The Reality of Running the Hills

There are different options folks take when it comes to hunting turkeys. It is one of the many things that gets me so excited about the nearly two months of turkey hunting we get in Georgia. If you "run and gun" in the turkey woods, you basically get to take a nice stroll in the woods, and stop and set-up from time to time if you want. On the other side, you can go all out - covering ground in yards more than steps.

I prefer the later.

I enjoy the challenge of chasing turkeys on their turf regardless of the weather and conditions. I usually wear my backpacking boots when I know I am going to be taking the steep inclines of power lines or some of the hills we face around Georgia. I have friends who I have taken hunting who later have been stunned by the pace I set. I train and work out with the idea of being able to get to where ever the the birds are hanging out.

Unfortunately, my spiritual life sometimes does not get the same focus. Even as a pastor, I take for granted the need for a single-mindedness to go after God. One person I have gained inspiration from is Joshua. He followed the example of Moses and sought to live every minute for God. He stood before God's people and challenged them, saying,

"If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15 NASB)

We are called to live a "marathon" life. Most often we live in "sprints" - going from a spiritual high to a "low" and then looking to get back "up" again. We need to learn from Joshua's example and commitment to place God at the front and live everyday going after His Kingdom.

TIP: Consider developing a year round health plan to be in shape for your hunting season as well as your spiritual life. Set time 4-5 times a week for a 30 minute work-out even if it is simply walking. Either before or after, read from the Bible and a devotion. This way you can stay fit physically and spiritually for every hill or valley you face.

Books to read when days end with Why?

This past week, one of our local restaurants here in northeast Paulding closed. These guys worked like crazy to make their business go. All small business owners do. It is in their nature. So many of us are either feeling it happen to us and around us. But it doesn't stop there. It seems like there is a snowball effect as more couples are struggling in their marriages and far too many throwing in the towel.

This doesn't even touch on those families and individuals struggling with the day to day of special needs complications, depression and other mental illnesses, medical conditions that have become physically and emotionally unbearable. I could go on.

As one who has dealt with cancer and depression in my own life alongside chronic headaches, I have known suffering too. I have faced rejection and failure in my calling – Yes, even pastors know it, its just few mention it or name it outside of hanging out with other clergy. The reason I hear most? No one wants to hear that pastors suffer.

So let me ask you, do people not want to hear that Jesus suffered? Catches you off guard doesn't it? In our western culture, I'm not sure churches likes to hear that truth either. Still we can't escape the reality...”we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. (Hebrews 2:9-10 NASB)”

As the next few weeks unfold at Crossroads UMC with our series, “When Days End In Why?” I thought I'd share some of the books that have spoken to me and helped me on my journey.

Shattered Dreams Larry Crabb
Mourning Into Dancing Walter Wangerin
A Spirituality of Imperfection Ernest Kurtz & Katherine Ketchem
Man's Search For Meaning Victor Frankl
The Glory of a Wasted Life Christ John Otto
The Critical Journey Janet O. Hagberg

MAY I ASK? What has been your greatest struggle with suffering in your life?

MAY I SUGGEST? Find ways to connect with the suffering in your community. Whether through a food pantry, clothing center, women's shelter, children's home, hospital; plan this month to associate with suffering. Come back and share what you learned here.

Freak Out: Lessons from Simple Acts of Kindness

1.People are scared to connect.
Frown. Put up your hand. Keep asking how much it is. All of those were responses to our FREE Coke and a Smile Saturday.
Following from that though is the observation that people are simply scared to connect. Because I wear a name tag everyday, I find connecting to be fairly easy and straight forward. Having my name out there helps others lower their guard even if just a little. How do you enable others to connect?

2.People don't believe free.
Bait and switch. Too many "Free Car Washes" have tainted people I guess (Donations accepted!) When Crossroads says free we mean FREE! We had some money get thrown at us when we wouldn't take it even! We still gave away probably 400 Cokes, Diet Cokes and water. How did we sell FREE? Persistence and a smile. How about you?

3.Once the first in line takes a risk, others follow suit.

As soon as the first person sitting in line at the stop light would take a soda or water, it was amazing how quickly others would follow suit. Early adopters set the the trend. What trends are you setting?

4.Generosity freaks people out.
Does it ever! I've lost track of how many times I have been rejected. Being a new church start pastor imparts more opportunities than just about anything else to experience what it is like – especially from Christians. Now add to that the idea of helping people - “RETHINK CHURCH” by being generous. Scott came saying all morning - “This is so freaking people out!” What are you doing to freak people out?

MAY I ASK? When was the last time you RISKED yourself for the sake of the Kingdom? What was it like? What did you learn?

MAY I SUGGEST? Find some way to be creative and get out there and FREAK people out. My parents were here visiting and THEY got out and had a blast!

When Days End In Why? Meeting a Man Named Job

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Protestant pastor who was imprisoned and eventually executed by the Nazis during World War II. From his bleak prison cell, Bonhoeffer wrote letters full of faith and hope. This is a quote from one letter to his sister: "I think that God is nearer to suffering than to happiness, and to find God in this way gives peace and rest and a strong and courageous heart."

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. Seven sons and three daughters were born to him. His possessions also were 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants; and that man was the greatest of all the men of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When the days of feasting had completed their cycle, Job would send and consecrate them, rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, "Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." Thus Job did continually. (Job 1:1-5 NASB)

The first cry of a baby is in a sense, “why! Why do I have to leave this comfortable place where all my needs are met!” It is only the beginning of such days. To live life – either with or without faith – we ultimately will ask “why” on more than one day. Just look at Rob's (our bass player) post on Facebook: "Note to self when you're super-tired: Putting ice cream in the pantry just doesn't work."

There is a word for the problem of evil and suffering and God – it is called theodicy. There are those who wrestle with this issue and those who dismiss it altogether. For some, it becomes the reason they leave faith behind and for others, it propels them to walk closer and more deeply with God than ever before.

I can tell you that more than one book of the Bible wrestles with the issue of theodicy. Read the book of Ruth, and you will find suffering face to face. Read Ecclesiastes and again, the theodicy will be faced. If pastors back away from addressing the reality of suffering it isn't because we lack material. The Bible deals head on with evil and suffering – sometimes more pointedly than we'd like.

Will faith protect me from evil? If I do right will I also do well? Is there a cause and effect between faith and success in our world?

Enter Job. A man from the Land of Uz – a place unknown even to the Israelites. Job. Is the name an invocation of God or a name meaning the “persecuted one?” Was he real or a story? What we know is once, long ago in a land far away lived Job.

BLAMELESS – UPRIGHT – FEARED GOD – LOVED HIS FAMILY. What could be wrong? Seven sons and three daughters both represented numbers that meant “Perfection”. His animals too, represented complete numbers. All the important holidays were times to party!! By all accounts in faith, family and finance – he was successful.

VERSE 5 (sanctifying the children). Pastor Mark Westmoreland asks - “Is that fear – is it faithfulness? Is it a little of both?” Can we protect ourselves in ritual and doing good from evil? For a long time it has been thought so. I have yet to see evidence as of yet that this belief has disappeared. In fact, the writer of Job takes us to a seen before God's throne where this interesting conversation takes place...

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, "From where do you come?" Then Satan answered the LORD and said, "From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it." The LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil." Then Satan answered the LORD, "Does Job fear God for nothing? "Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. (Job 1:6-10 NASB)

We are so quick to ask God “Why?” But it is Satan who asks an even better question - “Why do we worship God to start with? What is OUR motivation? Is there some level of selfishness we can never escape?” In looking at the life of Mother Teresa, behavorist Edward O. Wilson noted that her service to Jesus was linked to the promise of eternal life and thus had a selfish basis.

I think there is something missing from our faith if, along the way of our life, we are not asking 'why?' Why follow if the journey is marked by suffering and not prosperity? Indeed. Shall we follow theT lives of the disciples, Peter and Paul, Matthew and Andrew, except for John, all knew incredible suffering and struggle. The centuries that have gone by have recorded others. Foxes' Book of Martyrs notes many. More recently, The Voice of The Martyrs has highlighted the abuse and suffering of Christians around the globe during this past century.

Philip Yancey notes, “The most aggressively Christian continent on earth, Africa, is also the hungriest, while the most aggressively non-Christian region, around the Arabian Sea, is the wealthiest.” Why? Walter Wangerin has been one of my favorite authors through the years. In 2006, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and is preparing for his own death by writing. But in his book, Mourning Into Dancing, written in 1992, he records these words, “The one for whom Why has no answer is even further isolated by those for whom Why has no interest (107).” If you are asking why – you will find friends here at Crossroads and alongside Job as well.

“What does it profit us to gain the whole world and lose one's soul?” Jesus asked good questions and tended to leave the answers to be discovered. Paul tended to answer his own questions: For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. These and the words that follow, are recorded by many of the missionaries who have gone where Jesus sent them. Barclay Buxton, Amy Carmichael, E. Stanley Jones, Jim and Elisabeth Eliot and countless others found a peace in the words of Paul in their suffering and questions of “Why?”

But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. (Philippians 1:21-24 NASB)

I can speak of the suffering of cancer and the stigma of depression. But I can also tell you of the isolation and despair that come with following Jesus where he says to go. Faith, if I have learned anything, is not safe. It leads to questions more often than it leads to answers.

What do you want to hear from me? Do you want to hear that faith in Jesus will assure that you will blessed and your life overflowing with joy? Or that faith in Jesus could cost you everything you dreamed and worked to achieve? The answer to both is "Yes." But to find those willing to ask the questions? Now that is a place of grace and place that Crossroads desires to become.

(NOTE: Special thanks to Pastor Mark Westmoreland who provided the outline for this series.)

A Pile of Soles

What happens when a community comes together? In this case, we're piling up soles! With such an incredible out pouring by the families of northeast Paulding, it only seemed right to extend our Soles4Souls campaign through to June 6th - "Barefoot Sunday."

So you still have time to drop off your gently used or new shoes at Crossroads UMC (meeting at Shelton Elementary on Sunday mornings) or Shelton during the week as well as TEAM Chiropractic on Hwy 92 next to Vito's Cafe.

Click here to learn more about Soles4Souls!

Illusion or Truth? Joe Turner This Sunday @ Crossroads UMC!

Do not miss this Sunday at Crossroads UMC!!! It is a special Sunday in a lot of ways but you'll not want to miss the incredible message coming from my friend Joe Turner.

Joe is more than just an illusionists and corporate speaker, he has a deep faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Using his skills and talents, the message this Sunday is one I'm looking forward to not just hearing but experiencing as well! Don't miss it this Sunday at 10am at Shelton Elementary School!

Dreaming Of Peace

John 14:23-27 NASB Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. (24) "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me. (25) "These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. (26) "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. (27) "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.

One of the best newspaper cartoons of all time is Calvin and Hobbes. One day Calvin and Hobbes come marching into the living room early one morning. His mother is seated there in her favorite chair. She is sipping her morning coffee. She looks up at young Calvin. She is amused and amazed at how he is dressed. Calvin's head is encased in a large space helmet. A cape is draped around his neck, across his shoulders, down his back and is dragging on the floor. One hand is holding a flashlight and the other a baseball bat.

"What's up today?" asks his mom. "Nothing, so far," answers Calvin. "So far?" she questions.

"Well, you never know," Calvin says, "Something could happen today." Then Calvin marches off, "And if anything does, by golly, I'm going to be ready for it!" Calvin's mom looks out at the reading audience and she says, "I need a suit like that!"

Personally, I thought every mom already had a suit like that! The fact is, most of us look to the moms in our lives as that very suit. Sure, I had my mom but then there was Mrs. Walker, Mrs. Tice, Mrs. Wofford, Mrs. Welch, Mrs. Hegwood, you get the idea. We need all the moms we can get because this is one crazy world that we live in.

If there is one thing that it seems to me, moms for certain but all of us I think dream of, is peace. For if there was peace, there would be no suit like Calvin's. It was in part Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream and before him Ghandi's. And I think, we would find that all those who have known suffering, have also known the most vivid dreams of peace.

Religions have often been viewed as the bringers of peace. But we know too, that religions have often been associated as much with corruption and violence as love and peace.

I. There is the peace the Lord Gives.
How do we receive this peace? Jesus is straightforward. It is through obedience. (v. 23) It is to be a willful, decision to follow after Jesus.

There is the understanding that God's vision for all things – for our world is peace. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:33 1Co 14:33 NASB “for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” NOT confusion BUT peace – and it seems it is a realization that God is over all things – not necessarily the cause for we have our freedom and nature has its courses – but God is very much in the details – NOT the devil.

The peace spoken of here and the context, that is the theme surrounding the use, is almost identical to the word for peace in Hebrew, known as Shalom. Yet even here, the New Testament reveals the Good News concealed in the Old Testament. Chiefly, that life AND peace are tied together in the Spirit Jesus will send to us. Paul again makes this clear in: “Romans 8:6 NASB For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace...”

II. Peace the world gives:
In our homes, like the world, we often confuse ORDER with PEACE. What do I mean by that? When the 'ruling' party has control (aka; parents or guardians), there is what passes as a 'peace.' One of my favorite commentators, Adam Clarke, has a word on that. Let me add in aside here, because you may not know what a commentator is in Biblical studies. Commentators are Biblical scholars who help make clear the intended meanings of the Biblical texts. They work and consult with other scholars in trying to help us get to the fullest meaning of the Bible.

What Adam Clarke notes is the contrast between the peace Jesus gives is “...not as the people of the world, in empty compliments. Their salutations and benedictions are generally matters of custom and polite ceremony, given without desire or design...” Think about it, what peace treaty has truly ever held? Doesn't every nation seek to gain an advantage and manipulate to their best interest? How is that peace?

MLK, Jr. was more than a civil rights leader, he was the Rev. Dr. - he pastored and he prayed before he protested. His “I have a dream speech” is rooted firmly in Scriptures. His life was grounded in faith in Jesus Christ. One cannot divorce his advocacy for civil rights from his faith anymore than I think you can miss, that his desire for justice for African-Americans was a dream for true peace – that peace which Jesus alone offers. It is a peace that assures us that we are in right relationship with God. This, Jesus says, comes from him.

Choosing the way of Jesus, turns dreams of peace into a reality in our homes and in our lives. How would treating others like you want to be treated hurt? Would feeding the hungry make a difference? Would it change your family if you chose not to let the sun go down on your anger with everyone in your home? Would it help if you finally admitted to yourself you are not God and don't have all the answers? By making the decision today, to follow the way of Jesus, dreams of peace become a reality.

The Difference He Makes: Jesus I Never Knew Sermon - Week 5

Philippians 2:5-8 GW Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. (6) Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality. (7) Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance. (8) He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross.

2Corinthians 5:21 NASB He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

The Road Less Traveled was a landmark book in modern psychotherapy. Author Scott Peck, notes that he came to read the Bible from a very skeptical nature, one many of you here know well. But he says that when he began reading about Jesus, everything changed. He notes that if the writers were trying to do a PR job on Jesus, then their work could go on “failblog.” Instead, he found a very real, very lonely, and even anxious. He writes, “I discovered a man so incredibly real that no one could make him up.

What difference does Jesus make? I think it starts with the questions we ask and how willing we are to really ask them and follow where the questions may lead. The last few weeks, we've explored some of those elements. But the truth is we often end up with more questions.

Philip Yancey concludes his book, “The Jesus I Never Knew” with a set of impression. I won't address them all but three seem to stand out for me. They are impressions that in recent times I have come to see more clearly, clearly enough to see that the more I see, the more questions Jesus may raise for me.

The God-Man.
There is something disturbing to me in that people so quickly dismiss Christianity without ever considering who God presents himself to be in Jesus Christ. When considering the actual arguments about Christianity, the biggest point God makes is often left out. It would have been easier to get a set of ideas. We got God himself instead.

Could the disciples have created this image of Jesus to fulfill their own gain? Only if we view this from a 21st century mindset in the US of A. They were inept as disciples and struggled themselves to identify Jesus as God incarnate themselves. The Jewish leaders clearly understood the claims Jesus made about himself and so did Pilate, the Roman Governor. God had come as a human and became a sinless friend of sinners.

Portrait of Humanity.
Yancey writes, “A man gets drunk. A woman has an affair. A child tortures an animal. A nation goes to war: that's just human. Jesus put a stop to that (270).” Verse 7: “Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance.”

This is the heart of redemption – going back to the beginning – Jesus showed in his life what humanity was intended to be like and what we still have the hope to become. And it was a unique incredible experience unlike anything ever expressed by any other religion.

By becoming human, God came to know the human experience we all live: Heb 4:15-16 NASB For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (16) Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Portrait of God.
George Buttrick, was the chaplain of Harvard. It was fairly common he said, for students to come into his office, sit down and say, “I don't believe in God.” Buttrick's response went something like this, “Tell me what kind of God you don't believe in. I probably don't believe in that God either.”

Theology most often defines God by what he is not – Invisible means he is NOT visible – Immortal means he is NOT mortal and so on. Jesus answers the question then – He IS the replica of God in front of us. “Jesus,” Yancey writes, “introduced profound changes in how we view God. Mainly, he brought God near.”

Soles 4 Souls Until May 14th!!!

This is not a new fashion statement!

Around the world, there is a need for shoes especially following recent disasters. YOU can join Crossroads UMC and Shelton Elementary's PTA in making a difference - one loving act at a time!

You have until MAY 14th to drop off your gently used shoes at Shelton Elementary School. You can drop them off at the bins in front of the school, either during the week or on Sundays at 10am.

Click here to learn more about Soles4Souls!

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