Thankful

Today I find myself thinking differently about what I am thankful for.

I took all four of my kids across the mountains to visit family and enjoy a meal along with great quality time with them.  Cousins played while adults talked, prepared food, and played as well.  I enjoyed everything about this time together, and when we arrived back home and I tucked them in late, and started to pray I thought of where we’ve come.

It’s natural and normal to be thankful for the good in our lives and what hasn’t went wrong, but tonight I found myself thankful for the course through which life has brought me.  I am also thankful for the struggles, and pain.  These times have shaped me, have revealed my calling, and brought so much good that I don’t think would have been possible without them.  While I never would have considered being a single dad, starting over completely to be a blessing, I consider where God is leading me now and how he has used these times to shape me, humble me, and teach me.

I’m thankful for my family that has loved and supported me every step of the journey.  I’m thankful for friends that are just as close as family.  They have truly shown me what it looks like to be the hands and feet of Christ.  I’m thankful for a Church that has and is helping me find my calling as a pastor through an internship while also referring me to seminary.  I’m thankful for the opportunity to receive training and an education online so I can juggle being a father, working in ministry, and seminary simultaneously.  I am so grateful for three great mentors speaking in to my life and allowing God to use their advice and guidance to help mold me into the man God intends.  I’m thankful for housing options that allow people in my position an opportunity to afford a safe place for my kids.  I’m thankful for the current missions field I find myself in, while training for a future in missions abroad.  I’m also thankful for friends, family, and even some strangers who support me financially so that I can minister to the men and women in the church I serve in, life groups I lead, and future ministry I am preparing for.

I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be thankful for so much if life was never challenging.  I marvel at his creativity, his ability to use a broken world, and tough circumstances to bring about good, and ultimately glorify him.  We brought sin in to his creation and seemingly ruined it, but he continues to create in our mess, redirecting our sin at times to bring about his eventual good.  To fulfill his ultimate plan of a creation redeemed, restored, and renewed.

Most of all I’m thankful God is in control and not me, and that by his grace I am his child.

 

 

Christ in Community

This last Sunday I had the privilege to talk to our congregation about the importance of life groups in our walk with Christ. I shared my personal story of why I started a group in my home, and how it has blessed me and others.  

My life group has become my nuclear family. These guys are the first people I call in times of need and when I want to share good news. I didn’t always have people like this in my life though. A little over a year ago I felt like I had no one. I knew Christ, and had an internal call to ministry but with no one speaking into my life, I didn’t have external affirmation about this. I had no one to encourage me, or challenge me. I had also just been through a very rough time in my life emotionally, and had no one local to help me through that or counsel me.

I started a group out of loneliness and out of a realization that if I felt this way, there were other guys out there that felt this way as well. I felt like I had slipped through the cracks and I wanted to be there for other guys and wanted other people in my life.

It’s one thing to read about stories of struggle or praise of what God has done, and it’s another to live through these experiences with others. You sharing your life with others acts as a blessing to both them and you, and being in community gives you and others the opportunity to speak truth in to these experiences. You need someone to struggle with!

Being in community wasn’t the end result, it has purpose.

Being in a life group has been a great opportunity for me to grow in my relationship with Christ. You can certainly gain knowledge on your own, attending Sunday services, reading the bible, listening to pod casts, reading books, but I’ve noticed when you study God’s word with others, and share intimate details about your life with that group you gain an opportunity to gain so much wisdom and real life application. It’s an opportunity for discussion. This dialog with others is an important part of your spiritual growth that can’t happen sitting in a service, or reading a book.

As we grow in Christ we are called to respond to our faith, he has a mission for us.

The guys in my life group and close friends from church have acted as an external calling in my life in to ministry. Spending time with guys in the word, disciplining them, and living life with these guys has given me an opportunity to live out my calling. Also because I am in community with them, it gives me the opportunity for others to speak into my life, they have affirmed strengths I didn’t know I had, and helped me develop those, and encouraged me to take the next steps in my calling such as going to seminary, and going on staff with Calvary Church. Many of them are actually financially supporting the work I am doing.

The purpose for our life group is to connect with a community of believers for the purpose of knowing Christ more, and living out our calling together.

Along with sharing my story we invited others to get connected to a life group and had inserts in the bulletin so people could request to be connected to a group, and by God’s grace almost 40 people responded.

Please be praying that we will be able to make good matches for these people and that we would be effective in training new leaders to meet the need of more groups in our church.

The Standard

The last verse of Matthew five sums up the beatitudes and lays out the real standard for which God measures.  “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matt 5:48

In the beatitudes Jesus was addressing the pharisees and the keeping of the law.  They measured righteousness by their ability to follow the law and rules in order to keep them from getting close to breaking the law, but what Jesus addressed was that God was really demanding a change of heart.  God is not perfect because he merely follows his own commands, how he acts is a result of a perfect/pure heart.  He wasn’t commanding his people to merely follow rules he was commanding a new way of life, he wanted them to be a people set apart by their relationship with the one true God.  This relationship is trans-formative in nature, if we are God’s people our heart will reflect that.

This standard of perfection also sets the stage for our need for atonement.  No one can meet this standard, and he knew that, that’s why he was there.  Old testament prophecy spoke of the one who would sacrifice himself as a guilt offering (Isaiah 53:7-10), John spoke of him as the “lamb of God” a sacrifice for our sin (john 1:29), and Jesus actually referred to himself as the passover lamb, his blood was spilled to pay the debt of our sins (matt 26:26-28).

In Galations 3:10-14 Paul says that we are cursed if we are relying on our own works to keep the law.  It is in Christ that the curse is lifted and we are redeemed and made perfect, receiving the promised spirit in faith.

Love your enemies

This week my pastor preached on Jesus command to love our enemies in the beatitudes.  In Matthew 5:43-44 he said “You have heard that it is said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”  He goes on to tell us it’s easy to love your friends, anyone can do that, he is calling his people to a greater standard that we will stand out by how we live our life.

Jesus was addressing the Laws of the Old Testament in the beatitudes, in v 17 he confirms he has not come to abolish the laws but to fulfill them, he goes on to say whoever follows them and teachers others to do the same will be called great in the kingdom of heaven, and unless your righteousness exceeds the scribes and Pharisees you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Pharisees were known for being great keepers of the law, they created additions to the law, commentaries on conduct to make sure they didn’t break the law.  What Jesus goes on to address is that they were concerned with the law not with loving their God.  They were considered righteous on the outside but were dead inside, he called them white washed tombs!  An appearance of piety on the outside and dead on the inside.

Indeed he wasn’t throwing out the law, he actually had a higher standard.  He demanded their heart, don’t lust, hate, instead Love.  Not just when its easy, but when it’s hard.  Not just your enemies but also those who persecute you.

He gave an example of this kind of love in the parable of the good samaritan.  In Luke 10:25-27 A lawyer asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus asked “How do you read it?” The lawyer said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  Jesus affirmed his answer as correct to which the lawyer asked who is my neighbor?  Jesus answered this question with the parable of the good samaritan.  The Samaritans were the Jews enemies, they traveled far out of their way just to avoid going through their land.  In this parable their was a man who had been beaten, robbed, and in great need.   Both a priest and Levite passed him by while his enemy the Samaritan stopped and served him, tending to his needs.

Jesus in this story defined his neighbor not just geographically but as everyone, even our enemies.

He also did the very thing he commanded in the action of love.  He washed Judas’ feet, he bore suffering and death for us who were his enemies before he paid the penalty for our sin.  While suffering on the cross he prayed to his father asking him to forgive the people afflicting him!

Back in Matthew 11 he gave a reason for loving our enemies, in verse 45 he said “so that you may be sons of your heavenly Father who is in heaven.”  The sign of a believer is a soft heart, “they will know us by our love”  As children of God we are commanded to Love, and not just the feeling of love but the action of Love.

Truth in the Tinsel

I know it is not quit November yet but the Christmas season is right around the corner.  I just wanted to share what has become a huge part of our Christmas tradition in my home with you.  From the time my children were born I wanted to be intentional with them about sharing my faith with them, and allowing our faith to form the traditions in our home.  We choose to do Christmas differently and from the start of the season we begin talking about the real meaning of this holiday.  A huge part of how we have done this is using the Truth in the tinsel program.

This program is for elementary aged children, and takes you through scripture daily telling the story of Christ’s birth leading up to Christmas.  Each day has a verse and a project for the kids to do.  Each project is an ornament to hang on the tree to help them remember the parts of the story.

sample page

I have found by the end even my youngest can talk me through the story of the birth of Christ by pointing out each ornament they made and telling me what they represent.  This has been a great family tradition with fun memories, and a great teaching tool.

xmastree
If you would like to add this to your family tradition click the link below and check it out for yourself.

Can Pain be Merciful?

 

In Acts 9 the story of Paul’s conversion is told.  While he was actively persecuting believers he had an encounter with Christ.  Jesus appeared in a flash of blinding light which threw Saul to his knees, then he spoke to him, giving him instructions.  Saul, who was a very confident, self reliant man was left blind, incapacitated, and having to submit to the help of others.

While talking about this account with a close friend one point really struck us,  Saul’s suffering here was caused by Christ, intentionally, and this suffering that was caused was a merciful act.  Saul in his righteousness was doomed, by causing this blindness he got Saul’s attention and gave him an opportunity to rely on others, and to obey Jesus.  He would be healed but first he had to respond to Jesus, he had to go into the city and wait for further instructions.  He had to submit to Jesus, and the very people he had been persecuting.  However first he had to undergo suffering, and that suffering was the vehicle by which he received grace and his heart was softened.

Now what I am not saying is we are all Paul and any suffering we undergo comes from God.  This specific event happened in history, this was how Christ got Saul’s attention and redeemed him.  We all find ourselves in a broken world.  Some suffering is a result of that fact, because sin is present it affects us.  However here is just one example of God using suffering to bless us.  Also it seems to me he uses suffering that is a result of sin, intended sin from others to do his eventual good.  An example of this can be found in Joseph.  His brothers intended evil in selling him off as a slave, and God redeemed that act by using him to save his family and the entire region from a time of famine.

What I do want to point out is that God is always in control, suffering does happen, will happen but God can be glorified in spite of it, or through it.  It can cause us to turn to God, at times it removes stuff in our lives we wouldn’t give up or turn from otherwise, and when we go through it while glorifying God it can be a testimony to others.  Also our response always needs to be that of submission to Christ, and obedience to his word.

Who are you?

       My brother in Christ shared these words with me this morning, he started out by saying how he was thankful for my friendship then blessed me with some Godly wisdom and encouragement.  In receiving this blessing, I couldn’t allow it to terminate on me alone, I had to share because I know these words will bless you as well:

“Sociologists agree, that how a person answers the question “Who am I?”

will determine how they think and act in almost every situation in their life.

May God reveal to you today, that you are:

1. Loved by Him, by me
Romans 8:35

2. His masterpiece.
Ephesians 2:10

3. A new creation.
2 Corinthians 5:17

4. In Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:20-21

5. Chosen.
Deuteronomy 7:7-8

6. Free.
Romans 6:18

Receive his Grace today. His unmerited favor. Receive his mercy today.

His mercy covers your sins
His grace covers your shame.

Have a grace and mercy filled day today.”

-Jeremiah

Be blessed friends, and be a blessing.

Be Great!

My Interpreting Scripture Professor Todd Miles gave a devotional in my first lesson that has stayed with me.  This devotional was meant to teach us how to pick apart the hermeneutics of a message, and to teach us how to structure a sermon, interpret scripture ourselves which it did, but during this exercise he also revealed great truth that I was able to share with multiple people since that lesson.  I found myself repeating this sermon in a café downtown to someone who asked me how school was going, and friends in a parking lot outside a movie theatre.  I want to share what I learned from a brief section with you:

In Matthew 11:11 Jesus spoke of John the Baptist and said: “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.  Yet the one who is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”  Looking at Jeremiah 9: 23-24 we find Gods definition of greatness, those who can boast should “boast in understanding and knowing him.”  When Jesus calls John great, and not just great but the greatest that has ever been born, he means that no one ever has been able to know, or point out who God is better than John.  Even when he was in his mother’s womb he jumped when Mary came near to Elizabeth because he sensed his Lord was close by.  Just as John was great because he knew Jesus and could point him out as our Lord, Jesus says that we, even the “one who is least in the Kingdom of heaven,” are greater than John.  Todd Miles said: “we have the Grace of place in redemptive history, we live on this side of the cross, and we can point out Jesus better than anyone prior to and including John.”  With this knowledge that we have been gifted, this greatness it is our responsibility to do just that, to explain who Jesus was and is and what that means.  This is my calling, to share the Gospel, to take that gift of greatness, that blessing and not allow it to terminate on myself but to share that blessing with others.

Acts 3

In Acts Chapter three we join Peter and John as they were on their way into the temple and are interrupted, God works a miracle and Peter again follows the Lords prompting to exclaim the gospel.

Peter and John were on their way to a prayer meeting.  They had something important to do, ministry work, a prayer meeting.  These guys were heading the largest start up mega church ever.  This church would still rival most we have here in America, and it was exponentially growing at a crazy rate.  In our days this church was going viral on facebook.  Three thousand believed and were baptized in one occurrence and many more were being added to their numbers daily!  However Peter and John listened to the spirit and allowed themselves to be interruptible.   They took the time to notice the cripple begging next to the gate named beautiful.  These first few verses alone convicted me.  I thought of the many times I am on my way to work, or to meet a friend, or the gym, or even to church, and I see someone in need and do not give them a second thought.  I am praying the spirit will break my heart for others in this way.  It’s easy to sponsor a child, or buy a t-shirt that donates to a non-profit doing work across the globe but what about taking notice of our neighbors, or the people we pass on the street daily.

Then something beautiful happens Peter stops and looks him straight in the eye, and says “”look here,” the man looks up expecting to receive a gift and Peter proclaims “I don’t have a nickel to my name, but what I do have, I give you.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!”He grabbed him by the right hand and pulled him up.  In an instant his feet and ankles became firm. He jumped to his feet and walked.”  Acts 3:6-8  How often does God work in this way, both in the bible and in our lives?  A person prays for one thing and by his grace he answers in another way.  He gives us what we need instead of what we want.  The man wanted money to eat, he gave him Faith!  Not even the ability to walk but faith, Peter exclaims it in verse 16 “Faith in Jesus’ name put this man, whose condition you know so well, on his feet – yes, faith and nothing but faith put this man healed and whole right before your eyes.”  Walking was a by product, an extra blessing, faith is a gift, the softening of the heart of a man crippled from birth, he had no reason to hope, but in that instant God touched his heart, caused him to believe and receive his blessing, then a miracle was done.  Everyone present watched a cripple receive new life.

We can learn something from his response as well.  What would most people do?  Jump up and down exclaim I can walk, run and tell their friends maybe.  He responded right away with praise to God, he recognized his savior and proclaimed the good work he did in his life.  He shared his story, and allowed Gods work in him to not terminate there, he shared his blessing with others thereby allowing himself to be used to proclaim Gods name.  Take the time to share your story friends!  Gods works in all of our lives in different ways, and he does so to bring glory to his name, to cause worship in our hearts.  Your story happened specifically to touch your heart and certain peoples hearts you come in contact with.  Share your blessings with others, not just money, or material blessings, but your story, the work God has done in your life.

Then after sharing your story take the opportunity to exclaim the Gospel.  In verse 12 it starts out like this “When peter saw he had a congregation, he addressed the people:” then he proclaimed the good news unadulterated.  Again just like in chapter two a great miracle occurs then he immediately uses the miracle for the intended purpose to bring God glory.

I encourage you this week to be interruptible, listening to the quiet call and tugging at your heart to serve others.  Also when praying be open not just to receive what you are asking for, or expecting, but for what God knows you need.  Then share your story, proclaim the name of Jesus, give glory to God by sharing your blessings with others.

 

Acts 2

In Chapter two we find the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the gift Jesus promised them before ascending into Heaven.  Before the arrival they were waiting, they had been given instructions of Jesus mission, go spread the gospel but first….. wait.  That’s always the hard part me, the being still, it feels like doing nothing.  However in the verse 14 of chapter one “They agreed they were in this for good, completely together in prayer, the woman included.”  While waiting God was working in them, preparing them for the work he was about to give them.  This is especially hard now in our culture right, with smarphones we never have a moment we can’t entertain ourselves, or catching up on emails etc..  It’s hard to find time to wait, to be quiet with God and listen.

When the waiting was over the Spirit made quit an entrance!  This was a miracle that turned heads, loud sounds like wind, then all of the men from the same region started proclaiming God’s mighty works in the native tongues of the pilgrims.  When God moves he doesn’t do it in a small way he makes some noise, but not just to show off to proclaim who he is.  People were wondering whats going on here?  Then filled with the spirit Peter told them.  He quoted the old testament prophesies about what was happening there, then went on to boldly tell them who Jesus was, and what they had done to him.  He didn’t water it down like we so often do, he told them they killed Jesus, they nailed him to the cross.  Sure some had possibly been there that day and chosen Barabus over Jesus, but what he was also saying was he died for our sins, we all murdered Jesus, in our sin we rap the hammer on the nail and spit in his face,  with the body he created in his own image.  By Gods grace their hearts were softened and they asked what do we do.  That day about three thousand believed and were baptized.  Amazing right?  I believe this book is both descriptive (historical) and instructional.  Jesus told them the mission then we see examples of how they carried it out.  They boldly taught the convicting truth of the gospel, and cared for the people.

What a blessed picture of a church, a people that were open handed, loving, and inviting, and blessing them by feeding them the hard truth so that their faith would be real and firm.  They needed that deep faith to be prepared for the coming persecution, it wasn’t a prosperity gospel, truth is many would accept the gift of salvation then soon after would die.  In studying the beatitudes my pastor pointed out many times you will hear the quote “God loves you and has a wonder plan for your life, however the converse is true as well, God loves you and has a difficult plan for your life.”  Truth is being a Christian is tough, none of the apostles were “blessed” with possessions and a great American dream of a life, most were martyred, deeply persecuted at best.  Their blessings were not the created things they wanted, the blessings was the presence of their creator in their lives, speaking truth in their suffering, and touching the lives of those they came in contact with.  Then the church grew virally and they worked together as one working and providing for each other like a family.  The feasted together practicing heaven, sharing their blessings rather than allowing them to terminate on themselves.

How will you share your blessings this week?  Who will you touch the life of near you, maybe a neighbor, co-worker, random person on the street or in the store.  Lets strive to live differently, giving ourselves over to his mission rather than our plans.

 

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