Let Your ‘Yes’ Be ‘Yes’

by Ken Sun, Bethesda Campus Pastor

Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’, ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:37)

It was 7 am on a Saturday. It was cold and rainy, and none of us wanted to be there. But earlier in the week we had promised our fellow small group member that we would help him move. Did we have thoughts of “bailing” on him when the alarm clock went off before the crack of dawn? I can only speak for myself, but to be honest I certainly did. I tried to justify my thoughts as I lay in bed:

“He asked a lot of guys, he probably doesn’t need me.”

“I had a tough week and really need to catch up on my sleep.”

“He probably doesn’t have that much stuff to move, and I’ll just be standing around anyway.”

But there I was with seven other guys all of whom had said we would be there on Saturday morning to help our friend move.

You see, in one of our studies together earlier that year, we had studied Matthew 5:33-37 where Jesus says in verse 37, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” We noted that this teaching was repeated almost word for word in James 5:12, and it ends with a sterner warning, “Let your ‘Yes’ be yes, and your ‘No’ be no, or you will be condemned.”

In this simple teaching, Jesus shows us that following Him means living a life of integrity where simply saying we’ll do something means we’ll do it. That should be all people need to hear from us.

So there we were, cold, wet and tired. And really, it wasn’t that bad. He had even bought enough coffee and donuts to go around as we moved his belongings and then had a mini-celebration at his new place.

Interestingly, another guy showed up several hours later when the weather had cleared and when we were almost done. He was a co-worker of our friend who was moving. He couldn’t believe so many of us had gotten there so early in the morning.

A bit chagrined, he asked my friend, “Where did you find these guys? Do they all owe you large sums of money that you said you’d forgive if they showed up?”

My friend smiled and said, “These guys are in my small group from church. And, I know I can count on them: when they say ‘Yes’, they mean yes.”

I can tell you, this left an impression on my friend’s non-believing co-worker that a dozen sermons would never have done.

May we, too, always let our “Yes” be yes.

Heavenly Father, forgive us for the times we haven’t done what we said we’d do. We pray that You would help us be people of integrity where our “Yes” means yes. And we thank You that you always do what you say You’re going to do. Amen.

Knowledge of God’s Word

by Mike Kelsey, Frontline Silver Spring Campus Pastor

“I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.” (Psalm 119:15)

Do you struggle to be disciplined in reading the Bible? Most of us do. Sometimes busyness gets in our way. Other times, to be honest, reading the Bible just seems boring. On a good day, we do read it, and we’re able to glean a nugget of encouragement or instruction for the day.

But is this the experience God intended for us to have with His inspired Word?

We would all probably answer with an immediate “No!” So why can’t we seem to get beyond the mental roadblocks?

One reason may be because of the way we view the Bible. Most Christians view the Bible as either a book of rules, a book of guidance, a book of encouragement, or a book of doctrine. And the Bible is all of that. But the Bible is ultimately a book about God, given to us in order to know and love Him.

The psalmist in Psalm 119 reads the Bible and spends time considering God’s ways. That means he reads the Bible as a way to get to know God. He reflects on God’s characteristics. He ponders God’s methods. He makes note of what pleases God and what infuriates Him.

This way of reading the Bible infuses our quiet times with excitement, awe and sober reflection. It inflames our worship and fuels our obedience.

So rather than promising yourself that you’ll read X number of chapters tomorrow, take a moment to ask God to show you more of Himself through His Word.

Father, thank You that You have brought me into a personal relationship with Yourself through Christ. You are my God, and I want to get to know You more. I want to know what pleases You and what grieves You. I want to learn more of Your wisdom, power and love. Please show me more of Your ways as I read Your Word. Amen.

A Thanksgiving Tradition

by Brian Walters Director of Adult Ministries @MBCLoudoun

Annie Laurie and I started a tradition the second year of marriage that at our Thanksgiving meal we would always go around the table at dinner time and say several things we are thankful for from God. I know this sounds cheesy, but it’s been great because it reminds us who our focus should always be on (God), it’s a great time to encourage others, and it always leads to deeper and greater dinner conversations. You may also take this opportunity to make some positive deposits in your spouse’s love bank if you are married/engaged (Hint, hint, fellas).

In addition, to saying what we are thankful for a buddy (Alex) and I a couple years ago added in another tradition. Before we say what we are thankful for each person must do their best turkey noise impression. This always lightens the mood and makes for great entertainment. Younger children really get into this and the BIG kids love it too.

Below are a few examples of how simple and easy it is to say what you are thankful for to God at Thanksgiving:

  • Jesus Christ – I most thankful for Jesus because he loves me unconditionally w/no strings attached. He loves me so much that He gave up His life for me (Romans 5:8)
  • Annie Laurie – my wife is my best friend and she is my biggest fan.  She loves me even when I’m at my worst.  She helps me stay level headed and always is there for me. I’m so thankful that God brought her in my life over 8 years ago (Cha-Ching)
  • Lucy Kate & #2 (POTUS) – God has blessed Annie Laurie and I with such a sweet little girl and child #2 which will arrive this May. I love how her smile can light up room and how God uses her to grow me like Him more every day.
  • Family – Even though none of our family lives in the Commonwealth of Virginia they would travel to see us in the drop of a dime if we needed them.
  • Friends – We are blessed w/an incredible amount of friends that are caring, thoughtful, and just AWESOME.

So what’s your Thanksgiving tradition?  We would love to hear about it. If you don’t have a tradition it’s never too late to start one and feel free to leverage our traditions. However, if you do the turkey noises I expect you to record them and send me the best sound bites.

May you and your family have a wonderful, happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

True Mark of Leadership

by Susie Battle, Director of Ministry Teams @MBCLoudoun

“The church is the most leadership-intensive enterprise in society.”

That’s what Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek, thinks.

Why?  According to John Maxwell in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, positional leadership doesn’t work in volunteer organizations.  In the military, leaders use rank.  In business, there is salary, benefits, perks… and simple necessity of having a job.  “But in voluntary organizations the thing that works is leadership in its purest form: influence.”

CEOs often ask Maxwell how to find the best leadership in their organization.  His answer?  Lead a volunteer organization for six months.  If people follow you in a volunteer capacity, “that is the mark of true leadership ability.”

I love that we have an amazing group of leaders at MBC Loudoun who gets this.  I’ve talked with many leaders about how different it is to lead volunteers, and according to Maxwell, it is perhaps the most valuable thing you can do for your growth as a leader in any arena.

Embracing Our Community (Part 2)

By Howard & Judy Levin

Jesus was clear that we should take the Great Commandment literally, saying “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).  He continues on to say, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:45).

There are more than 2,200 verses in the Bible focused on serving the least.  So, there is no denying what the prophet Micah indicated the Lord requires, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).  But, our small group had failed to apprehend what our lack of love for mercy indicated about our understanding of God’s mercy toward us!

Before the outreach to the Catoctin community started, our small group was a poster child for what James described, “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says” (James 1:22).  Our schedules seemed so jam packed, crowding out time for serving and developing relationships where we might share the Gospel.  Had we fallen prey to the forces of consumerism and individualism in our culture?  Worse yet, did we have a heart problem, lacking the same thing as the Pharisees – compassion?

Over time, the Holy Spirit convicted our small group that we needed to experience what we had been learniStudent at camp.ng in our Bible studies and step out beyond our safe, cozy community.  As we more fully experienced and understood God’s grace, we became more and more motivated to seek generosity and social concern in our community, especially towards those struggling to thrive.  We grew in our understanding of how this reflects the character of God and how we wanted to express Him within our community.

We discovered our common heart for children, particularly those who were not thriving.  This led us to Catoctin Elementary school who was serving a relatively high number of families with significant needs, e.g. physical necessities, language barriers, etc.                     

Initially, we had only a vague idea of what being a blessing might look like, so we asked God to help us.  We asked Him to open doors so we could embody and proclaim the gospel through both deed and word.  He opened those doors by providing people of peace (Luke 10:6).  In our case, these were school officials with whom we later developed strong relationships.  Now dear friends, these officials helped us to understand the culture, needs and dreams of the community.  They pointed us to ways we could help.  As we served faithfully and consistently in the areas they directed, relationships grew and we were entrusted with greater opportunities. We were told that we were different because we stayed, we listened and we loved, while some others had been in and out, and sometimes wanted to do their own thing.                                        

Our servants cut across all demographics of our church – including students from Kids Quest and the Rock who have provided school supplies, coats, eyeglasses, summer school scholarships, etc.  We have a stellar group who has invested to become certified English Language Learning (ELL) teachers (Claudia Rabe, Erin Taylor, Michelle Coggins, Tom and Sandra Donati, Jackie Hess, Deb Neely, Katrina Davis, Renee Venegas, Michelle Campbell, Brenda Hicks).  We have men serving during the day and evening programs.  Trevor Hill, Darrell Melcher and Howard Levin have been effective tutors, but have also served as great male role models.  Our ladies Teri L’Heureux, Claudia Rabe, Lara Zamora, Jennifer Gustavus and Judy Levin have logged many hours tutoring.   Also, we have found great synergies with other ministries, e.g. with our homeless shelter ministry, Cooking for Christ and His Hands Home Repair, and our Impact & Crux communities.

 MBC Loudoun ELL teachers shown with graduating class of English Language Learners.

Poverty is often an issue even in Loudoun County, a place with the highest median family income in the US.  In Loudoun, 4% live below the Federal poverty standard ($23k for family of 4) and another 10% have significant visible needs, falling in the gap of eligibility for receiving public assistance.   Far too often, single moms with young children are affected.  Particularly in this economy, we find people experiencing ‘perfect storms’ of challenges driven by lost income, housing, health issues, etc. and worsened by fractured family structures and support networks.  We typically encounter three situations:  1) emergencies where a family or individual is in crisis, 2) a change in status creating an intermediate term insecurity and 3) chronic inability to thrive.  We strive to tailor solutions based upon the unique needs of these situations.

In addition to schools, a key element of the Embrace Loudoun strategy is teaming with other churches, non-profits, businesses, and individuals in the community to mobilize resources.  Often, this opportunity to work together on a shared ‘cause’ provides additional opportunities for relationships and following up on spiritual curiosities.  If anyone is interested in discovering where God may have provided a place for you in this mission (Ephesians 2:10), please contact Howard Levin, (howard.levin@embracecatoctin.org).

Your are Essential to the Body (Day 30)

By Jim Supp, Campus Pastor @MBCLoudoun

Today’s Meditation

14 For the body is not onemember, but many. 15If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19If they were all one member, where would the body be?” ~ 1 Corinthians 12:14-19

Devotional

When you consider your life in relation to the Body of Christ – this family we have been talking about – do you see yourself as critical?  I understand that no one is indispensable and that we should always guard against pride.  I mean, Paul did tell us to ‘not think more highly of ourselves than we ought to, but to think with sober judgment.’  (Romans 12:3)  At that same time Paul is also clear that the functioning of the Body (or the Family of Christ) rests on each one’s critical contribution.  It’s easy for us to think that we can just blend in and be inconspicuous during church services.  If we don’t get involved is anyone really going to miss us?  We might ask ourselves “what do I have to offer?”  But in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul also clearly indicates that if parts of the body are missing “where would the body be?”  The truth is, God is the one who constructed the Body, and He is the one who gave each one its place.  The expectation of the living God is that we discern our place, that we function by His power in that place and that we don’t minimize our own place, or anyone else’s, for that matter.  Sometimes it seems that there are parts in the Body of Christ that have gone to sleep independently of the rest of the Body.

Most churches in America have a membership process that people engage to become ‘members.’  (Membership is a huge discussion that we cannot tackle here.)  Most churches also have a designation on their roles as that of ‘inactive member.’  Hmm.  Is there really a place in the Body of Christ for people who aren’t ‘active?’  Isn’t the better question – is there a problem created when body parts aren’t functioning?  It may take time for some of us to understand what part we best play in the Body of Christ, but it is imperative that each one of us seek to figure it out.

As we wrap up the devotionals for our Fall Initiative – “Becoming a Family Expecting Guests” – I pray that each person who attends MBC Loudoun would understand the critical role that they play in our midst.  Never underestimate what God can and will do with you in the Body when you submit to Him, and let Him create just the right place for you.  God bless.

Embracing Our Community (Part 1)

By Howard & Judy Levin

Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it? (Luke 13:18). Using parables of the mustard seed and yeast, He emphasizes small beginnings and large endings.  MBC Loudoun’s Embrace Catoctin story started small, through a ‘small group’outreach to Catoctin Elementary School in Leesburg.  Today, the school provides a focal point for ministry to an entire community, one where we are not only serving, but a part of the community itself!   God is using our people to bring good news and BE good news.  He is helping us to appreciate His heart and to grow by serving and sharing in community.  He is helping us to hard wire love and sacrifice into our lifestyles.

Tori Chase and Student

The group led by Howard and Judy Levin used Jesus as a model.  Just like Jesus, our group was ‘sent’ (John 20:21) and we learned how to live incarnationally or in the flesh (John 1:14).  God showed us how to be the best church FOR the community by visibly expressing a glimpse of the kingdom to our neighbors.  We became carriers of a gospel through which lives were being changed, not the least of which were our own.

MBC Loudoun people have provided significant tangible help out of personal resources – food, clothing, medical, transportation, educational and vocational assistance.  In our three years, there have been approximately 200 MBC Loudoun people who have served, with 25- 30 making significant commitments of time.  Our MBC Loudoun team is beginning to experience a deeper form of fellowship because we are on mission together!

A key goal is forming relationships with the people we serve.  Even more importantly, it’s about forming a community, with solidarity with those in need and rallying around the gospel.  This typically starts by meeting physical needs identified by the school, but often, we discover emotional and spiritual needs as well.  Where possible, we encourage ‘adoptions’ of families by MBC Loudoun ‘servant advocates’ or life coaches.

Claudia Rabe shown teaching English.

In the words of a single mom in the community, “I am grateful for all the (physical) help, but what I value most are my friendships.” This is often the case because we have tendencies of becoming isolated in our struggles and we need people to be there to show the love of Christ relationally.  One of our measures of relational success is the growing number of hugs per capita within the community of students, parents, teachers, staff and us!

Claudia Rabe, the leader of the Tuesday evening Family Resource program, exemplifies how a one-on-one, highly relational approach helps to provide a ‘hand up.’  Claudia has a gift of embracing with love and grace while speaking truth and she does this with unbridled energy!   She not only ‘gives a fish’ to eat, but also teaches ‘how to fish’!  Far too often, the Church and other social services agencies provide ‘hand outs’ that do not solve the underlying causes of problems.  For one single parent family Claudia adopted, she and two friends, Lara Zamora and Jennifer Gustavus, teamed to intensively tutor one of her four children who had fallen several grade levels behind.   Through their combined efforts, this student is on an improved academic trajectory, having made up a grade level in about five months.

A short list of our activities (in and out of school) include remedial tutoring, enrichment (computer lab, robotics), English Language Learning for adults, special events and projects, summer camp, etc. and mobilizing resources.  Surprisingly, these practical areas of service often lead to opportunities for evangelism, discipleship, and real-life transformation for those we serve and ourselves.

Earlier this year, the Embrace Catoctin ministry in partnership with Embrace Loudoun  was recognized as the 2012 Outstanding Volunteer Organization by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors “for having demonstrated exceptional community change and filled a community need.”  We are honored but recognize we have much to learn and much work ahead.  Please join us in praying that God would help us to see needs through His eyes and to help us respond as if serving the Lord Himself.  If anyone is interested in discovering where God may have provided a place for you in this mission (Ephesians 2:10), please contact Howard Levin, (howard.levin@embracecatoctin.org).

We encourage you checking back for Part 2 where we tell the story of ‘why and how’ the Embrace Catoctin ministry started.

Take the Higher Road (Day 29)

By Brian Walters, Director of Adult Ministries @MBCLoudoun

Today’s Meditation

“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:15.

Devotional

Wow!  I don’t know about you but the last thing I want to do when someone is mean to me, wrongs me, or or offends me is to sit idly by and not retaliate in some way, shape or form. Before becoming a Christ follower the phrase “an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth…” would run through my mind when someone wronged me.  I would think that person deserves what’s coming to them and they are going to get theirs.

But I later learned this phrase was used in the Old Testament to ensure punishment fitted the crime in civil cases (Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21), not for you and me to seek out personal retaliation. In fact, when I dug into God’s Word I discovered that Jesus affirms the true meaning of an “eye for an eye…” in Matthew 5:38-48.  Additionally, we see in Romans 12:17-21 and 1 Peter 3:9 that when Christians are offended we NEVER have the right to repay a wrong with a wrong, and our attitude towards all people should be that of patience and love.

However, even knowing what God’s Word says about retaliation, it sometimes still takes every ounce of strength I have to take the higher road, but the fact remains this is what God calls Christians to do, take the higher road.  If we are going to create a culture of warmth, love, kindness in Loudoun we need to turn the other cheek. We need to take the higher road, like Christ did for us on the cross.

Heavenly Father, please help us take the higher road when wronged by someone else. Please put forth in our minds the grace that was given to us, so we may be reminded to be graceful to others.  Remind us to seek you in prayer before responding.  Remind us that retaliation does not justify us, it only dishonors you. Lord please give us the strength and wisdom to respond in loving kindness to others who have wronged us. In Jesus’ precious and holy name we pray, Amen.

Practicing Hospitality (Day 28)

By LeAnne Smart, Director of Kids Quest @MBCLoudoun

Today’s Meditation

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” ~ 1 Peter 4:8-10

Devotional

Love makes up for practically anything in relationships. An atmosphere of supporting relationships gives us hope to take a risk at authentic community. How do you take the plunge? Offer hospitality.

Christian hospitality is different from social entertaining. Entertaining places the focus on the host – Is my home spotless? Is the food abundant and well prepared? Is my demeanor relaxed and good natured? But, hospitality places the focus on the guests and their needs! A comfortable setting, nourishing food, a listening ear, and acceptance of the guests become the primary concern. Hospitality can happen in a messy home. It can happen around a table full of frozen pizza. And, it can even happen while the guest and host do chores together!

So how do we offer hospitality? We become generous with the gifts God has given us to serve others. As a result, we love generously and grow deeper in relationships.

Your ability to offer hospitality is not based upon the gifts you have, but how you use what you have been given to serve one another. When Jesus fed the 5,000 it was 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. It takes a step of faith for people to share whatever gifts they have received to serve others. While we may view our gift as not enough to make a difference, God multiplies for his glory.

When I focus on hospitality, it helps me to live expectantly, as if guests will be arriving! We need to live expectantly – because Christ is coming! As we get ready to meet Christ we grow in our love for God and others. Our possessions, status, power will mean nothing in God’s kingdom, but we will spend eternity with other people. Invest your time and talent where they will make an eternal difference. Don’t hesitate to offer hospitality because you are too tired, too busy, or not wealthy enough to entertain. But rather, ‘…faithfully administer God’s grace in various forms’!

All facets of our relationships can be strengthened through taking risks, going deeper, and showing authentic love in our neighborhood, in our marriages, our extended families, our friendships at church, and ultimately, our relationship with God.

How is God praised when we use our gifts? Read onto verse 11…’do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.’ When we use our gifts as he directs to serve others, they will see Jesus in us and praise God for the help they have received! God receives the glory when we love and serve one another with our God-given gifts! Jesus is coming – offer hospitality! So, when are you expecting guests?

Are You a Burden Bearer? (Day 27)

By Jim Supp, Campus Pastor @MBCLoudoun

Today’s Meditation

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” ~ Galatians 6:2

Devotional

Recently I was struggling through some things in my personal journey and I engaged a good friend for his support in the matter. I felt badly – I didn’t really want to burden him with it. He’s busy with a new job, has 3 kids, and life is just kind of crazy. His answer was to quote Galatians 6:2. Essentially he was saying, “It’s my role as a friend, and in the body, to help carry the burdens of others. When we do this we fulfill the law of Christ.” The ultimate ‘law’ of Christ, of course, is to simply love one another – 1 John 4:21 and John 13:34. To my friend it was really quite simple: in the body of Christ, when someone is struggling, you step in and help carry the load – end of story. It is pinnacle of the commands Christ gave us for navigating life in this world. I was so blessed to hear him say that, and it really put me at ease in this particular challenge.

Unfortunately the church in America struggles with this because of a tendency to embrace some elements of our culture. The individualism and self-centeredness of our world often hinder us from being willing to enter into the fray in the lives of those around us. “I have to have boundaries, you know. I mean, if I got involved in the struggles of everyone I meet I’d never get anything done.” Truthfully, the Bible knows nothing of this kind of thinking. We tend to pull the quote of Cain out of context and ask “Am I my brother’s keeper?” — When in reality God says, “Actually, you are your brother’s keeper.” Yes, each person is responsible for themselves, but in the body of Christ we are far more responsible to support those around us then we would like to believe. And it can be entirely inconvenient to be this kind of friend.

If we are to become the Family that God wants us to be it will require a greater willingness on the part of each of us to carry the burdens of those around us. What kind of church would we be if each one was ready and willing to walk along side of others in their time of need? When you consider your place in the Family of Christ do you see yourself as a Burden Bearer? Paul tells us that it is truly the one thing that ‘fulfills the law of Christ.’