year, we were able to find some peace and grounding in the new space with open windows to God’s creation as we soaked in the beauty of the passing seasons.  That is, until the “spring forward” clock went off in 2021.

 

As anticipated, a bird arrived to make her nest in her “old faithful” spot, but the spot was no longer accessible to her.  Every morning the bird would come and sit on the windowsill, then flit about, flapping her wings, clearly upset that she could not get access to her favorite nesting place.  The bird could see the lamp through the new windows, but could not get to it, and so she would peck on the glass.  This went on for weeks.

 

Wayne and I discussed taking the lamp down to encourage her to move to another location, but we both agreed that she would eventually learn that a nest could no longer be built in her favorite space.

 

She attempted to nest on a lamp at the front of our house, but sadly, the nest fell, because it did not have the support and protection of the old location.  Undeterred, she tried again in yet another spot, this time on our patio, nestled in the corner of two strong beams with a ceiling, and close enough to the house to discourage any predators.  Finally—success!

 

I am happy to report that she is settled and safe in her new nest after a long and challenging time of transition.

 

I tell this story because God often whispers to my spirit through His natural world.  Like the mama bird, we may be tempted to reach back to rhythms that no longer work for our current circumstances, and we may frustrate ourselves trying to make things exactly as before when life has transitioned to a new season and way of being.  This may include the shift from pandemic rhythms to post-pandemic life, or it could be a job change, a major move or life change, a marriage or divorce, a graduation, a birth, or even a death.

 

Where will we build our new “nest” and what will it be made of as we move forward into each new season before us?  Will we ignore the counsel and protection of God’s word and have it fall on the pavement?  Or will we build our nest on the never changing rock that is Christ Jesus and under the loving shadow of His wings?

 

All of these major shifts require that we turn our eyes to the One that has created all things and who never changes.  He knows us completely.  He knows our name our every thought.

 

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  (Psalm 139:16)

 

You have searched me, LORD, and you know me.  (Psalm 139:1)

 

He knows us and loves us so much.  He desires to be in relationship with us and guide us into the next season and all of the seasons to come.  So, if you’ve never received Christ as your personal Savior, but long to begin a relationship with the one who knows and loves you most, just pray these words to receive Jesus into your heart:

 

Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life.  I know that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself.  No longer will I close the door when I hear you knocking.  By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation.  I am ready to trust you as my Lord and Savior.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth.  I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day.  Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life.  I believe your words are true.  Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my Savior.  Amen.

 

If you’ve prayed that prayer and received Jesus into your heart, please allow us to help you navigate the next steps.  It’s our hope to help connect you with Christ’s church and to discuss the next step of baptism which we hope to have later this summer.  We would welcome the opportunity to celebrate with you in this most wonderful decision!

 

May God bless you!

-Melody

 

6/14/2021

Our church family celebrated a changed life through a baptism recently.  Below is part of the story of the person who was baptized and also what a person who watched the baptism said about how it impacted him.  These are reminders of why Journey is committed to connecting people to Jesus in life-transforming ways:

 

The person who was baptized wrote:

“Before I trusted Jesus, I felt like I was in a never-ending downward spiral.  Darkness was overtaking my life.  I wanted to die and felt that was the only way to find relief.  I knew there had to be a better way.  At my weakest, I turned to prayer and asked for help.  A friend of mine led me to Journey Church, and I felt hope for the first time in years.  Since deciding to trust in Jesus, I now know that I am not alone in my struggles.  I know that Jesus suffered way more than I ever have or ever will.  It has opened my spiritual eyes, and I see things as positive no matter what I am going through.  I still struggle, but I know I have comfort in the love of Jesus and that my faith in Him is all I need.”

 

A person in our church who was present at the baptism said after the service:

“At the completion of the baptism, I experienced a warm sensation that started at the top of my head.  The warmth traveled through me to my toes.  Then I felt my body being embraced from my shoulders to my feet.  I started to cry tears of joy.  I know that this experience was the presence of Jesus Christ.”

-Michael

 

6/21/2021

An Associated Press story tells of how Debby Neal-Strickland married her sweetheart, Jim Merthe, at their Florida church.  Two days later, she put on a hospital gown and donated a kidney to Mylaen Merthe—her new husband’s ex-wife!

 

Here’s how love and compassion can triumph over division.

 

Mylaen had long struggled with kidney disease.  She was ghostly pale with dark circles under her eyes, dragging herself through the workday.  By the time she was admitted to the hospital, her kidneys were only functioning at 8%.

 

Her brother offered to donate a kidney, but wasn’t a match, so Debby volunteered.

 

Jim and Mylaen had been divorced nearly two decades, but they got along well as they raised their two children.  Debby and Mylaen were friendly at family gatherings, though not especially close.

 

Debby knew that Mylaen was about to become a grandmother for the first time.  She imagined Mylaen’s daughter giving birth and thought:  “Her mom not being there.  I just couldn’t not try to change that.”  Debby said:  “God told me:  ‘You’re a match and you need to do this.’”

 

After months of testing and COVID delays, the transplant was set for two days after Jim’s and Debby’s wedding.  Debby was tempted to postpone the wedding, but friends discouraged her.

 

Debby said of her wedding day:  “It was the most amazing day of my life, until two days later.  That was also the most amazing day of my life.”

 

As soon as Debby regained consciousness, the new bride asked about Mylaen.  A few floors below, Mylaen pleaded with the nurses:  “I need to see her.”  That was the first thing out of her mouth.

 

When Jim was eventually allowed to wheel his new wife into his ex-wife’s room, Debby could already see the difference.  The circles under Mylaen’s eyes were gone.  Debby said:  “She looked so alive and revitalized.”

 

The women call themselves kidney sisters and pray for each other.

 

Mylaen said:  “She saved my life.”

 

In Acts 20:35, it says:  “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  Giving is what Debby and Jim do.  How about you?

-Michael

 

6/28/2021

Joshua Pease points out an often-overlooked element to the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  Both Mary and Martha have asked Jesus, in their own way, why He let this happen.  And Jesus never answers.  The question just . . . hangs there.

 

In the same way, our questions hang there, too:  “Why would a loving God have let ____ happen?  Why did God let me get fired, or that person die?  Why did my spouse/fiancé/boyfriend/girlfriend cheat on me?  God, why?”

 

One of the earliest books written in the Bible is about a good man named Job who loses everything—his children, his business, his possessions—to the sort of tragedies insurance companies call “acts of God.”  The entire book is a giant philosophical debate over why bad things happen to good people.

 

Most of Job’s friends are convinced Job did something wrong he won’t admit to.  When Job continually protests his innocence, they accuse him of insulting the character of God who, because He is powerful and good, would only let bad things happen to bad people.

 

We want to know why things happen the way they do, but what we’re really asking is:  “God, explain to me how you simultaneously see all of human history at once, are guiding it to a redemptive conclusion, while at the same time loving each person individually, yet allowing them legitimate control over their day-to-day decisions.”  Let’s say God told us how all that works—could we possibly understand it?

 

In dealing with God, we are like ants who demand Albert Einstein explain to us the theory of relativity, then when we can’t understand the answer, we choose to believe Einstein doesn’t exist.

 

We live in a world rightly fascinated by the mysteries of the universe and of science, and what we learn over and over again is how small and fragile we really are. Yet there is something deep inside us that rejects God being so much bigger that not only does He not owe us an answer, but we couldn’t understand it if He told us!

 

For some this simply isn’t enough.  Until God shows up and explains away the pain, we refuse to believe in Him or trust Him.  He has to give a quantifiable accounting for tragedy.  But we’ve set up the rules so He never possibly could, because what answer would make the pain OK?

 

If one person died so five other people could live, would that make that death not a tragedy?  If someone treated you unfairly, but then God smote them with leprosy or really bad halitosis, would that take away your pain?  If you grew up with abusive parents, would your fear and insecurity disappear by learning it was all part of some master plan?

 

No, because pain isn’t some algebraic equation to be balanced.  There’s no corresponding equal for a loved one’s death or a broken heart or a shattered dream.  There’s no monetary value that can make it better.  This is why the phrase “everything happens for a reason” is horrible.  It implies that pain can be quantified and reimbursed, and that’s not how pain works.

 

Maybe God doesn’t go out of His way to explain “why evil happens” because He takes our pain too seriously to minimize it with some logical moral algorithm.  Maybe what we’re asking Him for would cheapen the reality of how awful evil truly is and how painful our battle with it has been.

 

We know that there can’t be an explanation that makes us go: “Oh, that’s why!” and then it’ll all be OK.  But still, we hold on to the question, accusing Him of dodging it.  This way we never lose the argument, and we avoid our true problem—we don’t truly believe God is good, and we’re afraid He’s going to hurt us.  If this is the case, then the answer God gives is really the only one that makes sense.

 

We want a philosophical treatise.  God offers a relationship.  We demand intellectual answers. God gives us Jesus.

-Michael

May 2021

5/3/2021

Invite, Invite, Invite

 

Inviting friends to church used to be so awkward for me.  I remember getting up the courage and planning how I would ask someone.  I remember getting nervous and putting it off because the time just didn't seem right.  Then, if the person or family agreed to come, there was always the chance that they would not actually show up.  If they did come, there was always the chance that the message or music was not what they needed to hear at that time.  And then, it was crazy awkward if they never showed up and then avoided me for months.  Have you ever had that experience? 

 

Now with Journey Church Online it’s very easy to invite our friends to church!  The awkwardness has decreased to zero!  I recommend hitting the “Share” button on our Journey Church Facebook worship service every Sunday!  I recommend sending the worship service to specific friends through Facebook messenger every week!  I recommend copying the YouTube link and sending it through email or text to friends who need that particular message. 

 

You never know what an unchurched friend might be going through or when a specific message might be perfect for their situation.  Most of us are used to seeing friends post links to various articles or Facebook Live opportunities.  There’s no more awkwardness!  You are just providing an opportunity for your friends to try out a church service!

 

I also encourage you to look through your Facebook friends list in a prayerful manner, asking God to speak to you about whom to share the worship service with.  I believe that God can lead us to send a message to someone at a specific time.  I have sent many, many messages inviting friends to a Bible study or a worship service.  I have almost not sent an invite, but then I felt a nudge from God, and I sent it.  That person ended up coming!  I was surprised!  Want to be surprised by God?  Pray through your friends list!  Give your friends an opportunity!  Invite, Invite, Invite!


-Rhonda Hopper


5/10/2021

Do you like being told what to do?  I acknowledge often times I do not.  And yet over and over again, the teaching of the Bible tells us what to do.  In fact, in the Bible there is command after command (and, yes, a part of me does not like being commanded).

 

I am learning to tell myself (instead of being told by others!) that God gives commands/direction/guidance for our good.  I am learning that following the commands of God is what “wins” in the long run—even though in my selfishness I struggle at times with this.

 

So, in that spirit, I invite you to slowly ponder and pray over, one by one, the commands found in just a single chapter in the Bible.  If you were to genuinely obey them, how would that enable you to “win” as you align your life with the will of God?  (Remember, do this slowly, opening yourself up to what the Lord wants to say to you.)

 

Romans 12:1:  So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us great mercy, I beg you to offer your lives as a living sacrifice to him.  Your offering must be only for God and pleasing to him, which is the spiritual way for you to worship.

 

Romans 12:2:  Do not be shaped by this world; instead be changed within by a new way of thinking.  Then you will be able to decide what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect.

 

Romans 12:3b:  Do not think you are better than you are.  You must decide what you really are by the amount of faith God has given you.

 

Romans 12:7-8:  Anyone who has the gift of serving should serve.  Anyone who has the gift of teaching should teach.  Whoever has the gift of encouraging others should encourage.  Whoever has the gift of giving to others should give freely.  Anyone who has the gift of being a leader should try hard when he leads.  Whoever has the gift of showing mercy to others should do so with joy.

 

Romans 12:9:  Your love must be real.  Hate what is evil, and hold on to what is good.

 

Romans 12:10  Love each other like brothers and sisters.  Give each other more honor than you want for yourselves.

 

Romans 12:11  Do not be lazy but work hard, serving the Lord with all your heart.

 

Romans 12:12  Be joyful because you have hope.  Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times.

 

Romans 12:13  Share with God’s people who need help.  Bring strangers in need into your homes.

 

Romans 12:14  Wish good for those who harm you; wish them well and do not curse them.

 

Romans 12:15  Be happy with those who are happy, and be sad with those who are sad.

 

Romans 12:16a:  Live in peace with each other.  Do not be proud, but make friends with those who seem unimportant.

 

Romans 12:17:  If someone does wrong to you, do not pay him back by doing wrong to him.  Try to do what everyone thinks is right.

 

Romans 12:18  Do your best to live in peace with everyone.

 

Romans 12:21 Do not let evil defeat you, but defeat evil by doing good.

 

So, what did you discover about God from prayerfully pondering these commands?  What did you learn about yourself?

-Michael


5/17/2021

The mission of Journey Church is to turn people into fully devoted followers of Jesus.  But what does that mean?

 

Christian spiritual formation is about taking on the very character of Christ himself so that as the Apostle Paul describes it in Galatians 4:18:  “Christ is formed in you”.  What does that mean?  Paul writes in Colossians 3:12-14:  “Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life:  compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Put up with one another.  Forgive.  Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind.  But above all these, put on love!  Love is the perfect tie to bind these together.”

 

If we are genuinely seeking to follow Jesus, that calls for a loving renovation of our inner being, a transformation of our heart as we become more and more Christlike.  Is that really possible with the struggles we grapple with day after day?  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18:  “You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here.  So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes.  All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away.  Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on.”

 

Being an authentic Christ-follower involves a thorough transformation of the inner life that increasingly embraces spiritual wholeness and holiness focused on the things we cannot see.  Human effort is necessary because spiritual formation is not a passive process, but growing in Christlikeness in our inner being is not a merely human attainment.  It is, finally, a gift of God’s grace.  The resources for it come from the active presence of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of those who place their confidence in Christ, as well as from the spiritual connection believers have with others in the body of Christ, the church (which means that there is no such thing as long-lasting, life-transforming spiritual transformation apart from the church.)

 

What are the primary elements or activities involved in an effective process of Christian spiritual formation?  Most of the activities commonly identified as “religious” can be a part of the process of spiritual formation and should be.  Public and private worship, the study of scripture, prayer, giving generously to Godly causes, the experience of loving community, and service to others, all can be important elements in spiritual formation.  But they must be thoughtfully and resolutely approached for that purpose, or they will have little or no effect in promoting it.

 

Other less commonly practiced spiritual activities such as fasting, solitude, silence, simplicity of living, confession, journaling, and spiritual direction can also be parts of spiritual formation.  But get this.  All activities intended to develop into a fully devoted follower of Christ are to be embraced in the context of an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus himself as our constant Savior and Teacher.  There is not one formula for spiritual formation, for it is a dynamic relationship and one that is highly individualized.

 

So, how would you say you’re doing in the process of deepening in spiritual formation as you daily seek to become more Christlike?

-Michael


5/24/2021

The negative impacts of the pandemic, social distancing, and isolation have taken a toll on many people’s mental and emotional well-being to one degree or another.  Many people have struggled with a sense of hopelessness.  Some have experienced depression.   Some have had suicidal thoughts.  Some Christians think these are matters not to be talked about.  But emotional distress exists, regardless of whether we talk about it or not, and by not talking about it, we have left many of our brothers and sisters stuck in isolation and spiritual doubt.

 

Carley Marcoullier has written about myths that too many Christians believe about mental health.

 

Myth 1:  My Feelings Don’t Matter to God

 

This false assumption is grounded in a distorted view of God.  Every one of us matters to God—feelings and all.  We should not assume that when God does not respond to our emotional distress in the way we want that means our pain is not acknowledged by God.  God does care.  Our struggle is not a result of God’s lack of goodness or attention to our needs but rather is the consequence of our broken world which will be redeemed one day and set right again.

 

God created us to feel, to connect, to experience pure joy.  As a result of human sinfulness, we have also been exposed to pain, disconnection, loss, fear, shame, discouragement and more.  Jesus does not once dismiss these, but gently offers relief, hope, grace and healing.

 

God hears and sees the brokenness of our world.  Our feelings are real, maybe not always rational, but knowing that God loves us, messy and undone, helps us to be honest with our emotions and allows God into the raw and real feelings we may be dealing with.  This is why scripture reminds us repeatedly to pray and to worship.

 

Even when emotions are deep and pain is present, we can rejoice in the truth that our God is going to make all things new, and prayers will be answered in the promise of Christ’s return, where he will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain.  (Revelation 21:4)

 

Myth 2:  I Just Need to Have More Faith

 

One of the most common, and shaming, beliefs held by some Christians in response to mental health concerns is the assumption that people just lack faith.  But if we start to believe that all emotional distress is a measurement of our faith, we are missing the Gospel completely.  We can have faith and struggle at the same time.  Scripture calls us to remain steadfast amidst our trials, not to deny our discouragement and distress.

 

Faith is trusting God even when we do not see or feel that he is working amidst our pain.  The Gospel invites all who seek healing to acknowledge their insufficiency and in faith accept the hope that Christ offers. 

 

We are all broken, regardless of the source, and God invites us to wrestle and to find rest.  Seeking support through counseling or other avenues does not negate our foundation of faith nor should it replace our prayers for direction and peace.  By reaching out, we allow others to join our journey of faith, seeking endurance and encouragement.

 

Myth 3:  If I Take Medication for Emotional Distress, I Will Be Judged

 

This belief, unfortunately, is too common in the Christian community.  The reality is that people judge because they do not understand.  Taking prescribed medication is not somehow immoral.  God’s church is called to learn the function and purpose of mental health medications so that members of the body may better support and encourage one another in seeking wellness and balance within our lives.  

 

As believers, we are to talk about how we actually feel, without fear of rejection or judgment and to remind each other:  “It’s okay to not be okay.”

-Michael

April 2021

4/5/2021

Easter morning has come and gone.  It’s over, right?  Or should Easter rather be understood as an ongoing experience in the lives of all Christ-followers?

 

After Jesus was resurrected, he encountered two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus.  At first, they did not recognize who he was, but eventually they realized it was Jesus who was alive and active in the world, and they exclaimed:  “Weren’t our hearts on fire within us!”

 

All of us who claim to be followers of Jesus are to be Easter people.  Our hearts are to be on fire within us for the things of Jesus.  We are to embrace a holy enthusiasm of living all out for Christ every day of the year.

 

The resurrection of Jesus is not the ending of the gospel, the salvation story of God’s seeking to rescue all humanity from our sin and selfishness.  The story isn’t over.  The Holy Spirit continues to write the story of redemption through our lives on a daily basis, for the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead lives in us. 

 

After appearing on the road to Emmaus, Jesus appears again.  He shows to his disciples his hands and feet which had been pierced by huge nails when he was crucified.  The scars of his crucifixion remained even after the resurrection.  He still carried with him the signs of the brokenness of this world.

 

We who are Easter people continually bear the marks of brokenness even though we experience the hope of the resurrection.  My prayer is that the sufferings and struggles of our lives will enable us to be more sensitive to the hurts of people as we live as wounded healers, seeking each day to share the never-failing love of Jesus in a world that desperately needs to experience it.

-Michael


4/13/2021

The message of Old Testament prophets can be difficult for us, can’t it?  The prophet Jeremiah calls out people who say they know God but who are really just engaging in a superficial kind of religiosity.  They say they’re religious, but they act as if their motives do not matter and their immoral behavior seems to be of little or no concern to them.  They just assume God will protect them as they go through the motions of religious activity and because of that they will be safe from hardship and heartache.

 

But Jeremiah proclaims this message from the Lord God:

“I will keep you safe only if you change your ways.  Be fair and honest with each other.  Stop taking advantage of foreigners, orphans, and widows.  Don’t kill innocent people.  And stop worshiping other gods.  Then I will let you enjoy a long life in this land I gave your ancestors.  But just look at what is happening!  You put your trust in worthless lies.  You steal and murder; you lie in court and are unfaithful in marriage.  You worship idols and offer incense to Baal, when these gods have never done anything for you.  And then you come into my temple and worship me!  Do you think I will protect you so that you can go on sinning?”  Jeremiah 7:5-10 (CEV)

 

Is it possible that any of us are just going through the motions of superficial religious activity?  Is it possible God is calling us to change our ways?  To be honest with others?  To stop chasing after false gods?  To stop taking advantage of people?  To stop putting our trust in worthless lies?  To stop being unfaithful in marriage?  To stop feigning genuine worship?

 

The message of Jesus can be difficult for us too, can’t it?  He proclaimed:

“And unless you are willing to take up your cross and come with me, you are not fit to be my disciples.  If you try to save your life, you will lose it.  But if you give it up for me, you will surely find it.”  Matthew 10:38-39 (CEV)

 

Is it possible that people are losing their religion today because we’ve not been willing to take up the cross of self-sacrifice in following Jesus?  We’ve not been fit to be his disciples?  We’ve been more concerned with saving our lives than losing them for Jesus?  Our religious activity is so superficial that people don’t think we really believe what the gospel says because we’re not living it out?

 

What is God trying to say to you and me today that’s difficult for us to hear?

-Michael

 

4/19/2021 

Yes.  Yes.  You’ve heard the scripture before:  “Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that.  We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer.”  Hebrews 10:25 (CEV)

 

Okay, but really, why should we bother?  What good does it do?

 

Well, according to research reported by Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe:  “Regular worshipers tend to live longer, to suffer lower levels of stress, to have fewer symptoms of depression, and to have better cardiovascular and immune function.  Similarly, the data suggests that religious worshipers tend to be happier, to drink less, to have lower rates of drug abuse, and to give to charity and donate blood at above-average rates.”

 

So, I really hope you’ll embrace worshiping on a regular basis because it’s good for you spiritually, emotionally and physically!

 

On May 2, Journey will begin having in person worship services on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. outside at our Wild Goose campus.  Masks will not be required, and we all will be able to sing!  Bring chairs if you have them (we will have chairs available if you need them.)  There will be children’s activities that take place simultaneously with the services.

 

Our church will continue to have online worship experiences on our Journey Church Roanoke Facebook page at 9:00 a.m. on Sundays or anytime on our Journey Church Roanoke YouTube channel or at journeyconnection.com.

 

If you have ideas for how you think our church’s worship services might be enhanced, would you email your suggestions to me at michaelduval@journeyconnection.com.  At Journey we always want to learn how we might improve!

-Michael


4/26/2021

A news station in Weatherford, Texas, reported that Cybill Moore may never forget the day she found something unexpected on her doorstep.  She said:  “It was a very large basket of men’s dirty laundry, and I was like, ‘OK, I don’t know whose this is.’”

 

The basket of dirty laundry had mysteriously shown up on the porch of her property and whoever left it clearly wanted it washed.

 

She said:  “It had a Walmart bag next to it with the laundry soap and the softener and the dryer sheets.  I left it for about 24 hours just to see if anybody had realized:  ‘Oh, I left it, let me go grab it,’ and they didn’t.”

 

Moore began trying to find the owner through social media, community boards, and neighbors.  After three days with no luck, she decided the clothes needed to be washed.

 

She said:  “It’s two loads.  It’s not gonna be that big a deal, so I went ahead and did it.”

 

Shortly after she finished washing, drying, and folding the clothes, and putting them back in the basket, she got another surprise.

 

Moore said:  “Maybe not even 10 minutes later, a gentleman knocked on my door and was like:  ‘Do you happen to have a basket of laundry?’  And, I said:  ‘Yes sir, I do.’  He was like:  ‘That’s mine!’”

 

The young man who was tracking down his lost laundry told her it was supposed to be dropped four houses down where he pays a woman to do his laundry.  He said:  “I’m sorry.”

 

She responded:  “It’s OK.  I washed it by the way.  And he was shocked about that.  I figured it needed to be washed since it was on the porch, so I went and did it.  And he was like:  ‘Oh, my goodness, thank you so much.  I’ve been wearing these same jeans for three days now.’”

 

He was stunned to find out she’d washed a stranger’s clothes.

 

For three days, the mystery of who left the basket of laundry on her porch and why lingered, but there’s no mystery in why Moore decided to wash a stranger’s dirty clothes.

 

For the woman in Weatherford, Texas, washing the clothes was a no-brainer.  She said:  “It was just something that, hey, we’ve all struggled in the past year.  This isn’t too big of a deal, why not just do it?  If somebody’s laundry happens to show up, maybe you should probably do it because maybe someone needs it.  Otherwise, try to find the owner because they might be needin’ their pants.”

 

Now, you may not know someone who is needin’ their pants, but you almost certainly know someone who has struggled in the past year.  What is some way that you will show the love of Jesus to them through a simple act of kindness?

 

Jesus said:  “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and truly, that is who I am.  So if your Lord and Teacher washes your feet, then you should wash one another’s feet.  I am your example; keep doing what I do.  I tell you the truth:  a servant is not greater than the master.  Those who are sent are not greater than the one who sends them.  If you know these things, and if you put them into practice, you will find happiness.  John 13:13-17 (VOICE)

 

Finding happiness through serving others—that’s what Jesus teaches.

-Michael

March 2021

3/1/2021

My daughter, Charlotte, is not quite two years old.  Recently, she stumbled and struck her head very hard against the door frame in our home.  I knew by the loud thud and her screams that she was hurt—I just wasn’t sure how badly.

 

As she sobbed, I evaluated the immense knot and bruise on her forehead and prayed she didn’t have any significant trauma to the brain.  After just a few moments she grew very drowsy and wanted to nap.  I panicked.  I thought for sure this was indicative of a concussion and that allowing her to sleep would somehow be the end to her very short life.

 

After a Google search, a prayer, and my husbands’ words of encouragement (not necessarily in that order) I allowed her to rest.  After 45 minutes, I gently roused her to see if she would wake.  I was comforted by her opened eyes, and I allowed her to drift back to sleep to finish her daily nap.  I said another prayer, this time thanking God for his protection and for my daughter whom I love so immensely.

 

The Bible describes new believers as babies.  This metaphor isn’t designed to insult those who are new to the faith, rather to illustrate that our faith journey is a process in which we grow and mature over time.  Just as my Charlotte, who is still new to walking, is prone to stumbling, so it is with new believers who are learning what it means to take up their cross and follow after Jesus.

 

Perhaps you or someone you love is new to faith, and you fear that you might stumble in such a way that you can’t come back from, a way that would end your short new life as a Christ follower.  You might be afraid that your mistakes might somehow disqualify you from this beautiful gift God has given you.

 

I want to assure you that what the Bible says is true, 100%.  In the Bible we are promised many things.  In Philippians 1:6 we are promised that, “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished.”

 

We are told in Romans 8:38 that, “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.  Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”

 

I want you to know that even when you stumble, God is still with you.  God is perfect love.  He is quick to forgive and does not keep a record of our wrongs after we ask for and receive His forgiveness.  This gift, made possible by Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross and resurrection from the dead, has the power to overcome any of our mistakes, stumblings and shortcomings.  Do not walk in fear, rather trust in God that He will never leave or forsake you.

 

When Charlotte fell, there was a bruise to her forehead.  When we stumble, there may be consequences we have to navigate.  But know that this is not the end.  This is part of the process of becoming a mature Christ follower.

 

Allow God to pick you up, clean you up, to love you, and then keep going.  Try again.  Keep living the faith.  As you grow in faith, you will stumble less often (though know that no one is perfect!).  Learn to rely on God’s strength and ask the Holy Spirit to show you the way out, the way of escape when temptation comes knocking.  And when you fall, know that God is always there to pick you up.

 

Be encouraged. 

-Jackie

 

3/8/2021

So, how stressed are you?  Would you be willing to try Christian meditation to deal healthily with your stress in a way that draws you closer to the Lord?  (There are free apps for this, but I’ll get to that.)

 

Meditation is a rich part of the Christian tradition.  Richard Foster says in his book Celebration of Discipline:  “Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word.  It is that simple.”

 

Through meditation we may remove ourselves from worldly distractions and attach our souls to God, becoming attuned to the divine presence.  Foster says we may meditate on God’s promises, on Scripture, on the goodness of his creation.  The Christian practice of meditation infuses our stress-filled lives with much-needed stillness and quiet.

 

Philippians 4:8 says:  Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth.  Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy.  (VOICE)

 

C.S. Lewis says:  “We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private:  and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.”

 

Need help in learning how to meditate?  One app you might download and use is called “Centering Prayer”.  You can set how long you’d like to pray or meditate silently.  You can choose a Bible verse or prayer to open and close the time.  You can also select a calming sound to begin and end the time, for example, piano, birds singing, or even Gregorian chants (which is what I use). 

 

In the Centering Prayer app you’re encouraged to choose one “sacred word” that you focus on and repeat during the time.  For example, you might choose the word “peace,” or “love” or “grace” or “Jesus” (which is what I use).  The app provides a structure to practice being still and focusing on God for a set length of time.

 

Another tool you might use is YouVersion Rest.  To listen to this on Alexa, say:  “Alexa, open YouVersion Rest.”  To listen to this on Google Assistant, say:  “OK Google, talk to YouVersion Rest.”

 

I listen to YouVersion Rest through my computer.  It’s a way to find peace in the words of God while listening to a calming voice read the Bible to you.  These videos include a female or a male voice, along with four soothing background sounds:  rain, thunderstorm, ocean and soft piano.

 

What are other ways you’ve found to engage in meaningful Christian meditation?  Would you share them through Journey’s Facebook page or group?

 

-Michael

 

3/15/2021

Faith?  Why bother?  Because you don’t have any choice when it comes to faith.  The reality is you will put your faith in something or someone.  The question is what or who.  Material possessions?  Personal popularity?  Technology?  A political leader or party?  A celebrity?  A sports figure?  Yourself?

 

So, what or who are you putting your faith in?  How do you spend your time and energy?  What is the focus of your life?  What does that tell you about what you truly value in life?  Your priorities reveal what’s most important to you, what you worship, what you put your faith in.

 

Hebrews 11 identifies some outstanding examples of the Christian faith.  It begins by declaring:  “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.  It’s our handle on what we can’t see.”  Hebrews 11:1 (MSG)

 

The faith we embrace is the foundation of our lives.  If we embrace a Godly faith, it leads to a life worth living.  If we do not embrace a Godly faith, it leads to a life not worth living.

 

When it comes to faith, two options are to deny or to defy.  Some people think that faith is about denying the reality of the world we live in.  But Biblical faith does not deny the reality of hurt and hardship, discouragement and despair.  Biblical faith does not allow those things to define us.  Biblical faith defies that the bad things of this world will ultimately win out.  It embraces that there is a spiritual realm that we cannot see, but which is real.

 

Biblical faith is about the passionate pursuit to become more and more like Jesus.  When we center our lives in Jesus, we find that when we seek God when our foundation is shaken, it’s often God who is doing the shaking.  It’s sad that it’s this way, but again and again our lives show that we often choose to turn to Jesus only when our lives are starting to fall apart.

 

So, what if you are dejected, despondent, defeated, desperate right now?  What should you do?  Turn to Jesus.  It’s as simple and as challenging as that.  Get to Jesus.  Commune with Jesus.  Live in and for Jesus.  The question is—will you do it?  Will you genuinely put your faith in Jesus as the fundamental fact of your existence, a spiritual reality that transcends the brokenness and selfishness and sin of this world?  About that you do have a choice.

 

-Michael

 

3/22/2021

Two-year-old Hagen Davis flew with his family from Sacramento to Dallas to attend his great uncle’s funeral.  He left his beloved Buzz Lightyear action figure on the plane.  The aircraft then flew to Little Rock, Arkansas, where Beth Buchanan, a Southwest Airlines operations agent, discovered it.  She noticed the name “Hagen” on the bottom of Buzz’s boot and decided to scan the passenger list.

 

A ramp agent named Jason William Hamm saw the toy sitting on his colleague’s desk.  They confirmed that Buzz belonged to Hagen, and Hamm decided to get it back to him.  He emailed the family to let them know he had located Buzz and to ask for their address so he could return the toy to them.  Then he decided to convince Hagen that Buzz had been on a mission before returning home.

 

So, Hamm, an aviation photographer, took pictures of Buzz in front of an airplane, an engine, and a cockpit.  He wrote a letter from Buzz to Hagen explaining his “mission” and the photos.  He decorated a cardboard box with drawings of Buzz, stars, planets, and classic Toy Story sayings, including “To infinity and beyond!”  Then he mailed Buzz, the letter, and the photos to Hagen.

 

Why did Hamm go to such lengths?  He said:  “I have an autistic son, and he gets attached to toys.  If he loses a toy, I know how hard it is for him.”

 

Hagen’s mother said:  “For Jason to go above and beyond for someone he did not know, and to take that much time and effort, it’s just incredible.”

 

In John 13:34-35 Jesus says:  “A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (NIV)

 

How are you showing through time and effort that you are truly a disciple of Jesus?  How are you going out of your way, above and beyond, to demonstrate the love of Christ to people?

 

-Michael

 

3/29/2021

Mark Twain is reputed to have said:  “Faith is believing in what you know ain’t true.”  Is that what faith really is?

 

As a person of faith, I see no benefit in clinging to falsehoods, lies, things that are not true.  When life is knocks you down, throws you for a loop, disorients you (like many people feel right now), it is truth that offers security and stability and hope.

 

At Easter, followers of Jesus by faith celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.  Some people falsely think that God’s miraculous resurrection of the crucified Savior of the world is fantasy, fiction, foolishness.  Those people who are Christ-followers celebrate that Jesus’ resurrection is a historical fact and is the foundation of the Christian faith.  

 

Of all the belief systems in the world, Christianity is the only one that insists that its truths must be founded on the historical existence of a person named Jesus and that he historically said and did the things claimed of him.

 

The validity of the resurrection as a reliable historical event is paramount to personal faith.  The Christian faith is historically verifiable—or it’s nothing.

 

If Jesus did not die (really die, dead-as-a-doornail-dead) and then rise again (in a physical body, that walked, talked, ate, and resumed relationships with his friends), then what Paul said is certainly true:  “If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins.”  1 Corinthians 15:17 (GNT)

 

I pray that with God’s help this Easter season you will embrace with deep faith Jesus’ resurrection with renewed confidence, wonder and hope.

 

-Michael

February 2021

February 22, 2021

Jesse Carey wonders just how powerful Americans’ obsession with consumption really is.  He found:

 

Nearly 40 percent of food in America goes to waste.  Americans waste 165 billion dollars worth of food every year (stunting due to malnutrition and lack of food affects 161 million children around the world every year.)

 

In America more money is spent on fashion accessories than college tuition.  The amount spent on shoes, watches and jewelry alone totals $100 billion.

 

Despite making up just over 3 percent of the global population of children, American kids consume 40 percent of the world’s toys.

 

On average, homes in the U.S. contain more TVs than they do people.

 

Despite being less than a quarter the size of China, Americans throw out more than 1 million tons more electronic devices than China.  America creates more electronic waste than any other nation on earth.

 

Americans use 100 billion plastic bags annually.  Plastic kills 1 million seabirds every year.

 

The average American household credit card debt is $7,849.  The median total annual household income for the global population is $9,700.

 

On average, the amount Americans spend in a single weekend is more than half of the total they give to churches in an entire year.

 

What do you think of Americans’ patterns of consumption?  What do you think Jesus thinks?

-Michael

 

February 15, 2021

“So what exactly do you do?” It is a question that I get quite often, and it makes me chuckle. I have the privilege of serving at Journey Church in a variety of ways, but I have to be honest, one of my FAVORITE ways that I get to serve is in the area of missions and outreach.

 

At Journey Church, we are focused on going outside of our church “walls” and serving in the community. Last week I delivered breakfast, valentines and school supplies to two local schools on behalf of our church family. This week I get to make two more of those deliveries. It is such an honor and privilege to serve our church and our community in this way. I get to be the face of Journey Church as I make these deliveries, but it is you – your heart, your generosity, your faithfulness—that is the true hero of the story. Just listen to the impact you made in the life of one educator last week:

 

Wow. You guys at Journey Church really know how to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this community and at Read Mountain Middle School!! This morning I showed up to see such a wonderful act of kindness being displayed to all staff here at RMMS with breakfast!! This is no surprise as you have been doing this all year for us. BUT, I would be remiss if I didn't stop and give a shout out and THANK YOU for being and having such a servant attitude in your community. THANK YOU for all that you do. Know that it is much appreciated and everyone here is AWARE of what a kind and loving church you are. Have a great day!

 

Thank you for your faithful generosity that makes acts of kindness like this in our community a possibility! Thank you to all those who wrote valentines to encourage these educators. Thank you for your hearts that yearn to love and care for others the way that Jesus loves and cares for others! Thank you for allowing me the awesome privilege to serve you and Jesus in this incredible way!

-Jackie Taylor

 

February 8, 2021

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love transformation stories.  I don’t care whether it is a house that’s been remodeled or if someone has lost 100 pounds, I am absolutely addicted!  I think it’s the sense of hope it gives me to watch such a huge goal achieved.  It is instantly gratifying to look at the before picture in all its terrible glory and then to see the amazing, and most of the time, utterly unrecognizable after picture.  I’d like to share with you the most amazing transformation you’ve never seen.

 

The Apostle Paul is responsible for writing over a quarter of the New Testament of the Bible.  It is impossible to know the full extent of the impact that Paul had in spreading the message about all that Jesus did and who He was.  His life and legacy have helped shape nearly every Christian in history.  Who is this man that God gave this extraordinary mission to?  Was he included in Jesus’ inner circle of closest friends?  No.  Was he a disciple of Jesus during His earthly ministry?  Again, no.  Not even close.  That is what makes this the greatest, most amazing transformation you’ve never seen.

 

Paul, formerly known as Saul, was a Pharisee.  This was the type of religious elite that Jesus so often railed against during His earthly ministry.  Pharisees tended to be self-righteous, only pretending to uphold God’s laws and instead burdening others with impossible standards that could not be lived up to.  They took advantage of others.  And Saul was a Pharisee of all Pharisees.

 

In fact, Saul was in the business of killing Christians.  He was on his way to track down Christ followers to have them thrown into prison when he met Jesus in a breath-taking, life-altering, history-making moment.  Saul was on the road to Damascus when a blinding light appeared, and the resurrected Jesus spoke directly to him.  From that moment on, Saul was a changed man.  He went from Christian killer, to one who would himself suffer and die for his belief in Jesus.  We still look to Paul’s letters and teachings to know how to live in our modern world as a dedicated Christ follower.

 

If you ever think you are too far gone, that there is nothing good in you for God to use, just look at Paul.  Paul was arguably one of the worst Pharisees in history, but God STILL used him.  A willing heart is all God needs to change your story.  You may never know the full impact of your life, as I am sure Paul didn’t, but have faith that God can and is using you in an immense way.

-Jackie

 

February 1, 2021

I’ve been thinking about the importance of resilience—the ability to adapt to or recover from adversity, crises, disruption, life changes.  I believe Godly resilience is something we all desperately need to embrace in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic in order to avoid paralyzing anxiety and a spirit of pessimistic hopelessness.

 

In the Old Testament Joseph was someone who demonstrated resilience during tough times.  His brothers planned to kill him out of jealousy, but they eventually sold him into slavery.  Joseph repeatedly encountered difficulty after difficulty, but he did not give up.  He recognized that none of us can control all that the future may hold.  He held to a deep and abiding trust in God and a spirit of hopefulness and optimism even when confronted with calamity.

 

What are some ways that followers of Jesus may build and maintain resilience in trying times?  Here are some suggestions.

 

1.  Realize life doesn’t end just because life changes—because life is always changing.  Intentionally choose not to emotionally internalize disasters.  Recall past problematic situations that you were able to work through and continue on with life, believing you will be able to do so again.

 

2.  Be willing to give and receive emotional and spiritual support.  Connect with people whom you may care for and who will care for you.  Sharing our struggles helps ease the burden.

 

3.  Care for your physical health.  Get appropriate rest and sleep.  Exercise.  Eat healthily. 

 

4.  Be patient with yourself and with others.  None of us is perfect.  We all are struggling.  Refrain from taking on a critical spirit that injures you as well as others.

 

5.  Engage in prayer and meditation that focuses on the strength and wisdom of God even when there are unknowns which we cannot control.  Understand life is full of uncertainty.  Regularly focus your attention on the love and goodness of God which will sustain you so that you may find a peace within your soul in turbulent times.

 

6.  Participate in meaningful activities that lessen your stress instead of contributing to it.  If what you do increases your upset, choose another activity.


Resilience.  Do you have it?  Will you develop it?

-Michael

January 2021

January 18, 2021

When I was a prison chaplain, I met Billy Graham and Chuck Colson who preached to the inmates with whom I ministered.  Colson, once known as President Nixon’s “hatchet man”, was one of the Watergate Seven and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice.  He served seven months in federal prison.

 

Colson became a Christian, and his mid-life conversion sparked a radical life change that led to the founding of the non-profit ministry Prison Fellowship.

 

Among the things that Colson said, this is one that I’ve been reflecting on:  “The kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One, no matter who is occupying it.”

 

With all the challenges that are taking place in America right now, how would you respond to the question:  “Where can Christians find hope in these hard days?”

 

Jim Denison has said there are places where we should not base our hope:  “We have learned in the last year that medical science, for all its contributions to our lives, cannot prevent new viruses or protect us from all existing diseases and disasters.  Technological advances cannot prevent the spread of digital misinformation, conspiracy theories, and pornography.  Political leaders and parties cannot solve all the challenges of our fallen world and sometimes make them worse.”

 

Our hope is in the Kingdom of God being worked out and being lived out in the lives of followers of Jesus.  In this week of a new President being inaugurated in America, I am in agreement with Colson:  “The kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One, no matter who is occupying it.”  I will be putting my trust in Christ who is the basis of my hope.

-Michael 

 

January 11, 2021

2020.  It was a difficult year in multiple ways.  I wondered if Journey had made much of any difference in people’s lives in such a tumultuous time.  So, I asked several folks.  These are some of the responses shared with me about what Journey Church meant to people during the past challenging year . . .

 

An anchor for my soul.

Light in the darkness.

Encouragement in discouraging times.

A sense of community and support for me.

A firm foundation.

A place of strength and comfort and calm that helped me to overcome.

A place to connect and feel close to God.

 

In this new year of 2021, I pray Journey Church will continue to make a difference in people’s lives as we share the love of Jesus openly, enthusiastically, humbly and unconditionally.

-Michael

  

January 4, 2021

As this new year begins, what would you think if I were to say to you:  “Your life is not your own”? 

 

Would you respond with defiance, saying:  “Who do you think you are?  You can’t say anything like that to me!”

 

Truthfully, the very idea that your and my lives are not our own is radically counter-cultural—and biblical.

 

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:17,19:  “But anyone who is joined to the Lord is one in spirit with him.  You surely know that your body is a temple where the Holy Spirit lives.  The Spirit is in you and is a gift from God.  You are no longer your own.” (CEV)

 

You are no longer your own.  You are no longer your own.  That thought has begun to grip my spirit.

 

What if?  What if we really believed that?  What if we truly embraced that?

 

How would it change the way our families live together?  How would it change how we relate to friends?  How would it change the way we do our jobs? 

 

How would it change the way we talk and post about faith and politics and racism and justice?  How would it change whom we are willing to forgive and whom we are not willing to forgive?

 

How would it change our pride and our greed and our anger, our envy and our gluttony and our laziness?

 

Here’s my plan.  I’ve put at the top of my daily to do list for 2021 these words:  “You are no longer your own.”

 

I wonder what difference it will make in my life in the new year.  If you were to do the same, I wonder what difference it would make in yours.

-Michael