Monthly Archives: August 2017

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


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

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 ~

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

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


(Angela Lee Duckworth Video from TED