Freezing winds zip down my neck as I reach breakneck speeds in the snow. Olivia and some of the kids are watching from the hilltop behind the church as I sled towards the lowest point of the property. The temperatures are a few degrees above freezing, and the sun is shining, making the texture of the snow ideal for playing in it. Our oldest son Daniel is the only child who has decided to be a participant in my snow sport experience. He runs down the snow covered hill in front of me right before I launch myself from the asphalt parking lot. In the time it takes me to gain momentum over one hundred and fifty yards, Daniel custom builds one giant snowball, and hurls it towards my face. In reaction to this surprise attack, I twist my body out of the way and subsequently crash and burn. All is well, and we continue on with our fun afternoon, finishing with some pizza and a movie.
Getting caught unaware does not always have a good ending, or a recreational context. Often, in a true crisis, we find ourselves needing a moment to calm down, before we respond. There are other times we don’t have the luxury to ‘take a moment’. Generally, our first response to a crisis is to react out of our ability and experience. As Christians, our first immediate response should be threefold:
1. Take every thought captive to be obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5b).
2. Take every concern to the Lord in prayer (Philippians 4:6).
3. Take time to remind ourselves that God is still in control (2 Timothy 1:7).
This is the most realistic approach to reality offered by the Author of the universe. When we encounter a crisis, and give the hurt to God, He will heal. When we encounter a crisis, and take our anxiety to Him, He will give us peace. When we encounter a crisis, and affirm His authority over our lives, we can trust His light to shine in our dark times. This threefold response to unforeseen crisis can be carried out in a quick simple prayer of the heart, or it may be a process of meditation and spending quality time with God. Depending on the crisis, there may not be time to dwell, there may only be time to breath a quick prayer of the heart, which God is able to both hear anywhere, and respond to with His power. Trust God in any crisis, big or small, He will be there, and He already knows what you need to make it through.
Sunglasses hid my misty eyes as I turned the ignition in the moving truck and pulled across the gravel parking lot. I took a left onto the mud highway which was under construction. With my family driving behind me, and a few with me in the cab of the truck, we steered all of our earthly possessions to the East. Was there anything else I could do? Had I done something wrong? Would we be okay in our new, unfamiliar location? What were we doing?!?
Leading up to this moment was two and a half years of building trust and relationships with the beautiful community of Columbus, Kansas through Center Christian Church. As in any workplace, or ministry setting there were those who immediately communicated that we were not wanted in the area, but there were many more who showed sacrificial love and support for us as a family. The ensuing months brought many growing challenges for me personally, and for my young family. There were times were I envisioned a growing ministry budding for decades. There were times were I was ready to go back to house construction and forget the mess known as ministry. Through it all God healed my hurts, rebuked my arrogance, and encouraged my service through the words and actions of this rural church with an extraordinary calling. It became clear during the summer of 2017 that I needed to step aside and allow for someone with more experience and maturity to participate in the leadership of the church. It took months of fighting with God before I relented and took a step of faith in announcing my resignation without a backup plan.
The fall of 2017 was a flurry of phone calls, meetings, applications, assessments, and decisions. In the midst of many small steps of faith by making contacts with other opportunities, we made a leap of faith. We were put in contact with a church 900 miles away, but near Olivia’s family, and the university where I would be pursuing my Master’s degree. The timing was not ideal, and it was disappointing for some of the things I still wished to accomplish in Columbus, Kansas, but we trusted God leading.
We see in the first book of the Bible that the patriarch Abraham had doubts even after God had led him on a cross-country move. Abram believed that God would lead him to a land he was unfamiliar with, and God had been faithful in leading him. But there came a point where Abram had doubts, took a step of faith to communicate with God. God reminded Abram of the promises and God renewed Abram’s faith. “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. He also said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess (Genesis 15:6-7).” We know from looking back across the Bible, that God never wavered in His protection and guidance of Abraham, and Israel for that matter. We’ve been blessed for each day of our ministry in Watauga, Tennessee, and Knoxville, Tennessee, and Columbus, Kansas, and now Hillsville, Virginia. God has moved us to each location, and allowed us to grow in each location. We had to take scary leaps of faith before we could see God move in amazing ways. His assurance that we were doing the right thing often came after we had trusted His truthful direction. Trust God to lead you. He will not let you down. God will be faithful. Take that leap of faith.
Every form of life we have observed has a cycle which ends in a death. If there is an end, there must be a beginning. The limited and cyclical nature of nature manifests a deep seated design of temporal existence. The meta-narrative of the universe is not any different. There is a Creator for the creation, and that creation is subjected to the perimeters of its Creator. Advancement ideology contradicts itself at a fundamental level when it claims to be the author of progression, and is ironically so unorganized, that it fails to establish a consistent form of measuring what true progress is. As this way of thinking converges with mainstream believers a dangerous juxtaposition can take place. In order to accommodate the popular academic stances on evolution, there is often a jettison of cornerstone beliefs "Darwinism's contribution to data collection, and technological advance, can and should be noted with appreciation, but as a world view it is not a step in the right direction. It is not a valid basis for laws, morals or freedom.[i]" Although the attitude of advancement has predated Charles Darwin, recent decades have seen a paradigm shift from this mentality originating as a controversial subject in dark libraries to an accepted, and expected norm to the majority of Western civilization. The end game for every believer and non-believer alike, is the destiny to bow down before, and confess the name of the King of all creation. That will happen. This global worship service attended by every human being ever created, will reveal the truth we now accept with faith. God's truth is not subjected to our perception. Advancement is constructed on the premise of perception, because it cannot produce a reasonable rubric by which to justly examine the progression or digression of humanity. As believers, we would be wise to focus on, and proclaim the truth of the end game. Death is a universal "foot in the door" for any witness of Christ. Without being morbid, it is a reasonable step from the subject of death, to the spiritual truth of the final judgment. Regardless of a specific school of eschatology, the situation in which every knee bows, and every tongue confesses (Philippians 2:10) is a framework which we can build backwards from. Why would the God of creation have a final judgment scene and partitioning of light and darkness? Build back to the opportunity for salvation until the point of death. Build all the way back to our need for salvation because of the fall of Adam. One more step building backwards away from the end game to reveal that God is the holy Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Savior and Judge. Backing the camera lens out this far reveals that the advancement of creation is impossible. The various towers of Babylon built, spitting in God's face will all be thwarted or destroyed in some fashion or another. "The world deserves tears and anger, as we cry out with the psalmist (Psalm 6:3), but the present world is not the fully redeemed cosmos spoken of in the book of Revelation.[ii]"
[i] Bush, Russ L; The Advancement –Keeping the Faith in and Evolutionary Age-(B&H Publishing Group, 2003) p.97
[ii] Groothuis, Douglas; Christian Apologetics –A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith-(Intervarsity Press, 2011)p.645
By Mike Jones
Another heartbreaking news story of a school shooting.
Another opportunity to work with a community impacted by this unforeseen tragedy.
Another time in which the primary response to this act of hateful violence is to passionately, and often times hatefully defend one's position on guns.
In frustrated anticipation of what the “other” side will say, there are a plethora of comments which focus on the availability, and oversight of a weapon, rather than actually reaching out to the victims, and their families.
When I heard about the shootings yesterday afternoon, I was not shocked, because I was 10 years old when I watched the breaking news report on the Columbine school shooting.
When I heard about the shooting in Parkland, Florida, I was hurt in a place so deep I had no words, only emotion. Two emotional reactions shot through my veins simultaneously. With one hand I wanted to choke out the perpetrator. At the same time I wanted to wrap my arm in a comforting embrace around every parent and guardian who was about to receive the phone call they never wanted to hear. I immediately started praying, asking what God wanted me to do right now. This action of speaking to God, allowed me to clear distractions out of my mind and think about His Words. I knew I was to love Him, and love my neighbors, so I contacted Community Christian Church in Tamarac, Florida, just a thirty minutes drive from Marjory Douglas High School, where this tragedy and its investigation was unfolding. They informed me of the actions they were taking and the contacts they had to minister to the families and youth being impacted. I informed them, that we as a church were ready to help in any way we could. They now know that they have a friend eight hundred and nineteen miles away, which is willing to do their small part in reaching out to the hurting.
My thought was not about the legislation and discussion of the weapon which was used. That time will come, and that time has come and gone several times.
Now is the time to weep with those who are weeping. We must take action, and that action must be informed through prayer. We must keep studying the Word of God, and studying our neighbors we are called to love more than ourselves or our worldviews agenda. I can only imagine those who have rejected the prayers of the church, have never witnessed the power of prayer, and that may very well be the fault of the church. This is the test for those who actually believe in God. Now, more than ever is the time for action informed by prayer. It is not time to seek the perspectives of your favorite news show host, social activist or political pundit. Now is the time for a truth in this tragedy which transcends our limited understanding. That truth will only be revealed through seeking God’s truth.
I am not asking for anyone who takes the time to read this, to filter their thoughts through my own. I am writing this in hopes that at least one more person will choose to take meaningful action in this crisis, and will save the legal action and influence for when it truly counts. In the meantime, it is just talk. People are hurting, now is the time for weeping with those who are weeping.
Have you ever prayed to see God in your life? I’m not sure that we could handle Him! We know that God is a loving Father (1 John 3:1), and Created each of us with a unique and wonderful design. God’s nature is so above our own, we can’t begin to put Him into a form or shape which is convenient for us. When we pray, we must pray like Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion: “Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me—nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done (Luke 22:42).” God will do what is right according to His plan and design, not ours. Do we trust the Creator of this universe enough to strengthen us for the tests which lay waiting for us today? I do. I struggle with doubt several times a day, but in the end, I trust Him who knows eternity to guide me through the temporary struggles of today. The Apostle John who had walked and talked with Jesus Christ on earth, described the same Messiah this way in the last book of the Bible: “One like the Son of Man, dressed in a long robe and with a gold sash wrapped around His chest. His head and hair were white like wool—white as snow—and His eyes like a fiery flame. (Revelation 1:13b-14).” Jesus never changes His essence, but His appearance fits the occasion. In the occasion of our deepest hurts and needs, Jesus is the Great Healer. God knows that our greatest need is to be whole inside and out. Jesus revealed this truth early on in His ministry: “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17).” As we wrap up another Gregorian calendar year, remember that our time frame is based on our limited, temporal understanding. As you pray for God’s wisdom in the coming year, be ready and willing to see Him work in ways that don’t match your calendar, or expectations. Give Him room to be King of your life. Leave 2018 in God’s hands.
2,000+ years ago, 6,600+ miles away, the world received the greatest gift of all time. When I was younger, I thought the greatest gift was a remote-controlled car. I would lay awake at night in my top bunk staring at the ceiling fan which was only 10 inches from my nose, and I would imagine all the fun I would have with my new toy. Sometimes I received a remote-controlled cars, other times I wouldn’t. The fact is I only have a few remnants of the presents I received as a kid. I am not really a big fan of the Christmas season as we’ve made it in the United States of America. I struggle juxtaposing the nature of giving we’ve developed. The nature with which God gave His only Son, is not the nature with which most give gifts today. “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).” God gave us the gift which keeps on giving 2,000+ years later. We still have the chance to give this gift to others by leading the lost to be found in Christ. “How can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher (Romans 10:14)?” When we give the gift of testimony, we have to unwrap some pleasant and unpleasant scenes from our life. But in light of God’s salvation for us, and the chance of God’s salvation for the person we are talking to, it’s worth it all when even one person confesses Christ as Lord. “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).” The person who has been saved, is now charged with being both a disciple, and a disciple maker. Regardless of what you’ve ordered online, grabbed from the mall or picked-up from local stores; give the gift of Christ this year. Someone is wishing for the gift of salvation whether they realize it or not.
What would you do with a million dollars? My son Daniel said he would give some money to the church, and the rest he would use to create a restaurant that would cook foods from all around the world! That type of hypothetical situation frees the frustrated mind to wonder into fantasy. This same fantasy dynamic can be seen in the world of politics. While one political party develops an ideal platform to address specific issues, their candidates brings a dangerous, realistic dynamic to the mix. The personal lives of any political candidate should have a direct bearing on their credibility in their political career. The policy which politicians develop, are merely a reflection of their collective moral code. As another series of elections passes our nations historical timeline, we need to use it an opportunity to take elections seriously. Elections should never be about choosing the lesser of two evils, validating the confidence of people pleasers, or keeping the status quo. Elections are about selecting the leaders who are led by God. Just because a leader goes to church, or identifies with a religious agenda, does not mean they are led by God. Just like my six year old boy would like to think that a million dollars would fall into his lap, I would like to think that I would have the ability to select an individual of integrity for a political office. The truth is, God selects the leaders he needs, even in secular government. “Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God (Romans 13:1).” There is no Biblical precedence which approves of a disciple of Christ refusing to obey a government official because they disagree with them on political issues. There are times in the Bible’s history when evil dictators, and foolish cowards were used as instruments of God’s greater story. “The Lord has prepared everything for His purpose—even the wicked for the day of disaster (Proverbs 16:4).” Whether we’re making decisions for our community, local church, or the direction of this blessed nation, we must not put God in the box of having to choose the lesser of two evils through us, as His ambassadors. Because we are His representatives, we have the responsibility to speak up when we’re given a voice, so that God is represented through His church. Don’t make the acceptable choice, make the right choice. We have the responsibility to represent Christ well. We have the privilege of trusting the election results to God’s working.
According to the American Auto Association, the average time span in which a driver is mentally distracted while using verbal input for mobile devices is 27 seconds. If one was driving a mere thirty miles an hour down city streets, this would equal a distance of 1,200 feet driven without full attention to one’s surroundings. How many kids might run out into the road without warning? What are the chances of a rushed commuter backing out of their driveway without checking both ways? These statistics don’t even touch the quantitative calculations for someone who is also visually distracted. Jesus addressed the serious dangers of seemingly innocent distractions when He said: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away (Matthew 5:29).” Jesus was delivering the Sermon on the Mount, and was highlighting the expected behavior of Christians. Jesus was not blaming body parts for our sinful choices, neither was He advocating for self-mutilation. Using hyperbolic language, Jesus warns us of the damages of sin. It would be better to do without a physical necessity than to give into the distractions the world sells to us as “harmless”.
In our times it would be better to do without an electronic device if there is a pattern of using it for sinful pleasure. We might need to trash certain books, magazines, or even stop going to certain places, if these activities are not the product of a conviction from God. God is not only targeting those filthy industries we would like to be rid of, He is calling all of our “harmless” distractions into question. Over 2,000 years ago, the Apostle Paul discussed innocent distractions and dangers using religious diets as a backdrop. There was an argument in the church between those who thought Christians we’re only allowed to eat and drink certain things, and those who were mature enough in the faith to accept everything with gratitude. Paul wrapped up the issue this way: “Whoever doubts stands condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from a conviction, and everything that is not from a conviction is sin (Romans 14:23).” Take time to call out your “justified” distractions by name. Become aware of them. Perhaps you might even ask the same question I am asking myself: Is this distraction worth it? There is even a chance one, or some of them may be outright sin. Take your list to the Lord, asking Him for wisdom. Search the Scriptures with an open heart and mind. He will guide you to truth through His Word and His Spirit.
The moving truck is reserved, and the boxes are being packed and stacked. In July of this year, Olivia and I were called to let go of our current ministry, and trust God to reveal the next step. God continues to be faithful in revealing His direction. “The one who calls you is faithful (1 Thessalonians 5:24).”Within the last month the doors have opened up for a ministry in the Common Wealth of Virginia. Despite all of the love we’ve received while ministering alongside the Cherokee County community, we need to establish a new atmosphere for personal growth. We continue to be amazed at the strong undertow of hospitality and generosity from this region.. I was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and grew up in the Wichita, Kansas area. Olivia and I started our ministry in the Johnson City, Tennessee area over 7 years ago. In 2013 we moved to Johnson University in Knoxville, TN (where I was born), to continue training and engaging in ministry. While continuing my education online, in May 2015, we made the 700 mile move to Columbus, Kansas. God has confirmed his direction through that move by His many blessings every step of the way. We have kept a detailed list of all the gifts, notes of encouragement, meals, visits and opportunities we’ve been given during our two and a half years in the Four State Area.
God guides our paths to cross with specific people for specific reasons during specific seasons. “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1).” We have learned and grown in ways which would have been impossible had we stayed on the Bible College campus. We grieved as we left West Side Christian Church in Morristown, TN, and rejoiced as we were adopted by Center Christian Church in Columbus, KS. Now we grieve while leaving Center Christian Church in Columbus, KS, and rejoice as we join the ministry of Dalton Hill Christian Church in Hillsville, VA. We plan to stay in contact as our ministry family grows across this nation. Calling is a significant topic in Scripture which does not get very much coverage these days. Ask that God reveals to you what you are supposed to be doing, where you’re supposed to be doing it, and who you are to be doing it with. God will show you the next step. “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path (Psalm 119:105).” Perhaps you’re positioned where you are because you’ve never questioned what the right direction is. Perhaps the place you’ve always been, is exactly where you need to be. Assuming is a dangerous game. I encourage you to ask God what He wants you to do today. Pray that God will reveal whether or not you’re walking in His will, or whether you need to make a change. God will speak if you’re willing to listen. I’m glad I listened years ago when God laid Center Christian Church on our hearts. I’m excited for what lies ahead in the unknown. I know God will bless us as we make the 900 mile move to our next destination. Keep us in your prayers. Thank you.
Integrity. No one is perfect, and yet there is a universal expectation for a moral standard. Why do we fight so hard to justify those we trust when they sin, and yet vilify those we don’t trust when they trespass the same type of boundaries? The answer to this is sensitivity. If we’re not careful, we get into a pattern of justifying our personal failures which we are acutely aware of, and become desensitized to our faults. Then we begin magnifying those same failures in others to comfort ourselves with the perception that we’re “not as bad”, as they are. One definition in Webster’s Dictionary which cuts to the heart of this issue, is its definition of Integrity: “The state of being whole and undivided.” We look around and see division on a local, and global scale. In families, churches, communities, and our nation we’re pointing fingers without examining ourselves. The truth is: we will not find unity with others until we have found unity with Jesus Christ. Until we are individually whole, we cannot construct a holistic community. “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the perversity of the treacherous destroys them. (Proverbs 11:3).” We look at so many politicians, and celebrities from all sides of the political spectrum under investigation for allegations of immorality. We are in need of a point of unity around objective standards. Can we all agree that there is an author for the moral code which tells us all that an immoral lifestyle is unacceptable? Even those who live an immoral lifestyle have to invest a lot of time into justifying, and excusing their sin. You show me someone who always has creative stories to explain the symptoms of sin, and I’ll show you someone who is making fools of family and friends. We need the integrity that only comes from the Holy Spirit’s filling and acting through the redeemed body of Christ. Pastor Dr. David Jeremiah summed it up this way: “Faith that is not evidenced by a life of integrity is not biblical faith at all.” Before you get all worked up about the double-standard in Washington or Hollywood, look no further than your own heart. Is your heart subject to the authority of Christ, or is it dictated by the whims of your pleasure? Pray that God will reveal any hidden sin in your heart you need to deal with, and He will gently show you. Confess that sin to Him, call it out by name, and Jesus will forgive you. Walk in the confidence and integrity which comes from knowing that Christ has forgiven the sins you’ve confessed to Him.