Josh Yaeger’s Blog

Neighbor Is A Verb!

I saw something amazing last weekend.  I saw my church ‘neighbor’ our neighbors. 
Like most downtown churches, the majority of people that make up Tenth & Broad Church of Christ look significantly different than the people living in the neighborhood surrounding us.  These differences can be seen in a variety of ways.  Values are different.  Social and economic status is different.  Race is different.  Family units are different.  And when something is different, it often results in fear and judgment. 
When churches fall into this trap of fear and judgment, they cease to be the church.  They forfeit the opportunity to be salt and light in their neighborhoods and they hide the two greatest commands under a web of excuses.  Jesus says the greatest command is to love God and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.  To love your neighbor is to love God.  To love God is to love your neighbor. 
We have been exploring “How to Neighbor” in a recent series of sermons where we covered racism, loneliness, poverty and orphans in an effort to prepare us for stepping out into our neighborhood here in downtown Wichita Falls.  
Reaching into our neighborhood this summer is being done in three phases.  The first phase was to canvas our neighborhood asking what we can do.  We didn’t want to arrogantly claim to know what was needed in our neighborhood since many of us don’t live here.  The second phase was to have a block party at our church.  And the last phase (yet to be accomplished) is to set up service days based on the cards that we received (we received 15 by the way and we passed them out to about 350 residences).  
The thing that touched me this weekend was our block party.  We got the word out through a mailing to the postal route surrounding our church building and a big sign in the empty lot next to our church building.  Rain threatened the event, but the weather held and we had a solid party where we provided snow cones, hot dogs, a jump house, a train to ride, yard games, kite flying, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, a dunk tank (which resulted in our only injury to our children’s minister), give-a-way baskets, and live music.  We had 20 family units sign up for the give-a-way baskets, and our best guess was that 40+ people showed up from our neighborhood.  And the most touching thing I saw, was the people of our church engaging their neighbors in the most respectful and kind ways imaginable.  I saw one of our members holding an infant for over an hour so the parents could play with their older child.  I saw another one of our members sitting and talking for an hour and a half with a man who literally walked across the street to come to the block party.  I saw person after person from our church engaged in conversation and neighboring our neighbors. 
We already had a few guests on Sunday morning as a result of the neighboring that went on and my hope and prayer is that this is the beginning of transformed lives and families. 


New Eyes In Tragedy

Tragedy is difficult.  Nobody looks for it.  Nobody wants it.  But some day you will find it.  We have had tragedy at our church in downtown Wichita Falls.  And it hit us with tremendous force.  One day we woke up and everything was normal.  When we went to sleep that night, everything was changed and a family was left mourning the loss of a 13-year-old son. 
What do we do in the midst of tragedy?  What does tragedy do to the way we see God?  Tragedy has been happening since the beginning of time.  Death and destruction are a normal part of life on this planet.  What do we do with it?   What do we learn about God in the midst of it? 
There are three options.  First, we leave our faith.  Second, we ignore it and try to continue on without thinking about it too much.  Or the third option is we change our perspective.  For me, the last option is the best option.  There are too many evidences pointing to God for me to throw my faith out the window. But neither can I pretend that this does not affect the way that I see God.  Therefore, I must change my perspective and develop new eyes.  
Did you know that eagles, hawks and other birds of prey have vision that is about 3-4 times sharper than our own?  They can spot rabbits and prey from several miles away.  They can cruise at a height of 10-15,000 feet, spot a tasty rodent and dive at over 100mph and still keep their target in complete focus! 
We will never have the physical eyes of an eagle, but I believe that our spiritual sight can get sharper as we experience life especially in the midst of tragedy. 
I think of the Apostle Paul whose life was kind of like one giant mishap after another.  He got stoned, rejected, arrested, shipwrecked, bitten by a snake, and put under house arrest.  And those are just some of the things we know about! 
And yet he wrote these words in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (TNIV). 
“…we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
We must develop new eyes in the midst of trying circumstances.  We must see all of life, especially tragedy, through eternal eyes.  It doesn’t make the tragedy okay.  Neither does it make everything fine.  But it does help us see beyond our hurt to something greater. 


Christ Is Risen!

This was used as a call to worship for Easter Sunday on April 16, 2017.  The church was invited to respond to the leader with the bold phrases. 
The savior died,
They laid him in a tomb.
Hope was lost,
But now hope is found,
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! 
The soldiers have returned home,
One has a blood stained garment. 
The jeering crowds have dispersed,
Thinking the deed is done.
But Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! 
The time for grieving has ended!
Death has been defeated!
The grave could not hold him!
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! 
There is no reason to fear!
There is no reason to withhold love!
There is no question about purpose!
Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed! 
The curtain has been torn!
The relationship repaired!
We can approach the throne!
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! 
Let us go into the world,
Let us leave no rock unturned!
Let us tell the story that
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! 


Why The Cross?

When I read the story of the crucifixion,
I rarely do it with true conviction. 
The unfairness and injustice are incomparable,
Though my indignations seem to fade over time and interval. 
When we frequent a church we hear it so often,
For preachers’ talk of this event is constant. 


Sometimes, however, the story catches me by surprise,
Causing mist and tears to well in my eyes. 
I really am sad to hear,
About the things Jesus was made to bear. 
But why does it matter how he died?
Why do I need to know the details that make grown men want to cry? 


Our answer to this question is sometimes less than exceptional,
Because we park in a place that isn’t very motivational. 
Oh it motivates alright,
Motivates to stop in our tracks when our thoughts are less than bright. 
Perhaps our sin has affected the situation,
And placed us in the midst of a compromising complication. 


This story may even cause sorrow after the fact,
When I have been there and done that. 
But is there more to it for me?
Is there more than simply keeping me from evil complicity? 


As we dive deeper into this story,
We must realize that it is more than just history. 
It shows us a most incredible picture,
This ancient text called a Bible known as scripture. 
We don’t read of a god who is petty and cruel,
Nor do we see one who is obsessed with his power and rule. 
Rather we see our God come down,
We see him lay aside all, including his heavenly crown. 
He loves us more than himself,
And through Jesus, he gives up life itself. 
Giving us a chance to be,
More than you and I could ever dream. 


But this story does not stop there,
Oh no, it continues on and it is without compare!
It attacks our aspirations of control and authority,
By showing us what is our Lord’s true priority. 
Jesus goes through the abuse and death of his humanity-saving plan,
When he could have snapped his fingers and ended the life of any man. 


I am ashamed when I find myself complaining,
About an offensive experience that is hardly worth contemplating. 
For when I compare it to the devastating experience of the cross,
Alas, I find that I am uncharacteristically at a loss. 
Can I trust my Lord’s design?
Even when it seems that persecution and pain are an inevitable part of the enterprise?   


It’s all starting to clear up, you’ve got no need to worry,
For my Savior didn’t come to the cross to only make us sad and sorry. 
He went to the cross to SHOW US what he is calling us to do,
And since he went first, it should make it easier for me and you! 
He says, “If you want to be my disciple, take up your cross.”
And yes it will mean that you experience significant loss! 
But when you give up your life for him,
This is when you will truly find it again. 
I hope you enjoyed this poem on the cross. 


He’s Here! (Mark 4:1-11)

He’s right next door.  The man called Jesus.  The teacher who seems to be more concerned with people’s needs than simply giving them laws to follow.

He is a different kind of Rabbi.  Jesus entered Jerusalem on a young colt with an entourage of twelve plain men.  The fanfare was not forced.  Instead, it was done at the behest of the common person when they found out who was entering Jerusalem just a week away from Passover.  Cloaks were spread out and branches were cut and placed under the feet of the colt.  Shouts of “Hosanna” or “Lord save us!  We beg you!” rang out. 

We all knew who was entering the city.  The one who had healed blind men with a touch and cast out demons with a word.

And the second day was even more spectacular!  He walked into the temple courts and stood up for me!  My entire life, when I went to the temple, I could go no further than the court of the gentiles/women.  And it was in that court that all the money changers could be found.   My encounter with God always included the smell of dung and the sounds of animals and bartering.  There was a skinny little pathway through the court-turned-market place with no place to stop and pray.

Jesus went berserk.  He yelled.  He gnashed his teeth.  He turned over tables and opened animal pens.  And when he was finished, he cried out, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations!  But you have made it a den of robbers.”

And now, he is here in Bethany, next door at Simon’s house.  A stone’s throw away.  What could I possibly give him?

So I rummage through my house.  Only the best will do.  I look at the pile of things assembled before me.  The few coins I have.  The best clothes.  The beautiful dish I purchased last spring.  But only one item stands out.  The alabaster jar of pure nard given to me by my grandmother.  It was a rare thing and she gave it to me for my wedding night.  I anointed my hair with it, and my new husband loved it.

I also used the nard to anoint the wrappings that covered my father who died last year.  Grandma said to save it for special occasions.  I could not think of a more special occasion than this.  

I hurried out of my house and into Simon’s house.  People watched me hurry by with jaws dropped.  Surely they were wondering what this next door neighbor was doing in the house.  When I reached the dining room,  I broke the jar in my haste to open it but I had already planned to use all of the nard anyway. I anointed Jesus’ head.

The smell filled the little room.  It was only then that I began to look around.  I saw surprise in the faces of those sitting around the table that quickly darkened into anger.

“Why this waste of perfume?” one said.

“It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” another exclaimed.

“You stupid woman!  What do you think you are doing?” said a third, nicely dressed and well-groomed man.

I began to panic.  Had I done something wrong?  Finally, I found the eyes of Jesus.  But there was no anger there, only love and admiration.  And then he spoke.

“Leave her alone.  Why are you bothering her?  She has done a beautiful thing to me.  She gave what she had.  She poured perfume on my body to prepare me for my burial.  Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

At these words, the well-dressed man got up and left in a huff.  But I stayed by Jesus. 


In order to prepare for a sermon, sometimes I go through this exercise in my efforts.  I try to place myself in the shoes of the person I am reading about and supply the details that the biblical writer does not provide.  Of course, a lot of it is simply my imagination, but I have found this exercise to be immensely useful in getting to the heart of a particular passage.  I hope you will use this spiritual discipline yourself and I also hope that you will be blessed by my words here. 
Some of my more scholarly friends could possibly be bothered by bits and pieces of this because I do not have research to support every detail.  Neither do I mash Mark together with other gospels who name the woman and have her doing different things.  I am trying to let Mark stand on his own. 






The Third Place

The church should be the third place for your family.  Now notice that I didn’t say the church should be in third place.  There is significant difference between being the third place and being in third place.  This is a great concept from Mark Holmen (Faith Begins at Home: The Family Makeover with Christ at the Center) that I want build on in this blog. 

It is natural that we are going to spend most of our time in two places.  First, we will spend a majority of our time at home doing things that include living.  The second place is work.  Work will be a close second to home when it comes to the amount of time we spend there.  For some, work is their first place and home is the second, but that is another blog! 

My concern here is with the third place.  The idea of the third place is not about level of importance, rather it is about amount of time spent.   We have many things vying for our attention, trying to take the third place.  Youth sports, entertainment, leisure activities, friends, etc.  You owe it to yourself to know what or perhaps who is trying to take that position. 

If you are a Jesus follower, the church should be the third place.  I am not talking about the building.  It’s not going to help if you show up every time the grounds keeper is there to mow the grass or set up chairs.  I’m talking about the assembly of believers—the people. 

If we decide to make the church our third place, we will put the church in the perfect place to partner with us as we seek to raise our families in the Lord.  We will be fed by the Word.  We will be able to establish mentoring relationships.  We will benefit from the events and training that seek to equip us as parents to accept our responsibility of passing faith on to our kids.  And finally, when we make the church our third place, the loving arms of Christ’s body will be there to support during times of crisis and need.  I don’t think the soccer field or the lake will do all that. 

What’s your third place? 




Extended Family

“Get out of my business!”

This seems to be the common response, whether actually said or anticipated when somebody who is older tries to give advice to someone who is younger.  There is a spirit of individuality that has been cultivated in 21st century America.  Many of us have an unhealthy fascination with the pioneer.  Everybody wants to be the lone-ranger who goes it alone; the one who makes it on their own. 
This fascination spills over into every facet of our lives—our jobs, our hobbies, and our family.  There is a large majority who view asking for help as humiliating.  It is perceived as weakness or failure if we can’t figure it out on our own.  


An interesting generational phenomenon is that we have a young generation of men and women who are beginning to step into leadership but unlike the previous generations, they are actually looking for mentors.  The millennial generation craves connection, team-work, transparency and accountability.  This is problematic for many in older generations because none of these things were values for them and very few of them were mentored in their youth or young adult years. 


In this blog however, I am not concerned as much with leadership and millennials as I am with trying to bring our kids up to be people of faith in a society that is becoming more and more antagonistic towards Christians.  We have new challenges and struggles every year that come up in the family.  How do we manage both parents working and raising a family at the same time?  How do single parent families still raise healthy kids?  How do we deal with the constant influence of video games, social media, and entertainment since they are constantly changing and evolving?  

As Christians, we often go to Scripture to seek answers.  Unfortunately, a surface reading of Scripture does not provide satisfactory answers to many of these cultural questions.  However, when we dig a little, I believe that there are groundbreaking answers but they don’t come to the casual observer.  I believe that powerful answers come from the assumptions of the writers of Scripture rather than just the scriptures themselves. 

When we read passages in the Old Testament like Deuteronomy 6 that talk about impressing the commands of God on our kids, we immediately think in terms of the westernized definition of family.  Family, for many of us, is all about the immediate family—father, mother and kids.  However, in ancient Israel family was much bigger.  During this era in history, you didn’t move away from your family home and the influence of patriarchs and matriarchs in the family continued well beyond a new marriage and kids entering the picture. 

As Daniel Block observes, “…younger women would drink deeply from the practical wisdom of matriarchs in housekeeping and child-rearing issues.  The counsel of grandmothers would be especially important for mothers with young children and adolescent girls preparing for marriage.  Meanwhile, the younger men would appeal to senior males for wisdom in managing the household work force, disciplining unruly children and relating to neighbors” (Marriage and Family in the Biblical World edited by Ken M. Campbell, p. 98).


In a Yahwistic family (one that was committed to the worship of Yahweh, the God of Israel), the patriarchs and matriarchs of the family would lead in many other ways.  Since their economic contributions would wane, and the younger adults in the family would often be out in the fields until sundown, it was often the older generation’s responsibility to train the young in spiritual matters.  They would supervise Sabbath observance, instruct the household in Torah, officiate and prepare for the Passover, and they would keep the stories of deliverance, covenant, providential care and conquest alive. 


Our world of individualism that includes things like cable TV, Netflix, and video games is lacking quite a bit when it comes to passing on the story of God breaking into the world through Jesus.  In fact, it’s going to take some intentional effort.  Along with establishing normal family rhythms that encourage and grow faith in the family, I believe we also have to make the effort to integrate the generations.  I can’t think of a better way to do this than to seek mentoring relationships in the church.  We should always be mentoring and being mentored.  Nobody ever arrives at absolute maturity.  The first choice would be parents and grandparents, but if they aren’t available, look for someone else! 

So here is a real quick guide to mentoring someone and being mentored.  Hopefully you will find this helpful. 


Advice to those being mentored: 

First, swallow your pride. 

Don’t choose to believe the lie that you are weak if you can’t do it on your own.  Whatever “it” is, you are part of a family of believers that has a wealth of information and experience that can shape you and inform you in incredible ways. 


Second, give someone permission to meddle in your life. 

Have somebody who knows what is going on with you and has permission to ask you about the things you are wrestling with.  They should ask things like, how many times have you prayed with your family this week (excluding meal times)?  How many times have your worshiped together as a family this week?  Have you served together as a family?  How much time have you spent in God’s word this month?  How has that time shaped you and what have you learned about God? 


And third, for those raising kids, seek out a mentor for your child. 

It could be a grandparent or someone in your church.  If you choose to connect your child with a church member, make sure that some ground rules are set.  For example, the person should not bring you child to their home alone (unless you trust them completely) and you should decide ahead of time how often you would like for them to meet. 


Advice to those mentoring:

Take the first step.  Be available. 

Ask to meet with them for coffee, a coke, or a meal.  You don’t have to lay out all the expectations at once.  Just see if you mesh first.  If you do, you can ask if they would be interested in meeting on a regular basis. 


Second, remember that this is not about answers—this is about conversation and relationship. 

This is about building a pathway that will be readily available when issues of faith and difficulty come up.  Sometimes people worry about content.  But once again, content is not as important as making the time to get together.  Choose a book that is meaningful to the one you are mentoring and go through it.  You could also pick a Scripture reading plan to go through and discuss together.  Be creative!
Third, practice empathy. 
Walk alongside them rather than talk down to them.  Share your experience and ask if it is helpful.  DO NOT fix their problems for them.  Don’t give them a step by step plan to execute.  They will stop meeting with you immediately because they will most likely find difficulty accomplishing all that you have lined out for them.  Allow the one you are mentoring to set accountability items.  You keep them accountable and ask about the goals they make.  Ask questions like, “What goals do you want to set?” or “What are your options?”  Your job is to help them have clarity and to keep them accountable for action items that they decide. 


Finally, don’t be intimidated. 

If you are mentoring somebody who is a lot younger than you, there will be some things that you don’t understand about their culture, their language, and their interests.  Just ask!  It’s not a big deal.  They will enjoy explaining it to you! 


Hopefully that was helpful.  Let me know if you have any questions or additions! 




Deeper Faith


(Photo by Daniel Burka)
As I dive into reading material and go through the creative process each week, it often feels like I have entered a cave.  There are many things to investigate and multiple little side tunnels to explore.  Sometimes, I may go down one of these tunnels only to find that it leads to something interesting or even powerful that does not fit with the rest of what I have uncovered.   Unfortunately, I am limited in the amount of content I can include in the Sunday sermon, so there are often bits and pieces and even fully formed thoughts that go unsaid.
Therefore, instead of letting these ideas, thoughts or inspirations fall into the abyss known as, “My Hard Drive,” I am going to go a little deeper here for those who wish to be challenged just a little more by the passage or the topic being covered on a Sunday morning.  I hope you will find this helpful.
So here is a little tidbit that I wasn’t able to include in my message on Sunday. 
As I read Deuteronomy 6, I see a powerful passage that lines out a plan for how God’s people will continue to live faithfully before Him.    The plan is simple:  Faith conversations in the family.  The Israelites are to view wherever they go and whatever they do as an opportunity to instill values and truth into their kids about the Lord their God.  Moses says,
“Impress them (the commandments the Lord had given) on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut. 6:7 TNIV)
In other words, the responsibility for passing on both the incredible story of the Exodus and the commands given by the very God who accomplished such miraculous feats was given to the family unit. 
We also have a story to tell.  We are to pass on the story of God breaking into the world through Jesus to our children.  Unfortunately, many of us have been so influenced by the idea of specialization in the church, that we give away our responsibility. We pass the buck to a professional who at best influences our kids 2 or 3 hours a week and then wonder why they walk away from God.  While ministers are important pieces to the puzzle that is the 21st century church, they are not the most important part to instilling faith in our children.  The key is not in hiring the right youth minister, children’s minister, family minister, or any other kind of minister that you can think of.  The key is conversation about God.  We must have faith-talk in the family.
Faith-talk in our families will only be accomplished if parents first allow themselves to be changed and transformed by the risen Lord.  If we are going to have faith-talk in our families, our faith must be deep.  No one will spot shallow faith better and faster than the ones we live with. 
And what’s the result?  This is where it gets exciting! 
“The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” (Deut. 6:24-25 TNIV)
Now there are things in scripture which are always true and things that are generally true.  Jesus is Lord.  That’s always true.  But statements like this, “…so that we might prosper…”  are generally true.  It doesn’t mean that if you keep His commands everything you put your hand to will succeed or that every investment you make will work out.  It doesn’t mean that you will never deal with sickness or tragedy.  It’s more of a general truth that speaks to the entire nation of Israel rather than just an individual or single family unit.  We also have to remember that God’s definition of prosperity is drastically different from our culture’s definition.  Prosperity in God’s dictionary is directly linked to faithfulness.  When I internalize the nature of general truth and God’s definition of prosperity, I realize that this picture is about much more than just on person or one family.  This is about God’s people, the Israelites. If we make this applicable to us, this is about the church.  If we want to be prosperous and successful in God’s mission, we must be passing on our faith in our families.  
I have heard it said, “We are always one generation away from apostasy.”  Therefore, I have a responsibility.  Will you join me and take up the mantle?  Will you allow your faith to grow deep so that you can faith-talk with your family?  Will you be part of making the church what it was created to be in the world by instilling faith in your children?