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.
On the weekend of February 17-19 Tabernacle youth took a mission trip to do hurricane relief. We had seven youth attend.
The weekend was done in conjunction with First Baptist Fayetteville’s youth group. On Friday and Saturday night we had worship and a message. The Associate Pastor at FBC Fayetteville spoke Friday night, and I spoke Saturday night.
We spent the day on Saturday in Whiteville cleaning out the home of a woman whose house was flooded. We were able to meet the woman and she was appreciative of the work done. A few of the youth also helped to unload shingles at various work sites in the area.
Here is a link to an article published in the Sunday edition of the Fayetteville observer about the weekend:
On Sunday the youth participated in worship in a variety of ways. They youth sang a song with the pastor of FBC Fayetteville playing guitar and myself playing the drum. They also gave a testimony of where they saw God working this weekend in the service. I attached a few pictures; I will try to put together an album of the weekend.
On the way home we stopped at Beacon Rescue Mission in Dunn, and we were given a tour of the facility. I think it was a very successful trip, and the Lord worked throughout the weekend!
They said to Jesus, “We only have five loaves of bread and two fish…” But he said, “Bring them here to me.”
After a full day of ministering to the sick and needy, Jesus’ disciples came to him with what must’ve seemed to them to represent a perfectly reasonable request: “We’re out here in the middle of nowhere, and it’s starting to get late in the evening. Send these poor people away, so that they can go to the villages and markets to buy something to eat” (Matt. 14:15). From the disciples’ perspective, they had already done everything they could possibly do in this situation. They were convinced that they had exhausted all of their available resources for these five thousand people. Imagine how stunned they must’ve been, therefore, to hear Jesus’ response: “These people don’t need to go away. You give them something to eat” (14:16). Huh?
As we strive to become more faithful stewards of what God has entrusted to us today, we might also wonder whether or not our humble offerings can really make any difference. To be sure, the challenges and the problems that need to be addressed are beyond the capacity of our resources. None of us could ever possess enough time, energy, conviction, knowledge, or money to fix what is wrong in the world. But that’s not what Jesus expected of his disciples and that’s not what Jesus expects of us now. Jesus said, “Bring them here to me.” Jesus calls us to bring whatever we have—and we all have something!—and place it in his omnipotent hands. When we take that step of faith, we can be assured that our offerings will never be wasted. How so?
After Jesus received the loaves and fish, he demonstrated the almighty power of God to multiply our limited resources (14:19a). On our own we will never have enough, but God always provides more than enough. Our part is to trust the Lord to do more with what we bring than we could ever imagine.
Yet our role doesn’t stop with giving our humble gifts to Christ; Christ also equips us to share in distributing what He has multiplied (14:19b). We participate in establishing God’s Kingdom on earth. We’re called to receive His blessing with gratitude, as well as look for opportunities to bless others.
When we trust in Christ to provide for us and for others, there will always be enough— “They all ate and were satisfied” (14:20). Even when we don’t have everything we might have wanted, God promises us sufficiency.
Jesus knows what to do with whatever we bring to Him. I encourage us all to prayerfully consider what we can place in His strong and loving hands.
Let us, therefore, approach God’s throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
Some bold actions were taken at this past Sunday’s worship service. Most recognizable was the ordination of Ginger Mann and Dale Williamson to the diaconate. Ginger and Dale heard the call of God to serve their church family, and they each responded by stepping forward with boldness. It was equally bold when our church affirmed their call by setting them apart for this specific ministry. Entrusting such a consequential responsibility to imperfect and flawed human beings is surely an act of profound faith in God’s power to equip willing servants. These instances of boldness were on full display, and we rejoice that the Lord is providing the grace-empowered deacon body we need.
Alongside the boldness demonstrated by our newest deacons, there was also a less obvious act of boldness that took place during the time of invitation. Several of our active deacons came forward to pray for our church family at the front pews. The deacons and I believe this practice will provide one avenue for our church leadership to remain vigilant and focused in prayer. In addition, we hope our deacons will be able to set a bold example.
To be sure, stepping out of a pew like this during a worship service can prompt a lot of anxiety in us. We wonder what others will think…We feel vulnerable…We fear the worst—that others might realize how insecure we really are underneath the shallow veneer of our best efforts to pretend all is well. So we might wonder why any of us would feel compelled to respond publicly. Wouldn’t it just be easier to pray in our pew? “Besides,” we think, “I wouldn’t want anyone to assume I’m trying ‘wear my faith on my sleeve’…”
Despite our overwhelming preoccupation with what others might assume when we respond, that dimension of coming forward is actually not where the boldness lies. The real boldness in responding publicly is to be found in the conviction that the Sovereign King of the universe allows us—even summons us!—to approach the throne of grace, here and now. Clearly, we do need to avoid the dangers of limiting our faith to a showy, self-righteous spectacle. But it creates a false dichotomy to pit our private prayer life against our public responses to God’s discernable movements and promptings.
Healthy Christian practices include both the private and the public, times for silent reflection and times for outspoken witnessing, moments to sit still and moments to let the Spirit move us. My prayer is that the Lord would instill more boldness in us, “so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of need.”