September 30, 2023
For the last two and a half days, I have participated in an online Leadership Event at the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, where Adam Hamilton is the Sr. Minister. We’ve used a number of his books in our studies at CCCC, and when I lived in Kansas City years ago, I would often attend this annual Leadership Event as it was just 40 minutes away. One of the speakers was a minister from New York City named Jacqui Lewis. In her small group session, she had a line that stuck with me. She said, “Candor is a spiritual practice.” She did not say being "rude” or “nasty” or “snarky” or “a basic jerk” is a spiritual practice, but candor.
In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes about our need to speak the truth in love, and then he follows those words with a passing thought on the necessity of “growing up,” or maybe we might call it maturity. As we grow in spiritual maturity, there is a greater appreciation of other people, the unique stories they bring to the moment, the complexity of their lives, and the emotional entanglements in which they find themselves. Of course, the same is true about us. So speaking the truth in love, or with “candor,” as Dr. Lewis suggested, requires a lot of intentional work. Sometimes it is the hard truth that is only going to get push back, but other times it is an expression of the truth that can be heard and might actually help others take a step. Let us continue to grow in our spiritual practices, including candor.
Lord God, sometimes my strong convictions are spoken out of my own frustrations of not being heard, understood, or feeling as if I am making a difference. Teach me to speak with candor, not with insensitive frankness, but in the belief that there is almost always a way of speaking the truth in love that can be heard without being watered down. Amen.
September 29, 2023
I used the word Stewardship in yesterday’s Etching, and though a lot of folks have some basic definition, it is one of those sort of ‘churchy’ words that may not necessarily have anything to do with a church’s financial budget. We are all stewards of the resources entrusted to us. Some of us are really good stewards of those resources, and others find it a bit more challenging. Of course, even the word ‘good’ is subjective. It really depends on your starting place and what you consider to be of utmost value. Of course, what we claim our values to be and how we embody those values may not always align. Fear, insecurity, unexpected crises, etc. can always blur how we manifest those values, especially in regard to how we steward our resources. Today, I want to think about what good stewardship of our time might look like.
In our current culture, in way too many settings, exhaustion is a badge of honor. Crazy work hours are the norm, and so often we respond to the question, "How are you?" by saying, "I am feeling slammed as the inbox is a mile high." That’s not to suggest the person is speaking half-truth, but it’s too bad that those kinds of responses tend to be the first thing that comes to mind. Or maybe we just assume that’s the expectation. If you’re not constantly weary, you must not be working too hard.
At the same time, the average American watches 150 hours of TV every month. That’s a lot of TV, and though I do not believe a little TV is bad (I watch TV while I’m on the stationary bike in the morning, and usually a football game each week in season), the average American does not volunteer even one full hour/week. It’s close, but not quite one full hour. That statistic stirs my imagination in regard to what would happen if the average American would take five of those TV hours every month and give them to something good and life-giving and hope-sharing. We are talking about reducing our TV watching hours from 150 to 145/month, so probably not a noticeable difference. And maybe you’ll get a bit more sleep. But those five extra hours per month would take the average American over two hours per week. Think about the impact that ever-so-small change could have on the world.
It’s really about asking ourselves what it means to be a good steward of all our resources, including the resource of time.
Continue to show me, Merciful God, where my gifts can meet the needs of humanity. And where I have tried to find my identity by overworking myself or by losing myself in streaming another episode, I pray for your Spirit to help me to be a better steward of the time I have been given. It is truly a gift that I desire to give away. Amen.
September 28, 2023
This coming Sunday, I will continue to reflect on the importance of the ONE as we begin to seriously think about who God is inviting us to be in 2024. Yes, it is budget time. That’s the no-nonsense way of saying it. I would prefer to think if it as stewardship, specifically how Cypress Creek Christian Church can be a good steward of all its resources for the sake of the ONE. I so wish we could snap our fingers and resources would pour forth in abundance, yet as I write those words, I have a bit of a grin on my face as I think about how I have witnessed abundance amidst scarcity.
I think about the first church I served full-time, and in the first few years I was there, church attendance dropped pretty dramatically. To be honest, those kinds of seasons in the life of the church can be a bit debilitating for both the ego and the soul. Yet amidst a lot of sleepless nights and tough conversations about the budget and where we might go, resources showed up. Not always in cash, but someone who can fix plumbing can help save the church some money. And we had someone! We also had a retired lineman from the electric company who freed up resources that we thought we were going to have to spend on a fried electric panel. And though there were a few months where we were sweating bullets in regard to payroll, we found a way—or maybe, I should say, God helped us find a way. And in the following five years, we more than doubled in worship attendance and more than tripled our impact on the community.
And since coming to Cypress Creek Christian Church, between bats and a flood, a pandemic, and a politically tense culture, we have continued to find a way forward and beyond. I believe it is because of the work we have done in honing our sense of identity, birthed out of 1 John 4:19, "We love because God first loved us," and then listening for the Spirit’s guidance in how that Love First Life is lived in a community of diverse people who love God and want to learn to love others a little more like Jesus. And what seems to happen is that people want to bring all of who they are to that work, often because they know someONE who, for whatever reason, has been made to believe that God’s love is not available. Our purpose, born out of a God who first loved us, is about that ONE, and I believe you are going to want to be a part of that ministry.
Ok God, we trust you to bring together the gifts needed for that ONE who yearns to know of your love, a love best expressed through the hands and hearts, the lips and lives of the people who gather in your name. Amen.
September 27, 2023
In my discussion of the Parable of the Lost Sheep on Sunday, I suggested the one who had sinned (missed the mark) and was in need of repentance (a shift in attitude and purpose) was the shepherd, not the sheep. Jesus sort of summarized the parable by saying,
“In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.”
According to the parable, it was the shepherd who lost the sheep. It does not say the sheep wandered off or got stuck in a hole. As the shepherd went in search of the one left behind, I guess the ninety-nine stayed where they were, though that part of the story sort of makes me wonder if ninety-nine should have stepped up and joined the shepherd.
I know I am going down the rabbit hole of parable guessing games, but too often we have not followed the people who stepped up, acknowledged their need for change, made needed and difficult adjustments in life, and then took a risk. Too often, we have left such people on their own. As a church, whenever someone takes a risk in his/her search for the one left alone, I sure hope we’ll have that person’s back.
Thank you, Lord God, for all the risk-takers who too often do the hard work completely on their own. Amen.
September 26, 2023
On Sunday, I begin to talk about the importance of seeking the one left behind and doing so at any cost. Though not entirely unique to Cypress Creek Christian Church, our statement of inclusion and our willingness to embrace people that other churches are quick to show the exit do set us apart from many other churches. I know I am biased, but I truly believe we are a very important voice in N.W. Harris County and beyond. We do this by continuing to speak a very Christ-centered understanding of the Gospel, without requiring people to leave at the doors of the church things like their brains and their compassion. In fact, it sort of seems to me that Jesus was all about inviting people to engage all of who they were in the work of discipleship. Jesus pushed the envelope in regard to who he welcomed and to whom he would enjoy table fellowship. It challenged most every corner of religion and culture in his day. Jesus did so to erase the lines of exclusion, yet early Christianity followed closely behind Jesus with its own engineering schematics, through which it reintroduced many unquestionable lines of demarcation. Lines create a much happier world for many folks until someone draws them outside the circle of acceptance. This was, in my opinion, the nonsense Jesus was seeking to dismantle, yet the Body of Christ has generally been too insecure to live into that kind of unrestrained and unimpeded love. As we continue to think about who God is calling us to be as a church, this is where the uniqueness of our calling is speaking to this moment in history.
God, there is so much of your Gospel hidden under layers of misconstrued interpretation and intentional whitewashing. Help me to unshackle Jesus from comfortable restraints placed upon him by a very uncomfortable church. It is never easy, but we trust your loving Spirit to be our guide. Amen.
September 25, 2023
A Prayer For The Week (modified from a prayer used on Sunday)
For every-ONE, for every single person who has experienced firsthand the pain of lostness, of being left behind, of being scapegoated, we turn to you, O Generous and Loving God, as we search for another way—including, if necessary, a change of attitude, mindset, and purpose. You held nothing back in your loving pursuit of humanity, and that included all the "ONEs" who had been made to feel as if their story did not matter. May we join you, Lord God, and all those who have followed your lead—by risking and sacrificing for the sake of the "One." It is what Jesus taught—it is what Jesus did. And it is in his name that we pray. Amen.
September 24, 2023
It is Sunday—isn’t it amazing how it seems to come back around every week? There is a pattern to our lives, and though some people push back against structure and regular practices, such things tend to create a rhythm that allows for more to be accomplished in a single day, along with keeping chaos at bay and helping to create a design for life that knows more peace. Some people have patterns in their weekly practices, and for others, the pattern is found daily. I find that if my morning routine is abruptly interrupted, not only do I find myself forgetting small things, but I feel more frazzled. A weekly gathering in a religious community may not be for everyone, but I find that beginning the week with the familiarity of worship, of people who speak and act with love, some rituals that reinforce my belovedness, and a song or two that lifts my spirit, can create a mindset much better prepared for whatever might come my way. I hope to see you in worship.
God, you invite us into a sacred rhythm through which we gain clarity and peace in our lives. May the familiarity of a community rooted in love recenter us in what is good and healthy and joy-filled. Amen.
September 23, 2023
Tomorrow, I get to preach on the topic I’ve been discussing almost all week here in my Etchings. The sermon will be based on the three parables in Luke’s Gospel, the three lost “items” — sheep, coin, son. Of course, I plan to turn the parable a little upside down in regard to who exactly is lost, but you’ll need to be there tomorrow to hear that.
So often, I hear people say, “Oh, that parable means…” (and they provide a very detailed explanation of the parable). Maybe I’m wrong, and I am often wrong, but I sort of believe that if Jesus had wanted that “very detailed explanation,” he would have just given us the detailed explanation. The power of parables and stories in general is their capacity to speak well beyond the actual words used to communicate. A good story grabs your attention, has something to which you can relate, and then stays with you while it continues to prod you. I believe Jesus used parables to suggest the journey of discovery is equally important to the destination, or maybe even more important.
Over the last thirty years, I have found more and more depth, meaning, and discomforting layers to some of the parables that I thought I fully understood thirty-one years ago. And maybe another reason for parables is their capacity to meet us where we are, and so depending on my current challenges or questions, a parable can become a window through which I see something I had never pondered before.
O Holy Giver of Wisdom, as strange and head-scratching as some of the parables might be, I am thankful for the way they walk alongside me in life, or even how they guide me onto paths I had never previously imagined. Thank you! Amen.
September 22, 2023
There are moments in the life of the church when I am so overwhelmed by the amazing history, stories, and giftedness of people. Sometimes, simply in passing, we have absolutely no comprehension of someone’s life experiences that have shaped them. Years ago, I was invited to walk alongside a woman after she went into hospice care. She had many physical health problems, including lung cancer from years of smoking. At first glance, I probably made some judgments on who this woman was and what she had accomplished in life. Come to find out, she had played baseball in the All-American Girls Baseball League (the movie A League of Their Own was based on this baseball league), and after leaving baseball, she successfully climbed five of the seven tallest mountains in North and South America. She had lived life to the fullest, and though her body was weak, her spirit remained spunky and adventurous. In the life of the church, we too often miss the gifts that people are bringing to the mission and work of the church, simply because of our assumptions about the people we meet. In I Corinthians 12:7, we read, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." How often is our "common good" not reaching its potential because certain gifts are not being used? And they are not being used because we have taken the time to get to know one another.
Give me ears to hear and the capacity to ask good questions, O God of the Universe. There is a richness found in the lives of those around us, and I pray that I have the capacity to be enriched by as much as I can. Amen.
September 21, 2023
I am guessing that most of us are drawn to stories about amazing rescues. Someone jumps into the water, runs into a burning building, or steps into some other dangerous situation to save an individual in need. And probably like many of you, I also enjoy watching the animal rescues—a dog is trapped on a shed as waters rise, a cat has fallen into a deep hole, or a duck is stuck in a storm drain. I’ve been known to get a little misty-eyed when the one lost finds its way to safety. I imagine Jesus’ audience enjoyed his parables about the lost sheep, coin, and son in a similar way, while some of the people did not recognize how the parables were pointing beyond themselves to some greater insight about themselves, their community, or even God. I tend to believe there is no such thing as a plain old story. In some way, at least a well-crafted story will grab your attention, often taking you on a journey, leaving you with questions, challenging old ways of thinking, and by the very nature of the story, you will remember it and maybe retell it. This Sunday, I hope to present the three parables about the lost being found, but with a little twist—hopefully encouraging a few more questions and leaving folks feeling a bit more challenged.
Holy Spirit, make within us a place receptive to the stories Jesus shared, a place where meaning can percolate, expand, and reshape us in the ways of your sacred grace and mercy. Amen.
Rev. Bruce Frogge