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The Other Sheep

I have written before about my trip to Israel that I took back in 2017. It was and remains very formative to my faith. To be able to walk where Jesus walked, stand where Paul once stood, and touch the same water that Peter took those steps of faith on was amazing. The Bible truly came to life. From the minute that I left, I have desired to go back. It was a 10-day spiritual high for me and the others on the trip.


One of the coolest things that you see is Christian pilgrims coming to the Holy Land from all over the world. I would venture to say that I saw Christ followers from every continent while I was there. It was a great reminder that the Church is much bigger than anything that I could have fathomed. It was proof that the Gospel does not know any borders. Christ came for the whole world, and his mission was not a failure.


One of the most moving moments was when we were in Jerusalem and following the last days of Christ. We had arrived at Caiaphas’ house and where it is believed that Jesus was held overnight as a prisoner before being taken to Pilate. As was often the case at the major pilgrimage sites, we were waiting on the group ahead of us to finish before we could enter into the sacred space. As we stood on the steps awaiting our turn, we started to hear singing. The group in front of us was from Asia, but I’m not sure which country. Suddenly, a very familiar song filled my ears in a language that I did not understand. They were singing Amazing Grace. Though my brain was unaware of what they were saying, my heart knew every single word. It was beautiful. I could feel the Holy Spirit in me connecting with the Holy Spirit in all of them. I was in community with people whom I did not know but was connected with because of something far deeper than I will ever understand.


That day will always serve as a reminder to me that Christianity is far bigger than me, my church, or my country. Christ came not for a people but for all people. The Jewish understanding of the Messiah did not agree with that. They believed that he was coming for only them. However, Jesus quickly dispelled that belief. He had this to say in John 10:16, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” He was explaining to his disciples that he came for everyone— not only for the Jews.
On top of that, he also says that we are to be ‘one flock’. This is where I believe that we have the most trouble. We very much want to build walls in Christianity.

Unfortunately, those walls end up becoming the church building. We want to divide over beliefs, denominations, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomics, nationality, music style, etc. Instead of working together to grow God’s kingdom, we become worried about establishing our little kingdoms. The only thing that this creates is division. This is what Jesus had to say about that; “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:24-25). There is too much in-fighting and separation that goes on in Christendom. The chief characteristics of the church should be love for one another and being united. Is that an accurate image of what the church is today?


I am not anti-denominations. I believe that they serve a purpose. None of us have a perfect understanding and interpretation of the Bible. Denominations allow us to find a place where we feel most comfortable theologically and stylistically. There’s nothing wrong with that. The issues start when we believe that our theology makes us superior to other Christians. Jesus tells us in John 14:2, “My Father’s house has many rooms.” I think that there is space for all of us in God’s mansion. To be honest, there is far more that most denominations have in common than there is that separates us. If we all agree on the core tenets of the Gospel, everything else is secondary. The Church should be a big, worldwide community full of very different individuals.


Just as my heart was connected to those believers from Asia, all of our hearts should be connected. We are all children of our loving Father. Christ died for every one of us. The Holy Spirit dwells in each believer. That is what should unite us. We shouldn’t want to fight battles over every little thing. We should work together to share the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection with the world. Only then will we see God’s kingdom truly established here on earth. At some point, every one of us was considered ‘the other sheep’. Why are we so quick to give that label to those who don’t agree with us? We should not perpetuate division amongst God’s people. Instead, we need to strive to be one flock that is connected by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is what it means to be the Church.

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Take Your Medicine

I have narcolepsy. I have had it since I was a teenager, but I wasn’t officially diagnosed until I was in my early twenties. I am sure that most of you have heard of narcolepsy and have assumptions about how it impacts those with this issue. A lot of people immediately jump to the image of someone falling asleep at random moments. Although this can happen, that is not really how narcolepsy affects most people. The simplest way to describe this syndrome is by imagining that someone put the four stages of the sleep cycle (wake, light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep) into a box, shook it up, and pulled out whatever one they grabbed. That is essentially what my brain does with the sleep cycle. 

For me, the worst part of narcolepsy isn’t the feeling tired during the day. It is actually the lack of ability to sleep at night. While a normal person’s brain will cycle everything in order, my brain likes to throw in the “wake” part of the cycle quite often. In fact, I woke up over fifty times during the six-hour sleep test that I had which led to my diagnosis. There is good news though: narcolepsy medicine exists! Although this syndrome is incurable, there are ways to make it better. Every night, I take a prescribed drug before bed and another dose four hours later. This allows me to sleep somewhat like a normal person. I have taken this drug for years, and it works quite well. The only issue that I ever have is that my delivery (it’s a mail-order prescription) gets delayed a day every so often. When that happens, I am guaranteed to have an awful night where I get almost no good sleep. 

Last week, for some reason, my order got delayed for two days. The lack of rest really did a number on me. I was dragging, lethargic, and unmotivated for those days. I could not have been more excited when the delivery driver dropped off my new shipment of meds. I was finally able to get a solid night of sleep. The next morning, as I was driving to work, I was praising God for medicine and doctors. In my prayer, I thanked him for providing me relief from a situation in which I am helpless. Then a thought crossed my mind: that is exactly what Christ did for all of us on the cross. 

You see, while I was born with an issue that affects my sleep, we were all born with a much larger problem— sin. Every one of us was born into sin, and it affects us for our whole lives. On top of that, there is nothing that we can do to help ourselves. It doesn’t matter how good of a life that we live, how much money we give to charity, or how many good deeds we perform. Nothing that we do can take our sinfulness away. Worst of all, our sin eventually leads to us being separated from God for all eternity when we die. That is where Jesus stepped in for us. Second Corinthians 5:21 says. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” God, knowing that there was nothing that we could do to help ourselves out of our situation, sent his son to be a substitute for us. When Jesus died on the cross, he took our sin to the grave with him. Three days later, he walked out of his tomb with our righteousness in his hand. For those who believe that, this means that we get to spend all eternity walking the streets of gold in the perfect presence of God.    

While Christ secured our eternity, we still struggle with sin in the here and now. We do not get to fully escape the impact of sin on our lives until we die or Christ returns. Much like my narcolepsy, it will be a nagging issue for us for the rest of our lives. Good news: there is something that we can do to help win the battle with sin. I believe the only way to combat sin is to spend time in the presence of God. You cannot win this fight alone; you need to bring in a much bigger power. There is no one-size-fits-all method to spending time with God. I think that prayer and scripture need to be a part of it, but there are many, many other avenues that you can take to spend time with your heavenly father. It can be done through singing, listening to music, writing, reading, being out in nature, being in silence, discussing faith with others, exercise, podcasts, taking a class, baking, bible studies, etc. There are limitless ways in which you can spend time in God’s holy presence. Whatever it is that fills your heart with joy, there is a holy way to do it.

We will never fully conquer our sin in this lifetime, but it can be treated, maintained, and made under control by spending time with God. There will be times that you neglect this spiritual practice. Take it from me, it will have ramifications on your life. Much like when I miss a day or two of my narcolepsy meds, it will affect every ounce of who you are. It will turn you into a lesser version of yourself. We were not made for sin; we were made to be in communion with God. It is only through that communion that you can live your life to the fullest and be victorious over sin in your daily life. We are dependent on the medicine that is being in God’s holy presence. Here’s hoping that we never miss a dose.

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Whitewashed Tombs

There is a tv series called Good Omens. It was adapted from the book of the same title which was written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. There is a scene that takes place at Jesus’ crucifixion. One character asks the other, “What was it he (Jesus) said that got everyone so upset?” The other character replies, “Be kind to each other.” Now, Jesus’ teaching had more to it, but that was certainly a key principle. I believe that Jesus’ message can be broken down into three parts: he is the savior, love God, and love others. Those ideas caused some people to hate Jesus— particularly a group known as the Pharisees. 

The Pharisees were the most dominant group in Israel at the time. They were in charge of the religious and social aspects of the Jewish people. They had unrivaled power— even though they were under the thumb of Rome. The Pharisees loved their power and made sure to keep the people in order. They did this by beating people down with God’s word and making following God all about following the rules. They used scripture to oppress people rather than lift them up. The ironic thing is that they repeatedly broke God’s law to get what they wanted. Jesus didn’t much care for this and would regularly call them out for their nonsense. 

There is one particular event that I have been thinking about, and it takes place in Matthew 23. In this chapter of the Bible, Jesus pronounces seven ‘woes’ on the corrupt group of men. They can all be summed up (and oversimplified) by calling the Pharisees hypocrites, which Jesus does several times. He charges them with being all pretense and no substance. They are far more concerned with looking good on the outside rather than who they are on the inside. This can be seen in verse 27, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” They looked good on the surface, but their hearts were not following God. 

I don’t think God much cares about what you look like on the outside. I don’t think that he ever asks of us to put on airs and to carry ourselves around as though we are better than anyone else. In fact, this is what he had to say in 1 Samuel 16:7, “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” God’s concern is only for those pillars of Jesus’ message: We believe that Jesus is the savior, we love God, and we love people. Everything else is ancillary at best or frivolous at worst. We need to keep that main thing the main thing. 

The Pharisees were masters of getting caught up in the nuance of scripture but missing the meaning. We can easily become guilty of doing the same thing. We can get so caught up in wanting people to live good, holy lives that we forget to love them. We have never been assigned the task of lawgiver, but we have been commanded to offer grace to all. We need to keep the main thing the main thing. We shouldn’t get too wrapped up in if we look good on the outside and neglect our own hearts. On top of that, we should never use God’s word to beat people down. That was the actions of those who proclaimed themselves to be enemies of Christ. Instead, we should use scripture to build people up and point them to the cross. We all have to choose whom to imitate, Christ or those who hated him.  

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The Promise of Pentecost

Yesterday, we celebrated Pentecost. If you’re unaware of what that church holiday is, it is the remembrance of when the Holy Spirit descended on the small group of believers after Jesus’ ascension into Heaven. I wrote about Ascension Sunday last week. We recognize Pentecost as the birth of the church because of what happened next. After receiving the Holy Spirit, Peter stood up and preached to a crowd that consisted of tens of thousands of Jews. You see, Pentecost is a Jewish festival. It commemorated when God gave Moses the Law at Mt. Sinai and served as a thanksgiving for the beginning of the harvest. On top of that, it was a pilgrim festival— meaning that every able body Jewish man had to be in Jerusalem to celebrate. Women and children were able to go as well, but it was not mandatory. That is why there were so many people there from a bunch of countries that are hard to pronounce (as seen in Acts 2). I have always said that Jesus never wasted an opportunity with a crowd; the disciples would soon go on to imitate that.


My favorite aspect of this story is that Peter is the one who got to deliver the inaugural sermon of the newly-founded Christian church. He stood up and recounted the story of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. He went on to quote the prophet Joel and told the crowd, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21). We are told in Acts 2:41 that ‘about three thousand’ people placed their faith in Christ and were baptized that day. Not bad for a first sermon!


By worldly standards, Peter was severely unqualified to be the one that preached on that day. He had no formal training. We know that Peter was a fisherman. This was a blue-collar career that was not meant for the highly educated. By knowing what he did for a living, it tells us that he was passed over by rabbis who could have chosen him to become a part of their school and tutelage. The rabbis would choose the best of the best and invite those students into their mentorship. However, Peter was seen as not good enough, not smart enough, and without a bright enough future. That was until he met a teacher who saw much more in him than anyone could have possibly imagined.


When Peter first encountered Jesus along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he — as well as Andrew (his brother), James, and John— had just spent the entire night fishing and caught nothing. They had toiled and toiled, but their nets had come up empty every time. Jesus convinced them to cast their nets one more time, and they brought in the greatest fishing haul of their lives. That’s when the Messiah said to Peter, “From now on you will be catching people” (Luke 5:10). From that point on, Peter followed Christ everywhere that he went. That is, except for the cross when Peter denied knowing who Jesus was.


Even though Peter stumbled at that moment, it did not mean that the promise that Jesus gave to him became void. Although it took a little over three years, Christ delivered on his word, and Peter was able to bring in a much larger and more significant catch than anything his nets ever gathered. He played a part in thousands coming into salvation!


It is ultimately untrue for me to say that Peter was not qualified to deliver that speech to the people. He had the only qualifications that mattered: faith in Christ, the promise from his savior, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Everything else, as Paul puts it in Philippians 3:8, is ‘rubbish’. It didn’t matter that he didn’t go through all of the proper training; all that mattered was that Jesus was a man of his word— as well as the Holy Spirit’s empowerment.


Jesus has far more in store for us than we could ever imagine. We always want to get caught up in the minutia of if we are qualified or good enough. Rubbish. It’s not about you and never will be. It is about God’s promise to use you, and the Holy Spirit living in you and working through you. That is the promise of Pentecost. Every one of us is in that same boat as Peter. There is a myriad of reasons that we can lay out to explain why we’re not worthy of such a call. What makes you worthy is not being called but the one who has called you. Just as Peter learned in that boat, there is nothing impossible for Christ. Jesus can and will use you to fill your nets beyond your wildest dreams.


Don’t worry, you will never have to do it on your own. That is why the Holy Spirit descended on that Pentecost day nearly two thousand years ago. That is why the Holy Spirit still descends upon all who believe today— to enable us to do what it is that we have all been called to do. We are to love God, love others, and tell the world about Jesus. We may never preach to tens of thousands of people at one time, but we can impact those who are around us daily. While that may not seem like much compared to what Peter did, it will be life-changing to those whom we affect. If we simply love God, love all that we encounter daily, and tell people about Christ, that is enough. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can be empowered to reach such a lofty goal, and thank God that the Holy Spirit dwells in all believers. That is what makes you qualified to go and do what Christ has called you to. So, go and cast your nets as often you can, and watch as Jesus gives you a far greater haul than you could ever imagine.

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Ordinary People

Yesterday was Ascension Sunday. If you are unfamiliar with what that day represents, it celebrates when Jesus rose into heaven. We often stop Jesus’ story after his resurrection, but he spent 40 days on earth before he ascended to take his place at the right hand of the Father. During that time, he appeared to many people to prove that he was indeed alive. 1 Corinthians 15:6 says, “He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time.” Mostly though, he spent his time being with his disciples.


I always like to stop and try to imagine what the disciples would have been feeling while they were living life with Jesus. I can only imagine what they were thinking as they watched Jesus being lifted on a cloud into the heavens. Did they realize that they would never see him again until they would die and meet him in eternity? Were they heartbroken because, once again, they watched their savior and friend go away? Were they confused about what was happening? The Bible does not tell us much about their mindset. It only says that they stood there ‘gazing into heaven’ (Acts 1:10).


While we do not know exactly what was going through their minds, we do know that they could have never imagined what would come next. At that time, there were only around 120 followers (Acts 1:15). Think about that for a second. Jesus regularly preached and taught crowds that numbered in the hundreds. He performed more miracles than we could possibly count. One time, he fed a group of well over 10,000. He later followed that up by feeding another group of comparable size. When he entered Jerusalem for the final time, the people lined the streets to sing his praises and lay down palm branches in his honor. His 3 years of ministry reached far more people than we can imagine, yet there were only about 120 people who stood there as followers on the day of his ascension.


The disciples could not have known that they were about to do something far more numerically substantial in just a few days. This rag-tag group of average people and outsiders were about to turn the world upside down. They would soon preach to huge crowds and grow the church by the thousands. Act 2:47 says, “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Within just a few weeks, the early church grew to be astronomically bigger than when Jesus ascended.


My favorite part of all of that is who the men were that were leading this charge: a bunch of nobodies. Not a single one of the disciples was qualified to lead a spiritual revolution. This was a group of fishermen, a job for the uneducated; a tax collector, a position that was reviled by the Jews; and a zealot, someone who was working to overthrow the Roman government. Not one of them studied under a rabbi. The only training they had was spending time with Jesus and trying to imitate him. I am positive that none of them envisioned themselves as leaders of establishing God’s kingdom on earth. What they imagined for themselves was not important; what really mattered is what Jesus had in store for them. He had far greater plans than any of them could have possibly envisioned.


That is true for all of us today. It is not about what we bring to the table. It doesn’t matter if you feel that you are qualified or not. It’s not about you and never will be. It is all about what Jesus has in store for you. He used a bunch of ordinary people to do extraordinary things. God has yet to change his methodology. There is no use in questioning if God can use you. If he has decided that he will, then that is all there is to it. None of us may ever preach to thousands, but he can and will use each of us to impact those who are around us in our daily lives. It will look different for every one of us, but rest assured, he has something planned for you that is far greater than anything that you could imagine for yourself. God specializes in using ordinary people to do extraordinary things. All you have to do is follow him wherever it is that he is leading. The only training that you need is to spend time with Jesus and to imitate him the best that you possibly can; God will take care of the rest.


The best news is that he does not leave any of us on our own. He provides us with the Holy Spirit— just as he did with the disciples on the day of Pentecost. That is what we will talk about next week.

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Flowers and Weeds

            Yesterday, I was out in my flower bed pulling weeds. I hate pulling weeds. I view it as a necessary evil that I have to do for my yard to look good. It is a never-ending battle. No matter how much time you spend pulling them or spraying them with weed killer, there will always be more that pop up the next day. Every time I go out weeding, I always have the same question about who decided what is a weed and what is a flower. Sometimes, it’s obvious. Some weeds are basically grass and are not aesthetically pleasing at all. Why does baby’s breath get to be a flower and white clover doesn’t? Why is the dandelion seen only as a nuisance? Admittedly, there is probably a legitimate reason for it, but I think that it was mainly arbitrary decisions made by people long ago. Someone looked at them and said that they were good or bad, and that designation has stuck with each of the plants since then. 

            We like to try to make things fit into one of those two categories. It’s one thing to do it with something like flowers, but we also have a habit of doing it with people as well. If we don’t like someone, then they’re bad. If we enjoy being around them, then they’re good. If they align with our political belief system, then they’re good. If they don’t, then they’re bad. If they’re upstanding citizens, they’re good. If they have made a lot of bad choices and gotten themselves into trouble, then they’re bad. We’re all guilty of doing this. Our world makes more sense to us if we can categorize things as good or bad. 

            Here’s the thing, we do not get to be the arbiter of such things. We do not get to sit on the judgment seat; that position belongs only to Christ (John 5:22). However, that is not what he came to do the first time. While he makes it clear in scripture that his second coming will be one of judgment, his mission during his time here around 2000 years ago was not about condemnation. Jesus says in John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” He reiterates this statement in both John 8:15 and John 12:47. If Jesus did not come to condemn, then why do we think that it is our position to do so?

            While you will not find a single piece of scripture where Jesus tells his followers that it’s our job to cast condemnation on others, you will find plenty of places where he tells us to love others. Think about those who have shared God’s love with you and informed you that Christ died for your salvation. What if they had judged you as not worth the time? What if they saw you as only the worst parts of you and decided that you were irredeemable? If we think someone is too far gone to receive salvation, then we are greatly underestimating the power of Jesus’ blood. There is no one so “bad” that they cannot be welcomed into a relationship with Jesus through believing in him. What Jesus did for us on the cross is far greater than all the sins that we could ever commit. Nobody is too far gone to come to God. 

            It is not our decision as to who is a flower and who is a weed. We should love all people, tell them about Jesus, and let God handle it from there. None of us are qualified to take the position of judge of the world. That role is for Christ alone. It is only out of arrogance that we cast condemnation on people. Just to let you know, your sin is also the reason why Jesus had to die. We all are broken sinners in need of grace. Not one of us is better than any other. Every one of us needs a savior. So instead of beating others down and deciding that they are not worth saving, let’s offer them the story of the Redeemer who came not to condemn them— but to love them. 

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The Lord’s Declaration

            Today marks the sixth anniversary of being hired at the church for which I work. It’s amazing to think back across that time and the many memories. I have met people who have helped shape me into the man that I have become. I have grown tremendously in my faith over the years. Most importantly, I have been able to spend my six years here telling people about Jesus; that’s all that I’ve ever wanted to do. Of course, there have been good times and bad, mountain tops and valleys. That is true about any station in life. I can confidently say that there have been far more highs than lows throughout my tenure. It’s hard for me to even believe that it has already been six years. What I would like to share with you today is how I ended up at the church. This is a story of God’s provision and grace.

            From the time that I was a teenager, my dream job was to work for a youth ministry called Young Life. It was through this organization that I came to know Christ and the foundations of my faith were established. I was blessed to be hired on to Young Life staff out of college. I spent the next three years working for them. Much like any type of youth ministry, it was fun, frantic, and a joy to share the love of Jesus with teenagers. My plan was to do that until I retired. That, however, was not how things worked out. 

Young Life is entirely funded by local fundraising. It turns out, that is not an area in which I am gifted. I could see the writing on the wall as we struggled to make ministry ends meet. I was sitting down in a meeting with my committee chairman and the regional director in mid-April of 2015 when I realized that I was going to have to leave my dream job. We simply could no longer afford to have a staff person. I walked out of that meeting knowing that my time with Young Life had come to an end.

            I did not have a plan for what to do next. Was I going to have to move somewhere else? Was my time in full-time ministry ending? How was I going to pay my bills? I had been singularly minded up until that point with what I was going to do with my life. My plan was no longer feasible. Then, I remembered that I had heard about a church in the area that was looking to hire a youth minister. I left my meeting, dried my eyes on the drive over, and walked into the church. I was hoping and praying for the best. After the pastor reluctantly agreed to meet with me, he decided that it was worthwhile to give me an interview. I was interviewed for the first time about a week later. Then, they asked me to come back for a second interview the following week. A couple days later, I was offered the job. I officially began on May 3, 2015. 

            When I walked out of the meeting in which I stated that I was going to resign from my dream job, I was crushed. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. It turns out that God knew. He knew exactly where to send me and had already prepared the next steps of my life. I don’t believe that it was a coincidence the church had failed to hire someone for the position—even though they had been looking for a year and a half. They may not have known it, but they were waiting for me. It wasn’t by chance that I had heard about the youth ministry opening. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was prepared for me beforehand. Although leaving Young Life came as a shock to me, it did not take God by surprise. Yes, the steps were painful, but they led me to exactly where I was and am supposed to be. 

            That is how God operates. We all like to quote Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you’—this is the Lord’s declaration—’plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” It makes us feel good. Did you know that God spoke those words while the Jews were exiled from their homeland by the Babylonians and would be for many more years? Sometimes, God leading you to where you need to be requires that you go through things that you do not want to go through. That was true for the Israelites, for me, and for you. The path isn’t always one that is easily walked, but it will always take you to the place you need to be. 

            God will continuously work things out for our good. He promised us that in Romans 8:28. My life has been an example of that; not only with leading me to the church but in other ways as well. Just because things fall apart does not mean that they were meant to last forever. God is always inviting us to take the next step in his plans for us. Sometimes, he has to force us from where we are to get us to go to where we need to be. Even though it may hurt to leave behind what we once thought was best for us, he will bring us to a place that is far greater than the one that we left behind. After all, that is his declaration.

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The Deception of Sin

There is a question that has existed in the world since the moment that the serpent slithered down and tempted Eve in the garden. That question is: why do we keep sinning when we know that it goes against God’s desire for our lives? You can pretty much pick any person in the Bible and find someone who struggled with sin. This even includes those whom we have deemed as the most faithful. That list includes heroes of the faith such as Moses, Noah, Abraham, David, Peter, Paul, and many more. Also, that list includes you and me. Paul had this to say about the struggle of sin in Romans 7:19, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” This is the exact same fight that all of God’s people fight every day. We want to live good and holy lives and avoid sin, but we seem to keep choosing the opposite of that which we desire. Why is that?

 I think that answer is summed up in Hebrews 3:13. That verse talks about “sin’s deception.” The real question is, what is the deception that sin presents to us? In my opinion, sin’s deception is that it promises to instantly fulfill whatever it is that we deeply desire. Maybe someone is looking for love and acceptance, so they live a promiscuous life. Maybe someone wants to feel financially safe and secure, so they become greedy and abuse people to gain wealth. Maybe someone wants to feel better about themselves, so they put others down thinking that it will prop themselves up. Maybe someone wants to escape the emotional pain that they feel, so they numb themselves with drugs or excessive alcohol. The list could go on and on. We all are deeply seeking something in our souls, and sin promises to give that desire to us. The problem is that it never lasts. We exchange eternal joy for temporary happiness when we choose sin over God’s plan for our lives. 

Here is the story that sparked my idea for this post. I was walking my dog, Samson, a couple days ago. He likes to think of himself as a mighty hunter; he is not. As we were walking, he became fixated on a rabbit that was about 50 feet from us. There was nothing that I could do to draw his attention away from it. Of course, he was on a leash. Even if he wasn’t, there is no way that he would ever catch his desired prey. He simply is not fast enough. As his eyes were locked on this one rabbit, there was a group of three of them about 20 feet from us. They were just sitting there. He would have had a much better chance at catching one of them (although I would never allow him to do it). They eventually slowly walked across the street without him ever noticing that they were there because he was still focused on the one that he had no chance of catching. Eventually, all the rabbits got away without him coming close to any of them.   

I thought to myself, “This is what we do when we choose sin over God.” There was something much greater just a few steps ahead of Samson, but he chose the lesser because that’s what he saw first. That is the deception of sin; it tells us that the lesser that we first see is better for us than the greater that is a few steps ahead. All sin is rooted in not trusting that God has something greater in store for us. We choose fifty cents today over fifty dollars tomorrow. Ephesians 3:20 tells us that God will do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” When we choose sin, we forfeit the “immeasurably more” for something far less. Thanks be to God that he keeps offering the more to us despite how often we make the wrong choice.

You are going to struggle with sin today, tomorrow, and forevermore. That is simply life as fallen people in the fallen world. The good news is that we do have a choice. We get to choose each and every day, each and every moment if we are going to choose God or if we are going to choose something far, far lesser. In order to win the battle over sin in our lives, we must trust that God will fulfill those deepest longings of our hearts and souls. It may not happen as quickly as we would like or in the way that we think is best, but it will happen in the time and way that is perfect for us. Sin will only ever bring momentary happiness. It will be fleeting. Not long after the sin, you will be right back to where you started— still hurting and broken. However, if you wait on the Lord to provide for you, you will receive unspeakable joy that will last through this lifetime all the way into eternity. The choice is yours.

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The Heart of Humility

            Time and time again, I have written about how we are to love others. I have used John 13: 34-35 many times. Those verses read, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I have to often go back to that section of scripture to remind myself of who it is that I am supposed to be and how to treat others. I fully believe that loving others as Jesus has loved us is the chief characteristic for which we should strive. In my Bible reading lately, I think that I have found what should be a close second— humility.

            I can go ahead and tell you that I feel hypocritical writing about how we should be humble. For most of my life, I have greatly struggled with being overly prideful. The sin of arrogance has permeated pretty much every aspect of my being. This even includes my faith. I strive to know the Bible and to know it well. That is a great goal for anyone, obviously. However, I would often use my biblical knowledge to show off how great I was or beat people down. I somehow got it in my mind that I was better than others because I could quote more scripture than them. Let me tell you this: there is no greater way to turn people off from the faith than being self-righteous. In recent years, God and life have done quite the job removing my pharisaic mindset. There is still work to do, but they are certainly making progress.

            Pride is an interesting thing. We get taught from a young age that it is good. We are told that we should take pride in our country, state, school, family, job, accomplishments, achievements, and pretty much everything else. I don’t believe that pride is necessarily a bad thing. It is good to be proud of someone for something that they’ve done. It is good to be proud of yourself when you have completed a goal that you have set out to do. The issue is that we can quickly lose containment of our pride, and it starts to morph into us thinking that we are better than others. That is never an acceptable mindset in God’s kingdom. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We are all equal, period. This is the danger of pride. We place ourselves on a pedestal. When pride begins to run rampant in our hearts, it becomes like trying to put out a forest fire with a water hose. Before we know it, we start to think less of others. That is never how God’s people should think.

            In A Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren wrote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” Humility is not about degrading or berating yourself. It is not about considering yourself less than. It is not about thinking that you are nothing. It is simply thinking about others above yourself. I believe Paul had something to say about that. This is what he wrote in Philippians 2:3­–4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” That is what it is to be humble. 

            The heart of humility is trusting God. If we are to place others’ needs above our own, then we are forced to rely on God to fulfill ours. This is countercultural, at least in the U.S. We have it seared into our minds that we are to look out for ourselves and our loved ones above all else. We think that if we are not the ones taking care of everything, then things will fall apart. Remember the line from the Lord’s prayer, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11)? We cannot be humble until we truly trust that God will provide for us. He will; he has promised us that.

            I said at the beginning that humility is second to loving others. In reality, they are two sides of the same coin. To love others and to be humble are both done by laying down our pride and thinking about others more than ourselves. This is who God has called us to be. Micah 6:8 says, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” There it is. All three of those things can be summed up loving others and trusting God. We are to be humble people. We are to try to rid ourselves of arrogance. This is what Jesus did. We see that by how he served those around him, washed the feet of the disciples, and willingly went to the cross. If Jesus did these things because he considered others above himself, then we have no justification to not do the same. 

When explaining how to be humble, C.S. Lewis wrote this in Mere Christianity: “The first step is to realize that one is proud.” We need to find those places where we think of ourselves as better than others, and then pray for God to remove that pride from us. Alongside that, we need to love those around us and trust God to take care of us. Only then, we can be humble. Only then, we can do what it is that the Lord has required of us.

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No Room for Hatred in God’s Kingdom

Do you know the story of Jonah from the Bible? It is a short book, only 47 verses, that appears towards the back of the Old Testament. You are probably familiar with the fact that he was swallowed by a whale. The Bible actually doesn’t say whale; it just says a “big fish,” but that is not overly important to the story. Do you know what led up to that moment or what happened after? If not, allow me to briefly sum it up.

            Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh. This was the capital city of Assyria, which was Israel’s neighbor to the northeast. It is important to know that Israel and Assyria did not get along. In fact, the story of Jonah took place just a few decades before Assyria defeated Israel in a war and took the Israelites captive. Nevertheless, God called Jonah, a Jew, to go and preach to his enemies and try to lead them to God. Jonah wanted nothing to do with this. He decided to board a ship and sail to Tarshish, which is in modern-day Spain. In other words, he was trying to get as far away from Nineveh and God’s calling as he could. 

            While he was on the ship, a great storm came. Jonah believed that God sent the storm because of him, so he asked the other men on the ship to throw him overboard. He thought that it was better that he perish than all of them. As he was sinking to the bottom of Mediterranean Sea, God sent a big fish to swallow him. He spent the next three days in the belly of the fish. I cannot imagine that this was a pleasant experience. Then, the fish “vomited” Jonah on to land— which happened to be Nineveh. 

            While he was there, he preached to the Ninevites, and they changed their ways and decided to follow God. Success, right? The story then takes an odd turn, and Jonah was unhappy about the people’s response to his message. Why was this? Scripture doesn’t say for sure, but I have my opinion on it. I believe that Jonah was unhappy because he did not want to see the Ninevites come to faith because they were his enemy. He had spent his whole life despising these people. Now, they have come to faith in the God that he believed was only for the Jews. Jonah’s whole worldview was challenged.

            I think that Jonah believed that the Ninevites were less than and didn’t deserve God’s grace. Unfortunately, this is not a notion that has died out in the centuries that have passed since he lived. In Jesus’ day, the Jews believed that the messiah was only coming to redeem them. However, we can read about how Jesus was regularly ministering to gentiles (non-Jews). We even see him caring for Samaritans, who the Jews reviled, and Romans, who were oppressing the Jews. These were Israel’s enemies at the time. Jesus didn’t care. Just like with the story of Jonah, we see that God’s love knows no borders.

            There is nobody who is seen as a less than when it comes to God’s love. In all honestly, not a one of us deserve his grace. We are all sinners who have fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:26). On top of that, Jesus died for all (1 Corinthians 5:15; also, the whole Bible). Every person is in the exact same boat— sinners in need of grace. Why then would we ever consider anyone less than? There is no room for hatred in God’s kingdom. There is absolutely no biblical justification for considering anyone as inferior. There are a million ways in which we can divide ourselves: nationally, racially, politically, socioeconomically, etc. These are all man-made lines that do not exist in God’s eyes. He loves everyone, period. We all need to search our hearts. Is there any group of people that you consider worthless? Is there anyone that you would prefer to jump on a ship to get as far away from as possible rather than share with them the love of God? 

            We all have our prejudices. Most of these are taught to us from the times that we are kids. If we pretend that we don’t, then we do everyone a disservice. We need to get over ourselves and accept that God loves them just as much as us. Perhaps, God may even want to use us to share his love with them. Jonah is a story of God’s love for all and people’s preconceived notions against that. It is imperative that, as God’s people, we love everyone with the same love in which he has loved us. Afterall, that is the new commandment that Jesus gave in John 13:34.

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The Day After Easter

Yesterday, the world celebrated Easter Sunday. This one seemed to hold a little bit more power than Easter Sunday normally does. I believe that is because of what we have been through over the past year. At this point a year ago, we were all locked away in our houses as a way to protect us from an invisible threat. Churches did not convene together to shout our praises that Christ is risen. We watched and celebrated, as best that we could, by watching a service on a little screen. “It doesn’t feel much like Easter,” was a refrain that was heard over and over again. Praise be to God that this year was different. We were allowed to come together again and worship the resurrected Savior in person. At my church, we even sang as a congregation for only the second time since the pandemic began. Yes, we still had to wear masks and be social distanced. The battle with Covid is not yet over, but we were together. 

I am reminded of the disciples on that Sunday morning, almost 2000 years ago. John and Peter had made their way to the tomb, and John made a point to make sure that we are all aware that he beat Peter in that footrace (John 20:4). They investigated the tomb and found it empty. Then, they went back to the place in which all of the disciples were hiding out. They must have been afraid for their lives. Their leader had just been killed and probably thought that the same could happen to them. They were not sure what was going to happen next, but they were together. How do you go back to a normal life after you spent the past three years living life with Jesus? Of course, Jesus came to them. He showed them the holes his hands and feet to prove it was truly him. John 20:20 tells us that the disciples were “overjoyed” when they saw him. In a moment, they went from afraid to joyous because they had encountered the risen Messiah. 

Can you imagine what they were feeling the day after that first Easter? I cannot imagine that they went back to life as normal. They had become witnesses to the fact that death and sin could not defeat Christ. They now knew that Jesus was and is everything that he ever claimed to be. There was not a shred of doubt that he was indeed the Son of God and the one who came to bring eternal life to all that would believe in them. That moment would go on to fuel them for the rest of their days. This encounter gave them all that they needed to take the name of Jesus as far as they could and to all that would listen. Because the risen Lord came to them, they would go on to dedicate their lives to him. For all but John, this dedication would end up costing them their lives.

Today is the day after Easter. What are we going to do with it? Are we going to go back to our normal, mundane lives? Are we going to take the greatest story ever told and lock it away for another year? Or are we going to the allow the fact that we have encountered the risen Savior to fuel us to tell the world about him? I hope that we keep shouting “he lives” every day and not just on Resurrection Sunday. 

The tomb is empty! I was in Israel four years ago, and I can assure you that it is still empty. This is the greatest news that the world has ever received. Everyone needs to know that Christ is risen; he is risen indeed. They need to know that when Jesus stepped foot out of his burial place, he emerged with their salvation in his pierced hands. They need to know that he walked out to prove to them that he everything that he said is true— most importantly, that he loves them. We should not walk out of an Easter service the same way in which we went in. Our hearts should be, “Burning within us” (Luke 24:32). 

We have encountered the living God. This is the greatest news that we can share with the world. This should be what gets us through each day. This should be the answer to every doubt that we face. This is the weapon that we should use when Satan asks us if God really loves us. This is the rock that our faith must be built upon. Christ walked out of that tomb to prove that he loves you. We forever live in that Easter moment. Each morning, as you wake up and prepare to face the day, say to yourself, “Christ the Lord is risen today!” Then, say it to all who will listen.

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Easter is Always Coming

Today is Maundy Thursday. If you are unaware of what maundy means, it basically means “commandment.” Today is the day that we commemorate Jesus’ last supper with his disciples almost 2000 years ago. While they were eating, Jesus said to his followers, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). That is the reason as to why we call the Thursday of Holy Week Maundy Thursday. I’m actually not going to expound upon that commandment. If you wish to hear my thoughts on it, then you can pick pretty much any other blog post on here, and you’ll be likely to find them. 

What I want to talk about today is what the disciples must have been thinking on this day a couple of millenniums ago. They had had an eventful week leading up to this point. On that Sunday, they walked with Jesus as he entered Jerusalem as a king. The following day, they watched as Jesus caused a ruckus at the Temple because of the corruption and exploitation of the people that was being done by the money changers and those selling sacrificial animals. Tuesday and Wednesday were much quieter. They relaxed and listened to the promised messiah teach. That brings us to Thursday.

An important thing to know is what the disciples, and other Jews, thought that the savior was going to do. Their belief was that he was going to come as a military leader and lead a revolution against those who oppressed Israel, which at this time was Rome, and would establish Israel as the dominant kingdom in the world for all eternity. Given what the disciples had seen at the beginning of the week, they must have assumed that they were at the precipice of this happening. Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman rulers, and they were his chosen soldiers. This, obviously, is not what happened, but they could have never foreseen the way in which Christ would establish God’s kingdom on earth.

They would go on to have one, final dinner with their rabbi. He washed their feet, told them to love others, and offered the bread and wine that was symbolic of his body and blood. There is no way that they could have imagined that this was the last time that they would share a meal with the man that they had been following for three years. After they had finished eating, they went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. That is the place in which the disciples watched as their leader was arrested— thanks to the betrayal of one of their own. This had to shake the foundations of their beliefs. Whatever hope that they had left must have been dashed as Jesus was nailed to the cross that next day. 

They had in their minds what life with Christ would be like, but that all came crashing down. We can only surmise what they must have been feeling. I think that we can assuredly assume that heartbreak and confusion were the chief emotions that they were feeling. He was supposed to be God, but he died just like any man would have. Was everything that they placed their faith in false? Had they wasted the last three years of their lives? Where in the world were they to go from there? Every question that they had would be answered three days later when Jesus emerged from the grave a victor over death and sin. 

I say all of that to offer encouragement. There are times in our lives that we have no idea what God is doing. We have plans that he seems to not be too interested in following. We have expectations that he is not meeting. Our own hubris tends to supersede the Holy. If we can learn anything from the week leading to Easter Sunday, it is that we can always take heart and trust that Jesus is doing exactly what he should be doing in our lives. The disciples were not spared heartache and hardship between Thursday night and Sunday morning. God did allow for things to go much differently than that they thought they should. Of course, God had much bigger and better plans for them. 

Life will not always go the way that we envision. Things will fall apart all around us, and we will be left with more questions than answers. Our faith will be shaken from time to time. Those are our own Maundy Thursdays and Good Fridays (the day of Jesus’ crucifixion). Those are the times when we’re left confused and not knowing what God is doing. I can assure you of this, there will always be an Easter Sunday. Just as Christ returned back to his disciples, he will always show up in your life. When he does, he will bring about something bigger and better than you could have ever imagined. He will not leave his followers. Yes, there will be times of heartache and hardship, but Jesus will always be the risen Savior who returns to his people to set them free of whatever it is that is oppressing them. Take heart, there is always an Easter on your horizon. 

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A Dream Come True

Today’s post is going to be different than normal because I have a really cool, personal announcement to share with you. This is honestly life-changing news for me. Back in December, I started secretly writing a book. The reason that I didn’t tell anyone, aside from a select few people, was because I wasn’t sure where it would go. I didn’t know if I would ever actually finish it. It would not be the first project that I started that I didn’t see through until completion. On top of that, based on everything that I had read, it is very difficult to get a book published. So, I thought playing my cards close to the vest was the best strategy for me. All of that being said, I am excited to announce that I will accepting a publishing deal this week!

My book is called How Great A Love: Faith, Forgiveness, and the Father. The title is taken from 1 John 3:1, “Look at how great a love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children. And we are!” The entire theme of the book can be summed up in God loves us, and Christ died for us. This is also an extremely intimate work with lots of stories taken from my life- some wonderful, some painful. I use those stories to relate scripture and God’s love to our lives. If you want to be reminded of God’s deep affection towards you (or maybe read it for the first time), then this book will be one that you will want to read. 

I am still at the beginning of the publishing journey, and I do not have an official date for when the book will hit the shelves. My hope is that it is by the end of the year. I am excited to see what God has in store for me and my writing in the future. He has already done far more with it than I really believed was possible. The fact that God has orchestrated my book getting published is a dream come true. When I look at all that he has done in my life, I should be used to him making my dreams come true by now. 

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613

613 was the number of laws that the Jews had to follow in Jesus’ time. While many are stated in the Old Testament, mainly in the first five books of the Bible, the majority of them were created by the Jewish religious leaders. The whole day-to-day of their religion was about following the rules. It was all about the dos and don’ts. Their chief concern was that they avoid displeasing God by breaking one of the hundreds of rules. Could you imagine trying to remember 613 rules, let alone follow all of them? Heck, we struggle to follow the two that Jesus laid out, love God and love people. Just imagine the pressure that they would feel and the constant worry that they would unknowingly break one of the laws.

            Unfortunately, that line of thought has managed to trickle down into modern-day Christianity. The notion that God exists as a prodding principal that makes sure everyone is standing in a straight line and not talking out of turn has yet to dissipate. There are many preachers who delivered a sermon this past Sunday that did nothing but brow-beat the congregation and drive home the idea that our relationship with God is centered entirely around our obedience to the rules. Now, I need to offer the caveat that we should be obedient to God and the Word. I do believe that the difference is the heart behind the obedience. If the motive is to earn God’s love, favor, and blessing, then the motive is mistaken. That was all taken care of for you by Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

            The reason that we should seek to be obedient to God is out of our relationship of mutual love. My favorite image of God is as our heavenly father. Think about your parents when you were growing up. All of them had rules in which you were to follow. Now, I do know that some parents have abused their authority, and this can conjure up negative emotions and hurt. I was blessed with loving parents, and they certainly had their rules that I had to follow. Why did I choose to adhere to them (most of the time)? It was because the love and respect I had for them. Of course, there was the desire to not get into trouble, but, if I am being honest, I could have gotten away with a lot more than I did. However, the greater drive behind this was that we had a great relationship, and I trusted that they had my best intentions at heart. This is the reason why we should follow God’s word. It is because he loves us, and always has our good in mind. 

            It’s not about the rules. Jesus says in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” That is freedom from the yoke of having to obsess over following the law, which the Pharisees and Sadducees used to oppress God’s people. This freedom was bought for us with Christ’s life. We are to not abuse it by hurting others, freely giving ourselves to sin, or to get personal gain. We are to use the freedom to build a true and meaningful relationship with our heavenly father. He does not ask us to follow 613 laws. All that he asks us is to love him, love others, and be loved by him. It’s not about the rules; it’s about our relationship with him.

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God Will Keep Showing Up

            Most of us are familiar with the story in which Jesus feeds 5,000 people. This is the only miracle that is recorded in all of the Gospels. If you are unfamiliar with that event or have forgotten the details, then allow me to fill you in. It can be found in Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, and John 6. A large crowd has been following Jesus throughout the region of Galilee. All throughout the day, he has been teaching them and healing their sick. Scripture tells us that the number of men in the crowd was 5,000. This did not include any women or children that were also present. The number of people that were there could have easily been 15,000 or more. 

            As the day was drawing to a close, Jesus could sense that the crowd was getting hungry. Afterall, they have been with him and his disciples all day and haven’t had a chance to eat. Jesus turns to his 12 faithful followers and tells them that it is their job to get food for the people. Obviously, this is an impossible task. Where in the world would they ever get enough food for them? On top of that, there was no way that they could afford to pay for it. Andrew, one of Jesus’ disciples, mentions that there was a boy there who had 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish. Jesus decides that this would be enough, despite the fact that that would only have fed a handful. The disciples are then instructed to have the crowd sit down in groups. Jesus broke the bread and gave thanks for all of it. Then, the disciples are each given baskets with the food being divided into 12 and dispersed evenly. They pass out the food and every person there ate all that they wanted. There was even plenty of leftovers. This was the largest scale miracle that Jesus performed during his ministry. He fed upwards of 15,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish. The disciples must have been blown away by what they witnessed.

            Something kind of funny happens in the books of Matthew and Mark. There is actually a second mass feeding miracle that happens not long after the feeding of the 5,000. Once again, a large crowd has followed Jesus. They were all bringing their sick and disabled friends and family to the messiah for help. After a day of healing, Jesus tells his disciples that they need to feed the crowd. Admittedly, this group was a little bit smaller. It consisted of 4,000 men. Once we factor in women and children, we’re talking about 10,000 or more. After hearing Jesus call them to feed the crowd, the disciples once again ask, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” (Matthew 15:33) This is the same group of people who were a part of feeding the 5,000, and yet, they are confused about how Jesus could feed this crowd! Nevertheless, they take the 7 loaves of bread and feed the crowd. Once again, they have plenty of leftovers. I said that this was kind of funny because one would assume that since the disciples saw that Jesus fed one crowd, then he would be able to feed the other. However, they quickly forgot about the previous miraculous act whenever the next problem arrived. 

            How often do we do the same thing? How many times has trouble come into our lives and Jesus took care of us? Then the next time that we face an obstacle, we question if he is going to be there for us. We are all plagued with short memories of God’s amazing work in our lives. Time and time again, he has shown up and gotten us through whatever was going on. He has proven that he will always be there for us and work things out for our good. We need to remember those times whenever we face the next hardship because if God can do it once, then he will do it countless times. 

It all comes down to trust. Do we trust that God is going to continue to work in our lives during those hard times? Do we believe that he is going to do it again and again? Just like the fact that he didn’t feed just one crowd, he’s not only going to show up for you one time. He is there for you- always. Because of this, we can be people who live out what Psalm 112:7 says; “They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” We have nothing to fear because God will keep showing up- even when it seems impossible. It is in those moments that we must cling on to the memories of when he proved his steadfastness to us before.

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The Battle is the Lord’s

            The story of David really is a fascinating one. He was the youngest of his brothers and least likely to be king, but he would go on to be Israel’s greatest monarch. God called him a man after his own heart in 1 Samuel 13:14. For most of his life, he was successful in every way. David was also a failure, both in his morality and as the leader of God’s chosen people. He committed what I consider the worst act of the Bible when he led Bathsheba into adultery, got her pregnant, and then had her husband killed so that he could marry her to cover up his immorality. He certainly was a complicated character. 

Whenever you hear the name David, what is the first story that comes to your mind? I’m willing to bet that it is David vs. Goliath. We were taught this tale from the time that we were children. If you do not know the story or have forgotten the details, let me fill you in. Israel was battling a country by the name of Philistine that inhabited some of the land that was promised to them. David, who was about 15 at the time and not old enough to be a soldier, went to the battle to deliver his brothers some supplies. While he was there, he overheard a man named Goliath challenging the Israel army to send someone to fight him. Whoever would win the fight, their side would win the entire war. On top of that, Goliath was also insulting God. None of the Israelites volunteered to fight this man. This probably had something to do with the fact that Goliath was almost 10’ tall, and the average man was around 5’5” at that time. Nevertheless, David offered to fight the giant. After a back-and-forth with King Saul, David was allowed to battle Goliath. All of Israel’s future was riding on the shoulders of this boy.

When Goliath saw David, he mocked him and Israel for sending such a weak competitor. However, David was not deterred. He informed the pompous and powerful Philistine that he was not afraid of him because God was on his side. David shouted, “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:47). Then, the overmatched boy took a rock, put it in his sling, launched it at Goliath, nailed him in the head, and the giant fell to the ground dead. To make sure that the job was completed, the future king then cut off the giant’s head. All of this is found in 1 Samuel 17. 

This story has been a favorite one for Christians to share over the years. It has a lot of the elements that we love. It is a story of good vs. bad. David was the original underdog who was up against something that clearly overmatched him but came out victorious. It is an inspirational anecdote that shows that we too can conquer our giants. Mostly though, I believe that this is a story of faith.

David displayed confidence in God every step of the way- not just when he slung the stone. In my opinion, he most displayed his faith when he looked Goliath in the eye and told him that he would kill the giant because God was on his side. That is what I believe we most need to take from this story. If God is on our side, we will not fail. It doesn’t matter what we are facing. We all have “giants” in our lives that stand in our way. That can be anything from relationships, financial issues, health issues, our lives falling apart, sin that we are struggling with, unsure of our future, etc. There will always be problems in this world for us; Jesus promised us that in John 16:33. In that verse, he also told us that he has, “overcome the world.” In addition, he has promised us that he will always be with us, forever (Matthew 28:20). 

Whatever it is that we are facing, it is not greater than Jesus and his love for you. Whatever it is that is staring at you right now and telling you that it’s going to destroy you, respond to it with the words of David, “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:47). The battle that you are fighting is not yours; it is the Lord’s. This is what Paul says to do in Romans 8:31, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” God is for you and is ready to fight your battles. Have faith, walk into that arena with your giant with confidence because you know who it is that loves you and is on your side, and let God win the battle and set you free. He did it for David, and he will do it for you. 

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“Walk in a Manner Worthy of the Calling”

            I’m forgetful. I often begin to worry about the state of my mind because of how many times that I’ll walk into a room and forget why I went in there or have no idea where I have left my car keys. Names will always be a downfall for me. I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many times that someone has told me their name, only for me to forget it mere moments later. I am only 30, but I seem to have the memory of someone three times my age. I’m not very good with dates either, so I have had to rely on putting the significant ones on a calendar to remember such things. With that in mind, one of the things that I find essential to do in my life is to put up different Bible verses in my home and office because those are far more important to remember. I am confident that I will never forget my faith and God’s love for me, but it is nice to have those reminders. 

I have placed Ephesians 4:1 above the doorway going out of my office. That verse reads, “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” The reason that I have that piece of scripture above the doorway is for a daily reminder of how I am supposed to live my life. When I think about what I have been called to do, I tend to focus on what I believe is my specific calling. I don’t believe that verse is actually speaking to the specific calling on any one of our lives but the general calling that has been placed upon all Christians by Christ. If you think back to when Jesus was calling his disciples, he called them to do one thing, “follow me.” That is the calling to which we have been called.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? It is both simple and complicated. We are to walk in his footsteps and do as he did. That consists of one thing, love. Think through all of Jesus’ life. Think about all of the people that he encountered. All that he ever did was love people. It might have looked differently for each recipient, but Christ never wavered in how he would relate to everyone. We are to do the same.

            This is not new news. If you have any knowledge of the Gospels or read this blog regularly, then you know that we are to love everyone. Here is what the Savior said in John 15:12, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” What we are to do is pretty straight forward. However, we all know that loving others gets tricky. We are pretty good at loving those who are in our circle such as friends, family, and coworkers. We are even pretty good at loving those who we deem “less fortunate.” Admittedly, I think that has a lot to with making ourselves feel better. The rubber really hits the road when it comes to those with whom we have disagreements. What about those people who tell you that your core beliefs are wrong or openly live their lives in a way that is offensive to how you believe God has designed for us to live? Are we loving those people well? 

            We are so quick to want to shut down those with whom we are vehemently opposed. We are so ready to dismiss and condemn others when they go against our morality. This is when I have to be reminded of John 3:17. That is not a typo; I did not mean John 3:16. The line that follows the most famous Bible verse is equal in its importance. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” If Jesus didn’t come to this world to condemn others, then why do we think that it is our place to do so? Why are we so willing to put others down when that is not how the one in which we are following lived his life?

Think back to some of the encounters that Jesus had while he was walking the earth. Recall the woman caught in adultery from John 8. She stood before him guilty and deserving of death. Jesus saved her and set her free. There was also the woman at the well from John 4, who had been married 5 times and was living with a man that was not her husband. Jesus loved her and invited her into an eternal relationship with him. Consider Zacchaeus, the tax collector from Luke 19, who would have been reviled and hated by his own people. Jesus offered him friendship and stayed at his house. In Matthew 9, there is a woman who had a disease that caused her to bleed for over a decade. She sneakily touched Christ’s cloak and thus made him “unclean.” This means that he would no longer have been able to worship his father at the Temple until he went through the proper cleansing rituals. Did he chastise or rebuke the woman? No, he commended her for her faith. I could go on and on and on, as I often do. I think you get the point though. It doesn’t matter who it is, what they’ve done, or what they stand for, we are to love everyone.

            Imagine the impact that it would make if every Christian unconditionally loved others. The world would be a very different place. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean that you support or condone their lifestyle or choices. Jesus clearly doesn’t support adultery, but that didn’t stop him from extending his compassion to that woman. We do not get to be the arbiter on who deserves to be loved. That is up to God, and he has definitively said that it is to be offered for all. My thought is that we should love everyone and let God figure out the rest. He is much more qualified than us. 

            If we want to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called,” then we need love ALL of those who we encounter in our lives. If we do that, then we will be following Jesus so closely that we may even step on his heels.

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The Will of God

“What do we do if we’re not sure what the will of God is?” This was the question that was brought up in our staff meeting this week at the church. I found this to be a fascinating question. We all want to do the will of God, but sometimes we simply do not know what that is. This leaves us with two options, do nothing or do something and hope for the best. Depending on the situation, either of these may be the correct choice. Sometimes the best thing to do is to wait until the Holy Spirit speaks to your heart and directs you. However, there are times in which we must act without the conviction that we are doing the right thing. As I thought about this, a Brennan Manning quote came to my head, which happens frequently. I have shared this line from his book The Furious Longing of God before, but I believe that it holds the answer to our original question; “Do the next thing in love.” 

            That, in a nutshell, is all that we should ever aim to do. We should strive to treat others, and ourselves, with love and kindness. There will be times in our lives when we feel directed by God to specifically do one thing or another. There are far more times that we are left to make the decision on our own. Even though we have the Holy Spirit living in us, we do not have a certain direction in which we should go. This is when we have to make our own choice as to what to do. In those moments, the best thing to do is always to default to loving the person. Afterall, Jesus did say, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). This is the only thing in which Jesus said would identify us to the world. 

            Loving people can easily get complicated because love can take many forms. You can love someone by supporting them, providing for them, protecting them, standing up for them, encouraging them, confronting them when you see them heading down the wrong path, etc. There is no one way to love someone that will fit every situation. So, how do we go about doing the next thing in love when the answer isn’t always obvious? This is where I believe that the intention is more important than the act. If you and the recipient of your love both know that your heart is in the right place, then I think that everything will work out in the long run. Although, it may get a little messy at first. Peter said it best when he wrote, “Love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). 

            If you desire to do the will of God, then the answer to how to do that will always be to love others. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” That is how that we know that love is the answer because that is how God treats us. Love is always at the center of the will of God. How that looks may change, but the reason never does. Whenever you are approaching a situation where you are not sure what to do, ask yourself, “How can I love this person?” Then, proceed from there. Loving others will forever be the right choice. Afterall, it was one of the two commandments in which Jesus said were the greatest. 

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Fan the Flame

I was one of millions of Americans that lost their power last week due to the winter storms. As of writing this, there are still tens of thousands of people who are without it. The first thing that I had to worry about whenever my power went out was how I was going to stay warm. Fortunately for me, my house is equipped with a fireplace in the basement. I lived my life very close to that fire for a couple days until someone graciously took in my two cats, my 115-pound dog, and me until my power was restored. In order to keep my area a semi-comfortable temperature, I had to constantly be throwing wood into the fire. Even throughout the night, I had to wake up every few hours to toss in another log or two. That fire was of the utmost importance for the two days that I was stuck in my house without power. 

My fire started to die down a little bit when I woke up the second day. I did what anyone would do in that situation, I started to blow on the embers to reignite the blaze. That is when part of 2 Timothy 1:6 came to my mind, “Fan the flame of the gift of God.” That verse is actually talking about the Holy Spirit. Coupling it with 2:7, they read, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.”

The Holy Spirit is, in my opinion, the least talked about person of the Trinity. We regularly talk about the Father and the Son, but only sporadically talk about the Holy Spirit. I find that ironic because the Holy Spirit is currently dwelling in all of those who have placed their faith in Christ. Isn’t that almost unbelievable? It’s true! 1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” We have the presence of God inside of us. Take a moment and let that sink in. According to the 1 Timothy 2:7, the Spirit gives us “power, love, and self-discipline.” This allows us to live our lives as God desires for us. It is through the Holy Spirit that we have the power to love God and love others as we should.

Love is the common thread that runs throughout all of scripture. Not only God’s love for us, but God’s call for us to love our neighbors. Love needs to be the focal point of what we do and the defining characteristic of who we are. As 1 Corinthians 13:2 states, if we are without love, then we are nothing. If we’re being honest though, it is not easy to love those who are around us all the time. Yes, it is easier to love those whom we like (though that is still sometimes a struggle), but it is quite difficult to love those whom we don’t like. However, Jesus tells us in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” This isn’t optional. We have been given our marching orders by our Savior. Think about all the times in which you were probably not easy to love. Think about all the times that you have openly rebelled against God. Think about the times when you have not loved Christ as you should. None of that ever stopped him from fully loving you. This is the type of love that we are to share with others: complete, never-ending, and ever-forgiving love.

            How do we love others like that? To circle back around to the original verse, we need to “fan the flame.” We need to pour some gasoline on the fire that is the Holy Spirit living in us. The way in which that is possible is by putting ourselves to the side. We can easily become so inward focused that we don’t care about the others around us. When our minds are consumed by only our own wants and needs, we quiet the voice of the Holy Spirit. That still, small voice is always wanting to speak to us, but we need to shut the other noise off in order to hear. This can be done through prayer, being in silence, reading scripture, meditating, writing, or any other way that allows your brain to take a little break. You will be amazed at what the Spirit will say to you if you turn off all of the noise of this world. Then, throughout the day, ask the in-dwelling presence of God, “What now?” After you ask that question, do something crazy and wait for a response. The Spirit will lead you; I promise. Wherever you are led by the Spirit is exactly where you are supposed to be. More often than not, you will be led to love someone, just as Christ has loved you. 

            Whenever I lost my power, I needed to constantly make sure that my fire was burning in order to survive. That is no different than what we must do with the holy fire that is us in order to survive this world. We have unmatched power dwelling inside of us. That power is not to be used for selfish gain or to oppress others, as much of the power in this world does. This power is meant to guide us and enable us to love others beyond anything that we could do ourselves. So, quiet the noise of this world, throw another log on that fire, blow on those embers, set the Spirit ablaze in your heart, and go out and love others in a way that changes the lives of those around you. That is the only way in which we can truly make this world a better place. 

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Take a Nap

When we think about the Ten Commandments, our minds tend to go towards the “thou shalts.” I’m sure that a few of those decrees are coming to your mind such as don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t covet, have no other gods, etc. For the most part, I think that we try to do our best in upholding those rules. We put a lot of emphasis on these and rightfully so. This list was created for the Jews (and passed down to Christians) to live in accordance with God’s will and peaceably amongst others. In fact, breaking one of these will often bring significant shame and judgment upon the wrongdoer. However, we are all habitual criminals against one of the commandments in particular, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:9).

This was perhaps the law on which the Jews placed the most esteem. There are very few instructions in scripture as to what to do on the Sabbath besides don’t work. Nevertheless, the religious leaders added a lot of more Sabbath rules as a way to define what is considered “work.” This goes as far as to not cooking, cleaning, and exactly how many steps that you can take on the holy day. I saw this in action a few years ago when I visited Israel. The hotel that my group stayed in had what was called a “Sabbath elevator.” It was set to automatically stop on each floor. This was done so that the Jews who were observing the Sabbath would not have to push the button to call for the elevator because that was considered work. This commandment has always been of the utmost importance to the Jews.

My reason for writing this today is not to actually talk about following rules on the Sabbath. Instead, I want to discuss the reasoning for the Sabbath, rest. We are terrible at resting. I’m convinced that God’s knowledge of this is why he created the Sabbath in the first place. 

We like to make ourselves busy. We are always running from one thing to the next and only occasionally taking the time to breathe. We take an odd pride in having a packed schedule. We equate activity with accomplishment, although the two do not always correlate. We read Jesus performing miracles on the Sabbath as permission for us to eschew our need to slow down for a while. This isn’t good for our physical, mental, or spiritual health. We are not just candles burning at both ends, but candles that have been tossed into a roaring fire. Aren’t you tired of always feeling tired?

God is not impressed with you being overloaded. Instead, he implores us to lay our burdens down. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Does that sound like the Savior is asking us to work ourselves to death? Then why are we so intent on doing so? We all need to take time and stop. Simply stop and put away the demands of this world for a while. Don’t worry, they will still be there whenever you’re ready to pick them back up. 

We will always make time for that which is most important to us. Where does rest fall on your priority list? You need it. God knows that, and you know that. Schedule out some time that you can get away from all that is asked of you by this world and do what is asked of you by your creator. I once had a mentor that said to me, “Sometimes the best spiritual act that you can do is to take a nap.” We see Jesus doing just that in Mark 4:38. After all, we are supposed to imitate him, aren’t we?

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Alone with God

Today is a snow day. A winter storm came through last night that dumped a lot of ice and snow in my area. Since I live on a hill, it would be much too unsafe for me to try to go anywhere today. Earlier today I stepped outside for a few minutes to let my dog out. As I stood there surrounded by nothing but white, it occurred to me that it was quiet. I would even describe it as eerie. It is never silent where I live because my house is about 100 feet from a highway. There is always the noise of vehicles passing by, both day and night. This morning, there was nothing. No cars, no dogs barking in the distance, and no birds chirping. It was truly calm. That is not normal.

We do not embrace the need for stillness in our lives. We are always surrounded by noise. In fact, I would say that we prefer it this way. When is the last time that you made the effort to remove everything from the background and breathed in the quiet? It is difficult for us to do. This is mostly because we have such an attachment to our phones. The minute that thing rings, vibrates, or dings, the tranquility is taken away. 

Have you ever noticed how often Jesus got away from everything and everyone? He would often go away from the hustle and bustle that was his earthly life and just be alone with God. In Matthew 14, after Jesus learned of John the Baptist’s death and fed the 5000, he went up into the mountains to be alone and pray. He does the same thing in Luke 6 before picking his 12 disciples. Again, we see him do this prior to being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. This was a frequent part of Jesus’ life. As Luke 5:16 puts it, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” 

If the King of Kings and Lord of Lords had to do this, then why do we feel as though we can get by without it? We cannot use the excuse that we are too busy for such things. If the savior of the world found time to get away, then so should we. If we find ourselves too busy to spend time alone with God, then we have made ourselves far busier than we were intended to be. Afterall, people will always make time for that which is most important to them. 

It was not out of weakness that Jesus would retreat from the crowds but out of wisdom. He knew that he needed to recharge his mind, heart, and soul. It is wearisome and tiring to constantly be going and going and going. Yet, that is what the world tells us that we need to do. It is what we tell ourselves that we need to do. Rest is not only a gift from God, but it is also a commandment. We were not created to go nonstop. This is why God gave us the sabbath because we were designed to have a period of rest and to be in the stillness of God’s presence. Are you feeling completely worn down and beat up? My advice is to take some time, put everything else away, quiet all the noise and distractions in your life, and go be in the quiet with your Heavenly Father. Jesus needed this and so do we. 

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Not Good Enough

One of the issues in which I have found that most people struggle with is the thought that they are not good enough. That can spill over into pretty much every aspect of life. Unfortunately, one of the areas that it will affect is our spiritual life. We know that God calls us to live holy lives. We also know that we are sinners and fail quite often at that. We know of all our mistakes and shortcomings. Then, we start to think that is what defines us. Somewhere along the way, the thought enters our minds that God cannot use us because we are not perfect. We believe that we will not be effective for God because we are so far from holy.

Have you ever taken the time to look into the lives of the Biblical heroes? If I were to rattle off the names of the men and women who built the faith, then you would probably think that they were all upstanding, good people. That is not the case, not even close. Let’s look at a few of the most prevalent people from scripture and see just how imperfect all of them were.

We’ll start with Noah, the one that God called “righteous” in Genesis Chapter 7. He and his family were chosen to be saved from the oncoming flood that was going to destroy the world. He was picked specifically to build the ark, fill it up with animals, and to restart the human race. Clearly, he must have been an upstanding citizen, right? Well, the last time that we see Noah in scripture is in Genesis 9 where he is passed out naked and drunk. His son walked into his tent and saw this, thus bringing shame on Noah and his family. Not exactly the actions of a perfect man.

Moses is maybe the most important figure in all of the Old Testament. He was the one God chose to lead his people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Moses had that famous moment where he talked to God through the burning bush in the desert. Do you know why Moses happened to be out in the desert at that time? It was because he had killed someone in Egypt, buried the body to cover up his crime, still got caught, and decided to run away. Yet, this was the man chosen to save God’s people from oppression. Moses never actually even got to enter the Promised Land because he disobeyed God while leading his people on their 40-year journey. Again, not the story you would expect from the man God used to set his people free.

Perhaps the most heinous of sins committed in the entire Bible was by King David. If you recall, David was chosen specifically by God to be King of Israel. This is the man who God said,  “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). He also called David, “A man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Pretty high praise, huh? The man whom God spoke so glowingly about eventually became king, united Israel, and won battle after battle. 

One day, David saw a beautiful woman by the name of Bathsheba bathing. He sent his people to inquire about her. Turns out, she was married. David didn’t care. He summoned her to his palace and slept with her. Bathsheba became pregnant. On top of that, her husband (Uriah) was out at war. There was no doubt it was David’s kid. So, to cover up his sin, David had Uriah killed and married Bathsheba. What was it that God was saying about his heart?

Look at those whom Jesus chose as his followers. Most of them were lowly, uneducated fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector, which meant he would have been seen as a traitor to the Jews because he worked for the Romans and extorted his own people. Mary Magdalene had been infested with demons. Thomas doubted. Peter denied even knowing Jesus when times got tough. Judas sold out Jesus to be killed. Paul made it his life mission to destroy the church, throw Christians in prison, and occasionally preside over the killing of Christ followers. Those were the hand-selected chosen by Jesus.

You can search throughout all of scripture and find story after story of God using those who were not good enough. The truth is that you are not good enough. In fact, none of us are. We all have our sin and shortcomings, but that does not mean that you are disqualified from being used by God. The only thing that any of the people in the Bible did was say yes to God when he called them to do something. Heck, some of them were rather reluctant to do so. Looking at you, Jonah. That is all that is asked of us, to say yes. 

We will always have a million reasons as to why we are not good enough. None of them matter. God can and will use you if you are willing. Not because of your goodness, but because of his. Today, say the same thing to God that Isaiah said, “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Then, be willing to go wherever it is that the Lord may send you. One day, someone may even be writing about you as a hero of the faith. 

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Out of the Tomb

There is a fascinating story in John 11. It may be a familiar story to some of you. It is the story of Jesus and Lazarus. Lazarus is the brother of Mary and Martha, whose names you may also recognize. Based on what we know from this story and what we learn in Luke 10, Jesus and the three siblings were friends. There is no mention of their parents or of spouses. That context leads us to believe that they were probably still young (teenagers), and their parents have passed away. They would have been dependent upon each other for everything. 

One day, Jesus got word that Lazarus was sick and in bad shape. The sisters, knowing whom Jesus was and believing him to be capable of healing their brother, sent for Jesus to come to the house. Now, one would assume that Jesus would drop what he was doing and rush over to save their brother. John 11 specifically points out that Jesus loved Lazarus, Martha, and Mary (Verses 3&5). It would make sense for him to come to the aid of those whom he loved. That is not the case though. In fact, he decided to wait two more days before he went to the house of his friends. In that time, Lazarus passed away.

When Jesus finally arrived to Bethany (the town in which the siblings lived), the sisters were not happy with him. We can all understand why. They had gone to Jesus when they needed him the most, and he didn’t show up. Separately, both Martha and Mary confronted Jesus with the statement, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21&32). They were brokenhearted, devastated, and angry with Jesus. They simply did not understand why he decided to not help them. He let Lazarus die, even though he could have prevented it. In that moment, they must have questioned the compassion and love that Jesus so often preached about. 

This is not where the story ends. Jesus went to the tomb where Lazarus’ body had been put to rest. It had been four days since Lazarus had died. If you’re confused at the timeline, it took two days for Jesus to begin to travel to Bethany and then two days of walking. To quote the Wizard of Oz, Lazarus wasn’t merely dead but really, most sincerely dead. Once Jesus arrived at the tomb, the crowd grief stricken, he said a prayer and exclaimed loudly for all to hear, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43). Then, the man who had died emerged from the tomb. Although he did not follow their desired timeline, Jesus healed Lazarus in a far more spectacular way than what the sisters had thought or imagined.

Maybe you have found yourself or find yourself in the same situation as John 11. Things in your life have fallen apart. Perhaps you are in a place that you need divine intervention or there is no hope for the circumstances to get better. You go to Jesus asking him to intervene, but he does not. I know that I have been there. Then, we get upset because Christ has seemingly delayed the help that we require. Jesus could have, at any moment, stepped in and healed Lazarus. Actually, at this point in his ministry, Jesus had shown that he could simply just speak and a miracle would happen. Why did he wait until Lazarus died? Because Jesus wanted to show that he can bring life into death. 

This is the same thing that he can do for you. Jesus had a plan all along for Lazarus. This is evident in John 11:4, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of Man may be glorified in it.” Jesus knew the situation, and he loved the three siblings dearly. He could have healed Lazarus immediately, but he had something much more magnificent in mind for them. Lazarus got to be one of the very few people that we see in scripture to be raised from the dead. 

Jesus has much more magnificent things in mind for you. Just because he has not responded as quickly as you had hoped, does not mean that he forgotten you or is delayed. He has great plans for you. What you are going through will not lead to permanent death. It may hurt right now, but it will not last forever. Jesus will come to you at just the right time and work something amazing into your life. He loves you and cares for you. He wants the best for you. Sometimes that best comes out of letting something die and Jesus breathing new life into it. At some point, Jesus will shout your name and call you to “come out.” When he does, you will walk out of that tomb and into new life. Patience is not a thing that we like to practice. Sometimes, we must simply wait on the Lord and let him work things together for us. You will never be left in that tomb. Jesus will always come to you at just the right time and do something more than you can possibly think or imagine.

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Let it Snow

It is snowing today, and I do not much care for it. It’s actually not the snow that I don’t like as much as it is the cold. I have always said that if it could be 75 degrees and snowy, then I would be all for it. I just do not see much good with snow. The worst part is that it makes the roads unsafe to travel, either by car or by foot. As someone who has to walk his dog multiple times each day, I don’t appreciate it. Ultimately, I cannot complain too much because it is the middle of winter, and snow is simply a part of life where I live. 

There is one thing that I do like about snow, and that is that it looks really pretty. I live in a bit of a wooded area near a small lake. I love to look down over the hill and see the trees covered in snow and the frozen-over water with a blanket of white sitting upon it. I like the aesthetic of when the snow completely coats the ground like a winter jacket. As much as I don’t like the snow, I appreciate the beauty that it brings into my life.

It also reminds me of God’s love. Every time that I see a flurry fall to the ground, I am reminded of those wonderful words written in Isaiah, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (1:18). That is a promise that God has given to all of us. Think about what happens after a snow shower. You cannot see the ground or anything that was outside; all that you can see is the blinding whiteness of the snow as it reflects the brightness of the sun. There is no longer evidence of what is out there, just the snow. 

That is exactly how God handles our sin. Because of his great love for us, Jesus went to the cross to pay the debt for our sin. We could never and will never be able to cover the cost. Thankfully, God did not leave his children with no way out. Instead, he took matters into his own hands and sent his son to die on our behalf. Through his grace, we are offered forgiveness for all of our mistakes, failures, and faults. And just like a freshly fallen snow, his love covers absolutely everything, so much so that there is no longer evidence of our sin in his eyes. All that he sees is the sacrifice that his son made. 

The most amazing thing about all of this is that he asks so very little in return. All that he requires is for us to believe that it is true. Our end of the deal is to accept that God loves us and Christ died for us. The onus is not on us doing anything, but on Christ having done it all for us. As the Savior said on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). I actually only shared the second half of Isaiah 1:18 with you earlier. The first half is God speaking; he says, “Come now, let us settle this matter.” That matter is our sin being forgiven from now through eternity. 

Depending on where you read this, you may or may not have snow today. Regardless, the next time that you see snow, whether in person or by some other means, remember that it is a symbol of God’s love. It is a symbol of what Christ did for you. It is a symbol of the promise that if you believe in Christ and accept his sacrifice on your behalf, then you are truly and completely forgiven. It is a symbol that the matter of your sin was settled at the cross and the empty tomb. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” That is a promise that will endure through all of eternity.

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Hindsight

When reading the Bible, we think that what we are reading what was being written in real time. If you go through the historical books of the Old Testament, you read time and time again about how God was in control of the situation. There are lots of verses that say something like “Then God did this or that.” This happens often in the book of Acts as well. Paul would regularly write about how the Holy Spirit was leading him to one place or another. This forces us to start to wonder why isn’t God speaking this clearly to me? Why doesn’t the Holy Spirit direct me like he did with Paul? Our issue is not in if God is working in our lives; it is that we are not reading scripture correctly. 

I am certainly not here to argue against God as being the chief actor in those situations. In fact, I am confident that he was. What I do want to point out is that all of those books were written well after the fact. Those writings are full of history and hindsight. Hindsight is an amazing thing. We often cannot begin to process events in our lives until we’ve stepped back and taken a much bigger picture look at what has happened. That is when we can truly begin to see what God is doing and has done in our lives. This is how every book in the Bible that talks about historical events was written. These were people who were able to look back at their lives and see God’s hand clearly at work.

Think about your life for a minute. Think about everything that has taken place in order for you to arrive at your current station, both the good and the bad. Think about all the decisions, both big and small, that brought you to where you are and made you to be you. I believe that you will quickly see that there was a higher power that was working in you and through you all along. 

I think about my life and where I am now. I originally went to a college in Ohio to play football. That decision was about me not God. After a somewhat freak injury in practice that ended my playing career, I decided to transfer to Marshall. A large part of my choice was to go and be a part starting Young Life (a parachurch youth ministry). My plan from that point on was to graduate college and go on Young Life staff until I retired. I accepted a job to start Young Life in a little town in WV. After three years, I had to leave that job due to not being a particularly good fundraiser and the ministry running out of money. It just so happened that I had heard through the grapevine that a church in the area was looking for a Youth Minister. I showed up at the church and talked to the Pastor for a while. They hired me a few weeks later, and that is where I have been for the past five and a half years. All of this started with a decision that was not based around God, however it ended up being a step on the journey that he had planned out for me. Looking back, I can now easily see his hand at work. However, I asked God where he was many, many times along the way.

I tell you all of this to say that God is working in your life. You may not know it or may not feel it right now, but he is. The disciples spent three years physically walking beside Jesus and watching him perform miracle after miracle. One of the most ironic passages in scripture happens in Mark 8. This is where Jesus feeds the 4000. Most people are aware of him feeding the 5000, but there was also a second feeding with a different group. Jesus tells his disciples that they need to feed the crowd. Their response is, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” (Mark 8:4) The ironic part about this is that this happens AFTER the feeding of the 5000. They have already seen Jesus feed an enormous crowd with very little, yet they’re not sure how he’s going to do it this time. Even the disciples didn’t fully understand how God worked, despite being with him most days. Don’t feel bad if you’re not sure how he is working in your life.

The best news that I can give you is that your story is not finished. God is still moving and orchestrating things in your life that you wouldn’t believe even if he told you. You are running the race that he has marked out for you, even if you don’t understand what he is up to. It’s ok if you are struggling to find how God is working in your life. Always remember that it is easiest to see God’s work in hindsight. We should do our best to try and figure out where he is leading us now, but sometimes that is simply impossible for us to see in the moment. Take solace in this, at some point in the future, you will look back at this very moment and say, “I see what God was doing then!” This is where faith comes in. We need to trust that God is guiding the thread that is weaving our lives together. He is always working in our lives, especially when we don’t understand what is happening. You are in the middle of God doing a great work in you and through you. Trust that to be so, and do all that you can to follow him. If we can do those two things, then the rest will fall in place, just as he desires. 

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The God of Unending Chances

It has been said, many times before, that God is a god of second chances. Quite frankly, that’s just not accurate. That statement fails to even begin to describe the depth of chances that God gives to us. If we only had a second chance, then we would be in a lot of trouble. Let’s face it, we have all failed time and time again. Think about how many times that you have prayed to God and said something like, “I’ll never do it again.” Now, think about how many times that you then did that thing again. We often make deals with God, but we rarely ever hold up our end of the bargain. While this isn’t ideal, that’s life. 

God has known, since the beginning of time, that his prized creation would never be able to get it right. Revelation 13:8 speaks to this by saying that Jesus was, “The lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” From before the beginning, God was preparing a way for us. That came through Christ’s sacrifice of himself on our behalf. Hebrews 9:12 tells us that his death was sufficient, “Once for all.” Here’s some good news: Jesus’ death covered allof your sins, every last one. That is hard for us to wrap our minds around because we cannot escape the thought process of having to do something to earn God’s grace. We are so ingrained with the idea that we get what we work for that we struggle to accept the free gift given to us. We begin to beat ourselves up and doubt God’s love and forgiveness. We think that our most recent failure is the one that will finally cause God to give up on us. 

Doubt is a natural inclination amongst humans. It is a result of the warped mindset that has been passed down from generation to generation, since Adam and Eve bit the forbidden fruit. The very first thing they did when they committed the first sin was to hide from God because they doubted that he would still love them and forgive them. Of course, God did give them grace because that is the very nature of God. After all, he is love (1 John 4:16). So, what do we do when we begin to doubt? My suggestion, as always, is to go to the word and see what it has to say. 

Perhaps the most famous case of doubting is Thomas. This poor guy has been given the adjective of “doubting” in front of his name ever since his most famous moment, as if he’s the only one to ever doubt God. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the risen Savior decided to visit his disciples. They were locked away and hiding. This didn’t stop the Messiah from walking into the room though. He spent some time with them and gave them a mission. However, Thomas wasn’t there. Later on, Thomas returned to the group, and they told him what had happened. Naturally, he didn’t believe them and doubted their story. The next week, Jesus returned to the group. This time, Thomas was there. Instead of chastising or belittling Thomas, Jesus had the doubter place his finger in the nail holes in his hands and the spear wound in his side. Jesus finished by telling Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe.” All of that story can be found in John 20: 24-29.

The biggest takeaway that I get from that story is that Jesus was not angry with Thomas when he doubted. Instead, he proved to him that he was who he said he was. That is how Jesus is always going to operate in our lives. He is not out to get us when we doubt, and that can be any kind of doubt. Whether it is doubt that he will forgive you, doubt that he will be there for you, doubt that he will provide for you, doubt that he will turn your bad situation into good, doubt that he loves you, doubt that he has a plan for you that far exceeds anything that you could ask or imagine, etc. Jesus is not in damnation business. He is in the blessing business. That does not change whenever we struggle to believe it. His goodness is not dependent upon our understanding of it. He is good regardless. It comes down to if we accept it in our lives or not.

Jesus is always willing to prove who he is to us. Go to him with your doubts. He’s not going to be offended or enraged. Instead, like he did with Thomas, he will remind you of the holes that were put into his body so that he could hang on the cross on our behalf. He will let you know that he did that out of his unending love for you. He will do something extraordinary in your life to show you that love. Whatever it is that you’re doubting, he will provide for it you. More than likely, in ways that will blow your mind. Then, he will ask to “not doubt, but believe.” Thankfully for us, this scene will play out again and again in our lives. We will never stop doubting, but praise be to God that he will never stop loving us and proving his love to us. He is not a god of second chances, but the God of unending chances.

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When God Says No

          

            Prayer is a tricky thing. The concept that we have access to the God that created all things is more than we can possibly wrap our minds around. We get to call on the one that is all-powerful to intercede in our lives on our behalf. It truly is one of the mysteries of the faith. Perhaps, the part that we most struggle with is to know for what we should pray. We have the ability to ask God for whatever it is that we want, but we rarely know what it is that we truly need. Every one of us goes to prayer hoping to hear God say “Yes” to whatever it is that we are asking. Jesus says in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” That’s pretty straight forward, right? With those words, it is reasonable for us to arrive at a place of expecting God to give to us whatever we desire. What about those times that he doesn’t give to us that for which we asked? What about those times when “no” is the answer? Those are the tough times. Even when we fully believe that what we are asking for is right and good, our request will sometimes be denied.

            There is a reason for this. It is because we operate with a small view of our lives. We do not have the capacity to see beyond our here and now. We have a blurry idea of what God is doing, at best. However, we still think that we have the proper plan for our lives. How often is it that we pray for the status quo? We ask God to keep everything exactly as it is now? We pray that whatever it is in our lives that we don’t like will simply go away, and we can go back to our previous state of normalcy. We find a false sense of safety and security in our current situation. The thing is that God does his best work in the times of change. It is most often when things are falling apart that he is putting something even greater together. If we knew what God knows, then we would always pray to go through exactly what we are going through. God never intended for us to stay where we are but intended us to grow. Growth almost always comes through adversity. It is when faith gets difficult that faith becomes real.

            I mentioned in the blog post titled Broken Dreams that I was divorced. This all started in February of 2020. I prayed earnestly and fervently for God to save my marriage. I never stopped praying that prayer until there was nothing left to be saved. Admittedly, I was confused. Marriage is a good and holy thing. I don’t believe that God ever desires for divorce to happen. However, sometimes life happens, and broken people fail. It seemed that my prayers were falling on deaf ears. Why wasn’t he stepping in and redeeming the situation? It was beyond me. However, I eventually had to accept the fact that his answer to my request was simply, “No.” I was devastated. I had to cling on to scripture in order to make it through. I have talked many times about my affinity for Romans 8:28, “And we know that God works all things to the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” I had to hope that he was going to do something “good” with what was happening because I had no other choice. 

            It turns out that God was up to something, as he always is. He was working things together that I couldn’t have even imagined. Mostly, he was working on me. There was a lot of junk in my life that needed to go away. My heart, mind, and soul needed a spring cleaning. I had become too cluttered with too many things. God will use the tough times in our lives to get rid of stuff that we don’t need. For me, it was a whole lot of guilt and shame. These are normal emotions that anyone who goes through a divorce, regardless of who’s at fault, feels. They had become weeds that overran my garden. Once they were removed, I had the freedom to grow again. God then took that opportunity to prune the plants in that garden: such as love, adequacy, joy, peace, faith, etc. so that they were able to produce more fruit than they ever had before. He has no intention of emptying you without then filling you up with what you truly need. On top of that, he was getting ready to introduce new things into my life that would further show his love for me. None of this would have been possible if he would have said yes to my many, many petitions to rescue my marriage. 

            Unfortunately, God’s work in our lives is best seen in hindsight. We are incapable of knowing all that he is up to as it is happening to us. We cannot take off our blinders of the current moment, no matter how hard we try. I write all of this as an encouragement for you as you go through hard times. You may pray with the passion of Jesus in Gethsemane and not receive the answer that you want. If that’s the case, I’m here to tell you that it will be ok. Romans 8:31 tells us that, “God is for us.” That is true in every situation, the good and the bad. It is in the hardships that we most have to trust that. We must cling to our faith in those times because it is likely the only thing that we will have left. God is going to use these times to work in the garden of your soul. As the old adage goes, “Pressure can burst pipes or make diamonds.” If you draw near to God when the pressure of adversity hits, then he will make your faith shine like a radiant diamond. Don’t stop praying, even if you’re not sure what you should ask. He may say yes, or he may say no. Understand, some of the best blessings in life are when he says, “No.” He may not always give us what we want, but he will always give us what we truly need. 

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Chosen

The world is a fickle place, and people’s feelings are ever changing. Because of this, we have erred in assuming the God operates in the same way. We have erroneously placed upon him the same wavering mindset that we have been impacted by in our lives. We start to question how he feels about us every time that we make a mistake or have a failure. This simply is not true of him. God spoke to this himself when, in Malachi 3:6, he said, “For I, the Lord, do not change.” Unfortunately, people who come and go and whose opinion can alter at a moment’s notice have surrounded us all our lives. 

            We really get ourselves into trouble when we start to think that God’s love is inconsistent. We all have a tainted view of love. Somewhere along the way, someone has withheld their love or taken it away entirely. This probably happened a long time ago for most of us. It is pretty unlikely that any of us ended up marrying our first love and are living happily ever after. Each of us probably had lots of heartbreaks during our teenage years. On top of that, we have all fallen out of love with someone at some point. Even genuine love will have its issues. Family units are supposed to be filled with love (sadly, not all of them are), but there will even be moments of disappointment and pain in those as well. All of that is normal life, but each one of them plays a part in shaping how we view love.

            This skewed view eventually affects our understanding of God’s love. We start to think that he will act in the same way that many in our lives have. That, however, is not the case. Colossians 3:12 tells us we are chosen by God to be loved. This is not something that comes and goes, but a promise forever. God is never going to unchoose you. He has decreed that, as long as you live, you will be the recipient of his love. 

            This may be hard for some of us to fully embrace because we have had people in our lives that have chosen to not love us anymore. This has caused our hearts to harden. The hearts of flesh that God has given us turn a little bit more to stone each time. We start to question just how lovable that we are. We see ourselves as our baggage and failures. God does not see us that way though. He sees us in one way, his beloved chosen. 

            It’s ironic, as many of our emotions tend to be, that our previous hurts in life drive us away from the Great Healer. We think that our brokenness will change the way that God feels for us. This is the same God who looked upon us in our feeble state and sent his son to die for us. He did this to demonstrate to us just how loved that we are. Every page of the Bible screams to us that we are loved by him. In John 5:19, Jesus tells us, “Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” If you want to know how God feels about you, look to Jesus. Jesus was kind, compassionate, sympathetic, empathetic, giving, forgiving, and loving to those around him. Those are the adjectives that fit God’s feelings towards you.            

            I could have until the end of time to try to figure out exactly why it is that God has chosen to love you and me, and I would never find an answer. It is truly beyond me. Thankfully, there is not a single place in all of scripture where it asks me to make sense of his love, but there are lots of places that ask me to accept it. That is all that we are to do. Don’t get lost in all of the reasons as to why you think that you may not be lovable. God doesn’t care about a single one of them. All that he cares about is that you experience his never-ending, unchanging affection for you. He offers it to us freely, although it cost Jesus his life. It is not your choice as to if you are loved, but it is your choice to accept it or not. 

Being loved is the greatest feeling in the world. To know that there is one that has chosen you should bring a lightheartedness and fullness into your heart. Will you accept that God loves you? He does. Will you accept that he has chosen you? He has. You are his beloved, called to be loved by him.

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Broken Dreams

In my writing, I do not often get very personal. I will always write about what is on my heart, but I share very few details about my life. Much of my existence is lived out in front of people, so it’s nice to be able to keep some stuff private. Well, today we are going to breach that wall. I am going to allow you to know some details that very few know, and I have never addressed publicly. 

The theme today, as you can tell by the title, is broken dreams. I think that we all have experienced that over the past year. As the pandemic has raged on and the political fighting has reached absurd levels, we are forced into the thought that the world is not as it should be. Plans have fallen through, hopes have been diminished, and dreams have not come to fruition. It has been a hard year on all of us. 

For me, it has been especially difficult. As someone who is in full-time youth ministry, I feel like I have missed out on a lot of what is normal for my life. All of our fun trips were canceled, most of the interaction has been online instead of in person, our annual mission week didn’t happen, and we had a mission trip to Guatemala that was postponed indefinitely. That is the struggle that I have had at work. They pale in comparison to the other struggles that happened for me in 2020.

This past year, after two years of marriage, I got divorced. This was unexpected and devastating. I had dreamed of being a husband and father for a long time. I went into my marriage assuming that it would last forever, as most people do. However, that is not what happened. In but a moment, my entire life got turned upside down. I was hurting and broken, and I wanted to runaway from everything. I wanted to leave my old life and disappear. Lo and behold, I got my chance to do so.

I love the city of Charlotte, NC. By happenstance, I ran into someone from my past who lives there, and they that told me that their church was looking for a new youth minister. I immediately applied. I was so ready to leave everything behind and start over new. My interview for the position went as well as it possibly could have, and I was convinced that they were going to hire me. I even had picked out where I would live and planned saying my goodbyes. I thought that this was God orchestrating a new beginning for me. This was my new dream. However, I got the email saying that they really liked me but were going a different direction. I later found out that I was the runner-up. I put on a happy face and said, “I trust that God has a reason for keeping me here.” Inside, I was completely crushed. I felt as though I was wandering through a desert of hopelessness. My faith never waivered, but I just didn’t understand why things were happening the way that they were. I believed God knew what he was doing, but it was beyond my understanding at that time. Brokenhearted is the best word to describe my entire demeanor at the time.

Fast-forward a few months to present day, and I am singing a different tune. God’s work is often best understood in hindsight. We rarely can understand what he’s up to in the moment because we become so consumed with our current circumstances. We lack the ability to see the big picture until it is completed. As I wandered through my desert, it turns out that I wasn’t walking alone. No, God was leading me to where I needed to go. He was bringing me to my Promised Land.

If you recall the story of Israel during the exodus from Egypt, they roamed the desert for 40 years. Times were hard for them, and very little seemed to go right. Even still, God was leading them. They had no idea what was in store for them, but God promised them something better than what they had before. The Jews struggled to believe it. All they could do is look at their circumstances and wonder if God knew what he was doing.

That’s where we find ourselves often in life, wandering through a desert. It can be a desert of sadness, despair, depression, hurt, anxiety, apathy, confusion, waning faith, etc. Life will rarely go as we want it to, and dreams will be broken. I can tell you this though; God will not leave you in that desert. He will make a path for you to eventually arrive at something better, a Promised Land. It will be a place of joy, happiness, and contentment. One day you will realize that the pain of the journey has passed, and you have been filled with gratitude instead. God has promised that he will turn our “mourning into dancing” and that we will be “clothed with gladness” (Both taken from Psalm 30:11). I can tell you that it’s true, not only because it’s in scripture, but because he has done it in my life. I honestly didn’t know if I would ever be happy again, and now, I have a smile that will not leave my face. If he did it for me, then he will do it for you.

If you find yourself stuck out in a desert today, don’t lose heart. I know that that is easier to say than to do. Trust me, I have been there. I spent far too much time in the “pit of despair” (Psalm 88). God knows how you are feeling. That is why he has promised to never leave you or forsake you (Matthew 28:20) and to bring you through the desert to your Promised Land. He will see all those broken dreams and lead you to something better. I know this because it is the testimony of my life. He has your good in the palm of his hands. Trust him, follow him, and let him bring you to the place where you will experience blessing beyond measure. You will not be left in that desert forever. There is something much greater in store for you.

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Our Words Matter

We were all lied to when we were children. One of the first little sayings that we learn is, “Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This is a pure, unadulterated lie. Words are fraught with power. They have been that way since the beginning of time. It was through speaking that God created the universe and everything in it, including you and me. In John 1:1, Jesus is referred to as, “The Word.” This was to signify his role in creation and to speak to his might. Our words matter because they affect other people. They are not benign statements without consequence. 

This was seen by what we saw shockingly play out at the Capitol Building yesterday. I have vowed to not get political on this site, and I will refrain from expressing very many of my thoughts on this situation. I will say this though, what happened there was because of what words were and weren’t chosen. Words can lead to violence and destruction if the speaker so wishes. 

Words can also have a major impact on our deep, inner self. In the Pixar movie Soul(fantastic movie, by the way), there is a scene where we see into the mind of 22, who is one of the main characters. She has been paralyzed and broken. Once we enter her psyche, we find out why. It is because all that she hears are all the negative things that have been spoken to and about her. Her whole life, she has been told that she is a failure and is not enough. Even someone who cares about her has greatly contributed to her decimated self-image. The words spoken to her have become that little voice in her head, and it has nothing good to say about her. 

Unfortunately, that is where a lot of us find ourselves often. The voice in our minds is not particularly nice. Brennan Manning writes in his book Ruthless Trust that most people are self-abusive. We constantly beat ourselves down. We have fallen into the lie that we are not good enough. These ideas were not originally ours, but were passed down to us by someone else. Somebody else’s voice has taken residency in our head and feeds us constant negativity. What’s worse is that we can be told how great we are, but that is often shouted down by a cruel conscious that has been devastated by the unkindness of others. I never have to try to convince someone that they’re sinful, but it is a struggle to get people to believe that God loves them. That, sadly, has become the reality in which we live.

What do we do about this? Firstly, we need to read and hear the words that God has spoken to us. The words that tell us that we are God’s children (1 John 3:1), that Christ will always be with us (Matthew 28:20), and that we cannot be separated from God’s love (Romans 8:39). These are the words that need to constantly swirl around our heads. They need to take permanent residence in our brains so that they can be much louder than any of the negative voices. What the Bible says about how God feels about us is eternal truth, and the disparaging statements that have been dispersed to us over the years are the lies. God said that you are enough, nothing else matters. Secondly, surround yourself with those who will be encouraging to you, those who will speak kindly and lovingly to you and will tell you how great you are even when you can’t accept it as truth. Slowly, the coldness of the past, hurtful words will melt away, and you’ll begin to believe them.

Finally, choose your words wisely. Be careful with what you say to and about people. James 3 tells us that our tongues are capable of creating great fires in life, fires that will consume those around us. We all need to speak love to one another. There is too much in this world to get us down for us to pile on with how we talk to each other. We need more words of affirmation and less words of damnation. We need to build each other up instead of tear each other down. We need to season our speech with kindness instead of malice. You never know when you will become the inner voice that people are hearing long after you walked away. Words have power for good and evil. Please, choose to use them for good.

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A Moment with the Maker

An odd thing happened to me this past Friday. After a few cold and rainy days, there was a surprisingly nice weather day, especially for January. I decided to take this opportunity to go on a run in my neighborhood. It was near perfect weather for it, and the sun was shining brightly. I had finished my run and started walking a cool-down lap (my neighborhood is a circle). At this point, the clouds had rolled in, and the sun wasn’t shining quite as brightly as it was when I began. Due to the previous day’s rain, it was wet out. I live in a wooded area, and as I was walking and seeing all the soaked, dead trees, I thought, “Man, this just looks like depressing.” 

All of a sudden, my eyes were drawn to the beautiful, blue sky that was bursting forth through the trees. It was like the moment in the Wizard of Oz when everything goes from black and white to full color. Admittedly, I am not someone who is often taken back by the splendor of nature. For whatever reason, this one really grabbed my attention. I looked down the road and saw that the sky was gorgeous, so I had to go and just take it all in. I stood in the middle of the road just looking up in amazement. I thought to myself, “God has brought something uncommonly beautiful into my life today.” God bringing uncommonly beautiful things into my life seems to be a theme for me lately. 

As I got lost in the magnificence of what I was seeing, a cool breeze blew across my back. My mind immediately went to the passage in 1 Kings 19 when God speaks to Elijah in a gentle whisper. I felt as though God wanted to speak to me. I pulled out my headphones, quieted my mind, and waited to hear that “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) to speak to me. That’s exactly what he did. I stood there for a few moments and conversed with my Creator. It was wonderful. He didn’t waste his time with frivolous things (as he never does), but said exactly what my heart needed to hear. 

I won’t share much about what he said because it was deeply intimate. These are things that I will treasure in my heart forever and lean on when I am struggling. However, I will share with you one thing that he said to me, “Love and be loved.” That, I believe, is the calling on all of our lives. We are to love God, first and foremost. Secondly, we are to love others. I am not forging a new path with that sentiment. That is a common refrain that you will hear from most Christians when it comes to the general calling that is placed on all of our lives. We struggle to do it, but we know that it is what we are supposed to be doing.

It’s the last part of that statement that we really have a hard time in accepting. We are not good at being loved. We immediately think about all the reasons as to why we are not lovable. If we’re being honest, there are more things that we think make us unlovable than we like. Here’s thing though, it is not up to you. You don’t get to decide if you are loved. That is totally up to the one who chooses to love you. Most importantly, God has chosen to love you. You can opt to fight it. You can keep pointing out to God all of your shortcomings and faults. You can bring to him your laundry list of mistakes. You can tell him that you’re not worthy to be loved. It’s pointless though. No matter what argument you have for why you are not deserving of his affection, he will counter with, “But, I love you anyway.” So, you just need to accept his love and embrace the freedom that comes with it. Freedom that tells you that guilt and shame have no place your hearts because it is full of the love of the one who knit it together. We all need to get over ourselves and be content in the fact that we are passionately, deeply, and completely loved by God. Why fight such astounding truth?

I will leave you with one final thought. Make time to have a moment with your Maker. I don’t believe what happened to me Friday evening was some rare, unprecedented event. It would happen more often if I would quiet the noise of my life and listen for voice of the Wonderful Whisperer. He had to paint a masterpiece in the sky to grab my attention. How much better would it be if we offered him that sort of attention regularly? He has words that he wants to speak to our hearts, and they are exactly what we need to hear. Please, make some time for your Maker, and let him whisper in you ear. You’ll be astonished at what you’ll hear.

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From Hurting to Hopeful

Do you remember where you were this time last year? We were all so excited. There is always a lot of enthusiasm as the current year gives way to the next one. Not only were we celebrating an end to the year; we were celebrating the end of a decade. We all had so many hopes and dreams about what was in store for us. It was going to be the new “Roaring Twenties.” Alas, all of that came to a crashing halt sometime around February or March. The world plunged into a pandemic, and we have yet to work our way out of it. All that was expected of 2020 fell flat.

            Along the way, our hope turned into hurt. Instead of fulfilling all that we had set out to do, we were left sitting in our houses surrounded only by our broken dreams. There was loss, far too much loss. Worldwide, there have been nearly 2 million lives lost to this virus. Here in the US, we have said goodbye to almost 350,000 people. It’s been almost a full year of constantly hearing of death and sadness. There have been other losses along the way as well. People have lost their jobs, friendships, marriages, financial stability, homes, holidays, family gatherings, peace, joy, and happiness. There is very little that we can look back upon in 2020 and smile about. We would be remiss if didn’t at least recognize that there were some good times as well. Unfortunately, those seem to be the outliers of the year.

            Now, here we are, just about to walk into the unknown of 2021 together. You can even feel a sense of optimism about turning the page on the calendar. Instead of singing “Auld Lang Syne,” we are singing the chorus of, “It has to be better than last year.” It’s hard to argue with that sentiment. After the disaster that was 2020, things have to turn around, right? I think that we’re all wise enough to understand that it won’t turn around overnight. Everything will not be fixed once the ball reaches the fullness of its descent. It’s going to take time for the world to get back to “normal.” That may be the thing that we most miss, normalcy. 

            As this year closes, there is an undeniable sense of hope. Hope is one of the greatest gifts that God has given us. It can truly turn one’s life around. We all know that feeling of being filled with hope. We become different people. The sun seems to shine a little brighter, food taste a little bit better, and we begin to smile just a little bit more. We are called to be people of hope. Sometimes that is hard to do though. We have all felt our hopes dashed time and time again over this past year. It’s hard to be hopeful when you’re hurting.

            Thankfully, God has promised not to leave us in our state of hurt. He knows how his children are feeling. He sees our pain, and he hears our cries. Just like the Jews in Egypt, he will come to our rescue. More often than not, it’s going to happen when we least expect it. His timing is perfect, and he has something special in store for all of us. In truth, that plan is probably already set-in motion, we’re just unaware of it. Read what God had to say in Isaiah 43:19, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” God has never ceased to make a way through the wilderness for his followers. He knows how lost in the woods that we have all felt this year. Take hope, he’s not going to leave us there. He will lead us out into a new and better land, a promised land. 

My advice is to stop, take a breath, look around, and try to figure out what “new thing” God is doing in your life. Find those things in which your heart beats a little bit quicker about. Those are the things of hope that God is working out just for you. He has promised us that he will lead us out of the wilderness. He will bring us from hurting to hopeful. That is who he is, a way maker. So, as we head into this next year and chapter of our lives, search for the path of hope that God has made for you. Once you find it, follow it. It’s going to lead you to somewhere beautiful. It will lead you to joy.

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The Sin of Self-Importance

This past Thursday evening, my church was having a candlelight service for Christmas Eve. This is hardly unique, as churches across the world were doing the same thing. What was different about it was that we had to do it outside. Because of COVID- 19, we were unable to gather together inside, so we decided to have it in our parking lot and broadcasted it over a radio station. That way, everyone could stay safe and warm inside their cars. This was our first time trying something like this. As it turns out, there was a lot of effort that went into making it happen. It became an all-day affair to set the event up and make sure that everything would go off without a hitch. 

As I was scrambling around last minute to fix an issue, I had the thought, “If only everyone knew how hard we worked to make this happen.” You see, I often fall victim to the sin of self-importance. My mind was not on the birth of Christ nor the joy that was about to be had in the service; no, it was on me. I am my chief concern far too often. Normally when I get to consumed with Kyle, it isn’t until after the fact that I realize the error of my way. However, something different happened this time. 

As I was running my errand and thinking of only me, I heard a whisper from an unmistakable voice. His message was simple, “If only you knew what I went through for you.” I was stopped in my tracks for a second and brought back down to earth. Christ was speaking to me and reminding me that, no matter what I was dealing with, it greatly pales in comparison as to what he went through in his life, death, and resurrection to bring me into relationship with God. More or less, Jesus was telling me that I need to get over myself. That may sound harsh, but the Savior knows exactly how to speak to me. He said the exact words that I needed to hear to correct my heart and mind in that moment. 

I was reminded of a quote that I have used before, but I cannot remember who said it. So, forgive me for not being able to give proper credit. It goes, “A Christian shouldn’t think too highly or too lowly of themselves. Instead, they should be thinking only of Christ.” We all struggle with how we view ourselves. Some Christians view themselves poorly, as the scum of the earth- not worthy of being loved by God. Others think that they are God’s gift to the world, and Christ is lucky to have gotten the opportunity to die for them. Neither is ever correct, and they are two sides of the same coin. Both mindsets require your focus to be only on you. That is not where our attention is to be. 

In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus spoke of two commandments in which we are to follow. First is to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He followed with, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That is where our thoughts need to be; God first, others second, us third. When we are focused on our own plight or our assumed grandeur, we have taken our eyes off of the first two and are only looking at ourselves. 

Whenever you find yourself so caught up in only thinking about you, remember what Christ spoke to me, “If only you knew what I went through for you.” If you are feeling down and defeated, be reminded that Jesus willing gave his life for you because of how much he loves you. If you are puffed up with conceit (this is my camp), reminisce on everything Christ gave up for you and realize that you do not hold a candle to him. We need to remain as even-keeled as possible. If we are focusing of God and others more than ourselves, then we will be able to keep our thoughts as they should be. We need to strive to keep our concentration on God first, others second, and us third.

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The Baby Born to Die

It’s finally here! Christmas is upon us. If we ever needed a time of joy and merriment, it’s this year. That’s my favorite thing about Christmas, the energy and mood that it brings. Of course, none of that is to be felt if you go to a store the week leading up to the holiday, but that is another topic for another time. There seems to be different feeling in the air. People are nicer and smile much more. You can’t converse with anyone without ending the conversation with “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” Everyone is ready to celebrate, open presents, spend time with friends and family, drink eggnog, and eat way-too-many sweets. I’m not the originator of this statement, but “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

This was true on that first Christmas night, a little over two thousand years ago. Mary, having just given birth to her first son, the long-awaited Messiah. Sure, there had to be some fear and worry, but mostly Mary’s heart was full of joy. I can’t imagine that she knew how Jesus’ life would go. She could not have envisioned the anguish that she would feel when her son was nailed to the cross. It never crossed her mind, as she looked upon her first born, that every bit of joy that she had would be ripped from her heart when they placed the Savior in the tomb and rolled the stone in place. She knew whom she had given birth to, but she did not know the pain that would be afflicted upon both him and her.

That’s the truth of Christmas. Every magnificent manger scene, every carol sung, every candle lit during “Silent Night” is covered by the shadow of the cross. That beautiful baby boy wrapped in the swaddling clothes had a destiny to fulfill. He came to earth for one purpose, to love his people, even to the point of death. Jesus says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no man than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Those friends, well, that’s you and me. Jesus would go on to be beaten, mocked, spat upon, humiliated, and killed to prove his and God’s love for us. He was the baby that was born to die.

All of that may sound a little gruesome and morose this time of year. That’s a bunch of Good Friday talk, and this is Christmas. Not one second of Jesus’ life, including his birth, can separated from his death and resurrection. Immanuel was not only Jesus being God with us, He was bringing us to God. He took on our sin, shame, and guilt, and returned to us the ability to have an everlasting relationship with our heavenly Father. We really got an amazing deal in all of this.   

So, as we prepare to open gifts and eat cookies, don’t lose focus on what this holiday is truly about. Please, enjoy your family and friends, eat more food than you should, spend the day reminiscing or watching sports. Somewhere along the way, take a moment and think about the Christ child. Think about the man that he would grow into and all the kindness that he spread. Think about his death and why it came to be. Then remember, that he rose three days later and eventually ascended into heaven. Most of all, think about how much he loves his friends, you and me.

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It Just Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas

“It just doesn’t feel like Christmas.” That is a common refrain that I have been hearing, and saying, this year. Although it’s hardly rare to hear that statement any year, I think that it is epically true this year. For most of us, this year has been a blur. You could tell me that it is still March, and I would believe you. We all have missed out on much this year. The normal, yearly moments that mark the passage of a year (such as birthdays, graduations, vacations, holidays) have come and gone without much fanfare. Nothing about this year has been normal, and quite frankly, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas.

Christmas should be a time of merriment and joy, a time of celebrations and parties, a time of hugs and reaching out to help others. That’s just not in the cards for most of us this year. Every plan and tradition is marred with the question of safety. I think that we’re all tired of asking that question. We want to throw caution to the wind and get our lives back to normal. The loss of normalcy has been eating at us for months, and the frustration is coming to a head. We are all at least a little downtrodden that this Christmas simply is not as it should be, nor as we want it to be.

My mind goes back to that first Christmas. You know, the one where Christ put on flesh and took residence in this world as the baby born in the manger. Nothing about that Christmas was as it should have been. This was the single most important birth in the history of the world. While we celebrate Christmas with pomp and circumstance every year, there was none for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. This was not a birth fitting of a king, let alone the king of kings. A little later on, some lowly shepherds and the wisemen would come but not on that night. There sat Mary, Joseph, and the Messiah all alone because there was no room for them in the inn. That night was not it should have been, but out of those circumstances, God did his greatest work. Because of that night, the world would never be the same.

It’s ok to not be ok with the way things are this year. It’s ok to be frustrated and sad. It’s ok if you’re not feeling as joyful and jovial as you normally do this time of year. It’s been a hard year, and for a lot of us, the hardest year of our lives. Disappointment and dissatisfaction have left us worn out. We’re all tired: physically, mentally, and spiritually. When you’re battling those emotions, remember that first Christmas. Remember how God made much out of the “not right.” Remember that circumstances do not determine the effectiveness of God’s love. God’s greatest work started in a lowly stable, where the savior of the world was placed in a manger. God can do much with little. He can turn the darkest night into the brightest morning. That’s the hope we need to cling to as we struggle through Christmas this year. Morning is coming. 

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Fake It Until You Make It

On Monday, I wrote a post about how we need to say, “Goodbye to guilt and shame.” You can read that by clicking here. To quickly summarize, I believe that we, as Christians, focus too much on beating ourselves up over our mistakes. Jesus came and died to free you of guilt and shame and to invite you into a perpetual state of forgiveness. That is offered to all who believe in him.

After thinking about what I had written, I began to wonder if maybe I unintentionally did the opposite of what I had hoped. My worry is that, by telling you should be beyond guilt and shame, you would then feel guilt and shame about feeling guilt and shame. Hopefully that sentence made sense. I would agree that I made it sound quite easy to give up on the self-loathing and self-condemning. Take it from me, it’s not easy. In fact, I am nowhere close to reaching that goal in my life. It is going to have to be an everyday, constant goal towards which we should strive. 

To be honest, I highly doubt that any of us will reach the destination of totally accepting the freedom and forgiveness that was bought for us in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It goes against the mindset that we have been taught all of our lives. As I alluded to in Monday’s post, the idea of God being the judge who is ready to dish out punishment the moment we screw up is seared into our psyche. So please don’t think that this is a switch that can be easily flipped. It will take all of our lives before we can give ourselves fully over to the love that we cannot fully understand. 

That being said, here’s my advice on how to work towards that goal: keep reminding yourself until you believe it. John Wesley, the founder of the United Methodist Church and whose theology is the foundation of several other denominations, had a circumstance from his life that I believe that can help us out. All this information comes from Adam Hamilton’s book Revival. Wesley was having a faith crisis. In fact, he was ready to give up preaching until he could figure everything out. He went and sought a man named Peter Boehler. Upon telling Boehler of his plans to give up preaching, Bohler changed his mind and told him to, “Preach faith till you have it, and then, because you have it, you will preach it.” Essentially, he told Wesley to fake it until he makes it. 

This is my advice for you today. None of us will ever be able to escape those self-damning thoughts that creep into our mind every time we fail to live up to the calling of Christ. The best thing that you can do is remind yourself that you are loved and forgiven. Tell yourself that Christ came and died for you. Tell yourself that you don’t have time to dwell on the mistakes because you are too busy being consumed by God’s grace. Whenever you mind tells you that you are guilty and deserve condemnation, sing the line from the old hymn, “But I know whom I have believed/ And am persuaded that he is able/ To keep that which I have committed/ Unto him against that day.” The one whom you have believed in and committed to follow will always forgive you, love you, and comfort you. We just need to get over ourselves and accept that. 

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Goodbye, Guilt and Shame

Isaiah 53 is a fascinating passage. It was written around 750 years before the crucifixion, yet it describes it in even the minutest details. If you haven’t already, take a few minutes to read and meditate on it. It goes beyond just prophesying how the coming messiah will suffer and die; it also talks about the implication of that death. Perhaps the most famous verse of Isaiah 53 is verse 5, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” 

What we were healed from is what I want to talk about today. Firstly, we were healed from our sin and it’s eternal consequences through faith in Christ. Jesus stepped into this world and took on the punishment for our failings at the cross. That’s not the only aspect of our lives that’s been healed though. I believe that in his death and resurrection, Jesus heals us from out guilt and shame. 

Guilt and shame have long been tools with which Christianity and the Church have bludgeon Jesus’ followers. I think that we can all think about times in our lives that we have struggled and failed and were only made to feel worse after a Sunday service. We have all seen how some choose to use the Bible to beat people over the head with and to tell them that they’re not good enough. This is why so many people walk away from the faith. Why would you want to be a part of something that’s only ever going to beat you down? There are plenty of other places in this world to find that. The Church should not be one of them.

Christ came and died so that we would be freed from guilt and shame. Hebrews 2:17 tells us that Jesus was the “propitiation” (payment) for our sins. Christ has paid our debt. Furthermore 1 Corinthians 1:8 says, “(Jesus) will sustain us to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Not only has Jesus paid our penalty, he has promised that those who have placed their faith in him will remain “guiltless” until the end. 

This is all because God’s love for you always supersedes your failings. Romans 8:39 is famous for saying that, “Nothing can separate us from God’s love through Christ Jesus our Lord.” We have been forgiven, not just of our past sins, but also for all of our future sins. Those who follow Christ live in a constant state of forgiveness.We are to repent and avoid sin at all cost; scripture is clear on that. We do that for our good and to show the world our faith, not so that we can be saved. 

If we are forgiven and loved by God through Christ, then why do we walk around morose and downtrodden? We have no time to feel guilt and shame. All that we should feel is the love of God. Yes, we’re going to struggle, falter, and fail. Yes, we need to ask for forgiveness each time. However, we do not need to beat ourselves up over it. Why do we hold our sins against ourselves when Christ is screaming to us, “That’s why I gave my life for you!” In the song “How He Loves” written by John Mark McMillan and then later recorded by the David Crowder Band, there’s a beautiful lyric that goes, “And I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way he loves us.” 

Say goodbye to guilt and shame. We don’t have time for them anymore. All that we should make time for is to feel the love and forgiveness that was offered to us when Christ offered up his life. We no longer need to walk around with heads held low. Lift up your eyes, oh broken believer, and feel the warmth of God’s love shining on your face. You have been healed and freed of guilt and shame, forevermore.  

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“Who do you say I am?”

In Mark 8 and Matthew 16, Jesus and the Disciples have just arrived at Caesarea Philippi, which is in northern Israel. Jesus asks them two questions. The first is, “Who do the people say I am?” The second one is, “Who do you say I am?” The scene that plays out from there is that Jesus tells Peter that he will be “the rock” on which he will build his church. Then Jesus explained to the Disciples that he would have to die and be resurrected, but they didn’t want to hear anything about him dying.

 I bring up this passage to focus on those two questions. They are questions that each of us needs to ask ourselves daily. Who do we say that Jesus is, and who do we say that God is? 

I was meeting with a friend a week ago who I haven’t seen for a few years. He has certainly had his ups and downs in that time (as have I). As we were catching up, he told me about how he abandoned his faith for a good portion of that time but has since come back. The reason for his lost connection to God is one that is all too common; he has been taught a skewed version of who God is. 

The God that he had been told to believe in simply exists to make sure that we follow the rules and brings the hammer down on us whenever we screw up. This god’s chief characteristic is disappointment in us. He sits upon his glorious throne just to administer punishment upon our failures. To quote Santa Clause is Coming to Town, “He sees you when you’re sleeping/ And he knows when you’re awake/ He knows if you’ve been bad or good/ So be good for goodness sake.” That is often the image of God that is seared into our brains as children. It’s no wonder so many people give up on God as teenagers. And, to be honest, with that image of God, I don’t blame them. 

The problem is that it leaves out, in my opinion, the most important aspect of who God is: love. That is the reason Christ came and died for us. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The whole Bible is full of God demonstrating his love for us, but it is most apparent at the cross and at the tomb. As Brennan Manning constantly writes all throughout his books, “God loves you for who you are, not as you should be.” We need to get rid of this idea that God is just out to get us. Yes, there will be a final judgement. Jesus says in John 5 that God has given him that authority. The one who has the authority over our eternity is the same one who came and died so that we will forever be in the glorious presence of our all-loving God. That doesn’t sound like the judgmental, vindictive God that is forced upon so many of us. 

Jesus makes it clear, those who believe in him will have eternal life. That’s the only requirement. It’s not about what you do; it’s about what he did for you. God is not sitting on his heavenly throne to pour out punishment on you when you screw up. He is ready to pour out his grace on you instead. That’s what was bought for us on calvary, the place where Christ willingly gave his life as payment on our behalf. All that is asked of you is that you believe it to be true.

If the image you have of God is one of damnation, know that this isn’t who he is. As I repeatedly said in a sermon a couple weeks ago, “God loves you and Christ died for you.” That is the true image of who our God is. 

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The Object of His Love

Let’s start this post off with a little grammar lesson. If that sentence doesn’t draw in the readers, then I don’t know what will. English is notorious for its difficulty to learn for foreign speakers. There are seemingly endless amounts of rules to follow. What makes it even worse is that many of the rules contradict other rules. What I want to talk about today is when to use the word whom.

The rule is actually pretty simple. In a sentence, you use who when it’s the subject of the sentence and whom when it’s the object of the verb. A couple examples from scripture will help us out. Ephesians 2:4-5 reads, “But because of his great love for us, God, whois rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions- it is by grace you have been saved.” It is God, the subject of the sentence, who is rich in mercy, so who is correct. John 13:23 says, “One of them, the disciple whomJesus loved, was reclining next to him.” The subject of the sentence is Jesus and the verb is his love. The object of the verb is the disciple (John), so you would use whom to refer to him.

I say all of this, not because I’m all that concerned with teaching proper grammar, but to make the point that we are all a Whom. What I mean by that is that each of us is the object of God’s love. Friends, you are so deeply and incomparably loved by God.  

As seen in the example above, that is how John defined himself all throughout the Gospel that he wrote. You will not find a single instance of him calling himself by name. Instead, he always referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Imagine if that is how we defined ourselves.

Too often we decide to define ourselves by lesser titles. You could be king, queen, president, CEO, doctor, general, or whatever else but even the loftiest of titles pale in comparison to the title of “the disciple whom Jesus loves.” Every other title will pass away, but God’s love for you is eternal.

Many of us go the other way in our definitions of ourselves. We tend to go with failure, sinner, not-good-enough, ugly, pathetic, and many more. None of those things are how your heavenly father views you. He sees you as his beautiful child. He sees you as his beloved. You are the apple of his eye. I know that is hard to comprehend because we know our shortcomings. So does God, and he doesn’t care. You were made in his image and now live surrounded by his unfathomable love.

No matter how high or low you think of yourself, you are “the disciple whom Jesus loves.” We are all a Whom. So whenever the world tells you differently, whenever you look in the mirror and don’t like what’s looking back, and whenever your thoughts go to wonder if you are good enough, remember who you are, whose you are, and whom you are.

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Thankful Hearts

It’s Thanksgiving week! Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The whole day is spent with three of the things that I love the most: family, food, and football. The foods are all brown, yellow, or white and delicious.  It is also a time for us to slow down and reflect on the year that was. Ideally, we would stop and think about all of the blessings that God has bestowed upon us. Think about all the TV and movie scenes (maybe you do this as well) where everyone at the table goes around and says for what they are thankful. 

This year feels different though. If we are being truthful, most of us aren’t feeling the same sense of gratitude as normal. Many people had to make the painful decision to not come together as a family. Folks are spending the holiday alone for the first time in their lives. Traditions are forced to be changed or even take hiatus for a year. Nothing about this Thanksgiving is going to feel normal and as it should be.

I am about to do something that you may need and not have been offered yet. I am giving you permission to feel frustrated and disappointed. You will find plenty of places that will tell you that you need to perk up and still focus on those things for which you can be thankful. I do agree with that sentiment. However, we shouldn’t minimize the hurt that we are feeling. There is pain in every loss, even the loss of normalcy. To mask our pain, put on a happy face, and pretend that everything is ok is not good for us. It is never advantageous for us to not be our true, authentic self.

Gerald May, a psychiatrist, wrote, “I know that God’s goodness goes deeper than all pleasure and pain- it embraces them both.” God never asks for us to pretend that life is perfect. He is all knowing, so our happy act doesn’t fool him. He has never asked us to hide who we are and what we are feeling.

At some point, we have all bought into the lie that following God would result in nothing but happiness and good times. How’d that work out for Jesus? We were never promised an easy life. In fact, all throughout scripture, we are promised trials and suffering. That’s what we’re enduring now.

There is hope and thanksgiving to be had in these times though. Romans 8:35 asks if “trouble or hardship” can separate us from Christ’s love. The answer is a resounding no! God’s goodness and love for us encapsulates both the good times and bad. He will use both to grow and strengthen us.

He will also meet us in the moment. God wants us to come to him with our true emotions. We, all to often, fall into cliché and platitudes when we pray. We say to God what we think that he wants to hear. Our hearts are hurting, yet we tell him everything is great. Friends, the one who knit you together in your mother’s womb sees your heart and knows when it’s been broken. As the Wizard of Oz said, “Hearts will never be practical until they are made unbreakable.” Life is full of heartbreaks, and some of us may be experiencing that with this holiday.

Psalm 147:3 reads, “God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” The God who created our heart wants to heal it. Will you let him? If you are struggling with loss this Thanksgiving, then tell him about it. He cares. Your problems are not small or petty to him. He wants to wrap his arms around his child. What you are feeling is real, but so is God’s love for you. Don’t run from him if you are hurting. Don’t hide the pain that you’re feeling. Don’t pretend everything is ok when it’s not. Instead, be honest with God; he knows the truth anyways. Let him meet you in the moment and begin to heal those wounds. He is waiting, on his throne, for his beloved sons and daughters to come and crawl into his lap and experience his never-ending comfort and love. For that, we can always be thankful.

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“What it Really Means to be a Christian”

I have mentioned my affection for the writings of Brennan Manning before. Next to the Bible, his books have had the most profound impact on how I view God. He has also shaped my understanding of how God views me. I have often joked that there are Calvinist, Wesleyans, Arminianist, etc., but I am a Manningist. Every one of his works oozes with love and compassion. He is sometimes charged with not talking enough about sin. However, I don’t see how that charge makes sense because he speaks on it frequently. 

I have just finished up reading The Furious Longing of God for a second time. You can see the fingerprints of that book in the sermon that I preached yesterday (Link to that sermon). Here is a quote from the end of the book that has really stuck with me:

The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.

We must never lose sight of the insanity of the gospel. The sheer idea that we are so loved by God that he would send his perfect son, who is 100% God, to die for us doesn’t make sense. It goes against all human reasoning. And yet, that’s exactly what happened.

That kind of love should spur us on to love others with that sort of “absurdity,” as Manning calls it. Jesus commands us in John 13:34 to, “Love others as I have loved you.” We are to be as free and giving of our love as Christ is. We are not to withhold our love from anyone. This is the only characteristic that Christ says will define us as his followers.

For better or for worse, we are God’s ambassadors in the world (2 Corinthians 5:20). We are his hands and feet. How we treat, speak, and interact with other will be a direct reflection on God. It is our duty to make sure that we are reflecting his love for all people. We are to love God, embrace his love, and share that love with all that whom we meet. “This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.”

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A New Coat of Paint

I painted my living room this past weekend. I decided that it was time for a change and wanted to add some color. The room was transformed from a boring gray to a bright teal. It’s amazing that a fresh coat of paint can make it feel like a completely different room. One of the best things that happened is that it covered up all the scuffs, stains, and marks. After painting, you could no longer see a single blemish on any of the walls. 

After the paint had dried and I stood back and admired my handy work, 2 Corinthians 5:17 crept into my mind. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” That verse is one of the most fascinating and most encouraging verses in all of scripture. If you are a believer in Christ God has made you into a new, perfect creation.

That word perfect may make you think twice, but it’s true. Because of what Christ did for us at the cross and tomb, God sees us as perfect. 1 Corinthians goes on to say in 5:19 that God doesn’t “count people’s sins against them.” It doesn’t say that God doesn’t count just our past sins against us. It says that God doesn’t countallour sins against us: past, present, and future. 

Chapter 5 finishes up by saying, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That is how God sees those who have placed their faith in Christ, as righteous. That word, according to Merriam-Webster, means, “Free from guilt or sin.” We can’t achieve this by our own ability, but Jesus came into this world specifically so that through his life, death, and resurrection we can have his righteousness given to us.

Think of this as a new coat of paint. Without Christ, we are all covered with scuffs, stains, and marks. However, once you put your faith in Christ, all of that is covered, and you are without blemish. When God looks at you, he doesn’t see your sin; no, he sees his beloved son.

My friends, you are not your mistakes. Take encouragement in the fact that you have been freed from guilt and sin. Stop beating yourself up every time you screw up. Instead, let yourself be loved by your all-loving God. Christ paid much too high of a cost for you to walk around feeling guilty when he has already taken on your punishment.  

I do offer this disclaimer. Our freedom fromsin is not freedom tosin. We are still called to live out our righteousness. That is not to try to earn salvation, but it is to show our salvation. We are to bear good fruit so that others can see Christ in us and through us. 

You have received a new coat of paint. You have been made new. You have been freed from sin and guilt. This is all possible because Christ died for you. It is given to us through faith in Jesus. Be encouraged today that you are so loved that God made a way for you to become righteous. Finally, whenever you fail, remember that God sees his perfect, beloved son when he looks at you. 

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Let’s Talk Politics

I imagine that the title of this post caught your attention. If you know me, then you probably know that I am not crazy about talking politics. I do have strong opinions that I share with those whom I am closest with, but I am only outspoken on a few matters. The point of what I have to say today is not actually to talk about political platforms or to support any particular candidates. No, what I want to focus on is how we should handle the events that are about to unfold across the next 48 hours and beyond here in the USA.

No matter what happens, once all the votes are tallied, there are going to be winners and losers. In all likelihood, most people will experience a little bit of both. However, I am mainly focusing on the presidential election. I am not breaking any news when I say that this has been one of most contentious presidential races that this country has ever seen. Most people had their minds made up long before November 3rd. Sadly, we have spent the last few months in uncivilized discourse with each other. Name-calling, mockery, and bullying have been commonplace for both sides. 

This has even been true of those who claim Christ as their savior. We have shed the armor of God for the suits of our political parties. That’s a shame. Understand that I am guilty of this as well. We have lost sight of what our identity is supposed to be. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” That is what our identity should be: Christ.

We are to be loving and kind, compassionate and caring, forgiving and encouraging. We have put that aside because we have political disagreements. Jesus told us himself, in John 13:35, that, “Everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Our chief way of expressing to the world that we belong to Jesus is by our love for one another. There are no caveats or disclaimers attached to that love. I have read the Bible cover-to-cover multiple times, and not once did I see that our love for others was dependent upon them being in the same political party as us. Not once does it say that we can withhold our love if we have disagreements. Nowhere did I read that salvation is based on being a Republican or Democrat.

I’m not saying that having a political affiliation is bad or sinful. In fact, I think that it can be a good thing. I have my political leanings, but, if I’m being honest, neither party is perfect. Both have Christian values, and both have beliefs that I believe are contradictory to the faith. Our real issue is when we allow those political leanings to supersede Christ in our lives.

We need to keep the main thing that main thing. Christ dying for us and living through us is the main thing. All other things are temporary. So, on Wednesday (or the days following), when a victor is declared, remember who you are, whose you are, and who it is that lives in you. There will be winners and losers, but let us be gracious in victory and defeat. Let us encourage and support each other. Most importantly, let us show the world who we are by our love for each other. Anything less is short of Christ.

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John 4 pt. 2

Good Friday, everyone! Due to some issues with recording the video this week, today’s Good Friday post is going to be written. To be honest, I was actually considering switching it over to written content already. So, let me know if you prefer Good Friday posts to be videoed or written.

In last week’s Good Friday, we began a multi-week study on John 4. Here is the link to that video: John 4 pt. 1. We discussed that the Jews and Samaritans hated each other. In fact, a “good” Jew would avoid even stepping into Samaria because they believed that it would make them “unclean” to God. They would actually add an extra day to their journey just to avoid those people. However, we see Jesus breaking the social norms and entering into Samaria. He didn’t care about societal and cultural norms because he cares about all people. Today, we’re going to see what his purpose was for going there; or, rather, who his purpose was.

We pick up in verses 5 and 6, “So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.” 

We can all imagine how Jesus felt. He and his disciples had been walking miles. When scripture says that it was the “sixth hour,” which actually means noon. They told time in relation to sunrise, which was around 6 AM. He was tired, sweaty, and thirsty. It was the hottest part of the day in the hot Middle East. All he wanted to do was to get a drink of water. So he sits by a well, and that’s when we’re introduced to the second character in this story.

Verses 7-9 reads, “A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)”

The first thing that we should notice is that this woman is coming to draw water at the worst time. All of the other women would have came first thing in the morning when the temperature was cooler. It wouldn’t make much sense to wait until the hottest part of the day. That is, unless she wanted to avoid the crowd. We learn, just from the time that she has chosen to draw water, that this woman is an outcast. We’ll find out more about why that is in part 4 of this series. 

Much to the woman’s chagrin, she wasn’t alone. As she approached the well, she could see that there was someone else there. Not only was there someone else, but it was a Jewish man. As we discussed last week and as verse 9 noted, Jews and Samaritans do not get along. On top of that, Jesus is a man. In the culture of that time, men were considered more important than women. She was hoping to avoid the crowd by going to the well at noon. Instead, she is about to encounter a Jewish man, which was even worse for her. What she doesn’t yet know is that this is no ordinary man.

What happens next is utterly amazing, even if it seems ordinary on surface level. Jesus speaks to her. Jesus would have ruined his entire reputation amongst the Jews for talking to this woman. Jews don’t associate with Samaritans and religious leaders don’t freely talk to women, let alone a Samaritan woman. This is perhaps the most scandalous passage in all of the Bible. Jesus would have just committed social suicide. He didn’t care. 

Jesus came to this woman to show us all that there is no one the is separated from God’s love. It doesn’t matter what your past is; we all have one. It doesn’t matter what the world says about you. It doesn’t matter what mistakes you’ve made. All that matters is that you are loved by God. 

Jesus asks her for a drink. In the English versions of the Bible, it may seem that he is demanding a drink, but it is clear by what the woman said that Jesus kindly asked for one. “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’” Jesus had every right (in Jewish societal norms) to order the woman to give him a drink. That’s not what he did. When he asks her, Jesus gives her the ability to say yes or no. By doing this, he made them equals in regard to ethnicity and gender. That was unheard of in that day. Jesus destroyed every cultural pretense there was when he asked her that question.

The woman had to be fearful when she arrived at the well. She was staring face-to-face with what she viewed as her enemy. She walked to the well as an outcast, but Jesus treated her as a friend. In a moment, her entire worldview had been turned upside down. 

Who was this man that was treating her with kindness, a kindness that had often been void in her life? She will soon find out that she is meeting with her creator who loves her dearly. She will soon find out that the man that she is talking to came there that day specifically to be with her. She will soon find out that there are no outcasts when it comes to Jesus. She will soon find out that the acceptance that she has been seeking will forever be fulfilled in Jesus. I pray that we all learn these truths for ourselves as well.

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Just Keep Moving Forward

If you have known me for longer than 5 years, then you would know that I used to be a much larger person. One day, in 2015, I weighed in at the doctor’s office and couldn’t believe that number that appeared on the scale. I was living an unhealthy lifestyle that was guaranteed to have a negative impact on my health if I stayed the course.  I decided that day that something had to change. 

My weight-loss journey has had many ups and downs, but I have managed to lose over 100 pounds. There’s nothing special about how this has happened. It simply came down to eating healthier and exercising regularly.

The thing about losing weight and being healthy is that there is essentially is no finish line. Even if you hit your goal weight, you still have to work to maintain where you are. If you decide to start eating poorly and stop exercising, then you are going to gain back the weight that you lost. This is something that I have learned from experience…more than once. So, even though I am content with where my weight is, I have to keep working to be who I want to be.

In all honesty, I don’t always like having to make the healthy choice. I don’t always like having to take the time to work out everyday. I don’t always like choosing a healthy meal over fast food. If I had it my way, then I would spend a whole lot more time lying on the couch eating pizza and Doritos. That being said, sometimes you have to choose what you don’t want to do because you are working towards a goal.

I see a lot of similarities in weight-loss journey and our journey with the savior. Jesus himself says in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.” How’s that for a goal? Now, I don’t believe that we will ever reach perfection in this world, but that is our aim. We are running a race where we will not reach the finish line until Christ returns or calls us home. That, however, should not deter us from working towards that goal.

Aiming to be like God requires us to make that decision everyday. We have to decide if we want to choose to live for God or live for ourselves. There will be plenty of times in our lives that we don’t want to choose God. We are tempted by the false promises of sin and temptation. We all know that living for God is what’s best for us. However, a lot of times that is not what’s easiest or most desirous for us. Those are the days when we need to force ourselves to just keep moving towards the goal. One slow step forward is infinitely better than standing still.

Every day, every moment, and every choice in which we choose God over self moves us closer to perfection. It’s amazing that when we’ve chosen to do what is right, even when we don’t want to, we realize how much better it was for us in the long run. Choosing to love God and neighbor over ourselves will always end in our betterment, whether it’s this life or the next.

I do want to offer some reassurance as well. You’re going to fail. I’m sure that made you feel a lot better. Truth is that we’re all going to succumb to choosing to live for the world rather than God. We all still suffer from being human. The good news is that Christ died on the cross and resurrected specifically for those situations. Whenever that happens, repent, and make the next choice a Godly one.

There have been multiple times that I have put on a significant amount over the last 5 years because of bad decision making. All that meant was that I had to get back on the right track and focus on working towards my goal again. It works the same way whenever we fail to live into our calling to strive for perfection. You can’t do anything to undo the mistakes you made yesterday, but you can focus on making the right choices for today and tomorrow. There is never a moment when our loving Father isn’t ready to forgive you and restore you. All that you can do is to make sure that your next step on the journey is one that you are walking with God.

Just keep moving forward.