Impact Church

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I’ll Be Home For Christmas

No sickness is as untreatable as homesickness. No doctor can cure it, and Walgreens has no prescription for it. And for the unlicensed practitioner, no early warning signs are available. Volatile and capricious, public embarrassment can be the fruit of its emotional shifts. For those with control issues- good luck; for most any little thing can set it off. A song, picture, sound, smell, word, postcard, phone call, or even a distant memory. Yeah, I think memory is actually the most unmerciful instigator for chronic homesickness, because memories are huggers and won’t leave. But for balance, consider that homesickness is only possible when former times were good, when life was full. So here’s to good times, memorably great times, and lots and lots of them! (Hey, we’ll address the aftermath later).

When high school graduation flashed in the rear view mirror, and what to do next was looming like Mt. Everest- I found myself sixty miles away in an unknown city with unknown thousands at a largely impersonal state university. A move of that magnitude may not be recorded as the most courageous of all eighteen year olds, but had you known the socialization womb that formed me, you would have had compassion for the unceremonious uprooting my upbringing was experiencing.

Leaving the fields and forests of youth to assimilate into concrete, traffic and skyscrapers was a process, a rather necessary, but unnatural transition. It’s not to say that travel and discovery didn’t stimulate emotional and mental exhilaration. It did. That new life was action packed- people, places and pleasures of which I’d never experienced was creating new “highs”, and identifying with new surroundings produced a challenging metamorphosis of sorts.

Life continued to unfold after university life, as employment came in our nation’s Capitol with the Federal government. Now, hundreds of miles from the tall pines, rolling hills and dirt roads of rural North Carolina, opportunities to go “back home” were becoming less and less. Yet intuitively, something was amiss in my transition to this supposed “glorious” adulthood.

Something within was yearning to renew something remembered.

Being away, nothing stirred memories of home like December, and especially at Christmas time. The cold and snows of northern Virginia, in both climate and culture, were constant reminders of former times. The faceless masses, concrete sidewalks, blaring sirens and seven lane traffic bombarded my virgin senses; and what was thought to be the “good life”, became the antithesis of what sensibility had engrained. And no matter the efforts to homogenize, a primordial “call of the wild” crept in. Like the proverbial salmon fighting upstream to return to its birthplace, there seemed an instinctive return to native culture and landscape. Existentially, the “home” of my roots had produced a profound effect, and nothing could undo its power.

Lighted trees, creative wreaths, boxed gifts or flashy commerce does not activate the tear ducts. Yet mine did. A lot. And my heart longed for home. Something more than jingle bells and Frosty the Snowman pulled my heart back home; something more internal, something far more spiritual. The trips home for Christmas weren’t mere escapes from the hustle-bustle of city congestion or breaks from work load routine; there was an innate rightness about those returns- the reasonings were meaningful, logical, and a wise alignment with what ought to be.

I was coming home to the truest sense of the word. To what really mattered. To a home of love, of trust, of joy, of peace, of grace; and a life that was created in quietness, was now screaming for a visit.

To mom and dad. To brothers and sister. To family and friends. To fireplaces and fruitcakes. To beagles and pickup trucks. To axes, tractors and wood splitters. To spirited checkers and competitive chess. To skinning deer and squirrel pie. To snowball fights and midnight sledding. To indoor football and hide and seek. To hugs and tears. To singing and scriptures. To pranks and front porches. To pianos, mandolins and guitars. To debates and drama. To dreams and destinies. To love and respect. To hellos and byes. To I really miss you, thank you, and when do I see you again?

Nothing big. Just people. Simple. Real. Life.

T.S. Elliot stated, “Home is where one starts from”; and if true, then no one outgrows his roots. We’re captured by first things, as true as a mother is to a child. I’m persuaded the power of “home” has greater rule than circumstances, or even the will. Two millennia ago, Pliny the Elder said, “Home is where the heart is”; and regardless of human wanderlust, a craving remains for the place remembered as “home”.

Would that everyone had a place called home, but I’m not naive enough to think all have that luxury. So if that holy place has only been a dream, then my prayer is that you with God’s help, create that place- a sanctuary where love reigns supreme. Maybe at home. Maybe at church. Actually, most any place where one could breathe deeply, meditate, and recline. They’d all be perfectly acceptable.

A place where others would come, to hang, to stay. A place to talk, to cry, to remember, to unload, to encourage. A place where timeless simplicity invites the most anxious, fretted, confused, and tired of all God’s creatures. A place where joy is contagious, where making messes lead to laughter, and where old folks and children play with Tonka trucks. A place where life takes precedence over problems, where small talk is delightful, where grace decorates every room.

So go build that home, and watch travelers enter those inviting doors. Engage them genuinely. Feed them with hope. Warm them with compassion. And when time comes, let them leave- it’s ok. Your home became their friend, and their heart will never forget. And as it was intended and should be- neither will you…

And may we remember the gracious words of the One we celebrate, the One who makes all things whole and does all things well: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14:2-3

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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To the Mothers

by Stephen Bowden

Yours is a love that knows no end
For in you the Father desired life to begin.
He chose you as the vessel to share His love,
Receiving from Him the gift that was bestowed from above.

The beauty of your strength is displayed at birth,
His Word tells me far more than rubies is your worth
For you are a virtuous woman in actions and in deeds
To your wisdom sons and daughters take heed.

For God has walked with you, and ever been by your side.
Through imperfections, sorrows, and tears you’ve cried;
Yet He still chose you, a mother to nurture His image.
To pass down the faith, to strengthen His lineage.

Often your love and dedication is presented with no reward,
Please know you are appreciated. Your passion is seen by us and the Lord.
He commanded that we give you honor.
Today, and forever that is what we’ll do.

To the Mothers,
Happy Mother’s Day, From Impact to You.

Draw Near

James 4:8a Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you…

James’ writing style, straightforward and unequivocal, refreshes the faith of the pure in heart. Free of innuendo and doublespeak, his insights are uncluttered and uncommonly raw. Nothing is left to the imagination, his openness a precise and uncompromising approach to God’s presence. Do this, do that; and God will do this, or that! (To the guys in the shop, having such an analytical and mechanical approach to God is priceless!)

Conversely, many present day contemporaries have God omniscient and omnipotent, while making His knowledge and power inaccessible. Seems His virtues and character are perfectly described, but He’s simply untouchable. To them, He exists as an imagined, mystical or esoteric One. He’s over there, we’re over here – and in their theology, our arms are a bit too short! Their space between disciple and Master is unbridged, their gap too wide; their cause resting solely on the inherent sinfulness of mankind.

Briefly put – Religion exacerbates our human predicaments, while redemption divinely destroys them!

So, what a breath of faith air James provides- here’s a Father as near as we desire Him to be!

With knowledge of the Gospel we approach God, not timidly as outcasts or distant relatives, but confidently as His very own children. Regardless the climate and condition of our own spirituality (likely, the assessment of our own status must occasionally humor God!), access to the throne of His unfathomable Grace is ours. Not an access merited by our own works or goodness, but an access only possible through the Redeemer’s blood! No human valiancy needed or allowed here, only a valiancy to trust His work as amply sufficient!

At times in the journey, His presence will invariably seem distant. Whether He’s outpacing our stride, whether we’ve sit down, or whether we’ve lost sight of Him through our distractions – He patiently awaits our efforts to get closer. The distance and the causes for distance may vary, but His commitment to draw near to those who long for Him will not vary. He’s made the first and impossible step by coming to our planet… the next step will be ours!

Draw near to God; He ever lives to reward our faith!

Faith that Obeys

Hebrews 11:8
It was by faith that Abraham obeyed……

We are saved by faith; justified solely because of our belief in the finished work of Jesus. However, an element of faith that is frequently overlooked or discounted in our salvation is the obedience that associates with and accompanies faith. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an influential theologian who was martyred under the Nazi regime states the relationship as thus, “faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.”

Obedience to Jesus is not a step of sporadic or inconsistent agreement with a command. Jesus is very specific in what He asks us to do. He does not invite us to simply follow a list of general principles or submit to a certain doctrine. Jesus does not present a plan for positive thinking or suggest seven simple steps to obedience. He invites us on a transformative, revolutionary adventure that begins with two simple words; “follow me.” This is the offer of a lifetime and if accepted, changes everything! It is a summons to walk with, alongside, and near the Savior. To surrender our agenda and itinerary and willingly walk where He walks, talk with whom He talks, and acquiesce to His desires many times at the sacrifice of our own.

This relationship is not a business agreement or constructed on the basis of demand or obligation. It is built on the most powerful of all foundations; love. Jesus encourages His disciples in the Gospel recorded by John that “If you love me, obey my commandments.” Our obedience is rooted deeply in our love for Him. Obedience is reasonable sacrifice because of His initial love for us. Authur W. Pink said that love is “a principle of action, and it expresses itself …. by deeds which please the object loved.” To obey God means to relinquish what we want and to choose to do what He asks.

There is no limit to obedience constructed on love. If there is a resistance to following Jesus, allow the words of Oswald Chambers to bring provocation and clarification: “The Lord does not give me rules, but He makes His standard clear. If my relationship to Him is that of love, I will do what He says …… If I hesitate, it is because I love someone I have placed in competition with Him, namely myself.”

Authentic, genuine faith obeys.

Whether Abased or Abounding

“I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound…” (Philippians 4:12)

Sitting in a dark prison cell in Rome and writing to encourage the church he had planted at Philippi a few years before, the Apostle Paul probably couldn’t help but manage a wry smile at the irony. Here he was again, shackled and confined, for preaching the gospel.

Different town, different time. Same message, same result.

The last time he had been in Philippi, Paul and his cellmate, Silas, must have sounded like drunken fools singing praises to God with metal stocks around their ankles and with fresh blood running down their whip-lashed backs during the darkest hour of the night. You’ll remember the miraculous conversion story of the jailer that night (Acts 16).

“I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content,” Paul writes from prison. “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound.”

Contentment is a word — indeed, an attitude — we don’t hear much today. In our “bigger is better” capitalistic culture, the concept of contentment has become synonymous with settling. Why settle for an iPhone 5 when the new 7 is out? Why settle for driving a Chevy when you can spend a little more every month and cruise in a Lexus? Why settle for that 2013 model when the new ones have more gadgets?

Let’s face it. Even in a non-consumer-driven economy like the 1st Century, being at peace with what one has is just not natural. It’s a basic human desire to improve our station in life. That’s why Paul said he had to learn contentment whether in regard to his circumstances or material possessions. Here’s a man who had gone from an almost aristocratic, well-heeled, highly educated past to his present life as a habitual convict for the sake of the gospel.

What is the temptation when we are “abased” — suffering lack or poverty or simply enduring hard times? (Ever been there?) The tendency during such seasons of life is to think that God has forgotten us, that either He doesn’t see our need or, worse yet, that He doesn’t care what we’re going through or can’t do anything about it.

What about when we “abound” — just got that raise, everyone’s healthy, life is good? The temptation during such times of prosperity is for us to forget God! Scripture warns us to be careful not to let pride arise and think that you alone have brought blessing on yourself and your family (Deuteronomy 8:10-17).

The Apostle gives us the key to finding lasting joy, peace and contentment no matter what life brings our way: Read the rest of this entry »

Come Before Winter

“…Come before winter…” 2Timothy 4:21

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all. Ecclesiastes 9:11

The two sided coin of the world’s religions are essentially dogma and deeds. Teachers, preachers, rabbis and clerics beat as it were a drum the systematic indoctrination of belief systems and the human behaviors flowing from them.

Yet, in Christianity, a sublime element is added. For tho it be not explicit in the doctrine, or in the lyrics of songs or titles of sermons, it’s always in the Spirit of what’s done, said or thought.

Time matters.

Opportunities matter.

The brief clause, “Come before winter”, is highly pregnant with urgency, love, emotion, premonition, compassion, time, and opportunity. Paul is imprisoned in Rome now, his life hanging in the balance by the deranged Emperor, Nero. From a dank prison cell, he writes his second letter to Timothy, his dear protégé who is pastoring hundreds of miles away in Ephesus.

Incarcerated, but with poignancy, persuasion and conviction, Paul bares his soul and pens his farewells and final instructions.

“I’ve fought a good fight, Timothy, I’ve finished my course. Be strong, Pastor! Preach the Word! You’ll face many obstacles in declaring it, but that’s to be expected.. I can only say it’ll be worth any suffering you experience to hear Him say, “Enter in, good and faithful servant”! I pray for you always, and I’m well aware of your tears. And by the way, I’d really love to see you! Could you get away and sail to Rome? I’d really love to see you… And if so, come before winter…” (This version yet to be named or edited)

And as softly as fog rolls into lowland meadows after a warm evening rain, so are we slowly aware of the element of time and opportunity in Paul’s plea, “Come before winter”. For some opportunities come once, and the window of time in which they’re offered is tight.

Time and opportunities matter.

Is it possible Paul simply wants Timothy to sail soon, knowing the Mediterranean Sea is treacherous after October? Read the rest of this entry »

Total Trust

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

It’s now January and a new year has dawned. Not long ago the presents were unwrapped, the family dinners were eaten, and the “thank yous” were exchanged. The smell of evergreen still lingers in the air. Perhaps your decorations have already been tucked back into their storage bins and pushed to the back of the attic to eagerly await December 2017’s arrival. Nearly half of all Americans are busy making New Year’s Resolutions to lose weight, save money, and get more organized. But without a doubt all of us are thinking about this new year and what the future may hold. My prayer for us is that 2017 be the year we experience Proverbs 3:5-6 “trusting in the Lord with all of our hearts” like never before.

The weeks before our daughter’s due date were filled with more doctor appointments and fear, on my part, than I would like to admit. The doctors believed that she may be born with complications and as a result we were monitored closely and her scans were sent to neonatal specialists for further review. One night I selected a random book off of our shelf in an attempt to occupy my restless mind temporarily. It fell open to a page with this verse in the center- “Don’t be afraid. Just believe, and your daughter will be well.” (Luke 8:50) Immediately I knew that God was speaking truth to my fearful heart. In this scripture reference, Jairus had just been informed by a servant that his only daughter was dead. In response Jesus gave him this simple, illogical, seemingly inconsiderate instruction. Terror screamed from one side while hope beckoned from the other. Two voices were calling and he had to choose which to believe. He chose to find refuge in the promise of God’s word. He decided to walk in total trust. We did as well. I am thankful to report that our daughter was born with no complications in her body. And in case you were wondering, Jesus did what He promised for Jairus as well. Luke 8:54-55 bears out that Jesus “took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up.”

While the Christmas holiday is over, God’s gift to us remains. In Genesis 3:15 God says to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head and you will strike His heel.” This was God’s first promise that a Savior was coming. And come He did just as God had said. God’s greatest gift to us will always be His Son. It’s through Jesus that we are saved, relationship with The Father is restored, and we are set irrevocably free. But may I submit that Christmas provided one other gift for us as well – proof that God is completely trustworthy.

Trust is defined as a Read the rest of this entry »

That’s My King

2Cor8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich.

To the earthly wise, the manger that held the Christ-child was an inappropriate accouterment and incompatible to the finery of royalty. For if He were to be King and the Jews’ Messiah, then no barnyard could be the place of His birth. And a carpenter family in the little town of Bethlehem could never bring what the prophets said would be a Counselor, Prince of Peace, and the One whose shoulder the government would eternally rest.

But leave it to the wisdom of God to be glorified through small things and elements the world despises. For He revels in things men abhor and uses things men detest. And He dethrones things we enthrone and shatters things we painstakingly construct. So that the merits of eternal good are not lauded to mortals, but to One who forever transcends them.

There is no premise truer than that God is faithful to His Word. And should flesh attempt to obtain credit where His Word is at work, He ensures the origin and integrity of His work remains intact by allowing debilitating conditions to surface. And if that be true, nothing is truer in the unobtrusive introduction of His Son. Birthed apart from the trappings of nobility, honor and respect, His ministry must bypass the conventional protocol of kingdom building in order to establish one that must never cease!

Be assured. He did. And how He came to us, is as important as who He was, and what He did.  Read the rest of this entry »

Trust is Power

“Master, carest thou not that we perish?” Mark 4:38

Is not this desperate appeal for help a common reaction when our lives or livelihood is in jeopardy? And do we not exercise our ever present right to blame something or someone when others could, or should, intervene and save us from peril and pain? Of course, it’s common to patronize such responses. For we’re conditioned to redirect our fears and uncertainties to outside power sources, in hopes our distresses are alleviated and our fears assuaged.

And do we not often bemoan the fact that few acknowledge or sympathize with our dilemmas, uncertainties, injustices or negative experiences? Does anyone really care anymore? Are we now expected to fend for ourselves? Are we to configure and plan the joy and fulfillment of our lives through social connectedness, perfect timing, or favorable winds? Or far worse, are we winging life by trusting good luck charms, vibes or karma?
Be sure, the parallel of the disciples’ fearful experiences on the Galilean Sea are not so far from our own. For though we may never embark with Jesus on a boat to cross the sea, those who’ve believed in Him have in a figure enlisted with Him on the journey of journeys… Life!

So it’s not strange then to hear fellow believers bewail the downward spiral of our world; of our culture, the breakdown and perversion of morality, the division of religions and races, or the rancorous state of our elected officials. “Where’s God in all this?” we mutter on Monday as our chaotic world tilts and its trusted systems implode. Yet on Sunday and on cue, we sang gustily, “What a mighty God we serve”! Seems we’re not so different from those drenched disciples who woke up Jesus to save them from the perils of the sea!

Our human sympathies extend to these disciples as they, through fear, approach Jesus with, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?”. Yet it elicited a loving reproof from the One who invited them to the journey! He abruptly calmed the storm with a “Peace be still”, but He also quickly challenged their faith. “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”

Moral of the storm? Read the rest of this entry »

Anchored In Christ

My heart was pounding, my hands were shaking, and tears were cascading down my face. I sat paralyzed, staring at my laptop for far longer than I’d care to admit. With each flash of the cursor at the top of the empty word document, my heart was being assaulted. Lies were being hurled my direction at the speed of Chapman’s fastball during the 2010 minor league season. I felt the impact as each pitch hit its intended mark and chipped away at my confidence.

“You are not a real writer. You are not equipped. You have nothing to offer. No one will connect with your writing voice. God can’t use someone like you. Your past is too tainted. Your present is too messy. You are not enough. You should give up.”

“CRACK!” Each pitch struck my vulnerability with such force that my confidence was crippled by the fear that perhaps truth was found in these accusations.

My husband once told me that when an engine is built it is created to support a vehicle of specified weight. If the assembled vehicle surpasses the target weight for which the engine was constructed, the engine will fail. The Holy Spirit gently reminded me that there are some things that are too heavy for me to support. My calling is most certainly one of those things.

I believe that we are each assigned a calling that we will never see come to fruition without the active work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot hone our craft, pad our bank account, or work harder and longer and that be enough. This, sweet friends, is a relief. Our callings are not dependent on our work so much as they are our trust. Read the rest of this entry »