Thursday, August 25, 2016

Living with Opened Eyes

This post is being written in advance of a mission trip which will be ending about the time this post is published to the web. Of course, I am certain that I will have much to say and write about upon my return, but I want to take just a moment to provide a couple of thoughts which have already served as an encouragement to me as I prepare to travel.

First, in last week’s post, I mentioned the prayer meeting that was called by our church in order to pray over Susan and me before I left. As I was leaving one our friends pulled me aside and provided a message for me that was a great reminder as I set off on this adventure. The passage she mentioned was 2 Kings 6.8-23, but particularly Elisha’s words in verses 16 and 17. I have had some concern with this trip, but she reminded me that what God is doing is always greater than we can see, if we don’t have our eyes properly attuned to what He is doing.

On the day before my departure, I was preparing to grade a few last papers and when I logged into the system, I was greeted with Paul’s words to the Colossians to seek the things which are above and set our minds above as well. Now, the idea of seeking is not so much with our eyes here, but with our hearts, yet the passage does have a relationship to what we see or desire on the earth (see Colossians 3.1-4). Any concerns I have about this trip are because I am human and my focus is on the world. If I truly remember my identity is in Christ and focus on my calling and my placement (above), then the worldly cares will fade. Again, I need to have my eyes open – and focused on Him.

Finally, as I was making a visit with my mother before I left, she told me her verse for me regarding this trip. The verse Deuteronomy 31.8 which promises the Lord will go before the Israelites and will not leave nor forsake them. Thus they have no reason to have fear or be dismayed.

And neither do I. Like Moses old the Israelites collectively and then Joshua individually, I too must “be strong and courageous.” God would later say these same words to Joshua, and they are echoing in my mind loudly as I prepare to depart. Frankly, my fears may be overstated, but I am one who typically tries to be prepared by working through scenarios. In a few days, I suspect all of my concerns (and even fears) will be behind me. Regardless of what may happen, I do pray for fruitfulness for God’s Kingdom and faithfulness on my part. Upon my return, I will share of my experience through a different lens because my eyes have truly been opened as they have not been before. And my prayer then is that others will be inspired, encouraged, and even emboldened to join me with open eyes as well.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Humbled And Thankful

This week has been one of extreme preparation. I am preparing for an upcoming adventure (of which I will say more later), grading for two different classes which finish this week, and preparing to teach a class I have not taught before which begins next week. All of that plus a host of other unusual tasks, in addition to some of the usual ones.

It is in the midst of this tightly packed schedule (my poor calendar has colors running all over it!) that I received a call from a friend who is facing uncertain times at his church. He called because he simply needed to vent to someone he trusted, but also to see if I might be able to provide some guidance in the coming weeks. The circumstances he described, though only one side of the story, are certainly worthy of concern. I assured him I would help as I could, when I could. His church is taking a little time to process recent events, so the timing may work out better for me given my current schedule. That sounds harsh, but we do all need to say no at times. This, however, is not one of those times.

As I finished the call, I was reminded that a friend at the church I serve had called a meeting for that evening in order to pray for me in my upcoming opportunity. We did meet, and with just a little bit of a devotional thought shared by him, and a little information shared by me, the people who gathered took the opportunity to pray for my wife and me. As the title of this post says, I was humbled and most thankful by and for the gesture. But with respect to the call I received earlier, I was humbled and most thankful by and to God for calling me to serve this church a little more than five years ago.

What is most convicting to me is that I do find myself struggling at times with fulfilling what I want to do, that is, how I can serve most effectively. Frankly, our church needed a slow turnaround to ensure a chance at a lasting revitalization, and that is what has occurred. And God has been so faithful in the process, but I look to see how He is at work and wonder why I am unable to do more. Again, I love this church, and am grateful for my calling here, and the love we felt the other night is just one reason why. But, as the slow turnaround now turns to more active ministry, I know more will be demanded of each one of us, especially me. I welcome the opportunity to lead this church forward and know that ultimately more leaders will need to be developed in the coming months to sustain the changes that have taken place and meet the opportunities that are coming our way. But as I continue to look at my calendar, and I consider the calendar of others in the church, I begin to wonder how we can accomplish what God wants us to accomplish.

And that brings me back to the humility and gratitude I have for the people of this church and for our God. For so many to show up to gather to pray for their pastor and his wife was touching. For God to choose to use me at this church at this time is a true blessing. I do not know all that we will be called to do in the coming weeks, months, and years, but I know that God has restored Fairfax Baptist Church to a place where great things not only can happen, but already are. As He continues to move us forward, may we all be willing to be humble before Him and express our thankfulness to Him know He is in control. If we do, we will achieve more than we could ask or imagine, because that is what our God does when we allow Him to guide us and let Him have the glory.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Royal Celebration

The theme for the fair this year, A Royal Celebration, is the consequence of the Royals winning the World Series last year. It was indeed a time to celebrate for all Royals fans. It was especially sweet for those of us who suffered throughout most of the previous decade (or decades) especially like the time when two outfielders running in toward the dugout because the third out would be made on the fly ball, only to realize that the fly ball was dropping behind them because neither of them stayed to catch it! (Yes, it happened in the Major Leagues!)

But I am reminded of the celebration in 1985, at the end of a magnificent stretch where the Royals made the postseason in 7 of 10 years (if you include the 1981 team). Of course two years ago, we experienced a fantastic run in the postseason, and fully achieved the goal as champions in 2015. It was a long time in between championships, and fans wondered if the team would ever be at the top again. Over the years, many gave up hope and no longer were fans. Others remained faithful despite the wait. And now that the team is struggling in 2016 (compared to the last 3 years anyway), people are getting frustrated and the decades long tradition of “Wait until training camp” chants are being heard once again (regarding the Chiefs start and the Royals lack of relevance in August and September).

But like the Royals wait to return to the top, it has been a long time since Messiah walked on the earth. Some people have lost hope. Others have lost purpose. And many have become skeptical of the story that was told then, and doubt the possibility of a return in the future. The truth is that people will be people. The pride we have in our teams make us frustrated when they do not do well, but teams are made up of people who are imperfect. They are also playing a game (!) against people who are paid a lot of money to attempt to beat our Royals.

However, we cannot project the same upon God. Just as very few armchair athletes could hit a 98 mph fast ball, we cannot understand what it means to be God. And God does not fail us, only our expectations of what He should do. But God does not answer to us, we answer to Him. We are the creation, and He has designed us for His purpose, not the other way around. Yes, it has been a long time since Jesus walked the earth, but that does not mean that He will not return in all of His glory at the proper time. In fact, we are promised that is will happen – when God’s timing is right.

So, while we celebrate the Fairfax Fair this weekend, let us remember that one year’s celebration often turns sour by the next year, but the Lord’s faithfulness to us never wavers, and thus we should seek to be faithful to Him as well.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Jailed, Dead, but Not Defeated

Younger people rarely consider the idea of death unless they are faced with it in a personal way (such as through the loss of a close family member). The idea of death is something that is far off and must wait another day. But the reality is that death can come at any time. I suspect most of us know that, but it is another to live with that in mind.

Many do live with that thought in mind, especially those on death row. A sentence of death brings a certainty of the end, and for most that means the end of any hope. Of course, the Bible speaks of many who received a death sentence, and yet we have a happy ending. Just in the book of Daniel, we have four individuals who received a death threat yet lived through it because of their faith (of course Daniel (Daniel 6), and his three friends commonly known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3). But not every story turned out as well. Of course, the ultimate example is Jesus, but John the baptizer is quite an example as well.

John was imprisoned because he proclaimed the need to repent – a message that has never been particularly welcome. The word repent means to turn from something. It is typically considered to be in regard to sin, but it is basically a turning from anything. The Bible is clear that this was the message of John as he baptized many around the Judean wilderness. And because of that message, John landed in jail. (He had spoken of the lawless marriage of the king and his wife and called them to repent. See the church’s blog for my sermon notes.)

We do not know precisely how long John was imprisoned, but we know that he developed some doubts while he was there. This is the man specifically chosen by God to prepare the way...the unborn child who jumped in the womb when he heard the sound of our Lord’s voice, the man who said he was not worthy to baptize Jesus. This is no ordinary man, yet he had doubts about his faith. He had doubts about his impact. He had doubts if it was worth it.

Matthew 11 records that John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He really was Messiah. The disciples reported back to John what Jesus said, and John would die soon after. But John had his answer. He had been jailed, he would die, but his legacy lives on today. Herod and Herodias may have silence him in the literal sense, but they did not defeat him, as we still celebrate his ministry today.

Everyone who claims to follow Jesus is called to serve. Some, like John, may serve as a prophet. Others may serve with any number of gifts, skills, and talents that God has given. Even as we do, we may wonder if it is worth it. When we do our best, and nobody notices, we wonder if it is worth it. When we have given all we have, and no one show any appreciation, we wonder if it is worth it. But Paul reminds us that we are to work/serve as unto the Lord, not toward man (Colossians 3.23-24). Effectively, Paul is saying that if we follow those words, man might get the benefit, but God will get the glory, which should be our ultimately objective (Matthew 5.16).

God has provided an opportunity for me that is rapidly approaching. It is an opportunity that is a first for me in several ways. Like John, I need to follow where God has called me. As I prepare, I am filled with hope, excitement, and a bit of fear. But again, like John, I am certain of my calling, and in my God. If doubts should arise, I will remember the evidence that Jesus gave John. I will pray for God’s peace through any struggles. I will ask God to remind me that what I am doing is worth it. I will work to clear my head to remind myself that He is worth it. And I will know that if my work is for the Lord then regardless of what happens to me, He will be glorified, because He has already proven that He can be jailed, and He could be killed, but the grave could not hold Him and thus He will never be defeated. And therefore, ultimately, with my faith in Him, neither can I.

Friday, August 5, 2016


Being rejected is one reason which keeps many people from achieving greatness. Actual rejection allows us to understand the emotions of being rejected, but the threat of rejection is the source of many fears. A few individuals are able to use the fear of rejection as motivation to overcome their fears as the world will likely hear many times over the next two with the commencement of the Olympic Games.

The pain of rejection is real regardless of the reason for being rejected (e.g. a deficiency in skill, in understanding, or any number of matters). But rejection can be particularly painful if it comes from a certain source. Often times those that know us best are those that may hurt us most. When a family member or a close friend rejects us for any reason, the sting can last for years. And while the pain is bad enough when the rejection results from something that is true, it is even worse when it is a matter of misunderstanding, or is completely false.

That is the case for us, and it was the case for Jesus. After His baptism, Jesus spent most of the first portion of His ministry in Galilee, mostly in the vicinity of Capernaum. The gospel writer, Mark, often mentions the crowd that followed Jesus. Their purpose in following Him was for a variety of reasons – miracle mongers, interested investigators, faithful followers, etc., but His popularity – good and bad – was not in doubt. Yet, after a string of four major miracles (calming the sea, healing of demoniac, healing of woman with issue of blood, and raising Jairus’ daughter), Mark writes that Jesus went back to His boyhood home – where He was rejected. The people there could not believe that this carpenter could be so wise, especially because of the report of how He was conceived. (Their skeptism was true before He was even born!) The rejection was from the people in His town, the people who were relatives, and even the people in His own home (Mark 6.4). Their rejection of Jesus was so complete that He could/did not perform many miracles there. The Bible says He marveled (was amazed) at their lack of faith.

Rejection was the case for Jesus then, and it still exists now. While we may not have Jesus walking around in the flesh proclaiming the news of God’s Kingdom as well as performing all sorts of miracles today, we have the stories of old, and the testimonies of many today that show He is still alive and at work in the lives of those who choose Him. And that is the essence of the matter – we must make a choice. We can choose Jesus, or we can reject Him. The choice is as simple as that, but the implications of either choice is beyond a complete understanding.

To choose against Jesus will ultimately lead to never being able to choose again.

To choose for Jesus means another choice must be made:
  • to observe His commands. And then, another choice...
  • to share His story. And then, another choice...
  • to serve. And then, another choice
  • to make disciples. And then, each of these choices must be made daily (Luke 9.23).

The easy choice seems to be to reject Jesus. This choice seems to have no further effects. To choose Jesus, on the other hand, seems to be full of demanding choices. However, it is a matter of perspective. By choosing Jesus we are really given the opportunity to make further choices. By choosing to follow Jesus, He gives us the ability to observe, share, serve, and make disciples of others who were one like so many of us – filled with helplessness and despair because of being rejected by others. And Jesus did not reject you or me; He died for you AND me so we could have hope.

Remember, we do not like to be rejected, and neither does Jesus. So, make your choice to follow Jesus. Is it easy? No. And people will reject those who follow Jesus. But the reward is worth it in the long run. And, in the short run, by choosing Jesus, each of us has a great opportunity to provide hope and encouragement to others who have faced a lifetime of rejection.