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