Delivered by the Grace of God, through the Reconciliation of the Son, Jesus Christ, and with the power of the Holy Spirit by Bobby Fleck at Ringgold United Methodist Church in Ringgold, GA on September 4, 2016.
Welcome to the final week of Flipped. This has been a message series where we have dug deep into the ways in which God flips our lives and our expectations. Our first week, Perfunctory to Passionate, Pastor Ben led us on a journey to discover our spiritual gifts, passions, and personal styles. If you have not completed the handouts that Ben gave us that week and emailed to us, you really should check those out. We shared ours as a staff team, and they were very revealing and helpful. Our second week, Passive to Active, we realized that God wants us to become a part of the team to join God in God’s work. Last week, through Comfortable to Uncomfortable, we explored the idea about losing our life in order to find it through Jesus.
God calls us to move from perfunctory to passionate, from passive to active, from comfortable to uncomfortable, and today from a consumer to a producer.
When God really remodels and flips our lives, we get involved and move from someone who merely consumes the faith to a producer who gets involved and builds God’s kingdom for others.
Today is Labor Day weekend. Ironic, isn’t it? It’s interesting that on a day where people historically take off and do a quick vacation that we are talking about work and being producers of the faith.
We, each of us, probably almost all of us are workers. We do stuff. We make things. We labor. Most of us like work. We probably don’t like to work all the time. We probably don’t enjoy having to work. We may not like the job we are currently doing. I am just not comfortable with the idea of just sitting around and doing nothing. There is always something to do and something that can be done. There are always dishes, laundry, landscaping, packing, sorting, and so many other tasks that never end and need to be done always and at all times.
James 1:22 – “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only. “
At Ringgold United Methodist Church, we are doers. We do a lot of stuff around this place. From benevolence to hospitality, from visiting folks in the hospital to taking communion to homebounds, from sharing food to making food bags, from packing shoeboxes to educating teachers overseas. We are doers. We do a lot of ministry.
Jesus calls each of us to put feet to our faith by moving from a faith of consumption to a faithful producer who is involved in kingdom making.
Feed Me Consumption
A consumer is focused on consumption. Choices are made based on perceived need, taste, and personal preference. A good picture of the consumer is that of the plant, Audrey, from Little Shop of Horrors. In this movie (or play) a plant, named Audrey, grows from a tiny Venus fly trap to a massive larger than life human eating monster. The insatiable appetite of the plant leads her owner to continually feed human blood to the plant so that the plant can continue to live and grow. This drive to be fed leads Seymour, her owner, to actually lure unsuspecting people into the flower shop so that Audrey the plant can eat them. The epitome of this consumer relationship comes when Audrey sings, “Feed Me, Seymour,” as a way to coax Seymour into continuing to feed the plant (you can watch that song by following this link).
Just as Audrey’s appetite for consumption leads Seymour to compromise in order to accommodate, so too do our own appetites for consumer faith lead us in an unhealthy spiritual diet. This desire to be fed spiritually is what sometimes leads people to church shop to find a church that gives them the kind of faith they are looking to consume. These preferences are typically about personal style and taste and much less about real matters of faith and discipleship.
In a recent article by Relevant Magazine called, “Stop Waiting for Your Church to Feed You” (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/stop-waiting-your-church-feed-you), several important points were raised for people who have the objection, well, my church just isn’t feeding me spiritually anymore.
“So before you say you’re “not being fed” next time you have an issue with a church, take a look at what they’re actually offering. Are they really not offering solid teaching and resources for spiritual growth, or do you just not prefer the food they’re putting on the table?
Along with practicing spiritual disciplines on our own, a well-balanced spiritual diet often includes embracing diversity and staying with a church family even when it doesn’t spoon feed you or meet all your expectations. Sometimes the best thing for us is to get offended, called out and told no. There’s not much left in our culture that will remind us that this life isn’t about us.”
In short, if you are complaining about not being fed or a church not feeding you, you are missing the point. The point about being fed really usually has nothing to do with your church. If your church is offering solid biblical teaching and resources for spiritual growth, then your objections are really not valid. If you don’t like the food that the church is cooking or feel like the food needs to be improved, then get in the kitchen and start cooking!
Let’s look at Matthew 25:31-46 (ESV)
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
In our Scripture, Jesus recognizes those who put their faith into action through acts of mercy as the righteous who will inherit his Kingdom. Those who visit, clothe, feed, and welcome are the ones that are rewarded with the inheritance of the kingdom. Those that act on behalf and to the benefit of the least of those who are need are the ones who receive the king’s reward. Jesus calls each of us also to put feet to our faith by moving from a faith of consumption to a faithful producer who is involved in kingdom making.
Being A Kingdom Producer
I like to make stuff. It has always been a hobby and sometimes an obsession of mine to make things. As a kid, I would make things from Legos. My mom and I would clear the floor and spend an entire Saturday just making things out of Legos. I had a gigantic tub of Lego bricks that I would spill onto the floor into a pile and we would work all day making things. As a teenager, this passion shifted to music where I learned I could make emotions through musical melody. I also began to learn how powerful ideas could be at making things and creating things. From my dad, I learned that making model cars, remote control airplanes, and homemade rockets not only were fun but brought a sense of accomplishment and freedom of expression. In college and beyond, I began to pick up woodworking and creating with other materials as a way to transition my own ideas from improvised thoughts into physical reality. I suppose this is also why I enjoy cooking. I thoroughly enjoy making things.
Being a producer or maker who does things is radically different from a consumer who merely takes things in. A producer considers the cost and function before acting. A consumer choose based on preference and taste. A producer thinks about others, while a consumer only thinks about themselves. A consumer matches colors to the décor while a producer makes the furniture. Instead of being a consumer who focuses on being fed, the real flip that God wants to do in our lives today is to take us from a consumer who sits and eats to a producer who is involved in the creation and implementation process.
There is a caution here as well. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in meeting people’s physical needs that we forget to point the actions to Jesus. Doing is good. Helping others is wonderful. Being nice is not enough to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. There are plenty of nice Muslims and Buddhists. What is it that makes your good deed or action point to Jesus? You will have to proclaim the name if you want God to get credit and glory to go to Jesus instead of your nice deed. When folks try to thank you for the cup of cool water, tell them that it is only because of Jesus that the water is given in the first place.
Shifting the focus off of us and onto Jesus makes us Kingdom producers for the glory of God. Being a producer in this manner actually builds God’s kingdom here and now on earth.
Consumers focus on personal preference and style above and beyond actually getting involved.
Consumers are critics, producers are doers (read that statement again).
We are not called to evaluate church like it is fine wine matching the meal of our life, instead, we are called to take a cup of cold water to those who are thirsty in the name of Jesus.
This is exactly why participation in ministry and groups is so important to your spiritual walk of faith. Instead of worrying if the church is feeding you, get in the kitchen and help cook. Instead of complaining about the noise level of the children running in the hallway, give God so glory because we have young people in our church and volunteer to help teach and guide these kids.
Are you worried about the future of our country and the choices of young people? Sign up to be a prayer champion for our youth and children. There is no greater determination for whether our students will receive and carry on the faith of Jesus Christ than if adults of all ages agree to pray for these students on a regular basis. You can sign up for the Pray for Me Campaign today in the lobby.
God calls each of us to meaningful participation in our community through acts of service. Whether through NCIC, benevolence, Operation Christmas Child, Children’s Celebration of Christmas, Partners in Education (and the list could go on), regardless of what you do, get involved and do what you do to the glory of God.
You know, just as Jesus calls us to be producers instead of consumers and actually get involved in kingdom building, God demonstrated the ultimate act of getting involved by sending Jesus into the world to participate in our humanity. Jesus’ participation was unlike any other participation that any of us could perform on our own. This ultimate act of production and demonstration not only gave each of us a way to live but it reestablished the connection with God the Father through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.
On the night in which Jesus was betrayed, he shared a meal with his disciples. As it would turn out, this meal was a different meal, since it held a greater spiritual significance compared to any meal prior to this moment. Not only was this Passover, but it was to be for Jesus his final act of participation in the realities of humanity. It would be for Jesus his last day and a participation in the agony of suffering and death.
Jesus took the bread and said to his disciples, “Take and eat each of you. This is my body broken for you as a participation in the death that you could not produce so that you would be reunited with the Father.”
After the supper was over, Jesus took the cup and said, “Take and drink each of you. This is my blood, which is spilled for you for the forgiveness of sins. I died so that you would no longer have to be separated from my Father. With this sacrificial blood, God’s Covenant is made new with you today.”
Taking up My Cross and Following after Him,
Biblical Mercy Defined
We played a game as kids called, “Mercy.” It was a favorite game of mine. I have been a big kid for quite a while, and I always enjoyed playing this game. I have had a high threshold for pain. I also was really good at working my peers into submission. Mercy…this kids game…usually involves someone who is in a person of dominance inflicting so much discomfort on another person to the point that the other is forced to cry out for mercy due to so much pain.
Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful.” There is deep meaning in the Biblical words for mercy. Journey with me on a bit of a word study today.
All throughout the Old Testament, when the word, “mercy,” is used it is a single and powerful word in Hebrew. The 148 times it appears, the word is <checed>. Some versions translate this word as God’s lovingkindness. God’s compassion.
- Noah – not destroying the entire world but finding Noah and Noah’s family and waiting 120 years while the Ark was being constructed (Genesis 6:13).
- Hagar and Ishmael – even to a child and mother put away quietly by Abraham God shows great mercy by providing for their needs (Genesis 21:14)
- Elijah – when Elijah fled into the wilderness out of fear for his life being threat by Jezebel, God shows mercy by providing shade and water to the prophet (1 Kings 19:1-7)
- Jonah – not only was God’s mercy displayed to Jonah after Jonah disobeyed God, but through Jonah’s mission did God show mercy to the entire city of Nineveh instead of destroying it (Jonah 4:2).
In the New Testament <eleeō> is used for mercy 31 times. Mercy here connotes the giving of aid, assistance, or help to someone who is in need. Compassion or pity would be synonyms.
- Jesus’ mercy towards the ten lepers asking for healing. Jesus grants their healing (Luke 17:13)
- God extends mercy to all. “For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (Romans 10:30-32).
- The End – God is patient in sending the Messiah a second time as He is wanting all that would to be saved instead of to perish (2 Peter 3:9).
What is interesting is that most of us probably have this idea that mercy is a lot like that game that I described in the beginning. For many of us, mercy happens when someone in power chooses not to destroy or inflict pain on someone who is weaker. While this may be true in one sense, mercy in the biblical sense, is much richer. God shows mercy to us not just because God is more powerful and we are weaker. What God does with mercy is because of God’s incredible love for each of us. What God chooses not to do with mercy is also because of God’s love for us.
Today’s text is very simple: “God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7)
The Mercy of God
Mercy. When we think about mercy as a follower of Jesus Christ, we who are blood-bought and forgiven, it is easy for us to remember God’s incredible mercy towards us. When we recount the sins we have committed, the stripes we caused Jesus, the blood we spilt, we are reminded of God’s compassionate love for each of us.
Mercy is the very character of God. Mercy is not merely a characteristic of God. It is who God is. In the same sense that God is love, as John puts it, so too God is mercy. We cannot define or understand mercy without a relationship with God. This may sound like an overstatement, but it is true.
Mercy is activated and inspired by God’s great love towards all of humanity and His creation.
“The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
Jesus’ own life and death are not only a demonstration but are the greatest demonstration of the incredible mercy of God. God’s mercy towards the whole of humanity led Jesus to the greatest sacrifice of all time. The incredible mercy of God is what empowers salvation.
The Cost of Mercy
What does mercy cost? When we choose to show mercy, what is it that we lose? What is it that we are forced to put aside?
- Not getting your way.
- Not being able to prove your point.
- Not making sure people get what they deserve.
- Having to let go.
What do we do about injustices, though? Does mercy facilitate more pain and cause more havoc?
Even through punishment and discipline, mercy can and does shine through. If you and I got exactly what we deserved at all times, each of us would be in God’s timeout chair for an extremely long time. When we complain about God’s fairness (or lack of it), we must remember that God’s justice would require death and hell of each of our lives. It is only because of the great mercy of God displayed through Jesus Christ and the cross of Calvary that we live and have hope of eternity.
Instead of focusing on what is lost when we display mercy, when we look at what is gained through acts of mercy we realize that there is much more to be gained that lost through mercy.
Mercy is kindness, compassion, and help to those who are in need. Blessed are those who are merciful because they will be shown mercy. Sounds a lot like some other things that Jesus said as well. Do you hear the echoes of “give and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38), “forgive us as we forgive others” (Matthew 6:15), and “do unto others” (Luke 6:31)? There is something very reciprocal and giving about the way that God works.
It is the way that God setup the universe, but mercy is not some mystic life force like karma. We don’t show mercy so that we will in turn receive mercy later. We are not good so that we will receive good things later. It is not as if there is a bank of good deeds or merciful acts stacking up for us.
We choose to show mercy and compassion because it is who God is and what God wants for us. We are merciful because God is merciful to us. This is the real cost of mercy. As we are being made more and more into the image of Jesus Christ, we lose the human desire for revenge and payback.
The Function of Mercy
Here in the Beatitudes, Jesus expresses the blessings of mercy in the positive. Those of us who show mercy, we will receive mercy. We will be receptors of God’s mercy. Not only will God show mercy to us, but we will be receptacles of mercy; containers of God’s goodness; vessels of God’s lovingkindness.
When someone wrongs or hurts us, we become bound and attached to them. Showing mercy releases bonds and drops requirements. When we are merciful, we break the chains created from wrong or hurt. Forgiveness, which is what happens when we show mercy to someone is a powerful tool.
When God is merciful towards us, we do not have to hold on to the sins and guilt of the past. Too many of us become so tightly bound to these things that it is very difficult for God to work through us. When we hold us tightly onto our past, the past controls us. You and I are not containers of our past failures. Each of us, because of God’s great mercy are now containers of God’s mercy. God replaces our sinful guilt with His own mercy. He removes those things that hold us and weigh us and replaces it with his loving mercy.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Jesus’ words here echo another of his words in Matthew found through a prayer. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Forgiveness, which is so closely tied to mercy, functions just as mercy does. With the same measure that we forgive others, we will be forgiven. So too with the same measure that we are merciful, we will be shown mercy.
“Mercy,” is a child’s game where a person of dominance withholds pain from someone in a weaker position. The kind of mercy that God embodies (and also calls us to display) is much more than withholding punishment like in the game. God’s mercy is rooted in God’s compassionate love, and God calls us to extend this kind of mercy to others in our daily lives.
Memory and Remembrance
Today is the Memorial Day weekend. Our country commemorates this day with a holiday first instituted in 1971. Our city celebrates this holiday with the placement of over 1,300 flags and a 1890s Day Jamboree. Our culture enjoys this holiday as it marks the beginning of summer, the end of school, bar-b-que cookouts, and fun! The middle school students in our youth even celebrated this weekend with a tubing trip. I personally celebrated it with a trout fishing excursion earlier in the week.
The purpose of this holiday is for the remembrance of those members of our armed forces who have sacrificed their lives in service of our country. The ones we celebrate tomorrow are the ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives. While there is nothing necessarily spiritual about this holiday, there is a great deal to learn from the memorializing of those who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom.
I bet each of us have memorials in our own lives. These memorials may be obvious, like a cemetery or place of death. Other memorials carry a different kind of significance, like a picture, a gift, or an heirloom. Many of us may even have memorial flags that were placed on the coffins of our lost loved ones who served. These memorials are ways in which we choose to remember those who have passed in our lives.
For me, when my dad died, I kept a coin in my pocket for a couple of years. I would look at the coin. I would feel it in my pocket. It was something that held significance in my life because it reminded me of my dad.
Another memorial that I hold dear is a Bible that my nana gave to me. My nana had an incredible memory. Her memory aggravated me as a kid, but she could remember so many things. There were trigger words that I could say around her or places we could go, and I could almost tell you word for word what her story would be. If I mentioned frogs, she would tell of the time her son, Mike, my uncle, caught a frog as a young boy, and asked him to fry its legs. If we drove by a creek, she would tell me how she had been baptized in a creek.
What I didn’t get as a kid that I get now is the importance of these stories. It wasn’t just these stories, but it was so many more stories that she and others brought into my life that really shaped me into who I am today. I want to open our hearts and minds up as we dig into what God would have for each of us today. Memories, memorials, and remembrance each have great significance in our lives today.
What we will see in our text in Joshua 4 is that Joshua and the Hebrews created special altars that served as opportunities for remembrance in their lives. So too does God urge each of us to setup for ourselves occasions in our own lives to tell our God stories. Through the telling of these stories, each of us can become living stones of remembrance.
Joshua and the Twelve Stones
Looking at our text today in Joshua 4, we see a couple of occasions where Joshua and the Hebrews erect stones of remembrance.
v.3 – “command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’”
v.9 – “Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day.”
vv.19-20 – “The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal.”
Three separate times the people set up twelve stones in three different places. First, on the banks of the Jordan where they slept. These were rocks which the priests walked upon to cross the Jordan River. Second, rocks were stacked in the river Jordan itself. The Jordan is not a mighty rushing river like the Tennessee River. In most places the Jordan River is much like the Coosawatee River we tubed on yesterday. These rocks setup in the river were much larger boulders that could even be seen from the shore. Third, rocks were stacked on the outskirts of Jericho in Gilgal. These rocks would be rocks they would see and pass by as these were setup in their own lands. Their children would literally see these rocks and could ask, “Why are these rocks here?”
Each time there was purpose and intention. God’s instructions were clear that stones should be taken out of the Jordan River each time. Stones which the company of Hebrews, priests, and Joshua himself had used to walk upon while crossing the river on dry ground.
A sort of instructional narrative concerning the rocks is given to the people. This narrative is similar to the play rehearsed by Moses to the Hebrews on the night of the Passover.
Exodus 12:26-27 – “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’”
When your children ask…wow. How many times do your children ask you why you do what you do? Every hour of every day, right? I know my kids want to know what we are doing and why we are doing it. Sometimes you have to drop the line, “Because I said so,” to stop the questions. But we should not stifle the curiosity. When our kids ask, let’s explain why.
As a parent instructs their children about the reasons why things are done the way they are, so too does Joshua lead the Hebrews to instruct their children on the importance and purpose of these stacked stones.
The Living Stones
Beyond the physical nature of setting up memorials or places of remembrance, there is something way deeper spiritually to the purpose to what is being talked about and instructed by God through Joshua. Sure, there are three memorial sites where stones are erected for the purpose of remembrance. These sites are important, like a graveside or a memorial flag. But it is not the token or the item that holds the significance is it?
The real story-telling of God’s incredible power and provision for his people is not found through the rocks. It is found through the persons telling the stories of God’s power and provision. When God does something in our lives, we cannot help but tell others of God’s incredible power and provisions. They just cannot keep us quiet or shut us up when the miraculous takes place.
Instead of the rocks being the ones that tell the story, the people themselves become living stones of remembrance. Our testimonies to God’s redemption are the single greatest memorial you and I can have concerning God’s power and provision.
Our testimonies, or as I like to call them, our God stories, tell amazing accounts of God’s work in our lives. The focus is put on God. Just like any good memorial shifts the focus from the site or the token to the person being memorialized, so too do our God stories move the glory from self-focus to God front and center.
Our God stories can serve as a Timehop for God’s goodness, provision, and power. I have to admit that I do like getting notifications from Timehop. Timehop is an app that shows you a “this day in history” from your favorite social media posts of the exact day in years prior. My Timehop yesterday reminded me of a camping trip I took with some youth who have since graduated. It also reminded me of a funny picture of Tiffini and I from three years ago.
Think of your God stories like glimpses into the past where God was at work. That’s exactly the point of the stacked twelve stones in this story from Joshua. Those stones told of God’s provision for seeing the camp through the river on dry ground without getting wet.
When we tell of God’s goodness, it drowns out the noise of bad decisions and sin.
When we tell of God’s provision, it opens up the world’s thoughts to new possibilities and creativity beyond our own limitations.
When we tell of God’s power, it gives us hope for strength and victory from God’s almighty power and strength.
Place the Stone in Remembrance
[grab a rock or stone]
Take the stone each of you were given on the way in today. No, don’t throw it at me. Don’t throw it at a neighbor or the musicians later either.
What does this stone mean to you? What do you need to memorialize today?
I want to challenge you to think about that for just a minute, and we will come back to it.
Many of us carry around rocks in our pockets. These rocks burden us and weigh us down. For some of us, these rocks are the weight of guilt and pain caused by bad decisions and even sin. For others, these are the rocks of shame we have carried because someone else has put something on us like calling us ugly or worthless or being hurt by others. The choice for those of us who have been carrying around rocks is to put these rocks down.
Many of us have been hit by rocks. These are the rocks that injure, bruise, and break. You heard the sticks and stones saying? Well, words really do hurt. These rocks thrown by bullies, family, or strangers can cause serious and permanent damage. The challenge for those of us hurt by rocks is to mend wounds and not give these rocks back to those who hurt us. What this may mean for some is that we should cut ties with those who continue to cause us pain.
For some of us, rocks serve as barriers or stumbling blocks. These are the rocks that get in the way. Low expectations and head-down thinking can cause us not to live up to the potential that God has for us. Many of us many even stack our own rocks to serve as barriers and walls to others. The challenge to those of us with rock barriers or tripping stones is to move the stones out of the way and clear the path.
You still have your rock? What does this rock mean to you now? What does it symbolize to you in this moment?
My challenge to each of us is to take a rock. I want you to put this rock in a place where you will remember it and see it. When you place it, I want you to say out loud to yourself, to others, and to God just what this rock symbolizes. Place a memorial to yourself and put something to rest in your life. Let this be a God moment and a God story for you in your life. Tell your kids when they ask what and why. Be creative and give it to God!
I fully recognize that some might not be ready right now to place a rock in memorial in your life. I challenge you to spend some time with God talking with God about that issue. You may even take some time right here right now.
Taking Up My Cross and Following after Him,
The year 2000 was an eventfully tragic and incredible year at the same time. On April 22, as a part of a high school band trip to Washington, D.C., God got a hold of my life in a very real way. On the bus ride to our nation’s capital, a friend of mine, named Garland, told me that he needed to talk to me about something. I knew what was going on, and I knew what was about to happen. You see, a couple of weeks previous to this conversation, I had come to a place of desperation and hopelessness. I knew something was wrong. I had grown up in the church in one sense, but had also grown very distant from it. We quit going to church on a regular basis some where during my late elementary years. In 2000, I was a freshman in high school at Northside. Something just was not right anymore. I had cried out to God one night and asked God to show Himself to me.
On that trip, Garland met me in my hotel room, and we talked for what seemed like hours. I knew there was an obstacle to me receiving salvation. This obstacle was my girlfriend and relationships. I needed to surrender these to God if I were to find peace. I decided that night to do just that, and to give it all over to God. While I sat weeping in the floor of this hotel room, I felt God’s comfort and hope in the midst of it all.
A couple of days later, on May 2, we received word that my grandfather (my dad’s dad) had passed away from a staph infection caused by complications from a brain aneurysm. We were hurt, but we had seen his deterioration coming. My dad attended to the business of planning the funeral and beginning to get things in order for his dad’s estate.
Two months save one day after my grandfather’s passing, my dad and I decided we were going to go to church the next day. After a long day’s work on a Saturday in which we had gotten my uncle’s El Camino running (my dad was a mechanic), we hugged and said goodnight to each other. It was a great day. I told my dad that I loved him, and I would see him in the morning to get ready for church. As a fifteen year old, I thought nothing of the next day except hope that we were going to go to church together.
The next morning, my mom rushed into my room on the phone at five o’clock or so in the morning. Shocked and startled and still a little groggy, my mom said, “Bobby, wake up, I think your father is dead.” Still not really thinking about what she said or the implications, I jumped up and went with her to their bedroom. I saw my dad lying on the bed, and I was instructed by the 911 operator on the phone to pick him up, put him on the floor, and give CPR until the paramedics arrived. Crying and confused, I did the best I could, but his lips were already blue. My father had passed in the night due to a brain aneurysm.
We were overwhelmed and shocked with our current reality, but my mom and I banded together to take care of my dad’s funeral and burial. I can say with confidence that had it not been for God and my new-found reliance on that hope and peace, I would not have made it through such tragic circumstances. God was and always has been faithful to me. I am blessed to be a son of God and have a heavenly Father who loves and cares for me.
Taking Up My Cross and Following After Him,
Superheroes of Our Lives
Today was Super Hero Sunday at Ringgold United Methodist Church. Today was also Super Bowl Sunday. Regardless of which team you are for, the Panthers or the Broncos, the legacy of Peyton Manning or the confidence of Cam Newton, welcome to Super Hero Sunday.
What is it about Super Heroes that inspires us as kids? Kids, what do you like about Super Heroes? What’s your favorite super power? Adults, what’s your favorite super power? If you could have one power, what would it be?
There is something to this super hero thing. The super heroes of our childhood inspire us to do things. Sometimes, we are inspired to do crazy things; sometimes those things may even get us in trouble or cause us to get hurt. Super heroes capture our imagination and allow us to dream beyond our limitations of size and strength as little kids.
How many of you wanted to be a super hero as a kid?
How many of us still wish we were super heroes even today?
Batman, Spiderman, Superman, Iron Man, Wolverine, Wonder Woman, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, Supergirl Flash, Green Lantern.
Super heroes inspire. They help us imagine. They protect us. They give us strength in so many ways.
As adults, at some point we transition beyond these fantasies. We get too old to imagine. Too mature to be creative. Too puckered to smile even.
Did you know that there are super heroes in the Bible? No really, there are. In fact, the Bible is full of super heroes, men and women, boys and girls, who display superhuman strength, superhuman wisdom, superhuman feats of wonder in the midst of fearful, scary, and difficult situations.
Let’s talk about one such super hero now. His name is Caleb, and his story is found in the Book of Numbers.
Spying into the Unknown
The moment had come for the people of God to make their way into the Promised Land. As preparation for their entry, God told Moses at the beginning of Numbers 13 to send scouts into the land. One scout was chosen from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Their instructions were to go into the hill country and look down into the land to see who was in the land.
For us, it would be like a group of twelve military leaders from a foreign land came to Ringgold to see what we were like. They would hike up the ridge up Clearview Drive and look down into the valley of Ringgold to see who we were like.
For forty days these men spied into the land to bring back a report to Moses. At the end of their forty days they returned. They said it was a land flowing in abundance with milk and honey. They even brought back with them a huge cluster of grapes that was so large they had to tie it to a pole to carry it back. As Moses and the people of Israel listened, you can imagine their excitement. This was the land that God had told them about. This was the land of promise that they were given as a gift from God.
There was just one tiny problem with the land, though. The report of the spies brought back carried with it one piece of information that would change everything. As the people leaned in and listened, the spies reported,
“There are giants in the land. Huge men and women who will surely kill and eat us. We were as small as grasshoppers compared to them. There is no way we can have this land with these people living there. We are doomed” (see Numbers 13:27-29, 31-33).
In the midst and in spite of this report, there was one man who stood out. This man was actually one of the twelve spies who had gone into the land. This man was different because he disagreed with the report of the other eleven spies. He stood up and stood out as someone different who was not afraid in the midst of the sight of the inhabitants of the Promised Land. Caleb’s report to Moses was very different. Caleb said to Moses,
“Hurry. Let’s all go right now and live in the land God has given us. We are able to defeat those that live there. We can live where God has promised” (see Numbers 13:30)
So, what is it about Caleb that makes him different? Why does Caleb stand out as one who would disagree? Why would Caleb defy the report of the other eleven spies sent into the land?
Caleb’s Faithful Stand
What makes Caleb different is that Caleb is a super hero! That’s right, Caleb had super powers. Turn with me to Numbers 14:6-9, and let’s read about Caleb’s super powers.
Numbers 14:6-9 – “Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, members of the scouting party, ripped their clothes and addressed the assembled People of Israel: ‘The land we walked through and scouted out is a very good land—very good indeed. If God is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land that flows, as they say, with milk and honey. And he’ll give it to us. Just don’t rebel against God! And don’t be afraid of those people. Why, we’ll have them for lunch! They have no protection and God is on our side. Don’t be afraid of them!’”
Caleb had the super human power of “boldness.” In fact, that is exactly what Caleb’s name means. Literally, the name Caleb means “whole heart.” Caleb used the super power of boldness when he disagreed with the report of the other spies. Caleb uses his super power of boldness here again as he speaks to the entire gathering of his people.
The original report from the other spies was that those who lived in the land were giants, and that these giants would kill and eat the people of Israel. Caleb turns that report upside down. He says that the people of God are giants because of God’s leadership and strength. He even says that God’s people will have the inhabitants of the land for lunch!
Using the super power of boldness, Caleb encourages the people by saying that God is on their side. With God’s help, they cannot lose. They cannot be defeated if they would just follow God.
Caleb’s faithful stand comes from a place of boldness in his life. Left without this super power, Caleb’s report of the land would have been exactly the same as the report of the other eleven spies – “There’s giants in the land.” Because of his boldness, Caleb is able to stand strong in the midst of fear. Because of boldness, Caleb is able to remain faithful to God. Because of boldness, Caleb encourages the people of God to be bold as well.
You have the power to “be bold” as well.
Fear Less Reality
Caleb really did have the super power of boldness. Without this power, he would have been just afraid. But, where did this power come from for Caleb? The power was not a result of Caleb being from another planet, like Super Man. Boldness was not a result of a science experiment gone wrong like The Hulk. Caleb’s boldness did not even come from a nuclear reactor in his chest like Iron Man.
Caleb’s super human power comes from a place outside of Caleb. He did not have the strength or boldness in and of himself to stand strong in the midst of giants. Caleb’s super power was a gift from a powerful source. This gift of extraordinary boldness comes from God. Even through Caleb’s name, God prepared Caleb to be bold and courageous. In fact, it is the Holy Spirit that brings courage, as Paul says, “God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). There it is right there.
When we tell someone to be courageous, what we really are saying, and what we should say specifically, is that they should tap into God’s courage and boldness in their midst of their fearful situation. Live into this bold power brought by the Holy Spirit.
I’m scared of talking in front of groups to be honest. If it weren’t for God’s courage and boldness in me, there is no way I’d be talking to you all right now. I have nothing to offer in and of myself. Through God’s Spirit, I have strength and courage to speak with you.
Having a reality without fear is almost not possible at all. If you are here today, and are afraid, welcome to the human race. We are fearful creatures indeed. The reality of sin makes us that way. Because of sin, we are very well aware of our weaknesses and lack of super powers. Sin is our kryptonite, and the devil is our arch nemesis.
Boldness comes from faith in God. God gave us the super power from the Holy Spirit. This spirit power brings boldness! Boldness, brought about through faith, allows us to stand strong even when fearful situations arise.
Boldness says in the face of fear, “I may be afraid, but God is stronger and greater than anything I am going through right now.” Boldness makes us stand up in spite of fear to fear less. Boldness does not make us fearless as much as it makes us fear less. Stand strong in the midst of fear to fear less. God gives each of us this super power to fear less. Let’s put on our capes of boldness and stand strong together in spite of the difficult situations we each face today.
Let’s BE BOLD together!
Líderes – leaders. Hay líderes en tu vida – there are leaders in your live.
Today, our final day, was a day of leadership. Our day began with something that we did not know we were going to do this time next week. We were not sure what we were going to do in Grenada. We were not sure exactly if there was anything we could do, but we knew we were going to do something. We also knew as a fact that God had something for us to do. Our leader, el gran jefe, Lamar, knew that there was something for us to do in Grenada.
Little did we know what God was going to do in and through us in Grenada. We ended up leading a pastor’s conference for around 130 persons, both pastors and other leaders in the church. This conference was about leadership. Lamar spoke about goal setting and relationship building. Pastor Oscar Barcenas spoke about building and growing a church. Cathy spoke about small group and women’s ministry. I spoke about youth ministry. And Smith spoke about missions and outreach. God had prepared these leaders to come to a conference where they could be encouraged and brought back to their churches with tools necessary to expand the kingdom of God in their community. And God did show up! I had the honor of playing and leading worship in English and Spanish with Nicaraguan musicians. I am so blessed and honored to be able to work with them for God’s glory.
Tonight’s devotion ended with Isaiah 6:8. God said, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah responded, “I will go, Lord.” Even though our trip has concluded, God still is sending us just as He is sending each person who would call on His name.
Taking Up My Cross and Following After Him,
Viajar – travel. El dia de viajar – The travel day.
Today was the day we had to travel between Leon and Granada. We stopped at several important places along the way that really put things into perspective.
In the morning, we went to Tomas Borge, a location on the outskirts of Leon. I was not prepared for what we encountered in this place. There are locations in the world, both in the United States and abroad, that people make choices whether of their own or because of their circumstance to live in less than livable situations. Tomas Borge used to be used as the city dump for Leon. It is now a home for several hundred people, including around two hundred children. When Jeremy Barcenas, a local employee of Nicamerican Missions, asked the people of this place what it is that they wanted and needed, they responded, “Our children need a school. They are scared to walk down the road into the city to school. We are worried that without an education, these children will be forced to live in the same conditions in which we are now forced to live. People help our children.” There are a couple of properties that may be available for purchase in the area that could work as a school and possibly as a church for the people. We prayed over the site and asked God to manifest in the physical what was already present in the spiritual for these children who need his love and grace.
We also made stops at a church building in progress in La Paz Centro. We spoke with and listened to Pastor Domingo who told us about his church as he was working to complete it. The people were told that there would never be a church in this location, but by God’s grace and the financial support of others this church is going to be finished soon. Our prayer here is that this church would be a lighthouse and a place of refuge for many Nicaraguans who need the love and grace of God.
Our journey continued as we traveled by Momotombo, a volcano that is currently active. This volcano and several others recently erupted within the past month or two. The site was beautiful but it was also a reminder of the serious danger of these places.
Our final traveling location was to a church on the border of Granada. This church will be the location of our pastor’s conference on Friday. Close to one hundred pastors and leaders from the area will join with us as we search God’s Will for their support and encouragement.
Our trip is nearing an end, but we are eagerly preparing for next year’s conference.
Taking Up My Cross and Following After Him,
Alabanza – praise. Alabanza Dios! – Praise God!
Today was a day of praise in Nicaragua. For the youth conference, not only was today the final day, but today was a day of salvation for many. We had a total of 22 students receive salvation today! We praised God and thanked God so much for the young men and young women who “changed their status” not only before their friends but also before God. Keeping with the Facebook: Official theme, students were given the opportunity to take a step along the path of Jesus and change their status to a son or daughter of God. 22 students–wow! If I came for nothing else it was to spread the Gospel and play a role in encouraging these students to follow God. It was emotional for us because we were finished with the conference. Our translators, Oscar, Miguel, and Freddy, were amazing men of God who are using their gifts for God’s glory.
Our leaders who were at the teacher’s conference also had an incredible day of praise. They were so exhausted and spent by the end of the day, but every single one of them were encouraged and blessed by their experiences. One member of our group, Nozi, reflected, “It is incredible to be a part of something bigger–just to know that you are a part of something that may help change the educational system for the better.” I know for sure that 600 Nicaraguan teachers are now equipped with more resources and support to lead their classroom and students in changing the world for the better.
We are moving forward with our plans for the pastor’s conference on Friday. Around 100 pastors and leaders from local churches will be traveling to Granada, Nicaragua for a conference in which we hope to offer encouragement, support, and love to them. We will speak on topics like relationships, women’s ministries, missions, and youth ministry. Pastor Oscar Barcenas, the pastor of the church we attended Sunday night, is also going to be there to speak about church growth and leadership. Join with us in prayer that these pastors would be encouraged and loved through our efforts. Pray that God would give us the words to speak and love to share.
I cannot believe that we only have two more days in Nicaragua before we return home. It has been an exciting trip so far. God is so good!
Taking up my cross and following after Him,
Listo – ready. Estas listo? Are you ready?
Today was the day so many of us had been praying for and working on for quite some time. It truly was a day that we were ready for, but in so many ways there were surprises and incredible things that happened today.
For the teacher’s conference, nine of our group worked with nine other Nicaraguan professors to teach and lead a conference for almost 600 teachers. This partnership was amazing to see and witness as people from different countries and cultures shared the experiences of human life together. Even though we are separated by quite a long distance, we are so similar. For the teachers who attended as well, today was a day they were ready for as well. Many came so eager and prepared to learn and be encouraged. Their was a group of teachers today who got up at 4:00a in order to be at the teacher’s conference on time.
For the youth conference, three of our group worked with fifteen Nicaraguan leaders and translators to lead a conference for 80 students. Our group of three was ready, but in so many ways we were amazed as well. There were a group of students in our group who traveled two hours to get to the conference. Teenagers on their own accord chose to get up, get ready, and travel on their vacation to attend a conference for youth in the city. What an incredible example of a willingness to receive and lead their own peers. Today for us was a day of fun, smiles, and excitement. It was just so encouraging to get to enjoy some time with young men and young women in the community.
At the conclusion of the day, we went to the beach and watched the sunset. We are ready to receive God’s goodness and love. Wow! How beautiful!
We met to prepare and get ready for the pastor’s conference on Friday as well. Four of our team and Pastor Barcenas will speak to around 100 pastors. Our hope is to love on them and encourage them to continue to fight the good fight of faith in their communities. It is for this pastor’s conference on Friday that I ask you continued prayers.
Taking up My Cross and Following After Him,
Trabajo en Equipo – work on a team. Teamwork in English.
Today was a day of teamwork in so many ways. Although we went in a total of four different directions, we worked together both within our smaller teams and we worked together towards the benefit of the group as a whole as well. Two sets of our teachers went to two city schools in the area. One group taught eleven teachers and the other taught fifty-five.
The group that I led, which included Mike and Emma, prepared for the youth conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. My team worked together in a way that was incredible and powerful. I am so grateful for these two Americans and the seven Nicaraguans who joined us to make preparations for the conference. We hope to receive around 160 students in the morning.
One of the highest levels of teamwork can be found through the translators who are assigned to us. The three translators I interacted with the most were Oscar, Freddy, and Miguel. These three were amazing and so helpful.
I am including a prayer list for tonight as you think about our day on Tuesday. Please pray for:
- The 600 Nicaraguan teachers. Many who will get up around 3:00-4:00a to begin making their way to the conference.
- The 160 Nicaraguan students. These teenagers desperately need the love, hope, and peace brought only by Jesus.
- The pastor’s conference. We are hosting a pastor’s conference in Granada for 100 pastors in the area.
Taking Up My Cross and Following After Him,