Robin Williams’ Struggle

Robin W.Did one of the funniest men on the planet just commit suicide? It is too soon to know for sure, but initial reports from various news agencies are suggesting just that! It is widely known that Robin Williams suffered from depression. He’s not the only comedian. Through the years many funny men and funny women have either taken their own lives or attempted to do so after long battles with this deadly illness.

It may seem strange that those who are so good at making us laugh could possibly be dealing with dark and sorrowful thoughts. In reality, however, depression is no respecter of persons. We used to think that depression was a sign of mental weakness, or that it must have some “cause” such as the loss of a loved one. We now know depression is an illness that, like cancer, can simply appear for no reason at all. Someone may have a strong mind, a wonderful life, and a good sense of humor, yet still fall into the pit of despair. What’s more, those who seem the happiest and fullest of life may in fact be the very ones surrounded by the hazy darkness of depression.

If you are struggling with depression, please hear me: You are not alone. There are people who love you and care about your life and your situation. We may not be able to see that you are hurting. Let us know. Reach out to us. Let us sit with you in the darkness. We can pray together to the Lord of Light. We can’t fix this thing, but we can hold you with arms of peace. Let us go through this with you. You are not alone.

“of saran wrap & other mysteries”

So, it seems I blew your minds on Sunday when I told you about the little holes on the sides of the aluminum and plastic wrap boxes that, when pressed in, hold the roll in place. Just pressing in those little holes will make your life so much easier, and never again will you need to fight with pulling out the entire roll at once! It is so simple. It is so obvious. Yet, most of us never knew this simple truth! We did not know, that is, until someone showed us.

My point was just this, while following Jesus might seem so simple and so obvious to us, it is so only because someone showed us this life changing truth. We did not figure it out on our own. Reaching out to our neighbor and welcoming  the stranger is a life practice that begins in remembering that we did not always know the Truth in the person of Jesus. Just as we were shown the way and welcomed in, so must we show the way to others and welcome in the “other,” regardless of how different they may be. It is just that simple, but now you know. You’ll never be the same!

A Glimpse of Heaven

Thank you again for your encouragement as I traveled back to Europe to lead the 2014 Summer Assembly for the International Baptist Convention. It was a lingering commitment that I joyfully completed. The scene was amazing–believers gathered from all over the world, coming together to praise God and study his word. One night our worship leader made the connection with Revelation 7 that tells us that in the coming Kingdom of God all people from every nation, tribe, and tongue will come together before the throne of God and sing in one voice, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

It is easy for us to become caught up in our own little corner of the world. We think of hearth and home and little beyond. When we do think outside of the walls of our houses, it is rarely beyond the interests of our own nation. My recent experiences in Switzerland reminded me of how often I fall into this line of thinking. As I listened to the stories and struggles of individuals from Brazil, Moldova, India, England, and beyond, I was convicted to remember my brothers and sisters abroad. We all should “keep up” with what is going on in the world, perhaps especially as it relates to our fellow disciples. What are their struggles and needs? Do we know? Do we care? Do we lift them up in prayer? To was ask only that “God bless America,” or do we ask his blessing for all?

I would encourage you to find out more about what is going on in the world, to pray about it deeply, and to ask God to show you what you might do for neighbors far away.

Settling In

As I continue to learn my way around and discover the nooks and crannies of the church building, I am thankful for the peace that comes from knowing I am where God has planted me, I am where he wants me to be. I look forward to using the blog in the future as an additional way of reaching you and engaging you as fellow disciples. So, keep your eyes open for upcoming blogs from your pastor!

Christ’s peace to you,

Mason

A View from the Balcony

Lessons from Rocks, Water, and People: The Holy Land

 It was a trip of a lifetime.   I’m glad I did it.  I’m not sure I’ll go back.  After a week and a half of recovering from the red eye flights to Israel and back, plus nine full days of visiting sites,  I’ll try to assess my gleanings:
1.       I learned that you can take 454 photos of all the sites in the Holy Land, and when you return home to look over them they all look like pictures of rocks in 454 varied arrangements.  Some of the rocks have people posing in front of them.
2.      I learned to go easy on the Israeli breakfast.  Diving into assorted salads and smoked fish, especially the whole sardines, at 6:30 a.m. on your first day may not be the best idea, especially when traveling on a bus over the hills and valleys of Galilee.
3.      I learned that drinking from Jacob’s well, dipping my hands into the Jordan River, and drinking tap water in Bethlehem might have contributed to something which feels like little giardia now poking around in my gut.
4.      I learned something about trust.   Our bus was an Arab owned bus, driven by Mohammed,  an Arab Muslim, and guided by Samuel, an Arab Christian whose parents are of Egyptian Coptic and Greek Orthodox backgrounds. Not only did Mohammed drive us through some pretty secondary winding roads up and down the Golan Heights, he and our guide took us into Palestinian West Bank territories. Here was an Arab Muslim who cared for the safety of his passengers.  If we ever thought that all Arab Muslims were terrorists or suicide bombers (and I hope none in our group did), Mohammed helped dispel that fear.  He could have done us in with one wrong turn of the steering wheel.
5.       I learned the plight of so many Palestinians who are without a homeland and who feel trapped and hopeless.  We entered West Bank areas where only a Palestinian Arab bus and driver could go, and where the Israeli government prohibits its own citizens from entering due to danger and the fact that it is against their own law.   We saw Palestinian refugee areas and felt the hopelessness of so many in Bethlehem who are weary of the captivity and isolation of living within the walls and barbed wire fences which surround their city.
6.      While I loved the pilgrimage aspect of our trip, including the singing of hymns and reading of Scripture at the many holy sites, I realized that what makes a place, person, or thing “holy” is not the location, or the proximity to where Jesus or the disciples walked, but how God chooses to utilize people and places for God’s unique purposes wherever they are.  So while I enjoyed, appreciated, and felt inspired by these Holy sites, I kept finding the “holy” in the faces of the children, both Israeli and Arab, Muslim,  Christian, and Jew, who await a better and more hopeful future for this problematic area of the world.
7.      I learned that visiting the Holy Land does not in itself make me more holy.   I become more “holy”  (i.e. utilized by God) when I realize that the land on which I stand, wherever that is, can be holy ground where I open myself to God’s good purposes.
I suppose I learned that I am more an anthropologist that archaeologist.   I looked for hope in the faces and personalities of the people I met, trying to see the “holy” possibilities  in each of them, then looking deeper into my own soul for the “holy” in me.

The Hospitality of FBC of Elon

Romans 12:13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Change has recently come to First Baptist Church of Elon. God’s calling of the Mofields to continue their ministry and  serving Christ just down the road is the most obvious change. The recent addition of Rev. Laura Primm to FBC of Elon staff marks the beginning of a new ministry and another form of change. The annual rites of passage of a new school year for our youth, teachers, and parents will uncover the realization that yet another form of change is upon us. There are perhaps many other changes taking place within the walls of FBC of Elon and outside of the walls of FBC of Elon affecting all of us. No matter how much we hear it, experience it, like or dislike it, change is an inevitable part of our lives. Yes, it appears that God even allows for transitions to take place in our most hallowed space, the church.

In his recent homily, Rev. Durham has used the sacred hour of worship to edify us and challenge us to embellished this time as an opportunity to go deeper! I was struck by the question that Rev. Durham put to us as a congregation and as individuals “Will I follow or fall away?” I wanted to share with you not another typical “remain steadfast in your trials and  God’s grace will be sufficient enough to get us through this” message of encouragement. This is true, but I wanted to share with you from the perspective of an outsider to your family, why FBC of Elon has the glue and makeup to not fade away during this time at the “crossroads.”

Many of you have come to know me and my wife as the fortunate and blessed parents of that bundle of joy named Langston. Before Langston came into our lives, we were introduced and came to know of FBC of Elon through an invitation to attend the Career Net ministry. Cori and I found ourselves in a position that neither one of us could ever have imagined. We were five months into a difficult pregnancy, both without the means of a steady income, about to be first-time parents, and having relocated back to Burlington within a year after a career opportunity did not blossom. Oh by the way, I forgot to add in the cross-country move from North Dakota that took place somewhere in the midst of all of that. We were and still are having our Job experience!

Then we were extended hospitality by a group of people in yourselves who lived out the following words: “God is calling us to be a church that is compassionate, serving, and accepting.” It was not just a one-time occurrence, but it became a recurring act and demonstration of a commitment with visits to the hospital, bodies of joyful people delivering meals and filling the space of our apartment, and invitations to fulfill life long dreams of fellowship outings at ACE Speedway. Most importantly, your outpouring of love for our beloved Langston has given me comfort in knowing that our son has a “home church of good church folk” where he has been embraced. You have been an effective witness for Christ and God’s deliverance on his promises to supply all our needs. Your acts of hospitality have aligned with the scripture at the beginning.

I share with you what my family has experienced from this Body of Christ an opportunity to witness true worshipers worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth through your acts of hospitality. I share this as words of encouragement. As you stand at the crossroads as a congregation during this period of transition do so knowing that you are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. The decisions you will have to make in the upcoming months will indeed have far-reaching consequences. I want you to be encouraged and reminded that it is within you First Baptist Church of Elon to not fade away or grow weary of the challenges of change. It is within you to continue to Follow Christ and epitomize these words: “God is calling us to minister in ways that are honest, loving, respectful, and faithful.” You have given me the courage and hope in my own faith journey that my family can make it through our own crossroads if we can just hold onto God’s unchanging hand. As my family continues to face our own adversity of uncertainty, I can not hide that it is and has been hard to remain faithful and patient in God’s promises. But I take comfort in knowing that if we just Follow and not Fall Away from the God we seek to serve, I am certain that in our desire to remain in Him he will remain in us and we shall bear fruit!

 

Joy and Happiness

When I attended the end-of-camp presentations at Camp Green Leaves last month I saw joy and happiness and I left with joy and happiness in my heart.   As each group did the presentations, there were smiles and hugs all around.  Both the campers and the counselors were enthusiastic about the songs and dances and about themselves.  Of special interest was when at the end of one of the songs, and not a planned part of the program,  a young boy turned to the audience and said, “See, I told you I would succeed!”  Maybe that was what all the joy and happiness was about.  “We may not all be able to do great things, but all of us can do small things with great enthusiasm.”

 

Is Your Antivirus up to date?

Think of your mind a place to store and process data. Your strengths as software. We all sin whether or not we mean too. There are a lot of destructive forces bombarding us on a daily basis. How we choose to deal with them is up to us. Viruses attacking a computer is a lot like the devil trying to get into your life. As soon as you let your guard down the devil will find a way to tempt you.

Jesus spent 40 days in the desert dealing with the devil trying to break down his defenses. He was tempted by offerings of kingdoms, make your own food. and I bet you can fly. Jesus knew better than to test God. He had God’s antivirus in place and up to date.

“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:2).

The Bible is our antivirus. Reading and learning from the various teachings throughout the bible will help you understand how to be strong in faith. As your faith strengthens so will your ability to fight off the temptations in your life.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”(Romans 12:2)

Witness

Growing up in the church, I have heard a lot of people talk about how Christians need to be out in the world “witnessing”.  That’s one of those churchy words:  witnessing.  Usually, what that has meant is telling the world that they need Jesus.  Churches and publishing companies have developed whole programs and written numerous books teaching people how to “witness to others.”  Over time, I will admit, I found myself put off by most of these efforts.  They either seemed too judgmental or too scripted or too hateful.

Recently though, I have found myself wanting to reclaim the idea of being a witness. In reading through the New Testament as a church these last few months, I have come to realize that my problems with “witnessing” were with what the church for decades turned it into.  In Acts 2:32, Peter gives the truest meaning of what it means to be a witness:  “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”  At Pentecost, Peter and the other disciples were sharing what they had seen Jesus do, what they had heard Jesus say.

What I have come to realize is that, for far too long, our “witnessing” efforts as Christians had less to do with what we have seen God do and more to do with what we have seen man do.  We witnessed by calling people sinners, but we would hesitate to share how Christ had dealt with the sin in our own lives.  We witnessed by laying out points and steps but without talking about the relationship that we ourselves shared with our Heavenly Father.  In short, we made witnessing something we had to learn.  I didn’t have to learn how to talk about what my wife or my kids mean to me, the difference they have made in my life.  If someone wants to hear, I just tell them what is on my heart.  Shouldn’t witnessing be that:  sharing from our heart about Christ and His love based on what we have seen and heard?

Right now, at First Baptist Elon, we are offering a seminar called “What’s Your Story?  Equipping the Saints to Build & Share Your Testimony”.  As David and I have been talking and preparing, our heart has been to reclaim the Acts 2 basis for witnessing:  share what you have seen and heard, share what Christ has done for you.  My hope is that this will not be just another program to drill into people’s heads what to say.  Instead, my hope is that we will set people free to reflect on how Scripture and experience has revealed the presence of the living Christ in their lives and the difference that relationship makes.  I really believe that the better witnesses we are, the better we are able to proclaim the gospel message of salvation.

Trees

I never noticed until this week that the Bible ends where it began:  at a tree.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.  On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2)

The last time we saw the tree of life was when Adam and Eve were being ushered out of the Garden of Eden to prevent them from eating of the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-23).  Now, as Scripture’s narrative draws to a close, here once again is the tree of life.  No longer is it tucked away in a garden guarded by an angel.  Now, it is in the middle of the new Jerusalem, in the middle of the street it seems, its fruit and leaves available not only to a few people but to anyone and everyone who passes by.

As I consider this image, I think of how many times I think perfect happiness or perfect peace is just out of reach.  “If only I had a little more time”.  “If I only we made a little more money”.  “If only we had a little bigger house”.  “If only I can get through this week”.  It feels like the tree of life is on the other side of a fence that is just a little too tall to climb.

What I am struck by as I read Revelation is that perfect happiness and perfect peace is not found in more time, more money, bigger houses, or less stress.  It is only in the presence of the living Lord that truly perfect joy and truly perfect peace will be experienced.  And the day is coming when we will so freely be in God’s presence that we will be able to just reach out and pluck a juicy fruit of contentment or roll in the leaves of perfect healing.  In the meantime, maybe I need to focus more on getting more of the one who planted the tree of life in the first place.  He is the one who can put all of that other stuff into proper perspective.