Sunday, January 21, 2018

It's About The First Step Forward

Each day, like you, I face a ton of choices of where to begin. What project to work on next, what school to begin to pray for strategically and much, much more. 

In the midst of that I am filled with waves of emotions, thoughts and outcome possibilities. If I am being genuine that wave, can quickly turn into a tidal wave and cause me to pause or even stop positive forward motion completely. Thoughts of fear, what if, can I, should I, then what, can cripple even the most emotionally intelligent human being. 

As a leader in my community, especially one that is for the Kingdom of God here on earth as well as in heaven. I am well aware that "leadership itself begins and ends at the feet of Jesus" (Dr. Brent Crowe). However, as surprising as it sounds, until I take the first step forward, that tidal wave continues to grow. 

There is something relieving, almost stress negative about taking the first step forward. Even if at some point I need to adjust my path one direction or another, that simple movement is profoundly helpful to all of us. And frankly adjustment when i am moving forward, never seems as difficult as the first step was. 

I have never met Nik Wallenda, however like millions of others, I did watch him on live TV as he walked across the Grand Canyon on a tight rope with no harness in 2013. If you did not get to see it, i recommend it, go here and watch it, it’s truly a wonder. 

One logical question after watching this is why were so many of us moved by Nik’s choice to try such a crazy thing. I think the next logical question is how did he keep moving forward. As I review my memory of this event, and watching him, I remember thinking, that first step forward, what guts to take the first step forward

Which frankly is the answer to most of our questions in life. “How in the world am I going to do this?”  "This opportunity is huge! where do I begin?” Which as a leader draws me back to the feet of Jesus. In the scriptures it says in Psalms 37:23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way.  Simply put, when our lives, the good, the bad, the ugly and the fortunate are laid at His feet, then the next logical place, is the first step forward. For He has already established your steps, AND He delights in you going His way!

If you are a parent of a student and reading this and you are burdened to help them grown in their burden for their school, then the next logical step forward is to pray with them for their campus. Not just once, but daily and with repetition. 

If you are a student who came home from a winter missions trip fired up for the gospel, and not sure what to do now, the next logical step forward is to share that burden with some friends and start a gospel movement on your campus. 

Whatever your place in this world, in the name of Jesus I pray that you are moved today to take the first step forward. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Celebrating Wonder - The Yellow Butterfly

This Saturday morning we packed our family up in our van and drove to be a part of the Youth Production at Barefoot Republic just outside Scottsville, KY. Our 8 year old son had just completed his first year of overnight camp so joining him for that celebration was an awesome opportunity for us.

After we found Nate and exchanged hugs & high fives with him, the rest of our children settled in with their friends and the Youth Production when on very normally.

That is until a wonderful event occurred unexpectedly in the midst of the production. One of our friends, Candace was leading the dialogue on stage. Candace was getting ready to discuss the next "award" to be given, when most of us in the back noticed a very large butterfly making its way through the room. This yellow butterfly had approximately a 6" wing span, and seemed to be thrown around by all the fans in the room. As a number of us noted the butterfly from the back of the room, from the stage with the mic in hand Candace also noted the butterfly, then paused her dialogue and said "what a beautiful butterfly, isn't it amazing." At this point the whole crowd looked up to the center of the room and noted the butterfly. Here is where things get wonderful, and frankly if I was not there, I would not believe it.

Following all the ooh's and ahhh's from the crowd as Candace brought the attention to it, the butterfly seemingly changed directions and headed straight toward Candace on stage. Then she did what any person who had just called out a butterfly from stage in front of 200+ people, Candace switched the mic out of her hand, and held her hand in front of her for the butterfly to land... and it did just that.
That's right, not only did it land there, it stayed on her hand, and the room paused to take in this wonder. About 10 seconds later a elementary aged camper walked up to Candace to retrieve the butterfly from her and the butterfly switched right to his hand. As if he was a dog owner, walking up to a neighbor to get his pet. That wonderful butterfly walked onto his hand and he walked it out of the Youth Production room and set it free.

I looked at my friend who has led this camp for over 17 years and simply stated "Only at your camp Tommy Rhodes, would such a wonder occur." That of course is where I fail. The reality is that every day wonder is all around me. In fact I have a few friends that are in constant search of it, they are relentless that even in the midst of all 'hell' breaking loose in the world we live in, God's creation is still releasing and experiencing wonder.

These thoughts take me to Proverbs 8, where wisdom is reminding it's readers of creation and finishes with this thought in verse 30 "then i was beside him, like a master workman, and i was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of men."

No doubt the world feels broken right now. Media and technology has made sure we are thoroughly aware of those things that are broken. With that said, let me challenge you and I that this unusual story is not unusual at all. Instead let's consider Candace's view from stage, that there is wonder happening all around us each day. As Christ followers we must fight the urge to view the world through it's own eyes of brokenness. Instead we have the right to choose to live like Proverbs 8, to view, to rejoice and to delight in all that is around us, through God's eyes.

That may start simply by choosing daily to celebrate wonder...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

God is NOT out of our Schools

This past week I was conducting an interview for the local newspaper, The Tennessean. As the reporter and I talked, he made an interesting statement, "that God was no longer allowed in schools." I have been in multiple meetings and even listened to other press try to push this agenda. However, like I did with this conversation, I whole-heartedly disagreed with this thought.

Schools, like churches, are made up of people. If there were no students to teach, then there would be no reason for the school building. The same goes for a church, you can call the building a church all you want, it is only when praying and believing people fill it up that it becomes the Church. The brick and mortar simply provide a meeting place or a tool to make it happen. So what happens when those same praying and believing people fill their school? Well no doubt God is found there, too.

I am very aware of the legal implications associated with saying God is in our schools. I can quote much of the law that is written regarding the Separation of Church and State or the Equal Access Law of 1984 (just a couple of the many rulings about God and the school system). Yet, no law has the authority or ability to remove the presence of God from any building containing two or more followers of Jesus.

Because of our faith in Jesus Christ, we are guaranteed that God is NOT out of our schools. For God's spirit doesn't require a physical location as it did in the Old Testament; rather, He dwells in the hearts and minds of all who choose to follow Him.
1 Corinthians 6:19

First Priority exists in a community to unite local churches around their schools. We build networks of adults who support believing students. This support system allows students to stand united in their faith and become what is inside of them, one of the most influential, important and grace-filled organisms in a school. That is the Body of Christ, alive and well, and definitely IN our schools.
1 Corinthians 12:27

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

First Priority Greater Nashville

As most of you who follow this blog know, I have had the good fortune of being part of First Priority of America for the past six years. Through some ministry and professional shifting, my focus has been turned toward relaunching First Priority Greater Nashville. In my 21 years of ministry, majority of them have been spent in Nashville. I have been a part of fantastic local organizations like Salama, Bethel, Christ Church, On The Go, Barefoot Republic, Fellowship Bible, MyLifeSpeaks, Oasis and others. Nashville attracts a diverse group of people who are desperately in need of the Gospel and I am passionate about seeing them reached. 

With all of those good organizations in place, a question could be asked, "Why relaunch a nonprofit organization now?" The question is not only valid, it is right. 

As I wrestled with my focus on Nashville, I could not shake my call to the mission of First Priority. My heartbeat revolves around uniting the local Church (Methodist, Baptist, Charismatic, Presbyterian, Nazarene, Catholic….) to empower students to reach their peers with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. First Priority Greater Nashville is not a new organization. It is a 17-year-old movement in schools across Nashville and a 5-year-old NPO. The decision to take the lead as it's executive director was less of a decision and more of an "IT IS TIME!"

Which leads me to this thought. In the six Greater Nashville counties with whom i am working, there are over 140,000 teenage students in public and private schools. I am moved daily by the thought, "WHAT IF?":

What if amongst the 1,500 local evangelical churches in Greater Nashville, many began to unite as the prayer of Jesus urges in John 17:23, specifically around schools?

What if every student in these schools had the opportunity to intersect with the love and message of Jesus Christ through one of their peers? 

What if 1,000 students who never experienced Jesus, heard and responded to that message during the 2014-15 school year? 

For me the answer is easy, the body of Christ in Nashville would be reaching, discipling and launching an army of Hope. Not just any army, but an army of young people the world is currently watching. An army that would have the resources Nashville offers and could seriously bring the Hope of Jesus to the world. As a father of three, students aren't just a passing interest for me. My oldest son will start Jr High in two years. Which means, reaching the schools in Nashville is not only a ministry for me, it's personal.

Back to my "WHAT IF" questions: "What if it worked?…" The answer is simple: our community, our state, our nation and this world, would never be the same!

If i can buy you a smoothie or cup of coffee to discuss further how we can come together to see this Kingdom reality, please email me at

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Proper Response to Burden

It is not hard to look at the world around us today and see that much of it is broken.  As conversations grow about these issues and individuals or groups begin to respond. I often wonder if their response is a biblical one. I also wonder if the things that I am trying to fix is for me, or for the good of the world around me. This discussion has brought me to a new perspective on response which i would like to open up to you. 

Nehemiah 1 : 1-4

Nehemiah 1 is one of the most beautiful responses to a burden that I know of. Nehemiah is a government worker who, as far as we can tell, is having a simple conversation with an old friend. What comes out of that conversation is a reality that strikes Nehemiah to the core. For days following that conversation Nehemiah spends time praying and fasting. As I consider his first response, I am hit with this thought, "What if I spent half the time praying about burdens I have, that I currently spend talking about them?" In our world, communication is key. Clear communication is always a good thing, but what if it is supposed to be the secondary thing?  In the case of a burden, I believe that Nehemiah's response teaches us so much about what we are called to do. We are to be the type of people who know how to pray and fast. Then, after communicating with God, we need to communicate that burden to those around us.

Nehemiah 1 : 5-7

As we read on into Nehemiah's prayers, I am struck by another incredible thought. Nehemiah did not live in Judah at this point; yet, as we read the text, he immediately begins to take ownership for what has happened with the walls and gates. Instead of casting blame for sin, or pointing fingers at everyone else, Nehemiah owns it and repents. What a beautiful thought for a leader! I may not be the cause of this burden; however, I will take responsibility for it with the Father.

Nehemiah 1: 8-11

Finally, as Nehemiah finishes, he begins to speak the promises of God over this issue.  Like us, Nehemiah knows God does not need to be reminded of what He said. No doubt God is fully aware of what He promised His people. I believe Nehemiah is reminding his soul (the same one with the burden) of what God promised.

So I ask you, do you have a burden? I mean, one of those unshakeable God-given burdens. Where have you landed in your response to that burden? What if you took time to learn from Nehemiah and view your burden through his perspective? Only one way to find out, try the ways of Nehemiah, there are great God-given responses ahead.

Please take a moment to share in the comments section of this blog your burden. Our family, our team, and this community will agree with you as you respond to the Father. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Calling & Character

I am geting ready to speak this weekend at a crazy worship experience call "awakening my city" in south Nashville, TN.

As i have been seeking the Lord about what to share, I have been spending time with the leadership of this movement which consists of mostly passionate Jesus disciples in their 20's. I have the good fortune of spending other time with this group, so they know me, and I know them fairly well which creates plenty of trust in our discussions.

The topic that has arisen out of these discussions is the tension for a young believer between Calling & Character.  As I dive into this thought, let me pre-load your brain with two viewpoints to remember as you enter in.

First, we all have a background, faith driven or not, spirit led or not, poor, wealthy, old, young, all of these items will effect they way you consider the tension we are talking about. So be honest about where you come from it will help the discussion.

Second, I have yet to find anyone who has arrived in this discussion. In fact, as you are going to see in a moment, even as I prepare to speak about this biblically on Saturday night, I desire to have enough strength to be honest with those I share with that I too am still tangling with this tension.  Quoting one of my modern day hero's Andy Stanley, "I believe the tension is good." (Catalyst Leadership 2010)

For time's sake, let me make the case that I think for the follower of Christ, 'Calling should be assumed.' To bring clarity to that statement. If we are truly born again believers filled with the spirit of Jesus inside of us, then our Calling is the same as Jesus. To bring life and life to the fullest to the world around us. (John 10)

Let's assume that every time we tell people that God is in control and knows what He is doing that we believe it. Then we consider all the broken-ness around us, how could that be? I believe this falls under Calling. We are called to speak life, bring life, act as Jesus would act towards all mankind especially in it's mess.

With that said, I know of a thousand times that my experience did not match my Calling.  This failure or lack of living out Calling is found in my Character.  Character is a place where I do what I say I am going to do, and act as I say I believe.  The problem for me is that Character depends so much on me. Right? Or does it?

I want to suggest to us that Character is found in the same place that Calling is; "in surrender of our lives to the Spirit of Jesus.'  No doubt I will daily battle my desire to find Character in who "I" am. Paul speaks often about his personal battles against the flesh (Romans 7).  However despite that letter, Paul admits with the same pen "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." (Galatians 2)

For the follower of Christ then, both Calling & Character are found in daily life in Christ. Calling is no longer in question, it is my reality. Character is no longer a list of to do's it is the gracious gift of overflow and how I live my life. I am called to be a worshipper of Jesus, it is a gift to make time each day to worship him.  I am called to speak life over others, it is a blessing to speak the words of Jesus over them in conversation. Both are found in Christ!

So where is the tension? In fact if we are submitting both to Christ daily then there is no tension between the two.  Since I have yet to arrive in my complete submission to Christ daily and would guess most of you are the same, the tension will exist.

Calling & Character, in Christ you have the right to both! Now go live Full!

By the way, want to join us Saturday night?  Here are the Awakening Details:

Awakening My City

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Little White Room

I came to Christ pretty radically when I was 15. A friend who had listened to my miserable, lost state, decided to share the gospel with me. He was only a freshman in high school; however, his relationship with Jesus, and my desire to have that too, caused my response. Over the next few years, the local church in Cedar Rapids IA, raised me, discipled me, and loved me deeply as I worked through what it meant to be a Christ follower. 

After my first year of college, I returned to Cedar Rapids, and took a break from university. I knew that I was not supposed to be at that school; yet, I did not know what was next. So, I took on a few jobs, worked and waited on the Lord.

There came a point that the Lord began to do something new in my life. My days went like this: I would wake up (no alarm) around 4-5am, and begin to read scripture, pray, worship. Around 7am, I would make my way towards my first job.  I would work throughout the day, one job to the next, and then get home around 10pm, in bed by 11. This was new because I was, and still am, a 7.5-8 hours of sleep sort of guy. To have this daily routine and still be able to function was worth taking note.  

About a month in to this time of pressing in, I had an incredible vision. I was worshiping and found myself inside a little white room. The first time I found myself there, I was kneeling at a pair of feet. My spirit knew instantly who this was, I was at the feet of Jesus. It was a defining moment. Grace poured out, holiness poured out, and I sat, worshiped and soaked it all in.

Over the next 4 1/2 months, I found myself often at the feet of Jesus. Other times I would lay on His lap, like a young child. He would speak life over me in profound ways.  

During this time, I began to understand what the Lord was doing in this period of closeness. In the little white room, I could confess all that weighed on me. Jesus would pour out His spirit on my wounds from childhood. His Holy Spirit was like a salve that removed the arrows, healed the wounds, and made the cracks in my soul, whole.

Often during my times of worship, I would hear Him remind me of the promises that I had studied in His word. Also, I heard Him speaking His plan for my life. Serve, love, give, are just examples of things I remember Him sharing with me. I knew them to be true, because they were all reflections of who he is. As a disciple, I just wanted to be like him.

Birthed out of these intimate moments, I began to feel drawn to Nashville, TN. While I had few acquaintances, there were no real friends; yet, when the time came to obey and go, I went. That obedience step is now coming up on 20 years.  

Over the past 20 years the little white room has come up multiple times in my life. Sometimes I go there in my worship, other times, I am just there in the midst of prayer. Each time, I know that the Lord brings me to this place because he needs to solidify some things in my life. Through intimacy with Him, He prepares me for the next step I am to take on this journey.

As I speak about this place, I want to ask you the question. Do you have an intimate place where you can go and lay in the arms of Jesus? If the concept of a little white room will serve you, then by all means, take this and make it yours. For many of you it is less about a location and more about a position. Sometimes it is the posture or position of one’s heart that causes lack of intimacy with Jesus.   
So let me ask the question another way. Do you trust Jesus enough, not just for salvation, but to give him your whole self, starting with your heart? I can assure you, when you make this choice, your life will be radically altered and transformed by the Spirit of the living God.

My prayer for all of you is that you find a place, where you can be intimate with your King, a place like The Little White Room.