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When I’m feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, and anxious, the most helpful response is to make myself pause and think deeply about why I’m doing what I’m doing and what my feelings are trying to tell me about that. I know this is the best thing for me in those situations, and yet I resist doing it, even refuse to do it sometimes. Oh sure, I make excuses to myself, “There’s too much to do! I don’t have time to stop and think about anything right now. I just need to get busy and get things done.” But the truth is I resist because looking deeply and honestly at myself and my situation means I will ultimately be confronted with a choice. I will have to choose one thing over another, or even choose one thing over several other things. And that means I will have to take responsibility for my choice, to own it.
Intentionally making a choice and owning it is sometimes challenging for me because I am deeply afraid of making the wrong choice. I’m afraid of being devalued or rejected because of what I chose to do or not do. So I often make myself a bit crazy by trying (and usually failing) to do it all.
Our culture encourages this craziness with the mantra “More is better.” In both obvious and subtle ways, we are told to be more, have more, and do more. Busyness is a badge of honor, a symbol of success. Do you ever complain about being too busy, and yet find yourself uncomfortable with idle time or feel guilty about spending time on “non-productive things”? I do. We often say we have too much or are too busy and at the same time we continue to acquire more things and schedule more to do. For me the fear of missing out and the need to prove my worth and value are what drives this. Maybe it is the same for you.
Martha was a busy woman. Generous, to be sure, because she opened her home to a traveling teacher and his student entourage. But she was also acutely aware of the responsibility that came with this invitation. Hospitality had certain expectations and she was determined to meet all of them. Still, she was just one person and there were so many things to do. She became overwhelmed.
As she was on her way back from the garden with the vegetables for the next dish on the menu to be prepared, she caught sight of her guests visiting together in the living room–with Mary. Martha’s sister Mary was sitting with them. Just sitting. Not serving the beverages or checking to see what dietary restrictions different guests had. Mary was just sitting there, listening to the teacher. And Martha lost it.
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” Jesus softly called her name, the way you sooth a child that is having a meltdown. “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-41, NIV)
In Martha’s shoes, I would have been stunned, confused, and a little embarrassed. My mind would flood with thoughts like these: “What does he mean only one thing is needed? The meal isn’t going to fix itself! A dinner party goes flat in a hurry if there’s no dinner. What will people think if word gets out that guests under my roof had to fend for themselves? I’m the responsible one here, and yet I’m the one being scolded. …. Still, the way he spoke my name was so warm and gentle, like an invitation in itself. Could I really have a place in that room with him? What would happen if I chose this one thing over all these other things?”
It’s a scary choice for me. Maybe it’s a scary choice for you too. Is it really true that I am loved for who I am, not what I do? I won’t truly know until I choose to say no to many of these other things so I can say yes to the this one thing that Jesus says is better.