Author Archives: fellowshipbranson

A Life of Fulfillment

I have been spending more time at my wife’s parents’ farm outside Verona, Missouri lately.  B’s mom is undergoing cancer treatments, and it is good to have someone there to help her dad with her mom.  Since they do not do much farming there now, and both are retired, things are pretty quiet at the farm these days.  They spend their hours watching birds at their feeders, and (recently) reruns of very old shows on a television we just installed in their living room.  Oh, and they like to watch the neighbors.

Most of my in-laws’ neighbors are Amish, living on small farms that dot the neighborhood.  The Amish are a Christian sect, descended from the Anabaptists from 16th century central Europe who were so named for rejecting the practice of infant baptism, preferring to baptize believers who confess faith in Christ (hence the somewhat derisive name “Anabaptist”, meaning, to baptize again).  Pastor Joe has taught us of the Moravians, who are also descended from the same branch of the radical reformation.  Today, the Amish, Mennonites, Moravians, and Hutterites are considered directly descended followers of Anabaptism.

A common trait of the Anabaptists is seen as a strict adherence to tenets found within the Sermon on the Mount, which has led the Amish to reject many of the conveniences of modern life, including connecting to the power grid or telephone lines, owning automobiles or tractors, or using power tools.  But, at least for most of these neighbors, there are some work-arounds.  One has a windmill to operate his sawmill. Another has a phone booth out in their yard to keep from connecting their house to the wires.  Many carry cellphones for the same reason.  Some will use powered equipment if a Gentile (non-Amish) will pour in the gas.  My mother-in-law relates that they tell her that the Amish choose this way of life as just that, a way of living, and that it has much less to do with religion.  Additionally, they tell her they almost universally hate school (most send their kids to neighborhood one-room Amish schoolhouses).  B’s mom is a voracious reader, and in their home are hundreds and even thousands of books of all kinds.  Joann has tried to give books to these youngsters, and they always refuse, indicating they detest reading.  Upon hearing this, I replied, “How sad.  Their lives seem so small.  And, they do not see any value in education and reading?”

In our home church, we are doing a study of the humanness of Jesus.  This week’s study touched on the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount.  You remember these, where Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the gentle, those who hunger, the merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted, and you when people insult you.  Why?  Because these people will be fulfilled.  They are the ones who are to be blessed, not those in high spirits, who are filled, implacable, deceitful, brawlers, and so on.  These strivers who have always taken what they desired will, ultimately, become the losers.  Why?  Because counterintuitively, those in the first group will find their reward in Jesus Christ.  While we think those who are driven to get ahead are life’s winners, our thinking, our view of life, and our manner of existence are inside out.  The world and our view of it are backwards.  How do we know this?  John 10:10 tells us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  Jesus came in human form to perfectly relate to us and our lives.  He knows what it is to be hungry, to mourn, and to be persecuted.  He understands, and He has come to bring us fulfillment.  In 2 Corinthians 5:17-18, Paul further explains this thinking:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

As we become more Christ-like, as we conform less and less to this world and the idea of being a success in this world, the more abundance we will receive. Not material abundance, but abundance of life, of joy, of spirit of true shalom (a peace that encompasses our goodwill and surpasses our understanding).

As Joe often tells us, we live in a hybrid world that is neither heaven nor hell; neither the Garden nor the driest desert.  So, while we cannot have the fullness of abundance that we will one day possess in heaven, we can, still today, have so much more.  Christ brings to us His abundance, and we accept so little.  We are stuck living our lives inside out.  We only scratch the surface of the fulfillment Jesus offers.  No, it is not abundance of money and stuff, neither of knowledge and power.  It is an abundance of Him.  When we fill ourselves with an abundance of Jesus, we will be among the blessed of the Beatitudes.

In this world and this life, we continue to live inside out, seeking our abundance and fulfillment from this world.  That is the intuition of a fallen, corrupted nature that misguides our thoughts and actions.  We need to reject the notions of this world, and fill up – obtain fulfillment – in Jesus.

Maybe we have something to learn from our Amish neighbors?

-Hudd-

 

Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek in Branson, Missouri, An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People

www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

 

The Reformed Reformation

This week marks what most people consider to be the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  October 31, 1517 is the date Martin Luther nailed his Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, known more commonly as the “Ninety-five Theses”, to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Luther, who was a professor of theology and a Catholic priest and monk, did not intend this posting to be an act of defiance of the Roman Catholic Church.  He saw his work as the opening of a scholarly examination of the practice of selling indulgences, or the granting of absolution from punishment through the payment of money to the church.  Tacking his theses to the church door was something akin to posting on a community bulletin board, or a form of early day social media.  The Catholic Church did not see things that way, however, and after some legal proceedings, excommunicated Luther.

There had been some prior steps toward reformation.  In the 12th century, Peter Waldo broke with the church over issues, such as use of local language, voluntary poverty, and lay preaching, and was excommunicated.  Englishman John Wycliffe, in the 14th century, translated the bible from the official vulgate into Middle English, and objected to numerous practices of the Catholic Church.  He was excommunicated before his death from a stroke in 1384, and was declared a heretic posthumously in 1415.  His corpse was exhumed and burned along with his written work. Jan Hus, a reformer from Prague, was also declared a heretic in 1415, and was burned at the stake.  Each of these men had some early influence on the reformation process.

These reformers sought to return the church to its biblical roots, eliminating many traditional practices they saw as being extra-biblical at best, and (worse) often in direct conflict with God’s written word. It was an attempt, to borrow a phrase from Fellowship’s ministry distinctives, to have ministry form to follow spiritual function.  There had been rampant corruption in the Catholic Church.  Popes, bishops, and even parish priests had become wealthy individuals by various questionable means.  Many accepted practices and beliefs of the Catholic Church, handed down by tradition, papal decree, and action by numerous tribunals and councils, had no basis in scripture.  At about this time in history, the Holy Roman Empire ruled nearly all of Europe, deriving its power from the Catholic Church, and, in turn, feeding power back to the papacy and his subordinates.  Taking on such power was no small task, and succeeding was nothing less than miraculous.

During his time on earth, Jesus repeatedly took on the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who professed adherence to the law, but truly paid little more than superficial attention to Mosaic law, and emphasized hundreds of extra-legal rules and traditions created by man.  Similarly, men like Waldo, Wycliffe, Hus, and Luther questioned the practices, beliefs, teachings, and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, which the reformers saw as having left the truth of the bible and the example of Jesus Christ and His first century church.

Interestingly, though many denominations arose from the work of these brilliant reformers, these denominations never realized full reform.  Many of the most detrimental issues were reformed – the selling of indulgences, the use of common languages in worship and in translations of the bible, and a general return of integrity among the clergy – but many other traditions of the Catholic Church were carried forward as part of what a church had come to be understood to be.  Function still following form.

We have not eradicated all vestiges of empty tradition in our church today.  I do believe, however, as initiated by Waldo, Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, and those who followed, we have done well to put scripture ahead of creed, and sound, biblical doctrine before edicts from some council.  One of the founding directives of Fellowship at Cross Creek is that we always strive to put function ahead of form in our worship, teaching, and observances.  We may not have everything completely right yet.  After all, we are an imperfect church for imperfect people.  But, if we do not get it all correct, it is not from lack of will or because we are not trying.  We welcome thoughtful suggestions as to how we can come closer to Christ’s original blueprint for His church.  We are thankful for the contributions of those early reformers, and the many who have worked toward reform in the intervening centuries.   At Fellowship, we are still trying to reform the reformation.

-Hudd-

Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek in Branson, Missouri, An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People

www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

 

Doing the Right Thing

I ran across someone’s teaching on integrity the other day.  He wrote that doing the right thing for the right reason is a blessing.  Doing the right thing for the wrong reason can be due to pride or greed.  Doing the wrong thing for the right reason is a mistake.  And, doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason is a sin.  Let us look closer at each of these.

Doing the Right Thing For the Right Reason

Suppose you found a bank bag that had lots of money in it.  There is no identification in the bag, only a logo of a bank doing business in your community on the outside of the bag.  There is no one to see you pick up the bag.  Though you are tempted to just take the bag of money home with you, your conscience tells you to take the bag and all the money to the nearest branch of that bank.  In the end, you listen to your conscience and leave the money – all of it – at the bank.  You have just done the right thing for the right reason.

For an example of doing the right thing for the right reason, read the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25–37.

Doing the Right Thing For the Wrong Reason

Now, let us suppose you are presented with the opportunity to serve as the chair of an influential committee in your community.  Taking this position would be a big feather in your cap and should lead to bigger and better things in the future.  Your name mentioned prominently in local media.  Loftier positions in the community.  Better business connections and opportunities.  You are on the road to greater fame and fortune.  And, to doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

Review Matthew 6:1-2 where Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for giving to be recognized for their generosity.

Doing the Wrong Thing For the Right Reason

You are having lunch at your usual spot to grab a quick bite, and you observe the fellow at the next table gasping for breath, obviously choking on his food.  Recognizing he needs help, you quickly rise and rush to his side.  You grab the man about his shoulders, turning him away from you.  Then you give him a big slap on the back, further lodging the clod deeper into his throat.  Hoping to help, you have made a bad situation worse by doing the wrong thing.

Saul of Tarsus passionately tried to do what he believed to be right in God’s eyes by persecuting followers of Jesus.  Read Acts 8:1-3.

Doing the Wrong Thing For the Wrong Reason

This one is all too easy for us to see.  You know no one is watching, so you click your mouse on that website you should not visit.  You and your friends figure out a way to cheat on your test at school.  You falsify your tax return.  You misrepresent the facts in a business transaction.  You have had a hard day at work, so you take it out on your family that evening.  Doing wrong things for the wrong reasons.

One of the clearest examples of the wrongs people commit is found in 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12, and David’s series of sins involving Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

I have two sons who make me very proud.  Not that I had that much to do with it, but these boys are really good young men.  Kyle, the older son, was just born with a God-given bent toward doing good.  It just does not occur to Kyle to do wrong, and he does not quite understand why people do not choose to do the right thing.  His younger brother, Sean, was not born with this innate goodness.  Sean could be a little mischievous as a child.  He told an occasional untruth when he thought it might serve his purpose.  But, as he grew up, Sean made a conscious choice to change, and as a new person in Christ, left his old nature behind.  As a young adult today, you could not ask for a better husband, father, neighbor, employee, and friend.  I could not tell you which of these boys I am more proud of.

Like it is for Sean, doing right and avoiding wrong is a matter of choice for us.  Thankfully, we have the help of the Holy Spirit in making the right choices.  But even then, our willful nature sometimes leads us to make wrong choices.  As Paul wrote in Romans 7:14-15, “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.”  This is the conflict we have between our old, sinful nature and the new person we are in Christ.  Doing right is a choice, as is doing wrong.  Let us not exalt ourselves for doing right, but neither should we get too discouraged when we do wrong.  Even Paul did.  Knowing that we will sometimes make the wrong choice can help us forgive ourselves (and others) for the occasional misdeed, and prepare us to make better choices in the future.

-Hudd-

 

Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek in Branson, Missouri, An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People

www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

 

What the Devil?

Why do we do the things we do?  Why do we sometimes choose to do the right thing, but other times not?  When we do the right thing, we are quick to pat ourselves on the back for being so righteous.  When we do not?  The comedian Flip Wilson made a lot of money saying, “The devil made me do it.”

Who is the devil?  That question is a source of some debate in the theological world.  Among the general U.S. population, according to a 2013 survey, 57% of us believe there is a real devil.  According to another survey, 71% believe there is a hell, but only 32% believe it is a place of torment and suffering, with most of the remaining believers identifying hell as a condition of separation from God.

In the bible, perhaps the clearest exposition of just who is the devil comes from Revelation 12.  We are told there is a dragon in heaven, and this dragon is waiting before the woman who is to give birth to the child who is to rule the world so that the dragon may devour the child. In verses 7-9, Jesus reveals to John and to us:

And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven.  And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

One question I have always had is where in heaven did this source of evil come from?  How could this evil exist in paradise and in the very presence of God?  I do not presume to know, and neither will I use this space to speculate.

Many people use passages from the prophets to explain who the devil is.  Extensive passages from both Ezekiel and Isaiah prophesy regarding the kingdoms surrounding Israel.  In the context of these prophecies of the various kings, Ezekiel 28, prophesying about the king of Tyre, and Isaiah 14, regarding the king of Babylon, are used to describe the fall from heaven of a powerful angel and his followers.  It is from Isaiah that we arrived at the name Lucifer for this fallen angel.  The actual Hebrew word used in this passage is helel, meaning “morning star”.  Lucifer is from the Latin Vulgate translation of morning star, and in its Anglicized version in the King James bible became the capitalized proper name of the devil.  Careful reading in proper context should indicate to most that neither Ezekiel nor Isaiah were likely writing about the fall of the devil from heaven.

By the way, if you want a biblical reference to the name of the devil, read Revelation 9 and the account of the sounding of the fifth trumpet.  In verse 11, speaking of the king of the angels of the bottomless pit, John calls his name Abaddon in Hebrew, and Apollyon in the Greek.

We still have the question of why we do the things we do.  Does the devil make us do it?  In a way, he does.  Orthodox theology tells us the devil’s power is limited, and he is not omnipresent or omnipotent.  He likely does not have the power to directly implant an objective into our brains, making us instruments of his evil.  The devil’s work is more insidious than that.  The devil works by corrupting, distorting, and falsifying God’s truth.  He influences us through our fallen nature, confusing our minds as to the foundation of the truth, or the consequences of his falsehood.  He persuades us to exchange God’s truth for the devil’s pseudo-truth, which is a lie.

Consider Paul’s words on the subject of why we do what we do.  In Romans 7, Paul laments that he does not do those things he wants to do, but does the very things he does not want to do. He concludes:

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.  (verses 21-23)

God made us to be perfect, and to live in complete harmony with Him.  That perfection became corrupted when the devil deceived Adam and Eve in the garden.  That corruption lives within us today.  The devil plays upon our corruption to manipulate us into voiding God’s will for us.  The devil is a formidable foe, and our only defense against him is in Jesus and the power of the cross and His glorious resurrection.

Seeing our world with our corrupted nature is like looking into a funhouse mirror.  Nothing appears quite as it should.  But, there are corrective lenses available for us to view, and they are from God’s truth found in His scriptures.  Do not be fooled, and get your glasses anywhere else.

-Hudd-

 

Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek in Branson, Missouri, An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People

www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

So Many Rocks

Yesterday, I had to dig a hole for a fence post.  In many parts of the United States, digging one fence post hole would be no problem.  A few plunges into soft soil with a post hole digger, a clam shell device with long pole handles designed to dig deep, and you are done in no time.  However, in our corner of the Ozarks, such a tool is virtually worthless.  We all know why – ROCKS!  I took my pick axe and a shovel out where I needed to dig, and started chipping away.  After about an hour of picking at rock, the hickory handle on my pick suddenly snapped.  I had to go buy the wooden fence post anyway, so I bought a new handle for my very old pick, and finished chiseling the hole I needed.  Digging a hole most anywhere around Branson is no picnic.

In John 8, the apostle recounts the story of the Pharisees bringing a woman caught in adultery to Jesus, asking Him if she should be stoned as prescribed under the Law.  As you remember, Jesus did not answer directly, but stooped down a wrote in the dust with his finger.  When the Pharisees pressed Him to answer, Jesus turned the situation around on the accusers, saying, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then, the Lord casually went back to writing in the dirt.  I am sure an awkward silence ensued.  Then, in that silence, one by one you could hear the thud of stone after stone hitting the ground as their holders dropped each intended missile and walked away.  Jesus looked up, and seeing no one, Jesus asked the woman, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:2ff)

This familiar passage appears in brackets in my bible (NASB).  We are told verses 7:53-8:11 do not appear in the oldest known manuscripts.  Some ancient manuscripts have the story of the woman taken in adultery appearing after John 21; others include the story in Luke.  Although most biblical scholars believe the story to be an authentic account from the life of Jesus, there remains some question as to its validity.  What cannot be questioned, however, is the force of the principal points made in the account.  Rather than falling into the trap laid for Him, Jesus used the confrontation to expose the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  Secondarily, Jesus, knowing the heart of the woman, shows her great compassion by not condemning her for her actions with the admonition that she is to go and “sin no more”.  I do not believe the instruction was that she was to go and live a completely sin free life, rather that she was not to continue in the present sin of adultery.  Jesus was saying to her, “Don’t sin like this again.” Not because she might be stoned, but because grace had rescued her—and she now possessed a new identity as a beautifully loved child of God.  She had experienced God’s compassion and was provided with the pathway of restoration.  Obviously, Jesus was aware of her sin and fully understood the gravity of that sin, as well as its consequences under the Law (death).  But, he also knows that fallen man is incapable of living sin free under the weight of the Law, and each of us is in need of the love, compassion, grace, and redemption of the Savior.

This need of the Savior, as Jesus cleverly pointed out in this story, was also upon the self-righteous Pharisees who were accusing and preparing to stone the woman, and entrapping the Prophet.  They could use the occasion of catching the woman in the act of adultery to rid themselves of the problematical Jesus.  These scribes and Pharisees believed they could trap Jesus into overstepping His perceived authority by judging that the woman should be put to death (only Roman authorities could legally so prescribe, although Jewish leaders where known to impose stoning in cases of adultery), or being guilty of subverting Mosaic Law if He stated the woman should not be stoned.  Jesus foiled the trap of the scribes and Pharisees by pointing out their hypocrisy and self-righteousness, rather than directly answering their question.

What can we gain from the study of John 8?  First, we can learn from Jesus’ reproach of the sanctimonious scribes and Pharisees that, when we see a brother or sister engaged in sin, that we are to gently correct that person privately.  If that fails, we are to take one or two more with us.  If we still fail to win back our brother or sister, we are to take the matter before the church (see Matthew 18:15ff).  Jesus showed this type of discipline laced with compassion in dealing with the woman caught in adultery.  Too often in today’s church, we fail to associate discipline with compassion, and want to overlook the sin of a brother or sister in a rush to forgive.  Or, we neglect compassion altogether, opting to not forgive, holding the offense ever against the accused.  Neither approach is biblical when exercised alone.

Do not ignore the sins of your spiritual brother or sister.  Gently correct.  Likewise, do not withhold forgiveness for the one with a repentant heart.  To do so is to carry around those stones we should have dropped.  Like digging holes in the Ozarks, it is all too easy to weigh ourselves down with stones regarding someone else’s perceived wrong in this life.  But, who needs the extra burden of all those rocks?

Let them drop.

-Hudd-

 

Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek in Branson, Missouri, An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People

www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

Wait-a-Minute Bush

Recently a friend in my church lost her cell phone while walking a trail in the woods. The following day my Pastor organized a rescue mission with a band of us to re-trace her steps so we could find her phone. Thankfully we were successful in the mission about a mile in, but the terrain on our path was not necessarily easy.  It was rocky and fairly over grown in places. Every once in a while I got waylaid by thorny vines or what I called “wait-a-minute-bushes”. My daughter was puzzled when I revealed the new nick name for these pesky vines so I explained to her, “it is like you are walking along minding your own business and they reach out and grab you by the leg or arm, out of no where, and say, ‘wait a minute’.” Of course, we both chuckled but truly, they stopped you in your tracks and you couldn’t go anywhere until you dealt with them.

The deal is – since that beautiful, peaceful day with objective accomplished; these tricky vines have stuck in my mind. I suppose with 2017 coming to a close and the New Year approaching, I am somewhat contemplative, but it seems to me that these wait-a-minute bushes act much like the Holy Spirit in our lives.  You are going along in one direction and then sometimes, out of seemingly nowhere, a reading in Scripture, the prompting of the Spirit (when we are listening) or an honest friend stops you in your tracks and says, “wait-a-minute”. These interventions may, at times, seem like unwelcome intrusions or “thorns in our sides” (pun intended) but in the end, they direct our paths and move us towards God’s better, but unexpected, plan rather than our own charted course.

A few scriptures come to mind that perhaps correlate with the idea.

Isaiah 30:21 If you stray to the right or the left, you will hear a word that comes from behind you: “This is the way; walk in it.”

Jeremiah 6:16 This is what the Lord says: Stop at the crossroads and look around; ask for the old, godly way and walk in it. Travel its path and you will find rest for your souls. 

Psalm 23:3 He guides me in proper paths for the sake of His good name.

Psalm 119:71 It was good for me to suffer so that I might learn your statues

Psalm 119:32 I run the same path as your commandments because you give my heart insight.

After escaping from Egypt into the dessert, Moses settled down in a quiet, perhaps simple and comfortable life. Then one day, which probably seemed like any other day, he is about his business when a bush, like no other bush, catches his attention and says, “wait-a-minute God has another plan for you.” His life and his family’s life was never the same as a result of that encounter with the ordained shrub. In fact, God used that bush to not only re-direct his life but an entire race, as well. Moses listened and obeyed his wait-a-minute bush and a nation was changed, giving God incredible glory that continues to testify and teach us today about our Lord.

So my question is – as the New Year approaches, how will you respond to the thorny vines that reach out and grab you? Stop you in your tracks? It may be a trial, a brother or sister that asks you a pointed, thought-provoking question, the Spirit speaking to your heart as you are reading His word or a divinely appointed circumstance that catches you off guard. Be aware, be attentive, be willing to stop and wait a minute to consider, via the Spirit, the pokes and prods or the attention-getters he puts in your path. You just never know the eternal results.

-Shelly-

Shelly Bergland is the Ministry Assistant at Fellowship at Cross Creek in Branson, Missouri, An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People

www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

Fault Lines

A few days ago, a powerful 7.9 earthquake in the Gulf of Alaska shook people from their sleep across southern portions of the state, and triggered tsunami warnings from Unalaska Island in the far Bering Sea to as far southwest as San Francisco, California, though no tidal wave was detected.  The quake occurred about 25 kilometers below the surface of the earth and is considered to be a shallow quake in seismic terms.  There was no reported damage as a result of the quake.

Closer to home but more than 200 years ago, the great New Madrid quake of 1812 struck, destroying the village of New Madrid, ringing church bells many hundreds of miles away, leveling buildings in six states, perceptibly shaking more than 1 million square miles and able to be felt by folks as far away as Hartford, Connecticut and Charleston, South Carolina.  It changed the course of the mighty Mississippi River, and even caused that river to flow backward for a time.  The damage from this quake was so significant that today, emergency plans are in place to deal with its reappearance in at least nine states from Ohio to Louisiana.  The recorded power of that quake?  7.9 on the Richter Scale.

The general cause of an earthquake is fissures in the earth’s crust.  The various plates carved by these fissures are constantly moving ever so slightly.  Along these fissures, known as fault lines, are points of conflict between the plates.  Here, pressure builds between the plates, until that pressure is relieved cataclysmically by an earthquake.  The Richter Scale (named for its developer) is an indexed measurement of that pent-up pressure being released.

So, why the vast difference in damage from two 7.9 earthquakes?  The first answer is obvious:  the recent Alaskan earthquake was centered about 160 miles off-shore.  The second reason is more significant, however.  The predominant soil type in the New Madrid Fault area and points north, south, and east is a loose, loamy soil.  Interestingly for us here in the Ozarks, we do not have that type of soil (or, much any soil, really), so the affects of the powerful earthquake, despite its proximity to our region, were much less pronounced.  The light and loamy soil of the region immediately to our east is the result of thousands and thousands of years of erosion and redistribution of settlement material, carried downstream by the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers system, as well as the Ohio, Tennessee, St. Francis, White, and Arkansas rivers.  This type of soil, when subjected to the stresses and vibrations of an earthquake, becomes suspended in a process known as liquefaction.  The soil takes on the properties of a liquid, unable to support structures, trees, or anything else standing upon it.  Liquified soil is what allowed the 7.9 earthquake to have such devastating, far-reaching affect.

Like geological earthquakes, we also experience human earthquakes; fault lines between people.  Often, these fault lines are very small, causing a rift between two people.  Other times, these fault lines can be huge, resulting in seismic shifts in history, such as seen from the two World Wars.  Either way, the analogy of the earthquake to describe the dynamics of the division between people is accurate.

These human fault lines, and the resultant points of conflict, are where we as imperfect humans live much of our lives.  In God’s perfect plan for His creation, the boundaries where one person ends and another begins would not be seen as a fault line – we would fit together seamlessly, without points of conflict.  That is how life was in the Garden between Adam and Eve before the introduction of sin.  Since that time, any boundary line between two or more people can be seen as a fault line and a source of conflict and pressure.

In seismology and the emergency planning that goes into earthquake preparedness, there is no way to predict the precise timing of an earthquake or predetermine its severity and impact.  Those who are prudent will assess the likelihood of a cataclysmic quake and take appropriate steps to mitigate its impact should that earthquake occur.  That may be to buy earthquake insurance, pass stronger building codes to make buildings more resistant to quakes, see that emergency supplies and equipment are on hand, or move to a safer area.

No, we cannot tell exactly when or how severely an earthquake will strike, but based upon what we do know of earthquakes, we can make good general assumptions.  The same can be said of human relationships and associated conflicts.  So, how do we plan to mitigate the damage caused by these human fault lines?  We prepare ourselves against the inevitable conflict.  In the time of Jesus’ ministry, he was routinely presented with conflict from the Scribes and Pharisees, yet He never let those points of conflict turn into a major clash, deftly turning away there attempts to create pressure along the human fault lines.  Even when Jesus was arrested, imprisoned, falsely accused, tortured, and killed, our Lord did not return evil for evil.  Instead of escalating the conflict, Jesus asked His Father to forgive those who abused Him.

The first step in preparing ourselves for the likelihood of human earthquakes is to avoid the trouble zones.  Just like I would not likely build a house on or near the San Andreas Fault in California, I can choose to avoid those areas of likely conflict in my personal relationships.  Take a moment to read Philippians chapter 4, where Paul advises his readers to stay away from evil things, and to fill their lives with those that are true, honorable, right, pure, and lovely.  Secondly, know where to set your personal foundation to better withstand the human earthquakes.  Turn to Matthew 7:24-27 and read the story of the two foundations, one built on loose and shifting soil, the other constructed upon solid rock.  When the quake hits, which house is more likely to crumble?  Lastly, grow in your maturity and become more Christ-like, as directed in 1 Peter 3:8-9:

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

Like earthquakes, we cannot eliminate the probability of being affected by human conflict.  But, there is much we can do to better prepare ourselves for the event.

-Hudd-

 

Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek in Branson, Missouri, An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People

www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

Oh, Jerusalem

Last week, President Donald Trump announced his administration’s intent to move our embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Why is that significant?  Jerusalem is the functional capital of the Jewish state, but for nearly 70 years, all other nations have recognized Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital as a measure to quell Palestinian unrest regarding what they see as Israel’s “occupation” of the city.

There is a saying that history is written by the victors.  The Middle East has known little peace for as long as man has been there.  The history of the region is as uncertain as the peace, because, as yet, there is no recognized victor to define what that history is to be.  Currently, the history of Palestine is presented as one wants to see it.  The Arabs see a history of Zionist oppression and Euro-American intervention that have robbed them of their ancestral homeland and divine grant.  Jews and the nation of Israel believe just as fervently that the land of Palestine was given to them by God dating back to the time of the exodus from Egypt 3,500 years ago, and see the Arabs as interlopers who arrived from the east more than 2000 years later.  Since there is no clear winner in this ongoing conflict, history remains muddled for the world.  As professed Christians and believers in God’s holy scriptures, let us study this history from a biblical worldview.

As you recall from the story of Abraham in Genesis, he and his wife Sarah were becoming quite old and without children when God promised Abraham would be the father of a great nation.  As more childless years led Sarah to believe any chance of her giving Abraham a child had passed, she gave her handmaiden Hagar to Abraham, producing a son named Ishmael.  God said his covenant with Abraham was not to be fulfilled through Ishmael, but Ismael’s descendants would be too numerous to count, and Ishmael would live to the east of his brothers, and that he would be as a wild donkey with his hand forever against everyone.  His descendants became the Arabs, who much later became the followers of Muhammad.  For this reason, Muslims to this day see Abraham as their father.  Of course, God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah was fulfilled through the birth of their son Isaac, and his descendants occupied the land of Palestine from the time of the exodus forward until the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, and the subsequent complete defeat of the Jews by Emperor Hadrian in 135 AD, which began the period known as The Diaspora that continued until the reestablishment of the nation of Israel in 1948.

By early in the 7th century, Muhammad had founded Islam, and the newly powerful Arab Empire captured and occupied the Holy Land through the mid- 20th century, with about 200 years of highly contested occupancy during the Crusades from 1096 to 1291.

During the latter 600 years of Arab possession of Palestine, the land was ruled by the Ottoman Empire until the events surrounding World War One intervened.  The Ottoman Empire was allied with the other Central Powers forces of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria.  Efforts to defeat the Central Powers led the members of the Allied Powers, which included Great Britain, France, and the United States (among others) to seek alliances with various factions across the globe.  It was this effort that led Great Britain into two seemingly contradictory diplomatic measures in Palestine.

In a series of 10 letters from 1915 into 1916, Great Britain, through Sir Henry McMahon, British High Commissioner to Egypt, agreed with Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca, to support Arab independence in the region in exchange for an Arab revolt against the Ottomans.  Almost simultaneously, Britain issued what was known as the Balfour Declaration (1917), transmitted from British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Walter Rothschild, leader of the British Jewish community and liaison to the Zionist Federation.  The declaration read in part, “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.  After the war, the area of Palestine became a British protectorate.  Britain controlled Palestine by mandate from the League of Nations until after World War Two and the Jewish Holocaust, when the successor to the League, the United Nations, granted a partition of Palestine to the Jews in 1948, including the western portion of a divided Jerusalem.  After wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, Israel took control of the Golan Heights, the West Bank (of the Jordan River), East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula.  The entire area of the small country, even after these annexations, is about 260 miles in length, and 70 miles in width.  Comparatively, you could think of a box as wide as from Branson west to the Oklahoma state line, and extending north the length of Missouri.  These annexations remain a major obstacle to peaceful coexistence today, but Israel views the parcels as historically, culturally, and strategically important.

So, here is the rub – or, the rubs.  First, Abraham and Sarah created a situation through their lack of patience and faith in the word of the Lord where there would be permanent enmity between the two branches of descendants of Abraham.  Secondly, the British essentially promised the same land to both of these peoples during World War One.  What is the solution?  I do not believe there is one.  For whatever good reason known only to Him, it appears God is using this conflict for His purpose.  For decades, American and other diplomats have tried to broker peace in the region, and failed time and again.  This is a land that has been in turmoil since Ishmael and Isaac were born nearly four millennia ago.  To fan the flames even hotter, the British agreed to give this disputed territory to first one party, and then the other.  Now, President Trump, also recognizing the reality that Jerusalem really is the capital of Israel, is moving our embassy there. Will Trump’s actions lead to adverse consequences?  Probably.  But, in this perpetual powder keg known as the Holy Land, which actions would not lead to further adversity?  No situation in world geo-politics could be more hopeless in the view of man, or more needful of God’s wisdom and direction.

To turn about a well known phrase, What God has separated, let no man join together.

-Hudd-

Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek in Branson, Missouri, An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People

www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

The View From 336 Miles Up

 

If you have never had the opportunity to view the Milky Way as it drifts across a brilliantly clear night sky, you should.  Due to hazy, humid air and the amount of ambient light prevalent in the Ozarks, it is difficult to really “see” the Milky Way here locally.  To get a vividly great view of its 400 billion stars, you may want to go out into the dry, clear atmosphere of the American West, high on a mountain on a moonless night and far from the lights of the city.  Then, when the stars are so numerous and bright they actually illuminate the ground a bit, you get a feeling for just how immense and awesome God’s universe is.  And, just how small we are.

One of the more interesting items in the world of science is the Hubble Telescope.  Since its placement in orbit in 1990 (and its subsequent installation of “corrective lenses”), Hubble has been sending back not only some of the most beautiful images ever captured, but significant scientific data, as well.  What from Earth appears as a pin-prick of light from a distant star, Hubble can see is actually a far more distant galaxy, like our Milky Way, containing billions and billions more stars.  Hubble has shown us that there are perhaps as many galaxies in the universe as there are stars in the Milky Way, each containing hundreds of billions of stars, for an estimated total number of 100 octillion stars, or a 1 followed by 29 zeros. From Hubble, we have learned that the universe is still growing and ever expanding, with new galaxies continually forming.  Scientists had long suspected that the universe would be showing signs of devolving, collapsing in on itself.  That is the perceived natural process known as entropy, the devolution of matter, life, and systems into disorder, randomness, chaos, and death and destruction.

As fascinating as are the images of our incredible universe received from Hubble, I sometimes wish we could turn the instruments around and examine our earth.  From its orbit 336 miles above, we could get a clear view from space of things down here on the planet.  Here, in our imperfect world, Hubble’s cameras and sensors would capture the process of entropic devolution always at work, ever transforming that which is imperfect and making it more so.  We have our sin to thank for that.  Prior to man’s sin, death and decay were unknown.  From here on earth, surrounded and overwhelmed by the constant sin-induced entropy, we find it to be, at times, slow and insidious, like a slow growing cancer.  At other times, entropy is hurled at us, jarring and jolting like a massive earthquake.  From Hubble’s perspective, we could view the trees from above the obscuring forest, free from any blurring seismic vibrations.

Since the Garden of Eden, sin has been a part of our lives, and a part of our world.  Since that time, we have been witnesses and victims of entropy.  Much of the existence of religion and of government is owed to combatting entropy.  Indeed, through most of the course of human history, religion and government have been intertwined – a one in the same theocracy where religion is the government and government is provided by the religion.  It could be argued that, but for sin and the resultant entropy, there would be no need for organized religion or government.

Alas, the process of entropy affects these vary institutions and systems intended to curtail it, as whole religions or once vital subsets of them die away, and once mighty nations crumble and return to the dust.  At various times in history, it would have seemed unthinkable that powerful and vast empires as the Greeks, the Romans, the Ottoman Turks, or the British could devolve into mere shadows of their former selves.  The same might be said of the present day United States.

Our founding fathers rightly understood that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, as stated within the Declaration of Independence.  Additionally, in order to further those rights, they revised our form of government with a new constitution intended to “form a more perfect union”.  This is what has made America different from every nation that preceded it, and placed us in a position to stand as a light unto the world in opposition to the forces of entropy.

I do not want to get into politics, but I believe I am on safe ground to say the United States has not always stood against entropy in recent years, leaving an opening for nations, such as Russia, China, and India, that are disinclined or ill prepared to fight devolution.  Even worse, there are nations such as Iran and North Korea that might actively promote disorder, chaos, and death.

Jesus taught His followers in the Sermon on the Mount that we should serve as a model for others to emulate, not hiding our lamp under a bushel basket where it does no good.  In Matthew 5:16, He says, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  This is sound teaching for each of us as individuals.  As a community that welcomes several millions of visitors each year, Branson also needs to be able to set its light high on a lampstand to promote the values we profess.  And, as the promoter of the unalienable rights given to man by God as having been created in His image, it falls to us as Americans to lead in this world in a manner that promotes the best opportunity for all to enjoy those rights, and to shine our light against the entropic forces of the devil and his minions.  But for the lies and deception of Satan and the sin he introduced into the world, there might be no reason for the word entropy to even exist.

336 miles above and away from the sin in this world, Hubble is showing us just that.

-Hudd-

Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek in Branson, Missouri, An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People

www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

The Bread of Life

‘Tis the season.  As I write this, we are well into (dare I say, neck-deep?) the Christmas season.  And, in our family, it is also birthday season, with several members of our family celebrating birthdays in December.  Even our dog Gracie, for whom RaeBelle just had to have a party, complete with guests, gifts, homemade doggie treats, and cake – which was supposed to be for the humans, but the birthday girl managed to get her nose under the foil and eat half of it as it sat on the kitchen counter and no one was watching.

For our dear Hunny B, this season has been the time of year-end projects at work, finals for her classes in graduate school, shopping for presents, and the seemingly never ending quest to decorate the house for the current season.  Oh, not to mention school events, parties, and Christmas plays for the kids.  RaeBelle is playing Cindy Lou Who in her school’s production of The Grinch.  We, like you I am sure, are rather busy this holiday.

For me, it seems there are dozens of times this season that call for a loaf of my sourdough bread.  This dinner, that party, a gathering of friends, a celebration at work, a thank you gift, or just because we need some for home, I have been making a lot of bread lately.  I do not really mind, but, sometimes what I choose to do as a hobby can begin to seem like work.

Making bread seems to fit Christmas time.  It is my way of giving a little of myself.  I am not a gifted artist or craftsman, as are some, but I can do some things with barbeque and sourdough that please people, and that is rewarding.  It seems to go deeper than that during this time of year.  As I have my hands in the sourdough this season, I keep hearing two phrases, both spoken by our Lord Jesus, whose birth we celebrate.  One, when hungry and tempted by Satan to change stones into bread, Jesus replied, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4, and quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3)  The other, the day after feeding 5,000 men (and the women and children that were also gathered but  unnumbered) with only five loaves of bread and two small fish, Jesus taught those who came seeking more of the miraculous food, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” (John 6:35)  Note, this is the first of seven instances recorded in John where Jesus says, “I AM”.

What was bread to the Jews of Jesus’ time?  The two accounts mentioned above, as well as in the Lord’s model prayer when He petitions His Father to “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11), tell me bread was key to their very survival.  Middle Eastern bread in the time of Jesus was probably much like we think of Middle Eastern bread today – small, flat or flat-ish leavened bread with no fats.  Grains are the basis of the Middle Eastern diet, and bread has always been a staple of every meal.  Given the composition of the bread and the generally arid climate of the region, the bread would become stale and hard after only one day.  The baker would save a small portion of dough from the previous day to place in the dough of today to supply the leavening necessary to make the bread lighter and tastier.  The naturally occurring yeasts present in that dough could not live much more than a day in that environment.    Consequently, baking bread, and seeking that bread, was a daily necessity.

The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels.  After He filled their stomachs for the day, Jesus chose to withdraw from the multitudes, perceiving they wanted to take Him and make Him king (John 6:15).  Not only did they truly see Jesus as “the Prophet who is to come into the world”, they liked that He could feed them.  Leaving there, Jesus retired to the mountains to be alone.  His disciples went down to the Sea of Galilee to take a boat across to Capernaum.  The winds came up and rowing became difficult.  At that time, the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water and received Him into their little boat, which then immediately arrived at its destination.  The next morning, the crowds sought Jesus.  Not finding Him at His previous location, they followed Him to Capernaum.

Once there, Jesus rightly perceived the crowd followed not for His teaching, but for the bread He could provide.  The Lord explained they should not seek the bread which perishes, “but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you”.  (John 6:27)  Looking for a sign that they might believe, the people reminded Jesus that their fathers ate manna from heaven (hint, hint).  It was then Jesus hit them with the “I AM the bread of life” statement.  Saying  He was the I AM come from heaven caused the people to grumble, for they knew His earthly family, and could neither understand nor accept His teaching that He was of His heavenly Father.  By demonstrating His ability to attract and excite a multitude, then rejecting the crowd’s desires for bread, and for claiming the title of I AM, Jesus put into motion the attitude among the Jews that would one day lead to His crucifixion.

As you enjoy your Christmas celebrations, including, I hope, filling up on some good bread, remember that we are celebrating the birth of the I AM who is the bread of life.

-Hudd-

 

Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek in Branson, Missouri, An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People

www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com