April is right around the corner and Easter isn't to far behind it. Each year I re-read the Resurrection story. I start in Matthew, go through Mark and Luke, and end in John. There are a lot of mixed feelings that I have with this story of Jesus. I am a pastor's kid, so I grew up knowing the story of Jesus as well as I knew my birthday. It is ingrained in me to understand what happened, when it happened and why it happened. I have seen the Passion of the Christ, understand all of the implications of the cross, and am well-versed in the understanding of what Christ did for everyone and specifically for me. Even if you didn't grow up in a house like I did, I'm sure you could say similar things. On top of that, the world has done a brilliant job marketing this 'holiday,' and is going to enjoy reaping the millions, perhaps billions of dollars it has made.
This year, before I read any of the story, I made a point to ask God to help me not see Easter the way I have before. Make it come alive again. Remind me again of the miracle of salvation. I say it a lot because it is worth saying, don't forget that salvation is greater than any miracle you have ever witnessed. And it is free. At least it is for us. Jesus paid a great price on our behalf.
I finish Matthew and head into Mark and am stopped by the Living Lord's Last Supper. Are you even a believer if you have not seen or been a part of the remaking of this event. Growing up, this was a staple at our church. In fact, my dad still puts this on every year. You go through each of the disciples. Who they are, where they are from, how they will be martyred for Christ. As they each take their place at the table, the scene then comes alive. Talking, eating. I'm sure mostly eating. As a child, I couldn't wait until the play was over so I could tear into the unleavened bread and grapes on the table!
And then Jesus, before He breaks the bread and hands out the drink, says these words. "One of you who eats with me, will betray me." In the drama I hear the bickering begin. Not I! Peter slams his fists on the table saying, I would never betray you! What I read in Mark (ironic that many assume Mark's Gospel is from Peter's perspective) is a slightly different tale.
"And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, "Is it I?" And another said, "Is it I?" Mark 14:19
It is strange to me that they all thought it even a slight possibility that they might be the one to betray Jesus. They all spent three years with this man. Witnessed countless miracles. The things Jesus said and did could not be contained in books, it was so great! Jobs were surrendered, places of prominence given up, even leaving family and friends, the disciples embarked on this journey. Peter even receives a glimpse of who Jesus is from the Holy Spirit when he declares, "surely You are the Son of God!"
And now centuries later, here we sit. You and I at a table with Jesus. Somewhere in my heart I have to consider, could I betray Christ? For there will be many who cry out "Lord, Lord. I have done many things in your name." There will be many who have a form of godliness, but deny it's power. There will be many who are morally correct. There will be many...
More than a self-accusation, I believe this was a self-assessment the disciples made on this night. And I would like to do the same, and maybe you would join me. Join me in searching our hearts to see if maybe, just maybe it could be me? If my life was asked of me, would I give it? If my possessions were asked of me, would I give them? If my world was shattered, would I still believe? If everything were stripped away, would He still be good?
Would I give it all, or is there still a place deep in my heart where I might have to ask myself, "Is it I?"
I have a friend with a shirt that says, “bear fruit.” It has a picture of a bear holding a fruit, much like above. I didn’t share it because I thought there might be some copyright issues with it. As I was reading through the first chapter of Genesis again, because I love the creativity of God, I was reminded of the shirt.
“Then God said, “Let the land sprout with vegetation—every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing fruit. These seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came.” And that is what happened.”
Genesis 1:11 NLT
“And that is what happened.”
Before we go any further, it is important to note that when God speaks something, it will happen. I hate the times I get surprised when God’s Word comes to fruition. The fact that I have such little faith in His word bothers me. We know (head knowledge) that His Word is true, but do we know (heart-based Faith) that His Word is yes and amen?!
With this passage, God set up a principle. What is sown will be reaped, down to the very type of seed you sow. And so we find that God is not a respecter of persons, but He is a respecter of principles.
God set up boundaries and rules for everything. It would be strange to eat an apple from a tree one year and a pear the next from the same tree! We don’t have to re-analyze things. You can manipulate scripture to say what you want it to, but you will still find that even if you sow into your new principle, you will reap from God’s unchanging one.
We see the consistency and continuity. My question would be, do we have the same continuity and consistency in our lives? We don’t aspire to follow God’s decrees to be legalists. Rather, we follow them so we know what to expect of ourselves and others know what to expect of us. We follow them so in a way, we know what to expect out of various circumstances and situations.
Quit feeding people apples one year and pears another. Quit feeding your circumstances apple seeds expecting to harvest pears. Einstein would call that insanity. God would call it unfruitful living that is in need of pruning. So let’s work towards being His good and faithful (consistent) witness.
President Franklin Roosevelt was weary of the mindless small talk of the White House receptions. Wondering if anyone was engaging in any real conversation, he conducted an experiment at a White House gathering. As he shook a hand and flashed that big smile he would say, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” With but one exception, the people would smile back and say something like, “How lovely,” or “You are doing a great job.” The exception was a foreign diplomat who responded quietly, “I am sure she had it coming to her”
I’m not sure how ‘real’ this story is, but it makes me ponder this important idea: Be real. We spend a lot of time trying to save face rather than save our character.
I feel the struggle and pull of trying to act or be something I am not. You can ask my wife. She met me when I was 19 and reminds me to this day of how mature I was trying to act. I was part-time staff at a church hoping that the older generation would accept me and think of me as more than I was. Yes, “set an example in life, love, speech, purity, and faith.” You can be real while doing that. I was more concerned with showing my ‘right-ness’ than presenting a ‘real-ness.’
There is a passage in 1 Samuel 18 that says, “One day Saul said to David, “I am ready to give you my older daughter, Merab, as your wife. But first you must prove yourself to be a real warrior by fighting the Lord’s battles.”
Understanding that Saul’s motive was to get David killed, I like the process behind it. Sure, you killed a giant. One giant. We will never take that away from David. But, what if it was just one. What if it was a moment of luck or happenstance. Can you maintain the thing that got you to place you are. Talent may get you to the top, but only character and integrity will keep you there.
I talk often on my blogs about self-assessment. This thought comes from David. “Search me O God. See if there is any wicked way in me.” Are we willing to see ourselves for what we are and make changes if necessary? I know in my life, it is the small everyday choices that will keep and sustain me. Neglecting those things are detrimental. Ask any spiritual leader, or any leader for that matter, who has had a ‘moral failure.’
Our top priority is to ‘be.’ To be in Christ. To be ourselves. To be real. We cannot be real with others until we have learned to be real with ourselves. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord with everything. The second is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Do you ever wonder that perhaps the reason you struggle with your neighbor is because you struggle with yourself? If you don’t like what you see in the mirror, you are not alone. And, you don’t have to stay that way. Make small changes. Ask God
to help. Go back to what you did when you were slaying giants!
And for those that want to be more real with others...Look at people when they talk to you. Engage in real conversation. Listen to every word intently. Be all in wherever you are.
Let me finish by sharing how Craig Groeschel ends every leadership podcast. “People would rather follow a leader who is always real, than one who is always right.”
We wrapped up another incredible year of Fine Arts at Trevecca University in Nashville, TN. Let me point out something you may already know, students are amazing! Yes, our students are amazing, but also, your students are amazing! Sometimes they get an unfair judgment about being lazy, uncaring, selfish, etc. What I saw this weekend was passion, drive, work ethic, love and grace. Lots and lots of grace!
Over the past few years our ministry has developed. We now have a Fine Arts Director, Middle School Pastor, at least 12 Small Group Leaders, and an incredible Wednesday night team. Needless to say, this wasn’t always the case. Doing ministry alone is challenging and wonderful all at the same time. I think you may understand the side of challenging, but let me explain the side of wonderful. I pray you do not judge me for what I am about to share next. When it is only you, you get all the praise. All the accolades come your way. Everyone looks to you for solutions, programs, and even problems can have a strange way of making you feel important. The struggle of wanting to grow and develop fights against the idea of being the face of everything. I had a godly man prophecy ‘double’ over my wife and I four to five years ago. I remember being excited, expecting growth and potentially more pats on the back. I would never say this out loud, and even in my thoughts I tried to push them away. Yet, they lingered. Our students asked what we thought that meant, and honestly we only thought growth. Our youth group will double. We will be somebodies. God has finally seen all of our sweat and tears we have poured into this program and He is going to honor us! (Have I made you dislike me yet?!)
What I didn’t know, is that God was changing our hearts. I knew how I should be, but to actually be okay with that is another. Our pastor preached a powerful sermon about using our hands, feet and mouth correctly for God. He concluded with the thought that none of it matters if our heart is not right behind the scenes. The shift for me came suddenly (a fun Bible word that we should see more of in our context of life) when I read a post from a fellow TYM (Tennessee Youth Ministries) youth pastor.
“If you want double you must be willing to take half the credit.” This was in reference to Elisha. He had double the ministry of Elijah and double the blessing, but really gets half the screen time. We reference Elijah as the great one, yet Elisha did so much more.
Suddenly, I knew that this is the ‘double’ that was prayed over us. It struck something deep inside my heart. Since then I have prayed and conversed with my pastor about starting a middle school ministry because we are losing 6th graders. We have done the same over our ministry called The Foundry, for graduated students called to ministry. We split our Sunday School (Small Groups) into four classes with three teachers to each. Fine Arts is another area that has the potential for growth and discipleship and should be utilized to the full. We saw a glimpse of the fulfillment at Fine Arts this year. This could not happen by myself. We would see burn-out. We would see programs fade or become competition based. God sent us Domenic Andolina from Pennsylvania. He was teaching in Frayser, TN when I met him, with a desire to use the arts to worship God.
One of our students sent out a random, half-joking tweet after Nationals a few years back. “Any Fine Arts coaches want to move to Memphis?!” Domenic responded, and I felt prompted to take a risk. I didn’t know him but loved his heart. I also knew, I can’t do this alone. We are better together. (Side note: this is not a paid position. Sometimes payment is more than money, and we surely can’t limit what God can do because we can’t provide a salary. Don’t sell yourself, your ministry, or God short!) We have seen incredible fruit from all of these ministries and the best is yet to come. Youth ministry does not happen without willing parents, willing leaders, willing students, and pastors willing to let go. I can truly stand here today and say that I am so proud of everyone else who was rewarded and honored this weekend. This is how it should be. We are better together than we can ever be alone. Let God stretch you.
If you are curious about the heart behind our Fine Arts program, here is a short paragraph posted by Domenic Andolina in regards to participating in Fine Arts this year. This is our heart:
Dear OSC Fine Arts Participants,
We have worked very hard the last 4 months.
We have left practices STOKED and we have left practices frustrated.
We have cried and laughed and loved.
Only one thing matters this coming weekend.
I’ll give you a hint: it’s not in winning, placing, beating another church, or giving a perfect performance.
We only have one goal: worship God.
How do we do this?
By encouraging others when we see a stellar performance.
By opening doors for others.
By carrying a heavy load someone else has.
We will be running around, making sure we make the performances we want to see.
But please, remember this: we are to worship God this coming weekend.
This is all that matters.
We are ready to give an answer to the hope that is within us.
We are ready to love.
Let’s show Nashville what God is doing in Memphis.
#901 #ready #OSCFineArts19