Dedicate yourselves to prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. And pray also for us, that God may open a door for the word, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should (Colossians 4:2-4).
In just over a week, our Guatemala mission team will be boarding a flight toward the destination we believe God has called us to serve. While Tabernacle is only sending 12 individuals to Quetzaltenango, there remains a vital task we need every single member of our local body of Christ to carry out—namely, prayer! I hope we will all join together in asking the Lord to open doors of gospel-centered ministry through this trip.
1. May the Lord open a door by granting our team safety. We recognize the fact that we live in a dangerous world, and certain dangers are inherent to any form of travel. Therefore, in light of our conviction that God has called us to go and to serve, we are entrusting our lives to His providential care.
2. May the Lord open a door by granting our team opportunities to share the message and the love of Jesus. Although we know where we will be working and although we know the kinds of labor we will be asked to undertake, there are still many opportunities that have yet to be revealed. Our prayer is that the Lord would show us what He would have us to say and to do, as well as where He would have us to go and not go.
3. May the Lord open a door by granting our team flexibility. I have yet to participate in a mission endeavor where something did not go according to plan. No doubt, there will be events and circumstances to distract us and tempt us to shirk from our primary mission. May the Lord give us the flexibility we need to follow the Spirit’s leading in all circumstances—especially in situations we find to be unfavorable.
4. May the Lord open a door by granting our team perseverance. Missions work can be exhausting, physically and spiritually. That’s because we cannot rely on our own strength to carry out God’s mission in the world. On our own, we will inevitably become tired, discouraged, and ineffective. May we trust the Lord to supply the vigor we need to carry out the mission.
5. May the Lord open a door by granting Tabernacle a renewed passion for missions. One of my earnest prayers for this trip is that God would use it to ignite a red-hot passion for missions throughout our church family. I pray we would not only prioritize missions but that missions—God’s Mission—would drive our decisions, our programs, our allocation of resources, and our collective energy.
Thank you for praying with me!
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth
In just over three weeks Tabernacle will be sending 12 missionaries overseas to Guatemala. While the team will be assigned many different tasks, the primary undertaking is to assist vocational missionaries in constructing additional housing for orphans at The Good Shepherd Children’s Home, a partner ministry of the Baptist Children’s Homes of NC. Clearly, such a major endeavor is costly. Some might even wonder if it’s too costly…
“Surely,” we might reason, “we already have our fair share of human misery and need right here in Raleigh. Why in the world would we be spending our valuable and limited resources down there when we have plenty of opportunities right here? Is this worth it?” It’s a legitimate question, and it merits a thorough response.
1. At their best, Baptist missions have always been characterized by a both/and dynamic, not an either/or dynamic. Jesus issued all-inclusive instructions for his first disciples and for us, their spiritual descendants. Jesus didn’t say Jerusalem OR the ends of the earth; He said Jerusalem AND the ends of the earth. We support both “home” missions and “foreign” missions.
2. We follow an Infinite God who possesses infinite resources. As finite and sinful human beings we wrongly assume we’re living in a zero-sum world—“If I help that person I must be withholding something I could use for myself or someone else.” But such thinking fails to trust that the Lord is sovereign enough to encompass both Raleigh and Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Who are we to claim that what God is doing in Raleigh is more significant than what God is doing in Guatemala? When the power of the Holy Spirit moves us to go, we go—regardless of where the Spirit sends us. Consider the Macedonians who gave generously and sacrificially to alleviate the needs of people they had never met, all despite the likelihood of depriving themselves of much-needed help (cf. 2 Cor. 8:1-6).
3. We’ve been charged by our Savior to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20). Despite what we might prefer, we’re not entitled to withhold the gospel from any people group. On the contrary, when we carry out missions to the ends of the earth we can already see a foreshadowing of that glorious Day when the redeemed from every tribe, nation, and tongue will stand before the Throne and the Lamb of God (Rev. 7:9).
So, is it worth it? Here’s what I believe with all my heart: it’s worth it because Jesus says it’s worth it.
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.