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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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Featured

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.

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The Heart of Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No Room for Hatred in God’s Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Day After Easter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Easter is Always Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Dream Come True

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

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

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

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613

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

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

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

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

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God Will Keep Showing Up

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

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

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

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

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

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The Battle is the Lord’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Walk in a Manner Worthy of the Calling”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Will of God

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

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

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

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

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Fan the Flame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Take a Nap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alone with God

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

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

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

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

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

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Not Good Enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Out of the Tomb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Let it Snow

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

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

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

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

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

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