A Christmas Blessing

 When I was a kid I remember my family hitting a hard time. My father was terminally ill with cancer and could not work. He had been fighting for two long years and was losing. My mother, facing the reality that she would soon no longer have a husband, was starting her own business of music lessons but things were tight. We moved in with my Grandma as we could not afford to be on our own and mom and dad needed help caring for us kids and dad. Christmas was to be a lean season for sure. As an adult with kids of my own now I think back to how my parents must have felt that Christmas season.

One night there was a ring at the doorbell. Upon answering the door we simply found a single brown paper grocery bag filled with small gifts and a card that read. Merry Christmas from Sunrise Community Church. As we opened each package, we found that each one was filled with a different denomination of money that someone had decided to bless our family with. Some were small and others quite large, but all of them combined allowed my family to celebrate Christmas that year. Even now, sitting in my office these many years later, I am overwhelmed to tears by this act of generosity and Christian love that was shown to my family in our time of distress.

God showed up that night through the hands and feet of His church. Often times we may never know the significant impact of our small gifts into others’ lives. You may never have to experience what a single christmas present or a warm meal to an individual that feels forgotten, misplaced, lost, or alone can do. I have experienced it and though I do not know all those who blessed my family, I am thankful for those in my home church of Westside that have chosen to bless others this year in a similar way.

This year our small church provided a full Thanksgiving meal to 8 misplaced or in distress families trying to get back on their feet through Everyone Matters Ministries. In addition, we also provided Christmas gifts to 22 individuals in those same families. I sent my story to them as a special thank you for their generosity and willingness to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this small way. For those of you not at Westside or that were unable to participate with us, I encourage you to look around this year for those that you might bless. To go beyond the bustle of lights and christmas carols and remember Jesus as the gift of Gold most high to those who could not afford their own redemption. And in that remembrance, bless those around you richly.

A Humble Dance

Humility, one of the most under rated qualities in our society but the most essential, if we ever want to learn anything or have meaningful reciprocal relationships.

In fact, as my husband and I have discovered, humility is essential if you want to learn how to dance with another person. By yourself, individual freestyle dancing, go ahead, strut your stuff, adlib; your reputation is in your hands alone. But with another person, an actual partner, dancing is a whole different story. It is a relationship, one that must be cultivated with a dose of humility.

This pas de deux (Dance for two) will challenge any relationship. Those who actually learn to dance, continue dancing and continue in their relationship, grow stronger–closer. But many retire their dance shoes to the back of their closets where they never have to face reminders of their folly. Hopefully, they do not retire their wedding rings, as well!

 Although often used as an excuse, a couple’s success on the dance floor is not dependent on some inherent natural ability to dance. Steady progress is made by cultivating communication, humility, and, of course, by practicing. Alas, dancing is an expression of the relationship between partners and their relationship to the music.

In the beginning of the learning- to- dance process, one challenge arises almost immediately. Someone has to lead. And women, it is not us. But before we cry foul, consider the difficult task of leading. The leader, the man, must not only memorize his steps, he must decide which move he is going to ask for next and cue his partner, subtly and smoothly but clearly, just slightly AHEAD of the music, while simultaneously  completing the final steps of the present pattern IN TIME with the music. Additionally, he must spot his partner, the follower, on turns and be responsible for navigating through dance floor traffic. Finally, he must make her look exquisite because SHE is the star! Still want to lead?

On the other hand, the follower has her challenges, as well. She, too, must know her steps and execute them with style, while staying attentive to her leader’s cues and dancing, usually backwards, in heels! Additionally, she must turn and spin more frequently than her leader, so, from the woman’s perspective, the dance floor often resembles a musical merry-go-round as the other dancers whirl about in a blur. Thus, her safety may depend on her leader’s constant peripheral awareness and sensitivity to her vulnerability.

Not surprisingly, partners often make mistakes. When this happens repeatedly, the conversation can sound something like this:

Man: “Why did you do THAT?”

Woman: “You gave me the cue.”

Man: “No, I didn’t. You weren’t following.”

Woman: “Well, you, obviously, weren’t leading very well.”

After this exchange, the dance turns into a dual, and no one has any fun. Each partner becomes defensive. Each wants to be right and blames the other.  Once more the inner Adam and Eve arise in us and to the Garden of Eden we go!

But with some humility, and numerous apologies, the learning process continues, and the relationship develops a heightened sense of humor and sensitivity to the other partner’s needs. Your pedicure may be ruined, and some bruises might materialize, but the relationship stays intact. Plus, you learn to dance, together!  So what makes the difference between discord and harmony in this endeavor? Humility. The willingness on the part of both people to recognize that the partnership, the union, and the goal are more important than being right or crying foul.

Humility is not easy, but it is powerful, and Jesus illustrates so perfectly this paradox. We tend to associate humility with powerlessness, but we are wrong. Our Savior shows us the power, the wisdom and the courage that can only come from a humble heart. He became the least for us.

He humbled Himself before His Father, and listened attentively. He followed beautifully. Jesus did not defend himself in front of His accusers. He sacrificed all His power and authority for a greater good, for our salvation. He defeated the grave. He outsmarted the prideful enemy by humbling Himself to die on a criminal’s cross. Clearly, Satan was not expecting this type of tango! Humility won. Unity was restored. Humanity was saved. Jesus was lifted up. And so the eternal dance continues.

And what does Jesus leave us as reminders of His love sacrifice? The music of His life on earth and that last dance with His disciples. A humble waltz, a foot washing and simple souvenirs—a cup of wine and piece of bread, humble but mighty mementos that represent how Jesus wants us to dance out our days, in humility, in Love and unity with our Blessed Savior and with each other.  

Lori Neuffer is a professor at Sacramento State University and a member of Westside Christian Church. Lori currently serves on our communion devotional team and as a member of our Celebrate Recovery Leadership team.

Have you heard about Metal tape?

Have you heard about Metal tape?

This past week while setting up for Good Friday service one of the other pastors asked me if I had any ideas on how to secure a black curtain to the stage wall. Well, it just so happened I had used metal tape a couple of weeks prior for the same function in my office. I excitedly explained how I had used metal tape in the past for various functions including counter top installs, as temporary brackets, and other uses. As setup continued, he asked for tape to use to secure cords on the stage… any guesses what my suggestion was? In thinking back on this event I realized how much advertising I have done for metal tape over the years since I discovered it. There is something that happens in most people when they find that product or thing that really works… every time there is an opportunity, we tell others about it!

Marketing companies have caught on to a cool fact in regard to what happens when we share our enthusiasm for a product. According to marketing research, testimonials have an 89% effectiveness rate to turning over sales! And 88% of people trust online reviews from everyday consumers as much as they trust a personal contact.

At Westside we have been emphasizing “The power of the personal invitation” this year. Because research shows that your voice matters to those around you! For those in Christ, it is not to sell a product… but to reach our community with the life-saving message of Jesus Christ! It was amazing to see the results of the enthusiasm our church had for this year’s Easter celebration. We had a full house, and on top of that, we had to pull in extra chairs to line the back wall. People brought in goodies to eat before service (not arranged by the staff) and even came dressed extra nice all in anticipation for this special day of celebration. This did not happen because of the marketing genius of the staff, or because we put on the best show in town or have the most free stuff. This happened because our people invited their families and friends to something that they love, something that is special, something that is far greater than metal tape.

Hopefully, you got to experience this enthusiasm in your church this past weekend, but I want you to know that your love and enthusiasm for sharing Christ and inviting others to come and celebrate does not end on Easter Sunday. If you are resurrected in Christ, you have reason to celebrate every day! You have a reason to tell everyone at every turn what Christ has done for you, who He is to you, and the hope you have. Easter and Christmas serve as sort of special anniversaries to remember what God has done, but as in any relationship if you only get flowers on the anniversary and there is nothing in between… Take every opportunity to proclaim your love for Christ because of the love he first had for you. Have you ever heard of metal tape?… How about Jesus Christ?

Open Doors

This past weekend, as I got out of my car to see a mosquito trying to get out. I left the door open for a minute to let it fly away. No matter how long I waited with the door open, it insisted on trying to fly through the closed window. It ignored the fact that the door was wide open providing escape, and instead kept smacking itself into the side window. Finally, I turned my car back on, rolled down the window, and the mosquito left. (A lot of effort for a common pest) I rolled my eyes and closed the door, not thinking much of it at the time.

Later in my day, a thought finally hit me. How many times am I so focused on my own plans, that I ignore the wide-open door that God has for me? For many of us who believe in Christ, we try to do our best with our eyes are set on Christ and what we can do to serve His Kingdom. Most of us don’t have bad intentions in our actions and dreams and yet sometimes it seems like we hit a brick wall. We often begin to stumble and panic at this immovable force. Just like the mosquito, we can see our goal on the other side. But, rather than look around, we fluster and try to force our way through an obstacle when God has another plan.

It’s hard for us to want to look around. We are so desperate (and often impatient) that we squirm and fight anything keeping us from our goal. Sometimes we get through, but many times we face hurt and frustration in the process. We cry out in confusion and frustration to God, asking us to help us. We may wonder if God has brought us to this point just to leave us to our own devices. Even the great Moses struggled with this. In Exodus chapter 5 early on in Moses’ story, God has sent him to free Israel from Egypt. But instead, Pharaoh increased their labor and made it harder on Israel so that the people turned against Moses. In frustration, Moses cried out to God “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” In the middle of the path God has laid out it can be difficult to see the end. Moses, like the mosquito, saw what God wanted to do through the glass, and yet he did not understand that there was a longer road to fulfil God’s purpose. What would it be like to travel back in time to Moses, at this moment… and tell him of the wonders God was going to do through him? Pillars of fire, parted seas, and mana from heaven… would you believe it? God may give you a clear goal, but sometimes a different path to get there that is far beyond what you could expect. He will open the door for us to achieve His goals, we have but to be surrendered to Him and open to his leading instead of set in our own ways.  

This week, if you are feeling like that mosquito-like you are hitting a wall and can’t understand why you can’t get to your goals I challenge you to look around and see what doors God might be opening up for you to achieve His goals. He may be helping you in ways you would have never suspected.

Ian Jeffries

Ian Jeffries currently serves on staff as the Youth intern at Westside Christian Church. Say hi to Ian on Sunday

The Sighting

On January 22, 2019 the first day of the semester at Sacramento State University, I was walking from the parking garage to my office before my first class. It wasn’t raining. It was beautiful. Sunlight was waking. The chaos had not yet begun.

Walking my usual path into the central part of campus, I catch the movement of something to my right. I turn. About 9 feet away is a coyote, walking slowly, just barley off the concrete path, in the opposite direction. I blink. He is still there. He is still a coyote, not a dog, not an apparition. He is lovely, not frightened nor hurried.

Although there are several students also walking along the same path, they do not notice him. They are plugged in elsewhere. I stop and stare at the coyote. I turn around and walk slowly in the direction he is traveling, staying parallel to him. Then a student comes up beside me and also notices him. The student and I lock eyes,

The young man whispers to me, “that’s a coyote.”

“I know. He’s beautiful” I say.

We smile, as if we have just discovered an elusive treasure.

This coyote does not look like the ones I have seen many times before from afar, usually surprised or hurried. He is very close and in a different, almost surreal, context. He stops. I stop. He looks at me for a fleeting moment—no fear, no signs of aggression. He allows me to study him momentarily and then walks off.

To say the least, this encounter made my day! And, fortunately, by the afternoon, there were videos of the coyote posted to reassure me that I was still sane—at least early in the semester, anyway.

Now, ironically, that morning on my way to work, I had prayed, “Lord, help me to see what you see.” I was not expecting a coyote. Perhaps the Lord knew I needed a distraction, something to observe outside of myself. God is full of surprises.

What the coyote encounter made me think of is how we observe our surroundings and our circumstances. Sometimes we see God in the details. Sometimes we do not. What we see depends on our focus. The Holy Spirit cannot reveal spiritual truths or simple wonders to us when we are preoccupied with our own self reflections, when we see life in a mirror, instead of through God’s window.

At His last supper with His disciples, Jesus saw what the disciples could not. He saw those who loved Him, the one who would later that evening deny Him, and, of course, the one who would betray Him. Jesus set aside his very real and personal fears of impending torture and death to prepare His followers, His friends, His heirs, present and future, for His departure from this earth. He bequeathed to them, and thus, us, a very personal gift, more precious than our Mother’s pearls or our Father’s truck. He gave us a symbolic ritual, Communion, an act that would tangibly remind us of His sacrifice and love, remind us that He would still live in and through us. Moreover, He promised to send us a divine counselor, the Holy Spirit, someone to guide and refocus us when we are distracted, troubled or consumed by challenges and trials.

Jesus is never far away, His Love sacrifice is with us always. And he wants to reveal Himself to us if we but ask to see what He sees. If we set aside our own understanding and cry out for His deeper wisdom and insight, for His Holy Spirit. Whether it is a coyote sighting, a divine healing, or the tenderness of Love for a stranger, we do not need to go far to experience His extraordinary wonders, to know our Savior, our living God, and His will for each of us.

Lori Neuffer is a professor at Sacramento State University and a member of Westside Christian Church. Lori currently serves on our communion devotional team and as a member of our Celebrate Recovery Leadership team.