New year, same God…

13 01 2014

This will be brief. It is 2014 and I am overcome with hope. It all began with my New Years celebration with friends down at the beach. It was your pretty typical celebration. Shiny hats and noise makers abound, loud music, embarrassing dancing, and to my sad amusement, a number of drunk individuals. We were at Pier Park for the “beach ball drop” at midnight. All the way up to the last 5 minutes of 2013 I managed to simply enjoy myself and the company of friends. However, during that blasted last 5 minutes I stopped dancing a stared down the countdown clock and the tens of thousands of people surrounding me. I became quite contemplative, reflective, and yes even emotional. Such is life inside my mind.

As I stood there literally watching the year tick away, gazing across a sea of people, I became overwhelmed by the Spirit of God. I instantly became repentant for numerous failures(many of which I am sure I don’t even know) in the past year. I also began thanking the Lord for so much growth and numerous blessings in my life. The most important probably being him blessing Kristina and I beginning our relationship and the subsequent beauty it has brought into my life. I remember my one thought that was cycling through my head and occasionally escaped my mouth that last 5 minutes: “Lord, let 2014 be yours!” Now I believe it was his long before I decided it should be and let’s be honest every moment is his. I simply wanted to come into agreement with the Father in this truth in my life. In fact, I began to pray far beyond my life. I thought about the sea of people around me. So many surely saw New Year’s as merely a reason to have a good time. The full beauty of newness cannot be imagined outside of the reconciliation God is working with his creation(Col. 1:19-20). I began to pray for the masses around me for eyes and ears to be opened by the grace of God to his redeeming love. I prayed that these wandering souls would know what it is to be a new creation in Jesus(2 Cor. 5:17).

I rejoiced because I remembered that the Lord is still in the business of making things new. He is reconciling all of  creation to himself(2 Cor. 5:19). That means me. That means you. That means every tongue, tribe, people, and nation! Let us pray with this goal in clear view this year. Let’s work, pray, and trust the Lord to this truth in 2014. I am believing that by the grace of God I will move to a new level of glory this year. I am believing this for you as well. I am believing that he will call the lost and unreached multitude unto himself and that he is going to use us, the Church, to accomplish this. What a privilege to participate in God’s mission. Rejoice with me in these things, brothers and sisters. Pray with me. My hope abounds as we move into a new year. The glory of the Lord will shine and his kingdom will advance. Lord, let our year be yours. Happy New Year and God bless.


Doubt, discipline, and 10,000 reasons…

29 05 2013

When I look at some people or peoples in the Bible I have a tendency to shake my head and look down on their faithlessness. However, the Lord often suffers the same faithlessness in me as I stumble down the path he has laid before me. He is full of grace, freely given and undeserved(Rom. 6:23). I really just want to challenge you all not to doubt the Lord’s provisions and his will. This sounds so cliché and elementary, yet that thinking forgets the depravity of our hearts and minds(Psalm 53:3). I can only speak for myself in this and I sincerely hope that none of you that read this can relate.

I forget so easily with each new step of glory that I have no good except the Lord in me(Psalm 16:2) and that my salvation and renewing occurs in and through the grace freely given(Rom. 12:6). The second pride creeps in is the same moment when I must repent of my sinfulness. In this state of self-righteousness is where I lose my faith. The Lord reveals a part of his will, yet because of my pride I doubt the possibility of accomplishing the task or the goodness of his way! How ignorant and faithless I am to assume such absurdity. I recently received a prompting from the Lord to do something that sadly met me in my pride.

I have to return home for an indefinite period of time to get some necessary work done and I fly out 4 June. I have struggled with this trip. I will not be able to return here until I complete the work I have before me which realistically could take me anywhere between 2 to 6 months! When I first received the news that I couldn’t return until the work was done, I immediately doubted the Lord’s ability to accomplish the task in my arrogance. I just as quickly repented of this faithlessness, but that sinful reaction was still my default! I shortly there after received the amount of work I have to do. Ashamedly, I doubted his provision and will in my life yet again. And again I immediately repented. Nevertheless, I clearly lack sufficient faith and am completely dependent on his grace. As I dwelt on my sin and how it was so second nature to see such a feat and doubt the Lord, I began to think about the Israelites in the wilderness. They were constantly given grace and miraculous provisions(Ex. ch.13:17-ch.14; ch.16-ch.17:3), yet when they came to the land promised to them by the Lord and the spies returned with their report, all but Caleb and Joshua doubted the Lord’s provision again(Num. 13:25-14:11).

And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have done among them? I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”  -Numbers 14:11

As I thought on this verse and my own doubt I began to remember the provisions I have received in my own life. I have seen the manna fall, the quail delivered, and the water spring from the rock, yet I still doubted him to provide in this new situation! Lord have mercy on my soul! The beauty is that his grace is sufficient(2 Cor. 12:9) and he is merciful! If you know the story in Numbers, Moses interceded for Israel and God pardoned his people according to that intercession(Num. 14:12-20). What vigor that should stir in us to pray for both our brothers and sisters caught in sin and for the lost around the world. Amen?

I have come to a place where my prayer is not ultimately for the provision of God in the task at hand, but rather for more faith in him and his will for my life. If the Lord’s lot for me is to stay in the states for 2 months then praise Jesus, and if he has me stay for a year then praise Jesus. His timing is perfect and so much better than my own(Isa. 55:9). Alleluia! I must learn to trust in this truth. I must remember the provisions of God I have experienced in my life. I must never forget that the Lord’s gifts are extravagant! We must remember these things. They must draw us in to obedience and fervent prayer for his presence and will in our lives.

Practically speaking, what can we do to increase our faith? Prayer and fasting are the first things that come to mind, but we must make requests rooted in the Holy Scriptures. Our participation in these disciplines can be taken by the Enemy if we are not rooted in the Word. That said, let me share the thinking and scriptural promise that I lean on for my request for more faith. This is an issue existing in the depths of our hearts. The only thing capable of changing our hearts is the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ(Eph. 2:8). This faith grows as we seek Jesus and revere him. Our reverence grows as we act in the spiritual disciplines such as the study and meditation on the Word, prayer, fasting, worship, confession, simplicity and so on. It is here that I lean on the promise of the Lord in his Word.

“The Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” -Hebrews 12:6

Let us pray for the discipline of the Lord! He disciplines the ones he loves and he withholds his love from no one. I am in prayer for deeper obedience and discipline as I attempt to “abide in him”(Jn. 12:14). He is faithful to give me this according to his Word. As we work and he increases our discipline, we inevitably will increase in our reverence of him. As our reverence and knowledge of Him increases and as we remember the provisions of times past our faith in Jesus in the present will increase. When we come upon a test of faith we will not be ashamed in sin and doubt, but rather we will glorify God(1 Pet. 4:12-16).

Let us be vigilant and honest about our doubts that they may be confronted in the light of Jesus where darkness and evil can never prevail. I hope that you all will bring to the front of your mind the constant need of more faith in Jesus. I pray that in difficult times, you would recall the countless provisions and blessings the Lord has poured out on you. If you are struggling with doubt or just desire more faith I pray that the Holy Spirit would teach you discipline in your abiding time with Jesus. May his presence increase your lives and may his will overtake you all. He is so worthy. Amen.

Here is a song I have been listening to in relation to this post. We truly have 10,000 reasons. Remember them. Enjoy.

Step into the Light…

29 04 2013

For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. -John 3:20

I have been speaking to friends and colleagues lately about sin and how our whole life is a constant battle with it. The conversation moved toward our inability to fight sin on our own. Of course, Jesus is the only way that we are forgiven of sin and in Him we have victory over it, but as anyone even mere days into their walk with Christ knows this is not some magical shield to sin and is certainly not the end of temptation. I would argue that the deeper into Jesus’s will for your life you go the more violent and frequent the temptations you face become. Why would the Enemy spend his time and energy tempting those already under his will. No, he wants to see those that have seen the truth of Jesus to fall back into his kingdom of darkness. This leads to the practical way we can combat our temptations whatever form they take.

When people think of combating temptation to sin they often exasperate themselves in inadequate techniques of self-discipline. I fully advocate for discipline, but use it wisely. Discipline yourself to the study of and meditation on the Scriptures (Joshua 1:8, Matt. 4:4). Many victories over temptation have come from the recitation of scripture involving the current temptation. Memorization of the scriptures is nothing new, and certainly not of little importance. Jesus did it! So many of His responses to inquiries and temptations were recitations of God’s Word. Discipline in fervent, effectual prayer is also good and many do this. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible is a short, top-notch lesson on this particular discipline. The list of things go on and these disciplines are good and effective and needed. However, when it comes to sin we often forget about the corporate disciplines. What role does the Body have in my personal battle of temptation? That is what I want to emphasize in this blog. I don’t wish to waste my breath on my personal reasons supporting confession. My word and opinion holds little authority. However, the Word of God is the authority for all realized or not, so let us draw from it.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. -1 John 1:5-7

I do so love the Word.  This passage isn’t talking about a general following of the Lord. It is speaking specifically of bringing sin into the light in confession. And it is putting a heavy emphasis on confession at that because in the following verses there is a parallelism. Specifically verse 9 calls us to confession as well. This is not speaking of confession to God alone as there are clear communal implications as the writer says “But if we [confess]….we have fellowship with one another.” Even further it speaks of the discipline of confession allowing our sins to be washed away by the blood of Jesus. Let us stand on this promise as we confess to one another our struggles in temptation and sin. May we “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” that “Christ may shine on us,”(Ephesians 5:12-14).

I in no way want to dwarf the importance of our confession to the Lord Jesus. This is a crucial step in the forgiveness of our sins. In Psalm 51 David says, “Against you and you alone have I sinned,” and “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” according to Paul in 1 Timothy 2:5. So please do not hear me saying that confession to Jesus is of no concern. It is of the utmost concern to any that wish to receive salvation from sin and death. That being said, confession to Jesus is not mutually exclusive with confession to one’s brother or sister in the Body. In fact they compliment each other in their own beautiful relationship.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. -James 5:16

The Word of God doesn’t get clearer than this. We are to confess our sins to one another and pray for the grace of Jesus to cover those sins. The same can be applied to temptation as prevention of sin. My brothers and I that are here sharing in life’s adventures and joys together also share our burdens. As we feel temptation of any kind come upon us we go ask a brother for prayer or if we are alone we text to bring to light before our brother that we are struggling so that they can pray, and what is great is that you can’t take back a text message. Later we will be ask how we handled said temptation. Put into a simple analogy, if someone else’s cookie is sitting next to you, you are far less likely to take it if they can see you. That was a sad attempt so here is a better explanation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“A man who confesses his sin in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. As long as I am by myself in the confession of my sins everything remains in the dark, but in the presence of a brother the sin has to be brought into the light.”

In this statement we can see the relationship between confession to God and our brother. All that we do and think and have not yet done or thought is already known to God. Our brother’s presence is what allows us to bring temptation and sin into the light. Let us now recall that “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” Confession to one’s brother very tangibly proclaims that sin has no power in the realm of the spirit or on this Earth. Alleluia! The only question I have is why aren’t we doing this? What is it that keeps us from the freedom found in confession? I can only speak from my life, but first to the Scriptures.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you. -Psalm 16:2

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. -Psalm 14:3

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,… -Romans 3:23

The primary hinderance for me has been and is my pride. My flesh says, “Don’t be that weakling that still deals with sin.” I return to the discipline of scripture memorization proclaiming that I am not alone in my temptation. Jesus himself endured every temptation we face and came out victorious (Hebrews 4:15). Also according to the above scriptures there is none good but the Lord and all have sinned and fallen short of His glory. I need not exalt my brothers to some erroneously perceived perfection, but rather go to them knowing that they can relate to my sinful nature and pray victory in Jesus over me. Please don’t allow the prideful lies overtake your thoughts. My pride will say, “You can beat this sin or temptation on your own. Don’t ruin your reputation over this.” Lies from the very mouth of the Evil One! Do not be deceived: God is not mocked (Gal. 6:7). As Paul suggested in 2 Corinthians 12, if I must boast I will joyfully boast in my weakness, for it is in my weakness that Christ is made strong in me. Any sin or temptation our pride keeps in the dark is given, in the darkness, a power over us that no amount of hard work or stubbornness can overcome. Dear friends do not fall victim to this I pray. This allows for the transition to the other hinderance I face in the discipline of confession.

 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. -John 13:34-35

The Evil One lies to me, “They will reject you.” A great fear of any honest Christian in the dilemma of confessing sin or temptation is the potential rejection by their brother. This is a risk we face with imperfect beings such as ourselves. I do recommend that your confession be limited to a close brother, sister, or a spiritual authority in your life. I pray that none of you would face judgement from a brother. However, do not confuse judgement with exhortation and correction. Quite frankly your feelings are not as important as you obedience to Christ. By judgement, I mean condemnation for your shortcoming. This could be elaborated over thousands of word and with numerous passages of scripture and exegesis, but I will refrain. Simply do not let the fear of the rejection of men inhibit you from obedience to the Lord in confession (John 12:42-43). In John 12 the authorities even believed in Jesus, but they remained in darkness because their hearts were set on the praise of men. My dears, turn your eyes upon Jesus. Release any relationship held in higher stature than the Lord. As we seek His kingdom and righteousness we bring ourselves into a position to bring forth our struggles into the light with our brothers ultimately understanding the desire of God to forgive and redeem us. After all, that is why He sent us His Son. Alleluia!

Sincerely I ask this, brothers if you are receiving confession remember the previously mentioned verse from John 13. We are to love one another as Jesus did and does. This means an open ear and if necessary loving, stern correction. Those adjectives aren’t mutually exclusive. I pray that no matter the issue of sin or temptation that your first response would be the earnest prayer for your struggling brother that James called us to in chapter 5. I also pray for biblical responses to all issues. Let us never forget the grace we have received or the grace that is offered freely in Jesus (Romans 3:24). Let us never grow tired of forgiving and ushering through prayer another brother into the light of the Lord and the freedom therein.

Finally, as long as we leave our struggles in the darkness their power over us increases. Step into the light my brothers and sisters! Step into the freedom of disciplined confession to God and the accountability or spiritual authorities in your lives. If you are not in a place of accountability or under any authority I pray you would seek this out in your church. Jesus was clearly a man of authority, but He was also a man under authority (John 5:19 & 31-38). If we are to seek his likeness(Phil. 2:5) then we must also be men and women under authority. May the victories over temptation you experience in confession one to another with faithful prayer abound. Above all may Jesus, who alone is worthy, receive all the glory and honor and praise.

May His presence increase and His will overtake you.

The relinquishing of encouragement…

6 02 2013

I was having a tough time a little while back in a particular aspect of my walk with the Lord. Encouragement. In light of events that were occurring in my life mixed with past issues, words spoken to me, and my own minds ability to over-think a circumstance,  I had gotten pretty down on myself about what I felt was a shortcoming as an agent of encouragement. It was eating at me and affecting my life in a number of ways. I especially noticed that I was more irritable than I typically am. If there is one sign that shows me something is wrong with my heart, it is when I get irritable simply because that is not who I am at all. I think this particular feeling of shortcoming hit harder because it is something I hold in high regard within interpersonal relationships. Many believe that the key to any relationship(plutonic or otherwise) is trust, or accountability, or communication, or love and I agreed about the importance of these things. Although, these things all take time and development through investing in the relationship. Encouragement on the other hand, requires no foundation or level of trust to give and receive between anyone. Therefore, encouragement is in my eyes a seed by which friendships are able to spring and from which trust and honesty are able to develop. Put simply, encouragement is a very important virtue to me, and I am greatly affected by failure to participate in it.

This all led to a very long conversation with a wonderful brother and teacher in my life at the time. The topic of the conversation was extensive so I will not recap it all. However, he posed a question that sparked a match deep in my heart that revealed the root of the distress with the perceived failure. He first, made clear his neutrality in my distress by admitting that he couldn’t agree or disagree with my conclusion. He helped me cut the strings between things I didn’t need to use as a judge for my present dilemma which put things in great perspective to move forward. Right before his inquisition he let me know that attempting to become a better agent of encouragement is an honorable and biblical quest which I agree with. I think most would at first sight suggest that this is a positive goal or desire. But then came the iconoclastic question. “Why do you want to improve this aspect of your life?” The potential answers being that I wanted it for myself, for others, or for Hosanna. Honestly, I wanted to improve for the others around me. My brother helped me see that unless I was doing it to better follow and become more like Hosanna, then I was doing it for the wrong reasons. How true that is! Amen? Upon admitting that it was not for Him, it was implied that any attempt to improve this on my part at this juncture would be completely self-seeking. He encouraged me to root my reasonings for this desire in the Word and potentially approach it again down the road. I decided that I simply had to lay the desire at His feet and trust that as I continue to grow in Him, He will teach me in that area or prepare my heart to seek it for the right reasons.

Isn’t it interesting that the things quite important to taking on His character are the very things we must sometimes lay before Him to do with as He pleases. Even our good desires and goals can be put in place by us for the wrong reasons and as we know the Lord is concerned with the heart of a man(1 Sam. 16:7) and even a desire to encourage can be a form of idolatry or self-righteousness. I know that it makes me reevaluate many goals and desires to see who is at the heart of them. My favorite thing the Lord is teaching me through this is that by laying it at Hosanna’s feet, I not giving up, but in fact, I am doing the opposite. In giving it over to Him, I will receive it in His good time in abundance because He is trustworthy and faithful to guide us into what is best for us and, more importantly, His glory. Remember to bring it before Him in prayer(Matt. 7:7-11). We must always be committing our goals and desires to Him trusting in His goodness and desire for us to be exactly who we are supposed to be. I hope this encourages you to lay whatever desire you are clinging to tighter than the King at His feet, so that He may correct and perfect it. I pray all you do would be in obedience to the Lord and the leading of His Spirit. Oh, how He is faithful in His leading! Isn’t He marvelous? Marvel with me at the only one worthy to be the purpose of every desire we have. Amen.

Tough thoughts in light of a tragic event…

20 12 2012

I write this post with a heavy heart and admitted naivety. I want to mention a few thoughts on anger, retaliation, our words, forgiveness, and death in light of the tragic event that occurred in Connecticut. While I am unsure of the total number of children and teachers that lost their lives, even one life cut short in this manner is enough to grieve immensely. My prayers have been going out to families of victims and all others effected. My prayer is that the Lord would be with them all in this emotionally charged time so that they would be able to grieve and respond appropriately in the presence of the Spirit’s comfort. Also, I pray the Lord in His timing would allow healing to take place and that those living that experienced this event would maintain psychological stability after such a traumatic experience. I pray all of this that the Lord may be glorified in this situation through the healing of those whom He loves.I am sure you all know, but to clarify, a young man killed his mother and walked into an elementary school and started shooting students and teachers. From what little I could gather from the media, the motives aren’t certain, but he was said to have had trouble fitting in with the community. This is a tragedy that I will not belittle by attempting to relate to and praise the Lord I have not experienced such evil. I looked at my Facebook news feed the next day and saw a variety of opinions and emotions painting this huge picture of belief. Being the opinionated person I am, I feel the need to add to the commentary and attempt to draw the conversation towards the scriptures and a Christlike worldview.Please, forgive my shortcomings in my attempt.

The first point I would like to address is the all too common question in situations such as these, “How could someone do that?” This is a question that Billy Graham answered in response to a similar question about the sinful state of the world. He pointed out that it was all made possible when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and fell out of communion, or fellowship, with God (Genesis 3). I do not have time or adequate knowledge for an exhaustive explanation of man’s fallen nature based on the doctrine of original sin. Nevertheless, due to the corruption of man’s spirit at the fall, the human race now has an inherit sinful nature. If we are cultivating this sinful nature by a lack of acceptance of the Lord’s sacrifice(Jesus), repentance of sin, and guidance from the Holy Spirit, then our corrupted, dynamic spirit can navigate its way to the manifestation of monstrously vile actions. This is the simplest and most profound reason tragedies like this are possible.

Many are asking what this world is coming to with such terrible things happening, and this is a question I simply don’t understand. The world and those in it have dealt with this type of tragedy numerous times. Again let’s look at biblical examples. During the time of the birth of Moses the current pharaoh was having all the male children born to the Israelites killed(Exodus 1:22). Upon the birth of Jesus, Herod had all the children two years old and under massacred(Matt. 2:17). I don’t point these things out to belittle the current happening. I simply don’t believe the world is worse or better. Just fallen in the same capacity it was fallen back in the times of Moses and of Jesus. As this all sounds so depressing, I feel now is a good time to point out a glorious truth. For all of the tragedy produced by our fallen nature, hope has burst on to the scene for a new creation! The first fruit of this new creation came in the resurrection of Jesus. Proof that God is reconciling all of creation to Himself in absolute justice and grace by way of the Son (Col. 1:19-20). In this I will forever rejoice.

Now to address the though that inspired the composing of this entire blog. I was very sad to see many of the responses to the tragedy on various social media sites were full of hate and contempt. I know there are many that are going to disagree with me on this and I am prepared to be respectful in those disagreements. My points of contention come from the Holy Scriptures. Jesus, Paul, and James all had stern teachings on anger. The first thing I want to speak of is Jesus’s kingdom mentality stated during the Sermon on the Mount. He proclaimed that “if you are angry with your brother you are liable to the council” to which murderers are subjected (Matt. 5:22). The word translated “brother” means “all men” in the context it is being used, as defined in Thayer’s Lexicon(1889). This means anger directed towards any human is misplaced for the citizens of the Kingdom. In Ephesians 4:26, Paul said, “Be angry, and do not sin: let not the sun go down on your anger.” He goes on in verses 31-32 to renounce any bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice towards [one’s neighbor]-implied from verse 25. I want to note that the emotion of anger isn’t condemned here. Rather it is the act of cultivating and speaking out of this anger that is wrong and again the use of plesion translated “neighbor” refers to all people whom we encounter. James commanded in the well-known verse, James 1:19, “Let every person be…slow to speak and slow to anger.” This verse and my view on anger in general needs no further explanation. We can’t “give the Devil a foothold”(Eph. 4:27) through our quick desire to disassociate ourselves with the shooter through anger and contempt. Lastly, to those justifying their anger by claiming that even God gets angry, I say tread softly. When you begin comparing yourself in any way with God I fear you are in dangerous territory. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord,” (Isaiah 55:8).

Furthermore, the speech condemning this young man brought about by anger is suspect as well. Last year, I began investigating what the Word has to say about our words and I didn’t want to speak for the next few weeks. Jesus said, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person,” (Matt. 15:11). Also Matthew 12:36 says, “…every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof on the day of judgement.” To back track, James told his readers to “be slow to speak.” The third chapter of James’ epistle is nearly entirely devoted to wisdom in our speech. I recommend you all read it in its entirety. I will merely quote a few verses. Verse 6 claims, “The tongue is a fire…setting fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by Hell.” Verse 8 says that no man can tame the tongue and that it is a restless evil. Mostly important in this context is verse 10 which exhorts, “From the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” Clearly we should be much more careful with our speech. Especially when it is contemptuously condemning others. Instead, let’s lift up the effected families(including the shooters’) and surrounding community in prayer with our speech. In doing so we are far more glorifying to the Lord and our light shines brighter as we love, grieve, and pray with and for others.

On that same line of thought I want to briefly mention the teachings from the Sermon on the Mount about judgement, retaliation, and forgiveness. As laypeople it is not for us to judge the gunman at all. Matthew 7:1 tells not to judge or we will be judged. Furthermore, verse 2 says that we will be judged with the same measure with which we judged. This means that if we judge that he deserves to die then we will receive that same measure for our own sins. Woah. He takes it even further to say that when people curse, spitefully use, and persecute us we should love them! (Matt. 5:44) Jesus says that we should not retaliate even when violence is used against us, but rather we should bless them in this(Matt. 5:39). Finally, we have been called to the high road of forgiveness! We are called to forgiveness on many occasions such as Matt. 5:23-24, 6:14-15, Luke 17:3-4, Eph. 4:32, and Col. 3:13. I will not go into these verses here though I pray you will look them up yourself. To those that say you can only forgive so many times, I somewhat agree. Jesus was clear on how many times we should forgive when asked by Peter. Peter suggested seven times being adequate, but Jesus said “seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:21-22). While I am sure wasn’t meant to be understood as a law, it is certain that He means we should be abundantly forgiving. Even in situations such as the tragedy in Connecticut. I do want to add that I am not suggesting people who do such things should just go free. I think that the laws of man in respective country’s and the judicial systems should be left to do their jobs. When I comment on forgiveness, I am speaking of personal responses within our own respective walks with the Lord. I fully believe in letting the courts carry out the laws of the land, but I will never wish harm on or rejoice in the death of any person regardless of their crime. I pray they would find the abundant life of Jesus and be led to repentance.

This most recent tragedy is reminiscent of a school shooting in the Bart Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The school was an Amish school called West Nickel Mines School if you wish to know more. A man went in and killed many children wounding several others, before taking his own life. I will never forget the response of the Amish community that had just lost 5 children and neither will many others that heard about it. The community immediately requested that people not hate the shooter. They expressed forgiveness for his actions to the family he left behind as well as praying for them. the community went as far as to set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. Many attended his funeral and the family was even invited to the funeral of a few of the victims. What a light in this dark world! I believe that we glorify and point to Jesus more in the “unusual forgiveness” than in the all to common contempt and hatred. In fact, my opinion is that we don’t represent Him at all in our contempt of even the most vile individuals. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician…I came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17).” Amen.

My final thought is in reference to a question I have been posed on more than one occasion over the years. If it would have been possible to know he was going to commit the gruesome act and we killed him, wouldn’t the killing be justified? I am not going to get into this very far because I am admittedly naive and unresolved in some of my thoughts on this subject. It a most troubling conundrum. I speak with a heavy heart and like most people I don’t want to see anyone lose their life. If faced with a kill or be killed situation I would most certainly allow myself to be struck down for two reasons. First, if I kill anyone especially in defense of my own life, I am saying that my life is more important or valuable than the other person, and I do not believe this to be true of anyone in comparison with anyone else. Secondly, I am secure in my belief and certain of my salvation, whereas someone trying to kill me clearly isn’t. How could I ever justify taking the life of someone who doesn’t know the Lord. I would essentially be condemning them to Hell. While I think on this often, up to this time I can find no justifiable reason to defend myself in a kill or be killed situation.

Now, once you add in others this becomes an infinitely more difficult question for me. Is killing one to save the lives of the many that one person would have killed justifiable? Very simply, I have to say no. Again, in my thoughts on this subject until now, I cannot see how any situation in which someone who doesn’t know the Lord should be killed. Upon studies of hell I would never wish or knowingly send someone their. I am aware that I am not answering this in a holistic manner and it is because there are numerous situations where I am uncertain of what I would do in reality. There are some things we must simply pray we never encounter and that if we do, the Lord would guide us in His way. As for things past, asking what if’s is unhelpful and even harmful in some ways. I think that we should simply trust the Lord that He can use even what was meant for evil, for good (Gen. 50:20). Finally, brothers and sisters, let us allow our lights shine brightly and let us rely on His Word to respond appropriately in all things. I truly hope that if you read this in its entirety, you realize I am simply adding to the commentary. Please do not find offense in my words. I find this tragedy appalling the same as any other. Lord let us be pleasing to you. Amen.

The dangers of familiarity and the dynamic nature of God…

12 12 2012

Dallas Willard said, “Familiarity breeds unfamiliarity- unsuspected unfamiliarity, and then contempt.” I am back in Sudan for two more years with the majority of one year under my belt. As I have gotten back into the swing of things here I have come to understand the truth in Willard’s words. This realization has come through the shattering of expectations and unexpected feelings of helplessness in my first few months back. There are dangers that accompany familiarity with anything that only careful self-examination and the ever essential guidance of the Spirit can reveal. They are quite deceptive in appearance, yet they can swiftly have you wondering how you got into such a dreadfully contemptuous situation. Praise the Lord that his grace is sufficient and that he has sent us his Word and Spirit to guide us as we continually fall short of his glory.

I came back to Sudan with confidence in my knowledge of everything from navigation of the transportation system to the amount of energy and time required to produce good lesson plans. While I don’t feel this confidence was necessarily misplaced, I had forgotten the Lord’s role in the growth of said confidence. However unconscious the decision was, I had removed God from my confidence which I can now safely call what it truly was. It was arrogance. At least it became arrogance somewhere along the way. I knew what it took to get my work done, how to balance my time, and how much effort I needed to put into abiding with the Lord, and I was capable of all of this among other things in my own mind. I had done all of this before and I could do it again. What a pretentious thought! Especially in a place like Sudan where things are subject to change daily.

Now is a good time to expound on Willard’s words. The familiarity I felt towards Sudan and my relationships- including my relationship with the Lord- within this setting had become incorrigible and rigid. That paired with the fact that my familiarity was far from holistic created a recipe for unfamiliarity. Due to this rigidity  and incomplete familiarity, once I began to see the different ways the Lord is working in me, the different responsibilities I have at work and the new dynamics of my relationships in my community, the sand under my foundation began washing away and the iconoclastic process of the Spirit’s exhortation was underway. While I did not resist the new season that was being thrust upon me, I did something equally tragic. In my arrogance, I attempted to fulfill my old and newfound responsibilities and endure the frequent frustration, exhaustion, spiritual attacks, and sorrow in my life here by my own strength. I can think of no quicker way to exasperate and overwhelm oneself. It is at this point when my familiarity with my life’s growth in the previous season and my supposed familiarity with God was revealed beyond doubt to be unfamiliarity. Even more, unsuspected unfamiliarity as Willard so accurately put it. I still felt as though I was familiar with the desires God had for me at the time and with the demands of my responsibilities. Therefore, as I began falling short in all the aforementioned areas, my confusion and frustration abounded. “My problems couldn’t be manifesting from within due to my familiarity” I thought to myself. Mind you, many of these thoughts were occurring in my unconscious. Nevertheless, My unsuspected unfamiliarity was crippling me.

This familiarity did not simply fade out to be replaced with unfamiliarity. Rather the familiarity in its rigidity mutated into the unfamiliarity. The characteristics and components remained identical in the transformation. It was my application and idolization of the familiar constructs and institutions in my walk with God that caused my unfamiliarity. A better explanation can be seen throughout the Gospels as the religious leaders interacted with Jesus. The Pharisees, to a certain extent, weren’t wrong about the importance of the Law, yet Jesus was clear about their extensive lack of knowledge of the Father.  Verily(thanks KJV), I proclaim the law of God was not and is not bad. Jesus himself said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”(Matt. 5:17-18) The issue was that the Pharisee had lifted their familiarity with the Law up to the level of God, himself. While the following of the Law may have begun as a genuine attempt to follow the Lord, it became a tool for self-righteousness. Therefore, the very thing that made God familiar, created unfamiliarity by way of their idolization of the familiar. Inevitably, as we see in their desire to destroy Jesus, their unfamiliarity with God erupted into a contemptuous heart towards the One he sent with the Truth. Praise God, that I did not reach this point, most assuredly due to his grace and desire for us to know all Truth(John 14:26). My unsuspected unfamiliarity did become potentially destructive as the apex of my dilemma was an increase in irritability and hostility towards others. Praise the Lord that he led me to repentance of these things and is ever restoring my humanity.

This whole experience has served to remind me of a few things about God and my walk with him. First, there is the dynamic nature of God, or more accurately, God’s will. He is forever leading us into newness. We see this throughout the Bible from Abraham, who had a life familiar to him and was called to leave it, to Paul, who was constantly moving away from that which had become familiar in search of the unreached. Of course, those are macro examples of God’s dynamic nature. Just look at your life and the various seasons you have gone through. Relationships begin and end, and new ones come into your life. You are dependent on others, studying in university, crawling and walking, traveling, decomposing, working, falling in love, waiting-oh how I loathe waiting. With each new season in our lives we have the potential to develop into entirely new people with new struggles, relationships, responsibilities, desires, shortcomings, and lessons to be learned. I am writing this in this season and the next season I enter I will write about some other brilliance of God’s grace. As we follow him, we are forever becoming all that we were intended to be. In this context we must realize that God is infinitely creative and can even use what was meant for evil for the good of many(Gen. 50:20). Hallelujah! He spoke through burning bushes, donkeys, should-be kings(Jonathan to David), wandering and weeping prophets, angels, a large variety of educated and uneducated people. He blinded Paul, allowed Job to endure all manner of suffering, and He gives and takes away(Job 1:21). Again, he is inexhaustibly creative!

We mustn’t get so caught up in the ways that God works which are familiar, that we reject his will as it moves on from our familiar ideas about him and his ways. In the tenth chapter of Acts, Peter was called to carry the Truth to the gentiles and he struggled with abandoning the familiar and going in a new direction. Thankfully, Peter trusted in the righteousness of the Lord’s ways and obeyed. Even more, one would think Jesus was trying to challenge as many traditions and principles as possible while he was on Earth. I’m speaking in jest, yet he deliberately challenged major ideologies through his words and actions. He ate with sinners(Matt. 9:10), washed his friends’ feet(John 13:15), worked on the Sabbath(Luke 6:1), and loved his persecutors all the way to the cross(Luke 6:27-28 & 23:24). He said the last would be first(Matt. 20:16), that cultivating lust is committing adultery(Matt. 5:28), that what comes out of a man’s mouth rather than what goes in matters(Matt. 15:11), that to truly live we must die(John 12:24), that he is one with the Father(John 10:30), and, most importantly, that the kingdom of God is available to all in this current life(Matt. 4:17). Jesus displays so well for us that the Lord’s will is always fresh and fluid. It is not stagnant or dull and is anything but predictable(Isa. 55:8-9). Therefore, we must constantly seek His will in our lives through His Word(2 Tim. 3:16-17), prayer(Matt. 6:9-10), good counsel(Proverbs 11:14) and the leading of the Spirit(1 Thess. 5:19).

In closing, I want to encourage those of you that endured my ramblings thus far by saying that God’s grace is utterly sufficient for us all as we continue to stumble along the straight and narrow. Sometimes our familiarity becomes incorrigible and legalistic, but grace! Sometimes we may swing to the other extreme and become overly fickle and timid in our journey to discover his will, but grace! I pray the Lord would give you balance in this area of your life’s pilgrimage towards the Lord’s presence. I encourage you to notice signs of rigidity in your path such as anger, hostility, bad exhaustion, unfulfilled goals or a lack of growth, or potentially contempt towards others. Though, I hope you don’t reach this point. Take ownership of these emotions and seek the root of them rather than acting on them prematurely. However, if you do there is grace for that too. Hallelujah! Balancing the familiarity and the creativity of God’s dynamic will is a righteous goal that by grace alone we can grow in. Finally, speak out about your thoughts and bring them into the light of Christian community so that we can all continue the tradition of binding and loosing(Matt. 16:19). My closing prayer is from 2 Corinthians 3:18 which says, “And we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit”. Amen.


Laying against the Father's chest…

3 06 2012

So the other night during worship I began thinking of a song we were singing. There is a line in the song that says,“I want to…lay back against You and breathe, feel Your heartbeat.” This was in reference to God of course and the desired closeness the writer of the song wanted with Him. I have sung this song before and I absolutely love it. However, as we sang it and I anticipated Spirit meeting spirit, I flashed back to much younger days.

I thought about the nights when I was a small boy and I would get scared or wake up way earlier than my parents. In these situations, I would go get in bed with them much to their reluctance I am sure. Anyway as I sang that line I remembered one of the strange things I did to try to be more like my parents. I would lie beside my dad and listen to and watch his breathing while he slept to match him. I remember taking huge deep breaths and holding them wondering when he would let it out because it was difficult and much too uncomfortable to sleep through. This thought just made me admire him that much more. Eventually I would let out my breath quickly upon seeing his chest deflate to the great relief of my small lungs. I would repeat this process until they woke up or the lack of oxygen put me to sleep again. I did this almost every time I was around my dad while he was sleeping. I was a kid and I wanted to be exactly like my father even when it came to breathing. Oh the lessons we can learn from children.

I started thinking about God and the effort I put into being like Him. As we continued worshipping, I just started confessing and asking for deeper revelation of the Father. I was reminded by this flashback that I wanted to be exactly like my Father. Are we trying to copy His very breathing? He sent us the perfect example for 30 years and some change. We have His Word. How desperately are we seeking His face? His nature? His life? Since then I have not stopped thinking about the desperateness with which I need to seek the Lord and His Kingdom both in prayer and action. I what to breathe like Him, love like Him, see through His eyes, and hear as He hears.

I have since had time to reflect on these thoughts more and two more aspects of those nights and mornings of mimicking my father’s breathing have taken shape in the context of my renewed desire to be more like my heavenly Father. The first of these came from wondering what being more like God would entail. Everyone immediately thinks of the good stuff like love and peace and joy abounding, but what does His Word say on the subject. Now I am by no means getting into the depths of imitating our Lord in this post and I do not want to mislead anyone into thinking it does not include infinite blessings. However, I want to just look at one verse out of Philippians. Paul said that he wanted the righteousness of the Lord so that he could “share in His sufferings, and become like Him in death”(Phil. 3:10). Of course Paul goes on to speak of also attaining the resurrection from the dead, so this is not completely depressing. There are other passages that speak of a desire to live in communion with the Lord and follow His teachings would lead down a road of persecution, uncertainty, pain, and suffering. After all, He was the suffering servant. The question that comes from this is one that must be posed with each decision, each day. Am I prepared for the challenges birthed from an attempt to live in accordance with the Lord? This is a question we must dwell on. Are we as fallen creatures capable of answering yes?

This brings me to my last thought. I learned as a young child that I was incapable of copying my father’s breathing. His lungs were huge! The sad part of that story is that there was nothing that could be done to fix this. The great part of this is that it reminded me why I admired him to begin with. As fallen creatures we are incapable of following the example of righteousness set before us by the Lord. For all have fallen short of their Father’s breathing I guess. Thankfully the Lord sent us the Spirit to guide, comfort, and strengthen us. He gives us the capability of following Him. We can rejoice in this forever and we will I believe. On the other end, we will obviously never be God. The creation cannot be the same as the Creator. His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways(Isaiah 55:8). For me this is equally as wonderful as His providing a way to follow Him and return to communion with Him. In remaining separate from me and the rest of His creation He is ever reminding me of why I worship and admire him. If we were able to become like God then what need have we to worship Him. Praise the Lord that He is God and that His creation, us, cannot surpass or match His glory and wisdom. I pray that in light of this we would become even more aware that all we have is a gift from the Creator and that we would praise Him for all the blessings we enjoy daily.

So in closing I just wanted to encourage those patient enough to suffer my writing to reevaluate the passion with which they seek the Father and His Kingdom. I hope that you can come to terms with the cost of following the Lord and maintain that passion to see His face. Finally, I pray all of you will rejoice with me that our Lord is God and we are not. Let us worship Him more appropriately in this light. What’s more is that this God that is infinitely greater than His creation and owes us nothing but death has made a way for us, in all our imperfections, to feel His embrace and return to communion with Him. He gives us the ability to live a life seeking Him that we could never maintain without the power of the Spirit. Praise the Lord, oh my soul. May the Lord keep you all and may blessings abound. Soli Deo gloria.

Because He lives,