On Imperfection

Fellowship at Cross Creek is known as the “Imperfect Church for Imperfect People”.   Since our days at the corner of Highway 76 and T Highway (aka, Long Beach Road), our name may not be familiar to many in the greater Branson area, but if you mention our tag line of the Imperfect Church, most people say, “Oh, yeah, I know that church.”

Branding can be very powerful.  Words like Coke, Kleenex, Band-Aid, Crayola, and Google are much more than just names of companies or products, some brand names become synonyms for the product or service they provide.  Slogans can be just as powerful.  “It Takes a Licking, and Keeps on Ticking.”  “Where’s the beef?”  “The Other White Meat.” “Just Do It.”  I do not have to mention the brand names associated with these famous marketing slogans.

Sometimes, branding is intended for internal audiences.  “Quality is Job One” was first used to remind Ford workers of the need to reverse decades of increasing manufacturing defects.  Nothing happens at Silver Dollar City that cannot pass the standard of “Making Memories Worth Repeating”.

An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People is directed to and serves as a reminder for the people at Fellowship that neither we nor our church align perfectly with God’s will.  It is a recognition that we live in a fallen, degraded world.  Perfection existed in the beginning, just as God intended His creation to be.  But, sin introduced imperfection into the world, and the world and everyone in it (with One notable exception) has been flawed ever since.  Dealing with the margin between perfection and imperfection is the basis for discipling fellow believers, as we seek to shift that line closer and closer to Christ-like perfection.

The concept of being perfect, as used in the New Testament, can mean something other than without flaw or blemish.  Often, the word used is to indicate completion or wholeness, and has reference to the world of craftsmen.  A true craftsman would not consider his work to be finished until he had perfected his creation, removing or correcting any flaws or imperfections he could see.

Being an imperfect church for imperfect people in an imperfect world does not give us license to remain imperfect, or at least as imperfect as we are today.  The purpose of Fellowship is “to create the biblical, Spiritual environment that encourages Christ-like Spiritual birth, growth and maturity”.  Becoming Christ-like is our mission on earth.  The precious blood of Jesus Christ has cleansed me from my sins, and makes me pure in the sight of God.  It is through Christ’s righteousness that I am sanctified.  But, that should never be the end of it.  Maturing means I am to continually become more like Christ and His perfection.  We, as individuals or as a church, are not to remain in this imperfect state.  Paul teaches in Romans 8:20-22:

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”

God did not create you and me, neither did Christ establish His church, to be imperfect.  It is in this tension between corruption and perfection that we and Fellowship at Cross Creek (as all other New Testament churches) suffer and groan against the bondage of imperfection.

As we studied in our home church this week, to be Christ-like calls upon us to become fully human – that is, as human as God created us to be, and as perfectly human as Jesus of Nazareth lived His life.  OK, we are not going to live in absolute perfection.  I get that.  But, we are called to perfection, in our personal lives and as a church.  Toward that end, we can be so much more.  More than well intentioned.  More than settling for the comfort of expected and accepted imperfection.

We are Fellowship at Cross Creek, An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People, and I am happy to be a part of that.  That is our brand.  I just do not want to be content to remain so.

-Hudd-

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

www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

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

 

A Biblical Worldview

The central question from our Home Church study this week was a question Jesus asked His disciples: Who do people say that I am?

When asked, even today, most Americans will say they believe in God. What does that really mean? Depending upon whom you ask, and their associated worldview, you will likely get a wide variety of answers. George Barna of the Barna Research Group asked people about their worldview based upon principles found in the Bible.

A “biblical worldview” was defined as: Believing that absolute moral truth exists; the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches; Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.

In the research, anyone who held all of those beliefs was said to have a biblical worldview, and the results are interesting. Of the Americans surveyed, 9% answered that they shared each of these views. Surprisingly, among those who self-identified as “born-again” Christians, that figure goes up to just 19%; less than one in five.

We can break down these numbers further. One-third of all adults (34%) believe that moral truth is absolute and unaffected by the circumstances. Slightly less than half of the born again adults (46%) believe in absolute moral truth. Half of all adults firmly believe that the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches, compared to four-fifths of born again adults (79%) who concur. Just one-quarter of adults (27%) are convinced that Satan is a real force, while even a minority of born again adults (40%) adopt that perspective. Similarly, only one-quarter of adults (28%) believe that it is impossible for someone to earn their way into Heaven through good behavior. Not quite half of all born again Christians (47%) strongly reject the notion of earning salvation through their deeds.

Why do these numbers matter? The non-biblical worldview does not just exist in some theorem or in a vacuum. We who share a truly biblical worldview are getting constantly lashed on through television, film, music, newspapers, magazines, books, and universities. Just a few decades ago, the bulk of media and academia promoted views more closely aligned with those having a biblical worldview.

Deviation from those views was seen as being outside the norm. Beginning in the 1960s, the roles played by the media and academia began to change. We were compelled by messages in our movies, books, television, and classrooms to question everything. We used to giggle that married couples on TV in the 1950s and early 60s slept in separate beds. Back then, broadcasting over the commonly held airwaves was seen as a public trust. Part of upholding that trust, as naive and parochial as this sounds today, was promoting morality and family values through their programming (think Leave it to Beaver, not Modern Family). Other forms of media held similar views of serving their patrons as a public trust. Showing people as base, selfish, and socially predatory began in earnest during the anti-establishment movement of the latter 1960s and the 70s. From then until this very day, pushing the envelope of social acceptability has been the practice of the media – to heck with morality and family values.

Led by the disengaged-from-morality media, Americans, including many this survey tagged as born again, have slid down that slippery slope, arriving at philosophical and theological positions they (and their parents or grandparents) would never have even conceived a generation ago. Positions where so-called “mainline Christian” denominations now plainly contradict biblical teachings, ordaining open homosexuals as pastors and performing same-sex marriage services. Is there any wonder that six out of ten born again Christians do not believe there is a great deceiver known as the devil?

We live in a selfish, fallen world. Seductively, these ideas appeal to the desires of our flesh, and we often end up incorporating them into our personal worldview. Sadly, we do this without even knowing it. If we do not really believe the truth of God and live it, then our witness, like these misguided denominations, will be confusing and misleading. Most of us go through life not recognizing that our personal views have been deeply affected by the world. Through the media and other influences, the secularized American view of history, law, politics, science, art, God, and man affects our thinking more than we realize. We are taken “captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

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One of my favorite songs from Sunday School days was This Little Light of Mine. We need to let our light shine into this dark and fallen world. The light we shine may provide the illumination needed to positively enhance the worldview of those around us, as Paul instructs in Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” In this manner, when we are asked, “Who do you say that I am?”, each of us will have a ready, biblically centered answer.

~ Hudd ~

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

www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

Ex Uno, Plures

There is an iconic statue in the harbor of New York City. At the base of Lady Liberty are these words:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

These famous words did not come with the Statue of Liberty, which was, itself, a gift of the people of France. The words were taken from a sonnet, entitled New Collossus and penned by Emma Lazarus, and was written as part of the fundraising efforts to build the pedestal upon which the Lady stands. The famous words were added to the base twenty years after she had written them for an auction intended to raise the necessary funds.

The de facto motto of the United States is the Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One. This thirteen character phrase was first suggested during the Revolutionary War, and was adopted by act of Congress in 1803. The thirteen characters represent the thirteen colonies that joined together to form one nation. From many (13), one. Over the years, the motto also came to represent the union of so many people who immigrated from all corners of the earth, and came to America in search of freedom and opportunity. They came looking for the American way of life. From the many, they became one. This phrase is still the motto of the Great Seal of the United States, but its place as the U.S. motto was officially taken by “In God We Trust” upon its formal adoption in 1956.

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I am not sure that there ever was a time when there truly was an American way of life, though it surely seemed to be true. Maybe then, the depiction of an American way of life was more a creation of the media of the day, rather than an accurate account of the condition. Maybe Harper’s Bazaar and Horatio Alger wrote of an America they hoped for, an idealized version of a society, economy, and political system that existed only in the imagination. But, I do not think so. They may have accentuated the positives, but I believe there was a collective belief in an American ideal, a land of opportunity for those willing to work for it. Read the accounts of Alexis de Tocqueville, French diplomat and historian who toured early-day America and wrote his famous work Democracy in America in 1835. Here he depicts an America, devoid of the shackles of class and patronage found in Europe, alive with commerce and liberty for all. It was a land for the rugged individual, and not for the privileged few from the right families. It was a nation of unity. E pluribus unum.

Fast forward to today. Today, to claim that there is one, single American way is to deny the diversity of the new American culture. To say that we are to make ourselves one from the many we were is to stifle the desires of those who feel victimized and left behind by what they view as the oppression of the American way. They do not view an America of opportunity, united in heart and purpose. They propose a dis-united America where factions that are opposed to the American way of life are not only allowed, but supported, celebrated, and advanced as totally acceptable alternatives, if not wholly superior.

Americans used to think more unitarily about our nation and our culture. We shared a vision of what our country should be. We thought more didactically, believing there was a right view, and one that was wrong. And, we were not afraid of declaring something that rested outside our shared view of America as it should be as something that was wrong. Today, that way of thinking is about gone. Today, we are to think in terms of plurality – not embracing the singular American way, but promoting the value in the many and diverse ways of life rampant in our country today. To declare there is a singular, unitary understanding of the American way, which we once knew to be true, is now considered exclusionary, hateful, and bigoted. The same is true of religion. Today, my religion and my god can be no better than others’ religion and god, or gods, or their belief in no religion and no god at all.

Sometimes, telling someone what they need to know and understand, and not what they want to hear, is the higher form of love, not hate-speech as so many are wont to accuse others with differing opinions. Our kids want us to tell them it is fine for them to stay out after curfew, but because we love them we tell them when to be home. It is not hateful to say that coming home anytime after the time expected is excluded from that which is good. Being exclusionary is not inherently bad.

Well, at the risk of being branded a bigot and a hater, I declare these exclusionary truths: We live in the greatest country on earth; one which affords its residents the best opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This nation was founded by men who recognized the dignity of every human being derived from his creation in the image of God, and with that came certain unalienable rights (yes, I know the dignity afforded some members of society did not always match this declaration). Further, it is an exclusionary truth that man was created by God alone. We are a sinful creature who is justified by faith in God alone, which is made possible through Christ alone by His grace alone, and for God’s glory, alone, as revealed through His scripture, alone. There is no other source of truth. It is singular and must b be unifying in its truth, or it cannot be true at all. This truth, much like the understanding and belief in a unified view of the American way, is what unites the many into one. To believe otherwise would amount to ex uno, plures (from one, many).

~ Hudd ~

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

www.fellowshipatcrosscreek.com

Pride and Destruction

We were talking in Home Church the other evening about how those of us in Western culture tend to try to hide our feelings. We are all products of our environment. Many are of cultures where one is taught to be expressive of emotions, but most Americans are more reserved. Much of our New World culture comes directly from Great Britain. It has been engrained in the British for several generations to “keep a stiff upper lip” and do not let others see your true emotions. God created us to have emotions, and most of the people in the world openly express their feelings, but not most of “us”. We are more stoic. We are the rugged individuals. John Wayne did not cry. Edmund Muskie did in 1972, and it cost him a chance to become the Democratic nominee for President (he had been leading in the polls up until the day he delivered an emotional defense of his wife, who had been the subject of a hit piece in The Rolling Stone).

I have been one of the most reserved people anyone would know; always very controlling of the image I projected. In fact, I was so bad about showing my feelings that some very loving friends confronted me about it. They helped me to see that my reserved behavior was linked to two critical flaws in my emotional development: relational insecurity, and excessive pride. The first thing I learned from this intervention was just how much friends must love me to nail my hide to the wall like that (see Proverbs 26:6). Am I better for having gone through this revealing confrontation? I think so. Those who know me well will probably say I still have a ways to go, especially concerning my issues with pride.

Some of the greatest theological thinkers of all time lay the root of sin at the base of pride. Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Edwards, and others wrote of pride leading to destruction. In his wonderful book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote:

According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison. It was through pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-God state of mind. It is pride that has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.

Pride led to Satan being cast out of heaven. Pride led him to the deception of God’s highest creation – man. It was the pride of Adam and Eve that the devil appealed to, that cemented their separation from God. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Proverbs 16:18).

 

Pride also affects religious people. Spiritual leaders throughout the history of the church have seen it as a great plague and tool of the devil. In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells us the well-known story of the self-righteous Pharisee and the much-despised Tax Collector, both of whom went into the temple to pray. The Pharisee proceeds to commend himself to God because of his careful observance of the law and to look down with scornful contempt on the sinful tax collector. “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” Notice in his prayer that his focus is not really on God at all, but on his own self-perceived goodness, and how bad others are. Here we see pride wrapped in the cloak of religion, giving religion a bad name. The tax collector is so painfully aware of his sins and unworthiness before God that he cannot even lift his eyes as he stands in the back of the temple, far from the altar. Pounding his breast in sorrowful contrition over his sins, he can manage only the desperate plea, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” His focus is very much on his own sins, not the sins of others, and especially on his need for God’s mercy. Jesus says that God answered the tax collector’s prayer, not the Pharisee’s. Then he concludes with his main point: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

What might be hindering your journey across the bridge of spiritual maturity toward becoming Christ-like? For me and for many others throughout the entire history of man, it is pride. So, when you see my pride beginning to show through and impede my way, be a friend.

~ Hudd ~

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

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 ~

Kevin 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