Weekly Photo Challenge: Twinkle

IMGP1083As we celebrate Advent, our church’s 12-foot Christmas tree stands on the platform beside the Cross. The tree that celebrates the birth of the Christ-child, its twinkling lights representing the Light of the World, is in stark contrast to the representation of the instrument of death upon which the Savior surrendered His life in the work of salvation.

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IMGP1084While not going into the explicit details of the Gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, the Apostle Paul, nevertheless, speaks of the humble birth of Jesus Christ, His selfless life, His sacrificial death and His ascension on high:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:5-11 (NASB)

Speaking of the glory of eternity, the Apostle John recorded his revelation from God – a preview of the Second Advent and beyond. The glory of eternity will be such that there will be no night and the light of God’s presence will be the only illumination that will be needed for believers.

There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:3-5 (NASB)

Thus, every twinkle of a Christmas light serves as a reminder of not only the first Advent but of the one yet to come.

Check out more examples of “twinkle” HERE.

The Church “Stand and Greet” Time

members_6997cnIn my church tradition (Southern Baptist Convention), the welcome time has always been incorporated into the worship service. It varies from church to church, but it is typically a time when members and guests stand and offer and hand-shake and a word of welcome.

In a recent post, Thom Rainer, a denominational leader, reported the results of an informal Twitter poll of first-time church guests and what factors made them decide not to return. Surprisingly, the “stand and greet” time was the number one reason. He found:

1. Many guests are introverts. “I would rather have a root canal than be subjected to a stand and greet time.”

2. Some guests perceive the members are not sincere during the time of greeting. “In most of the churches it should be called a stand and fake it time. The members weren’t friendly at all except for ninety seconds.”

3. Many guests don’t like the lack of hygiene that takes place during this time. “Look, I’m not a germaphobe, but that guy wiped his nose right before he shook my hand.”

4. Many times the members only greet other members. “I went to one church where no one spoke to me the entire time of greeting. I could tell they were speaking to people they already knew.”

5. Both members and guests at some churches perceive the entire exercise as awkward. “Nowhere except churches do we have times that are so awkward and artificial. If members are going to be friendly, they would be friendly at other times as well. They’re not.”

6. In some churches, the people in the congregation are told to say something silly to one another. “So the pastor told us to tell someone near us that they are good looking. I couldn’t find anyone who fit that description, so I left and didn’t go back.”

7. Not only do some guests dread the stand and greet time, so do some members. “I visited the church and went through the ritual of standing and greeting, but many of the members looked just as uncomfortable as I was. We were all doing a required activity that none of us liked.”

Rainer admits that there were strong feelings on both sides of the question about the practice’s helpfulness in reaching guests. He summed it up by saying churches must considering its place in their local context.

I decided to do my own informal poll on Facebook and found a similar mix of responses. From germaphobes to introverts, a few tried to avoid it. It saddened me to hear from one that said it was partly the reason she stopped coming to church. Curiously, those who most vehemently objected to the exercise came from outside our region of the country. Those associated with our church who are not members left comments like:

I like to meet and greet and sure it can be a little intimidating at first but it helps you to get out there and get to know those around you. Otherwise we’d all be caught in our own little shells.

I like it! When your new to the church, people notice and make you feel welcome.

My thoughts:

  1. The church is all about creating healthy relationships – with God and others. When people see a church that has genuine care and concern for others, it is appealing. I have had multiple conversations with people who were considering coming to our church and I’ve stepped them through the “what to expect” list. When I mention the greeting time, they’ve not been put off and have even mentioned that their own church was so cold that no one spoke to them AT ALL! I would much rather err on the side of a friendly greeting time.
  2. We must be considerate of those who are uncomfortable and not expect everyone to fit our mold. We have several in our body who don’t like hugs. I respect that and don’t force myself on them.
  3. I shake hands with more people than anyone else on Sunday…I am germ conscious and have probably gotten a few colds through this practice. But, we encourage “fist bumps” in flu season and keep a large jug of sanitizer at the welcome center.
  4. A forced and contrived greeting time (except on Easter – “He has risen…He has risen, indeed”) has never been our practice. I object to being told to repeat something and insincere greetings are obvious.
  5. It saddens me to hear that people would not come because of the “howdy-do” time. However, as one respondent related, it may be the most affirming moment some have during their week. As Christians, we are called to move beyond our own wants and needs and consider the needs of others (Philippians 2:4 – Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.). A widow in my last church said the thing she missed most after the death of her husband was no longer having hugs. We made sure she got those hugs after hearing that. Even if you don’t like the “stand and greet” time, someone around you may need that greeting, hand shake, hug, fist bump…think about what someone else may need in the moment.

I believe churches must always evaluate their methods of conveying the love of God in their context. In rural Iowa, despite some who are uncomfortable with the practice, it still seems to work.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Extra, Extra

The “Honey Moon” was visible in the Northern Hemisphere on Friday the 13th.The name comes not from the traditional wedding month, but from the moon’s yellow tone as it seen through more atmosphere, traveling a path closer to the horizon in opposition to the sun’s higher path as the summer solstice approaches. Because my amateur photography is characterized by a lot of trial and error, I was searching for moon photography tips online. I discovered this site and app, The Photographer’s Ephemeris. It allowed me to add the extra, extra for which I was looking. While the full moon was beautiful in its own right (extra), I was wanting the moon’s reflection in water (EXTRA, EXTRA).

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The app gives the times of sun/moon rises and settings, as well as the coordinates of each with a compass feature. Knowing the angle of the moonrise, the app enabled me to do a map search on my phone of various lakes in my area to find a place to set up for the shot with the most water in the foreground.

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The TPE app will prove to be very valuable in calculating sunrise/set pictures, as well. Check out the video to see some of the additional features.

There are few things in the visible, celestial realm as enthralling as a full moon. To think that it has no light of its own but is just a reflection of the sun brings to mind so many spiritual applications. The example that I like the most has to do with Jesus’ words to His followers that we are to let our lights shine.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:14-16 (HCSB)

As followers of Christ, we have no natural spiritual light but only a reflective light of the glory of God in our lives. When we are living fully in His grace and under the control of the Holy Spirit, we are motivated to show His loving kindness to others. They see our good works and begin to get a picture of God’s love for them as we radiate a bright reflection of Him.

However, just as the earth begins to cast its shadow on the moon, eclipsing and even blocking out the sun’s reflective light on the moon, worldliness in the life of a Christian diminishes the reflected glory of God in our lives. The less of Christ the world sees in His followers, the more unlikely they are to grasp the glory of God.

May the full moon be a reminder to you, follower of the way, to shine brightly the way for others!

Click HERE for more examples of “Extra, Extra.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring

Spring is something to be celebrated, especially for those who live in the Mid-west. After a long Winter, it’s time to plant and start the labor that leads to the fruit of the harvest. One Iowa town’s Spring festival highlights its Dutch heritage. In the first weekend of May, Pella, Iowa, hosts the Tulip Time Festival. It was a perfect fit for this week’s challenge!

With the unpredictability of Iowa weather, the tulips are not always in full bloom by the first of May, and last year’s event saw snow! So, we were grateful to enjoy a the beautiful blooms of Tulip Time.

While we enjoy the beauty of Spring and it’s blossoms, I am reminded how quickly it passes. And, so do our lives. However, there is one thing that never fades…God’s word! The first century disciple of Christ and apostle, Peter, wrote that having heard and believed in Jesus, His followers lives would be transformed by obedience to the truth the imperishable word of God:

23 since you have been born again—not of perishable seed but of imperishable—through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like a flower of the grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word that was preached as the gospel to you. – 1 Peter 1:23-25

To say that the word of the Lord endures forever means that its message continues to be relevant to every generation and every culture. Other descriptions in the Bible speak of the living and active nature of God’s word, so that it has a dynamic nature to radically transform people that no other written material has (Hebrews 4:12). It is inspired (literally, God-breathed) and brings about teaching, rebuke, correction and training in right-living (2 Timothy 3:16-17). One anonymous writing found in the flyleaf of a Bible sums up the importance of God’s word, the Bible:

  • THIS BOOK contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners and the happiness of believers.
  • Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable.
  • Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe and practice it to be holy.
  • It contains light to direct you, food to support you and comfort to cheer you.
  • It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword and the Christian’s character.
  • Here paradise is restored, heaven opened and the gates of hell disclosed.
  • Christ is its grand object, our good is its design and the glory of God its end.
  • It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet.
  • Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully.
  • It is given you in life and will be opened in the judgment and will be remembered forever.
  • It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labour, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.”

May you enjoy the beauty of this Spring, but seek after that which truly and eternally endures: the word of the Lord. Its words can transform you life!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

For this week’s photo challenge, show us abandoned. You can go literal, as I have, and share a photo of ruins, a desolate place, or your idea of a wasteland. - Cheri

“Forsaken”

Abandoned farmhouse

Cries out in silent complaint

“Why did you leave me?”

Perhaps the most distressing words in the crucifixion of Christ were “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 37:46, KJV). This cry of anguish by the Savior, the same words of the David in Psalm 22:1, have caused theological debate over the type of abandonment Jesus suffered on the Cross. To me, John MacArthur sums it up well:

There is no way to explain it. Maybe we’re helped a little bit to understand that even in His incarnation there was a separation. Did you know that? Because in John 17:5 He says, “Father, Father, return Me to the glory I had with You before the world began.” So there was some kind of relationship that He had before his incarnation that He wanted back. So in the incarnation there was some degree of separation and now in his sin-bearing death there is another degree of separation. He is separated from God. [1]

Whatever it meant for Jesus to be forsaken, His death on the cross secured salvation for those who believe in Him and who abandon themselves to His lordship, so that mankind no longer has to feel separated and alienated from God. In Jesus’ final “marching orders” to the disciples, He promised, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20, KJV), never to be abandoned again!

1. From John MacArthur’s sermon “A Closer Look at the Cross.”

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: An Unusual POV

Challenge: Go out and take photos and share a shot that reveals a new and different POV.

I have made mention of our family’s afternoon gatherings for sunsets when we are at the beach. However, sunrises are a different story! My wife loves being the first one out to see the sunrise and find shells that might have washed up overnight, but she is often solitary in that venture. Occasionally, I tag along with camera. On one such morning, I found this coconut that had washed up…not a normal sight on the section of beach we frequent.

IMG_0054As I lay on the ground, an early morning jogger came by, took a quick glance, and continued on his way. While not necessarily trying to capture his passing, these three photos in the slide show do:

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As this jogger ran by what I thought was an unusual, “stop and smell the roses” moment, it reminded be that our personal POV drives us: mine – wanting to find something that was photo worthy; his – staying in shape. Our “point of view” means everything to us and often directs the focus of our day. For example, if our point of view is that we must be physically fit, it will motivate us to get up early and pound the pavement (or beach) and watch what we eat. If we have a passion for a political ideology, we will immerse ourselves in the latest news, attend Town Hall meetings and voice our opinions on everything political. Unfortunately, our POV often causes us to give passing glances at the really important things of life.

However, God calls us to have a balanced and overarching spiritual perspective on life, seeing it through a “God lens.” This POV is often seen as “unusual” in our day and time, just as it was in Jesus’ day. In fact, when asked why he spoke in parables (spiritual truths wrapped in everyday life stories), Jesus said it was to help his listeners to have a perspectives that were unique in comparison to the ones taught by their religious leaders. However, even their lack of spiritual insight into his parables was foretold in Old Testament prophecy:

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ [Isaiah 6:9-10]

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. (Matthew 13:14-16, NIV)

The disciples’ eyes and ears, however, were blessed as they began to perceive the message of Christ. Because they were “all in” with Jesus, having made the decision to follow him, they began to see the world through the “God lens.” As a result their POV shifted from selfish to selfless, from temporal to eternal, from religion to relationship. Having this new, and unusual (to the world) POV, transforms everything we see!

When in Doubt, Don’t!

We’ve all done it…the sniff test. Whether it’s the jug of milk a day or two beyond expiration date or that previously worn shirt, a quick sniff tells us if were “good to go” or should make another plan. However, sometimes we’re just not sure.

H.A. Ironside told the following story:

Sandy was a thrifty Scot who objected to needless laundry expense, so when he wore a dress shirt to a banquet, he put it away carefully for future use. On one occasion when dressing for such an event, he took a used shirt out of the drawer and examined it with care, hoping to be able to wear it that evening. Not being quite sure of its strict cleanliness, he took it to a window, where he was looking it over under a better light than the room afforded.

His wife, Jean, noticed him shaking his head as though fearful that it would not pass careful scrutiny. “Remember, Sandy,” she called to him, “if it’s doubtful, it’s dirty.”

That settled it. The shirt went into the discard and another – a fresh one – took its place. Jean’s words may well speak to every believer concerning things about which conscience raises any question whatsoever. – Illustrations of Bible Truth

In Romans 14, Paul is advising the church on how to relate to one another in areas in which the Bible give no clear instruction. In those areas we are to exercise freedom, but not judge others who don’t share our convictions. Paul says:

20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. 22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.                                              (Romans 14:20-23 NASB)

Paul affirms that the Christian life is not as burdensome as some legalistic followers were making it in his day. However, one’s freedom is sometimes set aside for the benefit of a weaker brother, whose differing conviction in a debatable area is such that your freedom may sidetrack them.

IMGP6293In the end, however, it is important to have our “own conviction before God.” If we are doubtful about a matter and we do it, then that doubt turns into guilt (the conscience condemning our action). So, when in doubt, don’t. In other words, if you don’t have a firm conviction, avoid the activity until you get some conviction on the matter. Then, stick with that conviction.

So, here is a sniff test to apply to those debatable areas of the Christian life. When something comes up that is not clearly spoken of in Scripture, put it to the test:

  1. THE WORLD TEST. Is it worldly? Will it make me worldly to do it (John 15:19; 1 John 2:15-17)
  2. THE QUALITY TEST. Is it good for me physically, emotionally, and spiritually (Romans 12:9)
  3. THE TEMPLE TEST. Can I do it when I remember my body is God’s temple and must not be marred or misused (1 Corinthians 6:19)
  4. THE GLORY TEST. Will it glorify my Lord, or will it on the other hand possibly bring shame to His name (1 Corinthians 6:20, 10:32)
  5. THE BLESSING TEST. Can I honestly ask God’s blessing on it and be sure I’ll not regret doing it (Proverbs 10:22, Romans 15:29)
  6. THE REPUTATION TEST. Is it apt to damage my testimony for the Lord (Philippians 2:15)
  7. THE CONSIDERATION TEST. Am I being considerate of others and the effect this might have on them (Romans 14:7, 21)
  8. THE APPEARANCE TEST. Will it look bad? Does it have the appearance of what is wrong or suspicious (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
  9. THE WEIGHT TEST. Could this slacken or sidetrack me in running the Christian race (Hebrews 12:1, 1 Corinthians 9:24)
  10. THE COMING OF CHRIST TEST. Would I be ashamed to be found doing this when He comes again (1 John 2:28)
  11. THE COMPANION TEST. Can I invite Christ to go with me and participate with me in this (Matthew 28:20b, Colossians 3:17)
  12. THE PEACE TEST. After having prayed about it, do I have perfect peace about doing it (Colossians 3:15a, Philippians 4:6-7)*

*Taken from Basic Bible Beliefs, Bible Baptist Church, Auburn, WA, 1975, unpublished. From Training Manual for Local Church Visitation, Eugene A. Wood, DTS, ThM Thesis, 1980.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Focus

Weekly Photo Challenge: Focus by Cheri Lucas Rowlands on August 23, 2013

For this challenge, get out there and take a picture demonstrating the concept of focus. 

  • Snap a photo of something or someone in focus, against a blurred background.
  • Share a panorama or landscape in sharp focus, in which you can see details far away.
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Shallow depth of field – corn stalks in the foreground

I live in an agricultural area with corn and soybean fields almost within a stones throw of my home. One of my church members, who sells crop insurance, recently asked me to take a few pictures of corn for his website. The scene, just down the road from my church featured a seed company’s test plots with the local grain elevator in the background.

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Greater depth of field – Grain Elevator in focus

Thanks for coming by to see my photographic take on “focus.”

Now let me give a spiritual take on the topic. As harvest is just around the corner, and the grain elevators will have semi-trucks lined up to store the farmers’ bounty, I think of Jesus’ parable (Luke 12:13-21) of a rich farmer who had a great harvest. He decided to build bigger barns and to selfishly live off of the fruits of his labor “for many years” with no concern for God and others (the repeated use of the pronouns “I” and “my” give evidence of his self-ward focus). The Father’s response was:

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be?’ 21 “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:20-21 (HCSB)

At times, it is difficult for us to have anything other than a self-ward focus – a shallow depth of field – especially in the midst of life’s difficulties. However, we must remember the temporary nature of this life and focus on the greater depth of field – the eternal.

These green fields will soon be reduced to the rubble of decaying stalks – in the same way we see our earthly bodies deteriorate over time. However, if our focus is toward God’s call and obedience to His purposes, we will be accumulating treasure in heaven.

16 Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

So, is your life focus on a shallow depth of field (selfish) or a greater depth of field (eternal)?

The Seasons of Life

I started this blog primarily for my church members, giving some extra “points to ponder” from the previous Sunday’s message. My commitment to a weekly post has waned somewhat due to other responsibilities, but I’m sure I’ll get back to some normality and better use my time (I hope).

When setting up this blog in January of 2012, there were several immediate decisions – style, widgets and headers. I wanted the header picture to represent rural Iowa and not someone else’s stock photo. The photo that came to mind was taken on July 5, 2011, as we returned to Creston after celebrating the Fourth with our kids in Arkansas. About eleven miles east of Creston, we saw a beautiful sunset and found a little gravel road on which to turn and take a few pictures. The sunset pictures were not outstanding, but the Redwood Avenue picture with its dip and rise through the rolling hills of southern Iowa caught my attention. It captured the simple beauty of rural Iowa and a sense of the journey on which we find ourselves as Christian sojourners – with ups and downs in this life, but ultimately upward!

Redwood Ave, Rural Union Co. IA, July 5, 2011

Redwood Ave, Rural Union Co. IA, July 5, 2011

As the seasons began to change, I thought there was a need for a change in header, as well. While missing the opportunity to take a Spring picture in 2012, I remembered to get out in the Fall and capture this picture:

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA, September 28, 2012

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA, September 28, 2012

I almost let the Winter of 2012-13 slip away before I got the required snow-covered picture (little did I know that we would have snow on May 2).

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA - March 2, 2013

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA – March 2, 2013

The final piece of the four seasons of Redwood Avenue came a few weeks ago. While hoping to have a setting sun as in the other picture, I settled for an overcast evening to get this final shot:

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA - May 29, 2013

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA – May 29, 2013

After almost 19 years in Iowa, my appreciation for the unique character of the four seasons never diminishes. The cycle of life that God has programmed into His creation – from the sprouting forth of new life in Spring to the seeming cessation of life that comes in Winter – bring special blessings in every stage. Each season brings it own hardships and joys, much as every season of life.

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Catch the “Snow Wave” – December 20, 2012

As we go through each season of the year and life, we run the risk falling into one of two traps: focusing on the difficulties of the current season or longing for the joys of the next. In doing so, we fail to appreciate the unique benefits or growth opportunities found in the present moment. For instance, while I can be extremely weary of still shoveling snow in April, there is an incredible sense of wonder when you take the time to appreciate the quietness of snowfall, to look at the unique pattern of an individual snowflake or to see the unusual shapes of snow drifts.

Wild Phlox with Pentax K-x water color filter. (Spring 2013)

Wild Phlox with Pentax K-x water color filter. (Spring 2013)

While each season of life has its difficulties and disappointments, there is truth in the saying that “God never wastes a hurt.” It is important that we look for God’s grace (power) in that trial or hardship, which will in turn equip us to share that grace with a “fellow struggler” in the future.

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, HCSB)

Whether you find yourself as a single adult, wanting to be married, or a senior adult, struggling with the effects of old age, there is something in your current “season of life” to embrace that is exquisite and edifying. May we learn to live with the type of contentment the Apostle Paul expressed: “In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content” (Philippians 4:12, HCSB).

___________________________________________

YOUR RESPONSE:

What are some of the “happenings” in your stage of life that you have embraced for the good that God may have for you and others, even though it could be viewed by some as a hardship?

God often gives a verse from His Word that can be especially helpful during some of the difficult seasons of life. What is that verse for you and how did God use it?

“I Long to See You”

We don’t normally take a Spring vacation, but Myra and I took a couple of weeks off, beginning on “tax day.” Our chief aim was to “retrieve” my mother, Grace, who had landed in Richmond, Virginia, after spending almost two months visiting her four daughters and their families. Rather than make a straight trip to Virginia, however, I wanted Myra to see some parts of the country she has never seen. I had seen Niagara Falls and Cape Cod as a teenager with my parents, camping throughout the northeast, but Myra has never been to those locations.

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Niagara Falls, April 17, 2013

Traveling to Virginia via those points of interest gave us the perfect opportunity to see her brother, Rowe, who lives south of Boston (a city we planned to visit, but the Marathon bombing canceled that trip). With multiple health issues, including Parkinson’s disease, Rowe’s travel is limited, not even making it to his mother’s funeral in 2006. So, we determined that we needed to travel to him! It was a wonderful visit and good to renew connections with him, his wife and three children we had met and to finally meet the four children we had never seen in the flesh, since we had not seen Rowe in over 20 years.

I realize that it may seem foreign to many to think of never having met nieces and nephews or not seeing a sibling for so many years. However, circumstances sometimes necessitate that kind of physical separation. Though we have maintained communication with Rowe by phone, through mail and Facebook®, nothing beats the ability to shake hands, hug, and talk face to face.

Race Point Beach - Cape Code, April 20, 2013

Race Point Beach – Cape Code, April 20, 2013

Over the years, the nature of my vocation and the distance we are from family have limited our ability to spend time with our family. My side of the family was at one time spread out from Virginia to California. Only in recent years have we been able to gather annually in Florida, but even then we seldom see the entire extended family.

As I thought about our physical separation from family, the Apostle Paul’s desire for face to face encounters came to mind. In several letters, he expressed his intent and deep desire to visit those Christian brothers and sisters; some of whom he had personally discipled, but others with whom he had never spent “face time.” To the Romans, Paul said,

“For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11-12, NASB).

Paul’s face to face time with them was not only for their benefit; he needed it, as well!

Bruton Parish Church, Williamsburg, VA

Bruton Parish Church, Williamsburg, VA

I can honestly say that I miss the church family when I am away on vacation. I need the fellowship, worship and encouragement from God and my Crest Baptist family. We need the touch of the Christ-life that resides in each believer, and others, who may not even know they need it, must see the love that we have for one another, so they may see what they are missing.

Many of you are as regular as clockwork in your commitment to meet with the saints in worship and small groups. However, if you feel a twinge of guilt, take that as the prompting of the Holy Spirit and make some adjustments in your life to include regular face to face time with the saints.

YOUR RESPONSE:

  • Last Sunday, I preached from Romans 11:11-32. In that section, Paul said: “In view of the fact that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if I can somehow make my own people jealous and save some of them” (vv. 13-14). His goal in his ministry to the Gentiles was that it would result in unbelieving Jews being made jealous…jealous in the sense of wanting the relationship with God that the Gentiles now had. When you think of your relationship with God and His Body (the church), is it so attractive to unbelievers that they are brought to the point of jealousy, seeing your relationship as one they long to have, too? Or put another way as one commentator said it, “Are the Jews [unbelievers] we meet provoked to jealousy or just provoked?” [1]

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1. R. Kent Hughes, Romans – Righteousness from Heaven, 1991, Crossway, p. 197.