How do I know?

how do I know

As a long-time educator and minister to youth, I have heard thousands of questions that all start out similarly, “As a Christian, can I…?” and you can fill in the blank with any number of things. Can I smoke? Can I drink alcohol? Can I play poker? Can I watch rated R movies? Can I get tattoos? On and on the list goes. It seems as though the Bible doesn’t give clear direction for all the things that a person living in 2019 could have concerns about. Or does it?

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of Christians get excited about a popular television show that is based off a series of books set in a more ancient time period where sex and violence was the normal way of conducting everyday life. Due to all of the hype, I was curious as to how bad it was. When I’ve asked, I’ve had numerous people (especially my soldiers) tell me to stay away from it because it isn’t something they think a Christian should watch. Yet, I see so many Believers shouting its greatness from the rooftops (of social media anyway). So, what should followers of Jesus do; shut themselves away from the world completely or just enjoy what culture has to offer because Jesus has forgiven us? How do we know what is and is not acceptable to God as far as the things we do?

Thankfully, this is not a new problem. There are a great many examples of this in the New Testament during the time of the 1st century. Some had problems deciding whether they should be circumcised. Others wondered if they could eat meat that had been sacrificed to a pagan god. Some had issues after coming to Christ as to whether they should get married while still others tried to figure out what to do about drinking alcohol. All of these issues were struggles that a young and newly converted Church dealt with. How could a person who was set free from the Law of Moses decide what was right and what was wrong?

The Bible gives us this answer in the words of Jesus and the Apostle Paul:

[15] Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”

[16] “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. [17] “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. [18] But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. [19] For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. [20] These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.” (Matthew 15: 15-20 NLT)

And…

[9] But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. [10] For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? [11] So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. [12] And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. [13] So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:9-13 NLT)

By reading the Bible in context, we can draw out three fundamental principles:

  1. Nothing we eat/drink is sinful in and of itself.

Jesus clearly teaches us that nothing we put in our body makes us unclean spiritually in itself. What we eat/drink goes through our system and is removed through natural biological processes. If a person ate meat that was sacrificed to a false god (idol) then it is still meat and okay to eat because that false god is not real. The same is true of things like alcohol, different types of meat (such as non-kosher items like bacon), sodas, candy, etc. They are not, in and of themselves, evil.

  1. Our heart intent is what makes something a sin.

What does make something a sin is our heart intent when we do/eat/drink/etc. it. For example, if I am in a foreign country (let’s say Rome) where drinking wine is part of a nice dinner am I sinning if I drink the wine? I must ask myself, what is my heart intent? Do I want to drink it to get drunk? Or do I drink it to be polite? If my heart is in the right place then it is not a sin to drink the alcohol. I have to be responsible and not get drunk but the wine itself is not a sin.

Here’s another example. Food has always been a struggle for me. I really enjoy cooking good meals and eating good food with friends and family. My problem is that I enjoyed it so much that I would overeat and get pleasure out of excessive eating. I would often go to buffets and spend long periods of time eating as much as I could and “getting my money’s worth” out of it. The problem wasn’t the food itself, the problem was my heart. I was getting pleasure out of eating too much and abusing food that could go to someone else who needs it. This selfishness is the heartbeat of the sin of gluttony. I was going to excess when someone else who needed it could have had it.

  1. In our freedom, we must not cause another person to stumble spiritually.

When I was a youth pastor one of the students asked me if it would be a sin for them to get their naval pierced. I asked them what their heart intent was. When she got honest about it, she admitted that she wanted to pierce her belly so that she could show off her midriff in cute swimsuits and crop top shirts. She wanted to use her body to attract men and she admitted she wanted men to look at her lustfully. In her situation, getting the piercing was a sin because she wanted to use her body to cause others to stumble.

Okay, last example. Let’s say that, in my freedom from the Law of Moses, I was drinking alcohol in my home with the proper heart attitude. I wasn’t drinking to get drunk but I was simply enjoying it for its taste and craftsmanship. However, when I had some young Believers over for a Bible study they saw it in my refrigerator and it misled them into thinking that getting drunk was okay for followers of Jesus. Then, they got into a lifestyle of drinking and excess because my example led them down the wrong path. I caused them to stumble because I was taking advantage of my freedom in Christ.

Jesus also spoke about this:

[1] One day Jesus said to his disciples, “There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! [2] It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin. [3] So watch yourselves! (Luke 17:1-3 NLT)

Simply because we have freedom in Christ doesn’t give us free reign to do whatever we want because we are the salt of the Earth and the light of the world (see Matthew 5). It is our duty to bring the Kingdom of God here on Earth as it is in Heaven. This is our top priority and anything that compromises that, no matter whether it is okay or not, should not be part of our lives. Therefore, the next time a questionable situation arises we should ask ourselves 3 questions:

  1. What is my heart intent?
  2. Will it cause other Believers to stumble?
  3. Will it bring the Kingdom or hinder it?

If the answer to these is positive, then do it with a clear conscience. However, when in doubt, it is better to stay away from something if it will cause someone else to stumble in their faith or hurt the cause of the Kingdom.

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Worthy

Worthy
A blank screen… a blinking cursor… a mind full of words and a heart full of intent… but still nothing comes out. For months I have wanted to write what I felt laid on my heart but I have felt so much more that I don’t deserve to be able to. I don’t deserve any kind of platform to teach or preach from because of the shame of my sins and the fear of my past. The closer I get to God and the more I learn about who He is and what all He is the more I sit feeling hopeless and lost in a sea of guilt and shame. I feel so connected to Peter when, seeing Jesus for who He really is said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8 NLT)
I have thought a lot over these last few months about the Apostles and what they were like before Jesus: what kind of people were they? Were they good fathers? Were they loving husbands? Were they honest businessmen? Were they men of integrity? What kind of reputation did they have in their community? When a person saw them coming how did they react? The Bible doesn’t tell us much about this. It doesn’t tell us much about their life before Jesus; only the wondrous things that God did through them after they met Him.
In the 30 years that followed after Jesus’ resurrection, the entire empire of Rome was transformed as they heard the Gospel. In less than 300 years, the Roman Empire was won for the Kingdom of God. God used ordinary people (tax collectors, fishermen, zealots, and so on) to accomplish this task. Not governors, royal officials, or high-ranking dignitaries with pedigrees and power. Instead, God chooses to take the low and cast off things of this world and use them for His glory.
As I sat in my shame feeling worthless, the Holy Spirit reminded me of Jesus’ first miracle: turning water into wine. This narrative is found in John chapter 2 but the heartbeat of what happens is beautifully summed up by Dr. Ravi Zacharias:
The conscious water saw its Master and blushed.
That is, I believe, that very essence of what it is to encounter God. We see ourselves for what we really are and then hear the King declare what He says we are. We are all sinful, evil people that, when we come to the King and repent, He declares us to be righteous and justified. He calls us chosen. He calls us His own children. He whispers into the darkness of our very souls and lovingly declares that we are worthy.
Not through anything we can do. We cannot earn our righteousness. If we could, then Jesus would never have endured the suffering of the cross. Instead, the God of the universe put on flesh, lived a perfect life, and rose from the dead all so we could hear him speak into our lives and tell us who He says we are: worthy.
I’m not sure where you are in life; maybe you are like I was and find yourself in the darkest places of your life. Maybe, like me, you have tried to destroy everything good in your life. Maybe it is a job, a relationship, a position, or even your relationship with God Himself. Whatever it is, I can promise you that redemption is possible. God is still in the miracle business. He still looks at the nasty jars of water that we are and looks at us with amazing love and miraculously turns us into the best of wine.
Take that to heart today and every day. Go into the world and declare the Good News that God doesn’t count our sins against us but instead calls us His children and declares us worthy! Let us bring the Kingdom of God here on Earth like it is in Heaven; not as prideful Pharisees but as humble ambassadors. Like one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.
Like me, you can trade your filthy rags for new and pure garments from the King. Like me, you find forgiveness and a life that satisfies. God can renew your life, renew your position, renew your relationships, and renew your very soul. Because when God speaks, creation happens. As Jeriann Webb has said, “We are the manifestation of HIS imagination!”
Today and every day, let us go back to our King and let him look into our hearts once again and have him whisper to us that,
“We… are… worthy.”
[8] God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. [9] Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. [10] For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2: 8-10 NLT)

Pot-Stirrer or Peacemaker?

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A couple of weeks ago a co-worker and I were having a conversation and she mentioned that I just loved to debate. It was one of those backhanded complements that is what people do when they tell you the truth in love even if it isn’t something you want to hear. She’s a great friend and I appreciated her candor. However, I confess that it stuck with me. I began to look at myself and look in the mirror of my personality to see if this was something that was true about myself.

As I was going through my Facebook feed I saw a post from a friend who has views that are pretty opposite from my own and I began to hastily type a rebuttal to her spiritual proposition that I felt was theologically unsound. In that moment, I realized that my friend who rightly pointed out my love for debate was more correct than I let myself believe. Like a person who sucks in their gut in front of the mirror, I had convinced myself that I was not in as bad of shape as I really was. I realized I had become a pot-stirrer.

Pot-stirrers are infamous for hunting out ways to cause strife in the lives of others, to instigate arguments and heated discussions, and to play devil’s advocate in the debates of others. In general, they are people who just love to make mental trouble for others and clothe it in the garb of good humor. As sad as it was for me to admit it to myself, I had become one myself. I felt myself a crusader for theological good when I really just wanted to experience the joy of being right and someone else being wrong.

In a world that is so heavily immersed in information and social media as ours is, it can be super easy (at least to me it was) to become a pot-stirrer. Most of the time it starts out innocently and without any desire to cause grief to another person. Yet, over time, the desire to get a rise out of someone and be the victor in an argument becomes so strong that a pot-stirrer will take any opportunity to invade someone else’s mental space and try to win the debate (even if they have to play devil’s advocate to do so).

To cap all of this off, in a recent quiet time I read the following passage and the Holy Spirit used it to kick me in the teeth:

“Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.” (Proverbs 21:23 NLT)

I had to do a double take and reread that passage a few times before it could sink in. I was doing the exact opposite of that passage. I was so eager to talk and say what I felt needed to be said that I was causing strife in the lives of others and possibly even pushing them away from the Kingdom. My goal was to show them that the Gospel can be proven and is trustworthy but I was showing them that a follower of Jesus is really after an argument.

I was reminded of the teachings of Jesus when he said this in the Sermon on the Mount:

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” (Mark 5:9 NLT)

Other translations call these people ‘peacemakers’. According to the words of Jesus, those who are peacemakers will be called children of God. Again, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me that if I want to be a child of God that I need to be a peacemaker instead of a pot-stirrer. I should be seeking to live at peace with all people rather than trying to cause arguments and debates.

After spending some time repenting I tried to take a renewed approach to life and especially on social media. I remembered this verse and have tried to embody it:

“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29 NLT)

I have been seeking to let everything I say be good and helpful so that I am an encourager rather than someone who brings people down. I still want to represent truth and be able to bring an answer into the lives of those who question the Gospel and its message. What has changed, is that I am trying to do so by building relationships and earning my seat at the table. Do you think you might be a pot-stirrer rather than a peacemaker? Here are my questions to you based off of my own experience:

  1. Do you look for chances to be right? Or, are you genuinely interested in hearing what others have to say?

In my life, I realized I just wanted to be right. If I got honest with myself, I was covering my desires to want to win an argument in theological dressings. When I really examined my motives I saw that I lost track of bringing the Kingdom and only wanted to bring an line of reasoning that left me looking like I was smarter.

  1. Do you have a nagging feeling when you have a conversation on social media where you look back constantly waiting for the other person to respond? Or, do you have peace about issues when you discuss them?

After I would make a comment on someone’s post I would constantly keep thinking on it and figuring out what their reply might be. Then, I’d begin formulating what my response to their response would be. I would try to get multiple steps ahead of the argument so it would be like a game of chess and that I knew what I would do in a variety of situations. It would stay in my mind and I would be unable to enjoy the present moment because I was so lost in thinking on the argument. Obviously, that was an improper motive.

  1. Do you find yourself getting angry at another person’s view? Or, do you try to see from their perspective and find common ground?

This one was perhaps the worst part of all; I would allow myself to get so caught up in the debate that I would actually get angry over it. Here is this person that is my friend and I am upset at their perspective. While I believe I am right, where did I get the right to be mad at them for having their own view? When I write it out, it sounds amazingly petty. Yet, the truth is still the truth even when we don’t want to hear it.

—–

After asking those three questions and looking in the spiritual mirror, where do you land? I hope that this is one of those situations where I’m the odd man out. However, if you find yourself drifting over from peacemaker to pot-stirrer that you’ll be honest enough to admit it, repent of it, and change. As for me, my goal is to bring the Kingdom of God rather than my own; to be a peacemaker who is known as a child of God.

Is Salvation Subjective?

Christian-doctrine-salvation

As an Army Chaplain, I spend a great deal of time hanging with my soldiers and this often creates opportunities for them to ask spiritual questions. We deal with the silly, the fun, the serious, and the hot-button issues of the day. I always try to present truth in love and these get to be some of the greatest ministry opportunities I have ever had. One day, a soldier asked me a great question. He asked, “If God is so limitless, then why did He limit the ways we can get to Him?” He did not understand a God who could create so much variety would only create one way to know Him. Why is Jesus the only way?

These are all fair questions and they deserve an answer. Entire books have been written about this topic but, to try to keep it short, I try to limit my response to three answers: the definition of truth, the problem of exclusivity, and the balance of love & justice. Each of these are pivotal in comprehending why God put the world the way it is, why morality is the way it is, and why salvation must come from Jesus Christ alone.

After all, our culture cries out for variety; we want variety in our foods, in our entertainment, in our relationships, and in our morality. We say crazy things like, “As long as it doesn’t hurt anybody” and “You do you and I’ll do me” and my least favorite, “You Only Live Once (YOLO)”. Each of these captures the zeitgeist of our current generation. We want so badly to get along that we bend the rules until they break and we don’t care that these philosophies don’t make sense. The greatest issue with this mentality is that it does not stand up to the test of truth. Which leads us to point #1…

  1. The Definition of Truth

The idea of truth is an age-old topic. Many great philosophers have pondered on this question and tried to answer it. Pilate even asked this of Jesus during his examination of Jesus and the accusations the Jews leveled against him. Pilate asked Jesus outright, “What is truth?” (cf. John 18:38) in response to Jesus telling him, “…I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” (cf. John 18:37b) God is interested in the truth and we can find a clear definition of truth in the Bible.

What we see, when we look at truth, is that it is not subjective. We can fabricate examples where we can try and twist it to be so but these are not examples of truth but rather examples of preference. I can go to a restaurant and say that the food was excellent. Then, another person can eat the same food and say it was terrible. Can we both be right? Sure, in reference to perspective. However, the deep truths of life are not a matter of perspective. Perspective deals with preference and not truth. Opinions can be debated but truth is always factual. It is either raining or it isn’t. I am either 72 inches tall or I am not. These things are statements of truth because they can be proven.

However, Jesus takes this a step further by saying that He is the truth (cf. John 14:6). He is not just a truthful person or doesn’t just have true sayings; he claims to be truth itself. This means that when Jesus speaks it must be true. As part of the Godhead, Jesus is not just displaying the character of God, but rather, He is God. When we read His words we can place confidence in them. In other words, if He rose from the dead we can trust what He said.

  1. The Problem of Exclusivity

This idea leads us to point number two; if Jesus is truth then why is He the only truth? Our culture does not like the idea of absolute truth because it means that one person is right and the other is wrong. Our culture wants everyone to get along and to live in harmony (consider the religious bumper sticker that uses a variety of religious symbols to spell out ‘coexist’). Yet, truth by its very definition is exclusive. Don’t believe me? Try asking a woman if she is ‘kind-of’ pregnant? She will look at you very oddly. This is because she is either pregnant or not pregnant. Truth knows no in-between.

Consider this:

  • Christianity claims Jesus to be the only way to God and salvation (cf. John 14:6)
  • Hinduism claims that Karma is the only way to moksha (or release) – (Harold Coward (2003), Encyclopedia of Science of Religion, Karma)
  • Buddhism claims that salvation is found in the caste system through the cycles of reincarnation (Collins, Steven (2010), Nirvana: Concept, Imagery, Narrative, Cambridge University Press)
  • Islam claims that by following a strict set of rules (The 5 Pillars of Faith) that they can present their good works to Allah and be accepted into his presence (The Facts On Islam, By John Ankerberg, John Weldon, Dillon Burroughs, p.37)
  • Judaism claims that only by following the Law of Moses a devout person can enter Heaven (Malekar, Ezekiel Isaac. “THE SPEAKING TREE: Concept of Salvation In Judaism”.)

I could keep going and going because the fact is that every religious belief system contains exclusivity. Even the Baha’i faith system breaks this by saying that all religions are equal, which is an exclusivist statement. If all faiths are equal then the claims that the systems make of exclusivity are unequal which makes them wrong in themselves.

The reality is that our culture wants everyone to be right so badly that they are willing to cut off their noses to spite their faces. Truth is always exclusive. I cannot tell my wife I love her only and another woman I love her only (when dealing with romantic love). Those statements are contradictory. If I love only my wife (romantically) then I cannot love anyone else. Truth is, by its very nature, exclusive. Of the options for truth presented, Jesus proves to have the greatest answer (because He is truth).

  1. The Balance of Love & Justice

The last part of this ‘three-legged stool’ we are fashioning is the idea that love and justice must have balance. Since these two things are part of the nature of God then He must present a scenario where both are applicable. Consider a loving father who has a disobedient child. To truly love to the child, the father must discipline the child. Otherwise, the child would go on in disobedience and have a poor life. The father loves the child and therefore will discipline them to put them on a right path once again.

This is a snapshot of what God has done. Since God is a just God, He must enforce the consequence for the disobedience we have done (aka sin). The penalty for sin is death (cf. Romans 6:23). However, since God is also love, He has presented away to have both justice and love in the world. He, Himself, paid the price and made the way for us to be right with God again. No other faith system finds balance between love and justice because they put the onus on humanity to accomplish their own salvation.

When we boil it down, no amount of right we do can ever pay for a wrong. Can a murderer spend their entire life doing good deeds and bring back the person they killed? Can a person spend a lifetime of charity in order to make up for a lie that destroys a life? No way; there is no amount of good that can make up for an evil we do. Only God could do that by restoring love and justice by living a perfect human life and still taking the punishment we deserved.

Consider this, every other faith system besides Christianity requires its followers to work their way to their salvation. With Hinduism and Buddhism you must live upright lives through many lives to pay off your karma or attain Nirvana. You must present your good deeds to God in Judaism and Islam if you hope for Heaven. The only way to God where God pays for humanity and makes the way is through Jesus.

Is salvation subjective? No way. There is only one way to God. Yet, rather than complaining that there is only one way to God, we should be rejoicing that there is a way at all! Let me paint one more illustration; if you had a sick child and the doctor told you that there was only one medicine that would save them, would you complain at there being only one option or would you rejoice that there was an option at all? We would rejoice! So too, should we rejoice that God has made a way for us to be right with him again through the life, death, and resurrection of Chris Jesus.

If-Then

Image result for if then

When I was a teenager, I learned a valuable lesson: if I wanted a warm shower each morning then I had to get up before everyone else in the house. It was just one of the rules of life. With all the things that our hot water heater (as awesome it was) had to go through in the mornings, I learned to either get up earlier than everyone or live with a cold shower. The idea of getting up early and enjoying that warm shower was way worth the cost of getting up an hour earlier.

Life is like that; we learn the value of cause and effect. In a high school math class, we learned to call them ‘if-then’ equations. If I wanted a warm shower then I had to get up early. This idea applies to all kinds of things. If I want to be in good shape then I must exercise. If I want to be wealthy then I have to be wise with my money. If I want to get a promotion later then I have to be a good employee now. On and on the list could go.

All of these things may seem like common sense ideas to most of us. Yet, we seem to struggle so much with the ‘then’ part of the equation. We want to be healthy but we don’t want to exercise. We want to lose weight but we don’t want to control our diets. We want to be wealthy but we don’t want to get disciplined with our finances. We have grown into a Burger King® culture where we want to “Have it [our] way.” What’s more, we want what we want now and not later. Our consumeristic mentality has taught us that things like ‘two-day shipping’ and ‘instant rebates’ should apply to all areas of life.

Sadly, this is not how God engineered the world to operate. You don’t get to plant a seed and instantly be able to pick apples off if the fully grown tree. I cannot go on a diet for a day and lose 50lbs. I can’t go to the gym one time and then have the physique of a bodybuilder. I can’t read one medical journal and immediately start practicing medicine (thank God). Instead, we have to learn to put in the work if we want to get the results.

This idea is even more prevalent in our spiritual lives. We want to have the dynamic relationship God had with Moses but we don’t want to spend 40 years as a goat-herder to learn how to wait and trust. We want to be able to reach people for Christ like Paul did but we don’t want to risk anything to do that. We want to see God work miracles like He did with Abraham but we don’t want to leave everything behind to be obedient. In short, we want God to do mighty things in our lives but we aren’t willing to trust the process (see my last entry for more on that topic).

I often wonder how many Apostle Paul’s have not come about because that person was unwilling to sacrifice for the Gospel. I wonder how many Apostle Peter’s or John’s have not come about because followers of Jesus are not willing to leave their businesses behind in order to be faithful to God’s call. I wonder how many David’s have not fought the giants of life because they were unwilling to leave the pasture in obedience. They wanted the ‘then’ but didn’t want to do the ‘if’.

Jesus encountered a similar situation in His ministry when he found that he had thousands of followers but the vast majority only wanted the easy life he could provide for them. If they were sick, He could heal them. If they were hungry, He could feel the multitudes. If they were bored, He could entertain them with stories and encounters with those who wanted to test Him. Yet, they were only His followers because it did not cost them anything. It was easy to be a follower of Jesus so long as He provided everything and asked for nothing in return.

However, as His path to the cross drew closer, He began to get more and more real with His followers about what it would cost them to be His disciple. Consider what Jesus taught when He said,

[37] “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. [38] If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. [39] If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39 NLT)

This whole part of one of Jesus’ message is full of if-then statements. Jesus wanted His followers to realize that there was a cost to being His disciple. There could be no easy road to obedience; it requires sacrifice and discipline. It requires us to turn away from the things of this world and seek after the Kingdom. It means going against the flow of what is popular and even facing persecution to be worthy of being His.

This leads us to our Big Truth:

If the “if” becomes your “then”

Then “now” becomes your “when”

What this means, is that when we decide what we want most in this world then now is the time to go after it. How many times have we dreamed of doing something only to put it off until later? How many times has the Holy Spirit spoken to us about doing something only for us to dismiss it and come up with excuses? How many instances have come up for us to minister to others for us to simply pass over it and stay on the path that makes us comfortable?

Today, I encourage both you and me to look in the mirror and ask:

  • Do I love my father or mother more than I love God?
  • Do I love my son or daughter more than I love God?
  • Do I refuse to take up my cross and follow God?
  • Do I cling to my life rather than giving it away to God for His use?

If the answer to any of these are yes, then now is the time to change. Now is the time to be obedient. Now is the time to give up my Burger King® Jesus and follow after the real one. There is no time like the present; the time for us to be obedient is now.

If the “if” becomes your “then”

Then “now” becomes your “when”

Trust the Process

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Ever since I was a kid, I have enjoyed action movies. One of the big ones that came out when I was a young was the famous Karate Kid. In this movie (as I’m sure you know), a young teenage boy meets up with an old man who would teach him karate and, most importantly, how do be disciplined enough to learn how to use it wisely. The fun part of the movie was watching how Mr. Miyagi (his sensei) had Daniel do all sorts of chores rather than teaching him the more traditional aspects of Karate. This confused the boy and often made him frustrated at what was supposed to be a training routine and instead looked like an old man taking advantage of the young teenager.

As the movie unfolds, Daniel finds out that each of the chores that Mr. Miyagi had him do actually led to him being able to do his karate moves (as in the famous “wax off, wax on” moment). It came in super conveniently handy when one of those moves allowed Daniel to defeat the final opponent in the karate tournament at the end of the movie. What he did not understand in the beginning led to him being able to accomplish what seemed impossible. He just had to trust the process.

This is something that I have seen unfold in my life numerous times. In the times where I am lost and do not understand what God has going on in His plan I have so much trouble trusting in the process. For example, when I was going through the process of becoming an Army chaplain, I had many things stacked against me. My MDiv degree was not the preferred one, it was from a school that was not preferred, all of my ministry experience was before I graduated from seminary, and my endorser was not from a sought after group. I was often told not to get my hopes up by my supervisors. But as a wise Chaplain told me, “If God leads you to it, He will lead you through it.”

This idea of trusting in the process is not a new idea. Ever since God created humanity, people have been messing things up by failing to trust in His plan. Adam and Eve listened to the serpent who said that God didn’t have their best interests in mind. Aaron didn’t make it long when Moses was on the mountain with God before he led to people to worship the golden calf. King Saul refused to follow God’s directions in battle and lost his place as king because of it. On and on the list goes. We as a people have trouble believing God has our best interests in mind. This is my definition of what sin is: believing our way is better than God’s way.

Perhaps the most well-known example of this is seen in the life of Abraham. While he is typically known for being the “father of many nations” his lack of faith in God led to so much heartache and pain that it still echoes in the divisions between Islam and Christianity today. God promised Abraham that he would have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and that through his decedents that the entire world would be blessed (cf. Genesis 15). We see this culminated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Yet, the happy ending we tend to focus on missed one big mistake: Abraham and his wife, Sarah, decided they knew better than God and chose to have a child through another medium. Rather than trust God to give them a child through the methods He promised (Sarah herself would have the child), they went through their own methods (Sarah gave Abraham her servant and he got her pregnant). The son of Abraham and Sarah’s servant Hagar was named Ishmael and the strife that came about in Abraham’s family because of this ill-conceived union led Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. The family was divided because Abraham and Sarah thought they knew better than God did.

God, however, in His infinite mercy and integrity kept His promises to both Abraham and to Hagar (cf. Genesis 16). Ishmael’s decedents still populate the Middle East and some adherents to Islam trace the lineage of the prophet Mohammed directly from Ishmael (cf. Religions Today: An Introduction by Mary Pat Fisher, pg. 223). This strife can still be seen playing itself out on the battlefield by radical religious groups who believe their acts of violence are pleasing Allah across the world (cf. Ibid, 224). By failing to trust in God’s plan and choosing to use their own methods thousands of years of conflict have taken place. This is why God instituted the process of circumcision: it reminds men that Abraham’s decision to use his own methods to accomplish God’s will results in pain and bloodshed (cf. Genesis 17).

Despite the fact that the decision of Abraham and Sarah are affecting the lives of millions across the planet thousands of years later, Abraham was still used by God to bless the world. Abraham was given a son by Sarah who would have a family line that would lead to Jesus. In Jesus the Christ, we see the opposite of how Adam and so many others have acted when they believed their way was better than God’s way. Even in Abraham’s disobedience God still honored His word and kept His promises. Abraham learned to trust the process and was eventually counted in the Israelite Faith Hall of Fame (my name for it) that is found in Hebrews 11 (aka the Faith Chapter).

I took a big break writing this entry; I have taken 3 months to finish it because I just couldn’t take my own medicine. As my wife battled breast cancer and underwent surgeries and subsequent treatments, I just couldn’t write about trusting the process when I was struggling to do that myself. On the other side of this battle, and in many ways still going through it, I can say that God is faithful. He has kept His promises and He has been a present help in our time of trouble (cf. Psalm 46).

As I wrap this up, let me assure you in the greatest way I possibly can to trust the process. God has his plans set and knows what all will happen. The things in our lives can be used for good if we allow Him to. I don’t know what all God is doing in our lives from this struggle but I have seen such love from the Church and our families. I have met people who I never knew went through this share their stories with us. Most importantly, God has drawn us so near to Him that I know He gave us peace to pass through the storm.

I have often been reminded during this process of how David reacted when King Saul questioned him about his confidence in how he could defeat the giant named Goliath. Goliath was a man of war who had fought many battles whereas David had never been a soldier. Goliath had been trained for war and Daniel was only a shepherd. Goliath was a man of years and wisdom and Daniel was only a teenager. Yet, David could have faith in God to deliver him and give him victory. Consider the words of David to King Saul:

 [34] But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, [35] I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. [36] I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God! [37] The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!” (1 Samuel 17:34-37 NLT)

David had faith in God because God had been faithful in the past. David could trust his future because God had proven trustworthy in David’s trials before. My encouragement to you is to trust in the process. God may not defeat your giants nor calm your storms but He will be with you to guide you, direct you, comfort you, and lead you into a place of total trust in Him. We just have to trust in the process.

Rooted JAM Journal Day #2: 50 Yard Dash or Marathon?

Dash

Growing up I had many friends in my youth group. There were easily 80 students that attended our Wednesday night Bible study each week and 30-40 people who would come to every event. These people claimed to follow Jesus and dedicated their lives to Him. Most of them were even baptized in front of hundreds of people on a Sunday morning. Yet, as we grew up, these people changed their mind and started living like our culture says we should live. They chose to walk away from Jesus and to pursue their own desires. It made me ask, did they ever really follow Jesus or was it all a show?

Jesus had this very same problem during his Earthly ministry. When He was feeding tens of thousands of people, His following were massive. Yet, when life got hard, they all deserted Him. Did they ever really trust Him in the first place? Or were they only following him simply because of what they could get from Him?

If we claim to follow Jesus we must ask ourselves the same thing. Are we following Him because of what He gives us or are we following Him because we truly believe He is God? Do we only want eternal life or do we truly want to know Him and place total trust in Him even when life is hard? This is the turning point that all of us will have to choose in our lives. We will come to the place where we have to decide whether Jesus was all that He claimed to be or if we know better how to live our lives than He does.

Yesterday we compared following God to a distance race. To run a distance race we have to train our bodies to withstand tough situations that most people cannot do. Most people could run a 50-yard dash. Some could even do it with real speed. This, however, is not the kind of race we are talking about. To follow Jesus, we have to be willing to go the distance. To follow Him with our entire life, in every area, no matter what comes our way. We don’t follow God just when it is easy.

Dig Deeper

[14] The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to others. [15] The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. [16] The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. [17] But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. [18] The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, [19] but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. [20] And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Mark 4:13 – 20 NLT)

In this parable, Jesus is teaching His followers about what it is like to follow God. Like seeds that grow into plants, we hear the message about Jesus and decide to follow Him. Then, as we grow, depending how deeply we are rooted in Him, we either produce a life that encourages others to follow God or we fall away when life gets tough. When a family member gets cancer we doubt God loves us. When we work hard and keep struggling we doubt that God really wants what is best for us. When we see other people having fun and being successful by cheating we want to disobey God because that is easier than being obedient.

Sometimes, life gets in the way. We have so much to do that God has to take a backseat to all the others things going on. After all, there is practice, chores, work, homework, time with our boyfriend/girlfriend, babysitting, and all kinds of other life responsibilities to take care of. God might be able to fit in there somewhere, maybe. God is important to us, but He just isn’t as important to us as all those other things. After all, I have to do all of these things now. I’ll make time for God later. Maybe when I’m older I’ll get serious about following Jesus. Right now, I just want to have fun and be a teenager.

Look in the mirror

Does this sound like you? Has life choked your love of God away or are you so deeply rooted in Him that nothing can shake you? I hope that you fall into the final category and that your life is producing so much fruit that everyone sees it and you encourage others to follow Jesus in everything you do. Perhaps, however, you’re in the other category. Maybe you have tried to follow God but everything seems to get in the way. There is just so much to do that you never seem to have enough time to get serious about God. You want to read your Bible and live how Jesus taught but it is just too hard when everyone else is having fun doing what they want.

As you spend time over the rest of this weekend with other people, I encourage you to take time to truly consider your walk with Christ. We live in a culture where following Jesus is hard and living for ourselves is easy. We get immediate reward by doing what makes us happy. Sadly, happiness doesn’t last. What does last is our dedication to Jesus. When life gets hard or busy it is tough to be obedient. Yet, the Bible teaches (and I can tell you this is true from my own life) that only God has the ability to provide true fulfillment. All these other things (friends, success, relationships, money, stuff, etc.) give you temporary happiness but it eventually fades away. When we are rooted in Jesus, we know what it is like to have lasting fulfillment in Him.

Write it down

What do you notice the most about yourself? Are you the seed that grew quick and wilts quickly? Or are you producing so much spiritual fruit that everyone notices?

What part of your life is keeping you from being deeply rooted in Jesus? What things can you start doing today to make that change so that you become more and more obedient to His ways?

Final thought:

Take time now and throughout the day to pray over what God is calling you to do. What do you need to change in your life? What must you do to follow him completely? Look at this passage below to see what Jesus said to give you some ideas.

[37] “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. [38] If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. [39] If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. (Matthew 10: 37-39 NLT)