Departure

2 Timothy 4 8

Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”  Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” – John 13:36-37

“It’s time to go!” says a voice calling from the driver’s seat indicating you might be left behind if you don’t leave now.  A friend or a family member receives your last look, a last hug, a last “see you later”, and maybe a tear or two.  It never gets any easier to say goodbye to people we love, yet such is the nature of life.  To move in the direction of God, often means to experience seasons of friends and family being at varying distances. I would imagine it was difficult for Jesus to say goodbye to his friends like Lazarus, his mother, Mary, and the eleven remaining apostles whom He spent a great deal of time with on this earth. But He was called to be somewhere else, to mediate between us and God (1 Tim 2:5) and to prepare us for a time when He can be with us all who love Him and keep His will.

In Revelation 19, we are given a picture of the marriage supper of the Lamb.  This is an event where the church will be reunited to celebrate with Christ – altogether, simultaneously, fulfilling the promise in Hebrews that no one would be left out but “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” – Hebrews 11:40 – Not only will we be reunited with our loved ones from our present, but also those who departed from us along the way, that fell asleep in Christ (1 Thes 4:14). We have been told this, so we don’t give up.   We fight the good fight .  We have the endurance to be different.

“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:” 2 Timothy 4: 7,8

“If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and remain in His love. I have told you these things so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”  John 15:11

But for most of us, and potentially all of us reading this blog, today is not our last day of breath, but a day we leave behind someone we love, either through proximity or heaven forbid, through physical death.  So how can we make sure we don’t forget about this promise to be reunited with the ones we love?

1. Seek His word in your life. First, this means reading your Bible.  It is not an instrument to be used solely on Sundays and Wednesdays and at church camp.  We are told that the word of God in the scripture is alive and actively ready to convict and confirm on thoughts, motives, and actions (Hebrews 4:2).  You are called to live out every day for Christ, so this means the Word of God must be present.  Reading and subscribing to this blog is a great start, but so is a Bible reading plan, or verse of the day bookmarks.  Also, spending time in prayer is a way to monitor your spiritual life and receive direction and confirmation from God.  As we seek to become more spiritually mature, we begin to thank God for a lot more, recognizing the blessings in our life that change the way we pray for the things we desire.  We can pray for God’s will, or in His will, as we wait because we recognize that we are already truly blessed.  This is a discipline, an exercise program.  If you have been a spiritual couch potato, don’t expect to run a Bible marathon or become a prayer warrior overnight.  Even introducing the smallest of these disciplines will begin to make a dramatic difference into your spiritual health.

2. Find a ministry. Do the ministry.  When we become idle, when we don’t have anything to do, that is when sin gets a jump on us (Proverbs 16:27-29).  We consume junk on screens, we find people to talk about, and we become open to other forms of ungodly entertainment.  The devil can be just as busy binge-watching Netflix (that should step on some toes) or scrolling through social media (and the ones I missed the first time) as it is in those who are actively seeking out ways to do evil in this world.  This quote by Edmund Burke addressed to another statesman rings true in the Christian life too, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  It is time to find and actively participate in a ministry.  To move from the milk to the meat.  To not simply believe but to act.  Don’t know where to start?  Look at the list provided by Jesus in Matthew 25 as he separates the sheep and the goats.  Ministry is truly a win-win. When you are busy fulfilling the Word of God, there is simply less time to get caught up in the stuff that doesn’t matter.

3. Be a part of the church. We are not called to do the above mentioned things solely in isolation.  When we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we become part of a greater entity: the church.  It is not simply a building, in fact, it has nothing to do with the structure you meet in at all.  The church is full of people who are trying to do the same as you: live better for Christ.  There is a small caveat.  Like you, they are not perfect yet.  However, everyone in the church has their own unique gifting, function, and strengths.  You don’t have to do this alone.  So what if they don’t have the style of music you want at the church.  So what if there isn’t a large group of people your age in the church.  So what if your friends and family live far away from your church.  Inside your community of believers you still have a function, can be held and hold people accountable, and find ways to strengthen and edify one another for the purpose in which you’re called. It is also important to understand the church is connected beyond the group you meet with on Sundays.  Your friends at camp, your bestie from college, a group of people at a break table or lunch table can talk about and worship God together.  Find a way to connect with other believers, and you will be further shored up against evil.

4. Let the grace of God do the rest. Often times when we come back from a fulfilling spiritual experience, we are immediately presented with our greatest challenges.  The trajectory up of spiritual life will not be a perfect, upward-moving diagonal line.  Inevitably, we will always find a spiritual low after a spiritual high. Don’t let the waves of doubt and defeat toss you and capsize the great life, truth, and hope you have.  You will mess up.  You will know the good you should do and not do it sometimes (Rom 7:15-20).  You may go several days without reading your Bible, become stagnant in your ministry,  or remove yourself from the church because you feel guilty you have committed an unforgivable sin.  Don’t give up. Let God take control and understand that He gives grace to all generously.  This is a free gift, so don’t waste your time “feeling bad” or “not worthy.”  Take heart. Get back up. Seek God. Renew your commitment to His commandments because each day is a new day.  Do everything not to depart from God, and He too, will do everything it takes to ensure you will never have to depart from Him or the ones you love that have fulfilled the same call, together united at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

-Aaron Winner
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Apart

Luke 5 16

I was almost two weeks into vacation with my wife, my  in-laws, and my friends in a foreign country. We had shared hotel rooms, meals, car rides, tours, every story we knew, and so much more.  We collectively saw more of each other in those two weeks than we saw of each other the year before. We had spent a lot of enjoyable time together, but I could sense my idiosyncrasies were wearing on them just as much as theirs began to wear on me. So what did I do? Just a little past lunch I told my family and friends that I would see them later that evening; I had decided it was time for me to  literally “take a hike.” The area we were in, Cinque Terre, Italy, is a group of small coastal mountain towns connected by some tame (and some treacherous) walking paths. With no cell phone service or any other way to stay connected, I turned and started walking in the other direction. As much as I loved them all, I needed time apart. At first, it felt a bit selfish, abandoning everyone I loved to do my own thing for a bit, but it was absolutely important to take a breather, to come back refreshed (although terribly sweaty and tired), so I would be ready to enjoy the rest of the vacation and our once-in-a-lifetime experience time together.

 

Often times, ministry plays out the same way.  Imagine you are with the same group for a long period of time, say the same twelve dudes for three years, or you’ve been in the same church for most of your life, or you work alongside the same people at the same event from year to year.  You’re going to fight (Matt 16:23; Matt 20:21) People are going to say some stupid stuff (John 14:9; Matt 15:16). But until Jesus comes back to restore this earth, there is nothing better we can do together with our time than to share and live out the Kingdom of God with other people.  Yes, we will have to share space, deal with failures, live with the smells, and even call each other out. This is the toll of doing ministry with imperfect people. This means every so often, when our spiritual and emotional bank is depleted, we need to take a hike.

 

In the scriptures, I see several reasons why God momentarily pulls away men and women from ministry. This isn’t necessarily an all-inclusive list, but these are five places or reasons God has called me to withdraw, take a hike, and spend some alone time with Him:

 

1. To refresh – God doesn’t suggest that you rest; he demands it “He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me by still waters” (Ps 23:2) implies that you don’t get a choice.  Additionally Jesus doesn’t say, “I can give you rest”, but he “will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) Ministry is exhausting. Speaking out against injustice, finding provisions for those without them, or caring for someone on his/her deathbed are some taxing circumstances.  Momentarily withdraw and let the Comforter come in and refresh you, so God who called you once, can rely upon you to do His will again.

 

2. To repair –  Sometimes we’re just doing it wrong or have the wrong perspective.  We’re cynical; we’re cranky; we’re at a loss, and soon enough we’re like the Church of Ephesus (Rev 2) abandoning our “first love.”  During these times, God pulls us away to repair our perspective, sometimes harshly. Jonah was supposed to go to Nineveh (Jon 1). He didn’t go.  The rest is a whale of a tale. Sorry. BUT absence really does make the heart grow fonder. With the right heading and the correct motivation, God uses this time to rekindle what has been lost through disappointment or sin.

 

3. To protect –  Have you ever broken up a fight?  I have. The easiest way to get two people to stop fighting is to pull them away from each other.  You can’t hit someone who is not in reach. Adrenaline dies down. Breathing becomes slower. We become a bit more level-headed and rational.  Jacob and Esau (Gen 25), Peter and Paul (Gal 2), Jew and Gentile Christians (Acts 15) didn’t always get along. Sometimes God puts breathing room between us and our fellow believers.  Ultimately, we all want to do what is best for the Lord. Once we go to our corners and seek Him, we may find ourselves more agreeable, and maintain the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).

 

4. To speak –  Sometimes we are lost.  Sometimes we feel abandoned.  Sometimes we are afraid and tuck tail and run into a cave (well, at least Elijah [1 Kings 19]).  In these literal, or most likely metaphorical cave moments, God is speaking to us. He is not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, or any other noise. He is in the stillness, speaking His promises.  Sometimes the change of scenery gives us the reminder of what He has already done and of the many blessings he has already placed in our lives, removing fear and restoring faith.

 

5.  To prepare – Jesus spends time alone in the desert praying and fasting before His ministry begins (Matt 4).  He also prays alone in Gethsemane before His arrest and crucifixion (Luke 22). These are possibly the two most crucial points in the life of Jesus, and He spends them alone speaking with God.  There has to be something to this, right? When God is preparing us to do the big things, we have to eliminate distraction and must turn our attention to fully seeking Him. Our relationships and ministry take a backseat. By doing this, we will not do what we think is best for the ministry to thrive.  We will not do what we think is best for us. We will be prepared to do or speak His will in a mighty way.

 

So this begs the question…is it time for you to take a hike?  Does God want some one-on-one time to assure you continue to minister to others? Sometimes it’s okay to be apart from ministry for a while if you are present with God and letting Him minister to you.  Let him provide what you need so you can come back to continue in the joy of ministry in this once-in-a-lifetime experience with those you love.

Aaron Winner

1 Timothy 3

“I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” ~ 1 Timothy 3:15

Yesterday, we read about Paul’s instructions to men and women in church during worship services. The common thread throughout the chapter? We all need to pray in humility. As Paul continues his letter, he talks more about what a church should look like, focusing in particular on church leadership. He describes two different leaders: Pastors (or Elder) and Deacons. The job requirements for both of these positions may seem a little bit overwhelming. Instead of being the usual list of requirements that you might find in a job listing (e.g. must be upbeat and engaging, a team player, bachelor’s degree), these requirements shine a light onto the heart of a leader. 

Wednesday Devo

If we are a new believer, the first step we should take in our faith is to grow in our relationship with God. We do this through daily prayer and Bible reading and through meeting with our church family. However, after we have committed ourselves to the faith and have started to mature in the faith, we need to begin to work in ministry. We may not become a pastor or a deacon, but we may lead a Sunday School class for kindergartners, be on staff at an annual church youth camp, or be involved in a visiting ministry for shut-ins. If we are working in ministry, we are leading some group of people. Even if you feel like you are leading no one, you can look at your family, whether that’s children, younger siblings, or cousins, and see the effects of your influence. 

Though the requirements listed for pastors and deacons were written specifically for them, we can look at this list to judge how well we are filling our leadership role. We are not saved by these characteristics and traits, by having them shows evidence of how God is working in our lives. For instance, we should all strive to not be a bully or quarrelsome and instead be gentle (1 Tim. 3:2-3). Why? Gentleness is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). If God’s spirit is working in our lives, we should be showing evidence of that. So, as you look through the traits listed, think about how you measure up to the job requirements. If you find that you would not be able to fill these requirements, you should take a look at your life and ask God to help you change those areas. Those that are following you are counting on you to lead them down the right path. They are looking at you to see the way they should act. Where are you leading them? 

~ Cayce Fletcher

Hardships

2 Corinthians 11

2 Corinthians 11 28

… in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

2 Corinthians 11: 27-28

 

2 Corinthians 11 portrays Paul’s passion towards the church and the sufferings that he went through to build it up. Living life as a Christian is not promised to be easy. Though we may not all face the sufferings that Paul faced in his ministry, we too may endure hardships throughout our lives. However, we can take heart as we know from Romans 5 verses 3-6 that “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Thankfully, in America we have the freedom to worship God openly. However, as we know, not all Christians are as fortunate and face persecutions daily. No matter what circumstances we face as we proclaim the name of the Lord and our hope in His coming Kingdom, may we remain firm in our faith and press on as we pursue a ministry that glorifies Him.

-Kayla Tullis

Treasures in Jars of Clay

2 Corinthians 4

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It’s a beautiful chapter – make sure you give it a read, it won’t take long.

While I read, various people came to mind as Paul was describing his ministry.  People I know who have – and are currently – serving faithfully, carrying on the work Paul had given his life to 2,000 years ago.

One of the key repeated themes in this chapter is the task of pointing others to God, rather than to ourselves.  It requires humility and relying on God’s strength and mercy.  It means realizing that this priceless treasure of the message of God’s glory is housed in our plain, everyday, unglamorous, and sometimes frail bodies.  As Paul says: “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (vs. 7). It’s not about us – it’s about Him and His greatness.  It involves letting God’s light shine through us – so others will see God when we share about His Son.  After a conversation with others, do they know more about me – or about my God and my Lord?

And – it’s about the work of being a servant to those you minister to – for Jesus’ sake.  Growing up as a pastor’s kid I was privileged enough to see the beauty of servanthood Pastor Ray Hall lived out daily.  Numerous weekly Bible Studies at church, at the adult foster care homes or at the breakfast restaurant with the men’s group.  Countless counseling sessions in his office, at the jail, or the hospital or even in the garage. Up extra early to drive the man in need of a fresh start to his new job, writing and delivering sermons and SS classes, taking breaks to fix the neighbors’ bikes or paint a welcome home sign for returning snowbirds, teaching the little kids’ VBS class and taking all the late-night phone calls.

Being a servant doesn’t leave a lot of time for piddly pursuits.  In fact, it can be downright demanding, and sometimes discouraging.  Paul knew.  He writes, “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…so then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (vs 8, 9 & 12).  In order to share the life-giving message with others – it was going to require taking up his cross and dying to his own will – just as Jesus did.  It would be hard, but not without help (God’s power at work) or hope. “Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.” (vs. 14).

Even as Paul was following in Christ’s footsteps, he was encouraging those who would follow in his own footsteps with these words (repeated twice in this short chapter) – “We do not lose heart.” (vs. 1 & 16).  God needs people with heart – and lots of it!  You don’t have to be a full-time pastor to be taking on the role as a servant for Jesus’s sake.  Some of the people I thought of when reading this chapter were not pastors but full-time mothers and dedicated Sunday School teachers or amazing pastors’ wives.  Whether you are a student or a mother or a plumber or a truck driver or a teacher – you can also be called to be a servant – for Jesus’ sake.

On the sad flip side, other faces and hearts were brought to mind when Paul wrote about those for whom the gospel was veiled – those who were perishing.  Some family.  Some friends.  Some from years of church and youth work.  Indeed, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel.” (vs. 4).  Satan is still very much alive and kicking.  The battle is real.  And real lives are perishing – unbeknownst to those with blinded minds.  Pray for veils to be yanked off.  Pray for our families to flee Satan.  Pray for the light of the gospel to shine through the darkness.

Thank God for the light.  Thank God for those who have been a servant to you to show you the light.  Pray that through you God’s light will shine.  Pray that you do not lose heart.  Pray that you will be worthy of the title of servant – for Jesus’ sake.

Thankful and Praying,

Marcia Railton

 

 

 

A Farewell

ACTS 20

acts 20 26 27

In Acts 20 Paul travels around some more, and is heading towards Jerusalem, but on his way he meets with the Ephesus elders one last time to talk to them and encourage them.  He knows that God’s plan for him will not bring him back to Ephesus and that he would never see them again. He had spent three years with them and knew that they would be a strong pillar in the growing Church and he wanted to make sure that they would be okay.  The Church had come under attack from the Jewish communities and from the government many times during Paul’s ministry and he knew that would continue, so he wanted to prepare them. He knew that those who would come after and try to lead them astray would try to attack him personally in order to get the Christians at Ephesus to doubt him and his message, and therefore their own faith.  Paul reminds them that at all times when he was with them he took care of his own needs, and did not profit off of them in any way and only cared about their spiritual well being.

 

One of the biggest detractors in the Christian faith is hypocrites.  How many times do you hear about the pastor at a church somewhere being involved in a scandal and then the church folding or many of the people walking away from the faith.  As Christians we are held to a higher standard and when we do not live up to that standard it affects any who look up to us as a role model. Paul’s ministry was successful and had a deep impact on all of western culture because he preached boldly, and he backed it up with a righteous life.  This is also why you need to make your faith your own. People will invariably let you down at some point, but Jesus is a rock on which you can build your life. Of course it is good to have role models, but know that they are only human.

-Chris Mattison

The Weight of Sorrow

Matthew 11

Matthew 11 28.png

 

There is a destiny that makes us brothers:

None goes his way alone;

All that we send into the lives of others

Comes back into our own. —Markham

 

Today’s chapter is a solemn one for me. Jesus just finished the send-off of the 12 disciples out into the proving grounds and I imagine was watchful about the results. As word of the disciples broaden, John the Baptist hears about the Messiah’s latest turn of events and sends a question to Jesus in (verse 3): “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

 

This question intrigues me because of what it doesn’t ask. “Why won’t you help me? Do you not care that I sit suffering in this prison cell?” John the Baptist was the cousin, a dear friend, and a mentor of sorts who baptized Christ himself. He knew Jesus and Jesus knew John. They most likely grew up together. Jesus simply replied, (verse 4-6)  “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.

 

While this is a message of good report for the current gospel cause, what strikes me is what isn’t said to his friend. John would surely have known by this response that Jesus was referring to Old Testament prophecies like Isaiah 29:18-19, 35:5-6, or 61. These were the credentials of sorts that the coming Messiah would fulfill. Isaiah 61 is one of the most famous passages using phrases of comfort  like “ bind up the brokenhearted,” “proclaim freedom for captives,” and “release prisoners from darkness.” Yet, Jesus doesn’t convey any of THOSE phrases in the reply to John because he knew they couldn’t be upheld. Silence often speaks louder than words.

 

Have you ever had a friend or family member truly in sorrow and are unable to comfort them due in part to the schedule you must maintain? Maybe they were grieving a death, consequence, job loss, betrayal, or abandonment. You want nothing more than to stop everything and sit with them in their sorrow and to share the load. I have to believe this is what Christ wanted more than anything with John the Baptist, but his circumstances made this impossible and he ultimately knew that freeing John from prison was not the will of the Father. John was soon to die. Jesus sent a loving message of “omittance,” perhaps suggesting that he had not forgotten John, nor his sufferings. The tribute upon which Jesus bestows upon John in the next 14 verses following this makes me believe he was hurting for his brother. He wanted nothing more than to comfort, but his schedule and AGENDA would not allow.    

 

Jesus models a very important lesson here and later in Matthew 14 upon reaction to the terrible death of John the Baptist. SOMEtimes the best way to ease heartache is by getting back to work. Use your grief to empower your ministry. Rather than turning in on yourself and thinking “woe is me,” turn outward to serve and to love the crowds. It is ok to cry. It is ok to mourn for lost people or situations, but we must not let our emotions turn inward for long, lest it becomes pity. In our brokenness God is able to use us mightily. In desperation our dependence on Him will serve as a powerful testimony to a lost and dying world.

 

Is your heart broken today? Does life seem empty? Do you feel like giving up? Take hope in the example of Jesus. Take up whatever duties lie before you and dedicate them to God. Refuse the luxury of self-pity. Do something to lift the burdens of others and Jesus will strengthen you.

The final verses (28 – 30) of Matthew 11 confirm this truth. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

When you serve others you will find yourself.

 

-Julie Driskill

 

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