I write these words on a rainy Wednesday morning, but lyrics sung by the late Karen Carpenter ring through my mind.
What I've got they used to call the blues
Nothin' is really wrong
Feelin' like I don't belong
Some kind of lonely clown
Rainy days and Mondays always get me down
Do you have days like that? I think we all do. Life’s struggles collide with our emotions resulting in unhappiness. Eeyore, the patron saint of gloom, sums it up. He responds to Piglet’s cheerful, “Good morning!” with “Well I suppose it is…for some.”
This leads us to a question. Is sorrow sinful? I mean, the Bible counsels believers to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” (Philippians 4:4) Jesus encourages the persecuted to “Rejoice and be glad.” (Matthew 5:12) James advises those who face trials to “count it all joy.” (James 1:2) From these examples, it may seem that the Lord’s will is for his followers to avoid sadness, no matter the circumstances. Not only is that inaccurate, it can be dangerous.
The danger in stigmatizing sadness arises when we hide our true feelings. Christians who believe that sadness is ungodly masquerade behind an “everything is fine” happy-face. They practice another sin – dishonesty. Our guilt over sad feelings and the concurrent isolation from others can drop us into a spiral of depression. We need the freedom to express our feelings in safe, healthy ways.
Sadness, like anger, is not a sin. It is a legitimate, God-given emotion. Lament is a healthy response to sadness. There are frequent examples of lament scattered throughout the Bible. One example is Psalm 6:3, where David says, “My soul is in deep anguish.” Consider, also, the words of Jesus on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The honest expression of grief is a healthy spiritual practice. We should encourage one another to talk through our feelings of sadness. Trite admonitions like, “snap out of it,” or “it can’t be all that bad,” say more about the discomfort of the friend in dealing with sadness than anything else. A true, sympathetic listener isn’t required to give advice. Sometimes a compassionate ear is all that is needed in the moment.
Like anger, however, sadness can lead to sinful behavior. Sadness that leads to despair, feelings of worthlessness, and the inability to receive God’s love, has the power to devolve into self-destructiveness. Fortunately, it is possible to recover. I encourage you to seek out a friend who can handle your feelings. Pick up your Bible and read about God’s love for you. (Try Jeremiah 31:3 and Psalm 103:17 for starters). Remind yourself that there are many more reasons to rejoice than there are to lose hope. If you feel stuck, see a Christian therapist. A good therapist will help you dive deeper and talk through issues that may be exacerbating your sorrow.
With all of these things in mind, consider the fact that sadness can ultimately be a blessing. Feelings of sorrow may throw you into the arms of your Savior like nothing else in life. Sadness alerts us to areas of need, and the necessity of repentance. The rain that falls on Monday (or Wednesday for that matter) may nourish weekend wildflowers. The spiritual life is not a life free of sorrow. It is a life that learns to manage sorrow purposefully, in ways that deepen fellowship with Jesus, stimulating true rejoicing. Our world provides many melancholy moments. We do well to walk by faith in the risen Christ, embracing the promise that one day soon he will wipe away every tear.
Handling the Truth
“You can’t handle the truth!”
These memorable words are bellowed by Col. Nathan Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson in the movie, A Few Good Men. Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, a rookie military lawyer played by Tom Cruise, represents Marines accused of murdering a colleague, Santiago. Behind the murder lies the truth. Santiago’s murder was not a random act, but was ordered by higher-ups. The highlight of the film comes when Kaffee cross-examines Jessup in a courtroom. Obviously disgusted by the line of questioning, Jessup finally reaches his boiling point.
Kaffee asks directly, “Colonel Jessup, did you order the Code Red?”
The Judge warns Jessup, “You don’t have to answer that question.”
But it’s too late. Jessup, boiling over, yells, “I’ll answer the question. You want answers?”
“I think I’m entitled to them.” Kaffee volleys.
Jessup repeats even louder, “You want answers?!”
“I want the truth!” Kaffee goads him on.
Veins popping, Jessup explodes, “You can’t handle the truth!” This is followed by a forceful speech defending military honor and an eventual proud confession of guilt. As it turns out, Jessup, a confessed murderer, is ultimately handcuffed by his own truth.
Truth is a central element of the Christian faith. Jesus, who calls himself “the truth” prays to the Father, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17 NIV) If we don’t have the truth as believers, then what do we have left? Unfortunately, we don’t always seek the truth as we should. It’s all too easy to set the truth aside for convenient lies.
The Bible tells us of one of the kings of Israel unable to handle the truth. He paid dearly for it. The king’s name was Ahab. The truth was the word of the Lord delivered through a brave prophet named Micaiah. But Ahab wouldn’t listen.
This story begins when Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, visits Ahab. It’s rare in those days for Judah and Israel to cooperate. In this case, they have an enemy in common in the king of Aram to the north of Israel. Ahab sees an opportunity to strike Aram and retake the city of Ramoth-Gilead. He invites Jehoshaphat to join him.
Jehoshaphat, eager to team up, says, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” (1 Kings 22:4 NIV) He has only one request before they saddle up. “First seek the counsel of the LORD.” (1 Kings 22:5 NIV)
Ahab assembles four-hundred of his preferred prophets. They are all yes-men. They approve of his plan without reservation. While this is comforting to Ahab, Jehoshaphat needs to hear from the Lord.
He asks Ahab, “Isn’t there a prophet of Yahweh here anymore? Let’s ask him.” (1 Kings 22:7 HCSB).
Reluctantly, Ahab calls for Micaiah. Micaiah is not one of Ahab’s preferred prophets. In Ahab’s words, “I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad.” (1 Kings 22:8 NIV) We are beginning to catch a glimpse of Ahab’s distaste for the truth.
Micaiah does not disappoint. Summoned to the throne room, he warns, “As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.” (1 Kings 22:14 NIV)
The messenger warns Micaiah that all of the other prophets unanimously spoke in favor of Ahab’s plan, and that if he knows what is good for him, he should do so, too. And so, when Micaiah appears before the thrones of the two kings, he parrots the company line, “Attack and be victorious,” he answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.” (1 Kings 22:15 NIV)
Ahab wasn’t born yesterday. He sees right through Micaiah’s bluff. Ahab scolds him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” (1 Kings 22:16 NIV)
Micaiah then prophesies the truth Ahab can’t handle, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’” (1 Kings 22:17 NIV) Micaiah predicts that Ahab will not return home from Ramoth-Gilead alive.
For the crime of proclaiming the truth, Micaiah is thrown into prison and put on a bread and water diet until Ahab returns safely. Ahab is killed in battle. His corpse is returned to Samaria. Micaiah’s fate is left untold.
Sometimes the truth is difficult to stomach. We would rather live in the ignorant safety of our own illusions. But when the truth comes calling, be prepared. Geoffrey Chaucer is credited with the proverb, “Time waits for no man.” It can equally be said that truth waits for no man.
The end times, according to Paul, are populated by people who “turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:4 NIV) What do we have to gain in the last days by embracing myths? Myths make us feel comfortable. They deflect our attention away from painful realities. They blindfold us to facts that hurt our feelings, like the child who covers her ears and cries out, “la la la la laaa.” If we surround ourselves with prophets who say only what our itching ears want to hear, we find ourselves like Ahab. Confidently clueless.
In days like these, truth is a commodity worth mining. We must plumb the depths of Scripture to find truth for ourselves. We must sidestep easy answers to discover facts. We must brush aside layers of confirmation bias in favor of authenticity. We need to question everything. We live in the information age. Facts are available in constant supply. It’s our responsibility to filter the facts for truth. The truth you can’t handle may be the truth that sets you free.
Your Mistakes Don't Define You
All of us make mistakes in our lives. Sometimes your mistakes come to define you. You can’t stop thinking about them. Others won’t stop reminding you of them. And the consequences are long and painful. They lead you down paths where you get lost and can’t find your way back. They cripple you from ever becoming the person God would have you to be.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Your mistakes don’t have to trap you for a lifetime.
Last Sunday morning at Quaker Gap, we looked at the letter Paul wrote to Philemon. Paul sends a slave named Onesimus, whom he has led to faith in Jesus, back to the slave-owner he ran away from – Philemon. The letter is a commendation of Onesimus and a plea to Philemon to welcome, forgive and ultimately free Onesimus from slavery. The letter fits neatly into Paul’s teaching from Galatians that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus". Faith in Jesus changes everything – and Philemon needs to wrestle with what this means for his relationship to Onesimus. A beautiful letter that opens our eyes to the fact that faith in Jesus cuts deeply across every area of our lives.
At the end of the letter, Paul sends greetings to Philemon, his family and the church that meets at Philemon’s home, from some of the fellow believers ministering to Paul in Rome. The list is eye opening…
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. -Philemon 1:23
Without identifying each of these fellow workers, the one I’d like to highlight as eye-opening is Mark. Mark is now a fellow worker alongside Paul in Rome. The word for fellow worker in the Greek is sunergos, from which we get our English word synergy. Mark has come a long way. His story is one of how someone can go from expendable to essential.
In Acts 12, we meet him for the first time. Peter is miraculously set free from Herod’s jail. The first place he goes is to the home of a woman named Mary, where many believers are gathered praying for him,
When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. – Acts 12:12
Luke draws our attention to the son of Mary: John, also called Mark. In those days, many Jews went by two names; a Jewish name and a Roman name. John was his Jewish name. Mark was his Roman name. He was raised in a Jewish household, and his mother is one of the influential women of the church. She believes that Jesus is the Messiah, and is willing to risk a gathering of Jesus-followers in her home for a prayer meeting. In one of his letters, Peter calls Mark, “my son,”
She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 1 Peter 5:13
We can only guess that Peter led John Mark to the Lord.
As it turns out, Mark finds himself in the company of not only Peter, but also Paul. Paul and Barnabas are headed from Jerusalem to the church at Antioch, and they take John Mark with them.
When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark. – Acts 12:25
Nicknamed, “the son of encouragement,” Barnabas was commissioned by the Holy Spirit to help resurrect Paul’s reputation. Now, as they head to Antioch, he includes Mark, who is his cousin. Eventually, he departs on the journey of a lifetime. Paul and Barnabas are chosen by the Holy Spirit and the church at Antioch to go and plant churches in Asia Minor. They take John Mark with them.
John Mark sails to the isle of Cyprus with his cousin Barnabas and the Apostle Paul. What an exciting voyage, and a great opportunity for him to experience. Their first port at Cyprus is Salamis. Things are going well.
When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper. – Acts 13:5
Travelling the whole island of Cyprus and experiencing many things along with Paul and Barnabas, the missionary group next sails from Cyprus to Asia Minor. Upon arriving at the port of Perga, John Mark returns to Jerusalem. No explanation is given for his departure. Luke simply gives us the facts.
From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. – Acts 13:13
Three years later, after their journey is over and plans are underway for the next, the details of John Mark’s departure are discussed. Unfortunately, it’s a heated discussion that ends in division.
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. -Acts 15:36-40
Mark’s mistake resulted in a split-up between Paul and Barnabas. He was the reason for a sharp disagreement between these godly men. Paul viewed Mark as a liability due to his desertion at Perga. Barnabas stood up for his cousin, wanting to give him a second chance. Their conflict separated them. Paul teamed up with Cyrus instead of Barnabas. Barnabas sailed back to Cyprus with his spurned cousin, Mark. The rest of the book of Acts follows the story of Paul, leaving us with very little news of the ministry of Barnabas and Mark.
Let’s not run too far ahead, though. This is a good place to pause and consider Mark. As he stands on the deck of a boat sailing across the Mediterranean toward Cyprus, he experiences many emotions. He feels the sting of shame from his last encounter on a missionary journey. His role as a wedge between Paul and Barnabas is awkward. There’s the growing hope that comes with a second chance. The strongest emotion, to my way of thinking, is the relief that comes from grace. Barnabas joins Mark on deck and slaps him on the back with a broad, encouraging smile. Mark’s eyes fill with tears as he ponders all his cousin has forfeited for him. The glow of grace warms his heart, even on a windy sea. I wonder if it was there, with a spark of encouragement, that Mark begins his dream of telling the story of Jesus? A story that would become the first written of four included at the beginning of the New Testament. Yes, John Mark is that Mark.
The gamble Barnabas takes on his cousin, Mark, pays off in the end. Mark’s story is a story of redemption. Later in life, even Paul comes around, as we see in Philemon where he calls him a fellow worker, and in 2 Timothy 4:11 where he writes, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” It’s not his mistake early in life that defines him, but God’s grace.
Whatever mistakes you’ve made, don’t let them define you. In Christ, there is forgiveness. Let His grace define you. Surround yourself with encouragers, like Barnabas, and push forward. Redemption is a common theme among the people of God. There’s a little bit of John Mark in all of us.
The "Neither Nor" of the Church
When the Apostle Paul sends a letter, he isn’t just writing to say, “Hello.” Paul writes epistles to churches because of real world issues. He has his feelers out in all the churches. When he receives a report, he is delighted with progress, and is dismayed by problems. From a troubled heart, he sits down with an assistant and dictates a letter. Prayerfully, he puts the letter into the hands of a trusted leader who delivers his words in person. As the letter is read, those who are guilty of the division Paul addresses squirm in their seats. Others nod their heads in approval. The letter is a truth bomb. The church must respond in a wise and timely way.
Two-thousand years later we open Paul’s letters looking for a personal word from the Lord. Without an understanding of the original audience and the struggle they were facing, our grasp of the content is weakened. Studying the Bible requires studying the culture.
Last Sunday at Quaker Gap we referred to a verse found in Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches. It’s a beautiful verse emphasizing the unity of the body of Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)
This is one of those instances where we need to pay attention to the occasion of Paul’s letter. If we read our cultural baggage into this passage of Scripture, we can come up with all sorts of interpretations foreign to Paul and Galatia. For instance, our view of the word slave and the first century view are different. While not defending the institution of slavery in any way, it needs to be understood that the chattel slavery of American history differs from what was happening in the Roman Empire. One of the most important distinctions is that Roman slaves had the opportunity to earn money on the side so that they could eventually buy their freedom from their master. This option was unavailable to slaves in the Americas. Another distinction is that Roman slaves were diverse in cultural background, while American slaves were largely of African descent. A third distinction is that many slaves in the Roman world performed higher status duties, managing businesses, and even serving as doctors. American slaves mostly performed hard labor. Slavery in the Roman Empire was established practice with much less of the stigma of American slavery. Scholars have approximated that most Roman cities were populated by as much as 40% slaves, 40% freedmen (former slaves) and 20% Roman citizens. Perhaps this was the case in Galatia. Paul’s declaration concerning the gospel would have impacted many hearers of the letter.
Another distinction to which we need to pay attention is the difference between women’s rights in Rome vs. today. Women were considered property of their husbands in the Roman Empire. They couldn’t vote or hold political office. A woman’s education in Rome largely consisted of preparation for household duties. While we know from the Bible that some women ran businesses and acquired wealth, the opportunities afforded to them were much smaller than that of men. This makes Paul’s teaching with regard to the gospel, that there is neither male nor female, even more revolutionary.
Perhaps the most important distinction is between the Jew and Gentile. As we read this in our day, we attend churches largely made up of Gentile believers. So much so that we don’t even refer to ourselves as Gentile anymore. But in Paul’s day, the church was made up of two distinct groups. There were Jewish people who had come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and Gentile people who had come to faith in Jesus as their Savior. Jewish believers continued to practice their cultural and religious lifestyles which the Gentiles did not. This is where the problem arose in the Galatian churches. It was a problem the early church faced all the way up to its leadership. Do Gentiles need to become Jews in order to become Christians? How much of Jewish religious practice should Gentiles be responsible to adapt in order to fit into the church? Can Gentiles who don’t follow Jewish law be true followers of the Messiah? These questions erupted into full divisions between Jewish and Gentile believers over areas like dietary choices, ceremonial practices, and circumcision. What a mess.
Paul writes his letter to the churches of Galatia with the Jew and Gentile controversy in mind. The growing threat is that the church will fall apart along racial lines. He handles the conflict by emphasizing the gospel of Jesus Christ. From the beginning of the letter, he highlights the gospel message that he taught them when the churches were planted…
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God's curse! (Gal. 1:6-8)
This is serious business. Paul teaches that those who are adding Jewish religious practice to the gospel message are violating the grace of God. In so doing, they are usurping the authority of the Lord, and there is hell to pay. Incorporating law into the gospel is a mistake. Later, he writes…
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! (Gal. 2:21)
Paul stresses that salvation is by faith in the crucified Jesus and not through works of the law. He rebukes those who place the burden of law-keeping to believers in Christ who have received grace. He even reaches back into the Jewish law to prove that Gentiles are on the same level as Jews when it comes to faith in Christ…
So also Abraham "believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. (Gal. 3:6-7)
Gentiles, in Paul’s understanding of the gospel truth, are just as much children of Abraham as Jews. Together in Christ, they become brothers and sisters. Within the church, the distinction between Jew and Gentile no longer matters. Paul understands that his Jewish countrymen will likely continue their Jewish practices. His concern is that they won’t attempt to enforce these practices within the church. Gentile believers should not be considered second-rate citizens of God’s kingdom.
So, what is the point? Paul delivers his piercing words into the Galatian churches to change their attitudes regarding the family of God. These are groundbreaking truths. While the world is known for dividing people into classes, levels of importance, and castes, in Christ these manmade partitions dissolve. While outside the church it is business as usual, inside the church family Christ demands unity. There are no second-rate Christians. In Christ, the Roman citizen worships alongside the slave with no expectation of special treatment. We are commanded to humbly wash one another’s feet. In the church family, men and women worship together (Philemon 1:2), serve together (Romans 16:1), prophesy together (Acts 21:9), and work together (Romans 16:12) for God’s glory. And in the body of Christ, tribal distinctions dissolve, looking forward to the day when we all stand together around God’s throne as one great, integrated kingdom.
Though this sounds beautiful, we confess it is the aim and not the experience of the church. Paul’s letter didn’t solve the problem of prejudice within the early church. To this day equality and unity suffer in the body of Christ. It is the responsibility of each individual believer to strive for Paul’s unifying vision. Let’s do our best, church, to set aside manmade categories that suppress in favor of celebrating unity in Christ. The gospel demands it.
Kicked out of Massachusetts for preaching “diverse, new, and dangerous opinions,” Roger Williams fled into the wilderness and founded his own town and colony, Providence, Rhode Island. Williams also established the first Baptist church in America.
If not for his non-conformist ways, Williams, a Cambridge-educated chaplain to a prestigious family, may have become a man of great influence in his home country of England. Instead, his unorthodox views led him to depart for New England. Rather than finding agreement in the colonies, however, Williams made peace with neither the Puritans of Boston nor the separatists of Plymouth, eventually resulting in his banishment from Massachusetts. What were the values that made Roger Williams such a controversial figure?
A gifted linguist, Williams mastered the language of the Native Americans of New England. As a result, he developed strong relationships with Native American tribes, such as the Narragansetts. His view of the Native Americans deviated from most American colonists. In writing his book, A Key into the Language of America, Williams wrote, “From Adam and Noah they spring, it is granted on all hands.” His point was that the Native Americans should be afforded the same rights as all men. This view led Williams to despise the practice of securing land from the King of England. He felt that the land must be purchased from the Native Americans. Roger Williams purchased the land for the colony of Rhode Island from the Narragansetts, only later travelling to England in order to obtain a charter for the colony.
One of the values that separated Williams from many of his fellow colonists was his view of the Native Americans. He acknowledged them as equals, to be regarded with respect. He recognized their land rights. He endeavored to treat them with equity.
Another value that made Williams controversial was reflected in the eventual religious formation of Rhode Island. Unlike Massachusetts, Rhode Island was established upon principles of complete religious toleration, separation of church and state, and political democracy. The Rhode Island Royal Charter of 1663 calls for “full liberty in religious concernments.” As a result, the colony became a refuge for those who had been persecuted for their religious beliefs, including Baptists, Quakers, and Jews. Years later, Roger Williams’ words were quoted by Thomas Jefferson in his judicially infamous Letter to Danbury, promoting, “a hedge or wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wilderness of the world.” The separation of church and state was another of the values that separated Williams from many of his fellow colonists. Williams envisioned a secular state preserving religious freedom rather than a religious state enforcing Christian worship. Forced worship, he wrote, "stinks in God's nostrils." While this belief was unpopular among the Puritan crowd, in time, it became embedded in the law of the United States.
Why do I bring up Williams and his controversial views of respect for Native Americans and separation of church and state? This past Sunday, on July 4th, we opened Psalm 9 and highlighted the Lord’s ideals of righteousness, equity, and justice. We emphasized that since these are values promoted by our God, they should also be promoted by God’s people. The life of Roger Williams gives us a handle by which to hold these values. Though flawed in many ways, Williams exemplifies the values of equity toward those who are not like us and justice toward those who do not believe the same way we do. Unwilling to bend, Williams was persecuted for these ideals.
While we may not face banishment from our state, and while we are not establishing colonies and writing charters, each day we face opportunities to practice righteousness, equity, and justice. Will we be bold enough, like Roger Williams, to row against the tide? Whenever we find ourselves opposing righteousness, equity, and justice, it is time for self-examination and repentance. In the exercise of these values, however, we represent Christ well; opening wide the doors for the spread of the gospel.
I Shall Not Want
What did you get for Christmas? This was the question floating around the Sunday School Class the Sunday after the 25th. For some, the answer was obvious. They wore their Christmas present; a new dress or sweater. Others bragged about their new Atari video console, their eyes bloodshot from a long night of Pong and Breakout. The teacher calmed us down to focus on the lesson, revolving around the Baby Jesus. This same scenario played out for many years of my childhood. The gifts changed year to year, but the excitement of sharing never did.
What did you get for Christmas last year? Now there’s a difficult question for a child to answer. Last year’s presents fade into the past. The dress or sweater doesn’t fit anymore. If it survived the year, a younger cousin wears it as a hand-me-down. Pong and Breakout are old hat. The new video games have color and wireless remotes! Walking down the street on trash day, I wonder how many of these curb ornaments were once treasures under the tree. Gifts of which we boasted in years forgotten are relegated to the bottom of the toy chest, replaced by this December’s plunder.
As we grow older, and hopefully wiser, we learn that piles of unwrapped gifts bring momentary happiness, communicating the love and thoughtfulness of the giver. But they never fully satisfy, no matter how expensive. The beautiful things of this world may thrill us for a time, but deep within the heart of every person is an unquenchable thirst. We search for the next gift; never content with what we have.
In a recent devotional, I encountered the thoughts of the late Dallas Willard unpacking a familiar Psalm. We all know how this Psalm begins. I memorized it in the King James Version back in those Sunday School days…
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters. (Ps. 23:1-2)
Those words, “I shall not want” are significant. When you surrender and follow YHWH, the Lord God, as a sheep follows a shepherd, you are satisfied. Please don’t misconstrue this as an opportunity to fall into the trap of consumerism. Prosperity preachers twist passages like this to say that believers in God who do not have all of their physical needs met are out of step with Jesus. This passage is not about getting what you want for Christmas. It’s not about cars and houses and boats. It’s about something much deeper. The ultimate fulfillment of your soul. As St. Augustine wrote in his confessions, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
Dallas Willard spotted something obvious that I have always overlooked. What do sheep do when they are in green pastures? They eat. What do sheep do when they are beside still waters? They drink. Sheep are ultimate consumers! But these sheep, shepherded by the Lord, are satisfied. Surrounded by rich, green grass (pretty rare in the arid Middle East) they are so full that they sleep. They follow the shepherd, bypassing the refreshment of still water, because they no longer thirst. “I shall not want” doesn’t mean you always have all of the physical things you desire. It means your soul is at rest in Him. Therefore, the things this world chases after have no allure to you. You are loved, provided for, and secure. Nothing compares. The search is over. All that is left is to keep following the Lord, and to avoid wandering toward things that promise joy, but never deliver. The greatest gift of Christmas is contentment, a gift found by those who follow Jesus, our Good Shepherd.
QUAKER GAP REGATHERING
After much prayer, research and discussion between our Regathering Committee and Deacons, we will resume meeting in our sanctuary for worship services on Sunday morning, November 8th, 2020 at Quaker Gap Baptist Church. The Regathering Committee provides the following information and guidelines to our church family as a commitment of love for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, so that each one in our Body can enjoy the safest conditions possible.
1. THE STEPS WE HAVE TAKEN
We have invested in changes to our HVAC systems which will help eliminate the spread of airborne viruses and bacteria. Between and after services we will disinfect all public surfaces with safe chemicals using an electrostatic sprayer. Touch-free hand sanitizers are stationed at every entrance. Restroom monitors will sanitize restrooms between uses. We will continue to record and post services for those not attending publicly.
2. SIGN UP FOR SERVICES
Each week, we will need to sign up by family for a preferred service time. We will restart our gathering by offering two services each Sunday at 9:00am and 11:00am. Each service will be limited to fifty people in order to keep effective social distancing. When sign-ups for one service are full, you will be offered space in the other service. Please contact the church office by telephone at (336) 994-2117 or by email at email@example.com each week to reserve a place. We are not offering nursery care at this time, but children are welcome to worship with you. Children’s Church (K-6) will meet during the 11:00 am service either in the Picnic Shelter or the Fellowship Hall depending on weather conditions. Please drop your child off prior to entering the sanctuary.
3. BEFORE YOU LEAVE YOUR HOUSE
If you (or anyone in your family) have had close contact (within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes) in the last 14 days with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, or if you have a fever, chills, shortness of breath, new cough, or new loss of taste or smell, please do not attend public worship services.
4. WHEN YOU GET HERE
We ask that you enter through the glass doors at the Fellowship Hall drive through. We will limit entrance through these doors so as to minimize the space/surfaces needing to be cleaned between services. Each person is asked to wear a mask to protect the people around you. If you do not have one, we will have masks available. A greeter will open the door and you will have access to use the hand sanitizer as you enter. After traveling through the fellowship hall corridor to the side entrance of the sanctuary located nearest the piano, an usher will seat your family in available designated seating areas. Please maintain six feet between yourself and others.
5. WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT
You may notice changes in some of the parts of our service such as collecting offering, singing, fellowship time, or communion. Please know that we will be creative and informative as we share in these special times of our service while we keep the safety of our church family first and foremost. We want to thank all of you for the heart of love that we have already observed through your responses and comments on the Regathering Questionnaire. Though we may differ in opinions or how we do things at home, there was an overwhelming agreement for sacrifice and unity to do what is best for the Church Body as a whole. We believe this will definitely glorify God and honor one another over ourselves.
6. AFTER THE SERVICE IS OVER
Finally, we would like to ask that everyone leave the sanctuary as soon as the worship service is over. There will be a short window of time for cleaning to occur before the next service. An usher will again escort you to one of the two exits to the left of the sanctuary or out the front door. Hand sanitizers will be available at all exits and we encourage you to use these.
Sometimes, in the middle of life’s frenzied pace, you come up for air. It’s in those moments that you ask ultimate questions. “What on earth is this about?” “Is there any meaning behind all of this?” “I am here, but I’m not sure how I got here or why I’m here at all?” You are tempted to soliloquize along with Shakespeare’s Macbeth,
“Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Perhaps Shakespeare was never your bag. You may identify with the lyrics of the rock band, Kansas,
“I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment's gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind
Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind.”
Deep down, however, you know your life has more purpose than dust. There is a reason you are here. You continue to ponder. You poke around in your Bible, looking for that one verse to connect all the dots. But then your mind is drawn to your barking dog, your crying baby, your urgent bills. Indeed, the moment’s gone, and you return to going through the motions. Pandemic life forces you to invent new motions to go through - new distractions to quiet your inner inquiries. You find, however, that times of crisis cause ultimate questions to rise even closer to the surface.
In an effort to address these enduring questions from a Biblical perspective, we embark on a five-week sermon series entitled, “Broad Brushstrokes.” We will attempt to answer ultimate questions like, “Why did God create me?”, “Why is there so much evil in the world?”, and “What does God want from me?” We begin this Sunday. Just like any binge-worthy program, you don’t want to miss the pilot. “See you” then!
SUNDAY, JULY 19, 2020 10:30 AM
SUNDAY, JULY 26, 2020 10:30 AM
SUNDAY, AUGUST 2, 2020 10:30 AM
SUNDAY, AUGUST 9, 2020 10:30 AM
SUNDAY, 16, 2020 10:30 AM
Living the Christian life in this world can be tricky. Biblically speaking, believers in Jesus are subject to the Kingdom of God. God is our Sovereign Ruler, and our allegiance is to His Kingdom. We also live within the kingdom of this world. Scripture calls Satan the "ruler of this world." Daily we are confronted with the decision to either bow to the rule of God's Kingdom or the world's. Add to that our national identity. Christians in America tend to be patriotic people. We love our country. Many have risked their lives for the flag of this nation. What happens, though, when the law of our nation collides with God's ruling? How do we balance conflicting kingdoms?
Join our online worship services over the next two Sundays, June 28th and July 5th, as we investigate the Bible's teaching with regard to your Kingdom Allegiance.
COVID Update: Still Not Ready...
Dear Church Family,
I met with the Deacons of Quaker Gap Baptist Church on Tuesday evening, June 16th to discuss plans for the future regathering of our church body in light of the national COVID-19 crisis. We have decided by consensus to continue our current strategy throughout the months of June and July. We will meet at the end of July to discuss plans for August, taking this one month at a time.
Please understand that we are dealing with a fluid situation. If we were to make this decision based on our preference – we would already be together in the building. But there are more factors involved than simply what we want. The number of hospitalizations and deaths related to the coronavirus persistently rise in our neighboring counties. We continue to be cautious in our approach, not wanting to endanger anyone in our church family or create a situation that will affect the community at large. Our decision has been affirmed by local health specialists.
In the meantime, we continue to offer Sunday Worship Services and Wednesday Evening Bible Studies online, as well as periodical blog posts. We encourage adult Sunday School classes and Small Groups to meet in the picnic shelter or at other outdoor locations if possible. You are welcome to join a class, even if you have never attended Sunday School. Our children participate in Zoom meetings on Tuesday evenings at 5:30 PM, as well as lessons sent by email. The Youth Group has been meeting in the Picnic Shelter on Thursday evenings at 7 PM. Please take advantage of these opportunities for fellowship, or just pick up your phone and call folks within our church body to say hello. Deacons are engaging in periodic phone calls and front porch visits, as well. Our Administrative Assistant, April Ragan, continues to serve the church from our office. She would be happy to assist you with any questions you have regarding any of these opportunities.
We are putting together a Regathering Committee to think through all of the necessary plans for opening the church building in days to come. Please keep this committee, your church leadership, as well as our school and local leaders in your prayers as we navigate these decisions. Thank you for your understanding. As always, we are open to hear from you if you would like to share an opinion on these matters.
Finally, thank you for your enduring faithfulness to your church family. Because of your ongoing support, we are able to keep ministering in spite of these circumstances. My prayer is that this time in the life of our church body will unite us, motivate us, and propel us in days to come as we love God and love our neighbors in Christ-like ways.
Dr. Jack Darida