Sunday, September 28, 2014

From Fed to Deny

In the 8th Chapter of Mark Jesus leads his disciples on a sequence of events that begins with a miraculous feeding of four thousand people and ends with a teaching on denying oneself.  Here are the five events:

  • Feeding of the Four Thousand
  • Healing of a Blind Man
  • A Question:  Who do you say that I am?
  • Teaching on Jesus' suffering
  • Teaching on Self-denial
The bridge that leads us from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity is a question and its answer not more feedings.  Jesus feeds and heals because he cares for our physical and spiritual needs.  But His feedings and healings were never meant to be the ultimate end.  They were meant to point us to His true and complete identity. The ultimate end is that we might become those who Jesus ministers with as well as to.   

Jesus' suffering and our self-denial only makes sense once we get the who-do-you-say-that-I-am right.  And we must answer that question in first not third person. It's great to have people in our life that we can point to as model followers of Jesus. But it's even greater when we can look in the mirror and see one as well.  The-who-do-you-say-I-am is more important than the who-do-they-say-I-am.

Here is the irony that is only discovered once one enters it.  With more Jesus and less us, we end up receiving, in greater abundance, a better version of the things we were originally chasing without Him.  It is a dimension of grace and blessing that far exceeds my ability to convey but is spoken of over and over by those persons of faithfulness who have gone before us.

So eat.  Receive healing.  But don't stop there.  Respond : You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Remember His suffering and death and resurrection.  And then deny yourself, take up his cross and follow Him.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus and for the gospel will save it. 

Move from fed to deny and minister with Jesus.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden 



Saturday, September 20, 2014

All of RVA

I am a son of this region.  My parents came here in the early spring of 1969, and I came along a year later.  Other than two brief excursions to northern California, RVA has been home for 45 years.  I love RVA and have lived in many of its areas - Churchill, near West End, Tobacco Row, the Fan, and Glen Allen.  And I have friends, eat in restaurants, pray, worship, and hang out in most of its jurisdictions. All of RVA is home.

Many have gone before me in working towards making this region a better place. And many will come after.  But now is the time that God has given me - given us - to be fully present and involved. It's an honor to serve alongside so many talented men and women who prayerfully work towards unity in RVA on a weekly basis.  Our work has the usual ups and downs but continues out of a sense of Calling to all of RVA.

I have been guilty in the past of overly honoring the subjective boundaries established politically by men. Territorial attitudes have hindered RVA for years.  If you are an historian, you know well the destructive outcomes from said boundaries. We are reminded of them daily.  All of RVA has suffered.

While I am not one to deny history, I am also not one to deny all of RVA the hope of its future. Sometimes it seems that we dwell more on our past than the future God is unfolding around us.  I will always have an element of grief over RVA's past. It would be irresponsible to not.  But I am infinitely more motivated by RVA's bright future.  I'm ready to be a part of new history and narratives that future generations will tell.  I want to surround myself with people who are more enamored with the future than the past - not forgetting the past but growing beyond it.  All of RVA's future is important.

God's people have a special opportunity to lead the way in our future - not with a religiously imperialistic agenda but with one that fosters justice, holistic flourishing, goodness, and righteousness for all.  Many faithful people, often unrecognized or honored, are daily working towards these ends. Thank you for all you do.  It is not in vain - it is for all of RVA.

It's been said many times before but needs to be said again.  All of RVA needs one another.  We are better together.  Wyndham needs Whitcomb Court.  Whitcomb Court needs Woodlake.  Highland Park needs Highland Springs.  Highland Springs needs Hanover.  Hanover needs Chester (ran out of alliterations).  Chester needs the City.  And the City needs its neighbors.  We now need to do more than say it. We need to live it.

So get involved.  Pray daily.  Work towards the good of our region.  Live regionally not territorially. See RVA as God does - a whole region of 1-1.5 million people.  Go visit an area you have never been before.  Be friendly.  All of RVA needs you.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden   

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Shout with joy to God, all the earth!
Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious!
                                       Psalm 66

We shout with enthusiasm for things we love.  Crowds at sporting events scream to the point of losing their voice.  Concert goers raise their hands and sing along loudly.  Graduates hear family and friends cheerfully scream when their name is called.  Parents shout on the sidelines at their 10 year old's soccer game.  We sometimes even shout at inanimate objects like the T.V or computer.  We are shouters.

Shouting is not something we do all the time.  It's reserved for special moments.  If we were to shout all the time, aside from it being really obnoxious, we would need to find some other way to express and indicate enthusiasm.  Shouting is meant to be reserved for the right occasions.

In the beginning of Psalm 66 we are commanded to shout to God.  At first thought it sounds irreverent.  If I were in the presence of the President of the U.S. my instinct would be respectful silence and reflection not shouting (depending on the President!).  And so we are with God.  We think we should be exclusively silent - and there is a place for that.  But there is also a place for shouting.  

We are told two things about our shouting.  First, we are to do it with joy.  Shouting for the sake of shouting is empty.  It is designed to be an expression of enthusiasm for the One whose ways are higher than ours. Who woke us up this morning and put breath in our lungs.  Who fearfully and wonderfully made us in His image.  Who starts and ends seasons.  Who, even in low moments, is the One whose peace and comfort and presence never leaves or forsakes us.  With joy for these things and a thousand more, we shout.

And secondly, our shouting should make people think of Him not us.  The Psalmist says to sing the glory [fame] of his name.  Some shouting and dynamic expression of worship is nothing more than exhibitionism - putting ourselves on display rather than pointing people to God.  But we should shout only for the purpose of lifting up the name of the great I Am.  He is worthy of our vocal outbursts.

So go shout in worship somewhere this morning.  If that is not possible, shout in your car or your home or outside somewhere.  I will be shouting with my brothers and sisters at Commonwealth Chapel.  And in a mystical way, shouting with people around the globe who will give praise and honor to His name today.  Shouting is a good thing.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden       

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A First Sunday of September Challenge

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.
                                                           Psalm 34:8

I have heard that whenever Mother Theresa was asked how things were going in Calcutta, her response was always, "Come and see."  Similarly, whenever we are introducing new food to our kids, they inevitably ask how it tastes. And our response is always, "Taste and find it."

There is no substitute for tasting and seeing things ourselves.  The Psalmist, knowing this well, invites us all to taste and see that the Lord is good.  I cannot taste and see Him for you - nobody can. All of must determine how we will utilize the senses God has given.

Wine and bread are the food of choice for God.  He has invited all of us to a grand, banquet table for endless feasting with Him.  The wine and bread, representing forgiveness and wholeness, never run out.  And there is room for everyone.  Look for the seat with your name card.

Seeing is a little more tricky because its less tangible.  But it is equally available. The ability to see God's goodness in both the small and big things of life is a game changer.  I have not fully arrived in doing so but am further along than yesterday. See the sunrise differently this morning.

And finally, don't taste and see alone.  God is still present when we are alone but celebrating Him with others is better for us.  So get out of bed.  Get out of your pajamas.  Finish breakfast and go experience God this morning.  There are so many wonderful places of worship throughout the RVA region.

I am excited to gather this morning with the community of Commonwealth Chapel - a multi-campus church dedicated to bringing hope, healing, and health to Richmond.  As we have entered our 10th year of worshipping together, I am grateful to be a part of a team of people who are seeking to bring God's Kingdom to 233 N. Courthouse Road, The National, and Park and Meadow in the Fan.  Can't wait to see everyone this morning.  Please join us.  All are welcome.  Taste and see.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden   

Thursday, September 4, 2014

In Expectation

In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my
requests before you and wait in expectation.
                                                                                        Psalm 5:3

Expectation is different than arrogance.  Embedded in expectation is humility that does not exist in arrogance.  To be in expectation is to long for something in a way that cultivates our dependence on God.  To be in arrogance is to talk about something as though it has already happened in a way that is self-promoting. Arrogance boasts a self-dependence that inverts God's order, placing us rather than Him in charge.  The differences might be subtle to describe but are very evident in person. Have you ever been around someone who lives in expectation?  It's contagious and compelling. Conversely, what about an arrogant person?  It's repulsive.  Expectation is the space in which we not only wait but out of which God lifts up new things.  So consider these four thoughts:   

1.  We need a sacred time of the day.
Each of us have a sweet-spot of the day.  It's the morning for some and midnight for others - or anytime in between.  The time of the day is not as important as the use of that time.  For our psalmist it was in the morning.  He tells us twice in one short verse that his conversations with God occurred in the morning.  No one will preserve your sacred time for you.  It is up to you to protect it from being highjacked.  This important decision transforms how we expect in two ways.  First, expectation is energized during our sacred times.  We should expect nothing less than fatigue and fog from a life that chronically neglects a sacred time of the day. And secondly, it keeps us primarily influenced by God's Will instead of our delusional fantasies.  Sacred times help us to consistently differentiate those two. 

2.  Expectation flows out of our conversations with God.  
There is a direct link between what we are asking for and what we are expecting. Expectations will never exceed requests.  Maybe your expectation problem is actually an asking problem?  Our conversations with God reveal the true longings of our heart.  When was the last time you tracked your conversations with God?  Do they need revising?  Are your expectations small because you are not asking God for anything big?  Asking God for something big, that is not connected to personal or material gain, is becoming a lost practice.  Our prayers tend to be narcissistic placing ourselves as the sole beneficiaries.  But what should we really be asking the big, living God who is the Savior of all people (1 Timothy 4:10)?  How you answer that question will dramatically shape your capacity and level of expectation.

3.  Wait time is not wasted time.
I have written and spoken much about waiting over the years.  It's an important theme personally because it's a weakness.  I hate to wait and probably you do as well.  Our culture is doing everything it can to eliminate waiting from the human experience.  Speed is the mission of the day as we seek to make life and information happen quicker.  But there is something fundamentally unnatural and flawed in a life void of waiting.  It erodes a dimension of our existence that is essential for being human. Namely, that we were created to flourish and develop slowly not quickly - at a pace that is holistically beneficial.  It's odd to me that we struggle so much with waiting given it is such a necessary part of life.  Our Psalmist seems as content to wait in expectation as he is knowing that the Lord hears [his] voice. Waiting can become as instinctive as asking.

4.  Wait in expectation not obligation.
"I guess we just have to wait," is a common phrase that comes out of my mouth.  When I or you speak like that we are communicating obligation not expectation.  I have noticed a significant difference in my disposition when I change the phrase to "I get to wait."  This might sound like nothing more than mental gymnastics.  It can feel that way at first.  But a true difference emerges when we push past it.  The initial awkwardness gives way to change.  Waiting in expectation produces something in us that can only come from waiting.  There are no shortcuts are alternatives for getting it.  We cannot get it by reading a book or downloading an app or attending another conference.  We must receive waiting as an appointed time by God for our benefit and growth.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden