Campus Catalyst/Church Conference Recap: Our Next 90-Day Objectives

img_2563On the evening of May 7, our church family gathered for a combined Campus Catalyst Town Hall Meeting and Church Conference. Geoff Hemphill, church treasurer, opened the meeting by giving a financial report. Our church “is in great shape” this year, and is even doing better than at this same time last year. Hemphill thanked church members for their generous giving to our missions and benevolence funds.

“Not only do you give to the budget, but you give above and beyond the budget,” he said.

During the Church Conference portion of the meeting, Pastor Eric Thomas held a vote to approve the four nominated messengers for the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, June 13-14, in Phoenix, Arizona. The vote passed, and the four messengers are Eric and Eydie Thomas and Phillip and Jan Herring.

After the Church Conference, Pastor Eric moved into the Campus Catalyst discussion. He iterated that although the construction on and around our campus has been difficult, it has also been a big blessing. The visibility of our church facility from the highway has never been better. In light of that, we have updated the sign on our building from First Baptist to firstnorfolk.org to point passersby to our website.

Another positive from the highway construction project is that we gathered together as one body at one time for Easter at the Ted, and it was “a tremendous blessing as a family of faith,” Pastor Eric said. This is something we would like to make a regular once-a-year event if possible, he continued.

Pastor Eric then reviewed our Ten-Year Vision to see 10 multi-site locations and 20 church plants in the next decade. He also reviewed our First Norfolk Advance One-Year Goal: Between January and December 2017, we will launch a campus in our multi-site strategy. We are making progress toward that goal, but have not yet finalized a location for our second campus location. As soon as it is possible, church leadership will announce the second campus location and bring it to a vote before the church.

The time period for our first 90-Day Objectives (Jan. 1-March 31) is over, but Pastor Eric introduced the next 90-Day Objectives (April 1-June 30) to our church:

  • Select and train leader/core team: We will call the church to pray God’s will for them to join the leadership and core teams to be selected by June 1. (The leadership team will be First Norfolk staff and lay people who will be the “point people” for the new campus. The core team will be individuals who commit themselves to take the gospel to that neighborhood in Hampton Roads.)
  • Establish footprint at New Campus: Leverage VBS, student/young adults ministries in neighborhood of new campus beginning at occupancy of new location.
  • Implement Communication Plan: We will implement intentionally the compelling communication plan for the church and community to tell the story of First Norfolk’s advance.
  • Develop multi-campus ministry model: Identify core values to guide multi-campus ministry to reach neighborhoods utilizing best practices with each context by June 30.

“God has used this church for 200 years in Hampton Roads for His glory, and He wants to use it for another 200 years,” Pastor Eric said. “But we have to join Him on that journey.”

The Campus Catalyst meeting ended with a corporate time of prayer. Pastor Eric again asked our church family to be praying over the Call to Prayer points he introduced in March.

“To be a part of this journey, you can pray faithfully for God to shine brightly through this church as we seek to glorify Him and advance His mission.”

The next Campus Catalyst meeting will be on May 28 at 5 pm, and will be a significant time of discussion and a potential vote about the second campus location.

A Call to Prayer for First Norfolk

During tonight’s Campus Catalyst Town Hall Meeting/Church Conference, Pastor Eric once again asked our church family to be in prayer over these specific matters:

  • Pray for God’s glory to shine through us to the seven cities.
  • Pray that hundreds of people far from God would be saved during this journey.
  • Pray for the Campus location.
  • Pray for VDOT negotiations.

Thank you, First Norfolk family, for praying and continuing to pray for our church and Hampton Roads. A more in-depth blog post recapping the evening’s discussion will be posted in the next few days.

The Power of Comfort

Pain has the power to ruin a good day. Pain can darken a sunshine-dripping life with threatening clouds of suffering. It’s amazing how one small blister on our toe can create such trauma on a hike that we miss the beauty of a mountain view or the majestic colors of a glorious sunset. Instead of basking in the beauty and being awed by the majesty, we drown in the persistent pain of a raw and tender spot on our foot. Pain has the power to ruin a good day.

We all face places of pain and difficulty. We encounter suffering that is beyond our ability to handle or navigate. Paul had traveled through that deep fissure and helps us understand the power of God’s comfort to conquer the potential power of our pain. Paul doesn’t want the Corinthian believers to take lightly his personal story of deliverance. He was in trouble. Deep trouble. Paul describes the affliction as life-threatening and beyond the scope of his strength and ability to handle on his own.

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. (2 Corinthians 1:8)

How do we handle death-dealing blows in our lives?

1. Praise in the midst of the pain.

The gospel is the story of how God rescues us! The praise that drips from Paul’s pen is more than a stale theory that he is teaching. It is genuine praise to God for actual rescue by God. The divine blessedness, from which Paul and the Corinthian believers benefited, originated from the character of God.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4a)

As the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, God blesses His people with the magnificence of His great love (John 3:16; Rom 5:8; Eph 2:4-7). As the Father of mercies, God pours out the joys of His unsurpassed compassion and absolute sympathy upon those who share in His plan. Just as I look upon my daughters when they’re in trouble and am concerned enough to intervene appropriately in their struggle, God is our Father who passionately cares about us in our afflictions so that He perfectly intervenes (Ps 103:13). As the God of all comfort, God pours out the blessings of His unfailing help to those who share in His purpose. 

But comfort is more than a feeling of contentment that we receive or a pain-numbing dose of divine anesthetic. Comfort is the active force of God’s grace strengthening and sustaining us in difficulties so that we live out each day with unwavering commitment and endurance toward His purposes. 

Today, we must praise God who is the glorious mover in our lives. This praise must come from us even in the context of the suffering that we may endure. In good times and bad, as we focus on God in all of His glory, we celebrate His glorious character, recognizing that He is the One who is the source of mercy and comfort in the whole of our lives. The point of Paul’s praise is that God meets us in this life, even in our trouble, with encouragement that moves us forward with strength and courage. Regardless what we face, our praise declares the work of God to transform our despair into hope, our sorrow into love, and our fear into joy.

God’s comfort always matches our suffering. The sufferings we endure as followers of Christ will be matched equally and superabundantly by the comfort of Christ.

“For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:5)

Paul has in mind the succession of events in the life of a believer; first, the affliction, and then the comfort. Thus, Paul has a sure and steadfast hope that as followers of Christ endure sufferings, they will also receive abounding encouragement from God.

2. Embrace the purpose in our pain. 

In verses 9 and 10, we see the purpose in our pain. With every trial and trouble, we must also see the purpose that God fills with each moment of suffering. The redeeming purpose in our pain is that we might trust in God more than we trust in ourselves. The purpose of the “sentence of death,” beyond Paul’s ability to handle on his own, was so that Paul and his team would trust, not in themselves, but in God who raises the dead. Every faithful Jew would have prayed every day to God who is “mighty forever, You make the dead to live.” For Paul, however, this prayer and declaration of God’s power has been infused with new meaning in light of the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection infuses our everyday life with supernatural power from God.

A second redeeming purpose for our pain is that we might comfort others (2 Cor 1:4). The result of divine intervention and help is so that we can, in turn, comfort and encourage others in all of their trials through the comfort with which we have been comforted by God. 

3. Remember that God rescues. 

As Paul and his team were pushed beyond their ability and experiencing deep despair, God intervened. This is the beauty of the gospel which shapes our lives. God intervenes to turn our despair to hope, giving purpose to the most devastating circumstances. We face overwhelming circumstances that lead to despair [“the sentence of death”], but God, who raises the dead, intervenes! 

God’s rescuing power, which rescued Paul, continues its work of rescuing God’s people (1:10). In verse 11, Paul reminds us that God’s rescuing power also moves on the wings of His people’s prayers. Through the help of prayer, believers in Corinth join Paul in the gratitude to God for His delivering power.
So as we walk through our days of struggle and face the persistence of pain, we need to focus on the glorious rescue that God is bringing us. We need to embrace the purpose that God has for us in our pain. And we need to praise the Lord through the pain!!

Brand New

There once was a caterpillar who saw himself just as a caterpillar. He was depressed and sad because he couldn’t soar with the creatures in the air, for that was his greatest desire. But, he would never soar, he thought, because he was merely a caterpillar. One day a beautiful butterfly came to the caterpillar and asked why he was so sad. The caterpillar told him his sad tale, and the butterfly began to laugh. He said, “You silly slug! Don’t you know that you can be changed into a butterfly like I am? I too was once a caterpillar, but I was transformed into a butterfly.” The butterfly then tried to share with the caterpillar how he could be transformed, but the caterpillar refused to believe it. Try as he might, the butterfly could not convince the caterpillar that he could be transformed. He flew away in frustration, thinking “this is hopeless.” The caterpillar stayed planted on the ground thinking, “I am hopeless!”

We have come to believe that what we do and our ability to please others is what leads to love, acceptance, and purpose in our lives, but this formula is a sham. It is a way for us to compensate for the brokenness of our soul created by our sin and separation from God. Our fulfillment in life depends not on our skills to avoid life’s problems but on our ability to apply God’s specific solutions to those problems. The basic need of every person is to regard himself as a worthwhile person, but only God can provide the significance we need.

Many people view themselves as hopeless because they see themselves as caterpillars, and they can’t see that there’s any hope beyond crawling in the dirt. Past actions, things that have been done to us, desires that we can’t shake, something about our appearance make it impossible for us to experience consistent happiness, peace, or joy. We build our significance on our past behavior, measuring our identity through the memory of yesterday’s disappointments and failures. We live in the abyss of shame.

Shame is the poignant pain of feelings of inferiority. Because we have this deep sense of inferiority, we behave in a way that is consistent with our perception of ourselves. We build a statue in our soul to remind us how bad we have it and worship each day throughout the day at its altar. Like tar on a beach sticking to our feet, shame becomes the emotional tar of our souls. When we are stuck in a caterpillar life, shame constructs our identity with the mortar of despair and the bricks of hopelessness.

The Bible tells us that life is not hopeless, and we aren’t stuck in the cell of our shame.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-6, NKJV)

God’s love invades our caterpillar life! Jesus invades this world and crushes the power of Satan and sin at the Cross. God in His mercy and love brought new life to sinners. Paul describes God’s compassionate care, sensitivity, and love for humanity in their destitution. God looked upon sinners enslaved and had compassion for them in their plight. The cause of His mercy to flow toward sinners enslaved is His great love.

Once we have been freed we continue in that new life of freedom. We have been rescued, and we remain rescued for all eternity. It is not the work that we have done that has brought new life (Eph 2:8-9). It is wholly the work of God’s grace. Indeed, we have been saved by the grace of God, His gift to sinners.

Like a caterpillar transformed to a butterfly, in Christ we are transformed from the inside-out. Our past doesn’t define us. Our appearance isn’t our identity. Jesus shatters the statue of self-pity and destroys the idol of hopelessness through His death and resurrection!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy, has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3, NKJV)

Today, hear the song of hope that God’s love sings to our soul. Hear the note of triumph to resound through the halls of our heart as it echoes through the hall of heaven. In His merciful, compassionate, love, God offers us help when we could not help ourselves. Our hope won’t die because Jesus is alive! The purpose of new birth is a “living hope.” This is a vigorous hope that lives in the present and moves toward the future. Here we find a hope by which we can live each day and in which the terrors of the night are swallowed by the bright light of Christ’s resurrection.

1. Be rescued by God’s love. It is the goodness of God that leads sinners to repentance (Rom 2:4). His love displayed through patience and mercy and the display of His grace opens your heart today. My prayer is that you might be rescued by His love through faith in Jesus Christ.

2. Be satisfied in God’s love. God is the greatest satisfaction. To praise God, therefore, is the consummate joy in a life gripped by the grandeur, majesty, and unsearchable greatness of God. In praise, we find the fulfillment of our great joy, which is supreme satisfaction in God through Christ. Stand upon the faithfulness of God’s great love, each day resting in His glorious embrace.

 

Love to the End

Travel with Jesus from Bethany to Jerusalem. It is Thursday evening and the disciples have gathered with Jesus in an upper room. As they walk into the room, Jesus set His love upon His followers.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1, ESV)

In the final hours of His life, Jesus poured out Himself in love toward His friends and followers as He prepared them for the despair of the Cross and the delight of the Empty Tomb.

Jesus loves us to the very end. To the end of His humanity, He pours out His love upon us. To the very end of our lives, Jesus pours out His love upon us. Jesus loves us completely and absolutely. There is no greater measure of love than His love for us, and just as He poured out this love toward His followers 2,000 years ago, He pours out His love to us today. Jesus had received all authority from the Father. He recognized His power as King, and yet He humbled Himself to be the servant who showers His followers with love.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. (John 13:3–5, ESV)

When Jesus removes His outer cloak and kneels before His followers, He foreshadows the act of love and humility in His sacrificial death that would cleanse sinners. Jesus fills the room and our world with the fragrance of a cleansing, healing, life-giving love. The love of Jesus isn’t merely words on display in a meme or sentimental holiday card. His love is poignantly displayed and personally applied to all who trust Him in faith.

As we approach the terror of death and the triumph of resurrection this Holy Week, receive the love that Jesus offers. The tenderness of His love caresses our heart with comfort, confidence, and courage in the face of debilitating difficulties. The power of His love cleanses our sin-stained soul through His death on a cross. The faithfulness of His love pierces through the deepest darkness of death itself. His victorious love conquers hell and shines the brilliance of hope into our lives through the resurrection.

 

 

The Right Passion

Kevin Carter won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for his photograph of an emaciated child in Sudan. The little child was crawling toward the food distribution center, and a nearby vulture was framed in the picture watching the child’s every move.

Carter received the accolades of the international community for such a vivid and horrific snapshot of suffering. Yet, people began to ask him what he did after he took the picture. They wanted to know what happened to the child. Tragically, Carter admitted that he took twenty minutes to frame the picture. And then he walked away when the photo was taken. Two months after receiving the most significant award in his profession, Kevin Carter took his own life. Carter’s passion for “the shot” and even the praise for the greatest “shot” in 1994 left him empty. He had a great passion, but it was a mangled passion that could not satisfy the yearning of his soul.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He confronted deformed and crippled passions. Making His way into the city, He encountered people with a passion for a hero but not God’s Messiah. When He approached the temple, He found a place where passions for a perverted purity and profit replaced the divine intention. Jesus encountered mangled passions for personal gain rather than the proper passion of parading God’s glory.

The narrative of Jesus cursing the fig tree highlights the perverted passions that ran rampant in the Temple (Mark 11:12-14). Although it wasn’t the season for ripe figs, the leafy tree promised the nodules of fruit called paggim. When Jesus found no fruit, He cursed the tree. And in Mark’s telling of the account, the fig tree, cursed for its lack of fruit, presents the portrait of the Temple which fails to produce the fruit which God desires and demands. Rather than a “temper tantrum,” Jesus tells God’s judgment on the ritualistic center of His people’s passion with the curse of the tree. The curse upon the fig tree is a living picture of God’s judgment on the ritualistic passion in the Temple.

Returning from the cleansing of the Temple, the disciples see the cursed fig tree once again. It has dried up and withered. Christ’s response to the disciples’ wonder is an exhortation to faith in God. Once again, Jesus calls for a new passion. For them, the Temple was the center of God’s presence, and their Teacher has condemned the Temple, even as He cursed the fig tree. But Jesus calls them to have a passion un-perverted. To have a passion for God. To place their faith in God and to live their lives according to God’s design and desire. This includes their relationships with others marked by forgiveness from God.

God has made us His Body and Christ’s Bride so that all the people of the world might come to know Him. We must never allow our ritual to impede and subvert God’s passionate purpose.

Suppose there was a place called Ducktown where all the residents of the city were ducks. Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and down the street to First Duck Church. They waddle into the sanctuary and into their proper pews. The duck pastor comes forward shares his inspiring message. “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you!” All the ducks shout, “Amen!” And then they all waddle home [adapted from Let Me Tell You a Story].

Jesus found God’s people of covenant, His own people, living as ducks who could fly but would only waddle. They had missed the greatest passion for a counterfeit and fake. They had embraced a religious passion, but missed the power of the dynamic relationship that God passionately sought to bring.

This week, as we journey with Jesus toward the Cross, I pray that we will tune our souls to the right passion. I pray that we will live with our hearts turned toward the glory of God and His passion for those who are far from Him. I pray that our spirits will soar to the heights of life in the grip of God’s grace purchased for us through the sacrifice of Jesus.

 

 

 

Overturning Tables, Removing Obstacles

As Jesus entered Jerusalem, making His way to the temple, He journeyed up the southern steps with the other pilgrims. These steps were preparation for worship. The pilgrims, making their way to the presence of God in the temple, would sing the songs of ascent (Psalms 120-134). They would pass through the Huldah Gates, under the wall and toward Mount Moriah, through the Court of Gentiles and the Court of Women into the temple with songs of praise to God.

On the southern steps and along the porticos, money changers set up their tables. Around 30 AD, temple authorities moved the sale of animals for sacrifice from the Mount of Olives into the temple precincts, especially the Court of Gentiles, probably so that they could get a portion of the profits from the sales. Rather than providing sacred space for Gentiles to seek God, the religious leaders set up tables for profit that blocked worship. Jesus saw through their disguise of dedication with disgust. Jesus was indignant because they were impeding worship.

So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” (Mark 11:15-17, NKJV)

Jesus overturned the tables in the temple as a picture of what needs to happen in our lives as His people. He is King and Lord of All, and He evaluates us today, seeking to cleanse our hearts so that we might worship God faithfully and be a witness to all nations.

What tables in our lives need to be overturned by Jesus? Anything that becomes an obstacle to our faithful and consuming worship of the living God. Jesus has overturned tables in my life this week. As He has scrutinized my life, He has revealed the obstacles in my life that He desires to remove. His divine hand of discipline and love compels me to confess my sin. Because He is the Lord of my life, I submit to His scrutiny and confess those sins, turning from them.

What tables in our lives need to be overturned by Jesus? Anything that becomes an obstacle for honest seekers of God in their pursuit of Him. Like the tables in the Court of Gentiles, our attitudes or actions have become obstacles for those who are far from God. Because Jesus is the Lord of our lives, we must submit to His divine hand of discipline and love and relinquish our rights to tables that block the way for others to encounter Him.

As we walk through this Holy Week in preparation for Resurrection Sunday, I pray that Jesus would have free reign in your heart and mine to overturn tables, to remove obstacles to worship God.