Category Archives: Newsletter Excerpts

“Along the Journey” column for @wieuca newsletter

Scars

“Presumably [Jesus] could have had any resurrected body he wanted, and yet he chose one identifiable mainly by scars that could be seen and touched. Why? I believe the story of Easter would be incomplete without those scars on the hands, the feet, and the side of Jesus. When human beings fantasize, we dream of pearly straight teeth and wrinkle-free skin and sexy ideal shapes. We dream of an unnatural state: the perfect body. But for Jesus, being confined in a skeleton and human skin WAS the unnatural state. The scars are, to him, an emblem of life on our planet, a permanent reminder of those days of confinement and suffering. I take hope in Jesus’ scars. From the perspective of heaven, they represent the most horrible event that has ever happened in the history of the universe – the crucifixion – Easter turned into a memory. Because of Easter, I can hope that the tears we shed, the blows we receive, the emotional pain, the heartache over lost friends and loved ones, all these will become memories, like Jesus’ scars. Scars never completely go away, but neither do they hurt any longer. We will have re-created bodies, a re-created heaven and earth. We will have a new start, an Easter start.”                                                                                                                       Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew.

Friday comes before Sunday every week … just like the cross comes before the tomb. We cannot truly celebrate if we do not understand the cost of the victory Christ won for us. “Jesus fought the battle, but it would be against the forces of evil, corruption, and death itself. Jesus came to believe that the only way one could defeat death itself, and thereby launch the new creation was to take on death itself.”

He bore the wounds of the battle. He carried the scars. The cross is not a piece of jewelry; it is a stark reminder of a cosmic contest that used the most powerful weapon against our most powerful enemy. With His love, Jesus killed death, robbing it of its power.

Easter is about new beginnings, renewal of life, hope, and joy. But the scars … don’t forget the scars. His scars make ours bearable. He is risen! “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again” (John 11:25).

And so it began

No, it did not begin with palms waving and coats thrown on the ground as Jesus passed. It did not begin with planning to secure the right animal upon which Jesus rode. It did not begin with the swell of public excitement and anticipation or the dread and angst of the Jewish authorities as Jesus approached the holy city.

“As Jesus was going along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. When He came to the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began to celebrate and praise God at the top of their voices” (Luke 19:36,37). “This was the moment they’d been waiting for. All the old songs came flooding back, and they were singing, chanting, cheering, and laughing. At last their dreams were going to come true. But in the middle of it all, their leader wasn’t singing.” “When He came near and saw the city, He wept over it” (Luke 19:41).

Why did He weep? Prophecies were being fulfilled. The Passover festival annually carried the hope that this was the year that Messiah would appear. Messiah did appear, but He was not chosen for an earthly kingdom. He came for a higher purpose. His tears flowed as He saw a people looking for another kind of king. He cried because of the cost of redemption. His sorrow overflowed because many would reject Him and every prophecy that hailed His coming.

It began at the foundation of the world. A plan had been formed to restore a broken world and to reclaim a lost humanity. It began with the Creator’s determination to save His creation from the ravages of sin and death. It began with a mission to save the world, not condemn it.

Holy Week acknowledges, mourns, and then rejoices over the plan that would send the guiltless to pay for the guilty. The perfect Lamb of God would be sacrificed on the cruel altar of the cross.

Jesus had set His face to Jerusalem. He had told His disciples what would happen when He came to the city. He was not surrendering to His fate; He was taking charge of the arrangements. Just as He set in motion the parade on the day we call Palm Sunday, He would make preparation for the Passover meal where He would share His last supper. He would see it through – blood, sweat, and tears. The King had arrived …

Spring brake

No, I didn’t spell it wrong. During this time of year, people need a brake. Kari Myers wrote an article entitled “Being good when you feel bad.” Here are some of her thoughts.

“Sickness, stress, and sleep deprivation are three things that can really do a number of a person’s disposition. Don’t ask me how I know this. I just do. Maybe you know it, too. When we feel bad, physically or emotionally, we tend not to handle things as well as we would on a good day. Bad days can tempt us to focus inward. If they persist we can fall into self-pity or become obsessed with improving our situation. We can be self-absorbed, self-serving, or just plain selfish. But it does not have to be so. Jesus showed us another way. At the moment of His betrayal to an angry mob who would take Him to a cruel death, He healed the servant of His enemy. On the worst of days, as He was unjustly arrested and threatened, He responded with compassion. In the midst of His own pain, He took notice of and tended to the pain of another. Jesus loved in good times and bad.”

We need a brake. We need to stop striving so much. We need to inventory our busy-ness. We need to honor Sabbath keeping, as Bryan Brock taught in the Gathering last week. We cannot run on empty without damage to us and others.

He had been neglecting his young daughter. He knew it, but what could he do? Work was crazy. Meeting one deadline after the next required immense investments of time and energy. His wife had reminded him often that he was missing a lot at home, with her and with their 3 year-old little girl. He promised he would come home early and spend time with her. He left work only to bring work home. But he could take a few minutes. “What would you like to do with your dad?” he asked her while glancing at his watch. “I wanna take a walk.” Simple enough. How long could that take? One quick turn around the block. Only it wasn’t one quick turn around the block. Every few steps, she stopped, bent over to examine a bug or a flower or a crack in the sidewalk and exclaim, “Lookit!” His exasperation was evident. Passing them by was an elderly neighbor. The old man whispered to the dad, “You’re missing it.” Trying to be polite, the father responded, “I’ve seen a bug. I’ve seen a flower.” The neighbor stopped and said, “That’s not what you’re missing.”

 

Apply the brake. Don’t miss life. “Lookit!”

 

 

Legacy

Over these past three days, our youth have been participating in Disciple Now Weekend, focusing on living authentic lives for Christ. We will be hearing from them as they lead us in worship Sunday.

Peter’s second letter speaks to authentic living. He wrote: “As we know Jesus better, His divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3). The apostle was determined to leave a legacy of faithfulness while encouraging others to do the same: “I plan to keep on reminding you of these things as long as I live” (1:13).

You cannot build a legacy after you die; you can only leave one. What will you leave behind that will be worth passing along? Peter told his readers that he desired that they remember what he had taught them “long after I am gone.” He also stressed that his words were not “clever stories” but his own witness and convictions. As he had told the Sanhedrin when they demanded that they quit spreading news about Jesus: “We cannot stop telling about the wonderful things we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

What will the world hear about Him from us? Our legacies have to have eternal consequences. You might think our youth are not old enough to consider such things, but they are charting their life courses now. As we surround them with support and encouragement, it would certainly give us more credibility if we were living authentic lives, too!

Unfinished Business

Rich Stearns is president of World Vision U.S. and has authored two books, one we are very familiar with – The Hole in our Gospel. It was a great privilege to host Rich and his wife, Reneé, last year at Wieuca. His second book, Unfinished, begins with the premise that believing is only the beginning. He urges readers to consider the call to action that Jesus issued to those who would follow Him. He writes: “Our lives are part of a much bigger story … and unless we understand how our story fits into this bigger story we will live our lives with little sense of real purpose or significance, drifting through life like a ship without a rudder.”

It would be unusual to meet a person who doesn’t want his or her life to count for something more than just self-gratification. We might think otherwise, but research bears this truth out. Most people want their lives to matter beyond themselves.

Three passages in Matthew specifically call Christ followers to such commitment:

  1. The Great Commandment – “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (22:37-39)
  2. The Great Compassion – “When you did it to one of these My brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me!” (Matthew 25:40)
  3. The Great Commission – “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always.” (28:19,20)

We all know these are critical days for Wieuca. As we pray for God’s direction and blessing, let us determine to complete unfinished business. There is world just outside our doors in need of our love in action.

Justice

The observance of MLK weekend seems particularly poignant this year. The pulse of our country indicates an unhealthy nation with frightening and discouraging symptoms. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

Currently, it seems that our steps are not toward the right goal. The divisive climate that fosters resentment, distrust, anger, and violence makes our land darker, not brighter. We could use a Jubilee. Jubilee was a year of emancipation and restoration provided by ancient Hebrew law to be kept every 50 years by the emancipation of Hebrew slaves, restoration of alienated lands to their former owners, and omission of all cultivation of the land.

It was a season of starting over, beginning again. It offered the oppressed hope. It restored social balance. It brought dignity to society as a whole and as individuals. In a world too often characterized by that which is damaging, destructive, and disheartening, people of faith must rise up to strive for that which is enlightening, hopeful, and constructive.

The life-changing power of the Gospel offers what human ingenuity and effort will  never accomplish. We are resurrection people, saved by grace. We are fueled by the greatest force the world has ever known. Dr. King claimed, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

Our God of love is also God of holiness and justice. The prophet Micah recorded the response required of us: “To live justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” No one said it was easy, just necessary.

 

Connecting People

Most of us get it. We know that church is supposed to be more than buildings, programs, and activity. We read the stories in Acts about a growing community of believers who intentionally found ways to gather in fellowship, worship, and prayer.

In adopting the Mission and Vision initiatives, we agreed that “developing authentic relationships with God and each other” had to be more than a catch phrase; we had to pursue connecting with people and with our God more intently.

Years ago, someone wrote: “For the church to grow larger, it must grow smaller.” Healthy bodies tend to grow when the systems within function well. Under the umbrella of Life Groups, We have identified three kinds of groups that will assist us in deepening our commitment to an expanding understanding of “Loving God … Connecting People … Changing Lives.”

Covenant Groups typically meet on Sunday mornings. This is the Sunday School model that most of us are familiar with. Bible study, prayer, coffee, fellowship, coffee, mission activities, and social gatherings are essential ingredients (did I mention coffee?). Along with our preschool, children, and youth ministries, we have 9 adult Covenant Groups meeting each week.

Growth Groups are intended to encourage spiritual formation in our congregation. They try to answer the question, “How do I become a more fully devoted follower of Jesus?” One example could be the Wednesday morning Bible study led by Bill Givens. These groups will vary in length and frequency of meeting. Two 8-week groups start this Sunday at 9:45 am. The first features the book, “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for Both Halves of Life” written by Richard Rohr. The discussion will be facilitated by Susan Stewart and Bob Freeman. The second also starts this week. I will be leading the sessions that will deal with “Questions You’ve Always Wanted to Ask God.”

Affinity Groups offer a great way to build relationships through common interests. Recreational activities, book clubs, parenting, women and men’s ministries, investing, gardening, and so many other possibilities help us find people with similar interests and concerns. Ladies Night on February 27th gives us an idea of how to draw people together to build relationships.

Along with our Impact Teams and the new worship experience called the Gathering, Wieuca is finding more and more ways to connect. It’s time to be involved!