At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Having called a little child to him, Jesus placed the child among them. He said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-3).
As you can see in this issue of our church newsletter, Vacation Bible School is almost here! Our teachers are preparing their lessons, colorful and creative decorations are being assembled, and donations are piling up. It’s always an exciting time of year, and of course what we await with the most eager anticipation is the arrival of the children. They are the reason we host VBS year after year. We look forward to sharing the gospel with them, and we treasure the opportunity to see the Lord cultivate a sincere and lasting love for Christ in their lives.
Yet I wonder how many of us have considered the ways we can become the ones learning from the children. We usually assume, rightly so, that VBS is about introducing children to their Creator, Savior, and Sustainer. But according to Jesus, every moment we have with children can also become a chance to learn more about living in God’s Kingdom. For us adults, that means getting ready for VBS is not only about making sure we’re primed to teach and serve; it’s also about ensuring we’re willing to learn from the children.
In the ancient world of Jesus’ earthly ministry, children were often considered an inconvenient burden. Their dependence on parental support was frowned upon, and they were easily overlooked within their cultural context. It was nothing short of stunning, therefore, when Jesus responded to his disciples’ heated dispute regarding greatness by placing a child in their midst. True greatness begins with humble reliance upon God to give us the security we need and to determine our worth. We cannot experience life in God’s Kingdom, says Jesus, until we’re willing to humbly accept God as our King and until we acknowledge our need for His provision.
Our efforts to earn greatness through our achievements and our performance count for nothing in God’s Kingdom. On the contrary, when we derive our worthiness from them they drive us farther and father away from the Lord. One of the primary antidotes Jesus offered for such futile endeavors is to spend more time learning from children.
Learn from their helplessness, learn from their curiosity about what they don’t know, and learn from their simplicity. Even if you’re not actively volunteering with VBS this year, I encourage us all to spend more time with our church’s children. They need us, and we need them!
Gideon said to God, “Please don’t let your anger burn against me. Let me make just one more request. Please allow me one more test with the fleece. Let it be dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” God did so that night… (Judges 6:39-40a).
The account of Gideon’s fleece remains one of the most memorable miracles recorded in the book of Judges. It’s a story that easily and vividly communicates God’s undeniable power to children. Who else but God could accommodate Gideon’s request to make the fleece wet while the ground was dry, as well as his request to make the fleece dry while the ground was wet (6:36-40)? As awesome as this miracle is, however, it pales in comparison with an even greater miracle displayed in the story. Although we might easily overlook this miracle, it holds the key to understanding this striking passage.
The miracle that most clearly shows the Lord’s character is not what happens to the fleece but what God is willing to do to convince Gideon of his call to serve. Despite receiving an unmistakable revelation of God’s will for his life (6:11-24), despite experiencing the empowering influence of the Holy Spirit (6:34), and despite witnessing Israel’s desire to follow his lead (6:35), Gideon remained doubtful of his call. Nevertheless, God calmly and gently assured Gideon of the irrevocable nature of His promises.
For all those who, like Gideon, have struggled with self-doubt and worry, this story encourages us to remember God’s purposes are far bigger than our sense of inadequacy. It is simply mind-boggling to see how the sovereign ruler of the universe condescended to interact with Gideon, one of the most weak-kneed and fickle characters in the Bible. Yet God was determined to save Israel by working in and through an obviously limited vessel so that no human being could ever claim credit. The Lord met every single one of Gideon’s demands for proof not to validate our obsession for “signs and wonders” but to emphatically demonstrate the extent of His mercy toward sinners.
Standing on the other side of the Cross, we can be persuaded of the certainty of God’s Word by the ultimate miracle: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “For us, God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). If what God accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus doesn’t convince us of God’s abounding grace for feeble and cowardly sinners, then what will?
May the Spirit convince us of our call, and may we never take God’s merciful patience for granted.
The LORD looked at Gideon and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel from the Midianites. Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6:14)
Like many individuals named in the Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11), Gideon was not actively listening for God’s call. In fact, by the time Gideon received his call to serve, he had already given up on any hope for divine intervention. No doubt the last thing Gideon ever expected to hear was, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior” (Jdg. 6:12). Ironically—and even humorously—when Gideon heard those words he was sheepishly cowering inside a secret winepress to prevent his hard-earned grains from being stolen by the marauding Midianites. Instead of following the usual practice of threshing his wheat in the open air where the chaff could be blown away, Gideon was hiding inside a rocky crevice. Understandably, Gideon’s first response was to say, in effect, “Um, Lord, I think you’ve got the wrong number…”
Like Gideon, we often question our competence to answer God’s call to serve. We fixate on our circumstances— “If the Lord is with us, then why has all this happened to us?” (Jdg. 6:13a). We feel overwhelmed by the obstacles in our way— “The LORD has forgotten us and given us into the hand of Midian” (Jdg. 6:13b). We doubt our background and qualifications— “How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s family” (Jdg. 6:15).
Yet what the Lord impressed upon Gideon was the reassuring and empowering message that He provides all the competence we need to do what He has called us to do. God does not call us to serve without also equipping us for the task at hand. “We are not competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves; our competence comes from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).
When faced with situations that challenge our conviction that God is faithful, He says, “Go in the strength you have” (Jdg. 6:14a). God promises to give us what we need, when we need it. However limited and frail we may feel, God tells us to rely on the Holy Spirit. When we are smothering under the weight of the burdens we carry and when we cannot see any way forward, He says, “Am I not sending you?” (Jdg. 6:14b). Because of Christ Jesus, we know God does not ask us to go where He has not already gone—even when the way leads to the cross. When we suspect our skills and experiences are not sufficient, He says, “I will be with you…” (Jdg. 6:16a). Even when we pass through fiery trials and even when we pass through engulfing floods of sorrow, the promise of God’s presence stands (Is. 43:1-2).
May the Spirit teach us to lean more and more on the competence God provides.
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:6-7).
Paul’s instructions to Timothy exude a profound sense of expectation and promise. According to Paul, the empowering movement of the Spirit in Timothy’s life started before Timothy was even born. While genuine faith cannot be inherited, God can and does use one generation to pass the faith on to the next generation. Timothy stood on the receiving end of God’s ever-building momentum. Consequently, Paul charged Timothy to never take God’s gifts for granted but to instead “fan into flame the gift of God.” Paul prayed for Timothy to galvanize what he had been given. God started the fire; Timothy’s responsibility was to stoke the burning embers by adding fervent passion to his ministry— “power and love and self-discipline.” In this way, Timothy would feed the momentum he had already received.
Tabernacle, I believe we’re also standing on the receiving end of the Lord’s Kingdom-expanding momentum. My wholehearted prayer, therefore, is that we would all feel the Spirit’s burning challenge to fan our gifts into flame. While I cannot begin to name every gift we’ve received, I do want to highlight a few appearing in this newsletter.
On Sunday, April 30, we called a Minister of Music whom I firmly believe will continue the momentum led by Jo Ellen Newhouse in our music ministry. May we give thanks for this God-inspired development and may we offer our prayers for Ernie as he begins his ministry at Tabernacle.
During the week of June 21-25, we will provide a Vacation Bible School in the hope that children both inside our church and in our community will be blessed by learning of God’s amazing love. May the Lord raise up the volunteers we need, and may we devote ourselves to generously supporting this effort in every way we can.
During the week of July 8-14, we will send a team of youth to Philadelphia who will minister to both the spiritual and the material needs of “the least of these.” May the Lord equip our youth for this journey, and may we commit ourselves to encouraging our youth as they answer God’s call to serve.
Finally, during the week of July 21-28, we will send a team of adults to Xela, Guatemala who will serve at the Good Shepherd Children’s Home. May the Lord continue to watch over the preparations, and may we all begin praying that God would be glorified through this mission.
What other gifts might God be calling you to fan into flame? Let’s fan the momentum!
And Jesus said to the two disciples, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”
Whenever we reach the other side of Easter it can be instructive to ask, “What now?” After we’ve journeyed to the upper room to commemorate Jesus’ Last Supper, and after we’ve felt the burden of Jesus’ death on Calvary, and after we’ve participated in the triumphant celebration of Easter, where does that leave us? What’s different about the world? What’s different about us? What now?
In many ways our questions mirror the predicament of two downcast companions of Jesus as they plodded their way out of Jerusalem. They had been to Jerusalem with Jesus, maybe even in the upper room with Jesus. They had seen their plans for the future shattered as Jesus—the one they believed to be Israel’s ultimate redeemer—was cruelly executed as a criminal. Worst of all, they had allowed themselves to be swept up in the excitement of reports that Jesus’ tomb was empty. But, alas, while the tomb was indeed empty, there was no sight of Jesus (Lk. 24:19-24). They had naively pinned their hopes on a pipe dream, or so they thought…
Unbeknownst to them, these companions were actually speaking directly to the risen Christ! Yet when Jesus rebuked them it wasn’t because they failed to recognize him since, in that moment, they were prevented from doing so (Lk. 24:16). Rather, Jesus called them out for failing to have eager hearts.
Instead of holding firmly to God’s revealed plan of salvation—long foretold by the prophets and embodied by Jesus—these companions were wallowing in the broken remnants of own plans. They were fixated on their own worries, their own disappointments, and their own lack of understanding. Consequently, Jesus accuses them of being slow to embrace the witnesses God had provided through Scripture. Had they trusted in God’s plan they would’ve been eager to accept the testimonies regarding the empty tomb, and they would’ve avoided falling into overwhelming discouragement.
Like those two companions we are currently unable to see the risen Jesus face to face with our physical eyes. But that doesn’t mean we cannot carry our Easter hope with us beyond April 16, 2017. Why? Because our faith is not based on fantasies and wishful thinking; it is based on God’s unshakable Word. May the Lord grant us eager hearts to believe all that the prophets have spoken.
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. He lives, He lives, salvation to impart! You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.
Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to life, and only a few find it
Easter services are when almost all churches can expect to have their highest attendance for the year (even higher than Christmas!). Sometimes the surge in numbers corresponds to the worthy efforts on the part of church members to invite their friends and neighbors to a special service. At other times, we can attribute the increase of unfamiliar faces to the attempt on the part of casual church attendees to fulfill their religious duty for the year (maybe to satisfy Mom or Dad or the grandparents). Whatever the reasons for more crowded pews, we know Easter is the kind of occasion we’re all attracted to.
The atmosphere is joyous and celebratory— “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!” The music is glorious and uplifting— “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow!” The food is delicious and abundant! And, perhaps best of all, the expectations are usual minimal— “Go, celebrate the new life available to you because He lives…and we’ll see you again next year!” Who wouldn’t want to show up on Easter Sunday?
Now consider how starkly different attendance can be at other Holy Week services, such as Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. To be sure, this often reflects a lack of experience with such services, especially in the Baptist tradition. But it also reveals our human preference for triumphant celebration over solemn and sacrificial reverence.
Maundy Thursday summons us to gather around the Lord’s Table and remember his “command” (Latin: mandatum) to love one another as he first loved us (John 13:34-35). Likewise, Good Friday engenders godly sorrow as we acknowledge our sins sent Jesus to the cross (“the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” Isaiah 53:5). We’re all far less inclined to willingly subject ourselves to occasions calling for such strenuous expectations. Yet the paradox is that the more we internalize the gravity of the cross—with all of its pain, sorrow, and seeming hopelessness—the more heartfelt our Easter celebration can become.
Such costly worship leads us down what Jesus called “the narrow road that leads to life.” Few will find it. Most will remain satisfied with worship that makes no demands on their life. Which road will you choose? As we prepare for Holy Week, I pray we would all willingly and unashamedly venture out on the narrow road that leads to life, no matter the cost.
People were bringing little children to him so that he might place his hands on them, but his disciples rebuked them. Seeing this, Jesus was indignant. He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:13-15).
From our vantage point today, it seems nearly impossible to understand why the disciples would refuse little children access to Christ. What kind of person would prevent a precious little child from receiving Jesus’ loving embrace? Yet before we disregard our spiritual ancestors as simple-minded curmudgeons, we would do well to ask what might have motivated the disciples’ resistance.
While the text doesn’t explicitly name the reason for their rebuke, it seems likely that the disciples believed such interaction with children was beneath Jesus. When they answered the call to discipleship they no doubt envisioned opportunities to turn the world upside down. Jesus had announced the imminence of God’s reign on earth, and the disciples must have rejoiced at the prospect of playing a significant role in such a conquest. With Jesus at their side, they would be exercising influence over the elite power brokers of their day—or so they thought. Instead, they found themselves trying to chase around and corral helpless little children! According to Jesus, however, children and the Kingdom of God go hand in hand since children exemplify the unhindered curiosity that should characterize all disciples.
Ironically, in order for the disciples to have a real “grown-up conversation” with Jesus, they would need to approach Jesus as little children. I’m sure many of us, at one point or another, have had our supposedly sophisticated adult conversations interrupted by children. As politely as we can, we try to calmly explain that we adults have grown-up things we need to talk about, “so please go find something to play with…” Even though such things do need to be said sometimes, Jesus cautions us about dismissing children out of hand.
Children possess a curiosity, especially for matters faith, that we should be compelled to emulate. Since everything is so new and interesting, they can’t wait to experience more and learn more. Adults, on the other hand, tend to become puffed up with the knowledge we’ve already accumulated for ourselves. To be like the curious children of faith Jesus calls us to be, we must humble ourselves enough to take a fresh look at what we often take for granted—how we pray, how we study God’s Word, how we serve, how we speak to one another, how we give, etc. May God, therefore, restore an unhindered curiosity in us all.
Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Every day has enough trouble of its own
Planning is an inescapable part of life. For those possessing a dominant “Type A” personality, this truth results in a great deal of fulfillment as calendars are organized to maximize efficiency and productivity. Absent such rigorous structure, some can feel as though they’re adrift and helpless. For others, especially “Type B” folks, the prospect of engaging in any intense planning produces an admixture of stress and frustration. They find far more satisfaction in spontaneity, and they appreciate the freedom to follow their intuition. Yet regardless of your preference Jesus calls us to embark on a different kind of planning—one that refuses to fit either the “Type A” or the “Type B” mold.
What Jesus proposes can be described as faith-driven planning. Faith-driven planning strives to make plans based on trust in God’s sovereign provision, as opposed to letting worries dictate decisions. To the meticulous planner type, Jesus says, “Let go of your frenzied efforts to control your life. Seek first the Kingdom of God, and trust me to provide.” And to the figure-it-out-as-you-go adventurer, Jesus says, “I have a path for you to follow, and the directions start with seeking first the Kingdom of God. No, you don’t need to have all the details worked out, but the life of discipleship entails more than aimless wandering. Take decisive action, and trust me to lead.” Which of these words do you need to hear right now?
However you answer, everyone has room to implement more faith-driven planning in his or her life. Naturally, we all have an agenda we’ve envisioned for ourselves, but the test of our discipleship is the extent to which we’re willing to put aside our own agendas—however right they may seem in our own eyes—for the sake of Christ’s agenda. “Listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, conduct business and make money.’ Why, you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow! What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a short while and then disappears. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it’s the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15).
Tabernacle also finds itself in a season of planning. We’re discerning ministry priorities for 2017 and beyond, and we’re trying to determine the best ways to “seek first the Kingdom of God.” Plans must be made, and my prayer is that we would all be willing to graciously and faithfully submit our desires to Christ’s Lordship. I hope you’ll be in prayer with me.
23 Having taken the blind man by the hand, he led him outside the village. After he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” 24 The man looked up and said, “I see people that look like trees walking around.” 25 Then Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes again. His eyes were opened, his vision was restored, and he began to see everything clearly. 26 When Jesus sent him home, he said, “Don’t even go into the village” (Mark 8:23-26).
Despite its brevity, this account of Jesus healing a blind man in two stages represents a pivotal moment in the Gospel of Mark. From this point on Jesus will zero in his teaching to explain the defining climax of His earthly life and ministry—the cross. Like the blind man at Bethsaida, moreover, Jesus’ disciples only come to understand the significance of the cross gradually, in stages.
Peter, for example, was perfectly willing to confess Jesus as the Messiah. Yet when Jesus tried to explain that it would be necessary for the Messiah to suffer, Peter actually rebuked Jesus! Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah (8:29), while true, was still lacking in clarity and coherence—much like the blind man’s initial sight of people as tall as trees. He could see, but his vision was still distorted. Far too often, like Peter, we settle for a fuzzy, incomplete image of Jesus, instead of pursuing the clear-eyed faith that Jesus calls us to develop.
To develop clear-eyed faith we must be willing to let Jesus lead us beyond the narrow confines of our comfortability. The blind man surely must’ve felt some hesitancy about leaving the village he had learned to navigate. But he went where Jesus led (8:23a). Mere proximity to Jesus will not suffice. Simply attending more worship service or Bible studies will never automatically give us clear-eyed faith. These actions will only produce clear-eyed faith when they’re coupled with a humble submission to Jesus’ leadership.
To eventually see Jesus clearly, we must also be willing to acknowledge when our vision becomes cloudy and confusing (8:23b-24). Jesus says, “Do you see anything?” How would you answer right now? What is consuming your spiritual vision? Fear? Ambition? Anger? Indifference? Moving toward clear-eyed faith demands that we regularly check in with ourselves to answer that question.
Exercising this kind spiritual openness to Christ will provide opportunities for us to see his love for us more clearly and be healed from our doubts, our insecurities, and our sins (8:25). In light of such a vision, may we never settle for what we knew before, no matter how comfortable it may have seemed (8:26). May Christ show us how to press on to see Him more and more clearly.