Archive for the ‘Blessing’ Category

Golgotha - The Place of the Skull - Location of Jesus' Crucifixion

Golgotha – The Place of the Skull – The Location of Jesus’ Crucifixion

 

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb

As Good Friday and Easter approaches, I have been swept back to Israel and the trip of a lifetime I was blessed to take in September of 2014. My heart races as I look at these pictures and recall the memories gained while in the Holy Land!  Once again, today, the pictures above has been heavy on my heart, not because of the finality typically associated with a burial place, but because of the hope permeating from and around the empty tomb.

Matthew 27:57-61 – When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

Most people at the time of Jesus’ burial thought it was the end of the potential new kingdom as they believed Jesus was to become the earthly King of Israel, ushering in peace to a land of turmoil.  The peace they were seeking was a fleeting peace; one that ends with our time on earth. However, He had a much bigger audience in mind!  This kingdom Jesus spoke of is one in which He would become the ultimate King – the King of Heaven and Earth!  The Kingdom in which He spoke of pointed to eternity…His heavenly Kingdom which is available to anyone who believes in Jesus and that He is who He said He was!

Matthew 28: 1-7 – Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

Can you picture the Mary’s faces upon hearing this news and seeing that He was gone?  Can you imagine the emotional responses of the disciples when they first heard the girl’s story?  Maybe a bit of disbelief, but I bet they all had a hope inside of them wanting to believe it with every fiber of their bodies.  And then that moment when they saw the risen Jesus…that had to be the most amazing moment of their lives!  I can envision His inner circle going through a series of Aha moments recalling the many times Jesus spoke about His death and resurrection and they simply did not get what He was saying!  I can envision the disciples walking by the empty tomb for years after this; they had to be shaking their heads with a smile saying, “Jesus, that was awesome!  You got me!  Thanks for including me on this amazing journey!  I have to go and tell everyone about this!”

The empty tomb and the resurrected Christ, as witnessed by so many people and recorded for all of us to read, is screaming to a lost and dying world – death has been beaten, Jesus is risen, and you can rise too!

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As Resurrection Day approaches, I pray we will all reflect on the moment when we died to our own selfish desires and became alive in Christ.  As you do, share your story with others along this journey as you never know if you could be the beginning of someone else’s resurrection story!

If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus yet, you can take care of that right now.  There is no magical prayer or even anything specific you need to recite.  You simply need to believe that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life, took the sin of the world upon His shoulders to the grave and left it there as He rose back to life!  This is His amazing gift of grace that He offers to us so that we can spend eternity with Him – we just have to believe!  His gift of grace is really that simple and available to anyone who believes!

John 11:25 – Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying

I will close with this beautiful song by Casting Crowns…I love this song as it tells His story:

“Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me)”

One day when Heaven was filled with His praises
One day when sin was as black as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my example is He
Word became flesh and the light shined among us
His glory revealed

[Chorus:]
Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He’s coming
Oh glorious day, oh glorious day

One day they led Him up Calvary’s mountain
One day they nailed Him to die on a tree
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He
Hands that healed nations, stretched out on a tree
And took the nails for me

[Chorus]

One day the grave could conceal Him no longer
One day the stone rolled away from the door
Then He arose, over death He had conquered
Now He’s ascended, my Lord evermore
Death could not hold Him, the grave could not keep Him
From rising again

[Chorus]

One day the trumpet will sound for His coming
One day the skies with His glories will shine
Wonderful day, my Beloved One, bringing
My Savior, Jesus, is mine

[Chorus]

Glorious day, Oh, Glorious day

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Merry Christmas to you all!  I pray this post blesses you as you use your drum to glorify our Savior!

Until I heard this version of The Little Drummer Boy performed by Pentatonix, I had not really “heard” the message in this song.  I have now listened to this version dozens of times and my eyes flood with tears every time as I have discovered something…I am the little drummer boy!

Pentatonix

Click Here to watch Pentatonix The Little Drummer Boy

Can you imagine?  A baby has been born to be King to usher His people into freedom.  Rumor has it that He will be born in a little town called Bethlehem, and there is a bright star shining above the place He will make His arrival.  Something is definitely different about this birth.  Curiosity sets in…then someone asks you, a little boy, “come and see this new born King.”  They add, “You can bring your drum along as well if you want to!”

You think to yourself, this is Awesome!  I get to see this new King and witness the beginning of His reign.  But wait, people are bringing gifts…I am poor and have nothing to bring Him as a gift.  Maybe no-one will notice since I am a young kid.  They wouldn’t expect a kid to bring a gift, so I will just hang back and see what this new born King is all about.

So you walk with the others, lightly playing your little drum as you walk along…after all, that is the one thing you really enjoy and you are not too bad either!  At least that is what your mom tells you.  Some of the adults tell you to knock it off or stay back and play quietly, but your joy in this moment can only be played out on your drum.  So you quietly continue, maybe even playing in your head.

Then you see above all the adults this animal stable, when all of the sudden everyone stops and are gasping in amazement.  They have no words, only awe.  But you can’t see…so you slip your way through the crowd to the front and you see people offering gifts to this little baby.  He seems so fragile yet there is power in this moment.  Could He really be the One everyone is thinking He is?  I sure wish I had something I could give to Him as a gift.

Your heart jumps out of your chest as your joy bursts out.  All along the way you had been playing your drum ever so lightly with an increasing joy in your heart as you made your way to this moment, this place.  You didn’t even think twice…you look to His mother and ask, “Shall I play for you…on my drum?”  She nods yes…the whole place stands and watches what is to come.  The animals seem to be swaying with the beat.  You are playing your very best and are completely lost in the moment!  You look down and realize that Jesus is taking in every note and then something amazing happens…He looks you in the eyes and smiles at you in the most kind and loving way you could ever imagine!  Wow, this new born King, Jesus, has accepted my gift, and you realize that the best gift you could have given Him was to play your drum for Him…your very best talent is your very best gift!

You look around and everyone is in tears as they have just witnessed a small child offering the greatest gift to this child King.  They all worship along with you as you pound away on your drum.  You lead them to a greater understanding of how we best honor Jesus by using our gifts and talents to the best of our abilities in worship of Him, the King and Savior of us all!  This moment will be etched in your soul for the rest of your life and you will retell the story until the day you die…the story of the day a little boy offered up his very best gift to the King of the World!  The day the Savior looked at you and smiled as He watched you share your joy with Him!

So, what is your drum?  What do you do well that you can bring to the King to honor Him?  Your drum may be a musical instrument or it may be the ability to sit down with someone and extent the love of Jesus to them.  Your drum may be playing basketball or acting in a play.  Your drum may be the very work you do on a daily basis.  Whatever your drum is, use it to honor and glorify Jesus…and when you do, close your eyes and imagine what it will be like to see Jesus looking directly in your eyes and smiling at you, saying, “Well done!”

ldrum

The Little Drummer Boy

Come they told me
Pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see
Pa rum pum pum pum

Our finest gifts we bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the kIng
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

So to honor Him
Pa rum pum pum pum
When we come

Little baby
Pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too
Pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give our King
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Shall I play for you
Pa rum pum pum pum
On my drum

Mary nodded
Pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Then He smiled at me
Pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum

How do you typically respond to people who don’t share the same beliefs that you have based on the understanding of God’s character and His Word?  Are you quick to extend grace?  Do you first judge?  Do you point out where you think they are wrong?  If, so, how’s that working for you?

It’s easy to look at the paragraph above and see how this way of thinking would not work with your spouse, your kids, etc.  Relationship with people is the gateway to extend the same grace that Jesus offers each of us, yet believers seem to be more content having convictions and pointing fingers rather than building relationships and introducing people to Jesus!  Even the first “professional” Christians, Jesus chosen disciples, were struggling with power of their supposed piety:

Luke 9:51-56 – As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. He sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival. But the people of the village did not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to Jerusalem. When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. So they went on to another village.

As Jesus followers, we far too often are quick to pronounce judgment on those who do not share the same beliefs, convictions or passions that we do.  Yet, time and time again, Jesus models for us exactly how we are to respond to opposition and how He deals with the self-righteous…first, He rebukes the religious for their pious behavior, and then extends love and grace to those far from Him.  After all, relationship is the most effective way to reach people for Jesus!  See it again here:

John 8:2-11 – Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

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Jesus scolds the religious leaders of the time and extends grace to the one caught in her sin.  That level of love and grace gives the woman an opportunity to respond to Jesus’ love in one of two ways – one way she can respond…she can extend trust to Him based on what He has done for her, and then heed His words of advice to go and sin no longer.  In doing so, she will then begin the healing process that is required whenever we are stuck in sinful behavior as well as reciprocate love to Jesus.  Another way she could respond…she could ignore His love and grace, keep on sinning, and eventually will find herself in the same situation – hopelessly in need of a Savior!

Our lives mirror this parable in so many ways!  Though we may struggle with sin (as defined by God) and maybe even disagree with what truly is sin (again defined by God and God alone), when we trust Him and turn our backs on sin, His healing begins in our lives!  When we turn our back on the loving boundaries that God has placed in our world and keep on sinning without the intent of “sinning no longer”, well…we get a world in chaos, not knowing what is right or wrong, confused as to what is good and bad, loving just or destructive.  You know, the world we are living in right this moment!  Though we try to change the Word of God to fit our lifestyles and beliefs -beliefs that have been shaped by this sinful world we live in and the unhealthy lives we have lived and grown up in – God’s Word is True, Just, Loving and never Changes!

So regardless of where you are in your relationship with Jesus, you have a choice to make.  Will you choose a relationship with Jesus?  If so, He loves you so much that He will call you out of your sin because He knows where sin leads – destruction and broken lives!  We don’t get to choose what is right and wrong – God has already chosen!  He didn’t choose what is sinful to hurt us…He calls out sin because it will destroy us!  That is why it took the death of God’s Son, Jesus, to pay for sin!  He loves you that much!

For those who already follow Jesus, we have to stop condemning and judging people for their sin!  We must start loving enough to build relationships with people far from God and then introduce them to Jesus once we’ve built that trust!  Afterall, He is the only One who can lead someone out of a sinful lifestyle, in His time!  It’s our job to love and introduce people to Jesus, teaching them all He commanded; it’s His job to change them from the inside out!  How about we do our job and stop getting in the way of Jesus doing His thing!

love

Recently, my wife Lisa and I were able to take a short retreat to Cincinnati to focus completely on our marriage as we attended a Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference.  Going into the weekend, we both would have said the weekend was really just a chance to get away and rest, and maybe takeaway some refresher tips for our marriage.  After all, we’ve been married for 23 ½ years and have seemingly gone through every struggle imaginable over those years and persevered, and eventually thrived, through those struggles…focusing on God really makes all the difference in the world!  However, we learned quickly that in every marriage, and likely every healthy relationship, when not being 100% intentional, we tend to take each other for granted and slip up in areas of connection and conversation.  I am so thankful that we were able to attend and invest in our marriage to ensure many fruitful years to come!  I highly recommend a yearly marriage retreat or conference for every married couple (and every engaged couple)…your marriage is worth the yearly investment!

As I began thinking more about some of the discussions during the weekend, as well as witnessing so many young couples struggling in the areas of love and communication, I was reminded of some very wise counsel we had received a few years into our marriage that really helped us gain a better understanding of how marriage works and thrives.  The area of challenge is love – is it a feeling or a choice?

Let me ask you this: If someone were to come up to you and demand for you to “Love Me!” what are the odds that you will fall deeply in love with that person at that moment?  Demanding love never works, and is likely to repel the other person, not attract them.  Yet, when we show someone we love them, making choices to love them by having conversations with them, doing things for them, placing their needs and desires above your own, not only will your love for that person grow, odds are they will reciprocate that love.  You see, people respond with love when you love them in practical ways.  That giddy “in love” feeling can be deceiving because when that feeling, or emotion, fades we have a choice – we either choose to love or we choose to run.  True love always chooses to love, even when the feeling of being “in love” wanes a bit.  Mature love is active!

Some will say the “in love” feeling will never fade; “I love him/her too much!”  However, ask any woman with kids who are nurturing and caring for them, taking care of them when sick, running them around to all their destinations, all while working and trying to maintain the family unit…that “in love” feeling either turns to resentment or she chooses to love her husband in the midst of the trials and child-rearing.

In our marriage, that “in love” feeling faded pretty quickly as we had been married for 6 months when we got pregnant with our first child.  How I wish we would have understood that love is a choice as opposed to a feeling early in our marriage…I believe it would have saved us a lot of heartache and pain.  Once we understood that love is an action, not an emotion, we were able to begin healing and start loving each other again because we wanted to…not because of a feeling, but because of a choice.  Like any stage of life, love grows and matures as it becomes part of who we are.  Once discovered, I can honestly say that I love my wife Lisa more now than I ever have!

I can say without any hesitation that any marriage can be healed, regardless of how deep the hurt and betrayal may be.  I have witnessed in many marriages, as well as ours, miraculous healing that can only be credited to God and two people choosing to not give up on the godly institution of marriage.  You want to know something key…your spouse doesn’t deserve your love!  And you don’t deserve their love either!  We are all broken and fallible individuals seeking love and acceptance.  The key to a thriving marriage is placing God first in everything you do!   When we keep God first, loving our spouses becomes an act of love toward God as well as our spouse.  Our spouse may not deserve our love at times, but God always does, and He says that we love because He first loved us:

1 John 4:19 – We love each other because he loved us first.

So remember these key tips on growing a healthy marriage:

1 – Love God first and above all else.

2 – Love your spouse because God loves you – you reciprocate His love by loving your spouse.

3 – Remember, mature love is a choice, not a feeling.

Every healthy and mature marriage requires these three steps, and every unhealthy, failing marriage can be healed by two people taking these three steps.

I can say with all the boldness I can muster that because God loves me, I love Him more than anyone else!  Because I love Him so much, I choose to love Lisa with all my heart and in my daily choices.  Choosing to love her because God loves me doesn’t cheapen my love for her…it actually deepens that love because our marriage now is firmly planted on the foundation of God’s love!  And no other love can be as solid as God’s love for us…after all; He sacrificed His Son Jesus because He loves us that much!

In the past few weeks I have had the incredible opportunity to visit two newly planted churches – Church of The Hills in Nashville, TN and The Cathedral in Flint, MI.  Along with other members of itown church, we set out to encourage and support these two new congregations as they get their feet firmly planted within their communities to reach as many people as possible for Jesus Christ…doing anything short of sin to reach people for Christ!  We fell in love with the hearts and sacrifice of these amazing people as they fulfill the call God has placed in them to be a local outpost in their communities loving God and loving those around them!  We’ve made some life-long friends as well, all while cheering one-another on from afar serving our local communities and introducing people to Jesus!

Supporting the local church is an awesome responsibility for us all because in every community the local church truly is the hope for that community as well as the hope of the entire world!  With so many individual churches in our communities, The Global Church (everyone who follows Jesus) must support one-another and understand that church is not (and should never be) a competition.  The Church is a living entity of individual gatherings of people who need to be working together to reach the world for Christ; putting aside differing styles and rituals that are simply preferences, not doctrine!

church-competing

Unfortunately the picture above kinda hits a sore spot, doesn’t it?  Far too many local gatherings have chosen to not read (or at least understand) the memo from Paul where he calls us to band together as The Church body to reach as many people as possible for the sake of Jesus Christ!  Instead, many local churches have placed themselves in the headship of The Church as the only means in the community to have a relationships with Jesus – yet Jesus said we, as His followers, are ALL in this together as The Church with many different members of the body who must work together for the good of every person who is far from God in our communities…and Jesus is the only head of The Church!

Romans 12:3-8 – For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

I recall a story Andy Stanley, Lead Pastor at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA, shared regarding a gay-pride parade set to pass in front of their rather large church building on a given Sunday morning.  Andy and his staff tried to think it through to try to have as many congregants and volunteers as possible already in the building before the parade was set to pass.  They discussed how to keep the congregation inside the building a little longer than usual as to not “expose” the members to what they deemed a moral concern, possible protest or at the least an ugly exchange.  They were more focused on hiding their “righteous” eyes than reaching a community of people who need Jesus as much as we do.

As the morning began brewing, Andy was feeling a bit convicted and torn – from what I recall in his story, he and some others went outside to see how things were shaping up.  His conviction was set in stone when he saw the small church congregation across the street lining the road and handing out glasses of water to all the participants in the gay-pride parade – smiles on their faces as they opened their hearts to those walking along!  Conversations were happening and a bridge to an unreached group of people was being built right across the street!  Wow!  This congregation understood what it means to serve the community, offer grace to all, and love our neighbors with the love of Christ!  The lesson Andy learned that morning has shaped the ministry of North Point to this day as they seek to extend grace and love to the very people most congregations won’t engage – people far from God!  How different might this story have been if the churches were on the same page instead of working it from their own angle?  Odd isn’t it…what is the purpose of the local church if not to love God and love others?  Those far from God are exactly who Jesus said He came to save, and when we follow Him, we should be no different:

Luke 5:32 – I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.

Now, something amazing happens when you break that down…Jesus came to save sinners who are lost without a Savior.  Every person on this planet has at least one thing in common – we are all sinners!  The difference between being lost and found is a simple act of faith – believing in Jesus Christ!  How pious we become when we somehow think we are better than someone else because we are in relationship with Jesus!  The fact that we are in relationship with Jesus ought to embolden us to engage the community around us and share the good news of Jesus’ amazing love and grace!  How do we do this?  We build relationships with people who God has placed in our path (co-workers, fellow students, gas station attendant, Taco Bell employee, Starbuck’s server, etc.).  As we genuinely love those around us, opportunities will arise where we can share our testimony, our story, of how Jesus has changed our lives.  It is through relationship that God created man; it is through relationship that God sent His Son Jesus to save this world; it is through relationship that Jesus died for you and me; it is through relationship where Jesus came into your life and changed you; and it will be through relationship where each lost soul on earth will have an opportunity to begin a faith relationship with Jesus to change their eternal path.

Jesus has one plan for the salvation of this world – The Church (ALL followers of Jesus).  Jesus poured into 12 men…upon His resurrection and ascension to heaven He set them loose with one goal in mind – get into relationship with people in your path, share the good news of Jesus’ incredible gift of grace, and help others on the path do the same!  Here is Jesus’ commission to His disciples, and in turn His commission for us as The Church:

Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Go – our commission to get into people’s lives and build relationships…you can’t build a relationship unless you are willing to go.

Baptize – as relationships are built we share our story of how Jesus changed our lives.  This is where people have an opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus’ gift of grace and respond to that Good News by accepting that gift and beginning a relationship with Jesus.  When the topic of baptism is brought up we must also understand that water baptism is simply a public profession of one’s new relationship with Jesus – one next step in our faith journey proclaiming we belong to Jesus!  Though it is important to make that public proclamation, water baptism in and of itself is not a requirement of salvation.

Teach – we walk alongside those new in relationship with Jesus, helping them understand grace and showing them how to go into the world and begin making disciples through relationships.

“Go, Baptize and Teach” is the method Jesus commissioned us to make disciples who will learn to make disciples – this is how the world can be changed by a group of 12 men who passed it on to us!

Local churches and fellow believers; it’s far past time for The Church to come together and love one-another as we love those far from God.  When those far from God see how ridiculous individual church congregations treat one-another, they see the hypocrisy and want nothing to do with us!  When people see how critical “religious” people are in their comments or posts on social media as well in their arguments in the public square, why would we expect them to want join our mission let alone follow the One we say we follow?  God doesn’t want us to argue with people who think differently than we do.  No-one has been argued into the Kingdom!  Jesus wants us to love people who don’t know Him and get into relationship with people far from Him!  Only then will we have an opportunity to share the things that truly matter in this life!  People will want to know the One we follow when we actually reflect the One we follow!  So go out and show His love and grace to those around you – just as Jesus has extended His love and grace to you!  And cheer on the local congregations of people in your community who are reaching people for Jesus…the heavens explode with a party every time one sinner accepts salvation through Jesus.  Let’s join in that cheering and reach everyone together!

 

I’ve often heard people say something along the lines of this:  “God just wants me to be happy”, usually followed by a description of destructive behaviors and possibly life altering choices.  Like the twisted deception that Satan gave to Eve in the garden – “Did God really say….” – this lie is still one of Satan’s favorite tools to deceive believers in this more recent culture of the selfie.  Unfortunately, God’s desire for joy in our lives has been misinterpreted into thinking that He wants us to enjoy the worldly desires that can only give us a brief and false sense of happiness which is fleeting on this earth.  However, God’s true desire for us to enjoy this life has nothing to do with us being happy!  No, His desire for our joy in this life comes from our holiness – something we cannot attain on our own!

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So, can we obtain true happiness (or pure joy) from worldly desires?  I don’t believe we can…yet, this is one of the ways Satan tries to trip up believers – if he can’t take away our eternal security, he darn sure will try to make us turn our backs on the true joy that we can only obtain through God’s character and His purpose for our lives.  Finding ourselves within His will is how we obtain the joy we read about in the Scriptures.  The feeling of happiness that Satan tries to make people believe is good is what Paul calls the worldly desires, or works of the flesh, that completely contradict God’s joy that we deep down desire more than anything!

Galatians 5:16-25 – But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

The litmus test is really pretty simple, but when we are lost in the moment we must step back and evaluate our thoughts and behaviors to see if they line up with the “works of the flesh” (which are from Satan) or the “fruit of the Spirit” (which comes from God).

To follow Jesus, and to obtain True Joy while we are here on earth, we must take every thought and behavior to task and see where it falls:

  • Thought or behavior from Satan – The works of the flesh – sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. (You’ve seen people living in this mindset, and true happiness can never be found here…only destruction and pain)
  • Thought or behavior from God – The fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (When you see someone with this fruit on them, it is a beautiful thing to see and to feel…unless Satan is feeding your mind with envy or jealousy – you know, those fleshly thoughts)

It may be hard to see in the moment, but as we step back and review our current life situations we will discover (if we are being honest with ourselves) either Satan has complete control of our lives or we have allowed God to lead our lives.  If we choose Satan (and it is a choice), our relationships and lives will end in a miserable death – after all, Satan is the father of lies and his lies always lead to death:

John 8:44 – You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

But, when we choose God, our relationships, choices, desires, and path will be led with an exceedingly abundant joy that can only  come from our Father in Heaven.  That kind of joy can only be known when we have accepted Jesus as our Savior and Lord and choose to repent of the desires of our flesh (sin) while standing firm on the belief that God has a plan for our lives, and that plan will always reflect God’s good and perfect character.  He desires that we live a life that reflects the nature of His Son, Jesus, and anything less is simply our flesh giving in to Satan.

Romans 14:17 – For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking [fleshly desires] but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

God does not want us to be happy; He wants us to be Holy!  No, we cannot be perfect, but we can choose a Holy joy-filled life that only God can lead us to…a life and joy that reflects the One who gave His life for us!  And the immense joy that follows our desires for holiness can only be described as Miraculous!

 

Luke 2:1-20 – In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Bethlehem is the birth place of Jesus, yet the Christian community today in the city of Bethlehem is almost non-existent.  Bethlehem now has a Muslim majority (over 80%), and is governed by the Palestinian National Authority.  Nazareth is similar in that a very small group of people are Christian, and the only site preserved in Nazareth is a small plot of land where a farm is kept that mimics Jesus’ time.  Due to this fact, most of the biblical artifacts have been destroyed or covered up.  Sad how this group of people are going around destroying evidence of the Savior, when accepting Him is the only salvation they (and we) truly need!

Olive Harvesting at the Farm

Olive Harvesting at the Farm in Nazareth

Geographically, Bethlehem sits just 6 miles south of Jerusalem, and approximately 60-70 miles south of Nazareth – Nazareth is located in the region of Galilee (west of the Sea of Galilee).  So that journey for Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem was quite a hike, especially with Mary being pregnant.  Yet, with how small Israel as a whole is, it is quite feasible to understand how the journeys throughout the scriptures occurred!   I think we read where people traveled from one region to another and believe it must have taken months, but in all reality, days for many of the journeys from far north or far south to Jerusalem and surrounding areas!

On our visit to Bethlehem, we first stopped at the Bethlehem Olive Wood Factory where local artists carve many biblical scenes such as the one below that I really like, a scene where the disciples are casting their nets and taking the challenge to follow Jesus and become fishers of men!  This factory employs the very few Christians in Bethlehem today!

Artists at the Bethlehem Olive Wood Factory

Artists at the Bethlehem Olive Wood Factory

Olive Wood from Bethlehem Drying for Carving

Olive Wood from Bethlehem Drying for Carving

My Favorite Olive Wood Carving - "I Will Make You Fishers of Men"

My Favorite Olive Wood Carving – “I Will Make You Fishers of Men”

We then took a short walk to the Church of the Nativity, just a few short blocks away.  We were immediately met by a couple local Palestinian merchants who starting following us, trying to sell us several small items.  I made a poor choice along the way of buying a package of 20 post cards from a local kid for $1…because after I handed him the dollar several others followed us all the way to the bus trying to force themselves on the women to buy their items.  I really had a vision of why Jesus turned over the tables at the temple where all the merchants were selling items and stealing from the buyers.  The birthplace of our Savior has become a den of robbers!

Church of the Nativity

Church of the Nativity

As we arrive at the Church of the Nativity, our guide shared with us again that this is the traditional site of Jesus birth, which simply means that the Catholic Church placed a huge church over the site and gave limited access to what was inside.  The picture below shows a small glass “hole” to view where they believe Jesus was born.  It really is hard to know if this is the exact place of His birth, but what I left with was more of a feeling of angst over how ritualistic this place has become.  There were many ancient relics here including some amazing mosaics.  But I still left with a sadness over those who visit because they feel the only way to know Jesus is to pray at these Catholic churches in a ritualistic manner, often touching stones and praying that His power would pass through these items into them.  My Savior lives in me and I can talk with Him whenever and wherever I choose…it is so much more of a relationship instead of a religion!

Me and my Lovely wife at the Traditional Spot of Jesus Birth

Me and my Lovely wife at the Traditional Spot of Jesus Birth

Overall, I was highly disappointed in both Nazareth and Bethlehem.  Both areas have a corrupt influence in the religious and the governing bodies.  But one thing holds true here as well as many other places we visited – the reason the Muslims are ravaging these sites is because they fear the fact that Jesus is real and is coming back one day…and unfortunately, they follow a “religion” that will be on the losing side of eternity unless they accept Jesus as their true Savior and Lord!  It is easy to walk away from these areas discouraged and disappointed, and maybe even a little angry.  Yet, we are called as believers in Jesus Christ to love and pray for these people as much as our unbelieving neighbor.  My prayers have changed since leaving Israel…I pray a lot for the Peace of Israel, and I pray for those who are fighting against Christ to see Him for who He truly is – the One True Messiah who will return very soon!

As we celebrate our amazing Saviors birth this Christmas, remember to pray for those who are fighting hard to believe Jesus is not real.  I can understand how unbelievable this story of Christmas and the entire life of Jesus can be, yet I know there is a longing in every person’s heart for relationship with Jesus, who is in fact the only One who can fill the void this world has created in so many people.  Riches, possessions, careers, and even relationships with others cannot replace the desperate need that our spirit has to be united with God forever.  Without Jesus, we will always be left wanting more!  If you are a believer, intercede in prayer for those who are investigating Jesus…that they will come to know Him deeply during this Christmas season.  Pray also for those who are in complete denial of His existence, and feel that science, evolution or other religions explain away a Creator…remember, God created science as well and evidence always points to an intelligent designer!  Pray for those allowing personal sin to keep them from seeking out a relationship with Jesus.  If we had to clean ourselves up before coming into relationship with Jesus, He would have no followers!  We are all in the same sin sick boat, drowning without a Savior!

God has placed you in relationship with those around you for a reason!  He wants to utilize your relationship as you walk along side those in whom He is drawing into relationship with Him.  When Jesus said to love God and each other, He knew that this would revolutionize the world if only people would focus on those two commands.  So, how are you loving God and those around you?

Mark 12:30-31 – And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Thank you for continuing to read my blog!  I pray it has been a blessing to you and maybe even made you think, seek out Truth in the scriptures and/or drew you closer to Jesus in some way!  The next stop along this Holy Land journey will be The Sea of Galilee as we move north along the Jordan River.  Until then, Shalom, and Merry Christmas!

The Garden Tomb is the traditional site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection.  The Garden is now owned and maintained by The Garden Tomb Association, a non-denominational Christian group ensuring that the site stay intact and a destination for many believers while in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.  The Garden Tomb is an alternate site from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where the Catholic Church has built a massive church over a site they believe to be the location the crucifixion took place.  However, the Garden Tomb site meets the criteria surrounding the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus in all four gospels.  There is no way to be sure, but the location along with proximity of the crucifixion site and tomb seem to match this site better than any other!

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View of a small portion of the garden

The first thing you see upon entering the gate is the beautiful garden full of vegetation and paths to take in the beauty all around.  This site is very serene and allows for each person to reflect and worship in a peaceful and powerful way.

Golgotha - The Place of the Skull

Golgotha – The Place of the Skull

As we make our way through the garden, we arrive at an overlook where we see Golgotha – the place of the skull – where Jesus was crucified.  Just below the “skull” (not shown in the picture) is a bus station placed there by local Muslims.  This is something you see all over Israel, the Muslims destroying places of biblical significance to try and cover-up the truth in the Scriptures.  Thank God that The Garden Tomb Association was able to purchase this site and gate it before any more damage could have been done to this historic site.

Luke 19:17 – Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).

We then make our way toward the Garden Tomb, no more than 30-40 yards from Golgotha as I recall.  Again, with the proximity of the tomb to the place where Jesus was on the cross, this site has all the makings of the actual place where our Savior died, was buried and then rose again!

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb

Matthew 27:57-61 – When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

It is a very surreal experience seeing the tomb and then entering it to find this sign, driving home the point:

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He is most certainly not in there, and the words that Mary Magdalene heard from the angel of the Lord rang in my ears as I came out of the tomb:

Matthew 28: 1-7 – Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

We ended our visit to this amazing site with communion while we sang some well known hymns.  I sobbed as our group served one-another communion at the location where my Savior, Jesus Christ, was raised to life, knowing one day soon He will return to take those of us who call Him Lord and have accepted His gift of grace home to spend eternity with the Father!  I long for that day more now than ever before…and as He has said at the end of the book of Revelation; “I am coming soon”…even so, come Lord Jesus!  I pray you have accepted that gift of grace as well, and I look forward to spending eternity with you and with Jesus!

The next post on this journey will be centered upon the birth of Jesus as we celebrate this season of Christmas!  Until then, Shalom!

 

 

Via Dolorosa – The way of suffering.  This is the traditional path that Jesus walked as He carried the cross that He would die upon for our sins.  This post will make for a great Bible study as there are many scriptural references here referring to the stations along the Via Dolorosa.  So, grab your bibles and let’s walk along the way of suffering.

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This first map is an overview of Jerusalem.  As you can see, the Via Dolorosa begins at the Lions Gate (in the current Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem) and winds its way into the Christian Quarter.  The path covers approximately 550 yards, and along the path are 14 stations noted with biblical references (as they apply) as to the possible location of where these historical events took place.

City Overview

Below is a map of the Via Dolorosa noting each station by number.  I have included scripture below as a means to study the significance of this path for our daily redemptive lives.

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Station 1 – Jesus Condemned to DieMatthew 27:22-23

Station 2 – Jesus Takes Up His CrossJohn 19: 15b- 17

Station 3 – Jesus Falls For the First Time
This is a traditional site. There are not any scriptures that reference Jesus falling a certain number of times. However, we can imagine that He might have done so. Therefore, let us remember the totality of what He suffered on this day.

Station 4 – Jesus Meets His MotherLuke 2:21, 22, 25, 34, 35

Station  5 – Simon of Cyrene Takes Up the CrossMark 15:21

Station  6 – Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
Traditionally, a woman named Veronica removes her veil and wipes the blood and sweat stained face of Jesus. When she later looks at the veil, she sees that the imprint of His face remains on the cloth used to cover hers.
Station 7 – Jesus Falls the Second Time
The intention of remembrance of this traditional site is that as Jesus endured the painful way.

Station  8 – Jesus Meets the Holy Women of JerusalemLuke 23:28

Station  9 – Jesus Fall the Third Time
The intention of this site-this Ninth Station of the Cross-is to remind us to preserve even within our own faults.

Station 10 – Jesus is Stripped of His GarmentsJohn 19: 23

Station 11 – Jesus Nailed to the Cross
It was the third hour when they crucified him. ~ Mark 15:25

Station 12 – Jesus Dies on the Cross Luke 23:44-46

Station 13 – Jesus Taken Down from the Cross &

Station 14 – Jesus is Placed in the Tomb ~ Mark 15: 43, 46

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One of the Stations along the Via Dolorosa – Station 5

 

I realize this post is more of a study than a guide as to what we witnessed.  The reason I have chosen this path is because while we traveled the path, we did not have a lot of time to contemplate the suffering or even stop at each station for reflection.  This path is a very busy road winding through the city with bustling traffic and loud shops all along the way!  Going back through these verses has given me a greater understanding and heart for the way of suffering!

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The busy street along the Via Dolorosa

 

I pray as you study these few scriptures along the way that you will connect deeper to the One who was willing to take this suffering for you because of the deep love that He has for you!  I pray you get to know Jesus deeper through His suffering!

The next post we will discover the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane!  Until then, shalom, and Happy Thanksgiving!

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Far too often, “Christians” are willing to talk amongst themselves while posting stuff about the things they don’t agree with or are completely against either in regards to faith or in the world in general, yet very few are willing to get into the lives of people far from God and introduce them to our Amazing Savior, the man who’s Grace is enough for all of us!  Many would rather make a point with their opinion rather than make an eternal difference in someone’s life…who do you want to be?

What if each of us, this week, would focus on being light to those who don’t know Him and stop posting or communicating any sort of negativity of the things we don’t like or agree with?  The world offers up more than enough negativity, but as followers of Jesus, we have the only real message that can offer up life and freedom!  Let’s live in that freedom and be people in whom those who don’t know Him yet want to be around and want to build relationships with that can lead to true Freedom that only Christ can offer.  The world has enough reasons not to follow Jesus, yet unfortunately those reasons have nothing to do with Jesus, mostly His followers!

Remember, Jesus spent a lot of time with people who were far from God, and shunned those stuck in their religious practices and law focused mindsets…and those people Jesus spent time with liked spending time with Him because Jesus loved them and wanted to be in relationship with them more than try to force Himself on them.  Jesus had every right to condemn people for their sin, yet He chose relationship over religion.  We must do the same if we ever want to become more like Him!  We choose relationship with God and with others while God changes us and them from the inside-out!  Without relationship, transformation can never happen!

The Grace Jesus offers requires absolutely nothing from us because, in Him, it is finished!  Once we truly understand this amazing gift of grace our response will be to love God and those around us because we are a new creation in Jesus – being transformed by Him and Him alone.  It is impossible to love those far from God if we are consistently focused on the stuff we don’t like or have negative opinions about (can be politics, sports, weather, movies, someone’s outfit, etc.)…we must be passionate about loving people far from Him and building relationships with them as we live out our lives in Christ and share Him with those far from Him!  If we are completely unattractive to people around us who don’t know Jesus how do we ever share the message that saved us?

If people are not attracted to the message we are sharing in the same way they were attracted to Jesus and the early church, it is likely they are not hearing the same message that Jesus and the early church was presenting…the Gospel is attractive and freeing!  Is the message we are sharing attracting people or repelling them?

Time for believers to stop arguing with other believers (or worse, while non-believers are in the picture) about individual opinions or bents and start loving one-other and more importantly loving people far from God…love, not opinion, is what our neighbor needs!  Let Grace do it’s work in our hearts as we extend grace to those around us – Grace breeds grace!  Every word we say matters and potentially has eternal consequences…make your words and actions count, and give God all the glory!

Matthew 12:35-37 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

 dancing-rain

A week or so ago I was having a conversation with my wife and quite frankly, I was a bit discouraged…kind of like when an outdoor activity seems all but lost because an unexpected rainstorm has invaded our plans.  For some time now I have been feeling the desire to move into vocational ministry, however, at least at this moment, I don’t see myself as someone who will speak to groups of people…I am leaving that up to God, though!  Yet, over the past year I have felt an even more direct call into ministry from God; something that is constantly brought to my mind by God in every moment and circumstance of my life.  My discouragement has come from not knowing exactly where God is specifically calling me!  It seems odd to me that God would call me into ministry yet not give me specific marching orders, even though I intuitively know that is not how He works in my life.  Something I struggle with almost daily…learning to find joy when it rains!

James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Maybe my call is not so different than others who have been called.  God has simply given me one step at a time and once I am obedient and take that step, He shows me the next.  Many of the steps so far have been either faith steps or connections with people – I truly love when God prompts me to connect with someone He has brought to my heart and mind.  Some great relationships and deep friendships have developed and are developing through those interactions in which God was the only reason to connect!  Most of the trials I have been dealing with have indeed produced a steadfastness that has sustained my desire for relationship with God and with the people He has led me to (or to me).  I now see those trails (at least once I reflect) as opportunities to grow and discern God’s call in my life.

So, how do you respond to trials or disappointment?  How do you handle the victories and wins in your life and ministry?  In those moments, what do you think God is trying to teach you?  How can you and those around you grow during times of trial?  Do you have people in your life willing to pour into you even when trials come along?

Perspective makes all the difference when it comes to disappointment and trials.  Having a loving God in our life really does help us to see the struggle with joy knowing that the only way we can grow is to press through the trial and seek God to understand what it is that He wants us to discover.  Even though that way of thinking can be very difficult in the moment, having people around you who will remind you of God’s plan and purposes in your life can help keep you on the path that God is choosing for you…and besides, genuine relationship allows us to build each other up even when struggles rear their ugly head.  That’s how my lovely wife built me up the other night, simply by reminding me that the trials I am facing are opportunities to grow and take that next step of faith…answering His call one step and relationship at a time, especially when it rains!

Back to school

By now, most students in our area are back in school. It’s a time of getting back on schedule, seeing old friends and making new ones. This time of year offers some great opportunities in the area of relational discipleship as well. Whether you’re a student, parent, teacher or anyone who comes in contact with kids, teens and college students, you can make a difference in the life of someone else.

Mark 12:30-31 (ESV)

30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

This is a passage that typically rolls right off the tongue. So the big question is, “Who is your neighbor?” Yes, we are to build into lives in our actual neighborhood, but God’s definition of neighbor is so much larger than ours. I believe, and I feel scripture backs it up in the story of the good Samaritan, that God’s definition of neighbor is anyone He places in our daily path. The person in line at the checkout, the cashier, the police officer, your server, your students, friends, etc…they are all our neighbors if God has somehow placed them into our lives.

I know this is not rocket science and may not be at all new to you, but I’d like to throw out a challenge to you this year, right now. Find a way to implement relational discipleship into your life as the new school year begins. Here are just a few short examples of how we can make a difference:

If you are a teacher, find ways to engage kids at a personal and maybe even spiritual level.  You can teach in a way that shares biblical principles, and when asked, share where those ideas come from.  Open up the conversation for your students to ask questions, even if only one-on-one.

As a parent, you have many opportunities to share the love of God with different “neighbors”.  Your child’s teacher can really use a partner in you as a parent, not only in helping in the classroom and volunteering for parties and field trips, but in encouraging her or him throughout the year and maybe even being there for them in a time of need.

As a student, live out your life in Christ in such a way that shouts you are different…in a good way!  Remember, people are always watching us to see if we will live out what we say, so living out your faith means the simple things like:

Don’t lie, at all!

Do all school work and chores to the best of your ability.

Show compassion to those around you.

Look out for those being bullied or just ignored, and show them you care by getting to know them.

Respect your teachers and their authority.

And for any adult at all, keep your eyes open for any kid that needs someone to come alongside them and care about them.  There are far too many kids out there who need an adult to show them they are valuable.  If a fraction of the adults in any community would simply mentor one kid, each community would be completely transformed.  Bullying would reduce.  Suicide rates would drop drastically.  Childhood depression and anxiety would be rare instead of completely normal in our schools today.

Simply put, and as the famous quote goes, you were created for such a time as this. Making disciples begins with a relationship, and relationships begin when one person steps out of their little world and enters into someone else’s world. Heading back to school presents a fresh start in our lives as disciple makers. As you dig in, keep your eyes open to those around you and keep your heart open to anyone God prompts you to connect with…it’s an amazing thing feeling a prompting from God to make a connection, and actually going through with it by starting a conversation. Who knows, that person may become a life-long friend and/or better yet, you may have the joy of introducing them to our amazing Savior! Sharing the Good News always begins with a conversation, and conversations happen best when relationship has been established. Take relational discipleship back to school this Fall…you will be blessed beyond measure, and those blessings, when shared, become contagious!

 

I would expect that many cringed when they read that title!  I am sure some even thought this was a false statement.  I pray you read on and then decide what you will believe…as for me, I have made my decision based in part on the following scriptures (but not limited to these scriptures alone):

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

This world we live in is far from being worthy of a Savior; yet, God so desires a relationship with humanity, His lone creation made in His image, that He was willing to offer up the only sacrifice that was worthy enough to cover the fate and sin of the world, the sin that we deal with on a daily basis.  That sacrifice was God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and He is the only reason we have hope in the sin sick world we live.  How amazing is it that even while we were still living out our sinful desires and wicked ways, He died for us!  Grace personified in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Yet, we still keep falling into the trap that we have to do something, anything, to gain or keep His love for us…as if we have the power to change God’s heart.  Through His grace, Christ has provided a way for us to live with God eternally – the sentence for sin is death and He beat death on our behalf!

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Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 

Grace has been given to all who have faith in Jesus, making Him Savior and Lord!  No works or deeds are required of us to gain His love or grace…if Jesus required our works to gain His grace, then His sacrifice was not required!  There is nothing we can do, we must simply put our faith in Him that it is done!

No works….here’s a thought provoking statement that goes against the grain of religion: Not even the work of repentance can gain you the free gift of God’s grace.  If the verse above holds true, our salvation, the free gift of grace, does not hinge upon our repentance!  If it did we would have a means to boast in what we have done!  So the question, “can I be gay and a Christian” really does make sense as one’s salvation doesn’t hinge upon our sexual orientation or any other behavior or lifestyle, regardless if you feel it is a sin or not.  Our salvation hinges solely on Christ’s work on the cross, and His sacrifice is enough to allow us the grace to trust in Him and let Him work within us to make us who He wants us to be!  Our repentance can only come after we have accepted the gift of grace as a response to love we have for Jesus and Him alone.   Repentance comes out of who we are becoming through Christ, but in no way proves a hindrance to our salvation.   Repentance is between you and God, not for you to point out in others!  Each one of us has enough sin in our life to deal with without pointing out where we feel someone else is falling short!

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

What “good works” has God created you to accomplish?  Too often we look at the verse on the tail of verses 8 and 9 and say, “see, we are supposed to do works (including but not limited to repentance) to stay in His good grace.”  But that is not what Paul is saying here.  He is simply saying that God created mankind for a purpose…and each of us has a calling from God.  His calling in our lives is the only “good works” we can even hope to fulfill!  And here’s another caveat: we must read these words for our own lives and not try to force something upon others.  God is working in each of our hearts in different ways, so my calling looks different than yours.  When the bible refers to “good works” it is always in relation to people around us, not in relation to God!  With God, it is finished through Jesus!  God never needs or wants our good works, but our neighbor does!

Romans 11:6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

Another great reminder of this truth – Grace is a free gift for those who have faith in Jesus!  That is it, no extra’s, no repentance, no getting cleaned up before beginning a relationship with Jesus, no condemnation…simply a loving God offering up a relationship with Him by trusting that Jesus is who He said He was and having faith that God’s grace is enough. 

At this point there is usually a big, BUT…yet, in God’s word that is it!  We can add all the works we want to the new believer, but it’s not biblical!  There is nothing we can do to get “better” or “do good”.  His grace means It Is Done! Finished!  When we try to add things to do for the new believer we are in essence sentencing them to a roller coaster faith that will have them on highs when they are performing well and lows when they forget to read their bibles or fall back into that sin that had them captive for years.  What the new believer needs is a relationship with you!  They need someone who is navigating this faith life to come alongside them and build a relationship with them right where they are…it’s seldom enough to give someone a list of things to do and expect them to build a strong faith life built on grace.  We need to be in relationship, doing life so that true biblical discipleship can happen!  That is why I love the term Relational Discipleship – it encompasses the need for relationship in the discipleship process!  Just like in our faith, relationship is the key to everything…and after all, Jesus modeled it first!

John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

THIS IS GOOD NEWS!!!  We must remember that Jesus did not come to condemn, and His people must not condemn either!  As followers of Jesus, what we can do is build relationships, point people to our Savior and love them enough to walk with them as they make eternal decisions!  We can be disciples who are making disciples while allowing the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of those in which we are in relationship!  God is big enough and in control enough to allow us to love our neighbors while He transforms them…it is His job to change people He wants to change, not ours!  Our job is to love God and love our neighbors which requires relationships built on grace!

walks-on-water

Matthew 14:25-33 – 25 And in the fourth watch of the night He [Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Often times when we read this passage the first thing we point out is the fact that Matthew didn’t have enough faith to stay above the waves.  Jesus even says he had little faith and doubted.  How pious we must be in our thinking to believe we have even a fraction of the faith required for such a miraculous water walking endeavor!  We need to give Peter a break for the amount of courage it took for him to even consider stepping out, let alone actually going through with it!

When reading this passage again today, what really stuck out to me was the fact that when Peter had His eyes focused on Jesus he was actually walking on water!  How cool is that!  Yet, when his focus turned to what was going on around him, seeing how the wind was crashing the waves against the boat, he began to sink.  It’s all good when we have our eyes dead set on Jesus, but when our focus shifts away from Him, life seems out of control!  The parallel to our lives is astounding to me in so many ways!

I recently had a conversation with a young person who is in the middle of a tug-of-war in their mind between accepting Jesus’ gift of eternal life and living the life they know, can relate to and are comfortable with – a life where they have finally found love, comfort, safety and forgiveness from people going through many of the same life struggles.  Like this person, most of us tend to think we have to figure it all out and possibly “clean up our act”, whatever that means, before taking a step of faith in making Jesus Savior and Lord.  The problem is…none of us have our act together either before we accept Jesus or after!  We are human and are all lost in need of a Savior.  Jesus is ok with our “lostness” as long as we don’t stay there forever…He loves us too much and desires us to spend eternity in relationship with Him as well as live an abundant life here on earth – abundant in love, grace and forgiveness!  You see, Jesus doesn’t want us to try to clean up our messy lives before we come to be with Him; He wants desperately to walk with us through our struggles and show us what unconditional love really looks like.

It is easy for life to get in the way of so many important things, especially when it comes to God.  We think we have to “get things done” or feel we are too busy to make God a priority in our lives.  However, our messy, busy lives are an indication that we are too swamped to NOT make Jesus the priority in our lives!  With Jesus at the center of our entire lives perspective changes, love increases, compassion abounds, generosity flows and life fills up with joy and meaning!  Life is still difficult, but with an eternal perspective, one that Jesus gives us when our priorities are in the right order, our struggles become opportunities to grow and build relationships.  That is the freedom that the bible talks about…freedom to live our lives while inviting Jesus to guide our hearts and minds as we seek to become more like Him – not because we are trying to gain His favor, but because that is how we respond when we love someone!

So, in what ways are you taking your eyes off Jesus and beginning to sink in your circumstances?  Where are you feeling God’s nudge to step out in faith, out of your own boat, and take an impossible step toward Jesus where you only see the possibility of drowning?  Maybe your next step is to trust in Him, to begin an incredible love relationship with the Creator of the Universe!  Regardless of where you are right this moment, I believe Jesus wants you to simply focus on Him, and don’t look down!

If you have questions on how to take your first step of faith, making Jesus your Savior and Lord, please check out NeedHim.org or feel free to contact me.  A relationship with Jesus changes everything for eternity!  This life is fleeting…where do you intend on spending eternity?

Pub Theo

Pub Theology…Really?

Yes, really!  A thousand times Yes!!!

I recently had an incredible opportunity to be part of a gathering of people worshiping and talking with the good folks from Pub Theology Indy (www.PubTheologyIndy.com).  I have often felt that some of the best conversations about God, life, success and struggles happen when we let our guards down and just hang out in a local bar or coffee house!  This visit proved that to be true once again.

When my wife and I arrived, we entered the room where the sound system was being set up and people were floating around entering conversations.  I ordered a beer and my wife ordered a glass of wine as we sat down in anticipation of a great night.  We were quickly able to meet the people of Pub and had some amazing conversations with them about life, calling and Jesus.  Yes, you can worship and talk about Jesus in a bar over a beer!  My feeling has always been that this kind of environment would be where we would find Jesus hanging out if He were back on earth in human form seeking to bring real people into a relationship with Him.

The mix of music was great and The Flying Toasters played a great worship set!  The Pub Pastor (Daron) presented the gospel in an appealing way that drew people into a conversation and let them choose where to take what they heard about this man we love, Jesus!  I must say that this was a refreshing gathering of people sold out for Jesus and meeting people where they would hang, not expecting them to come where we usually gather for our creature comforts!

This post is not about critiquing the “performance” or “presentation” of a Christian message by Pub, it is simply written as an example of one way to reach people with the gospel in an environment where trust and relationship can be built quickly with guards down.  When Jesus left us the great commission (see Matthew 28:18-20) He said to go into the entire world and make disciples who will in turn make disciples.  He didn’t say to go to your local synagogue to get fed or let the priest or pastor regurgitate the message for you while you sit comfortably in your seat with little or no intent to engage the world…He said to go out and build relationships with people where they are comfortable.  Remember the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22:

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

Paul’s words are a great reminder to us that Church must happen outside the walls of our local congregational outposts.  Real conversations occur when we are not deceiving others (or ourselves) by acting like we have it all together, as if everyone is getting along great, and are enjoying a richly blessed life, etc, etc.  By the way, a richly blessed life really does happen when we are being completely open and honest with God and doing life with others while dealing with our struggles head on!  Many times we grow the most when life completely sucks and we feel there is nowhere to turn…we then enter a conversation with someone who begins walking alongside us, helping to navigate through the circumstances of the struggle, always pointing back to the Savior in the process.  I have found that those conversations happen naturally over a meal, a beer or coffee when the defenses are down and the act of having it all together has been dropped.  Pub Theology offers just that…an environment where you come as you are, enjoy some beer, some great music, and a real conversation with Jesus Christ in the center of it all!  I will say it again; this is the kind of hangout that I feel Jesus would have wholeheartedly attended!  I can envision the party Jesus attended with Matthew and his buddies being very similar to the Pub gatherings (see Matthew 9:9-13 and Luke 5:27-32)…and who were the only ones looking down on that gathering?  The Pharisees – the self-righteous, religious people on the day!  Unfortunately, there is still a lot of “pharisaical” thinking going on in judgment of these type outposts where followers of Jesus are heeding the words of Paul, and the life of Jesus, and reaching people where they hang out!  From my experience with Pub, and the many conversations I have had in bars and coffee houses, Jesus is being preached, God is being honored and the Holy Spirit is moving in some incredible ways when movements like Pub Theology occur all over the world.  Faith, Hope, Love and Beer…what a mantra to live by!

#FaithHopeLoveBeer

@PubTheoIndy

www.PubTheologyIndy.com