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.

A New Day Coming

Family trips are so much fun. Sometimes we go in one car, but now in our life we often drive two cars. Eydie and I will be in the lead, and the girls will follow. Because Eydie and I are driving ahead of my daughters, we see things that they don’t. We know things that they don’t. So, we call them to give them the insight they need and protect them.

We travel through myriad moments in our lives, not knowing what will meet us on the road. When Mary and Martha faced the death of their brother Lazarus, they were facing the fog that only sickness and death can bring.

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” (John 11:9–10, NKJV)

Even though we stumble through the darkness of painful moments like Mary and Martha, the good news for followers of Jesus is that He sees what we can’t see and knows what we don’t know.

In the face of impending danger and difficult challenges, we must cling to Jesus. He is the light that shines in our darkness. He sees what we can’t see, and He knows what we don’t know. To escape the cycle of distress and despair that the darkness delivers, we need to wait with faith on Jesus.

Jesus understands perfectly what our life and death moments mean, and He has the perfect plan to show us more about Himself and God’s power. Because of His love for Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, Jesus went to the family at the moment when His appearance would be most fruitful for them and for God’s glory (John 11:4). Because of His love for us, He moves at the right moment when His miraculous work will be most fruitful for us and God’s glory.

Jesus takes the walk to the tomb and does the unimaginable. He tells the care-takers to roll the stone away. Now Martha reminds Jesus about the facts. Lazarus is dead four days. There will be a smell. And Jesus once again calls her to faith that opens our eyes to the glory of God.

Did I not tell you that you would see the glory of God if you believe? (John 11:40, NKJV).

Although the despair and pain of our lives consume us, we have hope in the power of God brought to us by Jesus Christ. Can you hear those words ringing through the canyon of death’s abyss? Can you feel those words piercing through the shadows in your soul? Jesus has brought us life with God, and through fanatic faith in Him, we experience the love of God piercing the darkness. Jesus calls us to have a faith that is fanatically focused on His power to give life in the face of death. Jesus makes a claim that either places Him on the throne or puts Him in an asylum, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

Life will belong to all who have His life pulsing through their hearts. Jesus is the answer to our foggy and fragile existence. For Lazarus, there was but one voice he could hear. It was the one voice that could do the unimaginable and the unexpected. It was Jesus.

When we walk with Jesus through the graveyard and tombstones of life, He fills our souls with hope and confidence even in the face life’s frailties. Captured in the matrix of fear, we can hear Jesus speaking into our foggy future. Through faith in Him, stretch out your heart to hear His word of life-giving deliverance. His miraculous work for God’s glory, He gives us confidence that a new day is coming.

Progress of Our 90-Day Objectives

Pastor Eric Thomas opened the March 12 Campus Catalyst Town Hall Meeting with prayer and a recap of our church’s current situation. Of course, the VDOT highway construction is presenting some obstacles to our church (construction zones close to our building, loss of parking, increased traffic on highways, etc.). However, we believe that because we are people of faith, these changes are not accidental or a twist of fate, but rather something God has orchestrated for the good of this church family and the good of the mission God has given us as the church. So then, we rejoice in this part of the journey God has given us.

In light of these changes, our Vision Team created “First Norfolk Advance,” our ten-year ministry strategy. This includes our one-year goal and 90-day objectives, which Pastor Eric discussed during the evening’s meeting. Although church leadership does not have all of the answers right now, they are working on next steps and will share news as they are able.

First, Pastor Eric addressed the difference between a church plant and a campus since there has been some confusion on the matter. Part of our ten-year vision is: “starting ten campuses in Hampton Roads and planting twenty new churches around the world.” These are two distinctly different things. A church plant is an autonomous, independent church. We partner with church planters as they pursue their vision for that community, such as our current church planter partnerships in places like Montreal and South Dakota.

A satellite campus is where First Norfolk will start a full church service and “mission center” in the neighborhoods of the seven cities of Hampton Roads. Our goal is 10 satellite campuses that are tied to First Baptist Norfolk in the next 10 years that cover much of the seven cities. These satellite campuses are an extension of and will be tied to First Baptist Norfolk.

Our first satellite campus will be a bit different than the ones to come. Right now, because of the VDOT highway construction, it is a challenge to reach new people at our current 312 Kempsville Road location. Visitors may be put off by the limited parking or seeing large construction equipment all around our building. Pastor Eric stressed that we must remember our mission as a church is always to reach new people. Because of the longevity of the construction process, the Vision Team and staff believe it is important to start a new campus in 2017, which will help us reach new people with a greater ease.

For the past several months, leadership has been pursuing a location for the new campus. Pastor Eric said they are very close to being able to share the new campus location they are discussing. He also said in his research, he found the exciting statistic that on average, 28% growth in reaching people happens during the first year of a satellite, and about 20% growth in the second year. That would be “astronomical” for a church of our size.

Second, Pastor Eric discussed the 90-day objectives (Jan. 1-March 31). We have made great progress on some of these, while others still have steps to go. Here is the status of each objective:

  1. Develop Leaders

This objective was to not only develop leaders for a new satellite campus, but within our church. Phillip Herring, associate pastor of education, and team developed a “leadership process” training that just finished its pilot program that included 32 people. After some evaluation and fine-tuning, they will begin to train others in the church through this leadership development pipeline.

  1. Select Campus Location

Negotiations are in the works for our satellite location. The team is being intentional to seek what doors God is opening. The original goal was to launch the new campus the week after Easter, however, God is moving on His own timeline. Pray that God opens the door to the right opportunity so that we as a church can fulfill the mission He has given us — to see more people in Hampton Roads come to faith in Jesus Christ.

  1. Develop Communication Plan

Steve Harper, minister of media and communication, and a team are working on this. Currently this blog is a main way to communicate updates, but there will be more avenues of communication in the future.

  1. Select Leadership/Core Team

Initially, because our timeline was to launch the new campus the week after Easter, we had the objective of identifying the leadership core team by Feb. 5. However, since the launch has been delayed, the core team has not yet been identified. Pastor Eric said some people have already told him they feel called to be on mission at the new location. We need to continue praying that more people would feel called to go and serve in the new campus. The 21 Days of Prayer initiative was a good beginning, but we need to enter into another season of prayer over the new campus and its leadership core team.

These first 90 days are coming to an end on March 31, and our staff is developing objectives for the next 90 days. We will let you know of those new objectives through our blog and other Campus Catalyst meetings.

After answering questions from the crowd (the answers to many of these can be found in our Campus Catalyst FAQ in this blog post), Pastor Eric closed the meeting by asking for prayer on these specific requests:

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