Back to School -Blues or Bliss?

Back to School -Blues or Bliss?

by Brock Benson

This morning marked our first morning of the fall semester for one of Revive Church’s biggest ministries to the Nolensville Community – Parents Day Out. Revive Parents Day Out, which formerly operated under the title of Stepping Stones, was started more than 20 years ago with one of our founding members, Toni Crosby, as the first ever Director.  Since its inception this ministry has been a part of many families’ lives in the town of Nolensville and surrounding communities. It’s always special for me to be a part of this ministry in the background and hear different conversations happening between our teachers and parents checking in after the summer of activities has passed and the formal grind of fall now works itself out.

 

Garner, Cassie and I’s second boy, attends Mrs. Laura’s class in PDO. And since he is used to the “routine” of going to work with Dad dropping him off was a breeze this morning. No issues, stress or tears. (Believe me it’s not always this easy…) I was thankful to see him adjust so well and am grateful I can spend more time with him even though he is in a different room while I’m in the office.

 

After I got Garner dropped off at class I proceeded to man the front door for our parents as they arrived into the building. Helping at the door is not something I do every day but the first day is always a good time to see the new faces to the program as they respond with mixed emotions of smiles, frowns, anxiety and everything in-between. I hadn’t planned on helping with the door this morning until it dawned on me that there’d be a lot of parents showing up with supplies who were also trying to corral youngster. It’s a recipe for disaster if you’re trying to get multiple kids into a building with an armful of supplies!! So getting the door was a small way I could serve and I am so glad I did because what happened next was deeply meaningful to me.

 

About halfway through drop off time I opened the door for two particular moms that caught my attention. As they exited and made their way back to the cars I noticed both of them had tears in their eyes. I don’t mean like “I got something in my contacts” tears. I mean real crying tears. In the most pastoral tone I could muster I told them both they’d be alright and we’d take good care of their precious little ones.  These young moms had dropped their babies off I presume for the first time ever at an organized program like ours and were feeling the emotional weight and it overwhelmed them. It makes even more sense to me now why Parent Teacher Organizations put on their boo-hoo breakfasts for all the Kindergarten parents each year. We need each other to help cope.

 

The emotion both of these mom’s felt today was something I first experienced two years ago when Kandler, my oldest son, entered the halls of elementary school for the first time as a kindergartener. No longer was he at home with Cassie or at Revive Parents Day Out with me, but he would now begin being shaped by others who I didn’t really know. Every parent probably has a similar story they could share when they were forced to recognize God’s sovereignty in a real way and this was mine. Kandler was, is, and will forever be God’s. Not mine. I must trust Jesus to shape him through his experience at school just as I must do everywhere else God will lead him in his life. NOT EASY!

 

On the other end of the spectrum the first day of Parents Day Out for others was like a long lost holiday that finally had arrived and been declared! Eager to have some personal time and get their affairs back in order, there were a handful of parents who instead of tears were grinning ear to ear. I guess the contrast comes in especially if you’ve never put a kid in school before. But to see it so clearly today really made me stop and think. Am I sad for another semester or happy? But more importantly why? What’s the reason behind my reason? If I am sad is it because I am struggling to rest in God’s plan and protection for my child? If I am happy is it because I see my kids as a burden at times to my own personal agenda? The answer to all of these is sometimes yes and sometimes no.

 

Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3:1 says “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:” Right now many families are in the Back to School season and schedules are getting adjusted and plans are being formulated as we set in for the long haul before Thanksgiving break. With each shifting season of life it’s a great opportunity to look inside and ask questions about our hearts. What’s even more vital is to rest in the answer. Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is our living hope who knows we can’t handle the emotional toll of life and the decisions we all have to make for those we love most dearly. But He also intercedes with groaning for us in the middle of each of these moments. Whatever emotional climate your heart may be in during this season, gaze on the author of the story. I promise you the story He is writing is worth it.

 

 

 

 

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The Tower and the Pool

by Phil Baker

The biggest obstacle most people face to belief in a loving god is the problem of pain and suffering in the world. If there is a loving god, why is there evil in the world? How could a god who loves us allow school shootings and disease? These things exist. Therefore, a loving god must not exist. Even those who believe God does exist struggle with this paradox. But we hold to our faith and wait for the day when we can ask God face-to-face why he allows such atrocities.

The disciples didn’t have to wait. They had Jesus right there with them.

And, guess what!  They asked him!

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

John 9:1-7

It was common then to have a karma-like view of life. If you did bad things, bad things would happen to you. Jesus tried to counter this type of thinking by showing that bad things happen (a man is born blind) so that good things can happen (Jesus can heal him and God can be glorified).

Jesus healing the man is an act of grace. It is an example of God’s mercy sent to us through Jesus. So it’s fitting that the name of the pool is “Sent”. Siloam was a small neighborhood in Jerusalem. It is mentioned one other time, in the book of Luke. Jesus was teaching and was again asked about the problem of sin and evil. As he explained that there are no degrees of sin – everyone is a sinner – he referenced a recent event where a tower in Siloam collapsed and killed 18 people. Like the blind man, everyone wondered if these 18 deserved their fate through something they had done. Again Jesus corrected their thinking. But instead of showing grace and mercy, this time he highlighted the need for repentance.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Luke 13:1-5

Think about these two references to Siloam. A tower and a pool. One is a tall building. The other is a low well. One is a positive edifice. The other a negative depression. One reaches toward heaven. The other is recessed into the earth. At one, mercy is shown. At the other, salvation was needed.

Jesus had two sides that were just as opposing. At times he reached down to touch the lowly. Other times he raised his hands to praise his father. Sometimes he showed mercy (and it was gratefully received). Other times he prescribed repentance (and it was sadly rejected). What he was doing was setting an example for us to follow. We are to be like him. We are to be both a pool and a tower. We are to serve humbly and to proclaim boldly. Reach down and reach up. We are called to be both visible and invisible. We are to be the visible, tangible hands and feet of Jesus in the world. While, at the same time, we are to divert attention from ourselves to the source of our love.

When I think about the problem of evil in the world (and in my own life), God twists the question around on me. If there are Christians, why is there evil in the world? Then I am forced to ask myself if I am a tower and a pool? Am I reaching down to heal? Am I standing up for righteousness? Am I both brave and humble? Who am I in this messed-up world?

The answer comes back to me – I am Siloam. I am sent.

Confessions of an Easter Bunny

Confessions of an Easter Bunny

by Phil Baker

I am the Easter Bunny. If you didn’t already know that, I’m sorry to burst your bubble. I’ve been playing the Easter Bunny at Revive for several Easters now and it is probably one of my favorite times.

Kids have funny reactions to the Easter Bunny. As soon as I come out in costume some kids stare at me, some cry, and some run up and give me a hug. The kids that stare are usually the younger ones. This may be their first time seeing Mr. Bunny. They need time to process and decide how they feel about him. It’s understandable. A large costumed character can be a lot to deal with. The ones that cry usually have recently had an experience with another Easter Bunny that didn’t go well. They see me and get flashbacks of their parents forcing them to sit on my lap, like some sort of holiday PTSD. But the ones that run up to me are the ones I love. I don’t have to explain why. The Easter Bunny is a celebrity. They know me and love me. They just want to come up and thank me for the Easter basket they received earlier that morning.

As the Easter festivities at Revive go along, a few of the kids who were “on the fence” about the Easter Bunny might warm up to me. I do my best to put them at ease and charm them into coming closer so their parents can snap a picture. One thing that seems to happen over and over during these interactions is that the kids will often give me one of their Easter eggs. It is such a sweet gesture. They just worked hard searching for and gathering these eggs and now they want to give one to me?! Why would they do this? Maybe they want to be my friend. Maybe they know that Easter Eggs come from the Easter Bunny so they are just giving back what is mine. Or maybe they just want to give.

Of course, I don’t keep the eggs. I thank them for their offering (as best I can in my own bunny miming way) and give it back to them. If they were previously unsure about the Easter Bunny, this usually closes the deal. We’re friends now. And that’s all I really want.

A few days after Easter (as I was coming down from my candy high), I thought about this exchange and how it reminds me of our interactions with God. When God shows up in our lives, some will stare, not sure what to make of it. Some will cry at how He has interrupted the plans and expectations they had. But some will recognize Him immediately and run to Him.

God has placed Easter eggs in our lives. They might be a job, children or a spouse. They might be your stuff, your dreams or your future.  As we wander this field of life, we fill our basket with these eggs.

And then we see God.

And we look down at our basket.

How are we going to react? Will we run to thank Him? Will we cry and run away, fearful that He will take away our eggs? Or will we just stop and stare?

What being the Easter Bunny has taught me is that maybe the best response is to offer our eggs back to God. This is what Abraham did with Isaac. This is what Hannah did with Samuel. Call it reciprocation, reciprocity or re-gifting. This simple exchange of receiving something from God, offering it back to Him only to have Him give it back to us, is just another way to grow your relationship with Him.

He, like the Easter Bunny, just wants to be your friend.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

by Phil Baker

It was 50 years ago that Fred Rogers first asked us to be his neighbor. For the next 33 years, the Presbyterian minister-turned PBS icon welcomed us into his home with a song as he donned a sweater and comfy sneakers. Then he proceeded to teach us without the slightest hint of judgment or condescension. We felt welcomed to be there. His gentle nature made us feel this was a safe place and that we were loved.

Mr. Rogers wanted to be our neighbor. He wanted us to be his neighbor. Did he mean he wanted everyone to move to Pittsburg? I mean, we all can’t live next door. Mr. McFeely would never be able to deliver all our mail! No. He was just reminding us of Jesus’ teachings about what it means to be a neighbor.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37

Being a neighbor has little to do with geographic location. According to Jesus, it has everything to do with how you treat everyone else. Being a neighbor means showing love. Being a neighbor means spreading joy and peace. It means having patience, showing kindness, being faithful. It means being a friend to everyone regardless of race, creed or economic status.

As we begin this new chapter of Revive church’s outreach efforts, let’s not get hung up on who our literal neighbors are. Instead, put on your Mr. Rogers sweater and comfy shoes and focus on the person in front of us in the moment. Who is sitting next to you right now? Who’s Facebook page did you just look at? Who is behind you in the check-out line?

Who is you neighbor?

#Revive37135

Miguel

Last Night I sat in bed and again cried my eyes out.…

I weeped with I am sure millions of others who were preparing themselves for the most emotional episode of NBC’s “This is Us” to-date. I won’t spoil it for those who may decide to watch it at a later point in time via Netflix binge, but I will say that in some ways it lived up to its hype as being historical.

In a way none of us are wired to be prepared for loss. That makes walking through it or seeing others walk through it so difficult. Personally I find myself at times trying to mentally prepare for a moment I hope never comes but nevertheless fret will.

Why? Shows like “This is Us” help instill a bit of a panicked spirit in all of us sure but in another sense I think each of us wonders how we will respond in the moment. Here’s to hoping that never comes but what if the unthinkable does happen? Do we have a Miguel?

Family is so important and I don’t want to down play how vital it is and how we should strive for healthy families. But if there is a major flag I can wave having finally viewed the Jack Pearson finale it would be the relationship flag. Do you really have a “first call” friend?

A first call friend is someone who can you can do more with than just hang out and party with. I think we all probably have some people we know that we can go out with and have a good time with chatting it up. But if you strip away everything and lose everything who is your “first call”?

Some of us reading this blog have blood family close enough that when or if the unthinkable came we would pick up the phone and they would be there. But there are countless number of folks around us in Nolensville and the greater Nashville area who don’t have anyone building an intentional relationship with them and consequently wouldn’t have a first call.

Jesus created the body of Christ primarily for his glory and worship. One of the ways glory and worship is achieved is when we go out of our way to develop friendships and see people reached with the gospel. It takes a lot of prayer and effort to do this without an overly religious attitude but when we do it authentically the best way we know in the power of the Spirit to do it God smiles.

So be someone’s Miguel this week. Be someone’s first call friend.

Pastor Brock

Gandhi – The Christmas Theologian

Mahatma Gandhi one of the most well known spiritual leaders of the past century is attributed with the following thought as it pertains to Christianity. “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are are so unlike your Christ.”

Debate could be had regarding the legitimacy of whether this quote was verbatim from Gandhi or simply a sentiment he conveyed within a conversation to those who ultimately ended up attributing it to him afterwards. But that debate is not the purpose of brining this quote to mention here. Rather this quote surfaces the idea behind the frustration Gandhi like so many others have had with Christianity. Many people who are agnostic, callous, skeptical about Jesus may take great comfort in the notion Gandhi put forward in the above concept. Because lets face it Christians stink at being Christian. However this idea itself is a very appropriate starting point for a very different discussion at this time of year.

One of the truths the bible heralds regarding the story of Jesus we so often read this time of year is Mary his mother conceived him without sexual-intercourse.  How in the world does that happen? Thankfully Gandhi so adequately explained it for us. Christ isn’t like Christians. He was the God-man. Fully God. Fully Man. No if, and’s or buts around it. Both his beginning in the womb of a Virgin and his resurrection over death declare exactly what Gandhi struggled with. Christ is different from Christians.

This does not give Christians a license for acting in rebellion but rather a starting point for a deeper understanding of Jesus. If we can’t believe the virgin birth with at least some sort of conviction can we believe the resurrection? Can we believe God exists at all? My purpose is not to be-little anyone or shame anyone but rather call us into a greater understanding of what it is we are saying we believe this time of the year. The bible mentions many times folks who struggle between unbelief and belief. In fact Mark 9 tells an account of a boys father who was struggling with unbelief in specificity. Jesus healed his son after the father admitted his struggle.

Within the day of technology, information, google and the iPhone we are a self educated people. We can do our own research and come to our own conclusions about things. Through quick  “research” we can find the various reasons why so many people and clergy for that matter dismiss the virgin birth for “good” reasons.

“Its a story that’s been borrowed from other ancient cultures documents on origins of deities.” “Its barely mentioned in the NT other than the two synoptic writers Matthew and Luke.” “Plus its plain crazy!”

What will you believe this Christmas? Believe what Gandhi said. Christ is different than Christians!

If you’re looking to do some more research check out these links:

Was the Virgin birth copied from Other Religions?

Experiencing the Christmas Story

 

Merry Christmas!

-Pastor Brock

 

 

The Fall

The Fall

by Phil Baker

I’m coming off a very busy summer. My wife and I took a trip to Pennsylvania to research her family tree. I helped Montgomery Bell State Park put on their first ever “Ernest Day”. Our VBS is always a big but rewarding effort. We did a 5th year of Movies by Moonlight. I had minor surgery. And I started learning the banjo. Phew! I was looking forward to becoming less busy and fading into the background for a while. But what I didn’t anticipate was that my self-worth would also fade.

As the temperature began to fall with the leaves, I started to fall into a funk. I felt like I was descending into “the winter of [my] discontent.” Why is this? Things in my life are pretty good. I have a roof over my head, money in the bank, and food on the table. As I thought about this, I was reminded of all the things I did this summer. I was missing the busyness of it all. My identity had become tied up in it. So when all this went away so did my identity, my self-worth.

God softly whispered to me “It’s time to slow down. Let’s spend some time together.” I read 2 Corinthians 3:5 which reminded me that my identity, my adequacy, my sufficiency should be in Christ. We often find our identity in other things – our jobs, our family, our stuff – when God should be at the core of who we are. What’s just as janky is when we supplant Him with His gifts or His mission. While well intentioned, these also miss the mark.

In his book “Spiritual Rhythms” Mark Buchanan illustrates the seasons in our life. Each season is necessary for healthy growth. Just as a tree must lose its leaves and go dormant for a while so that it can leaf out in glorious green again in the spring, we have to retreat at times into God’s loving arms so that He can nurture us and prepare us for our next season of fruitfulness.

If you too find yourself discouraged or a little down. It’s okay. Maybe you just need to go dormant for a while. Spend some time just being with God. Set everything else aside, including what you are doing for Him. You don’t need to do anything for Him. He is enough.

‘nuff said.