Today is the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy by Allied forces in World War 2. Thousands of men landed on the beaches of France in an effort to push back German forces and liberate France and eventually the rest of Europe. Each man who leaped out of a Higgins Boat that day had a major objective besides just trying to stay alive. The objective was to assault the German position high above the beach. Each man was not operating alone in this objective. Each unit had leadership in the form of Sergeants, 2nd Lieutenants and so on up the chain of command. The only way to accomplish the objective was to operate as a unit, each man following the commands of his officer, who in turn were following the commands of their officer all the way up the chain of command to General Eisenhower.

In any command structure, those in charge give the orders and the orders are obeyed. They have authority granted to them by a higher authority. A private does what a sergeant says because there is an officer above the sergeant ready to enforce that command. This command structure matters because in some cases during WW2, particularly at the D-Day invasion, units became separated from each other and in the aftermath, individuals and small groups of soldiers would attach themselves to other units and submit themselves to those commanding officers until they could be reunited with their original unit. They obeyed those officers because of their rank and authority.    

Jesus asks an important question of his disciples. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answers correctly with "You are the Christ (Messiah), the son of God." Peter recognized Jesus' authority. In the book of Mark, where we have been studying on Sundays, we see the author attempting to show is how Jesus is in authority. He overcomes temptation, he heals and in the middle of chapter 1 he calls his disciples to follow and they come without hesitation. Jesus has rank and authority. He calls us to follow and obey. The church has one commander, Jesus, and things work so much better when everyone is following him. We all get sidetracked at times, separated for a season from the people around us and we begin to follow other people and things. But they don't possess the authority of Jesus. Who are you following today?

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In my daily Bible reading I've been going through 2 Samuel. Most of 2 Samuel recounts the kingship of Israel's greatest King, David. David was an interesting man. He was brave, loyal and followed God closely. He made mistakes, certainly, but the theme of his life was faithfulness to God and when sin did come up he was quick to repent. If there was an area of David's life where he really blew it though, it was in being a father. The Bible presents him as being distant, inattentive and in at least two major instances, failing to discipline. Having just preached four weeks on marriages and child-rearing, the ideas I presented are still fresh in my mind and were coming back to me as I read David's struggles. Just to give you an idea of what was happening in David's family let me lay out the situation. (2 Samuel 13) David's son Amnon was smitten with his half sister Tamar. He desperately wanted her but it was more lust than love. So, on the advice of a cousin he tricked Tamar into coming to his house and preparing food for him. Once she was there Amnon sent away all of his servants so they would be alone and he raped Tamar. The bible says his love turned to hatred and he despised her and sent her away. This encounter in an of itself is a study in sin, temptation, lust and many other issues.

    I'm sure if this were your family you would intervene and deal with this grievous crime. The Bible says that David, "when he heard these things he was very angry but he would not punish his son Amnon because he loved him and since he was his firstborn." What could David possibly be thinking here? As if that were not bad enough, one of David's other sons, Absalom, Tamar's sister, was so angry that he killed his half-brother Amnon two years later as revenge. David mourned but did nothing to punish Absalom either! It's safe to say that David took a very hands-off approach to parenting. In fact, the Bible says nothing about who was actually parenting these kids. Clearly they had few boundaries, little discipline and almost no consistency.

    A few key thoughts come to mind:

As parents, it's always easier to slowly grant more freedom to our kids as they get older than to try and restrict them. - Start with firm boundaries that can slowly be widened. If you start with wide or no boundaries it's almost impossible to impose them.

Even though it's exhausting, every offense must be addressed. There can't be days that disrespect is ok and days that it's not. Days that instant obedience is expected and day's that it's not.

We must be consistent. Even though each of our kids is different, disobedience, disrespect or lying looks bad on all of them. One kid can't be allowed to disobey while the other is punished for it.

   Parenting is tough work at any age! King David left a fabulous legacy of obedience to God and in his psalm writing but his parenting is a glaring flaw in his otherwise stellar career. The good news is that wherever you are in your parenting, there is still time to improve. Understand though, that love alone is not enough. Love must be paired with discipline, consistency and boundaries.

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The Gospels are the first four books of the New Testament - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They each tell the story of Jesus from a slightly different perspective. Matthew writes to a Jewish audience who understands the Old Testament background of Jesus. This is why he quotes so many Old Testament writers to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. Luke writes as a chronicler, a recorder of events with great accuracy and detail. He wants to show Jesus as the perfect human and savior. John writes as a presentation to new believers and unbelievers to show them who Jesus is and why belief in him is the only way to eternal life. Mark writes to Christians in Rome, to help them understand what Jesus did, who he is and presents him as the suffering servant.

Mark writes about Jesus in a fast-paced, scene by scene style reminiscent of a screenplay. There isn't much in the way of explanation. Mark simply moves from one event in Jesus' life to another, showing the reader who Jesus is by his actions. As a church we are going to spend our summer in this book. We won't finish by the end of the summer however. We are taking our time exploring these small, but vivid snapshots of Jesus' life. For example, this Sunday we will look at just 8 verses at the start of Mark. The week after that, just 7 verses and after that, only 5. Each scene Mark presents has purpose, showing us something about our Savior or the people he was serving.

The key verse of Mark is 10:45: For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. This is the main theme of the book: Jesus as Servant. Jesus served us by going to the cross on our behalf. Many people will acknowledge that Jesus lived and died and that he was a wise teacher. Others will even call him a great spiritual leader. But these same people will deny that he was God in the flesh. They have a powerless belief similar to what Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:5, "a form of godliness but denying its power." Or they make Jesus into something he's not, similar to cults like Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons. When dealing with Jesus there is no middle ground. You either believe he was and is Almighty God made flesh or you don't.

In Mark 8 Jesus asks the question that every person must answer: Who do you say I am?" As you read and study Mark with me over the next several months it is my prayer that you will be able to confidently answer that question along with Peter, who said, "you are the Messiah, (the Christ, the annointed one)"

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One of the features of the recent trip Jody and took to Ireland was the daily sightseeing of natural wonders and ancient buildings and ruins. Each day was highly anticipated as we didn't know exactly what we would see and how it would affect us. At several locations we were enjoying cliffs or ocean vistas only to snap a picture and then move on to see things from a different angle. At one locale, the Cliffs of Moher, we walked a long path with other tourists that steadily climbed higher and higher. We were tempted to stop and head back to the visitor center but there was curiosity in us, spurring us on to wonder, "what does this place look like from higher up?" And so we climbed, ever higher, getting, not only a view of the cliffs but also of where we had already climbed. At one spot on the trail we had to circumvent a large muddy area. At first glance it looked like a huge mess that would take time to work around. Once we reached the pinnacle of the trail and looked back, that spot of mud looked insignificant and upon our descent, was much less intimidating than the first time we'd seen it.

What is valuable in sightseeing is also applicable and valuable in life. There is value in climbing steadily higher in our goals and aspirations, not only to see what's next but also to look back and see where we've been. For the Road, it's important that we look back at the last 9 years and realize all that God has done, the hurdles we have leaped, the struggles we have overcome and the muddy spots we've mucked our way through. But we must also look ahead to where we want to go and how far we must travel to get there.

In both campuses we have found permanent homes in buildings. We have stabilized in terms of attendance and finances. We have achieved goals we set in the past. But . . .

Now, it is time for a new season of exploration, challenge and vision. There is no time to rest or succumb to the idea that we have somehow arrived and can rely on our permanent community presence to reach the lost with the Gospel. We cannot be satisfied with our view from here. We must climb higher, seeking ever greater heights for the sake of Jesus Christ. It is time to set some goals that are IMPOSSIBLE without God's intervention.

There is no verse in the Bible that allows for retirement from God's work or that implies we ever arrive at a point of completion (at least in this life). I want each person at the Road to begin prayerfully considering how they will respond to the challenges coming in the next few months. "What challenges?," you may ask. As your pastor, I am still praying about these things and trying to ascertain all that God is leading us to do. So I can't specifically answer that yet, but what I do know, is that the Road is ready to push forward. Doing what God wants and opening the door for him to perform impossible feats does not come without sacrifice. I just read this morning the account of David facing Goliath (1 Samuel 17). We all know David won a massive victory that day through the power of God. But David also had to walk onto that battlefield willing to risk everything.

I am excited about where God is leading us. My prayer is that you will enthusiastically come along for the ride.

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I can say with all sincerity that I have loved being a dad. I know Jody feels the same way about being a mom. She loves it. Parenting has been the greatest challenge of my life, except for trying to submit my own issues and foolishness to the lordship of Jesus. When one realizes that God has entrusted little people to your care it is a responsibility that can easily overwhelm. Me and Jody had many questions before we had kids.

What if we completely screw them up?

What if we do everything wrong?

What if they grow up to be terrible human beings?

Or maybe that's the same question worded three ways. My point is that we were terrified to take on the responsibility of parenting and yet we were also excited.

We wanted to bring another person into the world and have the privilege of raising and teaching it to love Jesus. How can you be terrified and excited at the same time? I imagine it's similar to the feeling you have right before you ride that brand new roller coaster that's bigger, faster and longer than ever. On one hand you feel like you should just walk away and on the other you know that nothing will ever be quite like that experience.

All these thoughts and feelings are just based on the idea of having a child. Once the little one arrives, things kick up a notch. It is no longer a thought but a reality. I remember the first time I held each of my children. I never lost that sense of awe at holding a little person that God miraculously created in the womb, a unique combination of genetic material, creativity and design, representing the image of God in yet another individual. With each child, I always thought the first time I held them I might drop them so I held them gently, but firmly. How is it that we so immediately and strongly love someone we don't really know? All we know is that they are ours, a gift from another Parent who wants to share the joy of fathering and mothering.

As children grow, that feeling of love never departs but it is clouded by the frustration of dealing with a corrupt little sinner (see Romans 3:23!). We love without reservation but like is a negotiable term. As we train and discipline, correct and admonish we see the development of a person who might - could be - hopefully will be a person who loves Jesus. Fears of screwing them up become more real as we see the ways in which our children are as flawed as we are. Our kids are really just a magnification of all of our qualities, both good and bad. If you are frustrated with your child, often you need look no further than your mirror.

Then one day your kids are preparing to leave home. 20 years have flown by and everything you have imparted will figure into the man or woman they have become. In the moments of parenting it's easy to think that we are succeeding or failing based on our own merits or the outcome of each situation. But when it's all said and done, the best thing we could say about our parenting is that through it all we depended completely on God for wisdom and direction - that we prayed unceasingly for our children and that somehow we were recipients of God's incredible grace.

Wherever you are in your parenting journey, know that the only way through it is in complete dependence on God. He is the ultimate parent and his balance of grace and discipline is always perfect. 

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This week began with a very interesting conversation. I was discussing the topic of sin with some people and the question was asked, "what if someone has lived their whole life rejecting God and then at the last minute before death has a change of heart? Do they go to heaven?" The answer was yes. The question was asked again, this time with a name attached to it. "what if Adolf Hitler repented and received Jesus as his savior moments before his death? Would he go to heaven?" Again, the answer was yes. This offends people. The idea that someone as evil as Hitler could receive forgiveness and actually be in heaven is appalling to most. How could God ever allow someone so loathsome to enter his presence? There is a notion that because forgiveness is possible it means that we can live our lives however we please and then say a quick prayer of apology at the end of our days and be forgiven. This "last minute" prayer of repentance seems unfair. Someone lives their whole life far from God and still gets the blessing of eternal life?

In our humanness we look at sin on a scale. For example if sin were on a scale of 1 to 100 we would put Hitler at 100, the worst of the worst. Then perhaps a petty thief would be closer to 50. A chronic liar might only be a 35 and then the average sinner falls somewhere between 1 and 30. Not too bad - certainly nowhere near Hitler levels. So when it comes to salvation, it makes sense to us that a person from around level 70 on down could possibly be saved by God and go to heaven. But there is this threshold beyond which some people just will not go. That somehow God's grace is enough for the average sinner but the level 100 sinners are too far gone. 

The idea that history's most vile individuals could be saved shocks us. How could God allow such a thing? We have been taught to put sin on a scale. We break down individual acts of sin and rate them, like our scale of 1 to 100. Genocide = 100, a white lie = 10. When we do this we miss an important fact about sin. When Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, it's not talking about individual acts of sin. The verse shouldn't be read as, "all people have performed individual acts of rebellion against God and are therefore far from God." What the Scripture is saying is that we all possess a sin nature - a nature that is prone to all kinds of evil, regardless of its scope and scale. What one person does out of their sinful nature may differ in impact from another person but the place it derives from is the same. Romans 3:10 says there is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who seeks after God or does good. Again, Scripture is not saying that no one is capable of doing a good deed. God is making the point that on our own, we are incapable of being righteous, that our default mode is sin and rebellion. How that rebellion expresses itself is irrelevant.

Jesus was crucified between two thieves, both mocking him. But at the end, one thief told Jesus he believed. And Jesus said, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Why didn't Jesus say, "c'mon man! Really? You've lived your whole life rejecting God and NOW you're trying to sneak in? No way. You missed it pal. Too late for you!" He didn't say that because Jesus wasn't looking at his past. He was looking at the man's heart, something none of us can see. And that is the scandal of grace.

What we could never, ever forgive, Jesus covers with his blood, no matter how heinous, no matter how appalling. He died for every sin. If we would deny someone forgiveness because of what they have done, how could we expect to be forgiven for what we've done? How do we know that our sin and rebellion before God is any better or any worse than someone else's? When Jesus went to the cross he knew it was for everyone. Not just the seemingly deserving or the lesser sinners among us, He died for the sin of mankind, both the individual acts of sin and the curse of sin that afflicts us all.

Grace is so beautiful and at the same time so offensive. How could God love sinners and die for them? The wonderful thing is that we don't have to try to explain it or even understand it. God asks only that we receive it. Have you received God's grace?

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You may have seen the news this past week. An 800 year old place of worship and a masterpiece of architecture, the Cathedral of Notre Dame was destroyed by fire. The walls still stand but the roof and its characteristic spire is gone, consumed in a blaze that required 500 firefighters to extinguish. The world is fixated on this event for several reasons. One, the cathedral is iconic and a destination of millions who traveled to Paris. Its flying buttresses are a beautiful example of 13th century architecture and its interior served as a standard for majestic worship spaces. Two, the cathedral used 300 year old trees from ancient forests that were growing over 1,000 years ago. This type of wood is extremely rare and few examples of old growth forests exist as usable lumber or in existing structures. Three, structures like this are constantly being renovated and great care is taken to preserve the characteristics that make them so special so an icon like this burning is almost unheard of. Four, the history in the place is astounding. Kings and emperors were crowned there and people have worshiped there for 800 years. Few buildings in the world can say they've been in use for 800+ years.

Almost 1 billion donated dollars has already flowed into France to pay for the rebuilding of this structure and the preservation of its history. The news reports have emphasized the heroic efforts of people who went inside to grab the relics, like the crown of thorns, and the priceless art contained within the cathedral, saving them from the blaze.

This raised a question in my mind: When is the last time strangers, unsaved people, far from God, donated money to rebuild a church? Notre Dame is amazing in many ways. But most people look at it like a historic structure, a museum, an example of architecture, a relic worth saving. But how many people are looking at it and mourning its destruction because it is a place of worship?

Somehow, the spiritual aspect of it being a cathedral has been replaced with an admiration for its longevity, its historical significance and its role as keeper of art, relics and history. I mourn its destruction because it's something I have always wanted to see. I love history and the preservation of antiques, structures and the stories of people long gone.

One thing the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral has vividly illustrated is that fact that nothing lasts forever. No matter if it has stood for 800 years and stands another 800 years, it eventually will fade from existence and maybe even memory. Nothing in this world lasts forever. We don't usually think about this until something we love is taken from us. We all have things in our possession that we hold as precious - things we value for many reasons. Do we recognize the temporary nature of these things? Even the things we hold tightly and take good care of can be taken away. Notre Dame was under careful renovation, surrounded by scaffolding and still burned.

As the world looks to Notre Dame, there is a collective gasp, similar to the one heard on countless videos of the cathedral spire falling as it burned - a gasp that reminds us that nothing lasts forever. Everyone and everything has an end date. But as we approach Easter, we are reminded once again that there is only one person who has ever defied this expiration date. Jesus died but then rose again on Sunday morning, proving that some things DO live forever.

They'll rebuild the roof of Notre Dame and they'll reopen it to the public one day. People will again marvel at its architecture and beauty. But it's a temporary fix. Nothing lasts forever,. Only those who put their trust in Jesus Christ will see eternity. Celebrate Jesus' gift of eternal life this Easter!

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Our world is passionate about superheroes. Since movies have been made Hollywood has released 79 superhero movies (just from Marvel and DC, according to IMDB) and that doesn't count parodies, satires, other comic books or animated films which would take the number much higher. We love heroes for their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the good of others. We watch them struggle with their inner self that at times wants to be selfish but a sense of responsibility demands they set aside their own dreams for the greater good. Heroes want to do what's right and there is always a force standing in their way that they must overcome. No matter how great the struggle, heroes always find a way to defeat the enemy, even if it costs them dearly.

Heroes are big business these days. Superhero movies are the only kinds of movies that are constantly flirting with Hollywood's magic number, 1 Billion dollars in ticket sales. Black Panther, Wonder Woman, Avengers: Infinity War and 8 more . . . 11 superhero movies have earned over 1 billion dollars. 4 of the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time are superhero movies.

What is fascinating about the superhero universe is how many of these heroes are average people who are suddenly handed super powers whether it is an energy blast, a spider bite, technology or a radioactive compound. Once these heroes understand their powers they assume, as was famously stated in Spiderman, that "with great power comes great responsibility". They realize that where greatness rises, great evil rises as well and they must do all they can to stop it. After all, if they don't, who will? Not only do these average-turned-super humans take their responsibility seriously, they also sacrifice themselves personally to do their job. Most do not have families or significant others because those they love can always be used against them. They stand alone or in the case of the Avengers, as a team because they have no one else.

Superhero movies are not the only place we see heroes stepping up and sacrificing themselves for others. Even Harry Potter realizes the power he possesses and uses it to defeat his nemesis, ultimately by dying and then coming back to life.

Superhero movies and many other Hollywood stories are echoes of a greater story. We all wish for someone to stand for us, to rescue us, to be the hero that we cannot be. They resonate with us and we spend money to see them because it touches something deep in all of our hearts. Deep within us we all know that we need rescue. We need a hero. Someone to stand against the two things that cause us the most harm and fear - sin and death. No Marvel superhero has ever defeated death once and for all. And sin isn't even mentioned in the comics. But there is one who had defeated both.

Jesus the Messiah is no animated figure on the screen but he is very real and this Easter season we remember how he sacrificed himself for us - that he spent 30+ years here preparing for his greatest responsibility, to pay the penalty of sin for mankind and to purchase our freedom and forgiveness. This Easter, invite someone to look into the hero of all heroes, Jesus Christ. He is God made flesh and they can hear his story this Easter Sunday.

The next time you are watching a Marvel or DC movie, look for the echoes of Jesus. You will realize there are many in our world looking for a true hero but Marvel and DC are shadows. We know the One who has saved us all and defeated sin and death for all time!

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Have you ever had a friend that acted one way when they were with you but when they were with a different group of friends it was like someone flipped a switch and they were a different person? Or maybe you had a friend who one day, out of nowhere, just started treating you differently. You hadn't done anything to hurt them or even had a disagreement with them but suddenly you were not as important to them. Or maybe someone just got angry at you with no explanation. They just dropped off your radar and you don't talk anymore.

If you've ever has one of these scenarios take place you know how painful relationships can be. When we have friends, we tend to trust them to remain our friends regardless of what might happen. That trust makes it difficult to see what might be happening under the surface. We might ignore warning signs or hints that would prepare us for a change in our friend. What is a Godly response to what feels like the betrayal of a friend?

We make three critical mistakes in relationships that prevent us from dealing with these issues appropriately:

1. We assume - "Everything will continue as it has" or "this will blow over". Or we assume it's no big deal and it will sort itself out.

2. We have flawed expectations - we don't feel that we would ever treat a friend the way we are being treated so we expect the person to come to us and sort things out. It's what we would do right? We can rarely expect someone to confront us if there is an issue to resolve. We are often expecting too much.

3. We fail to communicate - We pretend everything is okay and never actually talk about how our friend is acting. We take a "head in the sand" approach.

So what should our response be to a friend who isn't acting like a friend?

1. Assume - Assume that there is something going on in the life of your friend that they need help with. If they are acting out of character it is time for compassion, not judgment. So assume that they need you more than ever. This means PRAYING for your friend.

2. Reach out - Rather than expecting the friend to come to us and spell everything out we need to go to them and let them know how we're feeling or what we've observed. "Friend, it seems like you've been distant lately. Is everything okay?" Or "We haven't talked much lately. Can you help me understand what's going on?"

3. Confront and communicate - If your friend will not admit to an issue in their life causing their behavior then the only appropriate response is to let them know how their actions are making you feel. Communicate with them rather than attack them. The goal is healing and reconciliation for the friendship, not a lecture.

4. Carry on - If after REPEATED attempts to confront and communicate about the issue fail, we must be ready to carry on without that person beside us as a friend. It doesn't have to be a formal break. We just continue to pray for them and let them go. 

I hope no one reading this has had a friend change or betray them. It is a painful circumstance but even Jesus was betrayed by someone close to him. So take your pain to him. He understands.

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God created the world in six days and all of mankind began in the Garden of Eden with just two individuals, Adam and Eve. I accept this by faith.

God flooded the entire world rescuing only Noah and his family by asking him to build a boat carrying representatives of every animal group on board. I accept this by faith.

The nation of Israel was held as slaves in the land of Egypt until God intervened and freed them through a series of miraculous judgments. I accept this by faith.

God took on human flesh and walked among us, eventually being crucified in our place as an atoning sacrifice for sin. I accept this by faith.

Jesus rose to life after being dead in a tomb for 3 days and ascended to heaven to take his rightful place as Lord of all. I accept this by faith.

At the most basic level, followers of Jesus Christ are people of faith. Everything we do revolves around faith. None of the things mentioned above are things I witnessed firsthand. None of them are provable with hard scientific evidence. Yes, there is evidence for creation and the flood but it depends on the lens one uses to interpret that evidence. Same evidence, different conclusions. The evidence for Jesus' existence and resurrection is strong but once again we are subject to almost 2000 years between actual events and our time. How do we know all the facts about Jesus were accurately transmitted from then until now?

Don't Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses all possess faith? Aren't they just as convinced as we are that what we believe is true? What makes our faith any different from theirs? Ironically, that too, is a matter of faith. But there are some answers, or at least the start of some answers to the question, "what sets our faith apart?" Let me give you three:

Our Christian faith makes the most sense of the world as we know it - only Christianity adequately explains the problem of sin and its solution. Other beliefs downplay sin, ignore it or attribute it all to an evil being. Christianity acknowledges the role Satan played but puts responsibility for it squarely at the feet of mankind. Sin also explains why the world is the way it is. It is broken and ravaged by sin but there is a solution. Which leads to the next partial answer to our question.

Our Christian faith is the only one that makes God the hero - only Christianity presents God as sacrificing himself for his own creation. Muslims worship Allah who demands allegiance but has never shown sacrificial love. Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses allow for a sacrificial death but both deny the deity of the sacrifice. Buddhists and Hindus rely on themselves and what is within to overcome desire or "sin" if a they would even call it that. Almost every other religion makes man the hero who is trying desperately to please god and thus save himself. Christianity points to God as the savior.

Our Christian faith is the only one that continues to require faith - While all religions require faith to some degree, the deeper one goes into Christianity the more faith one needs. The more we learn about God and the more we try to comprehend his majesty and greatness, the more we find ourselves at a loss to understand who we worship. His ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts higher than our thoughts. He is of unfathomable depth, stretching the boundaries of our imagination and going beyond all we think is possible. Our faith grows over time.

Without faith we are just going through religious motions. If you are on shaky ground in regard to your faith I encourage you to begin to study apologetics. Apologetics is the study of the defense of the faith. Why do we believe what we believe? You will find your faith growing stronger as you study. If faith is your foundation, make it as strong as possible!

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Jody and I just returned from Ireland and one of the things that most stood out to me was the number of ruins scattered across the Irish countryside. Some were ruined castles and houses but the vast majority of the buildings were old churches and abbeys. An abbey is a complex of buildings used by members of a religious order under the governance of an abbot or abbess. It provides a place for religious activities, work, and housing of Christian monks and nuns. Some of the ruins we walked through were almost 900 years old. And still their walls stood. The roofs, made of wood were long rotted and gone, but the structures themselves stood the test of time.

The tall tower you see in the center was inaccessible from the existing structure but rose over 50 feet in the air and was resting on top of stone arches that have been in place for hundreds of years. Usable stone stairways and passages conveyed us to the second stories and from one part of the abbey to the next. Carvings in stone and stone framed window openings told of a once grand and beautiful church (the wall on the far right). Several buildings had a second story with the chimney intact where members of the religious order slept. Other rooms served as classrooms, dining halls and work areas.

The carvings and meticulous detail planned into these buildings is incredible. Often they took multiple years to build. Stone had to be hauled to the site, artisans and masons had to carve and assemble various pieces, like an arched doorway for example, and then workers had to mount scaffolding to put each stone carefully in place.

These types of structures were everywhere in Ireland. A rich past of Christianity and sacred devotion, left behind in stone. Today, 1-3% of Ireland is Christian. Very few existing churches are visible in any village. There are probably more ruins of churches and abbeys than there are functioning Christian congregations. How does a nation go from an abbey and church in every village to almost none at all? I have three suggestions:

1. Faith is not passed along - this is simple. One generation of believers does not help their children or grandchildren know what true faith is all about. They leave this responsibility to someone else and miss the opportunity to help their own family.

2. Faith becomes cultural rather than personal - When so many people believe in Jesus it is easy to look at faith as something that a nation or a culture as a whole, does or believes rather than realizing that each person has to make a decision to follow Jesus. This is why a majority of Americans still think of themselves as Christians even though they have no idea what it really means. Culturally, we once had higher moral standards and held Christianity in higher regard.

3. Faith is politicized rather than preached - In some countries churches are left in ruin because the rulers of the day, the government, use faith as a means of control rather than a lifestyle to be lived. This creates people who on the surface nod along with the preacher because they have to, but in their hearts have no interest in the things of God.

America isn't old enough to have ruins like Ireland does. But there doesn't have to be an abandoned building to know when the church is in ruins. Thankfully, the church in America is NOT in ruins. There is still a vibrant and excited base of believers who are trusting God for great things. But if we want to avoid Ireland's current state we must pass our faith along. Look not just to buildings but to disciples. Are we helping people grow in Christ? Only then can we ensure that our faith is carried on for generations to come.

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Lately I have heard a phrase coming from people at the Road. That phrase is, "I just don't feel connected." For some, that phrase comes from the fact that every person they were once close and connected to at the church has left for other churches or communities. For others, it comes from a lack of involvement or a lack of people their age and stage of life. For still others, it comes from an introverted and shy personality. And there are others who, in relationships, like to be pursued rather than pursue.

To not feel connected can be painful. I know what it's like to have friendships and connections in the church evaporate. In our previous ministry, after trying for several months to connect a group of young married couples, we learned that they had already been getting together for fellowship - we just hadn't been invited. That was a painful wound and none of those couples were ever a solid connection for us at the church.

Sometimes we put ourselves out there and try to connect with others but nothing seems to click. We once became close to another ministry couple and had dinner at each other's house occasionally. But once the husband stepped down from his pastorate, the main thing that bonded us was gone and we stopped getting together. We found there weren't many other commonalities to unite us.

Connection can be a tricky thing. Some people you wouldn't expect to hit it off, do, and others you think would be great together just don't mesh. Or there are people in our midst whose names we don't even know after months of attendance. We may feel like we just don't click with anyone and therefore, "lack connection". But declaring that we "just don't feel connected" may be premature. Here are some things each of us can do to make every effort to connect.

1. Try - Some of you are waiting to be approached - for someone to see you standing alone and invite you in. What if YOU looked for people like you and approached THEM? Be the type of person you wish would approach you. I know - easier said than done, but you know better than anyone how meaningful it could be to that person. Standing back, saying, "no one talks to me", isn't a solution. But, stepping out your comfort zone? That's a start. Even if you've tried before - try again.

2. Participate - When someone says they don't feel connected I do a quick inventory of what they're involved in. Usually they are not in a FUEL group, not serving in a weekly ministry, not hosting a group, not teaching a class, not meeting with anyone outside of Sunday morning and haven't shown up to any church events lately. It sounds like I'm exaggerating, I know. But over and over, people insist they're not connected, all the while not participating in the life of the church. The solution? Participate! Join in anyplace there is an opportunity.

3. Pray - Ask God to point you toward someone who needs connection as badly as you do. Ask God to give you the courage to step out and be a friend. Ask God to reveal to you ministries where you could happily serve AND make connections.

I realize that some of you reading this have said these very words to me. My response here is with love and concern that you begin to feel connected. If you already feel a sense of connection, praise God! Now, to be the family of God, we must reach out and extend an invitation to those who feel on the outside. Do it this week!

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