It can be easy to fall into the mindset of thinking everything becomes easier once you decide to follow Jesus.

But as we’ve been finding out, it really isn’t. If anything, following Jesus can make life a lot harder. But the blessing that comes with obedience is far better than that of disobedience.

Materialism is something everyone battles, even the most generous giver. Putting our desires behind those of Jesus and those around us is not an easy thing to do, but it is possible with Jesus.

In this message, join Pastor Alex and Brooke as they process and discuss the struggle with materialism they faced, and how they fight it in their lives as followers of Jesus.

I said before that I think we are more comfortable talking about issues surrounding sex within the Church than mental health and illness.

But that doesn’t mean talking about sex and the issues around that topic are a walk in the park. In fact, for some of us, it can be incredibly difficult because of past choices and experiences.

Sexual purity is something that has been preached for centuries from the Church, and a theme we find throughout Scripture. But that doesn’t necessarily mean as a follower of Jesus, pursuing and being sexually pure is easy.

The reality is, everyone faces the same reality: we live in an overtly sexualized world. Sex sells; and for most people, their flesh wins.

I want to invite you in on a more mature conversation today. One that I hope leaves you challenged to commit to change in the areas of life you need to change. In this Conversation: Sexual Purity, Pastor Dalton and Pastor Alex share their struggle with sexual purity as a follower of Jesus, and how victory and freedom can be had!

I’m not sure if there is another topic that has been as uncomfortable to talk about in the Church as mental health and illness. I think we are even more comfortable talking about issues surrounding the topic of sex, than we are about mental health.

This conversation gives you a deeper look into the lives of myself, and Pastor Dalton, as we process with Pastor Alex our own battles with depression and faith in Jesus.

My hope is that you will find the same encouragement and hope that those who watched live did. That despite the hardships and the isolation that often times mental illness can bring, you find encouragement to move forward.

Ultimately, I hope you come to understand how much Jesus loves you and wants you to be in a Christ-centered community.

How vital is prayer to our spiritual development as a follower of Jesus? Is it a regular practice in your life? I love these thoughts about prayer:

“Prayer is God saturating our minds, or our thoughts, with His influence. Prayer will control your emotions and permit His truth to bring down the negative forces of darkness that are speaking lies to our minds and trying to corrupt our thoughts.” – Jim Maxim

I believe our commitment to and practice of prayer is a clear indication of where our relationship with Jesus is. It’s hard to maintain a relationship without communication. And the most influential relationship in our life should be steeped in consistent communication.

Take some time and pray today. Invest in the most important relationship, Jesus.

You will quickly notice as you watch through each week’s message that they build on each other.

Week two Pastor Alex and myself spent time diving into the complications many of us face when it comes to trusting others, and ultimately trusting God. Join us as we explore how our faith in and understanding of God impacts our ability to trust!

We just wrapped up a different style of Series this past Sunday at The Anchor Church in Lawrence, KS.

The last several months have brought a lot of change for the majority of us, so the last six messages we did were more discussion based. Titled Conversations, we took time to have candid, sometimes tough and raw, conversations about some tricky and important topics. For us, it was like any other day but with cameras in front of us!

My desire over these next few posts is to share with you these Conversations. Why? Simply because I believe the authenticity, insight, and wisdom that came out in these moments can be monumental for you, if you allow it.

Our first topic was Character, and the vital importance of it in ourselves and in those we surround ourselves with.

Hope you enjoy, and find yourself challenged!

Confession

You are patient, Father.

You welcome me back with grace when I don’t deserve it. When I have trampled and made a mockery of Your Name, You still embrace me with love when I run back to You.

I serve a gracious God. He is always faithful, meeting every need I have at the most perfect time.

And yet, I still have days I struggle to trust. There are still days fear and doubt creep into my mind and effect my perception of who God really is.

Following Jesus doesn’t mean I have it all figured out, that I have somehow arrived at perfection while I still walk this earth. It’s also not an excuse, a crutch to live a life emboldened by sin where I wave my “get out of jail free” card when the flames of Hell get too hot.

Following Jesus means He is above everything else in my life. My pursuit in life is His pleasure, and from that everything else finds its rightful place.

Following Jesus means I yearn and strive to reflect Him in everything I do. From the little to the big, the 90’s phrase-question “What would Jesus Do” causes me to reflect on my approach and decision I make.

Following Jesus means I serve, and I serve because I love what matters to Him. What Jesus values, I value. I pour myself into meeting the needs of those around me, because He set the example of the perfect servant when He deserved glory and honor.

I serve a loving and gracious God. A Father who loved me so much He gave His most prized possession to rescue me from the grip of Hell. Jesus, on a cross in my place. A physical display of ultimate sacrifice, that won the eternal battle for my soul.

I follow Jesus not out of guilt, or fear. I follow Jesus out of gratitude. Because He willingly took a place meant for me, so that I could stand with Him before the Father. He wanted me, because He loves me. And He wants you for the same reason.

The sacrifice He made for me, He did for you too. The joy He gives me, He wants you to have also. Following Jesus isn’t about getting it right all the time, or never struggling again.

Following Jesus is about recognizing the gift laid before us, the sacrifice that was made on our behalf because our Creator saw it right to restore us to Himself. It’s about finding peace that I often times can’t wrap my head around, but it helps me walk through the storms with confidence that I am not alone.

It doesn’t matter what your past looks like, what kind of baggage you are hanging onto, Jesus wants you. He wants you to let go, to fall into Him and trust that He will hold you.

He wants you.

Get Your Hands Dirty

When you say YES to God, you open the doors of opportunity to SERVE!!!

Stand Firm

It’s easy in life to be overwhelmed. Life’s situations can come from all directions and all at once, quickly taking you from a sense of being on top of the world to looking for the nearest rock to hide under. When fears and doubts creep up, they can quickly tear us down and make us question every decision we make and thought we have.

Strength is a term that seems to have different meanings for different people. Yet, we often use the word in the same contexts. I tell my little boy all the time he is so strong when he is pushing open a door. I tell my wife she is a strong mom as she actively works to raise our children together in a Godly home. We use the word strong, but we apply its meaning based on the current context we are in. Mental, physical, emotional; all areas we each need strength in.

But what about the spiritual?

See, what I have learned in my short life so far is that my physical, emotional and mental strength will never be adequate apart from deep rooted spiritual strength in Jesus Christ. I can spend my days working out (and if you know me, that’s not my jam), reading and studying till I fall asleep at the desk, or going through exercises to gain better control over my emotions. But that time, while it might seem fruitful on the outside, will be spent in vain if I am in spiritual decay. If my faith in Jesus is weak, all other aspects of my life will be too.

I recently got back from some traveling in the South, and while I was there I took some pictures of the popular Live Oak trees that populate the region I was in. I found myself fascinated by their size. The ones I photographed are estimated to be 250-500 years old! Their trunks are over 25 feet around, and while not very tall they are spread out over 100 feet. These trees are massive!

They are also incredibly strong.

Their root systems are immense, going deep and wide to support themselves. They provide shade and shelter from the hot southern sun. But more impressive than what they do is what they have been through.

Storms. Hurricanes. Intense heat. Floods.

These trees over the last several hundred years have been battered and abused by the elements of nature, and yet they have stood strong and secure in their place. Each one started as a small seed, something we might consider insignificant. But with time, they grew deep, developing in strength under the earth with an incredible root system. See, their outward appearance is impressive, but it wouldn’t be possible if what you can’t see below the ground didn’t exist.

Our spiritual health as a Believer is more important than any other aspect of our life. The majesty of the Live Oak brought that home for me.

When we neglect our spiritual development in Jesus Christ, everything else we do is in vain. While the world may give it value, in the eyes of God it has none. Our physical, emotional and mental strength can only sustain us so long. They do not provide the longevity, they do not posses the stamina we require to truly weather the storms we face in life.

Paul’s words to the church in Philippi encourage me to put priority to my spiritual development, to place the growth and wellbeing of my faith in Jesus Christ above all other areas of my life.

“Therefore my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”

Philippians 4:1

Paul has just finished writing to them about joining him in the ultimate pursuit: living a holy life, striving to imitate their Savior Jesus Christ. Paul knew that his fellow Believers would face hardship, and that what would ultimately be tested was not their intellect or physical strength. It would be their heart. Like deep roots of an old Live Oak tree support the immense weight and size above the ground, Paul is encouraging Believers to stand firm in Jesus Christ by way of a deep rooted faith in Jesus Christ. So when the storms of life come, the hurricane and destructive forces of nature roll into your life, you can stand firm and weather the storm.

You might be tired, maybe even a little bruised. But you will be standing firm and secure because your roots are deep.

A Study In Acts: Stand Up

Acts chapter 3 is often broken into two parts, and while this can make sense it is important to take them together. The first section, in which Peter and John interact with a lame beggar helps preface their following interaction in the Temple. Keep in mind this section we will now examine takes place soon after the new Church had just experienced an explosion of growth. Thousands of new Believers have experienced the life giving transformation of surrendering themselves to Jesus Christ, and have experienced the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The young Church was alive and growing!

Word has spread throughout Jerusalem and has begun creeping into the surrounding areas of the country. The Jesus who was condemned, hung on a cross, and buried has risen from the dead and is alive! His followers are speaking boldly, and performing miracles and wonders before the people.

It’s with this backdrop that we find Peter and John on their way to the Temple, something they clearly continued to practice as Believing Jews. It was morning time, the 9th hour according the Scripture, when they encountered a lame bigger just outside the Temple at the Beautiful Gate.

A man lame from birth was being carried, whom they had laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms.

– Acts 3:2-3

It was not uncommon to find people in the same condition as this beggar at the temple gates, or the many pools of water within the city. They were busy public places, high foot traffic areas. In other words, the likelihood of receiving alms was increased for them by positioning themselves in these areas because of their increased exposure to people. Alms is not a word commonly used now, but its meaning is one we all understand. To give alms was to be charitable; the idea behind the word was to exercise compassion to someone in need. For the lame beggar to seek alms from others was to seek charitable compassion from those more fortunate and able than he.

In many ways, this lame beggar perfectly illustrates the condition of every man who doesn’t know Jesus. The Scripture tells us that this man was born lame, that he has spent his entire life existing unable to help himself, forever dependent on the abilities and care of others. Most of us grow out of being dependent on others as we age, but with respect to our spiritual condition our dependence never goes away. As this beggar was physically lame, we are spiritually lame without Jesus. Every person is born a sinner, unable to meet our own spiritual needs. There is nothing we can do to rectify this, no different than the lame beggar’s inability to walk on his own feet for himself. And just like a sinner apart from the saving grace of Jesus, he was stuck outside the fellowship, begging for someone to save him. Someone to have mercy and compassion, delivering hope that would satisfy him. Apart from knowing Jesus we have no hope. There is no grace to experience that can bring restoration between us and God. We are as crippled and helpless as the beggar laid at the temple gate each day.

But then something changed.

This time, the beggar asked for compassion from the right person. This time, he would have an encounter with Jesus through His Apostles. This time, he would receive what he sought in a way that would leave him needing no more.

And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.

– Acts 3:4-7

I don’t know about you, but I get shivers down my spine when I read this! The idea of a man standing to his feet for the first time IN HIS LIFE! In an instant, life change takes place. This man was laid at the temple gate expecting to be gifted material things to meet his needs, but here we see Peter go beyond. Not only was this beggar’s physical needs met by the healing of his body, he experienced the life giving mercy and grace of Jesus through the miraculous act of compassion.

Have you experienced healing? Have you experienced restoration with Jesus? Maybe you are still the beggar waiting outside the temple gate, seeking something that you think will meet your needs and satisfy the emptiness in side you. Friend, we have all been there. The difference for me is that I’ve had an encounter with Jesus like the lame beggar. My needs have been met in a way that goes far beyond today. The eternal need of my soul being reconciled to God has been met. And it’s something you can experience to (ask me how!!).

Peter did a miracle by the power of the Holy Spirit, and it changed lives. It impacted not only the beggar, but the people around. What can you do today as a follower of Jesus to make a difference? Sure, you might not perform a physical miracle. But your words and actions might be the miracle someone needs to experience, that brings them into a right relationship with God through Jesus. You have a Peter moment with your name written on it, waiting for you to allow the Spirit of God to lead you. Speak new life, speak healing. Help someone find restoration today.

Stand up, and help others get on their feet too.

My Own Worst Enemy

It’s easy when we find ourself in a questionable situation to blame everyone and everything but us. I’m convinced that accepting responsibility for our own mistakes and failures is one of the hardest things for a person to do. No one likes to be wrong.

There have been countless times I’ve found myself in situations I regret, because of my own selfish desires and passions. Thinking it’s ok, justifying my choices at the beginning. But when the unwanted consequences surface, I’m quick to shirk the blame.

See, in the moment it seems right. I think it’s good.  There is something enticing about what I want. But when my heart is guided by selfish desires, I’ll want wrong things. Paul gave us a glimpse of this when he wrote Romans 7:15.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

– Romans 7:15

Paul understood well, that if we are not surrendered to the Spirit of God we will continually walk into sin. When we allow the desires of our flesh to dictate the posture of our heart, we will always turn away from God and find ourself in compromising situations. Pornography, drug and alcohol addiction, workaholics, physical and emotional abusers, infidelity, toxic relationships; unhealthy, sinful behavior and thinking is rooted in being separated from God and seeking the desires of ourself.

Paul understood there is a war within us. As followers of Jesus we are called to be holy, but our flesh is still sinful. Jesus died to eternally forgive our sins, to restore our fellowship with God, and it is by His Spirit dwelling in us we can find the strength in the face of temptation to turn away from the desires of our flesh.

It’s a constant battle we are engaged in. And we are often our worst enemy, failing to surrender to God and hold the ground. But there is hope, there is grace. That even when we find ourself in a compromising situation, rescue is always possible.

The question we have to answer is difficult in its simplicity.

Which desire within us is greater?

What I want, or what God wants for me?

The new Church has just exploded in growth. Powerful displays of God’s grace have been witnessed, lives changed, and miracles being performed. Within one day, some three thousand people came to believe and trust in Jesus Christ as their Messiah. We witnessed in Peter’s bold message to the Jews, perhaps the fulfillment of Jesus’ words to him in Matthew 16:18.

If nothing else has been shown to us in the previous passage we reviewed, it’s that God can do a mighty work. With every high though, we must come down at some point. This is where we pick up and finish Chapter 2.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

– Acts 2:42-47

Wrapping up our study of Chapter 2 is a short section, but it is rich. While coming off the spiritual high of the previous passages, we should note how they conducted themselves. Their descent from the high was not one to a deep valley, one of sadness or depression as Elijah had experienced. This in part could have been because of their choice in conduct. Notice in verse 42 that they wasted no time. They quickly “devoted themselves” to study and community. The Greek Luke uses for devoted is προσκαρτερέω (prŏskartĕrĕō), which can be defined as to be earnest towards, constantly diligent, to adhere closely. The new Believers were committed at a deep level to understand the teachings of the Apostles, handed down by their Savior, and to fellowship with each other. We get a fuller idea of what this devotion and practice looks like in the following verses.

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

– Acts 2:44-45

We see here the first charitable movement of the new Church. Believers putting the needs of others before themselves. To have things in common meant they shared what they had. There was a sense of community not only in their fellowship, but their belongings as well. If a brother or sister needed something, it was available. More than the practice of communal sharing, they freely gave up what they had to provide for the needs of others. They did this without grumbling, without hesitation as to how it might effect them. It points to the position and condition of their heart, one changed by the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

As noted above though, their change in attitude and practice was not limited too material things. There is important attention given by Luke to the communal aspect of relationships within the Church as well. The new Believers did not simply wait till the next Sabbath to worship, study and learn about their Lord. They did not reserve just one time a week to gather together in fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ.

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

– Acts 2:46-47

The new Believers made it a habit right away, to be in community with one another. They understood from the very beginning the value and importance of being in fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ. But notice this community aspect was not just simple conversation. It was studying, going to the temple, it was sitting around the table together for a meal. The fellowship and community of the early Church was deeply and intimately relational. They did not hesitate to invite one another into their homes, their most personal space. Notice also the attitude in which they did these things. It was with a heart and mind postured towards God with thankfulness and gratitude! What a lesson for us! And it was because of this that they first found favor with the people around them, and God blessed them by increasing their number daily.

This short passage challenges my heart and mind, and I hope it does the same for you. If I call myself a Christian, is my heart and mind postured towards Him with thankfulness? Am I willing to invite others into my home, to let down my guard and be willing to allow my brothers and sisters in Christ know me at a deeper and more intimate level? Am I willing to put the needs of others above my own, to make sacrifices of plenty to meet the needs of those less fortunate than me? The early Church understood what it meant to follow Christ at a level that seems too often be missed today. Following Jesus is more than personal Bible Study and Devotions. It’s more than dropping some change in the offering when we feel like it. Following Jesus should bring us to a whole new level of understanding charity, community and service.

These were aspects of a new life that the early Church was fully devoted to. The practices they exhibited became engrained in their life, so much that this is what the early Church became known for. It was something many were willing and often did, die for. How willing are we to go to the lengths the first Believers did? Christ calls us too much more than Sunday attendance. He calls us to full devotion seeking Him. Studying His Word, supporting the local Church and its Shepherds. Opening our homes to others, diving into community and relationship with other Believers.

Following Jesus isn’t easy, and it’s often messy. But for me, I’d rather dive in without hesitation and reap the blessings in full, knowing I had a part in growing the Kingdom for God just like the Believers of the early Church!

Check out our latest series at The Anchor Church in Lawrence! Watch the third message below.

Check out our latest series at The Anchor Church in Lawrence! Watch the second message below.

Check out our latest series at The Anchor Church in Lawrence! Watch the first message below.

The second chapter of Acts can be easily and logically broken into 3 parts. Chances are, your Bible has already done this for you. In the last post we looked at most of the first part, minus the last verse. I intentionally left that verse out because it sets up the miles part of the chapter, which is a powerful message Peter delivers. Verse 13 gives us an idea of what some present when the Apostles spoke in tongues thought of the miraculous display.

But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

– Acts 2:13

While most were amazed at the miraculous display of power, others were accusing them of being drunk. Their false and inaccurate criticism of what they were witnessing became the best setup for Peter to step forward and preach a powerful message to a crowd in need of truth.

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.

– Acts 2:14-15

Peter was quick to address those making accusations. Knowing that their accusation was that they must be drunk, he is quick to point out the absurdity of their claim by noting the time of day. In their time and culture, the new day began at 6 in the morning. The identification of the third hour means it was only 9 in the morning, far too early for anyone to have drank enough wine to become drunk. By squashing this absurd accusation, Peter further emphasizes the magnitude of what the people have witnessed, a miracle of God.

Peter wastes no time now that he has the full attention of the crowd. He moves on from addressing the accusation to preaching a sermon highlighting one primary theme: Jesus is the Messiah. With the beginning of his message, Peter explains what they have witnessed as a fulfillment of the Prophet Joel, something they as devout Jews would have been familiar with.

But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

– Acts 2:16-21

By quoting the Old Testament Prophet, Peter captivated the attention of the crowd. He knew how to reach the people around him, something we should take note of. Just like Jesus ministering to those He came in contact with, Peter understood how to connect with the people in his midst while still communicating truth. With the start of the Prophet’s words, Peter launches into the heart of his message to the crowd.

He continues on making clear to the crowd that Jesus was the One prophecies about so many hundred years before. It was Jesus that David spoke of when he spoke of his Lord in Psalm 110:1. It was this Jesus, the Messiah they had been waiting for, the One that they crucified. Peter connected with the people, and he delivered the truth they needed to hear. But he didn’t just deliver the truth, he called them to act upon it. Check out how he ends his message!

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

– Acts 2:36

Peter finished his message to them with a concise review of what he had just preached. This Jesus you condemned and crucified is the One whom you had been waiting for. He is the Lord and Christ of which the Prophets spoke of. He is the Savior of the world. What are you going to do about it?

The crowd erupted with response when Peter finished his message. Luke’s account says “they were cut to the heart” by what Peter had said. The Greek Luke uses for the word “cut” here is κατανύσσομαι (katanyssomai), and it has such a strong literal meaning. What Luke was saying is that the words of Peter struck so hard and deep in their heart’s it was like being pierced or stabbed with a sword. Language and imagery that was vivid and familiar in that day. It paints such a picture of the impact God’s word did and can have on the listener. Being overcome with conviction by Peter’s words, the crowd asked what they should do in response. Peter wasted no time in giving them direction:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

– Acts 2:38-40

Repent and be baptized. Simple, direct. Peter recognized their understanding of his message, the truth about who Jesus was and what He did. And because of that, Peter knew that they had to act on their knowledge. To be baptized is a fairly easy thing to understand for us, but the concept of repenting can be a little more difficult. The Greek μετανοέω (mĕtanŏĕō) carried the idea of changing your mind, to turn in your ways. Peter was instructing the crowd to change their thinking based on the message they had just received. Change your unbelief in who and what Jesus was and did, to belief! Believe He is the Messiah, He is the Christ that was foretold long ago! And in response to this change, be baptized!

Peter follows up this instruction by encouraging them to save themselves from their wicked generation. In other words, repent, be baptized, and don’t fall back into the old sinful habits Jesus has redeemed you from. Change your ways and continually seek after Jesus! Peter did not just give them instructions, he provided them with a promise as well. It was the same promise He and the other Apostles received from Jesus! The gift of the Holy Spirit after they followed the instructions to repent and be baptized.

What a response Peter and the other Apostles see from the crowd! Luke tells us that after Peter’s message and instructions those who heard and accepted it were then baptized and counted as part of the group of believers. Over 3000 new believers and followers of Jesus Christ were counted that day. Not people who recognized Jesus as a great teacher, or prophet, but as their Messiah.

Luke gives us such incredible insight into the very beginnings of the Early Church through the book of Acts. As we continue to dive into this, it’s important to remember how it began. Peter, a man who was often times quick to speak and act, landing himself in tricky situations has now stepped up as Jesus called him too. Giving what you could call the first evangelistic sermon, the hearts of over 3000 people were convicted by the Spirit that day, significantly expanding the Church. Peter shared his testimony with the crowds, testifying to the sovereignty and omnipotence of God through His Son Jesus Christ.

Peter is not the only one with a testimony that can move hearts. You and I have one also. It’s easy to be intimidated and fearful to speak about our experience following Jesus, and I’m sure at some level Peter wrestled with this too. The beautiful thing though, is that he didn’t rely on his own strength to communicate his message, and neither do we. The Holy Spirit in us, as followers of Jesus Christ empowers us. Your story might be the one thing someone in your life needs to hear. You sharing how God has changed your life by following Jesus might be the push someone needs to put their own trust in Him. You and your story might be the catalyst to pierce a heart with conviction, and lead someone to the feet of Jesus.

Are we trusting the Spirit to guide our words? Are we trusting God to give us the courage and strength by His Spirit when we feel afraid or nervous to speak? Just like the Spirit empowered Peter to speak to the crowd in Jerusalem that day, He can do the same for you. Don’t let your fear hold you back from speaking into the life of someone else. Trust that the Spirit in you as a follower of Jesus is the same Spirit that rose Jesus from the dead. Through Him your testimony can be just as powerful!

A Study In Acts: The Promised Arrival

Throughout the Gospels, the term Disciples is used heavily to refer to the 12 men who were the primary followers of Jesus and sat under His teaching. However, this is not the only term used for them, and as the New Testament writings and history progressed a different title often was used. The term Apostle we have today is translated from the Greek word ἀπόστολος (apostolos), which is derived from another Greek word ἀποστέλλω (apŏstĕllō) which means to be set apart, or sent out. In other words, an easy definition of an Apostle is someone who is sent as a delegate or ambassador of Christ Jesus and His message. Among the 12, Paul and James were also given the title and recognition.

Chapter 2 of Acts kicks off with the Apostles and other believers gathered together for the day of Pentecost. This was the 50th day after the Passover, our word coming from the Greek πεντηκοστή (pĕntēkŏstē) which means fifty. For the Jews, this was a day of celebration going back to the times of the Old Testament. Certain feasts and celebrations prescribed and recorded in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy were culminated on the 50th day after Passover. This was a time in Jerusalem when the city was filled with Jews from all over the Roman Empire, as Pentecost became one of the great pilgrimage feasts after the time of Exile. For the Christian Church, Pentecost signifies the arrival of the promised Holy Spirit to the Apostles and Believers gathered together.

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

– Acts 2:2-4

The coming of the Holy Spirit was no small thing. The Greek word for wind used here is πνοή (pnŏē). The Greek used here for Spirit is πνεῦμα (pnĕuma). I know it’s a lot of Greek, but there is significance in both of these words. Do you notice how similar they are? That’s because they are both derived from the same Greek word, πνέω (pnĕō) which means to breathe hard. It denotes power and force, which is exactly what the gathered Believers experienced at that moment. 

Luke gives us such a descriptive account of what took place in that home. The power and force of the moment was not the only amazing detail of the experience. In verse 3 the appearance of the Spirit is described as “divided tongues of fire” that “rested on each one of them”. What an amazingly descriptive display of God’s power! I find the use of fire significant here, as fire was often a mode of display God used throughout history. In Genesis 15:17 we see this when God interacts with Abraham, making His covenant concerning the land for Israel. In Exodus 3:2-6 we see God’s power and presence before Moses in the burning bush in the desert, and after their escape from Egypt God guided His people by night as a pillar of fire. Other examples exist as well throughout the Old and New Testament. 

There is one more word in this passage that a lot of people get hung up on. The subject of “tongues” is one heavily debated within many Christian circles, specifically what Paul meant by the term used in his letters. That topic of discussion is for another time, but just as in those cases, context in our passage is critical to help us properly understand what Luke is communicating to us. The Greek word he uses here is γλῶσσα (glōssa), which literally means tongue as an organ of speech. This can also be translated as language, as the tongue is used as an organ in the communication of language. With respect to the context following our passage, the situation here was that the Believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and equipped to speak in languages they previously had not spoken in, but were already in use by other people. Not only was this occurrence amazing, the timing was as well.

Remember the significance of the timing? The event of Pentecost was a celebration that brought Jews from all over the Roman Empire to Jerusalem. The streets were filled with people who had been a part of Jesus’ trial, conviction and death. Filled with people who had heard the news of what took place. People who needed to hear the message of Jesus. Check this out.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

– Acts 2:5-12

The city of Jerusalem was full of Jews who held tightly to the tradition of Judaism. Men who were unwavering in their faithful practice of the Law. They came from every land surrounding Jerusalem and had their own languages from their region. This is the scene we find verses 5-12 taking place in. The languages the Believers spoke were real languages, understood by the multitude of Jews in their own languages. God not only displayed His power by the coming of the Holy Spirit, but by the work of the Holy Spirit through His people.

I love how in this small section of Scripture we see such a basic yet profound truth: God’s timing is perfect! When Jesus told the Disciples and Believers with them to wait in Jerusalem, there was purpose behind His instruction. Could they have gone out into the city and began spreading the message of Jesus right away? Yes, but the reach and effectiveness would not have been as great. They would have been acting on their own power, not that of the Holy Spirit. God knew the perfect time to reach the most people was at that moment, not before.

Trusting God’s timing is a hard thing. It’s so natural to jump the gun, rush into something thinking we have it all figured out and know the best approach. God shows us time and time again in Scripture, as He does here, that He clearly knows best. If we believe He is all knowing, as He says He is, doesn’t it make sense that He would know the best timing and course of action in everything we do? As Believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to trust Him in everything. From the big to the small, God can handle it. If He was capable of enabling the Apostles through the Holy Spirit to speak multiple languages instantly to share the message of Jesus Christ, I promise He is capable of directing you in perfect timing.

The question for us will always be, do we trust Him? Are we willing to let go of our perceived control and really trust Him with our life? Maybe that promotion you want isn’t passed to you because God has something better. Have you considered that? Maybe you were not offered that job you really wanted because God has a better employer for you. Maybe you find yourself wondering what God has in store for you. I get it. Being patient is hard, trusting can be difficult.

Can I encourage you to act in faith? The Apostles and Believers with them waited faithfully as they were instructed, and God delivered. He delivered exactly as He planned, in His perfect timing. What does God have in store for you? What is God preparing you for? How is He going to use you to further His kingdom? I don’t know the answers to those questions, and you might not either. But I do know that it will be in His timing, and it will be perfect to impact His kingdom the most. Will you trust Him in that?

A Study in Acts: In the Waiting

Luke opens his second book in a very formal way, fitting I guess for a doctor. He addresses the original recipient, Theophilus, reminding him of the intent and contents of his first letter known to us as the Gospel of Luke. He doesn’t waste time doing a lot of in depth recapping, but does still recount the very end of his first letter in a bit more detail.

Luke’s focus at the opening here in, is in expounding on the interaction and instructions of Jesus with and to His Disciples from the time He visits them in the Upper Room to His ascension. Luke tells us that this time frame lasted for 40 days; Jesus was not in a big hurry to leave His friends! But when it was time, Jesus took a moment to stress to the Disciples His instructions and the importance of them. Check out what He instructs them in Acts 1:4-5.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me;for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

– Acts 1:4-5

I love this whole idea of waiting that Jesus stresses to them. The Greek word here περιμένω (pĕrimĕnō) is only found in the Bible right here in verse 4. It is in part derived from another Greek word, μένω (mĕnō), which is a primary verb (think active) meaning to continually dwell, remain, endure, be present. Jesus was not simply telling them to hang out for a little bit in Jerusalem. He was instructing them to intentionally and continually wait with a sense of anticipation until what He promised them arrived.

 After Jesus gives this instruction, the Disciples in their classic fashion, ask Him about the restoration of Israel in verse 6. If you haven’t noticed throughout Scripture, Jesus often had a pointed way of answering a question while guiding the person’s attention back to the more important issue. Jesus didn’t want His Disciples focused on the timing of the coming Kingdom; He wanted them focused on fulfilling their mission. Look at what He says.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

– Acts 1:6-8

Jesus knew that something amazing was coming for them. In fact, this gift of power, the Holy Spirit would equip them to fulfill the mission Jesus was giving them. It’s the same power that we as followers of Christ have in us today! The Greek used here for “power” is δύναμις (dunamis) meaning specifically a miraculous power. It denotes strength and mighty work, both a very fitting description for what the Holy Spirit gives and does!

But this isn’t the only word of significance here. Jesus not only tells them to wait for the Holy Spirit to come, but He gives them purpose as well. They are called to be witnesses once they have received the Holy Spirit. Now, it’s really easy to look at the english translation here and get the impression we are supposed to just talk about Jesus. But the Greek tells us something very different. The word used here is μάρτυς (martus), and it has a much deeper meaning. The transliteration might even give it away to you. While witness is not a bad translation, the underlying idea here is to be a martyr. In two other locations (Acts 22:20 and Revelations 2:13) this is the very sense of the word being used. It’s the idea of giving a testimony of one’s faith before a tribunal and suffering the penalty. In their time, this was reality.

After this jam-packed interaction with Jesus, He is quickly taken up to Heaven right before their eyes in verse 9. Staring up in what must have been a mixture of amazement and shock, two angels tell them something profound.

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”

– Acts 1:11

Once again, the Disciples are reminded of hope. Even though Jesus didn’t restore Israel the way they thought He would or in the time they thought He would, He would one day return (check out Revelation for that!). There was no need to be stuck. It’s like the angels are telling them to keep moving! Just because Jesus has ascended doesn’t mean hope is lost and we don’t have a mission as His followers to accomplish.

So heeding the words of the angels, they returned to Jerusalem and after closing themselves in the upper room began to spend their time praying. Waiting as instructed for the coming promise of the Holy Spirit. Luke gives us a whole run down of who was present, and notes that their action of prayer was one-minded, or of the same purpose. The total number of people present was 120; could you imagine being in intense and specific prayer as a group that big? It was during this time that Peter stood up among them, and giving testimony of what had transpired concerning Judas Iscariot and how this fulfilled the Scriptures, he called for a replacement to be made.

Two men present since the baptism by John the Baptist and witnesses of the resurrection were brought forth as candidates. This distinction of being present, being a witness from beginning to end, was of great importance. Think about it, who would you believe more? Someone who witnessed an event firsthand, or someone who heard it down the line and was just passing it on? This specific requirement helps solidify the authenticity of the accounts of Jesus we have contained in Scripture! What we read in our Bible today about Jesus are the real life accounts from those who were there, physically present with Jesus from the beginning to the end of His earthly ministry.

With the selection of two before them, they took the matter up in prayer and cast lots. This idea can be foreign and confusing, but was a rather common practice throughout Ancient history and can be found in the Old Testament. This situation however was the last time it is recorded occurring in Scripture. The Greek word κλῆρος (klērŏs) presents the idea of doing something for a purpose. Notice that it was not used to conclude a moral decision, as the two men presented as options were fully qualified for the position as a Disciple. To cast a lot was a way of determining God’s divine will in a specific matter; in this case which of the two qualified men should take the twelfth position of the Disciples. It was after this occurrence that the Holy Spirit came, affirming the selection of Matthias, and provided divine guidance rendering the use of casting lots unnecessary.

Chapter 1 of Acts packs a lot. There is no doubt that you can easily read over it and move right along, but you miss so much! There are three specific lessons I glean from this chapter that I want to share, and I think they follow a pretty logical order aside form how they are outlined in Scripture.

I mentioned it earlier, how pointed Jesus was about waiting. For the Disciples He was telling them specifically to wait for the coming promise, the Holy Spirit. I think this is a lesson we can learn from though as well. There is something about waiting, the discipline of being patient. We can get so caught up in the things going on around us, the busyness of life, that we neglect the practice of patience. I remember living in downtown Chicago for a year when I attended Moody Bible Institute. When I would come home to visit, people would comment to me that I had changed. When we would be walking somewhere, I was 10 steps ahead of everyone else. I didn’t hesitate to plow through a crowd to get where I wanted to go. I had allowed my new environment to influence me in such a way that I had abandoned my more patient approach. I had become accustomed to the mentality of the city, thinking my time and needs were of greatest importance. I was reminded in those moments (and yes, there were many before this trend changed) of my need to be patient, to take control of my emotions and thinking and rightly align them with God’s. It’s been over 10 years, and our world has not changed much with respect to the importance and practice of waiting. Did you notice that everything after Jesus ascended took place while the Disciples waited? It makes me question, what could God accomplish in my heart if I would slow down more often. What is He wanting to teach me, if I would just be a little more patient. Stop pushing my agenda, and instead wait and seek Him. He might give me new insight, more clearly define what He has specifically called me to do. 

I know that I am not the only one with a mission. God has called each of us to something. Specifically, God has called me to pastor. Figuring out what that is for you will require you to spend time with Him. But there is a common mission He has given each of us. It wasn’t just for the Disciples and followers during the period of the Early Church. The mission Jesus gives the Disciples to be witnesses applies to you and I as well! Sure, we might not have the firsthand experience they did, but we have our own testimony. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, He has changed you. There is evidence of new life and transformation! This is your firsthand account. This is your witness. You and I have been commanded to share this with others, just as the Disciples were commanded to share their witness of Jesus Christ throughout the land in their day. Are we living up to our mission? Have we even acknowledged our mission? Most Christians are content sitting in the chair, listening to the message, and then going home. But we are not called to spectate; we are called to engage our culture and community.

I think a lot of Christians are honestly afraid to engage. I think if we were honest with ourselves, most of us who claim to be a follower of Jesus fail to engage with our culture and community to share Jesus, simply because we’re afraid of rejection. We (myself included) forget that our mission is not meant to be done alone. There is a key element we must implement, and that’s prayer. See, when we pray we engage God and open the door for His intervention. Look at the Disciples in chapter 1. Their act of casting lots was more about trust and faith than anything else. They removed themselves from the equation and left it in God’s hand. But they prayed about it first. They took the issue to God, and then trusted Him with the outcome. And the really cool think is, God honored them by confirming the selection of Matthias when he was filled with the Holy Spirit along with them! Selecting the next Disciple was not a small deal, and they didn’t hesitate to take it to God. Are we taking our questions, the things that concern us big and small before God? Are we trusting Him enough to provide the right answer, at the right time? For the Disciples, it was about trust. They knew God was faithful. Do we believe that?

If you are journeying along this study with me, I hope you are as overwhelmed by it as I am. What I wanted to be a post a day I’m realizing isn’t practical for me to construct. Blame it on theological and word-study rabbit holes I go down, but I am finding there is too much here to not give it time. I am challenged even in this to wait, be patient; don’t rush the study of His word. I hope that if you are joining me, you come to the same conclusion about that. Let’s slow down, seek Him in the waiting and have some patience. Seek Him and engage your community and culture. Invest in your prayer life with God, grow in your trust of Him. It’s what He longs for from you, and I promise He will not disappoint you.

A Study in Acts: Hope Restored

Over the next several days, I invite you to join me in diving into the Book of Acts. I think it’s a fitting study right after Easter, as the Book of Acts focuses on the foundation and growth of the Early Church immediately after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.

Before we jump into Acts though, we should really wrap up the story of Jesus’ time on earth after His resurrection. See, Jesus did a lot on earth after He rose from the dead, but it’s often glossed over. Understanding the whole picture, what Jesus accomplished while still on earth before ascending to His throne again, sets the stage for Luke’s message in the Book of Acts. So lets takes a few minutes to catch up on Luke 24:13-53. I encourage you to take a few moments and read this passage yourself.

Jesus has risen from the dead. The tomb is empty, the guards have fled. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James are the three women mentioned by name, but they were not the only ones present at the empty tomb (24:10). After learning what had taken place at the tomb by the two angels, the women quickly returned to the eleven Disciples to inform them of the news. I’m sure much to their frustration, their news was not received well. Scripture tells us that the Disciples did not believe them; in fact Peter took off running to the tomb to see for himself, only to find their story was in fact true!

Jesus was already busy while the women and Disciples wrestled through what I can only imagine was a myriad of emotions. He wasted no time making His rounds visiting people. His first encounter was on the road to Emmaus, where we see Him engaging two travelers lamenting Jesus’ death and failure to rescue them from the hands of the Roman Empire. After traveling with and listening to them recount His trial and execution, their disappointment in dreams of being freed from Roman rule, and the Disciples not believing the women’s story of the empty tomb, it’s almost like Jesus can’t take their depressive moods anymore. We see Jesus then unload the entire Biblical story on them as they continue walking, starting with Moses and the Prophets making everything clear to them with relation to Jesus Christ. Walking almost 7 miles, that’s a lot of time to occupy!

At the end of the day Jesus agreed to stay with them, rather than continue walking as the sun sat. The Scripture says that when Jesus broke bread and blessed it, that at that moment their eyes were opened to who was in their presence. Up to this point, it was not revealed to them that the man walking by their side was Jesus! At this moment, they realized the significance of their journey and who was with them. Their eyes had been opened and belief took hold in their hearts. And as quickly as they believed, Jesus vanished from their presence. Without delay, the two men rose and went back to Jerusalem to find the Disciples and tell them about their encounter with the risen Lord, Jesus.

It was in this moment of testimony among the two men, the Disciples and others with them, that Jesus made His appearance again. Startled and unsure what they were witnessing, Jesus assured them that it was He, their risen Lord with flesh and bone. He encourages them to touch Him to put their doubts to rest, showing them the scars on His wrists and feet. He even went so far as to eat solid food before them, making it clear He was not just a spirit.

I can feel their confusion. Sure, they had heard the stories now from the women and the two travelers, Peter even saw the empty tomb himself. But now they were confronted with undeniable proof that their friend, who days before they saw die and be buried, was sitting before them alive and breathing. The confusion that must have been swirling in their minds as they tried in their finite way to make sense of everything, I can only imagine was overwhelming. Then Jesus, knowing their struggle with unbelief in the moment spoke and opened their minds so that all they had heard and witnessed became clear to them. They then understood fully what Jesus had taught them, and the significance of what He had endured.

“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

– Luke 24:46-48

Everything came to a head in this moment. Jesus had fulfilled His earthly mission, the Disciples now believed and understood at a level previously not reached. Death was conquered, sin had been defeated and its grasp on us broken. Jesus’ time on earth was coming to a close, and His accession back to His heavenly throne was upon them. But as we know, that is not where the story ends. If anything, this is where the story really begins.

The hope that was seemingly lost with Jesus’ arrest and death has now been restored. Is it the way the Disciples imagined it would be? Not even close. They imagined an earthly king, with an earthly kingdom, one that would challenge and eradicate the Romans from their lives. Jesus’ mission, the prophecies He came to fulfill, was vastly different. But it involved them in a way they had not considered. And now, it involves us.

These are the days I love the most, the day after we think the story is over. What happens next? It’s like a good movie that abruptly ends and leaves you wanting more. With Jesus, we get more. A lot more. See, Jesus didn’t just come to earth, do some miracles, and then die on a cross just to rise from the dead and free us from sin.

He did it so we could experience change and proclaim His love to others.

The story continues; it continues for us, and because of us. We are witnesses just as much as the Disciples. Sure, we didn’t see Jesus’ resurrection first hand. But have you experienced it in your life? Have you been transformed by His power through repentance and forgiveness of your sin? If you have, if you identify as a Christian, you have a responsibility to proclaim the truth, no different than the Disciples. The same charge Jesus gave to them has been given to you.

The question then is rather simple. Are you doing it?

Is something holding you back from proclaiming the truth of Jesus? Are you believing that the story stoped with His resurrection? Are you letting doubts or fears get in the way of fully trusting Jesus, and moving forward in your faith journey?

We’ve seen in the last verses of Luke’s account the struggles and obstacles the Disciples faced the next day. We’ve seen how Jesus addressed them, opened up eyes and minds to see and understand the fullness of His mission. The story didn’t end that day. The Disciples moved past the issues of that day with a new passion and desire, fueled by the truth of Jesus Christ.

Will you join me in doing the same? Don’t let the story end.

The In Between

Good Friday has come and gone. We celebrate Easter tomorrow. Today, we wait.

Out of the three days, I think this one elicits unsettling feelings for me the most. I can only imagine how the Disciples felt today, some 2000 years ago. A sense of loss and directionless.

Think about it, when tragedy strikes we tend to be in a state of shock. It’s after the shock wears off, maybe a day or two later, that the pain is truly realized.

I remember when my dad died in 2010, I woke and sat straight up in bed just a minute before my phone rang. From that moment till the funeral, I was in a state of shock. I remember people asking me if I was ok, and I held myself together so well I was even convinced.

But at the funeral I lost it. The shock of this new reality had wore off, and my emotions couldn’t be held back any longer. It was the days after my dad’s passing that hit me the hardest, not the actual event of his death.

The day between Good Friday and Easter, I can only imagine was similar for the Disciples. The reality of what they had witnessed begins to settle in. Their King, the one who was supposed to rescue them from the Roman Empire and establish a new Kingdom, was dead.

What now?

Scripture doesn’t give us much insight into what the Disciples were thinking or doing that day, it was also the Sabbath. Something in me though, says they felt their hopes and dreams of a future vastly different from the life they had been living, now become seemingly trashed. Their best friend, teacher and leader, was gone. By all appearances, hope of any future was gone.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Maybe you find yourself in a similar spot of life. Maybe you haven’t just walked through the lose of a loved one, but perhaps you find yourself in a state of uncertainty. Like, it feels as if your plans are just falling apart. Maybe you’ve been laid off or furloughed from your job. Your kids are driving you nuts. That vacation you had planned and been saving for, now you’re not so sure it’s going to happen. How are you going to make ends meet?

There are moments in our life where much like I imagine the Disciples felt, we don’t know. We just feel lost. You know what, though?

That’s ok.

It’s ok to feel lost. It’s ok to feel like everything is crashing around us. It’s part of being human.

It doesn’t mean the story is over though, and that’s important to keep in mind.

While I imagine the Disciples felt lost after Jesus died, the reality is that the best part of the story was just around the corner. What they forgot in the midst of the tragedy, was the hope Jesus told them would come out of it!

When the reality of your tragedy hits, remember it’s not the end of your story. Stay faithful and trust God’s purpose for you as His child. Hope is just around the corner, and it will be better than anything you could have imagined.

Why The Struggle, God?

It’s really funny how God works in our life sometimes. I had this whole post written and scheduled to go live this morning, and something in my gut this morning said I needed to pull it and wait. So I did. No idea why, but the sense was very clear that I needed to wait.

So far I have been an observer of others facing more hardship than my family in the continued wake of this virus crisis. And as I reflected on this, several verses and a story came to mind. The story of Joseph in the Old Testament is a familiar one for many. If you haven’t read it in the Bible, you have probably seen some movie or play depicting it. You can find it in Genesis 37-50, but the part that I am drawn to is at the end.

See, Joseph found himself at the end of the story having just buried his father Jacob, and reunited with his fearful brothers. They were afraid that without their dad, whom Joseph loved greatly, to protect them that Joseph would take his vengeance for their betrayal so many years ago. But Joseph responds in a way that is so counter to what they expected, and how I’m sure many of us would be inclined to do.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

– Genesis 50:20

Joseph did something I think a lot of us struggle with. He didn’t get tunnel vision with the circumstances of his brother’s betrayal. He didn’t let his hardship negatively determine his mindset.

He kept his focus on the big picture.

See, being sold to slave traders by his brothers wasn’t the only tragedy he faced. Later while serving in Potiphar’s house, he was falsely accused of rape by his Master’s wife. Potiphar responds quickly to the situation and has Joseph stripped of his position and thrown in prison. And it was there he waited until coming into the service of Pharaoh some two years later.

Joseph understood there was more to the suffering he endured, than just to suffer. There was purpose in the hardship and persecution he faced, even if he couldn’t connect the dots in the moment. It went beyond being a catalyst for development of his own faith in God; it became the catalyst for God to use Joseph for His purpose and His glory.

Through Joseph and his suffering, the Israelites survived a famine. Because of his endurance in the face of trials, he was placed in the second most powerful position of Egypt, allowing him to not only have restoration with his family but also provide for his people in a great time of need.

God used what was meant for evil by man, for His good.

Joseph’s story embodies Paul’s words in Romans so well. Read what he wrote to the church in Rome.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

– Romans 8:28

See, there is no doubt Joseph loved God. Joseph trusted God. Regardless of what he was facing, he remained dedicated to God. Joseph had a purpose, and that was to be an instrument of God for His glory. He understood in a way I often struggle, the magnitude of the words James wrote thousands years later.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

– James 1:2-4

Joseph kept his eye on the prize. He wasn’t swayed by temptations, he didn’t neglect his gifts even though his circumstances were unfair. He persevered and remained faithful to God, trusting that in the end He was in control of it all.

I love Joseph’s story because it so pointedly reminds me of my struggle to keep the big picture in front. It’s easy for me to get tunnel vision when I’m faced with a difficult situation. If I’m not careful, my mind will race to a hundred “what-if” scenarios. I easily get wrapped up in the trial I’m facing, and can loose sight of God’s sovereignty in the midst of my chaos.

Joseph’s story reminds me that even when things are messy, God is still present with me because I am His child, and the end result will always be good not only for me, but for Him also.

He never leaves me or forsakes me, even when the circumstances around me seem hopeless. Is that something you believe? Do you believe that the messes in life you face, the hate and persecution from others you endure, that God can and will use it for His glory? That your suffering has a purpose?

See, if you love God and you are His child, He has a purpose for you. And that includes all of your story. Don’t get stuck on the present hardship, don’t let tunnel vision rob you of the truth that your Father is with you, and He will use the trials you face for good. That through them you will develop perseverance, and God will use you and your story to further His Kingdom.

Don’t let your trial convince you that nothing good can come from it. All that does is deny God’s power. It rejects the truth of His sovereignty and ability to redeem what is broken.

It rejects the accomplishment of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The greatest tragedy to ever take place was Jesus facing a trial meant for me, condemned to death in my place. And yet, God planned it from the beginning of time for the sole purpose of redeeming me!

Jesus stayed focused on the big picture, God’s glory. Much like Joseph, He endured the evil that was against Him. And in the end, God used those moments of evil intent as a catalyst to make redemption a reality for us.

As we approach Easter, I encourage you to stay focused on God’s goodness. Remember that the hardships you face, the evil brought against you by others has a purpose in God’s hands. Joseph endured and was used by God to not only save his family, but his people as well. God raised him up through the trials and hardship he went through, to be an instrument of God’s grace to those who didn’t deserve it.

Jesus, after washing the Disciples feet and instituting the Last Super on Thursday night, looked ahead to the fulfillment of His earthly mission. Hours later He would be betrayed in the garden, and placed on trial rigged with false charges. Then, he would be condemned to die the next day in our place. I can’t help but read Joseph’s words again in light of what Jesus endured and accomplished in our place.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

– Genesis 50:20

Are you alive today? Have you been redeemed through the confession of your sin and acceptance of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice in your place? If not, make today your day.

As followers of Jesus, redeemed by His sacrifice, we can trust that in everything we face and endure God is working it for good. No matter how tragic the situation might be, how emotionally drained we might find ourself, God is present with us. Our needs will be met, and His purpose will be fulfilled. When we seek after Him in the midst of chaos, our faith develops. Enduring what is meant for evil against us is the catalyst for the development of perseverance, and being used by God to further His Kingdom for His glory.

We simply need to remain faithful and diligent in our pursuit of Him no matter what circumstances lie before us.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, a day in the Church when we celebrate the event of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem recorded in the Gospels. It marked the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent. It was a day of highs for Jesus’ Disciples, I’m sure, because in just a few days their world would seemingly crash to the ground.

Jesus knew it. He knew that the praising and singing as he rode in on the back of a donkey not only fulfilled prophecy from long ago, but it would be short lived. Soon, very soon, The praise and rejoicing of who He was would turn to bitterness and hate. And in the end, He would be handed over for a false trial and execution meant for us. It was the plan all along, since before the beginning of time. A plan to rectify sin, to bridge the gap between us and God. It was a mission only Jesus could fulfill.

Leading up to that culmination of His mission, Jesus displays emotion for His pending suffering in such a raw way. In these two moments I think we get a glimpse into the humanity of Christ. They are moments that make me stop, have a pause in my heart and meditate on His words.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”

– John 12:27

Can you feel the internal struggle? Do you see the humanity of Jesus in this moment, wrestling with the emotions of knowing your death is ahead of you? Even though He knows the final outcome, Jesus still experienced the harsh reality of human emotion in the face of hardship.

As time grew closer, His feelings intensified. Days later, before His betrayal took place, Jesus got away from His Disciples to pray. He sought solitude to be with His Father, and in that moment we see Jesus experiencing raw human emotion in the midst of struggle so intense, an angel was sent to strengthen Him.

And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

– Luke 22:41-44

I don’t know what struggles you are facing right now. Maybe with all the craziness in the world right now you do t have a job. You toss and turn at night wondering how your bills are going to get paid. Maybe you find yourself unable to eat because the stress and anxiety is so intense, you have no appetite.

Maybe you feel alone, trapped by your emotions and feeing like no one understands.

I get it. I’ve been there. I’ve found myself deep in a depression, unsure of how things could ever get better. I’ve had days in a row of no appetite, making myself eat something just so I wouldn’t pass out. I’ve felt alone, stuck in a pattern of thinking that no one cared or could understand what I was going through. And you know what gives me hope in those moments?

Jesus gets it too.

He isn’t just the King of Kings. Remember, He willingly left His throne to walk this earth. He isn’t just the Savior. He endured pain and humiliation. He walked this earth, faced trials and temptations before He returned to His throne. If there was ever someone who can relate to you best, it’s Jesus.

In a week we celebrate my favorite event, Jesus’ resurrection. But before that could happen, Jesus had to suffer in my place. As you go through this week, as you face whatever emotions and struggles you have, remember Jesus gets it. He understands your loneliness, your pain; He gets the struggle you face.

Let Him walk with you through it, and lead you out of it. After all, there isn’t anyone more qualified and experienced than Him.

More Than Existing

Have you ever been faced with a trial of some kind, and found yourself focused on giving encouragement? Like, you know that what lies ahead for you will be taxing to the extreme, maybe even wondering how you are going to get through it in one piece while still retaining some shred of sanity. And yet, your focus at that moment is on others, and their needs.

Have you experienced that?

Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end. Watching a friend or family member, someone who you love and care for putting the needs of others before themselves. Even when they are getting ready to face a hardship you cannot walk through with them.

Have you experienced that?

I’ll go out on a limb and say you’ve been in one, if not both of those camps. I know for a fact that if you follow Jesus, you’re on the receiving end for sure. How? Because of Jesus’ own actions and words.

A lot of us are familiar with the story of Jesus in the Garden before His betrayal, all the way through His death and resurrection. But right before this John gives us an insider view of Jesus’ heart through what has come to be know as the High Priestly Prayer in chapter 17.

Not only did Jesus give Himself up in our place, prior to doing so He went before God in prayer with very specific requests on behalf of you and I. Check this out,

“I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.”

– John 17:9

As a Child of God, a true follower of Jesus, YOU were at the center of His prayer. YOUR needs in the days to come were the focus of His heart. And those needs He lays before God because He loves us!

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

– John 17:15-19

Jesus knew what He was walking into, and He knew what His followers would soon face as well, because of their devotion to Him. And while what He willingly faced far exceeded anything we ever will, He did not hesitate to bring our needs before God on our behalf.

We are on the receiving end; the receiving end of a God who’s love is so immense and gracious, He is willing to sacrifice Himself to restore us to Himself.

Are we living in reflection of this?

Do we think, speak, act in a way that is reflective of the grace and love we have been shown? Our primary calling as a follower of Jesus is to live a life that emulates Him, and through this we fulfill every other aspect of our calling. To love others, serve as He served, shine light in the dark. He did not remove us from the world, bar us from facing difficulties; He prayed for our protection, our sanctification. He prayed that we would make a difference.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

– John 17:20-21

The way we live, speak, think, it should all reflect Christ. Why? We are not only called to do so simply as followers of Jesus, but it is through this that others may come to find Him. It’s why He calls us to be the salt of the earth, light in the dark, to stand firm in our faith through the trials and temptations we face. Our life through pursuing Christ becomes a testimony to others of His love and grace.

You are probably facing social restrictions like me, with “stay-at-home” orders spreading across our country quickly. Social distancing has become a new norm should you need to venture outside your house. And more of us are spending extensive time on-line than before. Despite the changes we face, each of us have opportunities to be Jesus. The recent restrictions and changes have not lessened the need or ability for us to live a life reflective of Christ.

So what can you do? Today, tomorrow, right now? Jesus prayed for you, not simply to exist. He prayed for you to thrive and make a difference for His Kingdom.

Be salt, be light. Today.

Losing Control

I’m thankful that I have an “essential” job right now. I know there are a lot of people tonight that don’t. Maybe you are in that group. And you sit there wondering what you are going to do. How are you going to pay your bills. How will you answer the questions your kids have.

How do you maintain a sense of calm and collection in the midst of seeming chaos.

How do you keep control.

See, I think most people (myself included in this struggle) grasp onto control. Voluntarily letting go is hard enough. Having it forced from you, whether by a person or circumstance, I think is even harder. And the feelings when it happens, I think are often more intense.

I have friends, and family who have had work hours cut back. Some have been put on rotating schedules, splitting the workload with others so that everyone can still get something. I have friends who have been laid off. There is a sense of lost control. And while these times are difficult and discouraging, I think it’s moments like these that highlight a truth we often want to deny.

We were never in control to begin with.

The harsh reality is that you and I don’t really control anything. It’s an illusion we parade in, finding comfort when things “go our way”. And yes, that truth can make the current situation sting a little more. For many, it means setbacks of dreams and goals. It easily leads to depression, something I and many I know have to constantly battle and be watchful of.

But in the midst of the chaos, in the moments when it feels like the rug is being pulled out from under me, I can still find peace. I don’t have to dwell in the illusion of loosing control, letting fear and despair take hold in my life. Is that easy to come to terms with? No, but it’s possible.

I often think of David in his younger years when I think of fear, depression, a sense of lacking peace. He was no stranger to it. Anointed as a young boy as the future King of Israel, he spent most of his young life being in the crosshairs of King Saul. He was hunted, constantly under threat of death from the king he was to replace on the throne. And not because he wanted to be king; God ordained it.

There were many nights I’m sure David struggled to sleep, always looking over his shoulder for someone to cross him. I can imagine the roller coaster of emotion he experienced and wrestled with when he was in Saul’s court and on the run. I would imagine it was many of the same emotions many of us find churning in ourselves now.

We get a glimpse into David’s heart and mind through many of the Psalms. One he wrote in reflection of being captured by an enemy while fleeing Saul, lamenting the constant pursuit by his enemy’s. And yet he does not fail to properly correct his perspective in the midst of hardship.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?

Psalm 56:3-4

Even in the face of death at the hands of his enemies, David was able to shift his focus to a reality he came to understand well: God is in control.

That didn’t mean he was just a pawn in the world, but a steward of what God entrusted him with. That’s important to understand. The fact that we are really not in control of anything does not mean we don’t have purpose, that we are just chess pieces on a board.

David understood that he was a steward, and that regardless of what his current situation was, he was called to trust God through it all. He was in control, He had a purpose for him, and He was faithful to provide.

For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

Psalm 56:13

King David had seen time and time again, God provide in the darkest of times. David understood suffering, fear, depression; he knew the familiar feelings that come with chaos. But he never lost sight of this truth, God is in control. It might not always make sense; you might have more questions than answers in the moment.

Maybe that’s where you are right now. Maybe, you feel lost and like you have lost all control surrounding your life. Find encouragement in the truth that it was never yours to begin with, that it rests in the hands of One who is more capable than we ever could be. One who is more faithful than we could ever be.

God is in control.

Maybe you need to take a step like David did. When he was faced with what seemed like the end of his rope, he turned to God. He trusted God to be faithful and provide.

Have you? Will you?

I know it’s not easy. When the bank account just gets lower and lower, and there are still bills to be paid. When your kids start asking questions and you can’t find the answers. When you feel distance between you and your spouse as depression and despair begin to settle in.

Let David’s words be yours. Let your heart rest in the truth of God’s sovereignty in the midst of chaos.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.

Psalm 56:3-4

Uncertain Times

We are living in a time ravaged by fear for many. We are seeing countries around the world being brought to an almost standstill. The future seems uncertain, and everyone has their own thoughts and opinions regarding what has and should be done.

Social media has been flooded with everything from news articles with facts and opinions to memes joking about buying to much toilet paper. For many, the thought persists that what has taken place within our country is no less than an overreaction. But for others, there is real fear. The concern they feel for themselves and their loved ones, it’s just as real and valid as the opposing opinions.

Watching my middle schooler grieve the premature end of the school year hurts. They feel the loss of social interaction with their friends, the seemingly unending solitude of the forced social isolation they must endure.

Those feelings are real.

The elderly in our families and community who understand the elevated risk they face with this illness, while also facing isolation from friends and family. What for many is already a lonely stage of life, has now indefinitely been exacerbated. No more visits from children and grandkids. No more social activities to attend.

It’s in these times, these situations, that often times our fears and concerns can overwhelm us. While we acknowledge the realness of these feelings, it’s critical we fight allowing them to over take us. But as we have seen, and continue too, many already have been overcome. Many feel a sense of hopelessness in these uncertain times.

So how should we respond?

What should the approach of those who are not overwhelmed by fear be?

It’s interesting how even in the midst of a modern crisis, Scripture provides us with timeless guidance. Listen to Paul’s words in Romans 14:13.

“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”

Romans 14:13

Now Paul wasn’t dealing with a viral outbreak. He wasn’t even dealing with a community ripe with fear over an uncertain future. He was however, dealing with people who had very different outlooks and opinions regarding an issue of great cultural and religious importance.

On one hand where those who believed passionately that eating certain foods was wrong, while others believed there was nothing wrong with it. You could say they even felt the opposing party of view was overreacting. Huh, now that sounds familiar.

Paul’s point in all of it was simple. Your opinion doesn’t really matter. What does matter, is putting the needs of your brother and sister first. Specifically, those struggling, don’t be a hindrance to their growth.

Maybe you don’t think this virus outbreak is a big deal. That’s ok, you have that right to think that way. But what affect does downplaying the fears and concerns of others have? Are you considering the needs of those around you who are feeling and struggling with fear?

I love Paul’s other words in Philippians 4:8-9, I think they are so immensely practical for us right now.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Philippians 4:8-9

Paul’s focus was on Jesus. No matter what he faced, how hard life got, his eyes did not waver from Jesus in the picture. Remember, this was a guy often writing letters of encouragement to others while imprisoned because of his faith. He did not allow his circumstances to shape and dictate his view on life, or how he treated others.

Despite where he found himself, he encouraged and spoke life into those who were struggling to cope with the issues they faced.

What is your response in these times?

Have you been overran with fear and concern of the unknown future? Are you looking forward in fear, facing uncertainty in finances, work, what you will do with your kids in the midst of this crisis? I encourage you to pray on Paul’s words he wrote to the Philippine church. Break the cycle of living in fear, and put your eyes on Jesus. Trust that He will give you the strength and endurance to persevere through the hardships. Find hope, that He has put people in your path to walk this journey with you.

Do you find yourself less concerned about the crisis we face than others? Is fear of the uncertain future something you find you just don’t struggle with? Count yourself blessed! But don’t allow your peace and confidence be a stumbling block to those who are not at peace or confident. This is not a time to downplay the fears and concerns of others. You may think certain reactions are blown out of proportion, or that people just need to get over their fears. Remember, their feelings are real. The fear and uncertainty they feel is real. What are you doing to build that person up? To lead the way in restoring hope in dark times? Stop passing judgment, and instead focus on spreading hope through words and actions of encouragement.

This is a time for the Church to shine. Christ made it clear, that we are to be the purifying element in a sick world, by and through Him. Be the salt of the earth, speak life into pain, be a beacon of light in dark times.

People Don’t Change…

When we fail to change, we allow decay to set in through destructive behavior and thinking. Jesus offers a solution that brings restoration and bears healthy fruit in our life.

Or do they?

I think for most of us, regardless of what we say, we subconsciously wrestle with this thought. People don’t change. In all honesty it’s really easy to arrive at that conclusion.

Think about it. How often has someone hurt you? Not just once, but over and over again. Maybe even by the exact same action as the time before. It’s easy to conclude that they will always be the way they are, they will never change.

Convincing ourselves of this makes breaking relationship a little easier. It’s easier to break off a relationship of any kind when you can “justify” that the person will always be “that way”.

I’ve been the “victim” and the accuser. I know of a person right now making the same selfish choices they were making 10 years ago, only now it has impacted other lives significantly. I’ve had to combat, even over the last 24 hours, this idea that they will never change. I remember in the midst of my divorce being told I would never change, that the destructive relational habits I had developed would be my practice forever.

People don’t change.

When you stop for a moment and think about it, this mindset really is destructive in itself. The idea that people will always be the way they are, nothing good will ever come of them, it’s depressing. It tears down and fails to identify and understand an eternally important truth.

But God.

To rest in the framework that people can’t change neglects the truth of the gospel, of Jesus’ mission and sacrifice; it disregards the work of the Holy Spirit. When we think, or dare say that someone is incapable of change we completely disregard the work that can be done by and through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

It’s that serious.

And yet, we find it so easy to convince ourselves of it.

The truth is people can change, but it’s a choice. The option is there, the opportunity is always present; the question isn’t if they can change, but will they?

Being told I would never change became one of the biggest motivators for me to evaluate my priorities, my actions, the choices I was making. While I don’t agree with telling people they will never change, being confronted with that harsh criticism gave me the motivation I needed at that moment to take action.

See, I knew in my heart that what I was told wasn’t true. I knew change was possible. Growth was attainable. And while I understood I couldn’t do it on my own, I knew it began with a choice I had to make.

Surrender.

Up to that point my focus had really been on me. When I was really honest with myself, I did what I did for me. If it happened to benefit others, great. My mindset, the priorities in my life had to be rearranged or change would not happen.

I love how Paul tackles this in his letter to the church in Rome. In chapter 12 he begins by stressing to his readers the significance and importance of living for Jesus. In the first verse he uses the Greek word παρακαλέω (parakalĕō), literally meaning to implore, beseech, or appeal. Paul is pleading with his fellow believers to live holy lives in pursuit of Jesus.

But Paul also understood it begins with change. That’s why he follows in verse two with this….

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

Paul believed change was possible, because Jesus made it possible. But it is a process we must engage in actively. Growth is painful, change takes time, and we have to be willing to surrender our selfish desires to begin the process.

Where are you? Are you stuck in destructive patterns? Do you continue to make destructive choices and feel like you can’t change? Are you convinced people will always be the way they are? Jesus has a different story. And the really cool thing is, He wants you and me to be a part of it. He wants us to change, to be transformed by His power.

What’s holding you back?

We kicked off a new series at The Anchor Church a few weeks ago. The series name is The Main Thing, and we have been diving into who The Main Thing should be in our life, and what that looks like.

This post is number three of a four part series that will mimic the four weeks of the series. Click the video below to watch week three from myself.

We kicked off a new series at The Anchor Church a few weeks ago. The series name is The Main Thing, and we have been diving into who The Main Thing should be in our life, and what that looks like.

This post is number two of a four part series that will mimic the four weeks of the series. Click the video below to watch week two from Pastor Alex.

We kicked off a new series at The Anchor Church a few weeks ago. The series name is The Main Thing, and we have been diving into who The Main Thing should be in our life, and what that looks like.

This post is one of a four part series that will mimic the four weeks of the series. Click the video below to watch week one from Pastor Alex.

I’ll be honest, I’m a young parent. Young in the sense of my actual parenting experience spans just over 4 years. And I openly admit I don’t know a lot, I’m still learning. While I’ve worked with kids and families a lot in the past, parenting your own kids is different. I can’t just say “good luck” and go home to my kid-free life!

Now I have an 11 year old daughter, a 4 year old son, and a 6 month old baby girl. If you’re doing the math, I know it doesn’t add up. I chose to bring an 8 year old little girl into my life almost 4 years ago when my wife and I began dating. By that point I had my son, but he was just a little guy.

What I’m learning is that the little ones are easy. Correction and discipline are typically a walk in the park. The slightest correction with my son often brings his tender heart to a melting point. He has such a genuine concept of right and wrong, and a desire to obey that when he doesn’t it breaks him in two. My baby girl, well we are still at the eat, play, poop, sleep stage I think.

My pre-teen, spicy, independent soon-to-be 12 year old middle school girl? She tests me! Finally having an every-day dad in her life I know hasn’t been an easy adjustment. For years, because of choices her dad made, it was just her and mom. So naturally me coming into the picture rocked her boat. And yes, even almost 4 years later we are still working at it.

Having a daughter is a blessing, don’t get me wrong. But man, there are days I so badly want to go back to her being the sweet little 8 year old who didn’t have as much sass and attitude! There are moments, like earlier tonight, where her choice in action, attitude, and words put my patience to a whole new test. These are moments my anger easily flares, and my wife graciously de-escalates me before I go tear into my little girl.

And that’s being real. The truth is when I feel disrespected and dishonored by her intentional choices, I get angry. I get really angry, because I know she hasn’t been raised in a way that encourages deceit, a poor work ethic, and a lack of care for consequences. And my natural inclination is to swing the hammer down to make a point.

But I also know that while doing so might be a great emotional release for myself, it does nothing constructive for her.

When I respond harshly out of my emotions, it drives a wedge between us that is not easily removed. But when I respond with correction out of love, the outcome will be different. I’m not advocating nor do I fail to enforce consequences for her poor choices. But the approach in which it is done must be correct.

There are a lot of aspects in which being her present every-day dad brings me joy. Her inquisitive nature, her story telling, and artistic creative abilities are just a few. But there is nothing I find enjoyable about discipline with her.

Despite the hardship I feel, the lack of joy it brings me to enforce consequences when she makes mistakes, I know it’s worth it. I know that every time her mom and I hold her accountable for her choices, it’s for her best interest. I find comfort in the principle (understand it’s not a promise, or a guarantee) we find in Proverbs:

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

– Proverbs 22:6

Regardless of the circumstances, the pain I feel in the midst of carrying g out discipline, the agony of saying “no” to her request to do something deep down I want her to be able to do, I find comfort that right correction can bear fruit. But even if you don’t believe that, even if you think your discipline isn’t making a positive impact, as parents we are still called to train our children. And that includes discipline.

Notice the effect is dependent on the cause, but the cause is not dependent on the effect. In other words, regardless of the outcome, as parents we are still expected to raise our children correctly. Remember it’s a principle, not a promise that they will turn out “right”. As a follower of Jesus, that means teaching them how to follow Jesus themselves in word and deed. Right now for me, that often means helping my little girl see and understand the discrepancies in her logic, which in turn impacts her words and actions.

I never thought parenting would be easy. I knew there would be challenges, pain, frustration. I believed being a dad would be filled with joy. It never occurred to me though, how moments in the midst of raising someone you love so much can be so heart breaking in the moment. As with most things, parenting has its un-enjoyable moments too. But keeping the right perspective on why we discipline, why we correct poor choices and behavior is essential to finding the joy in the overall process.

After all, it’s really about raising someone who ends up loving Jesus more than anything else. That takes time, it takes growth. And growth often times comes through discipline and correction.

Beyond Grace and Peace

Have you ever taken a moment and read Paul’s greetings and closings of his letters? He made a point to draw attention to grace and peace. He loved his people. The people that God entrusted him to shepherd. Paul poured into them regardless of his own situations. Through pain, imprisonments, trials and persecution, he continued to minister to them.

Paul loved his flock.

While this is evident throughout his letters, there is a passage in particular that strikes me. His obvious passion and love for his flock shines through here, as he details his desires for them.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11

Paul did not just leave it at grace and peace. He didn’t just leave it at giving good instruction to his flock with regard to living a life in pursuit of Jesus.

Paul prayed specifically, for them.

He understood the hardships and dangers that they would face as they grew in their faith. He knew first hand what following Jesus, fully devoted with your life, could lead to. He knew that the road ahead for the sheep entrusted to him would be difficult and dangerous.

Do we pray like this? Do we petition God that the believers in our life would grow in their love for Jesus and others? Do we pray that they would have knowledge and discernment, an understanding of not just what is bad but what is best? Is our desire for them to be pure and blameless before God?

Do we exhibit a love for others in this way as Paul did for his people?

Praying for other people can be hard. Especially when they mess up and continually make mistakes. Or they are not growing at a pace we think is appropriate. Our prayers can easily turn to complaints before God. Paul had his moments of frustration with the churches he planted. He was constantly addressing conflicts and false teaching, often let in by the ones he entrusted the church with when he left.

But these issues did not stop him from praying specifically for them. He didn’t restrain his love and concern for them because of their mistakes; something He came to understand the importance of first hand in his own life. He desired above himself that they would become fully, more deeply devoted followers of Jesus. Do we do that?

Do we take time to pray for others in a way that exhibits true love? Or do we fall victim to contentment in “Lord you know what they need” and leave it there? Do we actively petition God to grow them in love, knowledge, and discernment, that their faith would be more evident by the fruit they bear.

That’s challenging for me, even as a Pastor. What would our community look like if we prayed like Paul did? What would our church be like if we approached God in petition for the growth of His people?

I’d venture to think we would have a new sense of depth in our faith and commitment to Jesus. I’d venture to expect a growth in the size of our community.

I’d expect more people to follow Paul’s example of praying for their brothers and sisters in Christ, that they too would grow in love, knowledge and discernment.

What if we didn’t just play the what if game, and actually started praying with intentionality?

That’s when we will see the power of God unleashed, the Holy Spirit move, and Jesus rescue souls.

I think Paul understood this. Do we?

Playing House

As I was at work Saturday night, thinking about my message for the morning I realized something.

While this series is about getting back to the basics of being a follower of Christ, my message is centered on rightfully placing Jesus as the first priority in our life.

Not tomorrow, but now.

The problem we often have is being really really good at finding other things to put before Him. And to make it worse, we are really good at finding excuses to justify and convince us what we are doing is ok.

And boom, that’s when it hit me.

See, we often approach our relationship with Jesus like culture teaches us (wrongly) to approach relationships.

We think it’s ok to play house.

We invite Jesus into our place, we LOVE all the benefits we get from having Him with us, the feelings and security. But we keep a level of autonomy, separation. It’s convenient after all. Let’s be together, I’ll exploit the benefits of a relationship, but I’m only going to let you into the business I want you in.

There is a level of commitment we are unwilling to make.

We want to play house, instead of build a home.

Jesus wants more. He expects more.

He demands more.

And why shouldn’t He? He did after all take my place on a cross. He was humiliated, beaten to a pulp, paraded through the streets, all to hang on a cross and die a criminals death.

He did that for me, because He loves me.

I married my wife not just because I love her, but she loves me just as much. And love is beautifully expressed through commitment.

Jesus longs to be an intricate part of our lives, as we grow and pursue Him more. That begins with a commitment to Him. It deeps and widens by rightly placing Him first in our life.

Not tomorrow; today.