Watch What You’re Doing

Someone once called the late great Christian rocker and contemporary Christian music pioneer Larry Norman the “original Christian hippie.” He was a pretty radical guy and was a part of the counter-cultural revival of the 1960’s and ’70’s often referred to as the “Jesus Movement.” I was a big fan of his back in the day, and even had a few 8-track tapes of his music.

In 1977 he recorded a song called “Watch What You’re Doing.” It was about the choices we make, and the consequences of those choices. It wasn’t your average Christian song, to say the least. The opening lyrics of the song went like this:

Mama killed a chicken, thought it was a duck,
Put him on the table with his legs sticking up.
Papa broke his glasses when he fell down drunk,
Tried to drown the kitty cat, turned out to be a skunk.
You gotta watch what you’re doing, didn’t you know,
You gotta watch where you’re going, didn’t you know.

I thought of that song this week when I heard the news report out of Connecticut about a woman who mistakenly lit a stick of dynamite during a power outage, thinking it was a candle. At first I assumed this was some sort of click-bait fake news story because it was a little too unbelievable to be true, but a few clicks revealed that it really happened.

After thunderstorms knocked out the power in her Bridgeport, Connecticut home last Thursday, the 30-year old mother of two went to Home Depot to try to buy emergency lighting. The store was closed, so when she got back home, she went into her basement and grabbed what she believed were candles. Instead, they were quarter sticks of dynamite left behind by former residents of the house. When she lit the dynamite, there was an explosion and she suffered serious injuries to her hands and face. She was taken to a nearby hospital, and the last reports suggested that she may lose her fingers. Fortunately, her children were not hurt.

It’s easy to laugh at such a dumb thing, especially from a distance, but I don’t want to make light of someone’s tragedy. It does seem like it would have fit into one of the silly illustrations that Larry Norman included in his song. And the message of that song is all the more applicable: you better watch what you’re doing…even if you’re in the dark!

All of us will make choices this week. Some will be about as dumb as lighting a stick of dynamite for lighting, or trying to drown a skunk. Be assured, “your sins will find you out,” and “you will reap what you sow.” Or, perhaps we can make smart choices and wise decisions based on God’s word that will keep us from facing harmful consequences, and keep things from blowing up in our face.

For instance, you can allow lust to have its way in your life, or you can choose moral purity, and the blessings that go with it. You can choose the worldly pull toward greed and materialism, and live a discontented life, or decide to be a giver, and watch God pour out His provision on your life.You can escalate an argument, and do harm to meaningful relationships, or you can practice self control, offer grace and choose to build up instead of tear down. You can hold grudges–and feel justified in doing so–or you can make the decision to forgive, like Jesus did, and release both the offender and yourself from the bondage of bitterness. And on and on the decisions go.

By God’s grace, you and I have many choices before us this week. To borrow from the words of the knight at the end of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, let me encourage you to “choose wisely.” And along the way, be careful to “watch what you’re doing,” and stay away from skunks and dynamite.

I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

Why I Believe in Small Groups

We had our first week of ReGroup this past Wednesday, and though I hated to miss it (for the birth of my newest grandson), I heard it was a great time. More than anything, I hope that you caught a vision for what our small groups can be in the year ahead, and that you were challenged and encouraged to be about our Father’s business in the co-mission the Lord has given us at Shelby Crossings.

We will have another week of ReGroup this coming Wednesday, and I sure hope you can be there. (See below for details.) This is such a crucial time for us, as we take a step back from our regular routine and regroup–to “sharpen the saw” so that we can be better at doing small group ministry in the year ahead. It’s also a time for re-grouping our existing groups, as we reshuffle the cards a bit for our existing groups and launch a few new groups along the way. That is always an exciting time for us as a church.

Let me say it as plainly as I can:  I believe that small groups are the most important ministry in the church. We often say that groups are where church happens at Shelby Crossings, and I believe that is true. I’d like to give you a few reasons why I believe so much in small groups.

First, they are biblical. The New Testament blueprint of church structure was much more in line with small groups than the large group congregational gathering that defines much of the modern church. Over and over in the Book of Acts (which describes the early church in its embryonic period) the operative term for where the church gathered was “house to house.” That is, the church thrived in homes more than in sanctuaries; if you know church history, you know that it was the 4th century before there was any such thing as a church building. As someone has said, the church was from its beginning a “living room religion,” and I think it still functions best in that setting.

Additionally, I think small groups are the most effective and efficient means to do what every church is supposed to do: make disciples. Christian discipleship happens best in the context of interpersonal relationships, not auditoriums filled with audiences. Sitting in a circle with friends, learning God’s word together, is much more interactive than sitting in rows looking at the back of someone’s head, listening to someone on a stage. When fellow followers of Christ are there to pray for you, encourage you, support you, and hold you accountable, you are much more likely to grow in your walk with the Lord. Plus, a small groups of caring friends who share a common bond in Christ–where you can get real with one another–is the environment where genuine community is best experienced. 

And speaking of community, another reason I like small groups is their location and purpose: they are in the community, and for the community. That is, they are not building centered, but community centered. Our Lord’s Great Commission called us to go into all the world and make disciples. But many have reversed that commission from a “go and tell” to an invitation to “come and hear” at the church building. When we meet in homes in our neighborhoods, we are better positioned to reach out to our neighbors where they are. As the old saying goes, if you want to catch fish, you need to go where the fish are. And we who have been called to be “fishers of men” need to begin our mission in our communities where the fish are hungry, and the fields are white unto harvest.

Now none of that is to say that I don’t believe in our church gatherings on Sunday to worship together and hear from God’s word. I do, and I can’t wait to see you all on Sunday as we come together as His people to honor Him. But one without the other is an incomplete church, and leads to an incomplete and immature church body.

Some have pointed out that in Acts 20:20 the church met “publicly and from house to house.” That “20/20 Vision” of church life reveals a both/and of public congregational worship and small groups in the home. I remember hearing someone refer to it as the two wings of church. Both wings are necessary, and if you try to fly with just wing, you will have a hard time getting off the ground, and you will be destined to crash.

I can’t wait to see what the Lord has in store for us in the year ahead as our small groups continue to make disciples, care for our members, and reach out to our community. I do hope to see you at ReGroup this coming Wednesday, and I look forward to seeing you as we gather together for worship on Sunday.

Following the Crowd

A year ago at this time I was coming home from a wonderful week of ministry in Brazil with our missionary partners Believer’s Bridge. I am so glad to be a part of a mission-sending church, and was reminded of that again this past Sunday during our Missions Moment in the worship service.

I was reminded of that when a photo popped up on my Facebook feed this week of a “memory” from last year, when I was preaching at a church in Belem, Brazil. There beside me in the photo was an interpreter to translate what I was saying into Portuguese, the language which most of the members spoke. I remember hoping while I was preaching that the interpreter was doing a better job communicating in Portuguese than I was in English. And that reminded me of a story I heard of another missionary who struggled with the language barrier when he was new on the field.

The new missionary was in Venezuela for the first time, and it’s time for him to visit one of the local churches, so he sits in the front row. So as not to make a fool of himself, he decides to pick someone out of the crowd to imitate, and chooses the man sitting next to him in the front pew. As they sing, the man claps his hands, so the missionary recruit claps too. When the man stands up to pray, the missionary recruit stands up too. When the man sits down, the missionary sits down.
Later in the service, the man next to him stands up again, so the missionary stands up too. Suddenly a hush falls over the entire congregation. A few people gasp. The missionary looks around and sees that no one else is standing. So he sits down.
After the service ends, the missionary recruit greets the pastor. “I take it you don’t speak Spanish,” the preacher says. The missionary replies, “No, not very good yet. Is it that obvious?”
“Well, yes,” the preacher says. “I announced that the Acosta family had a newborn baby boy, and I asked the proud father to please stand up.” Oops!
We all get into trouble like that every now and then when we find ourselves following the crowd. It’s so easy just to go along with those around us, instead of making our own way.  Or better yet, following the Lord’s way. As Christ-followers, we need to be reminded sometimes that Jesus is our model, the example we are to follow to live out our faith. And we’ll never go wrong if you choose to imitate Him in the way we live our life.
Think about that this week. How would your life be different if your actions and your attitudes truly reflected those of the Savior whom you claim to serve? Are you more like the world you’ve been called out of, or the Lord who has called you to follow Him?
I’m praying for you this week, that your faith will be genuine and that your walk with God will be evident to all those around you.
TCASC ePistleThe e-newsletter of The Church at Shelby Crossings – 08.31.18

How You See Church

It was good to be back at Shelby Crossings last Sunday, even if I wasn’t quite ready for prime time to preach just yet. (I will do that this week, Lord willing.) I did enjoy the worship and message, especially with limited responsibility, but I would have to say what blessed me the most was just being with my church family, and hearing all the kind expressions of love and encouragement.

I couldn’t help but think of an analogy I have often used, about how some people see “church” and how it affects what they do when they do attend. It has been my observation that many people view church as something you “go to,” at a certain time and place. Now I understand that it is helpful that our church gathers at a predictable place (532 George Roy Parkway) and time (9:00 and 10:30 each Sunday) but we have to resist the idea of thinking that the place and time equals the church. We don’t go to church, we are the church–all week long, wherever we are.

Likewise, how we view what we do when we do congregate together is crucial to how we do it. Some people see church as a performance on the stage that one observes from the crowd. As such, they consider themselves as merely members of an audience instead of part of a church body. Accordingly, when the service ends, you would reasonably expect them to quickly gather their belongings and head to their cars to go home. There is really no attachment to their fellow audience members.

This would be similar to how many of us would view going to a movie theater. There is a particular “show” that we have paid to see, and we watch it for our entertainment value. We really have no interest in interacting with the people around us; we are here to see a flick, and maybe eat a little popcorn along the way. Those of us who are especially extroverted might consider making a brief comment about the movie to someone coming out of the same theater on the way to the car, but that is still pretty unlikely. We aren’t there for the people; we are there for the show.

You could also use a concert or sporting event in that analogy. Those in attendance see themselves mostly as spectators (or fans), though the environment of a game where you are surrounded by fellow fans of the same team does allow for some social interaction. I specifically remember being so caught up in a moment at a UAB football game last season that I found myself high-fiving several people I did not know after an unlikely blocked field goal on the last play of the game preserved a Blazer homecoming win. 

Still, for the most part, whether it is a movie, a concert, or a football game, we understand that we really don’t have that much of a connection with the people who share the role of audience member with us. But that is not how church was ever intended to be in the first place, and should never be now.
The environment of authentic church life as defined by Scripture is that of an extended family, not of an audience. In fact, there is no such thing as an “audience” in church. We are never mere spectators, we are always participants, and we are there as much for the horizontal interaction with our fellow “called out ones” –which is what ekklesia, the Greek word for church, means–as we are for the vertical relationship we have with God. Let’s face it: if we were just there to worship God, we could do that in our own prayer closet at home. If we were there only to hear from His word, we all have access to His truth and don’t need to come to a building to read it.

There’s something more than hearing or watching involved in church. And that something is genuine Christian fellowship–from another Greek word used often in the New Testament, koinonia, which comes from a word meaning “to share” or “to have in common.” That fellowship is defined by the interdependent “one another” commonality that we share with each other. (Acts 2:42-47) As the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians, we are members of one another. That’s fellowship.

I remember a former pastor of mine saying that “fellowship” is two fellows in the same ship. And what is that ship? It’s what we have in common, a shared relationship with the God who created us, through His Son Jesus Christ. That common bond is what makes us family, and when we come together as the called out ones to share fellowship together, we are essentially having a family reunion. 
With that in mind, I can’t imagine someone going to a family gathering, finding a seat without acknowledging those around them, and never speaking to or welcoming fellow members of the family. Likewise, it would be hard to fathom someone attending such a reunion and then running to the door as soon as a final prayer or greeting was offered, without ever interacting with those in the same family. And yet, some people do just that many Sundays.
So, I guess the question is, how do you see church? As a performance, where you are a member of an audience? Or as a family gathering, where you come together to meet with those whom you share the same experience of having been gloriously saved by the gospel? Your understanding of what church is will determine how you act when you get there.
I am grateful to be a part of a church family of real people, living out real life together, gathering to worship a real God, and hearing real truth for our real world. And why would I ever want to miss gathering with a group of people like that every chance I get?

What’s Important

An ABC News story on Good Morning America a month of so back generated a lot of attention, and as you would probably expect, quite a bit of social media sarcasm. The story was about a mother whose child died when she left it in a hot car in Texas seven years ago, who now dedicates her life to preventing any more “hot car fatalities.”

The part of the story that got everyone’s attention was the reporter’s advice at the end to help parents avoid such a tragedy. She shared an acronym, which included a helpful hint for parents to put “something important” in the back seat with the child so you wouldn’t forget it, and included examples such as your cell phone, wallet, work badge or handbag.

And everybody who heard it turned their head like a dog hearing a high pitched sound and asked in unison, “Something important?”

I know it is hard to fathom a parent completely forgetting his or her child and leaving it in a hot car, though sadly it happens dozens of times a year in our country. And that is just those who have tragic outcomes that end up getting reported. No telling how many more times the parent or someone else remembers in time and rescues the child from serious hard, and no one ever hears about it.

And as much as I believe I would never do anything like that, I have done plenty of other absent-minded dumb things in my life, and we should all be careful not to say that could never happen to us. For that matter, I once left one of my children at Hardee’s, but that was because I didn’t do a head count when we left and only had five in my van. And I have never been able to live that down. (But, I must remind people that Jesus’ parents left Him in Jerusalem once, when He was twelve, and He turned out all right.)

I don’t want to make light of such a serious and tragic situation as the loss of a child, but that one “helpful hint” from the ABC reporter is what stood out, to me and millions of others Americans who responded: we should put something important with our child, so we don’t forget our child–as if the child in and of itself is not important. 

If you need to leave your phone or wallet with your child so you don’t forget the child, you probably ought not to be parenting anyway. More than anything, that suggests a mixed up set of priorities, if your phone or wallet is what you can’t do without. Lord, help us if we have allowed either to move ahead of our children in our “what’s important” list.

On a similar note, I saw a pretty funny tweet a few weeks back, that had a similar sentiment. It was a .gif of someone with a whimsical or confused look on his face, who was supposed to be a pastor, and the caption read: “When you realize there are always a bunch of Bibles in the lost and found but never any cell phones…” Ouch!
Okay, so here’s the deal. What is it that is really important to you? That is, what are your priorities? Not just what you say they are, but what your life says they are? Are your children more important than your phones or wallet, and I’m not just talking about which ones you leave in the car, but which ones you give the most attention to? And, is it easier for you to get by if you lose your Bible than if you lost your phone?
Most importantly, I hope your first priority is to “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness,” trusting that everything else will fall into place after that. That’s how you truly understand what’s important.

On a personal note, thanks so much for your prayers for me in the week ahead, as I face surgery for my prostate cancer. We appreciate all the love and support you have shared with our family over the past few months, and we are so grateful for each of you.

The Source of Peace

Many people consider Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the famous British pastor of the late 1800’s, to be the greatest preacher since the apostle Paul. Spurgeon, who was referred to as the “Prince of Preachers,” pastored the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London for 38 years. That is especially significant seeing that he passed away at the age of 57.

He was the first “mega-church” pastor, and was also a prolific author. What many people do now know about Spurgeon was that he openly admitted to often struggling with depression. It is a matter of record that on more than one occasion he was so overcome with feelings of worthlessness, depression and despondency that he left his pulpit in London to go to a resort in France where he stayed for two or three months at a time. Often he would spend days resting on his couch because he was so depressed, fearful and discouraged.

There is a chapter in his classic book Lectures to My Students called “The Minister’s Fainting Fits,” which Warren Wiersbe says every pastor should read at least once a year because of Spurgeon’s honesty about the pressures that men and women in the ministry face. He offerered as one of his examples none other than Elijah, “a man just like us,” whose life and ministry we have been examining in our messages this summer.
You may be surprised some of the names of those who would join Spurgeon in battling depression. People like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy experienced it. Abraham Lincoln waged a lifelong battle with depression, as did Winston Churchill, who referred to it as “my black dog.” Sixteenth century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross famously wrote of the “dark night of the soul” which he experienced. Even the great Protestant reformer Martin Luther dealt with deep depression.

Last Sunday’s message really seemed to have struck a cord in our church body and the story of Elijah struggling with burnout and depression resonated with so many of you. Most of us can certainly relate to great men of God like Spurgeon and Luther, and Bible “heroes” like Elijah and Jonah, who have feet of clay, and go through hard times like the rest of us. (If you haven’t heard the message, you can find it online with all of our other messages here.)

Depression has risen to epidemic proportions in our nation, and no one is immune. It is not a willful, chosen state of mind, nor is it a sin. It can’t be dealt with by just telling someone to “cheer up.” I remember seeing a sign one time that said, “They said to me: Cheer up, things could be worse. So I cheered up and sure enough things go worse!”

Often depression is a signal that something is wrong and that we need help. Or, more specifically, that we need hope. And that’s where we as a church come in. As much as the issue sometimes must be treated clinically, by doctors and psychiatrists, with therapy and medicine, ultimately depression is a soul issue. To treat the emotional side and neglect the spiritual side, is nothing short of malpractice.
God wired us, just the way we are, including our body, soul, mind and spirit. He made our emotions, and He understands the mountain tops and valleys we experience. His word are full of both. We are all created in the image of God, which means that at our core we are spiritual beings. And God is interested in our whole selves, and He wants to make sure that our selves are whole.

That was the message from Sunday: that Elijah needed to get some rest, that he needed to rethink his disoriented perspective and focus on the truth, and that he needed to hear from God. Ultimately, the source of His peace would be his relationship with the God who loved him.

I know there are no simple answers for the complex problems of mental health, and the last thing the world needs is simplistic cliches from those of us who follow Christ. But we would do our friends and family–and ourselves–a great disservice if we did not point people to the only real source of peace, Jesus Christ.

That is our purpose, and that is our mission. May the Lord help us to do it obediently, and authentically, and sensitively.  Thank you for your continued support and prayers. I am praying for you this week, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

Warts and All

One of the over-arching desires for our ministry at The Church at Shelby Crossings is that we would “get real.” Whatever we do, we seek to cut through the artificial and superficial to relate to God and to one another in a sincere and genuine way. That’s true for our worship, our small groups, and all of our relationships.
No pretense. No posing. No hypocrisy. Just real faith, in a real God, in real life.
Get real is a common expression in our generation. We don’t have to define it; we know well what it means. But sometimes getting real means getting “messy.” Life is hard, and when we take the step to take off our masks and cut through the surface-level layers of image-protection–and truly live in the abounding grace of our God–it makes us vulnerable and scares us to death. But it’s worth the risk, I promise.
There’s another common expression, passed down from years gone by, which is a little more earthy than cool:  warts and all.  Like a wart, getting real is not very pretty sometimes. But we must always resist the temptation to cover things over and act like everything’s fine when it’s not. We are imperfect people, in process, seeking to “get real” with ourselves, with one another, and most importantly, with God.
We in the church can be sure of one thing: the world is checking us out, not expecting that we would be perfect, but seeing if we are real. There is no greater turn-off to an unchurched world than artificial, hypocritical people, especially in church.  They want to see substance, sincerely, authenticity. And often, they judge by our level of authenticity, how real they think our God is.
So, instead of acting like we’ve got it together, maybe we would all do well to work together to get it together, together. That’s what the body of Christ is all about–living under God’s grace and sharing in community with other imperfect people like ourselves, seeking to become all that He has called us to be.  nd that starts with getting real with Him…warts and all.
My prayer for each of us is that we’ll experience the real-life joy of a real relationship with a very real God, even in the midst of all the real struggles and pain that we all face each week. God knows where we are, and He sees beyond our masks, and desires to meet us where we are and “get real” with us today.
May His sufficient grace be poured out in your life this week.

Good Bad Days

I quoted a Beatles song in last Sunday’s message, but somehow afterwards a friend in our congregation was low enough to suggest on social media that I was a closet country music fan. It had to do with something I said in the sermon that apparently reminded him of the words of a country song, but I promise I had never heard it before.

For the record, I am not now, nor have I ever been a country music fan. However, there have been times lately that I’ve felt like I was living out the lyrics of a bad country song. Fortunately my wife hasn’t left me, and I don’t have a truck that could break down, but otherwise the summer of 2018 has not been kind to me so far.

One week there was a scheduled biopsy, and the next there was the loss of a couple of people who were dear to me, one in our church family and another in our family. After two funerals in two days, the next day I ended up in the emergency room on our wedding anniversary for what turned out to be a long miserable day and a diagnosis of diverticulitis. I can’t imagine what you could get to rhyme with that for a country song, but as some of you who have had it know well, it was one very dastardly disease. It had me singing the blues, and I’m not completely over it yet.

Just a few days after my ER visit, while I was still in bed, I got the call from my doctor that the tests from my biopsy were positive, and that I did have cancer of the prostate. When he found out I was in the middle of a battle with diverticulitis, the doctor said we should probably wait a few weeks until I was able to recover from that before we started talking about treating the cancer. Of course, during our time of waiting, the hits have just kept on coming. First, we had a storm that knocked our power out for two days, and then this week we had to say goodbye to our beloved dog Heidi, who we have had since she was born 13 years ago. Did I mention this has been a rough month?

Someone at the gym last week, who was trying to make me feel better–speaking in Osteen-ish cliches–told me that God is good, so everything will turn out okay for me, health-wise. I think I surprised her a bit when I answered back, yes, God is good, but He will be good whether I make it through all this or not. His goodness is not determined by any diagnosis or bad circumstances. His character is never-changing; He is good, He is faithful, and He is merciful, no matter what we face. And, as for me and my house…we trust Him.

I had a friend about 25 years ago who we tried to get to be our worship leader at the church I was pastoring. He was immensely gifted as a musician and vocalist, but his main focus at that point was trying to be a Christian country music artist and he decided to go in that direction. I don’t know what happened to him, but I remember well one of his songs, dripping with country twang and echoing the typical “hard times” theme of that genre of music. The twist was that the song focused on the joy and peace he had in Christ that superseded the tough times he was going through. The song was titled: “Even My Bad Days Are Good.”

I will say that this last month has not been a lot of fun, and things might get worse before they get better. But the reality is–and this is not some shallow, trite country music-type cliche, but real life faith in a real life God–that because God loves me and has been gracious to me, “even my bad days are good.” I hope you know His goodness too.

Let me take a minute before I close to say thanks for all the love and support and prayers this past month. We are so grateful for each of you, and glad we don’t have to walk through tough times alone.

When It’s Not Quite So Quiet

It’s been a very loud week.

Something happened on the way to the 4th of July. Starting last Friday night, there have been fireworks shows at some municipality or event every night, all the way through Independence Day on Wednesday. And that’s not to mention the myriad of fireworks that were set off nightly in neighborhoods all around, to the dismay of many a pet and sleepy soul.

We went to one fireworks show on Sunday night, but didn’t have the energy to attend any of the others all around us the next several nights. No doubt, from the social media posts I saw from our church family alone, there were no shortage of crowds at any of the shows, whether it be Thunder on the Mountain, American Village, Oak Mountain, Regions Field, or just about every city in Shelby County.

I was surprised and impressed by all of the amateur fireworks in my own neighborhood, especially on the night of the 4th. The more red-glaring rockets I saw and heard, the more I thought, “Well, there goes several days worth of groceries.” Which is probably a pretty good indication that I am getting old and curmudgeonly. All in all, it was a bright and colorful–and very loud–celebration of our nation’s 242nd birthday, well into the night.

Which all leads in the aftermath to a desire for a little peace and quiet. And on that note, I came across a weird news item this week. It seems that an unusual song has emerged next to the hottest new albums and multi-platinum artists on iTunes’ Top 50 charts. The track, which costs 99 cents to download, is titled A a a a a Very Good Song, and includes almost ten full minutes of complete silence. Not a single musical instrument, voice, or sound of any kind can be heard. (Which many would consider to be quite an improvement on the old Simon & Garfunkel song, “Sound of Silence.”)

My first question was, why are people paying money for silence? Perhaps in our world where we’re constantly bombarded with media noise on every side, people are just longing for some moments of silence. Some suggest that the main buyers of the “song” might be owners of a certain model of car that automatically plays music from a Bluetooth-connected mobile phone when first turned on. Most cars carrying this feature auto-select the first song alphabetically whether you want it to or not, which would explain the weird song title. “A a a a a Very Good Song” allows drivers to avoid any unwanted music playing by beginning their drive with up to ten minutes of complete silence.

It’s a pretty sad day when you have to purchase a few moments of quiet time. As most of you would guess, I’m too cheap to pay for it myself, but I do understand it. We all need some quiet moments every now and then, if only for our minds and souls to reboot. That’s why Scripture is full of admonitions for us to rest our bodies and souls–and ears–and to sit quietly before the Lord.

“Be still, and know that I am God,” He told us in Psalm 46. “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest,” Jesus told His disciples in Mark 6. And of course there’s that whole Sabbath commandment which is often neglected in our noisy, busy world, where we are called to pull away, recharge and refresh our souls in the Lord.

Here’s a challenge for us all, especially in the midst of our not quite so quiet surroundings: let’s make an effort to set aside some time every day to be still, wind down, sit back, and be quiet, so that we can hear the still, small voice of our Lord. You just might be surprised what you can hear with the volume turned down.

What We Do Together, Matters

In one of their attempts to repair their image after the recent privacy debacle, Facebook has rolled out their latest feel-good photo collage videos that focus on the value of “community.” Their theme is “What we do together, matters.” The tag line: It’s the little things we do together and for each other that make community matter.

You would think that Mr Zuckerberg and friends have been visiting our Vacation Bible School this week at Shelby Crossings. What a beautiful picture of community has been displayed, without the sappy manufactured videos, as individuals came together as one to serve the Lord through serving children. What a joy it has been as a pastor to watch people use their gifts, serve with passion, live out and communicate the gospel, and have so much fun doing it.

I was thinking about VBS this past week as I studied through the Scripture on Elijah for my Sunday message, and how God works sometimes to bring us together. If you were with us Sunday, you know the story about how God provided for Elijah at the brook by the Kerith Ravine by commanding ravens to bring him meat and bread. And, of course, he had fresh water to drink there, even as the nation of Israel was experiencing years of extreme drought. It was a great set-up for the prophet.

Then, out of nowhere, the brook dried up. I have heard it said that where there is the right vision, there is God’s provision. Or, that God guides by what He provides. In other words, if the brook is dried up–or the money is not coming in–you must not be doing something right. But maybe sometimes the opposite is true. Perhaps there are times when God guides by what He does not provide.

In the case of Elijah, it was through the dried-up brook that the Lord led him from Kerith to Zarephath, where He had to teach him (and a widow) a little something else about God’s ability to meet every need. For us at Shelby Crossings, a prime example was how we funded, planned and staffed our Vacation Bible School.

Many of you know the story, how many years ago when the church was struggling and the economy was bottoming out, that we just didn’t have money in the budget to fund an expensive Bible school. Just to purchase the pre-planned “box” of that year’s popular theme for VBS was an expensive venture, plus the costs of decorations, craft supplies, recreation games and snacks can run into several thousands of dollars. We just didn’t have the money to do it.

We decided to do a Vacation Bible School anyway, but instead of buying it, we created it ourselves. We planned out our own theme, wrote our own drama scripts and sketches, prepared our own Bible studies from Scripture, made up our own crafts from donated supplies, and even got creative with the snacks and games. In doing so, we put to use the gifts and talents of dozens of talented people–and had our best VBS ever!

The next year, we did the same, and as the years have gone by we have continued the same creative approach to our own unique Bible schools, even when we found ourselves in better shape financially and could have funded the whole boxed deal. Year after year, the creative gifts of a body of believers working together demonstrates what church ministry can look like when everyone plays their part.

God in His infinite care gave to us what we might not have ever discovered had we not gone through our own lean years of a dried-up brook–the reality that “what we do together, matters.” And not only does it matter to us, it matters in the lives of the children and families who are touched for eternity sake with the love of Christ and the transforming truth of the gospel.

So, let me say “Thank you” to each of you who have served so faithfully and diligently this week. I know you are worn out; as the saying goes: “There’s no tired like VBS tired!” But know that your ministry, as part of the community of faith we call Shelby Crossings, matters. The Lord has been honored, and will continue to be as we “let our light shine before men, that they will see our good works, and glorify our Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)

I am so thankful to be a part of such a wonderful church body. Let me also say again how grateful Nan and I are for your love and support–and prayers–during this time of me being sick. We appreciate you more than we could ever say.

Don’t forget our combined worship this Sunday, at 10:30, as we join together as a church body.  I look forward to seeing you then.