Thoughts From Toby

What’s Your Ethos?

“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him” (Luke 22:39). New school years bring times of transition for many, as they seek to get into a new routine. While the concept of “routine” can get some bad press nowadays (e.g., “Don’t be predictable!”), it can actually be quite empowering. I read a parenting article recently that said that creating routines and rituals is one of the most respectful things we can do for babies, because routines and rituals help bring dependability and predictability. And while, in some respects, we grow out of our need for such predictability, there is a sense in which routines help us bring some semblance of normalcy to our chaotic and hectic lives.

I’m challenged by the verse above, where Luke tells us that Jesus went out, as usual, to the Mount of Olives. Other versions say, “as was his custom.” The Greek word that is being translated is ethos, a word that we use in English to describe the character or characteristic spirit of a person or culture. I’m particularly challenged by the fact that this occurrence in the life of Jesus takes place in between the Last Supper and his arrest. In the midst of the chaos that he was facing, Jesus did something predictable. This was his ethos, his custom, his routine. Not to mention that what he does at the Mount of Olives is pray… also his ethos.

So… what’s your ethos? What do you do “as usual” in the midst of the hectic-ness of life? I love that we, as a church family, gather weekly, as usual, and study God’s Word together. I love that we take the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, as is our custom. I love that we pray together routinely. These things become our ethos. They are tangible reminders of the Father’s great love for us, of Jesus’ sacrifice and defeat of death, and of the Spirit’s continued presence among us. May our routines and rituals remind us of these things, and bring a sense of peace in our oft-chaotic world.

Thoughts From Toby

I had an interesting encounter at the gas station a couple weeks ago. I got out of my pickup and, as I was walking up, noticed a couple of guys sitting at a table somewhat near the entrance, their bikes with some (maybe all?) of their belongings parked nearby. I made eye contact with one of them, smiled, and said, “Good morning.” The man’s eyes lit up, and he started saying something fairly softly. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, so I replied with, “What’s that?” What he said next struck me. He said, “I’ve been here all morning and you’re the first person who has acknowledged me, and I just wanted to say that I appreciate it.” I don’t remember my exact reply to that, but I think I said something like, “Oh, of course, man!” As I left the store, I made it a point to look at both men and say, “Have a good day,” which was met with a smile and a nod.

A couple of thoughts stirred in my mind and heart as I reflected on this brief encounter. For one, I am certain that I have been guilty of walking by people, maybe even these very guys, without acknowledging them. It’s just so easy to focus on our own stuff, even the simple act of getting gas, without noticing the people around us. And yet I’m challenged by the way that Jesus, whose mission was of utmost importance, took time to notice and acknowledge people. People are Jesus’ priority, and I am constantly being challenged to be more like him. Another thing that struck me was the guy’s humble expression of gratitude. I don’t think I “made his day” or anything like that, but his words spoke deeply to my soul. We all have an innate desire to be noticed, to be seen by others. As I contemplate the way that God sees, notices, loves, and desires to be in relationship with each and every one of his beloved children, I am struck by the fact that every human being is worthy of being seen, noticed, and loved. This brief, sincere encounter with a guy at a gas station has caused me to consider the power that is in the simple act of acknowledging people. I don’t know about you, but I’m challenged by that.

Thoughts From Toby

The Keeper of Peace

We are in full YBC-prep mode, leading up to our camp which begins next weekend. As such, I have been giving a lot of thought to the lesson that I will be presenting for one of the evening chapel times. I’m really looking forward to hearing from all of the speakers, but I’m especially excited about my lesson topic, which has to do with seeking the peace of God in a world full of chaos. This topic is deeply meaningful to me, and I hope to convey the importance of such a pursuit during my talk. Since the weeks leading up to camp can get a bit chaotic with prep work, it’s been a good reminder to me that God is a God of peace.

As I’ve been preparing for my lesson, I’ve had a song stirring around in my mind, and wanted to share a few lines from it. The song is called “PEACE” by the worship group Hillsong Young & Free. Musical artists can have a way of poetically putting into words powerful thoughts. This is one of those instances for me. May you be blessed by these words, whatever chaos you are facing.

“I’ve found peace far beyond all understanding

Let it flow when my mind’s under siege

All anxiety bows in the presence

Of Jesus the keeper of peace

And peace is a promise he keeps”

Thoughts From Toby

Upholding Love

Over the last several weeks, our Wednesday evening gathering has been a time of reflection on the book of Proverbs. If you haven’t attended, what we do is read three chapters of Proverbs together, and then spend some time discussing what stood out to us, or how God spoke to us through those particular chapters. We just passed the halfway point, so there is still time to join in!

In this past week’s reading, one verse that really stuck out to me was Proverbs 15:17, which says, “Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.” Now, it’s kind of a funny saying just because of the contrast between eating peas and carrots and eating prime rib, but there’s also a profound truth in it. Better to have something small, seemingly insignificant, invaluable, but to have it with love, than to have something of great value, but to have it with hatred. And I think you can read that verse in a couple of different ways. One on hand, it’s better to have something, and to have it with love in your heart, than to have something much more valuable, but to have it with hatred in your heart. But I think you can also read it as saying that it’s better to receive something in love than in hatred, and it’s also better to give something in love than in hatred, no matter what the item being given or received is. Here’s my takeaway from all of that: Love is better! I don’t know about you, but I’m challenged by that. It’s so easy to let love slip to the backburner and to be motivated by any number of things that are not love. But love is better. And if we can grasp that concept, then no matter the situation, we can respond by upholding the great love of God.

Thoughts From Toby

An Unexpected Display of Gratitude

I watched an Inside Edition segment recently which told the story of a woman in her 30’s who was abandoned in a Burger King bathroom back in 1986. The whole segment was on abandoned babies, which was so terribly heart-wrenching to watch, but they paid special attention to this young lady because she experienced some sort of resolution. Not too long ago, she put a photo and message up on social media with the hopes that her biological mother would see it. She explained the circumstances and location of her abandonment, and her message was shared across social media. Surprisingly, her biological mother saw the post and came forward. The two were reunited, where the mother explained the circumstances that led her to do such a thing, stating that she knew someone would find her in that bathroom and get her some help. The most amazing part of the whole encounter, to me, was that the daughter turned to her mom and said, “Thank you for not throwing me away.” I could not believe it… there were so many other things I was expecting to hear from the mouth of the daughter, but for her to thank her mother for not throwing her away, that hit me. And I thought, what sort of perspective on life must you have to respond with such gratitude? And why am I often so ungrateful? May we all come to recognize just how much we have to be thankful for. Perhaps we can start with just being thankful for life itself.

Thoughts From Toby

Incremental Growth

Can you believe that 2019 is already half over? It’s amazing how quickly time goes by. Since we’re halfway through the year, let me remind you of something that is probably ancient history by now… Did you make a New Year Resolution six months ago? If so, how are you doing with it? If you are still following through with your resolution, you’re one of the rare few! The truth is that many of us have grand ambitions around the turn of the calendar year, but we rarely take the steps to follow through. Part of this is how lofty our resolutions can be. We often bite off more than we can chew, so to speak, and then give up on our resolutions when we realize how hard it is actually going to be. That’s a pretty typical human experience. But here’s the thing… Change and growth and transformation are generally much more incremental than we think. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the negative side, when we don’t see immediate results, the ‘stick-to-itiveness’ necessary for real change to occur usually goes by the wayside. But on the positive side, making small changes today can add up to big transformation over time. So… whether you’ve grown leaps and bounds in the past six months, or whether your goals and ambitions quickly fizzled back in January, I would challenge each of us to look for those small changes that we can put into practice today that will incrementally lead to growth over time. As Paul tells Timothy, “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Tim 4:7).

Thoughts From Toby

The last several Thursdays, my family and I have been spending time at the Thursday Night Market downtown. We love sampling the fresh produce, purchasing some to take home, and sitting in the grass at the Civic Center Park and enjoying a popsicle together. It’s pretty cool to see how well supported the event is by the community. One of things that I’ve noticed, the past couple of weeks, is that when the band takes a break, there’s an emcee who gets up and makes a few announcements over the loudspeakers. He usually talks about some of the vendors that are present that week, but then he goes on to spend a good amount of time talking about his love of downtown Hanford. You can tell that this guy really loves this city, and I, for one, feel that his joy is contagious. In those moments, I have reflected on Jesus’ call for his disciples to be salt and light to the world around us (Matthew 5:13-16), and how this is truly a call to show love to our community. I have thought about how the statement that “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16) also means that “God so loved Hanford,” and how this is an invitation to join God in loving this community in which we live. And, ultimately, I have considered the impact that such a love for our city could have. Author Greg Boyle states, “There is no force in the world better able to alter anything from its course than love,” and I think this is precisely where the church has the potential to exert such a force. To be so full of the love of God that it spills out in our interactions with others. To love the people around us with the same relentless, selfless, sacrificial love that God has for each of us. To be so moved by God’s love for us that we can’t help but love our neighbors. Just think of the outbreak that might occur if that sort of love caught on, because it has, after all, been known to be quite contagious.

Thoughts From Toby

What is a Dad?

Author Unknown

A dad is a person who is loving and kind

And often he knows what you have on your mind

He’s someone who listens, suggests, and defends

A dad can be one of your very best friends

He’s proud of your triumphs, but when things go wrong

A dad can be patient and helpful and strong

In all that you do, a dad’s love plays a part

There’s always a place for him deep in your heart

And each year that passes, you’re even more glad

More grateful and proud, just to call him your dad

Thank you, dad, for listening and caring

For giving and sharing

But especially, for just being you

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Thoughts From Toby

An Attitude of Gratitude

"Do everything without grumbling or arguing." -Philippians 2: 14

I don't know about you, but I have disobeyed that verse a time or two in my life. Okay, I've probably disobeyed it a time or two just today. It's just so easy to grumble and argue about what we're doing, whether to one another, or just in our own mind. In fact, we read those words as having implication for the things we say to one another, and they certainly do, but both words carry the connotation of murmuring to one's own self. If we don't allow the grumbling and arguing to occur in our own minds, we stand a better chance of not grumbling and arguing with one another.

What is the solution to grumbling and arguing? What is the remedy to a mind filled with complaining? Gratitude! When we approach life, not with a sense of entitlement, but with a sense of being grateful for all the blessings we have, grumbling and arguing fall away from our minds and tongues. What caused the Israelites to grumble and complain in the wilderness? They had lost the sense of gratitude for the many provisions God had given them, so they grumbled. May we not be so short sighted!

Take some time this week and reflect on what you do have in this life. How does that change the way you think about what you don't have? Seek to let an attitude of gratitude influence your reaction to life's circumstances, and let that attitude help you as you seek to "do everything without grumbling or arguing."

Wednesday Evening Study: Proverbs 2-4

Thoughts From Toby

I saw one of those “You Might Be A 90’s Kid If You Remember These TV Shows” videos recently, and it definitely left me a bit nostalgic. One show in particular that left me reminiscing was “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” Each episode began with a group of kids gathered around a campfire and then launched into a “scary” story. I distinctly remember feeling a strange mix of fear and excitement as those stories unfolded.

Fear is something that we all deal with, to some degree or other. Often, our fears revolve around what might happen in the future. The “fear of the unknown” can be debilitating. And yet, in the Bible, God is constantly calling his people to “fear not.” I’ve heard it said that “do not be afraid” is found 365 times in the Bible - one for each day - which isn’t true (don’t believe everything you read on the internet!), but it is found frequently. The truth is that God reminds us that he is always with us, and that truth has the potential to squelch fear indefinitely.

So what does this mean for you? How does it impact us, as a church? Whatever fear you are facing, you can lean into the promise that God will be with you through it. Whatever “unknown” we face together, as a church, we can be sure that God is with us, every step of the way, and step out in faith.

But now, this is what the Lord says… “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”

Isaiah 43:1-3,5

Thoughts From Toby

With June upon us, I wanted to use this space to discuss a few upcoming events and provide some information about new classes and teaching series’.

Tomorrow, May 27th, is the annual YBC Memorial Day Barbeque up at YBC. If you’re looking for something to do, head on up to YBC and enjoy some fellowship and a good meal. The program starts at 10:00 AM, with lunch to follow.

Everyone is invited to attend a church trip to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo on Saturday, June 22nd. The zoo opens at 8:30 AM, so we’ll plan to arrive then and stay until sometime after lunch (before it gets too hot!). Prices are as follows: $12.95 for adults; $7.95 for children 2-11; $7.95 for seniors 62+. We’ll purchase tickets there. Parking, food, and souvenirs will be extra. We’ll meet at the church building at 7:30 AM to carpool/caravan, or just meet there. Sign up on the bulletin board in the lobby so we know you’re planning to attend!

This Wednesday, May 29th at 7:00 PM, will be our 5th Wednesday Singing. Join us as we praise God together in an extended period of singing. Also, starting Wednesday, June 5th, with our LIFE Groups on break for the Summer, we will be meeting together each Wednesday at 7:00 PM in the Auditorium through August. This Midweek Gathering will be a time of sharing together from the Book of Proverbs.

Starting next Sunday morning, our Adult Bible Class in the Auditorium will be studying the Book of Jeremiah. This study will be June through August. We will be reflecting on the life of Jeremiah and what we can learn from his example. We will also be beginning a new Sermon Series during morning worship next Sunday entitled “A Living Faith,” which will explore the Book of James. In addition to these, we will also be beginning a Sunday Evening Study on “Engaging the Culture,” in which we will explore the state of faith in our current cultural context and how we can go about proclaiming the gospel effectively today.

Thoughts From Toby

As a culture, we have certain milestones which are particularly meaningful to us. They serve almost like an initiation ceremony into a new stage of life. High school and college graduations are clear examples of these ceremonies. After all, we call graduations “commencements,” meaning that they are the start of something new. There is no going back. A change has occurred, and now you are a different person.

For this reason, and many others, we pause to celebrate the accomplishments of those in our church family who either have recently graduated or will be graduating soon. We, as a community, gather around these individuals and express our joy as they move on to new things in life. We rally around them, supporting them as they transition into adulthood and the professional realm. And we ultimately entrust them to God, recognizing that he has been with them thus far, and will be with them as they go forth.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

- Jeremiah 29:11

Thoughts From Toby

 

A Mother’s Love

by Helen Steiner Rice

 

A Mother’s love is something that no one can explain,

It is made of deep devotion and of sacrifice and pain,

It is endless and unselfish and enduring come what may

For nothing can destroy it or take that love away…

It is patient and forgiving when all others are forsaking,

And it never fails or falters even though the heart is breaking…

It believes beyond believing when the world around condemns,

And it glows with all the beauty of the rarest, brightest gems…

It is far beyond defining, it defies all explanation,

And it still remains a secret like the mysteries of creation…

A many splendored miracle man cannot understand

And another wondrous evidence of God’s tender guiding hand.

Thoughts From Toby

Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” - Jesus in John 12

Jesus has a way of putting things into perspective, doesn’t he? In the passage above, Jesus is preparing for what he is to face… his cross. He knows that it is fast approaching. He knows that he is getting ready to experience pain… physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. He knows that he is about to taste the fruit of humanity’s sin. He knows that he is about to, for the first time, experience separation from the Father. And what is his response? “Father, glorify your name!”

It is important to note that Jesus vocalizes his apprehension. His soul is deeply troubled. This is not something that he desires to experience. He even vocalizes the typical response to troubling circumstances: “Father, save me from this hour.” He turns right around and rejects that prayer, but it is important to note that he does vocalize it.

The greatest response to any circumstance in life is to yield ourselves to God. Letting go of control is not fun. Yet we see, in the example of Jesus, a life that is fully submissive to the Father’s will. Certainly there are situations in life when we cry out, “Father, save me from this hour!” This is a normal response to troubling situations. But in the end, may we recognize, as Jesus did, that the will of God takes precedence over our will. And may we have the courage to respond as Jesus did, “Father, glorify your name!”

Thoughts From Toby

With the month of May quickly approaching, we are entering a busy time of year for many. Students are buckling down, striving to finish strong. Teachers are longing for that glorious first day of Summer break. Several individuals and families are planning vacations. As we enter this busy season, let me encourage you to check out the “Upcoming Events” section of the bulletin for several opportunities to connect and serve. We have lots of exciting things happening that you won’t want to miss!

As busy-ness can easily creep in and overwhelm us, I’m reminded of a quote rumored to have been stated by the great Reformer, Martin Luther: “I have so much to do today that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” Now, three hours may seem a bit daunting, but I love the counter intuitive nature of the quote. How would our lives be different if we understood that we are too busy NOT to pray? As a general rule, that time spent connecting with God doesn’t happen unless we schedule it. Our daily calendars can easily be filled with many other things. So, if you don’t already, what would it look like if you scheduled daily time with God the way you schedule doctor’s appointments, lunch dates, conferences, meetings, etc.? In the busy-ness of life, may we all seek to center ourselves on God, trusting that everything else will work itself out as we seek him first.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life… Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life...? But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:25, 27, 33

Thoughts From Toby

Happy Easter! Today is a day in which Christians all over the world gather to celebrate an empty tomb. Of course, the resurrection of Jesus holds significance for every day of the year. But there’s something special about knowing that, all across the globe, Christians are meeting together with a united focus on this history-changing event. May we find ourselves swept up in the story that God is telling, one in which death has been defeated!

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here;

he has risen!

Luke 24:1-6

Thoughts From Toby

Hello Church! We have several opportunities for connection coming up that I would like to make you aware of. Exciting things are happening, and I hope you’ll join us as we seek to grow in our love for God and one another, and in service to our community!

Next Sunday, April 21st, is our Easter Egg Hunt and Easter Program for kids. We’ll dismiss classes at 10:00am for the Egg Hunt, and kids will also have a special Easter program during service. Join us, and invite a friend, as we celebrate our risen Savior!

We are collecting school supplies to put together for Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10). If you would like to help, please bring school supplies (pencils, dry erase markers, & glue sticks are most needed, safety scissors would also be helpful) and drop them off in the lobby by Sunday, May 5th. If you’d like to donate money for Starbucks gift cards, you can give those donations to Toby. We will deliver those items to the teachers at Simas Elementary on May 6th.

We’re planning an all-church trip to the Fresno Grizzlies game on Friday, May 17th at 7:05pm, and an all-church trip to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo on Saturday, June 22nd. Mark your calendars now, and we’ll announce more information soon.

Thoughts From Toby

Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”
- Attributed to Francis of Assisi

Last Sunday evening, we began a study together exploring Evangelism. I referenced the above quote, which is commonly attributed to Francis of Assisi, a 13th-century monk. The quote is a powerful reminder that our actions are important. The way that we live our lives can have a serious impact on the people around us. The quote draws our attention to the power of example. We cannot be people who simply talk the talk, we must also walk the walk.

I’m often challenged by the actions of fellow Christians. I think this is a healthy thing. I see someone living out the gospel in their life, and it challenges me to be a better Christ follower. I witness the patience of a fellow brother or sister in dealing with a difficult person, and it encourages me to be more patient. I see the way that a fellow Christian responds in gentleness to outsiders, and it challenges my own hard heart. I see the joy displayed in the lives of those brothers and sisters who are dealing with difficult circumstances, and it reminds me to stop and give thanks. I see love displayed within the body of Christ, and it draws me to the love of God.Our actions are powerful. By them, we live out the gospel message. May we be people who seek to preach the gospel with every aspect of our lives!

Thoughts From Toby

With March Madness in full swing, many people are paying close attention to the NCAA Basketball tournaments. Whether you’re highly invested in tracking your bracket or have zero interest in the “madness,” it’s hard to deny that this tournament is frequently full of surprises. Some of the more memorable March Madness tournaments revolve around a team greatly exceeding their expectations, going further than anyone expected them to go. These teams are endearingly referred to as “Cinderella Teams,” and it seems that everybody loves it when a Cinderella wins it all. We, as a culture, LOVE a good underdog story.

I’m not sure how this year’s NCAA tournament will end, or whether we’ll experience a Cinderella story upset, but I believe there’s a reason we get so enthralled by these sorts of stories. They have a profound way of speaking deeply to our own experiences. Who of us hasn’t faced seemingly insurmountable odds at some point in our life? There is something truly remarkable about struggling and overcoming in the face of adversity. And as exciting as it can be to watch an underdog basketball team defeat a stronger opponent, I’m convinced that it’s much more inspiring to hear stories of God’s power at work in the lives of his people. What’s your story? How has God brought you through difficult times in life? May each of us look for opportunities to share our own “Cinderella” stories, all to the glory of God!

Thoughts From Toby

“Carving is easy. You just go down to the skin and stop.” – Michelangelo

Legend has it that Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David was chiseled from a piece of stone that numerous other artists had rejected, as it was deemed unusable. Michelangelo saw the piece in the marketplace, and according to him, heard the stone tell him that David was inside. Michelangelo felt that his process of chiseling figures from stones was simply uncovering that which was already present. These masterpieces were within the stone, he was just releasing them.

As I contemplate what it means that the Bible calls us “God’s masterpiece” (Eph. 2:10 NLT), I can’t help but think about the way that masterpieces are works of art. And art involves shaping, molding, chiseling, forming, transforming, and doing all of that again and again. This can be an uncomfortable process for the work of art, but it is a necessary process in order to become the masterpiece that it was intended to be. Shaping, forming, transforming… these words imply growth, maturity, repentance, change, on the part of a Christian. It is not, at times, a fun process, but the result is that we become God’s work of art. We are released from those things that hold us back from being what God intends for us to be. We are transformed into the precious masterpiece of God!

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” - 2 Cor. 3:17-18