January 2024

1/2/2024

“Who” before “do”.  That’s the priority.  Uh, what?  “Who” before “do”.  That’s the order to follow when considering a new year’s resolution—or any other goal for life-change any time of year.

 

Before any of us rush into setting a list of “do” goals for ways we want our lives to be different in the new year, we first need to set “who” goals.  We need to be clear about our “who” goals before we formulate our “do” goals.

 

“Who” goals focus on identity.  “Do” goals focus on action.

 

I don’t generally engage in setting new year’s resolutions about all the things I want to do differently.  I recognize that approach might be helpful to certain people, but that’s not what is most beneficial for me.

 

As I enter 2024, I’m thinking more about who Jesus wants me to be than about specific actions Jesus wants me to do

 

If I embrace that I am a child of God, that’s who I am, that’s my identity, that influences everything I do

 

If I embrace that I am to be love as God is love, that’s who I am, that’s my identity, that influences everything I do

 

If I embrace that I am to be a forgiver as God is a forgiver, that’s who I am, that’s my identity, that influences everything I do

 

If I embrace that I am to be a giver as God is a giver, that’s who I am, that’s my identity, that influences everything I do

 

If I embrace the religion of “Meism” that’s rampant in American culture, if who I am is first and foremost about me, that’s my identity, that influences everything I do

 

So, here’s my new year’s resolution that I want to make and to actually live out:  He must become more and more important, and I must become less important.  John 3:30 (ERV)

 

If who I am becomes less important to me than who Jesus is, then I’ll be able better to figure out what to do.  How about you?

-Michael

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1/8/2024

The Bible says: Do not be bitter or angry or mad. Never shout angrily or say things to hurt others. Never do anything evil.  Be kind and loving to each other. Ephesians 4:31-32a (ICB) Jim White suggests reasons why he thinks people in our culture oftentimes are not kind and loving.  He writes:

 

“David Brooks wrote an important article for The Atlantic that was simply titled, “How America Got Mean.” His conclusion was both insightful and deeply disturbing.

 

No one denies that we've become a mean-spirited culture. We've become increasingly rude and cruel and abusive and violent. Whether it’s toward a waiter at a restaurant, a nurse at a hospital, a teacher at a school or road rage on the interstate, we’ve become ... mean. Coupled with this is our increasing lack of compassion and empathy for others. In 2000, two-thirds of American households gave to charity. In 2018, fewer than half did.

 

As Brooks notes, there are many reasons offered for this.

 

There’s the technology story—that social media is driving us all crazy.

 

There is the sociology story—that we’ve stopped participating in community organizations and are more isolated.

 

There is the demography story—that America, long a white-dominated nation, is becoming a much more diverse country; a change that has millions of white Americans in a panic.

 

There is the economy story—that high levels of economic inequality and insecurity have left people afraid, alienated and pessimistic.

 

And obviously, all of these are having an effect. But Brooks argues, and I agree, that the deepest issue is that we are no longer schooled in kindness and consideration. Which means we live in a world where people feel licensed to give their selfishness free rein.

 

It’s all about morals.

 

In a healthy society you have a web of institutions—families, schools, religious groups, community organizations and workplaces—that help form people into kind and responsible citizens.

 

We don’t have that today. We don’t have moral formation, which, Brooks outlines, involves three things: first, helping people learn to restrain their selfishness; second, teaching basic social and ethical skills—things like welcoming a neighbor into a community or disagreeing with someone constructively; and third, helping people find a purpose in life.

 

We used to be concerned with teaching and developing virtue—with molding the heart along with the head. This wasn’t just in schools, but rather throughout all of culture—Sunday school, the YMCA, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

 

And here’s what’s important: what was taught along those lines was not seen as a matter of personal taste. There was an objective moral order, there was transcendent truth. Further, human beings were seen as creatures who were, by nature, sinners against that moral order.

 

This isn’t about trying to paint the past in some airbrushed, overly nostalgic way. An emphasis on morality—past or present—doesn’t create perfect people. But what can be said is that any and all attempts at moral formation are now gone. Any sense of an objective moral order is gone. Any sense of transcendent truth is gone.

 

We now have little more than radical individualism. Morality is not something that we find outside of ourselves in, say, a spiritual faith, or even within a community. It’s in ourselves. It’s our own voice. We are our own moral compass. Along with that is the rejection of any sense of being sinners. If anything, we are seen as naturally good.

 

And psychology has replaced morality in terms of how to raise children. While psychology is all well and good, it’s goal—and specialty—is mental health, not moral growth. So, you can even chart the decline of moral words in books, such as the words bravery, gratitude and humbleness.

 

Or look at college students. Researchers have asked incoming college students about their goals in life for decades. In 1967, approximately 85% of college students said they were strongly motivated to develop a meaningful philosophy of life. By 2015, the number one goal was to make money.

 

All this to say, as Brooks concludes, in a culture devoid of moral education, you have a generation growing up in a morally inarticulate, self-referential world.

 

Whatever feels good to us is moral.

 

We do what makes us happy.

 

But that does not lead to a “You do you, and I’ll do me” world. Or, as we used to say, “What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me.” What happens is that we become internally fragile. You have no moral compass to guide you, no permanent ideals to which you can swear ultimate allegiance.

 

The psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl famously said, “He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear with almost any ‘how.’” But those without a “why” fall apart when storms hit.

 

Now play this out.

 

If you are morally naked and alone, having no skills to know how or even why to be decent or kind to someone, what does that lead to? Couple this with how we see ourselves as the center of the universe. Social media has helped us become addicted to thinking about ourselves.

 

We’re anxious and insecure.

 

We’re sensitive to rejection.

 

All of us this leads to triggers of distrust and hostility. When there is no moral framework, it leads to a breakdown of relationships. You become estranged from others. And sadness and loneliness often turn into bitterness. And violence. We get callous, defensive, distrustful and hostile.

 

Now here’s where this plays into the political situation.

 

Brooks notes that over the past several years, people have sought to fill the moral vacuum with politics and tribalism. We’ve become hyper-politicized. Ideology has replaced theology, even in the lives of Christians. Good and evil aren’t about the human heart—they’re about groups: us vs. them and good guys vs. bad guys. Morality isn’t about personal conduct, but rather where you are on the political spectrum. Much of it fueled by resentment.

 

And that is how we got so mean.”

-Michael

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1/17/2024

This past weekend, youth of Journey Church embarked on a mission to serve people in need in Bland, VA. Our plan was to depart on Friday night, dedicate our time to service on Saturday and Sunday, and then enjoy a well-deserved day of fun at Winterplace Ski Resort as a reward for our hard work.


The core of our mission revolved around the Bland Ministry Center, where we worked in the food warehouse and in the clothing closet. Our objective was clear: to embody the teachings of Jesus by assisting the less fortunate in the Appalachian region. Our students took on special assignments, including cleaning and painting, actively serving people in that community.


At Journey, we take the call to serve “the least of these”, as Jesus said, seriously, recognizing that our actions are not just obedience to the Lord's commandments but also a way of serving Him through serving others.


Throughout the weekend, our students didn't merely work together; they also participated in devotionals, sang praises, and enjoyed games and laughter. It was more than a mission trip; it was a shared experience where faith and fellowship intertwined.


Despite unexpected challenges, such as the cancellation of our ski trip due to inclement weather, the resilience of the youth shone brightly. Surprisingly, not a single negative comment was made when the decision was made to cancel the resort day. Instead, they continued to serve diligently, understanding that their sacrifice was part of a greater purpose.


One touching moment highlighted the depth of their commitment – a student shared that as he prepared each box of groceries, he prayed for the individuals who would receive them. This simple act of kindness showcased the genuine compassion and empathy that fueled their efforts.


I am incredibly proud of our students at Journey. Their dedication, hard work, and unwavering positive attitude left an indelible mark on the staff at the Bland Ministry Center. Dee Dee, the ministry director, expressed how their staff genuinely looks forward to our students' visits and is always amazed at the amount of work accomplished in such a short time.


I am genuinely grateful for the continued generous support that makes mission trips like this possible. Your faithful giving enables impactful weekends like this one, providing our students with the opportunity to embody Jesus' teachings in a tangible and meaningful way.

-Jackie

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1/22/2024

Do you find it difficult to connect with God in a meaningful way?  You’re not alone.

 

Henri Nouwen was a priest and a professor.  He taught theology at divinity schools.  He authored books on ministry, spirituality, and community.  Still, he wrote:

 

For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God.  I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself.  I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.

 

Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me.  The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?”  The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?”

 

And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?”  God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.

 

I invite you to be found by God and to be loved by God through worship at Journey this week.

-Michael

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1/29/2024

I was in a conversation with someone who recently started attending Journey.  He was trying to describe his experience of the Journey community of faith.

 

At first, he began to use words to describe Journey, like “accepting”, “caring”, “transparent”.  But he was struggling to come up with what he thought was the right word, and then the word surfaced:  “authentic”.   He said that’s what attracts him most to Journey.

 

It’s interesting.  Merriam-Webster Dictionary announced its “Word of the Year” for 2023.  Guess what it was?   Yep.  “Authentic.”  “Authentic” was the word that was looked up more than any other word.

 

They picked a word that reflects what so many people right now seem to long for, especially in light of political posturing, celebrity culture, leadership hypocrisy, deep fakes and, of course, social media.

 

Merriam-Webster notes that the word “authentic” has a number of meanings, including:

“not false or imitation”, a synonym of “real” and “actual”, “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.”

 

What does the Bible have to say about being “authentic”?

 

Don’t just talk of turning to God; you’d better bear the authentic fruit of a changed life.  Luke 3:8 (VOICE)

 

Love others well, and don’t hide behind a mask; love authentically.  Despise evil; pursue what is good as if your life depends on it.  Romans 12:9 (VOICE)

 

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious.  Philippians 4:8a (MSG)

 

How “authentic” are you and I being every day in our words and in our actions?

-Michael

February 2024

2/5/2024

Journey Collaborative is debuting a copyrighted new original song each month.  Here are part of the lyrics to the second original that I wrote the words to and Melody Irby and Brian Jones composed the music to.  It’s called Undivided Heart.

 

I try to do my best, but I need to follow Your lead, to follow Your lead.

I try to do my best, but I need to follow Your lead, to follow Your lead.

 

I’m insecure, unsure, inadequate.

I need a cure, cause I ain’t havin’ it no more.

I need You, Lord.

 

I try to do my best, but then I fall short again and again.

I try to do my best, but then I fall short again and again.

 

I act like I don’t need anyone.

I act like I can do this life on my own.

Forgive me, Lord.

 

Your love ever-lasting.  Your love ever-forgiving.

Your love never-failing.  Your love never-ending.

 

I’ll try to do my best to start, give me an undivided heart.

I’ll try to do my best to start, give me an undivided heart.

 

I may fumble, I may fall.

I may stumble into Your loving arms.

I need You, Lord.

-Michael

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2/12/2024

Rebecca McLaughlin wrote about “How Gospel Community Can Overcome Loneliness”:

 

“We know the cure for loneliness.  So why do we suffer?”  Journalist Nicholas Kristof posed this question in a New York Times op ed.  

 

Citing warnings from the US surgeon general, Kristof reports that, “Loneliness is as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day…more lethal than consuming six alcoholic drinks a day” and “more dangerous for health than obesity.”

 

The scourge of loneliness is not only severe.  It’s also widespread.  Kristof points out that most Americans say they experience loneliness.

 

We Christians, of all people, know the cure for loneliness.  But we not only let our neighbors suffer it, we all too often suffer loneliness ourselves.

 

So, what is to be done?

 

In light of scripture, I want to argue that we need to reimagine how we operate at church and how we conceive of family.

 

When I say that we must reimagine church, I’m not proposing that we ditch the vital elements of Sunday services.  But the more I read the Bible, the more I am convinced that how we tend to act on Sundays undermines the gospel, fails to banish loneliness, and keeps us feeling hamstrung in our mission to share Jesus with the world.

 

We don’t need new solutions to our modern problems.  We just need to let God’s word disrupt our deeply-seated norms.

 

In Romans 15, Paul writes, “Therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).  How did Christ welcome us?  By taking on human flesh, by living with a bunch of sinners, and most stunningly of all, Christ’s welcome was a welcome that was ready for rejection, even to the point of death.

 

Too often we leave people feeling lonely even as they sit in church.  We fall at the first hurdle as we fail to truly welcome those who walk into our church alone.  But we can change this.

 

A recent study of dechurching showed that in America, millions of people who no longer go to church have done so casually, because they stopped attending during the pandemic and never quite came back.  If any of those people wander in, how we respond could make the difference between them coming back again or not.

 

Those of us who see church as our home must welcome anyone who walks in off the street as Christ has welcomed us.  We must reimagine church, not first-and-foremost as our chance to hear a helpful sermon and connect with friends, but first-and-foremost as an opportunity to welcome others as the Lord has welcomed us.

 

One day Jesus got a message that his mother and his brothers were outside and wanted to see him.  We might expect Jesus to leave at once saying, “Family first!”  But he does not.  

 

Instead, he answers in a way that cuts against the grain of so much Christian culture in the modern West:  “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  Matthew 12:48-50

 

Jesus’s teaching is radical.  He isn’t undervaluing the family.  He’s redefining it.  And as his followers today, we need to redefine it too.  

 

When we come to church on Sunday, we come primarily not with (or painfully without) our family, but to our family.  If we are to welcome one another as Christ welcomes us, we must be ready to act like we believe that those we meet with week-on-week are truly family.  When we come to church on Sunday, we come primarily not with our family, but to our family.

 

I’ve heard about the loneliness of church from people who have never been “in a relationship,” as our culture often puts it.  I’ve heard about the loneliness of church from people who have been to church throughout their adult lives with their spouse at their side.  But then their husband or their wife has died, and suddenly they feel like they don’t belong.  I’ve heard about the loneliness of church from single parents who feel excluded.

 

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul called Christians to be family for one another—brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, knit together in love, one body in the Lord (1 Timothy 5:1-3; Colossians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

 

Who will you reach out to this Sunday?  Who will you speak to?  Who will you sit with?  Who will you love like Jesus?  Remember, anyone sitting by themselves in worship is an emergency until several in our church family offer to sit with them.

-Michael

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2/19/2024

“My Strategy to Survive a Toxic Political Year” is a blog that Marion Aldridge wrote.  He says he’s going to . . .

 

Keep Jesus central in my life.

 

Stay active in a church that focuses on Jesus.

 

Pray for elected officials, whether I agree with them or not.

 

Be light in a world that is often dark.

 

Watch and read the minimum amount of news to know what’s going on in the world.

 

Detach from toxic people and situations.

 

Ask:  “What can I learn from this?”

 

Get the sleep I need.

 

Engage in activities that bring joy.

 

Spend more time outdoors.

 

Stay in my lane. (Control what I have the ability to control.)

 

Allow others the dignity of their own journey.

 

Remember to laugh. (But sarcasm is rarely helpful.)

 

Keep in mind:

  •       Blessed are the peacemakers.
  •       I don’t have to go to every fight I’m invited to.
  •       Every sin, including mine and yours, can be forgiven.
  •       Happiness is an inside job.
  •       I can be right, or I can be happy.
  •       Accepting something is not the same as liking it.
  •       No one ever found serenity with gritted teeth.
  •       Everyone is going through something I know nothing about.  Be kind.

-Michael

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2/26/2024

Who do you love?  How do you know?  Do you love them enough to share your faith with them?

 

Did you know . . .

 

93% of Christian adults say they’re at least somewhat open to having a conversation about faith with a friend?

 

81% of Christian adults say they’re at least somewhat open to having a conversation about faith with a stranger?

 

64% of Christian adults say they have prayed at least once in the past month for the salvation of a friend or family member who is not a Christian.

 

9% of churches say they see baptisms as a priority.

 

If we truly believe that Jesus changes lives and we have compassion for people, we should share the hope of the gospel with them.  What are some tips for doing this?

 

1.  Build authentic relationships.  People aren’t projects.  They are made in God’s image.  So, really care about people.  Be a genuine friend.  That way conversations about faith won’t seem fake or forced. 

 

2.  Share stories.  Sharing stories about how your faith has changed your life builds trust.  Sharing stories about the love and caring and goodness of Jesus provides a meaningful understanding of who Jesus really is.

 

3.  Define terms.  If you say you’re a “follower” of Jesus, people may not know what that means.  Be ready to explain.  If you say you’re a “Christian”, people may have an inaccurate perception of what that means.  Be ready to clarify.

 

4.  Love genuinely.  If you don’t truly love a person with the love of Christ, you’re not the person to share the gospel with them.

-Michael

March 2024

3/4/2024

Carey Nieuwhof has written a blog:  “5 Signs the Enemy Is Winning in Your Life”.  He says that the greatest mistake you can make with evil is to overestimate or underestimate its influence.

 

The key to overcoming the activity and influence of evil in your life and your world is to recognize it.  When you expose it to the light of Christ, evil loses its power.

 

He identifies some of the signs that show evil is alive and well in our lives and in churches:

 

1.  You’re Divisive

 

In Galatians 5:20 the Apostle Paul says that the results of following the desires of our sinful nature are very clear:  “hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division.”

 

If your definition of Christianity is characterized by hate and division, it’s not Christianity.

 

2.  You’re Arrogant

 

If the battle against arrogant pride isn’t daily, pride will win.  Arrogance creeps in when Christians falsely characterize Christian maturity as knowledge.

 

In 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 the Apostle Paul says that “while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.  Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.  But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes.”

 

Knowledge makes you arrogant.  Love makes you humble.

 

3.  You start to blur moral lines

 

Often it happens when you start to compromise on the small things.  The first moral lapse is always the hardest. Then it gets easier from there.

 

In “The Screwtape Letters” C.S. Lewis says:   “The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

 

If you refuse to compromise now, it becomes much easier to resist compromise in the future.

 

4.  You’re Discouraged

 

In Ephesians 1:4-5 the Apostle Paul says:  “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.  This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”

 

If you’re discouraged, remember, God is less done with you than you are.

 

5.  You’re Full of Self-Pity

 

Self-pity chisels in stone what discouragement whispers.  Self-pity is dangerous because it moves you to the sidelines.  Living in a state of self-pity means you don’t need anyone to take you out of the game because you’ve taken yourself out.  Self-pity robs you of all joy.

 

Self-pity leaves you acknowledging that there’s a big problem, but not fully owning it (confession) and moving forward (claiming forgiveness).  It’s acknowledging sin without claiming hope.

 

The Gospel never leads to self-pity. It leads to transformation.

-Michael

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3/11/2024

Life transformation in and through Jesus genuinely takes place.  Jesus truly changes lives.  Ellie Ellsworth experienced that.  Here’s part of her story:

 

As a teenager I used sex unwisely to make relationships work that were never meant to work.  One relationship bled into marriage, but that didn’t work either.

 

I decided to go to art school.  I reconnected with a man I had known at college, and he and I began to see more of one another.  We ended up getting married.  Very warm, very funny, delightful man.  He had a fatal flaw, which was he didn’t really particularly care about earning a living for his family.  I complained about not being able to meet our bills, and sought comfort in the company of other people.

 

An illicit romance began to take over in my life.  I think that the only time I ever felt beautiful, like myself, likable, nice, something valuable, was when I really had the passion of a man.

 

I was an addict for this kind of passion.  I tried a whole lot of things, different therapy modalities.  I did the 12-step program.  I did crystals.  I did meditation.  I did two kinds of Buddhism.

 

The truth of the matter was, none of those things ever got to the place down deep inside of me, where there was this emptiness.  I had no word for it.  It had been that man, then the next man.

 

Then there was a man that I’d been working with.  He was having his way with me on the weekends.  But, he did take me to church.  He dumped me.  I cried for two whole years, all the while going to church.  I began to hear the word, and I think that the turning point for me was, “This thing you’re feeling down inside of you, that you can’t get to, has a name, and that name is sin.”

 

I think that the turning point for me was, ‘This thing you’re feeling down inside of you, that you can’t get to, has a name, and that name is sin.’

 

I was going to a Bible study, and one day, the leader sat me down and she said, “I want to ask you where you are now about your faith in Jesus.  Do you think that Jesus died for you?”  I think I answered, “Yes,” to all those sort of fundamental questions.  She said, “Well, then you’re a Christian.”  Within two months, I didn’t have the need for that thing that had driven my life from the time I was 18 or 19.

 

I can’t tell you exactly when I first heard the story of the woman at the well.  It’s from the book of John, chapter four.  Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman.  He talks to her about living water.  He said, “Well, I’ll tell you about that if you’ll go get your husband.”  She says, very smartly, “I have no husband.”  Then, he says something so shocking.  He says, “That is right.  You have had five.”

 

Well, that speaks to me because it’s as if Jesus had said to me, “You’ve had five or whatever.  You’ve had many.  You have not had any real husband.”  The woman said, “I know the Messiah called the Christ is coming.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  Then, Jesus declared, “I, who speak to you, am he…”

 

That was my experience.  Jesus said, “I, who speak to you, am he.”  He spoke to me and accepted me.

-Michael

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3/19/2024

I’ve been pondering what the Holy Spirit might be saying to Journey Church through two scriptures I’ve been meditating on recently.  I invite you to consider them also.

 

I pray that your love will keep on growing more and more, together with true knowledge and perfect judgment, so that you will be able to choose what is best. Then you will be free from all impurity and blame on the Day of Christ.  Philippians 1:9-10 (GNT)

 

I believe the Holy Spirit is saying that the love of all Jesus followers is to continually grow and mature and is to be the motivation for everything we do and say.

 

In the Greek language of the New Testament, the meaning of the phrase “true knowledge” has the meaning of “full discernment.”  Our love is then to include full discernment of God’s purposes if we are to live out genuinely Christ-like lives as a church.  Paul re-emphasizes the importance of this in the phrase “perfect judgment” which has the meaning of “moral discernment” and “intellectual perception.”

 

Is all that Journey Church does motivated by sacrificial, Christ-like love that engages in deep spiritual discernment and is grounded in Godly moral judgment based in the wise perception of real life in the real world in the missional context in which our church exists in our post-Christian contemporary culture? 

 

Based on all that, is Journey Church choosing what’s best in how we invest our resources and energies for the sharing of the gospel and for the expanding of God’s Kingdom? 

 

And are we doing that in a way that’s free of selfishness and free of an “it’s all about me” attitude so that when we stand before the Lord Jesus at his coming again, we will be held blameless because we have not led others to sin by the self-centered ways we live?

 

I’ve been broken, lost, depressed, oppressed, and weak that I might find favor and gain the weak. I’m flexible, adaptable, and able to do and be whatever is needed for all kinds of people so that in the end I can use every means at my disposal to offer them salvation.  I do it all for the gospel and for the hope that I may participate with everyone who is blessed by the proclamation of the good news.  1 Corinthians 9:22-23 (VOICE)

 

As a church, are we as the Journey community of faith willing to acknowledge that we are broken in multiple ways because this is needed for us humbly to lead others to faith in Jesus? 

 

Are we willing to be flexible and adaptable in our methods of doing church, doing whatever we need to do and being whoever we need to be, using every means available to us, to offer people life-transforming rescue from sin and selfishness?

 

Do we love that much?

 

Are we willing to give our time, our energies, our resources, our lives all for the gospel to offer Christ’s hope and blessing to a broken and lost world? 

 

Well, are we?

-Michael

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3/25/2024

It was Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday.  It was the night before Jesus would be crucified.  What happened included a number of surprises.  What does Scripture say?

 

The Day of Unleavened Bread came when the Passover lambs had to be sacrificed.  Jesus said to Peter and John, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us to eat.”  They asked, “Where do you want us to prepare it?”  Jesus said to them, “After you go into the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you.  Follow him into the house that he enters, and tell the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says:  “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover meal with my followers?”’  Then he will show you a large, furnished room upstairs.  Prepare the Passover meal there.”  So Peter and John left and found everything as Jesus had said. And they prepared the Passover meal.  Luke 22:7-13 (NCV)

 

The narrative was culturally surprising in at least four ways.

 

  •       “A man carrying a jar of water” would’ve been an unexpected surprise in that day when only women performed such tasks.
  •       The fact that the man would “meet” Peter and John indicates that he somehow expected their arrival.
  •       Their words to him would clearly constitute a kind of indicator that they represented Jesus.
  •       The fact that “a large, furnished room upstairs” was available at such late notice for a Passover meal could indicate previous preparations or arrangements.

 

Jim Denison has said the entire narrative reveals that . . .

  •       Jesus cares for every detail of our lives.
  •       He knows the present and the future.
  •       Everything he asks us to do possesses significance by virtue of his call.
  •       Present obedience leads to future consequences we cannot imagine today.  Peter and John had no way to know that they were playing a role in instituting the Lord’s Supper that’s been observed by billions of people across Christian history.

 

Jesus calls each of us to follow his guidance and direction for our lives, even if we do not understand the reason at the time.  How are we doing in discerning God’s calling in the daily, ordinary goings on of life?  It’s when we are faithful to the Lord’s leading that God may do things that have an eternal purpose even though we may not recognize it at the time.

-Michael

April 2024

4/01/2024

How is it possible to live optimistically in a pessimistic time?  It can take place when you embrace deep in your soul:  “This I know for certain:  God is on my side.”  Psalm 56:9b (VOICE)

 

An optimism based in an unshakable belief that God is on your side has real life effects.  According to the Harvard Medical School, optimism helps reduce hypertension, protect against developing heart disease, lower respiratory tract infections, and benefit overall health.

 

Psychologist Dan J. Tomasulo says:

  •       People who are high in hope have sustainably better mental and physical well-being.
  •       They tend to live longer and happier lives.
  •       They see and respond to the world differently and use their thoughts to focus on what they can control.
  •       They are optimistic about their future and see challenges as opportunities to grow and learn rather than obstacles.
  •       They respond to setbacks with optimism, set positive goals, associate with positive people, and focus on present pathways to self-improvement with confidence.

 

Wise King Solomon observed:  “Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins.”  Ecclesiastes 7:20 (NLT)  This means that our heavenly Father does not love us because we deserve God’s love, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.  Romans 3:23 (CSB)

 

Optimism for Jesus followers is not based on a belief in our own goodness and perfection.  Our optimism is grounded in the deep love of God.

 

Our heavenly Father loves us because “God is love” 1 John 4:8b (NLT).  God loves us because God’s very nature is love.  God loves us, not because of who we are, but in spite of who we are:  “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”  Romans 5:8 (NLT)

 

It is God’s unconditional, passionate love for us that is our sustaining hope and reason for optimism in our broken world.

 

As Tim Keller says:  “The gospel is this:  We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

-Michael

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4/8/2024

Easter Sunday has passed, but I want to share with you the children’s experience at Journey. Currently, we're in a series called Artrageous, in which kids creatively illustrate parts of Bible stories using different art mediums. On Easter Sunday, I chose watercolor paint. The children absolutely loved it, though I'm not sure our teachers felt the same considering the amount of spilled water.



After the art session, we had a hands-on object lesson where children planted wildflower seeds. The aim of the activity was to illustrate how when we die to our old selves, and when we encounter Jesus, the Living Water, we’re transformed into a new creation. It was a beautiful concept, but in reality, it resulted in dirt everywhere. Considering this was Easter Sunday and some of the children were wearing their Sunday best, this may not have been the best timing for this particular illustration!



As a finale to our Bible lesson, I brought in trick candles. You know, the ones that reignite after you blow them out. I lit the candle and explained how Jesus is the light of the world. I told the children how the rulers had killed Jesus, and I blew out the flame. Then I waited for the candle to reignite, illustrating the fact that Jesus had come back to life.



I held my breath. I waited. I began to panic as all I could see was a faint streak of smoke from the candle. What was I going to do? The whole lesson had been leading up to this moment and nothing was happening.  The flame representing Jesus had been extinguished, and it was not reigniting.



Then, just as I was beginning to explain what was supposed to happen, the candle reignited, and the flame burned bright. I finished our lesson proclaiming that just as the candle’s flame reignited, Jesus too, is alive!



While the children happily moved on, I couldn't shake off the anxiety I felt during that moment of uncertainty. I thought of the disciples' anxiety. As they watched Jesus being crucified, were they waiting with bated breath for him to do something miraculous, putting a stop to the execution?  Were they wondering why nothing was happening?



Did they stare in disbelief and replay the last three years of their lives in their minds, wondering what they had missed or how they could’ve been so wrong?



Or, could it be that their minds could not form coherent thoughts as their hearts ached in deep grief as their dearest friend, leader, mentor was killed?



Those moments of anxiety were not brief like mine were with the trick candle illustration. For three days they mourned, they grieved, they questioned, they worried. For three days they were lost and confused, like sheep without a shepherd.



Easter Sunday arrived, and Jesus was alive! Finally, the disciples understood what Jesus had been trying to teach them all along. No longer filled with anxiety or grief, confusion or despair, but now filled with great purpose, they went on to share the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth.



That’s good news worth celebrating. That’s good news worth sharing.




I hope you will too, though you may want to leave the paint, dirt, and candles at home when you do.

-Jackie

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4/15/2024

 

In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote:

 

“If you want to get warm, you must stand near the fire.  If you want to get wet, you must get into the water.  If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them.

 

They are not a sort of prize which God could, if he chose, just hand out to anyone.  They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality.  If you are close to it, the spray will wet you; if you are not, you will remain dry.

 

Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?  Once man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?”

 

Jim Denison writes that if you want to “stand near the fire” today . . .

 

1.  Make Christ the king of your life and day:  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

 

2.  Spend this day in his presence:  “Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4).

 

3.  Think biblically and act redemptively:  “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32).

 

4.  Name your greatest challenge, then “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that you may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

 

How closely are you standing near or standing in the fire of Christ’s purifying and redeeming love?

-Michael

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