Saturday, August 10, 2013

Get Disappointment

I used to think that disappointment was a choice.  That it was a kind of negative, optional disposition only embraced by non-positive-thinking types.  That it could and should be avoided.  And I got discouraged whenever I succumbed to its tug (which was often).  Why can’t I rise above to some higher state of mental strength?  Perhaps I am wired wrongly or missing a critical step?

But disappointment is NOT simply a choice.  It is so much more.  It might sound strange but disappointment is actually a helpful tool given to each of us.  It is necessary.  It is good. Disappointment is an accurate indicator of our values.  If you want to know what is important to someone, take note of their disappointments.  They expose a person’s heart with incredible accuracy.

My focus is no longer to overcome disappointments but to experience the right disappointments.  I am not suggesting that disappointment should linger around in our hearts adversely effecting our lives. But I am acknowledging that disappointments are important.  Change begins when we change what matters to us.  And this is discovered through the reality of disappointment.  A recent inventory of personal, reoccurring disappointments has revealed needed changes in my life.  Perhaps I am not alone?

While disappointment is not a choice, changing what disappoints us is.  It is also a process that invites us on a long walk.  And along the way we often ask, like my kids do on a long trip, “How much longer till we get there?”  But God never tells us how long.  He just reminds us of the purpose of the trip.

So rather than fearing disappointment, let’s fear being disappointed at the wrong things.  Let’s rid ourselves of that which unnecessarily entangles our hearts.  Let’s embrace a holy disdain for being overly preoccupied with the petty stuff of this world.  Let’s get aligned with God’s heart.   And God will help us through His Voice, Strength, Promises, and Peace.

Let's get disappointment.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden   

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Who sold us on a divided heart?  It's sadly impressive. We sing and feel one way on Sunday and talk and act another way on Monday.  It seems that the combination of God's grace and our capacity to compartmentalize produces tolerance in us.  In fact, we get so accustomed to it that we no longer identify it as a problem. Surely God understands?

We need to be careful not to equate tolerance with grace.  Tolerance is a neutralizing energy that blurs the line between right and wrong.  Grace is an empowering energy that differentiates right and wrong. God is not tolerating our sin when He graciously extends forgiveness.  He is not endorsing a divided heart.  He is actually providing the means to heal it.

In Psalm 86:11 the psalmist asks God specifically to "give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name."  The verb yachad used here is rather rare in the Hebrew Scriptures only occurring 2 other times (Genesis 49:6 and Isaiah 14:20).  The word literally means "to unite."

I am caught by two observations.  First, only God can unite a divided heart. The Psalmist is crystal clear.  He does not ask God to assist him in uniting his heart. He pointedly asks God to just do it.  John Calvin said, "Our hearts are factories for idols." Well guess what?  Only God can shut down the factory.  If left to our ingenuity, we will find ourselves with hearts that constantly desire and chase the lesser ways of this world.  But God can fix that.

And secondly, the purpose of a united heart is to "fear (respect) the name of the Lord."  A divided heart breeds disrespect and lack of fear of the Lord.  We assume there is no long-term consequence for our inconsistencies.  But a united heart brings back into focus the holiness of God.  We are once again captured by the presence of God in our lives, longing to remain in His goodness and righteousness.  A united heart breeds joy and desire for the higher ways of God.    

A tired soul occurs when a heart is constantly tugged in contradictory directions.  We are lulled into believing that it takes no toll on us.  But than we experience a united heart and suddenly realize how sick we were.  And life returns to our aching bones. Why did we wait so long?

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The iBias

We are prone to think that the instantaneous work of God is more exciting and spiritual than the process work of God.  Process tends to feel boring and natural, almost unworthy to proclaim.  It's for people who do not have enough faith.  It's what happens to us if God does not answer our preferred prayer requests. When was the last time you heard a testimony that sounded like this?

     "The last seven years has been a long, tedious obedience in the same direction.  I have taken three  steps forward and one back repeatedly.  It seems more like a battle than an easy walk with the Lord.  I have experienced both frustration and joy, hope and despair,  victory and loss, peace and anxiety, and presence and isolation.  I, through God's help and direction, have been slowly addressing personal areas of unrighteousness.  It's hard and sometimes I doubt my faith.  But I keep going and am looking forward to discovering all that God has planned for me.  Thanks for letting me share."

Wow, talk about a "kill-joy."  Not many churches are scrambling to schedule those testimonies.  And yet, it honestly and accurately describes God's normative work in us. Though God is fully capable of the instantaneous, His work in our lives is more through seasons than seconds.  And we need to be okay with that.  In fact, we need to find meaningful ways to claim and celebrate it. If not, we are setting ourselves up for self-emposed, unfulfilled expectations that cause us to devalue the faithful handprints of God on our lives.  The discouragement of many can be attributed to becoming bored, impatient, or even blinded to the evidence of God's Hand upon them.  But such recognition is an essential anchor that keeps us from drifting.  

The agricultural world is a better metaphor of God's work than the "eworld."  This can be seen all throughout Jesus' parables.  We assume that Jesus taught this way because he was born into an agrarian society.  That He wanted to relate the Kingdom of God in a way people could understand.  And this is truthful.  But what if He, also, utilized seeds, plants, and other natural items because they are the most accurate description?  God simply works that way - through process.  And Jesus wanted us to embrace it. In this sense the parables are not outdated but perfect.  And our modern notions of electronic transactions are helpful for transferring money but not understanding God.

To conclude, process is as powerful and spiritual as instantaneous.  One occurs quicker than the other but is not more effective.  One gets more fame than the other but is not more lasting.  We are biased towards one though God is not.  So let's embrace process because it embraces us.  And let's acknowledge in one another the work of the Lord as we eliminate our "ibias" tendency.  And along the way God might even surprise us.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden  

Friday, July 12, 2013


Jesus inspired people.  But human nature was the same in Jesus' day as it is now.  So I often find myself wondering "the rest of the story" of those folks in the Gospels who experienced dramatic healing or were first-hand witnesses or heard Jesus teach in real time or stood at Calvary.  My guess is that some were changed forever and others reverted back to their previous lifestyle.  Why?

Inspiration only leads to change when we do something after the tingling stops.  The mistake we often make is acting like the moment of inspiration is an end in and of itself.  Every newly married couple has a sobering realization a few months into marriage that the wedding ceremony, which was meticulously planned for months, was merely an inspiring starting line.  Neither perfect fonts nor dazzling cake designs nor beautiful dresses nor quaint church buildings do anything to produce a healthy marriage.

We tend to fixate on the moment of inspiration more than the subsequent changes that are possible in us as a result of that moment.  This is why people can worship for years in an exciting environment and experience little to no change in their character and disposition.  Jesus saw this phenomenon in the religious people of His day as well.

Only hearts intentionally placed in the care of Christ experience sustainable change. And therein lies the challenge.  Great music, teaching, and community life can motivate people but they cannot make people better.  Only the internal work of God's Spirit can do that within a heart yielded to the Lord.

Finding inspiration more in the mundane than the magnificent will help us.  It's easy to experience awe walking into a gorgeous Cathedral or attending a popular conference at a megachurch but who does that daily?  What if instead we were awed by God's presence in the morning commute or doing laundry or studying for an exam?  God's work in our hearts during those moments tend to be better triggers for change than religious ceremony.

Let's love being inspired.  But let's love inspiration that leads to change more.  The spiritual, moral, and ethical challenges of our Day demand it.  It's impossible to be salt and light in this world if there is nothing different about us.  Maybe inspiration without change is more appealing because it allows us the safety of blending in.  But Jesus didn't die and raise from the dead on our behalf for that.  He did it to transform us in a way that is unequaled by the powers of mere mortals.  That is worth receiving.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


No one who brought a person to Jesus in Mark's Gospel is ever given fame or even identification.  They are nameless, anonymous servants who will never be known. At least not by human history.  On five different occasions, these unknown servants introduced hopelessness and despair to eternal hope and power found in Jesus.  The recipients included the sick, the demon possessed, the deaf, the mute, the blind, a seizing boy, and a paralytic.

It took a great deal of effort and courage for them to bring people to Jesus.  We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that it was easier in biblical times.  But it was probably more difficult.  The effort demanded the pursuit of an unknown Source.  We have the benefit of 2,000 years of history of that Source, Jesus, being fully known. Imagine lugging someone across town in full view wondering if you might be returning the same way embarrassed, frustrated, and result less.  The faith of those who brought people to Jesus was probably greater than those they were bringing.

There is a difference between significance and fame.  We can get these two mixed up if not careful.  Significance occurs when another person finds greater value in Jesus as a result of our interaction with them.  Fame occurs if a lot of people hear about it. Significance without fame is the biblical norm in Mark.  The Kingdom of God flourishes through nameless, significant people that are empowered by God to bring others to Jesus.  When we are fame chasers, our acts of significance become nothing more than fronts for selfish gain.  We end up wanting to hear people say our name not His.

There is no such thing as significance without inconvenience.  We often want one without the other.  And when lack of fame is added to inconvenience, the non-compelling combination of these two often renders us stagnate.  And those who are lost or sick or hurting or lonely or just too broken to bring themselves remain in hopeless isolation.  In right theological thinking, God does not need us to bring them; He does not need our help.  But God dwells among us and in that dwelling, He orchestrates opportunities for us to be bringers.  We are not forced often selfishly avoiding the opportunity.  But God compels hearts by His Spirit and for His purposes. And Jesus is still changing those being brought.

To bring is to express faith boldly.  It is a selfless act full of mystery and complexity.  It is not for the faint of heart but for those who proudly walk in the tradition of the earliest bringers in Mark.  Bringers who discovered that significance is better than fame.  And that bringing is sacred.  Bring.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden        

Friday, June 14, 2013

Act With

Unrighteous motivations are fun and delicious.  We salivate for them the same way we do harmful foods and habits.  There is a special energy in unrighteous motivations that deceive us into justifying their existence.  We get comfortable with them and wrongly interpret the energy as good due to its power and effectiveness.

Solomon describes the wise as those who "act with knowledge (Proverbs 13:16)." Doesn't that sound boring and old?  Isn't it more fun to act with revenge, anger, jealousy, greed, deception, opportunism, raw emotion, hatred, self-pity, selfishness, immediate gratification, or any other counterfeit expression of the heart?  The problem is that it is more fun.  We sin because we want to.
When we act with a primarily unrighteous motivation a spirit of falsehood attaches itself to us.  And falsehood has an intoxicating effect.  It lures us into believing that our perceptions and actions are valid when in actuality they are askew.  And no one can convince us otherwise.  Falsehood's appetite is never satisfied once it starts hanging out in our hearts.  It slowly grows and redirects us almost undetectably until one day in the far off future we discover our waywardness.  And it is in that moment we realize the empty path of unrighteousness.

Our tendency is to spend much of life evaluating personal acts with either celebration or regret.  What if instead we focused our time evaluating motivations?  This was the shift Jesus introduced in the Sermon on the Mount.  True righteousness begins in the secret places of the heart.  It's a spirituality that moves us into a place of greater honesty and draws us closer to the kindness of God.  For God alone knows our hidden motivations and yet continues in His steadfast, gracious process with us.

The trickery of our Adversary is to cunningly cultivate familiarity and fondness within us towards unrighteous motivations.  This is why we almost proudly say things like, "That is just the way I am," conceding to an identity that God never intended for us.  Yes, it might be "just who your are right now" but no, it is not "who you were created to be in the Lord."

God has given us the gift of His presence and an invitation to be still in it.  It is there that our unrighteous motivations can give way to a purity and hopefulness that brings life.  And joy springs forth in unpredictable ways.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden    

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Direction Is Enough

We regularly wish that God would reveal a particular destination before we begin moving.  That is, of course, how we humans do it.  We decide we want to visit or move to location X and than we head in that direction.  In fact, to do it any other way would justifiably violate human wisdom and probably draw warranted criticism.  Can you imagine leaving for vacation traveling West without pre-knowing your destination?

There are unique times where God operates in a similar way.  He says, "I want you to go to Nineveh," as in the case of Jonah.  But most of the time God desires us to trust in Him, and as a result, He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5,6).  Sounds like a great deal until we actually realize what it means.  We will live much of our lives on this side of eternity not knowing the next stop on the timeline.

Well we are not very good at trusting and moving without knowing where we might land.  We would prefer God to say this, "I am going to bring you to place X, job X, relationship X in 1, 3, 5 years.  So trust me as you go towards that destination." Instead, God says, "Trust and walk with me.  I will make sure you are headed in the right direction.  And the next ________________ will present itself at the appointed time."  Very few things are more counter-intuitive for us to do than this.

God is interested in who we are becoming and where we are going but in that order. Becoming has to do with the sanctifying process God desires to unfold in us.  Arriving has to do with a new season for which the Lord has made us ready.  And impatience voices its opposition through it all.  Patience is a fruit of the Spirit not to merely keep us from getting angry in long lines but to keep us in God's timing.

The germination period for mature expressions of righteousness vary from person to person but is commonly longer for most of us than we think.  Peter thought he was ready now.  But Jesus knew some more work was needed in him before the fruitful Day of Pentecost.  So he kept Peter in Him, walked him through episodes of sin, repentance, and victorious living, and pointed him in the right direction.  And Peter eventually collided with Acts 2.

Direction is enough when we find ourselves securely in Christ.  Do not despise a day full of process and void of conclusion.  It is good.  It is ok.  It is His work.  Destination might be near or far but the right path is available now.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden  

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Want Differently

Typically our pursuit of personal gain has more to do with material and reputation than the heart of God.  Though there is much gain in the Lord, the gains seemed to reside in places that are abruptly counter to all we really want in this world.  And therein lies the problem.  Fortunately we worship God who reorients our shallow hearts, preparing us to be receptors of His deeper ways.  Apart from this our spiritual efforts would be useless.

The prophet Malachi was surrounded by people who said, "It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty?"  They struggled with the reality that their obedience to God did not always produce a steady stream of goodness for them and destruction for others.

Sadly, the very grace of God we enjoy in our own lives is the same grace we end up despising in others.  God's leniency with us becomes selfishly expected because we go to church, pay a tithe, read the Bible, and avoid cursing.  But certainly not in others - especially those who walk a life in opposition to the things of God.  We eagerly anticipate rubber-necking at their pending collision with calamity stemming from a life of godlessness.  And we loathe the possibility that they might avoid immediate consequence. But can we have it both ways?  Either God's grace is big or its not.    

The moment our walk with God is primarily motivated by the dual wants of personal gain and delegated destruction is the moment we begin to drift.  And the problem with drifting is that we end up someplace we never intended.  We might not even realize how distant we have become from that peaceful, contented place in the Lord. And discontentment is a tiresome state in which to dwell.  It is energy draining not life giving.  It effects how and what we want.      

God can make us want differently.  It is our only hope.  He is the "Lord Almighty" rightly declared by Malachi's people despite their otherwise faulty declaration.  You can't change your wants but the Lord Almighty can.  No wandering heart is too far beyond His loving grasp.  There is great joy in wanting differently.  It leaves us free and captivated forever.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden