Journal Entry: October 9th 2016

October 9th, 2016

In some ways, I have allowed politics to become an idol. Maybe THE idol in my life right now. I follow it incessantly, yet hardly pray for my country, or open my Bible. I KNOW the truth, and the truth is that my country is not what I want it to be. Our values are not what I want them to be.

But doesn’t that miss the point? Is God not sovereign?
The answer of course is yes, but my idolatry and obsession over this election means that I am living more like it is a “no”.
Humbling indeed.

Both of our primary candidates are so deeply and fundamentally flawed. I recognize we are all deeply and fundamentally flawed, but can you recall a time where both candidates are such a far cry from anything resembling submission to the authority of God? This troubles me, but probably not for the right reasons as I think about it.

It troubles me because it means that the America that I have in my mind, that I believed would be present in my future, is fading rapidly. This America had strong Judeo-Christian values, was proud of what it meant to be an American and all that came with that.

This identity is dying and it breaks my heart. But it also means that (selfishly) my life will be harder. Prosperity will be threatened, my values will be of the minority and maybe even censored before too long.

So what are the right reasons for being troubled by this? Obviously the moral decline of our leadership is indicative of the moral decline of our nation. Wayward morality always has consequences. History has proved this time and time again. Heck, you don’t even need the Bible to see it but I believe Scripture provides the most coherent explanation.

Say what you want about the Founding Fathers, because many say they weren’t Christians. I don’t argue that here, I will say that they did view the world with a moral framework. There was a starting point, a foundation of morality that they looked to for inspiration and guidance.

We are losing this framework. We have no foundation or starting point to look to. And like a house without a strong frame or a body without bones, we fall in on ourselves.

There will be suffering and more suffering. Physical, psychological, social, economic. This is probably the saddest part of this, but also the greatest opportunity because suffering forces us to ask some pretty big questions.

What is the purpose of this?
Why do I suffer?
Is there any hope?

It is here that I return, because the answers to these questions, and the example of our lives is where the Church is indeed Salt and Light.

Salt prevents decay. Light shines brightest in the darkness.

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

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The Gospel: Watch, Hear, Experience

The Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ and His redemption of our sins. I read this. I know this. I have said this and I believe this. But, what does it look like? Jesus arrived on the scene in human flesh 2,000 years ago, and has appeared in various mediums of art for the last 2,000 years. We have depictions of Him all over the world. What does the Gospel look like? What does it sound like today?

Change gears for a moment:

I appreciate artistic expression and I believe this is a manifestation of God in me. In all of us. The Creator of light, sight, sound, hearing, flavor, taste, colors and everything in between left his imprint on us. Being created in His image means so much more than appearance.

The art of communication is my preferred medium (those that have experienced the horror of me singing or observed my drawing skills will back me up on this). This art is increasingly robust in the Christian faith and with the technological advances of the last decade, we have access to SO MUCH great content. I have included some of my favorites below! I hope and pray you enjoy watching, hearing, and experiencing the Gospel in a whole new way!

John 3:16 – The Story of Love

G.O.S.P.E.L.

The Story of God

Comment below with some of your favorites and I will be sure to watch, hear, and experience the Gospel again!

Why We Need Community

I love golf. I have been playing for about 22 years now and the game has taught me a lot. Golf is unique because it is an individual sport. I have been on golf “teams” but even then we are just the sum of our individual contributions. This tendency to try and “go it alone” leaks into my walk with Jesus and the consequences are unsettling.

Here’s the thing: Following Jesus is not an individual endeavor. The Church does not function well when we fly solo. I do not function well as a member of the Church when I choose to fly solo.

I need community. We all need community.

But first, what is community?

One definition of community is “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”

A second definition is “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common

For our purposes, our definition of community is a combination and simplification that is best understood as “a committed group of Christ followers navigating life together.”

Seems simple enough, right? Yet I still struggle in isolation. We still struggle without community.

Why is that though? Why is it that I struggle when I am isolation? Why do I need community?

In Scripture we discover some answers to these questions –

  • Built for Relationship

So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27

Being created in the image of God truly means something. We carry His imprint whether we like it or not. The thing about God is that He is relational. His relationship with the Son and Holy Spirit was always there.

Just think, the idea of relationship always was.

As carriers of His likeness, we are wired for relationship. Relationship with Him and with others around us. The context for this relationship is found in a community setting.

  • Better Together

Two are better than one,

because they have a good return for their labor:

If either of them falls down,

one can help the other up.

But pity anyone who falls

and has no one to help them up.

Ecclesiastes 4:9 – 10

Allow me to share an illustration most of us can relate to – Have you ever gone to a theme park alone? Ever been to a movie alone?  I have done both and I can honestly say that my experience was not nearly as fulfilling as any time I went with someone else. Life is a lot like that as well. When I go to theme parks, my motto is the more the merrier because it is so much fun to experience theme parks with a host of friends! We are better together!

A life lived in community is fun, but it also has some other very real benefits.

Consider this illustration – Have you ever witnessed a friend making a bad decision that you knew would result in pain/suffering?

You know what I am talking about. This person is convinced they are making a good decision and are blind to any alternatives. Or maybe you have been that person. I know I have. I know I have had the blinders on and when I crashed I inevitably said “well I didn’t see that coming”.

But you know who did? The people that knew me best. My close friends and family in many cases.

We all have blind spots. A community can protect us from those blind spots and help us to make wise decisions.

  • Community Needs You

Though one may be overpowered,

two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:12

When I was in Basic Training, I learned very early on that I was no longer an individual. The Army has a way of beating that out of you. Any action that can be perceived as an individual action was met with swift punishment. We always did things as a team. The smallest unit was a group of two and your partner was called your “Battle Buddy”. My battle buddy was a guy named PVT Addison. We both learned early on that we had to rely on each other. I needed him, and he needed me.

The Church is like that.

I need community, and community needs me. There are blind spots that I can clear. There are bits of wisdom and insight that I can share to save someone pain and suffering. And then there are wonderful experiences that we can celebrate together!

You are the same. People need you. You are valuable. Jesus can and will use you.

When the Struggle is Real

“The Struggle is Real”

Struggle

This statement has gained popularity lately, and is usually reserved for “First World Problems” or when something trivial happens that we need to make light of.

I admit, I’ve said it before and got a few laughs.

But what about when the struggle IS real? What are we to make of life when we cannot make light of it?

Life is tough. This reality is inescapable. There will be seasons when the struggle is real.

I have been through a few seasons like that. In fact, I am just coming out of a season like that. For a few months, I was just in a funk. I felt like the Lord was distant and there was nothing I could do about it.

Of course I knew this wasn’t the case, but I certainly didn’t feel it.

All of the Christian clichés in the world couldn’t help me feel better about my situation.

I was struggling. I was suffering.

Suffering is part of the Christian experience. Suffering teaches us lessons that may be learned through no other medium.

As C.S. Lewis says – “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

In these moments of pain, suffering, and confusion we are driven to a greater reliance on the Lord. Our faith in the Lord is tested, and forced to grow.

We are forced to lean into the Lord and trust that He will catch us in this time. Allow me to share an analogy that helps me visualize this.

The Jump

I went skydiving last September with a handful of friends from my hometown. I was apprehensive at first, but the challenge was just too much for me to turn down. We all speculated on the drive down that our moment of greatest fear would be as we approached the door for our jump. As the plane begin its ascent, reality began to set in. I turned to my buddy Daniel and said “Well, at this point the fastest way down is going to be by jumping.” He agreed, and we both concluded that since we were strapped in, we pretty much had no choice at this point.

We had to jump.

Just think, here I was, attached to a stranger jumping from 15,000 feet into the blue Florida sky. I was relying on this stranger, and our parachute.

The Jump

Needless to say, I survived.

I have discovered that our walk with the Lord is a lot like this, especially in the realm of suffering.

The Lord often invites us to greater reliance on Him but sometimes He pushes us to the edge so that our only choice is to jump and discover our complete reliance on Him. The latter of these two options is certainly more difficult. It is nice to have the choice to acknowledge my reliance on the Lord as opposed to skydiving into His peace. Either way, the fact is that the Lord is really all I have.

I say all of that to make this point: when the struggle is real, it helps to consider that the Lord is likely using that to make you look more like Him.

That is the goal after all: to look more and more like Jesus.

Recognizing this purpose has not made my struggles any easier, but it has helped me to understand and even be grateful for the experience. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

It is my prayer that if you are in the midst of a trial, that you would jump. Embrace it as an opportunity for growth that could not be achieved any other way. Cling to the Lord and recognize that He is ALWAYS all that you have

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.

Psalm 119:50

Walking Wounded

BME 2015

This weekend I attended an annual event hosted by Better Man Ministries here in Central Florida. During the middle of this event, a local Pastor of a very large congregation was recognized for his commitment to advancing the Kingdom of God in his community. He was given a moment to share a few words, and he vividly stated what so many men in that room knew from experience:

“The question is not IF you will be wounded in life, the question is WHEN you will be wounded.”

After he detailed the tragic passing of his grandchild, and the suicide of his son, he then said this:

“The LORD permits what He hates, to accomplish what He loves.”

What a powerful statement, by a wounded man who stood in front of thousands of wounded men.

The odds are good that you have been wounded. Some wounds deeper than others. I know I have. The thing about wounds is that they WILL happen and there is not much you can do about it. You may not be a follower of Christ, but the problem of pain and hurt in your life is no less a reality.

Some people believe and preach that as Christians, we are immune to wounds, but a quick glance at your past proves that to be false. A quick glance at Scripture proves that to be false. Scripture is littered with wounded men and women and we follow a Jesus that was the most wounded of them all.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

Where do wounds come from? What is the source? How are we to deal with them?

Sources of Wounds:

Sin – As a follower of Jesus, I believe THE source of brokenness, loss, and pain in the world is sin. Now, this of course is the Sunday School answer so I will flesh it out a bit. Here are some examples:

Sin against You – Someone turns the sword on you, and wounds you. Abuse, neglect, rejection, denial, hate etc. The act of someone sinning against you that leaves a wound.

Sin against Yourself – You turning the sword on yourself. Destructive habits, addictions, poor choices and their consequences etc. Even if you deny the existence of sin, you cannot deny that some of your decisions have wounded you.

Loss – Broken relationships, death, crushed hopes and dreams etc. If you live long enough, you will lose someone close to you. If you engage in relationship, then there is a chance that it could end for no real reason. That happens sometimes and it still leaves a wound.

How are we to respond?

INVITE OTHERS IN –

Take a look at this story from the Gospel of John.

Jesus Appears to Thomas

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:24-29

You see, this amazes me. Jesus invited Thomas to put his hand into His side. He invited Thomas into His wound. He showed Thomas it was real. He was pierced but He was now alive.

We have to follow this model that Jesus put forward. Invite others in to your wound. Allow them to see that it is real, but you are still alive and moving forward.

BE VULNERABLE AGAIN –

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – C.S. Lewis

Pain teaches us a lesson: “Do not repeat that action, because it hurts.”

This is why we only touch the hot stove once when our Mom says not to.

It is also why we are less vulnerable after a failed relationship. A failed attempt to love someone. Or love rejected. Our hearts and minds tell us: “Do not repeat that action, because it hurts.”

Apply wisdom when being vulnerable, but absolutely commit to being vulnerable again.

ENGAGE IN LIFE –

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Teddy Roosevelt

Once wounded, our tendency will be to withdraw. That is what pain does; whether it is physical, relational, or emotional. We must fight this tendency. Engage in life. Engage in the battle to advance the mission of Christ. Engage in the gritty, messy, and broken aspects of people’s lives. Jesus stepped down into the muck of our lives, pressed on through wounds, and continues to engage us to this day.

As one wounded person to another, I encourage you to continue walking.

Keep Walking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friendly Fire

Pat Tillman

Pat Tillman, professional athlete turned Army Ranger, died 10 years ago in an attack in Afghanistan. The worst part about this attack is that enemy forces did not carry it out, it was carried out by friendly forces AKA Friendly Fire.

Friendly fire is loosely defined as “an attack by a military force on friendly forces while attempting to attack the enemy, either misidentifying the target as hostile, or due to errors or inaccuracy. Such attacks often cause injury or death.”

This was a terrible tragedy resulting in loss of life, a decrease in combat effectiveness, and utter embarrassment for the US Armed Forces.

This incident was a completely preventable occurrence. Of course in the course of battle it is sometimes difficult to discern what exactly is going on, where the enemy is located, where friendly forces are located, etc.

Here’s the thing though, friendly fire is not only occurring overseas during war. It is alive and well within the church.

Just think about it, we have a very real enemy that is out to “steal, kill, and destroy” and we have Christians battling each other over meaningless things.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is a place for debate within the church. Always has been and always will be. People have deeply held convictions and God is beyond our comprehension. There will be differences within the church.

What I am saying, is that we need to be careful that we don’t forget our primary mission when we engage in these debates with fellow Christians. Our mission is not to win debates against fellow believers. It is not to be right all the time. It is not to be a theological mastermind. And honestly, from personal experience, I can tell you that most of these debates are a waste of time.

Hear me on this, truly hear me on this and think about it:

The world is full of dying people that need the hope of Jesus.

 Question- how effective are you going to be at 1) battling the enemy and 2) reaching the lost if you are engaged in a battle with your buddy in the trenches next to you?

Answer- Not as effective as you could be.

I pray that we would embrace this reality, and devote our full energy to the mission of Jesus Christ.

 

The Measure of a Man

What is the Measure of a Man?

What is the Measure of a Man?

What is the measure of a Man? Is it his bank account? His job title? His athletic prowess? His sexual conquests? His impact on the world?

It is all of these things, according to the world at least.

Heck, even in the church we are guilty of measuring men based on worldly criteria. I know I am guilty of it all the time. We measure men based on their involvement in the church, the size of their family, their leadership, their gifts.

Now don’t get me wrong, all of those things are valuable traits and I am not diminishing them at all. But they are not how we should measure men.

So what is the measure of a Man?

 The degree to which his heart is devoted to the Lord.

This is the only measure that God uses.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

1 Samuel 16:7

I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

Jeremiah 17:10

Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.

2 Kings 23:25

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”

2 Chronicles 16:9

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

Matthew 22:36-37

Clearly the Lord sees things differently than we do. He searches our hearts and knows our thoughts. Josiah was recognized for his total devotion to the Lord, and Asa was disciplined for his failure to rely on the Lord in that particular instance. Other translations of 2 Chronicles 16:9 say that the eyes of the Lord “run to and fro throughout the whole earth”.

Just stop and think about that for a moment… God is looking for men with hearts wholly devoted to Him, so he can give them strength!!

And finally we see Jesus affirm that the greatest commandment is to completely devote our hearts (along with soul and mind) to the Lord.

Men in Scripture were measured by the condition of their hearts before the Lord.

And we, men of today, are measured by the same standard.

I pray for you and I pray for myself, I pray for all of us as men- May our hearts be wholly devoted to the Lord today. Amen.