Friday, August 18, 2017
But I say that only because it is a message we are not accustomed to hearing. It will appear "heavy" only because our normal expectations of someone following Jesus is, "If you want to follow Him, come on. Come one, come all. He will gladly receive you."
Not is simply not the case and we will see that in Luke 9: 57-62. In fact, these are so important and valuable, I will take two Sundays to walk gingerly through these verses.
These verses could contain the "seed" of all Jesus does the rest of His earthly life and how Luke accounts for it in chapters ten and following. We will see some of this on Sunday.
So, this Sunday I will lay the foundation as we see the exact teaching of the three men who wanted to follow the Lord and our Lord's response. August 27 I will conclude the message with two "so-whats" of application to our lives. I wish I could do all of this in one Sunday, but to be true to the Scriptures and in respect of time, this will be a "two-seater."
I hope to see you Sunday in the Lord's House with your Bible marked to Luke 9.
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Tonight, I am continuing our study in the Book of Philippians 3 looking at what Paul said about himself and his spiritual resume. But more importantly, his willingness and eagerness to give all of that up for the knowledge of Christ.
Join us tonight at 6:10 in the Auditorium for praise, prayer and Philippians.
This Sunday is a RED LETTER day for Rainsville First Baptist Church and DeKalb Baptist Association. We are having our DeKalb Baptist Sundays School Leadership Conference this Sunday afternoon from 3-7 at Ft. Payne First Baptist Church. It has been such a joy to serve with three of the greatest pastors in the world plus our Director of Missions in planning this leadership event. Jason Bell, Kevin McCreless, Nathan VanHorn and Ken Allen have come together to prioritize Sunday School in our churches by inviting a top-notch staff from all over the South to lead us.
Alan Raughton (pictured) is returning to lead the adults. He led our Adult Sunday School Conference last year here at Rainsville First and was a huge success. We are delighted he is returning from Lifeway in Nashville.
Marshall Henderson, Student Pastor, Ft. Payne First Baptist Church, will be leading the Student Sunday School conference.
Myra Carter, Children's Minister, Underwood Baptist Church, Florence, AL will be leading the Children's Sunday School Conference.
Marie Harbison, Children's Minister, Hilldale Baptist Church, Center Point, AL will be leading the Preschool Sunday School Conference.
Sherron Culpepper, Special Needs Coordinator, Huntsville First Baptist Church, Huntsville, AL coming to lead a discussion for those interested in Special Needs ministry.
PLUS this Sunday morning I am having our semi-annual training of all the Secretaries and Care Group Leaders in our Sunday School classes at 9:15 in the Large Fellowship Hall.
I'm so excited about this Sunday and the opportunities we have to deepen our most important ministry in this church...Sunday School.
Due to the importance of this conference Sunday afternoon, there will be no services here at Rainsville First Sunday night.
Monday, August 14, 2017
Recently I was at my desk writing to Tommy, a 17-year-old boy who just broke his neck body surfing off the Jersey shore. He’s now a quadriplegic. He will live the rest of his life in a wheelchair without use of his hands or legs. When it comes to life-altering injuries, quadriplegia is catastrophic.
Halfway through my letter describing several hurdles Tommy should expect in rehab, I stopped. I felt utterly overwhelmed, thinking of all that lies ahead for him. I’ve been there. And even though half a century has passed, I can still taste the anguish. Hot, silent tears began streaming, and I choked out a prayer, Oh God, how will Tommy do it? How will he ever make it? Have mercy; help him find you!
Tommy is facing the impossible. I’m sure he feels a little like this sketch. It’s a copy of a drawing I did in rehab, holding charcoal pencils between my teeth. Although I tore up the original years ago when I was depressed, this sketch says it all: “Oh God, this is now my life?! You actually expect me to do this?!”
Somehow, I did it. Or, the Holy Spirit did it in me. As of today, I’ve done it for 50 years.
Like Tommy, I was once the 17-year-old who retched at the thought of living life without a working body. I hated my paralysis so much I would drive my power wheelchair into walls, repeatedly banging them until they cracked. Early on, I found dark companions who helped me numb my depression with scotch-and-cola. I just wanted to disappear. I wanted to die.
What a difference time makes—as well as prayer, heaven-minded friends, and deep study of God’s Word. All combined, I began to see there are more important things in life than walking and having use of your hands. It sounds incredible, but I really would rather be in this wheelchair knowing Jesus as I do than be on my feet without him. But whenever I try to explain it, I hardly know where to begin.
I really would rather be in this wheelchair knowing Jesus as I do than be on my feet without him.
Yet I know this: I’m in the zone whenever I infuse Christ-encouragement into the hearts of people like Tommy. It feels so right to agonize alongside them. Better yet, to participate in their suffering in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 1:6: “If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation.” Can I do something for Tommy’s comfort and salvation? You bet.
I do what wise Christian friends once did with me. Back in the early ’70s when I was starting to take seriously Christ’s lordship in my life, my friends didn’t merely tell me biblical truth: “Here, believe this. Rejoice in your trial. It’ll do you a world of good.” Instead, they hooked up their spiritual veins to mine, pumping compassion into my wounded soul. Com means “with” and passion means “Christ’s suffering.” They literally were Christ-with-me-in-suffering. I wasn’t their spiritual project; I was their friend.
One night, a few Young Life friends who liked to sing picked me up for a late-night drive into Baltimore City. We ended up downtown at the railway station—a massive structure with travertine floors, marble columns, and vaulted ceilings. We found a corner and started harmonizing, our voices echoing throughout the station. An officious-looking guard approached and ordered us out of the building. “See that ‘no loitering’ sign? It’s 11 p.m. and you kids don’t belong here,” he barked. Then he pointed at me: “And you put that wheelchair back where you found it. Right now!”
“But sir,” I insisted, “it’s mine.” He told me not to give him any lip and to put it back right away. When our little group started laughing, he realized his error. That night, when my friends got me home, one kneeled beside my chair: “Joni, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you call it ‘my wheelchair.’ Thank you for doing that. You’re helping me own my problems, too.”
I had welcomed my trial as a friend. And it felt so good.
Suffering Is a Mirror
Throughout my 20s, I became immersed in Bible study with these same friends—mostly character studies about God, especially his sovereignty. When it came to my accident, I had to know whether the buck stopped with him, and if it did, why didn’t he prevent my accident? Around my big farmhouse table in Maryland, we’d tackle books like Loraine Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination and others by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J. Gresham Machen, and J. I. Packer.
I now laugh as I picture myself with these books on my music stand, flipping pages this way and that with my mouth stick. But decades of study, paralysis, pain, and cancer have taught me to say, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Ps. 119:71). I won’t rehearse all of suffering’s benefits here. Many of you know them by heart. Like the way God uses it to shape Christ’s character in us (Rom. 8:28–29). Or how it produces patience (Rom. 5:4). Or how it refines our faith like gold (1 Pet. 1:7). Or gives us a livelier hope of heaven (James 1:12). And on and on.
However, if I were to nail down suffering’s main purpose, I’d say it’s the textbook that teaches me who I really am, because I’m not the paragon of virtue I’d like to think I am. Suffering keeps knocking me off my pedestal of pride. Sometimes, when my scoliosis becomes extremely painful, I’ll murmur and drop hints to God that he’s piling on too much. Later, when the pain dissipates, I’ll make excuses: Lord, that’s not like me. I’m not like that at all.
But it is like me. It’s exactly like me.
If I were to nail down suffering’s main purpose, I’d say it’s the textbook that teaches me who I really am.
Philippians 2:14 is for people like me: “Do everything without grumbling.” Everything? The Bible says it’s possible, even for aging quadriplegics who fight terminal diseases and chronic pain. But less sin means more Jesus, and Jesus is worth it.
Inexpressible Gospel Joy
The core of God’s plan is to rescue me from sin and self, and to keep rescuing me. The apostle Paul calls it “the gospel . . . by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you” (1 Cor. 15:1–2). I’m in constant need of saving. My displaced hip and scoliosis are sheep dogs that constantly snap at my heels, driving me down the road to Calvary, where I die to the sins Jesus died for. Sure, I have a long way to go before I am whom God destined me to be in glory, but thankfully my paralysis keeps pushing me to “strive to reach for that heavenly prize” (Phil. 3:14).
The process is difficult, but affliction isn’t a killjoy; I don’t think you could find a happier follower of Jesus than me. The more my paralysis helps me get disentangled from sin, the more joy bubbles up from within. I can’t tell you how many nights I have lain in bed, unable to move, stiff with pain, and have whispered near tears, “Oh, Jesus, I’m so happy. So very happy in you!” God shares his joy on his terms only, and those terms call for us to suffer, in some measure, like his Son. I’ll gladly take it.
Half a century of paralysis has also shown me how high the cosmic stakes really are. Whenever I fidget in my confinement, I can almost hear Satan taunt God—as he did with Job—“Look at her, see? She doesn’t really trust you. Test her with more pain and you’ll see her true colors!” When the Devil insists God’s people only serve him when life is easy, I have the high honor of proving him wrong. To be on the battlefield where the mightiest forces in the universe converge in warfare? By God’s grace, I’m all in.
Ten Life-Changing Words
Back in the ’70s, my Bible study friend Steve Estes shared ten little words that set the course for my life: “God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.” Steve explained it this way: “Joni, God allows all sorts of things he doesn’t approve of. God hated the torture, injustice, and treason that led to the crucifixion. Yet he permitted it so that the world’s worst murder could become the world’s only salvation. In the same way, God hates spinal cord injury, yet he permitted it for the sake of Christ in you—as well as in others. Like Joseph when he told his brothers, ‘God intended [my suffering] for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives’” (Gen. 50:20).
Ten words have set the course for my life: God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.
For the saving of many lives? Yes, so I dare not hide my testimony under a bushel. Too many people with disabilities are floundering in hopelessness—people like Tommy. It’s why I wrote the Joni book, and did the Joni movie. I started Joni and Friends when special-needs families started asking, “How can I help my son with cerebral palsy out of depression? Why doesn’t God heal everyone? How can I get my church involved?” and more. I wanted to show these people what the gospel looks like, just like my Christ-with-me-in-suffering friends did.
Now, every day when I wheel into the Joni and Friends International Disability Center, I try to squeeze every ounce of ministry effort from my quadriplegic body. This summer, Joni and Friends will hold 27 Family Retreats in the United States and 23 in less resourced nations, reaching thousands of special-needs families for Christ. Christian physical therapists will serve on our Wheels for the World teams in more than 40 countries, delivering Bibles, giving the salvation message, and hand-fitting wheelchairs to needy people with disabilities. Hundreds of our Cause4Life interns will work in orphanages overseas, showing that spina bifida isn’t a voodoo curse and people aren’t better off dead than disabled. Because Jesus is ecstasy beyond compare, and it’s worth anything to be his friend.
Fifty Years of God’s Faithfulness
Last week my husband, Ken, and I were at our Joni and Friends Family Retreat in Alabama. We were lunching in the big, noisy dining hall when a college-aged volunteer approached me, holding a kid with Down syndrome on her hip. She gestured at the crowd and asked, “Miss Joni, do you ever think how none of this would be happening were it not for your diving accident?”
I flashed a smile and said, “It’s why I thank God every day for my wheelchair.” After she left, I stared for a moment at the dining hall scene. I suddenly had a 35,000-foot view of the moment: She’s right . . . how did I get here?
It has everything to do with God and his grace—not just grace over the long haul, but grace in tiny moments, like breathing in and out, like stepping stones leading you from one experience to the next. The beauty of such grace is that it eclipses the suffering until one July morning, you look back and see five decades of God working in a mighty way.
Grace softens the edges of past pains, helping to highlight the eternal. What you are left with is peace that’s profound, joy that’s unshakable, faith that’s ironclad.
It’s the hard, but beautiful, stuff of which God makes 50 years of your life. Like . . . when did that happen? I cannot say, but I sure love Jesus for it.
Friday, August 11, 2017
Where does your joy lie? Family? Children? Grandchildren? Job? Your good health? Or even – knowing Jesus? Bible knowledge?
All of these things are good and there is nothing wrong with them, but Jesus clearly tells us where our source of joy should reside.
This Sunday morning I will be preaching "The Disciple's Joy" based on Luke 9: 49-56 and 10: 17-24.
All of this is in the context of a unique section of Biblical material – beginning in Luke 9:51 through 18:14, this most is only found in Luke. It is six months from the death of Jesus and He moves from Galilee to Judea toward Jerusalem.
This is largely material unique to Luke. This section contains some of the most quoted portions of Scripture in the whole Bible, little alone in Luke - such as the Good Samaritan, the cleansing of the ten lepers, the visit to Mary and Martha's house and of course, the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin and the prodigal son.
No less than 21 of Luke's 27 parables are in this section with 18 of those 21 being peculiar to Luke.
While I am making much of that today, it would seem that I am about to enter that section of Luke for some prolonged preaching/teaching. But I'm not. Instead, through previous times of preaching through Luke, I have already preached through much of this section. Plus after August I am leaving Luke and won't return to this great gospel until 2018.
Next? Beginning September 3, I am beginning a new series of messages through Genesis 1-11 entitled "Beginnings." Both Sunday morning and Sunday night through December 17 we will explore God's first revelation to man. This Sunday morning there will be a detailed roll-out of that series and next week I will share more here on my blog.
This Sunday night I will be preaching "Super Sunday Nights" at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Warrior, AL. In my absence, Isaac Mays will be bringing God's Word at Rainsville First.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Brooklyn (the bigger one) is starting first grade today at Glencoe. She is the daughter of Keith and Kimberly Cofield.
Love these kiddos.
Tonight is an exciting night for our Student Ministry as Bro. Zac "officially" preaches and leads his first service as our Student Pastor. It all begins at 6:10 and I'm praying for a great night for them.
I am returning to the book of Philippians tonight as I have taken a break to do "The Truth Project" and The Sermon on the Mount from Luke 6. We are in chapter three of Philippians tonight at 6:10.
Arrow Kids' Clubs will begin August 30 with training for the leaders August 16 and 23.
Upward Football season officially kicks off this Saturday with our first games at 9. It promises to be another exciting season ending with our Awards program on Sunday, October 1.
If you are interested in learning the Bible in an advanced way right here at Rainsville First Baptist, then let me encourage you to consider the Certificate Program of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The classes meet here at RFBC and are only $100 per class. The first term begins August 22 with Zach Richards, Pastor, Union Grove Baptist Church, Crossville, teaching the book of Acts. It will be a great class with a great teacher. If you have questions, email me.
Monday, August 7, 2017
Last week, in order to apply for a visa, I had to visit the embassy of a nation that I’m visiting on a future missions trip. Fortunately I live in Washington, D.C., so this trip consisted of a thirty-minute drive from my house, followed by an extended search for parking. This was my first visit to a foreign nation’s embassy, so I didn’t really know what to expect.
I was surprised at how many embassies were close together. Scores and scores of them were built next to each other, side-by-side. Each was different, with their own kind of fencing, their own security, and of course their own flag. They shared parking, and they shared a zip code, but that was about all they had in common.
My destination was a particular embassy representing a country that I’d been to several times before (but never to their embassy). I buzzed at the gate, stated my business, and was then let into a security screening room. After I successfully convinced them I had a legitimate need to be there, they let me into their courtyard, and finally into the building itself.
When I opened the door, I as struck by how…how foreign the place was. The first thing I noticed was the smell. It smelled exactly like the country smelled. I don’t know if it is the food, the paint, or an air freshener, but breathing the air took me right back to the months I had spent there nearly 20 years ago. The smell brought with it memories of the house I stayed in there, the churches I’d preached in, and the people I knew there.
The second thing that grabbed my attention was the décor. The paint, the flooring, the kind of chairs, even the fliers on the wall—they were all directly from this nation. The colors—so common in that country, are certainly so foreign here. The only place in the world I’d ever seen chairs like that is in their airport. The wall had fliers on it advertising cellphone companies that don’t even exist in the US.
Third—the language. While the clerks spoke to me in English, they were speaking to each other in their own language, which (although I hadn’t heard it spoken in years) made me remember phrases in it that I had long forgotten. The background music would never be heard on an American radio station.
The entire place was other-worldly. When I was done, the gate buzzed and swung closed behind me, I stepped back into my own world. My car was down the street, the smell was gone, and I was back in the United States. That embassy represented a place so far away, but also right next to me, just on the other side of the wall.
This experience gave me a new appreciation for a goal of the church. Christians are of course ambassadors (Eph 6:20; 2 Cor 5:20). But in a deeper sense, the church is our embassy. When Sunday comes and the church gathers, it is a collection of ambassadors coming home. We are not in heaven yet, but as much as we are able we strive to have church represent heaven on earth.
Christians talk differently than the world, sing differently, dress differently, and just are different. Non-believers come in, and they don’t fit in. I’ve heard people give that as a critique of the church (as in, “churches should sing fewer songs that non-believers don’t understand” kind of critique). But the truth is, we are other worldly. As much as we are able, each and every church should be a sort of embassy for the true and eternal worship service in heaven.
People should come to church and be struck by how different it is. They should walk through the doors and be taken back, taken away, and taken up. They should hear a familiar language, see familiar faces, and sing about a familiar savior, all the while knowing that in a few hours they will head back out the door, to their car, and back into the world.
Of course churches fall short of representing heaven. We fail, and allow the world to sneak in through all kinds of subtle ways. But it helps to be reminded that we are ambassadors, and our church is where we come to be reminded of what are true country is going to be like.
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
We "officially" welcome Zac and Anna Gardner to our church as he begins tonight with our youth. All the youth are having a "Summer Ending" Pool Party at Gary and Amy Blevins' home tonight.
This Sunday is one of those "Red Letter" Days. At 9:00 AM, all the youth and adults will gather in the Auditorium for a time of sharing vision with the church family. You know we don't do this much, so when we do it is important. Keith Williams and Anthony Cooper will be joining me in this time of sharing and I'm excited.
Then Sunday night we are celebrating more of the summer missions of Rainsville First Baptist as we honor those who have served in different places this summer. Several of our youth have served in local camps and then Molly Veal and Jared Underwood will be sharing, as well. Let's show our love and support of these by being present Sunday night.
We are having a New Member class on Sunday, August 13 immediately following the morning service. We will provide lunch. We will meet in the Locker Room. Sign up on Sunday or call the church office at 256-638-3141 or email me here.
We also welcome Jeff Laney to our church staff. Jeff began Monday as our new Custodian as Bro. Tom Bradley is retiring.