Saturday, August 27, 2016

All For One

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

-- Ephesians 4:4-6

When it comes to relationships, do you believe that opposites attract? Or is it more your experience that birds of a feather flock together?

For those in a relationship with God through Unityhis Son, Jesus Christ, the answer really is both. For example, one of the most reassuring truths revealed in the Bible is that God wants to be in a personal, loving relationship with us regardless of gender, race or nationality. It doesn't matter who you are, where you've been or what you've done. Everyone is welcome to accept God's free gift of forgiveness and live a changed life as a Christ-follower. Our past failures no longer matter and can be forgiven and forgotten. We can become new creations who are born again.

Meanwhile, opposites do attract in this spiritual relationship, and you can see that in action in just about any Bible-believing church. For example, at Velocity Church in Richmond, VA, we worship among fellow believers of different ages, political viewpoints and nationalities. And we also see things differently when it comes to sports. Some of us love the Redskins while others root for the Cowboys. There's also a healthy mix of fans supporting Virginia Tech, UVA, James Madison and VCU. 

"For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body," we read in 1 Corinthians, "whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink."

Indeed, for all of their differences, Christ-followers at Velocity and around the globe share at least one thing that unifies them--and sets them apart from all creation. It's their common, fervent belief in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. And it's this same distinction that helps us share the joys and overcome the struggles, disappointments and even tragedies that we all face along our unique faith-journeys.

As a diverse group of Christ-followers in a single, incredible relationship, we're by definition all for One. But what's more important is that we also know the One who's for us all.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Like Clockwork

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

-- 2 Corinthians 5:17

During the 1950's and 1960's more than half of the wristwatches sold in the United States were made by Timex. Officially known as U.S. Time, the company marketed its dependable timepieces in department stores and pharmacies from coast to coast. And it's no doubt that Timex's popular television commercials helped to drive sales. Sometimes appearing live and in prime time, the advertisements used extreme demonstrations to prove their product's toughness and reliability. Examples include a Timex watch strapped to a speedboat, abused by a wild gorilla, and run through a dishwasher. 

"It takes a licking and keeps on ticking!" Watchproclaimed long-time spokesman John Cameron Swayze. And sure enough, Timex watches usually did just that. 

Those old commercials can teach us about a vital characteristic of true Christ-followers: dependability. After all, what good is a watch if you can't rely on it? We should ask the same about ourselves if we claim Jesus as Lord and Savior. 

Our troubles won't suddenly disappear the moment we start following Christ. And we can't expect our faith-journeys to be smooth drives down Easy Street. In fact, our daily struggles may actually intensify because the devil sees us as a threat. We should count on hitting bumps along the road: 

"In this world you will have trouble," Jesus promises us. "But take heart! I have overcome the world." 

Unfortunately, too many would-be Christ-followers give up and turn away when the troubles of everyday life get too big. Instead of relying on the unlimited resources they could access as a child of God, they wither from the heat of trials and circumstances.  

Do you keep on ticking after taking a licking? Like those dependable wristwatches in the commercials, Christ-followers must live lives demonstrating reliability and toughness. Ours is a permanent, 24/7 identity--not simply a role that we play for an hour or two on Sundays and at weekly Gel Groups. Instead, Jesus tells us to take up our rugged cross. And then follow him.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Freed and Forgiven

But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

-- Psalm 130:4

"I never thought I'd be wearing this striped suit," admitted the young man as he addressed the crowded Naples, FL, high school gymnasium. "I was 10 feet tall and bulletproof."

The speaker was Eric Smallridge. But for the last several years, he's been known as Inmate P22679.

In May 2002, Eric drove drunk, lost control Freedomof his vehicle and collided with another vehicle driven by 20-year-old Meagan Napier. Meagan and her passenger, Lisa Dickson, were killed instantly. Eric was convicted of DUI manslaughter and sentenced to 22 years in prison.

Renee Napier--Meagan's mother--was devastated by the tragedy that so radically changed her entire existence and outlook on life. She described her tortured emotional state as "the wailing and crying that comes from the depths of your soul." To render good from such a seemingly senseless incident, Renee founded The Meagan Napier Foundation, where she has so far educated more than 100,000 people about the dangers of drunk driving. Her audiences include high-schoolers, church groups, college students, military personnel...and DUI offenders.

Her presentations were riveting. But Renee still felt that something--or perhaps someone--was missing. And that someone was inmate Eric Smallridge.

"I knew from the beginning that if I could have Eric with me, that would be very powerful," she explained to ABC News. And in 2010, Eric was given permission to accompany Renee during her presentations. A stipulation was that he was required to wear his prison shackles and jumpsuit.

Now almost 15 years since the accident, Renee says she still can't forget the moment she heard the awful news about her child's death. But she's been able to forgive. In fact, she's grown to love Eric and his family. And she's even lobbied to have Eric's prison sentence cut in half to help prevent him from leaving his incarceration with a hardened soul and a criminal mind.

"I could be very angry, hateful and bitter," Renee told a reporter. "But I didn't want to live my life that way. There was no way I could move on and live a happy life without forgiving Eric."

Ironically, we're often the ones who can find ourselves in chains when we need to forgive those who've offended us. It's in Matthew's Gospel that we read Jesus' parable about a man who received forgiveness for his own large debt, but was still stuck in a prison of anger. His wounded soul could not heal...and he was unable to release another's relatively small debt to him. As Christ-followers, we've all been forgiven of a lifetime's-worth of sin and shortcomings. So when we're hurt by others, let's seek him for the power to move us toward the freedom found only through a forgiven--and forgiving--heart.

"Make it a point not to be this guy," said Inmate P22679, referring to himself. "Don't reduce your life to shackles and chains."

Saturday, August 6, 2016

All Hands On Deck

He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers-all of them skilled workers and designers.

-- Exodus 35:35

One of the world's largest cruise ships, Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas, is 1,141 feet long and carries more than 4,900 guests. Its gourmet restaurants serve thousands of meals each day. And the ship's laundry cleans just as many towels, sheets and table linens.

Supporting this floating city are hundreds Cruise Shipof talented, hard-working crew members--all dedicated to making their guests' vacations as fun and memorable as possible. The ship's complement includes an army of stewards, cooks, mechanics and even daycare attendants--and that's not to mention everyone assigned to navigate the ship. From captain to cabin boy, every crew member has a critical role in helping their vessel sail effortlessly through both calm seas and choppy waters.

Like a full-service cruise ship, the church also needs dedicated people who work together toward a common goal. That's because we're much more than just a group of folks who meet on Sundays to listen to the pastor and sing along with the band. 

The Bible tells us that God has given every Christ-follower certain gifts, talents and resources for advancing his kingdom on Earth. Some are obvious--like singers and musicians leading worship with the band. Others relate to behind-the-scenes applications like bookkeepers and office managers who help the church use its resources wisely and efficiently. For every gift, talent and resource in the secular world, there's a corresponding application for strengthening the body of believers known collectively as The Church.

The first Christ-followers were a diverse crew from many walks of life. Some were fishermen, one was a tax collector and Jesus himself had carpentry skills. And when we fast-forward 2,000 years, the Savior still seeks those who are willing to represent him in our community and serve others with their God-given gifts, talents and resources.

"Come, follow me," Jesus once told fishermen Peter and Andrew, "and I will make you fishers of men."

If we're willing to follow the example of the first disciples and open ourselves to the great possibilities ahead, Jesus will no doubt use us to lead and strengthen his Church. It's when we all work together with a unity of purpose that community occurs and amazing things happen. So it's now up to you and me to respond to His simple--yet radical--invitation to join his crew.

Are you onboard? The Captain's call is for all hands on deck.