Author Archives: Mark O'Connor

Church • Devotion #1: Elders

“I don’t envy you guys.” It is a statement I have made to most of the elders of The River Church more than once over the last year. From navigating both dramatic and traumatic changes in the leadership of the church, to dealing with the financial fallout of those events, it has been no picnic. As I write this, we are facing a disease, COVID-19 that presents a whole new set of challenges that current generations have never had to encounter.

There was a time in my life I did not love authority. When we are young or immature, we do not want anybody telling us what to do or how to live. Come to think of it, I still do not all the time. That being said, I am thankful that the Lord showed me the need for such authority. 

One of the things I am forever teaching my students is the importance of learning not only from their experiences but the experiences of others. History gives us a clear picture of what leadership and what role our elders play in the church in both good and bad ways. 

The Lord has placed the leaders and elders of the church in their roles for very specific reasons. Like much of God’s plan, I wish I could figure out exactly why and what that meant for me, but then I guess it would not be much to do with having faith. 

When I learned to trust that those who are placed in authority over me were there for a reason, whether I liked it or not, things started to become a little clearer for me. Falling into submission and recognizing that we all have a part to play in this big thing God has laid out brought peace.

The book of 1 Timothy starts off by telling us that those who are leaders in the church aspire to a noble task. Not all of us are in, or will ever be in, that place. What we are called to do is trust that the Lord has led us to a place where the leaders in the church are constantly seeking God’s wisdom and guidance the same way that we are called to do in our own lives.If you find that place where God is moving, the church is moving in the same direction, and the leaders are seeking and trusting the Lord, put down those roots and buckle up as you are in for quite a ride because you will begin to see God move in some pretty incredible ways.

Back to Reach • Devotion #1: Open the Gift

Sometimes it is difficult for me to remember the days when I used to walk into a church, listen to a sermon, and go back to the week to live as I wanted. I used to be the guy who would walk in half an hour late because I did not like the worship experience. In my defense, I also did not know how important worship was and is to our relationship with Jesus. “Just give me the meat and potatoes,” I used to say to my wife.

I was young and immature in my faith. I was young and immature in life as well. As I continued to grow in my walk with the Lord, I began to realize that it was less and less about me and more and more about Jesus. It was not until I was directed to take a spiritual gifts test. I did not know that there was such a thing. I wish I still had that test because I am sure that public speaking was not on it. God will definitely put you where He wants you to be. You will find He has a reason for every situation.

You have all been given gifts. They are talents and abilities that we are called to use to glorify Christ. Learn from my experience. God will use you. He will use your talents. He will use you in ways you cannot imagine if you let Him. 

In 1 Peter 4:10 (CSB), we read, Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God.”

As we wrap up this edition of Reach, Gather, and Grow, I encourage you all to evaluate the gifts that you have. You can be in a Growth Community, and that will definitely play a big part in your growth. Your real growth will be stunted if you do not realize that we have to serve others the way that Jesus served us. It is uncomfortable to put yourself out there. Trust me, I understand your thoughts. I am about as introverted as a person gets. By the time I wrap up my day on Sunday evening, I am mentally and emotionally spent.

God has given me gifts and it my duty to use them. He will carry me through despite myself, and the same is true for you. Making the commitment to serve others and in the church is the thing that finally took me to a place where I truly felt that I was in the relationship that Jesus wants to have with me. If you are not already, find a place to serve. If you do not know what that looks like for you, try as many different ministries as you need until you find the right fit.

God’s Will

Burning Bush | Devotion 2: God’s Will
Mark O’Connor

Would it not be great if God would show up in front of us and tell us what He wants us to do? I have spent a lot of time pondering that over the years. I have spent so much time in prayer and study, asking the Holy Spirit to point me in the right direction. From minor decisions about a situation in my family to His call for me to do ministry, I have spent time waiting, struggling, and seeking God’s will.

I am sometimes envious of our Old Testament counterparts. I recently taught a series about Moses in our Wednesday night student program. We talked about God doing amazing things in messy situations. Moses’ life was indeed a messy one. From birth to death, Moses faced many obstacles and challenges. He ran from God and ran to God. He tried to escape and figure things out for himself only to find God chasing after him.

Picture yourself out in the middle of nowhere, and you come across this amazing spectacle. There is a bush set ablaze, but not burning. I may question my mental faculties at that point. Just as you may be coming to grips with what you are seeing, it speaks to you. These are the things that land you in somebody’s office talking about your well being today. Yet, there you are, hearing the voice of the Lord, giving you some precise instructions. Coming to understand the gravity of the situation, you begin to realize you were destined for more than what you are currently doing.

If you take some time and read Exodus chapter 3, and I encourage you to do so, there is a lot more to the story. Moses refused to believe that God would call him in all of his mess and brokenness to do the incredible things that were in his future. However, it is not Moses all along. Moses is a vessel. The Lord could have picked anybody, but He chose Moses.

I do not know what God has in store for you. I do not even know what God has in store for me. Yet, I have come to realize in the last several years that whatever it is that God lined up for me, He could do the same thing through any guy or girl off the street. So we can fight God’s plan, or we can seek it. Incredible works will be done. Lives will be changed. The Gospel will advance either because of you or despite you. I chose to be a part of this incredible journey. I fought it for a while, a long while, and I still do from time to time. However, I am thankful that, while I am pretty sure I will not see a burning bush speaking to me anytime soon, I have the Holy Spirit guiding me and pointing me in the right direction. That is how it works. It may take some time, or it may hit you very suddenly, but always be seeking to fulfill His plan.

Playing Together

Doing the Dishes | Devotion #5: Playing Together
Mark O’Connor | Student Director

This has been a truly exhausting week. I am spent both mentally and physically. My family has endured one of the most shocking experiences of which we can think. It was not a death or illness, but the fall of a man we all love and respected. As I researched what the Bible had to say about playing together and spending time together, I learned that it does not say a lot. It speaks of unity and supporting one another. Both of these are incredibly important.

The idea of playing together, or rather just being together having fun and laughing together is of the utmost importance. Many times this week, my wife and I sat in our home, pondering and processing the weight of this terrible thing called sin. Then my boys, having no idea yet what was going on in our heads, would pop their head out of their bedroom for a moment or a few and just come talk. They might come out and share a meme, and we would all laugh. The helped me through this week more than they will ever really understand. Even after a long Sunday of talking to both students and adults, my family provided me the comfort and distraction we all needed at that moment.

Parents, play with your kids when they are young. These are the times and experiences they will remember and cherish. Spend time with your kids as you age. You will help each other and honor the Lord when you do this. Lean on each other and support each other. You are helping one another in ways you might not know.

We are instructed to live in brotherly love over and over again in Scripture. Psalm chapter 133 tells us this, even though it is only three verses long. Verse 1 tells us, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

God uses the family as a picture of what the church is supposed to look like. Let us take time to think about how our families honor God in that picture. Love each other and live together well. Enjoy each other with the same zeal that Jesus calls us.

Baby Strength

More Than Baby Food | Devotion #5: Baby Strength
Mark O’Connor | Student Director

I remember the day my first son was born. I will spare you some of the details of the day, although it can be a pretty entertaining story and fast forward to after he was born. We were in a hospital room at North Oakland Medical Center. There I was sitting in a rocking chair holding this floppy little baby. I had never been nervous about holding babies; I loved it. This one was a little different. I was responsible for it for a considerably longer time than a couple of hours of babysitting. Everybody kept telling me to be careful with his head because he was not strong yet. I was keenly aware of that. 

What I was not keenly aware of was how short a time that statement would be true of our future strong man. It took him some time to start to walk, but it did not take him long after that to realize the brute force of his strength. We went through many different contraptions to keep doors and drawers closed and childproofed. There were not many at the time that a little force could not handle. I recall watching Nate look at a set of cabinet doors with a zip-tie like device on it. He studied it for a minute, grabbed the door and threw himself back with all his might, snapping the zip ties with ease. That was our life. 

Kids move on from that weak phase very quickly most of the time. Once a baby figures out how strong they are, they continually test that and grow. To be honest, it can be way faster than we would like sometimes. Yet they grow.

Why do Christians not work the same way? Paul tells us in Ephesians to no longer be like children. Ephesians 4:14 (NLT) says, “Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.”

I typically do not teach from the NLT, but I really like the way it words this. We will no longer be immature. We have some very immature adults in the midst of the Church in America. There needs to be a longing in your life to grow in your relationship with Jesus. We talk about that all the time. There also needs to be a growing of maturity in your understanding of who God is and what the Bible says. 

This “Sunday only” thing does not cut it anymore. We ask why things in our lives stay the same and grow stagnant. We wonder why we do not see the blessing that others see. There is a process that takes place when you fully immerse yourself in Scripture, not just to read it but to understand it. When you invest in this growth, you will begin to see what the life of a mature follower of Jesus looks like. The storms will still come. The wind will still blow. When it happens though, you will be ready. You will be equipped. You will be strong enough to bear it only because you let Jesus stand before you and take the brunt of it.

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