Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What Are Your Stations?

Dear Friends,

In Jerusalem they call it the via Delorosa (The Way of Sorrows). That’s where, in the 14th century, the church established devotional stations at various points to depict the events in the last hours of Jesus’ life as He carried the cross to the hill at Calvary. For those unable to travel to the Holy Land, churches created what they call the Stations of the Cross using paintings, plaques and sculptures. Nearly all Catholic churches have the Stations of the Cross and many of our California Missions have gardens where the Stations are depicted. But every Lent I walk the Stations at Saint Andrews Abbey. 

Here in the high desert, the Stations are not artistically arranged along a garden path but are scattered up a steep, rocky hill. There are no carefully tended flower beds. Wild sage and scrub brush dot the hillside. The sculptures are not carved by artists but are hand-made and hammered together by the monks. Most Stations of the Cross in church and mission gardens have comfortable benches on which to sit, pray and meditate. In front of the Stations at the monastery, there is a flat rock to kneel on. On this steep rocky slope it can be snowy and bitter cold, windy or suffocatingly hot. It is always still. Always silent.

My Protestant problem with the fourteen traditional Stations is that seven of them are biblical and seven are based on church legends and stories. I can't relate to the Station where “Veronica Wipes The Face Of Jesus” when I know that's just a nice story. As I walk the Stations, I typically hurry past that one, and the ones showing Jesus falling. I pay no attention to the ones that have no biblical foundation.

But something different is happening this Lent. The Stations are intended to foster thoughts, prayers and meditations as the images evoke a visceral connection with the suffering of our Lord. But today I'm experiencing a different response to these images. My thoughts are drawn to my own life experiences. And now I find that even the non-biblical “traditional” Stations have meaning for me. Veronica’s compassion reminds me of the year when my family fell apart, my father died and God sent someone to take my hand and walk with me through life. The Stations that depict Jesus falling remind me of all the times that I've stumbled and fallen in my life and God would once again reach down and set me on my feet. These memories are my own “stations.” They are the snapshots of our past and, merged together, paint a portrait of our life and God's mercy and grace. No matter what the worst of our stations look like, God was there.

What are the stations of your life? Do your images depict the loss of a spouse or a child? A betrayal by a friend or loved one? Is there a station where God sent a “Veronica” to dry your tears in a time of hardship or grief? Was there a time when the burden was so heavy you couldn't bear to take another step with it and a “Simon” showed up unexpectedly to shoulder your “cross?”

My eyes have been opened and the suffering of Jesus Christ now transcends theology and has become more real to me than ever before. And, now I'm at the Station where Jesus is nailed to the cross. I’m overwhelmed with the realization that the worst things I have suffered in my life are nothing compared with the suffering that Jesus willingly took on for my sake. It was not the whip that caused my Lord and Savior the most pain. It was my sins.

I've been moving from Station to Station deep in reflective thought. Today, the trail seems so much narrower and steeper than it's been before. My feet slide and twist in the loose rocks. Sharp thorns from the Mesquite tear at my skin as I pass by. The desert environment is harsh and challenging, and I find that as I struggle along this steep rocky trail, it becomes the perfect metaphor for my life. And then I look up. At the highest point on this rocky hill – so much like the hill at Calvary – I see the broken body of Jesus hanging on the cross. 

Our journeys are different. Our life “stations” are different. But at some point, each one of us must raise our eyes from our own sorrows and look up. To see Jesus. Up there on the cross. For you. 

From the AMEN Corner Archives

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Storms Of Life

Dear Friends,

Heavy rain pounds the roof. Lightning strikes are hitting the ridge on the hills just a mile away and my wood-frame house shakes and shudders with each resounding percussive blast of thunder. This is Sean McDougal’s first thunderstorm and he’s terrified. Sean is my “rescue cat” (according to his version of the story, he rescued me) and he will be one year old in May. The thunderstorm is so close and fierce, it feels like a giant fist is pounding the house with each thunderclap. But Sean has found a safe place under the bed. A place where the fiercest, scariest storms cannot reach him. Where he has found both shelter and a heretofore misplaced catnip-filled toy. A few minutes before, the explosive thunder had sent him frantically tearing around the house in a panic, but now in the sanctuary beneath the bed, he is calm and he stretches out to relax and wait out the storm.

Where do you go when the storms of life hit? When it feels as if the Devil himself is throwing lightning bolts at you and you are being shaken by a giant fist? When it seems like all hell is breaking loose in your personal world and evil is raining down on you, where do you find your sanctuary?  Where is your safe place?

Several years ago, during a church service, everyone was given a blank 3x5 card and asked to write down their favorite praise and worship songs that we sing on Sunday. We have a list of nearly two hundred songs so I thought everyone’s list would be completely different. I  was surprised to see that so many people had named “HERE IN THE SHADOW” as their top favorite. If you don’t go to our church, you’ve probably never heard this song. It was written by a little-known songwriter/worship leader and released on one of her albums about ten years ago. HERE IN THE SHADOW is based on Psalm 17:6-8 and some of the lyrics are: Here in the shadow.. Here in the shadow of Your wings.. Here in the shadow.. I will rest here Father.. I won’t fear tomorrow.. I will rest here Father.. You are my peace. I shouldn’t have been surprised that this has become one of the most beloved songs in our church because it so well describes our own sanctuary during the storms of life.

Saul had loved David like a son, but when God rejected Saul and chose David to be the king, Saul flew into a jealous rage and vowed to kill David. Fleeing in fear of losing his life, David hid in a cave and wrote these words: “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy! I look to You for protection. I will hide beneath the shadow of Your wings until the danger passes by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill His purpose for me. He will send help from heaven to rescue me, disgracing those who hound me. My God will send forth His unfailing love and faithfulness.” Psalm 57:1-3 NLT One translation says, “in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge until the ruinous storm passes by."

We may not have men tracking us down to kill us but our own storms can be just as intense and frightening. The loss of a loved one – a child, spouse or parent. A child or grandchild walking on a path to self-destruction. A doctor’s diagnosis of a devastating illness. Financial and legal difficulties. Depression. Loneliness. The storms of life will always be with us because we live in a fallen world. In John 16:33, Jesus promises that our peace is in Him and says, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” We can take heart and weather the worst of life’s storms in the shadow of God’s wings because that’s where we find the overcoming power of Jesus.

In 2002, a Category 5 hurricane struck Mexico generating 140 mph winds and dropping 16 inches of rain. Then it was over. In 1925, the world’s largest tornado hit Missouri, Illinois and Indiana with winds over 300 mph. Then it was over. In 1960, a 9.5 earthquake struck Chile. It was the largest earthquake ever recorded and shook the earth for ten minutes. Then it was over. The world’s worst disasters have always come to an end. Remember that your worst storms will always come to an end. 

In the storms of life, we run to God and find sanctuary in the shelter of His wings. Psalm 61:4 NLT He invites us to rest there trusting in Him and we know that no matter how bad the storm gets, it will pass. It’s been three hours since my house was battered by the morning thunderstorm and the skies are now calm. The sun is shining through patches of white clouds and rain drops on the olive tree leaves are sparkling in the sunlight. Sean McDougal is running through the house, leaping joyfully in the air and playing with a catnip mouse.The storm is over. All is well again. God is good.  AMEN?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Our Church Values

Dear Friends,

The majority of us at New Hope Family Church grew up in a time when what was valued by the Nation’s culture was very different than what is valued in America today. If you’re a “Baby Boomer” like me, our parent’s generation valued hard work. Integrity. Honesty. Respect of others. Family. And above all else, God. Those were the values imprinted upon our own generation and ultimately defined who we are today. Our values are the key ingredient in our psyche that molds us, shapes us and determines who/what we’ll become. That’s why it’s so important that the values we impart to our children and grandchildren are Godly values.

It is especially important for a church to be grounded in Godly values that can be written, studied and worked out in our day-to-day lives as believers. A church’s values are, in essence, a succinct summary of what’s important to the church and, when those values are adopted and lived out by that congregation, they are what keeps the church on God’s path. 

Many decades ago, when God “called” me to be a pastor, it was during a prolonged time of prayer and Bible study that I wrote down what I believed should be the values of God’s church. Those are the values embedded in the foundation of New Hope Family Church. Last Sunday, we gathered and celebrated our seventh year church anniversary and thanked God for all He had done in us and through us. Let’s look again at the values that God has given us for New Hope Family Church because through the grace of God this is who we are becoming as a Body of Christ.

We value a passionate and authentic relationship with God built on a foundation of prayer and His Word. When we are centered on Jesus, we release God to empower the Holy Spirit to work in and through who we are and all that we do. Matthew 22:37   John 14:15-16

We value people who, through their passion for the Lord, are impacting the lives of others in both spiritual and practical ways, overlaying God's commandments with His grace while ministering to one another in a loving, sensitive, non-judgmental manner. John 13:34-35 

We value every person in the community, believing that no matter what their circumstances, they are within reach of a loving, healing, redeeming Savior who offers all who come to Him the blessing and promise of a new hope. Our connection with pre-believers is by expressing God's love and care in tangible ways so that from their first contact with New Hope Family Church, they are lovingly drawn step-by-step towards a full experience of acceptance, support, belief, belonging and service to others. Matthew 25:40

We value an intergenerational and intercultural gathering of his people truly reflective of what God has created Heaven to look like! Revelation 7:9 

We value equipping people for ministry through the full realization of their God-given gifts, educating and edifying through all available resources, releasing them to fulfill God's call and then creating an encouraging and supportive environment in which the Holy Spirit is enabled to work unhindered in their lives as He empowers them for His purposes. Ephesians 4:11-12

We value ancient/contemporary worship directed towards God, centered around Jesus. We entreat a powerful experience of worship which engages our senses, takes us into the presence of God without pretense or false emotionalism and connects us with our Lord and Savior. Revelation 5:13

We value application-oriented teachings which are Christ-centered, creative, credible and compelling while communicating Bible-based truths in a relevant manner to an intercultural community. Romans 10:13-15

We value excellence in all aspects of our ministry striving to always do our best and committed to achieving the highest quality in all that we do. 1 Corinthians 3:13 

We value the universal church and actively seek to develop and foster harmony within the worldwide body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:25-27

These are the values that have shaped and defined New Hope Family Church and while we fallible humans don’t perfectly hit the mark in actualizing these values, we continuously strive to do so. They are important to us. They are important to God.  Amen? 

The AMEN Corner is a weekly devotional for the family and friends of New Hope Family Church. It is intended for this devotional to be strengthening, encouraging or comforting and your comments too should be for the glory of God and reflect the intended purpose of these posts.

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