A Light Shines in the Darkness

As I woke up one morning this week, the news flashed across my iPhone screen about another potential terrorist attack, this time in London, England.  As I type these words, five have been confirmed dead, including one police officer.  There are at least 20 injured.  The person responsible for the attack is thought to have acted alone, and is also dead.  We see this all too often anymore.  Every time we turn around it seems some kind of violence is happening in our world, rather it be nation against nation, terrorism, or individuals against each other.  There is no doubt about the fact that we live in a dark world.  I’m not sure if it is actually getting darker, or if it’s just because the world is so connected through technology and we hear more about what is going on.  But there is no doubt that we live in a dark and dying world.

Just here in Carlsbad, we are reminded almost daily how dark and broken our world is.  We see a city that has the potential for a bright future, but we also see a city with a bad drug and alcohol abuse problem.  In the past few weeks, friends of mine have lost close friends suddenly.  There are many other things I could type, but I think I’ve made my point.  This world seems to be lost in darkness.

There is light, however, we just have to where to look for it.  When we see the void in our lives because of the darkness, we try to fill it.  That’s why drug and alcohol abuse are so prevalent.  That’s why there is so much violence in this world.  But, like I said, there is a light.  There is something to fill that void that we feel in our lives.  That light is Jesus Christ.  We’re in the middle of a sermon series here at Central called “I AM Jesus: Who Jesus Claims to Be”.  In this series we are looking at what is called the “Seven I Am Statements” that Jesus makes in the book of John.  One of those statements that He makes is “I Am the Light of the World”.

central-christian-logo-reflex-blue1

There is so much packed into this one statement that we actually took two weeks looking at it.  Jesus actually makes the statement twice, once in John 8 and then again in John 9.  The setting for these claims are related, but there is enough difference in them to take them one at a time in our sermons.  In John 8, the setting is the Temple.  Specifically the Court of the Women, in front of the collection areas for the offering, probably early during the Feast of Tabernacles.  Jesus is teaching in the courtyard, and as usual, a big crowd has gathered to hear Him.  This setting is important, because on the first night of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Courtyard of the Women is illuminated with four giant candelabras.

It is said that the Temple would be aglow from all over Jerusalem during this ceremony.  It is likely either during this time, or the next day, when it is still fresh on everyone’s mind that Jesus made His first “I Am the Light of the World” statement.  In John 8:12, Jesus is recorded as saying;

12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Think about that.  Jesus is saying, possibly with the backdrop of the Temple being illuminated in a great way, that He is the light of the world.  Not the Temple.  Not the Pharisees who made it almost impossible to follow God, not even Moses or Abraham.  He is the light of the world. 

As impressive as the Temple had to be illuminated the way it was, Jesus is saying, “I shine a light in the darkness of this world, and only through Me can you see”.

After this conversation that eventually ended with the Teachers of the Law picking up stones in an attempt to stone Him, Jesus is with just His twelve disciples.  They come across a man that had been blind from birth and the disciples ask Jesus if it was because of the man’s sin or his parents’ sin that he was blind (The Jews, at this time, believed that one could sin in the womb, and therefore thought that this man could have caused his affliction.  I don’t have time to go into too much detail with this now though).  This led to Jesus making His second “I am the light of the world” statement.  This time around, it was just the twelve disciples and the man Jesus was getting ready to heal that was present for the statement.  John 9:1-5 records the event this way;

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Jesus continues and heals the man, however, this is done on the Sabbath and that gets the Pharisees all in a twist again.  They cannot understand how someone “from God” would “clearly” break the Sabbath.  But you see, Jesus knew exactly what He was doing.  He was continuing His teaching from the Temple from the previous chapter.  He used the physical blindness of the man he healed to lead in to a discussion on what He considered an even bigger issue; Spiritual blindness. 

He’s basically saying to the Pharisees, and to us, that we are spiritually blind.  But through Him we can receive our sight.  Jesus knows the darkness that is in the world, but He has the cure.  In His own words, He is the light of the world.  The Pharisees bring in the man healed of blindness and question him.  They are not satisfied with his answers, and eventually kick him out.  That’s when Jesus enters the picture again.  John 9:35-41 records the rest of the story;

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

There is no question what Jesus is claiming here.  He is claiming to be the Messiah.  He is claiming to be the Son of God.  And He is claiming that only through Him can we truly see in this dark and dying world.  That is because He is the light of the world.  That is because only through Him do we have a relationship with God the Father.  You want to fill the void of this life?  You want to see clearly in the darkness?  John, continuing the thought of Jesus as light in this world, writes in I John 1:5-7;

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

img_0194

What One Over-Zealous Dad Reminded Me About God

This season of college basketball has been exciting.  We are down to the final sixteen teams vying for a National Championship, and there really doesn’t seem to be a clear cut favorite in my opinion.  Yes, I hope that Kentucky will win out, but there are at least eight teams that have a legitimate chance to win it all.  The next couple of weekends should be really exciting to watch.

March Madness

There has been one thing this season, however, that has been really frustrating and distracting.  And it doesn’t even have anything to do with a player, team, or coach.  It’s a father of one of the best players in college this year.  LaVar Ball, the dad of UCLA Bruins star Lonzo Ball, has really made this a miserable season if you pay any attention to the sports world.  He can’t keep his mouth shut, and it is embarrassing.  Lonzo is arguably one of the best players on the college level this year, and any parent should be proud of his effort on the court.  But his dad takes it a little too far.

LeVar has gone on record numerous times over the course of this season, making ridiculous claims about his son, and about himself.  He has claimed that his son is, at this moment, better than two-time defending NBA MVP Steph Curry.  He actually said that they should switch Lonzo and Steph, and that that would make the Golden State Warriors better.  He has stated that if his son is going to sign a shoe endorsement contract, then the number to start at is $1,000,000,000.  That’s One Billion. 

LaVar, who played in college himself, averaging 2 points per game, stated that he would destroy Michael Jordan in a game of one on one, both being in their prime.  When other NBA greats stepped in to call him out on this unbelievable statement, he argued that he would beat them too.  And most recently, he got personal with LeBron James, stating that his sons (he has two more that are still playing high school ball) are set up better to succeed than LeBron’s kids.  That prompted LeBron to go on record stating to leave his kids out of it.

Basically, Mr. Ball thinks really highly of himself and his kids.  I’m all for having confidence, but this is more about ego than it is confidence.  He keeps running his mouth, and personally, I feel that he is actually hurting his sons’ futures.  Think about the NBA teams that might want Lonzo to play for them.  They are going to have to think long and hard about whether they want to put up with LaVar.  No matter the talent of Lonzo, if I was a coach or owner in the NBA, I wouldn’t want to put up with his dad unless there were some major steps taken to ensure that LeVar was not interfering. 

As I was thinking about the Ball family and all of this earlier today, I did draw a parallel that I had never thought of before.  And while it is not exactly the same, there is enough to it make the connection.  Let me say this.  LaVar goes too far in trying to promote his son.  He talks too much, and brags too much.  But he sees greatness in his son.  He sees someone with a great potential. 

God sees us doing great things for the Kingdom, even though He knows that we are going to mess up.

And I have to think that that is what God sees when He looks at us.  God is not out there bragging more than He should.  But He sees something that He created, and looks on us with pride.  He sees us doing great things for the Kingdom, even though He knows that we are going to mess up.  Look all the way back to the Creation account in Genesis 1.  God says that it is good after each of the first five days, meaning that what He created those days was good in His sight.  Then the sixth day arrives and He creates man in His own image.  Genesis 1:27-31 records day six;

27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. (emphasis mine)

What was different on the sixth day?  He created mankind in His own image.  We have the image of God living in us, and because of that, God looks on us with pride.  That doesn’t mean that He is not going to hold us accountable when we sin.  He did that even with Adam and Eve in the garden.  He kicked them out of His presence because He could not be around sin.  But He also had a plan to bring all of us back into His presence from the beginning as well.  And that plan was Jesus Christ. 

And that plan was Jesus Christ.

It’s Jesus willingly going to the cross that convinces me beyond a shadow of a doubt that God sees potential in us.  He has pride in us, even though we sin.  And He willingly sacrificed His son on the cross to pay the debt of our sins that we could never ever pay on our own.  He continues to see our potential as well.  How do I know that?  He allows us to be a part of His work on Earth, when He could easily do His will without us.  He gives us free will, meaning that we can betray Him, and many of us do.  But that free will also gives us the potential to love God with a true love that only appears through free will. 

It’s Jesus willingly going to the cross that convinces me beyond a shadow of a doubt that God sees potential in us.

Parents discipline their children out of love and wanting their child to reach their potential.  So yes, there can and will be consequences when we sin.  The author of Hebrews reminds us that God does discipline us, but it is out of love.  Hebrews 12:7-11 reads;

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

He disciplines because He loves, and because He loves, He see potential in us.  Even in your sin, I want you to remember how much God loves you, and what He has done for you through His love.  He has had a great patience with all of us.  LaVar Ball no doubt loves his son.  I’m just grateful that God has a different way of showing His love for us instead of bragging and making claims that can’t be backed up.  Paul put it this way in Romans 5:6-8;

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

thoughts-from-a-crosseyed-jesus-freak

Where Does Your Passion Lay?

Humans are created to be passionate.  We all have different passions and that is what makes us unique.  But what we have in common is that we should be passionate about something.  Some are passionate about sports.  Others are passionate about food.  Still others are passionate about reading or writing.  As Christ followers, it is my prayer that at least one of your passions is our mission of sharing Christ with others, and being transformed more and more into His image daily.

Let me back up just a moment and tell you what got me thinking about our passions.  Back at the end of February, while I was thinking through and working on our churches March newsletter, I was trying to figure out what to write about.  I remembered that just a few days before, February 23, was the “Shine the Light on Slavery” day.  You see, there are more people in slavery and human trafficking today than at any time in history.  When I realized that I had just posted about this, trying to shine a light on a very broken part of our world, I thought what better topic to cover in our newsletter.

End It

Em passionMy first thought was to write the article, but also to contact a friend of ours that has spent years researching and fighting this epidemic.  I thought it would be good to get some statistics from her to help the article out.  Then I had one of my best ideas I’ve had in a while.  Why write the article myself when I could ask Em to write it as a guest post for Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak and our church newsletter?  I called Em, and while she was excited for the opportunity, she had too much going on to be able to write the article for March.  We agreed that she would write it for our April newsletter.

This past weekend, she sent me her first draft, and we are in the process of editing and proofing it now.  But this whole process is what has got me thinking about passion.  Em is passionate about ending human trafficking and sexual exploitation of people.  And you can tell from her writing.  I won’t go into too much detail now because I don’t want to take away from her article that will come out sometime next week. 

Here’s the deal.  When you are passionate about something, other people can tell.  When there is a passion in your soul for something, it takes a prominent place in your life.  For Em, she has spent time overseas, working with girls that were rescued from the sex slave trade.  She looks for opportunities to raise awareness anywhere and everywhere she can about this issue.  And she does it because of an even bigger passion in her life.  Her ultimate passion is Jesus Christ.  She does all she does about human trafficking because of her relationship with Jesus.

When there is a passion in your soul for something, it takes a prominent place in your life.

I try to live with the ultimate passion in my life being Jesus as well.  That’s why I preach.  He’s the best thing that has ever happened to me, and because of that I have a passion of preaching His word, trying to introduce others to Him.  Jesus is why I write here on Thoughts From a  Crosseyed Jesus Freak.  I have a passion for writing, but it’s not just because I like to write.  I like to shine a light on Jesus and help others in their walk of faith. 

Recently, through some of the sermons I’ve preached, books I’ve read, and the writing challenge I just completed, I’ve developed another passion.  One that I should have had for a long time.  But I have a passion for trying to get to know my neighbors and building a relationship with them so that I can, along with my wife, share Jesus with them. 

Scripture is filled with passionate people.  Some of those people had their passions in the wrong place.  Think Saul of the Old Testament, and even Solomon.  They ended up being passionate about the things of this world.  And it cost them in the end.  Paul, once he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, became passionate about spreading Jesus to anyone and everyone that would listen to him.  Jesus’ disciples, minus Judas, became passionate about taking the gospel to the ends of the earth as well.  And believe me, their passion was real.  I don’t have time or space to go through all of it here, but only one of the apostles died a natural death after a long life.  That was John.  All of the others were tortured and martyred for the passionate following of and teaching Jesus.

Scripture is filled with passionate people.

One story sticks out in a vivid way, however, when I think of passion for Jesus.  That’s the story of the first person killed for his faith in Jesus.  In other words, he became the first martyr in Christianity.  That’s the story of Stephen.  You can find it recorded in the book of Acts.  Specifically in the sixth and seventh chapters.  You can read it here and here if you’re not familiar with the story.  Let me give you a short synopsis before I wrap up.  Stephen was chosen to be a servant.  He was helping by taking care of some widows, but he was also sharing his faith.  No one that would challenge him could actually stand up to his arguments.  The religious leaders of the day (the Sanhedrin) seized him and put him on trial.  Stephen boldly told them the history of the Jews and stated that they killed Jesus, who was the Son of God.  And because of this, they killed him.  His passion was Jesus, and it didn’t matter what he faced in opposition, he stayed focused on Him.

What about you?  What are you passionate about?  There is nothing wrong with being passionate about food, or sports, or reading etc.  But is that your only passion?  If people were to look at your life, could they tell that you were passionate about Jesus because of something that you do with your life?  And I don’t just mean “going to church on Sundays”.  Is there something in your life that you do because of your passion with Jesus, and it costs you something?  Time, money, friendships, just some of the things a passionate relationship with Jesus could cost you.  But it is so worth it in the end.  I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

What about you?  What are you passionate about?  There is nothing wrong with being passionate about food, or sports, or reading etc.  But is that your only passion? 

So let me ask you again.  What are you passionate about?  Don’t have a good answer right now?  Figure it out and start putting your passion to work for Jesus Christ.  It was His passion for you that led Him to the cross.  Return His passion.  It might cost something now, but I promise it is so worth it.

thoughts-from-a-crosseyed-jesus-freak

The Most Intriguing Stories

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  Usually you hear that phrase around Christmas, but as a college basketball fan, I could use it for this time of year.  The NCAA March Madness basketball tournament has started.  For the next three weeks, college basketball is going to dominate my television.  In face, as I sit here and type this in my office, I have a screen set up to watch some of the games as I’m working. 

There are just always so many good story lines that take place during what we call March Madness.  There are teams that you expect to dominate opponents and do so.  Then there are the teams that end up being the unexpected Cinderella teams that capture most of our hearts as they perform at a level not expected from a small school.  It’s competitive.  It’s intriguing.  But it’s not what I mean when I say “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”  Don’t get me wrong, I love this basketball tournament, but there is something that makes this time of year better than college basketball.

You see, we are just a month away from Easter.  While Christmas is the time of year that we celebrate Jesus becoming God in the Flesh, which is definitely something to celebrate, it means nothing without Easter.  Easter is the time of year that we focus in on what Jesus did for us on the cross.  Our sin has caused a debt that we cannot pay ourselves.  So Jesus willing went to the cross to pay our debt for us.  And God honored His sacrifice by bringing Jesus out of the grave.  That’s Easter.  That’s what we celebrate.  And it is the best storyline in history.

God honored His sacrifice by bringing Jesus out of the grave.  That’s Easter.  That’s what we celebrate.  And it is the best storyline in history.

In reality, as Christ followers, we should celebrate that every day of our lives.  I would like to think that most of us do.  But we especially celebrate each year when Easter comes around.  It usually matches up with the Jewish Passover week, as that is when Jesus went to the cross, so unlike Christmas, the date changes.  The most wonderful time of the year fluctuates.  Just in case you don’t have it on a calendar somewhere, Easter Sunday is on April 16 this year.  If you don’t have a church home to celebrate Easter this year, we would love to have you join us at Central Christian Church at 10:30.

There really is no better time of year in my opinion.  A time that we focus specifically on what Jesus did for us on the cross.  I don’t know what you believe.  I don’t know if you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  And I don’t know if you attend church regularly.  But again, I want to extend an invitation to you.  Not just to church on Easter Sunday, although that would be a great start.  But I want to extend an invitation to sit down over a cup of coffee and talk about who Jesus is and what He has done in my life.  If you have questions and are not really sure what you believe, please let me know.  I would love the chance to talk with you.  E-mail me at kraig@crosseyedjesusfreak.com.

img_0194

Slaying Giants

I want to apologize.  Last week I laid out my plan for how I was going to post after finishing “My 500 Word Challenge”.  I haven’t followed that plan like I wanted to.  I took a few unexpected days off from writing anything.  Whether it be just needing a break (which we all do sometimes), a meeting that took almost my whole Saturday by the time it was all said and done, a sick wife at home, and being a little under the weather myself, I haven’t written in almost a week.  So for that I apologize.  I made a commitment to posting three days a week, and that’s just not going to happen this week.  But I will make that happen in the future.

A few things have happened since I last posted.  I finally got my little buddy Aaron to let me put him down for his nap instead of my wife.  We also took him to a zoo here in town and got to watch his excitement seeing the animals (especially the prairie dogs).  But maybe most exciting for a sports fan like me, the NCAA Tournament field has been finalized.  The big dance is about to start tomorrow (Yes, I know the first four games are on Tuesday and Wednesday, but I’m focusing on the main tournament). 

I filled out my bracket yesterday, and picked the University of Kentucky Wildcats to go all the way this year.  That will be an amazing feat, however, because they probably are in the toughest bracket to make it to the finals.  Anyway, that’s now what excites me the most about this time of year.  It’s the underdog stories.  Or as we call them in this tournament, the Cinderella stories.  It’s those teams that are not expected to win even a game, yet end up playing into the second weekend or the tournament.  In years past, teams like Butler, VCU, Florida Gulf Coast, and others have captured our hearts and our attention as they played better than anyone imagined.

This year I have special interest in one team that could be a big Cinderella story if they can win even just a game.  That’s because they are from my hometown.  The East Tennessee State University Buccaneers made the field this year by winning the SoCon tournament.  When the field was announced Sunday, ETSU was given a 13 seed, which means they are matched up against a 4 seed.  On paper, a 4 seed should always beat a 13 seed.  But I have a feeling that ETSU will take down a 4 seed this year.  And even sweeter, that 4 seed just happens to be the University of Florida.  In fact, in my bracket, I have ETSU winning two games and making it to the Sweet 16 before losing.

One thing that I always think of in regards to Cinderella teams is actually a Bible story that you are probably familiar with.  This little teenaged shepherd boy steps up to fight a giant that no one in the army of Israel was willing to go up against.  You know the story as David and Goliath.  On paper, Goliath wins every time.  No questions.  David doesn’t stand a chance.  But David had one thing going for him that Goliath didn’t.  God.  God was with David, and David knew that.  I’ve seen quotes before that say something along the lines of “David didn’t need to know the power of Goliath, because he knew the power of God that was behind him”. 

Will ETSU follow through with what I have predicted, winning two, or even just one game in the big dance?  I don’t know.  We’ll find out tomorrow when they play UF.  What I do know is that we all face giants in our lives.  Giants that on paper we have no chance.  Whatever they may be, we shouldn’t stand a chance.  Yet the God that was behind David is behind us, if we are Christ followers.  That God was also the God that raised Jesus from grave.  The power that brought Christ back from the dead now lives in you.  Believe in His power in your life.  It may not work out exactly how you think it should or how you want it to, but know and trust the full power of God in you life.  Who knows, you may slay a giant through that power!

thoughts-from-a-crosseyed-jesus-freak

Be Still

A few days ago, I wrote about the idea that we wear our busyness as a badge of honor (read it here).  We are so busy with everything under the sun we don’t have time to share Jesus with other people.  What prompted that article was another article by another minister that was suggesting that we spend too much time studying the Bible.  I wholeheartedly disagree with the notion that we spend too much time studying God’s word.  I do think however, we don’t spend enough time living out what we study in scripture. 

I suggested that we maybe find some other things that we are involved in and figure out a way to take a step back so that we can use that new found time to build relationships with others.  That’s is going to be the most effective way to share Jesus and what He has done for you.  But, I also think that we need to find ways to get away from everything every so often.  Completely unplug, and spend some time one-on-one with God. 

unpluggedBusyness is an epidemic.  We are constantly taking on more and more.  With the aid of technology, we have become great at multitasking, so much so that even when we are trying to unwind at the end of the day, watching tv, or whatever, we have our phones or tablets in our hands because we just can’t slow down.  I’m the worst at that.  Scrolling through Facebook or playing a game while trying to watch shows with my wife (she does it too). 

Busyness is an epidemic.

When people ask me how I’m doing, or how things are going, my go to response is something along the lines of “staying busy”.  Why?  Could it be that we are afraid if we aren’t so busy we seem to be running around “like a chicken with our head cut off” that others will think that we are slacking off?  Is it that we’re afraid that they will think that we aren’t putting enough effort into a task if we even appear to be able to relax?  It’s got to stop.  Especially in ministry.  Ministry is one of those vocations where there will always be more work to do.  That isn’t a ticket to slack off, but just a realization that we will never run out of things to do.

What ever happened to this simple notion; “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

There are times that we need to just stop, get still, and just know Him.  Rest in Him.  Relax in Him.  Spend time with Him.  I’m afraid we have forgotten that in our culture today.  I know that I have at times.  But it is something that we need to get back to on a regular basis.  It could be just for a few minutes each day, which is something that I would suggest.  But I think we could benefit from a greater chunk of time at times as well.

I want to point something out first.  This is something that we can see Jesus modeling for us during His three years of public ministry.  There are many occasions noted throughout the Gospels of Jesus going off on His own, usually up a mountain, and spending time with God.  If Jesus, the Son of God, needed to do this, then I think we have the same needs. 

While I strive to spend a few minutes alone with God daily, I want to take some extended periods of time as well.  I have something in mind too.  It involves going up a mountain, but it doesn’t have to for you.  gcc-picBecause of my relationship with Guadalupe Christian Camp (being on a couple of camp boards), I have the opportunity to spend time at the camp when/if I need to.  That’s my plan.  I don’t know how often yet, but occasionally I will pack a bag, get some easy to make food, and head up the mountain to spend some time being still and knowing that He is God.  I may write, I may read, I may do nothing but pray and meditate, but I will slow down and unplug from the world around. 

How are you going to “Be still, and know that He is God” in your own life?

img_0194

Pressing On!

ANWPerseverance.  I just can’t seem to get the word out of my head the last few days.  It keeps coming up in different ways, almost playing a constant theme everywhere I look.  My wife and I enjoy the show “American Ninja Warrior”, and so many stories of the athletes that compete there are all about perseverance.  Just a couple of weeks ago, they aired their all-star challenge, and we got to see some of our favorites compete, and persevere through obstacles that they have never faced before.  Some of them even got to compete and complete obstacles that had taken them our during the regular season a few months before.

ETSUMy home town college basketball team, the East Tennessee State University Buccaneers from Johnson City, TN have shown some great perseverance this season.  This past Monday evening they won the Souther Conference Tournament, earning a spot to play in the NCAA March Madness Tournament that kicks off next week.  This was a team that only had one shot, winning their conference tournament, and they did so beating the number one seed UNCG team that had beaten ETSU twice already this season.

Even a movie that Kelley and I watched just a couple nights ago was full of the theme of perseverance.  The 2001 film The Musketeer is a lesser know versions of the story often known as the “Three Musketeers”.  In it, the main character perseveres through the hardships of life after his parents are murdered in front of him.  He is trained in the ways of the Musketeers and travels to Paris to join them, only to find that they have been disbanded.  Not to give away too much of the story if you haven’t seen the movie (or any of them), I’ll just say the rest of the story is about pressing on through hardship after hardship to accomplish his task.  In other words, he continues to persevere.

Much of this life, especially as a Christ follower, is about perseverance.  That’s why I have been noticing this theme all around me recently.  Life may go smoothly for a while, but inevitably, it is going to get rough again at some point.  Like I told our faith family this past Sunday, Jesus never promised following Him would be easy, only that it would be worth it in the end. 

Much of this life is about perseverance.

The fact of the matter is life is not fair, easy, or smooth most of the time.  How can we expect it to be easy when Jesus Himself said that we must take up our cross daily?  Luke records Jesus’ words in Luke 9:23-26;

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

So, without perseverance, without pressing on through all of life’s hardships, then we will just simply get overwhelmed.  We are going to face trials of many kinds in this life.  But we have to keep focused on Jesus.  We have to be focused on the goal rather then what is going on around us at the time.  Paul knew this first hand.  He lived it.  That is why I take so much comfort in his words to the church in Philippi.  He starts out talking about how much he could have boasted in himself at one point in his life, but he realized that only in Jesus Christ is there anything to boast about.  Then he wraps up this section by stating that he realizes that he hasn’t obtained this yet, but he is going to keep on pressing toward the goal.  He writes in Philippians 3:1-14;

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

We have to be focused on the goal rather then what is going on around us at the time.

That’s my goal.  Forgetting what is behind me.  The good and the bad things that I’ve accomplished in my life mean nothing if I don’t keep focused on the prize ahead.  This life is a battle, and perseverance through Jesus Christ is the only way to get through it.  Not only do I take comfort in the words of Paul here in Philippians, I take comfort in the idea that he accomplished his goal.  Not that he was perfect, none of us will be.  But his words to Timothy in II Timothy 4:6-8, near the end of his life, are words that I want to be able to echo in my own life.  Paul writes;

6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

May we all press on, forgetting what is behind and strain for what is ahead.  That’s the type of perseverance I long for in my life.

img_0194

The End is Near (Of “My 500 Word Challenge)

my-500-wordsAs I am coming to the end of “My 500 Word Challenge”, I want to take a moment to write about what you can expect from “Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak” here at crosseyedjesusfreak.com.  I’m on day 28, or according to the e-mails from Jeff Goins, day 26 of the 31 day writing challenge.  I’ve gotten a lot out of it, and am excited to continue this writing habit that I have developed.

One thing that happened during this challenge that was unexpected is that I have actually posted on my blog every day except for one.  I wrote that day, but decided to keep the article private because of what I dealt with in it.  My original plan was to write for the blog for the first half of the challenge and then focus on writing for my book.  I have done a little work on the book idea so far, but I kept writing for the blog more than I thought I would.  I don’t want to completely abandon my writing on here, but I do need to focus a little more on my book after the challenge is over, if I ever hope to actually complete the book.

So, here is what I plan on doing.  I am going to attempt to continue to write everyday, but most of that will be focused just on the book idea for the time being.  As for “Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak”, my plan is to post three times a week, not counting articles that I write for the newspaper here in Carlsbad and our church newsletter.  I will continue to post them on here as well, but those will not count toward my three articles a week goal. 

Along with the commitment for three articles a week, I want to attempt to be as consistent as I can be in when they are posted.  So you can expect to see articles posted on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  That is my commitment to you. 

I want to thank you all for following along with me during this challenge as well.  I’ve enjoyed seeing  your “likes”, comments, and new followers along the way.  But I have never wanted to be about me, or getting my name out there.  I try to remind myself daily that my worth is not found in how many people are reading my articles, or how many likes and retweets I get through social media.  It’s definitely a temptation to find our whole worth in those things, especially in this heavily digitalized society that we live in.  My goal in my writing has always been to point to Jesus, and I will continue that. 

My goal in my writing has always been to point to Jesus, and I will continue that.

I want to write about topics that help us all walk this Christian life better together.  Occasionally, I have focused on writing specifically for ministers, and will continue to do that as well from time to time.  Everything will have some connection to my relationship with Jesus, no matter what the topic is, because that is the most important thing in my life.

I want to write about topics that help us all walk this Christian life better together. 

Through the rest of this week, I plan to write each day for “Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak” as I wrap up my time in “My 500 Word Challenge”, meaning you can expect to see articles through Saturday.  On Monday, March 13, I will begin the Monday, Wednesday, Friday commitment.

Thanks again for reading my thoughts!  I hope that you have been blessed, encouraged, and maybe even enlightened along the way.  And it is my hope and prayer that you will continue to be as we continue this life as Christ followers together.  May we all become crosseyed when life starts to distract us!

img_0194

Unexpected Encouragement: God’s Perfect Timing

Isn’t God’s encouragement amazing?  His timing is perfect, but almost every time we are surprised when it happens.  Just yesterday, I wrote about some questions that were hanging heavy on my mind and my heart.  I wouldn’t say that I was depressed, but I was feeling a little down.  I was feeling inadequate, and had lost my focus on God’s amazing grace.  I had forgotten that my strength is found in Him and not on anything that I do on my own. 

God’s timing is perfect, but almost every time we are surprised when it happens.

Even after I had written those words yesterday morning as I was preparing to preach, God began to remind me of who He is, and whose I am.  Through the music i was listening to, He reminded me that His grace is enough.  You can read all about that here.  But it went further than that.  As we went into worship with our faith family yesterday, other things just kept happening to remind me of God’s all sufficient power in my life.

God began to remind me of who He is, and whose I am.

Then the kicker happened today.  I got an unexpected message on Twitter from a friend that I hadn’t talked to in a long time (I wrote about him here).  All he asked was for my phone number.  Thinking that he had probably just gotten a new phone or something and just wanted to make sure he had my number if he needed to reach me later, I sent him my number and didn’t think much else about it.  That was until about three hours later and my phone rang.  Byron’s name popped up on the caller id.

KKB-320

(Left to right: Kelley, Me, Byron)

I wasn’t expecting to hear from him.  Like I said, I hadn’t talked to him in a long time.  But here he was calling.  I answered, and he went on to tell my about how much my writing here has been an encouragement to him lately.  How he is always excited when he sees a new article pop up on my Twitter account.  How my text to him a couple of months ago about Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God” had been an answer to his prayers, as he is considering going back to school to get some form of degree in Worship Ministry and potentially pursue vocational ministry.

I was blown away.  Here he was thanking me for being an encouragement to him, and how God had used something from me to help give him confirmation about his prayers.  But what I was able to tell him is that his phone call was an answer to prayer for me.  He was encouraging me through thanking me for my encouragement to him.  I love writing on here, but hearing from someone that is excited to read what I write gave me so much encouragement to keep doing what I am doing.  And it gave me some extra motivation to press on and actually write my book. 

So, I’ll say it again.  Isn’t God’s encouragement and timing amazing?!  He knows exactly what we need and when we need it.  Byron and I were best friends in middle school and high school.  Then I moved away for college to pursue ministry as my calling.  We still consider each other great friends, but distance and life happens.  I was a groomsman in his wedding, and he was the best man in my wedding, but we just don’t have the opportunity to talk that much anymore.  Yet today, when he called out of the blue, it was like no distance or time had ever passed.  We picked up where we had left off pretty much.  And that is because we have the bond of not only friendship, but also brotherhood through the blood of Jesus Christ. 

Isn’t God’s encouragement and timing amazing?!

If you are down or discouraged, take heart my friends.  God knows your pain and He knows your need.  You never know when and where His encouragement is going to come from.  Keep your head up and trust God! 

img_0194

Confessions of a Flawed Preacher

There is so much on my mind right now as I sit in my office getting ready for our Sunday services.  First, I’m tired.  I don’t know why, but I just feel worn out this morning.  Maybe it’s the fact that I didn’t make any coffee today.  Do I have everything ready that is under my control?  Did I put enough prayer, thought, and time into my sermon this week?  How many people will be here this morning?  Will that semi truck that keeps parking in our lot without permission be back next week (fortunately he pulled out of the parking lot about a half hour ago)?  Is this new series that we’re starting today, and leading all the way up to Easter, connect with our people?  Are all the families that I know of that are hurting in one way or another finding comfort in the arms of Jesus, or are they trying to do it on their own?  Have I done enough or could I be doing more?  Am I enough?

Am I enough?

That’s a lot to have floating around in your brain, especially just an hour or so before you are going to preach.  With that much on my mind, it’s hard to be clear headed and focused on faithfully preaching the Word.  This doesn’t happen every Sunday, but it happens more often than I would like to admit.  It would be nice if I could come into my preaching duties completely clear-headed, focusing on God and God alone as I preach His word.  That’s the goal.  That’s the way it should be.  But in my brokenness as a flawed human being, I let those worries above creep into my mind.  And realizing that, it puts even more worry on my mind because I realize how much I truly resist relying on God’s all sufficient power. 

I realize how much I truly resist relying on God’s all sufficient power.

I’ve mentioned on here before how much I listen to music when I am in the office.  This morning is just like the rest.  My Pandora station is playing, and there has been a great mix of worship music pumping through my speakers.  Most of the time, music goes to the back of my mind, meaning I don’t always focus on what is actually playing.  That was the case for most of the morning as all the questions and worries above were just rolling around almost uncontrollably.  That is until songs like “This I Believe (The Creed)” by Hillsong Worship, “My Victory (Feat. Crowder)” by Passion, “Your Grace is Enough” by Matt Maher, an “How He Loves” by the David Crowder Band came on.

These songs helped me focus in like normal, but I was paying attention to the lyrics as well.  I know all these songs by heart, and found myself singing along.  And something clicked.  I remembered that in Jesus, I am enough.  I can rely on Him and His grace.  Through the relationship I have with Jesus and my belief in Him as my Savior, I am free.  All those questions and concerns listed above may or may not go the way that I want them, but God is the One that is in control.  It’s not up to me anyway.

It’s not up to me anyway.

We don’t know what Paul’s so-called “Thorn in the Flesh” was, but it could be that it was something like the concerns and worries that I listed above.  Maybe not, but I think the response that Paul received when he pleaded to have the thorn removed can be applied to us today.  II Corinthians 12:1-10 is where Paul records this event in his life.  Here’s what he wrote to the church in Corinth;

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I don’t have all the answers to my questions above.  And I may never see the answers to all the questions above.  But I realize that it’s not all up to me anyway.  I feel inadequate as a minister on many occasions because I always feel like I could do more or do better.  Or I could find a way to bring more people to the church.  This morning, I was reminded, however, that I am just called to do the best I can do, and be faithful to God and His call in my life.  So, let me echo the words of Paul.  First, the response he received is a great comfort to me.  “My grace is sufficient to you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

I am just called to do the best I can do, and be faithful to God and His call in my life.

That has always been my prayer.  To glorify God.  His grace is sufficient because His power is shown through my weakness, meaning that anything I accomplish in ministry is through His power anyway.  Paul goes on writing about boasting in his weakness because Christ’s power rests on him in those times.  In his weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties, he can delight.  That is the opposite of human nature, but then again, so is just about everything in trying to follow Christ.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.  That doesn’t make sense to most of us.  But we have to remember that we live on God’s power and grace, not our own.

thoughts-from-a-crosseyed-jesus-freak