Monday, June 30, 2014

Am I Growing?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Galatians 5: 22 and 23

Years ago a friend introduced me to a way to examine my life and ask if I am growing spiritually.  The idea is that if I am keeping in step with the Spirit then there should be evidence of the fruits of the Spirit growing in my life.  So for each of these nine “fruits” simply ask yourself:

Am I growing in this area?
Am I going backwards?
Am I just treading water – maintaining my place?

It helps to write them down (or print this page) and if you are growing, give yourself a little up arrow next to that fruit. If you are going backward put a little down arrow and a dash if you are just staying the same. 

Love

Is your heart more or less tender towards God? 
Does expressing love for God draw you to worship? 
Are you engaging in more acts of service – especially the kind where you don’t care if anyone notices? 
How do you respond to people who seem unloveable?

Joy

If you were to record your conversations and attitudes through the day, how often would you catch yourself laughing, celebrating and just rejoicing in the goodness of God and the wonder of His creation? 
How often would you catch yourself grumbling or complaining?
Are you more or less joyful than you were a year ago?

Peace
It may be that your circumstances are more difficult than they were a year ago – so you have to take that into consideration.

Overall, are your mind and heart more at ease and at rest in God or more troubled and anxious? 
Do you find yourself relating to people in ways that promotes peace or stirs up dissention? 
Is your home or office more or less peaceful than it was a year ago?

Forebearance
(and the word here is often translated as Patience)
If you are already working on Kindness go ahead and give yourself a down arrow here.

How do you respond when you don’t get your way? 
What’s your reaction when you are forced to wait – in traffic or in a line at the grocery store?
How have you handled unanswered prayer?  
Can you wait gracefully?
Are you more or less patient than you were 12 months ago?

Kindness

Are you more likely to do good things for other people when you are not going to get any benefit from it? 
How likely are you to show kindness to the anonymous people around you – like those who wait on tables and clean your office or school? 
Are you more of less likely to affirm or encourage people now than you used to be?

Goodness
(and this word could also be translated as Generosity):

What proportion of my income are you giving to God’s work? 
Is it greater, less or the same than last year? 
Does your heart desire to give more? 
Are you giving in other ways? 
Are you finding ways to use my time and talents for ministry? 
What’s  your reaction when someone asks to borrow your stuff or take a moment of your time?

Faithfulness

Are you more committed today than you were 12 months ago? 
Are you more dependable? 
How you been better or worse at making and keeping promises? 
How are you doing with procrastination?
If you are waiting to take this test later, give yourself a down arrow here.

Gentleness

This has to do with our attitude and style of relating to others.

Do people find you more or less approachable? 
What tone of voice do you use with family, friends, co-workers, classmates, strangers? 
When you have to speak a hard word to someone can you do it gently with love and a genuine concern for the person?

Self Control

Are bad habits more or less troubling to you? 
What about the language you use and how you speak to people? 
Are you more or less likely to give into impulses that move you away from God? 
Are you more or less likely to give into temptation and sin?

Now take an honest look at this list and ask yourself:

Am I bearing fruit?  Is my life changing?

The expectation is that for those of us who follow Jesus is that we would be changing – bearing fruit and actually becoming more like Him year after year.

If you aren’t growing ask yourself:  What steps do I need to take to keep in step with the Holy Spirit?


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Time to Shake It Up!

It’s finally time to Shake It Up and tomorrow we begin one of my favorite weeks of the year – Vacation Bible School (VBS).  I love the energy and excitement that only a room filled with kids can create (and we’ve got 550 kids registered).  I love lasers and disco balls and disco walls and bubble machines and funny videos and everything else that makes the week such a blast.  But  I also recognize that at times I can get so caught up in the production and the programming that I miss what it is that really makes the week special  – the opportunity we have to touch the hearts of kids, parents and families.

This week the vision of Mountaintop becomes – helping OTM families learn and share that life is better with Jesus because He makes us better at life.   We will be doing that by building on a verse that has always captured my imagination:

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  
They were filled with the Holy Spirit.  
They were bold when the spoke God’s word.
Acts 4: 31

That’s the verse our kids will be memorizing this week.  Tomorrow night I am going to challenge the parents to memorize it as well and I hope that all of us at Mountaintop might share that challenge.  It’s a great verse to pray for our church – and for all churches.  Pray that we will remain devoted to prayer – it’s the engine that drives the church.  Pray that God will move in ways that shakes the ground beneath our feet.  Pray that all we do will be empowered by the Holy Spirit.   And pray that we will be bold as we proclaim that in Jesus Christ we have found a better way to live.

To the glory of God!

PS:  The acronym VBS has probably become outdated.  Anyone on staff or volunteering will tell you this is not a Vacation.  Spend just a few minutes in the auditorium or in one of the rotations and it’s clear that this isn’t School.  But the week is definitely grounded in the Bible.  Here’s an overview of what our kids will be learning

Monday:  God Shakes the World.  The Death and Resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 27: 45-51, 54 and 28: 1 – 9)
Tuesday:  God Shakes His People.  Happy Birthday, Church!  It’s Pentecost! (Acts 2: 1 – 17 and 37 – 41)
Wednesday:  God’s People Shake their World!  Jailhouse Rock (Acts 16: 22 – 34)
Thursday:  Shake Your World!  Preach the Good News to Everyone, Boldly! (Acts 28: 28 – 31)

It begins with a Family Night Kickoff at 6:00 tomorrow evening.  I hope you will all be there to Shake It Up! – and who knows, you just might wind up on shaking on stage with a chance for a great give away.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Shake It Up!

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Acts 4: 31

From June 22 – 26 Mountaintop (the place where we meet) is going to be shaken as the summer’s Vacation Bible School encourages families to Shake It Up!  The week begins with a Family Kickoff on Sunday evening and then Monday through Thursday kids will discover how God rocks our world.

Here are four things you can do help us Shake Up Mountaintop!

Volunteer. We are nearing 500 children who have registered to join us as we shake it up and that means we need a lot of adult and teen group leaders.  There is childcare available for all volunteers who have children younger than three.  If you are available to serve just click VBS Volunteer.

Donate. We need a lot of items during VBS week for our crafts, snacks, etc.  If you can help provide something, please look for the donation board this Sunday in the church atrium.  Your help will be greatly appreciated!

Register.  There is no cost for VBS but you have to register and registration closes this Sunday June 15 so don’t put off  - register right now simply by clicking on VBS Registration.  And here’s some great news – this year we are offering Extended Times to Shake It Up!  To make it possible for parents whose schedules make it difficult for their children to attend VBS, this year we are offering before and after VBS care for Kindergartners through 5th graders.  Kids can be dropped off beginning at 7:00am and can be picked up until 6:00pm. We will make sure they get to and from their VBS groups. The cost for extended care is $125 for the week (even though VBS ends on Thursday we will provide care on Friday from 7:00am – 6:00pm and partial scholarships are available).  YOU MUST BE SIGNED UP FOR EXTENDED CARE BY JUNE 15.


Invite friends.  The only thing that can make VBS even more special is to invite a friend and a family to join you.  It’s the perfect way to learn and share that God’s love will Shake Us Up!


Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

Every Memorial Day I repost this blog as a simple way to stop and remind myself what today is about.

On Memorial Day I often read through copies of a collection of letters written from, to and about my Uncle John who served in the Army in WWII and who died in combat in northeastern France on November 9, 1944.  

I am fortunate to have these copies of a few of the letters that he sent home as well as letters that were written after his death.   I love the familiar references to people I later knew.  John wrote to my Uncle William and Aunt Lucille that “Santa Claus is going to be good to Eula and Mary Jane” (my cousins) and how he looked forward to a good turkey dinner on Thanksgiving or Christmas.  He told my Uncle Dan (who was following him) that “when you get over here you sure appreciate how lucky you are to be living in the good ole’ U.S.”  And he wrote my Aunt Rachel that he was so hungry that she should “Tell Grandma if I was at the table now she’d think I was Tom (my dad who would have been 14 at the time) or Dan or James eating.”  Apparently they each had healthy appetites! 

There’s a beautiful letter from my Uncle James (who at the time was serving in the Navy) to my grandparents expressing his own sense of loss.  Evidently my Uncle John had suffered a serious bout of pneumonia as a child, which somehow created a special connection with his older brother James.  In the letter James writes:  “I hope that as time goes on we can come to the place where we don’t feel so bitter about the enemy which robbed him of his life but now I can’t feel so.  Please forgive me for speaking so but at this time I can’t think otherwise.  I feel that aggressors should be crushed completely so that nothing like this could ever happen again.”

Uncle James also wrote of the inspiration he found in the sacrifice his brother made:  “…knowing that John gave himself without restraint to the cause to which he had pledged himself.  I believe he will be happy to know that he had a little part in making a place for us all to live in the future.   It makes me feel mighty little to realize that I’m giving so little when he gave everything he had.  Yet there is a task for each of us to do and it gives me determination to do the best I can where I am.”

Reading these letters on Memorial Day has become my own tradition and memorial for all those who continue to (in the words of Company D’s CO in a letter to my grandparents) “set an example of personal courage and devotion to duty.”  They are a great reminder that today is much more than just another 3-day weekend.  It is a time to stop to give thanks and honor those who gave everything.

The following letter was sent to my grandparents from a Dr. Webb (I can’t make out his first name) whom I assume was from Great Falls (the small town in South Carolina where my dad grew up) and a family friend and who it seems served in an Army medical unit.

Written on United States Army Stationery

In France
21 December 1944

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson and Family

I must confess that this letter is as painful to write [as] the last one [as best I can tell Dr. Webb sent a first letter with news of John’s death].  A day has not passed that I have not thought of your boy.  Hank [evidently another friend from Great Falls] only learned of his death recently and was truly a heartbroken boy.  I spent Sunday afternoon with him and we talked for the most part about John, you and friends we have in common.

Hank learned of the nearness of the 8th and went back to try to find John.  A boy who had been with John at the time of his death told him about it.  He tried to get in touch with me then and then several times after but it was only Sunday I was able to catch him.

You note that my letter was dated after John’s death.  It is illegal to write about one injured until the W.D. notification has been received.  However, I pleaded “friend of the family” and knew [you] would want to know.

Capt. Grisgby was in our place when I learned he was in Company D of the 8th.  I went to ask about John and then learned of his death.  It was near a small town Clairfontaine and John’s section was called upon to assist another company in taking a piece of high ground.  They had to cross an open field and as they advanced John was struck in the head and instantly killed.  The boy in front noticed John not with them and went back.  He found him a few yards back already dead.  Capt. Grisgby then went to him even though the field was covered by fire and time precious, to make sure.

The action of our units in this section played a large part in pushing the enemy from the Vosges Mountains.  So you can imagine how early in combat it was since John’s death was Nov. 9th.

No one has a harder task in the war than the infantry soldier and certainly John’s was one of the hardest.  Our job becomes even more difficult as Germany proper is approached.  There is much suffering and misery yet before us and I honestly believe there are some things worse than death.  I can explain much better when I see you.  Censorship forbids some things I would like you to know.

John was buried at Epinal in a cemetery maintained by the War Department.  So many things happened to prevent me going down to take that picture.  You know we go ever forward and it doesn’t take long to pass a place too far to return to.  The cemetery is usually a day’s journey back of the front.  They are all the same, rows and rows of white crosses each with a name printed across it at the end of the grave.  The German crosses have swastikas on them and the Free French have the tricolor of their flag.  In the cemetery live the caretakers and an American flag flies over the place all the time.  The French people put flowers [on] the graves of our men even as they do their own.

You can see in the rush of things how soon we reached the front.  I asked John and Hank to come back so I could take their pictures to send home.  They were coming the following day but orders, supplies and entrainments prevented it.

Lights are never extinguished in our place, as our work never ceases since the mill of war unendingly grinds out the sick and injured.  We do our utmost to give them the very best.  I shall try to remember all the things connected with this business that I wish to tell you.

John was a good fine boy who loved his parents and family.  He kept me posted on the family, where they were and how they were getting along.  And the last time I saw him he told me of his girl and of his intention to marry after the war.  He even told me of his brother being an MP and not wanting you to tell him about it.  We talked of army life and his job.  He told me of his gun and his platoon leader and Captain Grigsby.  He liked them and his job very much.  When I suggested he had [a] tough job, he just smiled and said someone had to do it.

Thank you for your letter and in advance for the cake.  Please forgive them for his death.  The enemy wounded are just about as pitiful as our own.  I met a sweet lady who lost a son in March in the German army.  Then I realized full well for the first time that Germans are grieved for and prayed for.  That lady was so good to me with eggs and cookies etc. that I shed tears when she told me of her son. [It] doesn’t make sense but I do feel sorry for them.  I will be at the memorial service in spirit!  Please pray for me and the other men in service and write me again.

With regards to everyone

Dr. ?  Webb

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What I meant to say was: Widen the Circle

Earlier today I sent an eBlast with a few mistakes (what I get for writing an eBlast while sitting in a waiting room).  Here's what I meant to say:

This Sunday we will wrap up our Great Family Experiment learning and sharing how Jesus can help us Widen Our Hearts the Circle (the circle the circle - I'm not even sure what widening our heart looks like).  We are also going to widen the circle of our worship services by having our kids and students (K – 12th) join us.  They will bring a little of what happens in the TreeHouse, on the Playground and in the Student Center into the service and it is shaping up to be a Sunday morning not to be missed!

We will celebrate our graduating High School seniors, give out the Week Three Experiment (we love the pics and stories you are sending us from Weeks One and Two), and Melissa Sanderson and Chris Conner have a few surprises planned for us.

In the atrium you will find a Photo Booth (complete with crazy props) to take that “classic” family photo (or selfie) so bring a camera or your phone.


It’s going to be an awesome Sunday – make it even better (and help us widen the circle) by inviting someone to come to Mountaintop with you.  It’s a great way to learn and share a better way to live.