Friday, January 29, 2016

Se7en Words That Changed Everything

Rise! Pick up your mat and walk.
John 5:8

Jesus never wasted words.  He spoke with purpose and always in alignment with the Father's Will.  His words not only changed people but set in motion a new expression of God's work on the earth.

One day a man suffering from paralysis for 38 years was a recipient of those words. Jesus found him on one of the five covered porches surrounding the Pool of Bethesda. He was laying on his mat as he had done for almost four decades. After a brief conversation Jesus spoke se7en words over the man that changed everything for him. Rise! Pick up your mat and walk.  And the man did so.

Se7en words from Jesus can get rid of 38 years of misery!  It's not magic, but it is mysteriously powerful and compelling.  I can't begin to understand or explain why Jesus only interacted with this man on that day and not all the others near the pool as well. Maybe He returned later that day, and it is not recorded for us. But this one thing I am confident: Jesus has words of life for everyone.  He has words that can change everything. Jesus' words have the power to deliver us from whatever porch of misery we might find ourselves.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden

Sunday, January 17, 2016


Humble yourselves before the Lord,
and He will lift you up.
James 4:10

The upsidedown principle that guides a godly life is so counter-intuitive. We struggle to believe in God's design of cause-and-effect:  death leads to life, sacrifice produces joy, generosity brings abundance, godly dependence produces greater freedom, obedience not ambition gives birth to authority, the Cross not an insurrection establishes a new King, and humility leads to exaltation (James 4:10).

For many years I assumed that the real challenge in James 4:10 was the initial command.  My emphaisis was only on becoming humble before God, emptying myself as an expression of dependence on Him.  So I went to work on that and felt rather pleased with myself.  A day turned into a week, and  a week became a month.  And that led to a year which evolved into decades.

Time should draw us closer to God.  But if we have wrong motivations for humbling ourselves before Him, time can also produce resentment.  We presume upon God our desired outcomes for such a long stretch of humility and obedience which is always a dangerous place to get stuck. Sometimes we miss God's goodness for our lives because we are stubbornly loyal to our version of goodness rather than His.  It is at that moment that we discover something very important. The initial command in James 4:10 is NOT the most challenging part.  It is the promise that follows - He will lift (exalt) you up.

Being content with God's version of our exaltation is more difficult than humbling ourselves before Him. We do not get to write the script of our reward.  And this is ultimately more of a deterrent for us than being dependent on Him.  You and I can muster up the courage to purge ourselves of the things of this world, transferrring our dependence on Him, as long as He allows us to negotiate the fruits we will enjoy in this world and the next.  But God allows no such thing, and we loathe the idea of not being able to negotiate our reward.  The mere idea stirs anger in us. Perhaps the greatest expression of humility is not bowing to God but trusting Him with the resulting exaltation He promised.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden

Thursday, January 7, 2016

You Are a Storehouse of God's Treasures

But we have this treasure in jars of clay 
to show that this all-surpassing power is from God
and not from us. 
2 Corinthians 4:7

(This is an excerpt from the sermon I will preach this Saturday night January 9th at Celebration Church & Outreach Ministry.  6pm at 5501 Midlothian Turnpike.  Join us for the whole sermon or watch online at Click on Live.)

We are custom designed by God to be storehouses of His treasures.  That is often difficult for us to receive or even comprehend.  We wrongly wonder, "Does that really apply to me?" "Why would God delight in filling me?" "I'm not worth God's time."  But that kind of wondering is the deception of the enemy and in direct conflict with the promises of God's Word.

I used to read this verse and assume that Paul was referring to a singular treasure within us.  A closer examination of the word he uses, thay sow ros, reveals a bigger meaning.  In Paul's world thay sow ros was a storehouse, a small structure, used by people to house their treasures.  The early readers of Paul's letter probably heard verse 7 differently than us.  They envisioned themselves as a storehouse for God's treasures rather than a mere, singular item of value.  Understanding the difference in the two meanings can be a game changer.

Like most teachings in God's Word this concept is easy to hear, yet we find creative ways to butcher it on a daily basis.  In contrast to Paul's teaching, our lives become storehouses for the things of this world instead of God. The trick of the enemy is to entice us with empty relationships, philosophies, behaviors, and mindsets that clutter our storehouses leaving little or no room for the treasures of God.   Your lack of spiritual growth may be more related to clutter than comprehension.  We tend to know more than we do.

God removes before He adds.  He took away our sin problem first and then placed Jesus in us.  He wants to do the same with our worldly baggage.  But here is a little warning:  the removal process can be messy.  Some things are freed quickly, but other areas do not leave without a fight.  Fortunate for us God is patient and tenacious in ridding us of junk.  I can't think of a better time than now for you to stop fighting Him.

When was the last time you did a serious inventory of your storehouse?  I wonder if some unhealthy items have nestled in over the last year?  Have some things returned that were gone at one time?  Are you wrestling with God, clinging to one or two areas you are reluctant to have purged?  Or maybe you need a complete house cleaning? Only you and God know, but others will begin to notice once the work is done.  What are you waiting for?

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden

Friday, January 1, 2016

Home After 19 Days

On this first day of 2016 I am compelled to give thanks to God, the prayers of many friends, the support of family, and the wisdom of the medical community for delivering me from the greatest physical trial I have ever endured.  To say that my perspective on life has been recalibrated is to understate it.  It feels like a rebirth and renewal has taken place within me that can only emerge through the crucible of trial.

On December 9th, a seemingly normal day, severe abdominal pain suddenly set in sending me straight to the emergency room.  We were soon told that acute pancreatitis along with some pneumonia in the left lung area were the culprits. I didn't know it at the time but the battle to stabilize and heal my body would be a long, grueling, 19-day struggle that included two stays in the ICU and three different hospital rooms.

The struggle for control of your thoughts and fears in life-threatening circumstances might be the most difficult aspect of such a moment. I desperately clung to my foundational beliefs in God, His Word, His Promises and the prayers of God's people. But to say that I unwavered in those truths at all times is at best a misrepresentation and at worst, an outright lie.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I floated between victorious moments pregnant with faith and lonely stretches gripped with fear.  I cried.  I cried out to God.  I sang songs of hope.  I listened.  My hand was often held.  Then a little fear creeped in again.  The fear left.  Hope abounded. The cycle was exhausting.

My faith, hope, and love in the God who pours out His grace and mercy abundantly has a new, quiet strength.  The reason, which is critical to understand, is NOT because I received the positive outcome I desired.  Don't misunderstand me, I am exceedingly grateful for God's touch on my life and am giving all glory and honor due His name. But my soul is primarily overflowing with life because God always comes near.  God sings songs over us in the good and difficult times, in belief and doubt, in wandering and anchored hearts, and in ordinary times. God is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore.  There is no circumstance, pain, or personal accolade that is void of His presence.

I'm not sure how you are starting off 2016 but am sure of this:  God's ways are higher than ours.  He renews our strength.  He rescues.  He teaches through the trials of life. And just as He did 2,000 years ago in Jesus, He comes near to be with us.  He enters this side of eternity to ultimately take us one day to His side of eternity.  In the meantime, He grants us new days and seasons to advance His work on earth - an opportunity I am relishing in this first day of 2016.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden