June 30, 2023
On this day in the year 296 AD, Marcellinus became the Bishop of Rome (also known as the Pope). Marcellinus has a questionable segment of his story, at least from some people’s perspectives. As the leader of the church, he was accused, during a time of persecution against Christians, of renouncing his faith by paying homage to a Roman god. According to some traditions, he quickly recommitted himself to the ways of Jesus and was killed for doing so. Whether this is the way things occurred or not, I have always been drawn to the story. For some in the early church, his decision to turn away from his faith was enough to write him off and not include his name among the martyrs. I, on the other hand, find him to be very real. We all would like to think that if we were truly tested, in a moment where remaining true to Jesus would mean death, we’d all remain true to Jesus. Really? None of us know, unless we’ve truly stood in that moment, what our answer would be. And if you live to tell about it, then we know your answer. I would go on to say that we all, many times each day, have had little moments where we chose something other than faithfulness. This is not intended to bash or cause guilt, but to acknowledge the real challenge of seeking the ways of Jesus and living into what we at Cypress Creek Christian Church call the Love First Life. Each day offers us another opportunity to try to love like Jesus, and it’s okay to learn from those previous less-than-stellar moments, but dwelling on them is not helpful. Whether it was how you responded to one of your kids, your spouse, your neighbor, your sibling, or a complete stranger, loving like Jesus is the goal. With that said, falling short is often the reality, yet grace and a little self-forgiveness help provide the pathway to the better.
May the depth of my devotion grow with each passing day, O Holy God, as I seek to learn more about myself, Jesus, and the witness of those who represented real struggle amidst their faithfulness. Amen.
June 29, 2023
This coming Sunday, we are going to look at some of the baggage we carry, specifically in the form of guilt, fear and anger. Not in every case, but in many situations, people have convinced themselves that God wants them to carry the weight of these emotions. I’m not suggesting these emotions are not legitimate in some situations, but too often we have a skewed perception of God that leaves us thinking faithfulness is equated with crushing guilt for every bad thing we’ve done; a deep-seated fear of God’s ultimate judgement; a need to be angry at someone, specifically ourselves. Of course, each of these manifests itself in strange and harmful ways. This is one of those moments when it is good to remind ourselves of the poetry found in Psalm 103, where we read:
How far has the Lord taken
our sins from us?
Farther than the distance
from east to west!
All the destructive ways we have come to understand religion, specifically the ways we have diminished the goodness and belovedness intrinsic to our humanity, God has tossed as far as the east is from the west. Yet sadly, we continue to cling to these ideas in the belief that they are what religion is all about. I think Jesus came to reinforce that life is intended to be lived in the joy of knowing our goodness and belovedness in the eyes of God.
I can grip tightly to the very things you, Beautiful and Life-giving God, have said have no claim over us. It is so easy to believe that religion should make us feel a little guilty, with some self-loathing and a dose of misguided fear. Yet Jesus came to announce the gift of life in hopes that we would know its intended abundance. Amen.
June 28, 2023
Woody Allen has a strange way of making a point that is often more truthful than those trying to be serious. He wrote, "More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." I believe Allen is right. There are times when none of the options appear to lead us to the things of light and love. In those moments, prayer is a good place to start (even though I think Allen was being a bit contemptuous), but then that prayer must guide us toward a faithfulness that does not give up in spite of all paths appearing futile.
Gracious God, when stuck between a rock and a hard place, guide me toward the third option: faithfulness. Amen.
June 27, 2023
Henri Nouwen is one of the great writers I turn to when I need to find a doorway to the spirit. He wrote, "To pray… to listen to the voice of the One who calls us the ‘beloved,’ is to learn that voice excludes no one." On my best days, I can get a little cocky and think of myself a bit too highly. On my less than stellar days, and there are many, I am reminded of my many flaws, too many to name in this Etching. On those days, I am reminded of my arrogance, selfishness, greed, and pettiness (my family would have others to add). Yet I do, more often than I deserve (though that’s the point), hear an ever-so-gentle voice reminding me that I am loved beyond measure, and if I’m in, then so is everyone else. The moment I start drawing lines that will exclude others is the day my judgement, if I’m honest, will exclude me. Yet even in that moment, God—through the Spirit, the Church, the Scriptures, or an unexpected voice—reminds me that I am still one of God’s bumbling beloved.
For all the many ways you remind me of your limitless and relentless love, O God, I am truly thankful. Amen.
June 26, 2023
I desire to be quiet, God
I yearn to know you’re there
To sit with me
and be reminded of
who I am
who you are
and what it means
to live in your love
You are always more willing
to make space and time
than I am to pause and step into it
Yet when I make the time
and move into that space
you are there
to receive me
to embrace me
and to let me know
that I am forever loved
June 25, 2023
In Jonah 3:2, we read: "Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you." The phrase ‘get up and go’ appears more than fifteen times in the Bible. God is often telling people to get up from whatever they are doing and go to a specific destination. On a few occasions, it is to escape danger, but more often, it is to accomplish God’s hope for the world. This morning, I am getting up for worship with the intention of preaching a sermon that I hope honors the Gospel of Jesus. Those, like Jonah, often found themselves going places and into situations they never would have imagined. Even situations that were frightening. Today, I’m feeling pretty safe, though I hope what I do shows great esteem for those who sacrificed so much more than I ever will.
O Lord of the Journey, give us the courage to accept your prodding toward faithfulness. Amen.
June 24, 2023
This entire week, I have been using my Etchings to prepare for tomorrow’s sermon. That’s a lot of energy and thought spent getting ready for one sermon, and now there is this anxiety that I have way overhyped this sermon. That was not my intention. But as I sit here today, I’m wondering if folks will walk out tomorrow saying, "Well, that was disappointing!" I am reminded of the old adage, "Under promise and over deliver, not the opposite."
I will be concluding the sermon series on Extending the Welcome: How do you define community without lines? In a world that likes dualistic thinking—us or them, insiders vs. outsiders, winners and losers—I have been suggesting that Jesus presented an alternative vision of life together. Within 50 years of the Church’s birth (approximately 50 years after the ascension of Jesus), there has been a struggle over how to define community. The Apostle Paul wrote, "There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). He offers a glimpse of the Kin(g)dom of God, while creating an expectation of how life within the church should be lived. The traditional way of defining others has been based on what they are not, but Paul challenges that thinking and invites us to think of the other, first and foremost, as one of God’s beloved. In theory, it seems simple. But as you try to live it out, there is a definite discomfort as one is confronted with the implications of such an idea. Suddenly people are saying, "Oh, I assumed you didn’t mean those people."
In tomorrow’s sermon, I am going to ponder how Paul might speak to a church today that is so divided, recognizing that there were people in his community that hated or were fearful of Jews (or Gentiles); there were those who continued to believe women were inferior to men (perpetrating gender-based violence); and those who upheld the idea that some people were less and thus deserving of slavery. In today’s culture, it might be immigrants, including those who are undocumented. It might be those who are homeless and viewed as lazy. It might be those who are gay or lesbian. It might be those who are transgender or genderfluid. And of course, it might be… (you fill in the blank).
What did the people in the parking lot say to one another, before getting on their donkeys, in regard to what Paul’s letter said? Were there those who were okay with some of what Paul wrote but sure didn’t want to openly welcome any slaves into the community? "Surely Paul has made a mistake," is what some of them thought. How do we really, not just in word, begin our interaction with others with the opinion that this person who stands before us is one of God’s beloved, and any negative thought that comes to mind is probably going to interfere with us making real God’s Kin(g)dom here and now?
In a world built on the binary, on us vs. them, we look to Jesus for something to shatter that old model. Holy and Grace-filled God, provide for us a clear vision of what is possible along with the resolve to see the probable become our daily practice. Amen.
June 23, 2023
On Easter of 1960, Bob Jones (of Bob Jones University) preached a sermon entitled: Is Segregation Scriptural? If you know the history of Bob Jones, then you already know the answer to the question posed by the sermon title. Bob Jones prided himself on his perfect literal reading of the Bible, and so he went in search of Bible verses to support his belief that segregation was a good thing. He chose Acts 17:26,
From one person God created every human nation to live on the whole earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands.
This one sentence from the Bible was the basis of the argument. In the original Greek, it has just 22 words, yet in the sermon, Bob Jones said, "That says that God Almighty fixed the bounds of their habitation. That is as clear as anything that was ever said." On a very literal level, I guess it is clear, but I believe there is a monumental leap from that one sentence to the idea that the American understanding of segregation was intended and blessed by God.
I share this to point out how the perfect literal reading of the Bible in one moment of time, done by one person, can be nonsense. Or it can be damaging to an entire society and threaten the lives of many of those living in that society.
If Bob Jones had been perfectly honest, he would have told people that his starting place was not scripture, but a belief that Blacks were inferior and races should not mix. He then went in search of a Bible verse to support his belief. We all do it, but the difference is the honesty of our starting place. Bob Jones would have simply said, "I’m just telling you what the Bible says." In fact, he was telling us what the Bible said under a layer of interpretation that was shaped by his hatred of those who were of a different color.
I try to be honest about my starting place. If I were to summarize it, I would say that the Jesus I have met in scripture, prayer, and the Church reflects to me a God whose love is limitless and relentless in letting all human beings know just how loved they are. That is the lens through which I read all other scripture. If the Bible appears to be suggesting I hate or exclude someone, then either I am reading the scripture incorrectly or maybe that part of the scripture does not reflect the heart of God.
As I shared last week, the sermon this coming Sunday might be challenging for some people. But if you come and listen, and you find yourself disagreeing, ask yourself where your starting place is. When you are honest about that, it is much easier to have conversations where there is disagreement.
Merciful God, continue to work within me and through me for the sake of your Kin(g)dom. May scripture continue to shape me as my experiences continue to have me seeing scripture in new ways. Amen.
June 22, 2023
Last Sunday, I made an announcement about the sermon this coming week. Without specifics, I suggested it might be a bit more challenging for some folks. In my preaching, I try to balance encouragement, teaching, inspiration, and challenge. No one sermon falls solely into a single category. There is always some overlap. So I don’t believe Sunday’s sermon will only challenge, but it will require most people to stretch themselves in regard to their understanding of scripture and where those lines are drawn. So often, we assume that within scripture there is a single voice with a single message. As you’ve heard me say often, I do not believe the Bible is a book, but a library. And like any library, there are many different voices, not all of them agreeing. Whether it was the Prophets disagreeing with something said in Leviticus, or Jesus suggesting that what people had heard might need a small correction, there is a definite move toward greater inclusion. I think about Deuteronomy 23 that tells us that a eunuch, no matter how a person became a eunuch, shall not, in any way, belong to the Lord’s assembly. Basically, an eunuch is an outsider. In the Prophet Isaiah, there seems to be a change of heart when the Prophet writes about the eunuch, and how they will be "better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever." And then Jesus says, " For there are eunuchs who have been eunuchs from birth. And there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by other people. And there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs because of the kingdom of heaven. Those who can accept it should accept it" (Matthew 19:12). I pulled a commentary off my shelf to see what it had to say about this verse, and I laughed out loud when I found out that the scholar simply skipped the verse all together. I guess ignoring it is one way of dealing with it. And though Jesus is using the verse to make a point about marriage and celibacy, it still would have been shocking to his listeners to hear him affirm the idea of someone removing their genitals for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. You cannot draw a perfect line of consistency through scripture. It was not intended to be read that way, and in fact, it has only been in the last hundred and fifty years or so that churches have attempted to teach such a thing. Keep that in mind this Sunday, but I’ll talk more about things in tomorrow’s Etching.
Never allow me to think I’ve got the Bible or faith all figured out. Gracious God, continue to teach me and nudge me along the way. Amen.
June 21, 2023
Do you ever read a story in the news that you wish you would not have read? There is a satirical "news" source called the Onion, and I wished the article I had read a few days ago was in fact an article from the Onion, yet sadly it was not. The article was on BBC News Online, and it was about an underground network of folks that torture monkeys and have online subscribers to these videos. It’s big money, and people pay extra to make requests for how they’d like to see the monkeys tortured. I’m certain I have ruined your day with that news, but I have yet to get it out of my brain since reading it. I know there is a lot of really messed-up stuff in this world, and that includes violence perpetrated on both human beings and other creatures, yet how does this happen? How do we become so desensitized to the pain experienced by humans and all the amazing creatures on this planet? I’m not naive enough to think we can create some sort of pain-free world, but we’ve got to do better than this. There is also an online influencer (recently arrested overseas) who has videos that millions of people have watched in which he spreads all kinds of misogynistic garbage that includes encouraging men to be violent toward women, suggesting the men must show their dominance. You might think this is inconsequential gibberish, but schools around the world have reported teenage males acting violently toward teenage females and pointing to this online influencer as the reason.
Anytime I report something like this, I get responses from those who want to suggest a simple explanation for why such things are happening and how we can solve them by just doing this one thing. Let’s be clear: this is nothing new for human beings. There has always been, among some groups of people, a demonic (not a word I use often) appetite for power born of insecurity and fear, often expressed in manipulation and violence. The church has too often provided cover, if not overt support, for such things. In too many places, we’ve become part of the problem. At Cypress Creek, we are far from perfect, but I believe we are offering a very different vision of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We really are striving to Put Love First In All Things, trying to shift the paradigm to an understanding of a Jesus who presented the goal of love and suggested the only means to that goal is to live the life of love. We’ve got our work cut out for us, but at the end of the day, we find strength in the idea that we are all loved beyond measure by the God of the Universe.
Give me strength and wisdom, O God, for the work set before me this day. It is easy to reach for things other than love when trying to respond to hate, arrogance, mean-spiritedness, misogyny, and violence. Through your Holy Spirit, help double our efforts as a community seeking to follow Jesus. Perfection may not be our goal, but persistence in the good work of loving others is our hope. Love not only changes hearts but can also change broken and unhealthy systems in this world. May our simple grace-filled contribution be joined with others seeking a similar goal. Amen.
Rev. Bruce Frogge