Archive for the ‘goodness’ Category

How often have you heard someone recite the words “be content in all circumstances”, paraphrasing a familiar verse from Philippians. Paul states:

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Philippians 4:11

Usually, when someone is teaching this scripture, discussing it among friends, or even in a particularly untactful comment to someone who is struggling, they are referring to a circumstance in which someone does not feel content, but not really getting to the entire message Paul is sharing. It doesn’t start with being content, it was a learned process (see verse above where Paul says he learned…). But how do we learn to be content? Just like in almost every scripture in the Bible, we need to study context and read the entire passage to discover what the author is teaching us.

In this verse, contentment was learned by Paul, and thankfully can also be learned by us. The key in Paul’s message lies a little earlier in his letter to the Philippian church.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

Did you catch the key to Paul’s, and our, contentment in verse 14?

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Do you think Paul was content, the way he describes contentment in chapter 4, when he was a Pharisee killing Christians? I don’t! I believe his contentment began when he believed in Jesus, was baptized, and then learned contentment by answering the calling Jesus gave him to preach ands spread the gospel as a missionary! His contentment is directly connected to his calling, or better yet, his answered calling. Jesus gave him His plan for Paul’s life, then Paul obediently said yes, and found contentment in life because he started doing exactly what he was created to do!

Simply put, Paul gave his life to Jesus, answered the calling Jesus had placed for his life, and found contentment in every and all circumstances because he was on the path chosen for him. We can also find that same contentment, by following God’s calling for our lives!

So, now it comes back to us…what will we do with what we learn? If you find yourself lacking contentment in life, you can’t just BE content in any and every circumstance. You may be able to fake it for a while, but that inner calling will eventually come to the surface until you make the decision to listen to the God-given calling inside of you and press into that direction for your life.

There are many ways to move into that direction, once you discover what God has given you a burden to do – you know, those times you feel so strongly about ___________ that you just can’t contain the emotion or desire to do something about ____________. One way is to take that “passion” and dig into God’s character and word and see what He says about it. Another is to talk with others about what you are feeling and work out your thoughts and possible direction you can move to make an impact. You can also ask others who have a similar passion within their calling and God may develop a relationship between the two of you in which leads to even more change! But most importantly, listen to the Holy Spirit’s nudges! You know, those times where you feel a strong desire to call someone out of the blue, connect with someone brand new (maybe even someone out of your typical network of people – even if they are way beyond your normal reach), volunteer in your community, write a post, read a book, etc…the possibilities from a creative God are endless!

Something to keep in mind when seeking your calling is that there will be many distractions that will attempt to alter your course of action. The best way to discern if you are heading in the direction of your calling is to check your thoughts out with God’s word. If what He says in His word doesn’t line up with what you are thinking, it is likely a distraction. His calling will never be contrary to His nature, character or His word.

So what is your next step? It may be to go to the first step and accept the free gift of grace that Jesus offers each and every one of us – salvation through the grace of Jesus! If you have questions about salvation, I’d love to have that conversation with you!

Maybe it is to read and reread Philippians to get a feel for how Paul learned to be content…I know this has been a letter I have been parked in lately as I discovered the key to contentment. Maybe it is to look through your social feeds or watch the news/ read the headlines and see if God prompts your heart. It may also be to dig deep into yourself and ask loved ones what they see in you as a calling/passion, including what gifts you possess (those things you are naturally good at). But first, ask God to reveal His calling for your life! As you talk to God about this, He will reveal some things to you that will blow your mind! Thoughts that may seem contrary to who you are, but then He does His thing and shows you how you were designed to think and act upon His calling.

I’d love to hear about your journey whether just starting or a long-time coming. Please feel free to reach out or comment about your calling, and as always if you’d like to talk about contentment and/or calling, know I am always here for you! You can email me at rboyland01@gmail.com or connect via the form below.

I can’t wait to see more and more of you discovering your calling and taking steps toward fulfilling your purpose! Let’s make the world a better place by engaging in our communities and using our calling to change the world…you in?

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As I was laying in bed this morning, I felt prompted to weigh in on what I feel is the biggest problem in America that has led to the current sports figures kneeling during the National Anthem. Likely, what I am writing here will resonate with you in spirit and hopefully more so in action, as well as likely causing some angst in many of you as well – which is fine with me because I feel it is something God is pressing into my heart to share. So here goes:

NFL Players Kneeling During National Anthem

The real problem resulting in all of the protests (on every issue regardless of political, social or faith-driven beliefs) is the lack of courage people have to engage with one-another directly – in the church or in community. Worse, this lack of courage, along with all of the cheap and cowardly shots people take upon one-another daily from the safety of their computer or phones, only seems to be super-fueled by the media – not just journalism either, but more so, social media. That is the biggest oxymoron of our time – there is nothing social about social media anymore. Maybe there never was! What social media has done to our culture is allow most people to hide behind their keyboards or phones and communicate with their own bias and opinion while spewing hate as if their ideas are the only ones valid, all while judging everyone else as if they are completely ignorant. That might be a nicer way of saying that small minds and cowardly people will engage in every way possible without actually engaging in a way that leads to reconciliation! If you don’t have to actual talk to someone face-to-face, it’s easy to demonize them and their thoughts, words and beliefs. Cowards act done in this manner, not people seeking to make this world a better place.

So here we are, watching the NFL players sit during the National Anthem and almost everyone is weighing in on the subject with so much venom in which, in my opinion, is not representative of the Man I follow. But it is not just this most current topic that everyone is up in arms about. Lest we forget, this same pattern has been occurring almost weekly! And every issue is important! Racial violence, political unrest (on all sides), religious uncertainty, gay vs straight, rich vs poor, black vs white, muslim vs christian, stand or kneel – the list goes on…

All these issues along with social media are just a symptom of the real problem though. The real issue is so simple, and would be transformative to our communities, nation and world if we would just grasp this simple, yet profound solution that is not new – it actual was spoken throughout the New Testament by Jesus and His disciples, as well as public figures from our recent past like Martin Luther King Jr…and the beat goes on and the masses keep their ears plugged to what would really make this world a better place. Simply, if we would engage one another in face-to-face conversation and relationship, almost all of the hatred, anger and violence would dissipate as we begin to see other people as brothers, sisters and friends! We would begin to feel their pain and struggle and would help them seek out a solution to whatever is on their heart and mind, and they would reciprocate the love to us in our struggle as well. And maybe, just maybe, our heart hearts might grow three sizes that day!

I have a very good friend who also happens to be a black man. I am a white man. I believe when we first started hanging out we were both wanting to become closer friends to not only understand each other and where we come from culturally, but also we see a similar hunger in each other for loving people and extending God’s grace to one-another and those God has placed in our lives! Our conversations are sometimes raw, and I know for a fact some of the questions or comments I have made have been very naive and probably sounded pretty ignorant – I even encourage him to call me out and tell me if something I say or ask is stupid or biased…and he has – and he never judges or condemns me as we are in relationship and love one-another as brothers.

One day I had heard a talk at a conference presented by a black man who was describing his daily life as a young black man – driving through Los Angeles and passing police cars along the side of the road. He said about 7 out of 10 times, especially if he had another black man with him in the car, he would get pulled over for random things and usually let go without incident – but there were also many times where he feared for his safety from the men and women who were employed to keep them safe just because of bias and color. Guns sometime pulled as they approach the car. You know, fear on all sides can be a fuel that breeds destruction! And your immediate reaction to the last two sentences is a tell-tale sign of your bias regarding this issue facing some of our fellow human beings and brothers and sisters in this world on a daily basis.

This was just a small portion of this mans talk, but afterward I was having a discussion with a couple white pastors from the south, and they were trying to justify what the police had been doing in pulling them over, making assumptions that they must’ve been doing something wrong – speeding, acting suspicious, playing “their” loud music (his words), etc. I was saddened that these church leaders had completely missed the point of the talk in the first place, and worse chose to judge someone without even attempting to understand or engage simply based on their color and the situation described. They missed the message because of their bias – this young black man was reaching out to an arena full of leaders from every nationality to begin a conversation and start a relationship that may lead to a healed nation. He sought out a conversation, they simply wanted to justify their own bias without engaging the real issue or making a difference.

Back to my friend – after I returned from that conference I asked him about being pulled over by police in Anderson, IN. I asked him how many times in the past year he had been pulled over. He said, “I don’t know for sure, but I do know that I get pulled over often, many weeks I get pulled over several times, and even more if I have another black man or youth in my car.” When I told him I hadn’t been pulled over for at least 10-15 years – and that time for a tail light and he was just informing me of the light being out – I began to understand a bit more of his struggle and felt another level of compassion for my friend and what he goes through on a daily basis, even here in the midwest!

My goal in writing this post is not to give my opinion on a topic or social issue (but I will do that at the end though). More than likely, my opinion will be different than at least half of you reading this post. But isn’t that the beauty of relationship? When we engage with one another over real topics and deep issues, we grow! A very wise New Testament writer states it this way:

James 1:2-4 MSG – Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

That verse, as with many others, is written specifically to Christians, but applies to all. The only way for anyone to grow in any meaningful way is through the challenges of life. We are not lacking challenges in 2017, that is for sure. If your not sure, look at the headlines or venture onto your social media account and peruse the hot topics of the day. Pick one that resonates in your spirit and then take it to a place that few are courageous enough to go – find someone with a different view than you and ask them to meet you for coffee or a beer and have an honest, inquisitive discussion with the sole purpose of building a relationship and understanding why someone would come to an opposite conclusion than you on such an obvious topic (in your opinion). That is where God does some of His best work – in relationship! Discipleship is done in relationship. Jesus taught and led through relationship. Paul was a missionary spreading the gospel through relationships. For real change to occur, change toward reconciliation and loving one-another, we must not sit out and hope someone else engages in culture. We are not even called to just pray about someone else engaging the issues – prayer must lead to action. No, this call is for you to be part of the solution, and no-one gets a pass! If we will not engage one-another face-to-face, we have no right chiming in on the topics we don’t agree upon – bravery behind a screen is just cowardice! We have to stop this endless cycle of hate and turn toward one-another in love in the hope of building a mutual respect through relationship SO THAT real change can happen and lives are changed for the better.

So I challenge you now (don’t wait) – think in your heart about a social issue or topic that you have strong opinions about (even if it is something you see no possible other way of viewing it correctly) and put it into words. Then, seek out someone that may have a different opinion about the issue and meet them to start a conversation. Not to seek to change their opinion, but to seek to understand them through relationship.

And to lead well and not just share my opinion on this subject socially – I will start! I have many opinions about topics that likely run contrary to what many church people are posting. One topic that has caused a whole lot of controversy in local churches has been, “can a gay person be a believer in Jesus and go to heaven”? It is amazing to me how many times I hear people ask that question! Or worse, people state their opinion in an argumentative way that simply puts up more walls. Writing that sentence for me sounds absurd, but that is because I have an opinion that has been deveolped by engaging in deep relationship with the people in whom this sentence really affects, and have dug into God’s word and His character to make a determination that I feel comfortable sharing. It is this – YES, a person who is gay can be a follower of Jesus and enter into heaven! If by reading that sentence you became real uncomfortable or even a bit confused or angry, that is where relationship comes in. Reach out to me at rboyland01@gmail.com or below contact form and lets begin a conversation!

This entire life is about relationship and we were created to be in relationship! Social media and the bait-click driven comment sections of articles have created a culture of cowardly people who will spout off hatred from behind a screen (in the name of the first amendment, by the way….the very same thing many who are protesting peacefully are doing), but will not actually be part of any solution, taking steps toward one-anotherness and leaving behind the division and judgmentalism that is killing humanity.

Man, if I were an enemy of people, I would develop differing opinions and create ways for people to express those opinions in anger without any consequences for their actions, and then make sure there are an equal amount of people that have the exact opposite opinion, spread a little judgment and hatred, and lead the extremists to take their anger to levels of killing and fighting, and then sit back and watch the work I had created and call it good! Seems like the enemy has been doing an incredible job (in his opinion) in creating division in humanity, don’t you think?

We are better than this! Engage in real conversations with people who think differently than you and watch relationships form and unity to happen regardless of the different opinions. Different opinions have the potential of expanding our worldview beyond our little minds and into a level of love and grace that has never been seen in this world – well, maybe in one person a little over 2,000 years ago, and the thing is that same love and grace is available to each of us today as well. And becoming more like that, extending His love and grace to those around us, is the only way for this generation of people to actually make a difference and build a better world, one relationship at a time!

In typical church world, we try to help people grow by providing studies or groups to teach information about God. However, what is needed first is relational growth so we can become vulnerable enough to allow the Holy Spirit to humble us and grow us spiritually! Relationships teach us how to be transparent, selfless, vulnerable and loving. They teach us humility and how to show honor. They show us how to navigate our emotions and offer compassionate ears as well as a loving correction where appropriate. In an authentic relationship, we have the opportunity to invite someone else into the most intimate part of our being to join us on this journey called life! God designed us to be in relationship, not so we can gather every once in a while and act like we have it all together….No! He designed us this way because He knows the best way to thrive in life, while here or beyond our years on earth, is to deeply know others and be known!

Relationships, loving God and others, are the path to all aspects of health and growth – emotional, physical, and spiritual. Without them, we become bitter, hard, unreachable and unteachable – kinda sounds like a lot of people you’ve been exposed to in church facilities, doesn’t it? The thing is, the church was never meant to be an institution where people fake who they are, gather and sing, get a boost or a rebuke, and then go home and hide for another week or two. It wasn’t even meant to be a place where you get in a group or even serve at your local church building on a weekend. Those things are not church…We are The Church! So if every day, walking around human beings are in fact The Church Jesus and Paul spoke so highly of, saying this group will change the world, maybe we have a little relational work to do here! Maybe we need to engage with the people around us and learn how to love and live with one-another as we grow together in our relationship with Jesus! He is the glue that holds everything together – including relationships! I learned that lesson the hard way many years ago with my wife…a story I’d be glad to share over coffee or a beer sometime!

Friends sitting in a cafe

Friends sitting in a cafe

Relationships are the key to everything in this life and in the next! When asked what the most important message He can give to this world, Jesus responded with this:

Mark 12:30-31- 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.”

Are relationships easy? No! Yet they are the most valuable investment you can make in this brief life to realize a wealth of knowledge, friendship and spiritual growth! Jesus knew this when He laid that out – love Him and love each other. So let’s stop just doing organizational church and start being The Church that He designed from the very beginning. Only then will we see true change in a world that has become far too institutionalized! Imagine a world where the Kingdom is built through authentic relationships where genuine empathy, compassion and love is the natural reflex! I want that world now, as it will be in heaven! Join me!

IMG_4153

As I have navigated through many stages of life, one thing continually resonates in the lives of people I talk to, and it is such a powerful force that many sacrifice their convictions in hopes of satisfying those deep desires…Relationship!  Relationship comes in many different shapes and sizes.  Our relationship with a spouse looks different than a relationship with our kids.  Relationships with co-workers are different from family members.  Relationships with the clerk at the gas station take a different form than that of our best of friends.  Regardless of which relationship you are considering, it is apparent that we were designed to be in relationship!

When God designed us, He did so by creating us in His image.

Genesis 1:26 – Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

In that statement from God, something very profound occurs!  It starts by saying God said (singular) and then He said, Let us (plural) make man…woven into the very core of His creation of man was this idea of God being in relationship – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – yet being one God.  There has been much confusion and controversy over the idea of the Trinity, and many doctrinal statements have been made that have so many people scratching their heads or totally discounting the idea of a three in one God.  But, God didn’t build His word to confuse us!  He gave it to us to liberate us!

I truly believe that this “contradiction” in verse 26 (“God” and then “us”) is really quite uncomplicated.  Simply put, God is relational and He designed us in His image to be relational as well!

His plan is to be in relationship with us as we journey through this life building our relationship with Him as well as with those God has placed in our lives.  Yet, as we develop relationships with those around us, our primary relationship with God has to take first place in our heart and soul!  When we place God in His rightful place in our lives (first place), the other relationships we are engaged in just seem to work themselves out.  Having a Kingdom worldview keeps this life in perspective and focuses our heart on relationships.  Nothing in this world matters more than our relationship with God and our relationships with others!

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!

 

Who-is-Jesus

Over the past few months I have had several conversations with people who are genuinely seeking a relationship with Jesus; however, they struggle with believing the supernatural to be true.  I think if we are all honest with ourselves, we would admit that we have had similar feelings in our own journeys of faith.  Just as it is impossible to disprove God’s existence, it is equally impossible to prove His existence if you are trying to discredit Him from the start!

You see, when we have a bent toward non-belief, something has to happen in our mind and heart in order to accept and believe God is real!  Some will say they have a hard time believing because they are educated, yet some of the most brilliant people I know have deduced that God is real and He is the only explanation for such an intricate and creative universe in which we live.  In fact, I think believing everything came from nothing takes so much more “faith” than believing in a Creator.

One of the most amazing scientific observations for me is that there has been no evidence that has proven the Bible to not be true.  Instead, archeology has proven over and over the accuracy of the Bible and the existence of those recorded in the Bible.  After visiting Israel in 2014, I have a new understanding of how many archeological digs are going on now, and discoveries confirming the accuracy of the Bible are happening almost every day!  Scholars from the time of Jesus have confirmed Jesus existence as well as many other people recorded in the Bible.

Yet, discovering these site locations and seeing many with my owns eyes only increased my faith because I started with a belief that God exists and Jesus came to earth, died for my sin and was resurrected to live eternally with all of those who believe in Him.  The big question here is this…how do you shift from non-belief to belief?  I believe the answer in part lies in the following verse where Paul is addressing the people of Corinth:

2 Corinthians 3:14 –  But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.

While living in this world, focusing on money and things instead of relationships and eternity, it is easy to think that God does not exist and we only live this life and then we die.  This world can be a dark place where it is difficult believing God exists, but in all reality (at least for those of us who do believe) it’s impossible for me to believe that God is not real when I see the amazing transformation in people who have been touched by God’s healing hand!  People cured from cancer; marriages restored after infidelity; drug addicts instantly sober and clean for years now; prisoners set free!

Many have said they don’t believe in miracles or don’t believe in the stories in the Old Testament, which alone I would agree are pretty hard to believe!  But, I truly believe Satan is simply clouding people’s minds with the unbelief of these things so that they will not be awed by who Jesus truly is!  If Satan can keep the veil over our eyes by focusing us on the little things, he doesn’t have to compete with Jesus on the most important thing – His love and Grace!  Again, when our focus is on anything other than Jesus our minds can be swayed to believe that everything came out of nothing, and the intricate balance of the cosmos just happened.

The key comes back to that verse in 2 Corinthians…the veil can only be removed by believing in Christ!  I doubt anyone would read the teachings of Jesus Christ regarding loving God and each other and say that is a load baloney!  I bet no-one would say that Jesus was wrong when He told the religious people of His day (those more focused on keeping the law instead of loving one-another) that they were all hypocrites and did not even know His Father.  The question, however, comes down to this…what will YOU do with Jesus? That’s the only question that really matters!  Let’s think it through a bit!

Starting with unbelief, or more specifically that everything we know of now started from nothing at the big bang.  Believing this means that you do not believe a Creator was involved in the creation of the universe and everything that makes up all matter.  Not even digging deep into the intricacies of life, just looking at that beginning moment, where did that bang originate?  And, what about before that?  You see, everything has to start from something.   Regardless of those beliefs, if you do not believe there is a God, a Creator, then why in the world would you even consider anything in the Bible to be true, especially the supernatural stuff?  When we start with a bias, in this case that there is no God, you can dismiss pretty much anything that you cannot explain and feel pretty good about your stance – except, it leads to nothing.  It’s hard to believe a man could turn water into wine or make a sick man well, let alone that everything was created in seven days.  You get the point!

However, say you start with a belief in Jesus – that He is who He said He is or at the very least that He may be who He said He is – and you seek to investigate His life with a true unbiased opinion.  You research and find that the earliest historians from Biblical times (Josephus and Eusebius to name two) record Jesus as being a real person who did some amazing things, along with the testimonies in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) from eyewitnesses in His life, is it easy to believe the man Jesus existed and that He was a great man.  Believing that He is the Messiah, our Savior, comes as we get to know this man and understand the life He lived on earth as well as the sacrifice He made on our behalf could only have come from a God who loves each and every one of the people in His creation.  Since the penalty for sin is death (sin always leads to death – death of relationships as well as physical death), either we pay with our life and spend eternity away from God, or we accept that Jesus did in fact walk this earth preaching the Good News (this is not disputed) and loved us enough to pay the penalty of death on our behalf…but (and it’s a huge but) He didn’t stop there!  He rose back to life so that we would have someone alive to follow as well as spend eternity!   Belief in Jesus is the catalyst in our life that will catapult our faith into depths of understanding and knowledge that can only come from God – removing the veil that Satan wants to keep over our eyes!  And belief in Jesus is the only way to spend eternity with God!  See how Jesus explains this to His disciples:

John 14:1-7“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

If you can grasp Jesus as your Savior, do the miracles recorded in the Bible really seem like that big of a deal for a Savior like Jesus and a God big enough to create everything?  My earnest prayer for you is that you would seek Jesus with your heart and investigate His love and Grace.  I pray you discover the joy and peace that only comes from a relationship with Jesus!  When you accept His Grace and mercy, His love will be poured out on you and the veil will be lifted!  Again, all of life boils down to this one simple question: What will you do with Jesus?  Everything in all of eternity hinges on that single question!

In Part 1 of this post on Let It Be Love, we discovered how Paul placed in the context of the “Love Chapter” an idea that, at the surface, doesn’t seem to fit the mold of love…putting away childish things.  Not that is doesn’t make sense, but that it is often misquoted as a way to tear others down instead of build them up.  Yet in full content of Paul’s message, he is saying that in the context of Grace and Love, we must put away self-righteousness and self-centeredness in order to grasp the love and grace that Jesus offers and expects us to pass along!

So, Paul continues on in verse 12 with the pay off!  When we put aside those childish ways of thinking, allowing His love and grace to flow through us to those around us, we begin to see His reflection in our own lives (12)…we begin, in part, to love like Jesus loved and reflect a little more of His character and actions in our own lives!  We get a glimpse of what we will know fully once we are in the presence of our Savior!

1 Corinthians 13:12For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 

This chapter ends with a bang, driving home the point that love is what the follower of Jesus must default to in relationship with the people around each of us.

1 Corinthians 13:13 – And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

You see, with the Grace of God as the True North in our navigational compass, extending grace in love to others becomes a natural response to the free gift of eternal life that Christ offers us – what an amazing gift of grace!

As God continues to mold my faith and relationship with Him, my understanding and application of grace has increased ten-fold – yet there is so much more to learn about that amazing gift of grace that only Jesus can fully offer us!

A song that has a special place in my heart and deep meaning for how God is teaching me right now is a song from the group Family Force 5 called “Let It Be Love”.  I feel this song shares so much Truth and nails grace and love like few others!  Enjoy this song and lyrics below for a great word picture of Grace, and let Love through Grace lead your relationships with everyone around you!  Grace and peace to all!


 

FAMILY FORCE 5

“Let It Be Love”

I’ve never seen a soul set free
Through an argument
I’ve never seen a hurt get healed
In a protest
But I’ve seen sinners turned to saints
Because of grace
It’s love, love that lights the way
Love that lights the way

<Chorus>

Let it be our arms wide open
Bigger than the words we’ve spoken
Let it be a heart for the broken
If we’re gonna light, light
Light the way
Let it be love, let it be love, yeah
Nothin’ but love, nothin’ but love, yeah
Let it be love, let it be love, yeah
It’s love that lights the way

It’s not about the stand we take
But the grace we give
It’s not about the name we make
But the life we live
Heard about a King who sat down
Took my place
True love gave His life away
It’s love that lights the way

<Chorus>

Stronger than every fear
Comfort for all the tears
It’s where the war is run
And it has overcome
Louder than the loudest shout
Deeper than the deepest doubt
We’ll watch the walls fall down
We’ll watch the walls fall down

<Chorus>

judgmental-christian

Have you ever heard someone use a bible verse to, in the “Christian” way, rip someone else apart?  Scripture is often misused to let someone, or a group of someone’s, know that they are not living up to the self-righteous standards of an individual or group who is stating the verse, usually in a legalistic or Pharisaical manner.

As I was studying this week, something from the “Love Chapter” in 1 Corinthians popped off the page.  It almost appears to not even fit in this passage about love, and yet it is a common verse that I have heard people use to beat others down who don’t agree with them, who are new to the faith or even just checking the whole Jesus thing out…and it is used completely out of the context in which Paul places it within this chapter.  The verse is:

1 Corinthians 13:11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 

If I read this verse (11) with a law mind-set (where we have to keep all the rules for God to love and accept us) it is easy to pull this verse out of this chapter and pound someone else over the head with it, especially without the proper understanding of the passage (context) or the greater understanding of God’s love (grace).  However, this is a chapter on love, and Jesus personified love through His amazing gift of grace!  When reading scripture, we must read it through the eyes of grace, not condemnation!  First of all, scripture is to be used as a mirror, for the reader to develop a deeper relationship with God and gain understanding into His character.  It’s not to be used to tear others down!  Second, when interpreting what His word is meaning, you have to get the context of what the writer is saying.  Here, Paul is teaching that regardless of the gifts God has given each of us (1-2), the incredible faith we may possess (2), or the amazing generosity we may show (3), without love (defined in verses 4-7) we are nothing (2), gain nothing (3) and are just an annoyance to those around us who may be far from God (1)!

1 Corinthians 13:1-7 – 1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

So, with an understanding of what love is through the lens of grace, we can read on and see that when completeness comes (10), that is when we move on to be with Jesus, all our abilities and limited knowledge we have gained through our own strength will disappear (8-10) and become complete through Him and His grace!

1 Corinthians 13:8-10 – 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 

Then we come to verse 11, the very verse I spoke of previously in this post.  Yet, in the context of what Paul is saying, as children we are self-centered and always trying to coerce others into believing and thinking what we believe and think based upon our limited understanding or knowledge.  As children, we tend to focus less on loving people and more on getting our way; less on meeting people’s needs and more on changing their minds; less on extending grace and more on passing condemnation.  You see the pattern?  It is a vicious cycle that can lead to the opposite of freedom that Jesus offers!

1 Corinthians 13:11- When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 

Check back next week for the conclusion of this post (Let It Be Love – Part 2) where we discover the pay off of in heeding Paul’s words and aligning our life with that of Grace through Jesus Christ!  Until then, read 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 and prepare your heart for grace and love through your life in Christ!

0alergic

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.”

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!

 

This post is based on a topic I have briefly written about in the past, at least as a descriptive term, yet God keeps bringing this to my mind as I interact with people in my daily life.  The topic is this: is God’s word a mirror in your life, or do you simply use it as a hammer over the lives of others?

Most of us have witnessed the extremes of the hammer position, whether in person or in the news.  Westboro Baptist Church is just one group with the extreme hammer view…and I will add their method and view is completely unbiblical and from the pit of hell!  They condemn and protest against the military (at the funerals of our fallen heroes no less) and against the LGBT community in ways that are an embarrassment to those of us who are truly trying to follow Jesus, as well as ridiculous and intolerable to those in which the hatred is being spewed.  Apparently the whole “love God and love your neighbor” thing doesn’t show up in the translation of scripture they are using!

hammer mirror

Before we get too used to pointing fingers at these extremists we must take a look at ourselves as well.  When we judge others based on their sins, in a small way we are following a similar type of thought that the extreme positions follow.  It may not look like it on the outside, and I am sure the actions do not equate those of Westboro or even the typical street “preacher” (or pharisaical condemner might be a better descriptor), however, when we condemn others based on their sin (either in our thoughts or by what we say) we are doing the same thing.  In Romans 1, Paul lays out a barrage of descriptors of the unrighteous (those not “good enough” to be His children).  But then he throws a twist at the readers in Romans 2 who were likely reading this and pointing the finger at those they deemed unworthy based on their sins:

Romans 2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 

He is showing us that we are all in the same boat!  Without Jesus’ sacrifice none of us can live forever with God!  We cannot be “good enough” no matter how much we try…we all need Jesus!

The thing is, the Bible was never meant to be used as something to morally and spiritually impress upon others…it is meant to be read as a mirror reflecting God into our lives as we grow to be more like Him.  It’s His word to guide us, to help us become more like Jesus in our daily life and in the way we treat those around us.  When we use God’s word as a hammer, beating down people around us because of their behavior, we are acting like the Pharisees…and you remember how Jesus responded to them:

Matthew 23:25-26 25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Jesus was not impressed by the amount of knowledge the “religious” people (Pharisees) had, that they memorized much of the scriptures and had many laws trying to make other people follow the rules they deemed proper and biblical.  Actually, Jesus, like many of us are today, was sickened by the religious groups, just like Westboro Baptist, and called them out on it often!  Jesus spent a lot of time with people who the religious had already condemned to hell.  And the incredible part to me is that those people who were the furthest from God really enjoyed being around Jesus and spending time with Him…many times taking their first real steps of faith with Him, but even if they chose not to take steps they truly liked spending time with Him.  Relationship always trumps religion!  Jesus knew fully how to build relationships and speak Truth with love and grace!  So, the real question here is this: if we are becoming more like Jesus every day, then do people far from God even want to be around us, let alone like us?  Are we spending time in places where people do not already follow Jesus, or do we stay comfortable in our little self-proclaimed holy huddles?  Are we spending time with our Savior, building a relationship with Him and reading His word as a mirror that reflects who we truly are, or more importantly who He is in us, so that we can extend that same love and grace to those around us?

I’d love to say I sit behind this screen with no judgment of others, but that would be a lie.  However, I do know what is True, as God defines Truth, and to not apply that Truth to my life, and share what God is pressing on my heart with you, would be in direct disobedience to God!  The way we treat others is a direct representation of who we follow…like it or not!  When Westboro spews their hatred in the name of God, it makes me sick to my stomach and angry because that is NOT who my Savior is by any stretch of the imagination and in no way reflects any attribute of His character!  Our actions may not be as vocal or public as theirs, but they are still stemming from the same basic thought…we believe we are more righteous than many around us and we’ve decided it is somehow our job to point it out to them!  As I grow older I continually see glimpses of how God wants me to grow in relationship with Him as well as in relationship with those He places in my path.  Amazingly enough, when I see the reflection of God’s word in my life it brings unspeakable joy to me and extends out to everyone around me!  Oh I wish those moments were more often than they are…however; it is so much easier (at times) to grab my hammer and shatter the mirror that God wants to use to reflect His Son instead of making the right choice by extending His love to those around me  no matter how lost they may seem to be.  Using God’s word as a hammer is simply saying that we are on the same plane as God…and that is a very dangerous place for a believer to think they belong!  How amazing would life on this earth be if those who follow Jesus would simply stop hammering people and start paying attention to His reflection in all of us…loving God and then loving others in His name!

Hammers make great tools when you need to nail something to a wall, but they are not appropriate to use when we want to “fix” or change people!  The only person we can change is ourselves, so we need to stop trying to change others!  The mirror of God’s word is the way to grow (and change) as we reflect the image of the One who created each and every one of us!  So start the habit now and begin to see every passage of scripture as a note written specifically to you and you alone…then and only then can God begin showing you how love really can change the world, one reflection at a time!

#Mirror>Hammer

When you hear the words “Total Surrender” when it relates to following Jesus, what comes to mind?  Many years ago for me the idea of total surrender meant that I must give up all the stuff I really enjoyed if I were serious about following Jesus – music, sports talk radio, hanging out at bars drinking beer and throwing darts, playing golf, etc.  At that time I felt that the things that I was overindulging in were the problem, but the problem itself was much deeper.  It was rooted in the fact that these activities were taking up a lot of time and a higher place in my heart than my relationship with God, my wife and my kids.  My priorities were way out of balance and my relationships were showing it.

Early in my faith journey, the time where personal discipleship truly began taking root, I needed to make some drastic changes in my life, but didn’t know what to do or how to grow.  So with very little guidance, I simply gave up the things I saw as detrimental to the relationships that mattered most.  For me, without guidance, that was exactly the right thing to do as it helped me focus my energy and faith in a way where priorities simply worked themselves out – God first, then my wife, kids, etc.  You see, without a mentor, someone intentionally walking alongside me in my early faith journey, the places I was hanging out were not healthy places for me to spend a load of time.  However, if I had a mentor, I truly feel I would have seen an opportunity to extend the relationships I already had in those areas of my life to a spiritual level, inviting others in on the journey of faith I was embarking!  Hindsight is always 20/20, but I feel God is showing me these things to share with others beginning their faith journey as well as with those who are willing to make a difference in the life of someone who is beginning to navigate this journey of faith!

Surrendering ourselves is allowing God to best be glorified through our lives; and your life may be best utilized in a bar or on a golf course!

Giving up the stuff we enjoy in order to follow Jesus was never His plan; His plan involves Total Surrender of our selfish desires to His will for our lives, yet living our lives right where we are now in a way that glorifies Him in our thoughts and actions.  The type of music I listened to, the bars I hung out in, or the golf courses I played on were actually a big part of who I was, and exactly the type of places where God could be glorified by a sinner like me who was saved by the grace of Jesus Christ.  The problem was never the activities, it was making these activities a priority in my life over the relationships I needed most.

superstock_1150-1358-fbconversation-on-the-golf-course-posters

So if you are early in your faith journey, have been a follower of Jesus for a long time, or are simply investigating the man Jesus, God really does desire for you to develop your relationship with Him first and foremost – to become His disciple.  Building a relationship with a good mentor is a great way to grow and learn to navigate this new found life in Christ, and is the example Jesus used to reach people when He walked the earth as well as the model He shared with us to begin making disciples.  As you continue to grow and become His disciple, God’s desire is that you would begin making disciples as well.  In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus commissions us to go and make disciples.  This is a great reason to continue the relationships we had when we were seeking out our selfish desires (for me, bars and golf courses)…what better way to glorify God than by living out our transformed life in front of those we have had relationships for years!  And in doing so, maybe God will provide an opportunity to begin sharing your testimony of change with those who already know your past self and have witnessed the radical diference in your life.  Of course if the places you hang out are unsafe or unhealthy for you in any way, you will need to use discretion…I am not saying to keep yourself in unsafe conditions, but I am saying to listen to God and discern whether or not you must walk away or simply change your focus and priority.  Again, a good trusted mentor can help in guiding you as well!

Surrendering ourselves is simply allowing God to best be glorified through our lives; and your life may be best utilized in a bar or on a golf course!   When our priorities are clear, a little beer or golf may be the avenue that God desires for you to make an eternal difference in the life of someone who desperately needs a Savior!  Don’t just think about surrender as a sacrifice…live a surrendered life that frees you up to love others in a way that only you can love them…in the places where you are free to be yourself, and the places where others are free to do the same!  God doesn’t want to simply change your behaviors; He wants to transform your life!  Your life, as well as mine, is a mosaic of relationships where Jesus can be made known in conversation over a beer or a game of golf…and to God be the glory!

#Freedom

In my personal faith pilgrimage, God has led me to some of the most incredible growth opportunities.  Many times, though, I have missed the chance to connect with God on a whole new level because I would run myself ragged thinking I was doing exactly what God was intending me to do (usually overextending myself), or I was simply seeking after the things of this world instead of focusing my eyes on God and His plan.  However, I have discovered, when I do overextend myself, God will begin giving me signals to slow me down and seek Him in that moment.  Some of these signals for me have been anxiety, stress, strained relationships, irritability, insomnia, conflict and the like.

One of the healthy ways I can gauge if I am listening to God is if He is leading me to connect with people.  I am an introvert by nature, so when I feel the desire to connect with others, it’s usually a God thing!  I often say, especially when I contact someone out of the blue, that when God prompts me to reach out to someone I no longer question whether it was God or not…I simply obey that prompting, contact the person, and some of the most amazing conversations and relationships have come out of a simple obedient act – listening for God’s promptings and acting upon them!

god vs satan_thumb[6]

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

(Excerpt from when Moses (really God) parted the Red Sea in Exodus 14)

Can you imagine what the Israelites must have been thinking as they were wandering around the desert searching for the land that they had been led to believe was promised to them by God?  Have you ever been on a vacation as a kid (or adult for that matter) and you just kept thinking or verbalizing, “Are we there yet?”  Yeah, me too!  When our family heads up to Miracle Camp each year (several times in fact), the 3 hour trip can become mundane, you know, you just want to get out of the car and get to the final stop.  “How much longer”, is often uttered more than once – sometimes by the kids too!  Just like the Israelites, when we are on a journey it is easy to lose sight of the destination.

As the Israelites set up camp, Pharaoh approached to wipe them out – he had a change of heart and wanted to hunt them down!  God had led the Israelites to this point through Moses with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day.  On a long journey and not sure what the next day held, they set up camp by the sea as Pharaoh and his army approached.  Even during their struggle and complaints about God and Moses leading them out to their certain death, God placed the pillar of fire between Pharaoh’s army and the Israelites to protect them.  His plan had not been revealed to them yet!  They cried out to Moses asking why he had led them away from Egypt (where they were slaves by the way) to their death in the wilderness.  Griping, complaining and scared, their sight had been taken off of their destination – the Promised Land – and their fear clouded their thoughts and minds.  But God had not even begun what He was planning to do!  He set a fierce wind against the sea, parting it and creating a dry land path for the Israelites to flee!  As the last Israelite crossed through the sea on dry land, God let the fury of the sea return to its place, wiping out the entire wicked Egyptian army!  The Israelites escaped certain death at the miraculous hand of God!  And yet, even though they witnessed such an amazing miracle, in the days and years to come, they would continue to cycle back through doubt and fear – kind of sounds like us doesn’t it?

How about you?  Are you listening for God’s little promptings and acting upon them?  Is God telling you to connect with a kid or adult that simply needs someone to love them in a healthy way?  Is God calling you to take steps of faith so that you will begin a journey of answering His call in your life!  However He chooses to lead us, God doesn’t always show us a huge sign or miracle to guide us as He did over and over on the Israelite journey, but He still does miracles all around us every day!  As you act upon those promptings God places in your heart you will begin to see His heart all around you and the miracle just may be YOU touching the life of someone else!  To hear Him, though, to know He has you in mind, you must find a way to be still, slow down a bit (or maybe a lot) and listen to what He is telling you – keep your eyes and heart wide open and God will find His way to guide your heart to be more like His!

 

il_fullxfull-320700222 Check all self-righteousness at the door!

In society today, there are a plethora of social issues that are bombarding our local communities, and are even more directly becoming a big part of our daily conversations with people who may or may not follow Jesus.  Some of these social conversations form around government, abortion, human rights, same-sex marriage, bigotry, profiling, racism, gun control, and the list goes on and on!  As followers of Jesus, we need not exclude ourselves from these conversations; in fact, we have a high standard to uphold and entering the conversations is the only way for us to be a beacon of light to an otherwise darkened world!

Many of you may be reading this and saying something like, “yeah, we need to stand up and fight for what is right and against what is wrong in this world!”  While others are thinking, “great, another article bashing people with differing beliefs and convictions.”  Well, both thoughts couldn’t be further from the Truth…and by Truth I am referring to God’s Truth, not just my opinion or the opinion of some religious group!

When you enter a conversation with someone regarding – let’s pick an easy one to start with (tongue in cheek) – the government, what words flow from your lips?  Do your words build others up or do they pull them down to the negativity you are spewing?  We may not agree with the government, but as believers in Jesus Christ our words and behaviors speak a lot about the One we are following, especially to those who do not know Him!  We may have a legitimate concern, but the way we voice that concern says a lot about Who we follow, or maybe that we don’t follow His example at all!

How about the issues many are dealing with regarding same-sex marriage – an extremely polarizing topic of our day?  Do you shy away from the LGBT community because you are uncomfortable or worse, self-righteous?  Do you think God loves people who are living in the gay lifestyle and seeking marriage with their partner?  He absolutely and emphatically does!  God’s desire is for every one of us to truly know, love and trust Him – His grace and love is sufficient for everyone, and He extends an invitation of relationship to everyone regardless of sexual orientation…and even to the bigoted person spewing hatred toward the LGBT community!

Romans 1:18-32 discusses the fact that we are ALL sinners deserving His righteous judgment; every single one of us from Stephen Hawking to Billy Graham!  But remember, Romans is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the believers in Rome, not chapters to be read out of context or alone!  Romans 2:1-11 continues on to say that we have no excuse in judging others regarding their sin because we are deeply rooted in sin as well…in doing so, we are not only condemning others, we are condemning ourselves!  What Paul is saying is that we are all in this together, and without Jesus’ sacrifice, life would be futile and hell would be in all our futures! When reading the scriptures, remember…when we use them to beat someone else up we are using them wrong!  As followers of Jesus, in which the Holy Spirit resides, our words and behaviors, if coming from God, will exhibit the fruit that Paul speaks of in Galatians:

Galatians 5:22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

When we read the scriptures properly (as a mirror, not a hammer), we learn to become more like Jesus – loving, compassionate, grace-filled people who are attractive to be around; people who are seeking relationships so that someone who does not know Jesus may be introduced to the only One that really matters!  Relationships are the measuring stick in God’s economy – with Him first, then with others…especially with those who have been deemed unworthy by society or by self-righteous people who take it upon themselves to extend God’s judgment in error.  By passing on His judgment, we ultimately drive the people God loves further away from Him.  I believe this wrecks God’s heart!  I believe we are to love people enough to get into their lives and potentially introduce them to Jesus.  We introduce and He will do whatever convicting He sees fit and proper!

When Jesus said to love God and love others, He meant it!  That old familiar song states, “they will know we are Christians by our love”; however, by extending judgment we forfeit the opportunity God has given us to not only love others by extending grace (the same grace God has extended to us) but also to build a relationship with them built on love and trust as well as grace and Truth.  This is one of the main reasons why the label “Christian” has taken on a negative tone in society – you know, judging others in the Name of God.  How repulsive!  However, as followers of Jesus, we take on His nature and extend the grace that He first showed us…that is a love worth following!  Grace is something Jesus offers us all, and if we are following Jesus’ example, extending grace to those around us is not an option, it’s a requirement and it’s the best way to build relationships!  So, are you representing Jesus well to those around you?