Sunday, November 16, 2014

Happily Ever After?

            There is a diamond ring on my left hand and a pretty white dress in the closet.  A man has professed his love for me, and I reciprocated.  A photographer has taken our pictures and we’re neck deep in wedding planning.  God-willing, we will soon live together, become “one flesh” and start a family.  Is this my happily ever after?  Has it finally arrived?? 

            Fortunately, no!  Although my fiancé is a great man, we would be headed for disaster if I were to place my hope in his love, efforts, and presence.  I am not “demanding soul-level satisfaction from him” because he is not made for such a thing.1  His role as a husband, as outlined in Ephesians 5, is to love me sacrificially and lead me towards purity (purity not being an absence of sexual intimacy, but a turning from sin toward a more Christ-like life).  I am thankful that he will say vows with me in January, and strive to be faithful in God’s design for marriage…but he will be far from perfect in his execution, as will I.  Although I am still not married, I know that romance, companionship, sex, laughter and love from my husband will not cure my ailments.  Rather, our sin will be magnified.  Selfishness will be uncovered and laziness challenged.  Loneliness and lust will not be distant memories from the days we were single.  Why?  Because although a desirable blessing and sacred bond, marriage does not bring salvation from the muck of this life.  However, it is a picture of the gospel.  The union of a man and woman in marriage is intended to provide a glimpse of Christ’s love for the church.  Christ shows forgiveness when wrath is deserved, extending compassion and help to those who are weak, and gave his life that the chasm between us and God would be bridged.  I pray that my marriage might be characterized by such radical love, grace and mercy.

            My point in all this is to crumble the idolatry of marriage, which I am all too familiar with, and point to the unfailing rock of the only true and lasting happy ending: eternal life with Jesus Christ.  Marriage does not continue after death (Matthew 22:23-33) because it is not the goal of our existence.  God created man and woman to have a close relationship with him, worshipping him with no shame.  For those who surrender their lives to Christ as the only means of salvation, this beautiful and sinless union with God is fully restored.  I am thankful for my fiancé’s love, and I hope we can live together many years in marriage.  However, I am even more grateful for Jesus’ perfect love, which extends from before the world began and will continue forever…literally.  What an amazing, albeit mysterious, view we get of this life in the book of Revelation. Jesus makes all things new – a new heaven and new earth, as the old have passed away.  There will be no tears or pain as God dwells with people from all nations.  Together we will praise God with the angels, seeing Jesus before our very eyes. [Revelation 7:9-12; 21:1-8, 22-27]

            In all times and circumstances, this is where my hope lies.  Where, or in whom, is yours found?

“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed.  But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”
Hebrews 1:10-12

"Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.  Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long."
Psalm 25:4-5
1 – Alvin L. Reid & Ashley Marivittori Gorman, The Book of Matches, page 16.
 For further exploration:
Song - "In Christ Alone"


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Personal Testimony

              As a child, I believed Jesus was real and good.  I had no reason to doubt my loving church family.  However, my beliefs and understanding were disjointed and shallow.  My childhood faith could be summed up as this: God is real, and I need to be a good person.  I need to make Jesus proud and not be like the people who killed him.

You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe – and shudder! James 2:19

            Not until I was 15 did I enter into a true, saving relationship with Jesus.  At a very small Christian camp on the beach, I sat on a log by the campfire.  It was nighttime and we had heard the last speaker for the day.  Everyone dispersed, and I sat gazing into the fire.  That night I was struck like never before with the weight of my sin.  I had always seen myself as “good” – I did well in school, tried to be nice to others, and did not have what some might consider major rebellious tendencies.  But I was slapped across the face with the reality that these little attempts at goodness, often motivated by pride, would never be enough to make me right with God.  I could never live up to his perfect standards, and in fact, my lifetime of seemingly innocent obedience was marked by selfishness and hidden wickedness rather than sincere surrender to God.  At the same time, I was equally struck with the goodness and magnitude of God.  He was not a distant deity who created me and checked up on me every now and then.  He was personal and passionate, fully aware of every sin I had ever committed.  And yet, he sent his Son to die for me.  This sacrifice was not made lightly, but in radical love and with purpose.  I did not have the vocabulary to tell anyone, “hey last night I turned my life over to Jesus as my Savior,” but I knew that weekend marked the beginning of a faith unlike anything I had ever known before.

I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” Psalm 16:2

            My life was marked by a greater hunger to know God, but I was very intimidated by the Bible.  By the time I got to college, my faith became overshadowed with frustration.  I began to resort back to my childhood faith, angry that God was not responding to my obedience by giving me the desires of my heart.  I began to intentionally pursue sin and refused to go to church or a campus ministry (even though a sweet girl in my hall invited me multiple times).  After a year of rebelling, it’s like a light switch was flipped.  God pulled me back into his loving arms so quickly that I’m not sure how to explain it.  My eyes were opened again to my sin and his grace and mercy.  My hunger was revived and I began pursuing God’s word and community with other believers.  I started reading and studying the Bible for the first time and was sharpened by other Christians in a local church and on campus.  God re-aligned my desires with his and brought me such joy and comfort in knowing and following Jesus.  My prayer life became more personal and my faith became more public as all areas of my life began to come under God’s lordship.
A year later, he plopped me down in the Philippines for two months to share the gospel.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I knew that Jesus’ instructions to his disciples were for us as well: “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few…Go your way, behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:2-3).  It was not until this trip that the meaning behind Jesus’ sacrificial death clicked for me, and when I returned home I was baptized.  In evangelism training, I read Romans 3:23 and 6:23.  Like a child being told 1+1=2, I had unknowingly accepted Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as being connected to my forgiveness without knowing why.  I find it a bit humorous that not until I was halfway around the world as a missionary did I finally understand: Jesus is God, perfect and undeserving of death.  He died because that is our punishment.  From the beginning of time, the choice of separating ourselves from God through sin brings eternal separation in the form of death and hell.  All people sin, and rightfully earn this consequence.  However, Jesus died in our place, absorbing this punishment and making us right with God.  He did not remain dead, but rose so that we might rise too.  We have died with Christ, and will live forever with him in the perfect goodness God originally created.  God has responded to our rebellion with compassion, providing salvation to all who have faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord of their life.

            God does not save us so that we can live cushy lives, but has prepared good works for us to walk in.  We are to love God and love others, sharing the good news of Jesus to every nation.  As I continue to learn and know God better, I stumble and sin and turn inward – but his mercies are new every morning and he continues to draw me back and strengthen my faith!  I will never understand or know everything, but I am confident that God is my Creator, Father, Savior, Lord, Refuge and Guide.  His goodness is unwavering and his word is true, lighting my path as I go through life as his child.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 3:23, 6:23
For further exploration

Friday, August 1, 2014

Death by Sin, Life by Christ

“God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.  Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”
1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Galatians 6:1-2

            Every person to walk the earth has rebelled against God, except Jesus.  We all sin, in many ways, continuously through life.  Past and present (and surely future) struggles for me are laziness, selfishness, lust, anger, jealousy, impatience…and really I could go on for days.  As Paul said in his letter 1 Timothy, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

            As our Creator and embodiment of all things good and perfect, God is the only one able to accurately define what is right and wrong.  He provides an outline in the Bible, and those who love him are to follow in humble submission, being made more like Christ through repentance and faith in his Word.  However, attempts to turn from sin are not the means of salvation.  God does not extend forgiveness based on human effort and goodness.  By his grace and mercy, Jesus absorbs the punishment of death for all the wicked sinners (ex: ME!) who place their faith in him.  What follows such faith is a desire to deny oneself and follow Christ, living out the good works he has placed before us.  It is not easy, but a lifelong journey. [John 14:15; Romans 3:23-24; Luke 5:27-32, 9:23, 19:10; Ephesians 2:1-10]

            It's difficult because we are born with sinful desires, but our personal pleasures never trump the authority and wisdom of the God of the Universe.  Although sin will be present in the lives of Christ-followers until he returns, we are not to accept it, but rather wage war against sin.  For this reason, I must currently address the sin of homosexuality.  I would dare say all of us, at some point at least, will deal with sexual sins, and homosexuality is just one among the list.  As I see this sin being not only accepted, but celebrated, even among Christians – I just have to take a moment to say that this is not right.  I do not say this out of superiority or hate, but out of anguish that God’s word and will is being twisted or disregarded altogether.  For those who accept Christ as Savior and Lord of their life, and are attracted to the same sex, my hope is not that you be sneered at or banished.  My hope is that you find encouragement and accountability in the church, as I have found for the struggles of my own sinful nature.  If our church members begin congratulating us for our sin, it’s time to leave and seek biblical discipleship elsewhere. [Romans 6:1-14; 2 Peter 2:1-3, Hebrews 12:1-6]

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
            May we all recognize the filth within, and turn to God for forgiveness and the strength to resist temptation.  May we never be ashamed of the gospel, and the counter-cultural implications of Scripture.  Love God for who he is and what he’s done, not judging him or editing his commands.  Love others as Christ loves us, sacrificially and boldly extending truth and help.  The hope we have in Jesus triumphs over every sin and trial!  God does not call for self-loathing or indulgence, but repentance and faith.  He knows and loves us more intimately than any person on earth.  I encourage nonbelievers to consider Christ, and believers, including myself, to follow him whole-heartedly!

Friday, July 11, 2014

God is the Powerful Creator, not a Limited Creation

            Why do people worship God?  Why do people all over the world accept physical torture and death rather than renounce their faith in the one true God?  If you think Christians are naïve or misinformed, I beg you to reconsider.  Is it not possible that for thousands of years, sincere believers spread across the globe are not blind followers of tradition but passionate followers of the truth?  Children in China, old men in Nepal, and teenagers in Brazil have been saved by Christ and have devoted their lives to the God who deems them his eternal children.  Entirely by God’s grace and mercy, through faith in his Son, our filth is cleansed and we are forgiven.  God allows the punishment for sin, death, to be absorbed once by Christ so that many may be saved.

            And yet, God is ridiculed and staunchly opposed.  Many who spit on his name are doing so based on ignorant rumors, blatant heresy, or negative personal experiences.  They are usually rejecting a man-made god, not the God of the universe who presents himself to us through the Bible, Christ and the Holy Spirit.  If someone insults the person you cherish most, will you not rise to their defense?  Please understand then why I desperately want to speak about the God who has done more for me (and all of mankind) than any person I love could ever attempt.  There is so much about God’s character that I want to defend, but all I will currently attempt to address is God’s role as Creator.   

"You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed.  But you are the same, and your years will have no end."
Hebrews 1:10-12

            God is a Heavenly Father of order, not chaos.  He created the cells that make up a ladybug’s eye, and he fashioned the stars in space that have yet to be discovered.  He designed every organ and organism that scientists study, including the complex brains they use to accomplish such work.  He is powerful, imaginative, and eternal.  He is more intelligent than the wisest man to ever live.  He sees all, knowing the hearts and actions of every person.  God made humans unique from the rest of his work, but our wisdom will never compare to his.  It is foolish to look at gaps in our knowledge, or apparent contradictions, and chalk it up to God being inadequate or false.  If we trust our own limited human capacities above God’s infinite depth as Creator, how silly do we look?  Being wise in our own eyes, when we clearly all fall short of the glory of God, will only usher in a life of hollow pride and eternity apart from God. 

            What we know of the vastness of God’s splendor and power in creation is only a glimpse.  What’s even more mind-boggling is that God is not a distant creator.  He created us with intentionality, and sent Jesus because of his love for us.  Just as a liver is made to produce bile for digestion (and other things I wouldn’t be able to explain well), humans are made to worship God and live with him in harmony.  We see this in Eden and we see it again in the book of Revelation.  God makes all things new, wiping away every tear and dwelling with mankind forever in peace.  This salvation and restoration is the act of a personal Creator – loving and compassionate in his position of authority, not weak and apathetic. 

            I do not kneel before an angry or lazy God.  I do not read in Scripture of an unjust Creator who acts on whims and demands undeserved worship.  I also do not know God as an enabler, accepting sin as long as he gets a bit of praise in return.  I follow the God of the Bible, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  He is the only lawgiver and judge, the Father of a kingdom that will never be shaken.  He is the standard for all that is good, and I fall short.  Yet, his grace and mercy have been extended to me in the form of salvation through Christ.  He desires that all be saved, that every broken relationship be mended and every rebellion crushed.  I urge you to consider Christ; soften your heart towards the God who made it and knows it more intimately than anyone else.

For further exploration -
Song, "God of Wonders"
Song, "Yahweh"

Friday, June 27, 2014

Fascinated with Fame

This entry is by guest writer, Debbie Clem.  Debbie is a Montessori teacher in North Charleston, SC.  She attends Hope Church in Hanahan, where her husband is the pastor.

We all love to read or hear about the lives of celebrities: Hollywood movie stars, musicians, sports stars, and even the British Royals. For most of us, these celebrities live a life vastly different from our own. They live in mansions, drive expensive cars (when they are not being chauffeured in their private limo), fly across the country or continent for dinner, and can pretty much buy anything they want.  Many of us buy magazines and tabloids that boast tantalizing headlines about the rich, famous, and infamous. We google information about them and their families. We love to share information about them with others. Most of us don’t know any celebrities personally, and they have never personally done anything for us. Yet, we eagerly seek out and share every tid bit of information about them we can.

Well, how does this headline grab us?

“Jesus Christ gives up power, position, and prestige to willingly die by crucifixion to save mankind from sin."

The Creator of the Universe, the Savior of all mankind, who is all-powerful, lays down His life as a sacrifice for us so that we can enjoy eternal life with God. Why then do we not have a greater desire to learn as much as we can about Him than the celebrities who have no personal connection to us?

Psalm 139:13-16 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Jesus knows us intimately—better than any human on Earth—and knew us even before we were born. This supernatural intimacy didn’t cease with that first breath at birth; the Lord loves us for eternity. God is all about relationships and He desires nothing more than to spend time with us, His most precious creation. God loves us so much that He created mankind only after the Earth was made ready for us. James 1:18 says “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth; that we might be a kind of first fruits of all He created”. 

Jeremiah 29:11-13 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

Jesus only wants what’s best for us. He wants nothing more than to bless us. If He knew us before we were conceived then it seems reasonable that we should want to seek a relationship with Him—go to great lengths to learn about Him—to want to be like Him. Still, many of us continue to enjoy the celebrity lifestyle vicariously through tabloids and TV. Why aren’t we spending our time and resources getting to know Him who holds our very lives in the palm of His hand?

Proverbs 8:17 I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.

So with whom does your fascination lie? Will you spend your time, energy, and resources seeking information about someone who neither knows nor cares about you; or will you eagerly seek after the One who knew and loved you before you were born and sacrificed His own life so that you may enjoy life with Him in heaven for eternity?
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

Friday, June 20, 2014

An Encouragement to my Christian Brothers

            Have Christian men become afraid to pray?  Has it been deemed merely a pastoral responsibility?  During a recent mission trip, I was astonished by the refusal of adult men to pray over the locals we were ministering to, and even over meals.  When translators asked for volunteers to pray with the families we met, the great majority of men never stepped up.  Even when asked directly - “Would one of the men like to pray this time?” – the response was a shuffle of feet and blank stares.  Christian men, who had led youth to a third world country as their chaperone or father, were quick to paint houses but hesitant to speak with our God.  This is both tragic and terrifying.

            I see godly men around me, and abroad, who are eager to communicate with our heavenly Father.  They are not ashamed to lift up praises and requests.  In the preschool where I work, even the 2 year old children became enthusiastic volunteers to pray before snack and lunch.  So sweet!  However, the trend I saw on that mission trip spurred me on to reflection.  This past year I have witnessed women gathering together to pray intentionally over children, missionaries, and churches.  I have not seen this same dependence on God from men.  My viewpoint is limited, of course, and prayer is not meant to be a public spectacle.  I am also not speaking from any level of superiority or expertise (quite the opposite).  Still, I would like to encourage my brothers in Christ because I do not think these are merely isolated events.  May we cling to the truth of these reminders, and respond in boldness.

Our God is Personal
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

            God is not an impersonal force who is indifferent to our thoughts, concerns, joys and desires.  For those who surrender their lives in faith to Christ, God is a heavenly Father.  Prayer with him is a privilege; the God of the universe wants to hear from us as his children!  He is all-knowing, and yet he wants us to be joined with him in this intimate way.  For our relationship with God to be nurtured, communication is key – we see this in our earthly relationships as well.  If you’re afraid to be open with God, you’re turning aside from the most powerful and unique relationship anyone will ever encounter. 

Prayer is not a Performance
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:25

            Paul and Silas were overheard by others, but their prayers and songs from prison were directed to God.  They were conversing with God through praises and petitions, coming before him humbly and audibly - and God’s response was amazing!  Whether alone, with one other person, or an entire group, our prayers are to God.  Jesus gives instructions concerning prayer when the disciples ask him, and it’s a matter of sincerity and love for God (not a graded assignment).  Women may generally be more verbal creatures, but for all of us, confidence and maturity in prayer grows through practice and study of God's Word.

Men are Spiritual Leaders
"I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people…I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling." 1 Timothy 2:1-8

            As your sisters in Christ, we hope to be the helpers God wired us to be.  In order for this to happen, we need you to lead.  We’re not concerned with your eloquence, but with your genuine efforts.  Cast aside fear and laziness, and put on selflessness and devotion (Ephesians 4:22-24).   Pray fervently in your private time with God, but also lead the church in praying together.  Praise God for who he is, and thank God for how he is at work.  Confess your sins to him.  Pray over the needs of others and yourself.  Pray that God be glorified in all things, and lead other believers to do the same. 

            Abraham, Isaac and Moses prayed.  Nehemiah prayed.  Jesus prayed.  The early church prayed.  There are mysteries and struggles involved, but let us do the same - praying specifically and praying BIG.  May we love God and love others through prayer! 

For further exploration:
A few scriptural references to prayer -- Nehemiah 1, Luke 11:1-13, Acts 4:23-31 & 12:1-17, Romans 8:26-27, Ephesians 6:18-20, Philippians 4:6-7 (also, see the book of Psalms for many prayers interspersed)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"Yes All Women" are valued by God

            I recently heard murmurings of a Twitter trend called #yesallwomen.  A young man desired revenge for the lack of sexual attention he had been shown by women, resulting in his murder of 6 people and ending with his own suicide.  These events have inspired women to speak up against the misogyny they encounter in day-to-day life.   
            I was a bit slow to learn of the tragedy and ensuing response.  However, after reading articles and posts in which people vocalized the value of women, what came forth from me was a resounding: “YES!”  Much of what I’ve seen from the public is a support of biblical teaching, but I think this connection may be going unnoticed.  I want to share a *small* glimpse of what God teaches about women.

Women are created and known by God.
Samaritan woman: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.  Can this be the Christ?” John 4:29

            No woman is an accident.  No woman is hidden from God.  In his infinite wisdom, God created us with care and intentionality.  He knit us together in the womb, and knows our every thought.  [See Genesis 2:18, Psalm 139, John 4:17-18]

Women are loved and saved by God.
Jesus: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5:34

            In sending Jesus to absorb mankind’s punishment for sin, God’s grace and mercy is extended to the world.  The greatest gift that can ever be given, salvation from sin and eternal life with God, is offered to all who follow Christ.  God does not show favoritism between males and females.
            The woman referenced in the verse above suffered from 12 years of bleeding, and was instantly healed by reaching out in faith to touch Jesus’ garment.  Such bleeding deemed her unclean by society, but she could never be too filthy for Jesus.  Forgiveness and salvation come not by our own works, so no person is beyond Jesus’ reach.  No person is a burden to him either – even though Jesus was on his way to heal a dying girl, he did not rush through the crowds as if the bleeding woman was an interruption to his mission.  Of even greater significance, I must point out that she was not only physically healed; being called daughter by Jesus affirms that she was spiritually saved by her faith in him.  [See John 3:16-18, Romans 2:11, Galatians 3:26-28, Mark 5:21-34, Leviticus 15:25, Ephesians 2:8-9, John 1:12, Romans 7:16-17]

Women are entrusted to do great works by God.
Esther: “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law.  And if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16

            Esther was used by God to bring a screeching halt to Haman’s plot of Jewish annihilation, which enabled the ancestral line to continue from Abraham to Jesus.  Her statement above reflects a confidence I also see in God’s people of the New Testament: “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).  A more prevalent great work that God entrusts women with is that of being a wife and mother.
            God created women to be helpers, not in inferiority to men, but as part of a unique relationship designed by him as Creator.  In marriage, man and woman become one.  The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church, and the wife is to respectfully submit to his leadership.  Such an excellent wife is declared more precious than jewels, and is entrusted to teach the generations of women behind her.  Of course, single women are similarly to walk faithfully as helpers and teachers of God’s goodness.  [See Genesis 2:18, Ephesians 5:22-33, Proverbs 31:10-31, Titus 2:3-5 & 11-15]

            In short, women are valued by God!  He created us, loves us, and desires that we be united with Christ as heirs in his kingdom.  Our value lies not in whether we can do what men do.  Our value is not in whether we provide sexual pleasure.  Our value lies in being given life by the God of the universe.  My value is found in my relationship with God, being forgiven by him and loved as a daughter!

For further exploration:

Saturday, May 31, 2014

No Man's an Island

This entry is by guest writer, Josh Strickland.  He attends Refuge Church in Raleigh, NC and recently! 

            More and more frequently I meet Christians who do not go to church. I hear reasons for this choice such as "I love Christ, but can't stand Christians," "There's too much hypocrisy in the church," or even "I just never found a church I liked." Unfortunately, everybody is messed up, so even in the church sin is still going to happen. We who go to church on a regular basis are NOT perfected yet, and none of us will be until Christ returns for His true followers. Yet, even with this major hurdle in mind, I think there are several reasons why every true follower of Jesus Christ should be attending a local church.


            There are lots of problems in our world thanks to sin. We have personal problems, relational problems, health problems, and so on. It's very easy to get discouraged, especially when you are on your own. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near." When we meet in the local church we are able to love and serve each other, organize for loving and serving the communities we live in, and remind each other that Jesus is coming back!


            As much as I think that I can, there are just a lot of things that I cannot do on my own. I need help fixing things, staying encouraged, and growing in my faith. A local church body is made of many members who can and will want to help you. "Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). We'll get to that law in a second, but serving one another and helping each other is a main concern for the church body. This also includes you. Don't just be helped; help others as well.

Spiritual Growth

            Can you learn about God on your own, and can you grow in your relationship with Him on your own? Yes. However, that growth and spiritual maturation happens much more consistently, deeply, and quickly with the aid of others invested in your life. That should happen through the church. Proverbs 27:17 describes this in saying, "Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another." This is a big deal, since the church at large over the last few decades has been generally weak in this area. Church discipline is no longer standard operating procedure. We have segregated our lives "in church" from our lives "out of church." So sin runs rampant within believers when we should be checking it with each other. The best way to respond is to deal with the sin and conquer it through the Holy Spirit.

God's Glory

            Finally, being a part of a local church body gives God glory. This is the most important reason, since we should be giving God glory as much as possible. Remember the "law of Christ" we talked about earlier? Here it is in John 13:34-35: " A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." Jesus is telling His disciples at the Last Supper that they should love one another. How do you love other Christians when you are never in contact with them in the church body? So we have to come together as believers to love each other. In doing so, we give God glory because we then show the world that Jesus Christ is worthy to be worshipped.

So if you truly are a follower of Christ's teachings, then you should join us in being a part of a local church body. Christ taught that His followers should be together. Yes there are problems and sin, but Jesus is the Son of God. He's bigger than hypocrisy or unkindness or anger or sexual affairs or different music styles. He is God, and worthy to be obeyed.

Friday, May 23, 2014

An Encouragement to Christians who are Waiting

           I am waiting, and I see others who are waiting.  Many who follow Christ are desperately waiting for God’s guidance or provision (and struggling with patience, frustration or doubt).  After months or years of confidently and steadily trekking in one direction, we might now be unsure of what step to take next.  We thought we were on track, but now are less certain; things do not quite look the way we expected.  Or, maybe we do have an idea of what is on the horizon – but despite our efforts and growing desires, it doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.  What is God up to?  Why must we wait for so long?

            These are three reminders for me, and for any of my brothers and sisters in Christ who may feel discouraged from time to time.

Our hope is in Christ.

            We were dead in our sins, fully deserving eternal separation from God.  In our rebellion and idolatry, in our selfishness and pride, we were headed for the fires of hell.  No pains or sorrows on earth can compare to what we earned by sinning against the perfect creator.  And yet, although a just judge, God’s love manifested itself in a wondrous way.  By his grace and mercy, he provided through his Son the means by which we might be brought back to him.  By our faith in Jesus, we are united with him forever.  God sees us clothed in the righteousness of his Son.  We are saved from our filth and wretchedness – saved from the darkness of being separated from him.  We are born again, that we might live in the light of his kingdom forever.  God has done more for us than we could ever imagine!  Our hope lies not in reaching goals, even if they're backed by the purest of intentions.  If we never get a decent job, never get married, never have a child, never become free from illness…we still have a hope, a relationship and a future that surpasses all others!

The Christian walk is marked by struggles, and requires steadfast faith.

            Although as followers of Christ we have been saved and set aside for eternal life with God, the time here on earth is not easy.  Waiting in all its various forms can be a struggle, but we are not alone.  Sarah waited 91 years for a son, Jacob waited 14 years to marry Rachel, and the Israelites waited 40 years for the Promised Land.  As Christians, we have been waiting around 2,000 years for the 2nd coming of Christ!  If you’re feeling weak or forgotten, remember: faithfully following Christ requires great endurance.  Let us not be passive or build up resentment, but rather draw closer to God in our current circumstances.  During seasons of waiting, let us earnestly pray, read Scripture and worship God with other believers.

God is sovereign.

            God knows you are waiting.  He sees you, he hears you.  He knows your heart and mind.  Do not let this statement become cliché, recognize its magnitude: God loves you.  He is a compassionate Father, aware of our needs and wants, and he is constantly at work in the life of every believer.  He is not without plans and not without power.  Even if every single one of your personal plans gets flipped on its head, know that you are in God’s hands and there is no better place to be.  Pursue him and trust him more than you chase and value your temporary dreams.  God is supreme and victorious, worthy of every drop of our affection.  His plans will be fulfilled and he will be glorified. 

Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.”

For further exploration:
James 1:2-8 & 5:7-11, Hebrews 10:35-11:13, Psalm 119:4-5, Psalm 139, Ephesians 1:3-14

Song - "While I'm Waiting"

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Glimpse of the Gospel

            I’m known for being quiet, but there are many things I want to say.  There are so many thoughts pressing to get out, but often I struggle to turn them into words!  So, I’m attempting a blog this summer because I want to share truth and encouragement.  I want to think out loud and spark conversations.  I have a relationship with the God of our universe and a growing knowledge of him that compels me to speak.  My hope is that some might listen, reflect, and respond.

            I’d like to start with what should be the foundation to all I write about: the gospel of Jesus Christ.  If someone had asked me 5 years ago, as a life-long church goer, what “the gospel” was…my response may have been something like this: “Um, I think it’s all the stuff in the Bible.  Or maybe just about Jesus.  He died on the cross for us.”  Now, however, I’d like to share a more specific, less cringe worthy answer.

The faith of millions (including, perhaps, you?) hinges on the gospel of Jesus Christ.  So, what is it? 

“God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Genesis 1:31

            God is the eternal creator.  He is perfect and made all things good, enjoying an intimate relationship with humanity.  Creation was a Trinitarian effort, involving Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  I’m not going to attempt a dissection of the Trinity right now, but I want to emphasize that Jesus was present and active. [See Psalm 90:2, Hebrews 1:1-3, James 1:17]

The Fall
“They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” Genesis 3:8

            Although God’s original creation was perfect, he endowed mankind with the ability to make choices.  Unfortunately, the choice was made to disobey God’s commands in Eden, ushering in a broken relationship between God and man.  Rebellion continues today in every person, and the punishment for such sinfulness is death.  This death is a physical and spiritual separation from God, and therefore a separation from all that is good. [See Romans 3:21-26, Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1-5]

Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” Galatians 1:4

            Jesus is God’s Son, sent in the flesh in order to be a sacrifice for mankind.  Unlike the rest of humanity, Jesus was perfect in committing no sin.  He died in our place, absorbing that punishment we have all earned.  He took upon his shoulders the wrath of God for all our wickedness.  But he didn’t just die, that would be a tad counterproductive and also…he’s GOD!  He rose, defeating death and sin.  Being united to Christ in his death, we are also united to him in his eternal life.  He took our filth and we are clothed in his righteousness - we are made free, no longer condemned!  Jesus is the only means by which our relationship with God can be made right, and eternal life with him is an act of grace that comes through faith.  As a continuing helper, since Jesus has returned to Heaven, believers are filled with the Holy Spirit to be empowered as witnesses, convicted of sin, and guided through the Bible. [See 1 Peter 2:22; Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 8:1-4; Acts 1:8; John 14:6, 14:15-23, 16:7-11]

Eternal Life
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away…Behold, I am making all things new…It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” Rev21:3-6

            Jesus is eternal, and one day will judge mankind.  Those who continued in disbelief and rebellion will be separated into eternal torment.  However, for those surrendered in faith to Christ, salvation will be made complete; sin will no longer be a struggle in our relationship with God and our worship of him.  All things will be made new, returning forever to the perfection we glimpsed in Genesis 1. [See Hebrews 1:1-4, 1:10-12; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 25:31-32, 25:41]

            God does not delight in evil and death – he loves us and that’s why he sent Christ!  Despite our sins against him which continue before and after salvation, his steadfast love endures forever!  Let each of us live a life worthy of being called a child of God.

Links for further exploration:
Book recommendation video