Seeing The Bigger Picture

I grew up in the heart of Miami on the outskirts of the neighborhood that is notorious for shooting hoops and eating good ole Haitian food. In Little Haiti, we played basketball 24/7 and seven days a week, well maybe not seven days a week, Haitians don’t play about church on Sunday, it’s usually an all-day affair. Still, basketball was the lifeblood of our community. So when I decided to try out for our middle school basketball team, which happened to be the best in the county, it was a monumental moment for me. I grew up playing street basketball from as early as eight years old. However, I had never played organized Basketball.

Street basketball tends to focus on the individual whereas organized basketball centers on the team. In streetball, the focus is on individual skill, whereas in organized basketball there’s a systematic and well-thought-out game plan to be executed. Learning the differences between the two was a huge adjustment for me. I spent most of my life, at least to that juncture, playing ball in a fashion that didn’t consider the bigger picture. A basketball team has five players and when all five understands their role and gets the bigger picture, it results in an unstoppable united force that puts the causes of the team over the single individual. I barely made my middle school team because of the simple fact that I was slow to understand my role in light of the bigger picture. I remember my coach telling me, “Son, you’re extremely talented, but the only reason I’m letting you on this team is because I believe I could get you to understand your role and help you to see the bigger picture of the game.”

In the beginning God (Genesis 1:1), these four words are load with theological depth and meaning. It doesn’t get any bigger than God. God starts it all, God sustains it all, and God finishes it all. It is all about God. We are 60 days into the New Year, and I wonder how many of us still haven’t grasped the bigger picture and the overarching meaning of life? Perhaps, we have gotten it at some point, but have now shifted the focus towards ourselves or our personal agendas. It took me months to understand the bigger picture of organized basketball. Help defense, ball movement, and setting screens were all foreign and non-essential concepts to me until I saw the bigger picture.

It is only when we comprehend and keep in the forefront of our minds the bigger picture that we’ll then be able to achieve our God-given purpose and potential.

When I realized that organized basketball was not about how cool it looked when I put the ball between my legs or how smooth my jumper was, but it was about doing whatever it took to reach our intended objective as a team. It was about the trust, brotherhood, and love that was formed as we moved towards a common goal. When I started playing with this in mind, it didn’t matter whether I was coming off the bench to give my teammates a breather or if I was setting a screen to free up someone else for the shot. It all changed for me once I saw what it was all about.

We only find the enduring courage to seek God, eat well, exercise, share our faith, love our spouse sacrificially, and make disciples when we’re starting from the right place and when our eyes are fixed on the bigger picture. Once our eyes shift from God to ourselves or anything else besides Him, then everything else becomes distorted. We lose our vigor. We stop loving our spouse because they haven’t done anything for us lately. We stop exercising because no one has complimented on how good we look, and we lose our gusto and zeal to seek God because we don’t feel the goosebumps during our favorite devotional songs. The fuel to achieve and live out these things don’t originate from us or our circumstances but from God himself.

As I studied the New Testament this past week, I realized the crucial factor for every single one of the disciples who accomplished great feats for the Lord, they all had their eyes locked on the Prize. They understood and realized that they were a part of a bigger story. They understood that no act done in the name of Jesus and with the focus on Jesus is ever in vain. They realized that if what they did was started with God than God would sustain it and thus ultimately complete it. It was from God Almighty that these men and women derived their courage to bring the gospel to the nations. The author of Hebrews tells us some of these followers of Jesus shut the mouth of lions, some of them conquered kingdoms, and some enforced justice. While others suffered mocking, others were sawn in two, and some suffered imprisonment. How were they so willing to accept their roles regardless of what it meant for them?

These early followers of Christ understood what it was all about. They got it. They realized that the most significant honor bestowed upon us in this life is the honor of reflecting and mirroring the one in whom all of life is about. They had one magnificent obsession. They had one Holy fixation— a desire to glorify and honor Christ. They lived out this verse: Hebrews 12:2 “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the founder, and perfecter of our faith.”

When we start with Jesus, and we continue to make our lives all about Jesus, then we cannot fail. So let your love for your spouse be about reflecting the glory of Jesus even when they don’t notice, make your exercise and eating habits be about stewarding your body in obedience to Jesus, and let your devotional life be an expression of gratitude and thanksgiving to Jesus. For whether we give a cup of water in His name or whether we lead many souls in His name the worth and value are found in that it is all started, sustained, and points towards Jesus!!

Thank you for your support, prayers, and encouragement as I journey through seminary. I am eternally grateful for your investment in me as I, in turn, seek to invest my life for His renown and glory.

Eyes On The Prize!
-JDR

Heart Burn

When was the last time your heart burned?

Now, I know Thanksgiving weekend just past—which meant we all went in on some mac & cheese, honey glazed ham, baked beans, mashed potatoes, and collard greens (Praise Break). Which also meant loading up on the Alka Seltzer and Pepto Bismol because all that good food would’ve assuredly given you a severe case of heartburn. Be that as it may, the heart burning I’m speaking of is not about food consumption instead it’s about the burning of the heart that comes as a result of reflection that leads to rejoicing and a mutual sharing of God’s grace. We see an example of this heart burning, rejoicing, and mutual encouragement with the two disciples traveling on the road to Emmaus.

Luke 24:32-33 “They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together.”

When was the last time your heart burned bright hot? We were created by God to live in a perpetual state of blazing heart affection for Him. We were designed by God to experience the flames of eternal love within and to walk in intimate fellowship with the God who knew us way before time began. From the very dawn of time, we witnessed Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis, enjoying intimate fellowship with God as they walk with Him in the cool of the day. We were made to live in this continuous state with God; however, sin entered the equation, and it separated us from the very source of our lives—God himself. As a result, our hearts grew cold, calloused, and distracted towards the very one who, with just one touch, can set ablaze our hearts with passion, purpose, and joy.

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures.”

Reflection On God Leads To Rejoicing In God

These two disciples were on a 7-mile journey towards Jerusalem, and they were discussing among themselves the recent events that transpired regarding Jesus’s crucifixion. Now, unbeknownst to them Jesus appeared and began to walk with them and talk with them and although the scriptures are not explicitly clear why they did not recognize Jesus. Jesus responded to their failure to recognize him by leading them to reflect upon the scriptures. In other words, Jesus was saying; you’re seeking to understand me in light of your circumstances instead of seeing your circumstances in light of my word.

There are times we can get so bombarded by our circumstances, so distracted by the recent news that we fail to take time to filter our situations through God’s word. Our failure to do this results in our hearts turning cold, our hope diminished, and blindness towards the God who is the source of our strength and joy. I’m not saying reflecting or thinking about your circumstance will lead to immediate joy. However, reflecting on God’s word in light of whatever you’re facing will grant you the ability to see God in the midst of what you’re going through; true joy is being able to see God in every circumstance. Our God is a consuming fire and to behold him is to be like him. To put it another way, our thinking about God from His scriptures should lead to rejoicing in God; this has been some of my experiences this semester in my systematic theology class. Being part of a class where people from all different faith traditions—Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, AME, Methodist, and Charismatic—gather together to discuss the doctrines of the Person & Work of Christ, salvation, the Holy Spirit, and the Church made my heart glad. I often found myself in class meditating on the teachings of regeneration and salvation, and my reflections rolled up into worship as I beheld the beauty and majesty of God. I noticed myself leaving class one evening singing the old hymn, “When I think of the goodness of Jesus and all that He’s done for me, my soul cries out Hallelujah, I thank God for saving me!”

Our souls were made to live off of God’s word in such a way where we find our source of joy, meaning, passion, and purpose in God. C.S. Lewis put it this way in his book Mere Christianity,
“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn or the food our spirits were designed to feed on.”

These two disciples walked and reflected upon God’s word and as they did the sparks started flaring, and their hearts were rekindled with hope, excitement, and joy. However, their eyes were not opened until they sat at the table and communed with him. Then they recognized him through the breaking of the bread. After recognizing him through the breaking of the bread, their response was to share this good news with the other disciples. Their reflection and communion with Jesus lead to a desire to mutually share and spread the news of what they had learned. Our reflection on God leads to Rejoicing, and the by-product of rejoicing is always mutual sharing; this is a natural human inclination, if you’ve ever eaten something just downright awesome, your typical response would be to share it and get others to partake in it with you. One of the reasons why I loved this past Thanksgiving with my family was because it emulated and centered on mutual sharing, feasting, and reflecting on God—so much so that we were all experiencing heart burn afterward.

Reflection leads to Rejoicing and rejoicing always lead to mutual sharing.

Our joy dwindles when we fail to reflect on God or after reflecting on Him fail to share the joy that we experienced in Him. The knowledge we obtain in our reflection of God is to be shared with others. The purpose of knowing about God is not to be privy to profound theological dogma and insight. Instead, it is to make him known. I would dare to say that there is no greater joy than to dig deep through reflection and meditation about God and to thereafter make him known. The prophet Jeremiah says God’s word was in His heart and it was as if a fire was in his bones and he grew weary trying to hold it in.  The Apostle John also writes in his second epistle that he had much to address to the believers, but he didn’t want to use paper or ink. Instead, he’d hope to visit and talk with them face to face so that their joy would be complete (2 John 1:12).

We are all on a journey like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus where we are called to reflect upon God and to behold Him in his word until our heart explodes with burning passion and joy. Our foundation is love, and I’m aware that along the journey love can become distorted and the heart can grow cold. However, we see all throughout the scriptures, and in the life of Jesus, the way to keep the fire burning is to share. It’s through sharing that we’ll reach the ultimate destination, which is not a seminary degree, or plaques on our walls or accolades but LOVE. Love that strengthens, love that encourages, love that counsels, love that does justice and loves mercy and walks humbly. I’ll be writing these blog post as a means to share what I’m learning throughout this journey as well as in other areas of my life. I can’t walk this journey alone I need your prayers, and I need your support to help me stay the course.

“God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you, Lord Jesus.” – Jim Elliot

Why Seminary? Part 2: Love Prepares

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Love leads us to prepare and to prepare well.

The other day, I was unpacking some books I got from my mom’s house and I was putting them up on my bookshelf and I came across a book about parenting. The book belonged to my eldest sister Katt and looking at the book I was reminded of the extent to which we all go to prepare for the things we love. When my sister Katt was pregnant with my niece Lea we were so excited to receive this new edition to our family.  My sister would read up on all kinds of books about parenting, child birthing, and raising up children. She purchased a book with different names and she had me and my siblings look through them to get our opinion on their meaning. All of sudden, I started preparing for this new edition to our family as well.  I was thinking of all the ways I was going to spoil my niece rotten. So, I started putting aside money each week so that I could lavish her with tons of gifts once she arrived. We loved my niece and that love created in us a desire to prepare. Love prepares and it prepares well.

I’m excited to be on this journey of seminary because the love of God has been poured into my heart for my generation. This passion has compelled me to enter this season of preparation. To study. To learn. To think. To develop. To grow and ultimately, to LOVE.

I love history. I love reading autobiographies and biographies of men and women that have made a positive impact in the world. I love discovering the ways these men and women were equipped and driven by love to prepare to make significant contributions to the world.

This Semester in seminary, I’m taking a class on Church History To The Reformation. It has been eye-opening. Although I was aware that there is a history of the church beyond the book of Acts, I had never heard about it in church, except for the occasional references to Martin Luther and the likes of him. I have found such great joy and sadness in diving into the material and witnessing some really great things and some terrible things. However, through it all, I have come to observe one fundamental theme about the history of the church.

Great Things Are Accomplished When God’s Faithfulness and our Preparation Meet.

God’s faithfulness, in my opinion, is the overarching theme of Church History. The truth is we are imperfect sheep that would be utterly lost and hopeless if not for the providential hand of God presiding over his people. If you ever had any doubt about our utter depravity and hopelessness, apart from a merciful Savior, just google search the children crusades and whatever doubt left will immediately vanish. I’ve read through the pages of the history of the church, and as I did, I found myself at times angry and ashamed of my tribe. I found myself asking a million questions. How could they kill people for being heretical? How could they have so easily forgotten the crux of Christianity? How could they forget the poor and widows? How could they use the Christian Faith as a business for personal gain? How could you kill your brother in the name of Jesus?

Then, I felt the gentle but firm nudged of the Spirit speak these words to me, “Joel, to start with those questions is to end up in the same place the Church back then ended up; with their eyes off of me and on themselves and their problems.” It was a complete paradigm shift. My frustration turned into awe. My confusion turned into wonder. I began to ask a series of different questions. Lord, how could you bare the shame and reproach the church brought to your name? How could you be so patient and loving despite the Church propagating hate? How could you endure all of the misrepresentation of your name and nature? How? Because God is faithful, He’s not like a man that he would lie or like the son of man that he should change his mind. Great is His faithfulness. Who is like this? Who continues to remain unconditionally faithful and loving when the other party turned their back on you? Who can bear such pain without succumbing to bitterness? Solely God. Only God can make a way out of no way. Solely God’s love is as high as the heavens are from the earth. Only the one who in revelation is called Faithful and True could do that. This is good news for the Church today, and it is good news for our own souls. Despite all that the church did and did not do, God never left the throne and He never will, He is still presiding over it all. The only silver lining in Church History and in our own lives is the Great Faithfulness of God.

This is why {HisStory} is so significant because every now and then we need to look back and marvel at His faithfulness. We need to look back from time to time at the history of our lives, families, marriages, careers, and at the church’s history as a whole and marvel at the faithfulness of God. Plus, you’ll probably get a few good kicks out of some of the things you said and did, with high confidence, only to realize how crazy it was, now. This is how I feel every time I listen to one of my old sermons. I want to go run and hide under a rock; it’s like listening to nails on a chalkboard at times. Nevertheless, it’s rewarding to look back and see how far the Lord has brought me, but it’s humbling to also acknowledge I still have a long way to go. We are called to prepare and submit our preparations to him who judges the heart while trusting and believing He will sanctify us and cleanse us as we continually give ourselves to him. He is faithful indeed and His spirit and love are able to work in us and leads us to love him with all of heart, mind, soul, and strength.  I dare you to daily look back at his faithfulness and prepare yourself to be used by Him each day.

 

1 Peter 1:13 “Therefore prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

 

-JDR

Exciting News!!

In a few days, I’ll be embarking upon a journey that I anticipated for some time now. This fall I’m excited to announce that I’ll be attending Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary to pursue a Masters of Divinity. Why you ask?

Why Seminary?

This has been the question I’ve been asked for the past several years. I’ve heard many objections like, “Don’t go to seminary because they’ll produce in you the same thing you find at cemeteries; a dead and sterile soul.” How about the trite responses of, “Jesus nor the Apostle Paul went to a seminary, they relied fully on the spirit and so should you.” Or what about, “Why can’t you just be well read and self-taught?” Why invest your time and money on a seminary education when you could teach yourself?

Why pursue seminary? It’s simple. I want to love and pursue the world with the same love that has utterly blasted my soul and made me completely new. I desire to shine the glorious gospel of Jesus in the darkest and bleakest places of our world. It’s my heart’s desire to challenge and address social ills of our culture with more than just cliches and shallow answers but from a deep reservoir of grace and truth that is epitomized in the person of Jesus. I hunger to give my life for something more than just adding a few more dollars to my bank account. I don’t want to do ministry just for the sake of ministry. I deeply crave for the Bride of Christ (the church) that Jesus had in mind when he gave His life on the cross to rise up and shine in all of her beauty and splendor. I want the Lamb that was slain to receive the reward of His suffering.

What does all of this have to do with seminary classes like “New Testament Survey”, “Church History to the Reformation”, and “Greek?” One word- LOVE. The Apostle Paul tells his young prodigal, Timothy that the aim and goal of the commandments are love. He also writes to the church of Corinth and tells them if they gave their bodies to be burned and spoke in tongues of angels, and did a whole bunch of religious things but had not loved that it all meant nothing. In lieu of what Paul wrote it’s safe to say that what we do as Christians should start and end with love. We are called to look to, study, and reflect upon that mountain of Calvary where the greatest demonstration of love transpired; the Holy God became a man and pursued sinful men so that His lost children would one day dwell with him forever.  The truth is the more we study and the more we look upon Mt. Calvary the more we are propelled to look towards another mountain, Mount Zion, God’s heavenly dwelling. We are called to make a pilgrimage towards Zion; Beckoning others to throw all else aside and march along the path that leads to and ends with the dwelling place of everlasting love.

I love Jesus Christ and I love our world.

-JDR