January 2022

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Do you feel burned out?  Are you struggling with physical and emotional exhaustion?

 

Dr. Judy Cha, a counselor, says it’s important to recognize the symptoms of burnout.  Some are:

Increased irritability

Increased impatience

Increased inflexibility

Difficulty sleeping

Increased conflicts at home

Decreased effectiveness at work

Decreased physical energy and emotional numbness

General dissatisfaction with life

Decreased sense of pleasure in things

 

The lack of self-care and poor boundary-setting with others often leads us to be vulnerable to burnout, but there are deeper, more unconscious heart motivations usually at play.  As beings made in God’s image, all of us have innate desires for power, control, approval, and comfort.  These are not bad desires, but when we are confronted with life’s pressures, these desires can become disordered.  More effective strategies are needed to manage stress and live life.

 

Jesus modeled three keys toward preventing burnout.  He was fully aware of who he was in body and soul.  He interacted with his Father.  He shared his burdens with his closest followers.

 

The Gospels show Jesus withdrawing when he needed to grieve the death of John the Baptist.  As a Jewish man, he kept the Sabbath—a time of rest—each week.  He spoke to his Father early in the morning.  As he lived his life with his disciples, he brought his inner circle into the profound moments he experienced, such as his anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane.

 

We are in desperate need of rest within our souls.  We need to reach the place where we are absolutely satisfied with who we are simply because God created us.  We need to embrace our identity and worth in the reality that we are made in God’s image.

 

Do you need to establish some boundaries to manage your family life or your work life?  Do you need to embrace habits of better nutrition and added exercise to help combat burnout?

 

Take time to consider what makes life meaningful to you.  Journal about what’s truly important and reorder your priorities. 

 

Intentionally interact with Jesus who is with us and empathizes with our struggle.  Pour out the cares and concerns of your heart to him.

 

Do not hold others’ burdens or your own longer than necessary.  When you wake up in the morning, pray for God’s help to care for those in need—no more, no fewer, than what the Lord knows you can handle.

 

As you go to sleep, ask God to help you release the trauma of the day.  Always remember that we live by faith in Jesus, so we do not need to fear our sense of inadequacy.

 

Share with others.  As beings made in God’s image, we are relational and need input from outside of ourselves to be healthy.  Involve people in your life who you feel safe being honest with, who can call you out on things, and who will remind you of Christ and your identity in him.

 

Although the full impact of the pandemic is still uncertain, we can anticipate a prolonged recovery period.  When we rest in Christ for our identity, the external crisis—no matter how devastating or frightening—can rage on, but the crisis in our inner being will subside and empower us to face whatever circumstances come our way.  We can offer the same grace to others that we have received from God.  We can fortify our soul to participate in God’s plans without becoming weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9).

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In 2 Samuel 16:5-13 there’s a strange/extraordinary story.  It likely will surprise you in what it teaches about becoming angry and taking offense.

 

They traveled on.  When David reached Bahurim, one of Saul’s family, Shimei, the son of Gera, came out of his house and cursed David constantly there in the road, throwing stones at him and at his servants even though David’s soldiers were all around, supporting him.  Go on!  Get out, you man of blood!  You worthless man!  The Eternal One has finally punished you for taking the kingdom from Saul, for shedding the blood of his family and subjects and reigning in his place.  That’s why the Eternal One has taken the kingdom from your bloody hands and given it into the hands of your son Absalom.  Abishai, Zeruiah’s son, was offended and amazed.  Why should you let this worthless dog curse you, my king?  Say the word, and I’ll chop his head off.  Why should this matter to you?  What do we, sons of Zeruiah, have in common?  If he insults me because the Eternal has told him to, who are we to ask him why he does it?  Listen, Abishai—and all of you!  My own son seeks to kill me today, so why shouldn’t this man of Benjamin?  Leave him alone and let him curse me, as the Eternal One wills it.  Maybe the Eternal will look at everything done against me and render something good in its place today.  So they traveled on their way; and Shimei followed, too, along the hill opposite them, shouting curses and throwing stones and flinging dust.

 

Shimei cursed King David and literally threw stones at him.  Abishai, one of David’s warriors, wanted to cut off the cursing drunk’s head.

 

How did David respond?  He chose neither offense nor anger nor violence.  David was open to learn even from someone who despised him.  He believed that God could use people who have differing views than we do to teach us something. 

 

It might be God’s will that something good could come out of the criticism and cursing of David if he was willing to learn from it.  David told those with him to leave Shimei alone, to ignore him—even though he continued to berate David.

 

How will you respond when things don’t work out the way you want politically (as was the case here) or when life doesn’t pan out the way you want in some other area of your life?

 

Will you become enraged, filled with anger?  Will you engage in cursing and harassment?  Will you embrace violence?  Will you engage in strategic ignoring? Will you seek to learn if God has a lesson to teach you?

 

How will you react when you feel offended and what do you think is God’s will for you when you do?

-Michael

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It’s difficult to imagine.  How could they?  Why would they?  Is it really possible they could be that enthusiastic about God’s church and the sharing of the gospel of life-transformation through faith in Jesus to do what they did?

 

Apparently, yes.  There’s a historical sign in Philadelphia about the First African Baptist Church there.  It reveals that two of the members of that community of faith believed so deeply in the mission of God’s church to share the love of Christ that they freely sold themselves into slavery to free a slave to serve as pastor of that church.

 

Can you begin to fathom that kind of love for God and God’s church to make that kind of sacrifice so that people might come to know Jesus?  And people did come to know Jesus through that church.  In fact, the church grew and grew because of the spirit of love and sacrifice embodied by the two persons who sold themselves into slavery for the church.

 

And then there’s the rest of the story.  Because of the generosity of those who became a part of the church, the pastor led in the buying out of slavery the two men who were joyfully welcomed back into that community faith and will always be remembered for their love and caring and sacrifice for the gospel.

 

As this new year begins, how will you show your love for God and God’s church through your giving?  What will you sacrifice?  How will you contribute to the sharing of the gospel of God’s never-failing love?

 

If you are a follower of Jesus, remember:  You are no longer slaves. You are God’s children, and you will be given what he has promised.  Galatians 4:7 (CEV)

-Michael

Journey has begun a series called No Offense.  Is it really possible to stop being offended?  Why would you want to do that, and if you did, what would be needed for that to actually take place in your life?

 

In our social media age in which many people take offense, Tyler Huckabee asks if social media debates are worth it.  He identifies some red flags that indicate social media posting has gone off the rails.

 

1.  Name Calling

If someone is calling you names that they’ve been handed from meme accounts and cable news, hit the eject button.  This conversation is going nowhere good.

 

2.  Bad Faith Questions

When one person starts baiting the other into losing their cool by pestering them with endless bad faith questions designed to test their patience and, ultimately, trick them into flipping out, it’s no sense in hanging around.

 

3.  Strawman Arguments

One person will prop up a thin caricature of the other’s argument and, instead of calling out the strawman, the other person will start defending this false characterization of their own argument.  You can be surprised how easily you can start arguing a position you don’t even hold just because someone else brings it up.  Keep a cool head and be thoughtful about what your own beliefs are and what they aren’t.  This common internet faux pas truly knows no political party or social identity.  It’s incredibly easy to deflect one person’s political attack with a completely unrelated accusation because we’ve been conditioned to think in partisan boxes.  It takes a lot of time and reflection to condition yourself out of reaching for a “whataboutism” in an online debate, but it’s worth the effort.

 

4.  You’re Getting Madder Than You Should

You should have an understanding of how important an issue actually is to you and not get any more worked up about it online than you would under any normal circumstance.  It is wild to see men and women going on ALLCAPS, redfaced, profanity-laden rants about people who do not know you are alive and will not shed a tear when you pass.  If you find yourself getting more worked up than is reasonable online (and you should really never be getting too worked up), it’s a sign to log off and take a walk.

 

Put up with one another.  Forgive.  Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind.  Colossians 3:13 (VOICE)

 

My dear brothers and sisters, pay attention to what I say.  Everyone should be quick to listen.  But they should be slow to speak.  They should be slow to get angry.  James 1:19 (NIRV)

-Michael

February 2022

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Is it possible to deepen in your faith through Bible study?  Yes.  But how?  What are some ways to make Bible study more meaningful?

 

I suggest reading the same Bible passage repeatedly in varying translations so that God might speak into the depths of your soul as you immerse yourself in the scriptural text and seek to understand it.  I’ve found using the online tool https://www.biblegateway.com/ to be very helpful in this because it allows me to read multiple translations side by side.

 

I also suggest personalizing the scriptural text in a way that applies it to your life.  You might do this by reading through a Bible passage in multiple translations and then paraphrasing the meaning of the text for your own life, using first person pronouns.

 

I also use the online tool https://www.blueletterbible.org/ that includes not only English translations but also the Hebrew and Greek texts.   I keep a scripture journal.  Below is an example of how I personalized and paraphrased the meaning of 1 Peter 1:1-7 using that tool.  (In my journal I put in parentheses thoughts that come to my mind as I try and apply the paraphrased meaning to my life.)

 

1 Peter 1:1

I am a pilgrim, a foreigner, an alien, a stranger sojourning in a strange place.

(As I’ve been making my way through the world lately, it really has seemed like a strange place to me.  I have trouble understanding the things that are happening.  The choices people make, the ways people again and again act, they seem foreign to me.  Often times I feel like I don’t fit in.  I need to repeatedly remind myself that this not my home.  God has a perfect place prepared for me.  I’m only in this world for a short time.  In the life I have on this earth, I want to make the most it by living in and living out the love of Jesus.)

 

1 Peter 1:2

I have been chosen by God.  The purifying work of the Holy Spirit is active in me.  I am to attentively hear, submit to and obey Jesus Christ so that God’s grace and peace may increase and multiply in me.

(I have been chosen by God.  I have been chosen by God.  When I feel insecure, I call that to mind repeatedly.  My identity, my value, my worth is grounded in the reality that God has chosen me.  Even in all my imperfection, the Holy Spirit is actively at work in me to transform me more and more into the person God is calling me to be.  When I truly submit to and obey Jesus, I may experience the grace and peace I so desperately desire, and God may multiply that in me—and to other people as well.)

 

1 Peter 1:3

In his great mercy God has produced in me a changed mind so that I may live a new life that’s conformed to the will of God and that gives to me a living hope.

I so need God’s mercy every day.  When I open myself up to the Lord’s mercy, it produces in me a changed mind that empowers me to live a new life—and not just any life, but a life that’s conformed to the life of Jesus.  In the midst of my confusion and brokenness, that gives me hope that my life is not a waste but is being used by God to make a difference in the way of love that changes not only my life but also the world, even if it’s only in a small way.)

 

1 Peter 1:4

God offers to me a blessedness that is uncorruptible, that is pure and free from anything that would debase or deform or impair me, and it will not fade away.

(Wow, I need this.  In this corrupt world, I need the Lord’s blessing that will free me from everything that leads me to be self-destructive or that damages my relationships.  I can mess things up so badly, but the blessing of God enables me to not give in to the corrupting influences of this world.)

 

1 Peter 1:5

God, protect me from a hostile invasion of sin and selfishness in my life.  By your dynamic power, deliver me, rescue me, heal me.

(I can’t do life in a way that pleases God all on my own.  I need divine protection from the sin and selfishness of myself and of others.  God grant to me a deep faith so that I might open myself up to the deliverance and rescuing and healing that comes not from me but by your dynamic power at work.)

 

1 Peter 1:6

God, I rejoice in you!  I jump for joy even in this present time when, for a brief season, I may be distressed, grieving, sorrowful, as I face trials, temptations, enticements, adversities, afflictions, troubles in this world.

(I choose joy even when I’m confronted again and again with problems, difficulties, heartaches.  I cannot control everything that happens in the world, but I can control my reactions to what happens.  I need to remember that even though life is really tough right now, it is only for a season.)

 

1 Peter 1:7

Every day I will seek to prove the genuineness and constancy of my faith and its immeasurable value or worth, even though it’s tested by fire.

(At times it seems to me like everything is on fire.  May I remain constant in my faith in Jesus, unwavering even when tested, and thereby reveal its worth which is more than I can express.  Without it, I would be truly lost.)


-Michael

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When my husband and I got married almost 24 years ago, we studied the 5 love languages from Gary Chapman's book.  Since the book has been around a long time, you may have heard of them, but here they are: 

Words of Affirmation - Saying supportive things to your partner

Acts of Service - Doing helpful things for your partner

Receiving Gifts - Giving your partner gifts that tell them you are thinking about them

Quality Time - Spending meaningful time with your partner

Physical Touch - Being close to and caressed by your partner

 

Each of us differs in the ways that we receive love.  By learning to give love in the ways that our partner can best receive it, and by asking our partner to give us love in the ways that we can best receive it, we can create stronger relationships.

 

I gave the list of the t love languages to my husband, and he kept it in his wallet so that he would be reminded of all the different ways to show love.  He is really, really great at showing me love in a way that I can experience it and feel it! 

 

This might be surprising, but there’s something you should know.  I was in the kitchen with our daughter, Mandi, the other day, giving her a big hug, and I asked her what her favorite love language was.  She said, “I like them all!”  I laughed and said, “Me too!”  It's easy for me to feel loved!

 

Now my husband feels loved by acts of service.  That is his primary love language.  He is feeling really loved right now because I spent two days helping him put up vinyl siding!  He is madly in love with me right now because I helped him with a big project!  What is your partner's love language?  Find out and make sure you speak their language!

 

One of my professors from seminary told me a story from her childhood.  She had gone over to a friend's house for a sleepover.  Her friend's mom hugged them and gave them a kiss on the cheek before they went to bed.  She thought this was strange because her mom never did that.  She wondered why her mom didn't love her. 

 

As an adult she realized that her mom did love her, but she loved out of her own love language which was acts of service.  Her mom always ironed her clothes and laid them out for her every night.  When my professor realized that people express and receive love differently, it made a big difference in her relationships!

 

Not sure what someone's love language is?  Love in all the ways!  Or you can take a quiz and find out!  So, get out there and love!  1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “But the greatest of these is love.”

 

Rhonda Hopper, Online Pastor

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I recently was asked by someone whose dog had died if their beloved pet would go to heaven.  Here how I answered:

 

In response to your question about whether I think pets go to heaven, I believe pets do.  I agree with Billy Graham who said, “if animals would make us happier in heaven, surely there will be a place for them there”.

 

Here is Billy Graham’s full response to the question of whether there will be pets in heaven:

 

“God has a special reason and place for each of His created beings.  Animals, too, have a purpose in God’s creation.  Man, as the highest order of creation, has been given dominion over the animal kingdom (Genesis 1:26-28).

 

We believe that animals were intended for man’s enjoyment and use.  The Bible itself does not indicate that there is life after death for animals.  It may be that God’s purpose for animals is fulfilled on this earth.  However, if animals would make us happier in heaven, surely there will be a place for them there.

 

Some Bible interpreters have called attention to Isaiah’s description of the peace of God’s future kingdom where he says that ‘the wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox’ (Isaiah 65:25).  Heaven will lack nothing that is good and that will bring glory to God.”

 

I think Colossians 1:16 also points to pets being in heaven.  It says:  “Everything was created by him, everything in heaven and on earth, everything seen and unseen, including all forces and powers, and all rulers and authorities.  All things were created by God’s Son, and everything was made for him.” 

 

Because all things were made for him, I think all created things will be with Jesus in heaven (except those who consciously and continually reject his love and refuse to be with him).

 

I hope you will take comfort and peace in the Lord and trust that your pet is enfolded in the love of God.

-Michael

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So, what are Ash Wednesday (which is March 2 this year) and the season of Lent about?  What do they have to do with the Christian faith?

 

They offer us a yearly reminder—do not avoid uncomfortable truths.  We are all mortal.  No amount of wealth, busyness, or positive thinking can change that.  We are dust and to dust we shall return.

 

But the truly countercultural message of Ash Wednesday is not that we will die.  It’s that though death awaits us, despair is not inevitable.  By naming the stark reality of death, we as a church can proclaim true hope in the midst of it.

 

Recalling the inevitability of death reminds us that the day to seek God, the day to repair relationships, the day to help others and bless the world around us is today—because it may be our last.  Facing mortality leads us to ask necessary questions:  Who are we and what is life for?

 

On Ash Wednesday we remind ourselves that humans are made to know and enjoy God and that because of Jesus, this is possible, even beyond death.

 

Lent is a 40-day season that begins on Ash Wednesday.  Many people associate the season with giving something up:  eating chocolate, scrolling on social media, etc.

 

While the Lenten season is a time for fasting, it is also a time for considering where we might incorporate intentional activities or disciplines that foster a deeper relationship with God.

 

Ruth Haley Barton offers five questions that may prompt us to consider ways to create more space for God in our lives this year during Lent.

 

1.  How will I give?

Lent is a time for “giving things up” balanced by “giving to” those in need.

 

2.  How will I pray?

As we “give up” some of our usual distractions, it creates more space for prayer.  Perhaps there is a prayer practice (such as a fixed hour prayer) that God is inviting us to during Lent.

 

3.  Whom do I need to forgive and from whom do I need to seek forgiveness?

Seeking forgiveness and offering forgiveness creates space for God’s grace to flow in our lives.

 

4.  How will I fast?

What is distracting me from my relationship with God?  What do I need to abstain from in order to create more space for God and to be more attentive to God?

 

5.  What earthly treasures am I overly attached to and how will let them go?

The way we use our time, financial resources and energy reflect powerfully on what we treasure.  Is there any specific way in which God is inviting us to “let go” of our attachment to some earthly treasure—at least for this season?

 

Through the 40-day journey to Easter’s empty tomb that begins on Ash Wednesday, how will you intentionally connect with God in a more meaningful way?

-Michael

March 2022

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Are we in the “last days”?  Is the Second Coming of Christ imminent?  Is Armageddon soon going to take place?  Are we in the beginning of the end, and the “rapture” will soon happen?  Questions like these are being asked by people in Journey Church and in our communities.

 

There are those on TV and social media who are speculating that all these things are about to occur. 

 

I believe Jesus will return.  I believe he could return today or a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years or more from now.

 

Jesus specifically told his followers not to get caught up in speculative signs of the times that supposedly would determine the exact timing of Christ’s return. 

 

Jesus says in Matthew 24:6–8:  “You will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic.  Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately.  Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.  But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.”

 

Jesus says in Matthew 24:36:  “No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.  Only the Father knows.”

 

Jesus says that even he did not know when the end would be, demonstrating Jesus’ lack of marketable talent for television evangelism.

 

Across the centuries at varying times and varying places, people have thought that with all the violence and all the evil in the world, Jesus’ return was surely going to transpire in their lifetimes. 

 

The reality is that the assertions of people throughout history who declared they knew exactly what was going to happen on a prophetic timetable of world events have again and again been proven to be wrong.

 

Those who confidently declared that the Soviet Union surely signaled the Second Coming were wrong since the USSR doesn’t exist anymore.   Those who declared that Saddam Hussein surely signaled the Second Coming were wrong since he’s dead.

 

When Jesus says:  “No one knows the day or hour”, he speaks truth, but that doesn’t make for good television, and it doesn’t raise much money.

 

There’s a problem that needs to be faced when the Bible is used for selfish or misleading purposes.  It leads many people to doubt, to not even expect, what the Bibles says is true.

 

We may have very low expectations for prophecy commentators on television to speak truth, but let us all expect one another, as Christians, to speak the truth in love—and to live the truth in love.

-Michael

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When you look at the violence and greed and selfishness and injustice that’s taking place in our world, what are you to make of it?  How are you to respond when you find that you’re increasingly anxious and afraid?

 

The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk lived in a time when life didn’t make sense to him.  There was oppression, nation attacked nation, people suffered.  Still, he did not give up hope.  He embraced one of the most eloquent and powerful faith statements in human history:  

 

“Even though the fig trees have no fruit and no grapes grow on the vines, even though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no grain, even though the sheep all die and the cattle stalls are empty, I will still be joyful and glad, because the Lord God is my savior.  The Sovereign Lord gives me strength.  He makes me sure-footed as a deer and keeps me safe.”  Habakkuk 3:17-19 (GNT)

 

May we say the same?  How is it possible for us to face the fears we’re confronted with today in the Lord’s strength?

 

1.  Remember how the story ends.

 

In the face of severe persecution, the Apostle Paul reminded the Philippian followers of Jesus:

Our citizenship is in heaven. We look forward to a savior that comes from there—the Lord Jesus Christ.  He will transform our humble bodies so that they are like his glorious body, by the power that also makes him able to subject all things to himself.  Philippians 3:20-21 (CEB)

 

As we journey toward Easter, we’re to continually keep in mind the power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who through the resurrection revealed that his love is greater than any fearfulness that we may be experiencing because the God who is perfect love will ultimately win out and will overcome all evil.

 

2.  Reframe fear as an opportunity for faith.

 

The Apostle Paul reminded Timothy:

God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.  2 Timothy 1:7 (HCSB)

 

In the Greek language in which Paul wrote:  the word for “fearfulness” can have the meaning of “cowardice”, and the word for “sound judgment” can have the meaning of “self-control.”

 

The spirit that God has given followers of Jesus need not be overwhelmed with fear but may exercise self-control and a mind that thinks soundly or with disciplined thought, clinging to a faith in Christ that enables us to name our fears and to release them to God and to be rescued from them by God:

When I needed the Lord, I looked for Him; I called out to Him, and He heard me and responded.  He came and rescued me from everything that made me so afraid.  Psalm 34:4 (VOICE)

-Michael

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When you think of Jesus, what comes to your mind?  Who is Jesus to you?

 

In Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, New Testament scholar Marcus Borg wrote:  “Believing in Jesus does not mean believing doctrines about him.  Rather, it means to give one’s heart, one’s self at its deepest level, to . . . the living Lord.”

 

In A New Kind of Christianity, theologian Brian McLaren confesses that “in the midst of persecution and martyrdom, that poor unarmed Galilean riding on the donkey, hailed by the poor and hopeful, is the one to trust.”

 

In The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering who Jesus Was and Is, biblical scholar N.T. Wright insists:  “We cannot assume that by saying the word Jesus, still less the word Christ, we are automatically in touch with the real Jesus who walked in first-century Palestine.”

 

In Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner says following Jesus is “a journey without maps, not being sure of where you’re going but going anyway.”

 

As we make our way through the world with all the tumultuous events going on around us today, may we remember that Jesus of Nazareth confronted in his day events of life and death, good and evil, bravery and betrayal, freedom and oppression, fake news and good news, and still he held fast to the love of God and trusted that in the brokenness of the world God is at work, sometimes imperceptibly, to make all things new.  Take hope in that.

-Michael

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Who are you?  Really.  Who are you?

 

I met with some of Journey’s wonderful youth recently.  We were engaged in a conversation about identity.  I asked them to do an activity—and I’m going to ask you to do the same activity.

 

Here it is.  Write down on a piece of paper the words “I am” 10 times and draw a line after each time.  Then with whatever comes to you mind fill in the blank.

 

Right now.  Stop reading this blog and do this activity.  I mean it.  Stop reading this blog right now and 10 times write out “I am” and fill in the blank.

 

Now, if you’ve done that, here’s another step to the activity if you should want to do it as well.  Fill in the 10 blanks again, but this time do it as if you were 13 years old.

 

I’m going to take the risk of sharing with you the things I wrote down.

 

This is how I believe I would’ve described my identity when I was age 13 if doing this activity:

  •       I am a person who wants so much to be accepted by others
  •       I am insecure
  •       I am short (4 feet, 10 inches tall)
  •       I am a jokester
  •       I am the son of alcoholic parents
  •       I am a good baseball player
  •       I am a good golfer
  •       I am a good student
  •       I am outgoing/extroverted
  •       I am impulsive (often doing or saying things without thinking about the consequences)

 

This is how I would describe my identity now in doing this activity:

  •       I am created in the image of God
  •       I am a committed follower of Jesus
  •       I am the husband of Debbie
  •       I am the father of Allison and David
  •       I am a good friend to many people
  •       I am the Lead Pastor of Journey Church
  •       I am outgoing/extroverted
  •       I am the son of alcoholic parents
  •       I am caring
  •       I am good at counseling people

When I did this activity, it was clear to me that my perception of my identity significantly changed after I became a follower of Jesus.  My identity is not so much oriented around “me” anymore.  Instead, my identity is much more grounded in relationships with God and the people I love.  My perception of my identity also recognizes that I am still imperfect.

 

What might doing this activity show you about who you are, about what is significant to your identity? 

 

If you are a follower of Jesus, what does how you completed this activity reveal about you?  And if your identity is not changing so that you define yourself more and more in relationship with Jesus, what does that mean?   Hmm.

-Michael

April 2022

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4/4/2022

Carey Nieuwhof recently shared some advice about life.  I thought I’d share some of it with you, unsolicited, of course.

 

Character

  • The people closest to you should have the best experience of you, not the worst.  Often, the opposite happens.
  • Ask more questions than you give answers.
  • Faithfulness and attention to detail in the little things always show up in the big things.
  • When someone who cares about you criticizes you, the best response is to simply say, “Thank you.”
  • Be the first to apologize, even if you weren’t wrong.  Because you probably were wrong.
  • When you have to deliver a hard message, make sure the other person still leaves with their dignity.  Focus on attacking problems, not people.
  • Doing what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it gives you an unbelievable advantage over almost everyone else.
  • Be harder on yourself than you are on others.  That doesn’t mean you should be cruel to yourself.  It means you should hold yourself to a higher standard.  The lazy way out is to assume everyone else is wrong.
  • Talk less about yourself.  It’s good for you, and for the person you’re talking to.
  • Bragging is your insecurity leaking out.

 

Work

  • Writing things down clarifies your thinking.
  • If you’re overwhelmed, clean your desk.  That will get you started in the right direction.
  • If you see a problem, don’t leave it until you’ve solved it or taken it to someone who can.
  • Finish your emails with something encouraging like “Grateful for you” or “Thanks so much.”  It makes a bigger difference than you think.

4/11/2022

Just for the fun of it, here are 20 funny things pastors said in Sunday morning worship—but wish they hadn’t!  (from Thom Ranier)

 

1. God loves a cheerful liver.

 

2. We must guard against that four-letter word called “pride”.

 

3. While preaching on John 3 where Jesus talks about the wind blowing: “You can’t break wind.”

 

4. The word was supposed to be “deprecating,” but the pastor told them they needed to be “self-defecating.”

 

5. Speaking about making too many excuses, the pastor told the congregation he had “a big but that always gets in the way.”

 

6. In a child dedication service, the pastor said, “the history of child sacrifice goes back many centuries.”

 

7. It was supposed to be “hearts”: “Father, you know our farts.”

 

8. Preaching in a nursing home, the pastor told the residents, “God, I want you to bless each person here at this funeral home.”

 

9. It was supposed to be “enemies”: “God has given you power over all your enemas.”

 

10. “Mary washed her hair with Jesus’ feet.”

 

11. Two men named “Loose” had expectant wives: So the pastor said, “Please pray for these Loose women.”

 

12. The pastor was talking about how potters would fill impure pottery with wax to hide imperfections: “The problem with many believers is we have wax in our cracks.”

 

13. Christmas message speaking about how beautiful the Christmas tree is in his home: “I love sitting in the living room with nothing on but the Christmas tree.”

 

14. Speaking at a wedding: “Marriage should be endured, not enjoyed.”

 

15. The preacher meant to say “inflatables” during the announcements: “Please consider donating your blow-up dolls for our church’s Christmas outreach.”

 

16. He meant to say “biopsy”: “Please pray for Mrs. Jones who recently went in for an autopsy.”

 

17. The pastor meant to say Jesus will wipe away the tears from our faces. “Jesus will wipe away our faces.”

 

18. So much for fruit of the womb: “Behold, children are a blessing from the Lord, the fruit of the loom is a reward.”

 

19. Instead of “Jesus eats with sinners,” the pastor said, “Jesus eats sinners.”

 

20. The senior adult group in the church is called The Triple L Club (Live, Love, Laugh), but the pastor referred to them as “The Triple X Club.”

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4/18/2022

Why go to church when you don’t feel like it?  Trudy Smith shares some of her experience. 

 

“Even before I was old enough to do much besides doodle during sermons, church was a fixture in my life.  I was sometimes bored and sometimes enjoyed myself, but going to church wasn’t a choice—it was just what everyone did.

 

As I got a bit older, I realized that not everyone went to church, but I gathered that being someone who did was a moral imperative.  It meant I was taking my faith seriously, being a good person and making God happy (or avoiding God’s anger).

 

Heading off to college, I still saw my attendance as a basic requirement of following Jesus.  Where else could I grow in my faith and find spiritual community?

 

Over the next few years, I lost hope that most of the Church would ever get its act together enough to closely resemble Jesus.  I kept following Jesus, and eventually, He led me right back into church.  I realized that church was not a place to go because everyone had their act together and was doing things right.

 

It was more like a refuge where all sorts of people could gather to remind each other of the story we were all in—the one about how God loves us, and is renewing our world and our souls in spite of all the damage that’s been done.  It was more like a school for conversion where we were all stumbling through basic lessons on how to love.

 

We sang about our brokenness and our hope.  We looked each other in the eye.  We confessed our sins.  We shared bread and juice and remembered that we are all tied together in this dysfunctional family that God has cobbled together.

 

It wasn’t perfect—sometimes I felt frustrated, bored or hurt—but it was good, and God was in it.  Yes, church people could be apathetic, judgmental and selfish, but so could I.  And just like everyone else, I needed to be welcomed and loved anyway.

 

Then one day, an older church lady put my husband and me in charge of finding people to serve communion each week.  We were still “the new couple,” so I’m pretty sure she was just trying to rope us into consistent, punctual attendance—and her plan has absolutely worked.

 

Now that we’ve shouldered even just this tiny bit of responsibility, we recognize how many people have to show up consistently to create the prayerful, welcoming, worshipful space we experience each week.  If everyone involved in leading music, running sound, teaching kids’ classes and preaching sermons only showed up on the days when they didn’t feel stressed, busy, tired, bored, sad, frustrated or enticed outside by beach weather, we wouldn’t have much of a church at all.

 

So I’ve slowly learned that going to church can be about something other than moral requirement, fear of punishment, social connection, getting spiritually fed, or even looking for likeminded people with whom to pursue justice in the world.  Going to church can be about holding this space in which to experience the grace of God together, learn together, fail and forgive and stumble forward together.

 

I’ve benefitted from the sacrificial commitment and consistency of countless people who have welcomed me into community over the years, and now I recognize the invitation for me to do the same thing for others:  to hold that space even on days when I don’t seem to personally benefit from it.  When the songs don’t do anything for me, when I don’t want to talk with people about the difficult week I’ve had, or when I’d rather sleep in instead—it is then that I am invited to go to church anyway.

 

Not because God or anyone else is judging me by my attendance, but because it is a chance for me to be church to the people who are sharing this journey with me.  It is an opportunity to hold space for others to encounter God, and to open space in myself to encounter, even when I least expect it, God in the midst of the people who are my church.

4/25/2022

Do you struggle with praying?  Do you need some help in how to pray when you don’t know what to pray?

 

Thomas Christianson has some suggestions using the Lord’s Prayer as a way to structure your praying.

 

OUR

Who am I?

 

Starting with the word “our” rather than “my” reminds us that we are a people in community.  We are not alone.  We have many brothers and sisters in this life and need to recognize that God loves all of us.

 

FATHER IN HEAVEN

Who are you?

 

As Anne Lamott says in Help, Thanks, Wow, God is way beyond us and deep inside us.  We are not praying to a God who doesn’t care or doesn’t know.  We are praying to a Father who exists on a higher plane of reality than we exist on.  We connect to Him, to be sure, but we live within limitations that do not apply to Him.  God has promised that He will care for us, and we must remember that He is fully capable of fulfilling His promises.

 

HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME

I’m not only in the relationship for what I can get out of it.

 

If you had a friend who only ever came your way when they needed you to serve their needs, you would start screening their calls pretty quickly.  I’m not saying God will ignore prayer when we are being selfish—I’m saying that a in a healthy relationship, both sides care about the other.

 

YOUR KINGDOM COME, YOUR WILL BE DONE ON EARTH, AS IT IS IN HEAVEN

Why are we here?

 

In the midst of whatever need is going to come up in prayer, let’s keep the bigger picture in mind.  I have been given a mission.  If I forget that, it will change how I view any needs I feel.  Our purpose is not to live a problem free existence, but instead to invite the Kingdom of God to continually impact the world around us through our engagement with it.

 

GIVE US TODAY OUR DAILY BREAD

What do I need?

 

Only after all that effort in having a healthy perspective are we able to ask for things we need.  This reminds us to place our faith in God to provide what’s really necessary in our lives.  Jesus leads us to ask for true needs rather than wants.  He is leading us to understand that we need to get on God’s playbook rather than try to get God onto ours.

 

AND FORGIVE US OUR SINS, AS WE HAVE FORGIVEN THOSE WHO SIN AGAINST US

This isn’t about just me or just you, it’s about us.

 

God isn’t a butler, who lives to fulfill our every wish.  God is a loving Father teaching us healthy ways to engage in life so that we may have more abundance than we would naturally choose for ourselves.  He has chosen to work in and through us.

 

AND DON’T LET US YIELD TO TEMPTATION, BUT RESCUE US FROM THE EVIL ONE

I’m not in the driver’s seat.

 

We exist based on God’s grace.  It’s in God that we must place our hope.  If we start to believe that we are able to handle things on our own, or that we are in fact doing God favors with our efforts, things will surely end badly for us.

 

God doesn’t need me to pray.  I need to pray.  Seek to center your prayer on the identity and purpose of God, which gives you identity and purpose, as well. 

May 2022

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May 2, 2022

Recently, I sprained my ankle, and you never really know how important your ankle is until you injure it!  Trying to get around was absolutely excruciating, and I depended much more on my upper body strength to have any mobility.

 

It made me realize how ill equipped my arms were to do an ankle’s job.  I almost dislocated my shoulder trying to lift myself at one point.  I thought . . . “This is going to be a domino effect!!  If my shoulder gets injured trying to do the job of the ankle, who knows what’s next?!”

 

I considered the scripture from 1 Corinthians—which is so true of the church.  All members of the church are SO important, and when one part isn’t healthy, or refuses to contribute, other parts will ultimately suffer trying to do a function they are not created to do.

 

I ran into a Christian friend of mine who has been hurt by the church, and sadly, no longer attends.  I invited him to connect to the body of Christ again, and he said, “Naw, Jesus and I are good”—implying that being a part of a community of faith is not essential to his spiritual walk.

 

This is flawed thinking on so many levels, and it hurt my heart, because I know somewhere in the body of Christ some “shoulder” (figuratively speaking) is trying to do the job that God uniquely created my friend, “the ankle,” to do.

 

The Bible makes it very clear how important every person is to the body of Christ, the church, so much so, that that the church is called “the bride” of Christ and that he “loved and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

 

Jesus also taught clearly in Matthew 18:15-20 just how crucial the church is in keeping each other accountable.  He also reveals that “where two or three are gathered together, I (Jesus) am there with them.”

 

I have prayed that my friend will healthily grieve the hurt he has experienced in the church and realize it is made of flawed human beings and that Jesus knew that, and still died for us and called us to keep running the race to try to be like him.  I pray that God will soften his heart and he will re-connect so that his unique gifts will be utilized abundantly!

 

I pray also for others who have lulled themselves into mistakenly believing that a faith disconnected from the church is not a problem . . . just ask my ankle!

 

Importance of all parts and unity in the body of Christ, the church:

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church:  every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t.  If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing.  If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.  You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are!  You must never forget this.  Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything.  1 Corinthians 12:25-27 (MSG)

 

Importance of the church in accountability:

“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you.  If he listens, you’ve made a friend.  If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again.  If he still won’t listen, tell the church.  If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.”  Matthew 18:15-17 (MSG)

 

Importance of the church in Jesus’s presence and action:

“Take this most seriously:  A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven.  What you say to one another is eternal.  I mean this.  When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action.  And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”  Matthew 18:18-20 (MSG)


-Melody Irby

May 9, 2022

Last week was National Teacher Appreciation week.  I had the privilege of delivering breakfast to the teachers and staff at four of our partner schools:  Northside High School, Read Mountain Middle School, Cloverdale Elementary School, and Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center.  The teachers and staff were beyond grateful!  They were so excited and felt truly appreciated by our church. 

 

As I was leaving Read Mountain Middle School, one teacher thanked me for the breakfast, and I said, “Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!  Please know that Journey Church appreciates all you do.”  The teacher replied, “Oh YES!  We know all about Journey Church.  Thank you guys for always remembering us and taking care of us.”

 

You may be wondering why in times of economic struggle when finances are tighter than usual Journey Church chooses to spend money in this way.  It’s a nice gesture, but really, shouldn’t we be saving our money?  If the last two years have taught us anything, isn’t it that we don’t know what’s coming around the corner? 

 

Journey Church is committed to being the active love of God in our community.  Journey takes seriously Jesus’ words to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, when you [cared for] one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it [for] me!” (Matthew 25:40).

 

Teachers are vital to our community.  COVID has quite clearly illustrated that point.  And yet, I believe that teachers remain under appreciated, underpaid, and undervalued.  As a part of Journey’s witness to our community, I think it’s so very appropriate that our church care for our community’s educators.

 

In a world that’s quick to criticize teachers, can you imagine the difference it makes in our partner schools’ educators’ lives that they know Journey Church is praying for them, appreciates them, and showers them with gifts throughout the year?  I imagine it makes quite a difference indeed.  I think Jesus would agree.

 

So, thank you.  Thank you for continuing to financially support Journey Church when gas prices, food prices, and the cost of living continue to rise.  Thank you for prioritizing God’s commands to care for others and to generously give to His church over personal comfort and luxury. 

 

Thank you for understanding how your giving positively affects the community around us and for continuing to give to ensure Journey Church is able to continue to be the active love of God and a force for His Kingdom in our community.  Thank you for not just talking the talk but walking the walk – even when it hits your purse strings and wallets.

 

Without your faithful and generous giving our community would be darker—the love and hope of God a bit dimmer.  So, thank you!  And please, keep the faith, keep giving when it’s hard.  Let’s continue to carry out God’s work (which does take money) and further God’s kingdom on Earth.

 

Thank you.  Truly, truly, you make a difference.  If you don’t believe me, take it from some of the teachers who personally reached out to Journey Church to thank you for your generosity:

  • “Thank you so much for the wonderful breakfast provided this morning for the staff of NHS to celebrate teacher appreciation week!  It providd a reat start to the day for everyone.  We are so blessed and thankful for the constant support you provide…”
  • “On behalf of our school, please thank your church for their generosity…”
  • “Thank you so much for the lovely breakfast today for NHS staff.  It was so delicious and very much appreciated! …”
  • “Could you please tell everyone at Journey Church that we are most grateful …”

Journey Church has a reputation for caring for others, for loving others, for being a church that goes OUT in the community and not one that stays inside the church walls.  We are known for being the church.  That, my friends, is all because of you.  So thank you for being the church and thank you for being an inspiration to others.

 

In God’s Peace,

Jackie Taylor

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May 16, 2022

Have you ever watched any of the Star Trek television shows? 

 

I can almost recite from memory the opening words of Star Trek:  The Next Generation:  “Space:  the final frontier.  These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.  Its continuing mission:  to explore strange new worlds.  To seek out new life and new civilizations.  To boldly go where no one has gone before!”

 

If you’re a “Trekkie”, you certainly are familiar with what Captain Jean-Luc Picard would say when he gave instruction for the crew to hurtle off on a new adventure.  He’d confidently declare:  “Engage!”

 

The church is called to a continuing mission.  The church is called to explore, to seek out new life, to boldly go where no one has gone before in sharing the love of Jesus. 

 

What are some specific steps for people to “Engage!” in the adventure of faith?

 

1.  Follow Jesus

Become a Christian.  Trust your life to Jesus.  No matter who you are or what you’ve done, Jesus is the way for you to have a relationship with God.  Everybody’s invited.  You may think you’re an exception, but you’re not.  Jesus loves you.  Yes . . . you.

 

2.  Join the Mission

Serve with a Journey Team and use your God-given gifts in ministry.  By volunteering you’ll grow, and you’ll discover that you actually can make a Jesus-like difference in people’s lives. 

 

3.  Choose Community

God designed you for community.  God does not intend for anyone to travel the journey of faith alone.   Experience meaningful friendships in a Journey Group in which you’ll be encouraged to live out the truths you discover in the Bible, as you encourage others to do the same.  Life is better connected!

 

4.  Give Generously

Giving financially is a sign that your heart truly belongs to Jesus.  Increasing generosity shows that you are developing into a more fully devoted follower of Christ.  Through your giving you genuinely transform lives in our community and around the world. 

 

5.  Invite a Friend

Share the love of Jesus with others.  Invite people to join with you in worship, in serving, in community.  It’s too good to keep it to yourself!

 

I remember the words spoken again and again by Captain Jean-Luc Picard.  He’d proclaim:  “Make it so”.  When it comes to engaging in the life of Journey Church, will you embrace these five steps of faith?  Will you “Make it so”?


-Michael DuVal

May 22, 2022

You’ve thought about it time and time again.   But now you know you really need to do something about it.  You’re just not certain what you should do.

 

You were already stressed enough, and now, with interest rates rising, your anxiety about money related matters is increasing.  Is there any help for you?

 

Here are some steps that hopefully will enable you to make financial decisions that are wise, honor God, and contribute to a more contented life.

 

1.  Examine your budget (or start a budget if you don’t have one)

Assess where you are financially.  If you don’t know where you are, it’s difficult to know what adjustments to make.

 

2.  Develop healthy money habits

Determine a strategy to lessen and then eliminate debt and stick to it

Pay off all credit cards every month

Discipline yourself to live within your means

 

3.  Use financial management tools

Stay organized with online tools that can help you track your spending, set budgets, plan financial goals.

 

4.  Increase in knowledge about finances

Journey leaders offer financial classes as well as one on one, customized, confidential financial coaching.  For more info:  https://journeyconnection.com/give-now/financial-tools

 

5.  Give generously

Out of gratitude and as a sign of the contentment you experience in Christ, give generously as an expression of your love for the Lord.


-Michael DuVal

May 31, 2022

How did I become the person I am?  Why didn’t I continue making self-destructive choices again and again like I once did?  I can say with certainty that it was God’s church that was tremendously important in the transformation of who I was to who I am now.

 

For those of us who grew up in, well, let’s just say less than perfect families, one of the liberating results of becoming authentic Jesus followers is that it meant we entered into a new family.  My experience is that God’s church became a new family that genuinely changed the direction of my life, and millions of other people have experienced this as well.  In a very real sense, it was the love of God experienced through the church that “re-familied” us, “re-parented” us.

 

Church family is about so much more than just attending services together.  It’s about loving and being loved, serving and being served, celebrating and being celebrated.  It’s about experiencing joys and sorrows together, going through ups and downs together, as a healthy, Holy Spirit led family.

 

Our connection as a family allows us as parts of Christ’s church to encourage one another, and care for one another, and support one another, and even challenge one another, all in a spirit of genuine love.

 

As a church family we get to share in the fullness of faith and life together.  During the hardships of life, like when one faces the loss of a loved one or loses their job, we’re there loving one another as a family.  During the joy-filled celebrations of life, like a marriage, the birth of a child, baptism, we’re there loving one another as a family.

 

The Apostle Paul wrote in Hebrews 10:24:  “Let us think about each other and help each other to show love and do good deeds.”  A church family, as a community of faith, spurs one another toward Christlike love and good deeds that reflect the work of the Spirit in believers’ lives.  A church family is to demonstrate compassion, kindness, thoughtfulness, grace and mercy to all through the love of Jesus.

 

Believers in Christ are more than just friends who go to the same church.  There’s a deep spiritual and emotional bond between Christians.  We are united by Christ as a family.  That’s why we grieve greatly when people who once were a part of the church family no longer are connected.  Paul writes in Hebrews 10:25:  “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing.  Instead, encourage each other.”

 

In the church family we still are imperfect and broken.  Recognizing this reality, God has given wisdom on how to navigate difficult situations within the church family.  Paul writes in Colossians 3:13-14:  “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.  Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.”

 

With love for one another comes mutual respect, giving one another the benefit of the doubt, trust, and seeing one another as God sees us.  The power of love binds the body of Christ together.

 

The love of God’s family, the church, dramatically changed my life.  How about you?  And how will you join me in being the love of Christ’s body, the church, to change the lives of other people?

-Michael DuVal

June 2022

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June 6, 2022

I’ve been trying to pray over and think through and process the repeated sufferings and chaos that have taken place in America in recent weeks.  I’ve wanted to communicate about it all, but I was having trouble finding the words.

 

Russell Moore has shared his thoughts, and they are much wiser than my thoughts.  Here is some of what he has blogged:

 

“Even after several years of unpredicted chaos and suffering, the last three weeks have hit hard.  A white nationalist terrorist gunned down nearly a dozen Black shoppers in a Buffalo supermarket.  Another shooter attacked a Taiwanese congregation during a Sunday luncheon.  And then another brutally murdered 19 children and two adults at a school in Uvalde, Texas.

 

After each of these horrors, people often ask, “How long until something is done?”  And yet, the sad truth in light of all these atrocities is the declining attention span of the American people.

 

Axios points to research on the sustained attention of the public—showing that horrors like the Sandy Creek shooting or the Parkland school shooting do not rally the nation’s attention beyond a matter of days.  Some might suggest that the country is numb to such tragedies since they happen with such frequency compared to the rest of the world.

 

But Axios argues that what we are seeing is a people not necessarily numb to horror but overwhelmed by it.  The sheer weight of all these incidents can lead to a shutdown in many people, in which they simply give up trying to comprehend it all and move on to something else.

 

In some ways, the country’s response is similar to how individuals sometimes respond to trauma in their own lives.  One reason the book The Body Keeps the Score sells so many copies is that it explains a reality that many people experience.  Even after we try to forget an awful event—or numb ourselves with alcohol or drugs or career advancement or something else—our response often shows up in other physical or neurological ways.  The mind may forget, the argument goes, but the body remembers.

 

Sustained attention is so difficult with trauma and tragedy because we don’t want to think about such darkness.  There’s a reason why most people turn their heads away when they see a mangled body in a car accident along the highway.  We would rather pretend that such horrors don’t, or can’t, happen.  And we do this not just with the terrors in the world but with our own personal apocalypse—our impending death.

 

Blaise Pascal argued that we all know we are going to die, so we try everything we can to distract ourselves from that reality.  This conclusion, of course, was anticipated by the writer of Ecclesiastes—who admitted his own search for fulfillment through work, wealth, pleasure, and wisdom, only to find these to be nothing more than vain pursuits.

 

The writer of Hebrews further revealed that this submerged fear of death is precisely the power that the devil has over us (Heb. 2:14–15).  To keep from acknowledging that we are perishable flesh, we pursue fleshly desires with abandon—in a way that just leads to more death (Rom. 8:5–13).

 

The root of our focus on triviality, pleasure, and diversion is not so much hedonism as it is fear (Rom. 8:15).  We are afraid of death, so we look for idols to protect us from that—or at least to numb us to its reality (Gal. 4:8–9).

 

Our tendency to become overwhelmed in the aftermath of so many horrors is heightened by our sense of powerlessness.  Even when we identify actions that could curb the problem, we know that almost nothing is accomplished in a civic and political system as broken as ours.  And so, many of us simply “move on.”

 

This principle has a personal parallel too.  How many of us have descended into patterns and habits we know to be wrong and self-destructive because we have given up on pursuing virtue and health?  Once a person concludes that he or she is a “lost cause,” with no hope for change, the path ahead is bleak.

 

Yet a response of overwhelmed numbness can lead to more people getting hurt.  Jesus continually confronts us about the ways that we want to look away from the hurting, whistle past injustice, and make the suffering invisible.

 

We are indeed overwhelmed by much darkness, all around us and inside us.  Sometimes we will disagree on the exact steps to take to address the problems.  And there will always be powerful forces around who don’t want us to address them at all.  So, we just “move on” until the next horror—after which we will move on again.

 

As the people of Jesus, we dare not fall prey to that tendency.  Jesus, after all, is the one who never turned away from even the most terrifying realities—leprosy, bleeding, and suffering of all sorts.  One of the most remarkable things about Jesus is not just that he healed those who bore great difficulty but that he saw them in the first place.  He sees us.

 

Jesus moves on, but not without carrying a wounded sheep on his back.  We should go and do likewise.”

June 13, 2022

We’ve all been through a lot, and one issue that continues to make headlines is mental health.  Individuals are struggling.  Families are struggling.

 

If you or someone you love is wrestling with mental health challenges, Chris Legg offers suggestions:

 

1.  Seek medical and therapeutic help.

 

The local church is a great place to find and build the kind of support system that makes getting mental and medical attention possible.  It’s rare for a minister to not have a good list of referrals for this kind of supportive help.

 

2.  Avoid dangerous coping mechanisms.

 

When we face challenges of any kind, we will be tempted to avoid them with addictive and/or unhealthy choices.  Not only does the teaching of the church discourage or forbid many of these, we can also offer healthy alternatives instead.  Many churches have special and targeted discipleship programs to help integrate the gospel into the most broken aspects of our lives (like GriefShare and DivorceCare).

 

3.  Avoid isolation.

 

The church was created to engender community.  There are dozens of “one another” passages in the New Testament that prove that community is a huge part of church.  In the local church, you can create one of the most powerful shields against the ravages of mental illness:  friendship.

 

4. Get out, breathe, play, and exercise.

 

People are more faithful to exercise when they have an exercise partner.  The local church encourages friendships which are great sources for that partner to walk, run, or play with.

 

5.  Rest.

 

Emphasize the same kind of rest that God’s word encourages (remember the Sabbath?).  Trust God and that he treasures us even when no one else does.  There is a peace and rest that can come in his good grace.

 

6.  Focus on truth.

 

It turns out that engaging with God can fight the effects of mental illness.  Mental illness is complex.  Never flippantly talk as if mental illness is just a matter of “pray it away.”  However, even secular publications recognize that prayer has clear mental health benefits.  Prayer encourages us to focus on the truth that there is a God and God loves us.  Prayer reminds us that God will not leave us and will not forsake us.  In today’s culture there are very few places where truth is celebrated, much less studied and spoken into our lives.  One of those few places is the local church.  When we are confused in our depression, anxiety, or delusions, we can hold fast to these truths.

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June 20, 2022

It happened again.  I was messaged the question that people ask me repeatedly.  A young woman wrote:  “I was told that it’s in the Bible if a person kills themselves they won’t go to heaven.  Is this true?”

 

If you were asked that question, how would you answer?  What’s the truth about suicide?

 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 40,000 Americans die by suicide each year—one death every 12 minutes.  The overall suicide rate has increased by approximately 30 percent over the past 20 years, prompting some to call it a public health crisis.

 

LifeWay Research found that 1 in 3 Protestant churchgoers have been personally affected by suicide.  The grief of losing a loved one may be normal and expected, but with suicide comes added trauma.

 

Some Christians have the idea that suicide is an unforgivable sin and that those who die by suicide automatically go to hell.  Al Hsu, an editor for InterVarsity Press, says that’s a misconception that believes in a transactional view of sin and forgiveness, where if we don’t confess the sin of suicide after it takes place, it can’t be forgiven.  But that idea comes more from Augustine and medieval theology than the Bible.

 

Scripture doesn’t actually say that suicide separates us from God for eternity.  Unforgivable sin is never equated with suicide in Scripture.  Somebody like Samson died at his own hand, but he’s still included in Hebrews 11 among the Hall of the Faithful.

 

Hsu was once asked:  “I’ve always believed that suicide automatically sends you to hell, and that has prevented me from killing myself.  Now I’m confused because if you tell me that suicide doesn’t automatically send you to hell, doesn’t that let people off the hook?” 

 

Hsu responded:  “Suicide is never held up positively in Scripture.  There are seven suicides in Scripture from King Saul to Judas, and they’re always depicted negatively.  They are never God’s plan for anybody’s life.  But it’s also not the unforgivable sin that automatically condemns somebody for eternity.”

 

When someone loses a person they love to suicide, what’s needed is compassion and empathy for them as they grieve.

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says each suicide leaves behind, on average, 6 to 10 people—children, parents, spouses.  That’s hundreds of thousands of people that are going through this loss every year.  We’re not always aware of its prevalence until it happens.  People are surprised by it and feel like they’re alone. They need to know there are others that have gone through the same experience.

 

Karen Mason’s book “Preventing Suicide” argues that people who are thinking about suicide want to be rescued.  They may not always articulate it, but the people experiencing suicidal ideation are often torn between the desire to die and the desire to live.  When the desire to die outweighs the desire to live or exceeds their capacity for coping mechanisms to handle their pain, that’s when suicide takes place.  Therapists say you can either reduce the pain or increase the capacity to cope with pain.  This can be done through counseling, therapy, medicine, or antidepressants.

 

The church is not to be afraid of psychology or medicine.  Sometimes Christians think, “Oh, that’s unspiritual.  If we just believe or pray more, then we’d be able to heal this.”  But just as we would not think it unspiritual to medically heal somebody for cancer or leukemia, it’s okay to provide treatment for depression and mental illness.

 

There are resources available for the church, like Kay Warren’s and Amy Simpson’s book “Troubled Minds.”  To the extent that people are more public about the realities of mental illness and suicide, the more we can help those who struggle and hopefully save those at risk.

June 27, 2022

This past week I had the amazing privilege to lead our young people at summer camp.  I want to tell you all about it, but I’m struggling to come up with an adequate description.

 

How shall I describe youth camp to you? . . .

 

Fun, exciting, loud, energetic, hype, community, relationships, exhausting, life-changing, worshipful, spirit-filled, late nights, early mornings, MEGA RELAY, so much laughter, THE green lanyard, big MIKE, long drives, loud singing, table naps, the BIG HILL, silent disco . . . Okay, maybe you just had to be there!

 

We wore our closed-toe, closed-heel shoes.  We hydrated so we didn’t die-drate.  It was a blast, but more than anything, life change happened!  Souls were renewed, refreshed, recharged, re-centered, and three, yes THREE of our young people RECOMMITTED their lives to Jesus!!!!!!!!

 

So, if I had to describe camp—no matter the exhaustion, the cost, the drive, the long up the mountain daily walk to REC—I would say to you, camp is WORTH IT!

 

Thank you for making it possible!  Summer camp is a big sacrifice for families.  It is expensive.  Journey Church believes in the importance of camp experiences like these in the lives of our young people, so much so that our church scholarships a portion of the cost for all our students. 

 

If there’s a need, our church goes further and offers however much of a scholarship is needed so that a student doesn’t miss out on camp because of money.  This year Journey Church paid roughly $5000 toward camp for 27 youth and adult sponsors to attend.  Is that a lot of money?  Yes, it is.  It is worth it!

 

Worth every penny to see three of our young people recommit their lives to Jesus.  Worth every penny to see our youth jumping for joy, celebrating Jesus.  Worth it to see our young people learn about what it truly means to follow Jesus and to share their struggles with one another. 

 

Worth it to know God is working in the hearts of some of our young people as they consider vocational ministry or missions as their life’s work.  Worth it to see the transformation happening in their lives.  Worth it to see our young people challenged to take the next step on their spiritual journey.  Worth it to see passion and hunger for knowing God ignite in them.

 

Worth. It.

 

So, thank you, thank you, thank you.

July 2022

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July 5, 2022

Ryan Denison wrote an article entitled:  Are You Proud to Be an American?  In it, he says:  “While protests continue to garner headlines in response to recent Supreme Court rulings—particularly with regards to abortion—America has been in a state of conflict for quite a while, and it’s tangibly impacting how people see the country.

 

A recent study, for example, found that, for the first time since the poll’s inception, a majority of Americans are not proud to call themselves such.  And those results hold up across party lines.

 

While Democrats were happier with the state of the nation than Republicans and Independents, only 46 percent said that they were proud of America.  Conversely, 36 percent of Republicans and 29 percent of Independents echoed that sentiment.

 

Chris Anderson, who helped conduct the survey, remarked that many seem to have moved past the days when “being proud of America was treated as a prerequisite for being patriotic."

 

As Marcus Aurelius noted, “pride is a master of deception.”  Far too often, equating pride with patriotism has made it difficult to fully recognize and understand our nation’s flaws, particularly when the flaws are on your preferred side of the political aisle.  Being able to take an honest assessment of the country is essential to being a good citizen, though, and that’s especially true in a democracy.

 

As Christians, that should come easier for us than others.  After all, we are called to be citizens of heaven before w’'re citizens of America or any other nation.  As such, our perspective on the culture around us should be filtered through the lens of God’s word rather than partisan politics.

 

Where America lines up with Scripture, we can and should be proud of this nation and encourage it to continue down that path.  Where it has deviated from God’s truth, we should be ready and willing to hold it accountable, regardless of where doing so might position us politically.

 

And we should do so not out of some misplaced desire to see America as a Christian nation but from the knowledge that the best way for us to be a blessing to the individuals around us is to encourage them to live a life that God can bless.

 

The kind of pride that encourages us to overlook our nation's faults is in no way compatible with true patriotism, and it never has been.  To the extent that our current circumstances are forcing us to confront that truth, we should be grateful.

 

While it doesn’t make you a bad citizen or unpatriotic to recognize the faults in our country, how you respond to those faults does have a large bearing on whether you’re doing your part to help it get better.

 

Not one single political party aligns itself with the totality of God's word, and there never will be.  There has never been a nation in history that found itself in perfect alignment with the Lord.  When fallen people create the policies that govern other fallen people, no one is going to get it entirely correct.

 

America’s flaws should not blind us to the blessings that come from living here.  At the same time, those blessings should not blind us to the work that still needs to be done.

 

But while that work may include the way we vote or the political party we support, it doesn’t start there, and it absolutely must not end there.  The way you treat others and the degree to which each day of your life draws others to the Lord will have a far greater impact on the trajectory of this nation than anything you can do in a ballot box or political forum.

 

Alexis de Tocqueville, upon touring America to discover what made it unique, concluded that “America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

July 12, 2022

Do you ever get mad at God?  Do you have trouble admitting that?

 

Jay Richardson, a pastor, tells of a woman who came to talk with him, and she was mad about a family issue that had taken place.  She said:  “This wasn’t supposed to happen to us!”

 

After they’d talked for a while, Richardson said to the woman:  “You’re mad at God, aren’t you?”  The woman adamantly replied:  “Oh, no, I’m not mad at God.”  The pastor smiled and said:  “Yes you are.”

 

She finally admitted it and said sheepishly:  “I’m just afraid of what he’ll do to me if I admit I’m mad at him.”  She also admitted that it had been months since she had been able to talk to God, and she was miserable.

 

Richardson advised her to go home and tell God exactly how she felt.  She asked:  “Can I scream and shout?”  He answered:  “God is not put off by your anger.  Don’t turn away from him because you’re angry, turn to him with your anger.”

 

The woman did what he suggested.  Two days later she called him and said:  “I did what you said, and for the first time in months I’m talking to God and hearing from him!  So far, I haven’t gotten the answers to my questions, but I’ve gotten something better.  I’ve gotten him!”

 

A week or so after her call, a man approached Richardson in a restaurant.  The pastor had no idea who the man was until he introduced himself.  He told Richardson he was the husband of the woman with whom he had met a couple of weeks earlier.

 

The husband said:  “You don’t know me, but I saw you sitting over here and just wanted to say thank you for giving my wife back to me.  She’s herself again.”

 

Richardson says:  “You’re probably going to get angry with God at some point.  Admit that you’re mad at God.  He knows it already.  Don’t turn away in your anger; turn to him with it.  He will welcome you and, though he may not answer all your questions, you’ll find him.  And if you’ll listen closely, you may just hear:  ‘If you only knew what I’m up to, you wouldn’t believe it.  It’s always too early to give up on me.  I’ve got this.’”

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July 18, 2022

You don’t have to be an astronomer to look at recent pictures provided by the James Webb Space Telescope and gasp in wonder at the sheer magnitude of all that’s been created by the God we worship.  They give us an amazing glimpse of the majesty of God from our speck-of-dust-sized planet in relation to the vastness of the universe.

 

Only God could craft such beauty!  Only an infinitely mighty God could create such an unfathomably big, stunning universe!

 

When I saw the images, which my mind could barely comprehend, my heart felt a compulsion to embrace the truth of Psalm 19:1:  “The heavens tell of the glory of God and their expanse declares the work of His hands.” (NASB)

 

God is beyond the deepest depths of space and the distant past into which we look back through space-time.  Our God, who spoke trillions of stars into existence, is somehow and in some way not only beyond the most distant galaxies, but around them, and through them, in a hands-on way.

 

As difficult as it is to comprehend the enormity of the universe, it may be even more difficult to understand that God is bigger than it and beyond it.

 

And the amazing, good news of the Bible is that still God knows you by name.  God knows you personally.

 

The God who is far beyond the far reaches of whatever the James Webb Space Telescope reveals is also the God who is present with us.  This same God entered into the fragile life of humanity in Jesus who lived and died as we do so that through him we might join him in eternity.

 

The Apostle Paul writes:  “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or rulers, or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.”  Colossians 1:16 (NASB)

 

Maybe you, as I do, look at the mind-boggling images and wonder—is God really that big?  Can you imagine God saying:  “Not only am I that big, I’m bigger still, and you haven’t seen anything yet!”

July 25, 2022

Are you smarter than a 2nd grader?  How about more spiritual than a 2nd grader?  Are you sure?

 

A 2nd grader in Journey’s children’s ministry has been putting into practice what she’s been learning in JKids.  Her mom said that her daughter got upset with her parents about something (um, that’s pretty normal for a 2nd grader, right?).  Then this 2nd grade girl did something that’s not so normal.

 

She decided she needed to read her Bible.  She asked her mom to let her know some verses about love.  Her mom opened up a chapter in her Bible and let her go at it!

 

Some of the verses the girl read were:

“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.  The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

“Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.  These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

 

After about eight minutes, she laid back on the couch, and she said she needed to capture her thoughts and check it against God’s word.

 

Now, are you truly more spiritual than a 2nd grader?  Really?

 

One more thing.  Thank God for the children’s ministry of Journey Church!