On many occasions I was moved to tears as I read Michael Catt’s book, the Power of Persistence. Through story and scripture Catt elevates the necessity of prayer and urges the Church to get on her knees – the place where her true power lies – and seek God with urgency and conviction. The book is a challenging reminder of the truth of Jesus’ words in John 15, “apart from Me you can do nothing.”
It’s fairly easy to pass over this statement in Luke 9 and miss what’s going on. It deserves a little reflection, however, because it is both remarkable and instructive.
In these verses the whole purpose of Jesus’ coming is reaching it’s climax, and He and the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem for a final time. On the way they intend to pass through a Samaritan village where the people flat out refuse to receive him, probably because they had heard of his claim to be the Messiah. But in the minds of at least two of the disciples, such a rejection is unacceptable, and consequently elicits a strong response from the Sons of Thunder, James and John. They ask Jesus if he’d like them to put an end to those scoundrels, the Samaritans, by telling fire to come out of heaven and consume them. Always the consummate picture of self-restraint, Jesus of course rebukes them and they travel on.
Here’s what is remarkable about this brief incident. The disciples’ instinctive response is to assume that this is a physical battle, and that the Samaritan’s are the enemy. They thus conclude that to rain down fire and destroy them would bring an end to the conflict, and assure certain victory. They presume success in fighting a spiritual battle – rejection of Jesus – with fleshly arms.
The instruction is this: almost daily we are inclined to do the very same thing. We live and look on the surface. Every conflict we face is an apparent physical battle, and like a real-life game of whac-a-mole we hammer every alleged enemy that arises as though our fleshly fighting will actually prevail. We rain down fire. We heap destruction. We fight in the flesh. We miss the point.
Hear the rebuke of Jesus. I’m sure it was kind. I have no doubt it was strong. I am certain James and John got the message. And though I’m more than a little hard-headed, I’m getting it too.
- Religious observance can easily become more important than God’s law. Whether it’s a tradition like that of the Pharisees, or our own spiritual exercises (things like church attendance, and even reading the Bible and prayer), religious observance can easily become an end rather than a means to an end.
- Hypocrisy isn’t exclusive to those who do all the right things. What I mean is this. We often label the religious zealot as hypocrite because while he is clearly obeying all the rules (external), it’s obvious his heart (internal) isn’t right. But let me flip that around. If you attend worship services, call yourself a Christian, and perform an occasional service project, while living an otherwise selfish, indulgent life, your heart isn’t right either. You’re just as much a hypocrite. I looked it up. Hypocrisy is “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.” It is posturing yourself one way, while your heart – and thus behavior – reflects a different reality. (I’m tempted to qualify this, but I won’t. Apply it however necessary.)
- God isn’t opposed to the things that matter to you. He just doesn’t want them to matter as much as the things that matter to Him! Wow, that was probably a very confusing way of saying it. But I hope you get the point. Our traditions are fine. If certain things are important to you, make you feel more comfortable, make church and/or spiritual exercises more real or valued, no problem! But they must always be servant to the weightier matters of the law – things like loving God, and loving your neighbor as yourself! If you come to church on Sunday because that’s important, but act like the devil on Monday, because that isn’t important, your priorities are out of whack. If you care more about where you sit on Sunday, or how folks are dressed, than you do the needy sinner that just walked through the door, you need some adjustments. The things that matter to God are always of greater importance, and every preference or tradition must be servant to them.
This is clearly the most important thing I can do in the Christian life, if I hope to be fruitful and experience God’s best. It is also the hardest. Because it goes against my nature. You see, the key to abiding is “staying connected”, that’s the comparison Jesus draws with the vine and branch. And I have trouble staying close enough to Jesus to stay connected. Here’s why:
- Sometimes I run ahead – because I am almost always in a hurry. Sometimes I don’t even seek His counsel. I want to solve every problem, answer every question, meet every need, and save the world – NOW! Jesus’ pace is even and steady. He never concerns himself with time. He has different objectives.
- Sometimes I veer off course – because I am selfish and want to do what seems or feels best to me. Jesus always takes the selfless path; the path of humility, sacrifice and service.
- Sometimes I lag behind – because I’m pretty sure I know what He wants, and where He’s leading, and I am reluctance to go there. Jesus always walks in perfect step with – and in perfect obedience to – the Father.
- Sometimes I sit and wring my hands, in worry – because I am fearful the outcome won’t be what I want or when I want. I am anxious my needs won’t be met. Jesus, on the other hand, walks in perfect peace knowing the Source of all provision.
- Sometimes I’m just oblivious. You know that blank-eyed stare of the guys who is absolutely clueless. Yea, that’s me sometimes. I don’t know why, but I just don’t get it. I am so grateful Jesus is patient, and understanding, and “remembers that we are dust.”
I know I have the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is the key to abiding. But I also know that He needs much better cooperation from me. I am nothing, and can do nothing, on my own. So I definitely cannot afford to hang out by myself. I am asking God to renew my passion, and strengthen my resolve to abide. I want to be in step with Jesus.
Here’s how I can be… (found in Psalm 37)
- Be still and wait patiently on the Lord. vv.7,9,34
- Delight in the Lord. v.4
- Commit my way to the Lord. v.5
- Trust in the Lord. vv.3,5
- Become established by the Lord. v.23
Dear Parkway Family!
It’s late Thursday afternoon, and to me it already seems like Friday. It’s been a very full week thus far, and promises to be a very exciting weekend. Much is planned and I wanted to take a minute and write to you about it.
So many have been working hard the past several weeks in preparation for the LIVE NATIVITY, and here we are at T minus 26 hours and counting. Soon our parking lot will be filled with folks from our community who will grant us a few minutes of their busy holiday schedule. Our aim is to take advantage of those moments to show them Jesus, and give them a true sense of what Christmas is really about. Let’s imagine our church campus as an oasis in the dry desert wasteland of the otherwise secular Christmas season. We will offer a cold drink of water (hot chocolate actually) and send our guests off refreshed! Please be praying with me that in our effort we will be blessed!
One more thought about the Live Nativity before I move on. Whether you have been assigned a job/role or not, I can assure you there is something for you to do! Please come tomorrow around 4:30 or 5pm. We will feed you dinner and give you an opportunity to serve! Your presence here will be a huge encouragement and blessing, especially to those carrying the lions share of responsibility. This is a highlight of our year as a church. I can’t wait for the Live Nativity to begin!
Then, on Sunday morning at 10am we will be blessed with some inspirational music from the Cragun’s, a very talented gospel group out of Cincinnati, Ohio. The Cragun’s are family, and I know you will enjoy their ministry this weekend. Since it will also be Christmas Sunday, and since some often come to church on Christmas Sunday who don’t come at other times throughout the year, I will also be sharing a short gospel message and offering an opportunity for someone to receive Christ. Please invite your friends, relatives, associates and neighbors to church this Sunday. It’s going to be a very special day!
This past Saturday I went to Jamestown! In case you hadn’t heard, Jamestown is the weekly outreach ministry of our missions department in SE Roanoke, and an incredible opportunity to show and share the love of Jesus. My heart was absolutely overwhelmed by what I witnessed! What our teams are doing there week in and week out is absolutely changing lives! We are presenting the Gospel and giving these dear people hope beyond anything they’ve ever experienced. This coming Saturday our Team will once again be at Jamestown, celebrating Christmas with these new friends, and baptizing those who have received Christ.
I told you that to tell you this: I think everyone should go to Jamestown at least once! So, if you want to see what I saw, and be impacted as I was, let me know (send me an email) and I’ll hook you up! See you soon!
I love my church!
Dear Parkway Family,
We had a great time of prayer and fasting yesterday afternoon, and I was so encouraged by the number of you that fasted and prayed where you were. Thank you for engaging in the battle with us. Your participation means more than you know. You are helping to advance God’s kingdom!
I sent a brief note yesterday, but wanted to follow up with just a little bit more information, and a request that you come out in strong numbers this Sunday for our Thanksgiving Celebration and Capital Campaign offering. We have been building toward this day for the past eight weeks and I believe God is going to do something exciting among us. My prayer is that He will grant you the same spirit of anticipation, and that you’ll invite friends and family to join us for this special day. Maybe you could even provide dinner for them afterward. Just a thought! And just to be clear, the service Sunday will culminate in an offering, but it won’t be about the offering. I’ve got an amazing message from 2 Chronicles 20, and we are going to worship, and give thanks to God. I hope you are making plans now to join us.
Since we are taking an offering Sunday, and since our goal of $100,000 is significant, everyone’s participation is greatly needed. If for some reason you are unable to be here Sunday (and I hope that’s unlikely), I’m going to ask a favor of you. Would you please call the church office, or stop by, to get an offering envelope or commitment card, and let us know how you plan to take part in this important drive to repair and improve our facilities. We would like to be able to include ALL of the giving commitments in our final tally, and we don’t want you to miss out on the opportunity to be a part of this big day! (By the way, can I justencourage you to read Luke 6:38, before you make your final decision?)
The message series I started Sunday is called Possible. It’s based on the words of the angel to Mary in Luke chapter one, “for with God nothing will be impossible.” That means no matter the odds, and no matter how unlikely the outcome may seem, with God everything is possible. In this series I am asking everyone to bring their own impossibility with them. Marriage, finances, health, kids, job/career, a friend or family member far from God, or something entirely different. Whatever it is, we’ve already begun asking God to get involved in our circumstances in a whole new way, and thereby prove His grace and glory in our lives. I believe Hewants to do that. I believe He will do that! Again, I hope you’ll invite a friend to join you this Sunday.
One more item of note. We have begun brainstorming and planning for the Live Nativity that will be held the weekend of December 19-21. We are getting more excited about this each day, primarily because we are making a strong push to reach our unsaved friends, relatives, associates and neighbors. Maybe these folks won’t come to church, but maybe they will come for some cookies and hot cocoa, and to watch an outdoor drama of the birth, life and death of the Messiah. We intend to share the gospel with every person who comes, and I am asking for your help in two areas:
- To participate in some way in making the Live Nativity a success. There are dozens of jobs that will have to be performed, and “all hands on deck” is what we are seeking from our church family! Thank you in advance for finding a spot and filling it.
- Then, we need everyone to invite every unchurched person you know to join us on at least one of those three nights. Sit down and make a list of folks you want to invite, and then make it a point to invite them. By next Sunday, November 30th, we will have personal invitations available at the church for you to hand out.
This is gearing up to be a fun-filled, exciting and God-honoring Holiday season! I can’t wait to spend time with each of you, getting to know you better, and experiencing the joy of the Christmas Season. Please be praying with me that God will show up Sunday, and display his majesty and glory among us.
I look forward to seeing you there!
Good Monday morning Parkway family!
It was a fantastic weekend, and a delight to honor the many Veterans who are part of our church family. Again this morning I want to say thank you to all of you who have served our country, and have helped to preserve the peace and freedom that we so much enjoy. You are deserving of much more than you receive, and I am humbled by your dedication and sacrifice.
Though it was a great weekend, I’m actually writing you for a different reason. Yesterday evening about 7:30, a very dear friend, and long time member of our church family, Helen Carr, want to be with Jesus. Her passing was sudden and unexpected, and this morning we are grieving for her family that is left behind. They are hurting deeply today!
In addition to Helen’s passing, most of you already know that on Friday Sharon Young succumbed to her brief battle with cancer, and she too want to be with the Lord. Our hearts ache for Bill, Amy, and Julie who are so said that Sharon is gone. The good news is, two very dear ladies are now in heaven. The bad news is their departure leaves a gaping hole no one else could possibly fill. Please help me pray for these families.
Tomorrow morning at 11 AM we will celebrate Sharon’s life in a memorial service at the church. Then, on Wednesday morning, about the same time, we will do the same for Helen Carr. These is an extremely important time to be the Church, sohere’s what I’m asking of you our church family. After each of the services – both Tuesday and Wednesday – we are providing a meal for family and friends of the deceased, to show our love and support for these two hurting families. Several of you have already agreed to help with the meal Tuesday, and I am asking others of you to contact the church office, talk with Melanie or Linda, and offer assistance in this ministry. These meals are a simple yet powerful way to show that we care, and I can’t thank you enough for helping us meet the needs of these families. In addition, if you are able to come to one or both of the services, your presence will be a great blessing.
As if all of this isn’t enough, there is one more bit of sad news. Many of you will remember Shawn Lewis. He was saved and baptized here at Parkway, was our sound guy for quite a while, and then married Lorelei Smithers this past May. Shawn is presently the youth Pastor at Crossroads Community Church (our church plant) in Rocky Mount. Well, his father passed away last week, after a brief battle with lung cancer, and a Memorial service to celebrate his life will be held at Parkway on Saturday of this week, at 2pm. This is just one more chance for us to come together and be the Church. I know you will. Thank you for your love, your sacrifice and your service.
Now, since so much will be expended toward these Memorial services, and since this needs to be our focus this week, Pastor Ray and I have decided that everything beyond this important ministry has been canceled for the week. That means no leadership training on Tuesday (visitation for Helen is from 6-8pm Tuesday, at the church), no Wednesday night service, and no discipleship or children’s classes. The youth have planned to go to Manna Ministries, and will follow through on that commitment, but there will be no youth service on campus. Thank you for your understanding and flexibility, and thank you for your show of support to these grieving families. Most of all, thank you for being the Church, the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. I am privileged to serve you!
If you have questions, or are offering your assistance, please call 540.982.02115. Or, if you prefer to email, the church email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I love my church!