Thursday, April 18, 2019

Seeing Jesus for the Very First Time, Again

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr. Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”
-The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis

When we were missionaries in Swaziland, we actually lived a few hours away from Kruger National Park and Game Reserve. We really wanted to see the big cats. I had seen them before, but never in the wild. My mind raced through what we could see: leopard, cheetah, and the biggest of all, the lion. What if we could see a big male with the huge black mane?
By dawn, we were already traveling up the dirt roads on a camera safari looking for the big cats. First, we saw giraffe, zebra, kudu, bontebuck, and lots and lots of impala….but, not cats, not even a house cat. The next day, we started all over. At dawn, we drove up the road and saw our first cat, a young male lion walking beside us on the road. Only the thickness door of the VW station wagon we were driving separated us. He was our big cat. He was magnificent. He walked beside us as we snapped pictures for well over a minute then took a hard turn and disappeared into the brush. We could go home happy.
Since that began our day, we chose to stay in the wild looking for whatever else we could find. Maybe an African wild dog or a leopard, or some elephants, rhino, sable, or eland would be out there. We had lots of work to do for our African Photo Safari. By the time it was late morning, we saw cars stopped on the side of the road. We got as close as we could, stopped, and pulled out the cameras and binoculars. There it was, an alpha male with black mane and his pride surrounding a kill. A hippo kill! We were only a few yards away as we watched this master of the African plain guard his kill from all other predators. I had seen a lion before, but nothing like this. When threatened by people getting out of their cats, he charged (right into my binoculars…roll up the window, I screamed!! Satisfied that no one nor anything else needed to be put in its place, he returned to his hippo kill, grabbed the creature with his jaws, picked it up, and moved it with a power that had never experienced before. Yes, I had seen a circus lion and a zoo lion, but nothing like this. It was like seeing a lion for the very first time.
We have here the account of John going through much the same thing, but with much, much more awe as he sees Jesus for the first time, again.

Think about this...
John walked with Jesus for 3 years. There is wide belief that the John writing this book is John the Apostle. John, the one whom Jesus loved, the youngest of the apostles. This man was one of the best friends Jesus had while on earth. In order for us to understand that from a relationship viewpoint, John was the man to whom Jesus entrusted with His mother, Mary. He also asked Mary to take care of His friend as well. You did well for me, now do the same for John.

This was the John who knew Jesus better than anyone alive at this point in church history, and yet we discover that the Jesus John thought of was quite different than the Jesus that revealed Himself in Revelation 1. He looked to Jesus, but this time in a whole new way for him. His view of Jesus was incomplete. Although John saw Jesus as the Messiah on earth, He was so much more. His glory had been cloaked while He was on earth. And even though John was one of the few who saw Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, this Jesus was not only the glorified Christ, but the reigning Christ.
Maybe you are here this morning and your view of Jesus has been small and incomplete. We are often taken by all that Jesus did for us. And it is a lot. But this is not all Jesus is to us. I want you to look to Jesus and see Him not only for who He was; not only for what He did, but also for who He is. Jesus is Savior. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the reigning King.

1. Look to Jesus for the Promise of Blessings (Rev. 1:1-3)

This is a direct revelation from God given to John to let us know what God is doing. John was the one whom He spoke through who had been banished to the Isle of Patmos off the coast of modern-day Turkey, then known as Asia Minor. It was His testimony concerning Jesus Christ that we are told caused him to be physically tortured. Tertullian (early church historian from the second century AD insisted he was). He was soon afterward dispatched to the Isle of Patmos because of his influence with the church that had by now become trouble for the Roman government.
This was written to the churches in Asia Minor (see v. 11). Persecution was a daily reality for the church. John added that it would be worth their while to read this message from Jesus. He told them, “The one who reads this is blessed, and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it are blessed” (v. 3). Seemingly there is a double blessing for anyone if they will but hear and read the message found in this revelation from Jesus that He trusted John with. Certainly, that same blessing extends to each of us today.

7 blessings statements found in Revelation

1. The Blessing for Reading and Hearing this Book (Rev. 1:3)
2. The Blessing for dying in the Lord faithfully (Rev. 14:13)
3. The Blessing for remaining alert (Rev. 16:15)
4. The Blessing for an Invitation at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9)
5. The Blessing for the First Resurrection (Rev. 20:6)
6. The Blessing for the Keeping the Prophetic Words (Rev. 22:7)
7. The Blessing for Washing your Robes (Rev. 22:14)

All of these blessings are given by the One who is worthy to bestow them because He is the One who suffered and died to make our ultimate blessing found in eternal life through trust in Him. Then that same blessing is recorded and sent out to the churches by one who also suffered deeply for the testimony he gave before the Roman government concerning Jesus. The promise of blessing through those who suffered as the Gospel (Jesus) and for the sake of the Gospel (John).
You see, the promises of God are yes and amen. They are yours unless God in His sovereignty chooses to say, "No."

2. Look to Jesus for Victory over Struggles (Revelation 1:4-8)
Representing the local churches, John wrote to the 7 churches in Asia Minor. Under Domitian here are the kinds of persecution they all faced daily in the Roman empire under the reign of the mad man.
St. John, who was boiled in oil, and afterward banished to Patmos. Law was made, "That no Christian, once brought before the tribunal, should be exempted from punishment without renouncing his religion."
Pagans blamed the Christians for famine, pestilence, or earthquakes afflicted any of the Roman provinces.
Christians were brought before the magistrates, a test oath was proposed, when, if they refused to take it, death was pronounced against them; and if they confessed themselves Christians, the sentence was the same.
Dionysius, the Areopagite, was an Athenian by birth, and educated in all the useful and ornamental literature of Greece. Appointed bishop of Athens.
Nicodemus (of John 3:16 fame) was executed.
Timothy was the celebrated disciple of St. Paul, and bishop of Ephesus, where he zealously governed the Church until A.D. 97. At this period, as the pagans were about to celebrate a feast (called Catagogion), Timothy, meeting the procession, severely reproved them for their ridiculous idolatry, which so exasperated the people that they fell upon him with their clubs, and beat him in so dreadful a manner that he expired of the bruises two days later.          --Quoted from Foxes Book of Martyrs
In What Kind of Struggles Does Christ Bring Victory?
  • Struggles with difficult people – from government persecution to those who would take matters into their own hands, people are hard to get along with
  • Struggles with wrong belief – the Nicolaitans, Jezebel, the error of Balaam (compromise of lifestyle and beliefs)
  • Struggles with challenging circumstances – uncontrolled challenges, self-made problems, difficulties brought on by acts of nature, poverty and loss brought on by a bad economy
Yet, in all these things we are made more than conquerors who loved us! (Romans 8:37)

3. Look to Jesus for Concern for His Church (Revelation 1:9-18)

Jesus is now ascended. He sees His churches and He has great concern for them. Many of you heard Pastor Tommy teach us on the churches of Revelation all mentioned here in v. 11. Each one of these churches has its own struggles. Most from within, and two from without. No matter what the issues that they faced, Jesus saw each church and knew that each needed His help. That help would come as correction, reproof, and instruction.
The good news is threefold:


These words came directly from their loving caring shepherd who was among them (v. 13) and wanted more than anything to change this world through them. We can only think that they heard and we are here today because they heard the words or correction or encouragement. Because representing every church through the ages, they were called to change the world.

Here is where John experiences the ascended Jesus for the very first time. Note the similarities to Daniel 7:9-10:
9 “As I kept watching, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat. His clothing was white like snow, and the hair of His head like whitest wool. His throne was flaming fire; its wheels were blazing fire. 10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from His presence. Thousands upon thousands served Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was convened, and the books were opened.
This is the Jesus we serve. The one who is an incredible, glorious, majestic and in control of all things.
Let's break down verse 16 so we can look at the perspective of God
(v. 16a) The stars are the leaders (angels as in messengers) of these churches that the messages of Revelation 2 & 3 are addressed. The spiritual significance is that the angels are messengers who are responsible for the spiritual welfare of these seven churches and at in the right hand of the Son of Man, indicating possession, protection, and sovereign control.

(v. 16b) When someone comes against the church, there will be consequences.
This verse continues with the image of a sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth. Rather than being a symbol of the Word of God (different word than what Hebrews 4:12 uses. This sword was typically used by the Roman legions for one purpose, devastating judgment upon those who would harm His people. Rather than a threat, this was a promise to His people of ultimate and complete victory at the hands of our omnipotent and sovereign Savior.God can take care of His own. God can take care of you. God reminded us in Romans 12:19,
“Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord.”
This then is the Jesus that John sees for the first time again… he is so overwhelmed in awe of the ancient of days that he falls at Jesus’ feet as DEAD (v. 17a)
So, the next time you and I are wallowing in pity and having a big pity party, You can rest assured that the meek and mild Jesus is now the One to whom every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess. Yes, our Lord Jesus will take care of it all. You can rely on that. He will win with overwhelming force.
Take note, this is not Karma, this is judgment. Revelation has a singular purpose, the rule and reign of our risen Savior, Jesus Christ over all that was, is, and is to come.

Listen to these beautiful words to John, the beloved apostle:
He laid His right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I was dead, but look—I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades. Revelation 1:17b-18 (HCSB)
Jesus was dead. Why? He died to take our judgment. He took our place. He paid our time. He was our substitute.
Think about this, that judgment that will come is real. Judgment is not symbolic or allegorical. The proof is the cross. Jesus is the lamb who was slain. He is the One who took our judgment that kind of judgment, on Himself. Maybe now you can begin to understand why the death of Christ was so horrible. Because our sin was. The only answer to sin is judgment. It is for my judgment that Jesus took my place on the Cross. It is from that Cross that he cried out It is finished, the price has been paid! He tells you today that He took your place as your Savior. You needn’t see His judgment, today, you can experience His grace, His care, His concern, and His love for you. Jesus didn’t stay dead but rose three days later and He and he alone holds the keys to death and Hades.
Because He lives, you too can live, forever. He made a way for you!

Monday, April 1, 2019

One Supreme Pursuit - Colossians

Colossians is one of the prison letters. That means that it was written to the church in Colossae. This church was near the Asia Minor churches (modern day Turkey) that all had letters written to them in Revelation 2 & 3. Possibly the issues that they faced as Paul wrote nearly 40 years before the book of Revelation was penned had been dealt with. That is important to consider because the issues that were occurring in Colossae were serious. Paul wrote this letter to correct doctrinal problems that dealt with the deity of Christ, the worship of angels, and harsh human regulations. It seems as if there was a serious problem with combining of other religions with the purity of what Christ taught and therefore needed to be addressed for the sake of the purity of the church. There were false teachers in the church who were leading the people of God away. This letter was critical to the people of God in Colossae that they might “remain grounded and steadfast in the faith and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (Colossians 1:23).
For that to happen, there are issues that must be absolutely clear to those who are waling with Christ.

1. Christ Has Influenced the World through the Prayers of His Church (Colossians 1:3-12)
From the beginning of the letter, there was an understanding of these “faithful brothers” (v. 2). Their faithful living was strong enough that thanksgiving day was everyday when it was said that “We always thank God…when we pray for you” (v. 3). And there was a reason for that, “Your faith in Christ Jesus and the love you have for all the saints” (v. 4). That certainly was reason enough for thanksgiving when praying for them. They had also heard the truth of Gospel as it was “bearing fruit and growing all over the world” (v. 6). This was the same Gospel they had heard and believed. Their current pastor, Epaphras, had started their church and was faithful to that clear and simple message (v. 7).
Then as a demonstration of how Paul spoke to the Lord on their account, he broke out in prayer (v. 9). This was not like our typical prayers we often call out for God to answer, it was about: (1) knowing God’s will (v. 9b), (2) walk worthy of the Lord, (3) bear fruit (4) grow in the knowledge of God, (5) strengthened with power, and (6) endurance and patience with joy (vv. 10-11).  Note to self: there was not one single ingrown toenail prayed for. There was not one single sick friend of a friend. There was not one homework assignment nor any invoking of God’s wrath on that person that tried to run another chariot off the road. Every one of the requests had to do with spiritual growth, strength, and testimony. It’s not that we can’t pray for those things, but why do we all spend the majority of our time praying for those things that will soon be gone. As Jesus warned us about building our lives on those things which are “here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow” (Matthew 6:30). Lord, keep our hearts and minds and prayers on the eternal. That’s how our influence on the world will be experienced in full measure.

2. Christ Has No Rivals in in His Divine Supremacy (Colossians 1:13-29)
Paul now moved to the only way to think of Christ. He is the One who in every way is superior to everything else. That is why He has “enabled us to share in the saints inheritance” (v. 12) and has “transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves” (v. 13). Because Jesus is the superior One who gives us a superior life. Without His superiority, we have no opportunity to receive all that Paul just prayed about. How can that kind of prayer be answered by a second-rate Savior?
We are told that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation (v. 15). The actual understanding is this, Jesus is the exact and visible representation of God. To be first born does not mean that He was created, but lets us begin to understand that He ranks over all creation as the supreme authority. That leads Paul to say why that is, Jesus was the One who created it all. Another reason that He could not have been created, He was the Creator Himself (v. 16a). He is the One who has always been and will always be. But not only is Jesus the Creator of the physical, but that which is invisible. It is through Him that all authority emanates as the Creator of all thrones, dominions, and rulers (v. 16b). He literally holds all the universe together by the act of His will (v. 17). Surely, we can trust our Lord Jesus to be the Head of the church. Certainly, we can also trust Him to be the head of our beloved Northwood Baptist Church. He rose from the dead, so He earned the right through His very death and resurrection to “have first place in everything” (v. 18). For that reason, it brought God the Father the greatest pleasure to “have all His fullness dwell in Him (Jesus)” (v. 19). That also meant that through Jesus all things could now be reconciled. Oh, the power of the Cross that made peace for us all though His blood in every single part of creation (v. 20). That act alone of the supreme One who created it all and rules it all made it so we can not only be reconciled, but that we all may live righteous and holy, “faultless and blameless before Him” (v. 22). That truly is the heart of the Gospel which must be guarded by the church in such a way that she will never be “shifted away form the hope of the Gospel” (v. 23).
As a servant of Christ and His Gospel, Paul had one driving force, “to make God’s message fully known” (v. 25). That message is to be completed in each of us as this same Christ, now lives in us. He Is our guarantee of our hope of glory (v. 27). So, as a part of His church, we strive with all our strength to present every believer “mature” in Him with all of His power working is us.
For each of us, Christ Jesus reigns supreme so that we might offer Him supreme reign in our lives. The Creator of all wants to create in us maturity and holiness. The Ruler of all wants the rule of our hearts offered to Him freely and without reservation. He calls each of us to that relationship.

3. Christ Has Supremacy over our Very Hearts (Colossians 3:1-17)
Chapter 3 shifts the Colossians letter from the doctrinal to the practical. The thoughts of the believer are not to be based on the earth and its philosophies, but on that which is “above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God” (v. 1). This is how we focus on true Christian living and not some trumped up religious activity that are dependent on earthly philosophies. For the believer, earthly focus is wasted focus. As believers, we are put to death that which has been and always be both unholy and immoral. Things like sexual immorality, impunity, lust, and greed to name a few (v. 5). These are the types of activities and passions that belong to the worldly nature. This is how we lived before Christ lived in us (v. 7). Just a reminder as to what life was like, we are also exhorted to put off sins that pour out from an unchanged heart including anger, malice, and filthy language. These attitudes reveal themselves from our what we think about. Sin revealed will shout at us who we really are. Jesus taught us that “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Our mouths are an accurate barometer of our hearts. When our knowledge is renewed, so is our heart language that is demonstrated by what we say (vv. 8-10).
Once we have put off sin, in order to continue allowing Christ to reign supreme in our lives, we need to also put on righteous living. This description of our holy clothing is simply beautiful: compassion, kindness, humility, acceptance, forgiveness (vv. 12-14). That is what control of our hearts is like. When our Messiah, Jesus, rules our hearts as our supreme authority, there is a richness about that kind of abiding relationship that changes us form the inside out (vv. 15-16). No longer are we driven to gripe, instead, we worship. No longer do we use filthy words, instead, we speak words of wisdom. No longer do we get angry with people who annoy us. Instead, we sing songs that demonstrate the Spirit of God that abides in us. A heart that is ruled by Christ is a heart that beats with gratitude. That then becomes our reason for existence. Jesus becomes our reason for all that we do. He becomes our very own supreme pursuit which permeates every part of our life.
--Trey Rhodes

Monday, February 25, 2019

Attend Church Every Week?

Church Every Week - No Excuses

I just read an article from a church growth specialist that we should expect the people of the church to be in church every week.  Personally, I never realized that church attendance was somehow optional. The moment I asked Jesus Christ into my life at the age of 14, I implored my mom and dad to take me to church. Mind you, I was not an avid "church goer". Truth be told, I went to church less than 100 times up to my teenage years. But, when Christ changed my life, I wanted to be in His church with His people. I started attending church because I had seen a billboard advertising a church that was 20 miles away and took nearly 45 minutes to get to, so I didn't know anyone there. My mom and dad brought me to church, and I begged them to stay. They did. And we never missed going to our church again for nearly 5 years. Yep, you're reading that right. We were perfect attenders. Almost everyone we knew did the same thing. We actually went on vacation and returned before Sunday morning so we could participate in church that Sunday. Oh yeah, did I tell you we loved it? Because we did. This was no cult. This was a Southern Baptist Church in the city. People were coming in droves. Lives were being changed. The gospel was being preached. We didn't dare miss. We didn't want to miss a thing. God was at work in our church and in our lives and we couldn't stand missing a single Sunday.
I know, I know. I do read the Bible, and it tells us that we can miss when the biblical "ox is in the ditch" (read about that poor old ox here in Luke 14:5). Problem is that we have extrapolated from these 5 words way more meaning than anything Jesus ever intended. First, this was about helping someone who has been injured, sick, or an invalid and cannot help themselves. Second, this is something that can occasionally happen but is the exception and not the rule. All I'm saying is that if you are constantly getting an ox out of a ditch, you have either too many oxen or too many excuses. Other than that one exception, I cannot find another single verse that we can use to give us permission to miss church 
Why do you miss? Are we really as feeble as we let on being? Or does the lake, the ocean, the hunting stand, the flea market, the road trip, or our own lackadaisical attitude take precedence?
In light of that, I wanted to pass on to you this article I read about the 4 reasons we should make a "HUGE" commitment to being in church when the doors are open:

"People are clearly busier than ever, and that does not help the situation. Others have been hurt or disillusioned by churches or “religious” people, so they use that as a “reason” for why they do not attend church often. However, most people just seem to be looking for something better to do on Sunday mornings than go to a church to worship and learn about God and His ways. Golfing, sleeping, sports, and many other things turn out to be that “better option” for them than church.
I would like to suggest to you four reasons why church is a big deal – a REALLY big deal!  Let me give you some reasons why you should plan to be in church every single possible moment you can.
Why You Should Make a Huge Commitment to Being in Church Whenever the Doors Are Open . . .
1) The local church is a central part of God’s strategic plan for your spiritual growth.
I have often heard the statement, “Well, I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” On a slight technicality, that may be true, but it is certainly far-removed from God’s true plan.
Jesus said, “On this rock [Peter’s statement that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God] I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not be able to stand against it” (Matthew 16:18). You see, the church is Jesus’ idea, not man’s idea. It seems like we should pay attention to His plan since it came directly from Him.
When a person says they don’t need the church, that is a departure from God’s plan. I would advise against that.
2) You are basically a composite of the five people with whom you spend the most time.
When I was a youth pastor, I could easily see how friends could influence young people for either good or for bad. Now that I am a pastor to “big people,” I can see that tendency is true for them as well! Even adults are influenced by their friends and the people with whom they spend time.
I have come to believe that we are basically a composite of the five people with whom we spend the most time. It is important, therefore, that we choose those people well. That is why it is so valuable for us to be in church every time the doors are open. We need to expose ourselves as much as possible to other followers of Christ who will draw us nearer to God.
Paul said it like this: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13 NIV)  We need the support of other believers if we are truly going to grow in Christ.
3) You need the voice of the church to counteract all of the deception that is crammed into your mind all throughout the week.
Paul warns believers in Colossians 2:8, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”  (NKJV)
The word for “cheat” in this passage refers to kidnapping another person. We need to be careful that we are not “kidnapped” by false ideologies, by wrong thinking.
The term “traditions” refers to teachings. Do you realize how many ungodly teachers are speaking into your life every week? Internet. News media. Hollywood. Music. Co-workers. Friends and family. The list seems never ending. With so many messages streaming into your life every week that can “kidnap” you and take you away from God, it is extremely critical that you spend as much time in church as possible to fill your mind with godly wisdom and discernment. Soak in all you can whenever you can!
4)  Weekly ministry in a local church helps to build up your spiritual muscles.
In Ephesians 4, Paul says that we all are gifted in different ways. When we use our own particular gifts to serve within a church, it is a like a body with many body parts that all work together for a common goal.
As Paul discusses serving in this chapter, I find it interesting that he threw in the comment in Ephesians 4:14 in which he says, “... that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting….” In other words, when we use our spiritual gifts by serving within the local church community, we somehow become better-grounded theologically.  It will be more difficult for us to be deceived into thinking things that are not true according to God’s Word. Isn’t that amazing? Serving makes us more theologically astute. I’m not exactly sure how that works, but I do know that I have observed it to be true in my own life as well as in the lives of so many I have watched to grow in their journey with the Lord.
Commitment ain’t what it used to be. But I hope for you, you will go all out in your commitment to Christ and His church.
Begin this week!
Chris Russell, Pastor Veritas Church (More from Pastor Russell here:

See you in church on Sunday! No excuses.
Blessings and prayers,
Trey Rhodes 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

God’s Plan for Your Life

Jeremiah 1:1 - 2:12
100 Days Through the Bible

Today we begin reading the prophet Jeremiah. There is more known about Jeremiah than any other prophet. His prophetic book is arguably the longest in the Bible. His life was the most hated. His words were all but completely ignored or rejected by the people of Judah, although one king appreciated his words, Josiah. However, his words would fall on deaf ears as the people were beyond the spiritual help they desperately needed. His words were not well received for one other reason: he called for complete surrender to Babylon who would eventually destroy Jerusalem. Not only did his words call for spiritual repentance, they also would have been considered treacherous. He was hated for spiritual reasons as well as political reasons. This is the life of Jeremiah, a priest & prophet who was called of God to speak God’s word to an ungodly, rebellious generation.

1. God’s Has a Plan for Your Life (Jeremiah 1:1-10)
We are introduced in relative detail to Jeremiah. From the priestly line, from the area of Benjamin, called in the time of the godly king, Josiah, and finished his ministry after the overthrow of Zedekiah’s reign when Babylon was victorious over the southern kingdom of Judah. It was then that the people of Judah were sent into Babylonian exile.
God’s call to Jeremiah was made known to him in vv. 4 & 5. Jeremiah found out about how God worked outside of time to accomplish His will. “I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). Jeremiah’s calls began before His conception. That’s God. He is a forward thinking, superintending God who knows not only what He wants to do, but also whom He will use to accomplish His will.
Some use this verse to prove that God has been with us since birth, but it is even more profound. God’s decreed will begins before human life was given by Him at conception. God’s choice for a life is planned before you or I were in existence at any stage of pregnancy. Actually, even with all the birth control and medical fertilization available to us today, God has made a plan your life before you were conceived! God intended for you to be who you are, born in your family, and has a plan for your life. Never forget that. Your life is important to the Lord and His work on this earth. We tend to be like Jeremiah who protested God’s call on his life. These words sound familiar to anyone God has called, “But I protested, ‘Oh no, Lord, GOD! Look, I don’t know how to speak since I am only a youth’” (v. 6). God has no patience for that kind of thinking. The Lord replied, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth,’ for you will go to everyone I send you to and speak whatever I tell you” (v. 7). When God calls, we say yes. But the Lord doesn’t stop there, He also gives you whatever you need to accomplish His will, “the LORD reached out His hand, touched my mouth, and told me: I have now filled your mouth with My words” (v. 9). When our Lord calls, He provides whatever we need to fulfill His will. His plan will not be stopped, “I know that You can do anything and no plan of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

2. God Has a Message for You to Share (Jeremiah 1:11-19)
And so, God fills Jeremiah’s mouth with words. But, the words God gave to him are not comforting words: “Disaster will be poured out from the north on all who live in the land” (v. 14). Think for a moment what kind of message he could have been given. For instance, it could have been about restoration and wonders like Isaiah 61:1-3 detailed:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the LORD to glorify Him.”
But that was not to be the message of Jeremiah. He was called of God to proclaim that judgment was imminent and the people of God should give up.
In the same way, we don’t get to choose what God wants us to say. We are called to share God’s message as well. It is also a message of judgment. But the judgment of God fell on His only begotten son, Jesus Christ. We are called to share with those we know and love that we too are deserving of judgment because we sinned, but God took that judgment upon Himself on the Cross. And we must ask, what will you do with Jesus? I like to talk about how wonderful God’s love is. I like to share all the good things He does for me. I like to let them know that there is a wonderful Heaven that we can go to if we will but trust Him. But if there is a Heaven to gain, there is a hell to avoid. If there is a loving God, He must also be just. If life can be good, it can also be hard. Once again, Job asked, “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” (Job 2:10). When we speak, we speak the whole message of God. Not only do we share how much God loves, but also the consequences of sin. That is what makes the Gospel so powerful: we messed up; God took our judgment; but only to those who believe. That is why we share that message, to get people in touch with their evil so they may experience God’s forgiveness if they repent and believe.

3. God Has a Way He Wants You to Live (Jeremiah 2:1-12)
God’s specific message began with a longing for who Israel was when they first followed Him, “I remember…” (v. 2). God declared that Israel was, “the firstfruits of His (the LORD’s) harvest” (v. 3). Then the Lord asked the question, “This is what the LORD says: What fault did your fathers find in Me that they went so far from Me, followed worthless idols, and became worthless themselves?” (v. 5). God had remained faithful, but the people were spiritual adulterers as they worshiped worthless idols. You see, they became what they worshiped. The worship of worthless idols directly affected the outcome of their lives. God had such great plans for them, but their lives became worthless.
God calls those who follow Him to worship Him as well. Jesus told the woman at the well that, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). It has been said that worship is not something we do on Sundays, but how we live daily. It is our everyday lives that demonstrate to a watching world what we really worship. We want them to see Jesus in us. Every. Single. Day.
                                                                  -Trey Rhodes

Monday, February 11, 2019

Cover Up - 1 Samuel 11 & 12, Psalm 51

These two chapters in the Bible are some of the most sobering in all of Scripture. Once we read these, we recognize that there is no one who is beyond a hard, deep, and lasting spiritual fall. That is not an exaggeration. Think of whom David was: an anointed man of God, a prophet, a wise sage, a worship leader, a spiritual leader to royalty, an obedient son, a fearless warrior, a gentle shepherd, but most of all, a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14, Acts 13:22). Yet, we have this heart-breaking story of what can happen when any one of us chooses to go our own way and delight ourselves in momentary pleasure. The Bible deals with David without apology as he becomes a warning to all who come after him that no one is given a “mulligan” in life. We must choose to be engaged every moment of every day, lest we too fall. And shockingly enough, it was the cover up that made bad sin worse.
Let’s look at why we must all be on guard, and what to do when we fail.
1. Be Aware of Choosing the Easy Life (2 Samuel 11:1-2a)
David has now gotten to the point in his life when he could leave the work (that is, the battles) to others. Joab was his greatest general and when the time came to go to battle with the enemies of the Lord’s people, the Ammonites, he would let the soldiers take care of what they do best, military campaigns that would result in victory after victory (v. 1). Although it wasn’t unusual for kings to stay at home during battles, we have to wonder what it was that kept David at home. After all, he had been a warrior since his defeat of Goliath on that mountainside near Gath as a young man. Maybe he was tired. Maybe he had to deal with some things at home. Maybe he had some kingly duties to attend to. But for reasons we do not know, he stayed home. What a contrast! This man who was resting at home, waking up in the late afternoon, taking evening strolls on his roof had become soft. Didn’t we read earlier in his life, “David left his supplies…and ran to the battle line”? (1 Samuel 17:22). Now we find him languishing and taking it easy at home. It is a stark reminder to us all what the prophet Amos warns of, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1). Isaac Watts asked a similar question in his hymn, Am I a Soldier of the Cross? with these haunting words:

On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?”
“Must I be carried to the skies
There is no moment in the Christian life when we should somehow think, I’ll just settle down, lay at ease in Zion, and let someone else do the work. No, fellow laborers, each one of us is called to the work until our last and dying breath. To do otherwise is to risk our spiritual lives on the altar of an easy life. We are encouraged to never let that happen. The results could be disastrous.
2. Be Aware of the Destructiveness of Covering up (2 Samuel 11:2b-27)
Here is where we begin to see how deep man’s heart can dive into the abyss. It all begins with luring at the temptation. “He (David) saw a woman bathing” (Ch. 11:2b). Remember the words of One, the Messiah, who would come from his own family line some 1000 years later who warned, “everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
After enquiring as to who she was, David learned she was married, a part of the royal court, the daughter of a trusted advisor, and the wife of one of his loyal elite soldiers.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before David gave the order to have her brought to him and in the simplest and shortest of explanations, “he slept with her” (v. 4). But as often happens, although the sin may be bad, the cover-up is worse. David finds out from Bathsheba in the only words she will say in this book, “I am pregnant” (v. 5). For the next days, all David does is consumed with failed attempts to hush his sin up. He had three (3) schemes. First, he tried a clean scheme to have Uriah come home from war and sleep with his own wife. But Uriah was too much of a man of character and would not do it (vv. 6-11). Then he tried a dirty scheme by getting him drunk so he would forget his vows and sleep with his wife, but even then he didn’t do it (vv. 12-13). Finally, David sends Uriah back to the battle front, and with him instructions for Joab concerning how to execute him. Uriah carried his own death warrant! David told Joab to send Uriah into the heat of battle then remove all support; death would be fast and sure. Joab took it one step further and has many other men killed as well to further sell the cover-up. So, Uriah is murdered (vv.14-24). David resorted to platitudes with these words, “the sword devours all alike.” (v. 25). There was only one who cared, Bathsheba. The Bible tells us, “she mourned for him” (v. 25). We also know about One other that cared, “the LORD considered what David had done to be evil” (v. 25).
There is only one way for us to deal with sin and that is confession and repentance. It is healthy when we confess our sins to one another (James 5:15-16) and don’t try to make like it never happened. Often, we will find that the cover-up can be worse than the sin we are trying to cover up. Transparency with someone you can confide in and trust is always best. “The one who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy” (Proverbs 28:11).
3. Be Assured of the Blessings of Restoration (2 Samuel 12:1-15, Psalm 51)
What seems to be the most horrible part of the story for David becomes the beginning of restoration for him.
David is confronted by his favorite prophet, Nathan, who told a story of a “rich man” who “had a large number of sheep and cattle” (2 Samuel 12:2). But there was also a poor man who had “one small ewe lamb” (v. 3). It was beloved to this poor man. So, when it came time to entertain an out of town guest, the rich man takes this one little lamb from the poor man and prepared it and served it for dinner so he won’t have to use any of his own lambs (vv. 4-5). At this, David doesn’t wait for anything else from Nathan, but exploded in anger, “the man who did this deserves to die!” (v. 5b). Nathan didn’t hesitate to bring down the hammer either as he looked David straight in the eye and shouted back, “You are the man!” (v. 7). After the entire plot is revealed, David is humiliated in his own court and admitted, “I have sinned against the Lord” (v. 13a). At that moment, David repented, and God forgave Him. We get to hear the words of grace that God has said to us as well, “The Lord has taken away your sin, you will not die” (v. 13b).

What was going on in David’s heart? You can read that in Psalm 51:4a, “Against You—You alone—I have sinned and done evil in your sight.” But, this no was no “get out of jail free” card. He knew that by his words, “You are right when you pass sentence” (v. 4b). What sentence? Nathan was clear with God’s judgment upon David. In 2 Samuel 12: 10, 11, & 14 we are told, “The sword will never leave your house” Then God said, “I am going to bring disaster on you from your own family: I will take your wives and give them to another”. But it was the last thing he heard that hurt the most: because he took innocent life, an innocent life would be taken from him as one more would die, his own baby. The very child he conceived by Bathsheba, “the son born to you will die” (v. 14). Yet, even then, David knew that God had more for him to accomplish, so he pled further with God in Psalm 51:10-13 “God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not banish me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore the joy of Your salvation to me, and give me a willing spirit. Then I will teach the rebellious Your ways, and sinners will return to You.”

Sin is horrible. Its consequences are heart-breaking. Yet our Lord hung on a cross to let us know that no matter what we did, he paid the penalty for us that our sin might be forgiven and that we could be restored to a relationship with Him. Don’t walk, run to the Cross and experience that kind of forgiveness today. That’s how we should cover our sin, not with schemes like David, but in the blood of Jesus that dripped from His Cross.

—Trey Rhodes

Friday, August 17, 2018

15 Years of Extra Life - I’ll Take it

GOD is my helper; the LORD is a sustainer of my life.   Ps. 54:4

And they said it wouldn’t last. My life, that is. You see, some 15 years ago today, I was getting ready to preach on a Sunday morning at the church plant I had been clearly called to start in Mount Pleasant, SC. Everything, and I mean everything was normal. It was a normal, warm August morning. I felt absolutely normal. Everything at the church was going normal. Everyone arrived and was setting up at the movie theater just like normal. I was doing a sound check for my headset, and even the sound system was normal. It was a normal mid August morning, except for one detail, the tissue that surrounded my aorta was in a weakened and possibly damaged state. Unlike a normal aorta, my aorta was about to split lengthwise from my heart to the section where it descends to feed the rest of my body. My complete ascending aorta was going to dissect, split open, and there was nothing anyone on this earth could do about it.

The blood surging through my veins to give life, was now placing deadly pressure against the weakened walls in the largest artery in my body, my aorta. It ripped. I looked at my wife. I said, "I need help." I collapsed. She caught me. She laid me on the floor. I turned blue and began to gurgle and convulse. Panic broke out in the church that morning. The place that we began in order to bring peace to a worried and anxious world, was now in bedlam. The place that we had invited people to hear the words of life, was a place that held in its walls, death.
Immediately, there were calls to 911. Screaming. Running. Panic. Praying. 
Had it not been for the quick thinking of my son, Ivey, who immediately gave me mouth to mouth and would not allow anyone to give me chest compressions, I would have died. No doubt. But there I was turning blue, gasping for breath, being tended to by my son, unconscious on that movie theater, turned church floor, dying.

The EMT’s arrived and tried to stabilize my heart, but could not. Finally the doctor told them on the phone, bring him like he is. Once my body arrived at Roper Hospital in downtown Charleston, extraordinary measures were taking place to sustain my seemingly lifeless body as they tried to diagnose what was wrong. It took the CT Scan to find out that a pool of blood had formed inside my chest with only a Saran Wrap thin aortic tissue which kept my blood from hemorrhaging into the rest of my body and causing instant death.
So the call went out from Dr. Blue in the emergency room to Dr. Peterseim, one of the foremost cardio-thoracic surgeons in the nation. The emergency room asked the surgeon, Would you come in and take a look at this Aortic dissection? All Peterseim could say was, “Is he still alive? Keep him alive. I’ve never seen one alive.” He had performed 1000’s of surgeries and had never had the opportunity to see an aortic dissection alive. I was to be his first. 

Upon arrival, he got to see me alive, struggling for every breath, and then got to work researching ways to repair such a massive injury and coming up with an operating plan. It was determined that it was possible, but as Peterseim told my wife, it’s been too long, your husband is no longer there. There’s been too much oxygen deprivation and too many of his brain cells have died. “We can save his heart, do you want us to?” Her answer? "Save his heart, we’ll worry about the rest later."
In the waiting room, a prayer band had gathered over 100 strong. Praying, literally crying out to God to save my life and bring healing and recovery. God heard that day. The surgery was successful. An aortic replacement had been substituted for the real thing. My heart was beating. I was alive. Against all odds, I was alive. But for how long?

Long enough to see more than 100 people come to faith in Christ. Long enough to experience all four of my children finish their educations, get married, and move to their places of ministry and calling. Long enough to hold in my arms nine (soon to be ten) grandchildren. Long enough for my wife, Kelly, to go back to school, change her major, and graduate manga cum laude from CSU with a degree in education. Long enough for Kelly to find her life time work at Palmetto Christian academy teaching second graders to read, write, and do arithmetic.  Long enough to now move from hydraulic lift, to powered wheelchair, to regular wheelchair, to walker, to quad cane, to regular cane, to walking (kind of) on my own, to riding 15 plus miles on my Giant mountain bike. Yes, these 15 years have been very good to me. I now have a family that God is using all over the country. I have a wife that loves and goes above and beyond for me over and over again. I have a church that loves and cheers me on. Friends that have stayed with me and have prayed for me. A Mom and Dad who support me emotionally and spiritually. But most of all, I have a God who will never leave me nor forsake me. The One who has sustained me on my good days and my bad. My God who will usher me into His abode, where I hope to hear, one day... "Well done."

Friday, December 15, 2017

That Smell Sure Brings Me Back...

Christmas is that time of year that brings us all intense remembrance of what it was for each of us. All unique. All very real.. For most, we remember the sights, the sounds, and the fragrance of Christmas. You don't hear much about the latter, so I want to mention my 5 favorites, then you can compare and then feel free to post what your favorites are:

5. Christmas tree freshly cut
4. Cookies baking
3. Peppermint candy
2. Pumpkin pie cooking

and my number one favorite scent...
1. Turkey fresh out the oven
Is there anything better during the holidays? Yum!
Certain scents will evoke some of our strongest memories. According to a recent study reported by the New York Times in The Nose, an Emotional Time Machine that: "olfaction (that's smelling for us non-scientific types) is our quickest sense...odiferous messages barrel along dedicated pathways straight from the nose and right into the brain’s olfactory cortex, for instant processing."
The reason that it impacts us so greatly is "the olfactory cortex is embedded within the brain’s limbic system (where our brain registers both emotions and smells) and amygdala (the part of the brain that registers memories), where emotions are born and emotional memories stored." That’s why smells, feelings and memories become so easily and intimately entangled.
That's why we can smell a certain odor and be immediately transported to another time long, long ago. God seems to have designed our brain to mix it all up so that we recall things without effort because of our sense of smell.
Pie is equally wonderful.
God places great importance on fragrance as well. He wanted incense burned every time the high priest went to sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat as Passover. In addition, when the Lord sent the kings from the east, two of their three gifts were known for their scent: frankincense and myrrh. Could it be that it would be a reminder each time Jesus went to the temple He would remember who He was born to be? God who put on human flesh (frankincense was reserved for the worship of God) Could it be that every time He went to a funeral He would remember what He was born to do? Die for the sins of man (myrrh was used in burial as a preservative).
In the same way, our aroma affects those around us. Listen to this:
But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 2 Corinthians 2:14-15
How's your fragrance?
This Christmas, as we breath in the wonderful aromas of the season, may we remember why we celebrate "Christ"mas. Let's spread His sweet fragrance everywhere beginning this wonderful, holy week.
Merry Christmas!
Pastor Trey Rhodes