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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My Word for 2016

NewThe practice of choosing a word for the year is something I have done for the last three years under the encouragement of the leadership of a local church. The word has served as a point of focus in my walk with Christ.

My word for 2016 is New.

new |n(y)o͞o|

adjective

1 not existing before; made, introduced, or discovered recently or now for the first time

2 just beginning or beginning anew and regarded as better than what went before

We celebrate things that are new.

  • New Years are exciting.
  • New Cars smell amazing.
  • New Shoes look great.

As I thought about my word for this year, I was reminded that the Lord celebrates making things new as well.

We are given a new heart and a new spirit

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26

We are a new creation

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

2 Corinthians 5:17

We follow a new command

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

John 13:34

We will see a new heaven and new earth

1Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea… 5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:1,5

I just listened to a sermon today that said God views each day with the same excitement that we view each year. His mercies are new each and every day.

I am made new. You can be too.

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

Sin: the Great Enemy

There has been a resurgence like never before in my life to know Christ and to rest in His presence. While this has brought peace and rest, it has also brought struggle and pain. As Isaiah experienced God’s presence in Isaiah 6, his first thought was not, “Whoa!” but, “Woe.” C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, comments on this reality:

“The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object.”

One of my favorite passages of scripture, and one that I read daily, is found in Proverbs 7. As a follower of Jesus, especially as a man, sin tempts me from every angle and from every corner. This Proverb helps remind me daily of eight characteristics of sin and the consequences sin brings. This will not be a chipper blog post, but what I do hope it brings is an acute awareness of sin, its tactics, and its destruction. I contemplated posting Proverbs 7 directly below, but for time’s sake, I refrained. It would be helpful to read the chapter before proceeding (and I would highly recommend it!), but I have, in the subsequent paragraphs, included each portion of Scripture analyzed.

1. Sin is mis-positioning yourself (verse 6-11)

“For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness. And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home.”

Take the disciple Thomas for instance. Thomas was constantly doubting Jesus, but probably his most famous doubt comes post-resurrection when he exclaims, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). Why did he doubt? John 20:24 says, “Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.” Likewise, David who commits adultery with Bathsheba is said to have remained in Jerusalem instead of fighting with his soldiers. A common theme develops here of men in the bible mis-positioning themselves and the result is sin.

2. Sin is everywhere (verse 12)

“Now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait.”

At every corner, at every turn, the devil is seeking to kill and destroy. Possibly the most dangerous place he lurks unaware is the church. Afterall, who expects an attack from the enemy while worshipping the Lord and fellowshipping with His bride? On the contrary, the church is filled with members that fight over theology, doxology, carpet-colorology while missing the mission and purpose for which we exist. Do not be fooled, our enemy is shrewd and cunning.

3. Sin is attractive (verses 13-17)

“She seizes him and kisses him, and with bold face she says to him, “I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows; so now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you. I have spread my couch with coverings, colored linens from Egyptian line; I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.”

We live in a world that was created by God and deemed ‘very good.’ Through free will, it is our choice to bring about that which is evil. Evil is not a substance in and of itself, but a privation of something that is good. For example, rust exists only if a once good metal existed. Likewise, money, sex and fame (to name just a few) are all morally neutral things dependent on our choice as free moral agents to determine their goodness/wickedness. Therefore, when Satan tempts us, it is rarely with something that is purely evil, but with something that is created by God as good. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with wealth; but if wealth replaces God as man’s treasure, it ceases to be a good thing. Likewise, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with fame; but if fame becomes the pursuit of man’s life, fame becomes something wicked in the sight of God and detrimental to man’s life.

4. Sin is false promise (verse 18)

“Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love.”

The call to follow Christ is a call to experience life via death. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Do you ever wonder why Satan shows his best (Genesis 3:4, Matthew 4:9) and hides his worst, while Jesus shows both his worst and his best simultaneously? Matthew Henry answers, “Satan shows the best, but hides the worst, because his best will not counterbalance his worst; but Christ’s will abundantly.”
In the end, the promises of Satan are death traps and can never bring the reward or fulfillment they promise.

5. Sin is secret (verse 19-20)

“For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home.”

Sin’s nature is to hide, to cover up. Adam and Eve hid. David murdered to cover his tracks. Jonah fled to Tarshish. Sin and darkness are synonymous terms. That is why Christ is referred to the “Light that shines in the darkness” or, “the true Light that enlightens all men” (John 1:5, 9). A great self-probing question to ask yourself is this: if all my sins were displayed in front of the masses, would I leave feeling embarrassed? Better yet, do I have secrets, that, if discovered, would contradict the facade I am putting forward, and/or harm the relationships in my life? If the answer is yes, then you are probably struggling with sin.
Jesus’s message was just the opposite of this. He said instead of practicing righteousness outwardly, we should practice righteousness inwardly. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4). Instead of being a people who practice sin privately, let us be a people who practice righteousness privately and confess our sins to each other publicly (James 5:16). It is in this place that the grace and glory of God are displayed as supreme, not our own.

6. Sin is persuasive (verse 21)

“With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him.”

I think the best example we have of this is found with our first parents, Adam and Eve. When Satan tempted them, he used his cunning persuasive abilities. “Did God really say?” he asked. This point, centered around the most contentious question in history, “What is truth?” (also famously asked by Pilate), is what every believer stands before when tempted by sin. We see this in every sin. Did God really say not to lust? Did God really say not to lie? And so on we could go. The trick in recognizing sin’s persuasive power is justification. From my experience, the Spirit gives us one of two answers. He either gives us peace, or no peace. What happens more often than not, however, is when we are faced with a lack of peace, we justify ourselves into believing that an 80%, 90%, or even a 99.9% peace is good enough to proceed. Reality is, unless there is total peace, there is no peace, and Satan will use the trick of the non-existent “partial peace” to justify our position and to persuade us away from the truth of God and the direction of the Spirit. Do we really believe what God said?

7. Sin is near-sighted (verses 22-23)

“All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.”

The nature of sin is that it cannot see past itself. Sin sees only today, never tomorrow. Sin sees only the reward, never the consequence. For Samson this was also the case. The fleeting pleasures of sin Delilah offered were his vision, and once he gave in, it is recorded that, “He did not know the Lord had left him” (Judges 16:20). May our eyes be fixed on the Author and Perfecter of our faith, and not sinful passions.

8. Sin is death (verse 24-27)

“And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.”

When sin entered into the creation story, death, both natural and spiritual did too. From that point in history, all of the creation-order was disrupted, resulting in broken relationships, both God-man, and man-man. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” And the result of this sin? Death. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Now I know what you are thinking: dang, Matt, you are sounding like a fundamentalist! Whether that is true, I don’t know. But what I do know is that sin carries with itself no reward and infinite consequence; and, that sin brings pain, brokenness, and separation—both in our relationship to God and with others.

May we not be a people that flirts with eternal death by indulging in temporal sin, but let us put on the righteousness of God by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, and run the race set before us, exhorting and encouraging each other in Christ Jesus.

Do not just flee from, flee to.

“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” -2 Timothy 2:22

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.