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“Walk in a Manner Worthy of the Calling”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Will of God

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

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

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

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

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Fan the Flame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Take a Nap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alone with God

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

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

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

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

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

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Not Good Enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Out of the Tomb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Let it Snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hindsight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The God of Unending Chances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When God Says No

          

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

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

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

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

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

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Chosen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Broken Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our Words Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Moment with the Maker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Hurting to Hopeful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Sin of Self-Importance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Baby Born to Die

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

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

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

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

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

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It Just Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas

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

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

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

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

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Fake It Until You Make It

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

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

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

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

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

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Goodbye, Guilt and Shame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Who do you say I am?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Object of His Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thankful Hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“What it Really Means to be a Christian”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A New Coat of Paint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Let’s Talk Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John 4 pt. 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Just Keep Moving Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just keep moving forward.

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You are Loved

I am going to go with a little different approach today. Instead of relating something from my life to God, I am going to share a simple message with you. While the message is simple, it is of the utmost importance. This message has been true since before the foundations of the earth and probably one that you have heard before. However, it is one that we can never hear too often. Here it is: You are loved.

That is the most powerful thing that I can share with you now or any other time. You are dearly, deeply, and incomparably loved by your heavenly father. It is the most wonderful news that there is. We could spend the rest of our lifetimes searching the depths of God’s love and never get beyond scratching the surface. It is outside our realm of understanding. There are is a point that I want to make though; his love is not dependent upon you.

Most of us probably struggle to think that we are lovable. We know that we are not perfect. We know our sin and our hang-ups. We know that we are not always who we are supposed to be. That has no impact on God’s love. You don’t get to make the choice of whether or not God loves you; he has already decided. That was proven to us in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Romans 5:8 reads, “But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The action here is all on God and Jesus and not on us. God loved us so much that he sent his son to die for us, so that we could live in perfect relationship with him now and forevermore. Do you believe that?

Brennan Manning, my favorite author, has a quote that I absolutely adore. He said, “I am now utterly convinced that, on Judgment Day, the Lord Jesus is going to ask each of us one question and only one question, ‘Did you believe that I loved you?’” That is the heart of the Gospel. Our response to that question is the most important answer that we can give. The Gospel is not about us and our ability to live a perfect life. It is about a God who desires to be with you and in you. It is about a God who has freely given his love to us. No, we don’t deserve it but that doesn’t stop God from offering it. We are loved, period.

I don’t know where you are spiritually, what you’re going through, or what life has thrown at you. I do know that we all need to be reminded of God’s great love for us. It is a love that is never ending and never failing. Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death not life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing, I repeat, nothing will ever separate you from God’s love. Again, this isn’t based on how well you perform. It’s based on God beautiful faithfulness. You are loved. That’s the story, folks. That is the message of the Bible from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21.

There are plenty of times in this world that we don’t feel loved. There are plenty of times when we don’t feel loved by those who say they love us. There are plenty of times that we don’t love ourselves. There is never a time when you are not loved by your Creator and Sustainer. You are loved. Do you believe that?

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Fear of the Unknown

There I was, standing in line at an airport in Paris, just about to board my flight back to the States. It had been a long day already. Our ride that took us from our hotel in Athens, Greece to the airport to catch our first flight of the day picked us up at 4AM. I was exhausted. I was looking forward to getting to my seat, eating the in-flight meal, and then sleeping until the plane landed in Atlanta. 

It was finally my time to go through security and board the plane. All I had to do was scan my passport, and then I would be on my way. I scanned my passport and a big red “X” popped up on the screen. Immediately, one of the airport workers rushed over to me and told me to follow them. I asked them what was going on, but they wouldn’t give me an answer. My mind began to race. Was my passport denied? Was the flight overbooked? What happens if I can’t get on the plane? I was tired, hungry, and, now, scared. Nobody would explain to me what was going on. I was forced to stand there, alone with my thoughts, for what felt like an eternity.

Ultimately, it turns out that I was randomly selected for a more intensive security check. It makes sense given that it was an international flight. I was relieved when I finally took my seat and realized that I had gotten worried about nothing. However, in the moment, I truly felt anxious and afraid.

Looking back, it was the unknown of the situation that got to me. If, when I asked, they had explained to me what was going on, then I would have been put at ease. All of my negative emotions would have dissipated, and I would have willingly gone with the flow.

There’s something about the unknown that we don’t like. I believe that this is what creates anxiety and fear in our lives. It is when we a situation is out of our control that we begin to worry. We don’t like it when we don’t know what’s going to happen. The truth is that no matter how unknown the circumstances are to us, it is not an unknown to God.

All throughout the Bible, you can read verses that say, “Do not fear,” “Do not worry,” and “Do not be anxious.” I don’t think this is an accident. God knows who we are and how we operate. He knows that we are worriers. We can’t help it because that is part of our humanness. However, when we worry, it is because we are struggling to trust God.

Tim Keller, a pastor and author, has a quote that I really love. He said, “If we knew what God knows, then we would pray to be in our exact situation.” If we believe that God is good and that he truly cares for and about us, then we need to believe that he will work all things for our good.

Isaiah 41:10 reads, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” God’s got your back. He loves you and is going to take care of you. Worry, anxiety, and fear happens when we doubt that. I don’t believe that we will ever fully overcome that because it is part of the human condition. That doesn’t mean that we can’t overcome those feelings, and the only way to do that is to go to God. 

He is in control. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. There is nothing that happens in our lives that he cannot handle. We need to realize that even when we are not in control of our circumstances, our loving father is. The only way to overcome the fear of the unknown is to trust in our God who has made himself known and knows each of us by name. The next time that you feel worry, fear, and anxiety start to overcome you, remember that you are loved by God. There is nothing that can overtake that love.

Thank you for taking the time to read this today. I hope that you found some encouragement in what I wrote. If you did, please like and share this post. It would mean the world to me! Remember: I love you, but, more importantly, God loves you!

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Language of Love

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a trip that I took to Rome. That was actually a part of a multi-city, European vacation. The first city on the itinerary was Madrid, Spain. Madrid is a very lively city. There was a so much to do and see in the Spanish capital. We spent most of our time downtown, where there would be thousands of people flooding the streets in the evenings. The street that housed most of the attractions, stores, theatres, and restaurants is called Gran Via.

On our second day there, we were walking down Gran Via and checking out all that there was to see when we started to get hungry. There was a myriad of options as to where we could stop to eat. However, we were looking for one particular dish, paella. Paella is a Spanish cuisine traditionally made with rice and seafood. As we passed by each restaurant, we would look at the menu until we finally found one serving paella. 

We walked in, and I said, “Una mesa, por favor” (a table, please). That was about the extent of my Spanish speaking ability. The woman at the desk then started talking, rather quickly, to us in Spanish. We had no idea what she was saying. Eventually, she asked, “Eat or drink?” To which I responded, “Both?” What she was actually asking was if we were there to have lunch or to get a drink at the bar. My brain did not process that. She then asked, “Do you have a reservation?” I said, “No.” She asked again, but much more incredulously, “No reservation!” I reaffirmed that we did not. She then turned to a waiter and, for about 5 minutes, went on an angry rant about us in Spanish. 

Now, I have no idea what she actually said, but I know that was not happy with us. I have no idea what we did wrong. No, we did not have a reservation, but there was only three or four other people there. Eventually, we did get a table after waiting for about twenty minutes. The restaurant never came close to being full. The worst part was that the paella wasn’t even very good!

I tell you all of that because it made us feel incredibly unwelcomed there. We were just looking for some lunch and thought that would be a good spot. The waiter that served us was pleasant, but we never shook the feeling of how the woman made us feel when she was speaking to the waiter about us.

Words have power. What we say and how we say it has an impact on others. All too often, we use our words to tear down others. If you don’t believe me, look at how people have been talking to and about those who they disagree with politically. Better yet, how have you been talking about those with whom you disagree? Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” That is how Christians should be speaking to and about others. Unfortunately, we tend to use our words to cutdown, chastise , and condemn others. 

Our language should be a language of love. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13 that if we don’t have love, then we are just noisy gongs and, ultimately, nothing. We need to use our words to build others up, not tear them down. Much like the woman at the restaurant, we can make people feel as though they are unwelcomed in the Kingdom of God by our words. We have to choose our words wisely. Our words have a direct impact on how people perceive who God is and how God feels about them. We need to choose to use the language of love. We need to let people hear the love of God in how we speak to and about each other. Our words have power. It is up to us whether we will use that power to build others up or to tear them down. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this today. I hope that you found some encouragement in what I wrote. If you did, please like and share this post and share it. It would mean the world to me! Remember, I love you, but most importantly, God loves you.