Give Honor Where Honor is Due: Remembering the Fallen, and the Sacrifice of Jesus

Memorial Day

I want to take a moment this morning to honor and thank all of those that have given their lives for this country.  Memorial Day is much more than just a 3-day weekend and an excuse to grill out (although I do plan to do some grilling today).  It’s about honoring those that have given the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for the freedom that we enjoy in the U.S.A today.  In that vain, we showed a video yesterday in our church service honoring those that have fallen.  You can watch the video here if you’d like.

We showed it right before our message time, and I followed the video with a short reminder.  It wasn’t scripted and I didn’t record it, so I don’t remember word for word what I said.  But it is this reminder that I want to write about this morning.  The video, in case you didn’t watch it, was a recording of a speech that late U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave regarding the sacrifices that so many have made to make and keep this country free.  At the end, he said something along the lines of “we will always be willing to make these sacrifices, because we are AMERICANS”.

While I think it is a very good thing to honor and remember those that have fought and died to keep this country free, we, as Christ followers have to remember as well that our citizenship is in Heaven.  We may be Americans, but more importantly, we are Christ followers.  We have countless men and women that have given their lives for this country and our freedom.  But we have to remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for this whole world (and us individually). 

Adding to those thoughts, we need to realize something.  All to often, we get these out of order.  And it’s easy to do so, because we can often see the results of the sacrifices made for our freedom.  They are tangible.  We see the families of those lost.  We can visit places like Arlington National Cemetery.  So it is easier to wrap our minds around these sacrifices, and because of that, we celebrate, remember, and honor these more than the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross.

Our allegiance, as Christ followers, needs to be Christ first.  I’m not saying not to have pride in your country.  I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t be honoring the men and women of our military.  I’m not even saying that we should cease to be patriotic.  Anyone that knows me knows that I have a high respect for our military.  I love this country.  The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays every year.

But what I am saying is, if you are a Christ follower, you need to be living for and celebrating Him more than our country.  You need to be placing your allegiance in Christ above your country, meaning that if and when something goes against Christ and His teachings, we follow Jesus.  With or without our country, and the freedom that has been fought and sacrificed so hard for, none of us really have a chance if it wasn’t for Jesus.

Our military men and women have a long history of fighting for our freedom, and I am so thankful for that.  But Jesus is the one that made the ultimate sacrifice that paid the price for our sins.  A price that we could never pay on our own.  Because the wages of sin is death, and He paid the price for anyone and everyone that is willing to follow Him.  The apostle Paul tells us about this sacrifice and what it really means for us.  In Romans 5:6-8, he writes;

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.

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So, while you are celebrating Memorial Day, remember first that it is more than just a 3-day weekend and an excuse to grill.  It is about honoring and remembering those that have given their lives for this country.  And it is right that we do so.  But also remember that the ultimate act of sacrificial love was performed over 2,000 years ago, on a cross, by a man that didn’t deserve what He went through.  Jesus willingly went to the cross for my sin, for your sin, for the sin of the world.  Ultimate freedom is found in Him, and only Him.

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Let Me Be Honest

I’m usually a pretty easy going person.  At least I try to be.  And I try to have a positive outlook on things as much as possible.  Although, like I wrote here, I can get caught up in negative attitudes from time to time if I don’t watch myself.  So, I try to look for things to be thankful for.  I have so much.  A loving wife, good friends, family, a church family, and most importantly, a loving God full of grace. 

There are a few things in this world, however, that can instantly cause me to react negatively when I see them happen; children being abused, senseless acts of terrorism, people being taken advantage of, human trafficking; the list could go on.  But something that may seem small caught me off guard this week.  It made me realize that I cannot stand being lied to, or seeing a lie be told about something that I am a part of.

Actually, someone lying to me about something isn’t as big of a deal as someone lying about something that I am a part of and am passionate about.  I found out this week that someone blatantly lied about some circumstances that I was involved in within the past couple of years.  I know the truth about what happened, and have some suspicions about some of the other details.  But what I found out this week was no where near the truth.

I will not go into detail about what happened.  That’s not important.  Plus, I haven’t talked to the person involved, so it would not be right to put the detail out here.  But what I want to write about is integrity.  We have to have integrity, especially if we are going to claim to be Christ followers.  Speaking in truth is a big part of honesty.  Whether the truth is harsh or not, lying is worse in the long run.  And in the case that prompted this, the truth would not have been that bad.  Like I said, I pretty much knew what really happened when the situation originally took place.

Jesus spoke to the issue of telling the truth.  In fact, it is included in what He calls the two most important commandments.  Matthew 22:37-40 read;

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I know the words “tell the truth”, or “don’t lie” are not included here, but the idea is there none the less.  These two commands that Jesus tells us are the two most important commands basically sum up the Ten Commandments.  Love God and love others is what the Ten Commandments are really made up of.  And one of the Ten Commandments is basically about lying.  Exodus 20:16 reads;

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

So, it’s right there in the Ten Commandments.  But Jesus speaks on this issue more than just here.  He speaks even more directly to this issue in what we call the “Sermon on the Mount”.  In Matthew 5:33-37, he speaks on the issue of using oaths to make an agreement with someone.  Basically, He makes the argument that you should not need to use an oath, because your yes should be yes, and your no, no.  This means that it should be expected that what you say about something is the truth.  And the only way that happens is if you are honest as possible about situations.  If you are caught in a lie, then it is going to be hard for that person to trust your word in the future.  The passage reads;

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

I write this more as a healing process for me.  I needed to get my thoughts out.  I needed to deal with some anger about finding a lie.  I have prayed for forgiveness of my anger, and I have forgiven the lie that I found out about.  But I also wanted to caution all of us.  As Christ followers, our honesty and integrity are paramount.  We are going to mess up and sin.  That’s unfortunate, but it’s also part of our human nature.  As much as we want to get rid of all the sin in our lives, it’s going to catch us from time to time.  But lying is something that we should be able to control, and again, without integrity and honesty, our witness to others is going to be damaged.  Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.

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In the Stillness

Day by Day
dc Talk “Day by Day”

For the past few days, I’ve been conducting sort of a personal experiment.  One that I never thought I would willingly do of my own decision.  I’ve been getting up at 5 A.M.  Why?  Well there are a few reasons.  One, I have been convicted that I need to set aside more time for personal Bible study and prayer.  I try to focus on my relationship with God, but I’ve discovered that if I don’t set aside time first thing in the morning, then I let the busyness of my life and schedule get in the way.  There aren’t a lot of things to distract me from my quiet time when I am doing it before 6 A.M. 

But that isn’t the only reason.  I was doing pretty well with my quiet time over the last few weeks anyway.  I was just making sure that I got up a little earlier than I needed to, so I could spend some time with God before I started the rest of my day.  And it was working pretty well.  Then, I read an article that has been circulating in the ministry/Christian living circles the last couple of weeks.  In it, the author stated that he regularly got up at 3 A.M, did his quiet time, and began his day.  I kind of laughed.  There is no way I could sustain that schedule.  I’m too much of a night owl (even getting up at 5 A.M. this week, I can’t seem to get to bed before 10:30). 

But there was something that caught my attention in his article.  Part of his morning routine was at least an hour on the treadmill.  In his effort to give his mornings completely to God (which is an admirable goal), he was giving at least an hour to taking care of his body physically.  A few months ago, my wife and I were taking that pretty seriously, and were going to the gym regularly.  Because of a few different issues, we let our gym membership go, however, so that focus hasn’t been there.  I realized I needed to start taking care of myself better.  I was doing well with my spiritual side, but I had been neglecting the physical side.

I live in the desert.  Carlsbad, NM regularly hits triple-digit temperatures during the summer, and we’re almost there (101 is the projected temp tomorrow), so doing anything physical outside after my workday is not necessarily the best option.  So, this past Sunday, knowing I needed to leave the house around 7:45 to 8:00 to get to the church to finalize everything for our services, I got up at 5.  I did my quiet time (drinking plenty of coffee to help this night owl stay awake and focused).  Around 6, just as the dawn was breaking, I left my house on a walk.  The path I walked was the same that I was regularly walking when I was going to the gym a few months ago as well. 

Screenshot 2017-05-24 12.15.31It’s a gorgeous walk, that ends up being around 2.67 miles, most of which wind along the Pecos River here in Carlsbad.  I repeated the wake up time on Monday, but because of a nasty mist/rain going on, I didn’t make the full walk.  I tried, but the closer I got to the river (we live a few blocks from it), the harder it was raining.  I had headphones and my cell phone with me, so I turned around and went back home because I didn’t want to take a chance on ruining my electronics. 

Tuesday, I woke up and did my quiet time, but was not feeling well, so I went back to sleep for a little while.  I got up and did some sermon prep, but didn’t want to neglect my walk two days in a row.  After finishing up the study I was doing for sermon prep, I went on my walk in the mid morning, before returning to my work.  And then I come to today, and the inspiration for this post.  I actually woke before my alarm even went off, got my coffee ready, sent off an e-mail prayer chain that I needed to make sure I remembered, and settled in for my quiet time.

God spoke to me so much in that time today.  I have actually already written another article based on something that He opened up to me this morning, but it’s going to be my next submission to the local newspaper.  I’ll post it here on Saturday morning, after it’s been published in the paper.  But it wasn’t just my Bible reading and quiet time that impacted me this morning.  When I left for my walk, it was a crisp 49 degrees.  Pretty chilly on a day that is supposed to hit the mid 90’s this afternoon.  But I went anyway.  I would actually rather walk in that cool of weather vs. close to triple digits in the evening. 

As I got down to the river area (lovingly referred to as “The Beach” around town), the Sun was just rising over the pine trees on the other side of the river.  The water was almost completely calm.  I love that area of town.  I know how pretty and peaceful it can be.  But something was different this morning.  I don’t know if it was because of how cool the temperature was, or that there was not another person to be seen at the moment, or what.  I was completely awestruck with the beauty that God had given me this morning. 

While I have been studying and having quiet time before going on these walks, I also try to use my time walking as prayer time as well.  I have Christian music going in my headphones, and I just try to pour my heart out to God.  But I was almost speechless this morning.  From the beauty of the river and the sunrise, to the fish that were breaking the surface of the water, feeding as I walked across the footbridge from one side of the river to the other, God was just surrounding me with His love, and the beauty of His creation.

Pecos RiverMy wife and I have a different view of things.  I like to experience the beauty of a moment and just take it it.  She wants to be able to look back on these moments, and experience them over and over again.  What do I mean?  She takes tons of pictures, I don’t.  I just want to soak in the moment (plus, i have my phone strapped to my arm and it’s not that easy to take pictures that way).  So the picture I have here is from her this morning.  She took a walk about an hour after I got back.  But the beauty is still there.

I don’t know why, but today just reminded me to try to see the beauty in everything.  We get distracted by the world around as, and just go through the motions.  At least I know that’s what happens to me.  Maybe it’s because I have been a little more focused on spending time with God in a tangible way in the last few weeks, but He showed up in a big way today, reminding me of His grace, His love, and His beauty.  He’s probably been trying to remind me of all of those things a lot recently.  I just finally allowed myself to slow down enough to see it.  And I’m glad I did. 

Slow down.  Spend time with God.  It doesn’t matter if you get up early, stay up late, block out a chunk of time in the middle of your afternoon, or whenever, just find a time that works for you.  Focus on your relationship with God.  You never know what you might be missing when you don’t. 

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Keep Your Focus

CleVs.Bos

Last Friday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers took a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals over the Boston Celtics with an embarrassing 40+ point win.  Boston couldn’t do anything, and it looked as if they had just completely given up.  I, along with just about anyone that I heard say anything about the series assumed it was over.  Cleveland, who had won both of the first two games in Boston, was coming home and was going to easily win the next two games to sweep the series and go to the NBA Finals.  There was little doubt, especially since Boston’s star player had been ruled out for the rest of the playoffs due to an injury in the first half of game two.

The problem is that Cleveland seemed to take this for granted as well.  They seemed to just assume they had the series won, and it was going to easily fall to them.  And during the first half of game three on Sunday, that is exactly what seemed to be happening.  The Cavaliers took a commanding 21-pt lead at one point, entering halftime with a 16-point lead.  I actually stopped watching the game at that point, helping out with something else around the house.  I thought the game was over.

That is, until the fourth quarter started and I happened to glance at the game again.  That huge halftime lead had been cut to single digits.  So, I started watching the game again, hoping that the Cavs would hold on and start playing with some purpose again.  But that didn’t happen.  Boston, who looked completely out of the series and ready for the off-season fought back and hit a game-winning three-point shot with .01 seconds left.  LeBron James, who played the entire fourth quarter, went scoreless in it.  If you follow basketball at all, you know that is something that rarely happens. 

So what happened?  How did a team that was dominating the entire playoffs, and especially this series, give up a 21-point lead to allow Boston to steal a game in Cleveland?  It’s a pretty simple explanation, and it is definitely something that we, as Christ followers, can learn a lot from as well.  Continue reading “Keep Your Focus”

In the Big, In the Small, In All Things Be Thankful!

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I know this is true for me, and I suspect it is true for most of you as well.  We lose sight of things from time to time.  It’s easy to do, but that doesn’t mean it is the best thing that we can do as well.  Recently I realized that I was losing sight of something that I should be holding on to.  Rather, I was focusing on something negative.  I was letting the things that I don’t like or disagree with, or things I wanted to complain about fill my thoughts most of the time.  I had forgotten to be thankful for the good things in my life.

And I have a lot of things to be thankful for.  It’s just sometimes so much easier to focus on the negative.  Because I am trying to stay away from those negative thoughts, I’m not going to list any of them in this post.  But I have found myself complaining a lot.  Not publicly.  Not to anyone other than my wife or close advisors.  Sometimes it’s just been complaining about things in my own head. 

So I have decided to start intentionally looking for and focusing on things that I have to be thankful about.  They should outweigh all of the negative things anyway.  But for some reason it is just so much easier to focus on the negative.  Maybe it’s just human nature. 

There is a thing that hapThe Beardpens every November, around Thanksgiving, that dominates social media.  And no, I’m not talking about “No Shave November”.  If you’ve seen a recent picture of me, you can see that I’m participating in that already.  Most people call it something like “30 days of thankfulness” or something along those lines.  They attempt to post things they are thankful for on social media each day of November. 

While I am not necessarily looking to post something every day for a certain number of days, I am going to start trying to focus on things to be thankful for.  I might even write a few posts from time to time about those things.  Again, it’s just about trying to be intentional about being thankful.  And as Christ followers, we have a lot of things to be thankful about.  Jesus has paid the price for our sins, a price that we could have never paid for our selves. 

James goes as far to say that we should even be thankful for our trials.  The word thankful isn’t there, but the idea it.  He says in James 1:2-3:

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

Paul writes about thankfulness in a majority of his letters, but I chose two of Paul’s quotes to share with you today.  In his letter to the Ephesians he writes about always giving thanks to God for everything.  He echoes those thoughts in I Thessalonians as well.  Ephesians 5:15-20 and I Thessalonians 5:16-18 are recorded as follows:

Ephesians 5:15-20: 15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I Thessalonians 5:16-18: 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

As I said earlier, I have so many things to be thankful for.  We all do.  I could list a large number of things from my wife, to getting to help watch our little buddy Aaron that I’ve written about before, to my church and getting to preach God’s Word on a regular basis, the freedom we have to gather in worship, etc.  But today, what got me thinking about all of this and made me realize I need to focus on things I am thankful for, it was actually something a lot of us take for granted.  It’s actually a very small thing.

I’m thankful for a donated couch that I have in my office.  I was having a hard time concentrating on anything when I came back from lunch.  My head was pounding, I couldn’t focus, and because of all of that I was not going to be productive.  I could just sense that was going to be my afternoon.  So, I turned the lights off, stretched out, and took a short but refreshing nap.  I woke up ready to go.  I was focused again.  Most of my headache was gone, and I sat down and typed this post out in about 30 minutes. 

What are you thankful for today?

A couch is something that we take for granted.  But today, it was just what I needed to refocus and get something done on a day in which I would not have gotten anything else productive done.  So again, today I’m thankful for a donated couch that is in my office.  I’m thankful for the rest that it allowed me to get today, so I could get some more things done.  And I’m thankful that I am able to take time to do things like that to be able to continue working for the kingdom of God.  What are you thankful for today?

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Have You Begun to Live?

Every man dies. Not every man really lives

The parable of the Prodigal Son that Jesus tells is probably His most well known story.  It is the one that we are most familiar with, and in my opinion it is because we can all relate to it in one way or another.  The story is found recorded in the gospel of Luke, and is actually one story in a collection of three about lost things being found that Luke records in chapter 15.  You can read them here if you are not familiar or just want a refresher.

It’s one of my favorite stories as well.  I relate so much to the story, and it resonates with me.  In fact, we are gearing up for a sermon series based around some themes found throughout the story of the prodigal son.  I can tell the story in detail from memory because it is so familiar to me.  But, just like other passages that we read over and over, we can get something new out of it every time.  And just that happened to me recently.

I was reading through the story as part of my daily devotion time.  It is easy to zone out sometimes when reading such a familiar passage, especially when it is early in the morning.  And I admit that was happening to me this time around.  But then I came to the last few verses, when the older brother was throwing a fit because the younger brother was being celebrated.  The father in the story steps in and explains why they needed to celebrate.  And bam, there it was.  Something stuck out to me a little different than in any other time I have read the story.

I was reading in the NASB translation, which I try to do when I am studying on my own or prepping a message.  I teach out of the NIV usually.  So, I am more familiar with the story in NIV format, and reading in NASB is what caused something to stick out this time. 

Luke 15:31-32 in the NIV reads,

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

He was dead and is alive again.  That’s the way I have always heard this part of Jesus’ parable.  And that is a significant statement.  Returning to the Father is the only way we have life.  Otherwise, we are dead in our sins.  That is what the story is getting at.  It is also teaching that there is a celebration that happens when anyone gives their life to Jesus through baptism.  But the NASB translation worded things a little differently, and it made the passage come to life in an amazing way for me.

Luke 15:31-32 in the NASB reads,

31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”

He was dead and has begun to live.  That paints a little different picture.  The earlier translation makes it seem like the son was alive, died, and began to live again.  But here, in the NASB, there is a picture painted of how things truly are.  Before we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, no matter what we are doing in our lives, how successful we are in worldly standards, what our bank statements show, how our relationships are going, or anything else, we are dead in our sins.  We are the walking dead so to speak.

We are living in the sense that our physical bodies are alive, but we are dead men walking.  Nothing we do matters in the grand scheme of things.  We are searching for life, something to fill the void that we know is there, but for some reason just cannot figure out why it is there.  And then we come to Jesus. 

A relationship with Jesus Christ is the only way to truly live.

Someone introduces us to Him, and we are open to learning more.  Before we realize it, that void that we have been seeking to fill in our lives starts to disappear, and we don’t really understand what is happening.  We accept Jesus our Lord and Savior of our lives, we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and we truly begin to live.  A relationship with Jesus Christ is the only way to truly live.  That void that we all feel is only filled by God; nothing else that we attempt to fill it with will ever completely fill the void.

This idea of being dead in our sins and finding life in Christ is a common theme in Paul’s writings, so it’s not like the idea is new to me (You can read some of them here, here, and here).  I have often taught about the freedom that is actually found in surrendering to Jesus.  The world around us would think that it would be just the opposite; to follow Jesus would mean becoming more restricted.  But something great happens when your sins are forgiven through the blood of Jesus and we truly begin to live in the freedom that He grants us. 

We have been set free.

That doesn’t give us carte blanche to keep sinning.  God’s grace covers our sin, but we shouldn’t purposely keep sinning just to increase His grace.  That’s not the point of the freedom we find in Christ.  The point is that we are not enslaved by sin anymore.  In our human nature, we are going to mess up from time to time, and sin.  But we are free from the enslavement of sin.  We have been set free.  We, as Christ followers, have truly begun to live!

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From Mountain Tops to Valleys: How are You Spending Time With God

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Recently, I’ve been reading through the gospel of Mark.  The other day, I came to Mark 9 and the story of Jesus’ transfiguration.  You can read it here if you’re not familiar with it.  I absolutely love how you can read a familiar passage over and over again, and still find something new in it each and every time.  There is a reason why the Bible is called the Living Word. 

So, as I read through the passage this time, there were a few different things that jumped off the pages at me.  And none of them were about what takes place on the mountainside, which is usually where we all tend to focus our attention when reading this story.  As Jesus, and the three disciples that are considered to be Jesus’ inner-circle, Peter, James, and John, come down the mountain, they are met with a commotion. 

A crowd had gathered, and since Jesus was up on the mountain, the crowd was asking His disciples to heal their sick.  There was a man that brought his son who was possessed by a spirit, and Jesus’ disciples were unable to heal the boy.  When I’ve read this in the past, I always wondered why the disciples were not able to perform this healing.  They had been given the ability to heal earlier in Jesus’ ministry, but they couldn’t successfully handle this situation.

Jesus’ response in verse 19, which reads, “‘You unbelieving generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you?  How long shall I put up with you?  Bring the boy to me.”’ was something I thought was directed at His disciples. 

But when I read through the passage this time, I realized that it’s actually directed at the crowd, and those that didn’t believe Jesus was who He said He was.  After healing the boy, and when they were away from the crowd, Jesus tells the disciples that this spirit could only be driven out by prayer. 

So while the disciples were not able to heal the boy, it may have actually been because those around the situation didn’t believe that they could do it, not because the disciples didn’t have the ability or the faith to drive out the spirit.

The other things that jumped out of the text at me this time was a parallel that I see from the life of Moses, and a lesson we can learn from it.  There is a time when Moses is up on the mountainside as well, getting the Ten Commandments from God (you can read that story here).  He’s gone for a long time, and the Israelites get restless waiting on him.  In fact, they fear that Moses has been killed by being that close to God.  They turn to Moses’ brother Aaron and convince him to make them a golden calf to worship since they didn’t think Moses was coming back. 

When Moses comes down the mountain, he finds the community of the Israelites in a commotion, worshiping a golden idol instead of worshiping God, who had just brought them out of slavery in Egypt.  And he doesn’t react to well to the situation.  He breaks the tablets that have the Ten Commandments on them, and eventually has to carve them again himself.

But here we have Moses and Jesus, both on a mountainside for an extended period of time.  And when they come down the mountain, they walk into a commotion of unbelief.  I love seeing parallels like that in the over-arching story of the Bible.  But more than that, I love it even more when I can relate to and learn from those moments as well.  And there is a big lesson we can learn from these parallels.

Jesus and Moses had been isolated on a mountainside in the presence of God.  Jesus had three of His disciples with Him, and was visited by Moses and Elijah, while Moses was alone with God, but both were definitely times spent with God with no distractions from the world.  Think about times when we feel closest with God.  Times that we get to spend with God without much distraction from the world.  Whether it be just times that we are just able to really focus on our relationship with God, times that we get out of our normal routine at a retreat, camp, conference, or mission trip, or however we are getting closer to God.  Unfortunately those moments don’t last forever.

There is an ebb and flow to life.  And we don’t always get to stay on the mountain top.  It would be great if we could, but life gets in the way.  When Moses and Jesus were on the mountainside, they had to physically come down.  And when they did, life and commotion was waiting for them.  When we have those mountain top experiences, those times that we are closest to God, it is not going to last.  Not because we don’t want it too, but because attacks always come when we are closest to God. 

In other words, when we are experiencing those mountain top times with God, we should know that eventually the valleys are going to come.  We know this.  We’ve experienced it time and time again, especially if we have been Christ followers for any length of time.  But it is encouraging to actually see Jesus has experienced this Himself.  And how He handled the situation should give us a clue how to handle it ourselves as well.

He grieved the unbelief and the pain that the valley brought.  But He didn’t let it stop Him.  All to often, when we come off the mountain and experience the valley, it can knock us for a loop.  It can completely stall our relationship with God.  We get depressed or we focus too much on the valley.  In other words, we react like Moses and break the tablets.  Jesus didn’t let it knock Him off His path.  He healed the boy through His reliance on God. 

We need to realize something.  Even when we are in the valley, we can still focus on our relationship with God.  We can either focus on everything that is going wrong, and let the junk of this world get us down even more, or we can continue to focus on God.  It’s up to you.  God is always there.  He wants to meet with us.  But do we make the time for Him, especially when it is hard to do so?  When we are in the middle of a mountain top experience, it’s easy to focus on God.  But when we come down from that, and life starts to get in the way again, what do we do?

For far too long in my own life, more than I would actually like to admit, my default was to just roll over and let life get in the way of my time with God.  But that’s not what I want.  And I have worked long and hard in my life not to let that happen anymore.  What about you?  Join me in focusing on God, in the good and the bad times. 

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Sports, Early Mornings, and Spending Time With God

I’m a huge sports fan.  If you know me at all, you know that.  I often write about sports and how it correlates to my relationship with God.  Often, different sports or sports analogies make it into my sermons as illustrations.  If it wasn’t for live sporting events, my wife and I probably would have gotten rid of our satellite tv subscription long ago for Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime video.  To say that sports are a big part of my life may seem like somewhat of an understatement.

Sunday morning of this week, I knew that my favorite English Premiere League soccer team was supposed to be playing on television.  The problem was, because of the time difference between England and New Mexico, the match was supposed to start at 5:00 AM local time.  Another thing you might know about me is that I am a night owl, and not much of a morning person.  I have gone through attempts of becoming more of a morning person, and was doing well for awhile.  That is until I got a little under the weather a few weeks ago, and my sleep patterns returned to my normal stay up late and sleep in when I can.

ManUI don’t often get to watch Manchester United play, however, so I decided I was going to attempt to get up at 5:00 AM and watch the match.  With the match on that early, it would give me plenty of time to watch it and still get to church at my normal time, so why not give it a shot.  I’ve tried this before, never on a Sunday, but ended up going back to sleep even while trying to pay attention to the match.

I set my coffee pot Saturday night before going to bed, so that coffee would be ready when I got up at 5:00.  I knew that was one of the only ways this was going to work.  And this time it did work.  I woke up, and actually stayed up.  It was great.  The match didn’t turn out the way I would have liked it.  It ended in a draw.  But I was able to enjoy watching ManU play. 

I had a very sobering realization while watching the game though.  I’ve tried in the past to wake up early and actually schedule spending time with God before I start my day.  But it never works out.  I either completely zone out or just go back to sleep.  Then, by the time I actually get my day going, everything else that I have to do for the day jumps in and often, I don’t get to spend uninterrupted time with God.  Here I am, getting up early for a soccer match, but I can’t make myself get up and spend time with God, who having a relationship with is so much more important than watching sports.  Talk about realizing a huge change needs to happen in my life.  That was a sobering realization.

Here I am, getting up early for a soccer match, but I can’t make myself get up and spend time with God, who having a relationship with is so much more important than watching sports.

Now, I don’t want to go any further before I say that I have always tried to spend time with God.  It is a priority, and often I do that through music and meditation throughout the day.  But realizing that I often let other daily tasks get in the way of spending a dedicated time of just me and God took me a little by surprise.  I focus on God and His word so much because of my job, preaching and teaching the Word of God, that I don’t always remember to take the time to spend time with Him for my relationship with Him. 

I’m guessing that I’m not the only one.  Our human nature often gets in the way.  We get distracted with other things that are more tangibles, and forget often that we are neglecting what should be the most important part of our day.  We focus on God throughout the day when He pops into our heads, but we forget to have that dedicated, one-on-one time with Him.  We need to make sure we are making time for Him in our lives, even if it’s just a few minutes a day.

And I’m not trying to argue that it needs to be the first thing you do in the morning.  If that is what works best for you, then that’s great.  But different times of day may work better for different people.  I just have realized if I don’t do it early in the day, I let other things get in the way of doing it later, not because I don’t want to spend time with Him, but because I get distracted and just simply forget to carve out that time.  So, I’m going to attempt to start getting up earlier than I need to again, and spend time with God before the rest of my to-do list starts taking priority.

In fact, I did just that after watching the soccer match Sunday morning.  I spent time in God’s Word and in prayer before I started the rest of my day.  Getting up early is not something that I really enjoy, but it is something that I am going to attempt to make a habit so that I can really focus on my relationship with God.  Will you join me?  Again, I’m not necessarily talking about getting up early, but in making spending time with our Father a priority in our lives.

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You Are Enough

If you’re anything like me, you have times in your life in which you wonder if you are enough.  Am I good enough?  Do I make enough money to support my family?  Do I excel at my job?  Do my friends like me?  Am I a good husband/father?  And if you are really honest, am I good enough for God to love me? 

It’s human nature.  Most of the time, we are our own harshest critics.  We compare ourselves to others and think that we can never live up to what we see in the person next to us.  The problem is we don’t see the full picture of the person we are comparing ourselves to.  Think about it.  When you compare yourself to someone else, it’s like looking at their highlight reel and comparing that to all of your negatives, because we only see what that person shows publicly.

One of two things happens when we do this.  We either see people that we constantly think are better than us, thus pulling ourselves down into negative, depressive thoughts.  Or we go to the complete opposite side, and try to find people that we think we are better than.  “Well, I’ve never done that, so I’m in pretty good shape”. 

If we fall into this trap, as Christ followers, one other thing happens.  We start thinking that we have to earn God’s love and salvation.  It becomes a balancing act.  We look at all the negative things in our life, and try to make sure we have more positive things to outweigh the negative.  When we do that, salvation, and a relationship with God becomes dependent on us, not Him.  In other words, we make it more about us than Him.

We think we are either good enough that we are going to earn God’s love, or we look at ourselves in such a negative light that we think that God could never love or care about someone like us.  Neither are correct.  We cannot earn God’s love.  He loves all of us equally.  In His eyes, we are enough.  That doesn’t mean He’s not concerned with our sin.  Of course He is.  But we can never earn that forgiveness.  It is freely given through a relationship with Jesus.

Through that relationship, we should be changed.  We should continue to strive to be better, to be more Christ like, not because we have to earn God’s love, but because we love God and we know He loves us.  Whether you are a Christ follower or not, I want you to pay close attention to these next few words.  God loves you.  He wants a relationship with you.  You can never earn His love.  It is free.  But you can turn from His love by not accepting His Son, and by not repenting of your sin.

You are enough.  God’s love for you makes that possible.  He just wants what is best for all of us.  I want to share two passages with you. 

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

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

Stop trying to do this on your own.  Stop comparing yourselves to others.  God loves you.  He sent His Son to die for your sin.  Give Him your life.  That’s what really matters in this life.

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Guilty as Charged

It’s no secret that I’m a huge sports fan.  I’ve written about March Madness here recently, and you’ll regularly see me write or post about Tennessee Volunteer Football (only a few months away!).  But my love of sports goes way beyond that.  I like just about any sport that you can think of, and, my wife will confirm, sports are generally on our television.  Golf is no exception.  I realize that many people have no love for watching golf.  But it intrigues me.  I don’t watch every round of every tournament by any means, but when it’s the major tournaments, that’s what is going to be on my television. 

logo-lpga2Last weekend, the LPGA made headlines with a controversial ending.  I wasn’t watching it, but the first women’s major tournament of the year was being played.  I found out about the headline from a fellow minister and golf friend, Dustin Fulton (If you are in the Omaha, NE area, you should check out his church, Restore Community Church).  He posted about the controversy surrounding Lexi Thompson, and the circumstances that led to her losing a three stroke lead and eventually losing the tournament in a playoff, all because a fan at home got involved.

How did a fan get involved?  On Sunday, during the fourth round, a fan saw a replay from the day before in which it appeared Lexi didn’t place her ball in the correct position on the green after marking it.  We are talking about a fraction of an inch.  No one, including Lexi caught it at the time.  She made the putt, went to finish her round, and signed her scorecard.  The fan at home, with the ability to watch it over and over again, saw what they thought was a rules violation, e-mailed the LPGA, which opened an investigation.  They then decided to enforce a four shot penalty on Lexi for something that happened the day before.  Here’s a video of the incorrect ball placement.

Four shots, two for playing from the incorrect position and then two more for signing an incorrect scorecard due to the first violation.  That’s incredibly harsh.  By the letter of the law, it is correct, but come on.  She was penalized almost 24-hours after the fact, for something that she didn’t even realize she had done.  On top of that, it wasn’t the people charged with officiating the tournament that caught the violation.  It was some fan at home that had no business involving themselves in the tournament.  The rule is there so you cannot gain an advantage by placing your ball in a better position.  But we’re talking about fractions of inches here.  So close that the player didn’t even realize what had happened.

So, while Lexi was waiting to play the 13th hole of her final round, she was approached by a rules official and told that she would be assessed a four shot penalty.  At the time, she had a three shot lead, so she actually fell to one shot off the lead with this ridiculous ruling.  Most would have crumbled and just gone through the motions.  Not Lexi.  She fought back and ended up tying for the lead at the end of regulation before losing on the first playoff hole.

I personally think it’s a shame that someone who was not even supposed to be involved in the tournament (a fan sitting at home) had a direct effect on the outcome.  Again, the letter of the law stated that Lexi was at fault.  But I don’t think the spirit of the law was met. 

This all got me thinking about life in general.  We have violated “the law” in a bunch of ways, some in ways that we have no idea that we even did anything wrong.  And by the letter of the law, we are guilty.  The penalty described by the law for sin is death.  Even when we don’t necessarily realize that we have sinned.  And we have an accuser who is calling in, telling on us.  And again, by the letter of the law we are guilty.  Paul states in Romas 6:23,

23 For the wages of sin is death…

Unlike the story of Lexi Thompson, we have a thing called grace.  It is a free gift, offered by God to anyone that is willing to accept it.  We accept the gift through faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  And the best part; He’s already paid the price for our sin.  We are covered by His blood from His death, burial, and resurrection.  By the letter of the law we are guilty, but by the blood of Jesus Christ, we are FORGIVEN!  That’s why I am thankful that this life is not fair.  It’s not fair that someone else take my place for my sins, but God’s grace does just that.  And Satan can accuse us as much as He wants, God see the cleansing blood of His Son on us.  Just look at Paul’s entire though from Romans 6:23.  He writes;

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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