Posts in Family Stories
To the Least of These

Who will we see at church? Any celebrities? Any movers and shakers—or just the moved and shaken? How many are a little too old for your comfort? Too young? Too rich? Too poor? Too dark-skinned? Too light-skinned? Too traditional? Too progressive? Good grief, who are these people?

But wait—we need to put on these special glasses, the bifocals of self-denial and Christ-realization. Their first field of vision sees “no longer I but Christ.” The second field sees “no longer you but Christ.” Both foci are critically necessary for you and me to see really where we are and whom we are with.

Look now! Is that a holy woman I see? And isn't that man a priest? Look, we're surrounded by royalty! We're in the company of saints, not marble myths but flesh and blood saints. These citizens of God's Kingdom are, in fact, ambassadors of the King. These princes and princesses are heirs of the Kingdom, co-heirs with Christ, timeless, eternal. For these are the very children of God, your sisters, my brothers.

We've gone to Church, you see—not a building of wood or stone, not a program that takes up one hour a week—but to Church, to Zion, to the Temple of God! These are the Chosen People, and every one of them has received adoption into the Family, ordination into the Priesthood, election into the Kingdom, incorporation into the Body, and an invitation, blood engraved, into the Royal Banquet!

What if for some reason you decide that you don't like me at all, that I am generally wrong-headed and offensive? Could your view of me become so severe that even my virtues look to you like vices? Could I, in your eyes, do nothing right even when I am, in fact, doing right? What would you do with me? What if you had to work or worship with me?

But then, what if you could see past all that alienates us? What if God gave you the grace to deny not only your self but my old self as well, to recognize only the Christ within us both? What if—just imagine—you actually could see in me the being that God is re-forming from one degree of glory to the next? What if you could actually see the finished product? Suddenly it's no longer a matter of mere tolerance. Suddenly it is all you can do to resist falling down and worshipping this glorious being! Paul put it this way:

So from now on we view no one from a merely human perspective; In fact, we once looked at Christ in the merely human way, but no longer is that the way we know him. So then, with anyone in Christ, you have a new creature. The old things have passed on by. Now look: they’ve become new!

2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Jesus himself said it with the most dramatic simplicity: “I tell you that just as surely as you did to any member of my family, even the least, you did to me” (Matthew 25:40).

Now we understand why the New Testament places so much emphasis on koinonia, the fellowship of the saints. This sharing, this participation, this partnership, this getting together (in the deepest sense) is far more than the optional icing on the cake of discipleship. Fellowship is essential, because in each brother and sister Christ takes on concrete reality.

You and I are family. We are the church. Whenever we come together, we come, not as two selves but as members, organs of the one body of Christ. If that is true, then I will approach you, then in a state of self-denial and Christ-realization. I am not here to protect my status or promote my agenda. I am here simply to be Jesus to you. I am the vessel, the clay jar; Christ is the content.

I embrace you, then, to honor the Christ in you, the one reality that, for me, eclipses every detail of your mortality. I see your immortality.

Because we both are being transformed into the image of Christ, we don't have to remake each in our own images. We needn’t fear differences of taste, perspective or disposition that might otherwise become barriers between us. Indeed, we celebrate our distinct gifts, talents and personalities, all subject to our sovereign Lord. We show, not passive or indifferent tolerance, but active and invested love.

- Larry Hall, from his book No Longer I

Take a few minutes—without distractions—to reflect on this story. Finish your reflection time in prayer. Pray especially for our church as we see Christ in each other.

Fellowship of Believers

When I was in high school, I had only one friend who was a follower of Christ. That friend lived 2½ hours away, and I only saw her about once a month. It should be no surprise, then, that my spiritual life throughout high school was almost non-existent.

Fast forward to my freshman year of college at Harding University. For the very first time in my life, I was surrounded by and living with people who knew Jesus and were making an effort to love and follow Him. This change of scenery radically changed my life. I began reading my Bible—not just to memorize a verse or two, but actually reading it. I started praying—not just before meals, but actually coming before the throne of the God who created everything, spilling my guts and rejoicing in His holiness. I began confessing my sins—repenting from all of those years of lukewarm living and comparing my sins to those of my unbelieving friends rather than Jesus. I began making disciples—as these women who were further along in the faith poured into me, I realized I had a life full of friends and family back home who needed the life-changing power of Jesus that I had just discovered.

I believe this is the power God intended for His Church. God did not design us to do life alone, without the fellowship of believers, but He used the Body of Christ to spur me on to be a doer of the Word and not a hearer only. Since my time at Harding, my husband and I have moved many times, and it is our ambition to find this kind of fellowship wherever we are. And here in Texas, it is my joy to say we have found it at Belton Church of Christ within our small group.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47

- Whitney Striclyn

Take a few minutes—without distractions—to reflect on this story. Finish your reflection time in prayer. Pray especially for our small groups here at BCC, and if you’re not in one currently, consider joining one soon.

Mission Trips

Gracie jumps out of the van as it finally arrives in La Laguna, Mexico, and races toward the tiny girl standing beside her dad on the steps of the church. Gracie, five years old, takes the gum out of her mouth and sticks it into the mouth of the smaller child, who chews and grins. Yanet takes it out of her mouth and puts it back into Gracie’s, and I think, “Okay, then. God? A little help here?” Neither little girl seems to suffer any ill effects at all.

Welcome to the world of missions.

We’ve just heard gunshots out in the streets of El Progreso, Honduras, and yet the children on the patio don’t even seem to notice. They see us with big bags of candy, but instead of crowding toward us, they turn and run to sit at picnic tables, watching us with big eyes and smiles. We pass among the tables and place a small pile of candies in front of each one, smiling at each other when one little boy looks up from his three Tootsie Rolls and screams, “Cho-co-lahhhh-te!” An older child nearby raises her hand and asks me a question in Spanish, pointing to a tiny boy beside her. “We all have five pieces and he only got three. Do we need to give him some of ours?”

There’s no better experience of koinonia, that wonderful fellowship that makes us church, than a mission trip with the Belton Church of Christ. My best memories and lessons in love are snapshots, moments from mission trips that opened my eyes to the deep, sweet bliss of souls with their Savior.

Our last day in the little town of Nuevo Padilla, we decide to go out to the lake, a man-made body of water not quite covering the last remains of Viejo Padilla, the little village flooded to make the new lake. A few families are camping there, cooking fish and scattered around the edges of an old and beautiful building, which had been a school a hundred years before. Teenagers were lounging around the old porticoes, listening to a boom box blasting, “La Macarena.” Our own teens jump out of the vans, run to the porch, and make a line, going through the motions of the song with the Mexican teenagers dancing there. Grins came out, high fives exchanged, and we smiled for the rest of the day.

Each of us felt valuable, each as important for what we could contribute as the next, and safe together. My language skills were nice, but Mickey’s quick way of setting up my tent was much more important to me after a long day of travel. Rodney’s cooking skills and shopping in foreign markets were the most important thing of all, at some point. Teens ran wild with children, playing long past what I could have done. Dick and his helpers brought desperately needed medical attention and eyecare resources; Don made construction jobs easy, Donna did VBS perfectly…the list goes on.

We shot potatoes across the canyon with a potato cannon, jumped around on pogo sticks which we left for the village to enjoy, poured concrete floors, visited the sick, gave away candy, crayons, and clothes. One year we outfitted a whole village with new shoes. The children enchanted us, the ladies fed us, and God’s guardian angels guided us. We drove through breath-taking mountains on narrow, hairpin turns, and stopped to sing in the open-air mountain chapel where truckers and travelers lit candles at shrines for safe passage. We run into the Gulf of Mexico waves, Allen holding a tiny Gracie close as they ride up high on the rushing waters, enjoying her shrieks of just too much fun.

I wish everyone could be part of a mission trip.

Bruce leads us into the rain forest terrain, where we zipline across deep green canyons, leaving trails of terror and tremors in the sky behind us, mostly grinning and finally relieved to be on tierra firma again. We work. We’re all of different ages and life stages; it doesn’t matter. We love each other fiercely and treasure up every single moment we have together.

When we get home, my guardian angels check into some heavenly rehab somewhere to rest, my husband does mountains of laundry, and I unpack souvenir coffee from every tiny crevasse of my luggage. My heart has stretched to make even more room for my fellow travelers and the people we met, who will forever stay in our prayers. I am so grateful. So blessed.

- Jane Gibson

Take a few minutes—without distractions—to reflect on this story. Finish your reflection time in prayer. Pray especially for the people of Honduras, and the work of Mission Upreach.

You can find more information about Mission Upreach online at missionupreach.org.

Christian Farms / Treehouse

In those last hours before his betrayal, Jesus spoke to his disciples about what his life, and theirs, was all about. Two thousand years later, he says the same thing to us. On several occasions Jesus was asked to list the commandments according to importance. He boiled everything down to “love God and love others.”

On that Thursday evening, he not only narrowed the list down even further, he demonstrated what it would look like on Friday afternoon. And to us, what we would look like on Monday morning. He said that his disciples would be known by love. It's puzzling to many of us that he didn't mention education, buildings, clothes, or bands. Love was always the identifying mark of his teachings and his life. That night he set the bar even higher by saying, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

What does love look like? Well, the Rabbi said it looked like him. Not only what he said, but what he did. He washed their feet (even Peter and Judas) and then went out and died. Notice that he used the word “command”...not merely a suggestion. Discipleship means that we look like Jesus. And we act like Jesus. Easy to say, but so difficult to pull off.

Jesus loved “the least of these” by revealing that he was the messiah to a rejected woman in a despised country. He befriended a woman that everyone else wanted to kill. He ate with the hated tax collectors and touched the untouchables. Finally, he went to a cross and said, “Forgive them, they don't know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Each week we get an opportunity to associate with “the least of these.” Men and women whom many have rejected. Some have even come close to giving up on themselves. Drugs and alcohol are the demons that have hardened their heart and stolen their joy. Christian Farms / Treehouse is a faith-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Temple. These residents come to us on Wednesday evening for a meal and a class prepared especially for them. The first Sunday of each month, they attend our worship time and stay for a potluck lunch. Many in our congregation volunteer as Spiritual Encouragers and spend time one-on-one with the folks there. We provide financial help to The Farm through blankets, pillows, clothing, bus tickets, prescription medicines, and a variety of other opportunities. Mainly, we give them a pat on the back, encouragement, and a listening ear. Along the way, we show them what Jesus looks like.

The folks at The Farm are no different than us. Romans 3:23 says that we all sin and fall short. “All” is a Greek word that means “all.” In Ephesians 2:10, God calls all of us Masterpieces...even those with blue hair and tattoos…even those who dress differently or smell differently.

One verse from a Casting Crowns song says, “break our heart for what breaks yours.” To hear the life stories of the men and women at The Farm is heartbreaking. They come for relief from their demons—to make the hurt go away. Professionals there do what professionals do, but we have the opportunity to present a person who can break the chains. Love is expressed not only by words, but by visible actions of acceptance and compassion.

Shirley Foster began our association with Treehouse over 13 years ago when she invited the ladies there to attend our Ladies Bible Class on Wednesday morning. After that, she asked if the men and women could come to our Wednesday meal and classes. They agreed. About eight years ago she asked Bill Nabers if he would teach a class for the residents after the meal on Wednesdays. Bill prepared the curriculum and taught the class with Ephesians 2:10 as the theme. That class continues today.

It is my belief that Father often comes to us and says, “I am going to do something in this world. I just want to know if you want to come along.” He doesn't need us to make Him better. There is nothing we can give to make Him richer. But He wants us...and that makes all the difference in the world.

Our association with CFTH did not begin around a table with a group of folks planning to start a “ministry.” There is still no “organization.” Just a group of people who want to show others what love looks like.

- Raymond Chapman

Take a few minutes—without distractions—to reflect on this story. Finish your reflection time in prayer. Pray especially for the ministries of Christian Farms and Treehouse.