Restoring the Song

“On what were (the earths) footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?-Job 38:6-7

My family and I live in Colorado surrounded by the beauty of the mountains. Before that, we lived about ten minutes from the shore, in New Jersey. Growing up, I lived in the rolling green hills and farmlands of Pennsylvania. I have also traveled around different parts of not only the United States, but different countries of the world. This world is a beautiful and breath-taking place!

But there is another reality, especially the closer you get and deeper you look. Hurricanes and tornado’s wreck havoc. Fires ravage forests and wild-life. Wars and bombs destroy and ravish cities, countrysides and even entire countries. And this says nothing about the toll these things and more take on human lives. Though the beauty of creation still remains, it has also been cursed. Although the glory of humanity can be seen in different situations, a darkness, sorrow and suffering, darken and diminish it.

The apostle Paul put it like this in Romans 8:20-25: For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Creation has lost some of it’s song, vitality and joy. Unsaved humanity has also lost it’s song and joy. 

There is a narrative and arch in Scripture. God created and world and said “it is good.” (Genesis 1). Man enjoyed paradise and unbroken fellowship with God (Genesis 2). But then man sinned and creation was cursed (Genesis 3). Pain and suffering entered the world because of sin, because of broken relationship with God. But then God, out of love, sent His Son, to redeem the world (John 3:16). Jesus came to restore that broken fellowship with God. He came to save that which had been lost. And one day He will return and there will be a resurrection, just as after he suffered for our sin, he rose from the dead. He will also lift the curse from this fallen world. He will make all things new. He will create a new heavens and a new earth. He will restore the song! (Revelation 21-22).

Did you know in fact that creation sings? The Psalms again and again even “personify” creation and speak of it singing: The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing (Psalm 65:13). The angels themselves rejoiced and went wild with jubilation when God created the world (see the verse that this post began with).

And we were born to sing! We were created to worship God. We were made out of the song and melody in the heart of God. Our lives were to be a song unto Him. But that song has been lost or diminished because of sin,  suffering and sorrow. The earth groans and we groan. We are broken and the earth is decaying. The world lies in darkness and the music has been snuffed out in many parts of the world.

The mission of Jesus in this world, and for those He has now redeemed, is to restore that song. Jesus is all about restoration! He has come that we might have life and life more fully (John 10:10). He has come to destroy the work of the evil one and rebuild that which has been torn down. He has come to restore the melody, to put a new song in our hearts again (Psalm 40:3, Psalm 96:1, Psalm 98:1).

And now He calls you and I to go into all the world on His behalf (Matthew 28:18-20). He calls us to be His ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal to be reconciled to Him through us! (2 Corinthians 5:20). He sends us out to be witnesses to a fallen, broken, bound, beat-up, sinful world of His saving power and redeeming grace (Acts 1:8). He calls us to go forth into this suffering world, just as He entered into our suffering and took our sorrow upon Himself for our salvation. He calls us to be co-labors with him, in this wonderful work of restoring the song originally intended and now made possible to be redeemed, through His sacrificial death upon the cross and glorious resurrection power.

We are not to keep a distance from suffering, but enter into the suffering of others, as He did on our behalf. We are not to ignore the pain and brokenness of others, but with compassion in our hearts, reach out with the promise of God’s power to bring beauty from ashes. We are called to restore the song of salvation in all the world, for all people! We are called to set the oppressed free, to break the chains of injustice, to bring healing to the hurting and hope to the hopeless (Isaiah 58). We are to let our light shine (Matthew 5:16), do good to all people (Galatians 6:10), and proclaim the Good News to every creature in all creation (Mark 16:15).

What does this specifically look like for you? For your church? How does God want to use you? What song has He put in your heart that He wants to play through you that will breath and bring life into the hearts and lives of others? (read more about this from my prior article: A Melody From Heaven). 

God has called us to good works, which He has prepared in advance for us (Ephesians 2:8-10). He has saved us to serve. He has put a new song in our hearts that we might sing and speak of His grace so that others might be saved. He has special and unique ways He wants to use each of us as we seek Him for His will for our lives. He is calling us to restore the song of salvation throughout all the world!

In the new “Wonder Woman” movie, Diana actually got it right. May this also be our conclusion and resolve during our brief time in this beautiful but broken world: “I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. The choice each must make for themselves – something no hero will ever defeat. I’ve touched the darkness that lives in between the light. Seen the worst of this world, and the best. Seen the terrible things men do to each other in the name of hatred, and the lengths they’ll go to for love. Now I know. Only love can save this world. So I stay. I fight, and I give…for the world I know can be. This is my mission, now. Forever.”

A Melody From Heaven 

“What makes your heart sing?” -Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs asked the right question. The word “dream” in Old English originally meant “joy” or “music.” A dream is a song, a melody that delights the heart. It makes your heart sing.

I am not a Hebrew scholar or expert, but I did a little digging and discovered that like many words in the Hebrew language, there are variations, nuances and often a richer, more visual, meaning to the word “dream.” Whereas we often only think of it only as “mental images and emotions” that occur while sleeping, there are other meanings and ways dreams develop. 

One Hebrew word for dream means to “swirl.” Another means “to bind” or “make speechless.” A Greek word for dream means “a message” or “a gift.” And in English, one definition is to “contemplate the possibility of something” or “that something might be the case.” 

Many dreams don’t just plop down out of heaven while you are passively asleep. Many dreams begin with a stirring, a swirling, a churning in your heart. You begin to contemplate the possibility of something that might even defy or supersede rationality or logic. You begin to wonder or imagine realities that might not yet exist.

Just imagine if people didn’t “dream” of different things not yet reality at that time. Whether the ability to fly in airplanes, cures for different diseases, there are all kinds of breakthroughs or inventions that we can’t imagine living without now! 

And we all know how inspiring hearing the dreams of others can be. Martin Luthers “I have a dream” speech is one the most vivid modern examples. It painted a powerful picture of a reality that could be or of what a new kind of future should look like.

Dreams communicate or engage us on a whole different level. They are images that ignite the imagination. They are pictures or visions that stir the heart and propel to action. They churn relentlessly and passionately within until ready to be birthed without. They spark a sense of awe, wonder and contemplation that something could just be possible after all that might not have prior been considered possible.

What song does God want to give you? What melody of heaven has he already placed deep inside you that he wants heard through your life? What makes your heart sing? Can you hear God’s song for your life?   Is your heart tuned to his heart and the melody, the message, the dream, He wants to give you and display through you? 

Or perhaps you have lost your song. Maybe one time there was a song in your heart that has been lost because of pain, discouragement, disappointment or suffering. God wants to restore that song or put a new song in your heart. He is a God of restoration and He has a dream for our lives and in every season of our lives.

Dreams are what produce passion. They provide focus and purpose. They display something of the person of Christ through our lives to others. He has plans to use us in unique ways that display the beauty of his character, demonstrate the depths of his grace, display the richness of his heart, and communicate his message of salvation, redemption and restoration to the world. In fact, He wants to use our lives to restore the song of others; to put a song back into the hearts of the hopeless and suffering as He has done and does for us.

These dreams are discovered as we seek God himself, the great dreamer and dream-giver. There is no one more creative, joyful, beautiful, expressive, redemptive and passionate! 

As we tune our hearts to his heart, he begins to awaken us to his song. We begin to move to his rhythm and beat. We begin to dance to his melody. We become instruments that bring music back into other lives. Can you hear the melody of heaven over your life? What is the song, what is the dream that God has put or wants to put in your heart? What makes your heart sing?

***To listen to a recent message I spoke on this to board/staff of the mission organization I lead called ServeNow click here: Dreams

Who is My Neighbor?

“But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” -Luke 10:29

The question asked by this “expert in the law” is the wrong question. It is still the wrong mindset and question today. The real question is not “who is my neighbor” but “am I being a true neighbor” to those I see in need?

Jesus’ answer to this man’s question is one of the most well-known parables he ever told. We often refer to it as the “Good Samaritan” story. It’s about a man who is beaten up by robbers and left for dead. Jesus specifically then says that two religious leaders walk by this man, but do not stop to help him. But that’s not the real shocker for the people of Jesus’ day. The real shock is when Jesus says a Samaritan (enemies of the Jewish people at the time and looked down upon) walks by, has compassion on this man, and at his own personal expense tends to this man’s needs.

When Jesus gets to the end of this story he re-frames the original question from “who is my neighbor” to “who was a neighbor” to this man in need? The expert in the law, along with all his listeners had to acknowledge that it was the one who “had mercy on him.” Jesus then said “go and do likewise.”

Your neighbor is not just those close to you, in your community, church, city, state or country. Your neighbor is not those just like you, or of the same race, gender, age, interests, religion, political persuasion or anything else. Your neighbor is anyone, at anytime, anywhere, that you come across and see in need. The question is not who is your neighbor, but will you be a neighbor to those in need, even at your own personal expense?

I have to admit I am flabbergasted by a narrow minded view I see and hear among some Christians and also some Americans in general. I understand that we should love our country and help those in need here at home (which is often the case in beautiful ways!). But I am continually shocked and saddened especially when I hear professing Christians talk as if God has only called us to those like us, in our own church, own community, own city or own country. Jesus’ love and compassion, vision and passion is for all the world (John 3:16), so why shouldn’t ours be as well? His love knows no boundaries or man-made differences, so why should ours?

That doesn’t mean we let go of our values, differences or beliefs. It just means we are to be generous and compassionate to those we see in need as we journey through this broken, beat-up and hurting world. Americans have historically been known for their generosity. And in fact in times of disaster and crisis there tends to be a rallying together that is heart-warming to see.

But especially as Christians, we shouldn’t stop just within our community or country. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Yes, start right where you are, but heaven forbid it stop there! This thing is to go to the ends of the earth. And as Christians, all we do is to be done in the Name of Jesus, out of His heart and compassion for the world.

You can’t say as a Christian or Church that you are only called to your own community. You are called to all the world! (see Matthew 28:18-20). The question is not who is your neighbor, but will you be a neighbor wherever and whenever you see people in need, whether they are “friend” or even “foe?” Will we serve those in need, whoever they be, even or especially, at a personal cost and inconvenience to us?

***To discover ways you can serve those in great need around the world check out the mission organization I lead: www.weservenow.org.

Dreams and Visions 

““ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”‭‭ –Acts‬ ‭2:17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

We live in such an exciting, remarkable, difficult and unique time in human history. While the world grows darker and evil increases, there is another reality. The Spirit of God is at work around the world in some of the most remarkable ways! (Read some stories just from the mission organization I am leading: Stories of Transformed Lives). It is true that where the darkness is darkest, His light can and does shine the brightest! (Isaiah 60:1-3).

God is also working in a way that is different than other ages past. For example, the Spirit of God did not dwell in and work through, as he does now, every believer. That is unique to this “church age” or really “era of the Holy Spirit” (Numbers 11:29, Acts 2:38-39).

I don’t know about you but have you ever wished you were there when Jesus walked this earth in the flesh? Yet, did you know we shouldn’t wish for that, that we actually have it “better” than His disciples did? Think about it. When Jesus was in the flesh, he was “limited” in that sense to one place at one time just like the rest of us. But the Spirit is not limited in that He can be everywhere at once and with everyone all the time! Jesus in fact said to his disciples in John 16:6-7,  Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. Jesus, in essence, was speaking of this time as a “privileged” time to live in!

The Spirit of God (the same Spirit by which Jesus rose from the dead!) resides in every true believer and wants to work in supernatural ways through each of our lives. The very Gospel message is a faith that hinges on a supernatural event: the resurrection of Jesus Christ by the Spirit and power of God. Being “born-again” (saved and made into a new person) is also a supernatural experience that can only be accomplished by God’s Spirit. And the true Christian life, from beginning to end, is a work of the Spirit, not our striving our own efforts. That applies to our sanctification (becoming more like Jesus) and the ways God wants to use us, or work through us. Being saved is not the end, but the beginning, of what is supposed to be a “naturally” supernatural life!

God hasn’t just saved us out of something but into something special. While we are not saved by good works, we are saved for good works; works that He however, has planned and prepared for us in advance to walk in. In other words, they are works that are “of God” (good) and only accomplished by God’s grace.

In the mission organization I lead, I work with some of the most remarkable people around the world. They are not remarkable because they are any different humanly speaking then anyone else, but because they have embraced God’s Word, God’s dreams, God’s vision, God’s heart, God’s plan and God’s purpose for their lives.

For example, I just spent time listening to our partner in Uganda share his story with some of our donors in the US. His dad was jailed and persecuted under Idi Amin’s evil rule back in the 70’s, simply for being a bold Christian who refused to deny Christ and stop preaching the Gospel. Yet even in that, God worked in some miraculous ways, using his life as a catalyst for others to encounter Jesus and be saved, even the government official charged with overseeing what was supposed to be their execution. This man ended up being in a bad car accident that very day, but during which He encountered Jesus Christ, in a way similar to Saul of Tarsus, who would later become Paul the apostle.

Moses dad, after being released from prison (instead of executed) continued to preach the Gospel. However, he died at a relatively early age. Moses was just a young man at the time but suddenly was thrust into heavy responsibilities. He was the oldest of fourteen children and his family also took in three orphan children. His father was pastoring a church of about 300 that Moses was appointed by the elders to lead after his fathers death. However, Moses was quickly challenged by the people and most left to go to other churches believing he was “too young.” Moses could have become bitter and quit, but every night God continued to give him dream after dream of glimpses of what he had in mind for his future, especially in regard to orphan kids.

Although Moses found himself internally fighting these dreams, he eventually embraced them. He struggled, like us, with many excuses. He had no money. He had no connections. How would these dreams become reality? However, after reading the story of George Mueller, whom God used to take care of over 20,000 orphans, often providing in miraculous ways, Moses realized God was able. And so he believed and began to walk in the “good works” God had in store for his life.

Thirty years later, the church of 300, that was down to only 30 when he took over, is now a church of over 700, that has also planted over 300 other churches in remote parts of Uganda! And the three orphan children, are now four thousand children living in extreme poverty that are being provided an education! (Read more here on our website: Uganda).

A few weeks ago, I got back from Ukraine with our leaders there and a couple who have also had God sized dreams that are now becoming reality. Orphan girls who had been praying for years specifically for a bakery program, have experienced God answering their prayers through ServeNow. (Read more here: God’s Bakery). This is what ServeNow is all about, being the answer through which the God-sized dreams of others become a reality by the power of God!

Later this fall I will be Nepal again where we are gearing up to begin a new center that is aimed at providing skill training for women who think prostitution is their only means of survival. This particular slum area has the highest rate of prostitution in all of the country and has no other Christian influence or activity. This center will be the first to demonstrate God’s love and light in a dark area. We also hope to begin another six-month tailoring class in a remote village for thirty other young women at risk of human-trafficking. (You can read more here about the young women who graduated our latest class earlier this year, but also help make these next two dreams a reality: Skill Training Preventing Trafficking/Prostitution).

Lastly, in my own life I marvel at what God can do. I am a nobody from a small, rural town in Lancaster county, PA, surrounded by Amish. But God began to fill me with His vision and dreams for my life and I began to ask God to send me to the nations of the world to preach the Gospel, serve those in need, encourage pastors, rescue those at risk of, or caught up in, human trafficking. Those dreams are now becoming a reality as I lead ServeNow, through which about one million people per year are being served in a variety of ways, such as some of the ways mentioned in the stories and countries above!

When we begin to delight ourselves in God and his heart becomes our heart; when our prayers align with his will and His Spirit is poured out upon us as He shows us what He has in mind for us, amazing things begin to happen! Scripture promises in Psalm 37:4, Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. God calls us to good works done in His Name, by His power, just as Jesus went around doing good where there was need and his Father was working (John 5:19-20, Acts 10:38, Galatians 6:9-10).

And this can happen to any of us and all of us! God isn’t looking to use only the smartest, wealthiest, strongest, most connected or educated people. He certainly can and does want to use those in those categories. But there is one condition that he requires: a humility or dependency on Him. A surrendered and willing heart. A person who dares to believe and begin to intentionally, passionately, obediently, ask. God says in Psalm 2:8, “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” In the book of James chapter 4 verse 1-3, we are informed that we have not because we ask not, and the things we ask for we don’t receive because they are selfish instead of for selfless purposes to serve others.

The Spirit of God is given to those who believe. And for those who believe, He begins to give dreams and visions of what He wants to accomplish through our lives by His Spirit. It may seem crazy to us, but nothing is too hard for him! What could it be that He wants to accomplish through your life? What God-sized dreams has He given you? What good works (God-works) does He have prepared for you to walk in?

Look around! The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. There are opportunities to serve everywhere. Some are big. Some are small. Some are close to us, others far away. But all matter and can make a difference in the lives of others. Ask God to reveal His plans for your life. Dare to dream. Ask Him to give you His heart and His vision for your life. Ask him to fill you with His Spirit and send you out in His power, with His Spirit upon you. Ask Him to do what only He can do in and through your life for the good of others and to bring glory to His great Name!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. -Ephesians 3:20-21

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A New Thing

““Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”‭‭ -Isaiah‬ ‭43:18-19‬

God wants to do a new thing in your life. More than that, He delights in and finds great pleasure in doing new things!

Did you ever stop to think about the power and joy of that reality? We hear and use the word “new” all the time, but take a moment to let the definition of the word “new” sink into your spirit in a fresh way. The word new speaks of bringing into existence something that has not existed before, or that is discovered for the first time.

We all know the feeling. Newlyweds. A newborn baby. A new car. A new house. A new job. A new ministry. A new beginning. Seeing the ocean for the first time. Discovering something you never saw before. Experiencing something completely new to your experience.

With anything new in our lives, our emotions are heightened. Completely new memories are created. While there can be a simultaneous sense of excitement and nervousness, or joy and dread, there is no denying anything new is not a boring experience!

But just pause to reflect on the power and awe of something coming into existence that has never existed before. Or something discovered or seen for the first time. It is a remarkable dynamic.

All throughout the Bible are situations where we find God doing a “new” thing. From creation itself, to a worldwide flood, to the unique in scope plagues in Egypt, to the miracles in the wilderness, God was often doing a “new” thing.

Just think, never before had a people enslaved for hundreds of years been delivered in such a dramatic way. Never before had waters been parted for his people to pass safely through on dry ground. Never before had He led his people with a cloud by day and fire by night. When they needed water in the desert, he brought forth water from a rock. When they had no food, manna came daily from heaven.

These miracles never happened before and they also never would happen in the exact same way again. Every situation in life is a situation in which God does a new thing or works in a new way. Even many of Jesus miracles were done in different ways for different people even if they were similar problems.

God wants, he delights, to do new things in our lives. He loves to bring about something that has never existed before, or show us something we have never seen prior. He is not a boring God!

But here’s the deal. There are a few keys we need to use to experience or not miss the new thing he wants to do or is doing. The verse quoted at the beginning of this chapter begins with God calling on us to do something very critical, “forget the former things…and see the new thing I am doing.”

So often we get stuck in the past. We get comfortable in what we are familiar with, have grown accustomed too, or even what has worked for us in the past. Habits, mindsets, and routines are formed that become hard to break.

Or we are so weighed down by regret, disappointment, pain, guilt or shame, that we become stuck. We dwell on the past and the pain and can’t move forward or see that God is working in a new way and making “all things new.”

We must forget (not dwell on or get stuck in) the past. And we must “see” the new thing he is doing. When I was growing up, there were these books where you had to train your eyes to look at the pages a certain way in order to see an imagine that was there all along, “pop out” of the page in a 3D type way. If you didn’t look at the page a certain way you wouldn’t see, or you would miss, what was actually there the whole time. So often we miss what is right in front of us, because we either aren’t looking for it, are focused on the wrong thing, or we don’t look at the situation with the eyes of God.

We also must recognize that God’s ways are simply not our ways. Many situations that cause frustration in our lives are because we don’t take a step back and see them from God’s perspective and allow Him to be the Sovereign God that He is. He does things in ways that have never been done before! He does things we can’t humanly do or conceive of. He can bring forth something out of nothing and make a way where there is no way. He makes a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland!

So what is He looking for from us? It’s simple. He wants us to look to him with anticipation. He wants us to bring our situations to him where we feel “stuck.” He wants us to wait upon Him in faith. He wants us to let go of our need for control and surrender those areas to Him. He wants us to admit that some things we can’t change in our strength, but we trust that He can in His power. He wants us to not look at what is behind, but what He is doing in the present and wants to do now.

He is the living God and He is at work! He makes all things new and beautiful in His time. And He is doing a new thing. Can you not perceive it? Ask him to open your eyes!

To listen to a recent sermon I preached on this click here: A New Thing.

Where is the Conviction?

And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing—the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.” -Ezekiel 8:6

Let me begin this blog post with a disclaimer. This is not being written in a judgemental or “holier-than-thou” attitude. I’ll begin with admitting my own guilt because if you were to peer deep inside my “private or internal life” you would be disappointed and repulsed by what you would see that I have allowed in my heart and mind over the years even as one who claims to be a believer. I have grieved, quenched and allowed things into my life that I know have made Jesus uncomfortable (rather than at home) dwelling in me. I need God to continually purify my heart and cleanse my life.

Even as I write this, I don’t feel worthy of doing so, nor do I do so from a position of being where I want to be in regard to my own walk with Him. So I write this not condemningly but while simultaneously confessing my own sin and acknowledging my own guilt. And I encourage you to do the same.

But here is what this article is about. This post is about those who claim to be believers but seem to have no sense of conviction, guilt or shame about things they allow in their lives that are clearly unbecoming of a child of God. This is aimed at those professing to be believers but doing “detestable” things in “secret” or other settings, while acting “spiritual” in religious settings without it bothering their conscience.

I realized the other day anew that the most disappointing, devastating and disturbing thing I began to see when I was a pastor, that I believe is only growing worse since, is that many of us who claim to be believers are not what we seem outside of “religious settings.” This is different than the reality that we all blow it and stumble in many ways and times. It is even different than the fact that we all have areas of certain blindness or things in our lives that others could point out as not being consistent with our Christian claim.

 The issue I am addressing is the fact that so many of us seem to have no conviction that this is a problem. We joke about inappropriate things, we laugh at lewd and obscene talk, we use language that would not distinguish us as redeemed children of God, we continually watch shows full of filth, immorality, obscenity and depravity, we blow our money on worthless things rather than kingdom work, and we participate in activities that are flat out sinful…while seeming to have no sense of conviction or being uncomfortable with it.

Yes, we all sin. Yes, we all continually fall short of who God has called us to be. But this is not the burden for which I am writing this article. The cry on my heart as I write this is simply this: where is the conviction among God’s people?

Have we so grieved, so quenched, grown so callous of heart, fallen so low and drifted so far, that our sin no longer pricks our conscience and breaks our heart, knowing that it breaks our Father’s heart? Do we even genuinely practice confession of sin anymore with a godly sorrow that leads to repentance, rather than just an empty ritual with no life-transforming power along with it? Do we just go through our religious ceremonies, services and activities without our lives actually being changed and conformed more to the likeness of Christ?

Is it any wonder that the Church in the US is powerless (despite churches on every street corner) and severely lacking the very real and tangible presence of God? It is the presence of God alone that distinguishes us from all other people. (Not that we are better than any other people, but simply that God dwells in our midst). It is the one reality that the people of God possess that no other people on earth can claim. And yet, it seems the lack of His Holy presence doesn’t even bother us. I wonder if many of us have even ever experienced even a taste of it, or when the last time was that we knew we were standing on “holy ground?” Are we even quiet long enough anymore to allow ourselves to have opportunity to experience the Holy One? Have we lost the fear of God? Have we driven Him far from His rightful place in the sanctuary of our hearts?

I must admit I am baffled, burdened and broken afresh over this. How can we watch the things we watch for example (without admitting it is not pleasing to God), knowing that Scripture says Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Could this be why anxiety is on the rise in the US and becoming such an epidemic and plague?).

Or how about Ephesians 5:3-20? Is this really what characterizes our lives, conversations and relationships?

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Who are we truly to please? Who are we truly seeking to live for? Have we forgotten why we are here and to whom we belong and are called to represent? People are perishing because they do not know God. People are daily dying and going into an eternity separated from God that we are meant to be reaching and giving our lives to share the Good News with.

Where is the conviction? Where is the fear of the Lord?

Where is the conviction that leads to confession with a genuine godly sorrow, where we are deeply sorry over how our sin grieves the heart of God? Where is that sensitivity to the Holy Spirit who has come to make his home in our hearts and in our midst? Would He really be comfortable with what we do behind closed doors, outside of “church” or how we are living our lives in the world? Are we representing His heart, interests and kingdom well? Do we even care? Have we tuned out the still small voice of God, drowning it out with the loud and distracting noise of this world?

Where is a sense that He is holy and has called us to be holy as He is holy? Where is that ownership that we are called to be representatives of His in this dark, evil, depraved and fallen world that is desperately in need of the Light and Hope of the Gospel; of a true alternative? Do you even believe that about the world? Are we no longer shocked and disturbed by anything? Can we walk comfortably in the midst of such depravity without feeling burdened? Without grieving? Without feeling a righteous anger? Without having a holy burning in our hearts for the Gospel to penetrate and pierce through to our culture?

How we need an Isaiah 6 moment again! How we need to gaze upon the holy beauty of God again! How we need His conviction in our lives and the Spirit of truth to sanctify and purify our hearts. How we need to experience something more than a service or ritual or religious activity. How we need to quiet our hearts and let Him search us and try us and see if there be any offensive way in us.

May God open our eyes, soften our hearts, convict us by His Spirit and cleanse us by his grace. May we be still in His presence, reverence His Holy Name and tremble at His Word. May He make us more like Him and sensitive to His Spirit.

Let us remember that He died for us that we might live for Him. And let us remember our life here on earth is short and that we are going to one day stand before Him and give an account of our lives. Is the way your living, a life that you know deep down is pleasing to Him as your Heavenly Father and gracious Redeemer?

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” -Isaiah 6:5

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. -Psalm 51:10-12

 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. -1 John 1:8-10

Live to Fight Another Day

My favorite Revolutionary War general is a man whose name is not all that widely known, but who nonetheless is referred to as George Washington’s “most gifted and dependable officer.” He is unique in that he started at the lowest possible rank when the war began but by the end had risen to the top, second only to Washington himself. I also find it interesting that until the age of 30 he basically had nothing going for him, even facing his share of disappointments. But by 31, it all began to change, in fact by 32 he became the youngest general and by 34 youngest of Washington’s generals!

I think I am drawn to Nathaniel Greene because of some similarities in personality. He was an introvert, a country boy, bookish, constantly facing challenges, yet able to do so much with so little. The mission organization I lead (ServeNow), likewise prides itself in being able to strategically do so much with so little. In just our first 4 years of operation we have served in some specific way over 2 million people on less than (or now equal too) 2 million dollars a year. This translates to every dollar directly serving at least one person!

I also like that no one knows why Greene was chosen over those more experienced while still so young, and yet despite some early blunders, he would become quite the strategist (such as excelling in taking the high ground, knowing when to engage verse pull back, working with what he had and making the most of situations, etc) even though the odds were constantly against him. In fact, Greene constantly won by “losing.” A famous saying of his was “live to fight another day” and “we fight, get beat, rise and fight again.” He also is quoted as saying, They have met their defeat in victory…the enemy got the ground the other day, but we the victory” and “They had the splendor, we the advantage.”

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This kind of tactic is known as a “Pyrrhic victory” which goes back to a battle against the Roman army where the “victor” though technically winning the battle, ends up losing the war because of such heavy losses inflicted. It was named after king Pyrrhus of Epirus who first said the famous saying sometimes repeated in battle that:  one other such victory would utterly undo him. Greene continually “won” by “losing” which essentially came to head in the battle of Guilford Courthouse that I just visited and walked today. While a small space, it was a very significant battle that led to the surrender in Yorktown and end of the Revolutionary War. What was technically a “defeat”, was actually a Pyrrhic Victory!

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There are so many lessons that can be learned from Nathaniel Greene’s life and military strategy. He grew up a Quaker (pacifist) yet became a brilliant general despite his upbringing. He was constantly outnumbered, overpowered and up against the greatest military power of the day. Meanwhile he had little resources and often untrained and under-equipped volunteer soldiers! The Revolutionary War would often seem a hopeless cause…if it wasn’t for exactly that; hope that enabled men like Greene to patiently persevere. He learned to take the “high ground” and knew when to strategically “retreat” and “rest.”

Perhaps you are facing constant challenges and setbacks too. Perhaps you would rather avoid conflict but are realizing life is a battle and you must fight at times for peace and victory. But perhaps you keep feeling like you are getting “beat.” Perhaps you want to give up. Perhaps you feel overwhelmed, overpowered and outnumbered in the daily battles you are facing in life. Perhaps you feel like you don’t have much to work with to make a big or real difference.

Nathaniel Greene’s life (and the Revolutionary War in general) remind us that life can be a battle at times, but victory (and peace) is possible even in situations that are not ideal or “superior” to our abilities. Facing constant “defeats” in certain “battles” also doesn’t mean we can’t still win “the war.” Think long-term. Take the high ground. Work with what you have. Get back up. Know when to “retreat” and “rest.” Realize life has battles that must be fought. Conflict sometimes comes before peace. Live to fight another day.

As an “inspirational” character of our time put it to his son in Rocky Balboa: Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place… and I don´t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently, if you let it. You, me or nobody, is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit… It’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward…how much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you worth, go out and get what you worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits. And not pointing fingers saying: You ain’t what you wanna be because of him or her or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that.

Rocky (2)

“Do Whatever He Tells You”

Today, because of a family connection to the Graham family (Billy Graham/Franklin Graham), I was able to have a personal tour and meet some people at the headquarters of Samaritans Purse.

It was fascinating (and a bit overwhelming!) to get a glimpse into what happens “behind the scenes” of a very large but effective non-profit mission organization. Being I am leading a much smaller mission organization, it was also a great opportunity to ask some questions and get a feel for what things look like on another level and how it all works. I left realizing anew that while so many people are blessed by ministries like Samaritans Purse (or ServeNow!), these “miracles” unfolding in people’s lives have a whole process that takes place behind the scenes in quiet but essential ways by many faithful servants, staff, donors and volunteers.

It reminded me of Jesus’ first miracle, which is one of my favorite stories. In John chapter 2, Jesus is attending a wedding (always a good idea to invite Jesus into every aspect of your life!) when the hosts run out of wine (a major social/cultural disgrace). Jesus’ mother does what we all ought to do when faced with problems in our lives, or that we see in others lives…bring the problem to him in prayer and intercede that he might intervene. Pray that he might turn a bitter situation into something sweet and beautiful!

Also, as an important note, there was nothing fancy about her prayer, and she also went directly to Jesus, simply stating the problem: They have no more wine. (verse 3). Don’t put your faith in eloquent prayers or long-winded prayers. Put your faith in the one who answers prayers!

Jesus’ initial response is interesting however, because it would appear on the surface that he isn’t going to step into this situation (verse 4). Doesn’t it sometimes feel that way when you pray about a particular problem or situation? I believe most of us don’t pray to begin with because we don’t really believe God will do anything, or we get discouraged and give up too soon when nothing seems to change instantly. Yet almost in every case that prayer is talked about in Scripture (certainly most of Jesus’ teaching on prayer) we are encouraged not only to pray (coming directly to God, through Jesus, with confidence as a child of His) but to keep praying (to not give up!). I recently preached on this, which you can listen to here: Keep Praying!

Thankfully, Jesus’ mother didn’t take his response as a “no” and give up. Instead, she understood that while Jesus was saying he was not going to do this in a public way as she might be expecting (it wasn’t his time to reveal himself publicly as the Messiah) it didn’t mean he wasn’t going to do anything! Sometimes what appears to be a “no” is really just a “no” to how you think it should happen! Discerning this, she astutely (mothers always find a way don’t they?) turns to the servants nearby and gives them the best advice that any parent, pastor or person can give to someone else: Do whatever he tells you. (verse 5).

This is so critical, but we often miss the significance of what Mary recognizes. Many times Jesus doesn’t work in a big “dramatic” way that everyone easily recognizes has come from him. Often, he works quietly through ordinary but obedient people, who are willing to not be “hero’s” who tell God what to do, but humble servants who do whatever God tells them to do!

In fact, now that I am leading an international mission organization, I am being exposed to seeing, hearing and reading on a weekly basis, lives being touched and transformed all around the world through ServeNow. In our first four years alone, I have watched our little organization specifically and directly serve over two million people!

Thousands upon thousands are becoming recipients of God’s blessing because of humble, ordinary, (but obedient), people who are willing to respond to whatever Jesus is leading them to do. This includes even when, or especially when, it doesn’t always “make sense” to those involved. And make no mistake, God often works in the most special ways when what he asks us to do doesn’t make sense to us (or others) at first!

Think about it. When this situation in John chapter two required wine, do you think it made sense to fill the jars with water? (verse 7). Our problem is we read this knowing the outcome, but those involved in this didn’t know until after the fact of acting on these instructions! Also, it probably would have felt a little “foolish” or even “risky” reputation wise to do this and also “draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” (verse 8).

But the servants didn’t argue, protest, do it their way, or even ask questions. They simply followed the instructions given to them. As a result, Jesus included them behind the scenes in a process of this miracle unfolding that would bless those at this wedding. However, don’t fail to note that only the servants who carried out these instructions,  “witnessed” the miracle and realized where it had come from (verse 9).

I believe God is looking for more “servants” who will simply do whatever Jesus leads them to do. It is amazing to me as I think about Samaritans Purse, how that started because one man (Bob Pierce) prayed a simple but dangerous prayer (that God will answer if you sincerely pray it!) “Let my heart be broken for the things that break the heart of God.” That man was willing to be broken and then do something about the needs he saw and people in need. Because of his often “unorthodox” or seemingly crazy obedience in being moved enough to meet needs he didn’t always know how to meet, or have the resources needed in the moment to humanly meet, millions of people are still being served around the world through Samaritans Purse and “miracles” are happening as God provides. I heard some of those “God stories” today, and have some of those God-faithfulness stories of my own!

While everyone wants to be the recipient of God’s blessings or miracles in their lives, I contend that the greater blessing is to be used as a vessel, behind the scenes, as a humble, obedient servant, through which the process of a miracle unfolds! That is the true privilege, though it involves some time, effort, trust, faith and obedience at the risk of looking a little crazy! And make no mistake. The things God will lead you to do will often appear “crazy” or not always make sense in the moment to you or others. You will probably find yourself second-guessing yourself and certainly have others who think you are crazy or strange!

For example, I remember one time, I felt like God was telling me to go to Chicago. I sensed he wanted me to get a message to someone I had never met and did not know how to find. All that I felt was clear was that he was in a gang, in the West Side of Chicago, and the name “Hudson” kept coming to mind as I was praying. Never before or since have I ever had an experience like this. And it seemed utterly crazy to me to do this, but I told two others friends about it and they actually were crazy enough to take a road trip with me to Chicago! For three days we tried in vain to figure out what to do or how to find this person. Finally, we decided that we were absolutely nuts, gave up and started to drive home.

Before we got out of the West Side of Chicago however, we noticed a woman pulled over on the side of the road with a flat tire. My friends wanted to stop and help her, but I was in a bad mood and didn’t want to do it. We stopped however, and ended up buying her a new tire. She was so grateful she invited us to her house for dinner. We were hungry, with little money left, so we decided to take her up on it. While she was cooking, I decided to go out on a limb and said, “there isn’t anyone in your family named “Hudson is there?” She kind of froze for a moment and then said quietly…”that’s my maiden name.” You should have seen our jaws drop! I then asked her if she had a brother who was in a gang. This time it seemed like she became really uncomfortable and tried to dodge the question. She even asked if we were police officers! We assured her we were not and I simply told her that we were Christians and felt during a time of prayer that we were to come to Chicago and tell a man in a gang named Hudson that God loved him, wanted a relationship with him through repentance and faith in Jesus and that he had a plan for his life.

She finally admitted she did have a brother who was in a gang and even gave us an address where we could find him. However, we never did end up finding him ourselves. We are not even sure to this day whether she gave us the right address to find him or even what actually happened to her brother, but it was all too surreal to be a coincidence, so we left satisfied that we had been obedient, (though admittedly a little disappointed that we didn’t meet him for ourselves). I am sure they had an interesting conversation after we left and can only imagine what he must have felt about that story!

The point is, I believe we see so little “miracles” through our lives because we don’t step out in faith and simple obedience near enough. Everything has to “make sense” to our rational and logical Western brains. But I also believe, if more people were a bit more courageous (or crazy!) many more people would be blessed because of our faithfulness and God would use us in astonishing ways in other people’s lives.

If you want to leave a real legacy in this world and have an actual impact during your life, and after your life, in a way that matters eternally, I challenge you to do whatever He says. I challenge you to begin to pray that God will break your heart for what breaks his heart and be willingly to be used by him even when it “doesn’t make sense” or you don’t understand how it will all work out. I challenge you to make others problems your problems, and begin to intercede on their behalf. Bring those situations to him in prayer. Simply lay them before him and then be willing to do whatever he says. It is only through drawing near to him in prayer, seeking him in his Word, and letting your heart be moved by others needs that you will ever begin to cultivate a sensitive enough heart to hear his voice and become a blessing. True compassion comes from God, is something deep within your very being, and always results in action. And that action can have a ripple effect in others lives in ways you could never imagine…

First Love: He is After Our Hearts

Over the years I have been giving more and more concerned thought to a number of issues within the American Church world specifically. There has been growing alarm in many circles (even many pastors/people in the Church community and leaders that I have personally spoken too in the non-profit world) over issue’s like the reality of Biblical illiteracy, lack of passion for the Great Commission, and all the cultural/social issues of our generation (breakdown of the family, abortion, increase of shootings, violence, suicide, political rhetoric etc).

While these factors are multi-faceted, at the core of them all and any issue conceivable, is a matter of the heart, sin and relationship (or lack-thereof) with God. We need a genuine revival, a turning of our hearts back or to God.

For the record, I don’t believe the answer is programs, services, crusades or conferences. I believe it’s simply a matter of turning our hearts to God, seeking him with our whole hearts, getting back into His Word, prayer and worship, being intentional about walking with Him, spending time with him and others seeking after him, becoming more like Jesus and above all else guarding our hearts from any other, and all other, influences that are of this world.

I recently preached two messages on this: The Heart of God and After Our Hearts. I believe those messages hold the keys of the real root issue. Do we know God’s heart towards us? Have we lost our first love? Do we need our passion for him rekindled?

I believe our hearts have grown hard and we have failed to diligently and faithfully guard our hearts, but have let so many other influences lead our hearts astray. We have not sought to love God with all our hearts. We have not set Jesus apart in our hearts as truly Lord of our lives. Our hearts have grown complacent and I believe we are experiencing a “Slum of the Soul” as I wrote about in the post prior to this one. We have ceased to hunger and thirst after righteousness. We have failed to seek first his kingdom above our own desires. We are not trembling at His word or living aware of or in light of his holiness and eternity (Click hear to listen to a message I recently shared on “Living in Light of Eternity“). We have lost the fear of the Lord and awe of the Lord. We have grown lukewarm.

So what do we do, if we are being convicted that this is true of us?

I believe it is as simple as getting back to the basics. To the church of Ephesus, whom Jesus said had forsaken their first love, he gave them two instructions. The first was this: Consider how far you have fallen!

We first have to get honest and acknowledge how far we have truly fallen. Jeremiah 2:2-3 is one of the most hauntingly sad passages I believe in all of Scripture. God says this about his people Israel:

‘I remember the devotion of your youth,
    how as a bride you loved me
and followed me through the wilderness,
    through a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the Lord…

Do you remember what it was like when you first got saved? Have you even ever truly been saved and in awe of God’s love for you and in love with him? Just like when two people fall in love with each other, they can’t get enough of just “being” and “belonging” to each other! Love makes you do crazy things!

The song my wife and I walked out too after we said our wedding vows was the song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” One part goes like this:

Oh no darling
No wind, no rain
Or winters cold can stop me baby, na na baby
‘Cause you are my goal
If you’re ever in trouble
I’ll be there on the double
Just send for me, oh baby, ha

My love is alive
Way down in my heart
Although we are miles apart
If you ever need a helping hand
I’ll be there on the double
Just as fast as I can

Don’t you know that there
Ain’t no mountain high enough
Ain’t no valley low enough
Ain’t no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you babe

First love! Nothing can stop you from being with each other…

Have you ever had that with God? Don’t think for a minute God doesn’t remember if you have and don’t think He doesn’t long for that if you haven’t. And don’t forget that God is not emotionless or distant. He is very engaged in our lives, actively seeking us out and drawing us to himself. When we lose our first love, it grieves and breaks his heart. He wants that back and He will do whatever it takes to win you back to himself! We must remember how far we have fallen.

Secondly, Jesus says to us: Repent and do the things you did at first.

It’s not enough to simply acknowledge how far we have fallen; we must turn around and do again the things we used to do when in love. We must come back to the basics, not as mere activities, but out of our passion for Him: Spending time in His presence. Worshiping. Praying. Reading his word with a heart eagerly anticipating and expecting to hear his voice with a willingness to walk in his ways and obey his commands. Having authentic fellowship with other believers that is based on the truth of God’s Word and genuine biblical love for one another. Serving others because we love Him. Going into all the world, because his heart is for the world. Caring for the orphan, widow, refugee and poor. Giving generously and cheerfully.

God is after our hearts. He is after your heart. He is looking for those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. He is working to turn hearts to himself and back to himself. Can you sense Him drawing you? Can you discern him pursuing you? Is He creating a holy restlessness and spiritual discontent in you to seek Him? Is He working to convict you and soften your heart once more to Him?

If so, remember.
If so, repent.
If so, respond.
If so, return to your first love.
With all your heart.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. -Proverbs 4:23

Slum of the Soul

The other day, I was having breakfast with our pastor, and we got talking to some guys at another table that he knew. Eventually, my pastor showed them some of our new ServeNow fundraising pieces we just designed and I noticed one of the guys kept looking at the cover picture of one of them. The picture shows the worst slum I have ever personally walked through in Nepal.

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But then this man said something that has stuck with me, and I’ve been thinking a lot about, even prior to it being articulated this way. He said that as he was looking at this picture it struck him that while that was an outward, visible and physical slum in a third world country, there are millions of people all around us right here in America who live in a very different kind of slum; a slum in fact that is not on the outside, but inside of themselves. A slum or poverty of the soul.

While speaking at a camp recently in Arkansas, one message I spoke was out of Daniel chapter 4. This is a fascinating account of how God humbles the most powerful and prideful man on earth at the time, King Nebuchadnezzar. My message that night (you can listen to it here: Daniel 4) was a warning about how this really began, which is stated in verse four: I, Nebuchadnezzar, was living at ease (comfortable and content) in my home and prospering in my palace.

I believe like with King Nebuchadnezzar, the single greatest test or battle (often “unseen” but real) for especially American’s (I know this is true for myself), is the danger of becoming content, complacent and comfortable spiritually because of external conditions. In fact, I believe it might even be more challenging for those of us who have a comfortable life or are “successful” according to the world’s standards, to see our need for Jesus and live as sold-out, committed and on fire followers of His, than it is for those who live in much more difficult, desperate even dangerous situations.

I say that quite confidently, because I live here in America myself, but travel to parts of the world where I am frequently in slum areas. What I find in those places (the worst external conditions) often amaze me. Where there is especially a Christian presence, I find some of the most vibrant, joyful, passionate, spiritually hungry, inwardly content and committed believers and churches. I also sense a presence of the Spirit of God that I rarely experience in most churches in the US. This is very similar to what I see, hear or read about among believers facing some of the worst persecution in some of the most dangerous parts of the world.

Further, I actually believe it is easier to minister to people who live in these circumstances, than it is here in America where comfort has lulled us to sleep spiritually. I often say that I believe the hardest mission field to truly penetrate is right here in our own backyard and country.

We may be rich; but we much poorer in spirit than we often recognize. Jesus in fact warned often about the danger, distraction and deception of wealth, material possessions and comfort. While not evil in and of themselves, they can easily blind us to our true need of God and desire for God. There is an epidemic and crisis of a “slum of the soul” that manifests in a sense of hopelessness, emptiness, boredom, depression, meaninglessness and even suicide, in so many (too many) of us in America.

Until we recognize this and shake ourselves from this complacency we will continue to deceive ourselves and be among the “walking dead.” Someone just today, who has been thinking about this same thing, reminded me of what Jesus said: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3) and Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6).

By the way, I would submit to you that if you are “bored” in regard to “Christianity” perhaps you haven’t yet discovered the true adventure it is to follow Jesus. There is no way you can read the Gospel accounts, the book of Acts and Hebrews 11 (or for that matter anyone in the Bible who truly lived a life of faith) and claim their lives were “boring!” God is after a real and dynamic relationship with you and this is the “essence” of eternal life; a life that is abundant, fulfilling and internally satisfying (John 17:3, Psalm 16:11).

I would also submit that the only reason we become “bored” with God is when we are blind to His beauty and complacent in our pursuit of Him and his presence. God is anything but boring! No one who “see’s” Him ever grows bored of him. Perhaps we need to renew our hunger for him, seek Him with all our heart, learn to walk with Jesus and pray that he “opens the eyes of our heart” that we might truly know him. I promise that your life will never be the same…unless you shrink back and become a spectator and “fan” instead of a seeker and follower of Jesus Christ.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4).

Why You Love the Movies You Love

Moana. Inside Out. Star Wars. Lord of the Rings. Beauty and the Beast. Field of Dreams. Sleeping Beauty. Rocky. Gladiator. Pretty much all Disney movies. What is it about these movies that we so deeply connect with, resonate with and even cry over?

Want to know my theory? If not…why are you still reading? 🙂

The reason certain movies resonate deeply with us is because there is almost always a core overarching Gospel reality or truth in them.

Oh, I know, you can find many other themes in the movies you love. You can identify certain value’s that may not be part of the Christian faith but another religion or belief system. But some of the most deeply cherished movies have Gospel centered themes that strike a cord in us…because I believe God himself is speaking to us through all of creation, even things man “creates” to draw us to himself.

I will give some examples, but I am sure you can think of a thousand others as well.

  • Moana

This is a good one to start with because I just watched it…twice. This is also a good example, because it certainly has clear themes pulled from myths and other traditions outside of Christianity. However, what is the over-arching theme? A girl who becomes confident of her true identity and calling (kept hidden from her for many years), who ultimately helps restore creation back to it’s beauty before the heart was stolen from it and darkness began to curse the earth. It’s a story of identity, calling and redemption. 

Sounds a lot like the Gospel to me! Man has sinned. Hearts were hardened. The ground was cursed. Darkness began to spread. But then Jesus came to restore. He came to save. He came to call us into our true identity that has been hidden from us. He came to transform, to give us our “heart back.” To remind us who we truly are. And one day, the curse will be lifted and a new heaven and new earth will appear.

  • Sleeping Beauty

I am going to admit something that you can feel free to make fun of me for…but Sleeping Beauty was my favorite movie growing up! Before you laugh however, I would like to make the case that it’s because the ending is one of the most Gospel-rich of them all!

Aurora is led astray, pricks her finger and thus falls asleep. Her only hope is to be awakened by loves true kiss. Prince Philip goes to rescue her on a white horse. However, he first has to face the evil Maleficent who transforms into a dragon. His shield protects him and the sword defeats the dragon. He awakens the slumbering princess with loves true kiss and all is restored as a sleeping kingdom is also awakened.

Come on! Satan has led us astray. We’ve been pricked by sin. We were dead in our sins. But Jesus came on a rescue mission (and will return on a white horse! Also in the same context He will deal with evil through the “Sword of his mouth” and the Great serpent or dragon will also be seized). But what is it that awakens our slumbering hearts? It’s his love demonstrated for us on the cross! Once again, the curse will be lifted. (Isn’t this often the same kind of theme in many movies? Think Beauty and the Beast. Redemption, restoration, the defeat of evil and triumph of good. These are all Gospel themes!).

  • Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit

What was it about Lord of the Rings/the Hobbit that people are drawn too? I would suggest it’s the fact that it contains such a majestic sense of a “grand adventure” in the context of community that our hearts long for. Here again we see Gospel themes of power, pride and greed corrupting, but an unlikely humble hero emerging, along with a company of others (a fellowship) who is brought into a drama and world far bigger than he ever could have imagined.

Now think Mary, a young, poor, unknown virgin girl, being visited by an angel and told she had been chosen to bear the Messiah of the World. Think of Jesus calling an unlikely assortment of characters to follow him into an adventure beyond their wildest dreams. Think of all the powerful kings and queens in Scripture tempted, seduced or struggling with power, pride, greed and lust. Tolkien himself, like C.S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia) was a Christian. While the Chronicles of Narnia are explicit Gospel allegories, Tolkien was influenced by and worked in Gospel truths that resonate deeply with the human heart. Why? Because God is still calling “unlikely” hobbits into grand adventures! (oh and He wants to do this within a church community and fellowship context!).

  • Rogue One

The appeal of Star Wars among people of all kinds of differing beliefs is testimony to it’s universal appeal. However, there is no denying that once again the overarching themes of good verse evil, redemption and restoration (especially between father and son), light verse darkness, mentor and disciple, sacrifice and daring missions are also core Gospel themes. 

In Rogue One a group of “rebels” end up sacrificing their lives that the death star might be destroyed and the galaxy saved. They are a rag-tag team of unlikely hero’s like Jesus’ disciples who (all but one) end up losing their lives for the sake of a greater cause: the Gospel of Jesus Christ going to the nations of the world and Satan’s destructive work being destroyed.

  • Hacksaw Ridge

This was an extremely inspiration movie, like many “war” movies before it. The uniqueness of this war movie however was the focus on a man who refused to pick up a gun. He was a man of peace bent on serving his country not by taking lives, but as a medic who would save lives and bind up the wounded. Left all alone at the top of Hacksaw Ridge by choice, a place that was brutal and where many soldiers died, he kept going back into the battle risking his own life to save others. It was exhausting and dangerous work, but he kept praying “Lord help me get just one more.” It is a picture of the courage, strength, determination and passion of Christ who came not to take lives but to give his life for others. It is also a message of peace, hope and healing in the midst of death and destruction all around us.

I could go on and on. Movies centered on forgiveness and reconciliation. Movies of second chances. Movies of the underdog achieving the impossible (Rudy & Rocky). Movies even of romance (yes, God is a “romantic” in his love for us! Romance was his idea and gift to us anyway). I dare you to watch movies without finding core Gospel themes in them and recognizing this is why we resonate with them so deeply!

The Gospel is the ultimate story of stories. Jesus is the ultimate hero. And He is calling each of us into a journey, adventure, romance and battle alongside him like no other. But this is a story we don’t merely watch as a spectator, but join in as a real participant and character. The question is, will you head His call to come and follow Him? What role in this story of stories will you play?

Gandalf (or Jesus?): I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.

Bilbo: I should think so-in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them…

Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.

Biblo: You can promise that I’ll come back?

Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. -Revelation 22:1-5

My Top 5 Leadership Regrets

This is a public confession of sorts. While the past cannot be changed, the past can teach us some lessons for the present that will impact the future. While I have reserved this for my top 5 leadership regrets, it is not to say by any means these are my only mistakes or regrets.

  • Not being a “Respectful Rebel.”

I just got done working on a message I will be speaking to youth that I titled “Respectful Rebels.” Come on, doesn’t that sound awesome??! All my life, I have only heard of “rebellion” in the negative sense, and yet there is a lot in this world that I find myself wanting to rebel against. It dawned on me as I was working on this message that Scripture actually holds up many positive examples of rebels. David verse Goliath, Daniel and his friends, Moses verse Pharaoh, Jesus, His disciples etc. We seem to only discourage negative “rebellion” however!

But as I thought about many of these, something else struck me. They were not just “rebels” but “respectful rebels.” They were courageous, but calm. I also think of Martin Luther or Rosa Parks and how the civil rights movement was a “rebellion” but a core aspect of it was the “respectful non-violent” philosophy.

Respectful Rebels. Rebellion is often not only not wrong; it is sometimes right, good and necessary. The issue, and my problem, and thus some of my biggest regrets, have been not combining “rebellion” with respect. I can’t say I regret much of what I have rebelled against that many just go along with in not wanting to make waves, but I do regret my attitude not remaining respectful in many cases.

What if however, parents began not merely speaking negatively against the “rebellious teenage years” but worked to channel teenage rebellion in positive and respectful ways? I don’t think I’ve ever really heard (nor have I yet preached this clearly) a sermon encouraging believers to be “Respectful Rebels” in appropriate situations.

  • Becoming angry, bitter and letting frustration influence everything.

This might be my biggest regret of all. I have left several situations on a bad note like this. Again, as with rebellion, anger is not always wrong, but sometimes very right. Jesus got angry over injustice. He gets upset over lukewarm believers. He made a whip out of cords, overturned tables in the temple and drove out all those abusing and taking advantage of the genuine hearts of worshipers. He called out religious hypocrites. God gets angry over evil, in fact He hates it. Therefore anger has it’s place.

But Scripture also warns us not to sin in our anger or remain in our anger. I fail on both counts more than I would really like to admit. Whether with my kids, my wife, the church I pastored, or even now in situations or with people in various settings, anger (in it’s negative and destructive sense) is still a battle for me. Regardless of whether the anger is justified or not, I have more regrets in either sinning in my anger (through words or attitude or action) or stewing in my anger, resulting in depression or frustration being expressed. It’s an area of my life I am still seeking greater victory in.

  • Lacking “People Discernment” that led to ruined witness and trust.

This is another area where I have had a particular weakness in, especially when emotionally vulnerable. I have trusted certain people whose character I should have questioned or others warned of/sensed red flags. Because of trusting, confiding or too closely associating with people like this at times, I have been influenced in wrong ways, burned relationships and damaged trust and testimony. Scripture warns:  Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character. (1 Corinthians 15:33).

I have both been guilty of this, but also been on the other side of seeing others doing this. It leads to pain and problems for those who lack discernment and those affected by that, especially when leaders fail in this. Whether hiring the wrong people or associating too closely with the wrong crowd, it never ends well no matter who you are.

  • Not taking enough time to simply “be” with people without trying to “drive results.”

I admit that if I don’t see the “purpose” in something I struggle. Whether that be simply “having fun” or “hanging out” or just spending time with people, family, friends or relaxing, I get antsy. I want to accomplish something of eternal significance, see results or make progress in measurable ways.

I am not there yet in this, but God has been really working on me in this area lately by changing my mindset of what “purpose” is or “progress” looks like. Sometimes just being or resting is the most productive thing that can be done! I also don’t want to be a “slave-driver” only concerned with results as a leader, but become more of a “servant-leader” who looks to come alongside of others for their sake. Looking back this has led to some regrets of wishing I’d have spent more time simply with people or family or staff.

Well…that’s my confession for the day! What are some of your top regrets?

Oh…one more “bonus” regret: E-mail is the worst way to communicate anything that might be perceived as “negative” or is sensitive of nature. I have sent way too many e-mails that have led to misunderstandings or hurt…or sent while still upset and thus regretted after sending.

Knowing God, Marriage & Sex

What you believe about God is the most important thing about you. -A.W. Tozer

In my last few blog posts I’ve been sharing about what different aspects of creation reveal about God. He has revealed himself to us most explicitly through creation, scripture and ultimately through the person of Christ. Why is “what comes into our mind when we think about God the most important thing about us?” Nathan Stone in his classic little book “Names of God” puts it this way: The first question in some of our catechisms is, “What is the chief end of man?” And the answer is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” But we will experience God in such fashion—we will glorify Him and enjoy Him—only in proportion as we know Him.

This is where the problem for many of us lies. Our knowledge about God is warped, skewed, incomplete, inaccurate, confused or misguided in many ways. Sin has blinded us and robbed us of perfect fellowship with God. Our experiences (or perceptions) can deceive us. Since very young I know I developed many wrong perceptions about the reality of God. Due to this, I started to grow bitter and not want anything to do with what I perceived as a “wimpy Christianity and Christ.” Many in fact turn away from a God that isn’t even the true God to begin with! In the book of Hosea, God states, “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6) and “a people without understanding will come to ruin” (Hosea 4:14).

Speaking of the book of Hosea, the whole book is an anguished glimpse into the broken heart of God. His people are not seeking him, are not being faithful to their covenant relationship with him and not acknowledging or seeing that He is the One behind all their blessings (Hosea 2:5-8, 5:4, 7:10-16, 8:1-4, 11:1-4). Because of this, God literally agonizes and is angry like a betrayed and wounded lover, even threatening judgment (Hosea 4, 5, 9,10). Yes, God has real and deep emotions!

To symbolize however His faithful love, despite his people’s unfaithfulness, he has the prophet Hosea marry a prostitute. They would enjoy each other’s company at first, even have children together, but she would be unfaithful to him and return to her old ways and old lovers. However, in chapter 3:1-2, God instructs Hosea to “Go show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods…”

Hosea goes to find her and actually has to purchase (redeem) his own wife from the sex-slave market where she is bound (Hosea 3:2-3). This foreshadows God’s grace to us in Christ who would likewise purchase our redemption from slavery to sin through His death on the cross. It also reminds us that despite our unfaithfulness, God promises to “speak tenderly to us” (Hosea 2:14-20) and redeem, revive and restore us (Hosea 6:1-3).

The Song of Solomon, while literally about the relationship of two human lovers, is also considered by many scholars to be an allegorical picture of Christ’s love for his Church. In fact, Timothy Keller in his book “The Meaning of Marriage” points out the following: “The Christian teaching is that sex (in marriage) is primarily a way to know God and build community, and, if you use it for those things rather than for your own personal satisfaction, it will lead to greater fulfillment than you can imagine.” (pg255). Marriage and sex is after all God’s idea and gift!

This is in line with Paul’s teaching on marriage in Ephesians 5:22-33. In that passage, he constantly parallels and switches between the human marriage relationship and Christ’s relationship with His Church. In fact, in verse 32, to summarize his main point on marriage, he flat out says: “This is a profound mystery, but I am talking about Christ and the church.”

Marriage is meant to be one of the most profound and clear pictures of the kind of relationship God desires to have with us, and how it will be in eternity with him. Psalm 16:11 in fact says: “In your presence is fullness of joy and eternal pleasures forevermore.” Sex in marriage is a foretaste of even greater joy to come in the presence of God. There are eternal pleasures that supersede any earthly pleasures. God is not a cosmic kill-joy, but a life-giving joy giver! (This is why Satan hates and works to destroy marriages and steal our joy).

Jesus, in his intimate prayer in John 17:4, said “this is eternal life, that they may know you the One true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.” God is relational at the core (think of the very nature and reality of the Trinity) and wants us to know him and drink deeply of fellowship with him. Right knowledge about God is essential, but only if it leads into the knowledge of God (Philippians 3:7-14). Theology (the study of God) is a vital pursuit for all of us, but it is meant to lead us into the experience of God; to open our eyes to know Him, see him and acknowledge him behind every blessing and aspect of life.

There is nothing else in this world that truly and eternally satisfies. Our hearts tend to become attached to that which at best are just symbols of a greater reality or substance found in Christ. We make these things idols (little gods) that leave us ultimately empty and restless. These things may be “good” in and of themselves, even gifts to us from God. But the minute we detach them from relationship with God, we miss the purpose; to lead us into a more meaningful fellowship and richer understanding of God.

See beyond the visible to the invisible. See beyond the earthly to the eternal. Seek Him who is behind every good and perfect gift!

“Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground, for it is time to seek the Lord until he comes and showers righteousness on you.” -Hosea 10:12

***To listen to a fuller message I recorded on this, click here: Knowing God.

The Mountains are Speaking

Two years ago our family moved out West to the mountains of Colorado. Going for hikes and exploring the mountains has quickly become a pretty frequent family activity. It has also been a bit of a sanctuary where God has been speaking to me about Himself. In fact, Christians believe that God speaks in general to everyone through creation. Romans 1:20 says, For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.

In this article I’d like to touch on just three three of those aspects.

  1. The Wildness of God

We live our lives before the wild, dangerous, unfettered and free character of the living God.Walter Brueggemann

Our kids absolutely love climbing the rocks in the mountains. As parents however, there is one reality we seem to be more aware of than they are: it isn’t exactly the safest environment! Americans are extremely and perhaps uniquely concerned about safety. From strict seat-belt laws, to instructions given in great detail with all kinds of safety warning or precautions, to helmets for sports, bike riding, to man-made playgrounds designed for safety to so much more, we are unrivaled in our safety obsession.

But there is a wildness and even raw danger built into God’s creation. From wild animals to dangerous surroundings, a fear is invoked in us, and yet a sense of exhilaration and inspiration for greatness. People in fact climb mountains (braving danger and risk of life or limb) for the sole purpose of the challenge and to see if they can conquer. Mountains have become synonymous with bravery, overcoming our fears, being free, rugged and daring.

What does this tell us about our Creator? I think C.S. Lewis put it best in his allegorical children’s book “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in this conversation one of the children has when first learning about Aslan (a type of Christ): “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

One of my favorite authors is John Eldridge. He happens to actually live here in Colorado too. The first book of his, “Wild at Heart” helped me overcome one of my greatest problems with what I perceived growing up as a “wimpy” and “boring” and “nice” Christianity. There would be too much to try to quote from in his book, but the title says it all. There is a wildness at the very heart of God. Jesus, God in human flesh, is far from the “weak” and even sometimes “pretty boy” he is portrayed to be. In fact, He is portrayed in Scripture not as a “Mr. Rogers” type nice guy who never ruffles any feathers or dares offend anyone and plays by all the religious and cultural rules. Rather, by his own actions and a title given to him, He is known as the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah.”

Dorothy Sayers is well known for this perceptive observation: “The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore – on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mile,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”

The mountains remind us that there is a wildness about God. He is “Wild at Heart.” It would do us some good to get to know this aspect of His Nature, for when we discover that He is good but dangerous; it can make the timid bold, the fearful courageous, the weak strong, and enable us to accomplish some mighty feats and exploits in and through His Name. He is the Prince of Peace but also the Burning Bush deep in the Mountains; the Lamb of God, but also Lion of Judah; the Good Shepherd but also Mighty Warrior

2. The Majesty of God

You are radiant with light, more majestic than mountains rich with game. -Psalm 76:4

One of the first things that comes to mind when you see the mountains is the word “majestic.” I didn’t know until we moved out to Colorado Springs that the words to one of American’s most cherished songs, America the Beautiful, was penned while Katherine Lee Bates was coming down Pikes Peak, the very mountain tip I see everyday driving to work! Her inspiration came while taking in the “majesty” of the mountains. She even linked “mountain” and “majesty” together:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

Scripture again and again speaks of the “Majesty of God.” The term “Majesty” or “Majestic” is language we use when speaking of something (or someone) “dignified” “breath-taking” “powerful.” When looking at the mountains or recognizing the “splendor” even of earthly kingdoms, kings or queens, these are meant to remind us that the Maker of this world, the King of Kings, is even more majestic than all created things and earthly kings or kingdoms combined!

Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? -Exodus 15:11

3. The Mighty Power of God

You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength… -Psalm 65:5-6

God is Wild and Majestic, which speaks of his great Power. Likewise, the mountains are a symbol and reminder of his awesome power. To think that the mighty mountains we see have been created by One even more powerful is astonishing!

This truth has very practical implications to our daily lives, let alone what it should mean to our worship. The very God who created mountains, can also level mountains. There are a plethora of Scriptures that speak to this very truth (Isaiah 45:2, Job 9:5, Psalm 18:7, Psalm 97:5, Psalm 104:32, etc). What this means is that it should inspire great faith in us to believe that nothing is indeed too hard for him. He can “move the mountains” and is “Mighty to Save” as one well-known contemporary song puts it.

The Mountains are speaking to us of the Wildness, Majesty and Mighty Power of God. These are three aspects to the Nature of God that when joined together in our lives, can lead us into some incredible adventures and dynamics in relationship with God! Perhaps the American pull to “Go West” (despite all the very tragic and sad injustices and abuses that have occurred out of that in our past) is really a pull of the soul to the Wildness, Majesty, and Power of God. Perhaps too the Mountains have something to say of the Character of God that somehow seems to get lost, diminished and robbed of it’s grandeur within the confines and limitations of our man-made structures and church buildings. Don’t try to tame and declaw the Lion; rather stand in awe and worship the Lion of the Tribe of Judah!

Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. -Psalm 90:2

Life Lessons of the Waves

You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy. -Psalm 65:5-8

One of my favorite things to do is just sit at the beach, read and listen to the waves crashing, or actually get in the water and ride the waves/jump them via jet skiing! My wife loves to listen to the waves at night, while others like to leisurely walk or run along the shore.

During this vacation, I started thinking about the waves of the sea and what lessons they might be able to teach us. Below are four life lessons of the waves.

  1. Catch the right waves!

He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. -Job 9:8

Riding the waves can be one of the most fun things to do. The feeling of exhilaration as you catch the right wave at just the right time and it “carries” you faster or further than you could swim is a lot of fun…and exhausting!

One of the challenges however, is knowing which waves to ride verse which waves to let pass. So it is in life. Many “opportunities” or “choices” come to us everyday. Wisdom is discerning which “waves” to ride and which to let pass. It is having the courage to actually ride some and also the patience to say “no” and let some go by.

Sometimes we settle for less than God has for us. Other-times we take on more than we should. This week I have rode some waves that were “duds” while I can think of many other times I attempted to ride waves that were a bit too dangerous or risky to take on! God wants to stretch us beyond what we think possible and help us overcome our fears, but he also wants us to exercise prudence, patience and wisdom.

2. Some waves are rough; others gentle but equally as powerful.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. -Psalm 42:7

It is interesting how one wave can be quite rough, but the next very gentle. Even from day to day the waves can be very different. While on this vacation, that was a reality from one day to the next.

At one point, while body-surfing, I was surprised by one “small” wave I decided to ride. Prior to this I rode some “rough” waves that beat me up a little and even left me with a few scrapes on my knee! However, this particular wave was quite smooth and gentle. And to my surprise, when I got up at the end of it, I was taken aback to see how far it had taken me; farther in fact that some of the “rougher” and “bigger” waves!

The “bigger” and “rougher” waves may be a bit more thrilling or “dramatic.” But gentle, steady waves can sometimes take us further and leave us not as exhausted or disoriented but rather quite satisfied. They may be the better choice, even if more subtle in appearance. Some opportunities are obvious; others less so, but not to be dismissed, as they may be exactly the kind to ride in that particular season.

3. Imposing Waves

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. -Psalm 46:3

On the last day of vacation the waves were looking a little bigger and even rougher. Looking at them, I figured it would be a good day to body-surf! Interestingly however, it turned out to be a reminder that appearances can indeed be deceiving!

The first couple of waves I figured I missed the right timing because they didn’t carry me very far. However, when the same experience kept occurring, I realized that while these waves had the look, they lacked the power behind them to carry you as far as it may have seemed!

Sometimes there are situations in life that look more daunting and imposing then they really are. Some situations also may look good on the surface by lack the substance in reality. We have to be careful of judging by appearances or even allowing what may seem “imposing” to hold us back from taking it on. Waves may “roar” and “foam” but we need not be afraid. Things are often not as “bad” as they sometimes appear to be!

4. Wave Cycles

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. -Ecclesiastes 3:1

It is interesting how when body-surfing, there can be “wave cycles.” There can be wave upon wave to ride at one point, and then a lack of waves to ride at another point.

There are likewise cycles in life that are important to pay attention too. If we “wait” when we ought to be acting we can miss opportunities that come our way. However, if we try to “act” when we ought to “wait” we can become quite frustrated. For some, seasons of “action” are scary. For others, seasons of “waiting” are hard. But each season has it purpose.

During seasons of action, we need to enjoy the ride! We don’t always “feel” in control as the waves are carrying us or we are being tossed and turned under the waves power; but it is exciting. During seasons of waiting we have opportunity to regain energy, recover from the last season, reflect on the past and future and make some adjustments.

Waves in life will always be coming at us. Some waves we need to ride, though timing is critical. Others we need to let go. Some are rougher while others are smoother but equally as powerful. Some can be deceiving in appearance. But these lessons can help us as we navigate the waves of life. Enjoy the ride!

The Sea is Calling: Part 2

In part one of this series (The Sea is Calling) I began to explore what the sea might be trying to communicate to us about the reality of God. Millions around the world are drawn to the ocean every year; could it be because there are powerful symbols that point us to a greater substance? What is it that our hearts yearn for that the beach is speaking to us about?

Here are five more thoughts.

  1. The Peace of God

You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them. -Psalm 89:9

He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. -Psalm 107:29

“Rollers on the beach, wind in the pines, the slow flapping of herons across sand dunes, frown out the hectic rhythms of city and suburb, time tables and schedules. One falls under their spell, relaxes, stretches out prone.” -Anne Morrow Lindbergh

There is no denying there is something extremely peaceful about the ocean. The beach seems to be a place we are drawn where our souls and bodies find rest and even time/our pace is slowed down.

It is good for us to be still, but being still is an art we seem to have lost. We are often too busy, too stressed and too anxious. God calls us to experience and know His peace. It is a  peace that in fact overrides our overly active brains; a peace that “transcends understanding” (Philippians 4:7). It’s not circumstantial but real despite circumstances. His is a peace that guards and protects our hearts and minds from the invasion and intrusion of worry, fear and anxiety. Many of us have learned to live with these enemies, but they actually do not belong in our lives.

The problem is we often fail to “quiet our souls” and allow the Prince of Peace to rule and reign in our hearts and minds. God doesn’t simply give peace; He is peace!

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is holy
Be still, O restless soul of mine
Bow before the Prince of Peace
Let the noise and clamor cease

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know He is our Father
Come rest your head upon His breast
Listen to the rhythm of
His unfailing heart of love
Beating for his little ones
Calling each of us to come
Be Still

-Stephen Curtis Chapman

Being still also means ceasing from sin and turning away from unrighteousness. In fact God says in Isaiah 48:18: If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea. Isaiah 57:20 says: But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud.

The sea calls us to cast our cares and burdens on the Lord. It calls us to turn from our sin and walk in His commands. It is calling us to know Him as our Prince of Peace.

  1. The Mercy of God

One becomes, in fact, like the element on which one lies, flattened by the sea; bare, open, empty as the beach, erased as the beach, erased by today’s tides of all yesterday’s scribblings. -Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Jenny Cote, in her book “Now I Sea!makes a really good observation: On a recent walk I was struck by an amazing analogy. It is impossible to walk the beach without leaving footprints. Try it. You won’t be able to keep from giving clues that you were there. If someone is following you, they can find you. But if your walk is close enough to the water, on firm, wet sand, the footprints vanish with the enveloping nature of the beach-landing waves. Not a trace remains that you were there. What a beautiful picture of sin and grace.

I suppose there are two ways of looking at the waves erasing what once was there. The first, is that it levels and erases the works of our hands. Many spend hours creating the most intricate sand-castles or other amazing creations from the sand. But when the tide comes in, it all disappears, as if it never existed, reducing it to just a memory. Life on earth does not last forever.

On the other hand, aren’t there mistakes we have all made, regrets we all have, things we have done that we wish hadn’t happened and could be erased, forgotten? Don’t we long for a new beginning, a fresh start or a redo?

The sea reminds us of the vanity of life lived apart from God, but also the mercy found in God. For those who confess their sin and turn to God for forgiveness we have this assurance from Micah 7:19: You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

I love how Corrie Ten Boom (a Holocaust survivor) once put this: Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I like to think that that’s where forgiven sins are thrown. “When we confess our sins,” I said, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. Then God places a sign out there that says ‘No Fishing Allowed’”

Perhaps the sea is calling us to allow the mercy of God to wash over our lives, cleanse us of our sin and give us a fresh start, no matter what we have done or failed to do.

  1. The Wrath of God

You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. -Jonah 2:3

For I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord Almighty is his name. -Isaiah 51:15

The wrath of God is not a popular subject to discuss these days, but it is a truth of Scripture and of the sea. Yes, the enemy can wreak havoc through the storms he stirs up, but there is also the truth that while merciful, God is just and Sovereign over all storms. He is far more patience than we are, but even His patience gives way to wrath where there is no repentance.

I thought of this on this vacation because at the beginning the waves were more gentle and calm. But as the week went on the wind picked up more and the waves grew a little rougher. God is gentle, but don’t mistake his gentleness for passivity. He is infinitely kind, but don’t think He won’t judge the world for it’s evil, sin and rebellion against him. The time of God’s wrath and judgement is coming.

So Scripture (and the sea?) remind us: Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4). He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

And we are warned by Scripture (and the sea?): Consider therefore the kindness and sternness (severity) of God: sternness to those who fell (unbelief), but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.

Let the waves of His mercy wash over you, rather than the waves of His wrath crush you. Jesus was in fact “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53) so that we could experience instead the waves of God’s mercy.

  1. The Protection of God

After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. -Matthew 14:23-25

While out in the ocean with my four year old, I had a picture of the protection of God. Max was out further than I was, but as his father, and he my son, I was right there behind him keeping careful watch. When a wave was more powerful than his little body, I was there to catch him and help him back up. My presence with him also gave him the confidence he needed to venture out further than he could on his own. This brought him not only assurance but great joy to experience the thrill of the waves.

God is our Protector who gives his children great freedom and courage to enjoy and venture deeper into the waters. We are not called to “play it safe” but to trust that God will keep us safe as we go out where He is calling us. As Mark Twain once put it: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the one’s you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters.  They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep. -Psalm 107:23-24

  1. The Power of God

“Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”  He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” -Matthew 8:25-27

The sea speaks to us of the power of God. Storms, squalls and even hurricanes, remind us of greater powers. While this can frighten us, consider what Jenny Cote writes about hurricanes: “Before you get angry over this, you need to understand something about hurricanes. They are necessary. They are vital to equalizing water temperatures around the globe. So even though they can bring harm, angry seas are vital to keep balance in the earth.” (Now I Sea! Pg 137-138).

But what comfort there is in knowing that God is more powerful than any storm or hurricane! He can calm the storms we face in life. He can rescue us and demonstrate his power over even the waves of life that threaten to undo us. In fact, Jeremiah 5:22 records God saying the following: Should you not fear me?” declares the Lord. “Should you not tremble in my presence? I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it.

The sea is calling us to know the Peace of God, Mercy of God, Protection of God, Power of God and escape the Wrath of God by turning to the Master, Maker and Commander of the sea, the Lord Jesus Christ!

The Sea is Calling: Part 1

I am writing this while on vacation in Topsail, NC. This is our second time here, with my wife’s side of the family. The beach is a special place for me. Growing up, my family went to Wildwood, NJ every year, which was the highlight of the summer but also the marking of the beginning of a new school year the week after. For six years, I also pastored a church on the Jersey Shore, although we were so busy having kids and with ministry, we didn’t actually spend as much time there as we would have liked looking back. However, some of my favorite preaching moments and baptisms were held there that I will always cherish.

What is it about the beach that draws us? Why do thousands flock there every summer? What is it that makes it such a popular vacation spot around the world? What is the sea trying to teach us that our hearts constantly long for and find such peace in?

In this article I’d like to propose four realities of God that the sea is seeking to communicate.

  1. The Endless Expanse and Depth of God

“No man has found how far he can go with God because there is in the mysterious depths of God neither limit nor end.” -A.W. Tozer

Staring at the ocean there is a sense of something so much bigger than ourselves and our own little worlds. The sea stretches far beyond our natural sight and in so doing stretches our minds and hearts beyond the ordinary limits we find ourselves so often feeling “trapped” by. In many ways, we also put God in a “box” of our own making. While He has revealed himself in creation and ultimately in the person of Christ, there is also the reality that He is incomprehensible to the finite human mind. Yet, we so often begin to think of the the infinite God as finite, limited and entirely “like us.”

But this does not satisfy the depths of our soul, which was made for God and God alone. Perhaps it is why we find ourselves “bored” with God; we have created a God in our image instead of discovering and spending time allowing Him to reveal himself and satisfy the deepest longings of our heart. One of the books I’ve been reading on this vacation is called “Now I Sea!” The author in one place writes: “Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choice-less as a beach-waiting for a gift from the sea.”

There is a holy (other-worldly) and infinite depth to God we have yet to discover; but it requires taking time to simply gaze upon the endless reality of who He is. There are waves upon waves we have yet to experience, depths yet to be explored, an eternal vastness yet to be discovered.

2. The Wonder, Beauty and Romance of God

“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord…” -Psalm 27:4

There is an undeniable wonder, beauty, even romantic reality about the beach. So many newlyweds for example go to a beach somewhere for their honeymoon. Those who are married will escape to the shore to rekindle their relationship or renew their vows or be refreshed. The sunrises and sunsets can be breath-taking. The sound of the waves crashing, the feeling of the wind on your face, the sand on your feet, even the taste of the saltwater, produces a wonder, an awe, a soothing balm of healing to spirit, soul, body and relationships.

If God is truly the Creator of this world, then all his art-work displays aspects of his Nature and Character. It’s a reflection of His essence, his heart, his emotions. The shore is drawing us and calling us into the wonder, beauty and mystery of God. It is His wooing into relationship with Him, stirring us to seek Him and find our hearts renewed and healed in the glory of who He is.

3. The Playful Pleasure of God

What do children do at the beach? They play. They imagine. They create. They laugh. They squeal with delight. They are free and uninhibited. It seems they never grow tired of the waves crashing into them or sweeping over their bodies. They will spend hours upon hours running from the waves with a joy that never seems to diminish. They will build sand-castles or play in the sand without it seeming to get old.

What does this speak to us about the “playfulness of God?” Is it sacrilegious to speak of him in this way? Didn’t Jesus himself say unless we change and become like we little children we will not enter the kingdom of heaven? Did you know Jesus is described in the book of Hebrews as being “anointed with the oil of joy far above his companions?” (Hebrews 1:9).

As adults, we easily get bored with monotony. We even take every-day miracles for granted without even thinking about it! Think of the sun rising and setting every night. Think of the conditions that have to be just perfect for life to exist on earth. Think of the miracle of the human body, even down to specific parts of the body (the eye, the ears, etc). But did you ever consider that perhaps God never gets tired of these things? That perhaps, like children, everyday he says “Do it again!” with the same amount of joy as the first time? There is a joyful, even child-like dynamic in the power and person of God.

What do you do with dolphins? With sea-horses? With so many of the funny looking or colorful or playful creatures of the sea? If paintings tell us something of the painter, what do these realities speak to us about God? One of my favorites verses is Psalm 16:11. It says this: You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Path of life. Joy in his presence. Eternal pleasures.

Is this how you think of God? How sad and tragic that our view of God can often be so boring, stuffy, and depressing! There is endless pleasure, abundant life and fullness of joy in his presence! The sea is beckoning us to the playful pleasure and power of God.

4. The Treasures of God

My wife loves storms. Personally, I don’t find the same joy in them as she does! Perhaps it’s because they remind me that not everything is perfect after all and that storms will come in life that wreck havoc. We were there in Jersey when Hurricane Sandy hit our area. We saw the destruction; certain area’s literally looked like a war-zone. We saw the pain and problems it brought in many people’s lives.

But we also were part of witnessing the healing, restoration and rebuilding that began to occur as we assisted with the clean-up. Jenny Cote writes in her book “Now I Sea!” the following: “But let me challenge you to welcome the cleanup. In fact look forward to it! Celebrate that the storm is over and you survived. Just as it was fun finding treasured shark teeth in the beach cleanup, find treasures for your spirit as you dredge fresh sand back onto your beach. Salvaging not only restores; it makes your beach better than it was before.”

Yes, we live in a fallen world, under the curse and destructive power of our collective and personal sin. Storms occur in a world that has been invaded by evil. And yet, there are treasures all around us as well. Treasures reminding us of Eden. Treasures of God’s grace, love, mercy, goodness, blessing and compassion. Treasures pointing us to heaven.

But sometimes, we don’t recognize, see or find these treasures of God, because we aren’t looking for them. Treasures hidden in the sand or under the sea have to be pursued. The same is true with the treasures of God. Jesus said, Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you and will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. (Luke 11:9)

In Jeremiah 29:11-14, God says to his people who had been taken captive because of their sin, the following: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,” declares the Lord

And in Isaiah 45:3 God says: I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, The God of Israel, who summons you by name.

God is pursuing us. The sea is his megaphone, amplifying his “still small voice” that is calling our name. He is seeking to draw us to himself and into relationship with him, even a deep, divine, holy, eternal fellowship/romance. The question is can we recognize his voice and will we reach beyond the symbol to enter into and find the true source and substance?

Overcoming Distractions

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.-1 Corinthians 9:24-26

One thing every great athlete, performer or accomplished person has in common is the ability to stay laser-focused. They can block out the distractions all around them. They have the will-power to say no, not only to what would be bad but even the good that might not be what is best. They exercise self-control and remain disciplined. There is much that we as Christians can learn from this reality and these kinds of people or athletes in regard to the Christian life. It is a picture of what our lives often do not look like but should look like as followers of Jesus.

One of the most effective tactic’s of the evil one is distraction. My purpose in this blog is not to convince of or defend the existence of Satan, but to highlight the fact that he is the master of distraction. He has many tactics, such as deception, temptation, intimidation and persecution but distraction might be one of the most overlooked and under-estimated weapons of his. Usually we aren’t even aware of his distractions, because in many cases they come in the form of that which may be good or permissible, but not part of God’s will for our lives or truly beneficial in light of eternity.

For example, how many hours do we waste watching TV, scrolling through Facebook or being caught up in sports? There is nothing wrong with these things in and of themselves, and in moderation, but they can easily pull us away from spending time with God or serving God. Even family can become a distraction (and an idol) if we are not careful. This was true even for Jesus. Three of the Gospel accounts (Matthew 12:47-49, Mark 3:32-34, Luke 8:20-22) speak of a situation where Jesus’ family comes looking for him, in an attempt to pull him away from ministering (thinking he had gone a little too far) and he basically ignored them, recognizing in that situation it was a distraction. He remained focused on the will of God not the will of even his own family.

It is up to each of us to discern distractions in our lives in each season of life. We all have a race to run that has been marked out for us by God. I recently recorded a little message about this on my podcast site (You can listen to it here: Keeping Focus). A race requires focus. And this race is not a sprint, but a marathon. We can’t simply have “spurts of passion” for God. We need to stay on the track he wants us to be on, not being distracted by other paths that might seem easier, more attractive or are of our own choosing, but are dead-ends.

And while this race at times may seem long, in light of eternity it is very short. How we live our lives now will affect our eternity forever. As the passage at the beginning of this blog article reminds us, we are running for a prize. This race is not in vain and there is reward at the end of it to be claimed. I want to hear Jesus say to me “Well done, thou Good and faithful servant.”

But we must persevere. We must stay focused. We must remain faithful and disciplined. We must not receive God’s grace in vain, but recognize we have been saved to serve and to actually do the good works which God has already prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). We must not merely “start” the race marked out for us, but finish the race. This is what brings glory to God as Jesus modeled for us: I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do (John 17:4). And it is by realizing we have not only examples in Scripture and in our own lives of those who have run well their race, but we have THE example Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.                          -Hebrews 12:1-3

4 Ways to Become More Childlike

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven-Matthew 18:2-4

Like many of the sermons I preach or articles that I write, this one is probably more for me than anyone else. Out of the blue the other day during an Easter Sunday worship service at church, I sensed the Holy Spirit calling me in a playful way to become more childlike again.

It is true and Biblical that parents have a crucial role in instructing and teaching their children in the way and word of the Lord, but many times God uses children to teach or remind parents of what childlike faith looks like. The key word here is childlike not childish. We are called to mature in our faith and understanding, yet at the same time without losing the simplicity, humility, purity and playfulness of children.

I don’t know about you, but I know it’s true of me, and even Jesus’ first disciples, that it is easy to lose that sense of child-likeness. I was a pastor for six years and now lead a mission organization. I know first-hand and in very deep ways, how easy it is to become cynical, jaded, even bitter, due to the disappointments, hurt and things you see or experience in dealing with people and in ministry on a very intimate level. Emotionally it can really sap you of strength and joy. And in the case of the disciples (as well as us too if we are honest) our own ego’s, pride, agenda’s and selfish ambitions rise up and exert themselves in childish, not childlike ways.

Here are four ways Jesus calls us to become more childlike:

  1. Innocence

There is an innocence and a purity about children that is very much like Jesus. It is also a reminder of Eden. Children are not jaded. They are not cynical. Their spirit’s have yet to be broken by the sin, evil and darkness of this fallen world. There is a freedom in them and a sense of wonder and awe of the world around them, no matter even sometimes their circumstances. Sin has not so defiled them as to yet have their conscience seared. They are “free” from the burdens and cares that we as adults so often carry and feel the weight of. They are not filled with regrets; they have no concept of time closing in on them with things left undone.

How Jesus wants us as adults to likewise guard our hearts from becoming jaded and cynical! How He longs for us to also live with a heart that is pure. Wise and discerning yes; but “innocent” in regard to partaking or participating in that which is evil or impure. He longs for us to be free from regrets; to live with restraint in regard to evil, but without restraint in regard to good. To really go after Him and pursue Him with all our heart. To love freely and unconditionally. To forgive genuinely and “bounce back” quickly when hurt.

There is a certain freedom and lack of inhibition children posses in their spirit. It seems as we grow older we become more guarded and hesitant. We begin to care far too much about what others might think about us. We hold onto grudges much longer. We may “forgive” but we certainly don’t “forget” like little kids do; even just moments later! Don’t you long to live more freely with the innocence, liberation and purity of children?

2. Faith

Children really do have a childlike faith. Yes, that faith can be very misguided! But they have no problem believing the miraculous, supernatural (“magic”) and even impossible. Their imaginations can “see” anything as if it is reality, which isn’t that the definition of faith according to Hebrews 11:1? While our faith needs to be focused, I would suspect all of us would admit God wants to stretch our faith to believe beyond that which we naturally do. Somewhere along the way we seem to stop believing in the impossible and rationalize or justify our unbelief.

Yet how often did Jesus rebuke his disciples for “lack of faith?” If you remember, when Jesus tested his disciples regarding where to find food for over 5,000 people, it was his disciples who struggled with the “little” that the young boy offered, because after all, logically and rationally it wasn’t sufficient to the need. While Jesus’ disciples reaction sounds very “reasonable” and “realistic” and “adult” it doesn’t appear anywhere that the young lad had the same hesitations or struggle of believing. Jesus didn’t rebuke the boy who offered all he had, but rather used what was given to accomplish more than his own disciples thought possible. The “child” passed the test; his disciples failed.

Dare to dream again. Dare to believe God for the impossible. Trust him for the miraculous. Expect him to work in supernatural ways as you give your life to him!

3. Humility/No Pretense

The original issue and question that provoked Jesus’ comment about our need to change and become like little children, came from an argument among the disciples about which of them would be greatest in Jesus’ kingdom. It was a pride/ego thing. It was in fact, an “an adult” or “childish” issue.

Children certainly can be very selfish and self-centered, but little children do not have a need to impress the way adults do. Oh, they love to show off and get attention, but they lack the pretense that adults are so good at. They love to play pretend, but they do not pretend to be someone or something they are not to appear wiser or more important than they are. If anything, little kids are great at “embarrassing” their parents by simply being “authentic.” They don’t care where they are or who they are with! They don’t change who they are or even how they act just to cater to the company (apart from parental lectures in advance about “using manners” and being “respectable”).

I think it’s one reason Jesus loved being around children. There was no pretense or hypocrisy in them, that was so common especially among the religious elite of his day!

4. Joy/Playfulness

This is perhaps the hardest for me to write, let alone actually walk in, so it is going to be the longest! It’s so easy to let life or people suck the joy out of you and beat you down. It is also easy for me, by my nature, to take myself and life more seriously than I ought. This is perhaps where I am least childlike.

But think with me. When you think of Jesus do you view him more serious or playful? Most of us probably think of him as never really smiling, but this is a gross misconception. Scripture in fact tells us that Jesus was the most joyful person to ever walk this earth! (Hebrews 1:8-9). In addition, there is a playfulness and very “Jewish” or “Middle East” humor about Jesus in various circumstances and teachings/parables that often we miss as Westerner’s. Plus, creation itself reveals the humor of God; just look at some animals, and some people!!! If you are still not convinced, then where does our humor come from if we have been created in the image of God? Where does the playfulness of children come from? Don’t you also find yourself feeling more at ease and your guard coming down when you are around those who have a more playful nature?

Personally, I am prone to depression and I think some of it has to be with the fact that I am by nature a more intense and serious person. While this can be helpful and good in staying focused, on task and getting things accomplished or moved forward, I know it can also create undo stress and pressure that those more laid back and playful don’t struggle with on the same level as I do. I also miss out on the joy of the journey and beauty along the way, out of being so driven to get to whatever the destination may be. For example, our kids love to go hiking, being we live so close to the mountains. They have no problem taking their time with a playful attitude. It’s rather often us as the parents who are constantly saying “ok, let’s go!” or “keep moving!” or “guys come on or we will never get there” as if “there” is the only place we can be happy and enjoy God’s creation.

There are serious moments in life, but this doesn’t always make us more spiritual as I am prone to want to believe. God even built into creation the idea of a “Sabbath rest.” I am the type that has a very hard time “not working” or taking time off or away from “what really matters.” I hate the idea of “wasting time”, which doesn’t make me a very fun social person to simply “hang out with!” In fact the word “fun” to me is a basically a swear word, because I see no real purpose to it!

And while it is true more time is wasted on frivolous things than ought to be; there is a place and purpose for playfulness as well. Who doesn’t want to be around children for example? They certainly have no problem having fun and being playful! They never get tired even of doing the same thing over and over again; or delighting in the ordinary and simple that we so often bore of or overlook. They also don’t have the weight around them of the illusion, need, or fear of having to be “in control.” Instinctively, children trust. They do not worry or fret about life. They are free to just…be.

Might what I just characterized above actually be what the kingdom of heaven looks like? A realm of innocence, purity, freedom, joy, peace…where there is no pretense or pride? A world free of worry, regret, stress, inhibition, fear, anxiety, burden or care? A reality where the beauty of the King continually inspires awe and worship; where we never get tired or bored of his presence and power? A place where doubt, depression, bitterness, unforgiveness and ego have no place? A place where we are are free to just be who we were created to be? 

The kingdom of God is in fact a world that belongs to children. But it is also a place where we as adults are invited into, if we will only humble ourselves, change and become like little children. And isn’t this the kind of world we long for deep down? May His kingdom come and invade our hearts and lives!

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” -Matthew 19:14

5 Stones He Still Rolls Away

Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. -Mark 16:2-4

God is in the construction business. He specializes actually in removing and rolling stones away and then replacing and rebuilding with something new and gloriously beautiful. Today, on Easter Sunday, as we remember the stone that was rolled away out of which Jesus emerged to new life, I pray the same will happen for you. Whatever “very large” stone has trapped you or is crushing you, may it be removed in Jesus’ name! May you experience His resurrection and victorious power.

Here are five stones Jesus still rolls away:

  1. The stone of sin, guilt, condemnation and shame.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal (to roll) to this day. -Joshua 5:9

Egypt became a symbolic picture for the Israelites of their former slavery and bondage. It represented the world system to which they were captive. It was a reminder of their shame. Before they could experience the joy, blessing and victory of the promised land to which God had led them, He first “rolled away the reproach of Egypt” from them.

This is a burden we likewise carry that God wants to roll away from our lives too. It’s a stone that weighs us down. Guilt, shame and condemnation in regard to our past can be a “very large stone” that we can’t remove in our own strength. But as we “look up” at Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross in our place; our sin, guilt and condemnation is “rolled away” from us. We are forgiven in Christ. We are free in Christ. We are declared innocent in Christ. Our past no longer controls us. We are no longer slaves to sin but alive in Christ! We have been delivered. We have been made to be the children of God. Let God roll away from you the shame you bear, the guilt you carry, the sin that weighs you down, the condemnation that belittles you. The blood of Jesus cleanses and delivers!

2. The stone of doubt and unbelief.

After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. -Acts 1:3

There is no doubt (pun intended) that the Resurrection of Jesus is something supernatural and miraculous. This makes it hard for us to believe. But consider this: when you weigh all the evidence and possible explanations, the most logical is in fact that He rose from the dead! If God is really God, wouldn’t He be able to do that which we cannot? If He indeed created the world out of nothing, why can He not also give life to the dead?

One of the things that makes the resurrection credible in my opinion is that not even his own disciples were easily convinced! It took multiple appearances and various proofs for the truth to really sink it. Maybe today, the “stone of unbelief” in your heart needs rolled away. Faith is not belief in “superstition” but rather a firm conviction that grows out of acceptance of the truth, in light of evidence.

3. The stone of sadness, sorrow and confusion.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). -John 20:11-16

Mary was confused. Mary was filled with sorrow and sadness over the death of Jesus. But her tears were blurring her vision of the Resurrected Savior standing right in front of her! She was blind to the new life that had just begun. Jesus wants to heal our hearts, turn our sorrow into laughter and wipe our tears away. How does He do this?

He calls our name.

Let me explain. Mary did not recognize Jesus until He spoke her name in the tender power and authority that only He can speak to our hearts by. For Mary, it wasn’t the evidence of the empty tomb that convinced her; it was rather the voice of Jesus speaking to her personally that “rolled the stone of sadness away.”

For many people it’s not simply intellectual evidence they need. They need a word from the Lord. They need to hear him call their name. May you hear his voice calling your name today and may His voice roll all sadness and sorrow away, filling you with joy and laughter.

4. The stone of fear.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” -John 20:19

Jesus wants to roll away the stone of fear that would cause you to isolate yourself and turn you inward. So many of us are bound by our fears. Fear of what others might think of us or do to us. Fear of being rejected or even persecuted. How does Jesus roll the stone of fear away from our lives? By his presence and impartation of His peace to our hearts!

The disciples had locked the doors. Some of us have likewise closed our hearts out of fear. However, this didn’t stop Jesus! Locked doors keep us in, but they don’t keep Jesus out! His presence is what delivers us from all our fears. His peace, which passes understanding, is what guards our heart from fear, instead of fear holding us prisoner.

May the presence of Jesus and peace of Jesus rule in your heart and overcome all your fears! By the way, this didn’t just happen once, but two Sunday’s in a row. We continually need the presence of Jesus and peace of Jesus to appear in our midst when we gather together with one another. This is indeed the very thing Jesus promised, that where even one or two gather together in his name, there He is in their midst!

5. The stone of disappointment.

As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. -Luke 24:15-17

Several of the disciples on the road to Emmaus found themselves interacting with a stranger who began walking with them. That “stranger” was actually someone they knew quite well, but in their disappointment didn’t recognize! Disappointment has the power to blind us from the reality of the person of Jesus walking right alongside us!

Jesus wants to roll away the stone of disappointment that blinds us to seeing him. Disappointment and disillusionment comes from misplaced or misguided expectations. The disciples were correct that Jesus was indeed the one they hoped would redeem Israel. The problem however, was what that redemption would look like! They expected a Messiah that would politically and physically free them from Roman occupation. They didn’t expect a King who would die on a cross. They didn’t see their need for a redemption from an enemy greater than the Romans; that of the sin of their (and our) own hearts.

When life disappoints, or God doesn’t work as we expect, it can blind us from the greater and deeper thing God is doing! What was bad news to them, was actually the beginning of the greatest news of all!

How does Jesus roll away the stone of disappointments in our lives? He takes us deeper in His Word and opens our minds to understand Scripture, or the ways of God. And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27). The result was this: They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).

When you don’t understand, take a closer and deeper look into the Word of God. Let Jesus teach you. Let him reignite a fire in your heart. Let him open your eyes to the word and ways of God. His ways are not our ways and we ought to thank him for that, because what he has in mind is greater than our biggest disappointments in life! Over time that reality will unfold before us if we stay close to him and allow him to open our eyes to that which we cannot perceive apart from him.

May you know today the reality of the Resurrected Jesus. May He roll whatever stones away from your life that need rolled away. May you emerge in a new way with new life infused into you by the power of his resurrection!

How Stones are Rolled Away

Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. -Mark 16:2-4

I love these verses! But not merely because it is the beginning of the discovery of the greatest news in the world, that Jesus has risen from the dead. I love these verses because they are counter-intuitive to the way most of us operate, but they reveal a key truth regarding the way God works.

Notice, that the women did not just sit around in their homes wondering how they would roll the stone away to do what they knew they were supposed to do. It was as they were moving towards the tomb that they asked this question. And it was only when they arrived to do what they were supposed to do (and looked up!) that they realized their problem had already been taken care of. The stone they thought was in their way, turned out to not be in the way at all; God had already taken care of removing it or rolling it back! And so, these women were confronted with the beautiful truth that Jesus is not dead but alive!

Many of us do nothing for God because of “stones” that exist in our mind. There are obstacles that hold us back from even moving towards those situations. We feel called to serve but we see no way that we can do it, so we don’t even attempt. And because we don’t attempt, we never witness the resurrection power and reality of our Living Savior!

There is a “secret” spiritual truth in the kingdom of God. It’s simply this: when we move, God moves. But when we sit back and wait, we miss out on the miraculous power of God. Consider these examples:

The story in 2 Kings chapter 7 is one of my favorite stories. The setting is grim. The situation is hopeless by human standards. The people of Samaria have been besieged by the enemy. There is famine in the city. Things are so bad that parents are actually eating their own children. However, a promise is made that sounds incredible and impossible: In one days time this whole situation would change.

You know how that actually happened and came about? The situation changed in one day, because beginning in verse three we are told that four men with leprosy (social outcasts of no seeming significance or value) came to a revelation: “Why stay here until we die? If we say, We’ll go into the city-the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.”

Not real promising odds, but notice they came to the conclusion that by doing nothing one thing was certain: they would die. But if they made a move, there was a slight chance they might live. They decided to make a move. And you know what happened? Just imagine this scene unfolding in a movie:

“At dusk they got up and went to the camp of the Arameans. When they reached the edge of the camp, not a man was there, for the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army…

Four seemingly insignificant and irrelevant men with leprosy put to flight an entire army simply because they decided to make a move! The “stone” was rolled away! When they moved; God moved. A famine was ended and lives were saved because of the action of these four men with leprosy.

What is God calling you to do? What excuses are you making? What mountains seem insurmountable? What very large stones are beyond your strength to roll away?

The resurrection of Jesus reminds us that we serve a Living, Risen and Powerful Savior! We may be weak, but He is strong. He is able to roll the stone away. He is able to make a way where there seems to be no way. He is able to part rivers, end famines and deliver entire cities. He can move the mountains.

But you…you must make a move. You must step into the Jordan river before it is parted. You must march around Jericho. You must draw ordinary water out of a jar and begin taking it to the master of the banquet…before it turns into exquisite wine! You must be willing to risk looking like a fool in doing whatever God is calling you to do even if (or especially) when you have no idea how you are going to do it!

What does that look like for you right now? Is it going on a missions trip even though you don’t have the funds for it and don’t know where it might come from? Is it stepping out in faith to leave your current job to follow God’s leading? Is it moving to a new state or country? Is it starting a business you have always dreamed of? is it giving beyond your current means? Is it walking across the street to share the Gospel with your neighbor, not knowing how they will react or what exactly to say?

Stones don’t get rolled away as you sit and ponder. Stones are moved when you begin to move!

So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. -Joshua 3:14-17

In Between Friday & Sunday

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  -1 Corinthians 15:3-5

There is much that is made out of Good Friday and Easter Sunday…and rightly so! The death of Jesus made possible forgiveness of sin and peace with God. The resurrection of Jesus opens up the reality of eternal life and hope after death. What better news than this can there ever be?!

However, there was a space and a day between Friday and Sunday that doesn’t get enough attention and yet is so relevant to many seasons in our lives today. It’s the day in between death and resurrection. It’s the pause between the promise and the fulfillment. It’s the space between our dreams being shattered and hope being restored. It’s when we bury what has died but have yet to experience new life from the seed that is planted. It’s the day when, well, nothing seems to be happening. It’s the day when we are caught in confusion, despair and disillusionment; an end has come but new life has not yet begun.

Ever experience a “Saturday” of the soul? Jesus’ own disciples surely did. Some of them watched him being crucified. They saw the spear pierce his side. They witnessed him being taken down and laid in a tomb. The stone was rolled firmly shut. And then…silence.

Think of this in the context of many aspects of life. A seed is planted in the ground but then comes a long waiting period before new life begins to break forth and spring up from and through the ground and a harvest is reaped. A caterpillar hides itself in a cocoon for a time before breaking forth having been transformed into a beautiful butterfly! You get engaged…and then wait for what seems like forever for the wedding. You find out you or your wife is pregnant; but then the long weeks of waiting for the baby to come forth. Some days you wonder if anything is happening because there seems to be no activity! 

But just because it seems like nothing is happening doesn’t mean nothing is. There is much that often happens beneath the surface, in the womb or in the cocoon! (In Jesus’ case 1 Peter 3:18-20 seems to touch on what was happening but it’s beyond the scope of this article).

Friday’s are intense and Sunday’s are joyful, but Saturday’s are well…long. I liken it to a funeral. In six years time, when I was pastoring a church, I conducted thirty funeral services. When someone dies there is a lot of activity. Friends, family, neighbors and others are calling and gathering. Memories are shared. Funeral arrangements are made. The pain is raw and real but there is a sense of it all being a blur. It’s like a “Friday.” But when the casket is lowered into the ground there is a deeper sense of finality. There is a silence that comes upon those gathered. And then…nothing. Friends and family disperse. Life returns to “normal”…but it’s like time stands still, all is different and disorienting. Saturday has come.

Maybe you are experiencing a “Saturday” of the soul. Maybe something (even someone) in your life has died. Maybe something needs buried. Maybe you need to let go. Maybe you are confused, disillusioned…wondering what has happened, what went wrong, why whatever has happened has happened. Saturday is a time of reflection. It’s a time of rest. It’s a time of ending something but something new not yet beginning.

But the Good news is, Saturday’s come and go, like every other day and season. And the next season is one of new life, new joy, new hope. It’s a resurrection season, a time of new beginnings. But understand, this is why Saturday is so important. Before something new comes forth, something old has to not only die, but be buried. It has to be let go of. You have to entrust it into God’s care and keeping. And then…well, the hardest part of all…you have to wait on his perfect timing.

God has a way of resurrecting old dreams. He has a way of faithfully fulfilling every promise…even one’s that seem hopeless, impossible and over. He has a way of bringing forth new life, in place of the old. He has a way of turning “Saturday’s” into “Sunday’s.” It’s a principle in the natural world and it is also a principle in the spiritual realm.

If you would like to hear more on this, listen to one of my favorite sermons I ever preached called: “In Between Friday and Sunday was Saturday.” Just click on the link to that title and let God do a new work in your heart and life as you wait upon Him to fulfill His promises, which are “yes and amen” in Christ!

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. -John 12:23-25

The 3 “It is Finished” Statements

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. -John 19:30

The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!” -Revelation 16:17

He 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.”He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. -Revelation 21:5-6

Today, on Good Friday, we remember perhaps the greatest three words besides “He is Risen.” It’s the words that precede that event that come from the lips of Jesus on the cross: “It is Finished.”

Jesus paid in full the price for my sin and your sin and the sin of the world. I like to put it this way: Do you know what “It is finished” means in Greek or really any language for that matter? Wait for it…it is really profound…it means “It is finished!”

You might laugh, but I put it that way to make a point: one of the hardest things for us to truly accept is the simplest of all truths. Jesus death is truly sufficient to atone for all our sin. Therefore, there is no need for any further sacrifice, ritual, or good work to gain us acceptance with God! No sacrifice prior or after is or ever will be sufficient. It was why Jesus had to come and what He came for. He was the only One who could make the perfect sacrifice being only He lived a perfect life. This is why it is called Good Friday and why we call it the Good News!

However, did you know this is not the last time the phrase “It is finished” is used? While the sacrifice for sin to make possible our salvation, redemption, forgiveness and reconciliation with God was finished; the reality is there are many still living apart from God, evil still is at work in the world and heaven has not come to earth. There are more things “yet to be done.”

The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!” -Revelation 16:17

The book of Revelation is a glimpse into the future. It details in shockingly vivid and prophetic language judgment that will come on the world. Why will such severe judgment come on the world? Because many reject the only salvation there is: faith in Jesus Christ. Because of this rejection of His suffering in their place, there must be justice and judgment. Because of a refusal to accept God’s mercy that was made available because of God’s wrath wrought on His Son, the world will experience the wrath of God instead of the grace of God. Evil must be punished. The earth must be purified for it has been corrupted. While we remember the darkness of that day when Jesus died for us, there is yet another darkness to come for those who reject Him. That too will be perfect and complete. However, you do not want to be one in that position. Embrace Jesus’ “It is finished” declaration!

He 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.”He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. -Revelation 21:5-6

Just as after Jesus bore the wrath of God for our sin and then rose from the dead to newness of life, so too will the earth, after being judged, experience the renewal of God. Even though Jesus opened the way for us to enter heaven, the kingdom of heaven has not fully come on earth. However, that time will come! The King will return. The kingdom of God will be established. Peace, Righteousness, Joy, Blessing, Justice…all that is right and true will finally be the reality on earth, as it is in heaven. While we experience or see “in-breakings” or glimpses of this at times now; there is a fullness yet to come. Once more Jesus will say “It is Done.” This time not in regard to sin being atoned for, but all things being made new and right as was always meant to be!

It is Finished: Sin has been atoned for…for all who will believe.

It is Done: Judgment will be complete…for those who will not believe.

It is Done: Jesus will make all things new and His kingdom will come…on earth as it is in heaven!

If you will embrace the first “It is finished” you will be spared the second and experience the third. But if you reject the first, you will experience the second and never know the joy of the third.

While all three of these tasks are tasks alone Jesus has done or will do, let me conclude with one task that is left undone that we are called to do.

 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -Matthew 28:18-20

This is the current and present task of the Church! Before judgment will come, God is giving opportunity for all to hear the Gospel and be saved. Before Jesus will come, all must hear. Therefore, it is up to you and I to be focused on completing this one main task: Going into all the world and sharing the Good News. This is why we are here. We are here to be his witnesses in all the world. There is still much work left to do. Let us be faithful therefore, as our Savior is faithful to finish what He begins!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. -Hebrews 12:1-3

 ***If you are looking for a way to be involved in truly fulfilling the Great Commission, check out the mission organization I help lead called ServeNow. I would love to connect with you and discuss further. Our main website is: www.weservenow.org. There is also a special division within ServeNow called MediaServe, which specializes in Bible distribution and other innovative Gospel literature that is reaching millions of people around the world: www.mediaserve.org.

What is Truth?

It may be standing right in front you.

“Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, Are you the King of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”…”My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” You are a king then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews…Do you want me to release “the king of the Jews?” They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion. -John 18:33-40

There is so much in this passage. I wanted to post something today on Good Friday, that might not be as emphasized as other things and yet is extremely relevant. This conversation between Pilate and Jesus and Pilate and the crowd is still taking place within our own culture and world today. For example:

1. Jesus still presses each of us personally whether we truly believe He is King not merely of the Jews, but of the world. Do we “own” our faith in Him or is it just “others idea’s that we have heard?” Have you wrestled with the claims of Jesus and person of Jesus and come to acknowledge and confess the truth of who He is? Is He your king?

2. He is a king unlike any other king and his kingdom is different than any other earthly kingdom. It is interesting to note that even Jesus’ own original disciples struggled with this then, as many of us still do now. Initially, Peter did draw his sword and they were going to fight in the garden when Judas came with soldiers to betray and arrest Jesus. Jesus however, told Peter to put away his sword and even brought about healing where damage had been inflicted by his own disciple. Today, many of us still look for a mere earthly political solution rather than really realizing the problem of the world is a spiritual one; an issue of the heart. We end up harming and doing damage to others, treating them only as enemies to be fought with, rather than people who need to find redemption in Christ. We put our trust in worldly weapons, thinking bombs rather than bibles are the answer; or that the right government is the answer rather than the kingdom of God.

3. The only truth many want to live by today is that “there is no truth” or “all truth is relevant” or you need to find and live by “your own truth.” However, Jesus was quite clear: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” The only truth is found in Jesus. While many ask, like Pilate, “What is truth?” they fail to see it standing right in front of them. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. There is plenty of empirical evidence to substantiate this claim. The issue however is one of the will and a spiritual blindness. We want to be our own Kings, rather than submit to the One True and Good King. Yet this is the very reason Jesus came into the world: to testify to the truth. If we do not listen to him we are rejecting truth and walking in darkness. If we do listen to him we come into the light and are embracing truth. Truth does exists and it resides in the person of Jesus Christ himself. In the theology of the fifth Gospel (Star Wars!): there is a light side and a dark side. Rejecting Jesus (not listening to him) leads to the dark side.

4. Because of this, we seek alternatives…and rebel. We substitute life (Jesus) for death (Barabbas). When Jesus is rejected something else is always embraced and granted access into our lives. Other philosophies, religions, political ideologies or even otherwise good things become idols in our lives. We all fill our lives with something. Either the Son of God reigns as King in our lives or the son of man (which is what the name Barabbas means), which is really humanism (we are our own gods) reigns. One is the path of life, the other celebrates and leads to a culture of death.

5. In fact, it is the rejection of truth (Jesus) that opens the door to injustice. The crowd demanded Jesus be crucified. Today, the masses also do not want Jesus as their King. Pilate gave into the crowd out of political pressure. Today, many political parties are still persecuting Christ by clamping down on His Church, which is his body. Barabbas was a criminal but went free; Jesus was innocent yet was condemned. When we reject truth, we are rejecting that which is good and this does, whether intended or not, open the door for injustice. That which is good is called evil and that which is evil is called good (Isaiah 5:20). Pure goodness, absolute truth, abundant life, true justice, real redemption and complete salvation are only found in Jesus. To reject him, is to distort and diminish the power and purity of all that is right, true and good.

However, the beauty of our Savior is that despite our rebellion and rejection, he turned what was intended as harm, into something that provided the only means of reconciliation with God. Our rejection of him opened the door for God’s acceptance of us. His sacrifice for our sins, made a way for our rebellious hearts to be won over to his loving heart.

What is truth?

The pure truth that the world still needs is Jesus. And He still is standing in front of us today.

What will your verdict be?

God is not in a Hurry

We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. -Hebrews 6:12

This is not an easy article for me to write. I hate waiting. I live in a culture that is also very fast-paced, expects immediate gratification and is results oriented. I am wired this way myself by nature and personality. And while we may think this is “normal” life, it is interesting to note that it is also very much a cultural dynamic. We are actually in the minority, with a very different approach to time than many other cultures who are not as bound to time as we are.

I travel a lot to India for example where being “on time” as we think of it is very unusual. If a time is given of when something will begin, what that really means is that that is the time people will begin to get ready! Also, I quickly learned the expression “two minutes” doesn’t literally mean “two minutes.” In fact the expression “just five more minutes” usually safely translates to about “thirty minutes to one hour!”

I’ve also learned something else that has always puzzled me until being in other cultures like India. That “revelation” is this: Jesus is not operating on American time either! In fact, now I joke when in other cultures that when Jesus said “He is coming soon” he certainly didn’t mean “soon” as Americans think of it!

There is no denying the Western world has seen massive progress and change because of our obsession or emphasize on time. But there is also no denying we greatly stress ourselves out more than other cultures because of our “pace” and “race” to accomplish as much as possible in the shortest amount of time. Also, we have set ourselves up for perhaps greater frustration and disappointment than others because we expect immediate results, solutions, fulfillment, progress and answers.

In fact, most dangerous of all is how this affects our relationship with God. We feel we are so “busy” and “strapped for time” that we “have no time” for God, prayer, His word or simply waiting on him. We also expect immediate answers to prayer and because that doesn’t (or usually?) happen, we conclude prayer often is pointless, a waste of time, doesn’t work or God doesn’t care.

But the truth is this: God is not bound to time like we are. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He is above time and exists beyond time as we know it. He holds eternity in his hands and is Himself the possessor of eternity and giver of eternal life. This is a mystery to us but a reality to Him.

God is also not in a hurry like we are. Think about it. Jesus didn’t enter human history for thousands of years even though humanity was in need of salvation and a perfect Savior from the moment Adam and Eve first sinned in the garden. But Scripture tells us the reason for what appears like a “delay” was rather an issue of perfect timing:  But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Galatians 4:4-5).

Here again: even when He did finally come, Jesus didn’t even begin his public ministry until He was thirty years old! The reason was once again timing. Even His crucifixion and resurrection had “it’s perfect time”:  My hour has not yet come. (John 2:4). My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. (John 7:6).

And think about his earthly ministry. John 21:25 tells us: Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. Jesus accomplished more in three years than many accomplish in thirty; yet do you ever once read of Jesus being panicked or stressed out or in a hurry?

If anyone had an excuse for being “too busy for God” it was Jesus! Yet, what do we find him constantly doing in the midst of his “busyness?” He was constantly “breaking away” from the crowds and “pulling back” to spend more time (not less) with His Heavenly Father. Jesus was never “in a hurry” or “too busy.”

And now it’s been over 2,000 years since He promised to come again and right every wrong. In fact, in regard to Jesus’ second coming and the salvation/judgment he will bring with him, 2 Peter 3:8-9 reminds us: But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Jesus hasn’t returned yet not because he doesn’t care; but preciously because he cares so much! And secondly, what seems like a “long time” for us is not to God who has an entirely different relationship with time than we do. God is never “late” but always acts at just the right moment in just the right way.

God is also not stressed out like we are. We stress because we are impatient and have a lack of trust in God. But Scripture reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:1: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Seasons and timing are so important in every aspect of life. Sales people, athletes, entertainers and so many others will tell you it is all about “timing.” Anyone who has worked in farming or gardening also knows the importance of “seasons” to ensure healthy crops and a harvest. You don’t just plant a seed one day and wake up the next to an abundance of fruit! It takes time.

The same is true in pregnancy. Sometimes you wonder if anything is going on in there and we “can’t wait” for the baby to be born, but every week of pregnancy is essential in so many ways to a healthy child being born. Problems in fact occur when a baby is born “prematurely.” It is so important the baby is “fashioned” and “formed” and is given the time necessary to “develop” in the womb, despite how anxious we are for it to come into our world so we can hold it!

This is a great example by the way, of the fact that God is after something deeper and greater in our lives than we often make a priority. We want results but He is deeply concerned about developing our character and testing our faith to reflect Christ more and for us to become more spiritually mature. How does this happen? One word: (and no it’s not a swear-word!) patience.

The verse I opened this post with reminds us that faith was not the only thing by which the Biblical “hero’s” of the faith inherited what God promised them. There is a second equally important quality that enabled them to possess in reality what God spoke to them: perseverance or patience.

I don’t know about you, but faith doesn’t bother me like patience does! There is a reason for this. The very word patience actually means “to suffer long.” The King James version in fact translates “patience” as “long-suffering.” There is a “pain” in patience or we could say “waiting is painful!” But as Thomas Paine, an iconic American Revolution figure once wrote: “Yet we have this consolation with us, the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”

Take a look at pretty much every character in the Bible and even in real life. Their success, accomplishments or fulfillment of God’s promises to them had one thing in common: it took time! While we can read the life-stories of characters like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David and others in one sitting, the reality is they went through a long, hard, grueling process of possessing God’s promises.

Abraham had to wait about twenty-five years from the time God made a promise to him to actually seeing the first-fruits of that become reality. By the way, there is a great but sobering lesson in Abraham’s story. Perhaps growing impatient or tired of waiting, Abraham decided he should try to “help God” and force something that was meant to be supernatural to happen through merely human effort and natural means. The result of that decision brought problems into their marriage and consequences of conflict down this very day for future generations and entire nations! (Read Genesis 16).

Joseph suffered for 13 years before being promoted as prince of Egypt and seeing his dreams become reality. Those 13 years prior may have seemed pointless and utterly confusing being completely opposite what God promised him, but they did have their purpose in refining and building his character and preparing him for greatness.

Moses and the Israelite’s went through an awful lot of conflict and confrontation with Pharaoh before being set free from their slavery in Egypt. Joshua had to fight battle after battle to take possession of the promise land. David though anointed king at a young age, faced years of being on the run and in hiding from the jealousy of his predecessor.

We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. -Hebrews 6:12

There are so many others we could speak of but here is the point: God has the power to fulfill his promises in an instant, but they do not come about instantly the moment he speaks them or reveals them to us. In fact, he often waits until humanly speaking it becomes impossible! He does this both to test our faith but also develop our character. God’s ultimate purpose is not our fulfillment but our becoming more like Jesus. And if you are anything like me, the fruit or character trait of patience is one area I still have a lot of need to grow in. So my prayer is that God will hurry up and do it quickly! (Just kidding…well…kind of).

But don’t miss the real danger. This “gap” between the promise and fulfillment is the place the enemy would like to plant doubts, discouragement, despair and disillusionment. We get excited about God’s promises (rightly so because they are awesome!). And we look forward to the fulfillment (again rightly so because it is exciting!). But we often fail to see the process and think about the space between the promises and the fulfillment. We also fail to see the point or purpose during that “gap.” It makes us uncomfortable and agitated (like pregnancy!).

But that “gap” is just as important for reasons that granted are harder to discern or understand. But this is where the “real growth” takes place. This is where character is refined and developed. This is where our faith is tested and stretched. This is where our trust in God is proven as genuine. This is what makes the fulfillment all the “sweeter.”

Don’t give up! Don’t lose heart or faith in God! Trust him even when you don’t understand what He is doing. Exercise not only faith…but patience. For if you do, you will see the power of God and bring glory to His great name, becoming a testimony, example and blessing to many others of his faithfulness!

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”  Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. -Romans 4:18-21

Serving Refugee’s

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world...I was a stranger and you invited me in… “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you a stranger and invite you in?… “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” -Matthew 25:31-46

There is such a heated political debate and division occurring in America right now, over the “hot-button” issue of refugee’s and immigrants. There are very strong emotions being expressed on Facebook and other social media outlets. It is the current “crisis” of the last few years, but there is strong difference of opinion on how we ought to respond (or not respond). Some are fearful and concerned about safety and security. Others are outraged over policy deemed “anti-immigrant” or “anti-Muslim” or even an “Anti-Christian” attitude.

It is not my purpose in this article to wade into the political debate or policy decisions. My only comments are that first of all, the conversation should not be reduced to mere “politics” because we are talking about real people. 

Secondly, national security and personal compassion do not need to be mutually exclusive.

Thirdly, there is some truth on both sides, but also extremes and hysteria on both “sides” that are divorced from reality and facts.

Fourthly, there is a difference between the role of government (punish those who do wrong, reward those who do good, protect it’s citizens: Romans 13:1-6) and the role of the church (Fulfill the Great Commission: Matthew 28:18-20). Christians are both citizens of a specific earthly country with laws, but we cannot forget we are most of all part of an eternal, heavenly kingdom. What really breaks my heart, are the number of self-professing Christians who seem more passionate and engaged in politics than the Great Commission and more concerned about an earthly kingdom than the eternal kingdom and people’s eternal destiny. (That is not to say Christians shouldn’t be engaged in politics as citizens, but just look at your posts on Facebook. Are they more about politics or a passion for the Great Commission?).

It is also not my purpose to communicate all the statistics regarding this unprecedented refugee crisis, because this is not about mere statistics but actual people. I just got back three weeks ago from meeting some of these real people in Ukraine. In fact, as I write this, some of the very people we met right inside a key city in the war-zone in Eastern Ukraine, are being forced to evacuate and have gone days without food, water, heat or electricity. The city has come under heavy attack and now more will be without a home. I have been watching video’s of them crying as they leave their homes and don’t know if they will ever be able to come back or if they will have a home to come back to, or what their future will hold. I have seen a video of the evacuation of one of the very families we just gave gifts too and met with in that very home they are now leaving. Their lives are not easy and the pain is real. Many of the kids have lost not only their homes, but their father’s in war. Many women have lost not only their home, but their husbands.

But anyway, there are just two main things I wish to communicate in this article. The first is that we are called to take care of the orphan, widow, poor and refugee. There is no doubt about this in Scripture. And if you don’t like hearing that because you are tired of being made to feel guilty if you don’t; I offer no apologies, because you may be experiencing what the Bible calls “conviction”, which is God’s gracious way of calling you to repentance. Repentance means to have a change of mind and heart.

How can I state that so boldly or confidently? Please notice that in the verses I opened this article with, which has a larger context than the portion I quoted, (see end of article for full context), Jesus takes it personally the way we treat others, especially those most in need. One of those groups of people he is particularly sensitive towards, are “strangers” or those without a home. What Jesus himself is telling us in this passage is that one way that the people of the nations of the world will be judged or rewarded, is by the way we treat refugee’s or the homeless (which don’t forget Jesus himself was once a refugee; he had no “home” during his earthly ministry and at his birth there was “no room” for him either).

In other words, regardless of whether we profess to be Christians (a Christ-follower), one way that is proven or dis-proven is by how we treat, serve, love and embrace those in need, such as refugee’s. Our attitude and actions towards others reveals whether our heart is actually opened or closed to Jesus himself.

But be careful! Even for those of us who say we care; notice we won’t be judged or rewarded based on what we say, but what we actually do. Scripture is quite clear and quite blunt that “faith without deeds is dead” (meaning it does not exist and is not real and you are deceiving yourself).

To be honest, one big reason I left pastoring a church for six years was because I got tired of preaching and teaching week in and week out, but seeing very little action. Oh, there were plenty of opinions shared (especially political), internal quarreling and debates over non-essential issues (homeschooling, worship-style, end-time positions); but very little actual collective change in our lives, impact in the community and around the world (there were of course some beautiful exceptions).

But the reality is, church to many of us in the US is only about coming to a service once a week (or less), listening to a sermon, singing a few songs, and then going on with our “real lives.” In many cases there is very little collective passion for prayer, for the Word of God, missions, evangelism and discipleship (which is what the church is to be all about!), but a lot of focus on non-essentials, church buildings and politics. Again, there are of course many wonderful exceptions (both churches and individuals). But I got bothered by the fact that when I looked at what ServeNow was doing (a brand new-organization at that time) with so little, and what we were doing with so much (and being a 150 year old church); ServeNow was impacting more people around the world in one week than we were in one year! Here I was just talking about serving and fulfilling the Great Commission while they were actually doing it!

So that brings me to this. It is easy to post about the homeless, vets, or refugee’s and give our political opinions or debate policy. But what are you actually doing?  Get involved. Give. Go. Do something. If we are a Christian, regardless of our political views and safety concerns or security fears, we are called to show compassion to those in need. It is not an option, it is a command and it’s something Jesus takes very, very personally. How we speak and treat others is evidence of what is in our heart and what our real relationship is or isn’t with Jesus. Our problem is not really with people but with Jesus himself if we are unwilling to lift a finger to help.

Also, if we are calling ourselves a Christian, we should not have the attitude of “America only” or mindset of “there are people in need in America so why should we help those in other countries?” This isn’t an either/or issue and that attitude reveals we simply don’t understand the very core, heart and call of a follower of Jesus or his Church. We are first of all Christ-followers. And at the very core of the Gospel is that God so loved the world (John 3:16)…not just “our country.” Jesus calls us to go into all the world and do good to all people, even our enemies (Matthew 28:18-20, Galatians 6:10, Matthew 5:43-48). It’s not a point of discussion or debate, it’s an issue of obedience, flowing out of God’s love activated in your own heart and life. Yes, let it start right where you are at, but heaven forbid it stops here! Jesus was clear to his disciples, that they would be his witnesses beginning right where they were, but also going on out from there, to the very ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

So, having said that, if you are still reading and aren’t angry with me (although perhaps the anger is really towards Jesus and the Scripture), and you want to do something or get involved, let me give you some very specific, practical and needed ways right now with helping refugee’s through ServeNow. (PS…there are many other organizations doing great things too. I admit that I am biased being that I lead this mission organization! But the issue is not whether it’s “with us” or others; what matters is that we all simply act in one way or another!).

One way is immediate physical aid for refugee’s. In just 24 hours I have been so blessed by the generous outpouring of God’s people when this need in Ukraine was made known, which will make it possible to serve thousands of people in immediate need! At the moment of writing this we are providing food, clothes and other necessities to refugee families: https://weservenow.org/donate/disaster-relief/

But we cannot just think “immediate.” We must also think “long-term.” We have staff on the ground and partner closely with churches to follow-up and keep working with people we serve. I wrote to our staff today, how thankful I am for them, that they are there before a crises, during a crises and after a crises! Many times “we” move on or the news moves on; but there is still ongoing need and other needs. So here are some ways to invest beyond the “immediate” in the months to come:

Sponsor sending refugee kids this year to one of our summer camps in Ukraine to help them emotionally, spiritually and psychologically and allow them to simply be kids. We have been hosting camps for the past couple of years, but the need and situations have become more and more heart-wrenching and heart-breaking because of the conflict. One couple that was with us in Ukraine caught the vision for this and has already promised to sponsor one entire camp. They would love if their gift would make possible one more camp than we did last year, in order to serve more kids: https://weservenow.org/donate/summer-camps/

Another is these special animals that are more than just stuffed animals; they contain a solar-powered audio device with the Bible and Bible stories on it in their language (Arabic or Ukrainian!): https://weservenow.org/donate/refugee-animalbible-project/

Another is Bibles and other evangelistic/discipleship resources. People are very open to the Good News of Jesus right now! We want to help train others as well to overcome fear and share the Gospel with refugees. Our materials are being used in the Middle East and among refugee’s in Europe. We are also working on translating other evangelistic/discipleship material into other languages to reach more in their native language: https://weservenow.org/donate/mediaserve/

And yet one more is providing life skill training opportunities for refugees. One dream of our Ukrainian director is to open a cosmetology “school” for refugee’s, with the teacher herself being a refugee! We would need $2,500 to begin with four girls this year: https://weservenow.org/donate/anti-trafficking/

One of the biggest ways however, you could help right now is by spreading the word about what ServeNow is doing. There is no end of opportunity and possibility. We have people on the ground ready to spring into action. We are able to serve Ukrainian refugee’s, Syrian refugee’s and refugee’s in Europe from various countries. We just need more partners and desperately need others to help raise awareness in their circles, networks, churches and among family and friends. We would be happy to provide all the information and tools you might need to engage others.

Lastly, but most importantly, please pray. There is no denying that times I have either asked people to specifically pray or people do pray, things happen. Doors open. The work moves forward. One specific prayer point right now is in regard to a group of leaders that we have just pulled together from various organizations in Colorado Springs. We are in the initial phases of exploring how we can partner together, combine our strengths and mobilize the church to take action in a way that makes a greater impact among refugee’s than what we could do alone. Please pray for God’s leading and direction; that He will show us exactly what to do, bring together those meant to come together and direct our steps, conversation and actions.

I will end with this statement and these questions: with all my heart I believe we are all here at this time in human history “For Such a Time as This.” But when you look at the world what do you see? Do you see only problems or opportunity to show and share the love of God with our neighbors and those in need? When you look at the masses of refugee’s do you feel only fear or compassion? I plead with you, see what Jesus see’s. Feel what Jesus feels. And do what Jesus has called us to do. Not everyone can do everything; but every one of us can do something. And that will matter to someone. Oh, and most of all to Jesus who treats it as if it was done unto him.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

-Jesus, Matthew 25:31-46

2017 Ukraine Mission Trip

I just returned from leading a team of 10 from the US (including my wife and oldest daughter!) on a fantastic mission trip to Ukraine.

What made this trip more meaningful for me as someone on the “inside” of ServeNowwas the fact that we witnessed a literal miracle revolving around the 7,000 Christmas Gifts that we were a part of giving out. Ukraine celebrates Christmas on the Orthodox calendar, which falls on January 7th. Therefore, giving out these gifts to orphans, refugee’s, soldiers, elderly people, children with disabilities, Roma families and others in need was a central aspect of this trip. These gifts are not just a few toys for fun for kids; but also have needed hygienic items, clothing, knitted hats etc.

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However, not long before we were due to arrive, I got word from our Ukrainian Directors that there was a real possibility of the gifts not being able to get through customs on time, due to several issue’s outside of our control. This would have been quite devastating not only for the team coming, but for all the kids and others, many of whom either have never received a Christmas gift before, or otherwise would not apart from these gifts. Long story short, we sent out a request to some prayer warriors to pray about this situation and God answered their prayers! First, we got a meeting with the top customs official (a miracle in itself that does not happen, especially the way it did for us, and at just the right timing) and secondly, he actually gave the order to have the gifts released in time! One day later of meeting with him (he had been out of the country prior) and it would have been too late.

Anyway, our travel schedule was quite intense, from a nine hour flight, to immediately an overnight train ride, to arriving and going directly into the war-zone in Eastern Ukraine where we could hear gun-fire only a few miles away! That day was spent giving soldiers Christmas gifts and sharing the Gospel with them, visiting families still inside the war zone, where bullet holes could be seen around their property and homes/buildings where bombed out.

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Our guides were quite the interesting characters who loved to laugh and joke around; but much of their humor was to keep sane in the midst of an oppressive war-zone. In fact, the day we drove in, it was very cold, and the sky was grey and dreary; a fitting scene that captured the reality of war. They themselves had seen and deal with an awful lot of stress, danger and death. But they also helped bring to safety over 1,600 people when the conflict first broke out in the area we were in. They did this by taking out 40 people at a time, in a van that could barely fit our team, with our luggage! We heard how families had about 30 minutes to gather whatever they could hold in a box from their homes and get on the van, not knowing whether they would (or will) ever be able to come back to their homes again. Many homes, in fact are already destroyed.

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But one of the most touching stories of the day was a family we visited, made up of two boys and their grandparents. The grandmother was beside herself with emotion from the moment we arrived until we left. Later, we found out the reason why. The boys mother had been killed during the conflict. The boy’s father had deserted. The grandfather had had a stroke not long ago and is incapable of working. Therefore, the grandmother has been working three low-paying jobs to try to provide for the family. Not long before our visit, they finally were able to have heat turned on. The grandmother so desperately wanted to provide some type of Christmas for her grandsons, but was unable too; until ServeNow served up! The team also had a chance to pray for her and the family.

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Day 2 was spent in Khearson, in village schools, where no local church exists. For many it was the first time they had ever met Americans or have had visitors from America! A couple hundred kids were given gifts and the Gospel was shared with them all through one of the team members and the program the Ukrainian volunteer’s put on for them.

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In the evening a team member shared her testimony and we gave out gifts to about 100 elderly women.

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We learned from some of them that they had been at this facility since they were 18 years old. Many never have any visitors, even from family. It is one of the sad aspects of Ukrainian society (really from the former Soviet Union days), especially for orphans who upon going through state-run orphanages, are on their own at the age of 18. Only 2-3% go on to live meaningful lives. The rest, 98%, end up in prostitution, alcoholism, human trafficking, hopelessness, very low-paying jobs etc. Much of this has to do with not having learned a marketable skill. This is why, later in the trip, when we visited the girls at our bakery, the significance of that became all the more special and real.

However, during our two days in Khearson, we also visited kids and teenagers, who while having physical disabilities, were a true delight to be with! My aunt had the opportunity to share about her son, my cousin, who also was born with many physical challenges that he fought through his whole life. She reminded them that they are special, bring much joy to others and God loves them. Some of the older kids were also kids that had been at our summer camps this past year! This was all the more special considering these kids never get outside their building, let alone community. The team not only gave out gifts, but also did some crafts and games with them. Also, it was exciting to see some of the new wheelchairs ServeNow has been able to provide for many of these kids. Wheelchairs are something we may take for granted, but in Ukraine they are too expensive for an average person to buy, and many of the one’s the kids did have were very old and very hard to get around on.

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We also spent time visiting families in their homes, who have children with physical disabilities, and giving them Christmas gifts! One of the things we noticed was how many of the homes were in rough shape, very small and often with a strong odor. Life is not easy for many people in various parts of Ukraine, especially those who have kids with disabilities. But many of the families had an obvious deep love for their kids or siblings!

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After a very long (17 hour!) train ride to Lviv, we spent the first part of the day doing a little sightseeing of this historical and cultural city. Later, we celebrated Ukrainian Christmas with other believers at a church, where I also had the opportunity to preach. Afterwards, we visited a facility for elderly people. We broke up into small groups and went around visiting with some of the people and giving them Christmas gifts. We heard many sad stories that day, especially of how for some, no family members come to visit. (read more here from my dad’s article: From the Eyes of a Team Member).

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That night, we drove to Uzghorod, where the next day we got to meet our bakery students! Some of the girls from the first group where also there to meet and “show off” their very, very tasty treats they prepared for us!! Being it was Sunday morning, I preached again at a church that morning, that is connected to the Bakery space we rent out from the church.

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The next day, we were able to spend the morning with the bakery students. One of our team members, Rebecca, taught them how to bake white-chocolate chip cookies! The girls also baked on their own (without help from their teacher!) more treats for our team. During this time, we also had an opportunity to interview some of the girls and hear their stories, which were incredibly precious and beautiful.

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For example, one girl, Laura, told us how she grew up going from orphanage to orphanage. When she was 17 however, a woman that God has raised up in Ukraine with a big heart for girls who have no place to go after orphanages, took her in, along with the other girls she takes care of in similar situations. For years, these girls had been praying to be able to open a bakery where they could learn to bake and then sell their baked goods to produce an income. Laura told us, that even from a young age, this was actually her dream. A year and a half ago, God used ServeNow to answer the prayers of these girls hearts! And each of them clearly see this as God’s love for them and answer to the desires of their heart!

That afternoon/evening we spent giving gifts out within a Roma village. The Roma people are gypsies people who have migrated from Northern India. They have been looked down upon by Ukrainian society and live in very, very poor, slum-like conditions. We also were shocked and saddened to find out for ourselves, as we visited from house to house, how many relatively young mothers, of many children, had been raped repeatedly, from within the community. There is absolutely no future hope for the young girls in this type of environment if they are not able to be taken out and provided a skill. That is another reason, besides orphan girls, our bakery is so vital and making such a big difference in the live of young girls. Several Roma girls are a part of the bakery program!

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After another long train ride, we ended our trip in Irpin, a city just outside of Kiev. In just the last couple of years, Irpin has seen a dramatic change in it’s population. Before the conflict with Russia, it was a population of 40,000 people. Today it is 100,000 people; 60,000 being refugee families! Therefore, our team spent the afternoon giving out gifts to refugee families.

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One of the other special things about this day was the fact that we were able to give another unique gift to many of these kids. A group of people had made it possible through their financial gifts, for us to take 25 stuffed animals with us, that aren’t just regular stuffed animals. These have within the stomach pouch, a solar-powered audio device that contains the Bible in Russian, and stories from the Bible in kid-friendly format! We pray that these Bibles, along with some of the other 20,000 Ukrainian New Testaments that we were able to ship in prior to visit and gave a portion out to people, will bear much lasting fruit in the years to come.

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I want to end this blog article with a few notes. First of all, as with all ServeNow trips, we are just a small part of a much bigger process and story. The people we visited and gave gifts too were not just visited this one time and then forgotten about. In fact, for some, we have already been working with them over a period of time in different ways. For all, there will be follow-up through our staff, volunteer’s and local pastors/churches.

One of those ways, could be one of several summer camps we hope to host this year. Last year we hosted three camps. The year before we hosted two. This year, we hope to perhaps even host four. One couple that went on the trip has promised us that if we can find funding for the first three camps ($70,000) they will sponsor an entire fourth camp! However, we will need a lot of help to reach that goal of $70,000 to serve over 200 kids at three camps. That number may seem overwhelming, but it basically costs $300 to sponsor one kid. Maybe you, your church, home group, youth group, Sunday School class, or other group could sponsor a child or several children? (donate here). We also take teams from the US/UK to be a part of these camps. One team is already filled! But there is room for more! (read more here).

Secondly, we need a bigger space for our bakery. The contract for our rental is up in April. The space we currently have can only fit three girls at a time. Therefore, our class is made up of only 6 girls (taking shifts) at a time. However, our dream is to be able to purchase a building space where up to 20 girls at a time could be trained, a cafe could be opened for the girls to sell from, and bread could be baked and sent to serve refugee’s and people caught in the war-zone! Please pray for this need to be met!

We are humbled to realize that we can be the hands and feet of Jesus in the country of Ukraine, bringing His message of hope, peace, joy and eternal life to thousands of people! I invite you to join us in seeing and being a part of what God is doing all around the world, where the need is greatest (www.weservenow.org).

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Family/Ministry Update

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.” -Psalm 107:1

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ve had it on my heart to write a little family/ministry update…as we truly do have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. God has been good and it is comforting to know his faithful love does and will endure forever!

About a month ago, we became owners of our first home since being married! We absolutely love it, the area, and Lauren is still going crazy making it “our home.” We would love to have visitors if you are ever in or make a trip out to Colorado! Colorado is so beautiful; you can’t beat living right by the mountains! Every weekend I am home we have tried to get out hiking somewhere with the kids and the views are just breath-taking and refreshing to the soul. The beauty of God displayed in creation is awesome!

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It has almost been two years now that we have joined with ServeNow and I continue to be amazed at how many lives are being impacted around the world through this little organization staff wise and relatively small but generous donor base. Last year alone we served over a quarter million people in some specific way among the poorest of the poor! I can truly identify now with the apostle John when he wrote at the end of his Gospel account: Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:25). We receive far more stories than we are able to communicate or know what to do with in just 3 ½ years, which also happens to be the exact time frame of Jesus’ ministry before being crucified and resurrected!

One highlight this year has been bringing in a partner organization as a division of ServeNow. In 2015 they published and distributed just under two million Bibles or biblical resource material! Right now we are working on sending a second round of 50,000 Bibles to Burma (for Buddhist monks who want to study from them!), a couple thousand Bibles into Israel for Russian speaking Jewish people, and we are working on a NT translation in Farsi to reach Iranian/Afghanistan immigrants in Europe! (We also have some of our Basic Series booklets in Arabic to reach refugee’s as well). The possibilities for the future and open doors for the sake of the Gospel are wide open and we are praying hard for God to open heaven wide to provide the resources needed to go through those doors!

But back on another family note; Lauren and Ava, our oldest daughter, are going to be able to go on a mission’s trip with me and 7 others to Ukraine this coming January!!! Lauren and Ava have raised all the finances they need for their trip through family and then Facebook friends who saw a video her and Ava did regarding the remaining funds they needed! We are so grateful and blown away by the generosity of God’s people! During this trip, we will be giving out Christmas gifts to orphans, refugee’s, disabled people and elderly lonely adults. We covet your prayers as we prepare for that trip, that we might truly be an expression of God’s love for those we are going to serve!

Lastly, I would just like to mention four specific unique opportunities this holiday season through ServeNow.

  • In order to distribute 7,000 Christmas gifts in Ukraine this Christmas (their Christmas is celebrated January 7th) we will need to raise $10,000. This works out to only $1.50 per gift!!! Just recently as I was sharing at a church, a boy of about 10 years old came up to me afterwards and handed me a one dollar bill and .50 cents in spare change. That may not seem like much; but that is one person who may end up receiving their first and possibly only Christmas gift in their life! Maybe you can not only personally help us…but get creative and involve others! Maybe your church would like to take on X number of gifts. Maybe your home group, youth group, Sunday School class, business or community. Let’s make this a Christmas to remember for those who have nothing and nobody to share the love of Jesus with! If interested you can donate here: Ukraine Christmas Gifts.
  • Another extremely time sensitive opportunity is the possibility of those of us going to Ukraine taking with us 20 stuffed animals for refugee children in Ukraine. But these are not just ordinary stuffed animals! Inside their stomach pouch is a solar powered audio device with the Bible in their language along with bible lessons and stories for kids!!! And it won’t just be the child who receives the animal that benefits from hearing God’s word; but the whole family and possibly even other families! Imagine how much joy you could bring a refugee child who has lost everything through a stuffed animal and God’s word! But in order for us to give them out during our trip we have to place an order before the end of November: Refugee Stuffed Animals.
  • Just the other day I received an e-mail from one of our partner pastors. He pastors an Arabic speaking congregation in Sweden, as he is originally from Egypt. In fact, he is from the same area where the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians were from who were beheaded on a beach in Syria by ISIS. (He even has at his church former ISIS soldiers who have come to Christ and been water-baptized!). He was requesting that we help provide Christmas gifts (food, clothes and Christmas gifts) to children living in poverty in Egypt. These are kids as young as 12 who are unfortunately engaging even in prostitution or child labor. They and their families feel forgotten, forsaken and that no one cares about them. They would like to help 1,000 families this Christmas. It will cost $25,000 or $25.00 per family. If you would like to donate in this way click here but be sure to put in memo “Gifts for Egypt
  • Lastly, I was in India again this October with a friend from Colorado. One of things we were a part of was providing winter coverings for those most in need this winter. My prayer is that we can serve another 1,000 people in Northern India/Nepal with winter coverings by year end. Every $100 provides warmth this winter to ten people! Or, here is another way to think about it; the last day we were in India, we were in a slum area speaking in the local church. However, before the service my heart was drawn to the people in that community living in tents. There are so many little “communities” like that one where through just $500 you could serve a whole community of 50 people! The reality is ministry costs money, but it’s not about money. It’s about how even a little can make a real difference and open tremendous opportunities to share the Gospel!

In fact, just the other day our National Director in India sent me the following story and picture of an 8 year old boy: He has spent the last 6 years or more in the streets of Hyderabad, India until he was rescued and put into an AIDS hospice. His condition was critical from malnutrition but with treatment he is coming around. When we met him, he was scared and sad with pain all over his little body. But as he saw us presenting blankets to all the patients, talking to them and praying for them, he became friendly. In fact he went to the other rooms in the hospital proudly wearing his new jacket and hat given to him by ServeNow! Before we left, he learned to say “Thank You” as he heard it many times from other people telling us the same.

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If you would like to help towards this goal, click here and please encourage your friends or family to get involved and give generously this holiday season too: Winter Coverings.

Thank you for taking the time to read this little update. We are blessed by your friendship, support, prayers, encouragement, trust and generosity. Making this move has really opened our eyes to the faithfulness of God through his people and possibilities for serving literally millions of people around the world through some incredible opportunities and open doors. It is my personal dream that in 30 years, we would be able to say that we were able to do something for the sake of the Gospel in every country of the world. Sounds crazy. Sounds big. But nothing is impossible or too big for God! His heart after all is for ALL the world is it not? So why shouldn’t ours be as well?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” -Jesus, John 3:16

Mission Trip Report: Seeing God

I just returned from my 12th trip to India, and our national director in India summed it up well: For the past 9 days, our international team has been on a whirlwind tour of 5 locations, ministering to 200 pastors and leaders through seminars on launching The Basic Series, and providing winter covering for 500 old and young people who live in vulnerable and harsh situations. We had a fantastic time meeting and interacting with pastors at the seminars, visiting with the children at our lighthouse centers, graduating the skills training students and conducting a medical clinic for more than 100 patients in a rural area.

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Obviously, there is much more that could be said, but I have it on my heart to write a “different” kind of report. Instead of focusing on what we did, I want to focus on how we saw God on this trip. My prayer for this entire trip began at the airport with the prayer Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers in Ephesians chapter 1 verse 17: I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

The Christian life is not primarily about our service to the Lord, but our walk with him. It’s not about “doing more”, but knowing him more and better. I want to know him better, and I hope in some small way, as imperfect as it always will be, that others might come to know him who is perfect, better too through me. This was my focus in prayer and in every message that I preached. For all of eternity we will never grow tired of worshiping him, because he is so glorious, so beautiful, so worthy and so holy beyond what we could possibly comprehend! There are such depths of God, and we have barely begun to scratch the surface. There is never a point where we cannot come to know God more and know God better. More than anything, this is what God is after: That our hearts may know his heart, and that we may know him as he knows us.

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As God himself once said through the prophet Jeremiah: This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,”

Usually when I go to India, I am overwhelmed and even find myself despairing over the sheer number of people (1.3 billion people!) and how many are yet to be reached with the Gospel. India actually now has the third largest Christian population in the world but 80% are still unreached! However, this trip was different. I had a strange (supernatural) calm and peace as I “saw” and understood that while it may be overwhelming to me, it’s not to our Sovereign God. He created every single person, he knows every person, and he is able to reach every person (though not all will seek him or turn to him in response). Nevertheless, God has means and ways to draw people to himself, and I witnessed that as we walked among lepers in a colony. It was ironic to think that while some were worshiping gods that are not real at a Hindu temple, the living God was walking in their midst through those of us who came in the name of Jesus, the living and risen Savior!

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Secondly, I saw God in the faces of his people as they worshiped and as they listened to his Word being proclaimed. The beauty of God could be seen on the faces, glowing with childlike joy and yearning for him through their tears as we focused our attention on him and engaged our hearts in the revelation of who he is.

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When we served the poor, I saw God in the smiles of joy. Their genuine, humble gratitude in the simple, but sometimes life-changing, gifts they received. They received the gifts as an evidence of God’s compassion. Whether it was winter coverings to endure the cold winter or basic medicine for their families that they are unable to afford, you could see the tenderness and kindness of God touching their hearts through these small but profound physical gestures that became symbolic of something much deeper that reaches the soul.

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I saw God in the faithfulness, devotion and sacrifices of the pastors. Some of them had traveled as much as 4-5 hours just to be at one of several pastor conferences we arranged. Others labor in very challenging, difficult or even dangerous circumstances. Yet they are passionate, bold and committed in their service to the Lord.

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I saw God in the generosity of those who had made this trip possible. Even though many have never been to India, nor meet the people I met, their hearts have been touched by a generous God who gives abundantly.

I saw God in the children we spent time with. His love for children, especially the orphans and victims of abuse, was obvious in the way they are cared for at our centers and homes for kids. Their playfulness, innocence, laughter and child-like faith, despite all they have been through, truly reflects the heart of God.

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I saw God in our staff as they work long days and long hours, patiently serving those in need. I saw his grace as he takes us as imperfect people and yet works in wonderful ways through his servants to bless others in His Name.

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I saw the God of hope in the eyes of the graduates of our tailoring/cosmetology courses as their new learned skills will help them earn a living. These were girls who never had the opportunity to learn a skill. Many do not have a Christian background, but through these programs they are exposed to a God who has a plan, purpose and future in store for them; a God who pursues their hearts and whose kindness leads them to repentance and faith.

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That is what mission trips and serving the Lord is truly all about. The takeaway should not be what we do, but the beauty of what he has done for us and in us and through us by the Spirit of Christ. Serving God is simply one way to enhance our walk with him and help us come to know him better. Service is not a substitute for relationship, but it provides an opportunity for deeper intimacy with our Savior as we co-labor with him in touching people’s lives!

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Words will always fall short. Even pictures do not do justice. In fact, the best I can say it is simply what Philip said to a skeptical Nathaniel: Come and see. Come and see for yourself! Come and experience for yourself. Come and have your eyes opened to a world in need of God’s love. Come and join where he is working. Come and serve where he is saving. Come and see…and have your walk with God enriched and enhanced as you behold his beauty and glory and witness his heart for the world.

*If you are interested in serving on an upcoming ServeNow mission trip, contact me for more information or visit our website for options: www.weservenow.org/mission-trips.

Terrorism: A Response

I am writing this article on September 11th, 2016…fifteen years to the day that America was attacked by terrorists in the worst terrorist attack in this country’s history. And yet, fifteen years later, terrorism around the world and here at home, is more of a threat than ever.

I just finished reading a fascinating book called The Great War of our Time by a former top CIA officer. Towards the end he poses an interesting question and statement about how military action alone is not going to stop terrorism as it is not dealing with the root issue’s. I believe what he speaks to below is actually the place for the church to step in. As the founder and president of the mission organization I am with has put it: bombs don’t change hearts…but Bibles can. And for those of us who are Christians (followers of Jesus) we can’t cave into fear but need to pray (even for our “enemies”) and take action as God leads us. Note carefully the conclusion this CIA officer comes to:

“To win the war over the longer term, we and our allies must address the issues that create terrorists in the first place. We must address the disease as well as the symptoms. We must undermine the jihadist appeal to disenchanted young Muslims. We must discredit the terrorists’ narrative that hatred and violence are the only mechanisms for dealing with the modern world and the resulting pressures on Islam. This effort essentially requires winning the war of ideas. But it also requires minimizing the number of disenchanted young Muslims through economic and social development. Counter-radicalization is a two-part effort. Counter-radicalization has not been a major focus of the United States since 9/ 11, but action on this front is just as important as action on the intelligence, law enforcement, and military fronts. There have been steps in this direction, but much more needs to be done. Developing the policies to get at the root causes of why young men and some women join terrorist groups has never really gotten off the ground. For every hour that I spent in the Situation Room talking about counter-radicalization, I spent a thousand hours talking about dealing with young men who had already become radicalized. The dollars spent by our government on programs related to counter-radicalization are an infinitesimally small percentage of the government’s overall CT budget. It is not unreasonable to ask, “Why have we not attacked the problem at its roots?”  (Morell, Michael. The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism–From al Qa’ida to ISIS (p. 319). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition).

One of the consequences of especially ISIS is the current refugee crisis. From Syria alone there are five million refugee’s! One simple and special way you can take action is by providing stuffed animals to Syrian refugee children that contain a solar powered audio device in its “stomach pouch” preloaded with the bible and bible lessons and stories…in Arabic!

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This is a practical way you can make a real difference. I encourage you to include your friends, church, home group, homeschool network or Sunday school class in this effort! The root of every issue is spiritual. It truly is a battle for the minds, hearts and souls of men, women and children. Click here to view/print our Flyer for this project: syriananimalbibles or click here to Donate to this special project. It is estimated that 65% of Syrian refugee’s are illiterate, so what a fantastic way to ensure they hear the Good News of the Gospel!

ServeNow is on the front-lines of this truly spiritual war. From other evangelistic and discipleship material to Bibles being sent into Middle Eastern countries (that will remain unnamed here for security purposes) as well as to reach refugee’s in Europe with the Good News; we believe God’s Word is what transforms hearts and lives! You can click here to provide Bibles and other literature around the world in 45 different languages, impacting over 30 countries: Provide Bibles. Or contact me for more details and specific projects you can participate in or make possible!

There is no denying that in the past fifteen years we have continued to see around the world and even here in America (though on a lesser scale than 9/11) one Islamic related terrorist attack after another. My sense is that this is only the beginning and things may very well only get worse. However, that does not mean we should become discouraged, disheartened, paralyzed or crippled by fear. Now is the time to actually serve with a sense of urgency, recognizing that especially among Muslim immigrants and even in the Muslim world in general, God is moving in some extraordinary, supernatural ways! (I write about this a little in this previous article: My Passionate Plea). I know of a church in Europe for example, whose pastor I met earlier this year, that recently water-baptized 21 new believers, who were refugee’s from Muslim countries. Three of them were even former ISIS soldiers! Another used to be a Muslim leader who was one of the worst persecutor of Christians prior to his encounter with Jesus and conversion experience.

God is using the current refugee crises and even terrorist attacks to bring people to himself. For example, when I was pastoring a church in New Jersey, I met a local woman named Jennifer Sands, who shared a few times her story at our church. Her husband was killed on 9/11 as he was at work in the Twin Towers. Yet, through this horrible event, Jennifer eventually came to trust in Christ and now travels around the US and the world sharing her story of God’s redemption. She has even written several books that you can find on her website: www.jennifersands.com.

I would also recommend some other books as resources that I have read this year. One that is secular in nature but helpful in understanding is called: The World in Conflict, Understanding the World’s Trouble Spots. Another to intelligently engage in prayer would be Pray for the World. A few others specifically dealing with terrorism, ISIS and the refugee crisis would be: Defying ISIS and Serving God in an Migrant Crisis and Answering Jihad and also The Mind of Terror.

We must engage our minds and hearts! We must also pray and take specific action as God leads us. It’s cute to say we will never forget but what are you doing to actually make a difference? For example, it may mean befriending Muslims right here all around us. At one of our banquets in NJ earlier this year, one of the attendee’s invited her Muslim friend who came and heard the stories we were sharing of God’s redemption around the world in Christ. This young Muslim girl (dressed in her hijab) even took one of the books we use around the world called The Basic Things You Need to Know About Jesus. Later I found out she had started attending some bible studies as well!

Those same booklets that we use around the world in 13 different languages (Arabic being the most recent!) are available on our website for purchase and use here in the US: Basic Series books. Why not engage people from all nations right here at home while partnering and supporting our efforts around the world? You can give these out and make disciples “here” and “there!”

Let me close with this. Take a moment to read the last chapter or very ending of the book of Acts. Notice, how it never really “ends.” Rather it ends with Paul stating how the Gospel will go to the Gentiles (non-Jewish) and they will listen. You and I live in a time in human history where the Spirit of God is still working through the church and his faithful people! We live in a dangerous but also an exciting time, where men and women, young and old, from every nation are coming to faith in Jesus! We have the opportunity to not only read about bible prophecy but be a part of it coming to pass! Let us not give into fear or stereotypes. Let us also not give into hate or revenge; but let us let our light shine and love even our enemies (Matthew 5). Is this not the example of our wonderful Savior who loved us even while we were still sinners?

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:6-8

 

Why World Missions?

I am concerned about an attitude and mindset that seems to become increasingly popular within the US. It is essentially an anti-world mission mindset that is often expressed along the lines of: We have enough problems of our own, so why should we be involved with missions? Or, sometimes I get asked in regard to the mission organization I am with: Well, what are you doing here in the US?, implying that our work is not valid if we are not (As a side note, I believe that some of our materials would be just as useful and impactful right here in the US as we have witnessed around the world, but it’s a tougher “sell”, because access to resources and materials are unlimited here in comparison to those countries we work in, where they don’t have access sometimes even to Bibles! Also, this mindset reveals a lack of comprehending the much harsher conditions many people in this world live in, the suffering many go through, the struggles they face, especially in comparison to here. Trust me…come on a mission trip with me if you don’t believe me!).

I can certainly understand this type of mindset coming from those who are not followers of Jesus, but it is surprising and sad to find this mindset growing within some circles of believers and churches, especially when this is contrary to even the most basic biblical teaching. The very core of the Gospel message teaches us that God so loved the world (John 3:16) that he sent his Son as Savior, not for just one people group, but for all people (1 John 4:14). Among the last words of Jesus, before he ascended to heaven, were that his disciples were to go not only to their neighbors, but in fact to all the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). Yes, they were to start where they were when the Holy Spirit would come upon them, but not to stop there! They (we) are to be his witnesses, even to the ends of the earth! (Acts 1:8).

The issue is one of obedience to Christ, out of love for Christ, having come to know his love and salvation personally. A person who has truly surrendered his or her life to the risen, living Lord and who is filled with the Spirit of God should be willing to go wherever they are led to go, directed to go or called to go. Often that begins with going to our family, friends, co-workers and neighbors, but it can also mean moving to another state, city or even country. It may mean going on mission trips, supporting missionaries or becoming a missionary. In God’s kingdom there are no boundaries, and people in all the world are our “neighbors”, not just those in our own community, city or country (Luke 10:25-37). This does not need to become an either/or, but rather it is a both/and.

I believe one factor in regard to missions has to do with fear. We fear the unknown, or that which is different or outside of our “comfort zone” or sense of “control.” But I believe Jesus gave us what we need to overcome fear by making two promises to his first disciples in the context of the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). Cushioned before that calling is the promise of his Sovereignty: All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me and the promise of his Presence: and surely I will be with you to the very end of the ages.  These two truths are what give us the confidence and courage we need to fulfill what he called us to do! These are the promises we can use and take our stand on to combat the fear the enemy would like to use to cripple us and prevent us from world missions.

Secondly, perhaps our vision, compassion, passion and commitment are also too limited. Our heart should be God’s heart, and his heart is for all the world! Yes, he may call us to focus our efforts specifically in one place, or among a certain people, or in a certain nation, either for a season or for our entire life. Yet, this doesn’t mean that our heart shouldn’t be for the world, or that our lives couldn’t impact the whole world. Jesus himself, during his earthly ministry, didn’t leave Israel, and he said multiple times that he had come (or, was sent) only for the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 15:24). Even so, there is no denying that no other life in human history has touched more people around the world than Jesus Christ! His ministry was focused on the Jewish people, but his mission and impact was the entire world!

God calls people to serve in different ways and in different places. However, my concern is that in some circles, those of us identifying as Christians here in America seem to be losing some of our heart, passion, vision, commitment and calling to world missions. (To be sure and fair there are certainly many other wonderful exceptions and examples!). But forget the fact that prayer has been removed from public schools or that there is a clear “anti-Christ” movement in our culture (since when did Jesus say the world would embrace him? Did he not say, in fact, that the opposite would be true?). What is far more alarming and concerning to me is that, generally speaking, we seem to have lost, or continue to lose, the fear of God, the presence of God in our personal lives, prayer in our own homes/churches, passion for missions, evangelism and real discipleship. But, even these things are mere symptoms of the root problem; we are losing and forsaking our first love. Our devotion for Christ is waning (Revelation 2:1-11; 3:14-21).

We need to come to a place where we “rediscover the Word of God” again (2 Kings 22) and obey the teachings of Jesus out of a passion and love for him. Really, we need to remember his love for us and fall back in love with this wonderful Savior who first loved us! He made the ultimate sacrifice for us, so what possible sacrifice would be too much to ask of us? If he left all the glory and splendor of heaven to reach, serve and save us, what possible distance could we travel or good things could we give up to share this Good News? What can possibly compare or even come close to what he gave up for us? In fact, he laid down his own life so that we might live. Aren’t we called to do the same? World missions is not just the calling of some Christians; it is the responsibility and calling of all.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me! (Isaiah 6:8)

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

*I also realize that perhaps for many, it is easy to become paralyzed or overwhelmed and not know what to do or feel like you can’t do anything. However, there are always ways even if it begins small. Plus, doing something for somebody is better than doing nothing for nobody! If you struggle with knowing what to do I would love to chat with you about idea’s, resources you could check out etc. At ServeNow one of the abilities we have through serving in a variety of ways around the world is that there is something at all levels for anybody. In fact, one big reason I personally joined ServeNow was because I saw how far so little could go and how even small gifts or efforts could have a big impact! Visit our website (weservenow.org) for more information or contact me and let’s dream, pray and plan together! I promise God can do more through you and I than we could ever imagine!

Abide

The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. –Jesus (John 14:10).

This has been a bit of a lean summer season for the mission organization I help lead called ServeNow, which has resulted in us making some sacrifices and difficult decisions (which is hard to do when there are so many open doors and much more you want to do and could do!). But, as Scripture says: There is a time and a season (and therefore purpose) for every activity under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1). When times are lean, there are some things you find that could use pruning; dead wood that needs cut off, and certain projects you hold off on. You also have some time to rest (if you can overcome feeling restless!), reflect, re-evaluate, re-adjust, refine, pray and plan for the future in ways you may not otherwise.

During this last week, I also sensed the Lord leading me to simply “worship him for who he is” and to spend time just “drawing close to him.” In other words, to trust that he knows what is needed, even before I ask (Matthew 6:8). This means I don’t need to keep “babbling” or only focus on what is needed, but rather focus on the Provider himself; he is our Father who cares for us!

As a result, I have had some of the richest, sweetest, most precious, tender, healing, peaceful, restful, reviving, refreshing extended times in his presence; just basking in and delighting in the beauty of who he is. Instead of panicking, furiously planning in my flesh or merely praying “Lord help us!” I’ve been thanking him for his goodness and trusting that his grace will be sufficient. When in that place, it has been glorious and his peace has been real even if circumstances don’t seem to change!

But one of the main things he has reminded me of during this time is the simple truth that the “secret” to the true Christian life, fruitfulness in serving him and effectiveness in ministry, is the lost art of “abiding” in him. The raw reality is that there is only so much you and I can do in ourselves, in our own strength, abilities and skills. Even the strongest, most intelligent, well-connected, successful people are limited, especially compared to an unlimited God! And in regard to eternal, kingdom significance, impact and fruitfulness, we can actually do nothing of lasting value, except for what is done in and through the strength, power, grace and wisdom of God. This is what so many of us miss about true Christianity: it is truly something supernatural (beyond human ability or skill), from beginning to end. While many of us realize this truth when God saves us, we are easily prone to forget and eventually try to live the Christian life in our own strength. Jesus put it this way, in John 15:1-8:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

There is so much in this, that it is beyond the scope of unpacking in this brief article. It is packed with truth that you can’t just quickly read through, you have to spend time meditating on and getting it into your system, because it is so opposite everything we know and how the world operates.

Even so, the main thought is this: God wants us to be fruitful. However, we can’t produce that fruit ourselves. In fact, our job is not to produce fruit, but simply to bring forth the fruit he creates in us as we stay closely connected to him, drawing from the life that flows from him to us out of fellowship with him.

This will either be freeing for you, or frustrating to you. It will be freeing if you are the type of person who is always striving but never feeling “good enough.” But it will be frustrating if you are the kind of person who has to be “in control” and the “driver” of progress in your own time and way. Just like a mother who becomes pregnant; they can’t rush the birth, their job is simply to bear the child in their womb as it develops and then bring it forth when the time comes (by the way, that process of bearing and bringing forth a child is not always a very pleasant or pain-free experience! There is discomfort, hormonal changes that lead to emotional mood swings and more. But once the child is actually birthed it all becomes worth it and joy is made complete!).

God wants us to be fruitful; but it’s his job to produce that fruit in us. Our responsibility is to abide in him, remain in him, stay connected to him, walk in close fellowship with him, stay utterly dependent on him and allow him to do his work in us and then through us.

This past week, one statement that Jesus made in the chapter prior to John 15 has struck me at a deeper level than ever before. In chapter 14 verse 10, Jesus says this: The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.

Just think about that. Jesus never said or did anything unless it was directed or inspired by his heavenly Father. Jesus, while he was always about his Father’s business, actually was not doing it from a place of “working for God”, rather it was his Father who was doing his work in and through his obedient Son who walked in perfect fellowship with him! There is such a big difference between us setting out to “work for God”, versus God doing his work in us and through us! God is not looking for us to merely work for him. Rather he is looking for worshippers through whom he can do his work! (John 4:23).

How can we even begin to think we can do the works of God? By very definition, it is God’s work, God’s fruit, God’s kingdom and God’s glory! It is really evidence of pride, unbelief and lack of trust in a good heavenly Father when we take the things of God into our own hands and try to accomplish anything in our own strength. Not to mention how limiting and exhausting that is! By doing so, we can only do what we can do, and it is never good enough. As someone famously put it: when we work, we work. When we pray, God works!

Nevertheless, even prayer is something we tend to try to do in our own strength or wisdom, rather than recognizing that even in prayer we need Jesus to teach us how to pray, the Holy Spirit to inspire our prayers and the Father to answer those requests. It’s all of God, by God, from God and for God! The true Christian life is not us trying to do it ourselves; but the Holy Spirit in us and doing his work through us!

In Galatians chapter 3 verses 1-6, the apostle Paul states it strongly in this way: You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

God does not work because we work or are good enough or deserve it; God works when we simply, solely, utterly, truly and deeply trust in him and depend on him with no “plan B.” Notice, it wasn’t simply that Abraham believed that God could do what he promised to do; Abraham believed God for who he was. It was the trust in the character of God that resulted in Abraham’s confidence in the promise of God! God is trustworthy, his word is true, because God cannot lie! (Hebrews 6:17-19; 2 Corinthians 1:20).

Nevertheless, even Abraham had a momentary lapse, not so much of faith, but in trying to “help” God and “speed up” the fulfillment of his promise to him. Abraham’s wife came up with her own scheme, and it caused Abraham to try and bring about the “work of God” in his flesh. The result was disastrous, with devastating consequences, causing much conflict and pain, even down to this very day! (See Genesis 16). How often we have this same tendency! But God is not looking for us to do his work; rather he is looking for us to trust that he will do his work in us and through us as we abide in him.

Jesus was once asked a specific question in regard to all of this. The context out of which this question was asked, was what Jesus said in John chapter 6:  Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

Naturally, the question Jesus was asked, was the following: Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

The answer? It was not what they or we would expect: Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

There is no other work other than to truly and trust Jesus! We can’t do the work of God, but through us, as we trust in him, God will supernaturally do his work in us and through us.

Here’s another example: when Jesus began his public ministry and called his first disciples, the first thing he said to them was: Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). This is profound, but we rarely, if ever, have paused to really think about what Jesus did and did not say here. Notice that the calling and responsibility of these men was to simply follow Jesus. They had to (and they did) leave everything they knew and were doing up to that point behind and learn from him. Don’t miss this; before they could even begin to enter into the work of God, they had to stop their own work. This would require tremendous humility; a posture of learning instead of being in charge. It would require starting over.

But the promise Jesus gave to them was that he would be responsible for making them into fishers of men as a result! Notice, it wasn’t for them to try to catch men; it was for them to follow Jesus and to allow him to make them into fishers of men! Essentially, Jesus was communicating this: I will transform you into someone you are not right now, and you will do things you never could do in your own strength. I will take you from fishing in the natural, to doing a supernatural work in you and through you, to “catch” people for the sake of my kingdom! But you…you must follow me!

If you want to enter into the supernatural reality of God, if you want to experience him using you and working in you and through you, you have to stop trying in your own wisdom, strength or abilities. That doesn’t mean he won’t utilize the skills or abilities he has given you; but he will supersede and do something beyond your own abilities…if you will allow him.

Our responsibility is to draw close to Jesus. Then he will begin to draw others to himself, through us. Our responsibility is to stay focused on him and in fellowship with him. He will then demonstrate his faithfulness and fulfill his promises! Our responsibility is to abide in him and to remain in him. As a result, he will begin to produce fruit in us and make us fruitful. Our responsibility is to trust him, and if we do that, he will display his power! Our responsibility is to rest in him (cease from our own scheming, striving, struggling and stressing). He will then do his work in us and through us.

God wants us to be fruitful and bear much fruit. Yet, when we run ahead of him and try to accomplish things for him, we actually limit what he could do through us. In our own strength, we will simply mimic and counterfeit the fruit that only he can produce in us. We don’t need to work for God; rather, what we need is for God to do his work in us and through us, for his glory!

In John 5:19 Jesus said this: Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.

If Jesus, as the perfect Son of God, did nothing outside of what he saw his Father doing and what his Father did in and through him, then how much more should we! As he remained in perfect fellowship with his heavenly Father, he simply joined where he was already working and allowed his Father to work through him. It is this attitude, as imperfect, yet redeemed sons and daughters of God, that we must also assume if we are to truly be fruitful and know the supernatural power of God at work in us and through us.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. –John 14:12-14

My Passionate Plea

I absolutely love my role and position at the mission organization I serve with. I don’t mean position as in my job title, but position in the sense of opportunity to impact thousands of lives around the world with the Word of God and the love of God in action. It is exciting to see how far even so little can go and what difference it makes. I am so grateful for those who are partners together to make it all possible! (Check out our new 2016 Annual Report to see impact!)

However, there is also a persistent and nagging anguish, despair, desire, burden, passion and cry within me to do more. Not to do more in the sense of being driven to prove anything, but more because there are so many open doors, opportunities and people in need that we could help…yet the reality is that ministry costs money, and it requires more partners. Even Jesus’ ministry/travel was mostly funded by a group of wealthy women (Luke 8:1-3).  ServeNow is also not a household name as we have only been in existence for 3 ½ years!

But there is such a sense of urgency within me as I look at the world and specifically at some of the countries where we currently serve. First of all, every day there seems to be either a shooting, bombing, earthquake, flooding or some sort of tragedy. Secondly, I think of the opportunities we have to advance the Gospel around the world; this is truly a historic window in time, a crucial moment.

Nepal is one example; we weren’t sure if our ministry was going to be shut down, and if our staff might be arrested for the sake of the Gospel. Yet, it’s incredible to think that just 60 years ago there was only 1 church and 29 known believers in the entire country. Now, there is at least 1 church in all the 75 districts, and there are over 1 million believers! The Church in Nepal is growing rapidly, and this is truly a historic time. I am so excited to be part of this movement and of all the special projects that are currently taking place. One of these projects will result in 20% of all the Nepalese children being reached with the Gospel! At same time, it is heartbreaking to realize that we are not able to do more, and that so many people are still in desperate need even 1 ½ year after the devastating earthquake.

Ukraine is another example; the conflict between Eastern Ukraine and Russia has resulted in over 2 million refugees and internally displaced people. It has torn apart families; there are countless widows and fatherless children. Sadly, the world seems to almost have “forgotten” the crisis in Ukraine in the midst of other crises in the world, such as the Middle East. Yet I have such a burning desire to see ServeNow help serve more refugees and those affected by the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. In fact, we are putting together a plan to provide stuffed animals (lion, elephant, dogs, lambs) that come with a solar powered audio Bible in its belly! What a gift this could be for hundreds of children! Imagine the comfort it would bring, the hope it would provide and the impact it would have! This is something every church could get involved with!

In January, I will take a team (still room for a few more people!) from the U.S. to Ukraine with the goal to give hundreds of refugee families, orphans, disabled children and elderly people Christmas presents. For many, this will be the first time ever. Possibly, we could even use the “Bible stuffed animals” as part of that effort. What an opportunity!

Speaking of refugees that does bring to mind all the refugees from the Middle East, an ongoing crises which has dominated the news and captured hearts. While so much of this has become political, and while many westerners only express fear and anxiety over safety concerns, thousands upon thousands of refugees suffer. What is most needed is not fear, but a heart of compassion to reach out and serve. As I write this, we have some of our Scripture materials translated in Arabic; these materials are being read by refugees in Europe and in the Middle East. So many are actually turning to the Lord! We cannot isolate ourselves from this refugee “problem”, this is an opportunity for the Church to shine the light and show the love of Jesus!

At the same time, I am concerned that we are too hesitant and fearful, just like Ananias in Acts chapter 9 when the Lord told him to go and lay his hands on a man named Saul who was a well-known and feared religious jihadist prior to encountering Jesus in a supernatural way. Or, like Esther, who was initially afraid to use her influence to try to save her own people; she only thought about the risk of speaking up and taking action rather than the risk of not speaking up or taking action! Or like Peter, in Acts chapter 10, who was told to go and share the Gospel with Cornelius, a Gentile Roman soldier.

Sadly, many people lump all Muslims into the “potential terrorist” category. They stereotype, keep a fearful distance, not realizing that many of them are just like Cornelius…they are devout, God-fearing, they give generously and pray regularly. Even so, they still need someone who will share the Good News of the Gospel with them, simply because being “good” and “religious” isn’t good enough. The greatest, universal need of all people is the forgiveness of sins that is found in Jesus Christ who is the Savior of the world for those who will believe! Peter initially hesitated in going to the home of a “Gentile”, but this was exactly where God was calling him to go! Ananias, Esther and Peter initially hesitated and were even fearful, but eventually they did obey and go. They saw the salvation of the Lord and the blessing that comes for those who will trust and obey!

In regard to Muslims, I believe with all my heart that God is actually answering the prayers that so many have prayed for years; that the Gospel will penetrate countries that have always been hard to reach, while, at the same time, new life is being breathed into European churches through Muslim immigrants who are coming to the Lord. Who could have ever thought that this would be the way the Lord would answer those prayers…and at the same time! Yet, the church has not fully awakened to this reality and to this window of opportunity, which is right in front of us! I also believe with all my heart that when the time comes for many to return to their countries, those who have come to the Lord and who have been discipled, will become the evangelists and missionaries to their own people, in their own countries! Everything the enemy intends for harm, God intends for good, and he works all things together for good. But, will we rise to the occasion and join God where he is working? Will we be bold and courageous, realizing that we are here for such a time as this? Will we step out in faith, rather than shrink back in fear?

And then there is India; did you know that India has the 8th largest Christian population in the world? However, it also has the most unreached people groups in the world! In fact, 88% of the population is still unreached! Consequently, we are drawing up big plans for our work in India for the sake of the Gospel. But it will not happen without partners who catch the vision and who want to be part of an unfolding prophecy, rather than just reading about or hearing about those who God is using for his Kingdom purposes!

I could go on with dreams and visions we have for countries in Africa, South America, countries like Burma and more. We have endless possibilities and opportunities to impact millions of people with the Word of God and the love of God. My passionate prayer and plea is for the Lord to connect us with more people and partners, to turn possibilities and opportunities into a reality! Maybe you are one of those people who God is calling. I plead with you to respond. Now is truly the time! Let us not procrastinate, but ServeNow!

I encourage you to reach out to me; let’s talk together, let’s dream together, let’s do something that truly makes an impact in people’s lives and demonstrates the reality of the goodness and grace of God that this world so desperately needs. Connect me with your pastor or mission committee of your church. Arrange to host a “home meeting” where I could come and share what God is doing around the world and suggest ways that people can be involved with. There is more we could do together than you might think…but it just takes a little thought, a lot of prayer and small faith that is acted on and activated!

In most cases, I believe our vision is too limited and our passion too small. God’s heart and vision is for all the world…why then do we limit ours? Jesus came as Savior of all the world…why then do we limit who we will share with, who we go to or who we serve? Jesus said that we would be his witnesses, not just in our neighborhoods; but in all the world! Start where you are…but heaven forbid we stop there!

Let’s be the hands and feet of Jesus and serve those most in need. Let’s be the vessels through which God’s hope is both shared and provided, in word and deed. If the Holy Spirit, who is referred to by Jesus in John 14 as the helper, comforter and advocate, truly resides in you and me, then let that be the reality people experience when they encounter us! God has chosen to use you and me; he put us here on this earth, at this time in human history for such a time as this!

To Make a donation to ServeNow click here: ServeNow. Or to mail a check: ServeNow, 5225 North Academy blvd, Suite 206, Colorado Springs, CO 80918

The Judge

For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead. –Acts 17:31

The other day, I experienced my first time in a courtroom. I waited to stand before a judge and receive my “sentence.” Like many other poor souls, I got pulled over for speeding in the state of Virginia. In Virginia, there is a law that if you are going 20 miles or more over the speed limit, you don’t just get a normal speeding ticket; it is considered reckless driving, which is a criminal offense! I decided that, instead of hiring an attorney, I would just appear in court on my own behalf since I was going to be on the East Coast anyway around the date of my court case.

It was a sobering experience! Several people before me were sentenced to jail time, some for reckless driving. Others had their license suspended or were fined different amounts depending on the severity of their offense. I began to sweat, wondering if I made a mistake in not hiring an attorney and in trying to represent myself! Finally, when it was my turn, I was beckoned to approach the judge; I stood before him as he read my charges. I pleaded no contest. When he asked if I had anything to say, I totally blanked and stood there speechless for a moment! I finally did say a few jumbled things, and then he informed me of my penalty. I then walked out of the courtroom and stood in line to pay the fine.

However, the reason for this article is not about my court case. When I was sitting there, waiting for my turn to appear before the judge, it was a vivid reminder to me of a biblical truth that is often not emphasized as much as it ought to be. Still, it is a core part of the Gospel. That truth, expressed in different ways in different books of the Bible, can be summed up in this way: one day, every single one of us will stand before the Judge of the Universe and give an account of our lives.

Before you stop reading, I want to plead with you to hear me out. I know in this post-modern age where “truth” is subjective, this is not a popular topic and dismissed without much serious thought. But I am writing this especially for those who may not believe this (although it is very good for those who do need to be reminded of this truth as well). Consider that just because I believe something, doesn’t make it true (e.g. Santa Clause, when we were kids). Yet, the reverse is also true; just because I don’t believe something doesn’t automatically mean it is not true. This is not one of those area’s to be wrong on.

Jesus, along with the entire Bible, makes clear that one day we all will have to give an account of our lives. Romans 14:10-12 says: For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

Have you ever even taken a moment to consider the weight of this?

One of the things our culture has completely lost is the “fear of the Lord.” Fear of the Lord is actually not a bad thing. The Book of Proverbs tells us over and over again of the benefits that the fear of the Lord produces in the lives of those who walk in it. In fact, Proverbs 1:7 states: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

A healthy fear of the Lord is what actually produces clear thinking, true understanding and wisdom which keeps us within safe boundaries and serves to position us to receive God’s blessings in our lives, such as peace, joy, life, health etc. It does not only have earthly benefits, but also eternal rewards, for the Bible differentiates between the judgment of the “righteous” versus the judgment of the “unrighteous.” Without getting into a long discourse on this subject, the righteous are those who have trusted in Christ and walk in obedience to him. The unrighteous are those who refuse to submit their lives to Christ or place their trust in him. The righteous are not those who never sin, but those who realize their need for a Savior and believe that Christ bore the penalty for their sin on their behalf. When that occurs, when someone turns to Christ, there is a transaction that takes place; not only is a sinner forgiven of their sin, but the righteousness and perfection of Christ is imparted to them. This is called “justification” (just as if I never sinned). This is the process by which God can remain just, but also demonstrate his mercy towards sinners.

Therefore, when a believer in Christ stands before God to give an account of their life, they will not be judged in regard to eternal punishment (Christ bore their punishment on the cross and paid the penalty in full), but judged in regard to determining the degree of reward! That is why verses like Colossians 4:23-24 are encouraging to us: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Earthly actions, no matter how “mundane” they may appear, can result in eternal reward when done unto the Lord!

However, when someone who has not put their trust in Christ stands before the Creator and Judge of the Universe and gives an account of their life, the judgment will be to determine the degree of punishment. Both the believer and unbeliever will be judged on what they have done, but one will be judged to determine the degree of reward for good things done, the other to determine the degree of punishment for bad things done. 2 Corinthians 5:9-10 states it clearly: So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it (speaking of death). For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Again, whether you choose to believe this or not, this is what the Bible teaches. Jesus himself spoke frequently about eternal realities, including heaven and hell, the resurrection and judgment (see Matthew 24-25 as one of many examples).

In Acts 10:42, Jesus’ disciples said it was also something that: he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.

The last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, details very vividly what is yet to come. One of those realities is this: Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.  (Revelation 20:11-14).

The names found in the Book of Life are only those who have embraced the Name of Jesus. This is not a matter of one religion claiming to be superior over another religion; this is about there being only one person who lived a perfect life which enabled him to die a death that perfectly atoned sin. And after his death, he rose from the dead, showing that he has power over life and death and is therefore the rightful heir and judge of the world.

At this point, some may say: but what about those who have never heard? Well, while I stood before the judge in regard to my speeding ticket, I tinkered with the idea of claiming: well, I didn’t realize the speed limit was only 55. However, my “ignorance” was not because the speed limit signs were missing, it was because I chose not to pay attention to the signs. I broke the law, whether I was “ignorant” of it or not.

Romans chapter 1 says that all are without excuse and will have no excuse when they stand before God. Every mouth will be silenced, because the evidence of God is all around us and is clearly seen in creation (Romans 1:18-30). More than anything, the issue is our choice to ignore, reject or suppress this truth, not ignorance. However, it is true to say that some have greater “light” (understanding) than others. For example: The Jews were given the Law of Moses, certain nations have Bibles while others don’t, or, as in the case of America, we have access to every possible version of the Bible! In fact, this should cause us to be even more sober, because the greater the light, the greater the responsibility and accountability. Romans 2:11-13 puts it this way: All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.

There is so much more that could be written and expounded on. However, my goal and heart in writing this is a warning. You and I, believer or atheist, are going to stand before a holy God and give an account of our lives. He will judge us and the world in perfect righteousness, for he is righteous in all his ways.

The real question is: are you prepared for this day? We spend so much time planning our earthly lives; we plan for the future, we plan for vacation, we prepare for exams, we prepare for our career and retirement. Yet, how foolish is it, or how foolish would it be, not to prepare for eternity? Our earthly life is just a vapor compared to eternity! (read more here).

You are going to stand before the Judge of the Universe one day. You will give an account of your life. And since no one knows how much time we have here on earth, now would be the time to truly prepare for that moment. The bad news is that you and I are guilty of breaking God’s law. Yet, the good news is that there is a Savior and in him we can find forgiveness and eternal life! We stand before him guilty, but in Christ we can be declared innocent. He not only took our place in paying our penalty for breaking the law of God; he is also our Lawyer who stands in our defense! Oh…and he doesn’t charge a fee, rather his salvation is a free gift to all who will repent and believe the good news!

For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written:

There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good, not even one.
 Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.
The poison of vipers is on their lips.
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:9-26)

The Heavenly City

Then 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. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He 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

Injustice. Disappointments. Shattered dreams. Sickness. Sorrows. Death. Broken relationships. Evil. Darkness. Grief.

Life on earth can be very hard. The older I get, the deeper the sorrow and pain in the world I not only see but even experience personally. And my life in America has been relatively easy compared to the suffering many in other parts of the world endure. And yet…there seems to continually be those moments in life when you realize anew the reality that paradise truly has been lost. We live in a broken, fallen, sinful world. A world in which evil is real, injustice happens daily and things are not as they ought to be…or even once were.

Even nature itself gets this: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly…” (Romans 8:22-23).

And yet, there are also moments of stunning beauty, glimpses of God’s glory, moments of sheer goodness and glorious bliss. And these moments, are not merely moments of what once used to be but is forever lost; they are whispers of what one day will be a reality once again! In fact, it is this for which we long and sigh for: Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:23-25).

When troubles come, when life is full of heartache and pain, it serves to remind us this earth is not our true home. It “jolts” us out of becoming too comfortable or attached to this world or present life. And it can cause the longing for our true and eternal home to grow stronger within us:  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:18-21).

We are just pilgrims passing through. In the great faith chapter of Hebrews 11, example after example is given of those who lived by faith. By their faith they accomplished some amazing things. And yet verses 13-16 tells us of another truth that was also common to each of their experiences: “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

Deep inside we all long for paradise. Our hearts yearn for endless beauty and perfect health, peace, prosperity and long life. We go on vacations if for even only a moment the world might be all that we know it was supposed to be. And yet…it cannot be fully grasped or maintained on this present earth. Therefore, it is to the “New Jerusalem” that comes down out of heaven from God and a “new heaven” and “new earth” and “new body” that we must look to and long for. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. (Hebrews 11:16).

Life on earth for the people of God, is preparation for life with God in eternity. We are pilgrims just passing through. We do not belong here…and pain, suffering, sorrow and death remind us of that reality. We must prepare our hearts for our true eternal dwelling place; with God in the city that he is preparing for us.

But as we prepare our hearts to live with God and he to dwell with us let us bring with us as many others that will join us on the path that is narrow but leads to true life and the heavenly city (Matthew 7:14). Let us call out and warn as many that will listen to leave the path of destruction and the road that is wide but leads to hell (Matthew 7:13). Let us populate heaven and snatch as many others from the fire by the witness of our lives and sharing of the hope of the Gospel! How we ought to shudder to think that so many are plunging towards an eternity separated from the presence, glory, goodness and beauty of God! If his presence equates to “fullness of joy and eternal pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11) than the absence of his presence speaks of the exact opposite reality. Hell is where men and women are shut out forever from the presence of God (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10). All that is good comes from God, so where God is not, neither is anything good. A rejection of God is a rejection of all that is truly good in this life or eternity! (James 1:17). How we need to be awakened to eternal realities and live our lives in light of eternity, doing all we can to persuade others, that some might be saved! (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).

But some may ask, if God is truly good why is there pain and suffering in this world? Why doesn’t God intervene and stop every injustice?

One reason is because of free will. To be truly free (and therefore to truly be human and to love) requires the ability to make choices. Some of those choices are what the bible calls sin (choices made that do not reflect the glory or character of God). Sin is what separates us from God and has consequences not only in our lives, but the lives of others, especially those closest to us (Romans 3:23, Genesis 3). If God were to stop every injustice would man truly have free will? This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t reason with man and warn man before evil deeds are performed (Genesis 4). And it doesn’t mean he is not right there with and for the victims of injustice to bring about justice on their behalf (Psalm 103:6). He is after all “Immanuel” God with us! And one day, Jesus will return to rule and to reign and to right every wrong! (Luke 18:1-8). He will personally, “wipe every tear from their eyes” and make all things new (Revelation 21:4). It is for that day that our hearts yearn. It is for that place, the heavenly city, we must fix our eyes (Colossians 3:1-3). And it is for him, Jesus himself, which we cry out: Come Lord Jesus come! (Revelation 22:17,20)!

So whether you are in a season that is pleasurable or painful let it point you to the Heavenly City. When life is pleasurable it is but a glimmer and glimpse of what will one day be an eternal reality in his presence. And when life is painful, it is but fleeting and temporary, a reminder that this world is not our true home. We are just pilgrims passing through; pilgrims longing for a better country, a city not built by man, but whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10)!

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 22:1-5).

The Real but Irrational Struggle of Surrender

The other day, a friend of mine wrote me an e-mail requesting that I write an article about something he struggles with (along with anyone else, I think, who has seriously thought about it): truly surrendering your life to God.

Why is surrendering our lives to God and his will such a struggle?

I believe there are several reasons. At the top of the list would be that, deep down, we don’t really trust God. The enemy of our souls, from all the way back in the Garden of Eden, has been seeking to cast doubt in our minds regarding the goodness of God, character of God and trusting God. All you have to do is go back to Genesis chapter 3 and note that his tactic in leading Eve, and subsequently Adam, astray was an attack on the character of God and why God can’t be trusted.

Secondly, our flesh is simply rebellious. We want to be our own god (something Satan appealed to in enticing Adam and Eve to sin) and not submit ourselves to another authority, be it God or anyone else. Mankind has a problem with authority, often because “authority” figures have let us down, taken advantage of us or abused us, all of which Satan uses to whisper “you can’t trust God either.” We want to be “in control” of our own lives.

The only problem is, control is an illusion.

As I write this, I am speaking at a camp in Arkansas. The “theme verse” at this camp is something Jesus said in Mark 8:35: For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. The “theme quote” of the week is one by the missionary Jim Elliot, and it is very similar to the verse above: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.

The irony for those who refuse to surrender and submit their lives to God is that the very “control” they want to hang on to, is the very thing they will find themselves losing! The more you try to “control” your life, the more “out of control” it actually becomes. While the “unbelieving world” may look at those who surrender their lives to God as something foolish, it is actually they that are the true fools; they are trusting in an earthly illusion while forfeiting an eternal reality!

You and I are a lot less in control of things than we realize. None of us had any control over our actual birth, location of birth, time in history of birth and the family we were born into. We entered this world with no control to begin with. And while we constantly seek to improve our health, safety and longevity of life, the statistics are still grim: death prevails over everyone, every time.

In fact, Scripture states that our existence (birth, life and death) are not merely “random” events; they have been planned and ordained by God. In Acts 17:24-28, Paul states the following: The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said; We are his offspring.

Psalm 139 speaks entirely on the fact that it was God who envisioned us, formed us in our mother’s womb, created us, knows us, loves us and ordained each day of our lives. The Psalmist declares in verses 14-17 the following: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are completely dependent on God for every breath we take! Life is a gift from him. Therefore, “control” is an illusion in the first place. But let me speak to what I believe is the secret to being able to not only “surrender” our lives to God, but also be able to do so joyfully and willingly.

There are two very short parables (short stories which illustrate a spiritual truth) that Jesus told in Matthew 13:44-46 that I believe hold the “key.” Here is what it says: The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

First of all, notice that Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven (the realm of God where he rules as king) to a “treasure hidden in a field.” Obviously, “treasure hidden in a field” is something that is rare, valuable and containing riches that people over the centuries have sought after, toiled for, sacrificed for, fought over, even lost their lives over while pursuing it. Let us not fail to miss this truth: there is nothing more valuable, priceless and worthy of our toil, sacrifice or searching for than God’s very kingdom! In his kingdom, there is perfect peace, joy, eternal pleasure, righteousness and beauty (Psalm 16:11), everything we have always longed for and yet everything that seems to elude us. There is no evil, death, sorrow, pain or suffering (Revelation 21:1-7). Wouldn’t entering this kingdom and possessing this kingdom be worth whatever price you would have to pay to obtain it?

Secondly, notice that in both of these parables, the men who found this “treasure” (the second parable likens the kingdom of heaven to a merchant who finds a “fine pearl” of “great value”), willingly and joyfully sold all that they possessed in order to obtain what they didn’t yet possess. Why? How could they sell all they owned (which would contain many memories and life’s experiences) joyfully, freely, willingly and instantly?

The reason was that they realized that in this “trade” that they were making, they were going to come into the possession of something of greater value than what they currently possessed! This holds the “key” or “secret” to surrender: we are often only focused on what we are “giving up”, rather than what we are actually “obtaining!” The reason that it is hard for us to “surrender” our lives, is because we aren’t able to clearly see what a “bargain” it would be! We are failing to see the value of God’s eternal kingdom and instead, we are focusing on the fading and temporary earthly life we possess! It is totally irrational, but people fear the “unknown” even when something better is being offered to them!

C.S. Lewis once put it this way: It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak! We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with sinful things and selfish ambitions—when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the sea! We are far too easily pleased.

If you are having a hard time surrendering your life to God, you need to spend some time studying the kingdom of God and reflect on its eternal value and worth. The secret of the kingdom of God is that by “losing”, you will actually “find” it, and it’s by “giving up”, you will actually “gain!” In fact, you can’t out give God! He will outdo you every single time! Yet, if you try to “hold on”, the irony is that you will end up losing it all. True life is not found by clinging to it, but by surrendering it to God (or “clinging to him”), who is the giver of our life to begin with!

A great picture of this is found in Genesis 32:22-32. In this chapter, Jacob finds himself all alone one night, and an angel of the Lord begins to wrestle with him. As this wrestling match takes place, Jacob is “broken” (literally: the angel touches the socket of his hip so that his hip was “wrenched”). However, after having been broken, Jacob stops “wrestling” and begins to cling. He refuses to let go until this “man” blesses him, which is what happened. In fact, Jacob has his name changed to Israel, which means “one who has struggled with God and man…and has overcome!”

The lesson in this story is that the blessing is not in the wrestling (you will never win if you try to “fight” God), but in the brokenness of clinging to God! If you cling to your life (which is a gift from God), you will lose your life; but in clinging to the God, who is the giver of life, you are blessed!

Trusting in him is the issue; when you are wrestling with God, you are not trusting him. When you “cling to God” and surrender your life to God, you demonstrate trust in God. And, if you are having trouble trusting him with your life, this is where faith enters in. Scripture encourages, exhorts and promises us: Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Ask God to help you see his goodness and to tear down any strongholds in your mind or heart that are preventing you from trusting him or seeing his kingdom clearly. In fact, the best way to clearly see God’s heart is by looking at the life of Jesus. Can you not trust the heart of the One who laid down his life, so that you might have life?

As Jesus himself said in John 10:9-10: I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Lastly, let me encourage you with a truth from Romans 12:2. Many people have the misconception that God’s will is something that will make them miserable. Let me state clearly that God’s will does involve sacrifice, suffering, pain and challenges at times. However, Romans 12:1-2 says this:  Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Note: God’s will is not about making us miserable; his will is good, pleasing and perfect! His will will satisfy your soul and bring fulfillment, hope, joy, meaning and purpose to your life (which cannot be found in this world alone). Always remember this: there is no sacrifice you can make that will outweigh the reward you will receive! In fact, the greater the sacrifice, the greater the reward and fulfillment.

In the end, it does boil down to trust. The question put before us is this: will we place our trust in Christ and surrender our lives to God and his will, or will we hold on to our lives, deceiving ourselves with an illusion of “control” that will eventually be shattered and leave us empty, broken, disappointed, heart-broken, defeated, and robbed of the very life we were trying so desperately to keep?

Why Does God Allow Pain & Suffering?

I’ve been meaning to write this article for quite some time now, even before I woke up to the news today of another mass shooting in the United States, this time in Orlando, Florida. It was yet again another reminder that evil, pain and suffering exist and happen not only in “other” parts of the world, but even right here at home. No one, and no place is exempt, even though some places and some people certainly endure or go through greater degree’s of tragedy, suffering and pain.

The last several months, our staff at ServeNow has been praying fervently for the niece of one of our staff members who is only 16 and in incredible pain that doctors cannot find a solution for. Only for a few hours at a time does she have some relief, even though the relief she has would be unbearable for the majority of us.

Our president’s daughter, the first president of ServeNow, last year went through chemotherapy for cancer and it has been a trying time for her and her family. This year, we found out that one of our board members sons, who is married with kids, has leukemia. When I pastored a church, I officiated thirty funerals in those six years. One included an 11 year boy in our church who was diagnosed with cancer and died about six months later. Another couple in our church had a son with a rare condition (trisomy 18) who wasn’t supposed to live at all, but did survive for 57 minutes before slipping into eternity. He was a fighter.

In all of these cases and more, there were those of us who prayed with intensity for healing. Some were healed. I’ve witnessed people being healed and believe God does work miracles in people’s lives still today. Several friends of mine were told they would never be able to have kids…but they have! My grandmother was healed of cancer after our family prayed with her and for her.

Others however were not healed.

Our family now lives in Colorado Springs. Colorado has witnessed it’s share of tragic shootings, from Columbine to Aurora to recently a shooting at a planned parenthood near us. I grew up in Lancaster county, PA and only about 7 minutes up the road from my house was a little town called Nickle Mines that no one had heard of, until a horrific Amish school house shooting in which several Amish children were shot and killed. My first real friend with whom I shared a fellowship in the Lord with was killed in a motorcycle accident at the age of just 18.

I could go on and on, but I really don’t need too. We all have experienced pain, suffering and tragedy in one shape or form. And the big question that is often wrestled with is that one three letter word…why? Even more than that a wrestling with God often occurs expressed in this way: “If there is a good, loving and powerful God how and why can he allow such pain and suffering in the world?” For some, this is the question that causes them to stumble and turn away from God. Many become bitter and keep a distance from God or the things of God because of what they have been through or witnessed.

This wrestling is nothing new. In fact it is the big question of the oldest written book in the bible…the book of Job. Job’s deepest fears actually came to pass. In one day tragedy struck resulting in the death of all his children, the loss of his business (and wealth) and eventually even his health. He and his wife were obviously utterly devastated. Job’s wife in fact became bitter with God, even encouraging Job to do the same…to curse God and die. Job however, choose to wrestle with and through the suffering and pain. Over and over again he asked the “why” question desperately wanting God to give him the reason for it all. 

The interesting and important thing to note is that God never did

Even when God appeared to Job and spoke to and with Job, you will not find a single reason given for why God allowed this to happen in his life. In fact, God basically simply reminds Job that he is God and Job is not. (See Job 38-40). 

Job does eventually experience restoration, but never an answer…

The bible does however, give the theological reasons for why there is pain and suffering in the world. We live in a fallen world, because of sin and disobedience. This isn’t because God created an imperfect world, but because we have rebelled against him and because of that even nature itself has been corrupted and thrown off course, resulting in what we often refer to as “natural disasters.” We have rejected God and this has resulted in judgment as well as the opening of the door for evil and that which is not good to corrupt that which is good. And the bible speaks of the Evil One, the great enemy of the human race, Satan or the devil. He hates human beings with a vengeance, because he hates God with a vengeance and we have been made in his image and are the apple of his eyes. Since Satan couldn’t defeat and dethrone God, he goes after that which is most precious to God: human beings. Working through disobedient, fallen human beings, he twists the truth and warps the minds and hearts of sinful man, leading to the violence, rage and senseless slaughter we see time and time again. And lastly (though not the last “reason” that could be discussed), man is not inherently good. We are born in sin and with sin. We need redeemed, born-again, transformed and given a new nature (See John 3:1-21, 1 Corinthians 5:17-21).

But this is not the focus of this article or what sufficiently answers the “why” question when it becomes very personal and painful. The above are all true, but consider this: Jesus himself when hanging on the cross in anguish asked the “why” question: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” (Mark 15:34). Think about the significance of this. Here was the very Son of God, the Perfect, Holy, Righteous One, who came from God and is himself God in human flesh asking the why question in the midst of enduring excruciating pain.

His question was not answered either. There was only silence from heaven.

I feel like in regard to any question or objection people have regarding the Christian faith there is an adequate, logical, satisfying answer and reason that can be provided…except in this area. And yet, it is that very fact alone that once again, in my opinion, provides the most satisfying response that demonstrates the thoughtfulness and depth of the Christian faith. 

Let me explain. Let’s consider the example of Jesus on the cross. Can you imagine if God the Father would have answered his Son with simply a theological answer? “Ahem…Son, remember, this is what you have come for, to die for the sins of the world.” You think Jesus in fact didn’t know why this was happening to him? Do you think he forgot?

The answer did not change or ease the reality of his pain one iota. It would have been insensitive in fact for an answer to be provided. The “why” question is not really an expression of a desire for a “reason”…it’s simply the anguished cry of the heart of someone suffering something that they wish they weren’t going through.

Let me put it another way. When my best friend was killed, there was much good that came out that tragedy, just as God’s word promises (Romans 8:28). People’s lives were impacted and changed for eternity. God used his story around the world to bring others to salvation or re-commitment. Yet, those “reasons” or the “good” that came from it…did not bring him back from the dead. It did not change the reality that he was gone. It did not replace the fact that a mother and father had lost their son. It did not remove the pain and sense of loss.

The one thing needed in the midst of suffering, pain, loss and sorrow is not “reasons” or even “answers” it is rather the comfort that only God can provide…and yet that comfort is in the midst of the pain, not in place of the pain. This side of heaven we will not always “know why” nor would the “why” make the pain go away anyway. But this we can be assured of: God is present in our pain and one day will make all things right and wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:1-5). This is in fact the culmination of the hope of the Gospel. Suffering, tragedy, sorrow, pain and death remind us that the world we live in is fallen and it directs our attention away from the “here and now” and to the “then and there” from the “earthly” to the “eternal.” Paradise has been lost, but one day it will be restored!

The one thing Christianity offers is not “easy, cliche, trite answers” but a Savior who has entered our world, suffered as we suffer…even suffered for us in our place and is able to perfectly understand, relate and comfort us in our sorrow. He is a God that is not distant, but is in fact, “close to the brokenhearted.” (Psalm 34:18). He is not a God that is “far away” but rather is known as: “Immanuel, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23). And that is where the only sense of true peace, hope and comfort can be found…in the reality of his presence with us as we grieve. He see’s. He knows. He cares. He walks with us, weeps us with and is there for us in the midst of our pain.

 

 

My Top Ten “Christian” Pet Peeves

There are a lot of things that pass as “Christian” but are actually very unbiblical or unChrist like. Below are ten of my top “pet peeves” (not in any particular order) that commonly pass as “Christian” but fail the biblical test when examined more closely. Some may surprise you and even might offend you! But the important thing is not my opinion or yours; but what does the bible really teach? There are more than these ten on my list, but that would be another blog for another time…and this is probably enough to digest in one reading 🙂

  1. When the Church thinks its purpose in gathering together is evangelism rather than discipleship.

Do not misunderstand what I am and am not saying! I hope and pray more people are convicted of their sin and come to Christ at our church gatherings. However, by its very nature and definition, “church” is the gathering together of those who are already believers; a place where believers proclaim the praises of God (who called them out of darkness into his marvelous light), encourage each other in the faith, and are exhorted in his word as followers of Jesus in regard to how we should now live our lives. While unbelievers may come to our gatherings (they should be welcomed and not excluded), the church assembly should not be geared towards them. Evangelism is not the primary focus when the Church gathers, but rather when the Church scatters. Then, as new believers are being saved, and then baptized, they are added to the Church (Acts 2:40-41). To put it bluntly, “seeker sensitive” churches have it wrong. If we want to hold evangelistic events and gatherings to reach unsaved people, that is wonderful, but we shouldn’t call it a church. While this may produce new believers, it doesn’t produce mature believers. In fact, it often creates an environment of shallowness not wholehearted commitment. Jesus did not call us to simply make converts, but disciples, emphasizing teaching a life of obedience to all he has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20).

That is not to say that services should be incomprehensible to unbelievers; in fact, too often, Christians are viewed as being unintelligent or merely superstitious. But true Christianity is neither illogical nor superstitious…though at its core it is supernatural. In fact, it is the presence of the Living God in our midst at work, through God’s people, that should lead to conviction in an unbeliever who comes to our gatherings. Paul put it this way: So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues (edifying to the spirit, but unintelligible to the mind), and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’ (1 Corinthians 14:23-25).

  1. Being “nice” is not a fruit of the Spirit…let alone the mark of a “true Christian.”

Jesus making a whip out of cords and driving the money changers out of the temple, while flipping over tables, was not very “nice” or “Mister Rogers” like. But it was actually truly kind. In fact, Matthew 21:12-14 records that this incident put the fear of God in those abusing God’s house and offended the religious leaders. Yet, it resulted in the blind and lame (those who knew their need for God and were genuine worshippers) coming to him in the temple where he proceeded to heal them. Jesus is not a wimpy figure as he seems to be portrayed by some. He stood up against injustice and “bullies” in order to protect the weak and abused. He called out and confronted religious hypocrites.

Jesus in fact said some very “un-nice” things at times. For example, in Matthew 23 he criticizes many of the religious leaders of his day, calling them names that weren’t very “nice”, such as “hypocrites” “snakes” “brood of vipers” and much more! Doesn’t sound very nice to me, nor did it to them. Many people, in fact, stopped following Jesus, being offended at times by things he said (John 6:35-66) or for not meeting their expectations. Jesus was not a “people pleaser.” Galatians 1:10 warns: Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Also, consider this: you can be “nice” yet really be unkind and unloving. For example, James 2:15-16 says:  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

The Greek word for “kind” does not translate to “nice.” Being kind actually means to “show oneself useful to another.” Kindness is not demonstrated simply or only by being “nice” or even “friendly.” It is shown by specific, sincere, thoughtful actions or speaking what is needed or beneficial for the other, even if it “hurts” or “offends”, as long as it is done out of a heart of genuine love for that person (not just to “tell them off” or “give them a piece of my mind!”) or for the protection or good of others. But let us remember that John 3:18 says: Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

  1. Christians shouldn’t judge!

First of all, aren’t you judging me for being judgmental by making this statement? Right of the bat it’s a logically defeating argument. We all make judgments everyday. This statement is the most misused, taken out of context verse in all the Bible. It’s the popular slogan of our day, but it’s being applied in an unbiblical way, even in churches among professing believers.

Matthew chapter 7 does begin by saying: Do not judge or you will be judged. Yet, it doesn’t end with that statement. Shallow faith takes soundbites and snippets, removes them from their context, and creates a whole new doctrine which was never intended by the speaker or author.

However, in context, Jesus goes on to explain exactly who he is speaking to and what kind of judging he is condemning. He gives the illustration of looking at the speck in another’s eye while there is a plank in our own. A lot of people like to quote this verse too and go around with false humility saying they don’t judge others because of the “plank in their own.” But Jesus didn’t stop there either. He said to first take the plank out of your own eye, then you can help your brother with the speck in his eye! He was not saying we should turn a blind eye to someone else’s sin, rather we should first make sure our own eyesight is not being blinded by our own, bigger sin! He is warning against hypocritical judging. We ought to be in a position where we can come alongside others and help them with the issues in their life, not walking around with a plank in our eyes that we aren’t removing!

In some circles, being real and being honest is the new measure of spirituality. It may be better than hypocrisy, but it’s no more spiritual if we aren’t overcoming and repenting of sin in our lives! The inability to help others is a mark of a lack of maturity, not the other way around! (This would be my 11th pet peeve!).

Christians are to be discerning. In fact, the very next verse talks about not giving “dogs what is sacred” and not throwing “your pearls to pigs.” Later, in this same chapter, Jesus warns about false prophets and how to discern them. All of this requires the ability to make judgments! The main issue is making right judgments, out of right motivations, for the right purpose. Jesus said in John 7:24: Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.

Actually, we get this backward in other ways as well. In 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, the apostle Paul writes: What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked person from among you. This verse makes it very clear that we are to exercise judgment where sin is concerned in regard to one another as believers, but not in regard to the world (unbelievers), because God will judge them! Yet, completely opposite of this, we tend to rail against “how bad the world is”, while not being willing to judge the sin in our own lives or the sin within the Church. But it’s the church that is to be the salt of society; not the world. Why do we expect the world, who doesn’t know Christ, to act like Christ, but excuse one another (instead of hold each other accountable) for not living and acting like Christ? Church discipline and purity is not some old legalistic standard. It is biblical and it is sorely lacking in many churches (see 1 Corinthians 5).

  1. As long as there is one hungry child in America, we shouldn’t be giving money to hungry children in other countries!

I am shocked, appalled and grieved by how often this attitude is expressed in one way or another…even among those within the Church! Usually, (at least in my experience) the people who say such things aren’t even actually doing anything right here in America, but nonetheless, this betrays a lack of vision and God’s heart. John 3:16, perhaps the most well-known verse (second only to: Do not judge lest you be judged!), does not say: For God so loved only America or Americans. And Jesus did not tell his disciples to only serve in Jerusalem. Rather, while they were to start right where they were at, they were to go into all the world (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8). If this is our mindset, then our vision is too limited, our heart too small, our burden too little and our passion and compassion severely lacking. I recommend getting outside of your own “bubble” and culture and travel to a different part of the world. Let God open your eyes and heart to the world.

  1. Christians who only seem to complain about “how bad the world is” and how “our culture is unraveling.”

Didn’t Jesus (and Scripture) say that this would be the case in the last days and to not be surprised or disheartened by it? (Matthew 24, 2 Timothy 3:1-9). We live in a fallen world; why do we expect this to be paradise?

Secondly, complaining about it isn’t going to attract anyone to the beauty and redemption found in Jesus. The world needs the Gospel (Good News), they do not merely need to be told how “bad it is.”

Thirdly, isn’t the Church supposed to be the salt and light of the world? Perhaps we have lost our salt and light to impact, influence and penetrate the darkness; should look inward and then upward to Christ, rather than outward in blame.

  1. Christians who boycott and picket politically rather than gather together to pray for boldness in sharing the Gospel.

The early Church did not form picket lines and protests when their “rights” were being trampled on. Instead, they gathered together and prayed…and the Holy Spirit filled them and gave them new strength, boldness and courage to keep proclaiming the Gospel! (See Acts chapter 4).

And boycotts? Paul wrote very plainly in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11: I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—  not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

Here again I see professing believers doing the exact opposite! We are boycotting people and businesses because of “moral outrage”, yet continuing to fellowship with professing believers who live immoral, greedy and idolatrous lives! What hypocrisy…not to mention that is irrational! As Paul points out in the verse above, if you were to be consistent, you would have to leave this world, because that it is how the world is!

Thirdly, it is fine to exercise the rights we have under the law as citizens; there is biblical precedent for that (Acts 16:37). But when we are more concerned about our “rights” than we are about faithfully sharing the Gospel, our priorities are misplaced. When we are more concerned with our own earthly comfort and security than we are with people’s eternal destinies, our passion is misguided.

  1. Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian values!

While Judeo-Christian values did have an influence…it wasn’t the sole influence. In fact, I would dare to go as far (and be branded a heretic by some) that it wasn’t even the primary influence. There were many different philosophies at play, with the enlightenment philosophy at the core of it. So, while this is partly true, it’s not the whole truth, and therefore this statement is misleading. Our founding fathers have been made out to be saints, but they were far from perfect and not as theologically, doctrinally sound as many in the Church nowadays try to make them out to be (Further study: Was America Founded As a Christian Nation? Or The Faiths of the Founding Fathers).

  1. Fun, cool, hip, popular Christianity.

I’m so tired of “cool” churches or Christians trying so hard to be popular. Some churches it feels like walking back into middle school and having to compete in a popularity contest where everyone is trying to impress each other or prove how “cool” or “hip” they are.

While churches should be relevant and contextualized to their culture, they shouldn’t think they will ever “be in” with the world or “stars” that the world takes to. In fact, that can be a real sign of compromise, though God can grant favor to people at times in the world’s eyes, for the purpose of influencing people for Christ. But we are not part of this world system anymore and shouldn’t try to be imitators of the world or “fit in.” We don’t fit in anymore. In fact, we are specifically called to not conform to the world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds according to God’s Word (Romans 12:1-2). Our lives should be different. We are pilgrims, aliens and strangers in this world by nature of the new birth. So let us celebrate our “transformation” and uniqueness and be longing for our heavenly city—not looking for it here on Earth.

Secondly, Jesus said not to be surprised if the world hates us (John 15:18). In fact, it’s an honor, because it’s evidence that we are truly like him in this world. A promise nobody likes to quote but nevertheless is true, says: In fact everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (1 Timothy 3:12). In addition, we are called to rejoice, not complain, when persecuted for being like Jesus and for following Jesus: Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12).

  1. Pastors (or committee’s) that are expected to do all the work of the ministry.

How convenient. This way we can complain and blame the leaders when we don’t like what they are doing; we can remove ourselves from responsibility and engagement.

I have been in many churches where the mindset and attitude of the people is that they “hired the pastor” to do the work, because their lives are already too busy and stressful. However, the role of leaders in the church is not to do the work of the ministry, but to equip the people to do the work of the ministry, while building up the Body to become mature in Christ! (Ephesians 4:11-16). Christian service is not to be outsourced just to leaders. All members are to participate in the work of the Lord and the building up of the Church according to their gifts (1 Corinthians 14:26-33).

Also, many people in churches couldn’t even tell you what missionaries or mission organizations their own church supports. Some of us just dutifully tithe our ten percent (because we think we are suppose to), but don’t bother to be informed, engaged or even in prayer concerning those on the front-lines, those who are actually out there fulfilling the Great Commission. We just let the mission committee handle it.

  1. God won’t give you more than you can handle….oh yes he will!

I’ve noticed a few articles recently that point this one out, and rightly so. This often comes from 1 Corinthians 10:13 where Paul writes: No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

This actually plays into another pet peeve I could mention: Well I just can’t help it, I am a sinner after all! Actually, if you are in Christ, you were once a sinner, but now you are a saint. That doesn’t mean you are perfect or can’t sin, but by very nature you are no longer a slave to sin, but a child of God! We seem to suffer from spiritual amnesia, forgetting who we are and that our true identity is now in Christ! He has made us a new person, by the new birth! And we have the Holy Spirit residing in us to help us overcome all temptation. We are not victims but victors in Christ!

Secondly, when God calls people to do his work, if it is truly of him, it will be more than you can handle in your own strength! Otherwise, it wouldn’t be of God, it would be of you and your own human effort. God wants us operating in his strength, his power and his grace, so that he gets all the glory for the great things he does!

What Now?

It’s been just over a year since I moved our family out to Colorado from the East Coast. After six years of pastoring a church in New Jersey, we decided to join with a mission organization called ServeNow. We were moved by the stories and amazed by the impact they were having around the world with so little in so short of a time. I was also looking to do more in missions and to find a mentor who had really been around that I could learn under for a time, all of which has become a reality.

Within one year, we have watched ServeNow grow even more, in fact doubling in size (and more than doubling our reach and impact!) through a partner organization coming in as a division of ServeNow. With a specialized focus on printing bibles and innovative discipleship resources in over 45 languages and 30 countries, it really opens the door for endless possibilities in the future. Plus, they have a passion and calling to especially reach Jewish people around the world, which personally I have had a real stirring and burden to do more in regard to as well.

I have also gone on and led several missions and ministry related trips to India, Nepal, Ukraine, Uganda, Sweden and England in one years’ time. In addition, I worked hard on developing a bigger network of partners through my relationships and connections. And I have been pleasantly surprised and blessed by people’s generosity, even though I always want and wish we could do more to serve more people!

And so, as our focus and mission is being fulfilled and we continue to grow and explore new avenue’s to find new partners, I wanted to take a moment to talk about what is next for us personally and organizationally.

First of all, we are already beginning to gear up for next March when I will move from Vice President to President of ServeNow. The weight of that responsibility I already am beginning to feel, and in many ways I have been grateful (and would be happy to remain under, yet know it is necessary to grow in new ways!) our current founder and president, an experienced and truly special leader. I am thankful he will continue to be a key part of the organization and personal advisor/mentor. It’s been a real dream come true to learn from someone who has smuggled bibles with brother Andrew, was personal friends of people like Corrie Ten Boom, Jim Cymbala and others that I have looked up to and read about as God began working in my heart. Never did I imagine I would actually one day be trained by, begin to rub shoulders with, meet people like, and even partner with those I have read about!

Secondly, as we look to the future, it is my hope, prayer and goal to not only continue the current mission of ServeNow but expand into new area’s and grow certain current areas. Already, we are discussing and even have plans in place (if funding increases and allows) for new ministry possibilities in England, South America, the Middle East and elsewhere, even potentially the United States. Personally, I have a heart to do more to provide aid and scripture to refugee’s as I believe we should not view this as a “problem” but an opportunity to really share the hope of the Gospel with them! Many are coming from very closed countries but now are right here where we can reach and serve them.

I also foresee and hope that our Basic Series books, (which by next March the complete 30 books in that discipleship series should be written) will catch on here in the United States as it has around the world. These little 32 page books are not only transforming individual lives, but entire churches and even pastors! It is equipping believers and emboldening them to share their faith with others. They are written on a level that anyone can understand, simple, without being simplistic. I am enjoying writing several of them personally and excited to see the impact they may have! We just added in fact a page to our site where they can be purchased in English and Spanish. The church I pastored was actually the first to get behind this project so that the first one’s could be printed. I even bought copies of the first two books for our church to use, seeing the need for them here,  before joining ServeNow was even a thought or possibility.

On a more personal note, our family is going to look for a house to settle down in here in Colorado, we are going to go back to homeschooling our girls and I hope to have more opportunities to teach, preach and speak at various churches, events or meetings. One area that has been difficult for me personally has been missing deeply the week in and week out preparation and preaching of His Word. Also, the fellowship and friendships we enjoyed with many on the East Coast has been an adjustment in how that is now different, but we are grateful to have met and begun to get to know some new friends and people here in Colorado.

This past year has been a “Sabbatical” in one way for me, yet a “training” and “preparation” period for me in another. I have done a lot of writing, both a few books for our “Basic Series” series as well as blog articles both personally and for ServeNow. I hope to continue both of those, but again, praying for a few more doors to also open to preach or teach. I am looking forward to speaking for a whole week in Arkansas at a camp again this June, and being back in PA/NJ to preach the end of July; both times with my whole family accompanying me.

Ever since my first week at bible college, upon a missions conference where the theme was “An Eternal Perspective” (and then a few months later the death of my closest friend who was only 18), I have lived with a sense of urgency, that time is short and the time to act and serve is now. (That’s one reason ServeNow is such a good fit for me!). That sense of the brevity of life and reality of eternity only grows more and more real every day. Some would look at me and say I have my whole life ahead of me; but I look behind and am amazed how quickly nearly 33 years have gone by.

The world is in need of more people who will become passionate, committed, sold-out, on fire, followers of Jesus. The world is in need of more believers to live in light of eternity, serving the King of Kings who laid down his life for them and rose again. The world needs more people to see beyond their own little worlds and have God’s heart and vision for all the world. The world is in need of more people who will reject settling for simply a comfortable, complacent, compromised life and instead seek to spread the Name of Christ to those near and far. The world needs more people to invest their time, talent, energy and resources into the kingdom of God, storing up for themselves treasure in heaven rather than on earth. The world needs more people who will respond to the call of God and beg him to use them and send them to represent him to a world in need of him.

I don’t know specifically what the future may hold, let alone even the rest of this year. But I want to be faithful to live my life (as imperfect as it may be) being led by His Spirit, guided by His Word, sensitive to His heart and simply joining him where He is at work. As Jesus put it in one of my favorite verses, Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me (John 12:26). We don’t dictate to him what we will do for him; rather we are to humbly submit ourselves to where he is at work and calling us to join him. Personally, I believe there is too little action being taken by the majority of us, and an unwillingness to truly and fully submit ourselves to Jesus’ leading and lordship. Oh, we use language such as “being led” to sound spiritual (but often in the context of not doing something or not going somewhere), but I believe in many ways we are more hearers of His Word than we are truly doers (James 1:22-25; Matthew 7:21-27). And so I fear that many of us are under a strong delusion and deception regarding our true spiritual maturity, fellowship or service.

However, I am hopeful regarding the future. I believe one way or another, God will awaken the church in America. And it is my prayer we will rise up and realize as Esther finally did, that God has put us here on earth wherever we live “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). I believe with my all heart, he is putting us and ServeNow in a position for exactly the times in which we live. While many are despairing and discouraged, Christians must learn to rest in the Sovereignty and goodness of God. And armed with a deep trust that He will never leave us or forsake us, let us be faithful to fulfill the great commission that started with Jesus’ first disciples. Jesus is still coming to us as he once came to them: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

As always, I would love to personally share with you more about how you could partner with us in fulfilling the great commission. Perhaps like I felt for ten years, you have had stirrings in your heart to serve people in different ways (such as getting bibles to those without a bible, providing skill training to women at risk of human trafficking, clothing the “naked” to much more). One reason I love ServeNow is because there is something for everybody at any level to make a real impact and difference. From serving on missions trips, to volunteering here at home, to praying or giving financially…the time to serve is now! Please check out our website, check in weekly for fresh blog posts, like our Facebook page, share about ServeNow with others, or contact me for more information. I love to meet with people, share at churches and see how together we can serve our Living, Risen, Savior!

The Grace of Giving

“For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.” -2 Corinthians 8:3-5

“But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” -2 Corinthians 8:7-9

“Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.” -2 Corinthians 8:11-12

Giving is an area that many cringe when they hear of or are approached about. Perhaps it is because we are almost daily inundated with requests. Or maybe, it is also because of much abuse that surrounds this area in certain circles and teaching. However, if we back up a bit and reflect on the act of giving a few beautiful truths emerge.

First of all, if we are simply giving money to ease our guilt, it is easy to burn out or become annoyed when asked or approached. But a whole different mindset emerges when approached as the Macedonian church did in the first portion quoted above (2 Corinthians 8:3-5). Notice they didn’t give begrudgingly or sparingly, but generously, even beyond their capacity! And they did this on their own, out of their own desire and willingness because they saw it as a privilege not a burden. Instead of Paul urgently having to plead with them, they urgently pleaded with him for the opportunity to be a part of blessing others in need! And I believe the reason they had this attitude is because of what verse five says: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. When we first give ourselves to the Lord, then and only then are we truly able to give ourselves to others in accordance with the will of God. And in giving ourselves first to the Lord, he will lead and guide us in our giving.

I work for a non-profit mission organization that does not survive on sales but donations. A big chunk of my time is spent sharing the vision and ministry of ServeNow and even approaching or asking people to financially give towards the needs. It’s not always an easy job, because you can’t simply invoice people and sometimes you feel like a nuisance or inconvenience to people when you ask for gifts, while usually not knowing who may or may not give or when. A fundraiser’s dream and blessing are people who count it a privilege and are genuinely grateful to be a part of helping others in need. In fact, just recently, I sent out an e-mail with various opportunities for people to give and it was interesting to note two specific reactions. On the one hand, several people asked to be removed from our e-mail list. But there was one person who gave a donation with a little note that said: Thanks for allowing me to take a small part in being a blessing to others.” He had the attitude Paul refers to here in Corinthians!

Secondly, let’s explore the second couple of verses quoted above (2 Corinthians 8:7-9). In this part, we see that giving is a grace that we are called to excel in. Giving should be a primary aspect of our character and lifestyle, because it is a key aspect of the very character and nature of God himself! Giving is actually a work of God or evidence of God’s grace at work in our lives. In fact that is why we give; because God himself is alive and at work in us, molding us into the image and likeness of His Son as children and representatives of him. When we give, it is therefore a reflection Him and His heart. Think about the core of the Gospel message: For God so loved the world that He gave… (John 3:16). Jesus modeled a life and lifestyle of sacrificial giving. He himself said that this is the essence of true greatness: For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45). Giving (yourself, your time, your talent, your resources, your energy, your effort, your best, your all) is the tangible, actual, expression, demonstration and outworking of love (God) truly dwelling and alive in your heart! It is one thing to say we “love” but the reality (or lack thereof) is seen in and through our giving.  This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-19).

Another important element is addressed in the third quoted portion (2 Corinthians 8:11-12). Many times we have good intentions, even initial excitement or willingness to do something or give something. However, I have found there is often a huge gap between interest and actual commitment; excitement and follow through, enthusiasm and action. Here, the apostle Paul exhorts those who expressed “eager willingness” to follow through and complete their act of giving…by actually giving! In other words, the willingness is the right attitude but without the actual follow through it loses its power, meaning and impact to make any real difference.

In the third passage above (2 Corinthians 8:11-12) Paul also addresses something that the founder and president of ServeNow is fond of saying and likes to put this way: God isn’t interested in what you don’t have or can’t give; but what you do have and can give! Even if it doesn’t seem like much, God accepts what is given willingly, cheerfully and in proportion to what one has, not what we don’t have or someone else is capable of. As our president also likes to point out, the widow who gave a mite wasn’t praised because she gave little, but because she gave all she had. Even the manner in which she gave was different than the rich people who “threw” in large amounts. She didn’t just toss it in flippantly, but put hers in worshipfully. Mark 12:41-44 records it like this: Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on. God see’s the attitude of the heart and takes the circumstances of each person into account.

Fifthly, giving is an act of trust. Many are fearful of giving because they lack trust in God. But 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 reminds us of this “law” Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever. Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

God will not abandon us in our need as we help others in their need. However, Proverbs 21:13 warns that Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered. It’s in giving that we actually receive; in blessing others that we are blessed. Proverbs 11:25 expresses it this way: A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. Jesus put it like this: Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” The way of the kingdom of God is opposite the way of the world. The world says greatness is found in being served and having servants; Jesus said those who are servants of others are the greatest. The world says I must “take what is mine” but Jesus says it’s in giving that we receive. The book of Acts records Paul saying to the Ephesus elders in his farewell address: In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

This is in fact the last point I will make in this blog. Our gifts and giving actually do as much for our own soul, life and heart than it does the one’s we give to! In fact, it not only results in worship being lifted to God, but prayers being lifted to his throne on your behalf! It is a much greater honor to be used by God as the answer to someone’s prayers; than the recipient of answered prayer. Your giving can be the “spark” that inspires praise and prayer in the lives of others! 2 Corinthians 9:12-15 in fact concludes this way: This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Choose a life of generosity, seeing giving as a privilege and an opportunity to reflect the very nature and character of God himself!

The Mystery & Reality of the Trinity

One of the core tenants of the Christian faith is the concept of the Trinity; one God in three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). While the word trinity itself is not found in the Bible, the New Testament implicitly and explicitly teaches this idea (Matthew 28:19, Luke 3:21-22, John 14-16, 2 Corinthians 13:14). It is more veiled, but certainly not absent in the Old Testament. Even so, this is one of the more confusing doctrines, even to Christians. It is often pounced upon by atheists, Orthodox Jews, Muslims and others, as a reason to reject Christianity. In this article, I would like to discuss why the reality of the Trinity is actually biblical, reasonable, consistent, and yet still a beautiful mystery.

First of all, let’s start by talking about the Trinity from a logical point of view. Atheists and others are quick to point out that the concept of the Trinity is a contradiction in itself. How can there be three beings, yet one in essence? However, this statement is not a contradiction on simply logical terms. If we were to talk about the Trinity as three persons yet one person, then it would be a contradiction. But Orthodox Christianity does not speak of persons and beings in this context in the same way. Even though it is difficult for us to understand and relate to, that does not mean that it is therefore a contradiction from a pure logical standpoint (see more here).

Secondly, Jews and Muslims are among those who are quick to dispute the idea of the Trinity, proclaiming that Christians are not monotheistic (belief in one God) but polytheistic (belief in many gods). But here again, there is a basic misunderstanding. Christians do not worship three gods; they worship one God in three persons. In polytheistic religions (such as Hinduism), the gods are completely distinct and separate beings. Christians proclaim that there is only one true and living God, but existing in three persons. And while this truth is more clearly revealed in the New Testament, it can also be found, or at the very least hinted at, in the Old Testament. In fact, it is implied twice in the first chapter of the first book in the Christian and Jewish Bible. Already in the very first verse it states: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. What is lost in the English language, but clear in the Hebrew language, is that there are different words used for “God” or “Lord” in the Bible. In this instance, the word used is “Elohim.” Elohim means the “Supreme God.” The interesting thing is that while this is a singular, masculine noun, indicating “One”, it is grammatically used in the plural! Although this is often debated, it is safe to say that within the context of the Old Testament, and clearly in the New Testament, it is, right off the bat, a hint of the reality of the Triune God.

Perhaps a more obvious explanation can be found in Genesis 1:26, where it says: Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image.’ Notice the language; God (Elohim, the Supreme God or creator of the universe) said, “let us make mankind in our image.” Who is he talking to if he is only one person? Some will say he is talking to the angels, but man has not been made in the image of angels, but in the image of God himself!

Let’s take that a little further. While we are not triune persons ourselves, we can nevertheless see, even within ourselves, the image of a triune God. What makes up a person for example? Is it my physical body only? Is it only my soul or psyche (my emotions, intellect, and personality)? Is it the spirit (the life force that animates and makes life what it is)? Or is it a combination of all three? Or, take a look at the human body. The human body is made up of many distinctly different body parts, yet together these parts form one body. There is unity in this diversity; the different parts have different functions, but together they compose one body, working together in a beautiful way.

Or, let’s look at another example. In marriage, God says that two distinctly different persons, each reflecting the image of God in unique ways (Genesis 1:27), will become one (Genesis 2:24). Together, in marriage, they will become complete, rather than apart. However, that was not all; the first thing God spoke over Adam and Eve was his blessing to specifically “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). As they would “come together” offspring would be produced, forming a kind of “triune” community in which love could be expressed! Three distinct persons in one sense, yet one in another sense.

Although these two comparisons, along with any other comparisons, fall short of being perfect examples of the Trinity, they are nevertheless hints of the expression of the Trinity. In fact, it is purposeful and meaningful that there is no perfect comparison; otherwise God would cease to be God! Think of it this way; creation testifies that there is a Creator, but it is not the creator of its own being. It is merely an expression which points to a greater reality than itself. While you can perhaps recognize certain trademarks from an artist (whether in paintings, music or other expressions of art), the art does not portray all there is to know about the artist, nor does it result in knowing the artist personally. For that, you need a relationship with the artist!

This is a good place to insert another key point. If God is merely One in essence and person (again, Christians affirm he is one in essence, not three distinct “gods”), then before he created, whom did he love and express that love to? In other words, if God is truly love (not simply that he loves), as is at the core of the Christian faith, how could that have been expressed prior to creation? If God is One in person, he cannot be a God of love. It is not merely a fact that God loves; love is the very essence of his being and nature!

Here, in fact, is the Muslim problem and reality; the God of the Quran is not a God of love in the same way that the Bible speaks of God being love. In the Quran, you have to earn Allah’s love by being a good enough Muslim. However, the Bible states the exact opposite: God demonstrated his love for us in this that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8). The message at the core of the Gospel (Good News) is: God so loved the world, he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16).

This is one “weakness” within the Islamic faith that actually results in many Muslims coming to faith in the Christian God when they come into contact with or encounter the love of God that is found and displayed in and through Jesus Christ.

Contrary to the Jewish and Muslim claim that Christians worship more than one God, it is simply not true. We affirm the declaration, or “Shema”, found in Deuteronomy 6:4: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. This was a clear call to reject the polytheism all around them. This was a call to not worship other gods or many gods. This was actually a radical and revolutionary statement made at that time.

While affirming that God is one in essence, this does not exclude the possibility of God being Triune. In fact, when you examine more closely the word “One” in this verse, an interesting reality emerges; the word used here is “Echad.” This word speaks more of unity (unified) than another Hebrew word, “Yachid”, which speaks of being one numerically or solitarily. Interestingly, “Echad” is the same word used back in Genesis 2:24, when God says in the context of marriage that: The two shall become one (Echad) flesh (see more here). Clearly, when two distinct people join together, they do not seek to lose individual personhood in order to become one person. God being “one” does not exclude logically or biblically the possibility of being three in persons while one in essence! Ravi Zacchuras, the famed Christian Apologist, once put it this way: There is unity in diversity within the community of the Trinity (watch here).

Let’s think about this another way. If God is really God, then he is not only different from us, but also lives in a different dimension altogether. If we allow the fact that there are greater possibilities in different dimensions, it may help us to at least be open to the possibility of the concept of the Trinity (see more here).

There is no doubt that the doctrine of the Trinity is difficult to grasp for finite, limited beings like us. Yet it is this mystery that in fact is part of God being God. God is eternal, self-existent, transcendent, infinite, incomprehensible, and incomparable. Even when some of the prophets in the Old Testament or John the Apostle in the New Testament see visions of God, they struggle to convey and communicate what they see. They all resort to describing God by using comparison terms such as “being like”, something we can relate to but in itself is not the actual reality (see Ezekiel 1, Revelation 4). In that sense, God is beyond us, unfathomable, yet he has revealed himself and made himself known so that we can relate to him and personally know him in relational fellowship!

Consequently, the Trinity is not a contradiction, but a beautiful mystery and a clearly revealed biblical truth. Even though this is not a complete treatise of the doctrine of the Trinity, let me close with a couple more personal and applicable thoughts. First of all, is not one of the great human pursuits, desires, needs and longings for a sense of love, belonging and community? While we are unique individuals, we crave relationships. Where does this come from and where is it ultimately found? The doctrine of the Trinity not only addresses this, but would be the answer to these questions. God, from even before creation, existed in relationship, community, fellowship and love within the Trinity. This also means that he didn’t create us in order to love or because he needed our love, but because he wanted to express and share his love outside of himself; yet proceeding from himself! It is us that are in need of his love; created to love and be loved. Our desire and longing for intimacy and fellowship can be found not only in community with other human beings, but ultimately and fully in relationship with God, our Creator himself!

Actually, there is a big difference between having knowledge of God (or the Trinity) versus knowing God personally and experiencing the reality and fellowship of the Triune God. It is this knowledge, not merely knowing about, but “knowing experientially”, that is truly the essence of eternal life or that which is truly life-giving and eternal. Jesus expressed it this way, right before his arrest and crucifixion: Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3). Paul the apostle prayed it this way: May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (1 Corinthians 13:14).

Christians can actually know the reality and fellowship of the Trinity without knowing how to intelligently articulate the doctrine of the Trinity. Nonetheless, we are to love God with not only all our heart but also all our mind (Deuteronomy 6:4 and repeated by Jesus in Matthew 22:37) and able to defend the faith, giving a reason for the hope we have with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). Our faith is supernatural at its core, but it is also reasonable, intelligent and consistent and therefore it’s important that we learn to articulate the reasonableness of our faith, while experiencing the reality of our faith in fellowship with God. In regard to the Trinity, it is not logically a contradiction, and there is solid support biblically, while still being a beautiful mystery which has been revealed and can be known personally and intimately for the one who will believe and place their faith in Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). He is the true “door” through which we enter in order to truly know God. And part of what makes the knowledge of God and worship of God so worthy, is in fact the sense of wonder in the beauty and mystery of the Trinity! As a classic hymn reverently but joyfully puts it: Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty! God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Reflecting the Triune Nature of God

Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work. They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left what they were doing and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.” -Exodus 36:2-5

I have four kids. Many times they do not simply do what they are instructed to do the first time; let alone doing it with a willing heart! (I know I wasn’t any different myself). Rarer still are the times we have to tell them to stop helping or cleaning as opposed to exasperatingly telling them a thousand times to start doing what we have already instructed them to do. Sometimes as a parent, it is easier to relate to the Moses who had to deal with complaining attitudes and disobedience among the children of Israel, than this story. However, the occasions where they just seem to sweetly, joyfully and willingly obey, there is nothing more precious or beautiful!

I pastored a church for six years. Sometimes it felt like trying to pull teeth to find willing volunteers to serve. And I regretfully, but honestly, admit that sometimes I could relate more as a pastor to the Moses who came down the mountain from the presence of God with the Word of God, excited to communicate it with the people; only to get frustrated by what the people were doing (or not doing) and “break” it in pieces before them, rather than break it forth in love for them. But the occasions where people willingly, joyfully stepped forward and served, or embraced God’s Word and acted on it in their lives, there was nothing more precious and beautiful!

I am now helping to lead a mission organization. Sometimes it feels we are scrambling or scraping to try to figure out how we will meet our budget to fulfill what we feel called to do. I am praying for the day, like I read about here, when we don’t have to plead for people to give but have to plead with them to stop, because they are giving too much!

But let’s pause to think about this scene and unpack what is happening in this passage for a moment. Notice, there were three groups of people in this story with three different roles. First, Moses as the leader, communicated the vision and instructions of the Lord to the people and specifically the skilled workers. That’s the role of leaders. Contrary to popular opinion and practice, leaders are actually not those who do all the work for the people. Too many churches for example, “hire” pastors to do the work they should be doing. Biblically speaking, the role of leaders is to equip the people to do the work (Ephesians 4:11-16)!

Secondly in fact, there were those who were skilled and gifted to do the work that needed done in this situation. And notice, it was the Lord who gave them these abilities. Not everyone is called or gifted in the same way to do certain things. As I was explaining to my kids as we read this story together for our devotions, we all have strengths and weaknesses. There are simply some things we are good at or gifted in and other things we are not. And in this passage, those who were skilled in the work that needed done, were summoned by the leaders, equipped by the leaders and began to do the work at the God-given instructions of the leader. They used their skills to serve the Lord in the work of the Lord to the glory of the Lord at the instruction of the Lord in response to the call of the Lord!

The third group in this story were the people who gave offerings for the work to be done. They were not skilled in going and doing the work themselves, but they were able to contribute through gifts and offerings. They had resources to give so the work could be done. Sometimes this is the role we find ourselves in. And in this case, the people were so generous they had to be told to stop giving because they were giving more than enough! They not only gave what was needed but more than what was needed!

So you had the leaders who obediently communicated the vision, the skilled workers who knew how to actually carry out the work and did so willingly; and the people who gave to make the work possible. This is an example of what it is supposed to look like! And when this happens within a family, or in a church, or on a team, or in a mission organization; there is nothing more beautiful and precious! It’s a picture of Christ’s body healthy, unified, mature and effective!

But it’s really and ultimately, a reflection of the Trinity. Think about it. The Father chose, sent and commissioned the Son. The Son came to serve and fulfill the Father’s will. And the Spirit has been given as a gift that the work might be accomplished! Therefore, when we all do what we are called and gifted to do, we become not only a personal example, but together we become a reflection of the perfect and beautiful Triune nature of God himself! Three yet One and One yet three Persons!

I’d like to encourage you to pray along with me that God will give me (and you and all his people) a more responsive, obedient, willing, generous heart. In what situations are you are being called to communicate, instruct or lead? In what ways are you skilled or gifted to serve? How can you practically use those gifts to willingly and cheerfully meet some need or fulfill some task? And what resources has God given you that you can freely and generously give to be used so that God’s work might be accomplished?

May those who are skilled and gifted come forth to carry out the work that needs done. May those with resources freely give generously and keep on giving till there is more than enough, rather than more that is needed. And may those entrusted with instructing, communicating and calling on God’s people to do his work and obey his word; do so faithfully and patiently. In other words, may the leaders speak clearly, the servants work skillfully and the people give generously. Because when these three things happen, there is nothing more beautiful and precious…for God himself is seen!

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” -Romans 12:6-8

“For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.” -2 Corinthians 8:3-5

 

Come, Follow Me

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.”  –Matthew 4:18-19

This is one of my favorite passages and promises in the bible. Just think for a moment on the setting. This did not take place in the synagogue but on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It wasn’t the fishermen who sought Jesus out, but Jesus who sought them out. And the calling was not to follow a mere religious system but a living person, the very Son of God himself! 

Following Jesus involves so much more than what many of us have reduced it to. It’s so much more than attending a church service once a week. It is so much more than even attending bible studies or “saying our prayers” or doing good deeds. These things are part of it; but not even close to all of it!

What I also love about this moment is the promise Jesus made to these first disciples. Their responsibility was to come and follow him; his promise was that he would then use them to bring others to himself! As they focused on entering into and maintaining a close walk with Jesus; they would become the “bait” that would attract others to follow him too. As they would draw close to him, others would be drawn closer as a result!

God is still looking for those who will “leave” their own way of life and “cleave” to him and his way of life. To those who respond to this call, he will do through them what they could never do in their own strength and they will become people they never could have become in their own ability! He did it in the lives of his first disciples and is doing it now!

But what does it look like to respond to this call today? Obviously, Jesus is not here in the flesh as he was then. However, there are principles that hold true today as then. Here’s a few:

  1. Following requires a leaving and re-prioritizing: Passion

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” -Matthew 10:37-39

Before Jesus’ first followers could “come” they had to “leave.” They laid down their nets and left all that had been familiar to them in order to learn a whole new way of life. It wasn’t always easy, comfortable or convenient. They often struggled to understand and were slow to learn. But they kept following even when others got offended and turned back (John 6:67-68). While not everyone may be called out of their current occupation, following Jesus will involve some type of leaving our own or “old” way of life and learning to live a new way of life. It requires that our relationship with him becomes our first passion and priority. All else, even good things such as family, must not be as important or hold us back from our walk with him. Following Jesus requires submitting ourselves to him and his teachings, even when we may not fully understand or they are counter-cultural, inconvenient or uncomfortable (Matthew 7:21-27, John 8:31, Romans 12:1-2). Comfort is in fact, often an enemy of the cross. The decisions we make can’t be based on what suites our flesh; but what pleases our Father (Luke 22:42). As Yoda once said to Luke Skywalker when he was training him to become a Jedi: “You must unlearn what you have learned!” It is perhaps this “unlearning” or “leaving” that can be more challenging than “learning” and “cleaving!”

  1. Following Jesus means every aspect of life becomes intentional: Purpose

“Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”         -John 5:19

Jesus never did anything without purpose. More specifically, he never did anything outside of his Father’s will or direction. Everything he did and said or didn’t do or say was intentional. Every place he went, every person he healed, every location he preached, was in accordance with and obedience to His Heavenly Father.

This is in fact the secret of the true Christian life that is missed by many of us. But being that we too are now sons and daughters of God, we must follow Jesus’ example of remaining in constant connection and fellowship with His Heavenly Father and not being swayed by the desires or opinions of others (Luke 4:42-44, John 6:15). Following Jesus requires that we “abide” in him and “commune” with him so we learn to discern our Father’s heart and activity…and then join Him where he was working or in whatever he is calling us to do (John 15, John 5:19, Ephesians 2:10).

  1. Following Jesus requires keeping in step with him: Perseverance.

“As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” –Luke 9:51

This verse speaks of the time of his crucifixion approaching, which would precede his death, burial, resurrection and ascension. In order to “keep moving forward” in his Father’s will, Jesus had to prepare himself mentally to face the cross. Following Jesus is not for the “wimpy.” Yes, we need to find strength in him in our weakness, but human “weakness” is not the same as human “wimpyness.” Following Jesus will require a certain inner fortitude, focus and determination to not let anything deter, distract, prevent or pull us away from continuing to walk with Him. Jesus does not always lead us to places that are pleasant to our flesh, but places that will challenge, even crucify our flesh! For this we need endurance and perseverance. We will need to prepare our hearts and minds in advance. As one chorus puts it: “I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”

Passion, Purpose and Perseverance. These are three key ingredients involved in faithfully following Jesus. There is a cost to following him. There are sacrifices that will need to be made. But the reward far outweighs the price! (Matthew 13:44-46). You will always gain more eternally than you will “lose” in the earthly sense (Matthew 19:27-29). The inward joy and peace gained in walking closely with him will far outweigh any outward challenge or struggle. The experience of God’s supernatural power at work in and through your life cannot compare to any other natural reality on this earth (Genesis 5).

So…now is the time to respond to the call to follow Jesus! You and I have to work out in our own lives what exactly that means and looks like from season to season (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) and in accordance with God’s Word. In fact, I encourage you to take some time to reflect even now, on what it means, in this season of your life, and whatever situation you are in, to follow Jesus. 

Just be careful of putting following Jesus off for “another time.” There were many in Scripture who had “excuses” as to why they couldn’t follow him when he called, but Jesus was clear that the time to respond is now, not later (Luke 9:57-62). Now is the only time we have and now is the time to fully and faithfully follow Jesus!

The Eternal, Limitless, Beauty of God

“Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” -Ezekiel 1:28

“Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory…” -Luke 9:32

Deep inside every human heart is a longing for the eternal and for the reality of the limitless beauty of God. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says about God: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

While many people do indeed reject the truth of God, twist the truth about God, exchange the reality of the true God for other gods or suppress the truth in order to continue in sin; the knowledge of God is all around us, even visibly seen by creation itself  (Romans 1:18-32). A spiritual thirst also exists within us for the eternal (John 4:1-26); for something greater than ourselves and beyond the physical or material world.

That thirst is really for God himself. Not to merely know about Him, but to truly know Him. And in fact, He alone is able to quench the hunger and thirst of our souls and satisfy the deepest desires and cravings of the human heart.

Nathan Stone, in his book Names of God, writes in the introduction the following: “The first question in some of our catechisms is “What is the chief end of man?” and the answer is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” But we will experience God in such fashion-we will glorify and enjoy him-only in proportion as we know him. The knowledge of God is more essential for the Christian, and indeed for all the world, than the knowledge of anything else-yes of all things together. The prayer of our Lord Jesus for his disciples in John 17:3 was: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Eternal life is not merely about knowing we will go to heaven when we die. It’s about entering into eternal fellowship with our Creator! Heaven is only heaven because God is there and we shall behold him in all his perfect, glorious beauty; in the splendor of His holiness!

In fact, the most beautiful sunset, brilliant sunrise or any other aspect of creation, no matter how breathtaking, cannot compare with the beauty of God himself. If this is true and we long and love to be surrounded by beauty and find rest in it; how much more so should we dwell in, seek, enjoy and find our rest in the beauty of God himself! He is infinitely, indescribably, inexhaustibly glorious, majestic and awesome in the splendor of his holiness. His beauty when gazed upon, naturally and spontaneously causes worship, thanksgiving and praise to flow freely and passionately from our hearts through our lips to his throne! Gazing upon his beauty with a child-like wonder and longing is the most intoxicating, captivating and refreshing thing we can ever do on earth and for eternity. We will never grow tired of it because his beauty is as endless as the waves crashing upon the shore and “in his presence is fullness of joy and eternal pleasures forevermore!” “(Psalm 16:11, 27:4, 29:1-2, 1 Chronicles 16:9).

God is infinite, eternal and limitless in his breathtaking beauty. A.W. Tozer in his classic first volume of The Attributes of God wrote this in his chapter on God’s Perfection: “We have lost also an awareness of the invisible and eternal. The world is too much with us so that the invisible and eternal seem to be quite forgotten or least we are not aware of it. We’re only briefly aware of it when somebody dies. The Church has lost the consciousness of the divine Presence and the concept of majesty.” (pg 179). Later he writes; “The modern Christian has lost a sense of worship along with the concept of majesty, and of course, reverence as well. He has lost his ability to withdraw inwardly and commune in the secret place with God in the shrine of his own hidden spirit. It is this that makes Christianity, and we have all but lost it.” (pg 181).

It is this reality of God, worship of God and fellowship with God that we must recover. It is a sense of wonder and awe we need to reclaim. We need to pray that the Holy Spirit would do a supernatural work in us, opening the eyes of our heart in revealing more of God to us. Paul the apostle continually prayed that way for the Ephesian believers: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” (Ephesians 1:17). To know God, who is a “supernatural” being (something or someone, beyond the natural or ordinary); it requires a supernatural work of the Spirit in our hearts.

Our part is to pray for this and position ourselves before God with a humility, hunger and child-like faith to know him. In fact we need to make the pursuit of gazing upon the beauty of God our number one desire and passion in life. This was the cry of David’s heart and the main focus of his life. In Psalm 27:4 he writes:  “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” Another Psalm writer expressed it this way in Psalm 42:1-2: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”  This was the deepest longing of the heart of the apostle Paul: What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…I want to know Christ.” (Philippians 3:8, 10).

Do we have this kind of desire for God? Do we place this much value on knowing God, a value and priority greater than anything or anyone else? Are we merely content to go to a church service once a week and even week after week to meet with others but leave unchanged and untouched by the brilliance and beauty of God himself? Fellowship with others, teaching, even serving itself, has its place and importance, but it is God we must be seeking, longing to know and going to meet with most of all!

Are we bored in God’s house? One of the sons of Korah once wrote: Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” (Psalm 84:10). Where do we long to be? The presence of God or everywhere but or someplace else? The truth is some are bored of God (because they don’t really know God and have not truly “tasted and seen” of his goodness and glory: Psalm 34:8). Others of us are rightly bored of just “church as usual” where there is no real sense of the presence and majesty of God as we gather together. There is a deadness, dryness and absence of the manifest glory of God in many church services. Even more tragic is how few seem to realize or are willing to admit it. We need an awakening of hunger and longing to simply be with God; a holy restlessness for the eternal and infinite!

I believe in fact, the problem lies in the reality that the church has a spirit of slumber upon her. Her “disciples,” as Jesus’ early disciples, are “sleeping” when they should be communing and praying with their Heavenly Father (Matthew 26:36-45). Some have in fact succumbed as the early disciples did in the garden of Gethsemane (and thus have no power to withstand Satan’s temptations nor any victory, joy and peace in their lives). Others of us battle it each time we go to read God’s Word, pray, worship or sit under the teaching of God’s Word. It is indeed all out spiritual warfare as Satan does not want us coming into contact with God and being changed! We have to recognize this and overcome it! We have no excuse as the early disciples may have had. The Spirit had not yet come upon them to live within them. But today the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us! (Ephesians 1:18-23). He has overcome the “sleep of death” so surely He can help us overcome the Spirit of slumber so that we behold God’s glory!

When Jesus died on the cross one of the prophetically significant things that happened was the tearing of the veil in the temple. The veil was what separated the holy place from the holy of holies. Prior to Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross, only the high priest, once a year, could enter the holy of holies, where God’s very real, manifest and manifold presence was. But with Christ uttering the words “It is finished” no more sacrifice was needed for sin, year after year. Sinful man was no longer separated from a holy God! Christ opened the way for all to approach God, commune with God and behold the glory of God, in the very presence of God! (John 19:30, Hebrews 4:14-16).

This is a reality we should not take for granted, nor fail to take full advantage of! It is time for the church to awaken and see the glory of God! It is time to commune with God and behold the beauty of God. Let the waves of his endless faithfulness, mercy, grace, eternality, transcendence, holiness, purity and splendor wash over you time and time again. Spend time in his glorious presence. His vastness is greater than the ocean or galaxy. He is more limitless than the universe. His glory is more brilliant then the sun and he is more beautiful than creation itself. He is matchless in majesty and power. Oh, how we ought to worship Him! How we ought to adore him and give him the honor, praise and glory He deserves! May the church arise and may God arise in our midst!

“At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.” (Revelation 4:2-3).

“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13).

Touching God & The Touch of God

“But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.” Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.” They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.  But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat.” –Luke 8:46-55

Just recently, I read these two stories during a time of morning devotions. The whole day, I could not shake these stories from my mind. Even in conversation with one of three pastors I met with today, we got talking about this. These two stories in Luke chapter eight take place basically simultaneous of each other and contain some key lessons and insights we can learn from and apply in our lives. More than that, I believe it is a timely word needed in this specific season.

First of all, as I read the story of Jairus, a synagogue leader whose daughter had fallen sick, it was as if the little girl was a picture of the current state of the church. Especially in America and Europe, there has been great concern among those who care most about her (such as key leaders, pastors, faithful people, etc) that she is dying. That is simply the truth. The church in the US and Europe is seeing it’s numbers decrease and influence or impact in society diminish. It simply is not overall as strong, healthy and vigorous as it can and should be.

It is also interesting to note that Jairus comes to Jesus on behalf of his dying girl and while Jesus begins to move towards her, he is “interrupted” and “stops” along the way, by an “unclean” woman who touches the hem of his garment. He is on his way to respond to one crises, when somebody elses crises suddenly is resolved not by him touching her, but her touching him!

This is a fascinating story. It is the only case we read about where it wasn’t Jesus touching somebody and they were healed, but them touching him and being healed. I have been saying lately that in order to touch the world for God, we need a touch from God. I still believe that, but as of today I am “modifying” that statement a bit due to the example of this woman. While we need a touch from God in order to touch the world for God; let us be like this woman and not “wait” for Jesus to “touch us”…let us go and touch him! Let’s get a hold of God! Perhaps part of the problem is that we are “waiting” on God to “come to us” and “touch us,” but what if he is “waiting” for us to come to him and touch him in and by faith? We pray; but do we pray in faith?

It is also interesting to note that there were lots of people “crowding” around Jesus that day. This woman wasn’t the only one there. Many were “touching” Jesus, yet her “touch” was different. She received something when she “touched” him. Power flowed from Jesus when she touched his garment! Her life was suddenly and instantly changed when she came in “contact” with Jesus. Health and new life flowed into her. There is a need for more people not to merely “crowd around” Jesus but to press through the crowd and receive something from Jesus. There is a need for a people not who wait for God to touch them, but a people who in faith and by faith touch God and thus come to know his power flowing and working in their lives!

Notice also, Jesus “stopped” when this woman touched him and power flowed from him. She tried to do this quietly and discretely; but no one who touches God will go unnoticed by Him or others! This was not to embarrass her, but to honor her. It was not to humiliate her but hold her up as an example for everyone else. When she came forth, he affirmed her and spoke peace to her. This was an amazing moment. This woman “stopped” Jesus! He stopped for her.

Curiously however, in stopping for her, the condition of the other girl he was moving towards worsened. So much so that rather than being in a state of “dying” she “died.” It seems to me right now that the “attention” of Jesus has been focused on those in other parts of the world, such as Asia and Africa where the church is growing and people are experiencing the power of God in their lives. They are “touching” him and he is honoring them. Yet as their “health” is improving it seems on the other side of the world the health of God’s people is worsening. In this passage, the girl’s condition in fact was so bad that someone came and said “it’s over.” Don’t bother the teacher anymore. She is dead.” How many of us have given up and aren’t even bothering to pray anymore? However, Jesus responded and countered by saying to not be afraid, but to hold on and “just believe.” What appears to be a period at the end of a sentence, may actually just be a parenthesis!

Some of us who care about the health and condition of the church in America and other parts of the world, have been in a state of “wailing and mourning” (despair and defeat) over the condition of the church. In many cases it appears the “church” is dead and we have given up really praying or believing anymore. But as I read this story, it seemed like God was speaking to my heart about the church the same thing Jesus said to the people who thought this girls life was over: “stop wailing…she is not dead but asleep!” The church is very much “asleep” right now but she is not dead! And what a tender picture of Jesus taking this girl by the hand and calling to her to “rise up!” A “resurrection” took place as her spirit responded to Jesus’ command! She awakened.

Notice also that the first instruction given to the others who were “awake” was to “give her something to eat.” One evidence of a church (or individual) that is alive or “awakens” is that they become hungry for God’s word. May those who are already awake, not give into despair but be ready and prepared to feed her hunger with God’s Word when His church awakens again! In the meantime let us go to Jesus as Jairus did on behalf of his daughter’s condition and intercede for his mercy and power to bring new life, vigor and strength back into the church! Let us keep believing. Let us NOT “stop bothering the teacher…” He is more than a teacher and there is more to the ministry of Jesus than just teaching. He is the Son of God and possess all power and he is looking for those who will “just believe…and keep believing even when it seems hopeless and “over.” Does not His own resurrection remind us of this reality? We serve a Living, Risen Savior!

Both Jairus and the woman who touched Jesus were what we would call “intercessors.” They came to Jesus. One touched him and experienced his power at work in her life. The other came and prayed that he would come and touch his daughter. One touched God; the other experienced the touch of God in his daughters life.

The situation and condition the church finds herself in right now requires the supernatural power of God. Human effort and energy are not enough. It’s not about more programs, activities or even “more teaching.” The church is inundated with teaching. A lot of it is good but is falling on deaf ears. People don’t eat when they are asleep! Eating comes only after people wake up. And I pastored long enough,  preached in enough churches and talked to enough pastors to realize this is a common problem. There is plenty of preaching and teaching but so little action and response. It’s one reason I left the church I was pastoring and joined the mission organization I am with. The church needs new life breathed back into her. We need a touch from God and we need to touch God. Prayer and faith are needed right now.

And although I am not pastoring now, I have not given up all hope (although I have at times!) on the church. In fact my hope is actually growing stronger now more than ever. I am convinced the church will awaken and there will be an “awakening.” But what I have come to realize is that it’s not teaching that will “wake people up.” Teaching has its place…but people need to be “awake” to receive it! What is most needed right now is the kind of unrelenting, un-distracted tenacious faith of the women in this story and the prayers of humble and broken leaders like this synagogue ruler, who will take an honest assessment of the true condition of the church and admit they need a touch from God…or it’s hopeless. It will take a people or person who will “press through the crowd of people” that gathers around Jesus all the time, but their lives are not really being changed nor  experiencing his power flowing from him to them. It will take someone who will “touch” God and experience the touch of God in their lives.

May God give us strength to be like this woman and Jairus. May we be the one’s who press through and press on in faith and prayer for our own sake and the sake of his church! May new life be infused into our own lives and the life of the church. May His power be released in our lives and flow from him causing his church to awaken and arise once more!

Live in Light of Eternity

“If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”1 Corinthians 15:32

Easter is coming! In churches all around the world, messages will be focused on the resurrection of Jesus. When I was pastoring, Good Friday and Easter were two of my favorite times of the year to preach, as it always brought us (and myself) back to the very heart and core of the true Christian faith and “Good News” of the Gospel: Jesus died for our sins but rose from the dead. We serve a Loving, Living, Risen Savior!

However, Easter should not be the only time of the year we think about the reality of the resurrection and the implications and application to our lives. First Corinthians chapter fifteen is perhaps the “Magna Carta” of the bible in regard to the resurrection of Jesus. In this chapter, Paul moves from the reality of Jesus’ resurrection to what this means and how this impacts our lives now and in the future. He writes of how if Christ hasn’t been raised from the dead then our entire faith is useless, powerless and futile (1 Corinthians 15:14-18). But even more than that it would mean we are not only “defeated” in life here on earth now; but without hope for or in eternity. In fact, Paul puts it this way: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our future resurrection and therefore certainty or confidence of eternity!

I fear we have lost or are losing our vision and focus in regard to eternal realities. Most sermons today are focused solely on life here and now. Be a better you! Seven steps to a healthier more productive life! How to be happy and successful! Be a more forgiving and loving person. And the list goes on. At it’s worst, it is really very shallow; at best much is biblical…but divorced from eternal realites. There are commands and passages that are important to emphasize in regard to how we are called to live our lives here on earth as believers. My concern however, is that when we fail to encompass the “here and now” within the reality and context of eternity; we lose the very core of the Christian faith and life. We also lose a sense of urgency and “eternity” that is so needed and in fact drives every “earthly” command and calling. Our lives on earth need to be lived in light of eternity.

Let me share a bit of my personal testimony. I grew up living a very “normal” American life. Nothing really “dramatic” ever happened and my childhood was a typical child’s life. Baseball was really all I cared about. My only dream was to be a major league baseball player. However, the summer after my senior year I went on a mission’s trip where God began to work in my heart and create a restlessness, a sense that there was “more to life” and that I needed to seek him with all my heart. Not long after, we lost the championship baseball game (partly due to an error I made in the first inning!). Somehow when that game was over I knew it would be my last baseball game. I was devastated and found myself depressed because I had only ever lived for and thought about one thing: Baseball. And I realized that day that whether that really was my last game, or whether I went on to play professionally until I was forty, it would one day be over. And then what? For the first time the question of “What really is the meaning and purpose of life” began to trouble me.

That Sunday, I heard a message revolving around a question posed to Jesus regarding the most important command. His answer was that the greatest command is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:28-31). I realized my love for baseball needed to be replaced with a love for God. I also remembered and realized I needed to return to a prayer I had prayed when I was about 11 or 12: “Jesus I need you…and I want to give my life to serve you.”

After my first semester at a secular college, I felt called to go to a bible college. During that first week at bible college there was a missionary who spoke every day at the mission conference that kicked off that week. His theme was “Living in Light of Eternity.” I still very vividly not only remember that week; but it set in motion a “mindset” and “way of life” that continues and I am still very conscious of to this very day. During that time I also began to read every book on heaven. I was gripped with a sense of eternity and began to intentionally and purposely find ways to put “Living in Light of Eternity” into practice even in small ways.

Two months later my first real “spiritual friend” (that I could talk to at a mutual level in regard to our walk with Christ) was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was 18 and I was 19. It was the first time anyone real close to me had died. Suddenly, eternity became practically real and the shortness of life and suddenness of death were not just words in a book but experience in life. This reality was only then driven more and more home when I started pastoring a church. In just six years, I did around thirty funeral services.

We are all going to die. In fact we are all right now dying. Our bodies do not grow younger, but begin to slow down and show signs of aging. I can’t believe even in my thirties how much different I look and feel then when I was in my twenties! Time is not going backwards. Time is not slowing down. Time is marching us on towards eternity. It may be sobering to think about but actually the wise person will do so. Ecclesiastes 7:2 in fact says: It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.”

The resurrection of Jesus reminds us that this life is not all there is. There is an eternity that awaits us and is rushing upon us. This is good news for the believer in Christ; it is bad news for the unbeliever. It is our very hope as believers; it is the very hope unbelievers are missing.

As believers, it gives meaning and perspective to suffering, persecution and aging: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (1 Corinthians 4:16-18).

It gives a sense of humility: “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15).

It calls us out of our selfishness, greed, jealousy, petty conflicts and earthly comfort: “And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.”  “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21).

It calls us to die to self and put to death sin in our lives: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature..” (Colossians 3:1-5).

It should also give us a sense of urgency and motivation in serving the Lord…now. Now is the only time you and I have! Eternal matters ought to take priority over earthly “matters” or “worries”: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33).

Truly living in light of eternity impacts our lives in very specific and powerful ways. There is an old saying that I think is incorrect. It says: “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good.” But I would argue vehemently to the contrary. If one is truly “heavenly minded” they will be of the utmost “earthly good.” In fact I believe the real danger is being “too earthly minded to be of any heavenly good.”

Didn’t Jesus say in the context of praying, fasting and giving to not do these things to get praise from men; but sincerely before God in light of eternity? Didn’t he go on to immediately say: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21).

But is this our focus? Are we truly living our lives in light of eternity…or in light of our next paycheck or vacation or other “earthly plans?”

The resurrection of Jesus reminds us to live in light of the reality of eternity. He came once…but He is alive and coming again! There will be a future judgment and even bodily resurrection. Our life on earth is simply the “dress rehearsal” for the “real event!” Our brief life “here and now” is preparation for “there and then!”

And if we plan for so many other things here on earth; our career, buying a home, retirement, vacations etc; how can we be so foolish to not plan for and live our lives on earth in light of eternity? Jesus’ death on the cross was not the end. And your life here on earth is not the end either. It’s just the beginning…

“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-10).

The Justice of Hell

The other night, my wife and I went out to dinner with new friends of ours. During the course of dinner, conversation began to move to “spiritual things.” The husband explained that he was an “agnostic” and began to put forward the various reasons of why that was so. One of the main “stumbling blocks” for him (as with many skeptics) is the Bible’s teaching on hell, especially a hell that is eternal. To be sure, the Bible’s teaching on hell is very terrifying and ought to disturb us. In fact, in many churches today, it seems that many are embarrassed or afraid to speak about it. As a result, they have essentially taken the same position as an agnostic, as you barely hear a whisper on hell anymore. But if it is true, the reality is too weighty to ignore. Lives are at stake for all eternity. Therefore, I want to put forward some thoughts in this blog article for two kinds of people; for those who struggle with this whole “concept” and for my Christian friends. We (including myself) need to be better equipped when sharing and reasoning with those in a position like my friend.

Let’s start by assuming that the Bible is true, accurate, and that it is God’s word (Another post for another time!). But as such, it clearly teaches the reality of hell. Different people will take positions on aspects of hell and interpretation regarding hell, but the Bible unmistakably teaches about hell. In fact, Jesus himself had more to say about hell than anyone else! Ironically, many people, including my agnostic friend, say they admire the “Sermon on the Mount” and the virtues it extols, however, Jesus speaks of hell twice in the Sermon on the Mount! He warns that those who harbor hatred or lust in their hearts are in danger of “the fire of hell” and of being “thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:21-30). But one cannot deny that Jesus himself, spoke, taught and warned of hell as a reality (see for example: Matthew 10:28, 11:23, 18:9, 23:23, Luke 16:19-31).

To get around this, one either has to say Jesus is mistaken, lying, or that others “added” or attributed those words/teachings to him wrongly. Here’s the problem: if he is deceived or lying, then he can’t be trusted in his other teachings either, and that means he can’t be a “good teacher.” If, on the other hand, you try to claim that these teachings were attributed to him but not really said by him, I would say this to you: it is a very slippery slope (and can be a convenient “work around”) to “pick and choose” which teachings of Jesus you believe or accept and which ones you do not personally like or have a problem with and therefore dismiss. Many people in fact, try to make Jesus in their own image or likeness (something they are comfortable with and can accept) rather than be confronted by his teachings, changed in their thinking and conformed to his image and likeness. It’s a dangerous place to stand in judgment of the Bible or Jesus’ teachings rather than accept and obey all of his teachings, whether we like them, understand them or not. It’s also an arrogant place to trust our own understanding more than scripture’s revelation, or trust our logic more than God’s wisdom (Proverbs 3:5). Really, at the core of it all is the fact that we want to be our own “god”; not submit ourselves to God. It is the same lie today as the ancient lie in the Garden of Eden…”you can be your own god and determine for yourself, according to your own standard, good and evil (Genesis 3).

But, let’s come back to the problem many have with hell. The first big problem many people, like my friend, have with hell is not only the concept itself, but especially the fact that it’s eternal. The argument goes something like this: “How can a loving God send people to hell simply for not believing in Him?” Or: “How is it ‘just’ that a person has to pay for their earthly sins for all of eternity?”

Let’s start with the first argument about a loving God sending people to hell. First of all, let’s be clear that the Bible states, in the very words of Jesus, that hell was never intended for human beings. In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus speaks of what will happen when he returns. The language all throughout the Bible in regard to the coming of Jesus is one of judgment for the disobedient and salvation for the obedient. In this passage, he speaks of separating people from all the nations of the world. Some will be separated to his right, others to his left. The ones on the right are referred to his “sheep” (a phrase used to denote the “people of God”). The one’s on the left are called “goats” (a term used to denote those not of his “flock”). The sheep are told to come and receive the eternal kingdom of God; it is their inheritance, a blessing as being his children. The goats on the other hand are told by Jesus to: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Notice a few things. First of all, the horror of hell is real, because it is a separation and departure from Jesus himself. The “goats” are told to “depart from me.” Hell is hell because of the absence or separation from the presence of God and therefore all that is good. On the other hand, heaven is heaven, because God is present and all good things come from God! (Psalm 16:11, James 1:16-17). A person who rejects God on earth is therefore handed over to an eternity without God in hell.

Secondly, notice that Jesus refers to them as “cursed.” The reason they are “cursed” is not because God didn’t love them. They are cursed because they did not embrace the only remedy for their sin: Christ being “cursed” on the cross for their sin. Scripture teaches us that we are “under the wrath of God” because of our sin; in fact, Ephesians 2:3 says: “…we were by nature deserving of wrath.” (We will come back to this later in regard to the justice of hell).

Thirdly, notice that Jesus speaks of hell as “eternal fire.” I do not believe Scripture teaches “annihilism” as some teach annihilism, which is the thought that those who are separated from God will cease to exist, rather than be in hell for eternity (I’ll touch on that very briefly later, but it would require a whole other blog to truly tackle this subject).

Fourthly, notice that Jesus said this “eternal fire” was prepared specifically for “the devil and his angels.” It is a tragic and unnatural thing for human beings to be cast into “eternal fire.” Human beings were made in the image of God to live forever with God, not apart from God. Yet, the sober reality of this glimpse into the future is that there will be those who refuse to believe and obey the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and who will be punished with “everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

However, let’s address how a “loving God could send anyone to hell.” First of all, we must remember that the Bible does not speak of God simply as “loving.” The refrain and cry around the throne of God in heaven is not: “Love, love, love!” it is “holy, holy, holy.” (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8). God is love, but his love is a holy love. God is merciful, compassionate, forgiving and gracious, but he is also righteous and just. The word “holy” means “other-than.” In other words, God is not “like us.” We have been created in his image to be “like him”, but sin has tainted and corrupted us all (Romans 6:23). God, on the other hand, is perfect in all his ways, and one attribute cannot be divorced from or separated from his other attributes.

Secondly, let’s flip this question around: “How could a just God allow anyone (sinners) into heaven?” The assumption that we somehow don’t deserve hell or do deserve heaven contradicts the heart of the Gospel. The Gospel (which means “Good News”) makes clear that we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and that “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23). A gift by nature and definition is not something we work for or deserve; it is something freely given to us by someone who paid a price to present it to us. If God were only just, then no one would enter heaven. The Good News is that God is love and in his love he sent His Son so that “whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). He was “cursed” so that we could be “blessed.”

Thirdly, consider this. Timothy Keller, in his book The Reason for God; Belief in an Age of Skepticism, makes a very interesting point. He explains how the problem with hell can actually be a cultural problem, not a universal issue. Our culture, he argues, finds themes such as “turning the other cheek” and “forgiving enemies” “appealing” (in theory anyway!). But he goes on to write how in other cultures “turning the other cheek makes absolutely no sense. It offends people’s deepest instincts about what is right. For them the doctrine of a God of judgment, however, is no problem at all. That society is repulsed by aspects of Christianity that Western people enjoy, and are attracted by the aspects that secular Westerners can’t stand.” As a side note, I will add this is one reason I trust the Bible. It speaks to every culture but yet transcends (even confronts) every culture at certain points.

Fourthly, scripture teaches us that God has given human beings free will. He has given us the unique ability to reject Christ or receive him. Without this ability to freely choose, I would argue that we would cease to truly be “human.” It would diminish and snuff out the uniqueness of our being “made in the image of God.” This also explains why an eternity in hell is actually more “dignifying” than for God to simply annihilate the person and cause someone made in his image, to cease to exist.

Fifthly, while some cannot square God’s love with “God’s wrath”, I would argue that a God without wrath is not a God of real love or justice. I believe that the problem for some is that their idea or understanding of God’s wrath is that it is equivalent to him having “petty or childish outbursts of anger.” But God’s wrath is not unrestrained, irrational or unjust. It is rather the rightful expression of his justice and actually evidence of his love. What kind of loving and just God would not punish evil and wrongdoers? What kind of God would passively and eternally shrug his shoulders, or “wink” at injustice? Hell is just and heaven brings justice to the persecuted and oppressed who took refuge in God while on earth.

Sixthly, let’s address the justice of hell being eternal. The argument goes: “How can we be punished eternally for sins committed while only on earth temporarily?” Nevertheless, this belies a fundamental (and often overlooked) misunderstanding. First of all, hell is not simply about punishment for our sins; it is the consequence for rejecting God and the only remedy for our sin, which is Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Our sin is so serious that we cannot atone for it. God had to send a perfect, sinless, spotless Savior to save us from our sin and from hell. To reject this is to cut ourselves off from the only medicine for our sickness.

Also, since God is an eternal being, our sin is against an eternal God. In fact, for those who are in hell, it’s not like they cease to sin once they die. We know that is true for the believer once we are in the presence of God, but it’s not true for those in hell. There is no evidence in scripture (actually, the evidence is contrary) that anyone comes to repentance once in hell. All that is seen in hell is the desire for relief and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” over their situation, but never their sin (see Luke 16:19-31). This is a crucial but often overlooked point. Their sin against an eternal God continues in eternity and so is eternal in nature. Their choice has been made while on Earth and it continues in eternity. Therefore, they are left to themselves and the consequences of their choice.

Seventhly, the very day I was writing this, my son said something he has been saying a lot lately in various situations: “That’s not fair!” But as parents know, the understanding of a 3-year-old child of “what is fair” is different from an adult’s understanding of what is fair! Well, should I be so arrogant as to believe that if I don’t understand or think something is fair, it therefore must not be? Am I to sit in judgment of God, or in humility think about the reality of God’s judgment? Just because we don’t understand something in our limited, finite human minds, doesn’t mean God (who is infinite and eternal) is unjust. Perhaps what we really mean by saying “that’s not fair” is what my 3-year-old son really means to say: “I don’t personally like this, because it’s not my way, it’s not what I want and I don’t understand why!” If God is truly God this should give us all pause.

Eighthly, an article posted on www.GotQuestions.com made another valid point: “In a human court of law, a physical assault against an individual will usually result in a fine and possibly some time in jail. In contrast, a physical assault against the president or prime minister of a country will likely result in a lifetime in prison. And this is the case despite the fact that the crime was a one-time offense, not a continual, ongoing action. God is infinitely higher and greater than any human being. How much more are our crimes worthy of a great punishment in light of the fact that our sins are against God?” (Romans 6:23)

Lastly, during this dinner conversation with my friend, another comment was made that I want to address here. The comment was along the lines of: “Isn’t it horrible to put fear in people in regard to hell; essentially “scaring” them into heaven?” Let me respond with my own question: “If your child is standing in the middle of train tracks, and you know a train is coming, which could hit him and kill him, would you still hold to this line of reasoning? Wouldn’t the loving thing be to warn your child? Wouldn’t you do it with a sense of urgency? Sin is serious. Hell is sobering. God certainly considered it serious and sobering enough to send his own Son into the world to save us from our sin and eternal separation from him.

As a matter of fact, I don’t believe we can truly know the love of God, the grace of God, the joy of the forgiveness of sins and gift of eternal life, if we don’t accept the reality of hell. We can’t even really know the Gospel, let alone see our need for the Gospel. What “good” is “Good News” if there wasn’t first “bad news”? What is the point of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross if sin is not that serious with eternal consequences? If it was just to demonstrate a “good example” so that we would be more loving and forgiving towards each other, surely there could have been another way other than Jesus dying on the cross. Yet, when it comes to salvation and forgiveness of sin; there was and is no other way (John 14:6).

I truly believe that nowadays, at the core of it all, is that we have lost a healthy “fear of the Lord.” Scripture says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” It is ironically sad that some of the most “intelligent” people are by nature and according to the Bible “fools” (see Romans 1:18-32, Psalm 14:1-4). This is a result of pride. In order to enter the Kingdom of God, we must humble ourselves and become like little children, realizing that we don’t know everything and that we need God (Matthew 18:3). The Gospel is a “stumbling block” to those who are “wise” in their own eyes, but it is “salvation” for those who will humble themselves before God. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 puts it this way: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

If you have not placed your faith in Christ, if you have not repented of your sin, humbled yourself of your pride and surrendered your life to God, I want to plead with you to do so. These are serious, weighty, eternal matters. There is nothing more important and nothing more urgent. Life on earth is nothing compared to life in eternity. None of us knows how much longer we really have on earth. If we plan for so many other important and future events (weddings, vacations, career’s, retirement) why would we not plan for our eternity? And if you don’t believe in the reality of eternity, what evidence do you have that there is no eternity, before dismissing of it so certainly? Does not something in you long for “life eternal?” Ecclesiastes 3:11 (a book that wrestles with the apparent meaninglessness of life; but concludes with purpose being found in the reality of an eternal God and right relationship with him) says that God has put eternity in our hearts. In fact, doesn’t your heart long for peace? I truly felt for my agnostic friend because I saw the conflict and turmoil in him in this regard. The thought of “nothing” or “ceasing to exist” in itself troubled him. But “fear of death” is one thing Jesus frees us from when we believe (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Nevertheless, Scripture makes clear that all of us will one day stand before the God of the universe, who created you and me, who proved the depth of his love for each of us by making the ultimate sacrifice possible, so we could spend an eternity with him, not apart from him. Each of us will one day stand before this Savior and Judge and give an account of our lives, whether we believe this or not (Romans 14:12, Revelation 20:11-15).

Secondly, to my believing Christian friends, if we really believe this, shouldn’t we be deeply motivated to share the Good News and take the Gospel into all the world? (Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Corinthians 5:11-15) Shouldn’t we be better equipped to give a reason for the hope we have, with gentleness and respect? (1 Peter 3:15). Our faith is certainly supernatural at its core. It also does require a step of faith and surrender. However, evidence is on our side (Romans 1:20-23, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8), and our faith is not “unreasonable.” I know I need to sharpen my skills to reach out better to those with questions and doubts. Lives are hanging in the balance. Eternity is at stake.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15).

***Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God, Belief in the Age of Skeptisicm. pg72

 

Our Helper

Psalm 146:5: “Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.”

I seem to have a trust issue. For some reason, deep down, I don’t always really live trusting that God will truly provide what is needed, whatever the needs may be. For example, over the course of the six years that I was pastoring a church, I had many moments or seasons of panic, anxiety or fear that I wouldn’t have anything to preach any given Sunday or study. Or times when I felt called to go on a missions trip or meet some need; I feared it wouldn’t be provided. Or now, in my new role with ServeNow, I have many restless nights wondering and worrying about where funds will come from to do what we sense called to do. This sense of panic, anxiety and stress easily can lead to seasons of despair and discouragement that can be crippling.

The real problem is doubting the reality and faithfulness of God.

The Israelite’s faced the same temptation (see Exodus & Numbers). They gave into unbelief no matter how many times God provided for them when there seemed to be no way. (Think being delivered out of Egypt, the Red Sea parting, the times he provided in ways they never could have imagined in the wilderness). Time and time again they cried out not in faith; but fear, despair and unbelief. They failed to remember that God’s past faithfulness was assurance of his present and future faithfulness. Because unlike human beings, his faithfulness never waivers and his character never changes. His past provision is promise of future provision. How he will provide is often very different in each new situation; but never once did he, or will he, leave them or abandon us! It is good to review the past to find confidence for the present and future. Remembering what God has done, reminds us of what God will do! As Hebrews 13:8 reminds us “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever!”

During a recent sleepless, restless night, I was reading through the book of Psalms. As I was reading God began to “highlight” some of the portions that speak of Him as our Help or Helper. For example, Psalm 54:4 says: Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.” Psalm 121:2 says: “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 33:20 says: We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.”

Notice, not only does God help us; he himself is our help! In John chapters 14-16 Jesus speaks numerous times to his disciples of how he will send the Holy Spirit to be with them always. The word he uses is the Greek word: “Parakletos.” That word means and is translated as “Advocate”, “Helper,” “Comforter” or Counselor.” It speaks of someone who is “called to one’s side” to assist in whatever ways are needed in any given circumstance or situation. God is right by our side, helping us to become who he has called us to become, do what he has called us to do and provide or assist in whatever ways we need!

And this “Helper” that Jesus spoke of would not only be with them but in them! This is why Jesus would say it would actually be better for him to physically go and the Spirit come (John 16:7-8). Then God would not just be “Immanuel: God with us” but “Christ in you, the hope of glory!” (Colossians 1:27).

It is one thing for God to help us, but quite another thing for him to be our Helper. Someone who helps in a given situation may not in another situation. Their help may be temporary or momentary. However, when someone is a “Helper” they are there and help in any and every situation. In fact, do you know how the dictionary defines the noun “Helper?”

The noun HELPER has 2 senses:
1. a person who contributes to the fulfillment of a need or furtherance of an effort or purpose.
2. a person who helps people or institutions (especially with financial help).

To “help” means to “give assistance to (someone); make it easier for (someone) to do something; aid; to contribute.

By the way, this means that when you help to meet needs, provide aid, assistance or contribute to further an effort or purpose; you are reflecting the very character and nature of God! You are being a vessel which he himself is working through and providing for others, since He is the true helper and where all help comes from! That is pretty awesome! In fact, God calls us to excel in giving, serving, assisting, contributing, providing aid and help to others because it’s a reflection of who He is!

But God wants us putting our trust and hope in Him as our Helper, and the One through whom all help truly comes from. There is Psalm after Psalm of the writer crying out to God for help. And there is exhortation after exhortation to put our hope and trust in God. Psalm 115:9-11 for example repeats it in three slightly different ways: “All you Israelites (God’s people), trust in the Lord— he is their help and shield. House of Aaron (priests/servants of God), trust in the Lord— he is their help and shield. You who fear him, trust in the Lord— he is their help and shield.”

So why do we struggle to truly live in a state of faith and trust that he will provide?

I believe part of the problem revolves around the fact that God’s ways (and timing) is simply not our ways (or timing). He just does not operate on the timetable we usually set for him! Or, he does not operate according to the ways we have figured out in our heads or planned in our own minds. But none of those dynamics negate the reality that he is faithful and true!

I can think back on so many situations where I was at my wit’s end and swimming in doubt and despair. But then God provided in some way, shape or form! God is trying to teach us and bring us to a place where instead of “waiting filled with anxiety;” We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.” (Psalm 33:20). Waiting tests and tries our faith and trust in God and his faithfulness. It would seem easier to “take matters into our own hands and do something.” But waiting on the Lord, is how our faith and trust grows and builds “muscle.” There is no testimony without first being a test! And there is no “muscle” without it being “worked out” or “exercised!”

We all need God’s help in so many different ways. And with his help we can do anything he is calling us or leading us to do! Psalm 18:29 for example says: “With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.” Paul the apostle said that although at one point the Jews tried to kill him because of his preaching of the Gospel, “But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. (Acts 26:21-22). It was God’s presence among and with the apostles and early church that enabled and empowered them to do what they did (see the book of Acts). And it is the help that comes from God, and He being with us as our Helper that makes all the difference in our lives!

So where is it (or what is it) in your life that you need help from God? Come to him and ask him to help you. Cry out to him, acknowledging and trusting in Him as your helper. Wait patiently in hope; not panic. Wait in faith; not fear. Trust in him. He is our Helper and has promised to help. He will not forgot or forsake you; abandon or fail you! Rest in the truth of what the classic hymn “A Mighty Fortress” reminds us of:

A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood…”

Psalm 28:7: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”

Go

I have a new message that is burning in my heart. This “new” message is actually however an “old” message (to borrow language from John the apostle: see 1 John). In fact, most self-identified followers of Jesus are familiar with the passage this comes from. It has famously been called “the Great Commission.” Sadly, however, it is often “The Great Omission” in reality and practice. For others it is simply taken as “The Good Suggestion” or even worse, something that some believe should not be practiced at all. This passage also gets discussed, debated and philosophized about all the time. But I don’t believe the issue is understanding it. The issue is actually obeying it. And it seems to me, there is becoming less and less actual action, wholehearted commitment, passion, serious-minded effort and intentionality being put into it by the majority of self-professing Christians. That’s not a condemnation; simply a general observation. However, there are wonderful exceptions to be sure!

Yet, it is embarrassing but true, that many congregates couldn’t even tell you what missionaries or mission organizations their own church “supports,” let alone ever prays for or is informed about. I was once given 30 seconds at a popular church to share about the mission organization I am with. 30 seconds! And that was actually “generous” and an exception I was told, because at that point the partnership was not yet official. I was however assured that once it became official I would have a whole 5 minutes next time I come back! I was then more grieved to find out that the mission committee of this church rarely gets any time during a service to share about missions. They themselves informed me that at least 80% of the people would have no idea what missionaries their own church supports. That is tragic.

I pastored a church for six years. So I have been on the other end of this and it’s true that you get inundated with requests from missionaries or mission organizations. And you can’t partner with them all. But I think it is good to count it a privilege, responsibility, priority and of utmost importance for our congregations to hear personally from those supported (and even others) and encouraged to get involved and give above and beyond. I know it was good for me as a a pastor to continually hear from others about how God was working around the world…and healthy for our congregation to hear from others outside of myself and our own “little world.”

But I also know from talking to “supported” missionaries or now being on this end of things myself, how you often feel like an “intruder” “nuisance” “burden” or “forgotten” completely by many churches that are partnering with you or you approach. I thought being a pastor could be lonely at times, but in some ways this role can be even lonelier. Missionaries ought to be the hero’s of the church; not the forgotten one’s of the church!

My heart longs to have a strong partnership with churches. I envision ServeNow simply being an avenue for the church here to fulfill the Great Commission there. We get story after story, week after week of real people’s lives being touched and transformed by the Gospel. Imagine churches partnering with us and being able to share those stories with their congregation! What encouragement it could bring! What hearts it might stir for missions and to service!

In fact, that was one reason I joined ServeNow. I got tired of preaching sermons week after week but then seeing so little corresponding action despite tremendous potential. Then I saw how many people ServeNow was reaching with so little staff or resources. They weren’t just talking about serving; they were serving. They weren’t just talking about going; they were doing. They were reaching more people in one week than I fear many churches are reaching in one year! For example, in just our third full year of existence this year, we served in some specific way close to a quarter million people! And when you average all the costs together, you know what it cost per person? $5. How many churches can say that? In fact, when I look at the millions of dollars churches pour into themselves internally and building wise each year my heart breaks.

We have a mission’s problem. Sure, churches and people are giving to missions. Sure, there are “mission conferences” and groups going on “mission trips.” But my question is whether this is really one of the main core priorities; the heart-beat and passion of the church? Not just in theory or principle or leadership; but practice and reality by the people? It’s not about how many come and sit in our pews for services; but how many are sent out and go forth as disciples making more disciples.

Yes, the church is for believers to gather together in Jesus’ name and be encouraged and exhorted. But the “gathering” is for the purpose of then “going.” We are to “be” disciples in order to then “make” disciples. And this is not to be limited to just our community, city or country. I hear many people say things along the lines of “we have enough problems here in our own country; so why should we go or give to problems in other countries?” Yet, my bible records Jesus saying “For God so loved the WORLD, that He gave His one and only Son.” (John 3:16). My bible says that yes, we are to START right where we are at and be a witness there; but it’s not to STOP there (Acts 1:8). My bible records Jesus saying to go into ALL the world; and preach the Gospel in ALL nations (Matthew 28:18-20). And my bible records that around the throne in heaven will not just be people like us from our community or country but every tribe, tongue, nation and language (Revelation 5:9).

By the way, did you know 25% of the world, a quarter of the world’s population, still lacks their own bible or scripture in their language…let alone basic discipleship material? There is still a lot of work to do! We have so much light here while much of the world lies in almost, if not, complete spiritual darkness. We indulge ourselves; while others are suffering from hunger (both spiritually and physically). I encourage you to get the book Pray the World and there you will read of (and can pray for) the tremendous need within each country of the world today!

Yet my fear is that we are getting more and more internalized, isolated, complacent and comfortable. I fear our vision for ALL the world is being limited to just our own communities or country. I fear our passion and compassion for ALL people is being reduced to some people, some of the time. And I fear we are being gripped by fear and anxiety in regard to what we see happening the world and so we are retreating in timidity at a time when we need to be bold and courageous like never before!

I am amazed over how fearful people are right now to travel anywhere. May I remind you however there is a Proverb that says this: The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside! I’ll be killed in the public square!” (Proverbs 22:13). You can find an excuse to not do anything or anywhere. But most of our fears while being “real” are really irrational. You have a much higher chance of being killed in a car accident on the way to the airport for example, than being killed in a plane crash. Notice according to this Proverb that some of our fears can actually be excuses for our laziness. Plus, didn’t Jesus say this: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28-31). Perhaps we love our own lives more than God; or care about our own earthly life more than others eternity. We need God to move in our hearts with a compassion for people and passion for him that is greater than any of our fears or laziness!

In fact, I think we are losing our passion and power for missions partly because we are praying so little. Last year, I read a book by Edwin Orr about Spiritual Awakenings in Asia and he made the point that revival and missions are always linked together. Where there is revival, there is a mission movement. Where there is no revival, there is little mission. And always linked to revival are people who are praying. Where God’s people pray, revival occurs. When God’s people don’t pray revival doesn’t happen. The greatest need we have today is revival. But before revival, comes a people who agonize and travail in prayer. After revival comes a passion for missions. The lack of real prayer is the reason for lack of revival. And the lack of missions is a symptom of the need for revival and thus to pray. We are so distracted by so many other and lesser things.

I also believe the hang-up in regard to the Great Commission is contained in just a little two letter word found in that passage: “Go.” But before I elaborate on that, it is important to note what is said before that and after that because it contains two truths we need to give us the confidence and assurance to go!

The first truth Jesus reminds and encourages his disciples is this: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus is saying, listen guys, I am Sovereign over all! I possess all power over every power. No demon in hell, no opposition or scheme from man can thwart my purposes! I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it! (Matthew 16:18). And it is in my Name, this authority; that I am sending you out in! You shall overcome all trials, all demonic opposition, all persecution, all struggles and setbacks, because I have overcome! You serve a living, risen, sovereign Savior!

Our problem is we forget this or do not really live our lives in light of this reality. In fact, God’s Sovereignty is something that has sadly been reduced to a constant debate and division between Calvinists and Arminianists rather than a truth that was meant to comfort us, embolden us and motivate us to go forth in the confidence and authority of His Name!

Jesus told us that basically everything would collapse and fall apart around us in the last days (Luke 21:5-36). But He told us not to let our hearts be troubled or be afraid (John 16:33). Why? Because He has overcome the world! He has commanded us to be careful lest our hearts be consumed and gripped by fear and anxiety (Luke 21:31). He has promised us His peace; a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). A peace resting in the fact that He is Sovereign over it all and in the midst of it all! God himself has said everything that can be shaken (removed) will be (Hebrews 12:25-27). Why then does what is happening around the world take us by surprise as if something strange was happening?

The problem of many self-identified “evangelicals” is that they are more focused on their fears than the faithfulness of God. They are more concerned and passionate about politics than prayer, missions and  evangelism. They are more rattled by all the chaos and changes than at peace in and focused on the unchanging character of God! Does not scripture say in Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!”

We need reminded afresh (and need to rest in) the Sovereignty of God! We need to get our eyes back on (fixed on) Jesus, not the world around us. We need to set our minds on eternal things not earthly things; things above, not things here below (2 Corinthians 4:18, Colossians 3:1-3). As one hymn puts it: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

Secondly, after Jesus says “Go” he assures his disciples of this: “And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the ages.” (Matthew 28:20). Lest we think this was just a promise to his original disciples, notice the last part of that verse: “to the very end of the ages.”

We love to quote that verse or one’s similar to it, such as how scripture says the Holy Spirit “will never leave us or forsake us.” (Hebrews 13:5). But notice the context in which Jesus spoke this in Matthew 28. The context was “as you go…I will go with you.” “As you obey…I will be with you.” There is something of the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit that is unique and only experienced as we actually obey and go. As we go, he “helps” us. As we go and face trials, he “comforts” us. As we go, he “guides us.” As we go, he “provides” for us. As we go, He “empowers” us and “fills” us.

Consider the following stories from Scripture.

Abraham we are told in Hebrews 11, went even though he didn’t know where he was going! But as he went God led him and fulfilled his promises to him.

Jonathan, the son of Saul. There is a story in 1 Samuel 14, where the Israelite’s and Philistines are at a standstill in a battle. Jonathan one day, finally has enough of nothing happening so he turns to his armor bearer and he says: Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” And you know what happens? As they GO, God sends an earthquake that causes panic in the enemy camp and there is finally a breakthrough in the battle causing it to move on and forward from there!

David, the second king of Israel. As a young boy tending sheep, he is sent to see how his brothers are doing in battle and take them provision. When he arrives however, all of Israel’s best, strongest, most trained warriors are shaking in the boots, because a giant named Goliath is mocking and taunting them. But you know what David says? He says to King Saul: “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” (1 Samuel 17:32). And so he goes.

And then he gives an inspiring speech when he faces Goliath. He informs Goliath that while he may come against him with sword, spear, skill, age and experience; he is coming against him in the name and power of the Living God of Israel! (1 Samuel 17:45-47). Yet David didn’t just give an inspiring sermon that day. I LOVE verse 48 because it says, “As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.” David was a man of action not just words and inspiration.

There is another story in 2 Kings 7. An enemy has laid siege to the town of Samaria. There is famine in the city. In fact the situation has grown so horrible, so desperate, that parents were eating their own children! But verses 3-4 tell us that: “there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die? If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.” Well, as they did that, as they got up and went, it says, when they reached the edge of the camp, no one was there, for the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army…”

Think about this! Four men with leprosy, four outcast men, put an entire army to flight, ended a siege and famine, simply because they decided to GO!

And lest we think these are just nice bible stories, I could cite story after story of similar things happening today through ordinary people who go in the extraordinary name and power of Jesus!

For example; there is a pastor in India we are now partnering with who was an orphan himself. A few years ago this burden to do something to help orphans grew so intense that he couldn’t push it aside anymore. But he had no resources and the church he pastored didn’t have much either. However, he challenged his congregation and stepped out in faith by starting to bring in a few orphaned kids with the little help his congregation could afford. Well, God connected us to him and his ministry and now there are 13 kids that we seeking sponsors for to help provide for their needs! But the point is God is providing as he is going.

There was another pastor I met in one of the worst slums I have been to in India. His brother in law told him about this particular slum and the need that was there. It is predominantly a Muslim and Hindu community with no real Christian influence. So he simply up and moved to start ministering there. He started by gathering some of the kids together teaching them songs and bible stories. And while he began with just a handful, 7 months later when we showed up, there were about 50 kids there to greet us! And as they sang worship songs, that slum suddenly was transformed into the most beautiful place on earth. Circumstantially it was like a sliver of hell on earth as we were walking through it; but spiritually it was suddenly like a piece of heaven on earth because God’s presence was there in a special and unique way. And now a home fellowship has started in that slum with some families who are being drawn to Jesus by His Spirit. That pastor is having an impact because He decided to simply GO.

Or lastly, consider our partner in Uganda who is the oldest of 14 kids. His father died while he was only about 21 years old. So he essentially became a father to the rest of his siblings and became the pastor of the small church his dad had started. Around the same time they took in 3 orphaned kids (what’s 3 more if there’s already 14!). But fast-forward 30 years later. That church of about 20, is now a church of 700. Three orphans have turned into 3,000 orphans in 8 different locations!

See, God can do immeasurably more than all we could think or even imagine…if we will just GO in faith and obedience (Ephesians 3:20-21).

No, it won’t always be easy. Yes, we will face our share of trials, discouragements, disappointments, opposition, persecution, struggles and setbacks. But God is Sovereign, and we have the assurance of His Spirit being with us always, everywhere we GO, and even to the very end of the ages!

There is a saying that goes like this: “If not us…who? If not now…when?” That’s a good question to ask individually and collectively as a church.

My prayer is that we each respond as Isaiah did when he caught a glimpse of the holiness of God and heard the calling of God to go. He said: “Here I am, send me!” (Isaiah 6:1-3). God is still asking that question from heaven. The question is can anyone hear him from earth? Will anyone respond and avail themselves fully to God? As D.L.Moody liked to say (although the actual quote is from someone else): “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him.”

Go. Go in His name. Go forth in His power. Go forth in faith. Go forth in confidence in the Sovereignty of God and assurance of His Spirit being with you. Go forth trusting he will provide and guide you. Go!

P.S. please take time to pray for and even drop a quick note of encouragement to those who have gone out into the mission field. They need your prayers, support and encouragement more than anyone.

Straining at the Oars (He see’s you!)

“He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.” (Mark 6:48)

An incredible miracle had just happened. Jesus had told his disciples to feed a crowd of over 5,000 people, but all they had was five loaves of bread and two fish. Their initial discouragement and bewilderment turned to overwhelming joy and wonder as the bread and fish kept multiplying until all were satisfied. More in fact was left over than what they had started with! As they obeyed, giving and using what they had available (little as it was), the supernatural and impossible happened because Jesus was with them.

But we are told immediately following this “Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them he went up on a mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:45-46). Before going on, notice two things. First of all Jesus was the one who instructed them and led them to get into a boat and go on ahead of him. Secondly notice that he “left them” in order to spend some time in prayer.

With that in mind, here is what happened next: “When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately, he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and they wind died down.” (Mark 6:47-52).

Do you ever feel like you are stuck in the middle of a lake, straining at the oars but getting nowhere? As I write this, this is the place I feel I am in. When I think of this time last year compared to this year, the contrast couldn’t be starker. In several areas where I am doing a similar thing again; there just seemed to be a supernatural grace last time. Now it feels like I am straining at the oars and getting nowhere.

If you feel the same way, take comfort in verse forty-eight of this passage: “He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.” He is watching. He sees your efforts and hard work. He knows your struggle. He understands the situation you’re in and how your “back is up against the wall” or the “wind is against you.”

Are you wondering where God is? Are you panicking at the fact that He doesn’t seem to be responding? Notice even though Jesus saw them, he didn’t come to them right away. He saw their evening struggle, but it wasn’t until the near dawning of the morning that He came to them. God’s ways are simply not our ways. And his timing rarely is our timing either! Nor is the way in which He often comes. It often isn’t recognizable at first!

Notice also a curious phrase at the end of verse forty-eight: “He was about to pass them by…” Do you feel like God is “elusive” right now? I’ve come to realize something. God likes to play “hide and seek!” This doesn’t always make our lives easy, but it does result in reward. I’ve noticed that challenges make us cry out or seek him in ways we simply don’t when we are just “sailing along” in life.

In this case, when they saw him, they cried out, not in faith but fear. They simply didn’t expect him to come to them and show up in this way. Plus they were exhausted from a long night of toil and struggle in this “storm.” Their nerves were shot. Their minds or mental capacity was fried. Yet notice how quick Jesus was in his grace to calm their fears in verse fifty: “immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and they wind died down.”

Here are some take away lessons to apply to our lives and situations today.

First of all, just because Jesus instructs us to do something doesn’t mean it will be easy. In fact, obeying His commands means we will find ourselves opposed by the prince of darkness. Obedience means we will find ourselves swimming upstream against a world going the opposite direction. It means the wind will be against us at times. It means there will be long “nights” of struggling and straining at the oars.

Secondly, this story (and situations like this in our lives) are important reminders of how we truly can do nothing apart from Jesus. I don’t know about you, but it is very easy to begin to take credit for or think you are something special when God uses you. Remember, right before this the disciples had fed a multitude. They were a part of that miracle. But the secret was not them; it was Jesus with them. As Jesus put it in John 15:15: “apart from me you can do nothing.” We could also say, without him with us we can get and go nowhere! We have no power to fulfill what He has commanded apart from his enabling grace, power and presence.

Thirdly, we learn that he sees our striving, straining and struggling. He is watching. He knows our toil and labor. He sees the effort we are putting forth. He is not ignoring us; he is interceding for us! He is not callous towards our struggle; he is compassionate as our Savior! Take heart, that even if no one else knows, if no one else see’s, if no one else seems to care, the eyes of a Sovereign God and caring Savior are watching you! As an old hymn puts it:

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,

Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,

When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me!

Fourthly, we see that even though he delays, He will not disappoint. He saw their struggle in the evening, yet it wasn’t until the near breaking of a new day that he showed up. Though He linger; don’t lose heart. Why does he linger? Well, perhaps by lingering He builds in us a certain fortitude and patient perseverance that is important for our being conformed more into his image and likeness. Perhaps by lingering, we are reminded of how we can truly do nothing without him and how desperately we truly need Him every hour of every day. Perhaps by lingering, a longing for Him is developed to a greater capacity. But whatever His reasons, let not his lingering convince us he has abandoned us or doesn’t care about us.

Fifthly, Jesus doesn’t always come (when he comes) in the way we might be expecting. The disciples in fact totally mistook him for something else! They didn’t recognize him. As a result, their hearts were filled with fear rather than joy! Understand, the way He “comes” may not be the way you are looking for, but he will come, often at the “break of day!” Life has its seasons, but seasons are just that. They eventually give way to a “new season” or “new day.”

Sixthly, Jesus is just as concerned about calming our hearts on the inside as the storms on the outside. In fact before He even made the winds die down, he spoke peace to his disciples to calm their fears down! And what made the difference? His presence with them. It’s the knowledge and assurance of Him with us that gives us the peace we need in whatever situations we find ourselves in. And it is His power that can change in an instant whatever situation we find ourselves in! Anytime we ever need anything, it is always found in him! His presence is our provision and he possesses the power we need to overcome as we walk in obedience to what he instructs and leads us to do.

Lastly, heaven’s silence doesn’t mean God is ignoring us. Jesus in fact ever lives to intercede for us! Not only that, but his intercession means he will intervene! Again, it might not come immediately or instantaneously. And how he works or “shows up” may not be as we expect or are looking for. But the point remains, He is not callous towards our struggle; he is compassionate as our Savior. He is watching. He neither slumbers nor sleeps. He has not forgotten you. He sees. He cares. And he will come!

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