Wednesday, January 31, 2018

We Pursue the Stranger- By Eileen Knowles

I've been thinking quite a bit about a message we heard at church a few weeks ago. Matt talked about intentions vs behavior.  If we truly want to change something in our life then "belief is not enough, good intentions are not enough and inspiration is not enough".  Lasting change is only achievable when there is a shift in our desires and our habits.

I loved this quote from the message:

"Habits are like prophesies; they predict the path our life will take."

I love the simple yet profound reminders of how change takes place in our life...

I don't know how to pray...Well how do you learn to pray?  By doing more of it.

I don't know how to read the Bible...Well how do you learn to read the Bible?  By opening it up and reading it.  

I want to get in better shape...Well how do you do that?  By making choices that put us on the path that will lead us to that desired outcome.  

Last week, I began thinking of ways we might apply this lesson to improve our host teams at church and realized that creating Sunday morning environments that are more hospitable works the exact same way.

How do we become more hospitable?  By doing more of it, by making choices that put us on the path that will lead us to that desired outcome. 

I then read a few different passages on hospitality and this one in particular stood out to me.

"Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality." Romans 12:13, HCSB

It was the phrase pursue hospitality that caught my attention.

Some translations use the word practice instead.  I personally prefer "pursue."  There just seems to be a more immediate urgency and importance packed into that word. "Practice" doesn't hit my heart with the same level of intensity.  The word pursue makes me think of chasing or running after something or someone.  It makes me think of how the Lord relentlessly and lovingly pursues me. I think of courtships and how we go out of our way to be with the one our heart is falling in love with.  I think of the way scripture commands us to "seek the Lord with all our hearts."

As I studied this verse a little bit more, I was reminded of something I think I may have once heard before but had forgotten.  The Greek word for hospitality doesn't translate the way we may think it does. I know that my first thought of what hospitality means is having my neighbors over for dinner OR  I think about my own neighbor who loves to cook and, sometimes, out of the blue, will bring food over for us to try. (Yes, we scored BIG in the good neighbor department!)  And, yet, that's not the translation of the word hospitality in scripture.

Here's what I discovered: "The Greek term that is often translated into the English term “hospitality” is the word φιλόξενος. The word is a combination of two concepts, that break down as follows: φιλό (pronounced Philao) is one of several words for “love” in Greek. Being a more precise language than English, classical Greek has a few different ways to express the word “love”. In this case, the word that is used means “brotherly love” or “to love like a brother”, and is how we get the name Philadelphia- the City of Brotherly Love.

The word ξενος (Xenos) which makes up the second half of the word we render “hospitality” actually means “stranger” or “immigrant”, and is where we get the word xenophobia which is the fear of strangers/immigrants." - Benjamin Corey

So the most accurate translation is that we "pursue the love of strangers or immigrants."

This reminder has truly fired me up as we look at taking our hospitality up a notch on a Sunday morning.

Where do we begin?  We pursue the stranger, the outsiders, and the immigrants in our midst.

One of our core values at church is that "we break the huddle"  and this idea, of loving the stranger, reaffirms this value in my heart.  We look for the one family or the one person we have never met before or, maybe, we have seen them walk through the doors of Rock Bridge a hundred times, but have never taken any intentional steps to get to know them beyond a friendly smile or handshake.

How do we increase our hospitality?  We scan the venues, the sidewalks and lobby spaces... and we relentlessly pursue and love the strangers in our midsts.

Can you imagine the shift in our environments on a Sunday morning if every single person who considers Rock Bridge home intentionally pursued this habit and it became the driving desire on everyone's heart?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

He Could Have Turned and Walked Away... by Eileen Knowles

My mind keeps going back to John 9 and the story of the man born blind who Jesus healed and the Pharisees interrogated.  I've written about portions of this story on several occasions. It's such a beautiful example of how the Lord will personally enter our stories, touch our lives in some miraculous way, and then our lives and our perspectives are never the same again...One thing, one moment, or one season...opened our eyes and changed everything.

This week I've been lingering on these particular verses within the story.

"After saying this, he (Jesus) spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing." (John 9:6-7)

What I've been reminded of lately is how the road to healing and recovery will require faith and obedience and sacrifice on our part.  Jesus could easily have healed this man on the spot but, instead, he asked the man to follow His instructions.

Last year, I did a little research on this passage and found out that people of that day had a high view of saliva’s healing properties so this man would not have found the actions of Jesus too odd.  In fact, I wonder if anyone else had ever tried using saliva on him before?  I wonder if there was any reluctancy or apprehension in this man's mind as he made his way to the Pool of Siloam.  How many times in his life had someone attempted to cure him before he encountered Jesus? Yes, obeying these instructions obviously involved a level of faith on this man's part, but I have to wonder what he was thinking about as he made that journey to the pool.

My point?  When Jesus stirs in our hearts and tells us to take the "next step"  then we have a choice to make.  What voice will we listen to?  The voice of doubt? The voice of fear? The voice of condemnation? The voice of hopelessness? Because those voices are often battling for our attention too.

Listening to the voice of truth will require us to take a walk of faith.

Listening to the voice of truth will require us to leave our comfort zones.

Listening to voice of truth will require us to sacrifice something....our pride, our doubt, our possessions, our time, our selfishness, our insecurities...

This story could easily have ended differently. This man could have resolved in his heart not to listen and obey the voice of Truth.  He could have turned and walked away...but something compelled him to get up and go.  And, oh, what incredible beauty was waiting for him when he did!

"He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” John 9:25

One step of obedience changed everything in this man's story.

Question:  What step of faith is Jesus asking you to take today?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Lightbulb of Hope- Patrick's Story by Eileen Knowles

The other day on Facebook a story I had shared a few years back about a 15 year old deaf boy in Uganda showed up in my feed. I watched it again and cried.  Patrick was born deaf and had never been able to carry on a conversation with anyone. Every day, his dad would motion to him to go outside to work in the garden and that was the extent of his "conversations". 

Patrick's days consisted of working in the garden and then retreating back to his hut to spend his days alone with just his thoughts. That all changed when another man in the village who was deaf came back home and started a sign language class after receiving intensive training in the capital.  The transformation Patrick goes through in just a few short hours is amazing to watch.  After he enters class the first day, and begins learning alongside other deaf students, his face and demeanor goes from hopeless to happy in a matter of minutes.  It's absolutely beautiful!

The part of the story that makes me emotional is the moment when the "lightbulb" appears to go off in Patrick's mind.  You can almost see's that moment when he realizes that he is not alone any more, he sees a glimmer of possibility breaking into his small world that his life and situation may no longer be hopeless and isolating.

This morning, I watched a follow up video to Patrick's story. The interviewer goes back to the class after Patrick and the students have had 10 weeks worth of training together.  Please take a minute to watch.


Yesterday, at our volunteer rally at church, I shared how this story is such a great example of the healing power of life connected in community. When folks find a place to learn and grow "lightbulbs" of hope begin to shine bright in a person's life. We begin to realize that we don't have to remain alone in our own thoughts.  We realize there's a group of people who are willing to journey with grow and learn alongside us. We come to understand that our situations are not as unique or as hopeless as we once might have thought.

I loved in the video when the narrator said that Patrick and his classmates could now begin "making plans" for the future.  That's one of the benefits of hope, it will often prompt us to begin looking ahead in a whole new light and with a renewed and fresh perspective.

Patrick's story is a great reminder of how hope and community come together and transform even the most challenging of situations.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Don’t be a Hard-Hearted Christian – a New Year’s Challenge

As we kick off 2018 maybe you are like me and you are soul-searching and praying, and asking God to help this year be better than last.  Overall I’ve had one of my best years ever growing closer to God and walking with joy, but recently it’s been much harder, and I’ve been begging God to help me see what was in the way.

I was introduced to an insight from Mark 8, with a story of Jesus and His disciples in the boat travelling:

But the disciples had forgotten to bring any food.  They had only one loaf of bread with them in the boat. As they were crossing the lake, Jesus warned them, “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.”  At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread. 
Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “Why are you arguing about having no bread?  Don’t you know or understand even yet?  Are your hearts too hard to take it in?  ‘You have eyes—can’t you see?  You have ears—can’t you hear?’  Don’t you remember anything at all? When I fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread, how many baskets of leftovers did you pick up afterward?”  “Twelve,” they said.  “And when I fed the 4,000 with seven loaves, how many large baskets of leftovers did you pick up?”  “Seven,” they said.  “Don’t you understand yet?” he asked them.

It could be easy to miss this, but Jesus is coming at them with a very familiar charge that they recognized from a well-known passage from Isaiah the prophet, chapter 6:

Go! Say to these people: Keep listening, but do not understand; keep looking, but do not perceive. Make the minds of these people dull; deafen their ears and blind their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their minds, turn back, and be healed.

This was a big rebuke…  But do we realize what just happened here?  The disciples, in the boat following Jesus had allowed themselves a moment of hard heartedness and spiritual deafness and blindness.  And Jesus called it exactly that.

Hard-heartedness threatens all of us!
We can be active, passionate followers of Jesus and still give way to hard-heartedness. 

But what exactly is it?

Hard-heartedness is when I refuse to let God’s faithfulness in my life grow my faith and trust in Him, and take me to a new level of trust and expectancy.  The disciples had just seen Jesus feed thousands with miraculous provision.  And He did it twice!  They’ve seen miracles over and over, and so now they think He’s rebuking them and that He’s concerned about their supplies?  They are missing an important point because they won’t let God’s faithfulness in the past grow and shape their vision for today.

Every day I can look back and see God’s faithfulness.  And in this recent season of some stressors and difficulties I can look back and completely say: Father, You got me through it once again.  I should never have doubted you!

Let me ask you….

·      When God comes through in your place of worry and stress, do you feel guilty that you didn’t trust Him more?  That happens to me.

·      When you pray about things, do you leave your prayer time with peace and assurance, or do you feel like you are still carrying the stress and concern? 

As we start the new year, let me challenge you: 
Let’s fight the good fight of FAITH, and BELIEVE GOD!
Let His past faithfulness grow our vision and our trust so that what’s in front of us shrinks under the assurance of our Father’s love and constant presence!

Faith releases us to live a life of peace and joy, that glorifies God and attracts the lost.  That’s what He deserves from us this new year!

Happy New Year!