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.