Saturday, December 2, 2017

Get Up

Jesus finds us sitting.  Stuck and contented in our broken world, He walks up and invites, “Follow me.”  Choice is no longer a concept but reality.  At first there is excitement.  The King is offering a different life, one full of joy, health, and expectation.  But the thought is quickly replaced with fear.  It is strange that Good can trigger fear, but it does.  We fear that which is newly unfamiliar whether good or bad. New feels uncomfortable at first like trying on a new pair of jeans - stiff and not broken in.

Fear is not the only thing that keeps us stuck.  Laziness is a close second.  I will need to get up?  I will need to do something different that takes effort?  I will need to part ways with my “stuff?”  Effort can be a powerful, self-imposed hindrance.  I wonder how many moments have been missed simply due to lack of effort?  Fear and laziness are enemies of life in Jesus.

Levi, in Luke 5:27, did something courageous.  He got up.  He left his place of brokenness and started walking with Jesus.  He traded in his greed for the goodness of the King.  He decided to acquire a new kind of wealth.  He became unstuck.  He looked at fear and laziness, and then into the eyes of Jesus.  His choice was swift.  He left his everything that brings emptiness to be with Jesus’ everything that brings fulfillment.

And you can too. Later Jesus is together with Levi at his table.  With many others gathered there as well, Jesus Calls out to all of us.  He declares, “I have come to help the sick because they need a doctor.  And I have come to help sinners experience the joy of repentance and forgiveness.”  Jesus is always Calling but He never forces us to comply - to get up.  He offers His hand, His hope, His unfailing love, but we must choose to receive and obey.  This Christmas season, don’t let fear or laziness hijack a life with Jesus - a life worth living.  Get up.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden

Saturday, June 3, 2017

People Not Objects

With compassion and love in His heart, Jesus asked "How long has he been like this?" "Since he was a boy," the desperate father replied.

Jesus asked this strange question as the boy was convulsing on the ground in front of them in Mark 9. I call it "strange" because it seems unnecessary.  Why does it matter? Doesn't Jesus already know the answer?  Why make the boy endure one more second of pain as Jesus and the father have a conversation?

Strange usually means good when it comes to Jesus' ministry, and this is no exception.  Jesus did not come to target people as mere objects of His mission.  He came to relationally love people.  He talked with and listened to people.  He got to know them.  He loved a long dinner together full of conversation.  Dinner parties, not evangelism crusades, were at the core of Jesus' ministry.

Religion objectifies people.  Jesus loves people.  There is a big difference.  The former spiritually bullies people while the latter spiritually builds people.  Jesus talked with this father, not to delay the boy's healing, but to build the spiritual transformation that would follow the miracle.  He connected with the father relationally because that was just as important to Him as healing the boy.  Divine healing brings immediate joy. Divine relationship brings eternal joy.  The first without the second makes Jesus' mission incomplete.

At Celebration we minister to people out of love and relationship because that is what Jesus did.  We are Different because Jesus was.  We never want the urgent need before us to create neglect in the person that comes with the need. That is religion not Jesus.  That is an organized machine not a personal touch.  Perhaps that is why so many are leery of the organized Church.

Let's love people as Jesus did.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden

Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Prayer for State Trooper Mike Walter and the Residents of Mosby Court

“One who is wise can go up against the city of the mighty and pull down the stronghold in which they trust.” -Proverbs 21:22

On this Memorial Day weekend as we honor and remember those who have sacrificed for our freedom, we are once again reminded that the battle continues close to home. With yet another senseless shooting in Mosby Court last night, this time involving State Trooper Mike Walter, our hearts are heavy with a longing for peace and flourishing in all our RVA neighborhoods.

How can we not call on God Almighty at this time to intervene, to grant us wisdom, to give a resolved unity among all seeking the solution, and to empower us with the fortitude to never give up?  The enemy is NOT the residents of Mosby, Law Enforcement, Faith and Civic Communities that serve, City Hall, the Media or even systems of injustice that we have inherited from previous years (though we must continue to eradicate them from our community).  The enemy is the dark forces of evil that seek to rob, steal, and destroy the hearts and minds of an emerging generation that have been deceived into acting as if there is no hope.

Oh God, if there has ever been a time that we need You, it is now.  Bring us together to be Your hands and voice of hope.  Bring down the strongholds of evil that cause some to do destructive acts they were never created to do.  Galvanize the people of RVA to usher in a goodness, found in Your divine heart, that pushes out the darkness.  Give rise to advocates, philanthropists, the people of God, protectors of peace, and all who have a civic conscience with unprecedented unity.  Losing this battle is not an option.

Bring Your healing, peace, and strength to Mike Walter and his family and all those who live in vicinity of this crime.  Protect the hearts and memories of kids who are more accustomed to seeing crime scenes than jump ropes.  Let there be laughter, joy, and jubilee in the streets again.  We are in desperate need of Your help and confess our sin of human independence.  For we were not created to labor with out You but with You.  May it be so.

Ex nihilo (out of nothing),

R.J. Rhoden

Saturday, May 20, 2017

An Invitation to All Who Want to Be Different

Jesus calls His Followers to be different because all things are possible.  Jesus declares in Mark 9:23 "Everything is possible for one who believes."  The "possible" flows from Him, but courageously standing on the foundation of belief is on us.  Belief is not a momentary feeling just as love is not.  Belief is a long commitment. It's a lifestyle whereby we trust and expect God to do what seems impossible.  Belief produces a new level of sacrifice, joy, and trust in us.  It brings abundant life.

Abundant life is good but not easy.  It is not given to us; it grows within us as we walk out the heart and mission of Jesus.  In so doing we discover that abundance is found not in what we get but what we get to participate in, see, and do for others in the power and authority of Jesus.  That is the great secret to being different.  You and I were meant to be givers not getters.

If following Jesus does not make us significantly different than those who are not than are we really following Jesus?  Maybe we are instead following some 21st century, water-downed, safe version of Him?  Maybe we are embracing a Gospel that encourages us toward worldly similarity rather than Godly distinctive?

Jesus is inviting you to be different.  He is inviting you to a life of prayer and fasting that leads to mission.  He is inviting you to witness and participate in the impossible where the sick are healed, the addicted are set free, the hardened heart is made soft, the horrible marriage is made whole, the generational cycle of poverty is ended, the violent one becomes the promoter of peace, and the people of God are the solution not silos of isolation.

Over the next 7 weeks I will be challenging everyone, who will listen, to be different. The context for my teaching will be Mark 9:14-29.  It is a blueprint for what is possible in Jesus.  He is the embodiment of hope and love and mission.

You can have this world, but as for me, give me Jesus.  I want to be different.  Do you?

Ex nihilo (out of nothing),

R.J. Rhoden

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Hearts on Fire

Hearts on fire should be the norm not the exception.  Jesus was the slaughtered lamb on Friday but the risen, Lion of Judah on Sunday.  Those three days didn't occur to give you mediocrity.  They happened that your heart may burn within you.  It's His mission.

Jesus is not waiting for you; He is walking with you.  He shows us this in Luke 24. The newly, risen Savior prioritizes a walk with unknown Cleopas and his friend.  Why would He do that? Doesn't He have more important things to do?  Jesus has discovered plenty of people who don't want to be with Him but never a person that He doesn't want to be with.  It's His mission.

Jesus' walk with you, if you receive it, sets your heart on fire.  You will change because of who He is and what He has done rather than because of who you are or what you have done.  Jesus opens us to a new way of believing and thinking and seeing that produces a heart on fire.  It's His mission.

It's the long walk with Jesus in life that keeps your heart on fire.  If Jesus were merely an event, or a brief emotion, or another religious program, the fire would burn out. Relationships are the most powerful, sustaining force on the planet.  It's no wonder God chose relationship, and all it's staying power, as the central way to show His love for us.  It's His mission.

We rarely know why things happen, but we always know Who is with us.  The comfort in that has sustained me on many occasions.  It is in those times that I have discovered an important principle, one modeled by Jesus in Luke 24.  The more I pursue the solution, the less I find it.  But the more I pursue Jesus, He brings about the solution.  Cleopas and his friend encountered this principle as well that day 2,000 years ago.  It's His mission.

Perhaps your heart is not on fire right now?  It can be.  Look beside you.  Jesus is walking with you.  As you open Scripture and allow Him to speak into your life, you will begin to feel the burning sensation spoken of in Luke 24.  Who you talk with and what you open will define you because it will ultimately produce action in you.  Jesus wants you to be with Him and to open what He has for you. Who you are becoming is His mission.

Ex nihilo (out of nothing),

R.J. Rhoden

Friday, April 14, 2017

An Empty Gift Has Never Felt So Good

Who opens a beautifully wrapped gift expecting the box to be empty?  Have you ever been anticipating an apology, and the words spoken are empty and meaningless? When a family member borrows your car and returns it on empty, how bad does that feel? Empty never feels like a gift, but there is one exception.  God gave us the gift of an empty tomb because if it had been occupied by a corpse, there would have been no gift.

The emptiness of the tomb fills us with the hope of eternal life.  It forever represents the conquering of death and future, celestial reunions with loved ones and friends.  In the case of Jesus, the empty tomb was a gift to all humanity.  It initially stirred feelings of confusion among the first discoverers, but those reactions quickly turned to joy.

The divine irony of Easter is that Jesus' death brings life, and His empty tomb brings fullness.  The echoing hallows of that grave, the grandest of gifts, keeps multiplying and producing other gifts that we are able to enjoy daily. An empty gift has never felt so good when it's connected to resurrection.

Empty is the new good when it comes to God's "foolish" plan to demonstrate His love for us. The echoes are still heard around the world.  The gift of the empty tomb has changed my life forever, and it can change yours as well.  Do something different this weekend.  Celebrate, believe in, and tell someone else about the Empty Gift.

Ex nihilo (out of nothing),

R.J. Rhoden

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Do Something Different This Week

Something different happened this week 2,000 years ago.  Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, a symbol of peace, triggering seven days that would change everything. The week was highlighted by three events:  a meal, a death, and an empty tomb.

At the meal Jesus gave us the elements of the Eucharist and washed His disciples feet. Remembrance and servanthood were the themes.  We are Called to never forget and to serve.  The noise of life has a way of robbing us of memories. We forget grateful moments, old friendships, impactful teachers from years ago, happy times, and, most importantly, Jesus' sacrifice.  Do something different this week.  Take some time to remember eternal influences on your life that are worth remembering.  Too often we spend our time dwelling on memories that are destructive rather than those that bring life.

Do something different this week.  Be a servant not a recipient.  Give don't receive. Grab a towel and wash feet.  There is something that comes alive in us when we get our hands messy with the needs of this world.  Jesus has commissioned us to be His ambassadors, making His appeal through us, not to keep us stuck on safe, comfortable pews but to serve.  He is the God on the move, and so it should be with us. Do something different this week.

In His dying breath, Jesus modeled His greatest expression of peace.  He pleaded forgiveness for the very ones killing and mocking Him.  It's one thing to forgive those close to you.  It's another level of love to forgive those trying to destroy you.  In Jesus' moment of anguish, nails, and blood, as He took on the sins of the world, He spoke peace and love.  Do something different this week.  In your own place of pain, extend peace and love to those near, even the tough ones that don't deserve it. Forgiving those that have hurt you will bring a freedom and joy that is immeasurable. It will be your finest hour.  Do something different this week.

And finally, God gave us the gift of the empty tomb.  Jesus conquered death allowing us to proclaim with Scripture, "Where, O Death, is your sting?"  Life, free from the fear of death, is a new kind of living that words fail to adequately describe. It allows us to walk with confidence during the "light and momentary troubles of this world."  The gift of the empty tomb empowers us to not only do something different this week but to begin seeing life through the lens of eternity.  One small, different choice this week can launch you into the plans created for you before the creation of the world.

So why not do something different this week?

Ex nihilo (out of nothing),

R.J. Rhoden