Saturday, July 11, 2015

The King's Table

Tonight (Saturday the 11th) at 6pm at Celebration Church & Outreach Ministry I will deliver a message entitled The King's Table (#KingsTable).  It is based on the story of a young descendant of Saul named Mephibosheth who became the recipient of King David's kindness (2 Samuel 9:1-12).

It is a story whose themes transcend time and place.  The story of Mephibosheth points to the God who takes us from a place of loss, hunger, and lack of hope to a place at His table, reserved for us since the beginning of time.  We were created to dine at the table of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Sometimes we are deceived into thinking that we don't belong at His table.  We see all the good things that have been prepared for us as well as others at the table who appear better than us, and our hearts shrink.  "I don't belong at this table," we think to ourselves.  When no one is looking, we slip away to another table that feels more comfortable but for all the wrong reasons. Comfort and familiarity are sensations that are not always reliable.  We are prone to cling to destructive relationships, habits and situations for no other reason than the comfort and familiarity they provide us.

Tonight we will invite people, who have not yet taken their place at The King's Table, to do so.  We will also worship the God who restores those things that have been taken from us (another theme in the story of Mephibosheth).  All this will conclude with the celebration of Baptism.

You can join us in person or Live Stream (  Hope to sit with you at The King's Table.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Hezekiah's Prayer

In 2 Kings 19 a prayer of Hezekiah is recorded.  As the Assyrians openly mocked God and threatened an imminent siege of Jerusalem, Hezekiah, with his advisors and the people pressing him for direction, pushes the pause button and goes into prayer.  Upon receiving the latest report from the Assyrians, Hezekiah "went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord (v14)."

The best time to pray is when it feels like there is no time to pray.  Spiritual maturity is often counter intuitive to human instinct.  Pressure moments drive us to act quickly and pray later, but Hezekiah did the opposite.  He prayed first and acted second.  In so doing, he kept in pace with God's plan of action rather than his own. If he had not paused to spend time in prayer, Hezekiah might have missed the prophet Isaiah's message that was in route to him (v20).

Hezekiah's prayer was not profound.  It didn't contain lofty or nifty phrases that would set it apart from any prayer we might offer.  It was not long or wordy; it was actually right on point.  After giving brief glory and honor to God ("...You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth.  You have made heaven and earth...(v15)"), he asks God for help.  "Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God...Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God(vv16-19)."

On this side of eternity, we will never fully understand why it is necessary to pray. Logically, one would assume that God does not need to be asked to do anything, especially that which is obvious. God's people are in trouble; therefore, God should come to their rescue.  Right?  It is difficult not to have such a conclusion from our human perspective.

Hezekiah's prayer does not give us an answer to our theological questions about prayer, but his actions model for us the practice of spiritual maturity.  Hezekiah enters prayerfully into a posture of dependence and appeal to the living God that mystically unites humanity and divinity.  Prayer is a type of foreshadowing, small deposit, of that which will come in eternity when we are in continual union and fellowship with God.  When we pray now, we are participating in a brief glimpse of the eternal, continual joy that awaits us - being forever with God.

Prayer works because God works.  We place our trust in Him to act according to His perfect and sovereign Will "so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that [He] alone, Lord, is God." And the best time to pray is when it feels like there is no time to pray.  In those moments, we actualize and prioritize our faith in a very tangible way.  We say to those around us, "Give me some time to take this before the living God."

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden

Saturday, May 16, 2015


God raises people to new life.  He selected the Hebrew people, homeless and enslaved in Egypt, as His own - establishing them in their own land.  God took the prophet, Ezekiel, to a valley full of bones and asked him, "Can these bones live?" Upon hearing the Word of the Lord, the bones were raised to life.  Jesus, God's own son, went through burial in order to conquer death through resurrection.  God gives rise to people and situations, that apart from Him, would have no hope.

Why does God bother with the down trodden, the exhausted, the weak, the broken, the hopeless, the discouraged, the mistake-ridden, or the sick?  For two reasons: First, God is life.  His nature is the complete opposite of brokenness and death and all the struggles of this world.  He is in a perpetual state of life-giving power - never contradicting His nature.  God innately orients Himself to those in dire need.

And secondly, God's power and glory shines the brightest where it is most needed. All are invited to bask in the greatness of God, for all have equal need of it, but some experience His power in a more demonstrative way.  God, though not filled with human emotions, just seems to delight in orchestrating a good, old-fashion, under-dog story.  God uniquely receives all the glory when He turns nothing into something.

Over the span of 52 days, Nehemiah and the people witnessed God's ability to raise up new life. They worked, with His "gracious hand of favor" upon them, day and night to see the wall of Jerusalem rise from its rubble.  The rising of the wall was more than symbolic.  It was real accomplishment and protection from their enemies.  The opposing people that surrounded Jerusalem were in awe of what God had done.  It was His wall.

Scripture, in describing God's disposition towards us, uses the word "jealous."  It's an awkward word choice because of its negative connotation.  But the Holy Spirit inspired its use to capture the intensity of God's Love for us.  God raises us up to be His possession in total surrender to His Lordship.  And it is in that sweet spot that we discover something important.  The same life-giving power that raised us is available daily to sustain us.  God is not a one-hit-wonder.  He is in perpetual motion, abounding in mercy, grace, and power on behalf of His creation.

Why be down when you were created to be risen?

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Face to Face with Lions

Struggle always precedes victory.  Wouldn't be great if we could experience victory without struggle?  But we cannot.  In fact, we can't experience God's deliverance from overwhelming circumstances unless we, first, have something from which to be delivered!

We tend to romanticize stories of God delivering His people victoriously.  We read about God shutting the mouths of the lions when Daniel was thrown into their den, and we cheer.  But do we realize that Daniel had to first stare face to face at some hungry lions, whose mouths were not yet closed, in order to experience the deliverance of God?  We know the end of the story but Daniel did not.

The period of time where we stand face to face with "the lions," not yet knowing the outcome, is the struggle.  Whether the length of time is minutes or months or years, two factors make the struggle particularly difficult.  First, while God is absolutely present in the struggle, we find it difficult to feel His presence.  The emotions, frustrations, and fears of our struggle cloud our ability to sense that He is close.  It's like being in zero-visibility fog not realizing help is only a few feet away.

And secondly, what God is orchestrating in the struggle is never known until victory comes.  God rarely tells us the plan ahead of time.  He does not give us insider information as to the workings going on in the heavenly realms on our behalf. Consequently, the struggle is endured only by an unrelenting belief and faith in the God who delights in delivering us from overwhelming odds.

My heart is full of compassion and prayers this morning for those standing face to face with some lions who are licking their chops - assuming they are on the verge of devouring you.  But you, man or woman of God, stand firm and stare back - not in your own strength but with the power of God.  He is the God of overwhelming odds who will bring you through the struggle to His victory in His timing.

May the wisdom of God invade your heart and mind so that you make think clearly about such things.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden      

Friday, April 3, 2015

Five Ways to Experience a Restful Soul

Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.
Psalm 116:7

The restfulness God has designed for our souls is intended for all personality types. It is for "Type A's" and "Type B's," extraverts and introverts, the talkative and the quiet, and every combination of Myers-Briggs.  A restful soul is not a spiritual gift that some receive and others are denied.  It is not relegated to monastic communities that live in isolation from the world.  A restful soul is a spiritual state of perfect balance and centering in Christ that all can experience.  It is a center, in which, we discover a continual communion with the Father designed for us since the beginning of time.

So why is a restful soul so elusive?  Why doesn't it just happen to us?  Like all of God's creation, restfulness must be cultivated and stewarded like a garden.  Neglect can lead quickly to overgrown weeds that, if not removed, will choke out its life-giving intent.  The following five recommendations will help you to enter God's rest.         

Cultivate a Passive Ambition
The internal drive that pushes us toward success is the same drive that can lead us astray.  Ambition can become like a runaway train, chugging us down some regrettable tracks.  When this happens our instinct is to either disavow ambition as all-together destructive or, conversely, attempt to ambitiously correct the mistakes on our own.  Neither one brings us rest.  The first reaction leads to boredom, and the second one creates more problems.

Passive ambition develops when God-given drive unites with God-directed steps. It's a spiritual sweet-spot that we learn to walk in, perfectly blending our actions with God's intentions.  What I mean by this is that we proceed with decisions and strategies but with the joyful realization that God's plans will ultimately unfold. This magnificent display of God's ability often goes uncelebrated by us, though it occurs regularly. God beautifully engrafts us into His sovereignty while preserving our ambition.  We act and are acted upon at the same time, and the resulting quality is a restful soul.  Rest is fully achievable in busyness when it is God-centered.

Disappointment does not go away in passive ambition.  We still experience periodic surprise or concern over plans that unfold differently than anticipated.  The difference is that disappointment does not linger around or take root.  A restful contentment actually emerges because God, not us, bears the responsibility of orchestrating life.  We do life with Him not for Him. Once our healthy ambition becomes insulated in His sovereignty, we are set free from self-induced pressure to be in charge. God takes His rightful place as Lord of all we do.

Forgive Yourself as Freely as God Forgives You
God is slow to anger and rich in mercy.  His continual nature to forgive is a constant reminder of His goodness.  God not only forgives but remembers our sins no more. He removes them as far as the east is from the west according to Scripture.

We, on the other hand, are the complete opposite.  Our nature is quick to anger and rich in judgment. We struggle to let the sins of the past drift away.  Though we cannot literally forget the past, we are fully capable of living free from its guilt and shame.  But, oh, how difficult it is to walk in that truth!

Clinging to unresolved forgiveness fatigues us in two ways.  First, we retain burdens that God wants removed resulting in an accumulation of layers that are too much to bear.  The burdens of today are plenty without the inclusion of yesterday's. And secondly, we deny, and therefore disrespect, God's promise of forgiveness. Rejecting His forgiveness is to give a historical nod to the cross while denying its power for today.  Jesus went to the cross to bring glory to the Father, and in the process, we receive forgiveness of sins.  Let's receive the full benefit of His death and resurrection, forgiving ourselves as God has forgiven, and living a life that brings glory to the Father.  

Say Good-bye to Envy
Every day we have reason to be envious.  There is always someone who is more attractive, wealthier, happier, healthier, more talented, "luckier," more successful, and so on.  Envy can go viral quickly, spreading through our entire soul and taking root.

There is a kind of deceiving energy that is generated by envy.  It gives us a raw, temporary drive like a performance enhancing drug.  Though eventually destructive we come to rely on it.  Ridding ourselves of envy can prove to be difficult, so we continue to cling to its familiarity.

Envy fatigues us because it causes us to chase relationships and over-function in situations that God never designed for us.  The resulting exhaustion prevents us from doing excellently the very things that God has designed for us.  Envy, literally, wastes our time and energy rendering us ineffective.

Chronically envious people never experience a state of restfulness.  They are so exhausted from their constant obsession with that which is not meant to be that they receive no benefit from that which is meant for them.  Envy is a thief that steals the rest God has created us to enter.  It's time to say good-bye to it.

Celebrate Small Victories
There was an occasion in Jesus' life where He celebrated with the disciples the small offering of a poor widow.  In fact, He said that her gift was greater than those of the wealthy because she gave out of her need.  Jesus placed value on the meaning of a moment not the size of it.

Life is full of a collection of small victories that far exceed the occasional watershed moment.  Their cumulative value is intended for our benefit, breathing new life into our weary souls.  To ignore them is to reject their timely, infused-with-hope, power. Small victories, when fully recognized and celebrated, return a smile to our face. They are small deposits of that which is to come at an appointed time in the future.

Chronicle the small victories that God provides.  Over time, the list will become a history of God's faithfulness in your life.  As you review it periodically, a restfulness will settle in your soul that can only come in God's presence.  God is big but He does not always choose to do big things.  We could not handle the Red Sea being parted everyday. God, instead, brings doses of goodness to us so that we might be able to digest each one.  Faithful rest in the small victories prepare us for rest in the big ones.

The health and wellness community tell us that there are multiple benefits from laughter.  It strengthens our immunity systems, boosts energy, lowers blood pressure, and limits the effects of stress.  God created us to laugh because it is good for us and even God laughs.  Psalm 2:4 anthropomorphizes God with the statement, "The One enthroned in heaven laughs."

I have a group of friends I meet with every Thursday morning for accountability and support.  We share our struggles and questions with one another over breakfast.  I was asked recently why I prioritize that time.  My answer came immediately, "We laugh together."  I don't how much they need me, but I need them because everyone needs a circle of people with whom they laugh.

When was the last time you laughed until it hurt?  Laughter rounds out the ingredients we need to experience a restful soul.  The troubles and hardships of this world are temporarily lifted in laughter. It's a foreshadowing of things to come in eternity where there will be no tears.  People who discourage laughter or never participate are foolishly hindering a restful joy divinely designed for us. Wholesome laughter has a spiritual quality to it because God's people have much to celebrate.  A soul at rest is a soul that laughs.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Radical Love Produces Radical Abandonment

Jesus' encounter with a rich ruler in the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Mark has, in too many sermons, been wrongly used to condemn wealth.  The young ruler did not have a wealth problem.  He had a "loving God" problem.  His attachment to material things was merely a symptom.  The root issue was his devotion to good morals and ethics without experiencing, first, the radical love found in God's presence.

God's radical standards are always proportionate to His radical love.  In other words, moral behavior is intended to be a fruit of radical love not a substitute for it. Before Jesus tells the rich ruler to sell everything and give to the poor, a radical request of abandonment indeed, Mark tells us that "Jesus looked at the rich ruler and loved him."  In Jesus, the motivation for sacrifice is not found in fear or coercion but in love.  We end up living a life of abandonment because it is the supreme response to His love.

Obedience, when rightly lived out, is more theological than behavioral.  Our relationship with a loving Father leads us to say "no" to things that, prior to knowing His love, we thought were necessary; and, without experiencing His love, make no sense.  It is not likely that we will walk in radical abandonment without a profound, continual encounter with the living God.

Jesus does not want to be another command we follow but the source of our life-giving center.  He did not come to simply repackage religious obligation.  He came to bring a life that we never thought possible.  He came to forever change us if we submit to His transformational love.  His death and resurrection, which the Church will celebrate over the next week, is a constant reminder of that which is available to us.

So let's not merely draw near to Jesus or hang around people who follow Jesus. Let's bring Him into the life-giving center He desires to be. Let's walk out abandonment, not to become "super-Christians" but because of His "super love."

"All things are possible with God (Mark 10:27)."

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Encountering or Exploiting Jesus?

With frustration Jesus said to the royal official and the crowd gathered around Him in John 4, "Unless you people see signs and will never believe."

Jesus saw a tendency in the people of His day that is similar to us.  As long as He was doing fabulous and phenomenal miracles that entertained them, He was a welcomed hero. But when He transitioned from wonders to His Word, they resisted and lost interest.  

There is a difference between encountering and exploiting.  To encounter Jesus is to be with Him to discover His purposes for you.  To exploit Jesus is to use Him to get your purposes for you.  People who exploit Jesus chase His miraculous power with little interest in His message.  For them, Jesus is only as good as His latest wonder. And once the excitement is gone, they move on to find their next enchantment fix.

Jesus did not come to be a traveling roadshow, He came so that we might encounter Him. He came so that we might receive revelation of the Father's love and bring glory to the Father.  He came so we might walk in His purposes for our life rather than the way of the world.  His miracles and wonders are graciously orchestrated to inspire us along the way but not intended to be the essence of our relationship with Him.  Faith, not miracles, is the foundation of our walk with Jesus.

Spiritual maturity includes a number of characteristics, not the least of which, is trusting Jesus between miracles.  Sometimes that is a short period of time, but more often than not, it is quite long. In those long stretches, our faith and trust in Him is tested with great intensity.  We wonder, "Am I crazy for believing in that which I cannot see?  Did I miss something?  Where is He?"

There is a kind of spiritual growth that occurs only between miracles.  It cannot occur any other way though I wish it could.  We cannot bypass those periods and expect to grow far beyond spiritual infancy.  God accomplishes more by being with us during those times than removing us from them.

See you this weekend at one our worship gatherings.  Looking forward to encountering Jesus again together.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden


Saturday, March 7, 2015


I am preaching a message this evening on being valuable.  As I sit here finalizing the preparations, my thoughts are on people who, for whatever reason, are feeling invaluable.  Sadly, it's easier in our world to identify more with the clearance rack in the back than the nice stuff in the display window. We believe the lie that we are out of style, rejected, or damaged goods.  Why would we be valuable to anyone let alone God?

Value is connected to the designer as well as how much one is willing to pay.  A name brand is more expensive than an off-brand.  A consumer's willingness to pay a given price sets the value.  This is good news for us, not from an economic perspective, but a spiritual one.  God designed us in his image/likeness, and He paid the highest price for us.  We are valuable.  Our value is connected to God and His actions on our behalf.  Nothing else.

Other people, our thoughts, and satan are responsible for convincing us that we lack value.  In most cases all three are working together like a well-oiled machine.  The power of this trifecta feels stronger than our ability to deflect their distorting affect. In fact, they are stronger than us but not stronger than God. A divine infusion is the only remedy that will reverse a pattern of self-devaluation.  With that infusion, we discover that God not only brings value to our lives, He also makes us valuable.

A principle in making money is to buy low and sell high.  To do the opposite is to risk bankruptcy. But we worship the God who does the complete opposite and takes it one step further.  God does not buy high and sell low.  He buys high and never sells.  We are His treasured possession.

So to Him who is able to do exceedingly more than we think or imagine, according to His power at work in us, to Him be the glory both in the Church and Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen (Ephesians).

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden

Saturday, February 28, 2015

In Love With Excuses

Some years ago I befriended a man that lived across the street from our church. Every weekend I would stop to talk with him as I walked up Meadow street for Saturday night worship.  On a regular basis I would ask him, "When are you gonna cross the street and hear me preach?  We would love to have you join us."

His response was always the same.  "Preacher, you don't want me coming into that church. Lightening will strike if I come in."  And then he would nervously chuckle.

Well, one evening he actually did come in briefly but didn't stay - returning to his usual spot which was, sadly, only twenty feet away from a new life.

I am not sure all the regrets and obstacles in his life that were fooling him into believing that change was not possible - or who convinced him that Jesus didn't want him.  But those strongholds were in control keeping him from a life full of hope and new beginnings.  He soon moved away and we lost touch.

Zacchaeus, written about in Luke 19, was also a man full of regrets and obstacles. He had chosen a path full of corruption and greed - a lifestyle that forsook his namesake which meant "pure or righteous."  But in the midst of his bad decisions, he made a bold decision - one that changed his life forever.  He decided to draw near to Jesus.  Even with the obstacle of a crowd keeping him away, he got creative, pushing past the obstacle, and climbed a tree.  And that little bit of effort put events in motion that saved his life.

We are in love with excuses.  We not only keep a menu list of them readily available but we add more on a regular basis.  We get drunk on excuses - enjoying the mind-altering buzz they provide us. Excuses keep us from confronting the truth of our short-comings and dealing honestly with them. And then we wake the next day to do it again.

Zacchaeus had his regrets turned into redemption.  And so can we.  He pushed through obstacles and said "yes" when Jesus called his name.  And so can we.  He decided to no longer only watch Jesus from afar.  He left his usual spot and came "across the street."  And so can we.

Fall out of love with excuses.  Get unstuck.  All of us are only a few feet away from the start of a new life.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden     

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Can't Somebody Else Do That?

When it came time to prepare for the Passover, Jesus sent Peter and John - the unofficial leaders of the disciples.  They were accustomed to being selected for special assignments for Jesus had taken only them and James to witness what we now refer to as The Transfiguration.  They were special and probably knew it - not in an snobbish way but fully aware of their position among the disciples.

So when Jesus had a new assignment - to make preparations for the Passover - what was their response?  The preparation process was arduous, time-consuming, messy, and meticulous.  Jesus could have sent any of the twelve but He asked Peter and John.  In Luke's account (ch 22) we read that Peter and John immediately complied.  Despite being asked to do something that was quite a bit less exotic than a transfigured Jesus or a healing, they embraced the need at hand.  They resisted the temptation to ask Jesus a question that we are often prone to express:  "Can't somebody else do that?"

What we see in Peter and John is a supreme example of an emerging, spiritual maturity.  Namely, the closer we get to God, seeking Him with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, the more inclined we become to serve.  If a serving heart does not begin to flow from time spent in God's presence, than we remain spiritual infants - consuming but not giving.  Seeking God without serving others is spiritual narcissism in disguise.  It is a form of self-medicating - using God as a therapeutic fix that makes us feel better for an hour but lacking any substance.

This weekend is the finale of our Seek series.  We will conclude by focusing on serving because seeking must lead to serving.  If we miss this correlation, we run the risk of spending another year in spiritual kindergarten.  We run the risk of using God's presence for ourselves at the neglect of the needs in our world. We run the risk of chronically thinking or expressing the same question:  "Can't somebody else do that?"  It's time to change that immature question to a mature statement:  "Here I am Lord, use me."

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden