I love hearing stories of how God is at work in His church. Such stories remind me that it is normative for Jesus to be active in the lives and hearts of His people, and they remind me of the greater context in which we “do” church.
If you’ve been around RBC much at all, you already know that each year for the past six years we have hosted a stage production called Conversations the week before Easter. Through hospitality, music, real life stories, and dramatic vignettes, we seek to communicate the power of the Gospel of Jesus in a loving, practical and relevant way. There are many stories that can be shared about how Christ has used Conversations as a means to reach hearts for His glory, and I wanted to take time to share one with you in the form of an email that one of our staff received after this year’s production:
Thanks so much for your emails and for the personal card and gift in the mail. I really appreciate you reaching out, and have been meaning to write back to you for a while because I wanted to share an encouraging story with you. I hope that you will share this with others who may also be encouraged.
I have been looking for a new church recently, and Ali has recently joined me in my search over the last month or so. Ali has a mixed-faith background and described herself to me as a “seeker” when I broached the subject when we first became friends (just a few months ago). We came to visit RBC on Palm Sunday, and heard about Conversations. God has most certainly been pursuing Ali through various circumstances that have come together in just the right timing.
Although I consider myself a strong Christian, the last two years have been the toughest of my life. My faith and my motivation for evangelism has waned lower than ever. However, despite my recent brokenness and struggles, God used RBC and me to draw Ali to himself. When we attended Conversations that Tuesday night, we were both incredibly impressed and moved to tears. Afterward, I invited Ali in to chat, and I had the privilege of leading her in a prayer to give her life to Christ, just before Easter. I wanted to share this with you because I know that those involved in Conversations will be greatly encouraged to know that they were a key role in Ali’s decision. Conversations also greatly encouraged and softened my somewhat hardened heart – praise God!
Ali and I are signed up for the Starting Point class that begins this coming Sunday, and she is eagerly reading her bible daily, always excited to pray and worship and attend church. I not only praise God for bringing Ali into an eternal relationship with Him, but also the incredible encouragement she is to me!
Thanks again for the warm welcome to RBC.
For His Glory,
While church productions and programs come and go, the work of Jesus remains steadfast and strong and will endure for eternity. What a humbling thought that He would use so small a thing as a stage production to do a great and lasting work in the hearts of those who saw and heard what Jesus has done in the lives of others. Be encouraged – God is at work in His church.
Have a story to tell from your experience at Conversations this year? I’d love to hear about it.
To register for the 2010 RBC Marriage Conference featuring Paul Goodnight (May 7-8, 2010), go to www.restonbible.org/marriage.
Praise the Lord for His great blessing this year with Spring Clean 2010. Spring Clean is one of the major ways that RBC youth raise funds each year for summer mission trips. The Spring Clean 2010 was Saturday, April 24th, and we had 190 volunteers come out to work on 57 jobs doing everything from spreading mulch, mowing grass, raking leaves, repairing fences, hauling wood, planting flowers, washing windows, staining decks, cleaning out garages, and even some interior painting. Together, the teams raised $20,000 for their mission trips to Brazil, Croatia, Chicago, and East Asia. Despite a wet forecast, the Lord also provided cover from the sun and held off the rain until after the teams were back.
We are so thankful for the Lord’s perfect provision and for the many volunteers who were used to bless both families in our area and the 71 team members going on mission trips this summer. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4
IF I WERE EMPATHETIC, THEN I would feel the pain of others. Their poverty would be my poverty, their divorce would be my divorce, their cancer would be my cancer. Rationalization, however, is quick on the draw in such situations. How can I possibly be expected to carry such a load? I have enough problems of my own. But such rationale is soon to fade when we consider how desperate we are in similar situations and wonder where the encouraging word will come from. Where are all the believers when you need them? Have I been forsaken? Why hasn’t anyone called to see how I am doing?
Being empathetic does not mean that I am to carry the weight of the world’s problems. This is not reasonable and certainly not practical for one simple reason – all the world is hurting. The context of life is a world of pain and need. This does not, however, excuse me from being empathetic. Empathy has boundaries, and two things come into play for it to be carried out. First is proximity and second is familiarity. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians we find in the first chapter that we are to comfort others the same way we have been comforted by the Lord (1 Cor. 1:4). This implies that two conditions must be met if empathy is to transpire. First, I have to be in the vicinity of the one I am to give comfort to, and secondly, I am best equipped to minister if I have been through a similar heartache. So as you can see, I can easily get off the hook if these two don’t line up. However, if I am truly empathetic there is another way to do this. I can find someone who does qualify and encourage them to come alongside the wounded party. “Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that ye might know our affairs, and that he might comfort your hearts” (Eph. 6:22). In such cases, I am showing the love of Christ.
I will never care the way I should for those who are hurting. The Good Samaritan is not realistic. We will never pull over for every stranded motorist. It just isn’t going to happen. There is, however, someone who did more than just pull over. There is someone who has been touched with the feelings of our infirmities. There is someone who has suffered spiritual, emotional, and physical wounding. Where I have failed, He has triumphed and in this triumph I am moved to be like Him. When I am like Him, I will truly be empathetic.
IF I WERE HONEST, THEN I would be honest enough to admit that I’m not, for scripture lays claim to the proper assessment of my heart when it says “let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).
However, the scriptures also tell us of honest people who are upright and have integrity. So which is it? If God is the measuring stick, then the assessment in Romans is correct; but if man is the measuring stick, then certain people can be referred to as honest with respect to others. Rationalization, however, will keep me focused on the latter rather than the former. If I am honest, I will allow scripture to keep these two in proper balance. If I put too much weight on one side of the scale, then I will become self-absorbed and overly introspective about my sin. If I put too much weight on the other side, then I become self exalting, “I thank God that I am not as other men…” (Lk.18:11).
So how am I to see my honesty? Let’s first understand that it is quite possible to be honest and yet at the same time lack integrity. How can this be? Because we can compartmentalize our honesty but not our integrity. Integrity deals with the whole person. The word integrity comes from the same source as the word integer which means “whole number.” A man can be meticulously honest in filling out his income tax while at the same time cheating on his wife. His honesty is compartmentalized. He is an honest man who lacks integrity. So if I were honest, then I would see the need to be a person of integrity, otherwise I will rationalize and think I am honest because I don’t cheat on my income tax.
Jesus was never known for telling the truth, but for claiming to BE the truth (John 14:6). My failure to tell the truth is forgiven by the one who is the truth. He sought the Father on our behalf when he said “Father, sanctify them by your word for your word is truth” (John 17:17).
The word of God is the training ground for truth-telling. I will always be growing in this area if I allow the word to sanctify me. The balance? I have been forgiven for not living up to the holy standard which says I am not to “bear false witness.” Honesty moves me to integrity and I can now see myself the way he sees me: “And you are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power.” (Col. 2:10).
“Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15)
In International Connection, the English as a Second Language program at RBC, it is only occasionally that we have the blessing of walking a student through the doors of salvation (for a variety of reasons – various faith backgrounds, cultures, linguistic challenges, etc.) This past year, however, one of our teachers had that very privilege with a woman brand-new to our program in September 2009. B., though entry-level in her understanding of the English language, nevertheless managed to grasp the truth of the gospel very early on with the help of her teacher and other believers to whom she was introduced.
B. had other issues to surmount in her life. She lives in a women’s shelter due to a domestic abuse situation. However, she was extremely motivated to make this country her home and to get to the point in her language ability to make a living for herself and her family. She attended our program twice a week faithfully as well as that of another church-based English program. She was promoted to our Beginner-level class from Pre-Beginner quickly. She began to attend church every week and got into a Shepherd group. In time, she had a devoted “family” of believers whom she could count on for love and support.
A friend of B.’s told her about her plan to go on the Brazil mission trip and asked B. to pray for her, including asking the Lord for financial provision. The needs in Brazil are familiar to B. because, sadly, there are women and children who live on dumps in her home country too. In addition to praying, B. wanted to contribute $100. The only problem is that B. does not have a job because she does not have her green card yet. She is limited to only working an occasional personal job, like babysitting. Another friend of B.’s knew she was a certified beautician in her home country. That friend asked B. if she would come to her house and cut, color and style the hair of yet another friend. B. accepted and was delighted to earn the $100 she needed for her gift!
She emphatically and joyfully gave that income to the person signed up for the mission to Brazil this summer! A whole host of people who know her were touched by this generous and sincere gift – and the blessing will be extended to another group of people far more destitute than B., thousands of miles away in Brazil.
We are in awe of the lessons God has shown us in this situation – that financial support can come from completely unexpected places and that He can use even brand-new, cross-cultural believers in the faith to inspire the rest of us.
IF I BELIEVED IN THE GOLDEN RULE, THEN I would see others as more important than I see myself. “…But in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Phil. 2:3)
This is such a hard truth to accept. Rationalization can readily get the upper hand in this one. Why should I treat others with such sacrificial love when they don’t treat me that way? It’s the old “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine” deal. But that philosophy simply doesn’t play out very well on the stage of life. This is why the world is in the condition that it is in. It is why families are dysfunctional. It is why there is friction in business and in the church. I don’t know how many times in sharing my faith that the person I am talking to tells me they will go to heaven because they live by the Golden Rule. Has anyone ever lived by the Golden Rule? I mean, really? How many times have you passed by someone who is obviously stranded on the highway and were too busy to help? You didn’t even want to look them in the eye for fear of feeling more guilty than you already felt.
IF I believed in the Golden Rule, THEN I would actually do what I would want done for me in the same situation. For instance, if I were driving along the highway minding my own business and saw someone who looked just like me, I would slow down and take a second look. Suppose it turned out to be me? Would I pull over for me? You bet your booties I would. I would most definitely pull over for me because I really like me. In fact, “like” is not a good enough word for how much I think of me. I am crazy about me. I am my number one fan. Mike is numero uno and deserves to be rescued because he is the greatest. At least, Mike thinks so.
If I lived by the Golden Rule I would not get through the day. I would not make it to work because I would be stopping along the way to help out people the way I would want them to help me. I could not make enough hospital visits or bake enough food to meet every need of the poor. So let’s all agree that none of us lives by the Golden Rule. So why does the Lord tell us to conduct our lives this way? Have you ever noticed that the Lord never says “to the best of your ability, pray when you get a chance,” but rather “pray without ceasing” (I Thes. 5:17)? Have you ever noticed He doesn’t say “meditate if there is time in your schedule,” but rather “meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2)? The Lord doesn’t say “try your best,” but rather “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:8) or “be holy as I am holy” (I Pet. 1:16). God’s standard could never be anything but perfection, thus the Golden Rule.
This is the heart of the Gospel. Christ lived out what I couldn’t. He didn’t have to meditate day and night because he is the living word. He is the answer to prayer. He is the embodiment of the Golden Rule. So to be in Christ is to have carried out all of these impossible demands. II Corinthians 5:21 tells us that we have become the righteousness of God in Christ. The righteousness that we could not achieve he achieved for us. Do we now decide never to pray or live by the Golden Rule? To quote the apostle Paul, “may it never be.”
Instead of the impossible standard of the Golden Rule, this is now our motivation – the power of the Gospel. “….and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20b).
IF I WERE TEACHABLE, THEN I would not be defensive when criticized.
Rationalization is sure to find its way into this discussion. “But what they said was not completely true,” or “what they said was not given in a kind manner.” So? The question on the table is not the degree of truth in the criticism or how it was delivered, but whether or not there something for me to learn from it. After all, God was not taken by surprise in what was said or how it was delivered, but knew that this was part of being conformed to His image. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God, endure grief, suffering wrongfully (1Pet. 2:19). You might get defensive at this point and argue that a half-truth is a lie, and thus the criticism leveled against you is rendered invalid. Not so fast. Half-truths are invalid in the world of objective reality but not subjective reality. A half-truth regarding what your product can deliver will later be brought to your attention as a lie, but a half-truth regarding your character is a different matter.
IF I were teachable THEN I would sift through all that was said and see if there is an element of truth. If I were teachable, I might seek out a good friend and run by them the criticism to see if they have perceived this in me. I don’t like it when I get home from being with friends only to find that I was sporting spinach between my teeth throughout the evening. Why didn’t someone say something? Sporting spinach is a far cry from sporting bad character. Tell me, please! I want to know, even if it is not said in a kind fashion.
Let’s try something on for size. Over the years I have learned a great deal about people and a great deal about me. Let me give you two categories and see if you don’t fit into one or the other. I believe that most people, Christians included, have a fear of man. I realize this is not an original thought, but I suspect some of you recoil at this and are quick to say that you don’t fear anyone. You just exposed your fear. You fear that people won’t see you as not fearing anyone. You want to be seen as tough and self-sufficient.
You may even like to display your success by material possessions or letting others know of your success in business. The thought of people seeing you as a failure is more than you can handle, but whether or not they like you never comes across your radar. And then there are those of us that fear people won’t like us and find it difficult to confront. If teachable, we can probably see ourselves in one camp or the other. This, more than we know, directs the traffic of our lives. What we avoid and what we seek out is dictated by one of these.
So IF I am teachable THEN I will seek the counsel of the most teachable one of all of whom it was said “that he learned obedience through suffering” (Heb. 5:8). We will suffer in learning to be teachable, but we will be far more Christ-like when it is learned. Any spinach showing?
Earlier this month, the Jr. High held one event “to rule the them all”: Friday Night Live – Star Wars vs. Lord of the Rings. At this epic event, we enjoyed Yoda Soda and Eye of Sauron Cookies, played games with light sabers and Legolas’ bow, thought we were in the “Cantina” with our cool Star Wars Band (Pollock), reviewed lots of trivia from the movie, and watched a few exciting scenes from the movies, all in crazy costumes.
As part of the evening, we also looked at some Biblical truth we can clearly see in the movies. First, sin promises to solve all of our problems, but in the end just destroys us. Just like Adam and Eve were seduced to eat the fruit by the temptation to become like God (Genesis 3:5) which led to our spiritual and physical death, Anakin was drawn to the Dark Side by his lust for power and the promise to save his beloved Padme, but in the end he burns in lava and becomes the more machine than man (Vader). Similarly, the Ring leaves in its wake a path of deception and destruction, as Smeagol is drawn by the beauty of the Ring and the identity he finds in “my precious”, and Boromir desires the power of the Ring to defend Gondor. However, in the end, the seduction of the Ring leads to both of their deaths. We see this same truth in the world around us and in our own lives. We must be keenly aware that sin is constantly lying to us and promising solutions while really bringing destruction. The wages of sin is truly death (Romans 6:23).
Second, we looked at how sin corrupts and tempts us all. We read in the Bible, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and clearly see this truth with the Ring. All characters who come in contact with the Ring are drawn to and seduced by its power. The whole “Fellowship” starts because they each know that they cannot be trusted with sole possession of the Ring; however, it breaks up because they each know their behaviors are not safe around the Ring. Even Gandalf turns away in fear when he is offered the Ring because he knows he cannot handle its temptation. As we look into our own lives, it is clear that sin is something we each face daily and will continue to face until eternity.
Finally, while the first two truths are kind of depressing, we have seen the end of the movies and know that a Savior always comes. When it looks like Vader will blow up Luke’s X-Wing, in comes Han Solo in the Millennial Falcon. When the Battle of Helm’s Deep seems lost, Gandalf comes in with the Riders of Rohan. After Obi-wan and Anakin have been defeated by Count Dooku, Yoda pulls out his light saber. And even though Sam can’t carry the Ring, he can carry Frodo. In the same way, “just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8) Especially as we reflect on Easter, praise be to God for sending His Son, because without Him we would be hopeless.
At the end of the evening, we voted which series was more epic. In a vote even closer than the 2000 Presidential election, Star Wars won by two votes, even after a full recount. So if you are ever in a debate as to which is better, the decision has been made.
Many thanks to Pollock (Jesse Trask’s Band), Jason VanDorsten, Aaron Reed, Catherine Wilson, Sarah Jarvis, Elizabeth Johnstone, Kelly Hack, Mason Nalle, John Lyver, Denna Zimmerman, and the many others who helped. Please be in prayer for the six Jr. Highers who indicated decisions for Christ that night.
IF I WERE FORGIVING, THEN I would show my understanding of having been forgiven (Col. 3:13). But the power of rationalization is relentless. You see, God can forgive because He is perfect and I am not. How then can I expect to forgive when I lack such perfection? Furthermore, what others have done to me is worse than anything I have done to God, so obviously God can forgive me more readily than I can forgive them. However, if I were forgiving, I would have to take this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion – which is to realize that those I have offended believe that what I have done to them is worse than anything they have done to God. This will always result in a stalemate.
If I were a forgiving person, I would not make comparisons about the degree of wrongdoing but focus on the Cross which is where all forgiveness must be sought. There is a level playing field at Calvary. In the midst of my pain I would return to this hill and ask God to search me and see if there be any wicked way in me (Psalm 139). If I were forgiving, I would not play the numbers game by assigning blame percentages. Rationalization is not easily deterred and you might say that the situation you are hard pressed to let go of is not a percentage issue. They slandered your reputation without being provoked which puts all the blame squarely on their shoulders. Calvary comes into view again because if percentages were assigned, then Jesus would be partially at fault and thus unable to forgive the way He wants me to forgive. However, He did nothing wrong yet took all the blame.
Is there not a message here? The Cross forgives even my unforgiveness. None of us have ever forgiven perfectly, but our Substitute has. He has not only forgiven all who come to Him but has taught us how to forgive those who have hurt us the most. Who do you need to forgive right now? “As” is now a very big word, for we are to forgive AS we have been forgiven.
I realize that most people don’t ponder some of the weird issues that pastors must face. Since I engage a great deal in cultural matters that often must be addressed, it is necessary for me to go to Scripture to get the needed counsel. The matter of a mid-life crisis has surfaced over the last few decades causing much anxiety in our society. The thinking goes something like this: “I just turned 40, and half of my life is over. Where did the time go? What have I accomplished? I thought I would be further along than I am in my career. Is this what success looks like? The next 40 will only be worse because my health will deteriorate and my income potential will wane.”
Such thoughts only exist in materialistic nations. We become attached to health, wealth, power, fun, and stuff that keeps us clinging to this world. Methuselah lived 969 years. I remember wondering a number of years ago if he ever had a mid-life crisis. At 450, did he say to his wife, “Where have the centuries gone? Why, it seems like just 100 years ago we bought our first home.”
What is most interesting is that Scripture never addresses this issue except from an eternal perspective. The Bible tells us that we all have the same life expectancy. It is called a vapor in James 4:14. We are told not to presume upon the future, because we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. When we develop an eternal perspective, “the things of this world grow strangely dim,” as the hymn writer expressed it. We rejoice that we are closer to the new heavens and the new earth than when we first believed.
This is why Scripture exhorts us to think on those things that are above (Colossians 3:1-3). Such a focus keeps us away from the mid-life crisis battle. By the way, if you have eternal life, there is no midpoint.
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” ~Hebrews 13:5-6
While in the Amazon jungle last summer, I discovered something about prosperity. Prosperity offers choices, choices bring conflict, and conflict brings unhappiness. Here is what I mean:
“Hey kids, where do you want to eat lunch after church?”
“I want to go to McDonald’s.”
“No, I want to go to Burger King.”
“We ate there last week! I want to go to Pizza Hut.”
“Everyone shut up – let’s just go home.”
Sound familiar? In the poverty-stricken area of the Amazon I saw some of the happiest children I have ever seen, and they had nothing. There were no choices.
“Hey kids, where do you want to eat after church? Would you like to eat at the McDonald’s that we don’t have or the Burger King that doesn’t exist? What movie would you like to see, the Disney film we don’t have or the adventure film that doesn’t exist?”
The scriptures tell us to be content with what we have. Contentment is coming to a place in my life where I desire nothing as opposed to coming to a place where I have everything.
You know the old saying “The best laid plans…”? Well, God has His own plan and it always, without fail, turns out to be the right one. After many months of planning for the Ladies Annual Retreat we, Barb, Bridget and I, arrived at Sandy Cove the weekend of March 5-7 full of anticipation and excitement. We had decided to try some new things and were eager to see if they would work and how they would be received. And I think we were even a little worried that we had somehow forgotten something. As the ladies began to arrive, there were the sounds of welcoming those we’d just seen at church the previous Sunday as well as the squeals of delight at being reunited with those who we hadn’t seen since the last retreat.
There was an excitement in the air at the prospect of sharing a weekend away from home… eating meals we didn’t have to cook, sleeping in beds we wouldn’t have to make and laughing at jokes that only we would get. But all those things, while good, are not the real reason we make that two hour trip up 95 on a Friday afternoon. And maybe I speak only for myself, but at the heart of it what I was really wondering was “What does God have in store for us this weekend?” and “How will He make Himself known to us in a new way?”
For those women of Reston Bible Church who have sat under sound biblical teaching for, well, forever, most of us entered the weekend titled “Love, Loss and Legacy” (centering around the story of Ruth) with our own knowledge and opinions. After all, it is of one of the great love stories in the Bible. What we didn’t anticipate is how the story would change us all individually and so differently. I’m not sure any one of us could have been prepared for all that God would bring to light through Kelly’s study and teaching. Each lady who attended came away with a view of that amazing story through a new lens. Some of us may have learned a hard lesson about forgiveness, others about loyalty, still others about how to just be still and simply hear from God and let Him guide our paths. I truly believe that every lady came away with a changed point of view about those three women in Ruth who began a journey and the paths they each chose.
As we watched the weekend unfold, we saw God use the plans we’d made in ways we couldn’t even have imagined as well as bring some surprises of His own. At first we may have resisted some of those, but as we watched God work, I believe one thing we all walked away with from that weekend was a greater sense of awe for the God we serve… and we could all use a lot more awe.
“Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified by Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
~1 Peter 4:9-11
God mandates Believers to represent the Gospel of Christ by using the gifts He has given for service to one another (1 Peter 4:9-11). Service to one another is a means of growing in our knowledge of Christ (as we serve others, we serve Christ Himself – Matthew 25:40) and an opportunity to make Christ known to others (John 13:35).
While there are always opportunities to serve at RBC, we have a unique opportunity coming up to make Christ known in Northern Virginia through Conversations. Conversations is our annual production the week before Easter in which music, dramas, and real life stories are blended together into a cohesive performance where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is creatively and clearly presented. It is the perfect opportunity for many people to hear and reflect on truth in a comfortable, fun, and non-awkward environment.
As we prepare for Conversations, we need to make sure we are equipped to care for our guests, showing them the value and respect they deserve. We are to show guests hospitality (Hebrews 13:2) with the hope that Christ will break down walls in their lives to enable them to respond to the truth of the Gospel.
There are still many ways to serve for Conversations – through prayer, baking, ushering, greeting, nursery/childcare, and meals for the cast and crew. Please consider how you can participate in the Gospel of Christ through serving others in Conversations this year!
For more information on Conversations: www.restonbible.org/converstations
To register to volunteer online, click here.