Thanks For Nothing Mom & Dad!

Thanks For NothingThere are some things in life we  take on the chin as dumb stuff we have done.  We can’t point the finger of blame at anyone else but us for dating that girl, having that one last drink, or agreeing to that Papa Smurf cheek tattoo.  Hand in the air…that’s on us.

However, there are a few things we can thank mom and dad for.  I’ve got a hair line that screams “Thanks Dad!”  I’m sure a few of you ladies out there are just “thrilled” that your mom blessed you with an awesome set of cankles.  I know guys are thrilled that the 3 chins they are rocking was a gift from their Pops and short of a Groupon facelift falling from the sky they are stuck with rolling with those rolls.

Adam and Eve, our often forgotten mom and dad, left us some treats that we didn’t have any control over too.  What they left us was far worse than a Lipitor prescription for genetically high cholesterol because what they left us has eternal side effects.

God originally created the world to live in harmony and relationship with Him.  His design was to be in perfect union with God free of all the trappings this world currently has to offer.  He gave one rule to our first parents which seemed very straight forward and specific.

“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil for when you eat of it you will surely die.’” Genesis 2:16

Not to much gray area there.  To borrow a line my father-in-law used to say to his kids before entering a store with breakable things, “Don’t touch things you don’t know about.”  That is what God was telling Adam and Eve.  Just don’t touch things you don’t know about.

Well that didn’t last long especially when Satan entered the picture.

On a stroll through the Garden of Eden one day Satan appears to the couple and leads them over to the forbidden tree.  He slinks and lurks around the tree and tries to poke around at why this perfect couple doesn’t want to anything to do with this seemingly perfect tree.

In Genesis 3:1, he asks Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must no eat from any tree in the garden?’”  As if to plant a bit of seed of his own in her spirit to see what would grow.

Now pay close attention because we are getting close to the gift from first our parents.

“The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”  Genesis 3:2

Satan tries to reassure her that the fruit is truly good to eat and in fact is better than anything they’ve ever eaten in the garden!  He tells them that God is actually holding out on them and that if they eat this fruit they will become “like God”.  Although I think the real first mistake is Eve twisting God’s words, we see that she gets caught up in the beauty of the fruit and loses sight of the beauty of God.  We read “she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband who was with her and he ate it.” (Genesis 3:6)

In that moment balloons fall from the sky, confetti cannons explode, streamers shoot out and the trumpets sound because right there before us lies our gift.  A piece of fruit rolling on the ground with two simple bite marks out of it, but with massive eternal consequences.  The decision to disobey God by Adam and Eve is the gift of sin, the fracture in the universe, the source of the Grand Canyon that lies between man and God.  This gift is what has caused, disease, pain, suffering, and death.  It has caused insecurity, fear, loneliness, and depression.  It is the source of war, famine, and divorce.  It is the source of all evil and everything that is wrong in our world.  All of it can be traced back to this one moment in time.

Now before you walk away and feel helpless to this situation we need to be careful.

Although we did not ask Adam and Eve to sin and screw everything up, we are not innocent bystanders to sin.  Just as Eve was not forced to eat the fruit by Satan but was simply tempted to eat the fruit, so too are we tempted to the sinful fruit of this world but not forced to partake.  God’s design always had free will within the blueprints so that we could willing choose between sin and His love.  When we choose sin over God we run from the love the brings us life and fall headlong into the effects of sin.

However, God’s love of creation did not stop when the fruit fell to the ground and began to blacken with decay in the garden.  In fact a new Godly plan was being designed called “salvation” and it began unfolding at that very moment.  This plan would cost God his only Son, but would provide a way, the only way, for His children to come back to Him.  Through Jesus Christ we are able to return the gift of sin given to us by our first parents and trade it in for the gift God had always wanted us to have.  God’s gift of life.  This gift gives us a life meant to be lived to the full.  This life is free of the pain, sorrow, and death.  This life is steaming with joy, peace, patience, and love.  This life is unable to feel the decay that sin always provides when we give in to its tempting offers.

So although we can say “Thanks for nothing” to our first parents Adam and Eve, perhaps we should be more focused on saying “Thanks for everything” to our Heavenly Father.

I’d say that would bear us better fruit.

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Jesus’ Most Painful Moment

My God My God ImageEach year I hand select a group of men and invite them to spend a year together by reading a book a month and then get together to discuss what we’ve.  Our readings range from leadership, parenting, being a better husband, to understanding who God is in our lives.  I find being in these groups to be some of the most powerful and memorable times in my life.  It blows my mind to be see the change that God does in these men’s lives and in their families.

With each group I always start with a book on Jesus to center us and base our time together with Him as the foundation.  I know each time I read more about Christ I become changed and learn something, but this year in particular, when talking about Jesus’ death on the cross, one of the guys named Jason said something I hadn’t really noticed as much as I should.

In Mark 15:34 we read that while on the cross Jesus cries out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In discussing this and what it meant to the group Jason commented that he felt that the pain Jesus went through physically was nothing compared to the pain of being separated from God.  That by God forsaking Him in that moment created such a spiritual pain that no physical pain could ever match.

Whamo!  There is a little truth bomb right in your face!

Jason was totally right and as you look closer at the text you can see these words being echoed in another person’s life in Scripture.  You see Jesus was actually quoting Psalm 22 in that moment.  In this Psalm, David is vividly describing his pain in his moment of duress.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    

Why are you so far from saving me,
    

so far from my cries of anguish?

My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

by night, but I find no rest.” – Psalm 22:1-2

 

“But I am a worm and not a man,

scorned by everyone, despised by the people.

All who see me mock me;

they hurl insults, shaking their heads.

 “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,

“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,

since he delights in him.” – Psalm 22:6-9

 

“Do not be far from me,

for trouble is near and there is no one to help.” – Psalm 22:11

We all have times in our life when we ask the question, “Where is God in this moment?”  Those times where is seems that we’re alone and everywhere we turn people are mocking us and rubbing our pain in our face.  It’s in these moments that we need God the most, but sometimes we just feel like He’s taking a nap somewhere.

Clearly David felt this and Jesus literally felt this pain while hanging on the cross, but there is a difference.

Although we may “feel” like God is not there it’s not true.  The promise God gave Joshua so many years ago is the same promise he gives us when he says, “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5)

God is desperately and almost to a fault for us.  Despite our rebellious sin, He won’t leave us in this life and David experienced that first hand.  His questions of “Where are you God?” quickly turned into “I praise you God!” in blink of an eye, as God remained faithful to him his entire life despite his sinful ways.

However Jesus felt, what I pray we never feel, while on the cross.  He experienced not just the physical, but also the spiritual pain of being separated from God.  That separation was of no fault of His own but was a direct result of the sin you and I committed.  Our sin killed Jesus, but He willingly took our place in death so that we could be with Him in eternal life.  He did all that to show His love for us and so that we might call him Abba Father.  So that we might call him Daddy and experience His love for us.

Listen to me.

God is with us every nanosecond of every day and loves us deeply.  He truly is for us and not against us, but we must choose to believe and follow Him.  Nothing pains God more than to see His children ignore His love and run into the arms of sin that will always let them down. Think about it this way.

Sin never sacrificed anything for you, but you must sacrifice everything for sin.

Jesus sacrificed everything for you, but you can sacrifice nothing for His grace.

Believe that Jesus is for you and not against you and start living in that Truth.  Look to the cross of Christ where Jesus took the pain of being separated from His Father for you so you might run into your Father’s arms one day.

Now that is something worth living for!

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Jesus’ Says To Be Born Again – “Ain’t Nobody’s Body Be Able To Do That!”

bornagainMy wife has an amazing memory.  She remembers oodles of medical information regarding anesthesia, drug calculations, patient diagnosis, and how to put a Disney Princess Band-Aid in just the right spot to heal a “wound” on Aniston’s knee…or was it elbow…or finger…I can’t remember now and neither can she. But in addition to this real-time, real-world memory she also has an uncanny ability to remember crazy things from her childhood.

She can remember the color of car seats in her parent’s car when she was like 2 years old.  Family vacations when she was 3 or 4 are described in great detail.  I’m pretty sure she could tell you the type of baby food she had for her first meal if she really sat down and thought about it.  However, for me I can barely remember what I ate last night even if I cooked it myself!  My wife is awesome.

Yet, even in her memory majesty I don’t think even she can remember this one thing about her childhood.  Her actual birth.  Yep, I always have that one to hold over her head.  Let’s face it I don’t’ have a lot of ammunition when it comes to my wife so I gotta use what I can.

There are some things that I believe God helps us forget in our life and that is most likely a recollection we don’t need to refer back to.  However, we can all attest (since we are either reading or typing this right now) that it did happen!  We all were born.

This is why, when a high-ranking Jewish official came to Jesus one day, the answer he received from Christ was so confusing.  His name is Nicodemus and he comes to Jesus at night, which shows us he didn’t want his other high-ranking Jewish buddies to know he had come to see Him.

We pick up John 2:2

“Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God.  For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Seems like an honest and logical question for someone to ask when they are searching for answers right?  Well, this is where the logic train derails for poor Nicodemus (Nic).  Check out what Jesus says.

“I tell you the truth no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” – John 2:3

For Nic this did not turn out the way he thought it should go.  You see, for a Jew, the typical answer for connecting further with God is through doing more.  They were professional rule keepers and rule makers.  They were very literal people and the abstract was…well…just that, abstract.  This makes his reaction make more sense.

“How can a man be born when he old?  Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born.” – John 2:4

For someone that follows the letter of the law, this does not make sense in any way, especially physically!  I’m pretty sure if we went to Nic’s mother and ran this plan by her she’d most likely say “Ain’t no body got time for that!” or perhaps more accurately “Ain’t nobody’s body be able to do that!”  But Jesus, in his kindness, explains further what He means.

“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” – John 2:5-6a

What Jesus is saying to Nic is “you are great at following the letter of law but you are terrible at applying it to your life.  In order for the law to transform you it has to be reborn in you.”

Jesus was telling Nic and also telling us that in order for us to inherit the Kingdom of God and receive what God has designed for us to have, we need to start our life over with Jesus at the lead.  In short, if we want a different life we need to live differently.  This comes from a rebirth in Jesus Christ.

Now, although we all love the idea of new, fresh, and clean future, we can’t forget that this comes at a price.  A new beginning always means the end to something.   Being born again means killing our old life and suffocating it so that a new life may be born.  This is how we are able to truly grasp what Jesus did for us and the sacrifice He made through His life for ours.  Jesus died for our old life so our new life can be a fresh start with Him.

Don’t take this for granted.  Make sure you know the day you were truly born.  Know without a shadow of a doubt who Jesus is, what He did for you, and accept Him as your Lord and Savior.  By doing that you have broken free from your old life and are reborn into the life God has always wanted you to have.  This is not a life free of challenge, pain, and frustration, but it is a life free of sin and its eternal effects when this life is over.

If you never have, take this moment to ask Jesus to be Lord of your life and be born into the Family of God forever.  Congratulations!  You now have a new birth certificate!

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Do We Take Jesus For Granted?

M_Id_77778_jesusWe have a real tendency in our world to take things for granted.

Ok, maybe I should focus the microscope a little tighter with that statement.

In the United States we take things for granted.

I can see it nearly every day as I talk with people, read the news, or simply listen to a person at the booth next to me at a restaurant.  There just seems to be an underlying sense of discontent and angst that permeates the human spirit.  We are never satisfied and rarely are we genuinely grateful for what we have.

Listen, I’m not immune to this.  Believe me I have my moments of house envy or guitar playing jealousy, or hairstyle lusting (that is only funny if you remember I’m bald 🙂 ).  My spirit churns with discontent too and when it does I’ve found myself losing sight of the blessings all around me.

I love the Psalms because this guy named David writes a vast majority of them.   David was clearly set apart by God from the very beginning to do great things, but he still had his issues.  He dealt with women issues, parenting issues, murder issues, attempted murder issues, giant issues, and on and on the list goes.  However, what I love about his writings is that even when he appears to be griping or complaining and the beginning he always ends up refocused back to God and confident in what He has done, is doing, or will do.  On top of that when he is in a good vein of praising God for who He is and what He’s done there may be none better at describing the majesty of our God.

For just a moment I want you to read Psalm 8 and let these words of David soak into your spirit.

“Lord, our Lord,    

how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
   

 in the heavens.

Through the praise of children and infants
    

you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    

to silence the foe and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens,

the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars,

 which you have set in place,

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,

human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels

and crowned them with glory and honor.

You made them rulers

over the works of your hands;

you put everything under their feet:

all flocks and herds,
    

and the animals of the wild,

the birds in the sky,
    

and the fish in the sea,

all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    

how majestic is your name in all the earth.”

Within these words lies the secret to contentment and David uses them as a spiritual bookend to his thoughts.  “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth” is not just a great lyric for worship songs, but it should be the lyric that our soul sings unceasingly.  Within in it lies a personal invitation with our God, the awe and majesty found in Him, a dismissal of any other name other than His, the uncontainable size, power, and wonder only He can reveal, and a overarching peace reached by realizing the truth found within the entirety of the statement.

The way that we can avoid discontent in our life is to focus our spirits back to God.  If we dwell on Him and the things that He has done for us that we see and don’t see, our souls will find rest.  They can find contentment in the realization that God has us in this place, at this time, with this income, with this job status, with this marriage, with this challenge for a reason.  And that reason is to bring Him glory through our obedience, confidence, faith, and contentment in Him.

May we never take what God has given us for granted especially the cross of Christ.  For on the cross we received the gift of grace we never deserved and avoided the sting of death we all deserved.  Thank you Jesus that You did not take us as Your creation for granted, but rather granted us your love and mercy through Your blood.

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Does God Want Our Words or Actions?

covered mouthIt is said that St Francis of Assisi once said,

Preach the Gospel at all times.  Use words if necessary.

Regardless of whether it is historically accurate to ascribe this quote to St. Francis is another conversation and one that you can learn more about through other writings.  However it does bring up a good discussion around the idea of how we as God’s creation are to spread His Gospel message.  How does God expect us to spread His “good news” to the world?  Is it through our actions or our words?

This has been become a bit of a paradox as I’ve thought about our world today.

The technological age has landed on us like a sumo wrestler at an all you can eat buffet.  We have started to feed ourselves with social media, smart phones, computers, and higher tech gadgets that not even the Jetsons could have imagined.   It has changed our society and there is no sign that we pushing back from this table any time soon.  We prefer to interact and communicate through our interface rather than face-to-face because it’s safe and controlled.  We have the ability to dictate the message we send out to others while also crafting it in a way that our point is loud and clear.

So why is this a paradox?

It’s a paradox because although we are in an age where communicating everything from what we are eating for breakfast to the announcement of a new baby through social media is completely natural and normal it’s not how we prefer to share our faith.  When it comes to letting people know what we believe about God we would rather do the St. Francis method and let our actions do the talking.  “Please don’t make me talk to my friends about Christ.  I will just be an example to them.  Yeah, by my actions they will know I’m a Christian.”

I see three problems with this line of thinking when it comes to sharing our faith.

#1 – Showing Your Faith Requires Interaction.  I just said that our world has become prone to interface relationships rather than face-to-face.  We don’t see one another in real time so how are we able to show our Faith to them in real time?  Don’t actions that are written down on a Facebook wall just become well crafted fairy tales along the same lines of a fish story that only gets bigger through the generations?  Jesus does tell us in John 13:35 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples”, but if we are to share our Faith by our love or actions it needs to be seen by people and we aren’t around people.  Therefore we must still use words.

#2 – God’s Primary Vehicle For Creation Was Words.  I’m not sure if we realize this but God’s method of creating the entire world was through His words.  As He breathed life into everything we see He was preaching a sermon of God’s greatness that proved and displayed His majesty.  After each element of creation He crafted we read “God said” and He would instruct creation to do what He designed them to do.  We even read that after He steps back from the canvas of life, “God saw all that he had made and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)  God is a God of action but those actions were done through speaking and breathing life into that which had none.

#3 – Jesus’s Ministry Used Words.  Throughout Jesus’ time on earth, He did amazing things.  He walked on water, healed the sick, cast out demons, and on and on I could go.  However, Jesus never just strolled through town silently zapping people like a mute X-Man superhero.  No, in each case He would begin or end His miracle with a message or teaching.   In Mark 9 we read about a young boy possessed with a demon.  His father approaches Jesus to have him heal his son.  Before doing so he take a moment to speak to the man’s faith.  After the man presents his situation Jesus says, “If you can?  Everything is possible for him who believes.” (Mark 9:23)  Jesus takes a moment to preach a sermon of faith and trust in God before His action is done.  In a situation where action was what was needed Jesus chose words first and action second.  Jesus does go on to heal the boy by saying to the demon, “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you come out of him and never enter him again.” (Mark 9:25b)  However, it’s important to remember that Jesus was a man of words as well as action.

The reason that the St Francis method of evangelism is a bit of a paradox is that it seems to be untrue when we look at what God set forth as our example to follow.  Yes, Jesus told us to “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”, (Matthew 28:19) but He did so within the framework of a sermon.  A sermon that used words.

So my encouragement to you is to continue to live in such a way that people can see Christ in you, but don’t be naïve enough to think you will never have to open your mouth about God.  Find confidence knowing that the power of God working in and through you will give you the words to say at just the right time.  If God can use a stuttering, unconfident, murder in Moses to lead his people out of Egypt through a series of sermons to a Pharaoh then He can help you talk to your friend in the cube next to you.  We would be wise to head Peter’s words when he says “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15)

That answer is going to require you to use your words and tell the story of how God captured your heart and lives and moves in your life.  Believe me, it’s a great story and one that people want to hear.  God will give you the strength to do it, but you have to open your mouth.

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I Hate Opening The Bathroom Door At Starbucks

Restroom-Signs-380x378I was at Starbucks the other day and when I went to use the bathroom I came across a familiar sinking feeling right before I opened the door.  You see Starbucks has what I call “one seater” bathrooms.  This means it was designed for only one person to use at a time and the door doesn’t have that little window that says “Occupied” or “Vacant” in it.  Therefore you are blind to what lies behind that door and sets up a very real Russian Roulette type of possibility that someone could have, in their haste of entering the bathroom, forgotten to lock the door.

Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I think this could be the most awkward moment in a person’s life topped only by calling someone pregnant that is not.  When that door whips open you are greeted by the “crouching tiger, hidden fig leaf” position, the “I’m Going To Swear At You Because You Clearly Are The One That Didn’t Lock The Door For Me” response, the “Ever heard of knocking?” zinger, or the classic “Excuuuuusssseeee meeeee” (insert slightly snobby, southern girl voice).  Either way, the damage has been done and I now have two options:

  1. Wait for them to be done and endure the weird interaction I’m guaranteed to have as I sip my coffee and try to erase what I saw out of my mind of that guy sitting on the comfy leather chair just to my right sipping a strawberry frappaccino with extra whip.
  2. Decide I didn’t have to go that bad, get a Urinary Tract Infection, and then deal with heavy antibiotics for 6 weeks to recover all to avoid having that awkward interaction with the strawberry frappaccino guy.

Here’s what I know about most of us when it comes to dealing with things that lurk behind doors in our life.  We would rather walk away and get a spiritual Urinary Tract Infection than deal with what is on the other side of those doors. The thought of having to open doors up in our life and seeing those awkward mistakes we’ve made or sin we committed is just too much to handle.

We’d rather roll along in life pretending they don’t exist and walk toppled over in pain because we can’t get relief.  Sin always will do that to us and I know it does for me too.  I’ve seen in my life where I have not dealt with things hoping they will go away only to see them keep me up at night, ruin my attitude, cloud my judgement, and make me do things I never would have dreamed I would do.  It is only when I whip open the door and  deal with mess that lies behind it by giving it to Christ that I become the man God want’s me to be.

This only happens when the door is flung open and the light is allowed in.

Paul tell us in Ephesians 5:13-14

“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible.  This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”” 

This desire for light to shine on you may even spill over into the people you are keeping in your life behind closed doors.  Those relationships, friends, or acquaintances that are keeping you from living a life free of guilt and full of light.  These also need to be dealt with and removed if we want relief in our life.

Again Paul speaks to this as well in 2 Corinthians 6:14 when he says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”

Don’t get me wrong Jesus wants us to be salt and light in this dark world, but He doesn’t want us to be locked in a bathroom with the darkness.  When that happens I’ve seen people drug down a road they never dreamed and pulled farther from Him even if they started with great intentions.  Rather, it’s in our pursuit of Christ that we bring people alongside us in our journey that we see God’s impact at work.

So my encouragement to you isn’t to start whipping open every bathroom door you come to in your travels.  That will end you up in a whole different type of prison and not the spiritual kind.

What I do hope is that we aren’t scared to open the doors in our life that we have past mistakes or sin behind.  God is there to redeem those situations, forgive you through Jesus, and allow you to walk tall in the freedom only He can provide.  He will meet you in those moments, but you have to grab the handle and push.

I know you can do it so get to work!

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My List For A Wife and God’s List For Me

I don’t’ know about you, but before I got married I had a list of qualities that I wanted to have in a wife.

Here is just the short list I had in no particular order except for the first:

  • Loved God
  • Beautiful
  • Athletic
  • Heart for ministry
  • Goal orientated
  • Independent
  • Intelligent
  • A leader
  • Knowledgeable about sports
  • Wanted Children
  • Organized

I could go on and on, but I was specific about what I wanted to find in a wife because I deeply desired a successful marriage not just a roommate for life.  Granted it would be understandably impossible for all of those characteristics to be found in one person, but I can honestly say my wife Cherie nearly accomplished my whole list when I met her.  Now I did not have a small checklist that I pulled out on our first date to see where she stacked up, but over time and as I got know her I could see she met what I wanted in a wife and some cases exceeded.  So much so that I began wondering if I even had a chance with her!  I’m fairly certain she had a list in her pocket too with what she was looking for in a husband and I wondered I was able to check off any of her boxes knowing my bozo life.

Of course there are people that take this to an extreme.  I know people who have lists so detailed and so unobtainable that the only way a person could match up to their expectations is if they created a robot version of that person.  If that ever happened I would tend to think that snuggling with a robot might be a little difficult, but at that point you’ve made some bigger concessions than just that I’m guessing.  🙂

Did you know that God has lists for us too?

Clearly not lists of what He’s looking for in a mate for Himself, but actually lists of traits and character development that will allow us to live more productive and Godly lives.  Lists of things that will strengthen our faith and increase our ability to pursue Him and love others.

One of those lists is found in 2 Peter 1:5-9 where Peter says:

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self control; and to self-control, perseverance and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and a blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.”

Now unpacking this fully would take more pages than you care to read so let me summarize as best as I can.

Notice first that God’s desire for us starts with faith in Him.  Realize His expectation doesn’t require that you and I have all of these things listed firmly established in our life before we come to faith in Jesus.  It’s only after we have come as we are, full of our junk, and let Jesus make us clean that we can begin to tackle this list of attributes to our life.

From that central point of faith, God gives us the building blocks of faith development that, in a way, cannot occur before the previous one is obtained.  For example being knowledgeable without being good first may cause you to become legalistic and harsh towards those that are around you.  The root of your search for knowledge must come out of good intentions with a good and pure heart or your search will leave you full of information but very little transformation or compassion.  As Peter says you will become “ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of Jesus Christ” and in so doing actually stunt your faith.

As I said before, God does not treat this list as I treated the one for my future wife.  These are not a list of non-negotiable things that if you don’t have them God cuts you off, but rather its a list of spiritual building blocks that are meant to develop the character of your faith into a greater fullness.  A fullness that will allow more peace and joy in your life.

I encourage all of us to consider the list Peter provides and ask ourselves “How am I doing in these areas?”, but do so by starting at the beginning.  Don’t jump ahead and consider your self-control greater than your goodness.  See what pursuing these areas in order would look like for you and ask God’s direction and wisdom to know how to continue in this pursuit.

In the end you may still be single with an eight pages list of things you want in a spouse, but you should have a greater understanding of your relationship with your Father in Heaven and a peace about who you are in Him.

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Our Painful Gain – There Is Better Beyond All This

No Pain, No GainThere is an old saying in sports that goes like this: “No Pain; No Gain”.

As a former athlete I can attest that this statement is very much true.  There is a great deal of pain involved in the training, practicing, and competing in sports.  There is pain found in losing, injury, and disappointment.  One would think with that amount of pain it seems ludicrous to keep doing!  After all, our mom teaches us to take our hand away from the hot stove so we don’t get hurt not press it in harder!  Yet in athletics we keep going through this pain for one reason…to win…to succeed…to conquer…to gain.  The feeling of victory is such a unique taste. A mixture of euphoria, intensity, and sweat that keeps you coming back for more, but to get there you will face challenges and pain is sure to be it’s co-pilot.

The ultimate question then is this: “Is it worth it?”

The Christian life is truly no different.

As a Believer we see that there is a great deal of pain involved with following Christ.  Paul is very clear in 2 Timothy 3:12 when he says, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (emphasis mine).  Jesus tells us in John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble.” (emphasis mine)  We see time and time again where the ways of the world and the ways of God are oil and water towards each other.  We know there is gain found in God, but the pain that it takes us to get there is hard work.  God is crystal clear in his Word that being a Christian is difficult in a sin-filled world.

Yet Paul encourages us to stay strong and continue to push forward despite this pain.  “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:5).  We need to remember one very important fact as we battle through this life as a Christian.

We have already won.

I think we forget that while as we get mired down in the chaos of our life and can’t see a foot infront of us because of all the junk around us.  We lose sight that the ultimate battle is not with breaking up petty Facebook rants between friends, keeping our kids from looking a porn, or enduring your crummy boss that needs to shower more, but between the forces of evil that want to kill and ravage our souls.  That is the important conflict that is at war within the world and which God has called us to enter into as His soldiers.

But we must remember that the battle has been won.  Jesus has overcome it all.  This includes the reality of death that haunts us all which can no longer keep us up at night.  At the end of the this painful life we will be victorious and achieve the reward that God has prepared for His children.  Again, Paul gives us this beautiful imagery of what it looks like to attain this glory after a long hard journey.

“I have found the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longer for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

So keep pushing forward my friends and don’t let this world get you down.  It is our mission field, but it is not our home.  Home is where our heart is and our heart belongs to Jesus in a far better place.

Never fear the pain  because the gain is worth it in the end.

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You Can’t Kill My Hope

hope-2012As the father of two beautiful children, I have witnessed the miracle of birth first hand.  It is one of the most amazing and horrifying things I’ve ever experienced. 🙂  Years of praying, nine months of growing, and hours of pushing result in the beginning of a new chapter in our lives as parents and in our child’s.  In nearly every way this new life has the freshest and cleanest of views of the world.  Nothing has been tainted but all is new to be discovered.

Yet we all know that difficult times will come to this new life as we all can speak from personal experience.  We quickly realize that life is hard and full of challenges that will test even our toughest resolve.  What I pray for my children is not that they live a challenge free life, but that one day they will meet Jesus as their Lord and Savior and these challenges will take on a new form.  You see, a Believer in Christ no longer sees challenges as things to endure, but opportunities to slowly transform into the person God wants them to be.  As Peter says, “though now you for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith…may be proven genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6b-7)

What suffering and trials do for us is refine us into who God wants us to be.  Not so that we can follow the rules closer and learn from our mistakes, but that we may come into a closer relationship with Him.  As the writer of Hebrews says, “The former regulation is set aside because it is weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced by which we draw near to God.” (Hebrews 6:18-19).  The reward for this endurance is not found in our ability to overcome these by our strength, but is rooted in a “new living hope” which is Jesus Christ.  Earlier in 1 Peter we read, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for you…” (1 Peter 1:3-4)

You see we worship a God that isn’t dead, but very much alive.  He may have been crucified as a common criminal, but nothing about his death was common.  For crying out loud not even the confines of death could keep Him down and as a result we are given the confidence and hope of that same victory!  This is the hope that never dies and allows us the confidence to keep pushing forward in all that we do.

So may we grasp the truth that although the world may no longer be a blank canvas as it was when were born, the hope we find in Christ propels us forward into the masterpiece that is a life rooted in Him.  No matter what this life may throw at you and I, it can never kill our Hope.

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Seeking Wisdom: Proverbs 23 – Why I Don’t Drink

“Buy the truth and do not sell it;

get wisdom, discipline and understanding.”

Proverbs 23:23

I have never had a sip of alcohol in my entire life.

There.

I said it.

Call me a straight edge, brown-noser, goodie two shoes, or whatever other cheese ball line you want to come up with, but it’s true.  If I showed up to a party in High School growing up I was looked at like an undercover ATF agent because everyone thought something had to be up.  I honestly was just there to hang out, but I had this sense I made everyone else uncomfortable as their underaged hands held their red plastic cups filled with warm beer.

I really wasn’t there to bust anyone, but I also wasn’t going to be swayed in my stance by anyone either.  The line I’ve used since I can remember when someone offered me a drink is “I’ve been offered drinks by girls way cuter than you so why do you think you are going to be the one to break me?”

It usually gets a laugh and eases the tension.

However, the reason I don’t drink may be a surprise to you because it’s NOT rooted in a spiritual conviction.  When I read the Bible I don’t see a judgmental stance on drinking that condemns you to hell if you do.  For heaven’s sake Jesus’ first miracle was to turn a bunch of water into wine at a party, so clearly God isn’t looking down on an open bar at a wedding.

Beyond the fact that I have an addictive personality and alcohol would be a bad combination with that personality type there also is something else.

Here’s why I don’t drink.

When I was around 11 or 12 years old I had a close friend named Heidi.  Heidi and I were very close and she had an older brother Jon and older sister Jenny who I looked up to.  I didn’t spend tons of time with them or go hangout a bunch because they were older than me, but I vividly remember admiring them.  They came from a great family with awesome parents.  John and Jenny were great athletes, good looking, popular, kind, and polite.  A lethal combination of awesomeness if you ask me.

One of the most vivid memories I have of them is watching them cheer Heidi on at her softball games at Timberline Little League fields.  They loved each other and their sister dearly.  To watch them light up when they saw Heidi was something memorable.

Sometime during the late Spring of my 6th grade year, Jon and Jenny went to a concert in North Dakota.  When they were driving home a drunk driver crossed the line and hit them head on killing them both.  It was one of the most painful things I have ever been close to; not just because of how it affected me, but how it affected Heidi and her family.  I remember sitting in the pews at the funeral just feeling this heaviness, sickness, and pain that didn’t make sense.  Even going back to school seemed wrong as we played on the playground.  I remember Heidi retelling how crushed her parents were when the police came to the door and told the family about the accident.

The reason it didn’t make sense was because this haunting question lingered in my mind.  “Would Jenny and Jon still be alive if that guy decided not to drink?”  It was in that moment that I decided that I would never be the reason that someone had to open a door to an officer telling them their son or daughter was dead because of me drinking.

After that moment, not drinking was easy.  In fact you could say that moment sobered up my soul before it ever had the chance to get drunk.

Again, I’m not passing judgment on anyone that drinks. I realize that the person who made the choice to drink and drive killed Jon and Jenny, not alcohol.  I hang out with plenty of people I love and care about that handle drinking in a Godly and mature manner.  Some even drink with me around and don’t look at me like a monster with 9 heads. 🙂

However, I do know people that alcohol has destroyed their lives.

  • I’ve seen fathers lose their kids because the booze was more important than his babies.
  • I’ve seen women that do, say, and act like anything other than a Godly woman and end up in the arms of men who don’t love, cherish, or care about them.
  • I’ve seen men that perpetuate the cycle of abuse and addiction in their family, but laugh it off by saying “that’s just the way I am!”

As a person with a degree in Biology and Physiology I understand the medical benefits behind a marginal amount of alcohol.  However, I also know that excess alcohol numbs your brain, destroys your liver, discolors your skin, and literally can change your brain chemistry into a total different person.

This isn’t a 21st Century phenomenon though.  Solomon also witnessed this in ancient times and writes about it in the lines of Proverbs 23.

Who has woe? Who has sorrow?

    Who has strife? Who has complaints?

    Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?

Those who linger over wine,

    who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.

Do not gaze at wine when it is red,

    when it sparkles in the cup,

    when it goes down smoothly!

In the end it bites like a snake

    and poisons like a viper.

Your eyes will see strange sights,

    and your mind will imagine confusing things.

You will be like one sleeping on the high seas,

    lying on top of the rigging.

“They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt!

    They beat me, but I don’t feel it!

When will I wake up

    so I can find another drink?”

– Proverbs 23:29-35

God desires for us to be in the mind He created us to have.  A clear, fully functioning, focused on Him in all things mind.  I’ve found both personally, academically, and spiritually that drinking in excess causes this mind to become cloudy and hard pressed to focus on anything, let alone God.  I’ve never heard anyone barfing their guts out in a musty bar bathroom while singing worship songs as a way of praising God.  🙂

I see Solomon’s words as a sobering reminder of what happens when a good thing becomes a God thing.  When we allow something given to us by God to be stewarded responsibly and turn it into a destructive habit that destroys our life.

Paul has a way of giving us some guardrails, if you will, when it comes to things like this.

“Everything is permissible”-but not everything is constructive.  Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” – 1 Corinthians 10:23-24

This blog is not about beating people up or telling people not to drink.  This blog is essentially what Paul is trying to say.  Know yourself, know those around you, and know what God is telling you is right.  To do as Solomon says in Proverbs 23:23 “Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding.”

If you are able to keep alcohol within the guardrails God designed, I say “Have another on me!”, but if you are in a place that alcohol has become your God, please get help.  Consider reaching out to organizations like Celebrate Recovery www.celebraterecovery.com, www.aa.org, or others that can help.

Live your life with a conviction to worship God in all that you do and allow your life to be a reflection of His love.  Don’t live in a haze that risks your life and others.  God never intended for us to live through the lenses of Beer Goggles, but through the perfect 20/20 vision of Christ and His wisdom.

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