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The Right Path

It has been a few weeks since I wrote about what Jess and I have been reading as we work our way through the entirety of the Bible. We are still on track with our plan. It’s just that we got in a part of scripture that is a lot of genealogies and reporting of numbers. While there is some good stuff in that, it is not the most interesting of reads. Now, we are reading about the life of King David and the Psalms that he (and a few others) wrote.

A few days ago, we read the infamous story about David and Bathsheba. I’ve written about this story a few times. I even devoted a chapter of my book to the event. If you are not familiar with the story, let me sum it up for you.

David was at home one day when he saw a beautiful woman bathing on her roof. At that moment, he decided that he wanted to have sex with her. He sent his men to find out who she was. 

It turns out that she was a married woman; her husband’s name was Uriah. Uriah was not at home because he was off fighting in a war. Her marital status did not stop David from getting what he wanted— he was the king, after all. So, he sent his men to bring her to his palace and proceeded to sleep with her.

David soon found out that Bathsheba was pregnant. To cover his tracks, he sent for Uriah to return home. He assumed that Uriah would sleep with Bathsheba when he was home. However, Uriah refused. He didn’t feel right living his normal life while his friends were at war. Instead of being home with his wife, he slept on the steps of David’s palace.

After David’s plan failed, he had to come up with a new tactic. He sent the faithful soldier and husband back to the battle with a note that told the general of the army to send Uriah to the frontlines of the battle and withdraw everyone else. This scheme proved effective, and Uriah was killed. David then married Bathsheba, and his plan was complete. 

All of that can be found in 2 Samuel 11. Verse 1 of that chapter says something intriguing and damning about Israel’s monarch: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army.” Did you notice that David neglected to do his kingly duties? He should have led his men out to war but chose to stay home.

Scripture doesn’t say why he didn’t go out to war. Whatever the reason was, it was the first step in a disastrous sequence of events for him. Had David done what he was supposed to do, he would have never seen Bathsheba, and the sinful chain of events would have never started. 

One of the intriguing things about this passage is how many times David had the opportunity to stop and prevent further devastation. The first opportunity would have been to go to war as a king should, but he didn’t. After he saw Bathsheba bathing, he could have looked away, but he didn’t. He should have stopped his pursuit once he knew she was married, but he didn’t. He could have admitted his mistake once she became pregnant, but he didn’t. He could have stopped himself short of having Uriah killed, but he didn’t. There were ample opportunities for David to look in the mirror and come to his senses, but he didn’t.

What started off as a seemingly innocuous choice to not go out to war ended with David committing adultery, abusing his power, and essentially killing a man. It’s crazy to think about how the beginning led to the ending. 

While this is a particularly heinous example, we can all find ourselves in David’s situation. We make one mistake, and then we ignore the gravity of the situation. Instead of stopping where we are, we think we can fix it. This can lead to us committing other sins to cover our tracks. Eventually, things get out of control. We look around and don’t know how things got that way. 

There are two paths that we can walk in this life: the path that honors God or the one that doesn’t. David quickly found himself on the wrong one after spending years on the right one. It can happen to any of us with a single misstep. The good news is that none of us have to continue to go down a path of destruction. At any point, we can stop and ask God for forgiveness. While there may still be earthly consequences for what we have done, we can prevent any further harm. 

If you find yourself going the wrong way today, stop where you are. Your life is far too precious to God for you to take another step that leads you away from him. He is always beckoning us to be on the right path. It doesn’t matter how far you go down the wrong one, you’re invited to turn around and go toward your Heavenly Father. The only thing that can prevent you from going that way is, like David, thinking you can fix everything. You can’t, and God will never ask you to. That’s his domain, and he’s so much better at it than we could ever be.  

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The Calling of Matthew

            In Matthew 9, Jesus calls the writer of that Gospel to follow him. We don’t know much about Matthew before this passage, and we are never get given much of a backstory, besides he was a tax collector. 

            I don’t know if you know about how tax collecting worked back in ancient Israel. In Jesus’ time, Israel was under the control of Rome. This was pretty much the height of their Empire. One of the ways in which Rome controlled the countries that they had taken over was through oppressive taxing. 

            Rome was smart in the way that they ran things. Instead of having their people conduct the tax collecting, they hired citizens from the countries that they were occupying. Each city in which they collected taxes would have someone local working there. The reason for this was so that the tax collector would know the people and be able to identify them if they hadn’t paid their taxes.

            The reason why someone would want to become a tax collector was simple: the promise of becoming wealthy, though Rome didn’t pay them. How a tax collector made money was by overcharging and keeping the extra. For example, let’s say you owed five dollars in taxes. Matthew may have charged you ten, fifteen, twenty, or more dollars. You would have no other choice but to pay. If you didn’t, you would be thrown in jail or worse. Matthew would then collect the money, give Rome its portion, and pocket the rest. This practice was no secret at the time. 

            You can imagine how this made the other Jews feel about tax collectors; they hated them. Not only have they chosen to go to work for those who were oppressing them, but they were stealing from their own people, family, used-to-be friends, and neighbors. People were starving because of Rome’s tax requirements, yet there is no mention of poor tax collectors in the Bible. 

            Based on what Matthew 9:1 says, this took place in Capernaum. If you are unaware, that is where Jesus moved to once he was run out of Nazareth. Matthew, also known as Levi in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, was at his booth one day, doing what he did every day. Something out of the ordinary was about to happen to him. He was about to encounter Jesus. 

            At this point, Matthew would have at least heard about him. He would know that he was a renowned teacher because this takes place after the Sermon on the Mount. He would have caught wind of some of Jesus’ miracles because several had taken place in Capernaum.

            If you go back to Matthew 8, we see that Jesus had healed a Roman centurion’s servant who was paralyzed. There’s a good chance that the Centurion was someone Matthew would have been around frequently. Later in that chapter, we see that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, who was sick, and many other people. All of those took place in Capernaum. As you can imagine, word traveled fast around that small town. Matthew would have known, even if only by reputation, who it was that approached his booth. 

            After Jesus asked Matthew to follow him, they went to the tax collector’s house for dinner. This was a scandalous event. At that time, to go to someone’s house and share a meal with them was a declaration of friendship. The Jews believed that the Messiah was going to come as a militaristic king that would lead Israel in overthrowing Rome and establishing them as God’s physical kingdom on earth. Yet, we see Jesus hanging out with tax collectors— the very ones who forsook their people and heritage to go to work for the enemy. 

            Imagine being Matthew. I think if we could go back in time and watch him before he met Jesus, we would see someone who probably didn’t have a great life. Yes, he would have plenty of money and possessions, but that would be about the extent of it. He could not have had a great life. He was hated by his people and family. He would not have been able to freely wander around Capernaum because of the danger of someone attacking or robbing him. On top of all of that, he would have known that it was his fault that his life was the way it was. He chased money above everything. He got what he desired but lost everything else to obtain it. I imagine that it would have been a lonely life. 

            It would be fascinating to know what he was thinking as Jesus approached his booth. Who knows, maybe he thought he was simply coming to pay his taxes. Matthew’s heart must have beat a little faster when he saw Jesus. The man who had been teaching the masses, healing paralytics, healing the sick, and casting out demons was walking towards him. “Could this be the Messiah,” probably crossed his mind. I don’t think Matthew would have been excited to meet the Messiah, given that he was a Jew who went against his religion to work for Israel’s oppressors. If the Jews hated tax collectors, how harshly would he be treated by the Son of Man?

            Of course, we know how Jesus treated him. He was treated the same way that Christ treated all people: with love. Rather than cast judgment or be adversarial toward Matthew, the Messiah extended an offer of friendship. There were no caveats or conditions. He was not told to clean himself up, quit his job, or change his ways. The only thing Jesus asked of him was, “Follow me.” 

            From that day forward, Matthew would never be the same. When he walked away from his booth, he walked away from his failures and mistakes. He walked away from all the pain that he felt because of his choices. He walked away from his old life and into a new one. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” When he walked away from that booth, he went from an enemy of Israel to a friend of the Savior. 

            Matthew gained a new identity that day. His life turned around all because he met Jesus and decided to follow him and accept his offer of friendship. We don’t know much about what happens to Matthew after this. Aside from Mark and Luke also recording this event and the listing of the disciples, Matthew isn’t mentioned again. However, we do know that he followed Jesus for the rest of his life.

            Imagine the things that he saw! He watched as Jesus healed the blind, the mute, the paralyzed, the deaf, and the sick. He got to be one of the people that handed out the bread and the fish at the feeding of the five thousand. He watched Jesus walk on water. He was there when Christ calmed the storm. He got to witness Lazarus being called out of the tomb and raised from death to life. Though he was not up on the mountain, he got to see the before and after of Christ’s transfiguration. He was there as they laid palm branches down at the feet of Jesus’ donkey as he rode into Jerusalem during the triumphal entry. Most importantly, he got to be face to face with the risen savior, and then watch as he ascended into heaven. 

            He was one of whom the Holy Spirit fell upon at Pentecost. He got to proclaim the Gospel to the crowd in a language that he did not know. He was a part of thousands of people believing that day. He played a role in establishing the early church and taking the good news of Jesus Christ beyond Israel and into the world. He was blessed by being one of four people who wrote an account of Jesus that we still read and learn from today, nearly 2000 years later. Not bad for a man that was despised by everyone. 

            Matthew’s entire life was changed because Jesus came and offered him a better one. That is true for all of us today. Jesus invites all of us to follow him. He invites us to give up our old selves and become something new. He died on the cross and was resurrected three days later so that we could have that new life. All that we must do is follow him.

            Maybe there’s something that you need to let go of that has defined you for far too long. Maybe you have let others define you as something that you are not. Maybe you have allowed your negative thoughts and shortcomings become your identity. Jesus wants to identify you one way and one way only, as a friend. Will you accept his friendship? Will you say yes to the call to follow him? If you will, I promise you this: today is just the beginning of a life abundant, a life that is far more than we could ever ask for or imagine.

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Spring is Coming!

As I was walking to my car Monday morning, I stopped and examined my rose bushes. I take a little bit of pride in my yard and the flowers around my house. I looked them over to see how they were doing. After all, the cultivating and manicuring efforts are already in full swing. Much to my delight, blooms have already appeared on my bushes! It won’t be long until a cacophony of colors will burst forth and dress my house for the summer.

Blooming flowers means one thing: spring has officially sprung. If you live near where Jess and I live, you know that this past winter was long and miserable. I will never be happy with a winter unless I live somewhere that doesn’t have one. I take no joy in snow or temperatures below 60 degrees. I want to live in year-round warmth and to be able to wear my flip-flops. That certainly is not the case where we live now.

The thing that I dislike the most about winter is that everything is so drab. All the leaves have fallen off the trees, and the flowers have died. We are forced to live in a perpetual grey. I get excited when the death of winter begins to give way to the life of spring. I am happy to announce that we are in the midst of this transition. 

Death giving way to life is a central theme in what we, as Christians, believe. It is the axis on which our faith revolves. We just celebrated Easter a couple weeks ago. That is the pinnacle of life coming out of death. Not only did Jesus rise to life three days after he died, but he also raises us to new life with him. Colossians 3:1 tells us that. 

Christ defeated sin and death so that we could become new creations. 2 Corinthians 5:17 reads, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” When we place our faith in Jesus, our old, sinful selves die with him on that cross, and our new, righteous selves are raised with him and walk out of that now-empty tomb. 

That is not the only time that God will bring us from death to life in our lives. There will be many times for each of us when things will not go our way. Unfortunately, death and decay are in the very fabric of life. There are a million ways in which we experience that: divorce, broken friendships, loss of a job, absentee parents, financial failure, health problems, and many more. We all experience the heartbreak of death in this world many times and in many ways. 

These are the winters of our lives. The times in which we look around and don’t see beauty. No birds are chirping in the background. Instead, we are struck with the deafening sound of silence. We desire to feel the warmth but are constantly pierced to the bone by the frigid air of helplessness. 

These are the worst times of our lives. These are the times in which we have to cling to the promise of Easter, which is that there is hope. We are nothing if we do not have hope. 

That is ultimately what our faith is: hope. We are hoping that Jesus is who he says that he is. We are hoping that God is going to work all things for our good and his glory. We are hoping that when we die, we will leave all sorrow and pain behind and spend eternity in heaven. Faith is hope.

Going through my divorce was the hardest and loneliest time in my life. If you’re unaware, it happened just as the world shut down due to the pandemic. I couldn’t be around my family and friends nearly as much as I needed to be, even if I pretended that everything was ok. I spent a lot of time alone in my house. I was left with nothing but a hope that God would somehow turn the situation into something good and fan the flame of my joy that had dwindled to just an ember. I learned a valuable lesson: if you have hope, that is all that you need.

Many of you know my story and know that God brought the most wonderful woman into my life at the end of that year. Jess had gone through the same thing that I did and faced the exact same struggles. We are now happily married and live a life full of joy, laughter, and love. That season of my life was the darkest time I have ever faced; it was my bleakest winter. Thanks be to God that he orchestrated the most amazing springtime to follow. 

I have said this a million times, and I will continue to say it: I am no one special. Yes, I have a great argument for being the most blessed man to ever live. Really though, God has a clever way of making all his children feel that way. If God is willing to do what he did for me, then he is also willing to do it for you. It doesn’t matter how rough of a winter any of you will face, God has a miraculous spring in store for you. We just have to hold on to that hope, and Romans 5:5 promises us that this ‘hope does not put us to shame’.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13
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The Joy of Car Trouble

            Thursday morning started out like pretty much every morning. The alarm went off, my wife and I walked our dogs, and I headed out to go to work. I got into my car and turned the key— nothing. My engine wasn’t even attempting to turn over. I tried to start it a few more times, but it made no difference. Something was seriously wrong with my car. I pushed it out of the garage because I thought that it might have to be towed to a mechanic. Although I didn’t think the battery was the issue, my wife and I jumped it with her car. That didn’t help either. Then, I saw the issue. My car had entered into anti-theft mode.

            Anti-theft mode prevents anyone from starting the car, even if they have the key. I don’t know what caused it to do this. Apparently, it had something to do with my key fob dying. We now live in a world where having a key is not enough to start your car. I have a lot of opinions about that, and none of them are positive. 

            This led me to have to go to multiple car dealerships to buy a new key fob and to get the key made for my car. All in all, this consumed about three hours of my morning. Suffice to say, this was a frustrating way to start my day. 

            Finally, I arrived home with the new key in hand. Of course, you cannot just stick the new key into the car and be good to go. That would be too simple. You must put the old key in first, turn it, take it out, stick in the new key, and then start the car. That programs the new key and fob to work in the car. In my humble opinion, this is way more complicated than it needs to be. As I stuck in the old, not-working key, I wondered what would happen if I tried to start my car. Sure enough, the car started as soon as I turned the key. I just had to laugh. I went through hours of running around to get a new key, and my old key was working again.

            I had my whole day mapped out. There were a few pertinent things that I needed to get done that day, but they all had to be pushed aside. It was a little reminder (albeit an unwanted one) that I am not the one in control, no matter how hard I try to be. 

            I think that we all fall into the trap of thinking that we are the masters of our own lives. We plan out our days and come up with schedules of exactly what we’ll do and when we’ll do it. Sometimes life doesn’t always go the way that we think or imagine. Often, that turns out to be a very good thing. 

            It is always important for us to remember who is ultimately in control. Proverbs 19:21 tells us, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” We get so caught up wanting to be the one who rules our lives that we forget that it is God who is the king of all. His plans will always take precedence over and be better than ours. 

            If we believe that God is good and that he wants the best for us, then why do we try to supersede his plans for our lives? You may know the most famous verse from the book of Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” If that is what God has promised us, then why do we want to cling so tightly to our control? 

            I will inform you of something that doesn’t often get mentioned alongside Jeremiah 29:11: the Jews still got captured after God made his promise. That may seem strange given that we tend to assume that God’s plans for our lives are simple and easy. That is not usually the case. 

            Think about the heroes of the Bible; did their lives get easier after God intervened? David was a lowly shepherd who became king of Israel. I can assure you that tending to a flock of sheep is easier than running a country. Mary was a woman set to be married. She would have had kids and lived her life happily with Joseph. Then, she became an unwed mother at a time when that could have gotten her killed. She would have had a quiet, simple life. That was replaced with becoming the mother of the Savior. Peter was a fisherman who would go on to be the foundation of the early church. He would have spent his whole life in the small town of Capernaum, fishing the Sea of Galilee, if he hadn’t met Jesus. Instead, he devoted his life to advancing the Gospel. The former was easier than the latter. 

            I don’t believe any of them (or the countless others) would have argued that their lives became easier, but I am supremely confident that they wouldn’t have traded God’s plans for the ones they had for themselves.

            Do I think that God caused my car to not start on that day? No idea. I do know that he used the event to remind me that I need not be so trusting in the notion that I am the master of my own life. His plans are always greater than our own, even if they’re not easier. So the next time that your life feels out of control, remember the One who is truly in control and remember that his plans are always for your good.

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Hang on to Hope

It’s Holy Week, the time of year that we recall all that Jesus went through to bring us reconciliation and justification. It starts on Palm Sunday— the celebration of when the Jews welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem as their king (this sentiment didn’t last long). Then it’s Maundy Thursday which commemorates Christ’s last supper with his disciples, as well as his heading to the Garden of Gethsemane to commune with the Father before he would have to endure the cross. On Friday, we solemnly remember the pain, torture, and humiliation that our savior bore that culminated with his death on the cross. The week ends with the greatest triumph of all time, Jesus defeating death and emerging from the tomb, alive and well, with victory over sin and our salvation in his hands. 

 To me, this is the most joyous time of the year. Easter is my favorite holiday. It is the festival of hope and forgiveness. There is a buzz in the air unlike at any other time of year. Yes, Christmas gets most of the glory, but it pales in comparison to Easter. I think that’s because of all the hustle and bustle that comes with all there is to do on and around Christmas. That doesn’t seem to exist on Easter. The lack of obligation elsewhere really allows us to stop and be moved in gratitude for the love that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have for us. 

My favorite day of Holy Week may seem like an odd one to choose. It’s the Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. It doesn’t even have an adjective attached to it. 

When reading the Gospels, there is seemingly nothing that is happening on that day. Jesus has died and been placed in the tomb. The disciples have all gone into hiding because they fear the religious leaders may come looking for them, perhaps to do the same thing to them that they did to Jesus. All was seemingly quiet and still. 

Take a second and imagine what the Disciples must have been feeling that day. They just watched the man in whom they had put all their hope breathe his last breath. They had fully believed that he was the Messiah, but messiahs are not supposed to die so easily. On top of all of that, Jesus was their friend. They must have been experiencing a myriad of emotions: hopelessness, heartbrokenness, devastation, fear, and pretty much every other negative one. Their world and faith were shattered.

Another thing to consider is what they thought the Messiah was going to be. Based on their understanding of scripture, the Jews believed that the Messiah was going to be a strong and mighty military leader who would overthrow Israel’s oppressor (at this point, Rome) and physically establish God’s kingdom on Earth forever. The Disciples believed that they were Jesus’ chosen soldiers for the rebellion. Instead, they were told to put their swords away and had to watch as the man who was supposed to be the Great General willingly gave up his life. None of this made sense to them.

Jesus repeatedly told his followers that he had to die but would resurrect a few days later. We get the advantage of reading those passages with the knowledge of how the story ended. There is no way the Disciples could have understood that. Would you believe someone if they told you they were going to die and come back to life? We would think that person was crazy (and rightfully so). That’s why the 12 believed that when Jesus died, he was going to stay dead. Historically, the odds were in favor of that belief. 

This brings me to why I love the Saturday of Holy Week so much. It was the darkest day for Jesus’ followers. Hope was lost, and hearts were crushed. They had no idea what was to come next. They mistook the quiet for the climax. Little did they know that God was mightily at work on that day. He was preparing to do the greatest work that has ever been done. They were but hours away from seeing just how magnificent God’s plan was. 

I think that we can all easily get caught up in the same mistake that the Disciples made, thinking that God’s silence means that he is not at work. We so very much want instant results for our prayers. We want God to step into our situation and fix it immediately. Sometimes he does that, but he often asks us to wait instead. Sometimes the waiting is hours, sometimes days, sometimes years. He uses that time to prepare what he’s doing for us and, more importantly, prepare us for his great work. 

In Isaiah 43:19, God says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” The issue is that, no, we do not often perceive it. We get so stuck in our own junk that we cannot see what God is doing. Just like the Disciples locked themselves away in the upper room out of fear, we go into hiding too. We fall into the trap of thinking that not seeing what God is doing means he’s not doing anything. That is never true.

God is always working for the good of his people (Romans 8:28), and he always will. There are times in our lives when we don’t feel, see, or hear what our Heavenly Father is up to, but that doesn’t mean he’s not hard at work. He is busy making everything just right and then provides the solution at just the right time. 

You may be experiencing some sort of death in your life right now like the Disciples did on Good Friday. Maybe you’re currently in a Silent Saturday, unsure what God is doing. I can assure you of this, Sunday is coming! God will show up and do a new thing, something more than you could ever ask for or imagine. 

I know this to be true for two reasons. One is because he’s done it in my life repeatedly. If he did it for me, surely he will do it for you. Secondly, and more importantly, is because Jesus’ tomb is still empty. I have seen it for myself. Death and sin are still defeated, and Jesus is still triumphant over all the evil in this world. Just like our messiah, our hope lives. Hope that God will do a new thing. Hope that he will work all things for our good. Hope that he has great plans for us. We can have hope eternal because Jesus didn’t stay dead. 

So, no matter what it is that you’re going through, hang on to the hope that Sunday is coming. Just because it’s quiet now does not mean that God will not do mighty work. I can assure you that he will. Hang on to the hope of Easter; it’s the greatest hope that we have.

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The Love of the Father

                    I’m going to take a break from writing about what Jess and I have been reading in the Bible. Instead, I want to share a story of something that happened to me last week. Really, it’s not my story; but it’s one that I want to pass along. 

            A man in his late seventies came into my office to ask me to do a favor for him. He wanted to send in a story to a daily devotional that he reads. Knowing that I am a writer, he asked if I would be willing to write and submit it for him. I happily agreed and asked him to share the event with me. The account that he told is not what struck me most from our conversation, although it was certainly interesting. Even though it had very little to do with the submission, he shared an account of his life with me.

            As he sat across from me, he recounted many things from his childhood. I have known this man for nearly seven years and have a good relationship with him. It turns out, though, that I didn’t know much about his history or how he became who he is today. The one thing that struck me the most was a story about his father.

            Without going into too many details, my friend shared how his dad left his family when he was a kid. They didn’t speak for years— until he unexpectedly showed up one day. At that point, the man sitting across from me had grown up, got married, had kids of his own, and built a good life for himself. 

            His dad arrived and wanted to talk to him. When the man asked what he wanted, his father replied, “I would like to be your friend.” This didn’t sit well with his son. He looked at his dad and said, “I have plenty of friends; what I needed was a father.” The reason that this has sat so heavily with me is because tears streamed down his face as he shared this story with me. 

         This is a man that has, by every measure, been successful in his life. He grew up to be a great dad and grandfather, always making sure to take care of his family. He wanted to make sure that his kids never knew the pain that he felt growing up, the pain that he still feels today.

His dad abandoning him has left a wound that has not healed in seventy years. I don’t imagine that scar will ever fade. I could go on to analyze or guess how that has impacted him, but Lord knows that I am not a psychologist or therapist. All I know is that thinking about his dad leaving him still brings this man to tears. It’s a weight that he has had to bear his whole life; one that will be buried with him.    

         I am one of the lucky ones— someone who has a dad and a step-dad that have always been there for me. Now, I even have a father-in-law who does the same. Not everybody gets such a luxury in life. Many people are walking around with a hurting heart, wondering why their earthly father chose to not be the man that he should have been. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to drag that emotional baggage around with me wherever I went. 

          Thinking about the man’s story has moved me into gratitude that we have a Heavenly Father who loves us and never abandons us. God as the Father is my favorite way in which to view him. Heck, I wrote a book about that. 

          1 John 3:1 says, “Look at how great a love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children. And we are!” We are God’s children simply because he has said that we are. That is the robe in which we are to clothe ourselves every day. 

         This should be the most freeing and empowering truth that we can grasp. The God who created the universe, the one who put the stars in the sky, the one who created all things just by speaking them into existence looks at you and says, “That’s my kid, and I love more than they’ll ever know.” 

          I am not a dad yet nor are we currently expecting, but I cannot wait for that day. I will never understand how someone can abandon their kids. I am so beyond excited to see the family that God is going to give to me and Jess. If I’m being honest, it’s the thing that I am most looking forward to in life. 

         I remember when I was a kid and I had to interview my mom for a school project. One of the questions that I was tasked with asking was, “What did you want to be when you were growing up?” Her answer was that she always wanted to be a mom. Elementary school-aged Kyle thought that answer was dumb. I thought that seemed like an insignificant goal. I totally understand it now.

          I may not have kids as of right now, but I can assure you that I already love my future children. I daydream a lot about all the things that we’re going to do together. I can do nothing but smile when I think about what a wonderful mother Jess will be. I am going to do everything in my power to give Jess and my kids the best life and make sure they know that they are loved. 

         Here’s the thing, I won’t even be able to scratch the surface of how God feels about them. All those good, wholesome feelings that I have about being a father are but a shadow of how our Heavenly Father feels about us.

         No matter how hard life gets or how much we deserve it, God has not once thought about walking out the door on us. He has promised to be with us until the end of the age. He has named you as his own and done everything that he possibly can to invite you into a relationship with him. He loves you, and that’s all there is to it. He is the perfect father, and you are His beloved child.

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Establishing God’s Kingdom

            As we continue with our reading through the entire Bible in a year, Jess and I have made it to the book of Joshua. The book is named after the man who succeeded Moses as the leader of the Jews. Joshua got to be the one who led the Israelites out of the desert and into the Promised Land, which is modern-day Israel. It just so happened that there were already people living in the land that God promised to the Jewish people, so they had to win over the territory through war. 

            Joshua and the Jewish people had quite the task ahead of them. They were not extremely well-equipped to march into cities and take them over through sheer strength. They hadn’t spent much time in military drills and training. The only thing that they had going for them was that God promised that he would give them the land and drive out the people who already lived there. 

            When Joshua was given the reigns of leadership, he knew what mission stood before him. It must have looked daunting for the newly appointed leader. Knowing how Joshua must have felt, God gave him a bit of a pep talk in the first chapter of the book. He told him that he needed to be strong and courageous (a few times) and that he would always be with him. In verse 9 God said to Joshua, “The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” This was the promise that all of Israel had to hold on to as they set out to accomplish the impossible.

            Maybe those words seem familiar to you, even if you haven’t read Joshua. Jesus echoed those words to his disciples in Matthew 28; this passage is commonly known as the great commission. This is where Jesus commanded his followers at the time, and all of those who would come after, that they were to, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you(Matthew 28: 19-20). He added this statement to verse 20 as an exclamation point: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

            I don’t believe Jesus chose these words (or any of his words) by mistake. I think that he wanted to draw us all back to Joshua. There are parallels between the two passages. Both sections of scripture consist of the same thing: God asking his people to establish his kingdom on Earth. In Joshua, it was a physical kingdom. In Matthew, it is a spiritual one.

            The difference between the two is that we are not to establish God’s kingdom by the sword like in the days of Joshua. The only weapon that we are to wield is love. Instead of gaining land through death and destruction, we are to gain souls by offering new life through Christ. 

            Our assignment is just as large and formidable as what the Israelites faced. People will be opposed to what it is that we offer. Throughout the New Testament, we are promised hardship and persecution for sharing the Gospel. Ten of the twelve original disciples were killed for doing this very thing. As for the other two: Judas killed himself after selling Jesus out, and John was the only one to die a natural death— though attempts were made on his life. What we have been asked to do is not easy. Much like the Jews entering the Promised Land, we cannot do it on our own.

            Thanks be to God that he doesn’t entrust such a task to human strength and determination. This is why Jesus promised always to be with us. He knew that we are neither qualified nor capable of establishing his kingdom on our own. He is the one in control of that. All that he has asked us to do is love God, love people, and tell others about him. Everything else is up to him. 

            Did you know that there is not a single place in scripture that asks us to save people? That is a job that is much, much above our paygrade. That is the domain of the Holy Spirit, which we are not. Sometimes, we get that confused. No matter how eloquently or persuasively we share the Good News, it is the Holy Spirit who does the work of regeneration. This really takes the pressure off us. It allows us to simply go about the duty of telling others about Jesus and allowing God to do the rest. As John Wesley once said, we are to “spend and be spent in that work.” 

            You will face backlash and opposition as you go about doing your duty, but take heart, you are not alone. Jesus is with you every step of the way. He will comfort you and guide you, encourage you and uplift you, strengthen you and empower you. Knowing that, we should feel emboldened to fulfill the commission that is in front of us and work to establish the Kingdom of God. I’ll let you in on a secret: if you are truly out there doing that, you cannot fail. God’s Kingdom will come, and his will be done. We have nothing to fret about nor anything to doubt. The God who once established his physical kingdom against all odds will succeed in establishing his spiritual one. Best of all, you’re invited to join him in that endeavor. Will you go? Will you be strong and courageous? If you will, be sure to never lose sight that your God is with you, always.

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You Can’t Do This Life On Your Own

            So far this year, I have been writing about what Jess and I have been reading each week. We have spent the past twelve days in Deuteronomy. As I shared last week, Deuteronomy is just rehashing everything that has happened to the Israelites, starting with their escape from Egypt, and going over the Law again. If I’m being totally honest, we’re looking forward to finishing that book and heading into the Promised Land with Joshua. Instead of writing about something that we read this week, I want to go back to a story from the book of Exodus that I didn’t have the chance to write about yet. 

            In Exodus 17, Moses was leading the Jews through the desert. They had stopped at a place called Rephidim to set up camp for a few days. While they were there, the Amalekites come out and attacked them. This was the first time that Israelites had to go to war on their journey. Moses devised a two-part plan as to how to handle this. First, he told Joshua to get some men ready to into battle the next day. Secondly, Moses decided that he would hold the ‘staff of God’ (the one that changed into a snake in Egypt and parted the Red Sea) up in the air as they fought. 

            The two sides clashed. As long as Moses held the staff in the air, the Israelite army was winning. Whenever he brought his arms down to rest, the Amalekites were victorious. What Moses had to do for his people to win the fight was pretty straightforward: he had to keep his arms raised and hold the staff high. The problem that he faced was that he would grow tired.

Take a moment and hold your arms straight up in the air. It probably won’t be long before you’re going to want to put them down. Now, imagine that your people were dying if you lowered them. That’s the situation that he was facing. What was Moses to do? Clearly, he couldn’t physically hold the staff up the whole time, but his people would die and lose the battle if he took a break. 

This was just a few days into their exodus from Egypt. Did they come that far only to be captured by another country and made slaves? This was quite the conundrum for the God-appointed leader of the Jews. Moses had to learn a lesson that I think all of us need to learn today: he couldn’t do it on his own.

            Alongside Moses was his brother Aaron and a man named Hur. When the two other men saw that Moses was struggling, they stepped up and helped.

When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up— one on one side, one on the other— so that his hands remained steady until sunset. So, Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

Exodus 17: 12-13

            Moses couldn’t do it on his own. If he hadn’t had help, he and the Israelites would have failed and been defeated. Who knows what would have happened if the Amalekites won the battle? The good news (unless you were an Amalekite) was that because Moses surrounded himself with people who would support him in a time of need, it’s not something that happened. 

            Just like Moses, we cannot do this on our own. In fact, we were designed by God to never go about our faith walk by ourselves. We were made in his image (Gen. 1:27), and God has always lived in a holy community. This is known as the Trinity and is one of the core tenets of Christianity. From the beginning, it has been God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They have always simultaneously existed as one— while still being three separate beings. It’s a bit confusing. Regardless, one of the ways that we are created in the image of God, the Imago Dei for our Latin speakers, is that we are meant to live in a community as well. 

            This is one of the most important aspects of our faith, but it often gets ignored. We think that we can do this on our own. We allow our pride to tell us that we are sufficient on our own. That has never been the case, nor will it ever be. There will be times in your life when you will need to rely on others. Sadly, we have come to see not being able to do it on our own as a weakness. In all actuality, trying to do the Christian life on your own goes against what the Bible teaches us. 

Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Galatians 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three gather in my name, there I (Jesus) am with them.

Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

I could go on and on.

            You were not made to live out your faith by yourself. It goes against the very way in which God created you. You need others. You need friends like the ones that Moses had. You need people to lift you up when you are growing tired and weary from doing what God has called you to do. You need folks who will encourage and hold you accountable. Trying to live out the Christian life alone is a dangerous thing; it will lead to trouble. I guarantee that it will cause you to stumble and fall. 

We need to seek out others who will be willing to walk alongside us, and us alongside them, as we all figure out our faith journey together. You were created for community. If you don’t have one, go seek one out. You will find that it will change your life and take you to new heights in your faith.  

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The Promised Land

            Jess and I are continuing our trek through the Bible. This week, we are in the book of Deuteronomy. The word Deuteronomy comes from a Hebrew word meaning ‘second law’. The reason for the name is not that Moses is establishing a new law, but he goes back over the laws established throughout the first four books of the Bible. On top of that, he rehashes everything that the Jews have gone through from their exodus from Egypt to where they were then, on the precipice of heading into the Promised Land. Really, it is basically a history book.

            In chapter 7, Moses was reminding the people of what God had promised them. He reiterated that God will empower them to drive out the people who were living in what would become Israel so that they could take possession of it. The odds were stacked against the Jews, but they had to trust in God’s promise. If they did that, then they would be successful. 

            God wanted the Israelites to know that he had prepared everything beforehand for them to enter a land of blessing far beyond what they could have ever imagined. Here’s what he said in Deuteronomy 7:10-12:

When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you— a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant–then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

            On the first reading of that passage, it is obvious that God is telling the Jews that they are going to reap the benefits of work that was not done by them. They would be walking into a ready-made country to call their own. After 40 years of wandering the desert, they would have a place prepared for them to call home. That place was prepared for them by God, and it was prepared for them long before they would ever set foot in Israel. It was being prepared for them long before any of them were born. God was preparing it for them as they were slaves in Egypt, even before they cried out to him to rescue them. He was preparing it for them while they were roaming the wilderness, making mistake after mistake. God was preparing it for them while they refused to enter it the first time because they feared the people who lived there and didn’t trust in God’s promise. Even in the worst times in their lives, God was preparing an amazing blessing for them.

            This is true for us today, too. God is preparing amazing blessings for all his people. It doesn’t matter what we’re going through or how hard life beats us down. It doesn’t matter if we are wandering in our deserts, questioning if God’s promises are true; he is still preparing something for us. His faithfulness is not dependent upon yours. His goodness is not dependent upon your situation; he is the God who brings beauty out of the ashes and gives life to dry bones.

            Think back across your life; I imagine that there is a myriad of examples of this being true. I’m sure that we all had things that seemingly fell into place for us. Maybe that was with a job, a relationship, financially, or a life circumstance. I can think of several in my life. My marriage was born out of the hardest time of my life. My current job came after I had to say goodbye to my dream job with no real plan of what to do next. There have been times that I didn’t have enough money in my bank account, and I received an unexpecting check or found money in a random place. Maybe you have had similar moments in your life as well.

            When those things happen, we can easily think that it is just happenstance. I believe that it is God delivering a blessing to us, one that he had ready for us long before we knew that we needed it. Our heavenly Father knows what we need long before we know ourselves. 

            There is a danger after we have received what it is that he has in store for us: we can forget who it is that provided what we needed. Let’s say that God opened the door for you to have a new job. I’m sure that when you first get it, you’ll say a prayer of thanksgiving. That may go on for a few weeks. After a while, you may fall into the trap that you got the job because of your ability or resumé. While that may be true, it wouldn’t have happened if God’s mighty hand was not at work. 

            We can easily forget what we went through because we have lived in the blessing for so long. That is why God said to the Jews, “when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Deuteronomy 7:12). Part of living in God’s blessing is acknowledging often who it is that provided it in the first place. 

            Do you know the line from Amazing Grace: “How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed”? Though that is talking specifically about salvation, I think that it can be extrapolated out to all the grace that God pours out on us. We are forgetful people. We are so moved in the moment of God’s provision that we will praise him with tears running down our faces, only to not bring it up again after a few days or weeks. Don’t get fat on the blessing and forget to compliment the chef.

            You may feel that you are in a spiritual desert now. Your life may be falling apart, or hardship may have come your way. Take heart! God has already prepared a Promised Land for you. He has been working out something incredible for you long before this moment. This is his promise for us in Romans 8:28; “He works all things to the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes.” You are seen by God. He hears your cries. Best of all, he has already prepared a blessing for you long before now. He will lead you into the Promised Land.

*** Thank you for taking the time to read this today! I hope that you found some encouragement in what I wrote. If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here.***

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The Weight of Sin

            Jess and I are continuing our journey through the Bible. We are now in the middle of the book of Numbers. If you don’t know what Numbers is about, it’s about, well, numbers. Israel has escaped Egypt and is on the precipice of entering the Promised Land. Multiple times, God has Moses take a census of how many fighting age (over 20) men there are in Israel. So, a solid chunk of this Biblical book is dedicated to the results of the censuses. I can assure you that reading census results is not the most riveting way to spend your time. 

            Aside from the population numbers, several interesting stories happen in Numbers. The one that I want to talk about today happens in Numbers 16. The Jews were once again complaining and speaking out against Moses. At the beginning of the chapter, a group of them even tried to usurp Moses’ leadership. Because of their opposition against Moses and Aaron (Moses’ brother and right-hand man), God was very angry with them. 

In his anger, God decided to kill the Israelites who were inciting the revolt with a plague. This is what happened when Moses found out what was going to happen to the angry crowd: 

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put incense in it, along with fire from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the LORD; the plague has started.” So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them.

Numbers 16: 46-47

Rather than let the people die, Moses and Aaron saved them. 

            I must admit, I don’t necessarily love reading the stories where God, out of his anger, decides to kill his people. It always seems harsh, but I think that is because I have lived my entire life in the age of grace. That age was ushered in when Jesus died on the cross and resurrected three days later. 1 John 2:2 says, “He (Jesus) is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus already paid the cost for all of our sins. The people in the Old Testament didn’t get that luxury. They had to bear the weight of their own indiscretions against God. 

            Because we live in the age of grace, we have taken on the mindset that sin isn’t that big of a deal. We all know that we have committed far more sins than we’d ever like to admit. Thanks to what Jesus did for us, we are able to ask for forgiveness and be forgiven. This has caused us to lose sight of the brevity of our sin. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we have all probably given God more than enough reason to wipe us out. If you ever question how much sin matters to God, read about the consequences of it in the Old Testament. It was truly life and death stuff. 

            That’s where that group of Jews found themselves with their uprising. They were going to be severely punished for their offenses. That’s where Moses and Aaron stepped in. Aaron ran into the midst of the crowd with what was a ‘fragrant offering’ in hopes of gaining atonement for the people. Numbers 16:48 tells us, “He (Aaron) stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped.” The people were saved because of what Moses and Aaron did. 

            Think about that for a moment. Moses and Aaron saved the people from God’s wrath even though the crowd was hostile to their leadership. It wasn’t only God that they had sinned against, but against Moses and Aaron too. Yet there they were, standing in the middle of God’s wrath to save a people who didn’t deserve it. 

            That is exactly what Jesus did for us. When he went to the cross, he made an offering, himself, to make atonement for us. Not only did he stand between the people and God’s wrath, but he also bore the punishment that we deserve. We all deserve death because of our sin; both spiritual and physical.  Although we sin against Christ daily, he still willingly went to cross for us. 

            Sin isn’t a light matter. It is the costliest thing that we can do. It disrupts our relationship with God and will have negative consequences for us here on earth. Thanks be to God that he didn’t leave us to deal with the penalty of our mistakes. Jesus, fully God, took on flesh and offered himself up as the ultimate offering on our behalf. He stood between us and God’s wrath that we deserved and took on the full weight of our sin. 

            Don’t ever fall into the trap that sin isn’t that big of a deal. We just happen to live in the time after Jesus was offered up as our sacrificial lamb. Because of that, we have a lifetime to make atonement for our sins through placing our faith in Christ. The Old Testament Jews didn’t get that luxury. They often had to pay instantaneously for what they had done. Even still, the Old Testament is full of story after story of God giving his people grace and forgiveness. 

            Sin matters. It matters so much that God gave up his son as payment on our behalf. For those who believe in Jesus, we live in a perpetual state of grace. Sin still will have an impact on our lives now. It can still break our earthly relationships and our wellbeing, but it will never separate us from the God who loves us because Jesus gave his life for ours. He is the one who stood between the living God and those who were dead in their trespasses (Ephesians 2:1). Don’t take sin lightly, and don’t forget the price that was paid so that we would never have to bear the brunt of God’s wrath.

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Pray for Ukraine

            I can’t take my eyes off the news. I’m constantly refreshing Twitter, which is my main source of information, for updates about what is happening in Ukraine. I think this is the most captivating event that has happened during my lifetime, and it holds the potential to be a major turning point for the world as we know it. It is as intriguing as it is frightening, not to mention heartbreaking. 

            I don’t understand this war. I guess the better statement is that I don’t understand what Russia is doing. I get why Ukraine is fighting— they’re legitimately fighting for their lives. I read multiple stories from reputable reporters explaining to me why Russia has invaded Ukraine, but it still doesn’t make sense to me. It is irrational and immoral. I’m not a fan of war, not that many are, but I can usually wrap my mind around why it is happening. Not this one; this one is senseless. 

            I have never been to war, and it is highly unlikely that I will ever go. I have narcolepsy, so I am disqualified for service. I don’t know what it is like to be a soldier. My father-in-law served in Desert Shield/Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom, and he has shared a few stories with me. I’ve read stories, taken a couple history classes in college that focused on wars, and have seen documentaries. Nothing about being in a war seems good or pleasant. Being a soldier is a guarantee that you will see and experience things that the average person cannot imagine. 

            Unfortunately for the average people in Ukraine, they cannot escape the horrors of war. It has come to them, though they did nothing to deserve it. Civilians are being killed because one man decided to invade a country. Kids are dying. The citizens of Ukraine are waking up each day with the real possibility that it may be their last. I know that is true of everyone, but it is all but guaranteed that a missile is not going to come crashing into my house today. That guarantee doesn’t exist for any of the Ukrainians on this day. 

            Though the fighting is happening 5,000 miles from me, I can’t help but think of all the innocent bystanders that are under attack. These people are not news stories or statistics. They are moms and dads, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, and co-workers. They are real people who are loved and love others. Their only crime was to live freely in the country that they were born in and love. 

            One of Jesus’ statements keeps circling in my head: “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matthew 24:6). I read that and say, “Ok, I got it.” But I really don’t get it. I know that he is speaking of end-time stuff there, and I am not going to take what is happening in the world as a chance to espouse my eschatological (fancy word for end times) views. This is not the time or the place. I just don’t know how I can’t be alarmed, even though I know there is basically nothing that I can do about the situation.

            The good news is that the Ukrainians are rising to the occasion and giving it their all. They are a modern-day David vs. Goliath story. The world is on their side. You rarely get a black and white, good guys vs. bad guys scenario, but that seems to be the case here. 

            Even still, everyone loses in war. If the Ukrainians manage to win (that’s my hope and prayer), the echoes of this invasion will reverberate in their country for years. They will need to rebuild what was destroyed. However, they will never gain back the lives that were lost. There will be wounds, emotional and physical, that will never heal. I would also be remised to not mention the Russian soldiers. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that many of them don’t want to be fighting this war either. There is and will be pain on both sides for a long time.

            In all of this, God is still God. He is still good and in control, even if we can’t wrap our minds around all of it. I don’t know how this will end, but he does. I think that our prayer needs to be that it does end soon and peaceably. Prayer is the weapon that those of us that are hundreds and thousands of miles away from the carnage need to be wielding. We need to implore that our all-powerful God brings this war to a close. 2 Corinthians 1:3 calls God, “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.” We need to pray that is who he is to all that are hurting because of the chaos. There may be a time when we can be the hands and feet of God and can serve in a different way; but as for now, we need to be a people of prayer. Pray for Ukraine, pray for peace, and pray for healing on both sides. There is power in prayer. I think that it’s time we unleash it.

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Our Scapegoat

Jess and I are continuing our Bible reading plan that takes us chronologically through the entirety of the Bible. We are currently in Leviticus. I don’t know if you know much about the particular book, but I can assure you that it is not the most interesting of reads. The book contains mostly two things: rules and the sacrifices you make if you break them. There are lots of very detailed instructions as to how the Jewish priests are to conduct the sacrifices. Not exactly what I would call riveting. It is God’s word; thus, it is good— it’s just not the most engaging. 

Chapter 16 of Leviticus goes into great detail as to how the Day of Atonement was to go for the Jews. This is the day that all of Israel was to bring their offerings to be sacrificed to God as a payment for their sins. The word atonement in this sense means to be “made right with God.” It was through their sacrifices that the Jews were forgiven for their sins. The Day of Atonement is still practiced by Jews all over the world today.

In the middle of the chapter, there is a peculiar commandment given to the Israelites.

When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

Leviticus 16:20-22

Have you ever heard the term ‘scapegoat’? Well, this is where it comes from. As scripture stated, all of the sins of the Jews were placed on the goat. Then, it was let go in the wilderness, seemingly to never be seen again. This was a real-life metaphor for God forgiving the Jews. Their sin would become like that goat and disappear forever. For the Christian, we get more than just a metaphor.

What happened to the goat is what happened for us when Jesus went to the cross. All of our sins were placed on him. When I say all, I mean every single one. In case you don’t believe me, here’s what the Bible says:

1 Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree”

Romans 5:8 “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

2 Corinthians 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 

Colossians 2:14 “By canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

Isaiah 53:5 “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

1 John 2:2 “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

The list is almost endless. 

When Jesus died on the cross and was put in the tomb, our sins died with him. The difference is that Christ came back; but he left our sins in that tomb, never to be seen again. Jesus was and is our forever scapegoat. He is far more than just a metaphor or symbolism; he physically took on the burden.

Do you believe that? A lot of people are quick to answer ‘yes’ to that question but does how you view yourself and your life reflect that? Do you treat yourself as someone who has been forgiven, or do you carry the weight of your sin on your back? 

I think that we all struggle with the idea that our sin is no longer our own. We want to hold on to our failures and beat ourselves up over them. We wear it like a scarlet letter to remind ourselves of our shortcomings. Here’s the thing: your sins are not yours anymore. Jesus paid for them, and he did so with his life. He willingly took on that load for us, a load that we could not bear.

Stop trying to hold onto what is not yours. Stop telling yourself that you are defined by your sin. Stop carrying what Christ willingly took out of your hands. Jesus knew every stupid thing that we would do when he died for us, and he still did so without any hesitation. The cross covers all of your sin: past, present, and future. They were all placed on the head of our beautiful savior. He chose to be our scapegoat. He chose to take our sin to a place in which it will never be seen again. He made those decisions because he loves you like crazy. So, you have to decide if you are going to accept that forgiveness and love because God has already decided that you were worth it.

***If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also the His Kingdom/ Our Good podcast is available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and Anchor.***

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What Qualifies You?

If you are like most people, then you doubt your ability and capacity to do whatever it is that you feel God wants you to do. This is a refrain that I have heard quite often in my decade of working in full-time ministry. People feel as though they cannot live up to the task that God has placed on their hearts. I would venture to say that most people walk away from chasing after their calling without ever giving it a chance. They decide to stick with their normal, comfortable life— never believing that they were fit to fulfill the Lord’s request of them. 

At the end of the book of Exodus, in a, um, less than exhilarating narrative, God was instructing Moses and the Jews on how to build the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was a big tent in which God’s presence physically dwelt. Trust me when I say that it was *very* detailed instructions. I love and have a passion for the Bible, but that part is not what I would consider a real page-turner. Even still, the Israelites were making a house for the Lord, so it absolutely needed to be perfect. This was a tall and important task, not one for which just any person would be qualified. 

Exodus 31:1-3 says, “The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship.” Who is Bezalel? No idea, besides who his dad and grandfather are. All that we know is that he was the one chosen to be the foreman and main builder of the Tabernacle. Exodus 31:6 tells us that a man named Oholiab would be Bezalel’s assistant. He was also given the ability for the position by God. What qualified these two men to be the ones who constructed the very place in which God made his residency and would converse with Moses? Nothing, aside from the fact that God chose them for the job. 

This is the same for us today, and it’s how it has always been for God’s people. None of us are qualified to step into the roles that God has crafted for us. Yes, we may have schooling and training that makes us more knowledgeable and prepared. However, we are not truly fit to do the work of the Lord. It is far too big of a task for us. Who amongst us can truly say that they are worthy of being a co-worker with God, as 1 Corinthians 3:9 says? I don’t believe that any of us are truly worthy based upon our own merit. Thanks be to God that it is not up to us or our resumés. 

We are qualified simply because God says that we are. Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God, in all his infinite wisdom, has hand-selected each of us for specific tasks. That is what a calling is: finding out what works God has prepared for you. If God has prepared the work for you, then he has prepared you to do the work.

Look back at the Exodus verses I shared; God filled Bezalel and Oholiab with his spirit to make them capable of doing what it was that he chose them to do. He has filled all of those who have believed in Jesus with the Holy Spirit. It is through the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to say yes to God. 

Have you ever noticed that most of the things that God calls us to do seem daunting at the time? That’s because they are. We are meant to stare at the tasks ahead of us and feel small. It is when we feel small that we realize that we serve a big God. We realize that we can’t do it on our own. We run into trouble when we mistakenly think that we are supposed to do it by ourselves. In those times, we need to believe what Proverbs 3:5 says; “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” That is the only way that we can truly say ‘yes’ to our calling. 

God has prepared works for you; he did so long before you felt the calling. Think about that for a second; he has *specifically* chosen you for the job. That may seem overwhelming, and that’s ok. Take heart in the fact that you are not left to your own devices to fulfill the job. He has filled you with the Holy Spirit and promised to be with you every step of the way. That is why we should confidently say ‘yes’ to whatever it is that he wants us to do. That is why we can unhesitantly answer the call. Because we know that it is not all on us; it’s mostly on God working through us. All that we have to do is say, “Here I am, God. Send me.” After you say that, he will use you to accomplish the impossible. You are his beloved, and you have been chosen to do his work. Will you go? Will you do what you were created to do?

***If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also, I have started a His Kingdom/ Our Good podcast. It’s available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and Anchor.***

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Grumbling in the Desert

Jess and I are continuing our way through the entirety of the Bible. We finished Genesis about a week ago and are now in Exodus. I feel as though this is one of the more commonly known books of the Old Testament. It is the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. It also contains some of the most famous scenes of the Bible: the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the Ten Commandments, and the Jews wandering in the desert in search of the Promised Land. 

Notoriously, it took the Jews forty years to get from Egypt to what is present-day Israel— which was roughly 125 miles away. Really, this trip should have taken only a couple weeks; instead, it took four decades. There are a lot of reasons for that. Mostly, it was because the Jews kept disobeying God and Moses and getting themselves into trouble. However, their journey was marked by God constantly providing for them and offering them grace. 

One of those instances takes place in Exodus 16. The Israelites had been traveling for a while now and had run out of food. They did, after all, leave Egypt in a bit of a haste. Even though God told them that he would take care of them and provide for them, the people began to complain. They went as far to say, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16:3). Rather than trusting in God, they desired to be back in Egypt. 

You see, the Jews had already forgotten how terrible their life was while they were enslaved. They were forced to work long, hard days. They were beaten by the Egyptians and had nothing to call their own. At one point, the Pharaoh had all the newborn Jewish males killed. Their life was so terrible that they constantly cried out to God to save them from their oppressors, which he did in the most emphatic of ways. Yet, the first time that they were faced with true hardship in the desert, they wished that they were back under the tyrannical hand of the Egyptians. 

I think that this is a trap into which we can all fall: forgetting the great work that the Lord has done in our lives when we face some sort of trouble. God did amazing, supernatural things in Egypt to save his people. I’m willing to bet that God has done amazing, supernatural things in your life to bring you where you are. 

If there’s one thing that this life promises us, it’s that there will be trouble and hardship. Yet, God has not left us there. He has seen his people and heard the cry of their hearts and responded. But the next time that we find ourselves in a tough situation, we often question if God is going to be there for us.

So, how did God handle the Jews after they questioned if he would show up? He made it rain manna (bread) and gave them quail to eat. Despite their grumbling, God still showed up and provided for them. Once again, he heard the cries of his people and rode to the rescue.

God will keep showing up for you; he has promised that to us. The question is are you going to believe that or are you going to be the Israelites?  There are two ways in which you can handle the situation, trust or complain. Luckily for us, God’s love is not dependent upon our attitude. Nonetheless, I think that we should all look back at the bleak situations in which he saved us and believe that he will do it again. Complaining and grumbling should not be our go-to when we wonder whether God will show up; faith should be. 

We need to remember the times that God stepped into our brokenness and hurt and brought us through. Those need to become pillars of our faith, not distant recollections. We need to stop and think about those times. No, we shouldn’t dwell or lament on them; but, we should use those memories as a way to strengthen our hearts and minds whenever life has us down the next time. They should become celebrations of what God has done. Then the next time that you need God to come to your aid, you won’t have to wonder. There will be no need to grumble because you know that your savior is on his way.  

***If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also, I have started a His Kingdom/ Our Good podcast. It’s available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and Anchor.***

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When Bad Things Happen to Good People

            Why do bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people? That is a question that is truly as old as time. In fact, that is the issue that the book of Job, one of the oldest books of the Bible, tries to tackle. Though these questions have been pondered ever since people began pondering, we haven’t seemed to come up with the perfect answer yet. You may hear clichés or platitudes, but they tend to leave us wanting more. 

            I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to fully answer that question. Jesus touched on this in Matthew 5:45: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” That’s not really an explanation. He’s just saying that God blesses both the good and the bad. (Side note: People often point to the rain in this verse as being something negative. That’s not actually what Jesus meant. Society back then was very agriculturally driven; thus, rain was a necessity for growing crops. No rain meant a drought. A drought meant people starved and died. So, rain was considered a blessing.) Ultimately, all that we know is that everyone in life will receive good and bad, regardless of what we think that they deserve. 

            This is the scene that played out for Joseph in Genesis 39. If you don’t know who he is, I’ll give you a quick recap. He is one of the sons of Jacob (who would later be known as Israel). He also happened to be his father’s favorite, and this led to resentment from his brothers. They originally planned to kill him because of that but decided to sell him into slavery instead. This transaction led to him ending up in Egypt. Though he was a slave, he managed to garner favor with His master, Potiphar. Eventually, Potiphar gave Joseph authority over his household. However, Potiphar’s wife decided that she wanted to sleep with Joseph, and this is where things went downhill for him.

            Joseph, being the upright and good man that he was, wanted nothing to do with the affair and regularly spurned her advances. One day, Potiphar’s wife got him alone and again propositioned him. Joseph literally ran out of the room to avoid committing the heinous act, but she was able to snatch one of his ‘garments’. Embarrassed by being turned down, Potiphar’s wife told everyone, including her husband, that Joseph tried to force himself on her, and he was scared away when she screamed. She then claimed that she grabbed his garment as he ran off from trying to have his way with her. This led to Potiphar throwing Joseph in prison, presumably for the rest of his life. 

            Joseph, throughout his life, was an honorable man. This incident was no different. He did everything the right way, but he still got thrown in prison. He was good, but he was treated as if he was bad. Though he committed no crime, he was deemed a criminal and treated as such. Thankfully, that would not be the end of his story, though. Genesis 39:21 says, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love…” While the world saw someone who was guilty, God saw someone who was innocent. God did not abandon Joseph just because bad was happening to him. 

            Have you ever been in a situation where you have seemingly done all the right things, yet what is happening around you doesn’t seem to reflect that? I’m sure that you have. If not, I’m sure that it will happen to you someday. That may seem somber, but that is simply a truth of life. Bad things will happen to good people. It will be frustrating, and it will be confusing. Rest assured, the same thing that happened for Joseph will happen for you. God will see you, he will be with you, and he will love you. He will not abandon nor forget about you. Though he may not prevent every bad thing from happening to you, he has promised that he will be with you every step of the way as you go through it.

            We can know that is true because of the fact that Jesus died for us. He was the truly innocent person that was treated as a criminal. He is the embodiment of bad things happening to someone good. The reason why he allowed it to happen was because he was stepping in on our behalf. It was our sins and mistakes that led him to the cross; he did nothing to deserve it. I believe that if he was willing to take on the ultimate punishment because of our crimes so that we can be with him always, then it stands to reason that he will be by our side whenever we have to deal with the bad that this world has to throw at us, regardless of if it’s deserved or not.  

            No matter what it is that we are facing today, remember that God will treat you the same way that he treated Joseph— the Lord will be with you and will show you steadfast love. That’s his promise to you. That promise was made possible through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, and that promise will never fail.

***If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also, I have started a His Kingdom/ Our Good podcast. It’s available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and Anchor.***

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What Will You Give Your Heart To?

            Jacob was about to meet his brother Esau after not seeing him for twenty years, and he was frightened. Jacob feared that the consequences of his actions had finally caught up with him. 

            This takes place in Genesis 32. If you are not aware, Jacob and Esau were twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. Esau was the firstborn, which meant that he should have been the one who was in line to become the leader and patriarch of the family whenever Isaac died. He would have also inherited the blessing that God gave to their grandfather, Abraham: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). Esau was destined for wonderful things; that was his right as the first-born son. 

            Unfortunately for Esau, his brother would ruin all of that for him. First, Jacob took advantage of him in Genesis 25 and Esau gave his “birthright” away to his brother in exchange for some stew. Then in Genesis 27, Jacob lied to and tricked his dad, Isaac, who was old and blind, into giving him the blessing that should have gone to Esau. With these two schemes, Jacob took all the power, inheritance, prestige, and authority that Esau should have received. Because of this, Esau was left with basically nothing. Jacob, on the other hand, got everything. Needless to say, Esau didn’t have the highest opinion of his brother. 

            Jacob then left home, married Leah and Rachel, and had a slew of kids. After having lived in the city of his wives for twenty years, Jacob decides to go back home. As he was approaching the city in which Esau lived, he sent messengers to his brother to announce his arrival. The messengers returned with news that Esau was coming with four hundred men to meet Jacob. Jacob assumed his brother meant war and prepared to be attacked. He even sent a large amount of livestock and servants ahead as a gift to Esau, in hopes of quelling the rage that he assumed that his brother had. 

            Then, something unexpected happens when they finally meet. “Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept” (Gen. 33:4). Esau wasn’t angry; he was elated to see his brother. He wasn’t even interested in the peace offering that Jacob sent him. Although, he would go on to accept it after Jacob strongly persisted. Esau also got to meet Jacob’s family. All was well between the two brothers and would remain so for the rest of their lives. 

            In this story, it would have been very easy for Esau to hate his brother. He had been manipulated and taken advantage of multiple times by Jacob. He should have been the heir to everything that Isaac had, but it was all stolen from him. He should have been the one who was made into a great nation, but it was Jacob who would go on to have his name changed to Israel and be the forefather of Jewish people. Quite frankly, Esau had every reason to attack his brother that day; but instead, he chose forgiveness.

            What would have been the best outcome if Esau would have acted on his hurt and anger instead of forgiving his brother? Property would have been destroyed, people would have died, and lives would have been ruined. Even then, Esau still wouldn’t have been able to receive what had been lost to him. He chose the higher path, which worked out best for everyone.

            We all can easily get sucked into acting out of our hurt and anger towards someone. We want to get even with the person who has caused us some sort of strife. What does that ever achieve? We can make someone’s life worse, but it never actually makes ours better. Harboring hatred is a poison to our hearts; it eats away at the joy that should be residing there. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have decided to stick to love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Hate only ever weighs us down, even if we think it is justified.

            Colossians 3:13 says, “… Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” I think part of the reason that we are instructed to throw forgiveness around as freely as Jesus did is because holding a grudge will have a costly, negative impact on our life. Hate will take our hearts captive every chance that it can— the very same heart that Christ came to set free. We have to battle against that. The only way to release the hate that is dwelling inside of us is to forgive those whom it is directed towards. That is the only way in which we can truly free up the space in our hearts so that it can be filled with love.

            Esau had every reason to hate his brother and want to get revenge on him. Instead, he chose to forgive him and set both of them free to live lives that rose above violence and pain. Maybe you need to do that today as well. Maybe there is someone in your life who you despise because they have hurt you. I implore you to forgive them. Not because they deserve it, but because you do. Your heart deserves to be free and filled with joy and love. Don’t let anyone steal that from you. Choose this day what you will give your heart to: hatred or love. Hatred will always lead to death; love will always lead to life.

***If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also, I have started a His Kingdom/ Our Good podcast. It’s available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and Anchor.***

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When Our Sin Gets Us in Trouble

As I stated last week, Jess and I are reading through the entirety of the Bible together this year. The experience of sitting down every evening and digging into God’s word with my wife is truly something wonderful. If you’re married, then I highly suggest that it be something that you and your spouse do together daily. I believe that God honors a couple’s commitment to growing closer to him together. Not only will he grow the couple closer to him, but he will grow the couple closer to each other as well. 

Thus far, we have made it through creation, the beginnings of civilizations in the world, Noah, and Job. Now, we are reading the story of Abraham. He is the forefather of the Jewish people and faith. This would eventually go on to morph into Christianity, so he is also pivotal to our faith. 

One of the things that you will notice as you read through the Bible is that pretty much all the people in it are not perfect. They make mistakes, sin, and often put themselves above all else. The great patriarch Abraham is no different. Genesis 12:10-20 tells us about Abraham, known as Abram at that point, and his wife, Sarai, going to Egypt because there was a famine in his own land. 

As they were about to enter Egypt, Abram told Sarai a scheme that he had concocted to protect himself. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.  When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live.  Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you” (Gen 12:11-13). Being the faithful and trusting wife that she was, Sarai agreed to the plan.

Abram was right about the Egyptians thinking that Sarai was beautiful. In fact, they thought that she was so beautiful that when the Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they decided that she should become one of Pharaoh’s wives. Although it is not stated in scripture, the officials apparently did ask Abram about Sarai. They followed their plan and told the men that she was his sister, and off to the Pharaoh they took her. In exchange for taking Sarai as his wife, the Pharaoh gave Abram a bunch of sheep, cattle, other livestock, and servants. 

Now, Abram and Sarai are in a pickle. What are they to do? Clearly, Abram cannot admit that he lied to the Pharaoh; that would surely cost him his life. If he does nothing, however, Sarai will become the wife of the Pharaoh. Abram is truly powerless in this situation. Thankfully for him, God steps in on his behalf.

“But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.”

Genesis 12: 17-20

God saves the day and saves Abram and Sarai. Here’s the thing: according to what the Pharoah said, he would not have taken Sarai to be his wife if he knew that she was married to Abram. We don’t know if that was true or not, but we have no reason to not believe him. Abram’s lie caused issues for everyone involved in the story, and it appears as though it was completely unnecessary. If not for God intervening, the path of human history would have gone a very different direction because of Abram’s scheme. Abram and Sarai go on to be the great great great great great (I’m not sure how many greats, but it’s a lot of them) grandparents of Jesus. All of that was put at risk because Abram was worried about securing his own safety– even at the expense of his wife’s wellbeing. 

Thankfully, God protects Abram and Sarai. He protected them not only from the Egyptians but from themselves. It was their own plan that got them into danger. While God never condoned the lie, he prevented it from becoming their undoing. God’s chief concern was to take care of his people; that remains the same today.

For the most part, we are our own worst enemies. We cannot keep ourselves from choosing things that we know we ought not to choose. We regularly fall willingly into sin’s traps. Our thoughts and hearts often betray who it is that we are striving to be and who it is that we are striving to follow. That is the crux of human nature. Paul wrote about this in Romans 7; “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (verse 15). We all struggle with continuously choosing the righteous thing to do. Thanks be to God that he does not leave us on our own.

In his commentary on Romans 8:28, which reads, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose,” 17th-century theologian Matthew Pool wrote, “All things, even sin itself.” While God never approves sin, he can and will use it for our good. Abram and Sarai actually came out of their ordeal in a better materialistic situation than when they entered. They came to Egypt during a severe famine with nothing and left with a herd of livestock and plenty of servants. This could have gone drastically different for them if God had not shown up to take care of them.

I am not suggesting that we all go and sin in hopes that God will reward us. That will not go well for you, I promise. Sin will always lead to death and earthly consequences. What I am saying is that our sinning will not preclude God from still taking care of us, if we are his people. At that point in time, Abram and Sarai were pretty much the entirety of God’s people. Now, it is open to all who believe in Christ. It is because of the grace that Jesus bought us on the cross that we can know that God is not going to abandon us, even when it is our own sin that has gotten us into trouble.

If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also, I have started a His Kingdom/ Our Good podcast. It’s available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and Anchor.

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A Lesson from the Book of Job

With the start of the new year, my wife, Jess, and I have decided to read through the entirety of the Bible together. We are following a chronological plan so that we get a true sense of what’s going on in the lives of the Israelites and the early church as we read about them. I imagine a lot of my writing for this year will come out of the readings. We started in Genesis, obviously, but quickly ended up in the book of Job because most theologians and historians place him to have lived around the time of Abraham. 

I don’t know if you know much about the book of Job. I will sum it up for you just if you are unfamiliar. God considers Job to be an upstanding, righteous man. Satan contends that the only reason that Job is faithful is because God has blessed him abundantly. So, God allows Satan to affect Job’s life to see if his faith will remain steadfast. Immediately, Satan destroys pretty much everything Job owns and even causes his children to die. I don’t know if you know this, but Satan is not a good guy.

The bulk of the rest of the book is Job talking with three of his friends and another man. Job is unbudging in his belief that he has done nothing to deserve what has happened to him. His friends, on the other hand, believe that Job’s calamity is the result of his sin and wickedness. This argument goes back-and-forth throughout the book, and neither side is willing to concede. The book ends with God stepping in and having a conversation with Job, but that is another story for another time.

What I want to discuss today is the belief system that led to the arguments that stream through the entirety of this Biblical book: the idea is that God blesses you when you do good and punishes you when you do bad. While the book of Job is thousands of years old, this mindset has yet to dissipate. We see it throughout scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments. It still exists today; maybe you believe it. 

This belief, however, goes against one of the core aspects of God: his grace. Grace is his unearned favor. At the root of God’s grace is his love for all of us. God has chosen to bless all of us, and many of his blessings go unnoticed. James 1:17 tells us, “Every good and perfect gift comes from above.” Think about how much goodness is in your life. That all comes from our Heavenly Father. What have we done to earn it? Absolutely nothing. If we cannot earn the good things that God gives us, then why in the world would we ever think that we can earn the bad?

Now, I do want to offer a caveat. Scripture does clearly lay out the way in which God desires us to live our lives, and I do believe that living such a way will lead to a better, more blessed life. That is simply because when we aren’t making bad life decisions, life tends to go better for us. Most of the time, we get in our own way of receiving blessings. Choosing sin always leads to destruction, but that is because there are earthly ramifications to our choices. I do not believe that God is sitting up in heaven ready to smack us down with every mistake that we make. Romans 5:20 says, “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” Even when we are making bad decisions, God is still there to offer us love and forgiveness. How you live your life matters, but not because God is punishing you or blessing you with each choice.

We must get out of the mindset that God leads our lives like an angry school principal with a paddle in hand. When life gets hard and bad things are happening to us, it’s not because God is out to get us. Life just stinks sometimes. We live in a fallen, broken world that is inhabited by fallen, broken people. There will forever be hurt and pain because of that. 

We also must do away with the idea that a God-honoring, faithful life will be an easy one full of only blue skies and sunshine. There is not a single line in all of scripture that promises that life will be easy once you become a Christian. That is a lie that is too often fed to people. If that was the case, then why would Jesus, Paul, and the Disciples (besides John) all get murdered?  Hardship doesn’t go away whenever you place your faith in Jesus. In fact, it sometimes can be the root of suffering. What we are promised is that God will be with us and walk alongside us through whatever it is that we face. 

Don’t fall into the trap that bad things happen in your life because God is mad at you. Sure, there are times when he will not be thrilled with each of us. That does not negate the fact that he is our father who loves us above all else. He is the perfect father who only desires good for his children. So, the next time that you’re facing adversity, don’t cower in fear that it is God punishing you. Instead, reach out your hand to take his, and ask him to walk with you as you go through it. That is a request that he will be most delighted to fulfill.

If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also, I have started a His Kingdom/ Our Good podcast. It’s available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and Anchor.

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When God Goes Quiet

            Did you know that there is a 400-year gap in between the old and new testaments? This is known as the *Intertestamental Period*. It is a strange time for the people of God. From the beginning, God spoke to his people. This usually happened through the prophets, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, Jonah, etc. Then, Malachi became the prophet of Israel. After God made his final decree through Malachi, he seemingly stopped speaking. That is why this period is also known as the Period of Silence.

            These 400 years were not uneventful. Israel was conquered by the Persians but had it pretty good under them. Ultimately, they were able to live their lives, including religiously, mostly uninhibited. Then, the Greeks came and overthrew the Persians and their empire. This did not go so well for the Jews.  Eventually, the Greeks banned Jewish worship and rededicated the Temple back to their own religion. This sparked the Maccabean Revolt, where a group of Jews overthrew the Greeks, which led to a brief period where Israel was independent again. Hannukah was created to commemorate this victory. Finally, around 25 BC, the Roman Empire took over Israel. That’s who was in charge through the New Testament. 

            Though a lot happened (I greatly oversimplified it), no prophets were speaking. There was not a human voice for God in between Malachi and John the Baptist. Strange, isn’t it? With all that was going on, why wouldn’t God speak? He repeatedly spoke during other times of captivity and war in the Old Testament. Why did he choose this time to be quiet? The short answer: I have no idea. But, let’s not make the mistake that his silence was an indicator of his inability or his disinterest. 

            God’s last words before he went silent were to tell his people that goodness, healing, and the light were coming. Malachi 4:2 even suggested that God was going to appear. The book ends with the promise of the Savior coming. We know that all of that came true on that Christmas morning over 2000 years ago. God ended his silence with his greatest act of love: the baby born in the manger. That baby would grow up to die on the cross so that all who believe in him will have salvation.

            What must the Jews have thought as they were going through hardship after hardship and not hearing from God? Surely, they must have felt abandoned and hopeless. God promised them something better and then disappeared. Even in that, they never lost faith. They held on to the promises that God had made to them. They even fought and died to preserve and regain their ability to worship the God who wasn’t speaking to them. They believed that just because he hadn’t fulfilled his promises, it didn’t mean he wasn’t going to. 

            Do you ever find yourself in that place? Maybe, you’re there now. You want to hear from God or get some sort of indicator that he is working in your life, but you feel as though he has gone silent. What do we do when God goes quiet? I think that we take after the Jews and cling to the promises that he has given to us. 

Deuteronomy 31:6

“…it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Isaiah 41:10

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Romans 8:28

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Malachi 4:2

“But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.”

There are many, many more, but you get the picture. There is a myriad of promises throughout the Bible that tells us that God is with us and for us, even when he may seem quiet. Just like he ended his 400 years of silence with his great work, he will do a great work in your life. He has promised that he’s not going to leave you where you are; just because he’s quiet, doesn’t mean that he’s not up to something. It’s up to us to keep the faith and trust that he will do what he has said that he is going to do. Before you know it, you will be out of the silence and amazed at how he brought you through whatever it is that you’re going through.

If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also, I have started a His Kingdom/ Our Good podcast. It’s available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spot

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Jesus’ Genealogy: From Messy to the Messiah

As Christmas approaches, the Church and Christianity start to focus on the story of Jesus’ birth— rightfully so. We love to talk and hear about Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, the northern star, and all the amazing things that happened on the night that the savior of the world is born. After all, this is the beginning of the greatest story ever told. However, we tend to skip over the place where the New Testament actually starts: the genealogy of Jesus.

Have you ever taken the time to go through the family heritage of Jesus found in Matthew 1? Probably not, and that’s understandable. The list of his ancestry has come to be known as the begats, based on the King James Version’s verbiage. If you aren’t familiar with those who are listed in his genealogy, then one may assume that it is filled with the heroes of the Old Testament. While there are quite a few of them in there, there are also some people who may surprise you by their appearance because they are seemingly not fit to create the family line that would eventually give birth to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Let’s start with Jacob, which is the third name on the list. He would eventually go on to do good and be a faithful man, but that’s not how he started out. The first major event of his life was when he took advantage of his older brother, Esau. Jacob convinced Esau to give up his birthright (being the leadership and authority as the head of the family) in exchange for a bowl of stew (Gen. 25). Later (Gen. 27) when his father, Isaac, was dying and his eyesight had gone bad, Jacob lied and pretended to be his older brother to trick his dad into giving him his blessing (making him the head of the family). Jacob was a scammer and liar, but we still find him in Jesus’ genealogy. 

In Matthew 1:3, we see something that is uncommon for genealogies of that time: a woman is mentioned. There are actually four women who appear on the list. The first is Tamar. You may not know her story, but it is a wild one that takes place in Gen. 38.

She was the wife of Er, who was the oldest son of Judah. Er died before he and Tamar could have kids. The law and custom back then stated that if a married woman hasn’t had any kids and her husband dies, then his next oldest and unmarried brother was to marry her. This is called Levirate Marriage. Weird, but it was to protect the woman. Tamar married another son of Judah, Onan. Because of a wicked act he did, he also died without he and Tamar having a child. Because two of his sons had already died after marrying Tamar, Judah refuses to allow another son to marry her. This violated the Levirate Marriage law. 

One day, Judah was heading to a place called Timnah. As a way to protect herself, because a widow with no children wouldn’t have a way of supporting herself, Tamar dressed as a prostitute in hopes of sleeping with Judah and becoming impregnated. The plan worked, and Judah didn’t know it was her. Once it was found out that Tamar is pregnant, Judah demanded that she be burned at the stake for having sex outside of marriage. Tamar had kept the staff, cord, and seal that Judah gave her as payment for the prostitution. She revealed these things, and Judah decided to not have her killed, and they raised the children together. There are so many messed-up things about this story. Yet, Tamar and Judah are both in Jesus’ genealogy. 

There is one more verse that I want to talk about, Matthew 1:6. “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.” Most of us probably know the story of David and that he was a mighty king. He also abused his kingly powers to force a woman named Bathsheba. Even though she was married to a good man named Uriah (who was out at war at the time), David still slept with her. Once she became pregnant, David covered his tracks by having the commander of the Israelite army put Uriah on the front lines of the battle and pull the rest of the soldiers back. He then married Bathsheba to make himself look better. This happens 2 Samuel 11. 

I think that Matthew specifically called Bathsheba ‘Uriah’s wife’ to bring our attention to the heinousness of David’s act. It is, once again, to show that there are imperfect people in Jesus’ holy line. David was an adulterer, murderer, and a schemer. Yet, there his name is in Jesus’ genealogy. 

There are many others in the ancestorial tree of our Lord that are of less than stellar repute. There is a prostitute, bad kings, men who did evil, folks who worshiped false gods, many who did not faithfully follow God, and an unwed mother. Why do I bring these up? It’s to make a point that it doesn’t matter what our past is or from where we come. It doesn’t matter who our families are or whether our ancestors honored God. Every one of us is flawed and has a past. Some of us come from less-than-ideal settings. But just like the names mentioned above, it didn’t stop God from using them to do his most wonderful redemptive work.

Christmas morning does not happen if not for every one of the people listed in Jesus’ genealogy— even the most messed up of them. God is bigger than sin. We are so ready to disqualify ourselves and others based on mistakes that were made. Friends, that’s not what it’s about, and that’s not what God is about. He used broken people to bring about the birth of our Savior so that he could bring broken people back to him. Stop letting your past define you; be defined only by the love of Christ. He was born so that he could die for the forgiveness of your sins. We must stop treating ourselves as broken people and see ourselves as forgiven people. If God could use the scandalous men and women of the Old Testament to bring about Jesus, then imagine what he can do through you because of the baby that was born on that original Christmas.

If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also, I have started a His Kingdom/ Our Good podcast. It’s available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and Anchor.

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Immanuel

Christmas is fast approaching; it’s only 17 days away. Hopefully, you’ve gotten most of your shopping and decorating finished. We are in that final stretch until we hit the joyous holiday. 

This past weekend, Jess and I went and watched Christmas with the Chosen. If you are unfamiliar, The Chosen is a show the depicts what life would have been like for Jesus and his disciples during their time together. It is really well done and extremely engaging. I tend to not have the highest view of Christian TV and movies because the production value is usually lacking. That’s not the case with The Chosen. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend that you do. There are two seasons, which you can stream or buy the DVDs. My advice: don’t give up on it during the first episode. It starts off slowly but gets better and better with each episode.

The emphasis of the movie was to show what it would have been like for Mary and Joseph on that original Christmas morning, over 2000 years ago. We can easily forget that these were real people as we read about them in the Bible. Mary was a teenager when she gave birth to Jesus. While it is scary and anxiety-filled for any new mother, imagine that you’re carrying the Son of God, the savior of the world. Yet, there they were in a lowly barn. The King of Kings was born in the humblest of circumstances. That was just the beginning of Jesus choosing a life of complete humility. 

Although his birth didn’t happen in the manner of someone of his prestige, God in human form came into the world that day. Nothing would ever be the same again, and the course of human history was forever altered. You see, Jesus wasn’t the only thing that was born that day. Along with the Christ child came hope, love, peace, and joy. 

We often limit what Jesus did for us to simply being able to go to heaven because of what he did for us on the cross. While vastly important, that isn’t the whole story. Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that he came so that we can have a full life. He regularly speaks about the Kingdom of God that is already established on earth. Jesus promises to give us his peace in John 14:27. John 15:11 tells us that we can have Jesus’ joy in us. We get too focused on the promises of what the next life will bring and ignore the promises for this one. 

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the one who would go on to lay down his life for ours. It is also the celebration of the one who loves us so dearly that he wants to be with us every day. Isaiah 7:14 reads, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Immanuel means “God with us.” That is what happened when Jesus took on flesh and descended to be with us. As his mother put in “Christmas with the Chosen”, “He became one of us for a while.” 

Immanuel didn’t stop when Jesus ascended into Heaven after his resurrection. Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:20 that he will be with us, always. He is the forever Immanuel. He will remain as the God who is with us until we are fully with him in the true promised land. 

We need to cling to those promises. Life isn’t getting any easier. Every day there are new challenges, trials, tribulations, and temptations. If you turn on the news for five minutes, you’ll be shown countless stories of our fallen, broken world. There’s not a thing in this world that will ever negate the assurances that Jesus has given to us.

 As we approach Christmas day, let’s remind ourselves that the baby grew up to be a man, and that man was and always will be God with us. When we look at the nativity, think about what kind of love must Jesus have for us that he’d be willing to leave the heavenly realms solely to save us. And just as he was placed in that manger, he will forever be placed in our hearts. He will fill them with hope, peace, love, and joy.

If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also, I have started a His Kingdom/ Our Good podcast. It’s available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and Anchor.

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‘Tis the Season

Today is the first day of December. Thanksgiving has passed, so it is officially acceptable to focus on Christmas. It’s time to start decorating the house, inside and out. As many of you know, I was married a little less than a month ago. My wife has moved in, and we’ve been working at combining all our stuff and organizing the house. All that to say, we are nowhere near being ready to decorate for the holiday. Maybe we can just wrap all the moving boxes that we have stationed throughout pretty much every room in the house. 

Christmas is known for its hustle and bustle. There’s seemingly an endless amount to do and not enough time to do it all. The common refrain this time of the year is, “I can’t believe it’s Christmas already! Where did the year go?” I have said these already. For most of us, we still have to shop, decorate, wrap presents, make plans, cook, bake, send Christmas cards, and a myriad of other things as December 25th looms large on the calendar. While it may be the most wonderful time of year, it is also the busiest. 

It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the to-do lists of the season. Quite frankly, we don’t have any other choice. Christmas comes with a lot of expectations— those we place on ourselves and those that are placed upon us. There are lots of places we need to go and lots of people we need to see. It is a 25ish day sprint from now until we can finally take a moment to catch our breath again. 

This is why Christmas isn’t my favorite holiday.  That may seem a little bit sacrilegious; I’ll accept that accusation. Some people don’t love Christmas because they have painful or disappointing memories of the day. That’s not the case for me; mine have always been good. My issue is that it becomes all about the doing. 

Don’t get me wrong, I still love Christmas. Christmas Eve is my favorite church service of the year. Everything seems to slow down for that hour. We hear the story of the baby that was born to save the world, the baby born to die for your sins and mine. Everyone seems to sing a little louder as we go into the chorus of Angles We Have Heard on High or Silent Night. Families are together. Kids are dreaming about tearing into the packages under the tree the next morning, parents are anxiously awaiting the smiles that will come across the face of their children. All of us get lost in the joy that this holiday was meant to be. For just a little bit of time, we are not focused on the doing. We are focused on Jesus the Immanuel, “God with us.”

I think that it’s safe to say that most of us know what this season is truly about. It’s ultimately about celebrating the birth of Christ, the embodiment of God’s love. The manger forever has the cross looming in the background. I’m not here to chastise you for running around crazily and trying to make this Christmas perfect for you and your family. That’s simply what happens this time of year. The thing that I want for all of us to do is to take a moment every day and stop the doing of Christmas. Let’s shift our eyes from price tags and tangled-up strands of lights and focus them heavenward. Then, take a deep breath and think about Jesus and his love for you. Thank him for leaving the heavenly realm for a time and coming to the world to be with us, so that we could be with Him for all eternity. If we do that regularly, our hearts, minds, and souls will be touched by the One who made them. Just for a minute, stop the doing, and focus simply on the being with Christ. After all, that is what this season is really about. 

If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also, I have a podcast also called His Kingdom/ Our Good. It’s available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and Anchor.

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Created for Joy

I am back after having spent the best week with my wife on our honeymoon. We took a trip down to Ft. Lauderdale, FL, to enjoy the warmth and the sun. It was so nice to get away from everything and our responsibilities for a while and simply enjoy being with each other. We got to sleep in every day, eat lots of good food, and only do the things that we wanted to do. It was the longest that either of us had vacationed since before the pandemic. It was much needed.

For the most part, we spent our time just hanging out on the beach. We rented an apartment that was only a few steps from the sand. There’s nothing that beats seeing the ocean every morning when you wake up. One of my favorite things to do at the beach is to go out and play in the waves. I turn into a little kid out there. I love to throw my body into the wave just as it crests and comes crashing down. I’m always amazed at how much force there is in it. I weigh about 185 pounds, and the water tosses me around like I’m no more significant than the seaweed that goes floating by. 

One afternoon while I was out in the ocean, I stopped to just take in the scene. I looked out across the face of the sea, deep into the horizon. The only thing that I could see was the water as it turned from cyan to turquoise to a dark blue. There were a few boats and the occasional passing of a plane, but I was taken aback by the sheer magnificence of God’s creation. Then, another wave came crashing down on me. I thought to myself, “This is true joy.” 

I looked back at my beautiful wife as she was sitting on the beach reading a book. She gave me a smile and waved at me; I returned the gesture. She was also experiencing joy. She has no interest in being out in the deep water and being pummeled by the power of the ocean. She enjoys sitting in a beach chair, soaking up the sun, and diving into a book. I thought about how both of us were experiencing joy— but not in the same way. 

Joy is an interesting feeling. Too often, it is confused for happiness, but they are not the same. Happiness is fleeting and temporary, but joy is deeper and eternal. Joy is like happiness that endures through all struggles, trials, and tribulations. Something that brings you true joy will reverberate in your heart well after the moment has passed. It is, according to Galatians 5, one of the chief characteristics of someone who has the Holy Spirit in them. 

Did you know that Jesus never once talked about happiness? At no point in the Gospels does he say that he wants us to be happy. Now, I don’t think that he desires us to be unhappy, but he was fully aware that those emotions are fleeting. He does talk about joy quite a few times. In John 15:11, Jesus promises that those who believe in him will have his joy. He tells us that a believer is someone who receives his words with joy in Matthew 13. In John 16, he said that he will turn our grief into joy, no one will be able to take it away from us, and it will be complete. Not happiness—joy. 

We were all created for joy. Joy is found in those things that make us feel most alive. It’s not just something that will briefly put a smile on your face, but you will feel it deep in your soul as well. You probably already know what those things are. My advice: spend as much time in them as you can. This all comes with the caveat that these things need to fall in line with scripture and not bring harm to you or anyone else. 

God knows what those things that bring you joy are, and he wants you to chase after them. He understands that this world will beat you down from time to time and steal your happiness, but nothing can touch the joy that he’s given to you. That’s why we need to spend and be spent in those things. Life is hard, happiness is fleeting, joy is enduring. Find your joy, first in him, and then in whatever it is that he has created your heart to be passionate about. In those things, you will not only find enjoyment but God as well.

If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also, I have started a His Kingdom/ Our Good podcast. It’s available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and Anchor.

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The Start of Something Beautiful

It’s finally here! I get married THIS Saturday. I’m so beyond excited for that day. As it draws closer, I’m compelled to think about from where I’ve come. If you are a regular reader here or know me personally, you know that I am divorced. I remember how it felt that day when my ex-wife informed me that she wanted to end the marriage. I can still recall how my heart broke when I got the papers in the mail and when it was finalized. In all of that, for the first time in my life, I fell deep into what Psalm 40:2 calls the “pit of despair” (NLT). I was broken, hurting, and hopeless. I was left with just a crushed soul and my faith that God would turn the situation into something good. Spoiler alert: he did.

At the end of last December, I met a beautiful woman who loves Jesus. We met the old-fashioned way— a dating app. After talking for a little while, I realized that there might be something there. So, I laid it all on the line. I told her that I would like to take her on a date, but I felt that she needed to know that I was divorced. For some, that would have ended the conversation. It turns out, she had also gone through a divorce and our stories were quite similar. 

We agreed to go get coffee about a week later. I really didn’t want to wait a week, but we decided that we would go after Christmas. As the conversation continued, she mentioned that she loves Mexican food and could eat it every day. Here was my opportunity. I told her that I also loves Mexican food and asked her if she’d be willing to go to a Mexican restaurant for dinner with me a couple days later rather than waiting a week. She said yes! This wouldn’t be the last time that she would say yes when I asked her an important question. 

The date was wonderful, to say the least. We hit it off and spent the whole evening talking. We stayed until they were cleaning everything up to close for the night. If it were a 24-hour restaurant, we very well may still be there. My heart felt something that it hadn’t in quite some time: hope. When I got home, I decided to write a couple notes on the back of the receipt. One of the things that I jotted down was, “This is the start of something magical; I’m sure.” Goodness, I love when I’m right.

From that moment on, we have fallen head over heels for each other. My heart found its match. I have never been around anyone in my whole life who has loves me the way that she does. I have never loved anyone the way that I love her. Most importantly, I see her love for God in every part of who she is. As I told her on the night that I proposed, I would be stupid not to marry her. 

God saw me when I was in the “pit of despair.” He saw my heart and knew that it was broken. He saw my soul and knew that it was crushed. I truly believe that he grieved over his hurting child. But, he didn’t leave me there. He “heard my cry” and drew close to me (Psalm 40:1). “He set my feet on solid ground… He has given me a new song to sing” (Psalm 40:2-3). A song of joy, praise, and hope. God turned the worst situation of my life into something greater than I could have ever imagined.

I’m not special. I don’t mean that in a self-deprecating way. I am simply a child of God, beloved by my Heavenly Father. That’s who you are, too. Life stinks sometimes. It can fall apart around us and leave us feeling destitute. Our hope can be extinguished just as quickly as a flame on a candle. That doesn’t change the way that your creator feels about you. He knows our hearts better than we do, and he knows when they’ve been shattered. However, he doesn’t like it and will do something about it. It may not happen the way that we think or want. I prayed earnestly that he would fix my first marriage, but that didn’t happen. Instead, he brought me to a better situation. That’s what he promises to do to and for all of us. He will always pull you out of the “pit of despair;” scripture has promised that to us.

Whatever it is that you’re going through, hang on. Help is on the way. The same hands that knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:19) will reach down and pull you out of it. He will lead you to a new destination— one that is far greater for you. I am living proof of that. I get to marry the love of my life this weekend because God sees his hurting children, and he responds. Neither he nor his love will ever leave you or forsake you. Take my word for it. Every day that I will get to live with my wife will be a testimony to his goodness. Keep waiting on him. We don’t often know the reasoning for his timing, but we can trust that it is always perfect. He’s on his way, and he’s bringing with him the greatest blessings that you will ever receive. I know this to be true because this is what he did for me.

If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also, I have started a His Kingdom/ Our Good podcast. It’s available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and Anchor.

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The “In Between”

I get married in 10 days. That’s right, 10 days! I’m so incredibly excited for that day. Knowing that I get to spend the rest of my life with someone who loves Jesus and loves me is the most amazing feeling. Jess and I are both looking forward to the life that God has in store for both of us.


This past weekend, I had the privilege of being the officiant of the marriage of two of my dear friends. It was my first time performing a wedding, and I had a blast. It was truly a joy to watch them commit the rest of their lives to one another. As their ceremony was unfolding, I couldn’t help but think about mine. I was imagining that it was Jess and me standing there, holding hands, and saying our vows.


I am so ready to get my new life started. It’s so close that I can almost taste it. I’m beyond ready for Jess to move in and for us to establish our new routines. The life that I desire is almost here— but not quite yet. I’m living in what I like to call the “in-between.” The days of my current life are waning away like the last drops of dew in the morning, and our new life is about to burst forth like the most beautiful sunrise. I’m ready to move into what God has for me; however, I must wait 10 more days.


We are all living in the spiritual “in-between” right now. The life that we most long for, or at least should, is the life where we get to live fully and wholly in the presence of our loving Eternal Father— which is Heaven. I don’t mean for that to sound as if we are all wanting to die, but eternity in heaven, where there is no pain, sadness, tears, or suffering, should be what our hearts most want. Our feet were made to walk the streets of gold. Our hearts will be able to fully commune with the One who made them. We will get to see our savior and dine at his table. We will no longer have to worry about broken hearts or broken bodies. Instead, we will get to live in unbroken fellowship with the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and the great cloud of witnesses. This is what is promised in scripture. Paul wrote about this in Philippians 1 (as well as several other places):

“For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful work for me; and I don’t know which one I should choose. I am torn between the two. I long to depart and be with Christ—which is far better.”

Verses 21-23


Life fully with Christ will be ‘far better’ than anything that we will ever experience in this world. Even the best of days, which I am sure my wedding day will be, are just a shadow of what is to come for those who have placed their faith in Christ. Until then, we are living in the “in-between.” We will exist on this earth for but a tick of the second hand on the clock of eternity, but we will live in spiritual splendor forevermore.


The only way to survive this temporal life is to keep our eyes on what is coming next for us. That’s how Jess and I are making it through the stressful and busy days leading up to our wedding. We all must do the same with our lives. There will be plenty of trials, tribulations, temptations, and hardships that will come our way; the Bible has promised us that. The only way to make it through each of them is to latch on to the promise that there is something much more at the end of all of this. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The Promised Land promises to be greater than anything that we have ever or will ever experience. Let us keep our eyes focused upon that as we make it through all of our “in-between” days.

If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also, I have started a His Kingdom/ Our Good podcast. It’s available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and Anchor.

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Using the Time We Have

I did something earlier this week that I have been needing to do for quite some time: I cleaned out my contacts. The amount of numbers that I had in my phone was well over 500. I do not talk to 500 people. I have told myself, countless times, that I needed to delete the contacts with whom I no longer have a relationship. I don’t mean that negatively. Over the years, I have lived in 5 cities, went to multiple schools, volunteered at multiple camps, and worked multiple jobs. All of that creates a lot of contacts that I no longer need to contact.

Going through the list and deciding which ones should go and which ones should stay was like taking a stroll down memory lane. Admittedly, several names had fallen out of my memory. Likely, I only needed those numbers for temporary, specific reasons. Many of them, on the other hand, made me think about the individual and my memories with them— some of whom I haven’t seen in over a decade. That sentence makes me feel old. 

I would say that the vast majority were folks that I had met in ministry over the years. As I flashed back to my time with them and smiled, I began to think, “I hope that they saw the love of Christ through me.” I’m sure that the answers would be mixed. Hopefully, more than not would say yes, but I haven’t always let that be the main priority in my life.

We all have come across a lot of people in our lifetimes. The truth is that we will continue to do so for the rest of our lives. People will come and go; we will come and go. Some of those whom we are closest with right now will become just a memory down the line. I hope that doesn’t sound too depressing. That is just the way of life. We will move, get new jobs, get new priorities, become busy, and our relationships will change because of that. So, it is imperative that we use the time that we have now to love those with whom we spend our time.

Thinking about all of that reminded me of 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. That’s what we are called to do. If we are ever to err in our faith, let us make the mistake of loving others too much, too deeply, and too fully. Everybody that we come across is desperately in need of the love of God. Many of them are only ever going to receive it from others being the vessel in which God delivers it to them. If we are loving people to the best of our ability and relying on the Holy Spirit to take us beyond that, then we will fulfill the duty that Lord has given us. 

I have shared this story before, but I am going to do so again. It’s one of my favorites.

There is a church tradition which says that when John (the disciple) was evidently an old man in Ephesus, he had to be carried to the church in the arms of his disciples. At these meetings, he was accustomed to saying no more than, “Little children, love one another!” After a time, the disciples, wearied at always hearing the same words, asked, “Master, why do you always say this?” “It is the Lord’s command,” was his reply. “And if this alone is done, it is enough!”

We are to love one another with all that we have, all the time. There is no guarantee how much time we will have with one another. Life circumstances can be changed in a mere moment. We may not get as much time with people as we would like. Our best friends may soon become our best memories. That’s why we need to take advantage of the here and now. We need to love all whom we encounter with the love of Christ. If we do that, it will be enough. Hopefully, someday down the line, we will look back at the time that we spent with an individual and say, “Yeah, I loved them like Jesus.” If we do that, then we can be assured that we have done what we were called to do.

If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also, I have started a His Kingdom/ Our Good podcast. It’s available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and Anchor.

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The Day a Bunch of Cops Came to My House Looking for Me

Last week, I was having breakfast with a friend. After we had finished eating, we were sitting there drinking coffee and chatting. I looked at my phone to see what time it was, and I saw that my neighbor had called me. This was strange. My neighbor and I have a good relationship, but he wouldn’t be calling me randomly on a Tuesday morning. My first thought was that my house was on fire or something similar. I quickly called him back to see what was wrong. 

This is how that phone call went:

“Hey man, I saw you called.” 

He replied, “Yeah, the police are at your house.”

This was a shocking statement. I said the only word that came to my mind, “What?”

“There are five cop cars outside of your house right now,” he informed me. 

I assumed that he was messing with me, but I played along. “Are you sure they’re at my house?”

“Yeah, man. One of them wants to talk to you. I’m going to give the phone to him.” 

Then, I heard a new, authoritative voice. “Is this Kyle Smith?”

“Yes, sir,” I replied.

“This is Sergeant (I forgot his name) with the Putnam Co. Sheriff. Are you in the area?”

This wasn’t a joke. I told him, “I’m at Bob Evans.”

“Can you come home?” he asked me. 

“Yes, sir. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” The trepidation in my voice must have been obvious.

“Good. I’d much rather have this conversation face-to-face. I think we can get this cleared up quickly.” Then, he hung up the phone.

I looked over at my friend and told him what was going on. We got up, paid the bill, and said our goodbyes. Then, I jumped in my car and headed home. My mind was racing. I called my fiancée to tell her the situation. After I talked to her, I spent the rest of the time praying and trying to figure out an explanation for what had to be a misunderstanding. I hadn’t committed any crimes. Was there some sort of mistaken identity? Did someone I know get hurt? Was I accused of something? All of these thoughts were running through my mind as my heavy heart sank in my chest, fearing the worst.

As I pulled up to where I could see my house, I saw the plethora of police there— five cop cars and double-digit cops. They were all wearing bulletproof vests. I pulled in, and, admittedly, I was afraid to get out of my car. Were they going to draw their guns on me? I had one, constant question flowing through my mind, “What in the world is happening?”

I stepped out of my car, sure to keep my hands visible. The sergeant approached me.

“Are you Kyle Smith?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” I replied.

“Is this your house?” 

I responded again with the same reply: “Yes, sir.”

His next question caught me off guard. “Have you had any work done on your water lines recently?”

A little confused as to why a slew of police would be at my house because of water line work, I told him, “Yes, I just had to have my septic tank worked on, and the water company is supposed to come out and replace a part. I’m not sure if they have.”

Then, he told me the real reason that he was there. “The water company called us and told us that someone has been dumping chemicals down the drain that are corroding their lines. The chemicals are correspondent with crystal meth. To be honest, you don’t look like a meth user, and this doesn’t look like a meth house.” 

I assume that this was a compliment for my well-maintained roses.

I was flabbergasted at what I heard. I couldn’t believe that they would be at my house looking for a meth lab. At that point though, I was relieved. Even though I hadn’t committed any crime, at that moment, I knew for sure that this was a mistake. I knew that I was innocent. So, I invited them to search my house. Turns out, they didn’t need my invitation, but I thought it would be nice to offer. They gave my house a thorough look over. They searched cabinets, cupboards, closets, and even the back of my toilets. Obviously, they found nothing. They declared me clean, apologized for the inconvenience, and went about their day. It was quite the ordeal.

Although I was afraid of what the outcome was going to be, my confidence was restored the minute that I knew that I had for sure done nothing wrong. There was something powerful in knowing that I was innocent. The charges against me were serious, but there was never a doubt that I hadn’t committed a crime. 

Did you know that we have access to that same confidence in our spiritual walk? Here’s the difference, we have committed crimes there. That is what sin is: the crime of not loving God and not loving others as we should, as is laid out in the Bible. 

We are all guilty of sin. Romans 3:23 tells us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We have all failed to live up to the standard set by God. Because of that, we all deserve to spend eternity separated from God. But, the good news is that Jesus came, died for us, and resurrected on the third day so that, through faith in him, we may be declared innocent. That’s what Romans 5:19 talks about:

For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus) the many will be made righteous.

Faith in Christ makes it so that we are declared clean. He took on the penalty of death that we deserved and offers us life instead— eternal life. Because our faith has declared us innocent, we should walk through this world with confidence. This doesn’t make us free to sin as much as we want, but it allows us to know that our sins will not be held against us when we do stumble. In my situation, I know that my freedom was not at risk when I knew the crime levied against me. The same is true for all who have placed their faith in Christ. It doesn’t matter what sin we’re accused of because Jesus went to the cross for it already. 

Martin Luther once said:

So when the Devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and Hell, tell him this: “I know that I deserve death and Hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God.

That’s the confidence that we can have in our faith. We have been declared righteous; nothing can ever take that away. So, the next time that you are confronted with your sin, be reminded that Christ went to the cross for that very reason. Yes, we should ask for forgiveness, but let us not forget that his forgiveness flows just as freely as his blood did on that good Friday, long ago. We are innocent because of what Jesus did for us. Take confidence in that, and walk freely as one who is redeemed.

If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also, I have started a His Kingdom/ Our Good podcast. It’s available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and Anchor.

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Come Home

A couple of weekends ago, my fiancé and I went through quite the ordeal. On top of a husband, Jess also gets my dog and two cats when we’re married. She also brings a dog into the equation. Our family will be made up of us and four entitled and spoiled animals. We both love all our pets an insane amount. Part of the reason behind that is because we both went through a divorce right at the beginning of the pandemic. That caused us to spend a lot of time home alone with our four-legged friends. You grow quite attached to what helps get you through the hardest time of your life.

That Saturday was going to be a big day; it was the first time that our parents were meeting. They were all coming over to my house for a little cookout and get-together. That morning, I let my cats out as I was putting the finishing touches on cleaning the house. After all, you must make it look like your house is unoccupied whenever someone comes over— especially when it’s your parents and future in-laws. My cats spend a lot of time outside, so I didn’t think much about sending them into the wilderness that morning. 

The last thing that I needed to do before company arrived was to walk Samson, my dog. Normally, I make sure that my youngest cat, Izzy, is back inside before I make the lap around my neighborhood (that’s him in the picture) . If I don’t, he will follow my Samson and me as we walk. Ralph, my other cat, has no intention of doing anything that resembles exercise. As Samson and I stepped out into the street, the cats were nowhere to be found. I decided that they must have been occupied doing cat things and proceeded with the walk. After about a tenth of a mile, Izzy appeared, hot on our trail. I thought that it would be fine because I didn’t have time to take him back to the house and do the walk before people arrived.

We were almost finished with the lap when I looked back at Izzy trailing us and realized that he had his eyes fixated on something. I yelled for him to come to me. He looked at me for about five seconds and then took off after whatever it was that he saw. I decided to finish the walk and assumed that he would find his way back home. As much as he’s out and about, he knows the area pretty well. This happened around 11:30 AM.

Our parents arrived, and our shindig went well. We ate, laughed, and all enjoyed being out on the deck together. Every so often during the cookout, I would yell and whistle for Izzy to come home. It’s not like him to be gone for very long. He rarely ventures far away from home and his food, which is his chief motivator. He never showed up. Jess and I started to get worried. The party ended, and our parents went home. Izzy still hadn’t come back. It was now around 4:30 PM; far longer than he had ever been gone before.

Jess and I went looking for him multiple times over the next few hours. We walked around the neighborhood and nearby woods yelling for him. At one point, we took his container of treats to shake in hopes of drawing him out. Getting treats is his main passion in life but still no sign of him. It was starting to get dark now, and our thoughts were following suit. We feared where he might be or what may have happened to him. We got in the car and drove around the neighborhood and nearby highway, dreading that we may find him hurt or worse. It was now 10 PM and still no sight of him. We were heartbroken. 

The house was filled with sadness as we sat there. I decided to make us some coffee to try to lift our demoralized spirits because evening coffee is one of our favorite things. Before I headed upstairs to do that, I went outside and tried one more time to get my little buddy to come home. Again, nothing. As the coffee was percolating, I went out the front door to shout for Izzy, even though I had just done that a few minutes before. The result was the same. I started thinking about how I had raised him from a kitten, but now, I may never see him again. I love all my animals, but Izzy and I had a special bond. He follows me everywhere. As Jess put it, “He’s your shadow.” I was Peter Pan; I had lost my shadow.

I turned around, downtrodden, and started to open the door to go back inside. Something overcame me to try again. I took my hand off the doorknob and, as I turned around, there was Izzy running to me! I grabbed him into my arms and embraced him. Then, I went inside and ran down the steps to show Jess. She gasped when she saw him in my arms. We rejoiced! We were overcome with joy. He was lost, but now, he was found. We didn’t care where he had been; he was now home. That’s all that mattered. 

Luke 15 has three parables, and they’re all about roughly the same thing. It’s the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parable of the Prodigal Son. All three illustrate that there is great rejoicing whenever something that is lost becomes found. Jesus told these stories to explain to us how God feels when we come back home, back to him.

We all get lost from time to time. For whatever reason, we decide to stray away from God. It can be because we’ve sinned and try to hide from him, or life has beaten us down so much that we’re struggling with our faith. Maybe, you’ve just become too busy and slowly drifted away without realizing it. For many, it’s because you’ve never heard the good news that your Heavenly Father loves you like crazy, so you’ve never felt compelled to be by his side in the first place. Whatever the reason, we all will find ourselves in the spiritual wilderness at some point. 

Here’s the thing that Jesus wanted to let you know through the parables in Luke 15: you may be lost, but there is a search party going on to find you. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are constantly calling for you to come home. They’re desperate for you to walk through that door and be embraced. They don’t care where you’ve been or what you have gotten into; all that they care about is you. 

In each of the parables, there is rejoicing when a sinner, someone who is lost, comes home. Read the words that Jesus spoke in Luke 15 about what happens when we return to the Father. Verse 7 says that there will be “joy in Heaven.” Verse 10 tells us, “There is joy in the presence of God’s angels.” Lastly, verse 24 says that the Father will ‘celebrate’ when we return. That’s what awaits you, not judgment and damnation. Love, joy, and celebration. 

I love my cat, but that love doesn’t scratch the surface of God’s love for you. It’s almost farcical to compare the two. All three of those parables were told so that we can know that we need to come home, back into the loving presence of God. He’s going to scoop you up in his arms and welcome you. Yes, we should repent (ask for forgiveness) for straying from him. The good news is that there is always forgiveness to be found in the Father’s arms. It is his very nature. 

Friends, whether it’s the first time that you’ve strayed or the millionth, come home. Even if you’ve never experienced God love and forgiveness, he is there waiting for you and calling your name. Christ died and rose on the third day so that we can have the freedom of entering into a true relationship with the Father. It doesn’t matter what your mistakes and sins have been; Christ has died for all of them. He’s calling out to you with one, repeated refrain, “My beloved child, come home!”

If you liked this, then I think that you’ll enjoy my book. You can buy it by going here. Also, I have started a His Kingdom/ Our Good podcast. It’s available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and Anchor.

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People of Hope

Last week, I attended the funeral of my aunt. Obviously, these are almost always somber affairs. Death is something that I don’t believe any of us are comfortable with, even though it is a regular part of all our lives. As I sat there in the church pew awaiting the service to begin, I watched a heartbreaking scene unfold. My uncle stood in front of the coffin, stroking the arm of his wife, and saying his final goodbye. 

My arm was draped around the shoulders of my fiancé. I felt a juxtaposition in my heart. I am at the precipice of what will be my married life. We are full of hope and optimism for what God has in store for us for the rest of our lives. My heart sunk as I watched a husband of fifty-five years looking at his beloved. His marriage vows had been fulfilled. My thoughts began to race about how I never want to live a moment without Jess. How much stronger must those feelings be after five and a half decades? My mind was filled with the collision of new life and death.

As sad and sobering as death can be, it does not have the final say for those who believe in Christ. Yes, it will always be painstakingly difficult to not have our loved ones in our lives anymore. However, we are promised that death is not our end. In fact, it is the beginning of the life that we most desire— eternal life in the presence of our Heavenly Father. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 (quoting Hosea 13:14), “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, death, is your victory? Where, death, is your sting?” We may all pass on from this world, but we will never truly die; we just move on to our next, final stage of our eternal life. 

As I discussed at the funeral with my mom and dad, I don’t know how it is that people without faith have hope in such situations. If when someone stares into a casket, confronted with the stark reality of death, and he or she believes that is final, how tragic that must be. For the Christian, on the other hand, this is but a fleeting moment. While we may be hard-pressed, we are not crushed (2 Corinthians 4:8). We have a promise that Heaven, our true home, is awaiting us on the other side. There, our father is ready to throw his arms around his child and celebrate our ultimate homecoming.

We must hold on to these hopes. Without them, the hardships of this world are too much to bear. While I believe that evangelism these days is too heavenly focused and not enough emphasis is put on the abundant life that we are promised in the here and now, living forever in the place where there are no more tears, mourning, or pain (Revelation 21:4) is still a vital part of our faith. Knowing that the funeral is not the last time that we will see a fellow believer should be of the utmost encouragement to us. As the old adage goes, “For the Christian, there is no goodbye, only see you later.” 

The shutting of the coffin does not signify the end of our relationship with those who have fallen asleep in Christ. They are now awake and alive, more so than ever, running on the streets of gold. They are feasting together with the great cloud of witnesses. They are face-to-face with their savior. All that they have hoped for is now where they reside. They now see with faith and not sight. Oh, the sites that they must see! Quite frankly, we should be envious. 

Death stinks: there is no arguing that. The moment of a final goodbye is always painful, but we are a people of hope. Our hope is that there is more for us than this. Our hope is that they are far better off than they ever were here on Earth. Our hope is that we will one day get to be with them again. Most of all, our hope is that through Christ’s death and resurrection, we will get to spend forever in the immediate proximity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are a people of hope; even death can’t take that away from us.

If you like what you read today, I wrote a book that I think you’ll enjoy as well! Follow this link to buy a copy.

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“Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant!”

Now that my book is published and available for purchase (you can do that here), it’s a peculiar feeling. I had spent a lot of time crafting it into what became the final product. I believe that God gave me a vision for the book, and I tried my best to stay true to it. Ultimately, I felt called to write a book that encouraged others through the truth that God unequivocally loves them. I’m confident that I did that. 

As I was sitting here a couple days ago thinking about what my hopes for the book are, I began to dream. I know that the book is selling, although I don’t know how many copies yet. I have received encouraging and positive feedback for what I wrote. Like I often do, my thoughts for what I wanted the book to become soared far above the clouds. Then, I decided to bring myself back down to earth. I said the cliché phrase to myself, “If it impacts one person’s life, then I’ve done what I was called to do.” 

Feeling smug and spiritually superior (to whom, I don’t know), I felt the Holy Spirit speak to my heart in that still, small voice. He said to me, “It’s not about what happens now; it’s about doing what you were called to do.” That made me stop and think, and it resonated with me for far more than just my book.

We all tend to base our success on following our callings on if it went the way we hoped. We place ourexpectations on what we think it should look like and use that as our litmus test. God has never been results-driven, even though our faith often is. 

Think about the Great Commission that happens in Matthew 28. In verses 19 and 20, Christ gives the universal call to all his followers:

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.”

At any point does Jesus say how many disciples need to be made for it to be a success? Does he tell the disciples that they have to achieve at least a 50% conversion rate? Of course, he doesn’t. That’s because God doesn’t count our faithfulness based on how others react to it. Our faith is demonstrated simply in the going and doing. 

Think back to the Old Testament, if you will. I don’t think anyone would question whether or not the prophets (Elijah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc.) were extremely faithful. However, their messages, which came from God, were not received well at all. In fact, many of them were killed for doing what God called them to do. Think about all the instances where the disciples were imprisoned, run out of towns, beaten, and killed. Then, there’s the ultimate example: Jesus. His steadfastness is unquestionable. He preached, healed, and served thousands upon thousands in Israel and the surrounding area. Yet, he was killed with only 120ish followers (Acts 1:15). 

Did any of those people fail? Not at all. Their success was in doing what God called them to do with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. It wasn’t about the numbers. They (aside from Jesus) were not tasked with changing lives. We cannot change anyone’s lives; we are not that powerful. That is up to the Holy Spirit to do. God will use us, though, as a catalyst for the Spirit to work in and on the hearts of others. It’s not about the results; it’s about being true to do whatever it is that you are called to do.

While I would love for my book to sell thousands of copies and to spark a worldwide revival, that’s not up to me. I did what I set out to do and what God called me to do. As far as writing that book (there may be more to come), my job is finished. Yes, there is still work to do with marketing and publicizing (not my favorite part), but the book is written and is in God’s hands. I was faithful to my call. If I don’t sell another copy, that doesn’t change that fact.

We all need to take on that mindset. We all just need to focus on doing what we’re called to do and leave the rest up to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are so much better at impacting the lives of others than we will ever be. Even if it doesn’t turn out the way you expect it to, that doesn’t negate that you were persistent, committed, and devoted to running the race that God has set out for you. The results are not in your hands; they’re in the hands of the one who created this world. His are far more capable than ours. 

So, go all out. Give it everything you got. Whatever you feel that God has placed on your heart to do, give it 100%. Then, once you’ve crossed that finish line, know that your Heavenly Father is there to tell you, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). At that point, take a little break, get a little rest, and embrace the love that God offers to you. Before you know it, you’ll be back out there following him down another path that he will use to bring himself glory and call his sons and daughters into salvation. Our calling is to go and do– nothing more, nothing less.

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An Excerpt from “How Great a Love”

I’m going to share with you one of my favorite excerpts for my book. This comes in chapter 2, which is about dealing with worldly rejection. I use the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) as my Biblical illustration in the chapter. I hope you enjoy!

The first step in overcoming the rejection in our lives is to go to the one who accepts us unconditionally. If that’s not how you view God, then you need to adjust that image. We all need to stop seeing God as the one holding the stone and see him as the one who frees us from condemnation. You are not your sin, mistakes, shortcomings, or failures. You are not what the world says you are. You are God’s child—loved and accepted, just as you are. 

The founder of the United Methodist Church, John Wesley, penned what has come to be known as A Covenant Prayer. My favorite line in the prayer reads, in reference to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, “Thou art mine, and I am thine.”2 In modern English, it would go, “You are mine, and I am yours.” That is the relationship with God that we have been offered, not one that is built upon completing a holy to-do list. If we want to escape the crippling anxiety that rejection creates in our lives, then we must accept that we are God’s, and he is ours. We need to move from seeing ourselves as condemned to seeing ourselves as free. Whenever you are told that you are a sum of your worst moments, remember these words spoken by Martin Luther: 

So, when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know one who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where he is there I shall be also.”

Jesus came, died, and suffered condemnation on your behalf. He endured ultimate rejection so that you would have eternal acceptance. Now he sits on his heavenly throne, saying the words, “Neither do I condemn you.” There is no stone in his hand, only a hole. 

How Great a love. pp 17-18

If you are interested in reading my book, you can get it on Amazon.

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The Reason for the Cover Art

As many of you know, I have written a book. It’s now available for purchase! I wanted to take a moment and share with you an excerpt from How Great a Love: Faith, Forgiveness, and the Father that led to the artwork that adorns the cover. The image is of a father who is looking down the road, watching and waiting for his son to come home. For context, the chapter is about the parable of the prodigal son.

As I stated earlier, this parable is all that you need to know about God. Admittedly, that was a bit facetious. God is so complex that I could spend the rest of eternity trying to explain him and still not have enough time. I will tell you this, though: if all you knew about God came from this parable, then you would have a great understanding of who he is, and it is that, as 1 John 4:8 tells us, “God is love.” God is love, and God loves you— no matter what. You are his beloved child. You cannot escape his love. All we ever need to do is go to him, and he will come running to us. It’s not because of who we are but because of whose we are, and we are his! He loves us because we are his children. 

Is your heart hurting or broken? Is it tired or weary? Is it heavy from the weight that you’ve been carrying around for far too long? If so, then I implore you to go to your heavenly father. Let him speak lovingly to you. Let him speak directly to your heart. He wants to tell you how much you are adored and cherished. He wants to tell you that he has not turned his back on you. He wants to invite you to lay down all of your guilt and shame, never to be picked back up again. If this sounds like what you need, then go to one who loves beyond comprehension. He is there— watching and waiting for you to come home— so that he can throw his arms around his beloved child.

How great a love, pp 26-27

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The One Whom Jesus Loves

A couple weeks ago in a staff meeting, we were asked two self-reflection questions. The first was, “Where did you see God this week?” The second was, “How is your soul?” Naturally, when I heard the first question, I thought of a joke. I was going to respond, “When I looked in the mirror.” Before I could blurt out my sarcastic answer, I entered a theological debate with myself. This happens quite often.

Obviously, I was being facetious with my original answer. However, this led me down a path of inner discussion as to who it is when I look in the mirror. While I am not God, I am created in his image; we all are. This is what God said when he created man in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” We, unlike anything else in this world, have been created in the likeness of our creator. This means that we all resemble him one way or another. As Brennan Manning puts it in many of his books, each of us has the ‘spark of the Divine’ inside of us.

What is it that you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see someone who bears a striking resemblance to the Almighty, or do you see someone who is far lesser than that? I think that most of us have a negative view of who we are. When we look at ourselves, we see someone who is a failure. We are often not proud of who we are and what we’ve become. We think that our sins and mistakes have totally dimmed the light of the Lord that resides in us. Depression, anxiety, and regret all have marred how we view ourselves.

I have written many times on here about how we are not defined by such things. That is simply not how God views us. We are not worthless, but we are of great value to God. Would he have sent his son to die for that which is insignificant? I think not. You are loved by God and seen as a treasure. You are his prized creation and beloved child.

If you have ever read the Gospel of John, then you are probably aware of how he identified himself throughout the book. He never called himself John but always ‘The disciple whom Jesus loved.’ I appreciate his proper use of who and whom. I have heard some say that it is arrogant of him to refer to himself as such. I disagree. I wish that this is how we all viewed ourselves. He never said that he was the only one Jesus loved, nor the one he loved the most. He simply acknowledged that he was loved by Jesus.

What would it look like if we all viewed ourselves that way? What if when we looked in the mirror, we saw someone who was created in God’s image and is loved by Jesus? I believe that would free us of so much. Imagine the weight that would be lifted off your heart and your shoulders if you foremost thought of yourself as a cherished creation and treasured child. If that is how we were to define ourselves, then there is nothing that the world could throw at us that would bring us down.

The original question was, “Where did you see God this week?” While I was just trying to be funny with my answer, I think that I stumbled onto something true. We can see God whenever we look into the mirror. No, we are not God in full, nor should we strive to take his place. He is all-powerful and unequable. He is far greater than anything that our minds could ever fathom. But, as his handiwork, we do have his fingerprints on us. We were created with care and purpose. It was out of God’s love that he sent his own son to die for us, so that those who believe will be saved and live in eternity with him. It doesn’t seem to me that God views us the same way that we often view ourselves.

The next time that you look in the mirror or negative thoughts enter your mind, remember who you are and whose you are. Remember that you have the ‘spark of the Divine’ inside of you. Remember that you are loved and hand-crafted by the Creator. There simply is not room to view yourself negatively if you are defined as the one whom Jesus loves.

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Confidence in God’s Promises

There is a good chance that you know the story of David and Goliath, which takes place in 1 Samuel 17. It has come to be the cliché that we attribute to any underdog who wins against a much superior opponent. David, a boy at the time, was able to slay the Philistine giant who was mocking God and Israel with only a sling and a rock. With his improbable win, David inspired the rest of the Israelite army to defeat the opposing militia and win the war. This was a pivotal moment for David and for the Jews. 

It is obvious that David had an extreme sense of confidence going into his fight with Goliath. What was it that gave him this confidence? He was still a teenager with no military training. The only reason that he was amongst the other soldiers that day was to bring food to his older brothers who were fighting in the war. He was greatly outsized and outpowered by the giant. Goliath carried a huge sword, while he only had a sling a few smooth stones. Why is it that he was willing to risk his life when the rest of the Jewish men cowered in their camp? It was because he believed what God had promised him.

God never told David that he would kill Goliath, but he did make an important promise to him a little while before the famous fight. In 1 Samuel 16:12, God chose David to be the next king of Israel. It would be several years after his anointing and legendary battle before David would go on to wear the crown, but that didn’t mean the promise ever became void. When the overmatched kid volunteered to fight the mountain of a man that everyone was scared of, he knew he couldn’t lose. He believed in the promise that God made to him about being king. If he were to die, then God would have broken his promise to David. God has yet to break a promise, nor will he ever. With that knowledge in his head and heart, David knew that he could not fail. He knew that God’s promise guaranteed him that he would survive. He knew that he could make it through anything that life could possibly throw at him.

The unshakable confidence that David had in God’s promises is that same kind of confidence that we can have today. The Bible is filled with God’s promises to us. In fact, it is estimated that there are somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 promises in scripture. Just as David did, we must cling to them whenever we are faced with something that is more than we can handle on our own. Here are a few that we can trust whenever times get rough:

Matthew 28:6, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Isaiah 40:29, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”

Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Deuteronomy 31:8, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Exodus 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you; you only need to be still.”

Philippians 4:19, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

I could literally list thousands more.

God has promised to be good to you, take care of you, and never leave you. He has promised his love and compassion to you. He has guaranteed that he will always be there for you. Why should we fear when facing the giants of this life? We shouldn’t. We should walk right out into the battle and confidently exclaim the same thing that David did to Goliath, “…For the battle is the Lord’s!” (1 Samuel 17:47). 

If we want to survive this world and the trials that come our way, then we must trust in the promises of God. We can have certainty that he will get us through the worst of the worst because he said he would. God has kept every one of his promises, and he won’t stop now. In that, we can have confidence.

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Focus

As you probably have gathered about me, I like to fancy myself as a writer. I don’t know what the exact qualifications are to make such a pronouncement. I write for this site, and my first book is going to be published very soon. I don’t know if I can fully wear the title of writer, but it is something that I certainly enjoy doing. 

There is one thing that I must have when I sit down in front of my laptop in hopes of producing something that others will want to read: silence. I have to be in a quiet environment if I want to be productive. The reason for that is because I become too distracted too easily. If I hear other people talk, my dog bark, or any other noise, then I begin to lose my concentration. This doesn’t just go for noises. If I see that I have a text or an email, I start to wonder about it until I check it out. If I get on the internet to look something up, I often begin to pop over to unrelated sites. Before you know it, I have spent a significant amount of time not doing what I had set out to do. 

This is a me thing; I’m fully aware of that. It’s not uncommon to see people working at coffee shops and restaurants. I am baffled at how they can do this. I would get distracted by every person who would walk through the door. My issue is that I have a problem keeping myself focused on the things that matter. I become too easily absorbed with the things that don’t matter. 

I think that we all have this same struggle in our faith. We quickly become distracted by the things that don’t matter to the point that we set aside the things that do. If you don’t believe me, look at all the petty things that we argue over daily. We want to focus on the things of this world instead of what our mission is in this world. Colossians 3:1 says, “Therefore, if you have been raised with the Messiah, keep focusing on the things that are above, where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God.” That is what our focus needs to be on. 

When we become distracted with other things, we cease our work in building God’s kingdom. That’s because most of the things that distract us are divisive. In his final moments before being arrested, Jesus prays what has come to be known as the High Priestly Prayer. One of the things that he prays for is that all future believers would be “one” (John 17:21). How are we doing at that? Is there anyone that would argue that the church (in the US and global) is united? I don’t think so. 

I believe that the reason for this is that we have become far too distracted with the things that won’t last eternally. I cannot imagine that God is going to judge anyone’s salvation based on their theological system or political leanings. No, it’s going to be based on one’s belief in Christ— that’s it. We will also have to give an account of how we spent our lives (Romans 14:12). What a shame it will be if we have to explain to God why we decided to be divisive instead of striving towards unity. 

I am not saying that you are not allowed to have your set of beliefs. The problem occurs when those beliefs supersede that which we should really be focused on— building God’s kingdom. Hebrews 12:1-2 reads:

…let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…

We have to guard against becoming ensnared by the things that do not matter eternally. They serve only as a distraction from the work that we were called to do. Every minute that we spend arguing and dividing over such things is a minute not spent on growing God’s kingdom. We must turn off the noise and turn away from the things that are drawing our eyes from Christ. Only then can we be what Jesus desired for us: united.    

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“I Can’t Remember”

I had an introductory zoom meeting yesterday with someone to discuss youth ministry. The conversation began with us getting to know one another. Somewhere along the way, I mentioned that I had a fiancé. The eyes of the woman that I was talking to lit up, and we began to discuss wedding things for a while. The conversation moved on to more of the business at hand, but me being engaged would come back up from time to time.

After the meeting had ended, I took a moment to reflect on what we had talked about. It occurred to me that she only knew as engaged, not divorced. Everyone in my life has known me as divorced for the past couple of years. This, sadly, had become part of my identity. I felt as though it was a scarlet letter that I wore upon my chest. To the woman on the other end of the zoom, that is not who I am. She had no knowledge of my previous life; she only knows me for who I am today. Moreover, she knows me only as God has made me to be.

This reminded me of a story that Brennan Manning shared in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel:

A few years ago, rumors spread that a certain Catholic woman was having visions of Jesus. The archbishop decided to check her out.
“Is it true, ma’am, that you have visions of Jesus?” asked the cleric.
“Yes,” the woman replied.
“Well, the next time you have a vision, I want you to ask Jesus to tell you the sins that I confessed in my last confession. Please call me if anything happens.”
Ten days later, the woman notified her spiritual leader of a recent apparition.
Within the hour, the archbishop arrived. “What did Jesus say?” he asked.
She took his hand and gazed deep into his eyes. “Bishop,” she said, “these are his exact words: I CAN’T REMEMBER.”

Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up and Burnt Out (Portland, OR.: Multnomah Press, 1990), 116-117

This has become one of my favorite stories. God doesn’t view us as who we were or as our mistakes. He isn’t holding on to our past sins to throw them in our face some time in the future. For those who have placed their faith in Jesus, all your sins are forgiven and forgotten. I am going to share a few verses to drive this point home.

Jeremiah 31:35, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

Isaiah 43:25, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”

2 Corinthians 5:19, “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them.”

Micah 7:19, “Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!”

Isaiah 1:18,’ “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

I could go on and on and on. Scripture is clear: through believing in Christ, your sins are washed away and have become ‘white as snow.’ They are not who you are. Now, they may have played a role in shaping you, but they do not define you. My divorce has become a pivotal part of my story, but it is not my entire story. It is in my past; it is not my present or my future. I have no need to dwell upon what God has moved me beyond.

The same goes for you. Just as the person with whom I was meeting saw me for who I am today and my future, not my past, God sees us the same way because of Christ. It’s time that we stop living in the past and focus on being in the here and now that God has created for us. If God doesn’t concentrate on our past mistakes, we shouldn’t either. We are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a wonderful future ahead of us. God has promised that to us. We have no need to define ourselves as something that the Father doesn’t. We should only define ourselves as loved, cherished, and forgiven children of God.

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Shine

There is an interesting story that takes place in the book of Exodus. The Jews were wandering through the desert after having escaped Egypt, and things were not going well. They had set up camp at the base of Mt. Sinai, and Moses, their leader, had gone up on the mountain to be with God. This was when God gave his people the Ten Commandments, which were written on two stone tablets.


While their leader was away, the Israelites began to worship a golden calf. Once Moses came down from the mountain, he saw this, got angry, and threw down the tablets that the Ten Commandments are written on and broke them. Obviously, Moses was livid. He went back up the mountain to chat with God about everything that had happened.
When he came back down, something spectacular happened- Moses’ face was shining. In fact, he had to cover his face with a veil anytime that the Jews looked at him because he was shining so brightly. Exodus 34: 33-35 reads:

When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.


What was it that made Moses radiant? Being in the presence of God.


I fully believe that this applies to us today too. If we want to shine so brightly that the world can’t help but take notice of us, we need to be spending time in God’s presence. There are seemingly unlimited ways in which we can do that: prayer, reading scripture, music, podcasts, listening to sermons, being in silence, spending time in nature, being in community with other believers, reading a Christian book (I can suggest one in particular that comes out in a couple months), etc. Wherever it is that you most find God, spend an inordinate amount of time there.


I also want to make mention that it was one of the hardest moments of Moses’ life that preceded his radiance. It is paramount that we spend time with God in the rough times. Life is hard and will get the best of us. Things happen, a lot of times out of our control, that will absolutely wreck us emotionally, mentally, physically, or spiritually. Those are the times that it is most important that we escape this world and be with the one who created it. It is only God who can calm those storms when they rage inside of us. He is the only one who sets our souls at ease and gives us peace.

I often hear people say that the world is becoming a darker place. I don’t know if that is true or not. What I do know is that lights shine the brightest in the dark. So, if we want to truly affect this world and make it a brighter place, we need to spend time with the one who is the Light of the World. If you do that, then you will be radiant and will shine for all to see.

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What a Difference a Year Makes!

I celebrated my thirty-first birthday this past Sunday. If you know me, then you know that I do not like to make a big deal about my birthday. I don’t want a big party or any kind of extravaganza. Mostly, I just want to spend the day with loved ones. That is exactly what I did this year.

I remember well how I felt a year ago when I was forced to no longer be in my twenties. It was a sense of dread. There was something about turning thirty that felt ominous. I believe that your twenties are perhaps the most formative decade of your life. You go from being a kid to an adult. While I understood that thirty wasn’t old, I didn’t love that my twenties were now in my rear-view mirror. 

On top of that, there was other stuff in the world and in my life that led to how I felt. We were in the midst of the pandemic, and the world was still mostly shut down. Even the things that we were allowed to do were dulled with masks and social distancing. At that point, it was obvious that things were not getting better on that front. Church wasn’t the same. Sports weren’t the same. Life wasn’t the same. Even if I wanted to have a big gathering for my birthday, it wouldn’t have been wise. I also had a lot going on in my personal life that marred how I felt. I was newly divorced (although the news wasn’t public yet), and I had just gotten turned down for a job I thought that I was going to get. Things were not looking up for me. 

As I spent that day alone in my deeply empty house, I could not have envisioned what God had in store for me. As my birthday was approaching this year, I could not help but be overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude towards God for all that he has done for me over the last year. I am currently engaged to the most wonderful and beautiful woman I have ever met, and we will be married in less than four months from now. I have signed a book deal for my first book— which will be released soon. I decided to get this site running again, and it is constantly growing.  I love my job and the direction that God is taking it. Overall, I can look at everything in my life and be thankful for what God has done and is doing. Because of his great love for me, he has taken me from hopeless to hope-filled over the course of a year. 

Let me let you in on a little secret, I am not uniquely loved by God. He has the same affection for all his children. Psalm 40: 1-3 says,

I waited patiently for God to help me; then he listened and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out from the bog and the mire, and set my feet on a hard, firm path, and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, of praises to our God. Now many will hear of the glorious things he did for me, and stand in awe before the Lord, and put their trust in him.

God sees you at your lowest point, and his heart breaks when yours is broken. Our God is a loving, compassionate father. Nowhere in scripture does it say that your life won’t fall apart, but it does promise that he’s not going to leave you nor forsake you whenever it does. I get to be living proof of that. I get to look back at my lowest point and say, “What a difference a year makes!” This is promised to you as well. It may not take a year for God to turn things around for you or it may take much longer. He has his timing and will work all things for our good. He is quite adept at doing such things at just the right time. 

What I really wanted to say to you today is this: if you are in a low spot or the next time you are in one, keep the faith and trust that God is going to come to your rescue. He hears your cries and sees your pain. He will offer you a hand and lift you out of the pit. He will put your feet on solid rock, and you will have no other choice but to sing the praises of what he has done. If he did it for me, I can assure you that he will do it for you. His love for us is not based on our circumstances. When life goes awry, it is not because he is angry or displeased with us. It is simply that we are broken people living in a broken world, and life is not easy. Each of our stories will have moments when we are wounded. It is typically in those times that we most experience God’s love. He will not leave you in that pit; he has promised that to you. Because of that, we can always have hope.

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Amongst the Waves

Jess, my fiancé, and I took a vacation the first week of July. We went down to Destin, Florida to enjoy some time in the sun and in the ocean. This was the first time that I had been to the beach in many, many years. While I enjoy things like taking walks along the shoreline, lying in the sun, and reading a good book on the beach, my favorite thing to do is to play in the waves. I love that feeling of when hundreds of gallons of saltwater comes crashing down on me. There’s just something about experiencing the force and power of nature that excites me.


It just so happened that there were a lot of storms out at sea while we were down there. This meant that there were some pretty big waves. For the most part, I would throw myself into the wave as it hit its breaking point. It would throw me around, but I was usually able to keep my footing and would quickly be ready for the next one. Every so often, I would feel the water around my feet being pulled out into the deeper waters. This meant one thing: a huge wave was coming my way. My heart would start pounding as my anticipation grew. I have a singular motto when it comes to playing in the waves: the bigger, the better. However, sometimes the wave would be too much for me to handle. It would take my feet out from under me and toss me around as if I was no more than some floating seaweed.


One thing to know about the beach in Destin, you can walk a long, long way out into the ocean before you are actually in deep water. I would go out about 100 yards, and the water would only be just about waist deep. Because of this, I felt secure. I knew that no matter how big the wave was or how much it threw me around, I could always manage to get my feet back on solid ground. Admittedly, there was a time or two that I got a little worried because I was under the water longer than I wanted to be. Nevertheless, I knew that if I could put myself back on the firm foundation, then I was going to be ok.


At some point, while I was out there, I thought about how playing in the waves was like our lives. Life isn’t easy. A lot of times, it feels like the waves keep crashing on us. The waves of pain, hurt, suffering, anxiety, uncertainty, financial issues, temptations, trials, mistakes, selfishness, and countless other kinds are relentless. We can handle many of them, but sometimes a wave will come that will completely knock us off our feet. Jesus told us in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble.” We have all experienced it and continue to experience it. We are constantly battling just to get our heads above water so that we can be ready for the next wave to hit.


I have good news for you! Our savior followed his previous statement with, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” There is nothing in this world that can defeat us because there was nothing that could defeat Christ– not even death. This is the solid ground on which we must choose to stand. Our faith in Jesus is going to be the only thing that is going to provide us safety and security when the waves are crashing down around us and on us. Just like I could trust that everything would be ok because I knew that there was solid ground below me, we can trust that Christ is going to take care of us even in the most troubling of times.


It’s not always going to be easy. Honestly, sometimes it will hurt. There will be times that we just barely get ourselves above the water to take a breath before the next wave of life’s troubles comes crashing down on our heads. Regardless of what this world will throw at you, your foundation of faith will always be there, and it cannot be broken. The next time that life is throwing more at you than you can handle, remember that you will be ok because there is a firm foundation beneath your feet. Put your feet on the ground that is your faith, take a breath, and praise Jesus that he has already overcome whatever it is with which you are dealing. He loves you. He’s not going to leave you nor forsake you in those times of trouble. He will be by your side, even when you’re out amongst the waves.

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The God Who Fulfills His Promises

As many of you know, I went through a divorce last year. It was in mid-February of 2020 that my world came crashing down around me. That also happened to be about the time that the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything in my life came to a screeching halt. Suddenly, I was forced to spend pretty much all of my time alone. I am not someone who does well in isolation, but there was nothing that I could do about it. It was just God and me. Turns out, that was all that I needed.


I ended up spending a lot of time reading. I read my Bible, devotionals, and all kinds of books. The one thing that kept standing out to me in my reading was all of the promises that God makes to us in scripture. I am going to share a few with you today that were particularly helpful for me at that time. Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Psalm 55:22, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you.” Psalm 91: 14-15, “’Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.’” James 4:8, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” Those are just a few of the verses in the Bible where God promises to love us, take care of us, and see us through the hardest times; there are literally hundreds more.


A couple weeks ago, on June 29th, God once again fulfilled his promise to turn my despair into joy. That is the day that I asked my now fiancé, Jess, to marry me. That moment was a culmination of God working out so much good for my life. While I don’t believe God desired for my first marriage to end in divorce, he took something that was broken and turned it into something beautiful.


God brought Jess into my life at just the right time. I had gotten back out into the dating scene but had quickly lost hope. Dating during the pandemic was not the best or most encouraging of times. I was getting ready to delete the dating app that I was using when I saw Jess’ profile and thought that I would give it one last shot. We liked each other’s profiles and began talking. A few days later, we were on our first date. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was sitting across the table from someone truly special. The date ended about 3 hours later because the restaurant was closing for the night. We then went our separate ways but continued talking for most of the night. I actually kept the receipt from that date and wrote a note on the back that says, “This is the start of something special, I’m sure.” It’s good to be right.


I had never met anyone like her. I instantly saw not only how beautiful she was, but I also saw how beautiful her heart was (don’t even get me started on her eyes). Her love for Jesus was obvious, and I couldn’t get enough of her. As we began to spend more and more time together, I knew that our meeting was not just by chance. I quickly realized that this was God, in his lovingkindness, orchestrating something amazing in both of our lives. I knew that he was fulfilling his promise to take me to a greater place than I had ever been before.


The truth is that I never believed that I would end up where I am today during those dark times. I was going through life with a heavy heart that had lost all of its hope. In all honesty, I didn’t know that I would ever be able to truly smile again.


The best news is that God does not leave us in those times. Even when everything else in your life has crumbled, God never does. His love, care, and grace for you will never dissipate based on your circumstances. If all that you have is your faith, then you have enough. He will bring you up from the lowest valley and place you on the mountain top. Don’t just take my word for it; God’s word is filled with such promises.


I chose the picture for this post for a specific reason: look at how happy I am. Look at the smile that God has put back on my face. I am not here to tell you that following God will always be easy and fun. In fact, I can promise you that it won’t. However, whenever those times come that your life comes crashing down and your optimism is crushed, he will be there for you. He will lead you to much greater heights. He will turn your mourning into dancing. He will do immeasurably more than you can ask or imagine. He will restore your smile and fill you with joy because he is the God who fulfills his promises. He did it for me. Surely, he will do it for you.

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Allowing the Spirit to Live Through Us

            Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. You may recognize this list as the “fruits of the Spirit” taken from Galatians 5. To put it simply, these should be the characteristics of those who believe in Christ. Something amazing happens whenever you give your life to Christ; the Holy Spirit lives in you. That’s right, God dwells in all of those who have placed their faith in Jesus. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” This truly is an amazing thing and something that we cannot fully comprehend. This should blow our minds every time we hear that truth. It is nothing short of amazing that God chooses to abide in any one of us. Thank God that he gives us what we do not deserve.

            An interesting thing about the fruits of the Spirit is that most of them are about how we are to treat others. We are to treat all people with love, patience, kindness, goodness, and gentleness. The three that pertain to us are peace, joy, and self-control. Which, those are things that will come through us in how we deal with others. So really, the only one that isn’t about how we interact with people is faithfulness, and that one pertains to how we are to interact with God. The fruits of the Spirit aren’t about us; they are about us showing the world the God who lives in us.

            Something that I have been seeing a lot in the world lately is many folks who profess to believe in Jesus being some of the most negative, unkind people around. Every conversation that they have is a complaint about something or them castigating somebody. They are like a constant rain cloud. They have become more about putting people down than lifting Christ up. I’m not talking about someone who is having a momentary fit of anger, sadness, jealousy, self-importance, judgementalism, or the like. We all do that from time to time. We are human, and our worldly side is always at battle with the Spirit that lives in us. We will never get it perfect until we reach heaven. What I am referring to is those whose most consistent qualities are those which go against the list that began this post.

            I am not saying that these people do not believe in Christ. I am far too unqualified to make such declarations. If I am being honest, I have found myself being one of these people that I am writing about many times as well. What I think happens when we become like that is that we have gotten our priorities out of whack. We have become too focused on stuff that truly does not matter in the grand scheme of things. We become more concerned with what is happening in our little kingdoms than growing God’s kingdom. Someone has offended us, something in life hasn’t gone our way, our plans fell through, others aren’t acting how we desire, etc. Then, we begin to dwell on it. Negativity is like a black hole. It will suck every bit of joy and the other fruits out of our lives. Before we know it, we are no longer treating people the way in which we were called. We are no longer drawing them to Christ through our words and deeds, but we are turning them away from the one who came to save them.

            I have seen a quote going around social media, but I don’t know who originally said it. It goes, “Sometimes the most effective witness for Christ is that people know that you’re a Christian, and you don’t act like a jerk.” We are not living by the Spirit any time that we treat people negatively. I am not saying that you must agree with everyone or condone what they’re doing. All I am saying is that disagreement does not give anyone permission to mistreat someone. Do you think Jesus agreed with everyone to whom he showed love and kindness? Do you think he agreed with the woman caught in adultery? What about Zacchaeus the tax collector? What about Jairus (the pharisee whose daughter he saved)? What about Judas? What about you? What about me? Agreement is not a prerequisite to treat someone with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. There are no caveats before or after that list. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and read Galatians 5. 

            We are called to love people and tell them about Jesus. After that, our work is done. Everything else is up to the Holy Spirit. We cannot save anyone; that is strictly God’s department. All that we can do is put the fruits of the Spirit on display when we are interacting with others. The world is already filled with vile and hatred. Everyone, including you, gets too much of that as is. We, as Christians, should not be adding to the problem. We should be showing people that we are different because God loves us, Christ died for us, and the Holy Spirit now lives in us, and they are invited into that salvation as well. We need to keep our priorities in line. God and his kingdom come first. Everything else is a distant second, at best. It is when we put God at the top and allow the Spirit to display himself through us that we will be most impactful in showing the world that Jesus loves them and gave his life for them. 

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Get Out of the Boat

There is a famous event in the Gospels that most of us know. It is the story of when Jesus walked on water. If you’re not familiar with what happened, let me fill you in. It had been a crazy day for Jesus. It started by him getting the news that his cousin and friend, John the Baptist, had been killed by Herod in one of the most debased scenes that you will see in all of scripture. After hearing of this, Jesus decided to go off on his own and spend time with the Father. Any time that things got particularly hectic or stressful, Jesus always made it a point to spend some alone time with God. Perhaps, we should imitate him in that. However, he was not able to stay alone for long. 

A crowd found out where he had gone and followed him. Rather than sending them away, he fed them. This became the largest-scale miracle of Jesus’ earthly ministry— the feeding of the five thousand. The crowd was dismissed after they had eaten and were satisfied, and Jesus again went off on his own for a while. That sets up the scene that I alluded to at the beginning of this post.

The disciples were afloat in their boat on the Sea of Galilee heading to the other side as they had been instructed to do by the Teacher. The wind picked up and waves started beating against the boat. The men were fighting the storm and trying to get to their destination when they saw something unexpected. It looked like a man was walking on stormy waters. They were frightened (that’s the correct response when seeing such things). Matthew 14:26 tells us that they believed it was a ghost. But the figure moved closer and said to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Matthew 14:27). With those words, they knew that it was the Lord. 

Peter wanted a little more proof, though. He told Jesus that if it was him, then allow him to walk on the water as well. His request was granted. Matthew 14:29 reads, “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” Of course, a few steps into his stroll across the stormy sea, Peter began to doubt and plummeted into the water. Jesus then reached out and grabbed his disciple, and they walked hand-in-hand back to the safety of the boat. 

Most of the time that this story is told, it focuses on Peter’s doubt and our need to keep our eyes and faith on Christ. I want to take it in a little different direction. While it’s easy to put Peter down and use him as an object lesson, we forget that he did something amazing. To the best of my knowledge, there have only been two people who have ever walked on water. While he did eventually doubt and sink, he also did the impossible. Peter took a risk of faith and did something no other mortal man has ever done. 

We need to follow Peter’s lead. We need to be willing to step out of our comfort zone. We need to ask God to allow us to do the impossible. He could have easily said to Jesus, “Come to the boat.” He could have said nothing at all, and this would simply be a story about Jesus doing a miracle. Instead, this is now a story about Peter joining Jesus to accomplish something previously inconceivable. Isn’t that what we should desire, to unite with Christ to accomplish something that we could never do on our own?

The seemingly impossible thing that we should strive to do is to establish God’s kingdom in this world. That is done only by loving God, loving others, and telling them about Christ. If we want to do that, we will have to leave our comfort zones and enter into the stormy waters. It won’t be easy and will certainly be risky. There’s a chance that it could go poorly, and we’ll begin to sink. If that happens, take heart. Your savior will reach out for you, and you will walk with him, hand-in-hand, back to safety. He won’t let you drown— I promise. 

We all have a choice to make: do we want to stay in our boat where we feel comfortable or do we want to do something daring and crazy like Peter did? I know one thing: Peter encountered Jesus like no one else ever has because of his choice. If we want a similar experience, we need to get out of the boat and head out into the impossible. If we want to be with Jesus, then the impossible is the place where we are most likely to find him.

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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.