Thoughts From Toby

Over the past couple months, our Sunday morning adult Bible Class has been exploring the Book of Acts. In that study, which is drawing to an end, we’ve been challenged to consider the radical, revolutionary nature of the message of the gospel. If Jesus has indeed been raised from the dead (which is the hinge of our faith), then “life as usual” has been interrupted by the power and purpose of God. Acts is the story of what happens when humans find themselves swept up in the grand narrative of God’s promise. As Peter declares on the day of Pentecost, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).

My prayer is that we would allow the message of the gospel to penetrate our hearts in such a way that we find our place in this story that God is telling, both at an individual level and collectively. We, like those early followers of Jesus, have been given the task of bearing witness to God’s presence in the world, taking this message to the “ends of the earth,” which may very well be right around the corner.

Thoughts From Toby

Last weekend was our Church Family Retreat at YBC, and I know that those who took part in it were blessed by being there! It rained all weekend, and we narrowly missed snow, but it was a wonderful time of fellowship and growth. I know that I’m already looking forward to next year’s retreat!

One of the ideas that struck me from the video lessons was the concept of geometric growth. Rick Atchley pointed out how, with dominoes, the force created by setting them up and knocking them over allows for an individual domino to knock over a domino that is 1.5 times larger than itself. So if you begin with a domino the size of a tic-tac, and each subsequent domino increases in size 1.5 times greater than the domino before it, after 13 dominoes, the force created can topple a domino that is more than 3 feet tall and weighing about 100 pounds. If you were to keep this trend going, after just 29 dominoes, you could knock over a domino the size of the Empire State Building! Rick pointed out that that’s how spiritual growth works - it’s geometric, rather than linear. The encouragement I get from that object lesson is — even if you start small in your relationship with God, the disciplines you practice can lead to immense growth! The question I ask myself, and that I’d ask you to consider is this: What small step can I take today that can start a domino effect of spiritual growth in my life? May each of us look for opportunities to grow in our relationship with God!

Thoughts From Toby

Several years ago, I had the privilege of watching a Harding University graduate, who I had
classes with and was acquainted with personally, play in the Super Bowl. It was 2008, when
the Giants defeated the Patriots. I watched the game with a group of friends, and we began
with a little friendly competition. Everybody selected who they thought would win and
submitted their guess at the final score, and whoever was closest was to win a prize. This was
the season that the Patriots had finished undefeated in the regular season, and had blown
through their opponents on their way to the Super Bowl. Needless to say, the Patriots were
highly favored to win. However, because of my acquaintance with my former classmate, I
selected the Giants to win. When the Giants somehow defeated the Patriots, my friends and I
took a look at all of our choices, and I was the only one who picked the Giants! Now… I know
it’s a bit of a stretch, and the metaphor falls apart quickly, but isn’t it almost counterintuitive
to choose a life of faith in our world today? Isn’t it, in many respects, going against the grain
of society? Yet the promise is that there is an unimaginable prize for those who endure. May
we learn to press on, despite the forces that seek to defeat us, as we come to realize that God
is faithful, and no force in all creation is strong enough to defeat him.

Thoughts From Toby

A Story of Relationships

“Just as the story of anyone’s life is the story of relationships - so each person’s religious story is a story of relationships.” - Andrew Greeley

Fellowship. Community. Relationships. These words are integral to a life of faith. If you really think about it, you probably have numerous examples of positive (and negative) relationships that have had a profound impact on your relationship with God. The truth is that none of us (despite the individualistic culture we live in) have an isolated relationship with God that is unaffected by others. In fact, this is how God designed us… to be relational beings… to be in community. So, if it’s true that your religious story is a story of relationships, ask yourself a couple questions: What is/was it about those people who have been positive influences on me that made them so influential? And, whose story am I pouring into?

Thoughts From Toby

From a young age, I remember being inspired by the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as we earned about him in history class. Dr. King, of course, was a tremendous leader during the Civil Rights Movement, and our nation rightly celebrates his influence each year. It was not until I was an adult, however, that I learned that Dr. King was also a minister (I’m not sure if I just missed that part in history class or if it was not mentioned). It seems obvious now, but I grew up unaware of the profound influence his faith had upon his work for justice and reconciliation. Toward the beginning of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from 1963, Dr. King proclaims, now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” And while this nation in which we live has made strides toward that goal, we recognize there is still work to do. May we, as the people of God, allow our faith to drive us toward that pursuit. Now is the time.

Thoughts From Toby

Every now and then, I enjoy reading familiar passages in The Message, Eugene Peterson’s wonderful contemporary translation/paraphrase of the Bible. It usually gives me a different perspective on the meaning of a text, which can be extremely helpful. I wanted to share the Beatitudes, found right at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, as translated in The Message. May each of us come to realize just how rich the blessings of God are!

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see
God in the outside world.

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. (Matthew 5:3-10, The Message)

Thoughts From Toby

A new year is always a time of great excitement, but also brings with it a period of immense frustration. I’m talking about that period of time it takes to get used to writing “19” when you write out the date. If you’re like me, it probably takes you a couple weeks of accidentally writing “18” and trying your best to turn that 8 into a 9 before you get the hang of it. Who can blame us? We just spent 11 ½ months writing “18” over and over again (the other ½ was spent changing “17” to “18”).

For me, this is a striking reminder of the power of habit. We are, as they say, creatures of habit, and when something becomes habitual, it is difficult to change. I think this is part of the power in our weekly worship gatherings. While it is possible for habitual practices to become rote and meaningless, especially if we mindlessly repeat them (like writing the date), they also have the potential to bring about immense spiritual growth. Placing ourselves in a posture of devotion to God week by week (and day by day) allows God to shape us in powerful ways. May all of us, in this new year, seek to grow in our habitual devotion to God, being mindful of

the transformation that can occur through such devotion.

Thoughts From Toby

I have a confession to make: I'm a terrible Christmas shopper. I'm really bad at it. I always hope that the people I buy gifts for remember the old saying, "It's the thought that counts!" as they open my presents. I can do okay if someone gives me a list of ideas... But just okay, still not great. Maybe you can identify with me.

Another thing about Christmas shopping that really gets to me is having to go into stores. As if having to battle the crowds was not enough, the worst thing is having an idea of what you'd like to get, and spending an hour (or two) looking for it! Stores can be confusing places!

Every now and then, this rare thing happens. I'm walking around a giant department store, looking clueless as I try to find that perfect present, and I hear a voice say, "Can I help you find something?" Can you ever! Sometimes I explain what I'm looking for and simply get told, "Go that direction, turn here, and they're right there." Such directions usually leave me more lost and more clueless than before. But sometimes, after my short explanation, I hear these three amazing words, "Right this way!" Suddenly the crowds part, everybody gets quiet, and cheerful Christmas music plays in the background as I'm led directly to the perfect gift by this wonderful person who knows the way. Knowing the way makes all the difference.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me... You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way." (John 14:1,4-6).

Thoughts From Toby

Just for Fun…

A cat dies and goes to Heaven. God meets him at the gate and says, “You have been a good cat all of these years. Anything you desire is yours, all you have to do is ask.” The cat says, “Well,I lived all my life with a poor family on a farm and had to sleep on hardwood floors.” God says, “Say no more.” And instantly, a fluffy pillow appears.

A few days later, 6 mice die in a tragic accident and they go to Heaven. God meets them at the gate with the same offer that He made the cat. The mice said, “All our lives we've had to run. Cats, dogs and even women with brooms have chased us. If we could only have a pair of roller skates, we wouldn't have to run anymore.” God says, “Say no more.” And instantly, each mouse is fitted with a beautiful pair of tiny roller skates.

About a week later, God decides to check and see how the cat is doing. The cat is sound asleep on his new pillow. God gently wakes him and asks, “How are you doing? Are you happy here?” The cat yawns and stretches and says, “Oh, I've never been happier in my life. And those Meals on Wheels you've been sending over are the best!”

Thoughts From Toby

In his thought-provoking masterpiece, Orthodoxy, GK Chesterton begins by telling a short
parable about a man who set out from England by boat to discover a new land, but - by a slight
miscalculation - winds up discovering England under the impression that it was a new island.
In his quest to discover “New South Wales,” he finds that he, in fact, only found “Old South
Wales.” Chesterton uses this parable to describe his own journey of setting out to discover a
new philosophy that would make sense of life, only to discover that what he found was
Christianity. In his own words, Chesterton quips, “I did try to found a heresy of my own; andwhen I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.”

I find that Chesterton’s “discovery,” which was written in 1908, resonates with the experience
of many today. In our quest for truth, justice, beauty, mystery, reconciliation, and community,
what we are discovering is what God has called us to all along. May we never lose sight of
Jesus, the only one who makes sense of this life.

Thoughts From Toby

Happy Thanksgiving!

This past Wednesday, we gathered together as a church and spent some time sharing about the blessings that we have. It is so encouraging to hear many of the good things that God is doing in each of our lives. It is also a good habit to occasionally pause and think about all the things we have to be thankful for. God truly blesses us beyond what we deserve!

As our nation takes some time this week to celebrate the annual Thanksgiving holiday, may we, as Christians, be mindful of the fact that thankfulness is a discipline that we have the opportunity to practice every day of the year. God is so good, and we could never thank him enough!

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Thoughts From Toby

A Veterans Day Prayer:

God of all nations, our Strength and Shield: we give you thanks for the devotion and courage of all those who have offered military service for this country:

For those who have fought for freedom; for those who laid down their lives for others; for those who have borne suffering of mind or of body; for those who have brought their best gifts to times of need.

On our behalf they have entered into danger, endured separation from those they love, labored long hours, and borne hardship in war and in peacetime.

Give to us, your people, grateful hearts and a united will to honor these men and women and hold them always in our love and our prayers; until your world is perfected in peace through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

(adapted from a prayer by J. Phillips)


Thoughts from Toby

I love mosaics. I think they're one of the coolest works of art that there is. I love that hey bring together the "big picture" and the "individual parts." Mosaics succeed in their splendor because of both of these things. If it weren't for the big picture mosaics would just be a bunch of random pieces of glass. Yet, if it weren't for the individual pieces, the bigger picture couldn't come together the way that it does. This is similar to how the body of Christ works. There are many parts, much like a mosaic, but only one body. We come together individually, with all of our different quirks and opinions, yet we all make up one collective group. We may, as pieces of the mosaic, look different than one another, but we're all part of the same portrait. The mosaic of Christian belief is represented by numerous pieces of the puzzle. Yet we all serve the same God. We come together and form part of the same body; the Body of Christ. May we seek to be a shining example of what it means to be a part of this wonderful mosaic of faith.

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”

1 Corinthians 12:12