My “Aha” Moment

Has it sunk in yet? What Joe has been talking about in Psalm 145? Worship… more specifically, David’s aha moment in his worship of God. Perfection (God) demands perfect praise or because God is perfect, great, powerful and worthy, I will continually declare the truth of His perfection. And because he is compassionate, loyal and just (vs 1-13) He will validate those who validate Him. (vs 14-20) So “if a=b then b=c “ then logically, “if we want to be saved, we must perfectly praise Perfection…” which we are only able to do, of course, because of and based upon His plan of salvation through the cross. At least, that is my take away from it.

Well, before we get too comfy with all the adoration and validation, there is also something else Joe said comes out of Psalm 145 and it may just make us sit a little uneasy in our cushy, comfy chair but, I sure don’t want to overlook it.

Joe said that David is worshiping God, or in other words, valuing God – which overcomes sin. That’s a pretty significant statement! A truth that stuck with me.  How does that work? How does worshipping or valuing God overcome the sin in my life?

In Matthew 15:8 Jesus said, “this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” We so often think of worship as an action we do like singing songs or praying great, lofty prayers to express how we feel. Indeed, the dictionary defines worship as the expression of reverence or adoration. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for worship means to bow oneself close to the ground. It all sounds like an outward act we see in the movies for worshipping some statue or something. But in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus made it clear that an outward act can mean nothing for what is going on inside our hearts. Bowing oneself close to the ground comes as a result of knowing that you are revering or valuing something or someone greater than yourself  (or your self-oriented desires) who is truly worthy of such admiration. It’s about what or who you value above all else.

Let’s look at one of the first acts of worship mentioned in the Bible. It is the story of Abraham. God clearly demonstrates what true worship is, through Abraham. In Genesis 22 he tells Abraham to take his only son, whom he loves (desires) and offer him as a burnt offering. Did you catch that?  God asks Abraham to take the thing or person that holds high value to him (after all he waited how many years to finally have this long-awaited and promised son?) and put him on the altar and kill him. And guess what? Abraham obeyed. There was no record of him arguing with God or questioning him. He just obeyed. Let me restate it. Abraham was able to place on the alter, with the intent to destroy,  something he highly valued because He valued God a great deal more. Worship! True worship of the heart and soul.

No matter how we outwardly express our devotion to God, if we do not obey God in our day to day lives, we are not worshipping Him.

I like how the New Living Translation puts 1 John 2:3–6But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did” and 1 John 3 says, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin.” We cannot say we worship or love God but continue in sin. Feel a little less comfy now? Well, I do.

We see in 1 Samuel that Saul actually disobeyed God while he was carrying out an act of worship. He got in a hurry to offer the required sacrifice and didn’t follow or didn’t wait for what God told him to do. But Samuel (God’s prophet) replied to Saul, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.” That’s pretty heavy! In the act of worship, God knew his heart, that although it looked like He was honoring God, He really wasn’t. He had ulterior, self-centered motives. The plumb line was not the act of religious duty but the act of obedience.

My favorite verse in all Scripture and what I tell my kids is the mantra or motto in my life (You can ask them at any given time what my life verse is and they will tell you) is Galatians 2:20. “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me and the life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”  A close second is Colossians 3:3 “I have died and my life is hidden in Christ.”  It’s no longer about Shelly or what Shelly wants, it’s about God and the pursuit to follow His will. I want to value God and His kingdom above all else. (See also Matthew 6:33)

Does this ring true in the story of Abraham?  Who worshipped by laying and slaying on the alter, the thing he valued the most. For some of us, the thing we love the most is ourselves and we show it by the choices we make, the things we say, the thoughts we choose to dwell upon, by the daily decisions we make and certainly by the actions we take.  “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” (NLT)  Romans 12:1  Did you hear that?  This is the way to worship. THIS is the way…. Giving up ourselves, our lives, our hearts, our minds, our strength or actions and choices to be a living sacrifice. That is true worship. That is Perfection (God) demanding our perfect praise or acts of worship.

 As Joe said, “because God is perfect or holy, I will not stop living to praise or agree with His holiness. My life, living and song seeks to be a constant declaration of the truth.”

In Genesis, after God finally sent an Angel to stop Abraham short of actually sacrificing His son and showing him that he had instead provided a ram in the nearby bush, God said of him, “for now I know that you fear God because you did not withhold your son, your only son from me.” Abraham’s value or worship was clear.

Both David’s and Abraham’s worship was true, obedient, absolute, no holding back, no-holds-barred reverence for God in every thing, in every facet of life because they loved God above all else.

Is this easy? No. Is this possible? Not 100% in this lifetime which is why we need His grace and salvation that He provides but do I want to worship and I mean truly worship? Yes. And that means far more than singing a song or praying a lofty prayer, admiring creation or showing up to a Bible study. In my love for Christ, I want to daily look at my own heart, soul, mind, words and actions and place them on a pair of scales to weigh them against what God’s word says He values and then choose to worship or praise a perfect, loving, just and worthy God, accordingly, from the heart.

Worship is love, love is obedience; if a=b, then b=c and that is my aha moment!

Shelly Davis Bergland,
Ministry Assistant, Fellowship at Cross Creek Church
www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

 

What’s the Big Deal About Forgiveness?

What’s the Big Deal about Forgiveness?

When was the last time you had an ugly cry? You ladies, especially, know what I’m talking about – that gut-wrenching cry from deep with in, no-holds-barred, totally abandoned, loss of control bereavement that isn’t very pretty and frankly, you just don’t care. I’ve had them more than I care to elaborate on in this blog. While the pain involved within that deep of emotion is momentarily crippling, depending on the circumstances, it can also bring healing and cleansing to an ugly-stained past.

Our Pastor, Joe Cross, does a lot of counseling. His gifts and skills in this area of ministry are off the chart. As a result of his ability to get to the root of people’s deep-seeded pain, he sees this kind of emotional outpouring a lot. He also sees and hears a lot of hurting souls who are crippled by pasts that need the peace and redemption that sometimes only forgiveness can bring; forgiving others, needing others forgiveness and sometimes just the need to forgive yourself.

This Sunday, Joe shared one such story, told in Luke’s gospel, about a desperate and emboldened woman, who needed this kind of forgiveness, found her way into a dinner that Jesus had been invited to and began to wash and anoint his feet. We read that she was a “sinner.” What kind of sin or sins? We don’t know. We don’t know many details other than those in the room, occupied by Jesus, his disciples and some of the religious leaders, seem to readily know that she wielded a notorious past. In fact, as she was literally touching Jesus’ feet, we read that Simon, the dinner’s host, thought to himself, “If Jesus were truly a prophet, he would know what kind of woman this was that was touching him” and would immediately stop her. Why? Because Simon belonged to a powerful religious sect called the Pharisees. The Pharisees sought to fastidiously live by the evolved traditions of Moses, and to be touched by someone considered morally or ritually “not holy,” also made the one being touched “not holy” or “unclean.”

And not only was she touching him, we read that she was so moved by the emotion of the moment, that her tears were drenching and, in essence, washing Jesus’ feet. In fact, her tears were so great, she attempted to dry his feet with the only thing she had available to dry them with—her hair. In other words, this cry is no simple whimper, but a flood of broken, abandoned emotion. She is oblivious to those in the room observing her. Her singular focus is upon the one whose feet now absorb her tears.

Sensing the room’s judgmental smugness at the woman’s actions, Jesus seizes a teachable moment. First, he tells a story about two men that were forgiven vastly differing amounts of debt by a gracious lender. He then follows his story up by asking his host a question: Who loved the gracious lender more? To which Simon replies, I suppose the one who was forgiven the greater debt, and to which Jesus answered back, You are correct! And then, very subtly and yet powerfully, Jesus turns the judgmental tables upon his hosts and his guests.

He says, Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair; you didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet; you did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet. I tell you: all her many sins have been forgiven. And that is why she has loved much! Jesus then goes on to put lock and key not only on her new-found forgiveness, but for everyone who will choose to follow after this woman’s courageously bold and emotional example, when he says, It was your faith or trust (in me that I could forgive your sins) that delivered you (from all your guilt and shame or uncleanness); go in peace (forever calmed; forever forgiven…released from all your sins in what will become my atoning death and sacrifice for sin, once and for all)!

With these indelible words Jesus leaves no doubt that while this woman had been a sinner of many sins, in her less-than-etiquette explosion of love and devotion, she had discovered, in the person of Israel’s long-awaited Messiah and Savior, Jesus, what no human beings, including what the misguided and misinformed Pharisees could not ritualistically concoct on their own, by attempting to never allow themselves to be touched by someone they considered as unclean, including this sinful woman–the unsearchable depths of heaven’s long-awaited offer of an unconditional love, mercy, pardon and forgiveness like the world has never known.

In the end, it is not those who should have been experts in the Law’s attempt to point the way to Spiritual cleanliness, but rather a desperate, tearful and lowly sinner that is so taken in by her love and recognition that the feet she is clinging to belong to the one true Savior who can truly redeem her and cleanse her from all her filth and uncleanness that Jesus ultimately pronounces as…redeemed, clean and released from her sin… and who walks away in peace. Seemingly, against all odds, she believed the new truth about herself and about who Jesus was and what he could do for her which drove her to her courageous display of affection! And THAT to me is part of what is so compelling and challenging about this story.

Joe closes by poetically comparing this story to the prophecy in Isaiah 52 where God, out of His great love, is declaring his intention of rescuing his enslaved bride from their cruel and “unclean” captors…How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger (the Messiah) who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation (or redemption from sin).

A desperate, broken, tearful, emotional woman found an eternal peace and forgiveness that day; how about us? You? Me? Are we sitting at the table looking down our noses at the sinners around us? Or are we broken–I mean really broken to the point that we see the stark truth about ourselves and about the love, mercy, grace, kindness and forgiveness that God through his Son, Jesus, and his sacrificial death and resurrection, offers us? Will this unlimited offer of mercy bring us to the point where we too fall to the floor and desperately weep over, wash, dry, kiss and anoint the feet of our Forgiver–-no holds barred? Or will our lack of humility or forgiveness  keep us on the other side of the table—the judgmental side? When our Forgiver pronounces us clean, we are able to look up from our mired pasts, receive His pardon for sin, forgive ourselves and go in peace.

What’s the big deal about forgiveness? A new beginning; a fresh start; hope; love; second chance; kindness, because someone has been kind to us. Want to be clean, truly clean–what the Pharisees had failed to perceive? Try forgiveness. True forgiveness. And after God has forgiven you, try to forgive yourself, and then try forgiving others. What’s the big deal about forgiveness? Everything.

And oh, by the way, as Joe points out, we can all still love on the feet of our Divine Forgiver today. How? Well, as Jesus clearly communicates to his disciples shortly before his sacrifice, whatever you do to even to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it unto me (Matt. 25:40). Value, grieve over someone else’s feet for Jesus, and you are once again valuing and grieving over our Lord’s feet as someone incredibly, thankfully did so long ago.

By Shelly Davis Bergland with Joseph M Cross

http://www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

 

Less is More When We Trust in the Light

How would you like to shed a little light on your “less is more” with the flip of a switch?

At Fellowship, we have been talking about less is more when God is present in our lives. We looked at a couple examples in Scripture of two young men that God used mightily and miraculously, to bring about great deliverance to His people. These two young men came from very small, humble means and had very little to offer in the world’s eyes. However, God used their lesser skills to accomplish more than anyone could have imagined.

Today, out of 1 Kings 17, Joe shared a story of God’s light being displayed in a world of darkness. This light was a prophet named Elijah who had the formidable task of delivering some grim news to the surrounding evil nation. After delivering the news of the dim future ahead to an unrepentant head of state, Elijah is ordered to go to an off-the-beaten-path location to keep himself safe from the throws of the evil empire and wait out the curse of the severe famine in the land.

Elijah obediently follows God’s directions step-by-step. First, he is ordered to go to a location where his only source of food will be delivered to him by birds, ravens to be exact.   I’ve been to some interesting restaurants with some interesting service but I cannot imagine trusting my only sustenance to come from a random flock of birds, day after day. We complain when the fast food line is too slow, meaning more than five minutes! I can’t imagine being joyful or thankful  that God would want me to trust this means of provision. It sounds terrible to me, but Elijah does it, no questions asked.

Then God moves Elijah to another location. He sent him to a poor, single Mother’s house. Now doesn’t a home with a good cook sound better than being fed by a flock of birds? Well, unfortunately, it’s worse than it seems. This woman was so destitute she told Elijah the only thing she had left was a little flour and oil, just enough to feed her and her son their very last meal and then she was resigned to the fact that there were no other options left for them and would most likely die in the very near future. This was certainly no upgrade from the birds!! What is God thinking?…… Less is more, when God is near… as we shall see.

God asks Elijah to trust him, once again, in an impossible situation. Elijah, the light in the midst of darkness, stays true to His Lord’s instructions. The Lord’s instructions to Elijah include testing the faith of this poor, destitute woman by telling her to make her last meal, as she had planned, but to give it to him to eat, first. What? Give away my last meal for me and my son? Well it’s one thing to take my last meal from me, but you want me to give you, a stranger, my son’s last meal as well? Could she believe that a loving God would ask her to do this?

We don’t read that she questioned him (something I would do). We don’t read that she asked to pray about it first (another something I would do). We don’t read that she tries to reason with him or with God (definitely something I would try). We only read that God had prepared her ahead of time that this man was God’s messenger and she was to follow his instructions and she does so. We also read that God gave her a promise that despite how circumstances looked, she would have plenty. “Trust me.” “Trust the light.” When God is near, less is more. And indeed, Elijah, the Mother and the son go on to live off this flour and oil that God continuously and miraculously multiplies and provides over and over again.

We go on to read that at some point, her son becomes deathly ill. This time she does cry out in anguish and questions God. It feels to her like insult to injury in all she has been through. (Have you ever felt that way?) Mercifully, Elijah calls out to God and again, in hope against hope, his prayer is answered, the light comes on and the breath of life comes back into the boy.

Once again, we see simple faith, simple means and simple people place their trust in an almighty, loving God and the lights turn on in a dark and dreary world.

Can we trust this light? Can we offer up our meager means to be used for his glory, to bring light to the darkness? Like the flip of a switch, our faith, our trust, when turned on and when God is near, can indeed mean less is more.

Shelly Davis Bergland
Reflections from sermons at Fellowship at Cross Creek church, Pastor Joseph M Cross

http://www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

People Watching and More

People Watching and More  

When I have the opportunity, I enjoy people watching. As I write this, my wife B and I are traveling, so we have lots of folks to watch. It is enjoyable and interesting to me to see just how different, and yet alike we are. When I watch someone walking by, I often begin to think about what might be going on in their lives. Are they stressed, or relatively comfortable? Are they happy in life, and do they have relationships with others that are satisfying and healthy? Are they seeking meaning in life, or have they secured that meaning through Jesus Christ? The problem with people watching and then thinking about what might be happening in their lives is that, too often, we try to make assumptions about their circumstances and feelings, based solely on how they appear to us in the few seconds we see them. Our assumptions could be close to being right, but we would never know until we have spent some time talking with that person. Some find breaking the ice and striking up a conversation with a total stranger to be easy and natural. I would rather sit quietly and wonder.

The folks I tend to wonder about the most are the ones who openly advertise their feelings and beliefs. These walking advertisements may be either positive or negative. The sad thing is, when I see someone projecting a positive message, I tend to wonder if it is sincere. I never question the sincerity of one exhibiting a negative message. Excuse me, but I think my fallen nature is showing.

That is when it occurred to me that I am not alone in people watching. Those people I am watching are also watching me. I wonder what messages people are receiving from me? Honestly, I try not to send any messages. I generally want to blend in and go unnoticed, as best as a man who is 6’ 4”, weighs 225 pounds, and has a shaved head can blend in. But, even trying to blend in sends its own message, and just being my size causes people to notice me. What kind of a vibe do they get from me?

I think some people are just naturally inclined to meet and try to understand others. Our grandson Levi is one who knows no strangers. Our Pastor Joe is excellent at getting to know and understand the lives of those he meets. I am not certain of this, but I suspect that it is due more to choice than natural bent that Joe does this so well. I have seen him doing this, and I observe Joe making mental notes about someone’s name, the names of family members, and their circumstances in life. Joe gently probes to see how he might be able to help this person. This is a very Christ-like ability, developed over a lifetime of loving and caring for his brothers and sisters in the Lord. It gives me hope that, as I grow and mature in Christ, that I can choose to be more like Joe and his example. I do not have to guess what is going on in the lives of those I meet, I can make a choice to introduce myself and begin to let them know I care by showing interest in them. There are even those already around me whom I know, but I have, sadly, shown little interest in their personal lives. Is there ever an example in the Gospels of Jesus having an encounter with someone that he did not take time to show interest in their situation? If our Lord has shown us how to meet people, and our pastor continues to demonstrate by his example, should we not follow their direction? Shouldn’t I? We ought not to just wonder.

~ Hudd ~

evin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek Church in Branson, MO

www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

Men of “True Grit” Who Do “More with Less”

Pastor Joe Cross has been talking over recent weeks about his idea that less can be more when God is in our life. “When is less more” Joe asks? “When God is near”, a concept and challenge he posed to the visiting CRU students based on the story of Gideon. According to Judges 6, Gideon was the least in his family and his family the weakest of the Israelite clans, yet God chose him to lead Israel to conquer the Midianites who had overcome their country and oppressed them severely.

After Israel desperately cries out to God for help, God instructs Gideon to “go in the strength you have” and “save Israel out of the Midians hands.” Gideon questions God, asking him how on earth he is qualified to be able to do such a daunting task?

God reassures him by performing several miraculous tests to prove it was the Lord (Yahweh) commissioning him and then promises him “I will be with you.” Of course Gideon must first purify the land by purging them of their idols (those people, places or things that take precedence over God in our lives). Next God takes Gideon through a perplexing process of whittling down his army of over 32,000 to only 300 men to fight the massive army of countless Midianites.


The worshipping, wise, spirited Gideon, clad with trumpets, torches in clay pots and only 300 men, successfully accomplished the God-ordained task of destroying the detestable army, saving his people from their oppression. With God’s presence in his life, Gideon was able to do more with less, literally!

This week Joe shared about another young man of faith able to accomplish the impossible with very little means – David, a familiar story about another chosen vessel who was the youngest of a small Israelite clan in Bethlehem. Why were these seemingly insignificant young men chosen to do such incredible feats? First of all, God makes it clear that he does not want his prideful people to get the idea that it “was by their own strength” or ingenuity that they are rescued and set apart from those that do not belong to God. Second, God wants us to place our trust, hope and faith in Him alone, and it is clear that these two lesser individuals, though limited and insignificant, have not only put their trust in the one true God, but have been previously prepared in their hearts to obey God and to use their developed-over-time skills to accomplish His purposes for His glory.

As Joe said, “This young boy, David, had been prepared for this moment and this moment prepared for David, and so there are times in your life when you will be prepared for God’s ordained moments and those moments prepared for you and they will come together in God’s time, when God is near.”  Of course we know the rest of David’s story, no one in the whole Israelite army was brave enough to step out and fight the giant Goliath, who had taunted the shaken Israelites to a one-on-one dual to end the stand off between the two nations, vowing the winner of the dual will rule over the country of the conquered party. Until along comes the young lad David who is incredulous that “this uncircumcised Philistine dares taunt the armies of the living God” – a statement of strong courage and conviction about who God is and who God’s people are. So David impresses the King apparently, by his great faith and courage and therefore, allows this young teenager, David, to go fight the Giant on their behalf. David does not choose the strength of the armor, sword and shields offered to him for battle but instead, chooses his measly slingshot and five stones from a brook for his weaponry, the skill he possessed at the time. David retells to the curious King how God had previously helped him conquer both lion and bear when attacked and assures him that “this Philistine,” with God’s help at his side, will meet the same fate as his previous ferocious opponents. And David does just that – conquers the giant with one fell swoop of his slingshot. With God, less is more.

Does this more with less concept apply to us today? Joe shows us that 1 John 5 says, “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” So those who have placed their trust in the Son of God, Jesus, has the invitation to be used of God and to be “overcomers” in this world.

Romans 8 asks “If God is for us, who can be against us?” and then goes on to say, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…. in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” With God, we can do more with less!

I might add that Philippians 2 tells us, “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.” God has given us our skills, gifts, experiences and talents to use for His purposes – to bring Him glory so that the world will know who He is through us. What are your stones and sling? What is your trumpet and torch in a clay pot? What has God prepared you for and gifted you with to accomplish more with less?

Angela Lee Duckworth, a former educator turned psychologist, did a study on what it took for any number of different people groups to become successful, including school students. Her vast research concluded it was not IQ, not status, not environment, but one’s “grit” that made them ultimately successful. Angela defines grit as passion combined with perseverance, “living life like a marathon rather than a sprint.” Did Gideon have “Spiritual grit”? I think so. Did David have “Spiritual grit”? No doubt!

Joe reminds us that in our doing more with less, God will bring many challenges in our lives to grow us, mature us and give us the “Spiritual grit” it takes to accomplish more with less when God is near.

Shelly Davis Bergland
Reflections from sermons at Fellowship at Cross Creek church, Pastor Joseph M Cross
www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

 

(Angela Lee Duckworth Video from TED https://youtu.be/H14bBuluwB8)

 

 

 

Hate or Love?

Hate or Love? 

It may surprise some of you to learn that you are a member of a “hate” group. According to a certain “civil rights” organization, you and I are guilty of thought-crimes and worse. We believe the Bible is the literal and infallible word of God. We believe that man is essentially corrupt in his fallen state, and that we are in need of a loving Savior. We believe this Bible prescribes that we are to live according to certain moral standards regarding our interactions with others, including not murdering our fellow man, not stealing from him, and that any sexual interaction is to be confined within the bounds of marriage. Shockingly, we believe marriage is a covenant entered into between one man and one woman. We believe that we should be at liberty to practice our beliefs, and that these beliefs comprise the one great truth. We also believe that those who choose to not believe this one truth have the liberty to do so, but that they then are excluded from the truth and its salvation, subjecting those people to God’s justice. It is said that the members of our group regularly meet to ceremoniously sing songs and recite prayers to further cement our beliefs and to encourage conformity among the members of the group. Even worse, many meet weekly in smaller cell groups, often in one another’s homes, for continued indoctrination. It is these beliefs, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a “civil rights watchdog group,” that makes organizations like Fellowship at Cross Creek a hate group.

ABC News (and other “mainstream” news organizations similarly) reported:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered a speech to an alleged hate group at an event closed to reporters on Tuesday night, but the Department of Justice is refusing to reveal what he said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is the “prominent” civil rights group that has designated the Alliance Defending Freedom, a federation of attorneys and others dedicated to defending the religious rights of individuals and organizations, as an “anti-LGBT hate group”. NBC, Newsweek, Salon, and other news outlets joined ABC in terming ADF a hate group.

ADF defends the rights of individuals and organizations from attempts to undermine religious rights, the sanctity of human life, and marriage and the family. By trying to protect religious rights, the ADF, along with the Family Research Council and the American Enterprise Institute, and other organizations that encourage religious freedom, has been designated a hate group. By that definition, Fellowship qualifies as a hate group, as well.

Let’s be clear – neither the Alliance Defending Freedom, nor Fellowship at Cross Creek are hate groups. Anyone with any ability to think can see that is nonsense. Advocating for religious freedom, human life, and marriage and family does not constitute hate. To the contrary, ADF and Fellowship are motivated by love. Matthew 22 tells us that we are to love our Lord and God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and, secondly, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is upon these two points that the law depends. If we are to act rightly, our actions will be motivated by love of God and our neighbor. Any actions outside that motivation are wrong.

Jesus told His disciples that they would be misjudged and persecuted for their beliefs. Matthew 10:22 tells us, “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”

The war between good and evil continues. But, Jesus tells us in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) we are to love our enemies, for even the worst of us can love our friends. Those we are accused of hating are precisely the ones He commands us to love. We are going to be misunderstood. We are going to be hated. We are to respond by loving our God with our all, and loving our neighbor and our enemy as we love ourselves.

Loving God and loving our neighbor and our enemy makes Fellowship at Cross Creek a love group.

~ Hudd ~

Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek Church in Branson, MO

www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

 

Judging Books By Their Covers – A Tribute to Red Stum

Judging Books By Their Covers – A Tribute to Red Stum

Books are wonderful. Books are a collection of ideas from a person’s mind, from the seeming nothing of the synapse to the printed page; a personal act of creation. That is why we as humans value the arts so highly. It is the one way that we elevate ourselves above the mundane and everyday, and take a small step toward deity: a painter who creates beauty from a blank canvas; a sculptor who uncovers a marvelous form inside a block of granite; or the writer who transforms white paper and pools of ink into a coherent and enduring collection of thoughts that have the power to change the lives of its readers. Think for just a moment about one of your favorite books. For me, I return to my days in high school and the time I was forced to read To Kill a Mockingbird. Not only did the book awaken thoughts in my highly provincial, Ozarkian mind regarding race (at that time in our corner of the Ozarks, we had virtually no minority population) but, I was fascinated by the prose of author Harper Lee. Never had I encounterd a work so conversational, even simple, that was so impregnated with deep thought and emotion. A third grader could easily comprehend the words of this book, while a fourth-year seminarian could spend months mining truth from its pages. I believe it remains my favorite book to this day.

Take a look at the books in your house, or some time to remember a trip into your local bookstore or library. Notice the colors, the words, the “gotcha” graphics? I am not talking about the books themselves, but their covers. Cover designers and photographers receive special recognition. Why? Because packaging sells. A book has to have a catchy title. It needs a cover design that grabs your attention while conveying the spirit of the book. A cover photo of a pretty girl encourages us to at least pick the book up, if not buy it and read it.

Let’s face it – we judge a lot of books by their covers or movies by their posters. I have gotten pretty good at picking movies that Hunny B and I like that way. We also judge people this way. Much as we regard the design of the dust jacket of a book or the packaging of some breakfast cereal at the grocery store, we have been conditioned to judge people by their appearance. A person with tattoos, piercings, and strangely colored hair gives a much different impression than one more conservatively attired and adorned. We each, to some extent, have some image of ourselves that we try to project, and this image may or may not truly depict who we are in our core being. But, slick packaging and eye-appealing covers are not what actually make for a good product or book. We may be enticed or repulsed by what we see on the outside, but we really are buying and consuming that which is inside.

I remember the first time I met Red Stum. It would have been in the late 1980s or early ‘90s at another church in Branson. I reminded Red of that meeting recently, but he did not remember it that way, saying he never went to another church in Branson but Fellowship. But, he did. For those of us who knew Red, there could be no mistaking him. I remember his rough look, as someone who had lived a hard and turbulent life. His tattooed arms, his gruff and overly frank manner of speech. I remember thinking he was highly opinionated yet woefully ignorant, which is not an appealing combination. Judging Red by his cover did not leave me with a good impression.

About fifteen years later, Hunny B and I came to Fellowship. Much had transpired in my life to make me a decidedly different person than had met Red in the previous century. Red, who had been at Fellowship for several years, was unchanged, still rough and gruff, still opinionated. As I was soon to learn, Red was not nearly as ignorant as I had previously judged him to be. No, he did not have a great deal of formal education, but Red actually was a quite knowledgeable man, with wide-ranging interests that ran from dirt track motorcycle racing to social-political conflict in the United States and our nation’s need of redemption through the love of Jesus Christ. I got to know a man who deeply loved his Lord, and loved his wife and family. He cared so much for each of us here at Fellowship. I found that this man who always spoke his mind (and might have better employed a filter at times) always exhibited one of the foundations of Fellowship at Cross Creek – Speaking the Truth in Love. I do not believe it would ever occur to Red to speak an untruth. I found I had very wrongly judged Red by his cover. Fellowship was blessed to have this speaker of truth with us for many years, and we will miss him.

When I was a teenager, Harper Lee taught me about prejudice and about speaking truth through her writing. Many years later, Red Stum taught me the same through his living. Until we meet again, Red.

~ Hudd ~

Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek Church in Branson, MO

Natural Law: The Basis for Independence Day

Natural Law: The Basis for Independence Day

241 years ago, Thomas Jefferson put quill to parchment and penned the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was responsible for much of the content of this magnificent document, but credit is given also to co-authors Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. Though the Colonies and Great Britain had been involved in armed conflict prior to the time the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia early in the summer of 1775, the thought of independence from Britain was far from universal among its delegates. Indeed, while some few delegates advocated independence from the out set of the Congress, John Adams chief among them, these secessionists were considered by most to be on the radical fringe. The object of the Congress was to oversee the conduct of the armed rebellion against the crown. The object of that rebellion was not necessarily independence from Britain, rather a struggle for greater autonomy in governing the affairs of colonists an ocean away from Parliament and King George. Many recent enactments by his majesty’s government were seen by the colonists as capricious and punitive, and therefore, unworthy to be considered law.

Our national forefathers were well read men, and advocates of the concept of natural law. Natural law, as described by philosophers such as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, is the rational extension of God’s eternal law or the laws of nature as applied by men. This is the source of man’s “unalienable rights” noted in Jefferson’s declaration to include “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Twentieth century author and philosopher C.S. Lewis declared natural law to be universal, and applicable to life on other planets should such life exist. Laws of man, called positive law, that countered the tenants of natural law were considered void, lacking in any moral standing to be considered as law. This was the view of the majority of delegates to the Second Continental Congress of laws and taxes imposed upon them by King George and his government, giving the colonies the right to oppose such laws by armed insurrection, leading to outright rebellion and a  battle for independence. When the laws of man lack the moral standing of natural law, such laws are considered evil and are to be avoided and contained.

There are passages in the bible that attest to and agree with natural law. One such passage is Romans 1:18-20. In this scripture, Paul, a legal scholar of his time, wrote,

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Even absent direct divine revelation or His written word, the very nature of His creation speaks of God’s sovereignty and His majesty. Rational man can extrapolate from observation that much of what is contained within the Ten Commandments is a natural extension of God’s divine law. Even before being inscribed on stone tablets, men understood murder, stealing, adultery, and disrespecting their parents were wrong. So is the imposition of punitive taxes without the benefit of representation.

So, this week while you enjoy your barbeque and fireworks, remember the role played in our independence by natural law, and the intellectually curious forefathers who were learned in natural law and believed it right to found our nation. Absent their advocacy of natural law, there would have been no declaration, and you would not be enjoying a holiday this week.

~ Hudd ~

Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek Church in Branson, MO

Thoughtfulness

Thoughtfulness

Earlier this week, as I was traveling along Fall Creek Road, someone in a car ahead of me threw out some litter. I said to myself, “What a thoughtless jerk!”. Then, the more I thought about it, I decided it was not a thoughtless action; that person, obviously, intentionally threw out that trash and littered our Ozarks. That person’s brain sent a signal to the hand to roll down the window, pick up the fast food bag, and throw it out the window. But, it was thoughtless in that this action was not thought through. It was thoughtless in that the person’s thinking was not complete. The act of littering was not thoughtful.

How often do we not think all the way through the implications of our actions? How much “litter” do we leave behind in our lives because we are not as thoughtful as we could be, or should be? Our thoughtless actions, or less than thoughtful actions, can leave quite a mess to be cleaned up. And, just because I say thoughtless, I do not mean unintentional. Some of my most intentional actions have been the result of thoughtless choices. I intend to do A, which results in B. But, I never considered that A could also lead to C, D, and E. The unintended consequences of our actions, the results we never thought of, are what I mean as being thoughtless. Good chess players consider the consequences of their planned moves as much as five or six moves down the line. Chess masters know that if they do A then not only B will happen, but C, D, and E will likely follow. They know this because they have experienced many games of chess, and because they practice thoughtfulness every time they sit down to a chessboard. Those of us who do not think through the consequences of our actions become victims of life, thinking life conspires against us and causes more problems and more grief for us. In response to these problems, we again act impulsively, not fully considering the impacts of our actions, and start the cycle of victimhood over again.

Thinking through the likely results of our actions is the art of reasoning. Reasoning is another word for wisdom. The older I get, the more I appreciate and long for wisdom. When I was a kid, my dad used to ask me to decide what I planned to do before a given event might occur in my life (What are you going to do if someone offers you drugs?). He was asking me to use reasoning in my life. I would be much more likely to make good choices in life if I had thoughtfully and carefully considered the consequences before they occurred. The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:15-16, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” We live as imperfect people in an imperfect world, corrupted by sin. Our ability to reason helps us navigate through the rocky passages of this fallen world. While we were yet in the Garden in an unfallen state, we had little need for wisdom. God protected us inside his perfect creation. The one thing we were not protected from was the serpent, and since that time when we were cast out into the now imperfect world, we have been in quest (some of us more than others) of the gift of wisdom.

In James 1:5, we read, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” We need reasoning – wisdom – to get through this messed up world. But, much as He protected us inside the Garden, He is still offering protection in our exile. He gives us His wisdom – through His written word and through life’s experiences that we share with one another and His Spirit. It has always been His plan that we are needful of Him, and needing His gift of wisdom is just more evidence of how He has planned to provide for us.

We may not live in the perfect, beautiful Garden any longer, but the Lord still provides for us. Let us do our part by not littering His creation with our thoughtlessness.

~ Hudd ~

Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek Church in Branson, MO

Entertainment in the Church, Escape or Worship

Entertainment, Escape, or Worship

At Fellowship, we are certainly blessed with a host of wonderful musicians who comprise our worship team. And, not only do these folks display enormous talent, but they also exude a fervent, deep, and passionate love of God. Week after week, we are beautifully led in worship by people who have devoted much of their lives and many hours of time to prepare themselves for whole-hearted adoration of our Savior. If you have not done so recently, take a moment to pass along a compliment to members of the worship team, thank them for their devoted service, and remember to pray for them and their ministry.

Leading in worship can be a bit hit and miss. When it is good, and thankfully, it most often is, our time of worship here at Fellowship is supremely uplifting. But, sometimes our worship time is not so hot. Now, do not get me wrong; I am not suggesting our worship team is lacking. No, I am talking about us. I am talking about, sometimes, myself. Our worship team prayerfully prepares and masterfully delivers their worship. But, as anyone who has ever tried to lead can tell you, sometimes those you are leading are disinclined to follow. Sometimes, we are content to just be entertained. Sometimes we sit back and enjoy “the performance”. Honestly, our musicians and vocalists are so good, it is easy to fall into that trap. Don’t do it. As much as you might enjoy the beautiful music, your joy can never be complete unless you firmly join in with your heart as well as your voice. Other times, the worship music becomes background while our minds wander to other, more secular concerns. Or, we spend the time escaping, sending our minds into a session of suspended animation. What a horrible waste of your time to miss a perfect opportunity to join with the worship team in joyful song of praise for our Lord!

Psalm 150, a hymn of the Hebrew people, tells us,

“Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty expanse. Praise Him for His mighty deeds; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness. Praise Him with trumpet sound; Praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!

Worship time is our time with God. The worship team, as wonderful as it is, is not the object of our adoration. Those folks are here to encourage and facilitate our worshipful experience with our Lord. Join with them. After all, if we do not, as Jesus said in Luke 19:40, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

Do not leave worship to the worship team, or the rocks.

~ Hudd ~

Kevin Huddleston is and Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek in Branson, MO

For more see  fellowshipatcrosscreek.com